Saturday, July 31, 2010

News Spreads

I've mentioned my up-coming move to Stirling a couple of times here (e.g. one, two). Obviously, news is spreading, because my page (EDIT: now moved/updated to here) just got its first hit from someone searching for 'Ben Saunders Stirling'. Hopefully a few more posts like this will help it in the search rankings!

Anyone looking to contact me from 1st September (by email or snail mail) would be well-advised to check for my new address, as I'm not sure how long I'll be getting stuff forwarded from Oxford.

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Thursday, July 29, 2010

Critiqued in JME

I had a piece on organ donation, called 'Normative Consent and Opt-out Organ Donation,' appear in the Journal of Medical Ethics back in February.

Thanks to following JME on, I saw last night that my article has now been subject to a published critique (in the latest, August 2010, issue). They even call my proposals a 'recipe for totalitarianism' (and cite my colleague, C. C. W. Taylor, in doing so).

I'm already working on a response, so watch this space...

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Wednesday, July 28, 2010

Vine: Meanwhile

I've mentioned before being involved in Amazon's Vine program. I recently noticed that their terms and conditions actually encourage Vine Voices to post their reviews elsewhere online, provided that the places in question don't themselves sell the products. So I thought I'd give it a go here.

Here's the first in what I hope will be a series of such posts, my review of Jason Shiga's choose-your-own-route graphic novel, Meanwhile.

This rather novel book combines are comic with a 'choose your own adventure' story. You follow the events in the life of young Jimmy, after he eats an ice cream and then stumbles upon a professor with a lab full of ingenious inventions. The story progresses from one panel to the next following little arrows and, periodically, you the reader get to choose between one of two different paths, which lead down different routes and ultimately to different endings.

Unlike the traditional choose your own adventure series that I remember as a child, this is picture rather than text based. Nonetheless, I wouldn't say that it's for young children: there's still a reasonable amount of dialogue to read, a fair amount of patience needed, and some slightly complicated instructions. Following the arrows isn't too difficult, once you get what to do, but it's not always so obvious what your choices are in some cases (and I still don't think I've really got the hang of how the access code is supposed to work either).

It doesn't seem to involve that many choices and, because the story includes a certain amount of looping around, it can get quite repetitive after a read or two. I wouldn't say that it's likely to keep anyone amused for a long stretch of continuous time - though maybe that's my short attention span and others will enjoy revisiting the same nodes and trying the various permutations in succession.

For me, this is a book that I think I could come back to again and again (there are apparently 3,856 story possibilities), but not spend too long with in any given visit. Jason Shiga definitely is some kind of genius to have come up with this though, even if it took a computer program to help organize it into book form.

Available to buy from Amazon. Disclaimer: I'm a member of Amazon's affiliate scheme, so purchasing through those links may earn me money, though it won't cost you any more. (The fact that I could earn commission won't bias my reviews - though I expect that I'll only be bringing the good stuff to the attention of my readers here.)

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Monday, July 26, 2010

Mitchell Channels Mill

I'll be lecturing on J. S. Mill's On Liberty in the coming semester. It turns out that I might not need to though, since this piece by David Mitchell (on whether burqas should be banned) seems to channel his spirit rather well. As he puts it:
"In a free society, people should be allowed to do what they want wherever possible. The loss of liberty incurred by any alternative principle is too high a price to pay to stop people making dicks of themselves. But, if people are using their freedoms to make dicks of themselves, other people should be able to say so."

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Sunday, July 25, 2010


I've got my name in Ethics - one of the top journals in my field. The latest issue (120:4), p. 881 (the list of manuscript reviewers for 2009).

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Saturday, July 24, 2010


As I've mentioned here, I'm moving to Scotland in just over a month. The hassles may make blogging slightly more sporadic - as indeed may the fact that we'll probably be on pay as you go internet once we get there, due to the cost of reconnecting the phoneline.

In any case, I'll be documenting the process here, for anyone keen to keep in touch. My girlfriend, Eloise, will be moving up (and in) with me, so I just wanted to insert a plug for her new blog, A Duck on the Move, which seems dedicated to our migration (or should that be emigration, what with it being a new country and all?)

Of course, we're not the first to have this idea - one of my colleagues to be has a (now seemingly moribund) blog based on her new life in Scotland.

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Friday, July 23, 2010

USS Pension Changes

It seems that changes in the USS pension scheme (which covers UK academics) are close to be agreed. It looks like pensions for new entrants will be based on career average earnings, rather than final salaries, which seems like quite a blow given that most don't start paying until their late 20s and often have to go the first few years post-PhD in low-paid under-employment.

To be honest, my pension is so far off that it's rather hard to predict what effects this will have on me, other than that I'll be worse off (effective immediately, as employees' contributions rise to 7.5% of salary). I think I'm glad I joined when I did though, assuming I can at some point reach a respectable 'final salary'...

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Thursday, July 22, 2010

Amazon Speculating

If you leave items hanging around in your Amazon shopping basket, you'll occasionally find notifications that they've changed price (particularly if on sale). This in itself isn't too surprising, though I do find it odd that sometimes things change by just a few pence and wonder whether it's really that important. I assume some of the fluctuations are linked to exchange rates, though that probably isn't all.

Anyway, this can make it rather hard to know when - or even whether - to purchase. I've recently noticed several items in my basket gradually edging downwards, but periodically one will shoot up drastically. This means that, on the one hand, there's an incentive to wait hoping for further falls, but also an incentive to buy once you're happy that the price is low enough in case it rises.

A month or so ago I bought this for £4.09 only to find it's now fallen to £1.86. On the other hand, just today I received this, which I'd caught at it's lowest price (£1.76) days before it shot up to £12.99. It seems that prices, like those of shares, can go either up or down. I'm curious whether there's any pattern to it though - and would welcome insight from anyone with knowledge, or even a hypothesis.

I've heard that Amazon may be deliberately trying to gauge customers' price sensitivity. I wouldn't have thought it would be particularly worth their while, but it occurs to me that I have no way of knowing whether price discrimination is occurring (Do I get offered what's in my basket at a different price than others? It would be possible to check, by logging out, but I've never tried...)

In any case, there's something curiously satisfying about the feeling that you got a bargain, whether by skill or luck - but caveat emptor.

UPDATE (23/7): Scored a pretty decent success today. Just found four albums before dinner that looked interesting and decided to take a punt at £7.28 the lot. By the time I got back from dinner, three of them had gone back up to normal, full price (between £10.49 and £14.49) so the same four would have cost over £40. Bargain!

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Monday, July 19, 2010

Elective on Plato

I don't yet have my own staff webpage at Stirling, but I do now have a page advertising a course that I'll be running in the Spring Semester: a directed independent study 'elective' on Plato's Republic.

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Wednesday, July 14, 2010

Advice to Journal Reviewers

From Phil Anon.

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Tuesday, July 13, 2010


Sorry that posts here have been sparse lately. I've been busy with conferences (SAP and BSET) and am currently staying in Nottingham before heading up to Stirling for a quick visit tomorrow. Normal service should be resumed shortly.