31 March 2011

Quotes of the Week

A better selection of quotes this week, which reflects a more varied weeks reading.

Invisible Pink Unicorns are beings of great spiritual power. We know this because they are capable of being invisible and pink at the same time. Like all religions, the Faith of the Invisible Pink Unicorns is based upon both logic and faith. We have faith that they are pink; we logically know that they are invisible because we can't see them.
[Steve Eley]

When you run into something interesting, drop everything else and study it.
[Psychologist BF Skinner]

We all are born mad. Some remain so.
[Samuel Beckett]

Physicists. Just because you're not smart enough to know what the fuck they're talking about doesn't mean God exists.

I contend that we are both atheists. I just believe in one fewer god than you do. When you understand why you dismiss all the other possible gods, you will understand why I dismiss yours.
[Stephen Roberts]

Children are naïve – they trust everyone. School is bad enough, but, if you put a child anywhere in the vicinity of a church, you're asking for trouble.
[Frank Zappa]

Bad facts make bad law, and people who write bad laws are in my opinion more dangerous than songwriters who celebrate sexuality.
[Frank Zappa; Statement to the Senate Hearing on "Porn Rock"; 1985]

I do not know what I may appear to the world; but to myself I seem to have been only like a boy, playing on the sea shore, and diverting myself in now and then finding a smoother pebble or a prettier shell than the ordinary, whilst the great ocean of truth lay all undiscovered before me.
[Isaac Newton]

You can't always write a chord ugly enough to say what you want to say, so sometimes you have to rely on a giraffe filled with whipped cream.
[Frank Zappa]

Just as long as that giraffe is made of choux pastry and dipped in chocolate! Might be best if it doesn't mate with a pink unicorn too. :-)

29 March 2011

Prime or Not?

I came across this on the intertubes earlier. It may amuse those of a more scientific bent ...

Several people are asked to prove that all odd integers greater than 2 are prime.
  • Post-graduate mathematician: 3 is prime, 5 is prime, 7 is prime, 9 is not prime. Ha! A counterexample.
  • Undergraduate mathematician: 3 is prime, 5 is prime, 7 is prime… so by induction, all subsequent odd integers are prime.
  • Statistician: Let’s verify this on several randomly selected odd numbers, say, 23, 47, and 83.
  • Computer scientist: 3 is prime, 5 is prime, 7 is prime, segmentation fault?
  • Computer programmer: 3 is prime, 3 is prime, 3 is prime, 3 is prime…
  • Physicist: 3 is prime, 5 is prime, 7 is prime, 9 is an experimental error, 11 is prime…
  • Mechanical engineer: 3 is prime, 5 is prime, 7 is prime, 9 is approximately prime, 11 is prime…
  • Civil engineer: 3 is prime, 5 is prime, 7 is prime, 9 is prime…
  • Biologist: 3 is prime, 5 is prime, 7 is prime, 9 is… still awaiting results…
  • Psychologist: 3 is prime, 5 is prime, 7 is prime, 9 is prime but suppresses it, 11 is prime…
  • Economist: 2 is prime, 4 is prime, 6 is prime…
  • Politician: Shouldn’t the goal really be to create a greater society where all numbers are prime?
  • Sarah Palin: What’s a prime?

I especially like the Physicist and Mechanical Engineer ones.

28 March 2011

Coffee Houses

Now we all know the importance of coffee houses in the history of our society – Lloyds of London (the insurance market-makers) was started in a coffee house in 1774. By this time the coffee house had been in existence for well over 100 years having been started in London in 1652. Slightly surprisingly the Commonwealth government were in favour of coffee houses as they didn't provide intoxicating liquor.

But like all good British institutions they had their rabbleous side. I came across this last evening:
There was a rabble going hither and thither, reminding me of a swarm of rats in a ruinous cheese-store. Some came, others went; some were scribbling, others were talking; some were drinking [coffee], some smoking, and some arguing; the whole place stank of tobacco like the cabin of a barge. On the corner of a long table, close by the armchair, was lying a Bible. Beside it were earthenware pitchers, long clay pipes, a little fire on the hearth, and over it the high coffee pot. Beneath a small bookshelf, on which were bottles, cups, and an advertisement for a beautifier to improve the complexion, was hanging a parliamentary ordinance against drinking and the use of bad language. The walls were decorated with gilt frames, much as a smithy is decorated with horseshoes. In the frames were rarities; phials of a yellowish elixir, favourite pills and hair tonics, packets of snuff, tooth powder made from coffee grounds, caramels and cough lozenges.
This is by one Ned Ward writing in the 1690s and quoted in Jonathan Bastable, Voices from the World of Samuel Pepys. Not so much different from your average Starbuck's really.

