28 February 2009

OMG Aren't They Horrible!

There seems recently to be a trend for displaying photos of oneself in youth, and as is traditional adding the refrain of "OMG aren't they horrible". Far be it from me not to join a sinking bandwagon when I see one, so here are a selection of the pix I've so far found of me.

First off, on the right, here I am aged 7 (in 1958) with our dog, Suzie (Sue for short). This is clearly taken in our back garden during the summer, probably by my father with his Box Brownie.

And next a couple of years later (I'm guessing I was 9 or 10) while on holiday camping at a nudist club somewhere in Essex. It was a hot summer and in this I'm pouring cold water over my mother. This would have been taken by my father on his Box Brownie.

Next we have some from when I was in the Scouts.

Here I am (in the centre) at the age of about 12 (so 1963) preparing to take part in the Scouts annual St George's Day Parade, which our troop led with drum band. I can roughly date this as Vic, the guy with the "leopard skin", was our troop leader and left a year or so later at 16; the big gormless-looking lad helping him is Eric Castle who was (I think a year) younger than me, so he must have been 11 to be in the Scouts. Apart from being somewhere around Cheshunt I've no clue where this was. Again probably taken by my father on his Box Brownie.

In these two I must be about 14 (so 1965) as I'm the one leading the drum band at the St George's Day parade. I definitely remember this as I know we did this route at least two years running; I suspect this was the first year we used this route and the first year I was "drum major"as I think it is still Vic with the bass drum. Again probably taken by my father on his Box Brownie, although it must have been around this time he started using 35mm.

Now we've jumped to summer 1971 and a professionally taken photograph of the University of York Cricket Tour at the end of the Summer Term (so the end of my second year as an undergraduate). We spent a short week playing around Ipswich and Cambridge; this was taken outside the Sidney Sussex College, Cambridge pavilion before a match. I'm in the back row, third from right and badly in need of a haircut. And no, I can't name all the other guys; except I know the guy front right is Eddie Pratt who was doing Chemistry with me.

Finally we've jumped to 1984. I don't know who took this, but it's in my family history collection. This is me (centre, with hands in pockets and gold-rimmed glasses) with my parents at the opening of Noreen's blockbusting exhibition "Jolly Hockey Sticks" at Bethnal Green Museum of Childhood (now V&A MoC). I was (almost) down to weight in those days as I had not long recovered from glandular fever. I was 33 and we'd been married not quite 5 years. Eeek; that's a lifetime ago! I wasn't grey then either.

I'm sure I have other photos but they aren't to hand. I'll have to raid my mother's files next time I go to see her; there should be some more of me in my teens and maybe twenties although I doubt there'll be any of me under about 5 as I don't think my father had a camera then; and of course, yes, there are wedding photos somewhere.

Are they horrible? Well actually, apart from the one of me as a student (horrible glasses and in need of a serious haircut), no I don't think they are horrible. Photos of me now are far worse: very unfit, seriously overweight and going down hill rapidly into senility. I wish I was as fit now as I was in that nude photo of me at 9 or 10! But that, as they say, is life.


Flasher, originally uploaded by kcm76.

This week's self-portrait: 52 Weeks 53/52 (2009 week 09). Finally back to where we started at the end of February. This is also my February self-portrait for the Flickr 12 months group.

Self-portrait taken in the mirror using flash.

It seems treacherous but this will be the last weekly self-portrait. I'm glad I did this, but I have struggled at times to be at all creative enough given the amount of time I don't have to spare. However I will be taking a monthly self-portrait, and I may return to weekly someday.

27 February 2009

Armco Sundown

Armco Sundown, originally uploaded by kcm76.

Grab shot from the car (no I wasn't driving!) on A11 on the way home from my mother's last evening. I saw the picture but didn't expect to get it across the traffic and from a moving car. Driving from Norwich to London in the evening is driving into the sunset -- and East Anglian sunsets can be spectacular even on a grey day like yesterday.

More Philosophical Thoughts

Another selection of powerful thoughts from philosopher AC Grayling’s The Form of Things. (See here for the previous post.)

