31 January 2011

Tasmanian Liberation

Just today (where have I been?) I came across this song from Amanda Palmer & The Young Punx. It's catchy. But more than that, the lyrics (at the bottom of this page on Amanda Palmer's website if they're not clear) are a hoot. (And they mostly accord with my view of the way the world should be. Hehe!)

There's the background to the song (if you need an explanation) and a video of her original rendition on Amanda Palmer's blog. And comment on SPIN amongst other sites.

Enjoy ... but it's probably NSFW!

OMG! I'm turning into a punk rapper! At my age!?!? OMG!!!!!

30 January 2011

A Week in Food

As mentioned a couple of days ago, we seem to have eaten particularly well this week. By that I don't mean that we've been especially lavish with 27 course meals of caviare, asparagus and hen's teeth in aspic. It's just that our single course, evening meal has, each day, been a proper and usually interesting repast; none of this "ploughman's stuff" (good though bread and cheese can be).

Here's what we've eaten as "meal of the day" over the last week:
  • Sunday: Haggis (as described before)
  • Monday: Kidney Bean & Chorizo Risotto
  • Tuesday: Vegetable Curry with Lemon Rice; accompanied by Banana & Avocado
  • Wednesday: Sausage & Pasta in Tomato Sauce; with flaked Parmesan
  • Thursday: Cheese, Chorizo & Mushroom Frittata; Ciabatta Rolls
  • Friday: Stir-Fried Beef & Pasta Salad with Avocado, Tomato & Lamb's Lettuce
  • Saturday: Beef Madras with Lemon Rice; also accompanied by Banana & Avocado
  • And tonight promises Roast Chicken with Baked Potato, Steamed Buttered Savoy Cabbage & Fennel and Garlic Sauce.
The curries were washed down with industrial quantities of Gin and (low calorie) Tonic; the other meals with wine.

The two beef dishes on Friday and Saturday were because I bought a good, reduced price (because of short use by date) piece of organic beef at the supermarket on Friday. This made me amend my original plan for Friday of Smoked Salmon and Pasta Salad.

Like all our cooking these dishes were made from fresh ingredients and in our own idiosyncratic way designed to be healthy(-ish), and quick & easy to do on the hob at the end of a working day. No buggering around with difficult cream sauces, 29 steps, three ovens, a grill and spun sugar. Good food doesn't have to be difficult, over fancy or time-consuming; and quick food doesn't have to be unhealthy.

Just as well, mind you, that we've eaten so well this week as I shall be condemned to survive of gutless rubbish next week as I have a series of medical tests (postponed from 2 weeks ago) which mean I have to have a special diet for a few days. Bummer!

(Recipes available on request.)

29 January 2011

Pink Tulips

Pink Tulips, originally uploaded by kcm76.

Just something to cheer up a dull January weekend ...


Swoose, Wool (Dorset), 24-Oct-10, originally uploaded by Dave Appleton.

Swoose? No I'd never heard the word either until today. But then I saw birder Dave Appleton's superb image (reproduced above) and followed the link to his website where he describes a bird which is a hybrid of a swan and a goose ... hence a "swoose". In fact he is describing this bird; publishing several sets of photographs of it; and documenting its history.

Now I didn't know either that swans could cross-breed with geese. (That's two things I've learnt today!) But, although it is extremely rare, apparently swans and geese can interbreed. As Dave explains the offspring don't usually survive to adulthood. However the bird pictured is known to have hatched in 2003 and was photographed by Dave last October, possibly having successfully bred itself.

Following the story on Dave's website, it seems that the parentage of this bird is pretty well authenticated short of someone managing to get samples and do the DNA profiling. I hope that it is possible to get the DNA profiling done; the results would be extremely interesting to those interested in birds but also, I imagine, to academic zoologists. And it would be interesting too to see if the bird's proposed parentage is correct. If nothing else this is an interesting puzzle and I'd like to say "thanks" to Dave for making all this information available.

Of course, there's another rather interesting and deeper legal puzzle here. All Mute Swans (our native, resident British species) belong to the Queen and are as such protected. Geese however appear to be protected only during the closed season (February through August) and are thus treated as game birds like duck). But what is a Swoose? Is it a swan or a goose? Were these birds to become common and a pest (very unlikely, I know) I feel sure this would be a most interesting legal debate. Just don't anyone dare go and shoot the bird in the meantime because ...

Whatever the bird actually turns out to be it is a most handsome and interesting creature which deserves a lifetime of quiet observation and protection.

28 January 2011


I've been thinking a lot about food this week. Which I suspect is because we've had a week of eating exceptionally well – more of this in the next couple of days, I hope. Not un-naturally my thoughts turned towards curry.

I love curry. I've been eating curry almost as long as I can remember and I always have loved it. I'll eat almost any meat or vegetable curried. Lamb or beef are the favourites. Pork would be my last choice of meat; somehow it never seems to quite work when curried. But I'm not keen on prawns in curry – their flavour is too delicate – and I've not been impressed the couple of times I've tried curried fish.

I'll eat curry as hot as you care to make it. I regularly used to make vindaloo when I was a student, and I do still occasionally, although I generally don't eat vindaloo in restaurants as one never knows quite how stunningly hot they'll make it or how good it will be; Madras is a safer bet in terms of hotness and goodness until one knows the restaurant. I'm not so keen on the mild, sweeter styles like Kashmir, but that's because I dislike sweet with meat. I love coconut in curry although we tend to avoid using it due to the high fat content.

And curry to me means Indian sub-continent curry. I don't dislike &ndash indeed I do rather like – Thai green or red curries but for me they don't have that quintessential curryness. The same applies to other hot spicy dishes from SE Asia – they're good but not really quite like curry.

I don't mind whether my curry comes with rice, or nan bread, or (preferably) both. I'm not a great one for the traditional accompaniments to curry. Mango chutney is horrible – it's sweet with meat again and also sweet with vinegar, neither of which I like overly. But I do quite like raita or yoghurt or even mayonnaise. At home we most often eat chopped banana and/or chopped avocado as an accompaniment to curry – they work surprisingly well. Curry is always washed down with either a couple of beers or industrial quantities of gin and tonic. Never wine. I know many people say wine is OK with curry but it doesn't work for me.