27 March 2011

[12/52] Delirium

[12/52] Delirium

Week 12 entry for 52 weeks challenge.

This was a grab shot from the car while waiting at traffic lights at Greenford Broadway last weekend. I was attracted by the wonderfully colourful primulas (they must be Primula locus-concilium they are such a favourite of local authority Parks & Gardens Departments) in the Spring sunshine.

This wobbly processed form is about how I saw the picture at the time as I was just starting a high fever from some nasty flu-cum-bronchitis-bug-thingy that seems to be doing the rounds here at present. This bug is nasty. Noreen is now four weeks into it and is still not 100%. I thought I'd got away with it (just had a bit of malaise for a few days when Noreen was first down with it). But no, it mugged me and I have spent a large part of the last week snuggled under the duvet trying to get rid of a fever and graveyard cough and feeling like ... well let's not go there. I now feel bodily coldy; still totally depleted of everything both mental and physical; still with a cough, although that is going slowly; but today almost no voice.

But then I have just put away a hearty salad of pulled lamb, lamb's lettuce, tomato and avocado with a couple of large glasses of white Burgundy (first alcohol in over a week!) which does somewhat restore the soul if not the body.

26 March 2011

Quotes of the Week

Slightly thin pickings this week as I've been flattened by some nasty flu-cum-bronchitis-bug-thingy all week which has precluded almost everything except lying in bed being date expired.

In the past, when marriage was a more pragmatic institution, love was optional. Respect was essential. Men and women found emotional connection elsewhere, primarily in same-sex relationships. Men bonded over work and recreation; women connected through child rearing and borrowing sugar.
Esther Perel; Mating in Captivity: Sex, Lies and Domestic Bliss]

Reality must take precedence over public relations, for nature cannot be fooled.
[Richard Feynman]

We still live in a world where progress only happens with funerals.
[Violet Blue]

Every law is an infraction of liberty.
[Jeremy Bentham]

I wonder if other dogs think poodles are members of a weird religious cult.
[Rita Rudner]

20 March 2011

Auction Eccentrica

Another in our irregular series of eccentric lots from our local auction house.

I've been thinking about what it is that makes some of these things so amusing and concluded that it is a mixture of
(a) the strange objects which are put up for sale,
(b) the almost inexplicably incongruous combinations which get put together to make up a lot, and
(c) those which appear totally unintelligible.

Anyway here's this month's selection:

A Royal Navy cocked hat by Rowe & Co, and another.

An extensive collection of matchboxes including a complete box of Sotheby’s Special Reserve Matches and two boxes containing ‘The Nostalgia Postcard’.

A mahogany canteen of Pedigree Plate cutlery for eight, including carving set, fish eaters, etc., with detachable legs.
[What do the detachable legs refer to? The 'canteen'? The 'fish eaters'? Or the 'etc.'?]

An automated singing bird in gilt cage.

An interesting mixed lot [...] including Gladstone bag, barleytwist candlesticks, British Cafe dominoes, a quantity of Torquay ware, Doulton footwarmer, old jeweller’s drill, old tins, oriental ware, wooden trough, corner brackets, etc.

A tribal drum, carved mask, oriental wooden plaque, ceramic sculpture, boomerang, linen including batik? panel, etc.

A large framed religious tapestry marked Ellen Simpson, aged 15 years, 1858; and a stone elephant.
[A excellent example of the strange combination of incongruous stuff]

A wonderful lot containing an adjustable hearth pot stand, brass motor for spit, old tins, early copper moulds, can opener in the form of a bull’s head, folding spectacles in case, carpet bowls, leather and metal hip flask, cast iron meat mincer, old leather and wooden children’s clogs.
[You just know anything beginning "A wonderful" or "An interesting mixed lot" is going to throw up something which boggles the mind.]

An old ship’s rudder, mahogany pipe stand, three brass candlesticks, small Doulton Lambeth vase, fawn pottery with blue and white raised decoration, novelty pop-up cigarette box, three crucifixes, pewter plate, oriental ware, children’s mugs, cat figurine, etc.

A good late 19th century German cuckoo clock, in carved walnut case, wreathed in vines and with bird surmount, the movement by gong striking and with two pipes, by GHS.

