31 December 2010

New Year Resolutions - NOT

Like a number of other people I know, I don't make New Year's resolutions. They are, by and large, setting ourselves up to fail. We pick as resolutions things we're determined to do, but maybe don't really want to do, like stopping smoking or exercising more. Consequently, although we try, we don't stick the course. We fail and then beat ourselves up for failing. Only to go through the whole cycle again next year with the same resolutions! All New Year resolutions are is self-fulfilling fails just waiting to mug our psyche.

I've never liked being tied down by immoveable objectives (to me that ceases to be an objective and becomes an irrevocable order, something to be achieved "or else"). And I don't intend to start now I've managed to slough of the spectre of work. I'm basically someone who drifts with the tide; I managed it through my working life and have escaped with (most of) my sanity intact and a life outside work. Yes I probably could have done better for myself, but at what cost to my sanity and work-life balance? That wasn't what I wanted so drifting suited me just fine.

So in recent years I have tried to set myself some goals to achieve over the year. And no, a goal is not a resolution! Resolution = I am determined to do this come what may. Goal = a target to be aimed for; success is a bull's eye; but you still get points for hitting an outer blue or black ring, for some small progress.

Last year I set myself a number of goals. And I scored really badly, though I did pick a few points. This was partly because my goals didn't end up aligning with the things which turned out to happen during the year and which I couldn't have foreseen. Yes, I'm disappointed, but no I'm not beating myself up about it (well not much anyway).

So for 2011 I'm setting myself a new set of goals. And no, not the ones I didn't achieve in 2010; many of them are not now relevant to where I need to be going. And no, I'm not about to tell you what they are. I may or may not achieve these goals, but every one is attainable if somewhat challenging and I shall give them a good shot. As long as they remain relevant. And that's the key. Goals = targets to be aimed at which are achievable, relevant and allow for progress short of 100% success. So many New Year's resolutions become "must do", are unreasonably hard to achieve, and too often become irrelevant to where life takes us.  Flexibility is more important than single-minded determination; partial success is more important than total failure.

Happy New Year, Everyone!

30 December 2010

Harry the Cat is Home

Harry the Cat , originally uploaded by kcm76.

Yesterday we collected Harry the Cat from the vet, where he's been since a week before Christmas. It is all a very long and boring story which has ended up with him having one of his thyroid glands removed (not uncommon in older cats). But if only it had been that simple.

When we collected him from the vet the first thing we did was drive him an hour up the M1, in thick fog, to a veterinary consultant (the equivalent of your local BUPA hospital) north of Luton as neither we nor our vets were totally happy that the thyroid was the whole of the story.

We spent two hours at the "hospital", including an hour with the consultant vet during which we were examined as to Harry's history and he had a physical exam. The upshot of this was that the consultant expects (and hopes) that all the symptoms we've been seeing over the last few months are all due to his over-active thyroid, and then the aftermath of the operation. We left having been told "See how he goes for a couple of weeks and if he isn't OK bring him back".

So we paid yet another hefty vet bill (praise [insert your choice of deity] for pet insurance) and drove him an hour and a half back down the M1, still in thick fog, to home. Harry slept most of the way home in his basket. By the time we got home for a late lunch we'd all had more than enough for one day.

He seems fairly bright-eyed and bushy tailed although he is still clearly still adjusting to all the displacement. When we got home he was straight out of his basket and head down in Sally's breakfast bowl. Yep, that's our Harry! And afterwards he slept under my desk lamp during the afternoon, as can been seen.

He's still adjusting today, still sleeping quite a bit, and wants to spend time near us – although still not quite trusting that we aren't going to whisk him off somewhere else nasty for a holiday.

So far, so good. Here's hoping it stays that way and the consultant is right.It is good to have him back again!

29 December 2010

Headlines of the Year

One of the things I keep half an eye out for is humorous news headlines, especially on the BBC News website. Here are a few of this years favourites (all except the last from the BBC).

Camper, 55, is airlifted off peak
What would the peak period fare have cost him?
Paper boy praised for saving pensioner
How do you get the pensioner in your piggy bank?
Hogmanay bells ring in new babies
I do hope the bells are surgically removed, or is this the cause of Scots’ short life expectancy?
The Flashier the Tit, the Stronger the Sperm
Say no more!

27 December 2010

On Democracy

WARNING: this has turned into a post of epic proportions!