We make curry at least once a week, and it is always different as we usually blend our own spices – well really it's more like just chuck in random amounts of a few spices; nothing scientific – depending on who's cooking and how we feel. The two constants are turmeric and chilli. When you grow your own chillies you can vary the chilli flavour and hotness easily. We tend to avoid pre-prepared curry pastes as they are really much too oily, although the flavours are good. Like almost everything else we eat we always cook the curry from scratch: fresh meat and fresh veg. And it is very often accompanied by Noreen's special lemon rice – seriously good!

We don't eat curry out very often these days. Sadly most Indian restaurant curries are far too oily and thus high in calories, and as one has the tendency to over-order we therefore tend to over-eat. Moreover curry houses are establishments which, as a general rule, I don't trust with their hygiene unless I know them or have been given a solid recommendation. If I am eating in a restaurant I will usually have either Dall (lentils) or Channa (chickpeas) as an accompaniment – something I never bother to cook at home.

What I don't understand, though, is why an hour after eating curry I always feel the need for something sweet. Not a horrible sticky Indian pudding. More like a couple of chocolates; just a mouthful; a couple of chocolate covered Turkish Delights hit the spot well. Why this craving for just that mouthful of sweet after curry? Anyone got any ideas?

Quotes of the Week

This week's selection ...
There is no moral precept that does not have something inconvenient about it.
[Denis Diderot]

Happiness is not something ready made. It comes from your own actions.
[Dalai Lama]

[…] meeting at the College of Arms [with] Clarenceux King of Arms to discuss what might be appropriate [on a] coat of arms […] He suggests that though some people like to incorporate a play on their name in their Arms he was not sure a champagne bottle was on their approved list.
[Sir Stephen Bubb; http://bloggerbubb.blogspot.com/2011/01/arms-and-church.html]

In the movie Stardust Memories, Woody Allen meets some aliens and starts asking them all the Big Questions About Life. They tell him, "You're asking the wrong questions. If you want to make the world a better place, tell funnier jokes!"
[Brad Warner; Hardcore Zen: Punk Rock, Monster Movies and the Truth about Reality]
The next two are quite deep philosophically, but absolutely right logically ...
I don't know what's waiting at the end of our lives. No one does. But it's not the future that matters. Right now is what counts. If you want to believe in reincarnation, you have to believe that this life, what you're living through right now, is the afterlife.
[Brad Warner; Hardcore Zen: Punk Rock, Monster Movies and the Truth about Reality]

The present moment is eternal. It's always there. It is unborn and it cannot die. And it does not reincarnate.
[Brad Warner; Hardcore Zen: Punk Rock, Monster Movies and the Truth about Reality]

A guy walks up to a Zen master and asks, "Is there life after death?
The Zen Master says, "How should I know?"
The guy replies indignantly, "Because you're a Zen master!"
"Yes," says the Zen master, "but not a dead one."

[Brad Warner; Hardcore Zen: Punk Rock, Monster Movies and the Truth about Reality]

You cannot find reality inside a computer!
[Nishijima Roshi]

27 January 2011

World Shattering

Today is the 25th anniversary of the Challenger Disaster, when the space shuttle broke up just 73 seconds after launch killing all seven astronauts aboard.

Whether one agrees with manned space missions or not (and I have to say I'm divided on the matter) we should be mindful of the huge challenges which have been overcome to achieve this and admiring of those who have been a part of it. The spin-offs from space exploration have been tremendous and include such everyday things as smoke detectors, crash helmet design, digital imaging, ultra-sound scanning, satellite communications and whole swathes of computer and medical technology.

Thinking about the Challenger Disaster got me thinking further about the sheer number of world-changing events which have happened during my three-score years. Well let's just restrict it to ones I remember (which rules out the Suez Crisis as it's too hazy a memory).  In no particular order ...
  • Challenger Disaster, 28 January 1986.
  • 9/11, 11 September 2001; al-Qaeda flew two planes into the World Trade Centre in New York.
  • Fall of Berlin Wall, 9 November 1989.
  • Assassination of John F Kennedy, 22 November 1963.
  • First Man on the Moon, 21 July 1969.
  • Sputnik, 4 October 1957. I think this is the first world event I really remember at all clearly. I recall my father taking me into the garden one night to see Sputnik 1, or one of it's very early successors, as a tiny star passing quickly overhead.
  • Chernobyl Disaster, 26 April 1986.
  • Fall of Communist Russia, 1 July 1991. This was just one of a whole series of revolutions, including the fall of the Berlin Wall, which saw the dismantling of the Communist Bloc in the late '80s and early '90s; in many ways it is hard to tease them all apart.
  • Cuban Missile Crisis, October 1962. I don't think I fully understood this but I remember how frightening it was.
  • Rhodesian UDI, 11 November 1965. This was probably the first world event I recall following properly and trying to understand. I think history will tell us that in realigning the politics of southern Africa UDI was seminal in the breakdown of apartheid.

These are just the events which spring immediately to mind; I'm sure there are many more. But looking at that list makes me wonder at the interesting times I've lived through even before one takes UK domestic events into account.  Leaving aside world wars and invasions (I'm thinking WWI, WWII, 1066, Civil War) few generations can have lived through such interesting and momentous times.

What about you? What events do you remember?


Does class still matter in Britain today?

BBC Lab UK works with leading scientists to create real, ground-breaking scientific experiments. One of their current experiments is to find out if class still matters in modern Britain. And if so, what does the real class system look like?

You can contribute and find out how YOU wield power and influence by taking the BBC's Britain's Real Class System test.

At the end you'll find out something about you and your place in British society today – and have the satisfaction of knowing you've contributed to research.

25 January 2011

4/52 Katyn Memorial

4/52 Katyn Memorial, originally uploaded by kcm76.

Week 4 of the 52 week challenge of a photo a week.

This is the memorial in Gunnersbury Cemetery, west London to the thousands of Poles murdered by the Russians at Katyn in 1940. I've inset the inscriptions as otherwise they are unreadable. Click on the picture to get a larger version.