An old cavalryman’s lance in bamboo with steel point and end, branded mark ‘XIIIIX’, with red and white wool pennant attached

Five and a half Victorian architectural cast iron panels.

An antique Indian window frame with shutter door, now fitted with a mirror, and a decorative metal framed box.

A collection of CDs, boxed Lego Technic unopened, a cycle hat, a carton including new gadgets including Braun shavers, cycle light, earphones, flints, new plumbing parts, electric fret saw, a shredder, telephone hand sets, tool boxes, a solar wireless alarm system, a case of screws, Draper appliances (unused), a workbench, a duvet, sleeping bag, teddy bears, an electrical extension reel (boxed), etc.

Six old red painted fire buckets.

19 March 2011

[11/52] First Light

[11/52] First Light, originally uploaded by kcm76.

Week 11 entry for 52 weeks challenge.

First light on Saturday 19 March.

When I opened the study window to take this I was greeted by a chorus of birdsong, which was really lovely and slightly unexpected in mid-March. There was also a nice frosty chill.

The camera was on "sunset" mode.

Facts of the Week

This is the first in what will probably be an occasional series highlighting unexpected, unusual or just amazing facts I come across. It is really for curiosity value rather than a resource of those who take part in pub quizzes. Wherever possible I will, as always, provide a source for the information. So here is the first selection of factlets ...

Each year, an estimated 10,000 shipping containers fall off container ships at sea.
Between five and six million containers are in transit at any given moment.


The Sendai earthquake shifted the earth's figure axis by about 17 cm and moved the main island of Japan [Honshu] around 2.4 metres.
[US Geological Survey]

The Sendai earthquake also shortened our day by about 1.8 milliseconds (thousands of a second).
[NASA Jet Propulsion Laboratory]

The original Polynesian and South Pacific origin of the word ‘tabu’ actually refers to that which is sacred: the application of a taboo actually designating that which is holy.

18 March 2011

A Refreshing Perspective

This BBC analysis article by Prof. David Spiegelhalter, Professor of the Public Understanding of Risk at Cambridge University puts the radiation risks from the Japanese nuclear situation into perspective. I commend it to everyone as a balanced piece of scientific reporting. Let's not lose our heads just because those around us are running about being unnecessarily demented. Let's keep a sense of perspective. And please let's put an end to all the hysteria!

[Hat-tip Brad Warner at Hardcore Zen]

Quotes of the Week

A good selection of amusements amongst this week's quotes ...

The future is already here – it's just not very evenly distributed.
[William Gibson]

I would rather be exposed to the inconveniences attending too much liberty than to those attending too small a degree of it.
[Thomas Jefferson]

Society places a great deal of importance upon "being concerned" about this, that or the other terrible thing going on somewhere in the world. I agree that a bit of this concern is useful in helping alleviate suffering in those places. But it strikes me that the vast majority of what we call "being concerned" involves getting into our own heads, turning over the information, imagining whatever we want to imagine, working up our emotions, wallowing in our feelings like a pig in mud. For some reason I've never been able to comprehend very clearly this makes us look good socially, like we're doing the right thing. But I'm unable to see how watching endless reports […] about a disaster really helps anything.
[Brad Warner at http://hardcorezen.blogspot.com/]

You can keep a dog; but it is the cat who keeps people, because cats find humans useful domestic animals.
[George Mikes, How to be Decadent]

Cats are smarter than dogs. You can't get eight cats to pull a sled through snow.
[Jeff Valdez]

Life is fragile. You and I are living lives just as precarious as those people who got swept away into the ocean last week. We just fool ourselves into believing otherwise. But that's not a reason to live in fear. Life is a terminal disease.
[Brad Warner on the Sendai Earthquake at http://hardcorezen.blogspot.com/2011/03/japan-earthquake.html]

Every mountain; every rock on this planet; every living thing; every piece of you and me was forged in the furnaces of space.
[Prof. Brian Cox; Wonders of the Universe; BBC2 TV, 13 March 2011]

I hear the argument, and it is an ingenious argument only a lawyer of his brilliance could make ...
[David Cameron replying in House of Commons to Sir Malcolm Rifkind]

Never play with a dead cat and above all never make friends with a monkey.
[Osbert Sitwell, quoting his father in Tales My Father Taught Me. Thanks to Katyboo for this one.]

The natural world is a living erotic museum filled with variations in male genitalia, illustrating how natural selection has paid nearly as much attention to the male member as Catholic priests have.

