Wednesday, January 31

X doesn't mark the spot.

Various articles in the UK media getting over-excited about the possibility of the UK government putting X-Ray machines on the street to spy on people going past.

Don't be so bloody silly, they're not going to do that.

They're going to use millimetre wave imaging.

It's safer you see. Well, for health anyway. Privacy is irrelevant.

Tuesday, January 30

... if it's physics, it doesn't work

The problem with science, from the viewpoint of a scientist, is that thing invariably go wrong. If it's Biology, it dies. If it's Chemistry, it explodes (or goes 'phut' if you meant it to explode) and if it's Physics is just doesn't work.

Having spent the afternoon battling a recalcitrant piece of vacuum kit - the pumps are sucking as hard as ever, but there's a huge leak somewhere in the main sample chamber - I really needed a break. But although my kit isn't exactly designed for ease of maintenence, at least I can get to it when it breaks down, rather than have to sit there and watch it doing nothing 600km overhead. Hubble isn't due another servicing visit until September 2008. The replacement, the James Webb Telescope, isn't going to be ready until the middle of the next decade.

All-England self destructing team

Yes, they're still at it.

Let's change the subject. Rowing! We're good at rowing! Even if you don't count adaptive rowing, Britain got as many golds as Australia at the last World Championships (or at least, we have now), and more than Germany. If you count adaptive, we got five in total to the Aussies four.

Thursday, January 25

That would be an ecumenical matter

I've been reading on the BBC about the fuss over a Father Ted festival, and the list of events amused me.

Then I wondered if I'm a bit odd in thinking that Buckaroo Speed Dating actually sounds quite entertaining?

Wednesday, January 24

Aargh! White stuff! Falling from the skies!

I suspect this BBC article wasn't written by a southern softie.

I can just hear the sarcasm in the line "A small layer of snow and ice has led to travel disruption on roads and railways in the South East of England."

I know we've had a series of mild winters, but really, it was a pathetic little dusting of the stuff. Which has now melted.

Kitchen tips from scientists

I'm not the biggest fan of microwave ovens when it comes to cooking - I tend to prefer to have some sort of control over the cooking of things (even if I do still tend to burn things occasionally). But now, the BBC report, a study from workers in the University of Florida, published in the Journal of Environmental Health suggests you should be using them to sterilise your sponges. It only takes 30 seconds to kill E Coli, and two minutes to wipe out 99% of all bacteria.

Don't microwave dry sponges though. They should be damp.

So now I'll just have my cooking skills to blame if I give myself food poisoning...

Update: Shropshire Fire Service say they have already attended one fire which involved a dishcloth in a microwave. While burning things does tend to be my cooking technique that prevents food poisoning, setting fire to the kitchen is probably taking that rather too far.

Saturday, January 20

Reasons to be cheerful

OK, so you get the drongo Aussies rubbishing the English for a fundamental lack of ability of our cricket team, as if 2005 never happened (I actually can stand losing to Americans more than I can Australians, because the Yanks all jump around yelling "woohoo! Number one! We're the Greatest!" etc, which at least indicates they believe they needed some talent to beat you, some Australians (note the some) have the immediate response to their rivals of "you're shit, mate!", which they seem to take beyond the "haha we beat you" response of many sports fans.

Possibly this is because the Yanks fundamentally believe they have no reason for lack of self confidence whatsoever, while some Aussies *still* manage to have an inferiority complex about the British (such as how they haven't even managed to work out how to take the Union Jack of their flag, something the Canadians did ages ago). It's always the men as well - I've never come across an Australian woman who showed any signs of it.

Anyway, reasons to be cheerful if you're English -
1. Three blokes from Gloucestershire have just reached the Pole of Inaccessibility. Yes, no point on the globe is further away from an Aussie telling you your cricket team is crap.
2. OK, Britain is being rather windy at the moment, but Australia is on fire and full of deadly snakes. A large tree branch hitting you across the chops at 70mph isn't nice, but is it really worse than being bitten by a poisonous snake while burning to death?