The cemetery itself is rather interesting, if not a little OTT with competing acreages of black, white and brown polished marble. It is owned by the London Borough of Kensington and Chelsea, although it is actually in the LB of Ealing. Consequently it is the final resting place of many from the Polish and Armenian emigré communities. Many of the Armenian graves are written in Armenian script; and not all have a simultaneous translation. You will also find members of the Chinese community, at least one member of the French nobility and the expected English including architect Aston Webb. There is also a grave commemoration a number of members of the 24th Polish Lancers and a small group of twenty WWII war graves.

It is immaculately maintained and well worth a visit, even on a cold January day; it'll look really pretty in the Spring when all the cherry blossom is out.

Labia minor

Labia minor is a good example of the unexpected surprises and humour which exist in the world of biological nomenclature. In this case the name applies not just to the "two longitudinal cutaneous folds on the human vulva" but is also the specific name for the Lesser Earwig.

Fortunately such eclecticisms are being collected by Mark Isaak at Curiosities of Biological Nomenclature. As Isaak says:
Scientific names of organisms are not usually known for their entertainment value. They are indispensable for clarity in communication, but most people skip over them with barely a glance. Here I collect those names that are worth a second look.

Some names are interesting for what they are named after (for example, Arthurdactylus conandoylensis, Godzillius), some are puns (La cucaracha, Phthiria relativitae), and some show other kinds of wordplay (such as the palindromic Orizabus subaziro). Some have achieved notability through accident of history, and many show the sense of humor of taxonomists.

If you're interested in either biology or words it's well worth a look. But prepare to be amazed for amongst the collected examples you'll also find:
  • Unifolium bifolium (European May Lily); basically "single leaved plant with two leaves"
  • Abra cadabra (a clam)
  • Ba humbugi (a snail); from the Fijian island of Mba
  • Panama canalia (braconid fly)
  • Mozartella beethoveni (encyrtid wasp)
  • and of course Labia minor (Lesser Earwig); "small lips"; don't ask why this would be appropriate for an earwig!

Isaak has even included an essential guide to the basic rules of biological binomial nomenclature. And a section on the (increasingly weird) names being given to genes – the well known gene sonic hedgehog isn't the half of it!

My favourite? Well one of the best named is surely Boselaphus tragocamelus, an antelope (below) whose name translates from the Latin as "ox-deer goat-camel". Clearly named, as well as designed, by a committee!

23 January 2011

Early Burns

On 25 January the Scots celebrate their national poet, Robbie Burns, with the eating of haggis, mashed potatoes and mashed neeps (turnip and/or swede depending who you believe) and the drinking of whisky. Not being traditionalists, nor of Scots ancestry (at least in the last couple of generations), we celebrated Burns' Night in our own way this evening. Yes, we had haggis; but no we didn't have the whisky.

In fact what we had was a rib-sticking meal of haggis, crushed potatoes, steamed Jerusalem artichokes and steamed broccoli. It was a very quick and easy meal: the potatoes and artichokes took the longest with the haggis needing just a few minutes in the microwave. The artichokes were steamed, with the broccoli florets added almost at the last minute. The potatoes were also steamed and then broken up rather than being mashed to a pulp. We forewent the whisky in favour of supporting the Auld Alliance by washing it down with one of our last bottles of 2010 Beaujolais Nouveau, which had just the right roughness to complement the haggis. The broccoli and artichokes went extremely well with the haggis too. Yes, it was good!

So it wasn't traditional. So what? I remember buying deep fried haggis and chips from the local chippie when I was a student in York. Equally not traditional but bloody good food on a cold winter's night on the way home from the pub.

I've always liked haggis and fail to see what so many people (think they) dislike in it. These same people would be happy eating gamy terrine, and dishes containing oats (eg. porridge, oaten biscuits). So why the aversion to haggis which is really only a lamb-based, slightly dry, slightly peppery, terrine or coarse sausage with pinhead oats. OK, yes, so it does have offal in it – so does most terrine and sausage. And yes traditionally it is stuffed in a sheep's stomach – but then traditional sausage casings are pig intestines. All these foods were originally designed as ways not to waste small, less appetising, pieces of animal especially during the lean times of winter. So where is the problem?

Moreover haggis has the advantage of being extremely filling. You think what's on your plate is a mean helping, but I assure you it isn't – it's all in the oats!

If you've never had haggis now is the time to try it. Most supermarkets will have haggis at the moment; indeed many now stock it all year round. The commercial brand leader seems to be McSween's, although if you're in Scotland you'll likely find haggis in most butchers. And, for the veggies, McSween's also do a vegetarian haggis; which I must try sometime, if only to work out how they do it.

So why not push the boat out and have haggis for Burns' Night on Tuesday? You're unlikely to regret it unless you overdo the whisky!

A Difficult Question

OK, so here's a really hard question for everyone which I saw being discussed on the internet a few days ago.

Which would you rather give up forever ... cheese or oral sex?

And no, you aren't allowed to negotiate restrictions and loopholes. It means all oral sex, both given and received. And it means all cheese: from cheddar to Camembert and Gorgonzola to cream cheese.

Although it is interesting to speculate why one might ever have to make such a decision, it is a hard question, isn't it?

I think I have to agree with the apparent majority and elect to forego oral sex. As one person has remarked: there are lots of ways to have an orgasm but only one way to eat pizza, macaroni cheese or deep-fried brie.

What would you choose – and why? (And no you don't have to make your decision public if it embarrasses you!)

22 January 2011

3/52 Horns

3/52 Horns, originally uploaded by kcm76.

Week 3 of the 52 weeks photographic challenge and I almost didn't get a decent picture this week. But then I saw this window display in Selfridge's Department Store in London's Oxford Street. All these brass instruments looked absolutely stunning - but impossible to photograph well because of all the reflections.

21 January 2011

Quote of the Week

This week's usual rag-bag of oddities which have crossed my path in the last 7 days or so ...

