Thursday 26 July 2007
I’ve become a bit fed up with television in recent years. It seemed to be on a steep downward path with crap drama, crap "reality" programmes and indifferent current affairs coverage. Increasingly, unless something can be "dramatized", be it crime, history or buying a house, it seems to be of little interest to programme makers. Consequently, these days I watch very little telly and, when I do, I’m frequently disappointed.
Just occasionally, though, something comes along to restore my faith. This week that has happened twice. The first instance was the documentary Absolute Zero on the subject of cold and based on the book by Tom Shachtman, who is clearly barking mad, particularly when trying to recreate very dangerous historical scientific experiments. The second instance was tonight’s programme Atom, which took the potentially mind-numbing subject of quantum physics and turned it into a gripping story filled with amazing personalities, which is exactly what it is. Both of these programmes show that you don’t need to dramatize something in order to make gripping and exciting television. (Remember that horrendous Supervolcano programme? Why did that need fictional characters and drama, including an aircraft saved by a hero geologist? Surely the Yellowstone park erupting and causing global winter is dramatic enough!)
Thank goodness for BBC Four.
Friday 27 October 2006
Tuesday 1 August 2006
When a book would be better than the Internet
I’ve just seen a lovely bumblebee in the garden. I like these fuzzy-bottomed creatures, but I’ve never seen one quite like this one – a slightly tapered bum (abdomen, I think) with three distinct amber-coloured stripes around the tip. The problem I have is that I’d like to know what type of bumblebee it is and whether I’ve spotted something rare or unusual. It’s this sort of thing that shows the limitations of the internet. If I had a book of insects, I could open the page of bees and compare all the different sorts until I spotted an illustration that best represented the creature I saw. However, the net relies on me making a search using the name of the creature I am seeking (looking for "bumblebees" is too vague). Wikipedia only offers a detailed description of the most common species.
Any suggestions? I’ve had a similar problem when I’ve spotted an unusual butterfly or moth. Birds are another group of creatures where I go straight to the bookshelf first.
Saturday 18 March 2006
- I’m never going to look at a jar of Loyd Grossman curry sauce the same way ever again.
- Why don’t we have this service available here? Apparently, this company is now offering this service in Australia, the Netherlands and California. Let’s just hope that it is a matter of time, as I’d certainly feel much happier knowing that Tom’s pooped pants were being recycled.
Tuesday 14 March 2006
I was listening to the radio this morning and was heartened to learn that today is International Pie Day. I had visions of celebrating with some pastry-surrounded-meat concoction.
Unfortunately, it turns out that today is International Pi Day, which is far less exciting.
Tuesday 25 October 2005
Handy tips for anyone considering murder
Tip #1: it isn’t a good idea to attempt to dispose of the body by burying it in concrete as it will probably be found.
Tip #2: it isn’t a good idea to attempt to move the body by carrying it as a pillion passenger on your motorcycle.
That is all.
Wednesday 19 October 2005
Mmmmmm. Bone-eating snot-flower.
Tuesday 23 August 2005
Harold Evans on the US government’s attitude to science. Worth reading.
Tuesday 14 June 2005
Interesting theory about the possibility of artificially creating every possible television image.
Google will have all the pictures to cover all the Olympics that could possibly be arranged and all the pic-tures to put together every Super Bowl that could ever be played. They would have a bunch of new epi-sodes of Friends and all the seasons of Lost that could ever be produced…
It would need a computer the size of Manhattan to make it work, but an interesting theory nonetheless.
Monday 9 May 2005
Wild flower survey
The new edition of the Vascular Plant Red Data List for Great Britain has been published. Whilst there are some positive news points there, it generally makes fairly dismal reading – a large number of plants that were familiar during my father’s childhood are now very much threatened. Hopefully, the list can be used as a tool to improve conservation measures, as well as directing research to areas where it is most needed (a quick scan of the list reveals that our understanding of montane species is pretty poor, for example).
Thursday 31 March 2005
Live long and prosper?
Pill could extend life by thirty years. If this did come to pass, it would obviously only be affordable by the wealthy, so would increase social division. Not only that, but it would only work if people were in gainful employment for those extra years – no use expecting your pension fund to keep you going for all that extra time.
Wednesday 23 March 2005
This article is interesting, not least because several people have commented that there is more than a passing resemblance between myself and Hels’s brother.
