Thursday, December 27

Shutdown for being sexist?

I'm still not sure about quotas - I suspect there is always the danger that the mandatory limited group will be perceived as token members, and their opinions and contributions ignored by an inner circle consisting of the group that used to be in the majority, but this article in the Guardian about Norway's laws has a quote that hits the nail on the head as to why quotas should be considered.

In Norway's case, they're mandatory - a law put in place several years ago requires companies to have 40% of the board directors to be women. A large number of companies appear to have just ignored that, putting them in rather an awkward position now that the Norwegian government is actually saying that they will apply the law they've been saying they'll apply.

Here's the quote:
""the fact that diversity is a value in itself, that it creates wealth... From my time in the business world, I saw how board members were picked: they come from the same small circle of people. They go hunting and fishing together. They're buddies."

Norway being Norway, that quote is from a 52 year old man in their Conservative party, Ansgar Gabrielsen.

But it really hits the nail on the head - if they are only selecting from a limited pool - those who will be the fishing buddies of the current limited pool - then you are restricting the quality of your boards. Given that Norway has had equal education for years, if the quality of the female candidates for board director isn't up to scratch, then that will be the fault of the companies themselves for not promoting them to positions to gain the experience needed. The Norwegian government had given them ample time to do so.

Thursday, December 20

You published that *when*?

Oh my my, what sort of industry have I got myself into?

A letter in Nature this week notes the worrying trend of increasing paper publications on the 25th of December - while there are a number of countries that do not officially celebrate this day, of course, for many others it is a legal day off. In fact, I'm banned from trying to sneak in and do any lab work, even if I did want to.

Guess what I'm procrastinating over my blogging right now rather than getting on with? Yep, submitting a journal paper. This one got delayed as a referee wants - nay, virtually insists - on my including a reference that doesn't appear to be available outside of North America, and the journal complains about mechanical deficiencies (the margins are too small. Uh... guys? It's an electronic submission, in an extremely widely available format. That means you can reformat the damn thing yourself, surely? And wouldn't that be quicker than sending me an email telling me I have to do it? And if you're going to tell me I have to do it, couldn't you at least tell me what the damn unconventional margin sizes you want are?)

Almost like a whale?

Evolution is a weird thing. Particularly for those who still think there has to be some designer, for whom the random twists and turns of evolution can be utterly confusing. Why, for example, if you wanted to make a giant sea living creature, would you start with something on the land?

So the discovery of fossils like that of Indohyus, a fox-sized, deer-like mammal that lived 48 million years ago and spent a fair amount of time in the water, is the sort of thing that must do their heads in.

The BBC report, the Nature News summary and the original paper, snappily titled "Whales originated from aquatic artiodactyls in the Eocene epoch of India"

Friday, December 14

Advertisement for a Hollywood film

As with most Hollywood blockbusters these days, The Golden Compass (which I haven't seen yet) has a way to get bloggers to give them free advertising with little things to put on the blogs. In this case, it is a "choose your own daemon". I have shamelessly done this twice, as the first time I was somewhat disappointed to be paired with a mouse.

I'm obviously feeling more egotistical this time, as they've given me a monkey.

Thursday, December 6

I bark, therefore I am

So, dogs are capable of using abstract concepts.

For those with journal access, the original paper in the journal Animal Cognition is here

Basically, the paper is reporting a test of visual categorisation, in that having trained the dogs to differentiate pictures of dogs and pictures of landscapes, the dogs then classed pictures of dogs on a landscape in the former category, not the latter.

Having grown up with two border collies, I'm not particularly surprised at this - those dogs always seemed pretty smart (well, the first one did, the second is rather weird)

Wednesday, December 5

*THIS* is how you evict someone from a university library

In the US, security staff at libraries are videoed repeatedly tasering a recalcitrant student.

This Youtube video of someone getting evicted from a university library in the UK shows there is still a huge difference - that this is one of the most viewed youtube footages according the university facebook account shows just how little scurrilous footage there is.
Security overstepping their authority? Nope.
Security overzealously enforcing their authority? Nope.
Security halfheartedly lugging some loon out of the library because he was bothering the students and refused to leave when asked politely? Check.
They don't even drop him - they gently lower him to the ground. Well, I suppose it was a little damp, this is in November after all.

The video is only remotely entertaining at the end, when you realise why the individual that the security staff have had to carry out through the doors with a distinct air of boredom was deservedly evicted. As they stand around, looking distinctly uninterested by the tedium of the whole affair, the evicted individual demonstrates that he appeared to believe that his right to free speech included ranting about 'Jaysus' to students who'd rather get on with their studying (although not having a library card means they were clearly legally entitled to ask him to leave).

Apart from making you realise what a thankless task security at a university have sometimes, the general indifference of the student body to this fundamentalist loon has to be applauded...

Friday, November 30

Evidently the board did get the message

One lesson from the Rugby World Cup was that the "minnows" aren't that little a bunch of fish. Fortunately, the International Rugby Board has realised that a) the only way to grow the game is to give the best of these "minnows" a chance to play in the Rugby World Cup, and b) they aren't "minnows" anyway.

Argentina will also now definitely be playing in the Southern Hemisphere (Quad Nations?) tournament, rather than an expanded Seven Nations.

Thursday, November 29

I like this

Although I have no artistic ability whatsoever (what do you mean, you can tell from the banner image?), I rather admire as well as envy those who do. So the website Ffffound rather appeals to me - image bookmarking of cool pictures that people come across on the web.

My favourites are the classic pre-computer designs for conferences and sporting events - wish I could come up with something that stylish.

Probing crystals, one column of atoms at a time

One of the things that makes new science possible is having shiny new toys to play with - once a technique has been developed and made practical, all sorts of new information can be gained in a large number of areas.

In transmission electron microscopy, for example, rapid recent advances mean we're able to get more information from smaller regions of samples. A paper in this week's Nature by Kimoto et al, demonstrates electron energy loss spectroscopy from individual columns of atoms in a crystal. As a microscopist myself, I have to say - this is really, really cool.

Wednesday, November 28

They're at it again

Looking at the NY Times today, one of the cartoons made me snort with derision at the attitude of the cartoonist (not the first time I've thought that Glenn McCoy is an arse).

One day, certain Americans might finally get some humility and realise that it is no longer acceptable to refer to their President as "Leader of the Free World".

Bush barely got a majority of the ballots that were counted from the Americans who bothered to vote in only one of his two elections. If the "Free World" got to have a say who their leader would be, it certainly wouldn't have been Bush. If you believe in democracy, then you have to stop claiming to be the leader of the free world until such a vote exists.

Monday, November 26

Possibly the most gob-smacking example of government stupidity I've seen all week

Just when you think that the UK government is breaking new bounds in stupidity in being so penny-pinching that a member of staff thinks it's a good idea to send CDs with half the country's account detail on via unlisted post, the US government shows it is leagues ahead with bureaucratic penny pinching.

Apparently, they have decided that some government employees should repay their signing bonuses if they do not see out their contracts. Which would appear to be reasonable enough, except that these government employees are service people, and can't fulfill their contracted term because they have been injured in the course of duty.

Who on earth thought this was a good idea?

The US army have declared this to be a clerical error. What is it with these clerics?

Thursday, November 22


On the BBC pages appears this quote
We're simply a better team

Croatia coach Slaven Bilic

Can't argue with that, really. England are out because they deserve to be.

Tuesday, November 20


Damn that miserable summer!

A shortage of hops means - £4 a pint!

Monday, November 19

The Outside Royalty

When the Grauniad described a band as a cross between Pulp and The Arcade Fire, I was intrigued but suspected they were overdoing it.

But no, The Outside Royalty do sound good to me. Not completely convinced that Adam Billing is what Jarvis Cocker would sound like if he'd come from the Steel City in the US rather than the one in Yorkshire, but the music is rather good.

Thursday, November 15

The musical tastes of scientists

As a scientist who spends a lot of time listening to music, I was interested to see the report in this week's Nature on the two groups of University of California researchers who have made working radios using nanotubes, not only for the scientific interest but also the rather different choices of signal to use to demonstrate the process.

One went for the obvious joke - Good Vibrations by the Beach Boys. The second went for the obscure - 17th century harp music.

In practical terms, the researchers suggest this could lead to smaller, cheaper, and more efficient wireless devices. One of the groups suggests these could be made small enough to pass through the human bloodstream.

Gun Crime in the UK

Living in the city nicknamed "Shottingham", reputed to be the "gun crime capital of the UK" (copyright - lazy journalists who live in London of all places and can't be bothered doing any thinking, let alone research), I do sometimes wonder what Americans would make of the current angst about gun crime in the UK. As the BBC reports, 58 people were shot dead in the UK last year, but notes

Compared with the US - where 14,000 murders involving firearms were committed in 2005 - the UK is a safe haven.