[...] without opportunities for reflection, information in any quantity is valueless. A synoptic view is needed, a larger picture, a review of what has been acquired and learned – and concomitantly, of the extent and nature of our ignorance. The Greeks thought of the gods as having such a perspective, looking at the affairs of men from the peak of Olympus. 'Olympian detachment' might be possible for gods if there were such beings, but from the human perspective in the midst of the fray, such a view is a lot – and perhaps too much – to ask; the best we can do is to pause and take stock.

The History of Knowledge and Ignorance
An example is provided by the complex of sixteenth-century events which, for brevity, is called 'the Reformation'. A large part of what drove these events was impatience with restraints on enquiry imposed by the Church. The Church taught that human reason is fallen and finite, and therefore that attempts to penetrate nature's secrets are impious. But the Reformed sensibility saw reason as a divine gift, and believed that mankind had been set a challenge by God to read the 'Great Book of the World'. There was also a school of thought in Christendom which believed that the world was given to man to expropriate at will – which meant that it was as open to the curiosity of the scientist as to the craft of the hunter or husbandman.


From the earliest times man has invented cosmogonies (theories of how the universe began) and cosmologies (theories of the ultimate nature of the universe). They are grand theories designed to make sense of the world, its past and the laws (or powers) that govern it; and they suggest ways of influencing or even controlling it (in those earlier times, by sacrifice and prayer). In this sense religions are primitive versions of science and technology. They aspire to offer explanations: to tell us who we are, why we are here, what we must do and where we are going. The growth of contemporary science conflicts with religion thus conceived, because it offers explanations of the same phenomena in wholly different ways.


Politically, human beings have advanced little from their long evolutionary history of conflict. They are still tribal, territorial and ready to kill one another for beliefs, and for control of goods and resources. Indeed, much of the world's wealth and energy is poured into arms and armies for these very reasons. But the growth of knowledge has replaced the spear with the computer-guided nuclear missile. This mixture of stone-age politics and contemporary science is [...] extraordinarily perilous.

Answering Critics
Two classes of my own critics cause me amusement rather than otherwise, for which I owe them gratitude. One consists in folk of a religious turn of mind, who are annoyed by my dislike of religion and my attacks upon it, on the grounds of its falsehood, its moralising oppressiveness and the terrible conflicts it has caused throughout history, and causes still. These critics call me dogmatic, narrow-minded, intolerant and unfair in what I say about their superstitions and the systems of moral tyranny erected upon them. Well: as experts in dogma and narrow-mindedness, they are doubtless in a good position to recognise it when they find it.

Moral Outrage
A mature society is one that reserves its moral outrage for what really matters: poverty and preventable disease in the third world, arms sales, oppression, injustice. Bad language and sex might offend some, who certainly have a right to complain; but they do not have a right to censor. They do not have to watch or listen if they are offended: they have an 'off' button on their television sets and radios. After all, it is morally outrageous that moral outrage should be used as an excuse to perpetrate the outrage of censorship on others.

Science and Modern Times
Everywhere that religion has ever held temporal power, the result has approximated Taliban-style rule. We forget, in the West, how much it took to escape orthodoxy enforced by burnings at the stake, and how recently: indeed, at the beginnings of modern times with the rise of science.

Faith Schools
Just two words state the objection to faith-based schools: 'Northern Ireland'. The segregation of Catholic and Protestant school-children has been one of the major causes and sustainers of inter-community tensions in that troubled region. Why have the bitter lessons thus taught not been learned?

25 February 2009

Philosophical Thoughts

In the last few days I’ve been reading a philosophy book. “OMG what is this guy on? He reads philosophy – for fun!”

Well in truth it isn’t a very taxing philosophy book, because what I’ve been reading is The Form of Things by AC Grayling. Grayling is Professor of Philosophy at Birkbeck College, University of London and writes regularly for a number of periodicals including my favoured New Scientist. He is also a literary journalist and a broadcaster. So he’s not just a thinker, but he writes well and in an intelligible style.

