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...