Meanwhile, in the vicious streets of Nottinghamshire, newspaper reports from August contain lurid headlines of how the gangsters are terrorising people with air rifles (Daily Mirror, 28th August), starting pistols (Nottingham Evening Post, 14 August) and are even shooting a window (Nottingham Evening Post, 13 August). That's "window" as in pane of glass, not widow.

No, I really would not like to be shot in the back with an air rifle. But equally, we could perhaps do with some sense of perspective on this, rather than allow the media to generate another panic to fill their headlines.

Monday, November 12

Juan Carlos vs Hugo Chávez

Hugo Chávez is one of those left wingers who a sane left-winger should actually dislike. He's like Galloway - just because you're attacking a dictatorial half-wit who is bent on taking the country they've managed to get themselves elected to lead in some deranged direction, it doesn't mean that you're not also a deranged half-wit etc. etc.

So it's not a surprise to see that plenty of the centre-left have been delighted with the response of Juan Carlos I of Spain, who became so fed up of Chávez interrupting he told him - in very blunt terms - to shut up.

Chávez, who likes to bang on about how he was democratically elected, was interrupting the democratically elected José Luis Rodríguez Zapatero - leader of the Spanish Socialist Workers' Party - who was defending his predecessor and political opponent José María Aznar from Chávez's rants that he was a socialist. Juan Carlos, who one would imagine knows what a fascist is, having previously managed to trick a bunch of them into enabling him to turn Spain from a fascist state to a parliamentary democracy, was having none of this.

Chavez is boasting how he has been democratically elected with 63% support to justify his being rude. But both Zapatero and Aznar were democratically elected, and in November 2005, Juan Carlos received a 77.5% approval rating in a newspaper poll. So he's basically shown himself up as the sort of arrogant tit that right wingers must love to be able to point at and say "See? That's what lefties are like!".

Some people appear to think Global Warming is someone else's problem

A flying palace? Airbus are selling a modification of their giant A380 Superjumbo as a $310m Airbus "Flying Palace".

Despite my earlier suspicions that this might be Prince Bandar deciding to update his private jet, this is the richer prince Alwaleed bin Talal doing the spending, apparently to replace his custom-made Boeing 747-400.

Curves = brains?

Yet another of these studies that the BBC likes reporting, and that makes a scientist think Um... how statistically significant is this report?

This time it is liking the hip to waist ratio to intelligence.

On the plus side, the BBC at least has a quote from a sceptical scientist on the article.

On my completely unscientific, anecdotal view, I can't say I'm particularly attracted to a woman depending on her level of curvaceousness (although the Kate Moss physique is too scrawny for my tastes), but I am a sucker for smart women, particularly those with the bizarre judgement flaw that makes them actually like me.

Sunday, November 11

The 11th hour of the 11th day of the 11th month

On Remembrance Sunday in Nottingham, there is always a ceremony by the war memorial on the riverbank. Thanks to the sacrifices of so many men many years ago, and men and women today, I'm free to go for a row on Sunday if I feel like it. Being in a veterans squad boat, there is perhaps more of an awareness and respect for those who have gone before us. Shortly before 11am, both eights in the squad came to a halt on the water, and we held our own minutes silence.

BBC pictures of Remembrance Sunday

Friday, November 9

Are we out yet?

Are we out yet? No

Are we out yet? No

Are we out yet? Nearly.

Someone needs a kick up the pants when it comes to English football players. Inventing the game and having the best league doesn't mean you can sit back. Failure to qualify might help.

The media scaring off any half-decent manager doesn't help either.

Thursday, November 8

Who has the best universities?

Which country has the most universities in the top 5 in the world? Well, the US isn't it, surely, given the size of the country and the amount of money their universities have in endowments.

Apparently, no. It's the UK, thanks to Cambridge, Oxford and Imperial College London. If you believe the Times Higher Education Supplement, anyway (or at least, the BBC News story about it, as I can't find the actual list on the THES website, so no idea where my employers are yet).

The US still has the top establishment (Harvard) and 6 of the top ten to the UK's four.

Monday, November 5

What is a science blog?

What makes a blog a science blog? Is it one written by a scientist, even if much of their posts are concerned with fighting rampant creationism? Is it a blog that ostensibly claims to be about science issues, even if many would suggest their position is motivated at least as much by politics as by science?

So are the 2007 Weblog awards right to list all the blogs they list as science blogs (no link as their page is s-l-o-w)?

This isn't a science blog, of course. It's a blog by someone who is a scientist, among other things.

Is this journal paper NSFW?

One would think that a paper (from February of this year) titled "Electrochemical synthesis of metal and semimetal nanotube–nanowire heterojunctions and their electronic transport properties" would be quite safe to read at work. Except... perhaps it would have been better to think of an alternative short way of writing "copper nanotubes"?

(When I say is this paper NSFW - really, your employers computer system may block it for repeated - albeit unintentional - profanity)

Sunday, November 4

Cheney gets it wrong again

Not content with getting Iran and Iraq mixed up (or, at least, they've now decided that Iran is also a dangerous nation backing regional terrorism that is developing weapons of mass destruction), it now appears that the citizens of Lima may need to be slightly concerned at the lack of geographical and/or political knowledge of certain US politicians.

Peru is here:

It is not here

Dick Cheney, take note - the second one is Venezuela.

I have to say, though - how do you manage to get the two confused? It's not like they are very similar names, or particularly nearby, or have very similar leaders (for Cheney's information, Alan García is the current president of Peru, and Hugo Chavez is the president of Venezuela - you know, the one who keeps being rude about you - and Chavez supported García's rival at the last election).

Oh well, could have been worse. There are probably a few Americans out there who still think if you say South America you're talking about Mississippi...

Monday, October 29

Fancy a 64Gb iPod shuffle?

Samsung have announced the production (as in a lab production, not a product line) of a 64Gb flash memory card.

As the BBC article says, a single chip could hold 18,000 songs - over a month of solid, non-stop music.

Now all you need is the battery that can last that long...

Friday, October 26

I'm #1

Just to show that there are so many phrases out there that even a blog as obscure as this one can sometimes show up first on a google hit:

1. A probably accurate insight into feline nature
2. PR spokesperson who is clearly talking complete rot.
3. Momentum does not work that way, moron!

"the noblest tradition of science"

Is to admit when you're wrong.

52 years ago, a scientist put out a paper. Then he realised it was wrong, and that people were using these incorrect assumptions as "proofs" for their own beliefs.

So what does a scientist do in these situations? Simple. Declare the paper was wrong, and retract it.

So, good on you Dr Homer Jacobson.

And bad news for the creationists.

Thursday, October 25

Nature on Watson

The latest Nature comments on James Watson's recent outburst and subsequent downfall.

Pretty much the expected stuff, although well put - scientists should be allowed to comment on controversial topics, as science is about the way the world is, not the way we would like it to be, but crass comments such as Watson's make this harder and thus damage science.

Monday, October 22

Unfortunate media deaths

There's definitely something going wrong when your deputy mayor can be killed by monkeys.

Doesn't help the image of your city either, as you know full well all the media and bloggers that have ignored all the high-tech developments and industrial advances year after year (*ahem*) will suddenly notice a bizarre monkey-related demise.

Sunday, October 21

The British sporting failure week continues

After the footballing flunks, and the heroic narrow near-miss of the England Rugby team, Lewis Hamilton is now having problems with his car and fighting to make up the places on the grid to save his championship lead.

Which isn't going to happen, I suspect. Wonder if anyone from ITV will decide to use the Guillemots' "Sao Paolo" as the ending music - the lines "sometimes I could cry for miles" might be appropriate at that point.

Saturday, October 20

It's over.


It wasn't a try, as well. The BBC News article has the photo that shows my solid five minutes of Anglo-Saxon invective at the TV referee were misplaced, as technically - technically - he was right.

Friday, October 19

Panic at Cold Springs Harbor

Imagine you're a distinguished US laboratory dating back to 1890, and has hosted work that has gone on to win the Nobel Prize. You'd rather not mention the dodgy work in Eugenics that went on from 1910 to 1940M, stopping because the Carnegie Institution came and had a look and noticed it was all utter rubbish.

So, what do you do when your former Nobel Prize winning chancellor opens his mouth and takes you right back to those discredited days of the early 1930s?

Yep, Watson's been suspended. .

Daddy, what was a tuna?

The BBC report on the latest abundant fish to risk extinction - the Bluefish Tuna.

Everyone blames everybody else, nobody listens to the scientists. The countries are all worried about their fishing fleets now, and don't appear to want to consider their fishing fleets of the future (i.e. there won't be any) because they appear to think if they stop fishing no-one else will, so they'll still end up with no fishing fleet but won't have fish in the meantime. "We're friends of the fisherman" they declare, while allowing the fishermen to drive themselves into extinction.

