Tuesday, 19 January 2010

Why I don't follow Stephen Fry

My knees and ankles are playing up today. I put this down to one of two things; it’s either the boot camp style training regime I was put through at last Friday’s morris dancing session; or it could be a result of all the bending and stretching I’ve been doing over the weekend in putting together some IKEA furniture. Either way, the pain’s the same. I wonder if they have morris dancers, or something similar, in Sweden? They could do the Hemnes dance, which involves complex machinations with allen keys and cross-head screwdrivers as they put together a jolly nice set of drawers; or perhaps the Ektorp, where the dancers sit on a sofa for hours at a time, sloshing aquavit and eating Lant Chips…but I digress. Having set aside my Ikea-ing, I sat down at my computer to read my emails, do a bit of writing, and check to see if anyone new was following me on Twitter.

I’ve spoken at length about Twitter before, so I’m not going to bore you with explanations as to how it works; suffice it to say that one aspect of this micro-blogging site is that it allows you to ‘follow’ (ie read comments made by) fellow Twitterati. Amongst us ordinary folk there are a good many ‘celebrities’, including US President Barack Obama, comedian Bill Bailey, Phill Jupitus (he of Never mind the Buzzcocks), the wife of PM Gordon Brown, and a fair old smattering of singers, writers, broadcasters and actors. One of the most popular tweeters is Stephen Fry.

I don’t follow Stephen Fry. And, by this, I don’t mean “I don’t know what people see in Stephen Fry”. Mr. F. is an exceptionally witty, talented, well-read and urbane gentleman. I thoroughly enjoyed the Fry and Laurie programmes a few years ago. I still laugh at his appearances in Blackadder, particularly in his incarnation as General Melchett. And, if I can help it, I never miss QI. What I mean is, “I don’t follow Stephen Fry on Twitter”. And before you accuse me of being churlish, let me assure you that I have nothing but Mr. Fry’s best interests at heart. Allow me to explain.

On the 14th of January 2010 at around 5pm, I logged into Twitter to see how many followers Mr. Fry and I had. My total stood at 336. Three hundred and thirty six individuals had, at some point, decided that they were interested enough in what I had to say (whatever that might be) to click on the little 'follow’ button on my Twitter page. And Mr. Fry? Oh…he had 1,244,658 followers.

One million, two hundred and forty four thousand, six hundred and fifty eight people have pushed Stephen’s button, if you’ll pardon the expression. Take the population of Birmingham, add the good people of Brighton, and you’d still have to find another four thousand people (twice the population of St. David’s, the smallest city in Wales) to equal the number of Mr. Fry’s followers. On a world scale, his followers outrank the population of seventy countries, including Swaziland, Bahrain and Luxembourg, and represent 0.0183 percent of the world’s population. Assume that this number consists roughly of half men and half women of average height; if you laid them end to end, not only would they be quite comfortable, but they would also stretch in an unbroken line from Lisbon in Portugal to Haasdonk (pop: 4000, twice that of the city of St. David's aforementioned), a little village about 7 miles south-west of Antwerp, a distance of 1315 miles. If Stephen decided to stand for the Fry Party in the next general election, he would, using the stats from the last general election, be the fourth most popular “party” behind the LibDems with 4.59 percent of the votes, outgunning UKIP and the Scottish National Party combined. Perhaps we could persuade him to stand for Parliament…

Can you imagine what it would be like if every single one of those individuals decided to send a “tweet” to Stephen in response to some erudite remark he had just made? A “tweet”, if you didn’t already know, is a Twitter message, and can be up to 140 characters long. I calculated that it would take about six seconds to read a single tweet. For Stephen to read the tweets of every single one of his followers would take a solid eighty six and a half days. If, intelligent chap that he is, he decided to spend only eight hours a day reading them, then it would employ him for nearly 260 days. I think I’m beginning to understand why ‘celebrities’ rarely reply to tweets from us mortals. One and a quarter million messages in one hit...it’s like being shouted at by a major conurbation.

I know what you’re thinking. Not all of Stephen’s followers would be online at the same time. Some would probably be working; others watching TV or listening to the radio. Still others might be digging a hole, putting on makeup, having sex, eating a banana or playing a trombone. (That’s what I call multi-tasking). This being a likely scenario, I decided to carry out an experiment. I sent a tweet, asking those of my followers who read it to reply to me. Of my 336 followers, I received twenty replies; around six percent of the total. Apply this to Stephen’s followers and you arrive at a figure of around 74,680. That’s still more than twice the population of Liechtenstein, and equates to being yelled at by every inhabitant of the town of Carlisle in Cumbria. This 74,000-odd are a heavy lot, too. Heavy, but quite useful. Using rough averages, their total weight would be around 11,855,767 lbs, or 5293 tons, if you prefer. If we decided to break these 74,680 into their component elements for recycling (something I’m sure Mr. Fry would heartily approve of), we would have enough phosphorus to make 164,296,000 match heads (that‘s 1,932,894 boxes of Swan Vestas); carbon to make 67,212,000 pencils; sufficient fat for 522,760 bars of soap or 5,601,000 candles; and iron enough for 75,000 3 inch nails. Of course, we mustn‘t forget water; from these lucky people we could extract 746,800 gallons of water; far more than the 660,253.09 gallons it would take to fill an average Olympic-sized swimming pool. If we decided of dessicate every one of Stephen’s followers, we could collect 55,687 tons of water - a weight equivalent to eight fully-loaded Saturn V rockets.

