Thursday, March 20

Surf your music

OK, I'm probably about four weeks behind the curve on this, but when I popped up to visit my brother a couple of weeks ago he showed me this new little game that cost all of ten dollars (under a fiver in real British money) - Audiosurf.

So. Thanks bro, I'm now addicted to a computer game for the first time in years. The dangerous thing is it panders to my past devotion to short action computer games (as I wasted many an hour on the Commodore 64 in my youth) and music (as I spend many an hour listening to now). So I've been experimenting finding tracks that are interesting - and that give me a chance of being in the top ten in the UK at least. My favourite so far:

Nantes by Beirut - the Balkan influenced instruments and backing give the track a tricky bouncing feel which makes a fairly folkish style tune into a surprisingly fast round. And of course, it's a damn good track.

Ani Kuni by Madeleine Chartrand - really obscure 1970s French-Canadian version of a traditional (Huron?) song - so obscure I'm the only one to have played it in the game at the moment, so I'm the world champion at it - but the combination of native american influenced drumming and chanting with western European psychedelia makes quite a track. When the guitar kicks in half way, everything speeds up insanely...

This is what happens when physicists start drinking...

A surprising amount of science communication and collaborative agreements gets done in bars at conferences. Sometimes the side effect of this leaks out when scientists deviate from the dry terminology. So this week, Nature has an article with the phrase "exotic electroweak penguin contribution" - apparently, to a drunk physicist, a modification of a Feynman diagram looks like a penguin. A bit.

I should admit that I like the idea of quarks having a flavour. Makes things a little more poetic, somehow.

Friday, March 14

Hold on.. cricket! He's playing cricket! Why didn't we think of that?

So, it seems the recent additions to the England cricket squad have shown the more established players what they're meant to be doing. Damn. Now the England selectors will think they know what they're doing. Since their most recent changes - Ambrose as wicketkeeper, Broad instead of Harmison (well, duh) and Anderson in (instead of the unfortunate Hoggard) have apparently worked, at least so far, they'll probably assume they are now doing a competent job as selectors. Whether this means they'll then decide that their choice to stick with Strauss (now really, really out of form with the bat, even if he can field) is right or not remains to be seen. Oh well. Strauss will probably now scratch out just enough (30, say) that they'll keep him. Pity England can't use him as they did Gary Pratt in the 2005 Ashes...

Oh, and Vettori - hasn't had the pitches to do much with the ball so far this series, but he's clearly more than earning his place as a batsman alone. England could do with an all-rounder like that again...

Over-representation in the media?

Chimps, it appears, are in a lot more danger in the wild than people think they are. The problem is that public perception of them is often that they can't be that endangered as, well... they're on TV. All the time. Largely selling us stuff. And even the American Association for the Advancement of Science thought this was a good idea until they were told otherwise.

While in the UK the major chimp-related adverts were the long-running PG Tips series, and they have now moved over to a woollen simian who was previously the only successful thing about ITV's digital efforts. However, advertising executives worldwide can't resist monkeys. Look! They're monkeying around! Hahaha!

As a recent letter to Science, signed by some of the most notable primate researchers, points out:
"In movies, television shows, and advertisements, chimpanzees are often depicted as caricatures of humans, dressed in clothes and/or photographed in contrived poses "

Using them in adverts is not just demeaning (and old, hackneyed and unoriginal) - it also helps threaten the future of chimpanzees in the wild. Because if the public don't think they're in trouble, there is going to be less pressure to save them.

Wednesday, March 12

Daft names - men's fault?

An article in the NY Times suggests that the number of extremely bizarre names may be reducing as women now have more of a say in the name of their offspring than they did in the past.

“I can’t tell you,” Mr. Sherrod said, “how often I’ve heard guys who wanted their kid to be able to say truthfully, ‘Danger is my middle name.’ But their wives absolutely refused.”

There is a long history of men giving their children very, very silly names that reflect their father's viewpoints. Nicholas Unless-Jesus-Christ-Had-Died-For-Thee-Thou-Hadst-Been-Damned Barbon appears to have coped relatively well with this, becoming an MP and a founder of the London fire brigade.

The article includes some really odd names. You can sort of understand the arty types who think that Heavenly Hirani, River, or Moonunit are good names, but Goblin Fester, Cheese Ceaser and Leper Priest? Seriously?

A commonly reported English tradition is the father who wants to name their child after the members of their favourite football team. Although when it comes to silly names and sports, probably the worst is the Canadian ice hockey team from Port Moody, who decided the "Port Moody Fog Duckers" was a good name.

Friday, March 7

It's like the 1990s again

Feeble England, feebly struggle their way to - well, a long way behind their opponents. This sort of performance is bad when facing Australia. The Kiwis are rather less given to over the top gloating, but to be blunt they're not as good as the Aussies, so it's probably worse. And the Kiwis are weakened by defections/retirements to the Twenty20 games in India in a way that England aren't.

Admittedly, Daniel Vettori is very good. But it appears he probably doesn't have to be on top form to look very good against this England team. I went through this in the 1990s, why do I have to go through it again already? Can't we just be decent for a few more years?

Wednesday, March 5

Old rower?

Having hit 35 and joined the Veteran squad at my rowing club, I'm facing the Vets Head rather than the Head of the River Race for the first time later this month.

So I'm not sure whether to be happy or feel slightly inferior at the news that one of the rowers in the Oxford Cambridge Boat Race on the 29th March will be - 36.

Great Attenborough moments

Last night, the BBC broadcast the last new show which has the irreplaceable David Attenborough going out into the wild to look at animals. Not sure how the BBC are going to follow this - I suppose they have an array of wildlife presenters rather than Sir David, but I fear it's going to be more of the "get someone with a good voice in to narrate" rather than get an expert (e.g. Bill Nighy on Meerkat Manor)

Anyway, this is just an excuse to post a link to a favourite bit of Attenborough footage - the Lyrebird.

footage from BBC Worldwide on Youtube. It just gets more astonishing as it goes on.

Bacronym of the week

First in a series of one... Bacronyms are very common in science and industry, where you invent something and then try and think of a tortured phrase to describe it that gives a clever acronym.

A report on the BBC News about the invention of a method for cleaning water, using a byproduct of the whisky distillery industry, is a good example of this. The researchers at Aberdeen University, tipping the hat to the contributions from the Glenfiddich distillery, have given their invention the tortured title "Device for the Remediation and Attenuation of Multiple pollutants". Ugh. Sounds horrible. Why would they use such a horrible phrase? Because the acronym is then... Dram.

Tuesday, March 4

Symonds breaks the rules. Good on him.

Normally, I'm very sniffy about the Australian's aggressive on-field demeanour - I don't like their style of sledging, which all too often seems to be more abusive than wind up, and some of their appealing is almost like, well, the sort of thing you'd think footballers would do. I shudder at the horror of it.

So, anyway, Andrew Symonds, in the latest ODI against India (which India won) has disobeyed the players' code of conduct, which forbids physical assault of a rival player, official or spectator. On the face of it, this sounds like a really bad thing to do the suspension for an infringement can range from ten ODIs to a life ban.

Except it should be noted that the spectator was an Australian man in a state of undress. Yes, they clearly do still have streakers down under (the 1970s are over, people!). Symonds floored the fool with a shoulder barge. To which I say, good on him, and hope he isn't charged.

UPDATE 5th March: It appears the ICC and Queensland police view Symonds as being perfectly within his rights. The streaker was fined A$1500.