Tuesday, October 16

Don't blame me for the polar bears

Smugly declaring - my CO2 footprint is 3 tonnes below the national average.

Well, OK, this is the UK national average, and we're not exactly the lightest treading nation in the world. And this was using the UK government's carbon calculator, which kindly does not include business travel in my travel footprint, allowing me to ignore every flight I've ever taken. And I don't own a car. So that's pretty much my entire contribution to saving the planet.

I'm still 0.3 tonnes above the target footprint, though, since all my household power is from fossil energy. I suppose the cycling does actually contribute a bit, as it means I'm using the washing machine more often as well. As for the green-ness of the home, well I'm renting. If I owned my house, I may well have put solar panels on by now.

Monday, October 15

Liberal bias no #93

You don't have to be deluded and insane to give money to the Tories, but...

Sunday, October 14

Not happy

That's the last time I volunteer to do any officiating in any sport. No thanks, just an official complaint from one of the visiting clubs.

Oh, well cheers for that. I won't bother next time. OK, I wasn't particularly good at it - it was the first time I did that particular role, anyway - but I've seen far, far worse than my efforts in the past (no-one got hypothermia, for starters...)

(No, I wasn't paid. I didn't even get a cup of tea)

Friday, October 12

Papa Lazarou lookalike competition

We might not play cricket quite as well as the Aussies yet, but it appears that we're now ahead in the "one of our cricketers looks like a character from League of Gentlement" stakes.

Hello Dave?" says Ryan Sidebottom...

Physics != inventing gadgets

One last comment on the Nobel Prize and the BBC "have your incoherent and uneducated rant" webpage.

One joker complained that the Nobel Prize for Physics is a joke because they didn't give it to Edison.

Edison? Edison? Are you completely utterly frothingly deranged?

OK, apart from the slight problem that the man was an out-and-out thief, he was also by no stretch of the imagination a Physicist. He was an inventor. Then a showman and a marketeer. At *best*, awarding Edison the prize would have been like giving Stuart Parkin a share in this year's prize - Parkin being the researcher who led the IBM team that made the first mass produceable GMR read/write head. But that's a really charitable comparison for Edison (I like Parkin a lot more, and think he should certainly receive an award alongside Fert and Grunberg if the award is for, say, science and technology).

No, awarding Edison would have been like giving the prize to Steve Jobs for inventing the iPod.

BBC - I'll have my say, then.

As I said, Gore's award will set the cat amongst the pigeons. And blimey, but the BBC's willingness to let any drivelling deranged wittering have the same level of authority as someone who has spent time looking at a subject is really getting on my nerves. If you want to listen to someone spouting off incompetently about a subject of which they know very little, you can go on the web and find any number of blogs. I'd like to think when I'm sat listening to a national broadcaster that they will have bothered to find people who have spent the time developing a logical and coherent argument, even if they disagree (which admittedly makes good telly), rather than allowing any Tom Dick and Jeremy Clarkson to declare whatever they feel is true. They're not even trying! They just don't like the idea that global warming is happening, so they've decided it's not true! (I should note, if I ever use exclamation marks it's because I'm really getting annoyed/excited).

Oh, and Mark Thompson should be sacked. Immediately. Just because I don't like him. No, don't need to say why, people who spout of on his channels apparently don't have to explain their decisions either.

The way the BBC should be engaging with the public is in producing great television, which apparently they are still willing to do, not letting the public play in front of the idiot box for a bit.

Gore and Peace

Despite having a UK high court judge rule this week that there were nine errors in his film, An Inconvenient Truth, Gore is quite clearly having a good week.

Cue outrage from US climate change delusionists (and probably some complaints from sceptics that the film is over-the-top, which it is, rather than a pack of lies, which it isn't)

As for the nine errors - that's also open to debate if they were errors...

Thursday, October 11

A probably accurate insight into feline nature

Alright, I admit it, I like LOLcats as well. But mostly the ones which you can really imagine a genuine cat thinking the caption. For example:


Nobel Prize for Literature goes to someone I've heard of

Yes, it's the two cultures problem again (and have I only heard of Doris Lessing because she's from the same country as me?). Although any arts-type person who would be offended at me for not having heard of, say, Orhan Pamuk before last year should be able to honestly swear they'd heard of Albert Fert and Peter Grünberg before this week if they're going to even *think* of sneering at me (and I can easily prove I had).

Back to the literature - Doris Lessing is quoted as saying that in the 1960's they "sent one of their minions" to tell her she'd never get the prize, and then

"So now they've decided they're going to give it to me. So why? I mean, why do they like me any better now than they did then?"

Well, the distinguished gentlemen who didn't like you then were probably over 40. Add 50 years and... well, they're dead, or at least long retired.

Sensible punishments in football? Are you mad?

After the debacle at the end of the Celtic - AC Milan match, some punishment was inevitable - the stupid fan was identified and banned for life, and now Celtic have been fined £25,000 for improper conduct of supporters. AC Milan, however, see their play-acting goalie banned for two matches - a more severe, and more deserved (by the player) punishment. AC Milan, for their part, have largely been very fair and polite about Celtic, and were probably hideously embarrassed by Dida's antics.

Wednesday, October 10

Surface scientist gets a birthday present

The surface chemist in my office seems pretty happy that a man in his field (the man who built the field?) Gerhard Ertl has won the Nobel Prize for Chemistry.

He did express some suprise that it was awarded alone - while Ertl is clearly worthy, he did think that Gabor Somorjai would share the award. Would have been interesting to hear that discussion.

I take it all back (part two)

Having apologised to the England Rugby Union team a few days ago, I now take back what I said about the England cricket team, who have just secured the series win in Sri Lanka - and despite losing the toss again, which is supposedly critical in day-nighters in Sri Lanka.

Hard to believe this is the same team that was wiped out 5-0 last year, but that's probably because they aren't. Back then, going the whitewashed were M E Trescothick, A N Cook, I R Bell, A J Strauss, V S Solanki, J W M Dalrymple, G O Jones, T T Bresnan, L E Plunkett, Kabir Ali, S J Harmison.

Only Cook and Bell remain, joined by Mustard, Pietersen, Collingwood, Shah, Bopara, Swann, Broad, Sidebottom and Anderson.

Tuesday, October 9

Nobel Prize in Physics goes to Fert and Grünberg

The award is "for the discovery of Giant Magnetoresistance" - for the non-scientific, this could mean "making modern hard drives possible". iPods, digital camcorders, YouTube, Flickr, etc. etc - all these owe their commercial success to Fert and Grünberg's discovery in 1988.

Monday, October 8

Nobel Prize goes to stem cell group

I see on Reuters (the Nobel Foundation website itself having gone down) that Mario Capecchi, Martin Evans and Oliver Smithies have won the Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine for their work on Stem Cells / gene targeting.

Evans, now at University of Wales, Cardiff,, derived embryonic stem cells with Matt Kaufman at Cambridge in the 1980s. Capecchi (University of Utah, Salt Lake City) and Smithies (University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill) used homologous recombination to target specific genes in cells.

The same researchers had won the Lasker Prize in 2001.

Saturday, October 6

Can you barbecue humble pie?

I take it all back. Brian Ashton, I questioned your judgement - I stand utterly corrected. Thank you and congratulations.

On the Aussie side of things - I wonder if some Australian journalists need to barbecue some humble pie today after their articles in the run up to the match. Mr Smith clearly knows rugby - he identified that 'hanging on like grim death is what [the English] do better than anything else' and he did identify the pack and Wilkinson as the England strengths. Amongst his declarations about how the Wallabies would easily defeat England, there is the one prescient line
There might be only so much you can do with a nasty, big pack and a goalkicking genius, but one thing that's possible is winning a World Cup quarter-final.

Hey, Smith, cut the arrogance and you could be a very good journalist...

Thursday, October 4


It's a common complaint among scientists in the UK that a number of British universities have been closing their Chemistry departments over the last few years. I have to say though, if they're anything like the Chemistry department at my employers, I can see one problem they have. Not that they don't do good work - they do. Not that they aren't contributing to the future wealth of the country - they probably are. But it's because they're completely and utterly insane.

I have, for various reasons, recently had to stay late at work for a number of days in a row, mostly due to the ongoing but soon to be completed installation of my Very Expensive bit of scientific equipment. Which I'm in charge of, hence my inability to say "forget this, I'm going outside while it's still sunny and warmish". This level of work is really getting me down - I'm fed up of it, I'm starting to resent work again, Mondays are not particularly attractive days to me.

But apparently, my workload wouldn't cause a chemist to bat an eyelid, except perhaps in horror that I don't work 12 hour days on a Saturday as well.

This is why no-one wants to be a chemist. 80 hour weeks to earn 30 thousand pounds a year? That's an hourly payscale up their with non-graduate office workers. For that you're going to slave around noxious and dangerous chemicals? Don't think so.