One of the things which marks out the western world from the rest is our democracy, much of which (excepting many European countries) is based on the British model. This predominance of the British model arises because (a) we were probably the first country to develop such an all-encompassing democracy and (b) because of the huge influence of the British Empire. This has meant that many countries which have been under the influence of British democracy have been able to establish their own democracies largely fully formed just by taking the book of rules off the shelf.

However it seems to me that it is often assumed our (British) democracy emerged fully formed overnight – although no-one can quite say when that was, although many will point to the Commonwealth of Oliver Cromwell. Cromwell isn't actually such a bad guess, although a gross over-simplification. British (and, may one thus suggest, world) democracy has evolved over a period of approaching 800 years. Like all evolution it is a rocky road with progress and reverses along the way. This evolution is something I had long believed but which I had never fully crystallised in my mind, so I set about developing a time-line to prove my case. Here it is:

1215. Magna Carta. The nobles force King John to sign Magna Carta which creates the English Parliament and the notion that the king may not levy or collect taxes without the consent of the royal council (embryonic parliament).
1216. Death of King John; accession of the infant Henry III. Leading nobles governed on behalf of Henry III thus ensuring Magna Carta is enshrined.
1258. Henry III forced to accept Provisions of Oxford thus abolishing the absolutist Anglo-Norman monarchy and giving power to a council of 15 barons overseen by a thrice-yearly parliament.
1264. Barons, led by Simon de Montfort, defeat Henry III at Battle of Lewes. Simon de Montfort summons the first English Parliament with no royal authority. As well as the barons, bishops etc. there were two knights from each shire and two burgesses from each borough, the latter mostly elected according to some locally devised process.
1265. First elected parliament meets. Simon de Montfort introduces the idea that power-holders are responsible to an electorate.
1295. Edward I adopts Simon de Montfort’s ideas about parliament in the Model Parliament.
1341. Commons meets separately from the nobility & clergy for the first time, thus creating the Upper and Lower Chambers.
1376. The Good Parliament. Presiding Officer (Sir Peter de la Mare) demanded accounting of royal expenditure and criticises the king’s management of the military and the heavy taxation. The Commons impeaches some of the king’s ministers.
1430. Franchise is limited to Forty Shilling Freeholders.
1485. Accession of Henry VII who is no longer a member of either house of parliament.
1536-41. Dissolution of the Monasteries under Henry VIII reduces the number of Lords Spiritual by the removal of Abbots and Priors from the House of Lords. For the first time there are more Lords Temporal than Lords Spiritual.
1544. Upper Chamber becomes known as the House of Lords, and the Lower Chamber the House of Commons; collectively the Houses of Parliament.
1628. Petition of Rights stipulated that the king could no longer tax without Parliament’s consent. Charles I later dissolved Parliament and, believing in the divine right of kings, ruled without them for 11 years thus precipitating the Civil War.
1642-51. Civil War and the Levellers movement.
1649. Execution of Charles I
1649-60. Interregnum. House of Lords abolished. Oliver Cromwell, as Lord Protector, convenes several (mostly unicameral) parliaments. Cromwell gave much freedom to parliament (which is based on the Elizabethan model) but without the ruler’s influence being exerted; in consequence parliament became troublesome to the regime.
1653. Humble Petition and Advice. Parliament offers Cromwell the crown which he refuses. But the model of parliament contained in the Humble Petition is essentially that which still pertains: an elected House of Commons, the House of Lords containing peers of the realm and a constitutional monarchy subservient to parliament and assisted by a Privy Council. Cromwell thus inadvertently presided over the creation of the basis for the future parliamentary government of England.
1659. Rump Parliament dissolves itself and calls democratic elections which pave the way for the restoration of Charles II in May 1660.
1681. Charles II gambles by dissolving parliament and ruling without them for four years.
1688. James II deposed.
1689. Accession of William & Mary. Parliament approves the Bill of Rights, upholding the pre-eminence of parliament (plus freedom of speech and banning of cruel and unusual punishments) thus beginning the English constitutional monarchy.
1707. Act of Union merges English and Scottish Parliaments.
1801. Parliament of Ireland merged with that of Great Britain.
1832. Great Reform Act. Purges many of the Rotten Boroughs, reforms constituencies and considerably extends the (male only) franchise.
1867. Second Reform Act completes the purge of Rotten Boroughs, establishes constituencies of roughly equal numbers of electors and again extends the franchise.
1872. Ballot Act establishes the secret ballot.
1884. Third Reform Act doubles the size of the (still all male) electorate.
1918. Almost all men over 21, and women over 30 who met property owning qualifications, granted the right to vote.
1928. Representation of the People Act enfranchises all men and women over 21.
1970. Age of majority reduced to 18.