If you wish to make an apple pie from scratch, you first must invent the Universe.
[Carl Sagan]
I like your Christ. I don’t like your Christians. They are so unlike your Christ.
[Mohandas Gandhi]
Journalists write to support democracy, sustain truth, salute justice, justify expenses, see the world and make a living, but to satisfactorily do any of these things you have to have readers. Fairness and accuracy are of course profoundly important. Without them, you aren't in journalism proper: you are playing some other game. But above all, you have to be read, or you aren't in journalism at all.
[Tim Radford at Guardian Science Blog]
Trivial is a favourite insult administered by scholars. But even they became interested in their subject in the first place because they were attracted by something gleaming, flashy and – yes, trivial.
[Tim Radford at Guardian Science Blog]
The Guardian used to have a special Muzzled Piranha Award, a kind of Oscar of incompetence, handed to an industrial relations reporter who warned the world that the Trades Union Congress wildcats were lurking in the undergrowth, ready to dart out like piranhas, unless they were muzzled. George Orwell reports on the case of an MP who claimed that the jackbooted fascist octopus had sung its swansong.
[Tim Radford at Guardian Science Blog]
3 July 1679. Sending a piece of Venison to Mr. Pepys Sec: of the Admiralty, still a Prisoner, I went & dined with him.
[Guy de la Bédoyère; The Diary of John Evelyn]
26 May 1703. This dyed Mr. Sam: Pepys, a very worthy, Industrious & curious person, none in England exceeding him in the Knowledge of the Navy, in which he had passed thro all the most Considerable Offices, Clerk of the Acts, & Secretary to the Admiralty, all which he performed with greate Integrity: when K: James the 2d went out of England he layed down his Office, & would serve no more: But withdrawing himselfe from all publique Affairs, lived at Clapham with his partner (formerly his Cleark) Mr. Hewer, in a very noble House & sweete place, where he injoyned the fruit of his labours in geate prosperity, was universaly beloved, Hospitable, Generous, Learned in many things, skill 'd in Musick, a very greate Cherisher of Learned men, of whom he had the Conversation. His Library & other Collections of Curiositys was one of the most Considerable; The models of Ships especialy &c. […] Mr. Pepys had ben for neere 40 years, so my particular Friend, that he now sent me Compleat Mourning: desiring me to be one to hold up the Pall, at his magnificent Obsequies; but my present Indisposition, hindred me from doing him this last Office:...
[Guy de la Bédoyère; The Diary of John Evelyn]
For more than forty Cold-War years the United Kingdom played the role, in the words of the eminent investigative journalist Duncan Campbell, of America's Unsinkable Aircraft Carrier.
[Nick Catford; Cold War Bunkers]
Spring Quarry near Corsham in Wiltshire became the Central Government War Headquarters – the alternate seat of government to which the Great and the Good would decamp in the event of a nuclear war. The very existence of the site was denied by the Government for decades. When its secrets were finally revealed in December 2005 it proved to be a grave disappointment. Starved of cash by successive administrations, its development had been halting and, despite its enormous size, the Spring Quarry site is bathed in a gloomy aura of half-hearted compromise.
[Nick Catford; Cold War Bunkers]

Apropos this last quote, when you start reading about the UK's WWII bunkers and the like (of which Corsham is a prime example) you seriously wonder how the country achieved anything, let along managed to win the war. But then reading Sam Pepys's diaries and letters things were much the same in the 17th century – ministerial obfuscation at every turn and a serious lack of funding. Oh, what do you mean? It isn't any better now? Surely not!

20 January 2011

On Legalising Sex Work

In the UK, as in much of the English-speaking world sex work (selling sexual acts for money) is illegal, although there are naturally nuances of the law defining where the boundaries are. But this is not the case in many other countries and, somewhat surprisingly, it isn’t the case in the entire English-speaking world.

There’s an interesting article by Kate McCombs over at My Sex Professor about sex work in the Australian state of Victoria where it is both legal and regulated. And it isn't as if Australia is any less puritanical than the UK or USA.

I’m not going to reproduce the whole of McCombs article (you can read it for yourself) but what follows is a summary with a few observations of my own.

To be legal sex workers must be consenting and over 18 which is achieved through registration of individuals, brothels and escort agencies. Street-based sex work is illegal for both worker and client but, of course, hasn’t been entirely eliminated – and frankly never will be. (Any legalised and regulated activity will always have someone prepared to work outside it, for whatever reason.)

All sex workers in Victoria are required to undergo monthly checks for chlamydia, gonorrhoea and trichomonas; and quarterly tests for HIV and syphilis. (You can’t enforce that without a registration system, which of course also has the side benefit that it brings the sex workers within the tax system!) Legal sex workers have significantly lower rates of all STIs than the general population of the state. What’s interesting is that the few STI cases which do occur among legal sex workers almost all derive from their partners and not from clients.

While there is still stigma and discrimination within the healthcare system this is an improving situation. State police are formally trained about sex worker rights and take charges against clients seriously. Consequently sex workers can make decisions based on their own safety without fear of legal reprecussions.

This is all supported by good education for the sex workers about their rights, navigating the health and legal systems, and what to do if they’re the victim of a crime. This education incorporates feedback from the sex workers themselves, which further helps drive the positive outcomes.

The police believe sex workers themselves (both legal and illegal) are one of the best resources for reducing trafficking, which remains illegal. Apparently sex workers do inform the police when coerced or underage work is happening in their areas.

Overall it seems that compared with the more normal prohibitive situation, the approach of Victoria has well researched public health benefits, based as it is on laws which help keep people safe and reduce stigma for both worker and client. Surely this has to be a better way forward?

Barn Wowl !!

Barn Owl , originally uploaded by nigel pye.

This just leaves me stunned! It is probably the most spectacular shot of a Barn Owl I've ever seen. The colours and the detail are just out of this world. Nigel Pye, the photographer, specialises in birds and particularly Barn Owls. Despite my years as an amateur photographer I just don't know how you take pictures like this. Guess that's why I'm not a pro.

18 January 2011

Thing-a-Day Preparation

Ready … Steady … Wait for it!

Again this year the Thing-a-Day challenge is running for the whole of February, and I intend to take part.

Join artists and creators of all types and backgrounds in a collective creative sprint to beat the February blues. Thing-a-Day invites you to join in a daily creative endeavour where everyone who signs up commits to making one “thing” (project, sketch, exercise, photograph, recipe) per day and shares it online on Thing-a-Day @ Posterous.com.

Participation is simple … 

Starting on February 1st, spend about 30 minutes making one thing a day. Knit, sew, cook, draw, paint, tape, solder, write, destroy, invent, document – or whatever you decide!  (Last year I posted a mix of photographs, recipes and haiku.  Who knows what this year will bring!)