The Form of Things is a collection of short (mostly 2-3 pages) essays drawn from his recent journalistic writings. Its subtitle: Essays on Life, Ideas and Liberty in the 21st Century tells you precisely what it’s about. It ranges widely over subjects such as language, beauty, funerals, reflections on people, fox-hunting and ID cards. It is a book to dip into rather than read cover to cover; and that’s how I’ve approached it as each of the essays stands in its own right. Let me give you a few gems (the title of each piece is the essay from which it comes). Whether you agree with them or not, they should at least thought provoking…

At almost any exhibition of contemporary art the thought that crosses one's mind is: Is this rubbish, or am I missing the point? One could take the view that most of it is indeed rubbish, but of a useful kind: for it takes a lot of compost to make a flower -and flower lovers live in hope. Cynics say that the problem is the existence of art colleges, where people spend their time gluing cereal boxes to bicycle tyres (conceptual art), or demand that people watch them doing it (performance art) …

Human history has been weighed down with ordinances of denial from those who claim to know what the gods want of us – which seems mainly to be that we should not enjoy ourselves, even though they have given us natures attuned to pleasure.

God and the European Constitution
No one has ever fought a war because of disagreements in geology or botany; but humanity has bled to death over the question of whether a wafer of bread becomes human flesh when a priest whispers incantations over it. This stark contrast needs to be taken seriously; for until it is, we condemn ourselves to repeat the futile quarrels of the past.

Humanism and Religion
Religious folk try to turn the tables on people of a naturalistic and humanistic outlook by charging them with 'faith' in science or 'faith' in reason. Faith, they seem to have forgotten, is what you have in the face of facts and reason [...] No such thing is required to 'believe in' science or reason. Science is always open to challenge and refutation, faith is not; reason must be rigorously tested by its own lights, faith rejoices in unreason. Once again, a humanistic outlook is as far from sharing the characteristics of religion as it can be. By definition, in short, humanism is not religion, any more than religion is or can be a form of humanism.

Rochester and the Libertines
The word 'libertine' was first applied in the 1550s to a sect of Protestants in northern Europe who, with unimpeachable logic, reasoned that since God had ordained all things, nothing could be sinful. They proceeded to act accordingly. Their views were regarded with horror by both Catholics on one side and Calvinists on the other…

Free Speech
It should by now be a commonplace, though alas it is not, that the right response to attempts by violent enemies to coerce our society is to reassert the very liberties and values that make them attack us in the first place. To restrict ourselves out of fear of what they might do is to give them the victory they seek. If they were able to impose their will on our society, they would deprive us of many of the liberties distinctive of a Western democracy. Why do it to ourselves?

Maybe more later.

24 February 2009

Depositing the Bankers?

There's an interesting piece in yesterday's Times by Sir Ken McDonald, QC, the recently retired DPP. In it he takes the West's (and especially Britain's) politicians and legislators to task for getting the balance of the criminal justice system wrong, viz:

[...] If you mug someone in the street and you are caught, the chances are that you will go to prison. In recent years mugging someone out of their savings or their pension would probably earn you a yacht [...] too many people and too many institutions function as though they are beyond the reach of the criminal law.

In Britain we had an additional burden: legislators who preferred criminal justice to be an auction of fake toughness [...] So no one likes terrorists? Let's bring in lots of terror laws, the tougher the better. Let's lock up nasty people longer, and for longer before they are charged. Let's stop medieval clerics winding up the tabloids. Let's stop off-colour comedians outraging homophobic preachers. Let's pretend that outlawing offensiveness makes the world less offensive.

This frequently made useful headlines. But it didn't make our country or any other country a better or safer place to live. It didn't respect our way of life. It brought us the War on Terror and it didn't make it any easier for us to progress into the future with comfort and security.

Our legislators faltered because they seemed to ignore the fact that what makes good politics doesn't always make good policy. And they didn't want to tackle the more complex issues that really affect safety in people's lives. It was easier to throw increasingly illiberal sound bites at a shadowy and fearsome enemy.

In Britain, no one has any confidence that fraud in the banks will be prosecuted as crime. But it is absolutely critical to public confidence that it should be [...] Do people believe this will happen? No, they don't [...]

Forget the paranoiac paraphernalia of national databases, identity cards and all the other liberty-sapping addictions of the Home Office. Forget the rhetoric and do something useful. If the Government really wants to protect people beyond armoured-vest posturing, here is the opportunity [...]

Let's have fewer terrorism acts, fewer laws attacking our right to speak frankly and freely. Let's stop filling our prisons with junkies, inadequates and the mentally damaged. How apposite in 2009 to have, instead, a few more laws to confront the clever people who have done their best to steal our economy.