Monday 28 February 2005
- US raps Russia and Saudi Arabia over the knuckles on human rights. One in the eye for Chomsky? I guess only if the Americans really mean what they say.
- Entire Lebanese government resigns after protests. Somehow I can’t imagine HMG resigning if ever there were massive protests in the UK. Oh. Yeh. There have been massive protests. Hmm.
- Virgin GlobalFlyer set for take off. Rather him than me.
- Clarke retreats on house arrest in a half-hearted way, whilst thumbing nose to Parliament. As is often the case, I agreed with what the other Clarke had to say (I mean Ken, of course – as quoted on Channel 4 News).
- McGhee wants Brighton to finish with 50 or 51 points – 6 or 7 points from 11 matches. Not an impossible task, particularly with matches against Coventry and Rotherham still to be played – but I have to say that I’m not too keen on some of the other fixtures between now and the end of the season.
Monday 14 February 2005
A different world
Inside the mind of an autistic savant. Utterly fascinating.
Tuesday 8 February 2005
In the news today:
- Army discipline pilot for using helicopter to deliver pizza to girlfriend – I particularly like the nameless BBC wag who has added the line "The Ministry of Defence spokesman did not confirm what toppings were on the pizza".
- Britain welcomes home Dame Ellen. A fantastic achievement, undoubtedly. But is the government hoping to achieve some mileage and share in the glory by announcing the honour so quickly?
- Tooth brushing cuts the risk of heart disease according to new research. Or, on the other hand, poor dental care is an indicator of people who generally do not look after their own health, and these people are more vulnerable to heart disease.
- Observations of evolving planetary system made using Spitzer orbiting telescope, news coming on the same day that we learn that NASA plans to bring down Hubble. So much science to be done, yet no money to keep the tools of research available.
- McGhee keen for Seagulls to focus – too right, and with a goal difference of -13, they need a few wins to be really sure of staying up.
Thursday 3 February 2005
For all you news addicts out there – keep up with global events in graphic form, updated every twenty minutes.
Monday 10 January 2005
Iapetus has a strange bulge around its middle. Too much beer, I suspect.
Utterly fascinating though – take a look at the JPL pages, particularly this page. Also, look forward to Huygens impacting on Titan in four days from today.
Sunday 26 December 2004
Hels and I are trying to comprehend the scale of today’s enormous tsunami in south-east Asia. Having recently read Simon Winchester’s excellent book on Krakatoa, and drawing on my slightly hazy recollections of O and A level geography (plate tectonics and all that), I can understand the science of it all and realise that there is no divine intervention here or yuletide symbolism – merely some enormous movements of the Earth’s crust and some terrible misfortune for anyone that happens to be in the way.
Hels said to me that we are fortunate not to live in a part of the world where this sort of thing might occur. To which I might reply that I’m glad that we live a fair distance inland, protected from the open sea by a good range of hills (though some believe the threat to be over-stated), and it has happened before (although a 2 metre surge may seem small, it can be funnelled in estuaries and harbours and become far more dangerous).
Thursday 16 December 2004
Holy poop on a stick
Tuesday 2 November 2004
A few current and recent news stories:
- At the wrong speed – John Robert Parker Ravenscroft, RIP. Peely once played a request for me on his Radio 1 show. Others have paid sufficient tribute to the greatest champion of original new music in the UK – I merely suggest that you put Teenage Kicks on your stereo on repeat for a few hours. He’ll be sorely missed.
- Money woes failed Beagle 2 – "The DTI [Department of Trade and Industry] should have been on the pitch getting involved, rather than cheering from the touchline and coming on as a second half substitute when things went wrong."
- Lord Hanson, RIP – "A company from here doing rather well over there."
- EU leaders sign constitutional treaty at last.
- Kilroy-Silk withdraws from UKIP whip in EU Parliament. Plank.
- US Presidential election today – if you have a vote, use it.
- China’s next manned probe will orbit for five days. Ground Control to Major Yuan Hung-Lo?
- Titan geologically "alive".
Tuesday 28 September 2004
Slices of brain
A few weeks ago, I went with Hels to our local private hospital so that she could have a brain scan. She had been referred for the scan as she has a hearing problem, and the doctor wanted to check that there was nothing untoward going on inside her skull. Yesterday, we went back to get the results.