Chemistry is too hard, is supposedly the problem. But maybe it's not that would-be students are too stupid to do it, maybe they're too smart to.

(Actually, this is slightly unfair on Chemists, some are actually decent, rational people to work with, rather than decent irrational people - so much so, in fact, that I worked late today to get results for a Physicist rather than bump a chemist off one of my machines tomorrow). Next week, I tell myself, I will not overwork.



Happy to help.

Don't mess with Attenborough.

David Attenborough, who it was recently announced would be back with another two documentaries is not happy with a Dutch organisation that has taken to editing his work to remove any mention of evolution.

Attenborough, being the rational chap he is, merely states

"The BBC should take steps to make sure that the minuteness of the meanings are maintained."

Sadly, the BBC doesn't appear to be taking a step yet, since the edits are apparently within their 5 minutes editing limit. Except - isn't the BBC having a bit of a tivvy about lack of truthfulness at the moment? Well, this is another case. Do something about it.

Ah... diddums

Those gentle little flowers, the Aussie Wallabies Rugby Union side, are worried that England might try that unsporting tactic of having a stronger pack than them at a World Cup, and want to make sure the referee blows for any underhand tactics (hitting, pushing, not falling over and handing the ball to the aussies, etc), as was done in the last World Cup final (which the Aussies still lost).

Good to see that the England team has risen so fast from their absolute drubbing by South Africa that the Aussies coach feel the need to put pressure on the referees. Shame I still don't expect England to win, even if the Aussies attempt to ban all the bits of the game that England are expected to be better at fails.

Celtic vs Roma post match verdict

Firstly - blimey. The Scot in my office is well chuffed at the moment, with his homeland having suddenly remembered how to play the beautiful game.

I said it was the first time since the early 20th century they could claim to have one of the best teams in the world with a straight face without getting instantly laughed at. He pulled out the 1978 World Cup team list and said it was one of the best teams in the world at that point. I admitted it had a lot of great players in, but suggested that getting knocked out in the first round of the World Cup isn't a claim for greatness.

Secondly, suggestions that they should be punished for the slap on Dida. Well. Um. Dida would appear to be a bit of a wimp on this evidence...

Lewis Hamilton is the new Michael Schumacher

Great driver, but I'm starting to feel that like Schumacher before him, he's also a bit ... dodgy. Not quite up with ramming Hill off the track, perhaps more like Schu's "crashing" the car at Monaco after he'd set the fastest lap in qualifying to stop anyone else beating it.

Wednesday, October 3

Monday, October 1

Word Association - England, Collapse.

All right, I spoke too soon about Bell. Possibly could also do with reminding Mustard that this is the 50 overs ODI series in Sri Lanka, and not the Twenty20...

Zimbabwe has no bread

Once the breadbasket of Africa, now not a loaf available in the country. .

Mugabe continues to blame the British for this. The British point out that the UN and EU sanctions are aimed at individual officials, not the country. The IMF says it won't deal with Zimbabwe until Harare adopts financial policies that are rooted in reality.

Even the Zimbabwean agricultural minister has had to admit that their new farmers were "failures".

Well, what a surprise. For starters, they weren't farmers. If they'd been handing the white-owned farms over to the black farm workers, they might have stood a chance. But instead you get the distinct impression that agricultural competence was not a factor and party affiliation was.

All particularly pathetic when you consider that Mugabe had claimed his redistribution policy would boost production.

His latest policy - all companies have to have at least 51% of their equity owned by black Zimbabweans. *Government approved* black Zimbabweans. i.e. - Mugabe's supporters. He's like a pilot who is more interested in ensuring that only he has access to the cockpit than he is in stopping the plane tumbling out of the sky.

Friday, September 28

Well, at least we might have a chance to score well...

I noticed last week in a local sports pub there was a sign that showed that they normally concentrated on football - for the Rugby World Cup, they had a list up of all the games they were showing. It wasn't completely accurate - their list would suggest that rather than a very tricky must-win battle against tough(er?) opponents this evening, England are instead facing a third tier nation who only won their first rugby game in 2003...

Tonga, Togo - only two letters and 18604 km difference...

What, no run rate?

Looking at the cricket on the BBC News (Ian Bell really does seem to be in good form at the moment, hopefully he'll do as well in Sri Lanka as he did at home against India), and noticed the Twenty20 averages link on the page, which I hadn't looked at before. I have to ask - why isn't scoring rate included? You can't list things the same as in Test matches, as the games are so different - in a Test, a slowly ground out century can be an admirable thing of beauty, while a frantic thrash to thirty followed by getting out is throwing your wicket away, unless you're a tail-end bowler with a declaration looming. In Twenty20, by contrast, a batsman who goes in early, scores 30 off ten balls, then gets out has arguably done his job.

Monday, September 24

Disestablish the Church of England!

Although many schools are not classified as being of religious character, if they do not carry out the daily act of worship they lose points during inspections by Ofsted.

Observer article from 23rd September

Down with this sort of thing!

Really, they're entitled to their churches and all that, but why should they make it a requirement that they get to try brainwashing children with mythical beings?

As for this quote
'Either overtly or by default, this country is still a Christian one.'

It's not just because you say it is while wearing some daft collar around your neck.

If these bishops should have an automatic place in the House of Lords, then at the very least so should the Royal Society, UK Universities, etc. etc. Which is complex - where would it end? So the real solution is this - complete the disestablishment of the Church of England in England.

Sunday, September 23

RWC2007 so far

Well, if like me you're an Englishman with sufficient Irish ancestry that you could qualify to play for Ireland if you weren't utterly crap at rugby (I did once score a try at school, and for the team I was on, but it was by accident) then this year's tournament has been rather depressing. OK, I expected England to be poor - the draw that pretty much set us up to lose to Australia in the QFs is annoying, I'd have rather got the All-Blacks and been able to accept defeat without being gloated at - but Ireland's poor performance has just made things worse. At least England showed against Samoa that they do appear to have some inkling that there is a modern game out there. It's not enough to beat Australia, quite possibly not enough to beat Tonga, but it's a start.

Why won't they beat a good team? Because too often the ball is being passed to a stationary man, who then runs forwards. Or they kick the ball deep to a waiting opposition player who has all the time in the world to kick the ball into touch. Against a team that is actually good at lineouts (or merely adequate), then the middle half of England's play would see them lose.

A further improvement in their game by Friday might see England get past Tonga. They'd need an even further improvement to get past the Aussies, but that's asking for too much.

Endangering endagered animals

Historically, one threat that can turn an endangered animal into an extinct one is the knowledge that it is rare leading to exaggerated prices that some people will pay for the animal, dead or alive, or bits of it.

The value that immoral collectors will pay for these creatures is such that some people will go to quite surprising lengths to smuggle them out. I'm sure having three iguanas in a compartment in your prosthetic leg isn't going to make a flight any more comfortable...

Sunday, September 16

List of countries England could learn from in Rugby Union

I'm not going to type it all, it would take too long. But to be blunt, it now includes Portugal, who at least managed to score - and score a try - against a strong Southern Hemisphere side.

The All Blacks were showing "sensitivity" in the scrum, but if there were any plans for sensitivity elsewhere on the pitch got quickly thrown away when the Portugese scored to make it 12-3 after 22 minutes - the Portugese had shown they were here to play Rugby. All credit to them.

So why don't the likes of Portugal - and Georgia, who nearly beat Ireland - get more games with the Six Nations teams? That's the only way Rugby Union can expand.

Friday, September 14

Outrun, out-thought, out-kicked, outclassed

It seems a lot longer ago than four years that England could claim to be the best Rugby Union team in the world.

I just spent a highly painful evening in the pub watching England get taken apart by a South Africa team who didn't appear to be engaging top gear. I couldn't decide whether England looked like a minnows team of amateurs or something from the 1980s. Apart from Jason Robinson, who went down fighting to his last, none of the England team appeared to deserve to hold their heads up high after this one.

Me and my big mouth

England have, inevitably, succumbed feebly to the Australians, making the big mouth episodes of individuals such as Kevin Pietersen and this idiot look even more embarrassing. The only bright spot is that the Aussies didn't quite manage to slaughter us in nine overs, so there is an opportunity for the team to at least put up a decent performance against South Africa. Hell, it would be nice if *one* England team could put up a decent performance against South Africa this weekend...

Didn't England do well today?

No, not the cricketers, 135 is a crap score and the Aussies will go hell for leather to see if they can beat us so heavily we end up behind Zimbabwe on run rate, and my gloating of earlier will be as ashes in my mouth. Damn, now I've reminded myself of the Ashes again.

No, I'm talking about the women footballers. Hampered by the myopic FA, who did their misogynistic bit to stop women playing football for years (banning them from using FA grounds from 1921 to 1971), women's football in England is well behind the continental game. Particularly Germany. So drawing 0-0 in the Women's World Cup against the Germans is a great achievement.