Hat-tip: Bystander at The Magistrate's Blog

23 February 2009

The Right Balance

It sounds to me that model, novelist and actress Sara Stockbridge has the balance about right. In a curious piece in The Herald, she admits to having no problem with her body and once having walked the catwalk nude (except for her boots):

"I've never had a problem with my body. I went down the catwalk naked once. There was an encore and I'd already gone off and started taking all my clothes off and I was naked, and they were like, come on, come on, there's an encore', and so I ran back on in just boots with nothing on. I have no problem with being naked. There are much more scary things than being naked. Like singing karaoke."

Why is it that everyone isn't so well balanced? After all we all know, give or take the odd scar, what's underneath our clothes.

Hat-tip Diary of a Nudist

Memories Meme

Memories Meme, originally uploaded by kcm76.

This week's Flickr Photo Meme is about Memories. As usual here are the questions and my answers:

1. What is a special memory of childhood? Hot summer days camping at nudist club; I would have been about 10; in consequence I've never been uncomfortable with my body or anyone else's
2. A memorable romance with? Faith, when I was a postgraduate; I was 23. she was 32; she taught me a lot
3. What was the most memorable gift you have ever received? My first camera, a Halina, has to be up there near the top; I don't recall exactly when I was given it but I must have been about 12 or 13; look where it has gotten me!
4. What place have you visited that had a memory attached to it? Rye, East Sussex; I remember it from camping with my parents when I was 4 or 5 and have been back numerous times in recent years with Noreen
5. What was a memorable occasion that you recently attended? Almost any meeting of the Anthony Powell Society; this trip to the Widmerpool area of Nottinghamshire was an interesting day!
6. What was the most memorable toy you ever had? My teddy bear and black cat, both of which I still have, must be very near the top of the list
7. Who is the most memorable teacher you ever had? There were many, but Bob Goss and Derek Beadle, who taught me Chemistry and Physics, respectively, in the 6th form were probably the stars
8. Do you have a special collection that is memorable? My Memories, of course! I'm not really one for collecting personal mementos
9. What is your most cherished memento? Noreen, for lots of reasons and not just because she married me!
10. What trophy, ribbon, award, certificate are you most proud of that serves as a memory of an important event? My PhD, not just for the academic stuff but for all the formative extracurricula things too
11. It would be wonderful if all memories were good, but some aren't; is there a bad memory that you carry with you? Breaking up with my first fiancée, Jill, at the start of our second year as undergraduates; I nearly failed my Part I exams as a result
12. What is your favourite summer memory? Playing Cricket, not that I was ever any good

1. Mother & Son, 2. FAITH: Earth element focal art bead pendant/necklace 1, 3. Halina 35X, 4. Rye, 5. AP Soc Members at Wysall, 6. Little Black Cat, 7. is there a shark behind me? ...is that a yes?, 8. memories collage, 9. Noreen, 10. Student Life, 11. Jack and Jill went up the hill, 12. Playing Cricket

As always these are not my photos (except numbers 1, 5, 6, 9 which are mine) so please follow the links to enjoy the work of the photographers who did take them!

Created with fd's Flickr Toys.

22 February 2009

Quote: Belief

Believe nothing, no matter where you read it or who has said it, not even if I have said it, unless it agrees with your own reason and your own common sense


Says it all really ...

Says it all really ..., originally uploaded by kcm76.

This week's self-portrait: 52 Weeks 52/52 (2009 week 08).
One week to go to get me back to the end of February where I started -- yes this is a 53 week year!

Rusty, the Danish Bacon Hound

Rusty, the Danish Bacon Hound, originally uploaded by kcm76.

Ladies and Gentlemen! Let me present, at no expense to this august establishment, Rusty, the Danish Bacon Hound.
We must apologise for the state of his coat, he's in need of a good hose down as he's clearly been grubbing around the pig pens.
(Made from thin white card after a design by David C Mills.)

[Later] Noreen thinks he should be called Streaky rather than Rusty, this also being a characteristic of the coats of Danish Bacon Hounds.

21 February 2009

...how to make Rusty the Dog...

