Month: April 2012

Data day life in Sussex

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spss statistics on laptop

I was loth to let statistical software into my home…

The British Election Study 2009-10 asked thousands of people a series of hundreds of questions about all things political, and my overlords at the University have helpfully loaded all this data onto the computer network so that humble students such as myself can analyse it.

Now, I don’t know who was responsible for this, but some of the data isn’t entirely suited to statistical analysis by computer. For instance, the “Which party do you most prefer?” dataset, which one would expect to be answered with the name of a party, conveniently divides people into a number of categories including:

cannot remember
Christian party
Christian Party (Perhaps there’s a deep political significance to the capital letter…?)
conservative with a small c.
conservative with small c
disillusioned pensioner
English democrat
English Democrat
English Democrate
english democrats
ENGLISH DEMOCRATS
english democrat
Independaat
independant
INDEPENDANT
It’s a secret vote!
MADE A MISTAKE AND COULDNT CORRECT IT
mix of all parties
no
NO COMENT
There isn’t one
Vox Magna (I looked this one up and it appears to be a Swedish choir)
well im like the english party

The desperation of the ‘made a mistake’ person is rather touching! Meanwhile, the data for ‘religion’ was similarly simple to convert into an easily-understandable bar chart. It included categories for the following different religions:

teepee wigwam outside big ben

Red Indians are very active in British politics.

aetheist
aethist
christian
Christian
CHRISTIAN
Christian/Buddhist
Church of Sweden
Not organised
Odinism
Oreder of the Jedi
red indian
salvation army
sALVATION ARMY
Salvation Army
spiritaul
spiritualist
spirituliat

I think the disorganised religious person is definitely my favourite.

Of risks and rabbis…

The new committee of the Brighton & Sussex Jewish Society took office at the beginning of term, and we were instructed by the Students’ Union to carry out a comprehensive risk assessment of our activities. Since the Snowboarding Society is apparently acceptable, I kind of resent having spend my time risk-assessing a bagel lunch, but for illustration purposes only, here is one of my early drafts.

Bite-sized bites of news

This week’s much-heralded return of the Blimey, Pull the Other One! Award goes to the New Zealand Coroner’s Office for adding this to the sum total of the world’s knowledge:

…although a close runner-up for this award goes to the BBC, who proudly informed the world:

Next, the Ordinary Photograph Looking Most Like a Movie Poster Prize has to go to The Guardian who, when reporting on a fireman who complained when police racially abused him, somehow produced this remarkable image (top) very reminiscent of a Doctor Who promotional picture (bottom)!

Sorry to be a NUSance…

A debating chamber perhaps a bit like the one where the NUS Conference might be held.

…but this week’s blog post is slightly shortened because since Monday, I’ve been living the democratic dream at the NUS Conference in Sheffield City Hall. The four Sussex University candidates were chosen via a hotly-contested election process which ran into seven rounds. In contrast, on Friday morning I received a ’phone-call from the Union of Jewish Students inviting me to join their mission, packed my bags and here I am!

But since I’ve not been around, there’s not the hugest amount of other news for me to provide, except for…:

Sussexballs: £9000 per annum paid for contributions“This week is the 1970s.”

“Now Gabriel, you said everything is connected. I would actually say ‘interconnected’.” [And the difference is?]

“It’s obvious: the 1970s were after the 1960s.”

“I’m going to finish [this seminar on the oil shocks of 1971-74] by reading a few lines of T S Eeeliot [sic]…”

Oh, and a sleek, black Sussex University Security vehicle drifted up to my flat’s window at 1am the other night, and a uniformed occupant peered in. The scene was ever so slightly reminiscent of that GCSE English poem Not My Business. But it turned out that they only wanted to fix the window frame.

A word from the wise

Left to right: Whining Meerkat, Whining Meerkat

These days, Red Indians are more properly described as Native Americans. But, as part of Gabrielquotes’ continued ongoing vision to provide a neutral news source and win Investors in People status, we feel we ought to present an alternative viewpoint to contrast with this political correctness.