Mind you, I bet the Germans would have won if they'd had penalties in the first round.

Indian government versus an army of monkeys

The Indian government is in a little bit of trouble at the moment for suggesting that a large geographical feature made up of sand and stones might not have been built by an army of monkeys.

One madman is a madman. A hundred madmen is a cult. A million madmen is a religion (any religion, they're all mad).

Thursday, September 13

Twenty20 gloating

Having waited until England at least batted reasonably well against Zim, I shall now gloat about the Aussies loss yesterday.

Hopefully, England's bowlers perform well in the rest of the match against Zimbabwe, and then we beat Australia to knock them out of the tournament (if we do, I shall henceforth insist that it is a real world cup after all).

Indiana Jones IV

Like a lot of fans, I might take a bit of time to get used to the title of the third instalment - Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull.
It seems a bit long, which is odd as it's only a syllable longer than Indiana Jones and the Raiders of the Lost Ark, but then the IJ bit was added to the latter film in retrospect, while Temple of Doom and The Last Crusade are a bit snappier.

It appears to be a good myth to go for - the first was found in Belize (unfortunately, they've already used Temple of Doom, so can't call it Indiana Jones and the Skull of Doom, which would have been a great title). With a fair bit of the action being in 1950s South America, I wonder who the bad guys are going to be - hidden mad priests (as in Temple of Doom), communists as in US 1950s fears, or hiding Nazi war criminals?

Tuesday, September 11

Not a world cup

Hooray, the Twenty20 Not-a-World Cup has started. A last chance to pick up a trophy before Flintoff's ankle explodes altogether.

As any true Englishman should do, I will accept it is Not-a-World Cup fully once we make a hash of it, but if we go on and win the thing, or indeed make the finals against anyone other than Australia, I will insist it really is a World Cup as nobody who would be capable of winning it is absent (Scotland and Kenya are also in as they were the best two teams in the ICC World Cricket League Division One last year. Ireland aren't in as they weren't).

Unlike the bloated This-is-a-world-cup of a few months ago, this will also be over in a fortnight, which is the right length for a world cup. Even if it isn't one.

Microsoft Exchange Rules

It would probably be of little surprise to most people to realise that this is not a blog comment declaring how great Microsoft is, but yet another rant about the rules for Microsoft Exchange. Yes, I know, it's old, it's hackneyed (the rant I mean), but still.

32kb of rules per folder? In the 21st century? Can't they at least do something like, say, give us the option to have more than one set of rules? I mean, OK the 32kb thing is to limit it to one remote procedural call (RPC). It's jargon, I don't understand it, but it may make sense. But is there a real reason why you can only make one RPC? Why not two in a row? Or five?

Tuesday, September 4

Statistical maps of the world

I like these maps, I think I shall use them in arguments.

Cat 5 no 2

Since proper records of hurricanes began, only five Atlantic hurricanes have been recorded as being at category 5 at landfall.

Two have come in the past fortnight - Hurrican Dean and Hurricane Felix. Really not good news for Central America - given the problems with deforestation, the amount of water that Felix is going to drop is going to result in some pretty horrendous scenes in places.

I'd rather hope that two Cat 5s landing in a year, let alone a fortnight, is an improbably blip. However, I do expect some in the global warming scare lobby will throw this at the refuseniks in retaliation for their claiming 2006 meant warming was a myth. In the meantime, the scientists will try to work out what is going on.

Monday, September 3

Dirty nanotech

Carbon nanotubes are often touted as a major material of the future. One problem is that the manufacturing processes are somewhat inefficient, leading to a lot of byproducts, which an MIT/Woods Hole Institute study has shown are pretty unattractive things to go chucking out into the atmosphere as part of an industrial process.

They will be working with the already existing small-scale nanotube manufacturers to work out how this technology can be scaled up without adding to the environmental woes already inflicted by industry.

Sunday, September 2

One more last chance to see

Apparently, video evidence of a large white thing swimming in the Yangtze River in China suggests that the obituary for the Baiji dolphin isn't quite ready to be printed yet. Problem is, things aren't about to get better (unless they can find sufficient breeding numbers to put in their reserve lake), so this is extinction delayed rather than prevented.

Friday, August 31

PRISM - RUP says "Not in our name"

It would appear that there are still some journal publishers in the US who still view themselves as publishers of journals for the scientific community, as opposed to a company that merely views scientists as a money source to be milked.

So congratulations to the Rockerfeller University Press for standing up for science. If I worked in Biomedicine, their journals would have moved up in my preferences compared to their other AAP colleagues...

Broad smiles for England

Broad and Bopara hauled England over the line yesterday - no, not hauled. Lept. Damn good performance from the youngsters.

Good to see his father offering some wise caution on the BBC website. Not sure about Harmison's state of mind for travelling though - I'd send Broad on the A tour, but have a full flight itinerary looked up to get him to Sri Lanka if the Harmy radar is off again.

I don't think Notts will be seeing that much of him next year at this rate...

Prison Officers

A late comment on the UK Prison Officer's strike: I'm not sure how a union that has had one walkout in 60 years can be viewed as being bolshie. Particularly not when their complaints about being on the receiving end of increasing violence in an increasingly overcrowded system with pay rises of less than inflation appears to be borne out.

If we want rehabilitation of criminals to prevent re-offending, we need more prison officers. If we want to just lock the criminals up and throw away the key to prevent re-offending, we'll need more prisons and lots more prison officers. If we're happy for increasing crime, fine. Carry on. Just stop whinging about it if you get mugged by a drug addict.

Given that the MPs are always whinging about their own pay, it seems a bit off to slag off the POs.

Wednesday, August 29

Mission accomplished. Happy now?

Coming into the World Athletics Championships, commentators were saying that two medals for Great Britain would be good, three would be great.

Well, having collected a bronze in the women's heptathlon already, the women's squad have now added Gold and Silver in one race - the 400m.

Christine Ohuruogu is clearly better at running than remembering to tell people where she will be in advance...

ADDENDUM - the Court of Arbitration's statement when banning Ohuruogu gave the distinct impression that they didn't believe she was taking any illegal drugs, merely that she was far too lax and casual in informing the drug testers where she would be. So I agree with the one year ban, but not the lifetime one.

On PRISM again...

Following on from PRISM - PISD.

Caution - satire may be involved.

Tuesday, August 28

Grim start to the football season

It is one of those statistical anomolies, but this week there seem to have been a number of sad occurences in football - the death of Ray Jones of QPR in a car crash, the collapse and death of Spain and Sevilla's Antonio Puerta and tonight I hear the Forest-Leicester match has been abandoned after Clive Clarke collapsed in the dressing room. I hope it is just the news coming so soon after Puerta's death that is making me view this as such grim tidings.

UPDATE: Clive Clarke did have a cardiac arrest, was treated with a defibrillator in the changing room and is now in a stable condition in hospital. I hope they'll find out what caused his collapse soon, and he'll have a speedy and permanent recovery.

More on the OS journal slandering

Just wondering here - how exactly can we trust a journal that is partially paid for by advertising provided by major pharmaceutical companies to be less likely to suppress scientific information than a journal paid for by the government?

I'm also rather enjoying the fact that PRISM got caught using watermarked images from Getty and Corbis - and I'm not going to ascribe incompetence in using the wrong images, I suspect they just pinched them. And, as others have pointed out, possibly just photoshopped them out when spotted - the hex info from the Getty file shows "Adobe Photoshop 7.02007:08:27 22:06:26".

They don't want you to be able to read my work

At least not without paying. Or paying again, if you're British, as it's taxpayers money that goes to my work (yes, I know I'm posting this after 9am, but I'll be working after 5pm so you're still getting your money's worth).

"They" in this case, is PRISM, the Partnership for Research Integrity in Science and Medicine (created by the Association of American Publishers). As with all these American campaign groups, they entitle themselves in such a way as to make them sound like clearly a good thing - integrity in science and medicine, after all, is a good thing. Except that's not what they're for, of course. They're for profits for American science and medicine journal publishers.

Naturally, the science blogging community is up in arms over this - Coturnix has a summary

Their complaints about open access journals seem to be largely straw men. On a few points:

Peer review. I'm not paid to peer review by these rich journals, so I don't see how OpenAccess journals will be a problem. Just require them to have peer review. And frankly, the cost of publishing a paper in certain US journals seems far, far in excess of the costs of peer review. The healthy profits of science journal companies seems to corroborate this impression.

Government interference. If the journals were government funded, they could interfere with science. I've bad news for these journal publishers - they're too late. Government can already interfere with science if it wants, because - here's the shocker - they're funding the research in the first place.

As for their complaint
introducing duplication and inefficiencies that will divert resources that would otherwise be dedicated to research.