Fun for all the family! Might keep the ankle biters out of mischief for five minutes. I've had a go and it took me two attempts to get the ears worked out -- solid line on diagram = cut here; dotted line = fold here. Duh! :-)

17 February 2009

Book Marketing

Today I got an email. Well actually I probably got well over 100, between work and home. But one stuck out. It was from Abebooks who are marketing 30 Novels Worth Buying For the Cover Alone. It's an interesting way to sell – and buy – books, and certainly makes for a striking advert. Does it work? Well I guess it must, or at least it stands a good chance, otherwise Abebooks wouldn't have perpetrated it. Punters? Well, given that he probably can't read, isn't this how Joe Average buys books anyway? Of course people like us wouldn't. Would we?

Oh and just so you know the 30 novels are:
  • Skim, Mariko Tamaki and Jillian Tamaki
  • Brave New World, Aldous Huxley
  • A Clockwork Orange, Anthony Burgess
  • Vacation, Deb Olin Unferth
  • South of the Border, West of the Sun, Haruki Murakami
  • Sharp Teeth, Toby Barlow
  • The Noodle Maker, Ma Jian
  • Everyone's Pretty, Lydia Millet
  • The Unbearable Lightness of Being, Milan Kundera
  • Fruit, Brian Francis
  • The Separation, Christopher Priest
  • The Chess Machine, Robert Lohr
  • The Last Jew, Yoram Kaniuk
  • The Monsters of Templeton, Lauren Groff
  • Kurosagi Corpse Delivery Service, Vol. 1, Elji Otsuka and Housui Yamazaki
  • The River Wife, Jonis Agee
  • My Mistress' Sparrow is Dead, Jeffrey Eugenides
  • Beowulf, Seamus Heaney
  • Strawberry Fields, Marina Lewycka
  • The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo, Stieg Larsson
  • Memorial, Bruce Wagner
  • The Poisonwood Bible, Barbara Kingsolver
  • The Archivist, Martha Cooley
  • Tree of Smoke, Denis Johnson
  • Arkansas, John Brandon
  • The Yiddish Policemen's Union, Michael Chabon
  • Parasites Like Us, Adam Johnson
  • Hypohypothesis, Heather Folsom
  • Rant, Chuck Palahniuk
  • The Boys in the Trees, Mary Swan
Of which I have heard of just FOUR and read the grand total of ... ONE!

15 February 2009

A Sorry Mess or a Public Scandal?

Like many others, for example Wat Tyler over at Burning Our Money, the writer of the Leader in yesterday's Times is deeply unimpressed with the ongoing soap opera that is the sorry mess we call a banking system. Specifically yesterday's Leader Writer is railing against the debacle which is the Lloyds TSB "takeover" of HBOS. These two quotes are quite telling:
Instead of steadying the financial system, the merger has further undermined it.

The episode shows a lack of foresight, competence and financial understanding; at such vast expense for the taxpayer, it is also and increasingly a public scandal.

It grieves me to be right but "I told you so!", to the extent that as Lloyds TSB shareholders we both voted against the merger and declined to indulge in the recent Lloyds TSB share issue (at a price which was above the market rate at the time of the offer).

Sad, bitter and twisted because I've seen my investment go down the tubes? No, actually. We bought a small number TSB shares when it was privatised 20 years or so ago (since transmogrified into Lloyds TSB shares when these two banks merged) and we have since recouped our initial investment several times over in dividend payments. And the current share price is around what it was when we bought those shares – although that is less than 10% of its peak price. Our investment is small and luckily we can afford to lose it: never gamble with more than you can afford to lose! So no, I'm not bitter. Just annoyed at the incompetence and unprofessionalism of it all.

14 February 2009

Politicians Out of Their Minds on Drugs

There's a thoughtful editorial in this week's issue of New Scientist. As so often I give you an edited version ...

Drugs drive politicians out of their minds

Imagine you are seated at a table with two bowls in front of you. One contains peanuts, the other tablets of the illegal recreational drug MDMA (ecstasy). A stranger joins you, and you have to decide whether to give them a peanut or a pill. Which is safest?

You should give them ecstasy, of course. A much larger percentage of people suffer a fatal acute reaction to peanuts than to MDMA.

