Saturday, 25 February 2012

Anyone for rugby?

Sorry about the quality of the photo, but it's one taken of the television image, showing Scott Williams scoring the winning try for Wales against England in Twickenham (that's England HQ).

Final score: Lloegr (England) 12, Cymru (Wales) 19 (the try in the photo was converted, adding two points to the total). Music to the ears.

There's nothing more need be said, is there? (Well, perhaps we could give the English a "Poor dabs," but chwarae teg, Wales deserved the win, so we won't bother.)

Two more matches left for Wales, who are now in with a very good chance for the Championship and, France permitting, of the Grand Slam, too.

César's triumph

One of the best quiz programmes on Spanish television is Pasapalabra. It used to be transmitted by Antena 3 and was then better than its current incarnation on Telecinco: like most things nowadays, it has been dummed down to be more "entertaining" in the earlier part of the programme.

Fortunately, however, the significant last part of the quiz has remained just as interesting and exciting as it was: two contestants have each to provide one-word answers to as many as possible of 25 questions in a very limited time (usually about two and a half minutes, the total time being determined by success or failure in word games in the earlier part of the programme). The questions can relate to anything and everything: language, geography, history, physics, natural history, cinema, mythology, literature… In fact, an enormous general knowledge is required to complete the task and this rarely happens. However, if all 25 questions can be answered correctly in the limited time allotted, then the successful contestant is rewarded with the jackpot, a monetary amount that is increased by 6,000 euro each day.

Last night, César Garrido, a 34 year-old bachelor from Cuenca, raced through his questions and answered everything correctly with plenty of time to spare. As a result, he won 1,524,000 euro, the second largest jackpot in the history of Pasapalabra and the biggest jackpot ever won on Telecinco (in 2006, when Pasapalabra was still on Antena 3, the contestant Jaime Cantizano won no less than 2,190,000 euro).

Most contestants struggle to approach 15 correctly answered questions. César had already appeared on 29 consecutive editions of the programme (the better of the two contestans of one day wins 1,200 euro and returns the following day to fight again) and on no less than 20 occasions he was able to answer 20 or more correctly.

A more worthy winner than César is difficult to imagine: he lost both his father and his brother early in his life and suffers from a bone marrow disease that has meant he has had to undergo numerous operations. Nevertheless, he is a qualified teacher of English, a task he exercised during ten years, before becoming the correspondent for culture and sports for a daily digital newspaper in Cuenca. César intends to donate part of his winnings to the investigation of bone marrow diseases and also hopes to be able to do some travelling. As a lover of the cinema, he particularly wants to visit Hollywood.

Well done César!

All the Ones

We were driving into Guardamar yesterday and had taken some paper and cardboard with us to put into the appropriate container on the way (you do sort your rubbish, don't you?). There are containers for different types of rubbish just near the exit of El Raso, so I parked the car next to them. As I was switching off the ignition, I noticed the kilometre counter.

A bingo caller would have shouted, "All the ones, onety-onety-onety-one," or words to that effect. However, I understand that there are only 10 types of people in the world: those who understand binary and those who don't.

Well, you might not understand the binary numbering system, but you use it in some way every day, I'll bet. Just about everything is digitised nowadays, from the mobile phone (oh bane of my life), the lowly weather station, the kitchen scales (assuming their not a decent set of analogue ones), the mp3 player, the iPad, iPod, iWhatever, to the now common-or-garden home desktop computer, and even the CERN supercollider.

Yup, they're all based on just two numbers, zero and one.

All computer technology relies on what are basically no more than switches that can have one of two states: on and off, or, one and zero (and sometimes even "yes" and "no"). And with these two digits, any other number can be formed. Okay, you're used to using ten digits to form numbers, 0, 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, and 9. This is the decimal system, but there are other numbering systems out there, the best-known being octal, hexadecimal, and binary.

So, how does binary work? Simple!

First, a quick look at our normal decimal system to understand how we count. We start at 0, meaning nothing, then we go 1,2,3… up to 9, but when we want to go further, we have no free digits, so we say something like, "Right, I now have one lot of ten, so I'll put down a 1, and nothing else, so I'll put down a 0," giving us 10. We then continue up to our next change from 9 to the next number and have to say, "Now I have 2 lots of ten and nothing else,"which gives us 20.

And when we run out of digits for the "tens position" all we have to do is start a new position for the hundreds and so on.

Binary works just like that, but new positions have to be created much more frequently, every time the count reaches 2, in fact. So we go 0, 1… er end of available digits, so 10, 11… er end of available digits, so 100, 101, 110, 111… er end of available digits… and so on.

Now, if we look at a decimal number, say 563, then it can be broken down as follows:

3 = 10 to the power 0 (which is 1) x 3, giving 3
6 = 10 to the power 1 (which is 10) x 6, giving 60
5 = 10 to the power 2 (which is 100) x 5, giving 500

Add them up and you get the full number. In fact, the position of the digit, counting from right to left, indicates the "power" of the "base number" of the system. The base number of the decimal system is ten. This is how all number systems work.