Well, how bloody dare you. I've spent half a day formatting a journal paper into exactly the format you demand, for which you're still going to charge me a hefty wack of dollars per page, and you have the gall to complain about inefficiencies diverting resources from research? It takes me no less time to get the paper in the format they demand than it takes me to write a camera ready version for a conference proceedings, so all they have to do then is make sure I'm not a nutter, do a quick google to check that my suggested referees do exist, then drop them an email.

And it can't be a duplication and inefficiency of government funding, since they're paying for the research, paying for the paper submission, and paying for the subscription fees already, so if they move their money it's just taking it in-house.

So, in short, a change in the market is threatening their profits, and rather than work out how to adapt, they've resorted to public misinformation to try to win the day.

Open Access, peer reviewed journals are clearly the right way to go. The only question is how to ensure the funding works right - if that means the government supplies money to support high impact factor journals, then so be it. My work may be boring and largely incomprehensible to the average member of the general public, unless they're willing to trawl back through all the references (it's hard to start from general principles and explain everything about a novel science result in four pages, after all), but I don't want it to be impossible for them to access the paper if they so chose.

After all - they paid for it already.

Monday, August 27

Architecture in Helsinki - Muppets?

I'm currently trying to decide if I like Architecture in Helsinki or not.

The occasional track is great, but overall they could do reducing the number of times they sound like the songs are sung by blue-furred creatures waving maracas in a Jim Henson production.

I googled to see if anyone else thought they sounded like the Muppets or if it was just me being odd, and indeed the perspicacious souls at Drowned in Sound complained a number of tracks sounded like "half-cocked Muppet Show cast-offs"

National cycle routes - a combination of cycling and orienteering.

Cycled out to Newstead Abbey today - being lazy with maps, I decided to follow the number 6 cycle route. After all, it's a national route, how bad can it be?

Oh dear. Some bits are rather nice, but in other sections you're stopping every ten metres for another obstruction, cycling down narrow and fairly unsalubrious back passageways, lugging the bike over pedestrian footbridges, or getting your legs whipped by nettles on overgrown paths.

Or, as I found more than once, trying to decide whether you should retrace your steps as you haven't seen a sign for rather a while, and perhaps you missed the turning - which may well be indicated by a bit of tape on a lampost on the other side of the road. Or there was another section where you are sent weaving from side to side of a road which frankly didn't look at all busy anyway - I wish in cases like that they'd separate it into a family route and an adult route, so you can take the kids on the cyclepath or just get on with it on the road.

I'm rather disgusted by the half-hearted nature of it to be honest. No idea if it is Sustrans or the council who are to blame for the bits that are lacking.

What goes on in the minds of TV schedulers

So, a bank holiday weekend. For the TV scheduler, this may be the chance to put on some popular films. Which they have. On the Monday evening.

Channel 5 have it nearly right, the film finishing at 11 (still later than I'd go to bed on a Sunday). BBC One, however, have decided to have their film start at 10:25.

Um. Why would you put on a possibly popular film at 10:25 on the Monday evening? We've got work the next day. Well, I have, maybe TV schedulers don't get out of bed until midday. Why not put it on the Sunday instead? We can have a lie-in on Monday if we want it.

I really must get around to getting a PVR, so I'm no longer a victim to the bizarre whims of TV schedulers - and also would have something to watch while I'm cooking/eating, rather than the mindless drivel they put on at tea-time.

Anyway, a better use for a Bank Holiday monday is to get out the house. I only really turned on the computer to find the cycle route map.

Friday, August 24

I'm being scammed. Again.

Every time I submit a paper to a journal, I hate journals more.

They pretty much expect us to do everything for them - all the contact details sorted, the formatting in exactly the right way, even name who the referees should be. They then bung this out to the referee who does all the reviewing for free. The journal then charges us a huge amount of money to put it in a journal that they charge us a huge amount of money to read.

OK, not all journals are like this. If I'd had my way, this paper wouldn't be sent to one that behaves in this manner. So I feel like I'm being scammed and doing absolutely nothing to stop it. It's a vanity press, it's obsolete, but we keep doing it because that's the way it's done.

Thursday, August 23

England to stay warm-ish and wet

England is a country that wouldn't really suffer that badly (relatively) from global warming. About the worst that would really happen is what happened this summer, and once people get used to the idea that you really don't go down to the banks of a swollen river in full flood and stand in it, the death toll will be well below the number of pensioners and drunk young men who used to freeze to death in cold snaps.

That's as long as the Gulf Stream keeps flowing of course - a couple of years back there were all the scare stories about how it would shut down and the UK would have a mini-ice age.

Turns it there's no clear evidence that the Gulf Stream is weakening. The apparent observed weakening reported in 2005 was due to short-term variability and not the result of global warming.

Coming to Trent Bridge...

Another attraction to going to see some Notts games next year, England committments permitting, is the newly-signed Stuart Broad.

Hope he'll be able to play in their Twenty20 matches next year - between the 5th ODI against New Zealand and the 1st Test against South Africa, anyway.

Thursday, August 16

He who is without sin...

The media are getting quite interested in Wikipedia Scanner, a website that lists when companies edit articles about themselves, or just engage in vandalism on Wikipedia.

Interesting that the BBC article makes no mention of the BBC staffer changing George Bush's middle name from Walker to an obvious derogatory epithet, and The Guardian fails to note that one of their computers was used to edit the article on The Times to hide the higher circulation figures of Murdoch's rag...

I should at this point hold my hands up and admit that I have made edits to my employer's article. These were to add cites for the long-standing claim that the campus was pretty, and an award from The Times higher education supplement.

Wednesday, August 15


Results from a recent survey for Defra suggest that the odds are I'm going to get even grumpier as I get older.

As with all these surveys, take with a hefty pinch of salt - even if there doesn't appear to be someone trying to sell you something.

Tuesday, August 14

The Laugh-out-loud Cats

The last few months, the internet has been inundated with a tide of boring to mildly amusing pictures of cats annotated with deliberately badly spelt text. One chap has decided to do a new take on the whole LOLcats phenomena - in the style of an early 20th century style cartoon.

It's imaginative, certainly, and anyone complaining that it isn't that funny either a: hasn't been following the lolcats thing so would miss the injokes, and b: hasn't read early 20th century style cartoons and noticed that they weren't funny anyway.

I don't suspect we're looking at a master criminal here

I've been hobbling for a week on account of my managing to sprain my ankle while going downstairs (I say going, I was hurrying downstairs, which in my case tends to be in the form of a controlled plummet, although in this case it became uncontrolled). Since I was in no state to cycle home or recover my bike it was left locked up at work over the weekend.

Someone tried to steal the back wheel. They unhooked the v-brakes, loosened off the quick release hub, and pulled the wheel from its position. At that point, I can only surmise, one of two things must have happened. Possibly they were disturbed, and legged it. Alternatively, they may have at that point noticed some resistance by the wheel to being removed. Perhaps they then decided to look for a reason for this perplexing phenomena, after all they had removed the two standard impediments to removing a wheel - could the presence of a great big solid D-lock connecting the wheel to the frame and the bicycle rack be some cause for this resistance?

The meaning of the phrase "thick as thieves" isn't meant to be a comment on their intellectual capabilities, but perhaps it should be.

Sunday, August 12

It'll be the 21st century before I know it...

I've finally put an image up as the header rather than text. The image is of text. I'm at the cutting edge of 1998 when it comes to HTML.

EDIT - I've now added a picture. Of sorts. That sour looking fellow in the top right corner is me.

Saturday, August 11

I'm young. The web says so. The web is my friend.

From the links on the Grauniad's internet page - the Real Age calculator.

It says my real age is 23.7, life expectency 84.3

And I did pick "bald and stocky".

I felt slightly good about that before I realised it's probably the equivalent of the average 23.7 yr old American though...

Wednesday, August 8

Monkey story

On an alternative note - a man with a monkey under his hat.

Monkeys are intrinsically funny, which is why they keep appearing on The Simpsons. This, however, causes problems when people decide they'd like to own one, as they're only funny at a distance.


Urghh. Grnnnk. And other onomatapeic noises as a macho male reveals that he does indeed have less tolerance of pain than the average woman.

All I've done is go over on my ankle. It's swollen to about twice its size, but that's about it. Ice and rest proscribed by the doctor (although the doctor isn't a medic, and is the idiot who's just gone over on his ankle).

Still. Gruurgh. You'd think I'd learn not to try going downstairs as fast as I go up.

Monday, August 6

Spoilsports at the New York Times

Not content with being spoilsports to children (apparently giving away bits of the plot to the last Harry Potter book), the New York Times are now trying to ruin it for technophile bloggers by unveiling the identity of Fake Steve Jobs (link to FSJ, not NYT).