I knew there was only one person upon whom I could call for a reliably bigoted, outdated stance. So here, on a special visit from 1879, the views on the respective merits of the Red Indian and other races, of the one and only, your friend and mine, Sir George Campbell MP, known for these Amerindian purposes as Whining Meerkat.

Propylaeum
In tonight’s episode, the loony data was provided by the Great British Public® and extracted by a fool. The wigwam was placed in front of Big Ben by the Sitting Bull Occupy movement. Sussexballs was written and performed by the School of Global Studies faculty. The Security Unit’s ‘looking menacing in the dark’ consultant was poet Niyi Osundare. Sir George Campbell MP was exhumed by Gabriel Webber. My Badger article on the topic of offensive Twitter posts and the law (a subject of which I have no personal experience whatsoever) can be found by clicking here. This was an Gabrielquotes production.

Back for a historic third term…

My computer screen between exams (artist’s impression)

…was Tony Blair and back for an hysterical third term is Gabriel Webber. The books are packed – three fewer than I took home with me, sorry Library! – and my freshly-sharpened pencils are in my nice new shiny satchel. It’s time to head back Falmerwards!

Because exam season will rapidly be upon us (unless you’re a grown-up in which case it won’t be upon you), I thought we might celebrate these impending doomful questions by imagining what it will be like when Question Time eventually gets its brain in gear and visits Sussex University.

Art imitates life?

Mr Gabriel Webber in matching tablecloth and military jacket.

A 24-hour play is a play entirely conceived, written and performed within 24 working hours. Over Pesach, I took part in one with The Deckchair Collective and thereby entered into a wholly plausible world where mermaids sink cities, ‘Thames’ is pronounced ‘Thay-mees’ and a ruthless Admiral rules the New British Empire.

Here is a brief outline of how some of the time passed:

  • 1 minute: “So does anyone want to riff on mermaids’ hair?” / ME: “Can you say that sentence again please, I enjoyed it!”
  • 1 hour 30 minutes: Four of us traipsing up and down Ealing Broadway, Apprentice-style, desperately trying to find a print shop, then giving up on that and trying to find an estate agent (!) willing to let us use their printer, then giving up on that and coming across Ealing Central Library with its public printing facilities. Sadly, unlike the many shops, who, on hearing, “We’re running a community drama project,” literally showered us with free props, the librarian insisted that we wouldn’t be allowed to pay 10p per page (!) for printing without first showing proof of signature and joining the library. Then she asked how many pages we wanted printed. I replied, “It’s four pages and we need six copies.” / “Sixty copies?” / “No, six copies of four pages, 24 pages in total.” / “Yes I know what the total is, there’s no need to be patronising.” Ouch. Ealing Council 1, Gabriel 0.
  • 5 minutes: The writing team decided that the grammar in Churchill’s Fighting on the Beaches speech was a bit dodgy and got a little carried away correcting it.
  • 10 minutes: Adapting wartime propaganda slogans to be suitable responses to a mermaid incursion, eg. “Keep dry and carry on,” “Swim for victory,” etc.

Jolly good fun, highly recommended, you can watch a very brief extract on YouTube; and I can’t wait for the next one!

I’ll have my usual

Months ago, I wrote to my friends at Southern Rail to ask why the ticket office at Falmer station was always closed when I went there to buy tickets. I gave them a list of 12 occasions, within their advertised opening hours, when it was mysteriously shut. They finally got back to me last week, and this what they had to say for themselves:

click to enlarge

Now, as all my readers well know, I’m not a cynical person, but this list of excuses strikes me as being completely made up.

I mean, tomorrow I have to hand in two essays by 4pm. If I waltz in at 4:30 and try playing the “no early turn cover” card, I’ll surely be laughed out of the Global Studies Office! And as for “dealing with TVM issue” – well, let’s be honest, we’ve all been there, haven’t we.

However, I never like to criticise without also making constructive proposals, so here are my suggestions of some more plausible excuses that Southern could use in response to future complaints:

Sussex University Estates Management: Philistine Incompetence Since 1972

After driving me and my baggage all the way down to Sussex, Webbers Senior decided to go for a family day out to Monk’s House, formerly the home of some writer-type person called Virginia Woolf.