So what is the alternative to democracy?

Yes, that’s right, it is essentially a dictatorship, whether in the form of an absolute monarchy (for example Saudi Arabia, Tsarist Russia), a military dictatorship (for example Burma, North Korea), a political dictatorship (think China, Soviet Russia) or a civil dictatorship (eg. Libya, Saddam Hussein’s Iraq, Zimbabwe). These countries have no tradition of democracy; most wouldn’t know it if it hit them in the face. And yet we, the Western World, expect to go stomping into these countries, telling them to become democracies (well that’s what works for us, so we know best) and then wonder why (a) they aren’t overjoyed and (b) fail to make it work overnight – think Iraq and Afghanistan.

Yes, sure, there are other countries which are trying to get from dictatorship to democracy on their own, Russia being a case in point. It is hard (so kudos to them for trying) because the dictatorship mindset (however much disliked) is ingrained in not just all their administrative systems but also in the people. No wonder they find it hard, however strong their will, and flip-flop into and out of dictatorial tendencies.

As I say, the road to democracy is long, winding and rocky. It’s taken Britain almost 800 years. What makes the Western World think non-democratic countries can achieve democracy overnight? Should we not expect it to be a long-term project for them, taking maybe 20-50 years? Even assuming that is what they want!

26 December 2010

The Lure of the Limerick

Lying abed last night I got to thinking about limericks; something I have not visited for quite some while. And of course I didn't need to revisit WS Baring-Gould's The Lure of the Limerick to be reminded that as an art form the limerick is both clever and bawdy – as well as being a peculiarly English art form, much older than it's supposed inventor Edward Lear – viz:

The limerick packs laughs anatomical
Into space which is quite economical
Though the good ones I've seen
So seldom are clean
And the clean ones so seldom are comical.

The limerick's an art for complex
Whose contents run chiefly to sex.
It's famous for virgins
And masculine urgin's
And vulgar erotic effects.

The thoughts of the rabbit on sex
Are seldom, if ever, complex
For a rabbit in need
Is a rabbit in deed
And does as a rabbit expects.

There once was a queer of Khartoum
Took a lesbian up to his room
And they argued all night
As to who had the right
To do what, and with which, and to whom.

And it's all downhill from there!

Must buy a new copy of Baring-Gould; my cheap 1971 paperback has literally fallen apart.

25 December 2010

Green Christmas

Thanks to Diamond Geezer for the following, which I just have to share in its entirety!

1 And in the sixth month the angel Gabriel was sent from God unto Nazareth to have a chat to a virgin, and the virgin's name was Mary.
2 And the angel came unto her and said, "Fear not, for thou shalt conceive in thy womb and bring forth a Son, and shalt call His name JESUS."
3 Then said Mary unto the angel, "Oh, for heavens sake. I'm a responsible eco-protester and I've made a conscious decision not to bring a child into the world. An extra mouth will burn up valuable resources that the Earth can ill afford. Think of all the carbon dioxide He'll breathe out, and all the fossil fuels He'll burn, and all the nappies He'll soil, and all the mobile phone chargers He'll leave on stand-by. Not to mention all the offspring He'll probably beget. I'm being impregnated against my will, and it's our planet that will suffer. Tell God I'd rather not, there's a good angel."
4 And the angel answered and said unto her, "Tough."

5 And it came to pass in those days that there went out a decree that all local hospitals should be shut down. And the accountants saw that it was good.
6 "Bugger," said Joseph. "My espoused wife is great with child, but the nearest birthing facility is 70 miles away. And public transport is so very unreliable these days, and all the cheap fares were snapped up month ago. Verily my eco-conscience doesn't permit me to take the car. Where's that ass?"
7 So they went up from Galilee on the back of a donkey - which is not ideal for a girl in Mary's condition - unto the City of David which is called Bethlehem.

8 And so it was that while they were there, the days were accomplished that Mary should be delivered. But it turned out that the hospital was full, having exceeded its annual budgetary target, so she might as well have stayed at home and given birth in the garage.
9 And she brought forth her firstborn Son, and wrapped Him in ethnic import swaddling clothes from the Oxfam shop, and laid Him in a manger.
10 And Mary said "Here I am surrounded by animals and straw, and not an epidural in sight. This must be as environmentally-friendly a birth as anyone could ever have, not that the wider world has noticed. It's a damned shame that the media aren't here to promote this ultra-green lifestyle to other pregnant women. But I guess my story will just have to remain untold."