We know he's not the real one, he says so. So we don't *need* to know who it is, and speculating about who it is is only fun when you don't know. As soon as some supercilious smug git comes out and says "well, actually it's so-and-so" it ruins all the fun.

What's next, a Dec 24th headline telling kids that Santa is made up?

Sunday, August 5

There's a man drowning! Only one man can save him, and that's... er... him over there. Yes, well done that man.

I helped pull a man out of the river today.

By helped, I mean I attempted to throw lines to reach him, but he actually got rescued by a middle aged man who dived off a moving boat to save him.

The one who needed rescuing was some kid out in a canoe. Couldn't swim, but had a lifejacket on, so he was only in danger of drowning once he started panicking. Which he did.

The bank was full at the time. Hundreds of people, as there was a river festival thing the night before. Nobody else seemed to move, including those who were with the canoeist, so I went off to get a life ring, since he didn't seem that far from the bank. It took me a bit of time, as all the boaties had decided to use the life rings to tie their frenzied dogs to, and I didn't fancy getting bitten while trying to handle a bike and a ring.

So, by the time I'd got back to him, he'd managed to thrash his way further to the middle of the river (I could see he wasn't going to swim to the bank, but had thought he'd at least avoid drifting further out, given that there isn't much stream there to drag you to the middle), two rowers had come up from the club with their throw ropes - rather easier to throw a distance than the ring is. Except they couldn't reach either. So the chap jumped in from the boat, and I threw the throw rope out so we could pull both of them in.

I really need to practice with those throw ropes.

Journalist has a go at the Beatles. Again.

So, there's one of those fairly lazy slagging off articles on the Guardian music blog recently (so dull I won't bother linking to it) - blaming the Beatles for music being male dominated. Because obviously, that there are far more boys than girls picking up guitars and trying to form a band is entirely the fault of the Beatles and had nothing whatsoever to do with, say, pervading Western mores, the dominance of music by men long before the Beatles appeared, or even with teenage boys being more slightly more likely to sit on their own in their bedroom obsessively trying to learn three chords than girls are (because it's a pretty damn antisocial thing to do until you can actually play).

So anyway, taking The Guardian as a perfect example of those sexist media monsters - who do they talk about (as far as Google can see, act name entered in brackets)? Trying a fairly random list of old, overplayed bands, bands I like, bands I think the media likes, and bands and people I wish would just shut up and go away gives:

Bob Dylan - 6,420
Paul Simon - 4,820 (yes, this surpised me, but I didn't bother going through the list much, so perhaps there's a Guardian journalist of the same name)
Elvis - 4,360
The Beatles - 4,150
Bono - 2,970 (though probably more media whore than music these days)
Arctic Monkeys - 2,690
U2 - 2,040
Amy Winehouse - 1,970
Beethoven - 1,970
Coldplay - 1,870 (oh, they really deserve to suffer for this)
Kate Bush - 1,710
David Bowie - 1,560
Radiohead - 1,550
Eminem - 1,240
Pink Floyd 1,160
Bruce Springsteen - 1,110
Lily Allen - 1,050
R.E.M. - 967
Elvis Presley - 939
Johnny Cash - 798
Miles Davis - 780
Tom Waits - 694
Damon Albarn - 640
Nick Cave - 632
Jarvis Cocker - 624
Bjork - 588
PJ Harvey - 414
Billie Holiday - 382
Diana Ross - 256
Goldfrapp - 222
Graham Coxon - 179
Simon and Garfunkel - 173
Bat for Lashes - 115 (the other female act nominated for this years Mercury Prize - so a possible dark horse if they feel Ms Winehouse has had enough publicity already)
Fionn Regan - 21

Ms Winehouse appears to be doing well. Two albums and she's caught up with Beethoven. Not catching up with Bob that fast, though. What would music journos have to write about it they didn't have Bob?

Game "can cause epilepsy"

Here we go, I thought, another video game story - but no, it's the proper board version of Mahjong that has apparently been linked to epilepsy in the media this time.

The Hong Kong Medical Journal has a paper detailing 23 cases of people who had "suffered mahjong-induced seizures"

The way real mahjong is played is a fast-moving social game with four people, often involving gambling, and can go on for some time. The suggestion appears to be that concentrating intently on rapidly moving objects for a great length of time (after one to 11 hours of playing, according to the report) in an intense environment can bring on seizures.

I doubt this will lead to an uproar with people insisting that their grandparents be protected from these dangerous games, though...

Friday, August 3

Latest from New Road - play delayed until 2008

With the umpires planning an inspection some time in the spring, hopefully...

Yes, sad to say New Road, the first county ground I ever saw a cricket match at (Worcestershire vs Pakistan XI, which included Imran Khan) and one of the most attractive grounds in the country is covered with a thick layer of mud after the flooding, and so is unplayable for the rest of the season.

Fairly inevitable I suppose, but somewhat depressing nonetheless. Although this is the first time Worcestershire have been flooded during the season in my lifetime, I fear I won't be an old man before it happens again.

A fraud who didn't need to lie

Woo Suk Hwang, the South Korean who went from national scientific hero to disgrace, is now well known as a fraud.

But it now appears he may have unknowingly made a scientific breakthrough - and one that is more important than those he claimed to have achieved.

A team largely based in Boston/Cambridge MA led by George Daley (Children's Hospital Boston /Harvard) have looked closely at his data and found that, indeed, he did not create stem cells by somatic cell nuclear transfer (i.e. cloning)

The distinct genetic fingerprint of the stem cells produced suggests they may be the first in the world to be extracted from embryos produced by parthenogenesis ("virgin birth")

Reports all over the media, including at Nature, the BBC and the NY Times.

The paper itself is in the journal Cell Stem Cell.

Friday feeling?

The BBC News reports that businesses are suffering from their slacker employees taking Friday afternoon off.

An alternative explanation is possible, though - that some of these businesses are so overworking their employees during the week that by Friday afternoon they are completely spent. Good management isn't about ensuring your staff are in the office for the maximum time possible - it's ensuring your staff do the most useful work possible. If they're burnt out by Wednesday, they could well be spending Monday and Tuesday fixing the errors that they and others made the previous Thursday and Friday.

Just in case anyone is speculating, the person responsible for giving me too much work to do at the moment is myself.

Wednesday, August 1

More misconduct in science

While following the Tour de France this year, I did notice one or two cycling supporters questioning whether the high level of scandal was because cycling was particularly drug-ridden, or because most sports had become particularly drug-ridden but cycling was finding more of theirs, so didn't deserve the reputation for being particularly dirty.

I sometimes fear that science could get the same reputation in some sections of the media, particularly since there are people out there who would like to discredit science in general so they can get their way.

So seeing another retraction of an article in Science last week was disappointing. This time the guilty party is is a former University of Missouri-Columbia researcher, Kaushik Deb, who has been found by his employers of intentionally falsifying and fabricating digital images in a paper. Deb has since disappeared from view, leaving his co-authors to apologise profusely for trusting him in the first place.

I have to ask myself if I could be similarly fooled given a sufficiently irresponsible co-author, and I have to admit the answer would probably be yes - if they presented data coming from a technique outside my experience, I may well not be able to tell if the data was genuine or had been fudged. Am I expected to demand the raw data? Would I be able to tell that this was the original raw data, and hadn't been reverse engineered?

Tuesday, July 31

Do not mess with the pagans

My pagan sister pointed this out to me:

Monday, 16 July 2007 - Wish for rain to wash away Homer
Friday, 20 July 2007 - Torrential rain hits Dorset towns

These guys don't know their own strength...

Facing floods and throwbacks

Some men clearly don't realise it's the 21st century.

Although I would say one comment in the article is incorrect - women are not all wonderfully restrained and well behaved individuals either, and certainly in my town can get very drunk and disorderly indeed, to the extent that they lose all judgement. In other words, I've encountered a woman drunk enough to pinch me on the bum. And if they'll do that to me, surely they wouldn't restrain themselves when faced with someone who doesn't have a good face for radio...

Bergman and Antonioni

Not a good week for great European Art house directors - less than 24 hours after the death of Ingmar Bergman comes the news that Michelangelo Antonioni has died.

As my view of life is more akin to an overcast Northern European style than a sunbaked Mediterranean, I've always found that I favoured Bergman of the two, but watching his films wasn't particularly good for my mood. Apparently, he didn't like watching his films either for much the same reason.

Fopp is back... sort of.

I see in the BBC News that my local Fopp is about to return under the same name, albeit owned by HMV, and one of a chain of only six shops.

HMV are quoted as saying
"These stores will operate independently of the main HMV chain in order to preserve their distinct customer offer.

Whether what I hereby dub Zombie Fopp will be a patch on the original remains to be seen.