The interesting part is that you get to look at a big sheet of acetate showing about three dozen "slices" through the head, a bit like looking at slices through an enormous ham. Each slice is a fraction of a millimetre thick, and each sheet of acetate shows the ham being sliced at a different angle. It provides a unique opportunity to look at something you would never otherwise see – the inside of your own head (or, for me, the inside of my fiancée’s head). It is something that you can not reach with any of your senses, yet it is there and has been carried around by Hels for all her life.
The most shocking thing to discover, though, was that in spite of Hels agreeing to marry me, her brain is "normal".
Monday 23 August 2004
Showers moving west
Goodbye to magnetic clouds, and all that. I think this is rather sad, as I’ve grown up with the familiar three-lobed cloud shapes. It’s possible to look at a BBC weather chart and instantly discern the prevailing conditions, without having to read the accompanying text or listen to the forecaster (although one should always listen to Rob McElwee as he is a minor deity after all – "There’s a deep depression moving in from the Atlantic, and we ALL know what that means, don’t we?"). I also wonder if this will mean the end of the traditional opening of the forecast (well, in days of old at least, and occasionally still today) with a North Atlantic synoptic chart – which, for anyone with even a basic A-level grounding in meteorology, provides enough information to get the general gist of how the weather will be.
Tuesday 10 August 2004
Benny on the loose
I’m currently reading Bill Bryson’s A Short History Of Nearly Everything. (I know it doesn’t say that in the sidebar. I know I’m bad at updating. Bear with me.)
Today, Scaryduck thoughtfully provides the missing chapter.
Friday 2 July 2004
More from the BBC
More news stories:
- Hubble finds around 100 new extra-solar planets, yet more evidence of the pressing need to try and find some way to keep Hubble working.
- Lord Ashdown takes action over failuire to arrest Karadzic – not before time, and it remains to be seen if it will be effective.
Thursday 1 July 2004
News from the BBC
A few links to today’s news – presented for your own thoughts:
- No charges to be brought over "that" Robert Kilroy-Silk article. Not a great surprise, and in all possibility a victory for freedom of speech, even if his comments were utterly offensive and loathsome.
- Cassini probe sends back pictures of Saturn’s rings. Stunning. I hope people do not become jaundiced by all this – there is an absolute shedload of really exciting stuff coming from man’s exploration of space at the moment, and we must be careful not to under-rate it.
- Some people have said that the young Russian tennis player, Maria Sharapova, is the new Kournikova. There’s one major difference though. Sharapova can actually play.
- Richard May, RIP. If only there was a Richard May to deal with this trial.
- Irish Republic completes its presidency of the EU, described by many as possibly the most successful presidency in the Union’s history. Much credit must go to Bertie Ahern, who comes across as remarkably disarming. Many might be surprised to know that the Taoiseach offers frequent punditry on the main Irish Saturday-night football TV show, something that would seem alien to citizens of nations where the leader is remote from the people.
- The postal service watchdog has sent letters to MPs seeking their support for the campaign to cut the amount of lost and mis-delivered mail. Unfortunately, they got lost in the post. Coincidence or conspiracy?
- Why Sir Peter had to go. From a marketing standpoint, Sainsburys’ offering is not clear – are they trying to be a value leader, taking on Asda and Tesco, or are they trying to be a quality leader, taking on Waitrose and Marks and Spencer? It’s hard to do both at the same time without eroding margins.
- Teacher’s job shortage warning.
"But the mystery is how the primary teacher market became over-supplied at all. The government has had years to prepare for the fall in the number of primary school children. The government and the Teacher Training Agency (TTA) regulate the number of trainees. Yet with 60,000 fewer primary school children expected, last year they increased the target for primary trainees."
Do the words "astonishingly incompetent" spring to mind, hmm?
Tuesday 8 June 2004
Happiness is buying the latest marketing book.
Happiness is also having a successful meeting with the bank manager, a successful meeting with a client and actually achieving quite a bit today.
Happiness also comes in the form of wasting time on silly games and actually seeing the transit of Venus (with the aid of a welding visor).
Monday 16 February 2004
Thursday 22 January 2004
He’s a very nice young man…
Spirit breaks down. Do NASA know a man who can?
Tuesday 13 January 2004
Venus as a photo
Is it me, or do the newly enhanced images of the surface of Venus actually show a half-finished Ground Force project? Seriously, they’re very good.
Related: Don Mitchell’s Venus site.
Aside: for years, my dentist was a man named Don Mitchell.
Friday 9 January 2004
From the BBC (as usual):
President Bush to announce plans to send astronauts to Mars and the Moon. No surprise there – this has been flagged up for some time. Not sure that Congress will stomach the cost of these projects though.