Applying this to the binary system (whose base number is 2), then the decimal equivalent of 101 binary is:

1 = 2 to the power 0 (which is 1) x 1, giving 1
0 = 2 to the power 1 (which is 2) x 0, giving 0
1 = 2 to the power 2 (which is 4) x 1, giving 4

Add them up and you get 5. So binary 101 is the same as decimal 5.

What about binary 111111?

1 = 2 to the power 0 (which is 1) x 1, giving 1
1 = 2 to the power 1 (which is 2) x 1, giving 2
1 = 2 to the power 2 (which is 4) x 1, giving 4
1 = 2 to the power 3 (which is 8) x 1, giving 8
1 = 2 to the power 4 (which is 16) x 1, giving 16
1 = 2 to the power 5 (which is 32) x 1, giving 32

Add them up and you get decimal 63.

(Sadly my car counts in decimal, not binary, so I must accept that it has been driven 111,111 kilometres and not just 63.)

To explain exactly how these ones and zeroes become transformed, not just into decimal numbers, but also into letters, symbols, colours, sound, and everything else digital, would take a whole book, even though it is really quite simple. Believe me, it might look impressive, but its all just ones and zeroes.

Wednesday, 15 February 2012

Winter and summer

It being Wednesday (SWMBO's hairdresser day, remember), and given the good weather, we were in the Parque Reina Sofía in Guardamar again this morning.

A good number of others were enjoying a morning stroll in the park and several had brought some food for the animals there. A lot of squirrels were running around, climbing up and down the trees and grabbing the pieces of sustenance offered by the humans. The peahens were rather annoying, blocking off the squirrels' routes and pecking at them if they came too close. Still, with some careful positioning, it was quite easy to allow the squirrels to take the peanuts that we had brought for them. They seem to enjoy the peanuts, too, for some squirrels were daring enough to climb onto us in order to get to them.

We noticed several squirrels that are greyer than the majority. These are not the grey squirrels that are common on northern Europe, but red squirrels that, I believe, have not yet shed their winter coats.

Here you can see a "grey" red squirrel and one with the "normal" colouring.

Friday, 10 February 2012

Here's… Cyril!

We had to go into Guardamar today to take something to the post-office.

The weather was so pleasant that we decided to have a look in the Parque Reina Sofía, too. Before going there we popped into Mercadona to buy a bag of peanuts, in case we should come across any squirrels in the park.

It was about two o'clock, so most of the wildlife, being of a Spanish nature, was settling down to a well-deserved siesta. A few squirrles were to be seen, but there were considerably less that on the Wednesday mornings, when we usually visit the park and they seemed less curious and enthusiastic about coming to take the peanuts we were offering. Nevertheless, one little fellow was very eager to come back time and time again, so here are some photos of him: please meet Cyril.

Cyril, like all of the other squirrels we see in Guardamar, is a Eurasian red squirrel (Sciurus vulgaris). This is the comon squirrel that is prevalent throughout Eurasia, though in the British Isles they are less commonly seen, having been largely ousted by the imported grey squirrel from North America.

The first few peanuts that he took were carried into one or other tree to be eaten there, sitting on a comfortable branch. Then old Cyril would clamber back down the trunk, and hop across the ground to take his next peanut from the hand. After a few peanuts, he had clearly eaten his fill, so he then started to bury them at different locations: sometimes he would bury the whole nut, shell and all, and on other occasions he would take the two nuts out of their shell and bury each separately.

Enjoy the photos.

Wednesday, 1 February 2012


 It's Wednesday.

Wednesday is Hairdresser Day.

Not for me, you understand, as I am hirsutely challenged and haven't visited a hairdresser for twenty years or more.

No, for She Who Must Be Obeyed, who insists on visiting the hairdresser every week on Wednesday morning.

The hairdresser is in Guardamar, so the visit is not for nought and allows us to have a look at the Wednesday street market, where I occasionally come across an interesting cactus, to pop into Hotel Quino for a morning coffee and chat, and to have a walk around. The latter often involves going through the parks: while SWMBO is in the hairdresser, I walk through the Alfonso XIII park and afterwards we walk through the more formal Reina Sofía park. The latter park has numerous half-tame creatures, other than the children that frequent the play-areas out of school-term time: squirrels, peacocks, swans, and a good selection of ducks.

The first photo in this entry was taken last week and I liked it so much that I thought I'd take a few more duck shots today. The weather was fine. The peacocks tails have almost fully developed, so they will soon be displaying to their hens; the squirrels were as frisky as usual; the ducks were in fine fettle.

We were surprised to see one duck with ten little ducklings, perhaps the first of the season. They were very lively, inquisitive and chirping away.

I can't help you with the identity of the ducks, I'm afraid, but I hope you enjoy these duck portraits.

After our walk throught the park, and before our walk along the front in Guardamar, we went to have a midday meal at one of the Chinese restaurants in the town. She Who Must Be Obeyed is particularly partial to the crispy roast duck with ginger, but she passed on that dish today in favour of beef and vegetables…