More on Oscar, the Cat of Death

I see the blogs have been particularly interested/entertained/slightly unsettled by the news of Oscar, the death predicting cat (aka the Cat of Death, Goodbye Kitty, the Kitty of Doom, the Grim Rea-purr etc. etc.

Mildly interesting to see how the blogs react. You get:
Many various Lolcats
Declarations that the cat is psychic
Declarations that the cat is creepy
Suggestions that the cat can smell death and feels compelled to be present
Suggestions that the cat likes the smell of death (yes, I know, but who else is going to link to me?)
Suggestions that the cat can smell death and thinks it is the chance for a snack
Explanations that it is confirmation bias
And people pointing out that the dying people it predicts are normally so close to being dead at that point that anyone can tell just by looking at them that they're on their way out, so if the medical staff think the cat is being uncanny, then they're worried about the quality of the medical staff.

Haven't seen any suggestions that the cat can sense impending death and wants to comfort people. Maybe I only read cynical blogs...

Monday, July 30

Team Slipstream

One team that looks like it is on course for a wild card entry in next year's Tour de France is the US based Team Slipstream. Led by the stridently anti-doping Jonathan Vaughters, a man who's only tangle with the doping laws is when he had to pull out of a Tour because he couldn't take a cortisone shot for a wasp sting.

Team Slipstream have teamed up with the Agency for Sporting Ethics and will test their riders 20 times as often as the UCI, and they have offered WADA complete oversight of the results.

Although T-Mobile's testing set-up didn't stop one of their riders failing a test in training, it would rather be hoped that this team's setup pretty much ensures they will be clean.

So far announced for the team are American time-triallist David Zabriskie, Scottish time-triallist and poacher-turned-gamekeeper on drugs David Millar, and climber Christian Vandevelde. A few good names, a chance of a stage win, and a clear anti-doping policy probably put them near the front of the wild-card queue. If the TdF organisers get their way, I suspect they'd rather pick stringently clean teams than fast ones...

Back to work

I have cheered up now having found out that the piece of equipment I shall call the Small Machine had misaligned itself, so I hadn't gone mad on Friday, and my failure to obtain the data I'd hoped from the samples brought to my by the Chemists was because they brought me the hardest sample they possibly could.

So, I'm not breaking my machines, they break themselves, and I can't quite achieve the impossible. This fits my natural state of being slightly paranoid and somewhat egotistical, so I'm now happy.

The Large Machine was also whinging, but that was just because it got hot. Must be the only place in England without enough water flow...

Sunday, July 29

Useless failure

A regular reader of this blog, if there were such a thing, might have got the impression that I was quite the sporty type. This is actually wrong; although I do regularly take part in a number of sports I am in fact useless as just about all of them, and merely passable at one or two. At rowing, I have even successfully achieved the ranks of the slightly above mediocre before slipping back (well, I did get in a University crew that qualified for Henley Royal Regatta, but I was only in because someone else got injured and all the undergraduates had gone home already. However, I was in the boat when we did the time that qualified us, so I feel I am justified in claiming some small iota of talent in this field)

I had for many years believed the sport I was worst at was cricket. The combination of hand-eye co-ordination and confident, controlled actions needed to be a successful cricketer come as naturally to me as taking to the wing does to certain birds - emus, kiwis and the dodo come to mind. The emu is large, ugly and annoyed, the kiwi occasionally forgets that it can't fly and makes a fool of itself hitting the ground, and the dodo is just dead. At the crease, I combine the lack of talent of all three.

But my abysmal cricketing, where I once achieved a rustic hoik that missed all the fielders, is nothing compared to my utter pathetic travesty of an attempt at water skiing. I never even got as far as the water skiing, you have to be good at the kneeboarding first before you can go onto the skiis, and I wasn't.

I didn't get around the course.

I didn't get around the first corner

I didn't get *to* the first corner.

I lasted two seconds.

I went about five metres, fell in, swallowed half the pond, and strained my left calf. My friends were considering diving in to rescue me as a swam to the board (did I say I'm bad at swimming? I thought I was merely poor, turns out that I swim about as well as an anchor) while choking from the foul weed-ridden water.

If I'd merely fallen in, I could have gone again - repeated, determined abject failure can win you plaudits from some circles for showing determination in the face of utter inadequacy. But I was crocked. So that was it - today I was not just crap, I was a quitter too.

It better be one of my good days at work tomorrow (one of the "this is brilliant, we've got a paper here" days, rather than another "oh. That didn't work. Oh well. Err. Sorry, I don't think this is possible"), or I'm going to be completely unbearable the rest of the week.

Thursday, July 26

The Cat of Death

Just keep this thing away from me, that's all I say. The damn thing likes the smell of death, I tell you.

Drugs scandal at the tour de France (next up: dog bites man)

The Tour de France is getting tough on drugs cheats - and anyone else who doesn't comply fully. And it looks like some of the teams, at least, are joining in.

Rasmussen, who looked certain to win yellow after the riders most capable of catching up enough time to threaten him in the time trial were pulled, has suddenly lost the jersey, and probably ended his career, when his Rabobank team discovered that he didn't merely forget to inform people of his whereabouts and missed drugs tests, he appeared to have lied about it. Given the pressure on the tour these days, that simply isn't good enough.

Sadly, it looks like the man now likely to win the Tour will also be viewed with suspicion by many. Contador was previously in the Manolo Saiz run Liberty Seguros-Würth team, so will be linked to Operation Puerto in many people's minds. And while his recovery from a blood clot may make the sort of comeback from hardship that the US media love, others will mutter darkly about how steroid and EPO use are known to cause clots.

Once again, and despite all the efforts otherwise, I still don't feel convinced that the winner of the Tour this year will be clean.

Monday, July 23

Have I said how much I like I like a lot, they've found me a few artists I don't think I'd have heard of otherwise.

I suspect my most listened to artists chart places me firmly in the 30something "50 pound bloke" category.

Thursday, July 19

Shocking news

< sarcasm > Someone who was at University in the 1980s smoked cannabis. Oh, the shock. < /sarcasm >

Yes, I did take a few puffs of cannabis at University. And yes I do feel it wasn't a clever thing to do, because all the people I knew who smoked cannabis regularly were so utterly dull and boring when they did. I think it was the cannabis that made them like that, rather than they smoked it in a futile attempt to compensate for their own natural tedium. Since they seemed happy to sit around on sofas watching terrible TV, I suspect the answer to dope smoking is make it legal for the over-65s. Once you're that age, a lack of ambition isn't really that much of a problem, and kids won't really be that keen on taking up something that is associated with their grandmothers...

Thursday, July 12

NYTimes realises the truth

The NY Times admits American chocolate bars are inferior to ours.

I tried a Hershey Bar when I was in the US, as I always rather thought UK chocolate bars were the cheap kiddy friendly tosh rather than real chocolate, so didn't expect the American bars to be any worse. Instead it tasted like it had gone off. Apparently that's the way it's meant to taste. Probably for the best, they have enough trouble with obesity as it is without rather tasty chocolate.

Still prefer the really good quality stuff myself, though. Can be partial to a Mars Bar on occasions, though...


Something rather pythonesque (probably deliberately) about this picture in the Guardian.

Man eating badgers denied by MOD.

A rather odd BBC news story from Iraq, which contains the line

UK military spokesman Major Mike Shearer said:
"We can categorically state that we have not released man-eating badgers into the area".

Perhaps Worcestershire is notorious for its man eating badgers...

Monday, July 9

Hmm, now where do I stow my knees?

Charlie Brooker in the Grauniad is often good for a laugh - I suppose his general persona of a slightly morose ageing Englishman appeals to me for some reason. His latest on airline travel is an easy target, but a deserved one.
airline seating distinctions, whatever they are called, actually break down into Misery, Misery Lite, and the highest achievable grade, Slightly Comfortable.

Although one of the commenters has come up with a story with that perfect blend of "possibly apocraphyl, but just might be true":
Basically, to fly a person across the Atlantic costed just a little more than an economy class ticket. All the profit is made in business class and, especially, in first class. In fact, business and first slightly subsidise the economy class. So why carry economy passengers at all? Well, this was told to me by a senior BA executive, without economy class passengers the aircraft would be too light and the turbulence would bounce the first class passengers about too much. Yes - economy passenger are ballast to keep first class passengers comfortable.

Saturday, July 7

Tour de France in London - prologue

So Bradley Wiggins didn't manage to win in the end - after all, a top five performance in the prologue of the Tour de France is a pretty impressive achievement, and the performances by Kloden and most of all Fabian Cancellara were astonishing.

The thing is, I'm almost 100% sure there will be someone whinging on the BBC forums about how he can be satisfied with his performance if he didn't win. There are always these people around, but generally these are people who wouldn't know what it was like to be in the top 1000 in the world at something, let alone the top five. Wiggins knows what he was capable of, and he knows that three top time triallists had to put in flawless performances to beat him.