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-W├╝rth 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 Last.fm? I like last.fm 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.

Tour de France in London

The Tour de France starts in London today - I have noticed that the logo for the start looks rather clearer than the one for the 2012 Olympics.

Thursday, July 5

Why do people think scientists are scruffy.

An article in the World's Fair called "Who's a pretty scientist has noted the existence of a collection of paintings, engravings and photographs of eminent scientists. There is a slight problem with these, which I shall now elaborate.

This man did not develop the theory of special relativity!

No, I haven't gone bonkers, bear with me.

This man did.

Young, reasonably smart and well presented. Not a scruffy, white haired eccentric.

But everyone thinks the great genius Einstein was a white-haired old man, not a 26 year old, because most pictures of eminent scientists are those of them many years *after* they did the work that made them famous.

I didn't spot this problem myself, Sir Harry Kroto points it out in his lectures.

The images are from the Wikipedia article.

Guardian on nanotech at Imperial College

Nanotechnology and electron microscopy get an article in the Grauniad - but unfortunately it's not my University, it's Imperial College. Well, I guess it's less distance for a journalist to travel for starters. Plus they have results, while we only just opened (although we do have some very, very nice results already, but I'm not saying what they are until they're published)

Digs at journos apart, it is a good look at the sort of things that scientists can do, why we can do them now and couldn't before, and why it is important. Higher efficiency boilers are a good environmental thing after all, even before you get to the point that pure hydrogen fuel boilers produce no carbon emissions.

The electron microscope comes into it as to get these boilers to work needs lower temperatures, to get the lower working temperatures needs more understanding of the surface of the ceramic material, and to really do that they need to look at the atoms. Which you can if you have a very nice new transmission electron microscope.

They've also got their own spin-off company, Ceres Power - playing on the environmental aspect, I guess, as Ceres was the Roman goddess of agriculture. I'm guessing they had a good announcement of something last month, as their share price jumped up significantly in June, possibly connected to the Daily Telegraph's shares column listing in their green portfolio (the month would have started particularly well for chief science officer Professor Nigel Brandon, as he also got his Royal Academy of Engineering Silver Award that week)

Zimbabwe moves yet closer to the brink

The bad news from the breadbasket turned basket case that is Zimbabwe continues - after Mugabe ordered shops to halve their prices, the inevitable panic shopping has hit. Clearly, if shops are forced to sell their goods at less than it costs to buy them from the manufacturers, they aren't going to restock. So now the shops are empty, they won't be refilled.

Mugabe's regime continues to blame everything on the British. Apparently, selling goods at a profit rather than a huge loss is "British tactics" and "dirty tricks". Mugabe's government has threatened to nationalise shops that won't obey them. The end result is that it will be only the state shops that are running officially, everyone else will use the black market - and if Mugabe's supporters run the state shops with the same efficiency they run their farms, that probably will mean everyone else will have to use the black market to survive.

Monday, July 2

Don't trust him just because he's a doctor

The tabloid newspapers have been throwing their arms up in horror that doctors - those nice medical people - were amongst the plotters, planners and would-be suicide bombers that attempted to attack London and Glasgow at the weekend.

However, as was coincidentally noted in the Bad Science column on Saturday, doctors do not have a stain free reputation as a profession.

Doctors had been active participants in the Nazi project, and joined Hitler's National Socialist party in greater numbers than any other profession

We need to remember that education doesn't automatically make people decent and rational. Even more, we need to remember that applies to us as well.

Better than Belgium

In one of those wittering things that think tanks like to come up with, and which contain so many metrics that it's really all a matter of opinion, the UK has come 17th in the list of the world's most prosperous countries, only slightly ahead of Belgium.

This study claims to measure more factors than simply wealth, including climate, which we can't do a lot about (and my opinions on a nice climate probably differ slightly from theirs). Mind you, they put Norway first, so I'd agree with that.

Damon Days

The increasing rise of Damon Albarn, who appears to have gone from being an annoying mockney brit-popper to a national treasure in the general view of the media seems to be continuing. Not content with arranging the Africa Express stage at Glastonbury (reviews of which changed me from chortling in schadenfreude* at the festival goers struggling through the mud to seething in jealousy** at those who got to go rather than me, purely because they actually bothered to buy tickets when they were on sale), he's now managed to get some reviewers in raptures over the opera Monkey: Journey to the West to which he has written the soundtrack.

Not all plain sailing though - another Grauniad reviewer wasn't so impressed. Guess which reviewer has a pop background and which one is the classical music buff? Still, Albarn's only 39 - there's still time to win over the rest of the world...

*A bad trait of mine.
**Another bad trait of mine.

Stupid Design

From the US, a Ted Rall cartoon on how if there is a designer of the universe, they might not be that bright.

I'd go for the design by committee option myself. Some things are very clever indeed - the processing needed to understand and recognise faces is something still beyond computers, while other things are very thick, if designed from scratch - our eyes are wired up the wrong way round, so even more clever computing is needed to ignore the blind spots.

Dawkins' explanation for this works well, of course - once you've started up Mount Impossible, you're not allowed to go down a hill just because you can see a higher hill on the other side of the valley (the only way to do so is to have evolutionary pressures decreased, so it doesn't matter so much how far up the hill you are - indeed, this may be the position with humans now, we're not evolving that much but we have rather increased the range of hills we can reach when evolutionary pressure returns)

More on the flop of Fopp

Having now heard more on the Fopp story from a man at work who was there at the start (shopped in the Glasgow store that started it all before it became Fopp) and was there at the end (in his local branch at 4pm when the asked everyone to leave), and it appears that it wasn't so much a case of Amazon and iTunes taking them down but their overzealous expansion that accrued far too much in the way of debts.

This does perhaps mean that there is some scope for someone to fill the void left by Fopp. I hope this isn't going to be more mainstream stores that have been whinging about their recent reduction in sales, the reason Fopp is missed is that they had a wider range of music.

My local independent music store are apparently quite overcome with schadenfreude at the demise of their larger rivals. I'm not sure they should be, though. It may mean a short term increase in sales, but in the longer term there is the danger that the kids could start viewing music as being something you only get over the internet, rather than something you browse through a shop for. Particularly one that looks like the traditional old music store that makes you slightly concerned that some member of staff may berate you for your poor taste in music.

Don't Lose the Music

Today, the RNID have published research suggesting that 70% of clubbers experience hearing loss the day after, yet only a quarter realised that the sound was too loud.

And no, this isn't an old man grouching at the youngsters for the sake of it. This is a not-so old man grouching because he's now got mild tinnitus because clubs and gigs turn the volume up on their speakers rather than putting sufficient thought into ensuring they have decent coverage of the sound over the whole area. Come to think of it, if they want people to feel the music, why not have a system that shakes the floor without having to blast it with sound waves?

More details at the Don't Lose the Music website.

On a side thought, since the government has banned people who suffer from a drug addiction from inflicting discomfort and damage on others, perhaps the next thing is going to be enforcing noise limits on nightclubs. And if there are people who genuinely feel that a night isn't good without inflicting permanent damage on their eardrums, perhaps clubs could offer wireless headphones to them so they can destroy their hearing without affecting mine.

In the mean time, I'm buying myself a new set of ear protectors for the next festival I go to, as I'm not keen on putting earplugs in all the time (although I do wear ear plugs to gigs). They're useful not just for the loud music - they also come in handy if some prat is still playing the bongos near your tent at four in the morning.

Dublin - the Vikings are coming back

Is it a worrying sign for my sanity that I think this sounds like fun?