In whatever way works for you, document what you’ve done and make that available on the Thing-a-Day Blog

The usual rules apply: no old/recycled work and no stealing the work of others – just something you did, new every day.

You have to register (so you can post to the Thing-a-Day Blog).  Registration opens on Friday 21 January and closes at midnight on 1 February.  You will need a Posterous account, but having set everything up you can post your daily contribution via email to Thing-a-Day and to your blog, Flickr, Facebook, etc.  This is in fact a test post to make sure I have all this set up correctly.  Last year’s registration instructions are here, but of course this years may be different when we get there.

OK, so now let’s see if this works properly. If it does then this post, with the photograph of my new dodo friends, should appear on my Posterous, the TaD Posterous feed, my Zen Mischief weblog, my Flickr photostream and my Facebook stream.

Animation "The Deep"

Some of you will I'm sure enjoy this really good and amusing short animation from PES; it's entitled The Deep ...

16 January 2011

A Dodo Anniversary

As most of you will I'm sure realise I don't generally do cute, even for kittens. And as most of you will also know it was my 60th birthday last week. So what what did Noreen buy me, but these two cute little 15cm high Dodos. We think they're called Gilbert and George, but that has yet to be confirmed.

I can't help feeling that there's something irresistibly appropriate about being given Dodos on one's 60th birthday. Indeed a Dodo Anniversary – maybe it'll catch on?

[Oh and so no-one worries, they did come with a handsome dowry!]

Quote: Universe

It is clear that there is no classification of the Universe that is not arbitrary and full of conjectures. The reason for this is very simple: we do not know what kind of thing the universe is.

[Borges, in Essay, "The Analytical Language of John Wilkins"]

15 January 2011

Beer is Better

And now for some real, if esoteric, scientific research. This from the February 2011 issue of Scientific American:

Beer Batter Is Better
How it makes a great fish 'n' chips

If you've ever sat down at a pub to a plate of really good fish and chips — the kind in which the fish stays tender and juicy but the crust is super-crisp — odds are that the cook used beer as the main liquid when making the batter. Beer makes such a great base for batter because it simultaneously adds three ingredients — carbon dioxide, foaming agents and alcohol — each of which brings to bear different aspects of physics and chemistry to make the crust light and crisp.

Beer is saturated with CO2. Unlike most solids, like salt and sugar, which dissolve better in hot liquids than they do in cold, gases dissolve more readily at low temperatures. Put beer into a batter mix, and when the batter hits the hot oil, the solubility of the CO2 plummets, and bubbles froth up, expanding the batter mix and lending it a lacy, crisp texture.

That wouldn't work, of course, if the bubbles burst as soon as they appeared, as happens in a glass of champagne. Instead beer forms a head when poured because it contains foaming agents. Some of these agents are proteins that occur naturally in the beer, and some are ingredients that brewers add to produce a creamy, long-lasting head. These compounds form thin films that surround the bubbles and slow the rate at which they burst.

Foams also make good thermal insulators. When you dunk a piece of beer-battered fish into a deep fryer, most of the heat goes into the batter rather than into the delicate food it encloses. The bubbly batter can heat up to well over 130 degrees Fahrenheit — the point at which so-called Maillard reactions create golden-brown colors and yummy fried flavors — while the fish gently simmers inside.

The alcohol in the beer also plays an important role in moderating the internal temperature and crisping the crust. Alcohol evaporates faster than water, so a beer batter doesn't have to cook as long as one made only with water or milk. The faster the batter dries, the lower the risk of overcooking the food. If the chef works fast enough, he can create a beautiful lacework in the coating that yields that classic beer-batter crunch.

[W Wayt Gibbs and Nathan Myhrvold]

A Cable Too Far

Clearly I'm not the only one capable of extracting the wee from things. This from the "Feedback" column of the current issue of New Scientist:

Almost three years ago Japanese electronics giant Denon offered hi-fi enthusiasts the chance to pay $499 for a short length of computer network cable, usually costing only a few dollars (23 July 2008). The claim was that the cable "thoroughly eliminates adverse effects from vibration".

We never did get a clear explanation of how vibration can affect digits running through a cable. But it seems the price was a bargain, because the AKDLi cable is now on sale at Amazon.com at $9999 new or $999 used (plus $4.99 for shipping). Hi-fi fans have not been indifferent to the cable's qualities. They have turned Amazon's customer comments pages, at amzn.to/cablereviews, into a paean of ironic praise for these bits of wire, with well over 1400 reviews.

Recent postings include this from DMan: "I filled a large glass with ordinary tap water and carefully dipped the doubled-over cable in. The whole glass turned instantly dark, red and more viscous. A quick taste and both my friend and I agreed that it was the finest tasting red wine we'd ever encountered."

This comes from jmf: "Ever since I started using the cable ... my light sabre skills have improved dramatically, much to the awe of my Master. I am able to jump from an anti-gravitational car running at full speed onto another, all the time dodging a laser gun."

Perhaps most startling is what happened when Philip Spertus connected his cable to an iPod: "After listening to the entirety of Beethoven's 9th Symphony I went on to listen to his 10th, something that I have never been able to accomplish with the lower quality ethernet cord that I had previously been using."

14 January 2011

Quotes of the Week

Here's this week's selection ...

Balian of Ibelin: [to the people of Jerusalem] It has fallen to us, to defend Jerusalem, and we have made our preparations as well as they can be made. None of us took this city from Muslims. No Muslim of the great army now coming against us was born when this city was lost. We fight over an offence we did not give, against those who were not alive to be offended. What is Jerusalem? Your holy places lie over the Jewish temple that the Romans pulled down. The Muslim places of worship lie over yours. Which is more holy?
Balian of Ibelin: The wall? The Mosque? The Sepulchre? Who has claim? No one has claim.
[raises his voice]
Balian of Ibelin: All have claim!
Bishop, Patriarch of Jerusalem: That is blasphemy!
Almaric: [to the Patriarch] Be quiet.
Balian of Ibelin: We defend this city, not to protect these stones, but the people living within these walls.
[From the film Kingdom of Heaven; 2005]

When statesmen forsake their own private conscience for the sake of their public duties they lead their country by a short route to chaos.
[Robert Bolt]

It’s not about orgasm. Pay attention to your partner. Enjoy the sex you’re having.
[Emily Nagoski; http://enagoski.wordpress.com/2011/01/11/i-feel-you-cesar-millan/]