To you , I'm an atheist; to God, I'm the loyal opposition.
[Woody Allen]

"Are there circumstances in which the government might …?"
"Well there could be circumstances. To answer your question in any other way would preclude all possibilities."

[William Hague, UK Foreign Secretary, answering a question from the Parliamentary Foreign Affairs Committee; 16/03/2011]

17 March 2011

You Just Can't Get the Staff

Yesterday we received a communication from the Civil Service Club in London. In this they advertise their Annual Dinner as follows ...
Three course dinner with Champagne reception & Canopies, with the Committees guest speaker.
How many committees? And whose marquees?

16 March 2011

More Thoughts on Japan

I continue to watch the news coming out of Japan, especially that about the disaster at the Fukushima Daiichi neuclear plant.

I'm astounded at the lack of assistance the nuclear plant authorities are getting. They have now been struggling with (and losing) the battle to stabilise their reactors after the tsunami took out their backup cooling system on Friday.

I have to wonder (a) why they didn't shout for outside back-up much earlier on Friday, (b) where the Japanese military are and (c) what priority is being given to getting grid power restored to the Fukushima plant. Why have the Japanese government not flooded the power plant with regiments of Engineers and Logistics experts. And why haven't they deployed every available military pumping unit and bowser to the site, to help shift water (if only seawater).

Before anyone says it, I know they'll need bowsers to deliver water to refugees, but I would have thought the nuclear plant needs to take priority, and their water companies should have bowsers too. Moreover the military will have bowsers which may be usable (for seawater) but not for drinking water. And pumping units are, I would have thought, not going to achieve a lot at present in the disaster area (there's much else to do without worrying about pumping water away) and in any event, again, I would think the nuclear plant should take priority. Clearly too they would need a secure supply of fuel and other supplies – but that's what logistics is all about.

Yes, I know the military won't be skilled at managing and operating a nuclear plant. No-one would expect them to be. But their equipment, logistics skills and manpower should be invaluable. We proved in this country how valuable military logistics skills are during the foot-and-mouth epidemic in 2001, where the military were eventually called in and sorted out the problem very quickly. Good senior officers cut through obstructions and get things done quickly and efficiently; they're trained to do just this; trained in logistics; and trained to deal with horrors like this in warfare.

Should we be exposing soldiers to such an undoubtedly dangerous environment? It's a tricky ethical problem. But at times of national emergency such as this I would tend to the view that this is part of the military's role; and indeed the military would expect such a role. After all we expect soldiers to go into battle, kill people, possibly get killed themselves and be exposed to depleted Uranium shells and worse. And they will have NBC suits; although they are by no means a comfortable environment to work in they're available.

Would any of this have averted where we are now? We can never know. But it seems to me that it probably should have been given a shot. Maybe it has been and we just haven't been told. We just don't know.

All we can do is watch, hope and pray.

Lacy Shirts

I found this somewhere on the intertubes the other day. I thought it passingly amusing, and incredibly inventive. Mothers of boys might like to note.

Red Tape Exported to Japan

This is just unbelievable. WTF are these people on? Hopefully Cameron will smack a few heads together for such stupidity. Meanwhile the British Ambassador must be the leading candidate for "Wanker of the Week"!

Committee Decisions

Excellent letter in yesterday's Times:
Sir, Professor John Murrell has been given the wrong definition of a committee. I always understood that a committee was a group of people who individually could do nothing, but collectively decided that nothing could be done.
Campbell Sylvester

15 March 2011

Japan Nuclear Update

Referring to my Sunday post about the events in Japan, a friend in the US has asked me "Are you still this non-apocalyptic after the latest explosion?". And given what has been reported about the situation at the Fukushima reactors since Sunday I feel I should update my opinions.

So where are we? Well it's really difficult to tell. There have now been three explosions, and a further significant release of radioactivity. Albeit the radioactivity appears to be relatively short-lived nucleotides. But we now really don't know enough about what is actually happening in Fukushima. In fact nobody knows exactly what's happening apart from the engineers on the ground. All we are getting is the third- or fourth-hand account which the Japanese government are putting out and which is then being spun every which way by the media.

Do I trust what we're being told? Again it is hard to say. All nuclear authorities (and governments) have a poor track record of owning up to bad news; the Japanese are no better or worse that anyone else. That means I am very skeptical about what's being admitted to. What is being said may be true, but it may not be the whole truth and nothing but the truth. But as I say, we really don't know, and cannot know.