This, of course, is only a thought experiment [...] But it puts the risks associated with ecstasy in context with others we take for granted. Yes, ecstasy is dangerous and people who take it are putting their lives on the line. But the danger needs to be put in perspective.

Sadly, perspective is something that is generally lacking in the [...] debate over illegal drugs [...] drug policy should be made on the basis of evidence of harmfulness - to individuals and to society. The British government's stated line is similar, yet time and again it ignores its own rules and the recommendations of its experts. Most other western governments act in a similar way.

The latest example of doublethink concerns MDMA. [...] the UK government's Advisory Council on the Misuse of Drugs [...] recommend downgrading it, based on evidence of its limited harmfulness [...] Yet the government has already rejected the advice.

No doubt this is partly a reaction to the furore over the [...] decriminalisation of cannabis in 2004 [...] Despite the fact that the move actually reduced the quantity of cannabis being smoked - surely a welcome outcome [...]

[...] David Nutt, found himself in hot water last weekend for comparing the harm caused by ecstasy to the harm caused by horse riding [...] [his] intention was simply to put ecstasy in context with other sources of harm. But his comments [...] caused predictable squeals of outrage [...]

This is a worldwide problem. We need a rational debate about the true damage caused by illegal drugs - which pales into insignificance compared with the havoc wreaked by legal drugs such as alcohol and tobacco. Until then, we have no chance of developing a rational drug policy.

I don't pretend to know the answer to any of this. But I would echo the sentiments of the editor of New Scientist in pleading for rational and logical debate and thinking which puts all the arguments and risks into a reasoned perspective.

12 February 2009

In a Small Closet

In a Small Closet, originally uploaded by kcm76.

This week's self-portrait: 52 Weeks 51/52 (2009 week 07).

09 February 2009

Valentine's Meme

Valentine's Meme, originally uploaded by kcm76.

This week's Flickr Photo Meme is, quite naturally, about Valentine's Day. As usual here are the questions and my answers:

1. Type in Valentine's Day and pick your favourite picture!
2. How old were you when you fell in love for the first time? I'm guessing about 11.
3. How many times have you been in love? Properly in love, maybe 3?
4. What is the most romantic moment you've experienced? The first time Noreen and I had sex
5. What is your favourite love song? Monteverdi 1610 Vespers. How's that for eccentricity?
6. What movie has your favourite love scene? Nah, I only do stills; don't get all this video stuff!
7. Where is the most romantic location/destination in the world? Anywhere, it doesn't matter where; it's the other person and the ambience that counts
8. What gift do you think is the most romantic? ,b>Oneself, surely
9. Which do you prefer – Chocolates or Flowers? ,b>Always flowers; I'm not supposed to have chocolates
10. What is the most romantic thing anyone has ever done for you? Say "Yes"
11. Who do you think is the most romantic leading lady or man on film, TV or stage? The young Bo Derek
12. Most romantic book you've ever read? Any truly old book will do; books are almost as magic as cats!

1. E'ville Con 2009 logo, 2. Eleven, 3. everyone needs to draw a skull or maybe 3, 4. Angel Wars 3: Choosing sides, 5. Monteverdi Vespers of 1610, 6. Two Months On Flickr...Thank You, 7. Anywhere, 8. ugly_dolls, 9. There are always flowers, 10. She Said Yes To A Single Yellow Rose, 11. bo derek96, 12. Old Books [2]

As always these are not my photos so please follow the links to enjoy the work of the photographers who did take them!

Created with fd's Flickr Toys.

Hills are Alive with the Sound of Ants

There was an incredible article in The Times last Friday (6 February) ... Scientists have discovered that ants talk to each other, and they now have miniaturised technology to such an extent that they can listen in. You can find the whole article online here; what follows is a very condensed version:

Advances in audio technology have enabled scientists to discover that ants routinely talk to each other in their nests. Most ants have a natural washboard and plectrum built into their abdomens that they can rub together to communicate using sound. Using miniaturised microphones and speakers that can be inserted unobtrusively into nests, researchers established that the queens can issue instructions to their workers.

The astonished researchers, who managed to make the first recordings of queen ants “speaking”, also discovered that other insects can mimic the ants to make them slaves. Research several decades ago had shown that ants were able to make alarm calls using sounds, but only now has it been shown that their vocabulary may be much bigger and that they can “talk” to each other. Improvements in technology had made the discoveries possible because it meant the ants could be recorded and subjected to playbacks without becoming alarmed.