What is it with pathology journals and autoerotic deaths? Every other issue seems to have a case report of some heedless, autoasphyxiated corpse with ill-fitting briefs and a black bar across his eyes. Occasionally, they seem to be in there for sheer color, as in the case of the young Australian who perished from "inhalation of a zucchini." This one raises more questions than it answers. Was he trying to intensify his climax by vegetally choking himself, or was it a case of overexuberant mock fellatio? (We do learn that the zucchini was from his wife's garden, admittedly a nice touch.)
[Mary Roach, Bonk: the Curious Coupling of Sex and Science]

Michael called the purported rhesus pheromones "copulins," a word I cannot write without picturing a race of small, randy beings taken aboard the starship Enterprise.
[Mary Roach, Bonk: the Curious Coupling of Sex and Science]

The bottom line is that men's armpit secretions are unlikely to serve as an attractant to any species other than the research psychologist.
[Mary Roach, Bonk: the Curious Coupling of Sex and Science]

13 January 2011

In which Alice Meets an Angel ...

Last evening we had a somewhat surreal experience: we ventured out to a slightly unusual theatre: a performance of "Alice" at Little Angel Theatre in Islington.

Little Angel is the home of possibly this country's première puppet theatre. And it is certainly a different experience. The theatre is tiny, with the auditorium seating only about 90 adults on church pew style benches. The stage is equally minuscule.

"Alice", one of Little Angel's current productions, is a puppet musical loosely based on Alice in Wonderland. I use "loosely" in the loosest sense of the word – "imaginative" is the word Little Angel use to describe it! Yes, it was certainly different and rather fun, if not entirely to my taste.

The puppets were brilliant (Alice, the White Rabbit and the Cheshire Cat especially), as were the four puppeteers. It was certainly an extremely clever production with many amusing little touches. The Cheshire Cat was excellently played with a Cheshire accent and much purring and chirruping; the White Rabbit was suitably and visibly terrified. But northern accents on the Mad Hatter and the March Hare didn't work for me. The other thing which didn't work for me was the musical element; the songs were cleverly written but often too detached from the real Alice story – although such is the way of the musical. And, especially towards the end, some of the production was a bit shouty for such a small space. After 1¾ hours (with an interval) the puppeteers must have been exhausted; it was non-stop and all four were on stage most of the time.

Here's a YouTube video trailer for the production:

Despite the reservations, we're glad we went. It was certainly different and as a long-time fan of Lewis Carroll it was well worth seeing. Little Angel only rarely do evening performances, which is a shame, choosing to concentrate more on daytime shows when children and schools can attend but most adults can't. Consequently their productions tend to be more orientated towards children. "Alice" would be excellent for any child over the age of about five – it was in a way a bit like children's TV – although it is by no means inaccessible to adults.

If you like the Lewis Carroll books, "Alice" is certainly worth seeing. And if you like excellent puppetry Little Angel Theatre run productions through most of the year usually with two shows running in parallel for 2-3 months before the repertoire changes. They also have touring shows, so you may find them popping up in the provinces.

"Alice" runs until 30 January.

11 January 2011

Just Another Day

Today, at least in the annals of history is just another day. Very little of great substance has happened over the years on 11 January; about the best being:
  • First recorded lottery in England was drawn at St Paul's Cathedral, 1569
  • James Paget, surgeon, born 1814
  • HG Selfridge (yes, founder of Selfridges) born 1858
  • Charing Cross Station opened, 1864
  • Maurice Durufle, composer, born 1902
  • Ambrose Bierce, writer, died, 1914
  • First use of insulin to treat diabetes, 1922
  • Mick McMannus, wrestler, born 1928
  • Thomas Hardy, novelist, died 1928
  • Arthur Scargill, Miner's leader and UK politician, born 1938
  • Ben Crenshaw, golfer, born 1952
  • John Sessions, Scottish actor, born 1953
  • Bryan Robson, English footballer, born 1957
  • Brian Moore, England rugby player, born 1962
  • Richmal Crompton, writer, died, 1969
  • Barbara Pym, novelist, died, 1980

For me today is a strange day as I have to come to terms with the fact that I am now officially a granny. For, yes, today we are 60! Eeekkkkk!

Many thanks to all those of you who have sent me birthday greetings. I am truly touched (yes, in the head!) by all your kind thoughts.

10 January 2011

2/52 January Sunrise

January Sunrise [2011 Week 2], originally uploaded by kcm76.

This week's photo in the 52 weeks challenge for 2011. Today's sunrise from our bathroom window which was absolutely spectacular for all of about five minutes.

09 January 2011

Freedom of Blasphemy

I don't normally delve into international politics, but this situation – see also here, here and here – is an absolute disgrace.

  • A Christian woman (Asia Bibi) is in jail, pending appeal against a death sentence for alleged blasphemy against Islam.
    [And yet Islam is supposed to be a tolerant religion.]
  • Her death sentence is being endorsed by the Pakistani media, and by implication if not in fact, by the government.
  • Her case cannot properly be tried in open court because to do so would mean repeating the alleged blasphemy, thus compounding the offence.
    [Clearly contrary to all the accepted rules of justice.]
  • A senior politician has been murdered by his bodyguard for supporting her.
    [Islam, just like Christianity, forbids murder.]
  • The murderer is being fêted by the Islamic community as a hero.
    [Is this not a sinful as the actual murder?]

That any country, or any (supposedly tolerant) religion, can allow such a state of affairs to come to pass is, at the very least outrageous. And every right-thinking government must surely put the utmost pressure on Pakistan to not just resolve this particular situation but to put in place safeguards against any repeats.** I just don't know what more I can say and preserve some semblance of normal blood pressure and dignity.

As Heresy Corner says: What we are seeing in Pakistan – established under Jinnah as a secular country, but one explicitly for Muslims – is precisely what happens when you let religion (above all this particular religion) form the basis of political organisation.

And also, to quote Inayat: The truth is that Muslims in power are every bit as prone to abusing that power as non-Muslims. Only, most ‘Islamic states’ or ‘Islamic republics’ do not have anywhere near the same legal safeguards and restrictions on power that most modern secular states do. (And, heaven knows, ours are far from foolproof.) Inayat also describes it as the moral collapse of a nation.