However as I understand it, and despite the latest reports, the worst case scenario still cannot be as bad as Chernobyl due to the design of the reactors. Of course that doesn't mean it couldn't still be really very nasty. Remember that these nuclear plants have three or four levels of containment between the fuel rods and the open air. A full meltdown and fire, as happened at Chernobyl, would require all the levels of containment to be breached, all the cooling to have failed and at least some of the control rods to not be in place between the fuel rods. Given that we are told the reactors shutdown correctly, all the control rods should be inserted amongst the fuel rods which, if I have understood correctly, makes the worst case Chernobyl scenario highly unlikely.

Let's also be clear. This situation has not obviously been caused by the earthquake – the facility appears to have withstood a quake some 5 times more severe than its design limit. (I have read that the design limit was to withstand a quake of magnitude 8.2, so this 9.0 quake is way above that design threshold; remember the Richter Scale is logarithmic.) It was the subsequent tsunami taking out the nuclear plant's backup power generators which triggered the problems, and that clearly was not designed for. One has to question the wisdom of building nuclear facilities so close to such an active geological fault, especially one know to trigger tsunamis.

It's undoubtedly a nasty situation, and extremely scary for the local population. But as far as one can tell the Japanese authorities are probably handling this as well as anyone could. We just have to hope that the authorities and the engineers are doing enough.

But we just don't know (and may never know) enough about what's really happening inside those reactors – no-one does except the engineers on site.

if you want to know more technical details there are good posts here, here and here, and regular technical updates here.

14 March 2011

Japan Disaster Appeal

A friend in London with many Japanese contacts and a Japanese friend in Tokyo have suggested that if anyone wishes to assist the Japanese people at this difficult time then donations to the Red Cross Appeal are possibly the best way to do so. Readers in the UK can donate online to the Japan Tsunami Appeal or by calling 08450 535 353.

Quote: Research

Research is the process of going up alleys to see if they are blind.

[Marston Bates]

Media Disasters

I have to say I entirely agree with this post from Tim at Bringing up Charlie. WTF do all the broadcasters have to send extra reports out to "disaster zones"? They've done it with Japan; I dread to count how many extra reporters BBC TV alone has sent out to Japan to use their precious fuel and get in the way. They did it a couple of weeks earlier with Libya. And a couple of weeks before that with Egypt, where at one point I counted at least 8 extra reporters. If you don't trust the staff you already have there to cover whatever happens, why are they there in the first place? Come on guys, wake up! This is totally unnecessary consumerism.

13 March 2011


No, I'm not going to write in any detail about, what I suspect we all agree are, the horrors of the recent events in Japan; I'm not going to indulge in ghoulish voyeurism. However I find these events fascinating from a forensic viewpoint: what happened; how and why did it happen; how did it unfold. So I will content myself to comment on one or two things which have stuck me, as a scientist, over the last few days.

First of all the size of the quake. Initially assessed at Richter 8.9 it has now been upgraded to 9.0. This is normal as further seismic data becomes available. According to Wikipedia this makes the Sendai quake equal fourth largest in the last 150 years. This should not be surprising given the geology of the area.

There were some fore-shocks; but that is only known with hindsight. This brings home to me just how impossible it is for even the best experts to predict earthquakes. A lot of progress has been made in recent years on predicting volcanic eruptions, if only in the short term. But earthquakes are a totally different problem. Predicting when a geological fault is going to move is next to impossible. Japan has regular (almost daily) relatively small earthquakes because of where it sits on the fault lines. The scientists had predicted a big quake "sometime in the next 30 years", which is about as precise as earthquake prediction appears possible at present. Is the Sendai Earthquake this big event? Well who knows. It isn't impossible that a larger quake might happen, although my guess is that it is now much less likely.

Earthquakes impossible to predict with accuracy; so are tsunamis. As I understand it whether a quake generates a tsunami depends on many factors: the way the fault moves, the size of the movement, the seabed topography. The area around Japan is at high risk of tsunamis because of the type of faults in the nearby seabed and they have had tsunami monitoring and warning systems in place for some 40 or more years – but all they can do is send out alerts once a tsunami has been created and detected. And then tsunamis travel so fast (up to 500 miles an hour, apparently) that for nearby coasts any warning is almost too late.