If Mr. Fry is reading this (and I hope some day he may do so), I trust he will begin to understand why I don’t follow him. For one thing, there are already one and a quarter million people tugging at his virtual sleeve; I’m astonished that he ever finds time to make polite replies to any of his followers. For another, he probably doesn’t need another 2200 matches, 900 pencils, 7 bars of soap or 75 candles, a single three inch nail or ten gallons of water that an additional individual could provide. And, since I’m not very tall, I wouldn’t bring his unbroken line of followers that much closer to Haasdonk.

I logged on to Twitter a moment ago. I see I’m down to 333 followers - The Number of Half a Beast. Stephen, on the other hand, has 1,267,172; 22,514 more than last time which, curiously is very close to the population of a small town in East Sussex. It’s called Seaford. It’s where I live…

Wednesday, 6 January 2010

The politics of snow

In common with just about everyone else, we've had large amounts of snow dumped on us over the last week or so. I haven't been able to get my car out, as it is garaged on a road with a very steep and, I might point out, ungritted, gradient. The upshot of this is that we've done our shopping locally (something which is fairly easy, as we live in a proper little town with all the day to day shops you might need), and I've spent more time indoors than I might otherwise have done. This has given me time to potter about, drink coffee, and think.

The climatologists are busy berating us ordinary folk at the moment, accusing us of confusing "weather" with "climate". Every time some newspaper columnist pops up and says, "what's happened to this global warming, then? I'm under six feet of snow!", s/he is accused of being a climate change denier, and the point is re-iterated that these cold blips have nothing to do with global warming, which is progressing nicely thanks to the use of fossil fuel that we are currently using to keep ourselves warm.

Okay. So this cold weather has nowt to do with climate change. But what if there is some other force at work? They say that 100% of statistics can be used to prove 75% of things 88% of the time, so perhaps you will not be surprised to learn that this current cold snap is due, not to cold fronts and all that stuff, but the the people we currently have in government. It's Labour's fault that we've had so much snow.

You don't believe me, do you? I don't blame you; I quite often wrong about things (so Mrs. H tells me). But I've done the maths, and I'm perfectly willing to share my findings with you.

Since January 1900, we've had fourteen political administrations. Of these, seven have been conservative, six labour and only one Liberal. The Tories have been in government for about 60 years and ten months since January 1900. During their terms of office, there have been fifteen winters described by the Met Office as "snowy", one winter "very snowy", and six White Christmases in London. So under the Conservatives we're likely to have a snowy winter every four years or so, a very snowy winter only once every sixty years, and a White Christmas every ten years or so. But thinking about it, the only really bad Conservative winter (1962/3) was under PM Sir Alec Douglas-Home, who was MP for Kinross and Western Perthshire in Scotland. The weather's pretty awful up there at the best of times. Perhaps he brought it with him.

How about Labour? What do they do to our winter weather? Well, they've been in office for about 31 years and 5 months, during which time there were eight "snowy" winters, two "very snowy" winters, and four White Christmases. So, with Labour you're looking at a snowy winter every 3.9 years (very similar to the Tories), a very snowy one every 15.75 years, and a White Christmas about every eight years. So perhaps Gordon Brown could stand for re-elction on the basis that you're more likely to get a White Christmas under his administration than under David Cameron's. But this year is likely to go down in history as "very snowy", which skews the figures somewhat, and means that under Labour we're likely to suffer a very snowy winter every ten and a half years!

But I'm forgetting the poor old Liberals. They were last in office in October 1922, having been in power for around 16 years and 10 months. During their era, there were four "snowy" winters, one "very snowy" winter, and two White Christmases. Curiously, this is close to a snowy winter every four years (just like the other parties), a very snowy one every 16 years, and a White Christmas about every eight years.

Now, I'm probably the least political person I know, and I realise that politics is about more than having to stock up with de-icer and firelighters. It's not for me to tell you who to vote for this year; I'm simply quoting the facts. If it's a White Christmas you're wanting (and don't we all love those, dear bloggy friend?) then there's nothing to choose between Labour and LibDem. Likewise, "snowy" winters are fairly evenly distributed amongst the parties (anyone would think there was some kind of conspiracy, wouldn't they? A bit like "paired voting" in the Commons!). The big difference comes when we look at the "very snowy" winters. Under Labour, we'd get one every ten years or so. The LibDems would see to it that, if they came to power this year, our next major snow fall would be in November 2026. But the safest party would seem to be the Conservatives, with a really bad winter only every sixty years.

So, not for the first time, I ask, "what am I on about?" This is the bottom line, I'm afraid: Every time we get a really bad winter, we whack up the central heating and produce more of those greenhouse gases. Statistics show that, under a Labour administration, we're six times more likely to get snowed in and, therefore, six times more likely to burn more of those naughty fossil fuels. If we want to cut down on our production of CO2 - vote Conservative! You know it makes sense. Possibly...