Much as I am personally areligious, I would never deny anyone their right to believe and worship as they wish providing they live within the moral precepts agreed by society at large (which in this day and age means globally!). Should the state, therefore, not be a mechanism for living together rather than promoting or securing an ideology? Thus it seems to me all this whole situation does is to reinforce the argument for secularism of both state and individual.

Wither now free speech and justice?

** Note I do not say "It must never happen again" because whatever safeguards are put in place cannot ensure 100% effectiveness. That, my friends, is life.

Ten Things – January

This is the first of a monthly series "Ten Things" which I plan will run all year. Each month I'm going to list one thing from each of ten categories which will remain the same each month. So at the end of the year you have ten lists of twelve things.
  1. Something I Like: Sex
  2. Something I Won't Do: Play Golf
  3. Something I Want To Do: Visit Japan
  4. A Blog I Like: Katyboo
  5. A Book I Like: Anthony Powell; A Dance to the Music of Time (Well you knew I'd say that,didn't you? And anyway it's 12 books really!)
  6. Some Music I Like: Pink Floyd, Wish You Were Here
  7. A Food I Like: Curry
  8. A Food or Drink I Dislike: Egg Custard
  9. A Word I Like: Cunt
  10. A Quote I Like: If you don't concern yourself with your wife's cat, you will lose something irretrievable between you. [Haruki Murakami]

07 January 2011

In which I Convince You I'm a Philistine

I met a traveller from an antique land
Who said:– Two vast and trunkless legs of stone
Stand in the desert. Near them on the sand,
Half sunk, a shatter'd visage lies, whose frown
And wrinkled lip and sneer of cold command
Tell that its sculptor well those passions read
Which yet survive, stamp'd on these lifeless things,
The hand that mock'd them and the heart that fed.
And on the pedestal these words appear:
"My name is Ozymandias, king of kings:
Look on my works, ye mighty, and despair!"
Nothing beside remains: round the decay
Of that colossal wreck, boundless and bare,
The lone and level sands stretch far away.

[Shelley; Ozymandias of Egypt]

I know there are a number of first class literarists who read this blog, so can any one of you please explain to me, in words I stand a chance of understanding, why this piece of Shelly is supposedly great poetry? For apart from the one line which is always quoted, it seems to me that it says little, if anything, of any interest or ornament. I understand the words and I see the symbolism, but I get not the point. Can anyone convince me otherwise?

Quotes of the Week

Lots and lots to choose from this week, mainly because I've been reading Brad Warner's books on Zen as well as his website and lots else besides ...

Imagine, for a moment, what the world would be like if we took the same approach to money as we do to sex. Imagine trying to hide all evidence of money from children, telling them that it’s not something they should know about. Imagine shaming them for asking questions about it, for expressing an interest in it, and for wanting to experiment with it. Imagine that you never explained how budgets work, or how to balance a checkbook, or how to pay for anything. Then, imagine that when they turn 18, handing them a credit card and saying “good luck with that.”

In essence, that’s what we do with sex.

Would you be surprised if those young adults didn’t know how to responsibly handle money? Would you be shocked if they ended up in crisis because they didn’t have the skills to take care of themselves? Would you think that their parents and schools had done their job?

If you answered “no” to these questions, then maybe you can also ask yourself why it should be any different when it comes to sex.


Albert R Shadle was the world's foremost expert on the sexuality of small woodland creatures.
[This could easily be the opening of a Douglas Adams or a Terry Pratchett novel, but it's actually from Mary Roach, Bonk: the Curious Coupling of Sex and Science]

Our life is just action at the present moment. The past is nothing more than memory, and the future is nothing but dreams. At best, past and future are no more than reference material for the eternal now. The only real facts are those at the present moment. You cannot go back and correct the mistakes you made in your past, so you better be very careful right now. You can dream about your future, but no matter how well you construct that dream, your future will not be precisely as you envisioned it. The world where we live is existence in the present moment.
[Brad Warner, Sit Down and Shut Up: Punk Rock Commentaries on Buddha, God, Truth, Sex, Death, and Dogen's Treasury of Right Dharma Eye]

The Paris Peace Conference [of 1919] dispensed recipes for war. The powerful nations dished out independence: which meant it was not independence. Something which has been given you through the benevolence of a higher power is not true independence: it is a sign that you are not strong enough to stand on your own.
[AN Wilson, After the Victorians]

Virginia Woolf's prose was as beautiful as her face, but like many twentieth-century English writers, she had nothing to write about.
[AN Wilson, After the Victorians]

Believe those who are seeking the truth. Doubt those who find it.
[Andre Gide]

These ambiguities, redundancies, and deficiencies recall those attributed by Dr Franz Kuhn to a certain Chinese encyclopaedia entitled Celestial Emporium of Benevolent Knowledge. On those remote pages it is written that animals are divided into (a) those that belong to the Emperor, (b) embalmed ones, (c) those that are trained, (d) suckling pigs, (e) mermaids, (f) fabulous ones, (g) stray dogs, (h) those that are included in this classification, (i) those that tremble as if they were mad, (j) innumerable ones, (k) those drawn with a very fine camel's hair brush, (l) et cetera, (m) those that have just broken a flower vase, (n) those that resemble flies from a distance.
[Borges; Essay: "The Analytical Language of John Wilkins"]

Action and its results are one and the same. Time, the thing which makes us see them as separate matters, is the illusion. Time is no more than a clever fiction we humans have invented to help organize stuff in our brains.
[Brad Warner; http://homepage.mac.com/doubtboy/endofscience.html]

Boredom is important. Most of your life is dull, tasteless and boring.
[Brad Warner; http://homepage.mac.com/doubtboy/boring.html]

I am where I am because I believe in all possibilities.
[Whoopi Goldberg]

06 January 2011

DE Graffiti

Nice one Klaus!

Confusing graffiti on Deutsche Bahn
Graffiti artists in Germany have painted part of a carriage side so that one entrance doorway looks like a wide window and the adjacent wide window looks just like a pair of plug doors! The painting is realistic enough to confuse passengers.