By placing miniature speakers into the nest and playing back sounds made by a queen, the researchers were able to persuade ants to stand to attention [...] It remained unclear how much the ants relied on sound for language but he suspected that further analysis would reveal a wider vocabulary than had been seen yet.

The most important discovery is that within the ant colony different sounds can provoke different reactions [...] It's within the power of the ant to play different tunes by changing the rhythm with which they rub [...] The detection of the role of sounds provided the “final piece of the jigsaw” to explain how [some species of butterfly] caterpillars survive in ants' nests and should help to guide conservationists in trying to save the endangered European mountain species.

[The] new work shows that the role of sound in information exchange within ant colonies has been greatly underestimated.

Zen Mischievous Moments #149

Another from New Scientist dated 07/02/2009 …

How not to right click

THE mother of a friend of Dave Higginbottom was trying to get the hang of her daughter's computer. After a while, she shouted to her daughter: "What do you do when a squiggly red line appears under a word?"

"Just right-click," replied her daughter from the next room.

A moment later the mother replied: "I've written 'click' but it makes no difference. I just get the word 'click' after the word with the squiggly line."

Zen Mischievous Moments #148

The following from New Scientist dated 07/02/2009 …

Danger: airborne turtles

BLAMING Canada geese for forcing a US Airways jet to ditch in the Hudson river seems logical. They're big enough to cause serious damage to any plane that hits them, and thousands have settled around New York City. Sure enough, when we checked the Federal Aviation Administration's National Wildlife Strike Database at www.planestrikes.notlong.com, Canada geese were high on the list, with 1266 reports of them hitting aircraft between 1990 and 2008, 103 of which were in New York State.

With all three New York City airports close to the ocean, gulls also seemed likely suspects and, yes, over the same period, 1208 gull strikes were reported in New York, out of a total of 9843 gulls that collided with planes across the US. Further scrutiny of the list revealed that other collision victims include 145 bald eagles and 15 black-capped chickadees. An endangered whooping crane was hit in Wisconsin. We began to think that nothing that flies is safe. Then we spotted an entry for turtles.

One can imagine circumstances in which turtles could become airborne, although not of the turtle's volition. It would, however, seem quite hard to hit a plane with a tossed turtle. Yet 80 turtles suffered this fate, including 23 in New York State. The turtles weren't alone. Armadillos are, if anything, even less aerodynamic than turtles, yet planes struck 14 of them in Florida, two in Louisiana and one in Oklahoma, although Texas armadillos successfully avoided aircraft. In addition, 13 American alligators hit planes in Florida.

We can report that our mental picture of airborne armadillos, alligators and turtles did not survive long. We were forced to conclude that although the FAA doesn't specify it, these animals had their collisions with aircraft on the ground, presumably during take-off and landing. It was interesting to note, though, that some terrestrial species seem much better at dodging planes than others. No one reported hitting wolves, bears, sheep or goats, but the toll included 811 deer, 310 coyotes, 146 skunks, 146 foxes, 33 domestic dogs, 18 domestic cats, eight cattle, six moose, five horses, two river otters, and a single unfortunate pig.

08 February 2009


Thinking, originally uploaded by kcm76.

This week's self-portrait: 52 Weeks 50/52 (2009 week 06).

Out of time for a new picture this week, so here's one I did earlier!

07 February 2009

Research, 35 Years On

Thirty-five years ago I was a postgraduate student at the University of East Anglia and in the middle of the research for my doctorate. In simple terms I was looking at how metal-compounds interact to quench light-driven chemical and physical processes in organic compounds; this was done using pulses of laser light which typically lasted millionths of a second (a technique called laser flash photolysis). The technique was already well characterised and the metal-induced photochemical quenching already of industrial importance in developing additives to make plastics more light stable – after all one doesn't want buckets or sinks which fall apart after a short while as happened in the chemistry labs at University of York when I was an undergraduate there. In our research we were extending the work to try to better understand the physics of the systems at a quantum energy level, and (as my supervisor memorably expressed it) fill in one piece of the jigsaw puzzle which is photosynthesis – the chemical and physical processes by which plants turn water, carbon dioxide and light into energy, sugars, proteins and oxygen; the veritable bedrock of life. It was but a very tiny piece of a massive jigsaw puzzle and to this day I still do not understand how it earned me a doctorate!