Tuesday, January 16

England have won a game of cricket!

OK, it's against the Kiwis. I suppose when resistable force meets moveable object then something might give, and this time it means England just about scraped home with one ball to spare in the One Dayers. Good batting and bowling from Flintoff - is it freedom from the shackles of captaincy, or not facing the Aussies? Vaughan fielded athletically - and picked up a hamstring injury.

So anyway, we're not the worst in the world, which is the way you might start thinking after being stuffed regularly by the Aussies, no matter how many of them retire or sit out matches. I suppose that's something.

Friday, January 12

At least I'm not from Yorkshire

The title says it all really: "England may be tragic but Yorkshire are pure farce

The shadow over Naples

Report on the BBC about vulcanologists looking at Mount Vesuvius, which has 3 million people living within 20km.

Apparently, the eruption that destroyed Pompeii in 79AD may have named the type of eruption (Plinian), but it wasn't that big. Not compared to a stone age eruption they have been investigating

"Within the city of Naples they found deposits of this ash up to 3m (10ft) deep".


Now, admittedly you should get more warning than the US did about Katrina hitting New Orleans, but still - that's three million refugees. Who won't want to go back to homes that are 3 metres under ash.

Just when you thought it couldn't get any worse

Now Pietersen is out for the rest of the series.

Well, that's pretty much it then. Our only ODI player with any form - gone. Nixon managed to field worse and bat worse than either Read or Jones managed, Flintoff appears to have lost form with the ball, Anderson is still expensive, nobody else is getting off the mark with the bat. How about we hand the Aussies the world cup now, and the rest of us play a competition where the result might actually be at stake? Or better yet, make the buggers split up. We might manage to give Tasmania a good game. If we're on form.

Wednesday, January 10

Crushing inevitability of a crushing

Oh yes, we got stuffed again at cricket. Huge Aussie score, some England batsmen get going, but not for long, tail order collapse, etc. etc. etc.

On the plus sides - Nixon did well, but by the time he came out to bat the Aussies had it in the bag anyway. Vaughan came back OK and played reasonably fluently with the bat, four boundaries before some Brummie dressed up as Papa Lazarou got him (it's the white sunblock that makes the resemblence I think).

The "la-la-la" files

Latest to stick his fingers in his ears and deny loudly anything scientists and economists tell him that he doesn't want to hear is Chrysler's chief economist Van Jolissaint

Mr Van Jolissaint is apparently surprised by how much support there had been in the Daimler office in Stuttgart for these "quasi-hysterical" policies that smacked of "Chicken Little" politics

So this rather strongly suggests that any "green" policies such US companies come up with are merely part of window-dressing to get extra sales (or in Chrysler's case, forced on them by Daimler)

Tuesday, January 9


Just commenting because this interested me - US congressman Keith Ellison is the first Muslim to be elected to the US Congress, and so wanted to take his oath of office on the Quran. How to do this while ensuring that mad reactionary bigots only look like mad reactionary bigots (seriously, people *have* criticised him for this!) Simple - take the oath using Thomas Jefferson's copy.

One criticism - in the pictures I've seen, he doesn't appear to be wearing gloves. It's an old and historic book, I hope he used a sterile wipe first to remove the oils from his hand.

Monday, January 8

England down under - the Test aftermath.

Well, apart from "Oh dear", what to say?

It wasn't *quite* as bad as I'd feared - England did at least manage to bowl out the Aussies once in the 5th Test, but a combination of better batting, better bowling, and just actually wanting to be on the field meant the Australians cruised to a fifth win - and a final one for McGrath, Warne and Langer.