11 And there were in the same country shepherds abiding in the field, keeping watch over their flock by night. And they were doing a bit of knitting, like shepherds do, yea even their teatowel headgear was sustainably generated.
12 And lo, the angel of the Lord came upon them, and the glory of the Lord shone round about them, and they were sore afraid.
13 "We are sore afraid," they said. "Have you any idea how much energy you're wasting with all this ostentatious glory-shining? You could at least tone it down a bit using a low-energy halo."
14 And the angel said unto them, "Fear not, for behold this halo is a low output, flicker free, non-stroboscopic Compact Fluorescent Integrated Glow-Ring. For God phased out all the filament haloes in the heavenly firmament long ago."
15 And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host praising God and saying, "Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace, and LED-based illumination toward men!"
16 “For unto you is born this day a Saviour, who is Christ the Lord. And this shall be a sign unto you: Ye shall find the Babe round the back of a pub wearing His Mum's cast-offs. Take Him some cute knitted bootees as a gift, won't you?"
17 And it came to pass, when the angels were gone away, the shepherds said one to another, "Bunch of megalomaniac weirdoes. We’re going nowhere."

18 Now when Jesus was born in Bethlehem, there came three air passengers from the East to Jerusalem saying, "Where is He that is born King of the Jews? For we have flown Star Alliance (first class) and have come to worship Him. Sorry we're a bit late, there was this ash cloud."
19 When Herod the king had heard these things he was troubled. "If our little town gets too popular with tourists we may need to build a third runway, possibly in the middle of the Sea of Galilee, and imagine all the noise and air pollution that would cause."
20 And he sent them to Bethlehem and said, "Go and search diligently for the young child, and when ye have found Him, bring me word again, that I may come and murder Him, oops, I wasn't supposed to say that bit out loud."
21 When they had heard the king, they departed via a connecting flight; and lo, a vapour trail went behind them until it spread over where the young Child lay.
22 And when they had exited the terminal, they got a taxi to see the young Child with Mary His mother. And she was appalled at the unnecessary length of their travels, and demanded that they offset their carbon forthwith.
23 So they presented duty free treasures of sustainable gold and locally-sourced frankincense and 100% organic myrrh, which pleased Mary no end.
24 And then they departed into their own country, by public transport, naturally.

Merry Christmas, everyone!

24 December 2010

Season's Greetings

Wishing you all a

Very Merry Christmas

and a

Prosperous New Year

23 December 2010

Quotes of the Week

Here's this week's selection.
It is quite likely that one day all the food in the world will be Chinese. And so will all the people.
[Giles Coren]

Lesson one: you just have to try something on. You really do – to experience the intense charge between a woman and her clothes.
[Lisa Armstrong]

What really tells you what you should be when you grow up is what you can't NOT do.
[Emily Nagoski]

I believe in an open mind, but not so open that your brains fall out.
[Arthur Hays Sulzberger]

I'm not promiscuous. I just really like women.
[Julian Assange]

And I leave you with euphemism of the week:
"worrying fiscal dynamics" = we're spending too much

Happy Christmas everyone!