It is in the nature of Japan that they are one of the most naturally controlled of societies. They are not people to leave things to chance if they can have a process to ensure it works properly. And they are world leaders in earthquake-proof design. In consequence they are possibly the best prepared of nations for earthquakes: they have very strict building codes, everyone is taught the drills almost from birth, there are excellent communication channels and warning systems. That is fine as far as quakes go, and as we have seen on the TV footage the majority of buildings (at least the more modern buildings) remained intact following the quake.

What is infinitely harder is to defend against a tsunami. Tsunami can be so large and generate such power that protecting against them is almost beyond our engineering (and almost certainly financial) capabilities. As protection one would have to build enormously high (50 feet?), thick and strong sea defences along every inch of low-lying coast. Sure it could be done, but probably no country on earth could afford to do it, especially for such relatively rare events. Physically preparedness is hugely hard; preparing the people, as is done for earthquakes, is almost impossible.

What is clear is that in much of the affected coastal areas it is the tsunami which has caused the vast majority of the damage. Again the TV footage shows buildings remaining intact after the quake but being simply washed away like matchsticks by the tsunami. Avoiding even that would be a huge engineering problem, but one I suspect Japan may now try to address.

This brings me to thinking about the situation at the Fukushima nuclear facility. As a scientist what has impressed me here is that all the fail-safe systems in the nuclear plants have worked as designed. Notwithstanding there do appear to have been issues. Fukushima 1, which blew the lid off it's "shed" on Saturday, was working as designed until the backup generators were swamped by the tsunami (again it is the tsunami which has caused the problems!) and even then backup batteries were available. Even the venting of steam (and thus small amounts of short half-life radio-isotopes) is a planned and controlled event. And the "shed" is designed to fall apart (outwards, as it did) in the event of an explosion, so that explosion (however spectacular) wasn't a majorly significant event.

Let's be clear that, from what we're being told, there is no nuclear meltdown at these plants; the reactors were automatically closed down when the quake struck, just as designed – this itself ensures that there can be no meltdown. (If meltdown were going to happen it would almost certainly have done so by now with far more major consequences than we've seen.) However there could well be some damage to the casings of a small number of fuel rods (as I understand it, it is this which caused the explosive hydrogen to be created). The reactors, having been shut down, do still generate heat which needs to be removed but this reduces quite quickly over a matter of days and (notwithstanding the problem at Fukushima 3) the worst of the heating problems should now be past.

What is of concern is whether the Japanese authorities are being truly open and honest about the situation at the nuclear plants; like most nuclear authorities they do not have a track record of transparency.

What I suspect will also happen is that Japan (indeed all the nuclear industry) will question the advisability of putting nuclear plant in areas most open to tsunami – like maybe not on Japan's east coast?!

Of course those in the anti-nuclear lobby will use this same information to draw totally the opposite conclusions. As scientists we need to remain clear about what is designed for and whether it worked. I shall be most interested to see the reports from independent international inspections.

Finally a comment about the planet we live on. Many things in these events have stunned me, not the least being the awesome power of the tsunami. But perhaps the most staggering of all I found on the Scientific American website where there are many good reports:

Italy's National Institute of Geophysics and Volcanology said the earth's axis shifted 25 cm as a result of the earthquake, and the US Geological Survey said the main island of Japan had shifted 2.4 metres.

That doesn't sound a lot, but they are incredibly large effects for the planet!

Our thoughts and hopes are, of course, with all the people of Japan.

Images from 123RF

12 March 2011

Marriage Quotes

Yesterday I came across these Marriage Quotes from Kids. As always there's more than a grain of truth in them!

Question: How can a stranger tell if two people are married?
You might have to guess based on whether they seem to be yelling at the same kids.
[Derrick, age 8]

Question: What do most people do on a date?
Dates are for having fun, and people should use them to get to know each other. Even boys have something to say if you listen long enough.
[Lynnette, age 8]

Question: Is it better to be single or married?
It's better for girls to be single but not for boys. Boys need someone to clean up after them.
[Anita, age 9 ]

11 March 2011

[10/52] Flowers

[10/52] Flowers

Week 10 entry for 52 weeks challenge.

Flowers on sale today in our local Waitrose supermarket.

Quotes of the Week

Another weekly selection of esoterica ...