Steve Fossett unveils aircraft for round-the-world solo attempt.
Wednesday 7 January 2004
Tuesday 6 January 2004
Mars probe returns colour images. The BBC server has been struggling a bit lately with the Mars probe pages – you might find that the NASA pages are more reliable.
D-Day approaches for Beagle 2 – at least, the BBC would like you to think that. In truth, tomorrow is the first of several D-Days, although if there is no success tomorrow, it will be very disheartening.
Sunday 4 January 2004
Friday 2 January 2004
Some science stories for you:
Stardust probe rendevous with comet – related: NASA Stardust homepage.
Millenium Seed Bank nears complete collection of UK plant species – related: MSB homepage.
Plans drawn up for solar-powered aerial circumnavigation – related: Solar Impulse homepage.
Tuesday 23 December 2003
A reminder that there is more to space exploration at the moment than missions to Mars: Sino-European mission, Double Star, prepares for launch.
Related: European Space Agency news page on Double Star.
Monday 22 December 2003
He’s been eaten by a monster wave!
Also: Magnitude 6.5 earthquake shakes California, roughly 70 miles from Santa Barbara. My friends in SBA report a "rolling motion" that made them feel dizzy. Apparently, the contents of the whisky cupboard were undamaged, to the relief of all concerned.
More news reports: San Luis Obispo Tribune.
Friday 19 December 2003
More wooing and yaying: Beagle 2 successfully detaches from Mars Express.
Related: Beagle 2 official homepage.
Thursday 18 December 2003
Privately built aircraft breaks the sound barrier. If I was very rich, I’d have one of these. Just think of the time saved for getting to meetings!
More from Mars
Mars probe Beagle 2 enters crucial phase. Fingers crossed.
Wednesday 17 December 2003
A couple of interesting science and technology stories from the BBC:
Oldest evidence of photosynthesis found – "Life may be older and more robust than we thought".
Bendy lampposts may save lives – or may provide endless fun for vandals.
Tuesday 16 December 2003
More from Mars
Tuesday 9 December 2003
More space stuff
NASA proposes a nuclear powered probe to the Jovian moons.
As expected, Japan’s Nozomi Mars mission has been aborted due to technical failure.
Thursday 4 December 2003
I don’t think that there is any doubt that aircraft contrails affect the weather – it can be noticably cooler in our part of Sussex when the US Air force are running concentrated supply missions to the Middle East, as their flight path passes overhead and an aircraft can pass as frequently as once every two or three minutes. As a result, the whole sky can become covered in a thin milky white cloud.
Wednesday 3 December 2003
To hell with Christmas (if you’ll pardon the pun), this isn’t so much the festive season as the Martian season.
Next week, the Japanese probe Nozomi will either go into orbit or be flung off into space – or, disastrously, crash into the planet’s surface, contaminating it with microbes from Earth. Nozomi has had a troubled life with fuel problems and damage from a solar flare. It seems unlikely that it will succeed, but if the Japanese do manage to make everything work, I think it will go down in history as a major feat of interplanetary engineering.
Mars Express is already at work, having sent back its first image. Really this is something of a calibration exercise, and the real work won’t begin until it goes into orbit on Christmas Day, just a few hours after Beagle2 has touched down on the surface. If you’re anything like me, you’ll probably be all misty eyed if it works, and horribly upset if it doesn’t.
The British media hardly give any time at all to the other two probes that are on their way to Mars, NASA’s twin probes Spirit and Opportunity. Spirit lands on January 4th and Opportunity on January 25th, on opposite sides of the planet. Billed as twin "robot geologists", Spirit and Opportunity will be looking for geological evidence of water, as well as increasing understanding of the planet’s surface – and have a big advantage over Beagle2 in that they are mobile, travelling around 40 yards each day during their 90-day mission.
However you look at it, this is really exciting stuff. I remember everyone at work being crowded around the PC as I downloaded fresh images from Mars Pathfinder and its Sojourner rover in 1997 over a 28.8kbps connection – it was amazing to see almost-live images from Mars, only a few minutes old. And don’t forget that Mars Odyssey has been sending back data for two years up until it was knocked out during October’s massive solar flare, and Mars Global Surveyor has sent some amazing pictures too.
This is an exciting time – I think I’m likely to be attached to my laptop and broadband over Christmas!