Hope on, Hope Ever

Reading Redlegs in Soho yesterday has reminded me that, although I'm not a fan of making resolutions, a few seasonal wishes for the coming year might be in order (just don’t invoice me until January, OK?). We can all wish for the big things, like world peace, and for our own selfish wants (a big lottery win), so we’ll skip those and concentrate on things to improve society or make life more interesting. So here’s my selection:
  1. Men stop wearing ties. I never did see the sense of voluntarily putting a noose round one’s neck.
  2. Someone blitzes all the slummy London suburbs (so that’s all of them then!) giving us each our own underground cabin and using the land to grow organic fruit, vegetables and woodland.
  3. The 2012 Olympics are cancelled (or at least moved out of London).
  4. People realise that infertility treatment is aberrant and potentially dangerous.
  5. There’s a revival of '70s pop music.
  6. There’s also a revival of Latin Tridentine mass. (No, I know I'm not a believer, but Latin Tridentine is a magical spell.)
  7. The works of Anthony Powell become appreciated and fashionable – and they’re added to the Eng. Lit syllabus.
  8. People finally learn to think, and they start doing it for themselves – thus making their own properly constructed moral codes without the need for religion.
  9. Political parties are banned and all MPs, councillors, etc. have to be independents.
  10. There is a general improvement in body awareness along with an acceptance of nudity and sexuality as being a normal part of life. Public nudity becomes acceptable. Sex and nudity need to be normalised and not seen as aberrant.
  11. We have a return to the era of the heterogeneous High Street shopping experience, with a concomitant decline in the dominance of supermarkets, megastores and on-line mega-malls.
  12. All empty office buildings (and any abandoned supermarkets, see above) are compulsorily converted into low cost housing, or demolished and converted to parkland or woodland.
  13. Reality TV, sitcoms and soaps hit the buffers. TV goes up-market.
  14. Prostitution and cannabis are legalised and regulated; they can then be taxed so we all benefit.
  15. Everybody’s pensions are doubled overnight.
  16. The railways and the utility companies are taken back into public ownership where they belong.
  17. There is a realisation that employers have to appoint the best person for the job and that positive discrimination is … just discrimination against a different set of people.
  18. The banks remember that what they are playing with is our money (not theirs) and they compensate us accordingly.
  19. And finally: health, wealth and happiness to all. For ever and ever. Amen.
So what would your list be?

22 December 2010

A Two "Duh"s Day

Two, totally unrelated, oddities that have impinged on my eyes today.  The first is from BBC News:

Abbey Road zebra crossing from Beatles cover listed

This seems to be a nonsense. How do you list a zebra crossing? What is being listed? What is there now is not the same crossing as when the Beatles created Abbey Road: the road has been resurfaced, the zebra stripes repainted and zig-zigs added. Or is there to be an archaeological excavation to see if the Beatles' era road surface remains? Or is the current road never to be resurfaced or repainted?

Secondly ...

Mutant Mouse Chirps Like a Bird

"It’s furry like a mouse but sings like a bird [...] It’s a mutant mouse developed by the genetic engineers at the University of Osaka that is able to tweet and chip like a bird, instead of a mouse’s normal squeak [...] The research group currently has over a hundred singing mice [...] it seems that they use their chirp in different ways than normal mice use their squeaks. The more conventional squeaks are used when a mouse is stressed, while the singing mouse seems to use its chirp in different environments, including in the presence of mates."

Douglas Adams thou shouldst be living at this time!

21 December 2010

Fox Tracks in the Snow

Fox Tracks in the Snow, originally uploaded by kcm76.

Not a terribly good picture as it was taken in a hurry to a waiting taxi, but there were lots of fox tracks in the snow through our front garden and along the pavement. And yes they are fox: you can just see impressions of the claws (which rules out cat, which would be smaller too) and they are too narrow for dog.

Interestingly they usually go over our neighbour's low brick walls between gardens (there's a nice trail of tracks and snow knocked off the walls) rather than go round the end of the wall which is only 3 yards away - and yes, I have seen Mr Reynard do this!

Like them or not they are an incredibly efficient rubbish disposal system. Last night Noreen put out the bones from Sunday's oxtail casserole. No sign of the bones this morning, just lots of Reynard tracks.

19 December 2010

Something for the Season

A11 Sunset, originally uploaded by kcm76.

I took this photo on the journey from Norwich to London on 27/11/2010, late afternoon. We are heading south across Thetford Chase. I always seem to take shots of those trees as they always stand out well against the sky! Oh, and before anyone asks, no I wasn't doing the driving!

Opening up Sexuality

A few weeks ago I speed read Susie Bright's Full Exposure: Opening Up to Your Sexual Creativity and Erotic Expression. While I found much of the book mundane here are a few snippets which struck me and/or helped crystallise my thinking.

We have no tradition in our culture for showing respect to anything sexual. We don't promote erotic education. Our health care establishment barely has a clue about our sexual bodies. Our political system finds sex to be a fine whipping boy. The gossips and preachers are our typical sex advisers, and their tone is usually damning, rarely daring.


The puritans are suspicious of sex education because it leads to tolerance, and there's a world of sexual learning in everything from anatomy books to Leaves of Grass [by Walt Whitman] to Hot Legs magazine.


The right to free speech, when you get right down to it, is the right to make someone else uncomfortable, to outrage the respectable, and to question everything held dear. Who, after all, needs protection to say they like Mom and apple pie? It's the same with our legal rights to privacy [...] We have persecuted people (from socialists to separatists, gay liberationists to pot smokers) who made unpopular statements or did unusual things.