Anyone who tells you that your body is anything other than the beautiful, glorious MIRACLE that it is is, as they say in “Princess Bride”, probably selling something.
[Emily Nagoski at http://enagoski.wordpress.com/2011/03/05/beautiful/]

[E]ach of us has the job of finding the beliefs we’re not interested in carrying with us any more, uprooting them, and finding something new and healthier to take their place. This process is neither easy nor painless. But it is a path to the confidence and joy I advocate everyone bring to bed with them every night.
[Emily Nagoski at http://enagoski.wordpress.com/2011/03/05/beautiful/]

Men always fall into the absurdity of endeavouring to develop the mind, to push it violently forward in this direction or in that. The mind should be receptive, a harp waiting to catch the winds, a pool ready to be ruffled, not a bustling busybody, for ever trotting about on the pavement looking for a new bun shop.
[Robert Hichens, The Green Carnation, 1894]

Sex ought to be a wholly satisfying link between two affectionate people from which they emerge unanxious, rewarded, and ready for more.
[Alex Comfort]

The debate [in 1907 American Medicine about the weight of the soul] went on from the May issue all the way through December, whereupon I lost the thread, my eye having strayed across the page to "A Few Points in the Ancient History of Medicine and Surgery," by Harry H Grigg, MD. It is with thanks to Harry H Grigg that I can now hold forth at cocktail parties on the history of haemorrhoids, gonorrhoea, circumcision, and the speculum.
[Mary Roach; Stiff, The Curious Lives of Human Cadavers]

Sex is one of the nine reasons for reincarnation. The other eight are unimportant.
[Henry Miller]

A promiscuous person is someone who is getting more sex than you are.
[Victor Lownes]

We do not remember. A certain group of our little people do this for us. They live in that part of the brain which has become known as the 'fold of Broca' ... There may be twelve or fifteen shifts that change about and are on duty at different times like men in a factory ... Therefore it seems likely that remembering a thing is all a matter of getting in touch with the shift that was on duty when the recording was done.
[Thomas Edison; Diaries]

10 March 2011

Ten Things - March

Number 3 in a monthly series of "Ten Things" for 2011. Each month I list one thing from each of ten categories which will remain the same for each month of 2011. So at the end of the year you have ten lists of twelve things.
  1. Something I Like: Steam Trains
  2. Something I Won't Do: Ballroom Dancing
  3. Something I Want To Do: Expand my Family History
  4. A Blog I Like: The Magistrates Blog
  5. A Book I Like: Mary Roach, Stiff
  6. Some Music I Like: Yes, Close to the Edge
  7. A Food I Like: Sausages
  8. A Food or Drink I Dislike: Sweetcorn
  9. A Word I Like: Merkin
  10. A Quote I Like: The purpose of our lives is to be happy. [Dalai Lama]

Silly Book Meme

OK, just for fun ... this is what you do ...
  1. Grab the book closest to you right now. No, don't choose, pick up the closest book.
  2. Open it at page 56 and choose the fifth sentence.
  3. Write the sentence in comments below and don't forget to tell us what the book is.
  4. Then copy these rules to your blog or Facebook status.

07 March 2011

Public Holidays

Diamond Geezer posted an interesting analysis yesterday about the UK's public holidays. In it he shows why we will never get St George's Day adopted as a public holiday. Basically this is because it concentrates too many public holidays in the period from late March to late May, especially given that Easter most usually falls in April and this we would get Easter, St George's Day and May Day holidays all within a period of 3-4 weeks. Well yes, that's just like this year when Easter is exceptionally late (it can fall anywhere between 22 March and 25 April) when we also have the extra bank holiday for the royal wedding knees-up.

Diamond Geezer also makes the point that we're essentially stuck with this scheme as we can't move Easter because it's fixed by the church. Err ... why not? We moved the late May holiday away from Whitsun which is also fixed by the church. And we don't actually celebrate May Day but pick the first Monday in May. So why can we not move (or ignore) Easter?

I suggest an alternative scheme for our public holidays, viz:
  • New Years Day (1 January)
  • Spring Equinox (21 March)
  • St George's Day (23 April)
  • May Day (1 May)
  • Summer Solstice (21 June)
  • August Holiday (last Monday in August)
  • Autumn Equinox (21 September)
  • Christmas Day (25 December)
  • Boxing Day (26 December)

Note that I propose we keep the actual days and not the nearest Monday, although obviously where any of these falls on a weekend they would be moved to the next available working day. Note too that I have not stooped to include red letter days from ethnic minority traditions.

In the provinces of the UK St George's Day could be replaced by their "national day": St David in Wales (1 March), St Andrew in Scotland (30 November), St Patrick in Northern Ireland (17 March).

