Archive for the ‘Amusing’ Category

In Defence of Macksville

Bill Bryson has built a career around humorous observations of tourist destinations. Inevitably he was drawn to Australia, ambitiously attempting to summarise a nation in 19 pithy chapters. It is curious, then, that he can spend most of Chapter 12 of “Down Under” heckling a small town on the mid north coast of New South Wales, called Macksville.

It is possible, I suppose, to construct hypothetical circumstances in which you would be please to find yourself, at the end of a long day, in Macksville, New South Wales – perhaps something to do with rising sea levels that left it as the only place on earth not underwater, or maybe some disfiguring universal contagion from which it alone remained unscathed. In the normal course of events, however, it is unlikely that you would find yourself standing on its lonely main street at six-thirty on a warm summer’s evening gazing about you in an appreciative manner and thinking, “Well, thank goodness I’m here!”

A memorable passage. It has been used to teach English to the French (Baccalaureat), and as an example of “Powerful & Balanced Writing”. It’s even popped up in the New York Times.

Now is probably the right time to mention that approximately 29 years ago, I was born in Macksville Hospital. I lived in West st, Macksville until I was 16. I have since lived in Sydney, Cambridge (UK), Zurich and now Sydney again. I have holidayed in the Macksville region every summer since moving away.

I must admit that laughter was my first reaction to Macksville’s treatment at Bryson’s hand. There is a lot that hits close to home. However, there are a few facts to be corrected. Either Bryson has embellished for comic effect, or else his powers of observation are somewhat weaker than one would expect for a travel writer.

“I was in Macksville for the night, owing to the interesting discovery that Brisbane is not three or four hours north of Sydney, as I had long and casually supposed, but the better part of a couple of days’ drive.“ 

Crap. After visiting Macksville, Bryson shows that he has the navigatory nous to find an obscure historical site (pre-satnav era, of course). He has been in Australia for eleven chapters. Having arrived in Macksville, he opens his book of maps. His arrival in Macksville is either moronic or contrived.

“Set on the bank of the swift and muddy Nambucca River …”

Judge for yourself:

Need more photos? Macksville is on a coastal plain. There isn’t a mountain within a hundred miles. The river is never swift, and except for a day or two after very heavy rain it isn’t muddy either (Bryson refers to the “dusty margin” of town, so it is unlikely that rain preceded his visit).

Actually, Bryson’s only experience of Macksville is a stretch of road about 100 metres long in the middle of town. Here is a brief tour of the wider area. Many thanks to the websites / facebook friends from whom I “borrowed” these photos. An Aerial shot of Macksville, looking East.


15 minutes North, the Nambucca River meets the sea. (Thanks, Brad.):


Beaches are available.

10 Minutes south-west – Scotts Head (more…)


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I love a good conspiracy theory. Hat hip to The Daily What: inspired by the 9/11 conspiracy film Loose Change, Graham Putnam examines a series of questionable events and circumstances leading up to the destruction of the Death Star, all told from the perspective of an amateur investigative journalist within the Star Wars galaxy.

On a related note, its good to see that, even a long time ago in a galaxy far, far away, the name Luke remains as popular as ever.

Also, another gem from SMBC:



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I had the great pleasure a few nights ago to see Derren Brown‘s new illusionist / mentalist, hypnotist show Svengali. It’s fantastic, and highly recommended. If you’ve seen any of Derren’s previous shows on TV, then some of the routines will be familiar. This fails to make them any less baffling. If you’re unfamiliar with his work, here’s a sample:

(Here’s a bit more). One of the main themes of much of Brown’s work is his ability to recreate the “powers” of psychics, mind-readers and spiritualists without the pretence of supernatural intervention or paranormal activity. For example, in 2004 he performed a seance “live” on channel 4, and in 2011 trained a member of the British public to become a faith healer.

There is an important and quite general lesson to be learned from Brown’s abilities. In the course of last night’s performance, Brown did a number of things which, if they had been performed by someone claiming psychic powers, would seem, if not totally convincing, at least on the way to suggesting psychic powers. I remain at a complete loss as to how Brown seems to read the minds of audience members and anticipate their seemingly free choices.

Suppose that Connie claims to be a witch – a real, proper, supernatural witch – and as proof of her powers, performs a great feat of mind-reading. Being the mathematical nerds that we are, we decide to formalise our inference that Connie is a witch (and should thus be burned). Help us, Rev. Bayes!

Let: (more…)

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More SMBC gold …

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Nerdy Web Comic Roundup …

I love SMBC.

Also, xkcd and Abstruse Goose. And there are rumours of the return of Perry Bible Fellowship.

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Especially for Cusp, I note the following (proof left for undergraduates):

(Convex h-index conjecture) For n chronologically distinct papers, each of which cites all previous papers, the corresponding h-index is the number of non-congruent diagonals in a regular polygon with number of sides 2 greater than n.

As a corollary, academics engaging in such cheeky behaviour may be indexed with the dimension of their corresponding polygon.

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20 Alternatives to Comic Sans

I have recently been introduced to the fury of graphic designers. Comic sans is a font created in 1994 and made popular by Microsoft. I was originally designed to imitate hand-written comic book lettering, but has since become too popular for its own good. The passionate folks at bancomicsans.com make their case in the form of a manifesto: (more…)

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Copenhagen is just like this! Image links to comic at original size; more marks of wonder at Wondermark.

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The 2009/10 Konditori van Gogh award for excellence in Impressionist Scripting


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