If you are drawn to a non-traditional, non-Western ideology [any ideology? – K], ask yourself where sexual liberation lies in its philosophy. Are masculine and feminine roles fluid and accommodating, or are they drawn to fit a predetermined role? Does your faith tell you that masturbation is selfish, that it wastes one's precious energy? Or that monogamy is the only mature relationship in the eyes of your God? Are you led to believe that your sexual satisfaction is something that only your faith can give you, or some¬thing that must be sacrificed to get closer to essential truths?

If any of these Rules of Living sound familiar, ask yourself why something that is supposed to be so very divine and far-reaching [...] would hand you [a] load of body-loathing, double-standard, sexually shaming intolerance.


What wouldn't I give for even one politician to get up and say, "One thing I've learned from this awful mess is that we must decriminalize sex between consenting adults"! Now that would take some honesty, not to mention balls.


There's a difference between secrecy – hiding significant information – and privacy, which is our right to maintain an existence that isn't constantly orbiting around our mate. Secrecy devastates relationships, but privacy enhances them, because it distinguishes us; it resists the urge to merge.

Quote: Universe

The universe is not only queerer than we suppose,
but queerer than we can suppose.

[JBS Haldane]

18 December 2010

Book of Genesis

It is reported that the following edition of the Book of Genesis was discovered in the Dead Sea Scrolls.

And Adam said, "Lord, when I was in the garden, you walked with me every day. Now I do not see you any more. I am lonesome here and it is difficult for me to remember how much you love me." And God said, "I will create a companion for you that will be with you forever and who will be a reflection of my love for you, so that you will know I love you, even when you cannot see me. Regardless of how selfish and childish and unlovable you may be, this new companion will accept you as you are and will love you as I do, in spite of yourself."

And God created a new animal to be a companion for Adam. And it was a good animal. And God was pleased.

And the new animal was pleased to be with Adam and he wagged his tail. And Adam said, "But Lord, I have already named all the animals in the Kingdom and all the good names are taken and I cannot think of a name for this new animal."

And God said, "Because I have created this new animal to be a reflection of my love for you, his name will be a reflection of my own name, and you will call him DOG."

And Dog lived with Adam and was a companion to him and loved him. And Adam was comforted. And God was pleased. And Dog was content and wagged his tail.

After a while, it came to pass that Adam's guardian angel came to the Lord and said, "Lord, Adam has become filled with pride. He struts and preens like a peacock and he believes he is worthy of adoration. Dog has indeed taught him that he is loved, but no one has taught him humility."

And the Lord said, "I will create for him a companion who will be with him forever and who will see him as he is. The companion will remind him of his limitations, so he will know that he is not worthy of adoration."

And God created CAT to be a companion to Adam. And Cat would not obey Adam.

And when Adam gazed into Cat's eyes, he was reminded that he was not the supreme being.

And Adam learned humility. And God was pleased. And Adam was greatly improved.

And Cat did not care one way or the other.

Trapped Hosepipes

I've today spotted the following on PubMed. The mind boggles!
Removal of a Long PVC Pipe Strangulated in the Penis by Hot-Melt Method.
Jiatao J, Bin X, Huamao Y, Jianguo H, Bing L, Yinghao S.
Department of Urology, Changhai Hospital, [...] China.

Introduction. Penile incarceration for erotic or autoerotic purposes has been reported in a wide range of age groups, and often presents a significant challenge to urologic surgeons. No ready method has been reported for removing a polyvinylchloride (PVC) pipe entrapped on the penis. Aim. To present our experience in using hot-melt method to remove a constricted PVC pipe on the penis. Methods. A long melting split was made on the PVC pipe entrapped on the penis by using the long narrow branch of forceps heated on a gas stove. Results. The heated forceps was able to make a melt split on the PVC pipe. Consequently, the PVC pipe was removed by pulling the edges of the pipe apart without much difficulty. The total operation time was 20 minutes. Conclusion. Penile incarceration is a urologic emergency, for which resourcefulness is required in some unexpected cases. Hot-melting has proved to be an easy and effective method for removing penile strangulation by a PVC pipe. To our knowledge, it is the first report about the removal of PVC pipe entrapped on a penis.

15 December 2010

Stunning Technology!