[Railway Magazine; February 2011]

05 January 2011

1/52 Solar Eclipse, London Style

This is the view of the solar eclipse just after sunrise yesterday (Tuesday 04/01/2011) from my study window. Like what eclipse? Typical of the UK to cock it up; can't this country get anything right? Bah Humbug!

This is also my first photo for the "52 weeks" (ie. a photo a week) I'm doing this year. I hope I can keep up the standard of getting something off-beat each week. Watch this space.

03 January 2011

My 2010

I decided to do this survey I found to summarise my engagement (or lack of it) with 2010. If it works I may do it again in a year’s time.

1. What did you do that you’d never done before?
Be hypnotised

2. Did you keep your new year’s resolutions, and will you make more for next year?
I don’t make New Year resolutions (see here); but I did have some goals most of which I failed to achieve

3. What would you like to have in 2011 that you lacked in 2010?
More sex

4. What dates from 2010 will remain etched upon your memory?
Sunday 14 February
Saturday 5 June
Friday 27 August

5. Did you suffer illness or injury?
No more than normal: the usual couple of vile colds etc.

6. What was the best thing you bought?
New digital SLR camera

7. Where did most of your money go?
Fuck knows, and he ain’t telling me

8. What did you get really, really excited about?
Nothing; I waste effort on excitement or panic

9. Compared to this time last year, are you:
a. happier or sadder?
Definitely happier and less depressed, at least at the moment
b. thinner or fatter? Fatter
c. richer or poorer? Poorer

10. What do you wish you’d done more of?
Seeing friends

11. What do you wish you’d done less of?
Wasting time

12. What was your biggest achievement of the year?
Moving my mother into a good care home
Starting hypnotherapy

13. What was your biggest failure?
Putting weight back on when I’d been slowly losing it

14. How many one-night stands?

15. What was your favourite TV program?
I watch so little TV I really haven’t got a clue

16. What was the best book you read?
Brad Warner; Sex, Sin and Zen
Ben Goldacre; Bad Science

17. What did you want and get?
New digital SLR camera
Amazon Kindle

18. What did you want and not get?
New bathroom

19. What one thing would have made your year immeasurably more satisfying?
£1M – it won’t solve all the problems but it won’t half help you cope with them

20. How would you describe your personal fashion concept in 2010?
Nude when possible, clothed when necessary

21. What kept you sane?

22. Who did you miss?
Surprisingly some former colleagues

23. Tell us a valuable life lesson you learned in 2010:
Life happens, deal with it

24. A quote or song lyric that sums up your year:

Chaos is found in greatest abundance wherever order is being sought. It always defeats order, because it is better organised. [Terry Pratchett]

No battle plan survives first contact with the enemy. [unknown]

Mr Spock ... We're trapped in an eerie, brain numbing madhouse! Any answers? [unknown]

25. Your hopes for 2011
- Successful Anthony Powell conference in September
- Catch up with the backlog of Anthony Powell Society work
- Achieve financial security for life (well I can dream!)
- More sex
- Less depression
- Lose weight
- Be a better husband
- Society normalises sex and nudity rather than being disgusted/frightened by it

02 January 2011

The Smart Dutch Take on Teen Sex

A while ago I came across this article in the 7 September 2010 issue of Salon.

The smart Dutch take on teen sex
Despite parents' allowing romantic sleepovers, the Netherlands has one of the lowest youth pregnancy rates
by Tracy Clark-Flory

I'm not going to reproduce it here as it's available online. The article also references this study by Amy Schalet. I commend you all to go read both for yourselves. Amazingly Clark-Flory (an American) actually recognises that the Dutch have their attitudes to teen sex right and the Americans don't. Which is what I've been saying for years. Society, especially politicians and the religious please note!

Auction Oddities

There don't seem to have been many really strange sounding lots appearing at auction locally in the last few months. But I noticed yesterday that Chiswick Auctions have a sale on 11 January. Looking at the catalogue I see that the sale includes 17 lots of memorabilia which belonged to Ronnie and/or Reggie Kray including things like signed photographs and boxing gloves. So far so normal. But the pièce de résistance has to be Lot 256:

"256. Calling Damien Hirst, Ronnie Kray’s false teeth, contained in a Broadmoor brown envelope. Provenance: A close family friend."

Maybe I should go and buy them as a birthday present to myself?!

01 January 2011

Quotes of the Week

I've been reading quite a bit over Christmas, so this week there's a good selection of quotes; something for almost everyone here ...

In times like these, it helps to recall that there have always been times like these.
[Paul Harvey]

If people turn to look at you on the street, you are not well dressed.
[The Economist; unknown author and date]

You can't prove that there isn't a magic teapot floating around on the dark side of the moon with a dwarf inside of it that reads romance novels and shoots lightning out of its boobs but, it seems pretty unlikely, doesn't it?
[Kurt Hummel]

A bird is an instrument working according to mathematical law, which instrument it is in the capacity of man to reproduce with all its movements but not with as much strength, though it is deficient only in power of maintaining equilibrium.
[Leonardo da Vinci, The Flight of Birds, 1505]

Newton saw an apple fall and deduced Gravitation. You and I might have seen millions of apples fall and only deduced pig-feeding.
[Admiral of the Fleet Lord Fisher; Letter to the Times, 12 January 1920]

All dog-lovers must be interested in Lieutenant-Commander Elwell-Sutton's account of his white whippet which insists on singing to the accompaniment of his (or, may I hope, his young son's?) accordion – presumably one of those gigantic new instruments, invented, I think, in Italy, which make noises as loud as those made by cinema organs, and rather like them. This dog's taste is low; but a musical ear is a musical ear.
[Sir John Squire; letter to the Times, 11 January 1936]

They [18th and early 19th century Quakers] became a bourgeois coterie of bankers, brewers and cocoa-grocers.
[Mr Ben Vincent, letter to the Times, 13 March 1974]

[The correct] forking technique is called the Continental method. It's the method used in Europe as well as anywhere else that the British have killed the locals.
[Scott Adams]

Alice: Would you please tell me which way I ought to walk from here?
Cheshire Cat: That depends a good deal on where you want to get to.
Alice: I don’t much care where –
Cheshire Cat: Then it doesn’t matter which way you walk.
Alice: – so long as I get somewhere.
Cheshire Cat: Oh, you’re sure to do that, if you only walk long enough.

[Lewis Carroll, Alice in Wonderland]