So, what are the pluses? Well, apart from a load of England's past tormentors now having retired, Read did very well with the gloves, becoming the first ever Test player to take six dismissals in consecutive innings. He isn't quite as bad with the bat as Jones was. Just. But I'm not that sure that Read will have much of a Test career ahead of him either now - I wouldn't be completely surprised if the ageing Paul Nixon is given the chance to take the position in the short term (after all, having people on the wrong side of 35 in the team didn't harm the Aussies that much) and in the long term - well, if Worcestershire's Steve Davis carries on doing well in the county championship, they may turn to him sooner rather than later.

Also Vaughan is now back. Albeit probably rusty, so I'm not expecting much from him with the bat (and possibly the field), but in terms of motivation and giving Flintoff less to worry about, his presence should be a plus. I hope.

It's now Twenty-20 time - can England relax and enjoy it (knowing half of them weren't in the Test team anyway)? Or should I just console myself that at least we can't lose this one by more than 10 wickets?

One other positive note - as a 30 something bloke, I should at least take some heart that the 30-somethings drubbed the 20-somethings...

Dead ends in Science

In the latest edition of the Institute of Physics' Physics World magazine, Dr D Jason Palmer lightheartedly suggests a new journal entitled Journal of Close But No Cigar to detail all of the rational, scientific, but ultimately pointless dead ends in science - "putting up roadblocks at the end of dead end streets".

This isn't a new idea, though - indeed, it's a fairly obvious one when you think about it, and people (springing to mind are the editors in Nature back in 2003 - I think and of course the publishers of the Journal of Negative Results in Biomedicine) have lamented the lack of publishing the results of failed experiments in the field of medicine, but I haven't heard that much of a suggestion for it in the field of Physics. I suppose this is because in medicine, you're dealing with complicated organs and organisms that can react in completely unexpected ways, thus throwing out statistical anomolies that suggest your theory is right until it is discovered that nobody else can replicate them at all sometime after the original paper is published, while in Physics things tend just not to work so you give up and try something that will, so nothing gets published. The first can confuse science (and indeed the public, as both Nature and Guardian journalist Ben Goldacre have lamented), the latter just wastes scientists time.

I've done the same - most failed experiments I've just ignored, or given at best a brief mention in a conference presentation (and then only because the failure was in the growth of the samples, and I was characterising them, and they failed in an interesting way), but I haven't made any attempt at all to submit these results to a "proper" journal.

So yes, Dr Palmer, Your ideas intrigue me and I would like to subscribe to your newsletter journal

Wednesday, January 3

Science to celebrities - don't shoot your mouth off

The BBC News reports that the charity Sense about Science has a new campaign to get celebrities to check the facts with scientists before lending support to campaigns.

No word on whether Phil Collins has commented.

5th Test, day two

I suppose an England batting collapse was just inevitable, really. Read got a mere two, so no abatement in slowly increasing viewing of Davis as the new wicketkeeper-batsman messiah. England bowlers haven't done too badly, so the Aussies are only just ahead, albeit with Hussey and only-good-against-England Symonds at the crease. So, is this going to be a slow death for England, a huge Aussie first innings lead (Hussey 200 not out, Aussie declaration...) followed by an England collapse, or dare I hope for an echo of 2005 with England just edging it?

Still wonder what Mahmood is meant to be in the team for. Doesn't do that much with the bat (a first ball duck today), and they don't appear to be letting him bowl that much - four overs out of 55 today, and I wouldn't be completely surprised if Petersen ends up bowling more overs than he does.

Car ads

Lunch time ramblings (I had breakfast too early, so it's lunchtime now). About the only time of year I'm really exposed to adverts is over the holiday period, where someone else may have the control and not hit mute the moment someone interrupts to try to sell me something.

So I noticed the ads. Car ads in particular (I'm thinking of giving up and getting one). Where once upon a time they may try and show you something of the car - its performance, reliability, whatever - now they seem to be making it up in a lifestyle sense. One car goes through Busby Berkeley style somersaults, leaping hundreds of feet in the air and driving on serenely. Another makes a metallic transformation into giant robotic spiders, big cats, crocodiles, snakes. Both resorting to ludicrously implausible CGI animations to try to give a lifestyle message - this little car is fun, this big SUV is unstoppable.