A brand you can trust?

A brand you can trust?

One of the National Trust ladies told us that, in 1972, the remaining members of the family sold the house to one University of Sussex, but – “because it didn’t go to the Literature Department but to the Estates Management Department” – Ms Woolf’s extensive library of key historical books was rather carelessly sold off, whereabouts currently unknown.

Now wouldn’t it just be hilarious if the enthusiastic young Estates Management staff member who made a bad decision in 1972 grew up to be my very own Porter in Lewes Court. Not that there’s any link between their respective levels of competence, of course.

Cave canem

My family seder takes place in Bromley, and so before arriving, we naturally took my younger cousins to visit that famous Bromley tourist attraction, Chislehurst Caves.

An artist’s impression of the London Underground during the Olympics

The caves are artificial, and, according to the guide, were dug out by the Romans, the Saxons and “the Druids.” (Yes, that’s the famous Druids of Bromley, a town whose Wikipedia article lists “free wifi” under the heading ‘culture’.)

This guide merits further discussion, however, largely because he was a total lunatic. He clearly thought it would be a good idea to deliver the entire tour in Cockney rhyming slang, thus baffling almost everybody in the group: “Now you dustbin lids, don’t run around … If you’d had too much pig’s ear, and you were a bit elephant’s … They got through gallons of rosy every night … When you went to Bo Peep, you didn’t get your own Uncle Ned … If you were boracic you didn’t have to pay.”

(I thus spent much of the time muttering made-up Pesach-related rhyming slang under my breath, eg. lone raider = seder, broken ladder = hagaddah, Olympic runner = Mah Nishtanah.)

Even worse than his public speaking, however, was when he gave a graphic description of how these fictional Druids carried out human sacrifices. He enlivened this description by using two “beautiful young girls” from the tour (about 8 years old) as examples, explaining to them, “Your blood would run through this crack…” – so when, later on the tour, he told us about how he once saw a ghost which “wrestled” him to the ground, I suspect it was actually just an enraged parent.

When we emerged into daylight, mum said that he “looked like an ex-hippie,” though I had to disagree over the ‘ex-‘ bit.

Chislehurst Caves are open every day and tours cost £5, £3 concessions.

Sussexballs: £9000 per annum paid for contributions“A good example of a confederal state: Star Wars.”

“I expected Germany to talk about Europe a lot more than could have been expected.”

[Dr Hough, in his first lecture of the new term, lasted a record 4 minutes and 21 seconds before making his first reference to Shrewsbury FC, which I understand to be a sports team of some sort.]

“By completing a demo, you will get the chance to win some fantastic prizes. (Xbox, USB sticks etc).” [So quite a range then…]

“Special and Different Treatment – or STD [laughter] Well it’s a good way of remembering it!” [Although it’s not strictly speaking a correct acronym!]

“Sussex super computer could help solve mysteries of the Universe!” [Although given Sussex IT Services’ track record of abject failure I wouldn’t hold your breath, Universe.]

Law, order and human sacrifice

All this talk of carrying out human sacrifices put me in a bit of a criminal mood. It’s never good when that happens (as I’m sure you all well know) so I decided to wind down by reading up on one of my favourite people’s views on crime and punishment.

Here is his smug little story of how, standing in as a judge in colonial India (as one does…), Sir George Campbell personally intervened to save the soul of a local good-for-nothing. What a true angel of mercy that Sir George is!

Bibliography
In tonight’s episode, the procrastinating person was played by Gabriel Webber. David Dimbleby was played by David Dimbleby. The donkey ride (‘tour-guide’) was [name removed due to super-injunction]. The feeling moodie (‘bloke in a hoodie’) was played by a bit of a gamble (‘Sir George Campbell’) and the brickwork behind him is an excerpt from Hadrian’s Wall. Apologies for this blog entry being posted 1 hour late; the delay was due to no early turn cover. This was an Gabrielquotes production.