Voyager 1 is one of the most successful space missions of all time. (See the Bad Astronomy blog and NASA for lots more detail.) Launched in 1977, it visited Jupiter and then Saturn, providing better close-ups of the two planets than had ever been seen before. But it sailed on, crossing the orbits of both Uranus and Neptune (its sister, Voyager 2, actually flew by these two planets). Now after 33 years, it is 17 billion kilometres (10.6 billion miles) from the Sun and has reached the point where the solar wind has slowed to a stop. In another 3-4 years it will truly be in interstellar space and entirely beyond the sun's influence.

Just imagine! Voyager was built and launched before personal computers were everywhere (it was 4 years before IBM PC was announced), before cell phones were a commodity and when the internet was still a research and defence tool! It is based on Z80 (remember the Sinclair ZX80?) and/or 1807 computer chips. It is still phoning home to send back streams of useful data and its battery/power supply is expected to last until 2025 – that'll be almost 50 years in service! Even more amazing is the thought that Voyager 1 has already been flying for almost a third of the time since the Wright Brothers first heavier than air flight in 1903.

And Voyager 1's sister Voyager 2 is doing much the same, but flying in a totally different direction. What's more earlier this year engineers reset the software in Voyager 2 to correct a fault which was corrupting its data transmissions. And that's with a transmission delay of around 15 hours! – so 15 hours for the signal to reach Voyager and at least another 15 hours before you know if its received and working.

On top of that these two spacecraft are fractionally not where they should be according to our best theories of ballistics. That in itself is proving to be interesting new science as the cosmologists try to understand why this is.

As one a commenter at Bad Astronomy says:
I’m not sure what’s most amazing – that this machine is still working after 30 years in deep space (hell, how many machines do you know that can work non-stop without maintenance for 30 years in a nice warm garage?), the incredible distance that this probe has brought our eyes to by proxy, the fact that it’s literally leaving the breath of the sun behind and venturing into the still coldness of interstellar space, or the fact that we can actually communicate with the probe over such distances.

However you look at it this is some stunning achievement!

10 December 2010

Quotes of the Week

When I post these quotes it shouldn't be assumed that they are new to me. Very often they are quotes I have know (even if only vaguely) for some while, but which I have stumbled across during the week and wished to (re) record. For instance the first two of this week's selection have been useful on many occasions over the years.
Listen, strange women lyin' in ponds distributin' swords is no basis for a system of government. Supreme executive power derives from a mandate from the masses, not from some farcical aquatic ceremony […] You can't expect to wield supreme power just 'cause some watery tart threw a sword at you! […] I mean, if I went around saying I was an Emperor because some moistened bint had lobbed a scimitar at me, people would put me away!
[Monty Python and the Holy Grail]

Why do the nations so furiously rage together, and why do the people imagine a vain thing? The kings of the earth rise up, and the rulers take counsel together.
[Psalms 2:1-2; Handel, Messiah]

If we could gather all the electric eels from all around the world, we would be able to light up an unimaginably large Christmas tree.
[Kazuhiko Minawa, Enoshima Aquarium, Japan; see http://blogs.discovermagazine.com/discoblog/2010/12/03/im-dreaming-of-an-eel-illuminated-christmas/]

You don’t get to choose how you’re going to die, or when. You can only decide how you’re going to live now.
[Joan Baez]

Stunning Lego Archaeology

If you're interested in archaeology, history, science, engineering or Lego go read the unbearable lightness of LEGO.

I knew about the Antikythera Mechanism, a supposed 2000 year old Greek computing machine recovered from an ancient shipwreck in 1900. But I didn't know anyone had worked out in such detail what it did, let alone built a working model – in Lego!

The Cocktail Party Physics piece, and the videos etc. it links to, tell more of the story.

It's a fascinating read even though I still have this sinking feeling the mechanism is going to turn out to be one of those elaborate Victorian hoaxes. Hope I'm wrong, though.

09 December 2010

Defining the Normal

From the Feedback column of New Scientist, 4 December 2011 ...
Composing witty error messages has long been one of the ways [...] in which geeks try to show their human side. We're not so sure what species of side is exhibited by the geeks responsible for the nLab, a website devoted to "collaborative work on Mathematics, Physics and Philosophy" in the context of "category theory", which is ... er ... a set of mathematical tools for describing general abstract structures in mathematics and relations between them. And the general abstract relations between those relations, and so on up ...

It is perhaps inevitable that the holding page they have prepared for times when the nLab site isn't working [...] announces that it is [...]