This was at the time when Lord Porter (then Professor Sir George Porter) who won a Nobel prize for the invention of flash-photolysis was at the Royal Institution and was just beginning to develop systems using picosecond lasers which we thought at the time was mind-blowing. (A picosecond is one million-millionth of a second, so around a million time shorter than the equipment I was using).

Thirty-five years on scientists are now on the threshold of putting in the very last pieces of that jigsaw. This at least is the way I read today's BBC News item which describes scientists watching the reacting electrons in the molecules using a similar photolysis technique but with laser pulses lasting just 100 femtoseconds, that's one ten-thousandth of a billionth of a second (or ten thousand million times shorter than an average camera flash). I'm not so much gobsmacked at the rate of technological innovation – one has almost come to expect that – but more that not only has this been done but that it is possible to achieve such incredibly fast pulses of light AND use them to watch chemical reactions in such real-time detail. It is something we dreamt of doing but never imagined would become a reality. For me this is much more gobsmacking science than any piece of cosmology or particle accelerator physics.

05 February 2009

Abstract Tree Snow #94½

Abstract Tree Snow #94½, originally uploaded by kcm76.

This is the cherry tree in the street outside our doctor's surgery. It looked stunning against the blue sky; the shapes and contrasts were fascinating. I'm sure I could have found a better angle, but sadly I didn't have time: work was calling. :-(

02 February 2009

Don't Fear Nudity: Embrace It!

There's an interestingly refreshing take on nudity in an short article in the Johns Hopkins Newsletter, especially given that it is all American! Here is an edited version of the opening paragraphs.

America loves nudity. Cannot get enough. At the same time, America hates nudity. It makes us nervous ... Nudity draws attention to our insecurities ...

One insecurity is that of being inadequate. It makes us feel bad to think that we are unattractive ...

We would rather live without the possibility of being denied our ignorance/illusion than live truthfully, in a world with breasts and penises everywhere ...

But what if we were comfortable enough that we could deal? What if seeing one's privies was commonplace? Firstly, big dicks and voluptuous breasts would no longer be as large a deal as they are body parts. Following this, skill comes into frame. One's abilities in the sack are just as important to attraction as one's appearance, but the more comfortable we are with nudity, the more our intellect catches up to the emotional reality of this. In business terms, transparency increases competition, and competition increases the possibility that you are just as desirable as the next ...

What a refreshing change to have some commonsense!

[Hat-tip Diary of a Nudist]

01 February 2009

People in Your Life Meme

People in Your Life Meme, originally uploaded by kcm76.

This week's Flickr Photo Meme is the first names of people in your life. So as usual here are the questions and my answers

1. Spouse’s name. Noreen, and yes that is her in the photo taken with an ultra-wide angle lens at short range.
2. Mother's name. Dora
3. Father's name: Bob
4. Brother / sister's name: to quote Peter Cook "Tragically I was an only twin"
5. Pet's name: The cats: Harry and Sally, no not our choices!
6. Best friend's name: Suzy
7. Childhood friend's name: Derek
8. Person who has most influenced you: that has to be Victor, but only by a short head from Faith and Barry & Julia
9. Neighbour's name: Zaina, a luscious Lebanese beauty queen
10. Grandmother's name: Flo; that's my mother's mother
11. Grandfather's name: Alf; my mother's father who I never knew as he died 2 years before I was born
12. Your name: Keith, but I have yet to understand why!

As always these are not my photos (with the exception of #1) so please follow the links to enjoy the work of the photographers who did take them!

1. Madam Noreen, 2. Dora was my co-pilot (04/2005), 3. Bob Staake - Toy Designs, 4. tragically i was an only twin, 5. PB120027-1, 6. Shy Suzy, 7. Derek, 8. Victor Bagging, 9. zaina, 10. say ah (iris 'larry and flo'), 11. Alf Leila Wa Leila, 12. Keith Haring by Annie Leibovitz New York City 1986

Created with fd's Flickr Toys.