This has, to my mind, several advantages. It spreads out our holidays a bit better. We get one extra day bringing us more into line with western Europe and other English speaking countries where the average is more like 10 or 12 public holidays annually. It also takes the calendar away from the religious focus and returns it to the actual solar cycle without making it too overtly pagan.

It also presents some other options:
  • We could keep Good Friday, if desired which would generally slot in between the Spring Equinox and St George's Day. I see no logic, sacred or secular, for retaining Easter Monday, although this could be retained in preference to Good Friday.
  • If desired the late August holiday might move back to the first Monday in August (as it still is in Scotland) from where it was moved in 1965, thus better harmonising the UK's public holidays.
  • To be logical Christmas should relocate to the Winter Solstice (21 December). However given how entrenched Christmas now is in the collective psyche I can see this not being acceptable. Maybe we should scrap Boxing Day and move that to the Winter Solstice? No, that's a really bad idea because it will give us three separate holidays within 2 weeks (Solstice, Christmas Day and New Years Day) thus we risk everything shutting down completely for two weeks rather than the current week. So Christmas has to be retained as is, which also helps the balance of holidays between sacred and secular.

I still see one problem with this scheme though. There is still a long (3 month) gap between the autumn Equinox and Christmas, at a time when we arguable need a break. Trafalgar Day (21 October) has been mooted as a possible public holiday. I personally don't like this as I feel we ought to stay clear of celebrating the military and I'd rule out Armistice Day (11 November) for the same reason (see also my dislike of Remembrance Day). Equally Guy Fawkes Day risks being interpreted as celebrating terrorism rather that its defeat. Halloween I would also rule out as it would inevitably perpetuate that annoying American import: trick or treat. Perhaps we ought to celebrate Harvest Festival (which need not, of course, be religious but remind us where our food comes from) in mid- to late-October?

Anyone got any better ideas?

06 March 2011

Sunday Cat Porn

Just to prove, as we had always suspected, that we do have a second cat ...

Sunday Morning Lay-in

... Sally, having breakfasted on tuna, decided to have a Sunday morning lay-in ...

Sunday Morning Lay-in

Currently she seems to be spending something over half her life snuggled into our duvet ...

Sunday Morning Lay-in

... Well it is duck and goose down, so who blames her – we like it too!

05 March 2011

More Cat Porn

Yet again this morning Harry the Cat is sleeping on my desk. He seems to want to be there if I'm there. And of course we insist on having the sun lamp on! But we try to rouse ourselves and look suspicious as son as I get the camera out ...

... but soon return to our slumbers, having made sure we occupy all the desk space!

Quotes of the Week

This week's selection of the good, the bad and the ugly ...

Relationships are like a card game where you start with two hearts and a diamond, but end up needing a club and spade.
[Tony Green on Facebook]

Every concept the mind can create includes its opposite. No thought is ultimate because each idea depends on every other idea it might possibly contrast with for its apparent self existence. Our own existence as individuals is dependent upon all of creation. This does not negate our individual existence. It is an attempt to see our individual existence in a different light.
[Brad Warner at http://hardcorezen.blogspot.com]

When I play with my cat, how do I know that she is not passing time with me rather than I with her?

Urethane treatment is standard on all products (with exceptions)
[Amtico Flooring Brochure]

Comedians really aren't that different from scientists. They look at the world and question why things are as they are and try to find an answer. It's just that scientists do it with far more rigour and the possibility that humanity will be much improved by their discoveries. Perhaps comedians are just lazy scientists. Very, very lazy, stupid scientists.
[Robin Ince, The Times Eureka Supplement; March 2011]

And finally, dreadful joke of the week ...

Why did the scarecrow win a Nobel prize?
Because he was out standing in his field.

[The Times Eureka Supplement; March 2011]

Bring back Basil Brush, all is forgiven!

03 March 2011

[9/52] Forsythia

[9/52] Forsythia, originally uploaded by kcm76.

Week 9 entry for 52 weeks challenge.

The Forsythia in our hedge has been in flower for several days now, although there isn't much of it as the hedge gets too regularly trimmed. This piece is in the hedge archway over our front gate, so will hopefully delight passers by. This is a bit early as it really shouldn't be in flower for another couple of weeks. Our Fuji Cherry (Prunus incisa 'Kojo-no-mai'; the picture below is not our tree) has it's first few flowers open as well, and that is also early. So despite that the weather has turned cold again, it looks as if Spring might well be on the way. Yipee!!