"currently experiencing some difficulties due to local fluctuations in reality. The Lab Elves are working hard to patch reality. In the meantime, edits on the nLab have been temporarily disabled since the fundamentals of mathematics may vary during these spasmodic variations. Normal service will be restored once we are sure what 'normal' is."

06 December 2010

Auction Oddities

I've not posted recently on curiosities noticed at auction because our local auction house have been relatively well behaved of late. Apart that is from selling a Chinese Vase recently for a world record £43 million – see here, here and here.

However their next sale has thrown up a few further oddities:
A good Japanese porcelain figure of Ho Tei [Laughing Buddha], with hairy belly in richly enamelled robe and holding a fan, 12″ high ...

Two skin handbags, a tin of buttons, postcards, unframed pictures, old tin, chandelier, a quantity of lace and linen ...

An onyx three piece clock set ...

A native blowpipe and three barbed fishing spears with oak shafts.

Victorian Taxidermy: a woodcock in glazed case labelled Robert Blanks, Maldon, and a modern Papilio Ulysses butterfly in case.

A pair of African candlesticks, a model of the Taj Mahal, a small boat, and an egg posy holder.

A pair of filled silver dwarf candlesticks.

It was the last two that really floored me. WTF is an egg posy holder; how do you make eggs into a posy? Who knew silver dwarfs existed, let alone one could fill them (what with?) and make them into candlesticks?

02 December 2010

Poor Match, Good Result

"We was robbed!"
"Oh no you weren't."
"Oh yes we was."
"Behind you!"

So Russia, not England, is to stage the 2018 Soccer World Cup. Thank <insert deity of choice> for that.

How can we seriously want to host these appalling international competitions?

First off, I thought we didn't have any money left. In 2018 we'll still be reeling from the mountainous debt run up by the last government and the money being spent on the 2012 London Olympics – which is what, four times over the original budget with almost 2 years yet to go? Especially as we seem to be totally unable to deliver these projects anywhere near the original budget even if we do manage to just about deliver them on time.

If,as is always said, we produce such fantastic bids, why don't we win them? Are our bids really so good? Do the decision-makers actually understand our inability to deliver? Or is it that we don't pay the decision-makers big enough bribes? – Oh no, sorry of course it can't be that. Or maybe it's because in our heart of hearts we don't actually believe that we can win the bidding (despite all the bullish talk), and of course this will subtly transmit itself to the decision-makers.

Do we even put the right people up to front the bid. Who did we have this time: Prince William, David Cameron and David Beckham. None of them have probably ever had to give a business sales presentation in their lives. No, political speeches don't count. If we really want to win these bids shouldn't we be paying an experienced, hard-hitting salesman to present out front? Someone who can not only talk the talk but also walk the walk and get the project delivered on time. Someone who can really understand what is driving the key decision-makers and sell to their predilections. Someone who will really "establish the need" (for our solution) in the minds of the decision-makers and lead them to choosing the solution which satisfies that need (ie. ours). I bet we never think of doing this, yet it is standard sales practice. You need these bids fronted by someone who can do all this and has some charisma. Someone like the late John Harvey-Jones or Sir Stuart Rose or maybe even the beatified Richard Branson. Petty princes, preoccupied politicians and pansy footballers who've never had to sell anything to earn their bread and butter in their lives just won't cut the mustard.

Besides why would we even want to do any of this? Why do we insist on trying to play the games of self-serving organisations like FIFA, the ICC and the IOC, loaded as they are with self-pompous stuffed shirts who care nothing for their so-called sports, everything for their own grandeur and their bank accounts? They're all self-perpetuating oligarchies of the self-important, pompous and inept.

So let's rejoice that this circus isn't coming to England. And just think of the money we'll be saving! "My life, already."

Quotes of the Week

Just three this week ...
It is good to rub and polish your mind against that of others.
[Michel de Montaigne]

Our life depends on others so much that at the root of our existence is a fundamental need for love. That is why it is good to cultivate an authentic sense of responsibility and concern for the welfare of others.
[Dalai Lama]

I’m selfish, impatient, and a little insecure. I make mistakes, I’m out of control and at times I’m hard to handle, but if you can’t handle me at my worst, then you sure as hell don’t deserve me at my best.
[Marliyn Monroe]

Puppets in Aliceland

For all you theatre buffs out there, here's something different. I've just come across this trailer video for Little Angel Theatre's current show Alice in Wonderland which runs until 30 January.

Click the image to play the video or double click for a larger version direct from YouTube ...

No, I haven't seen it yet. We have that delight in store for my birthday.