Oh well, at least it's better than the car advert which has a truly terrible cover version of Dylan's "A Hard Rain's a-Gonna Fall". How much did they pay him for that? Or is it perhaps Bob thinking "you say I can't sing? They won't after they've heard this..." Unfortunately, they don't put up the name of the car until the end, so I've no idea which brand I need to avoid FOR ALL ETERNITY.

Tuesday, January 2

Thieving Gets

The problem with being a member of a sports club is they're such targets for thieving scumbags, not all of whom look like central casting's idea of a thieving scumbag. This time I lost my jacket with house keys in (fortunately he was scared off by someone else coming in to the changing rooms before he got down to my wallet).

Why he took my top, I don't know - it needed a wash (I'd cycled in wearing it. It really needed a wash). Apparently he abandoned it shortly after, as a punter at an evening do at the club said he'd seen it earlier that day. Pity the punter didn't pick it up, as by the time I heard where it had been seen it wasn't there any more, and hasn't been handed in to the police either.

So, that's 60 quid for a new jacket, and 150 to change the locks. And the git got away with about 7 quids worth of Euros. If I ever catch him in the club again, he'll have to run very fast. If I'm really lucky, I'll scare him into trying to run away so fast he ends up falling down the stairs (you see, I'm law abiding. I don't want to push him down the stairs, but I'm still human so I'd like to see him fall down the stairs.)

5th Test

It's not gone horribly wrong yet. Not wonderfully great either, though. Still no great opening partnership, Bell has got another 50 but not converted it into a good score, and we're now down to the last two proper batsmen. While we don't have Jones the duck in the team anymore, I'm not expecting great achievements from Read with the willow (although getting 50 would be nice, particularly to shut up a certain Guardian journalist who kept supporting Jones after it had become clear his batting was going backwards), so it's up to Flintoff and Collingwood to establish a decent score. And dare I say it, a good score from Read might reduce the tendency for people to start getting over-excited by Steve Davis, who's averaging 36 in First Class games. He's not 21 until this year, and frankly it's too soon, I'd want him to have at least a couple of seasons before we consider making him face the press, who'll turn on him in an instant if he fails (as they did with Read seven years ago).

I'd be more confident if England had put up more of a fight in the earlier matches, as at least that would have tired out the Aussies who are even older than me. Instead - well, we'll need heroics from Panesar, it seems.

Train unfairs

Rail prices in the UK are going up by more than inflation yet again. But will this mean there will be more discounted advance tickets? Less damaged seats? More seats in general? Will it heck. They've failed to deal with overcrowding by improving the service, so they're dealing with it by pricing people off the rail and back onto the roads.

Drugs and age

I see the UK government is planning on increasing the age limit for smoking to 18 this October.

Which has given me an idea - why not legalise cannabis and set an age limit for it? Since the stereotypical image of a pot-smoker is a slacker who doesn't want to work (you can see how seriously I'm taking this), then I'd suggest an age limit of 65 would be suitable.

Think of the advantages of this - it has many medical uses, pensioners are less likely to use it as a "gateway drug", it's hardly going to cause problems with it being more easily available as it appears to be readily available anyway, and best of all it'll give marijuana an immediate image problem. "Pot? That's for old people"...

Monday, January 1

Happy New Year

Hello. I'm quite incredibly drunk.

Eventually, I'm sure I will learn that it is not a good idea to drink an entire bottle of whisky all by myself. Part of that is needing friends with enough taste to realise that Laphroig is really high quality stuff and does not smell of Savlon (you'd think a bloke who's half Scottish would have the sense?). Anyway, with people like this sneering at my choice of beverage, I drank the whole thing myself. Which isn't good.

Anyway, if any of this is insensible or just plain bizarre, don't criticise, just marvel that someone as sloshed as me can even work out how to turn one of these computer things on in the first place. In the meantime, I shall drink water in the hope it will make me less eager for death tomorrow morning.