29 November 2011

Cartoon of the Week

Just in time for Christmas ...

28 November 2011

[48/52] Autumn Oak

[48/52] Autumn Oak
Week 48 entry for 52 weeks challenge.

Looking up into our 10-15 year old oak tree. It has shed about half its leaves and what remain are all manner of colours from green through gold to brown in the autumn sunshine and against a cloudless sky.

Word of the Week : Crepuscular

  1. Of or pertaining to twilight.
  2. Resembling or likened to twilight; dim, indistinct.
  3. (In Zoology) Appearing or active in the twilight.

27 November 2011

Reasons to be Grateful 2

OK so here's week two of my experiment: this week's things which have made me happy or for which I'm grateful:
Crab Apples
  1. Autumn Colours^ — there are still some gorgeous golden leaves around as well as bright red fruit on our ornamental crab apple, especially in ...
  2. Sunshine* — which makes those autumn colours all the more vibrant
  3. Vagina Cupcakes — they're a hoot!
  4. Beaujolais Nouveau* — I've now tasted three different ones and they're all excellent
  5. Sleep — it's so restorative to sleep well and undisturbed as I did last night
^ Click the image for a bigger version, and for other photos.
* No-one said I couldn't choose the same things as last week!

26 November 2011

Links of the Week

This week's small selection of the curious and not-so-curious you may have missed ...

According to a recent survey people spend too long in the shower and use too much water. And it isn't as green as we were told. Now there's a surprise!

But then no wonder we go for the therapeutic, because according to uSwitch the UK is the worst place in Europe to live. Well it is if you care about what they measure. For geeks like me you can follow their method, recalculate the scores, exclude things you don't care about and add in other things you do care about. But you'll still get much the same answer. :-(

HornetNow here's a seriously WOW! image. Yes it's a European Hornet, Vespa crabro; a humongous but relatively docile wasp**. Sadly you don't see them often. But just look at those compound eyes ... and the detail which I'm sure shows the substructure underneath the eye. I've looked out other images of hornets and they all seem to show the same eye substructure. Absolutely amazing!
** Note. Hornets are brown and yellow, as in the image. If what you see is black and yellow it's a wasp, not a hornet, regardless of its size. Please leave all these creatures alone. They generally won't attack you unless you provoke them. Wasps and Hornets are superb predators of other insects, on which they feed their grubs. Without them we'd be knee-deep in caterpillars etc. They also chew up old wood for their nests. Besides Hornets are becoming endangered.

If you had a pet monkey, would you feed it crap food and never let it exercise or play and tell it how stupid and ugly it was? No, you’d love your pet monkey! So love your Monkey!

We all make mistakes. They're nothing to hide. But we all do hide mistake, because they make us feel stupid. Don’t be afraid of Stupid. Stupid means self-awareness. Stupid means you’re learning. Love your Stupid.

[47/52] Another Era Warps into View ...

[47/52] Another Era Warps into View ...

Week 47 entry for 52 weeks challenge.

Another take on the vintage cars in London on 5 November in preparation for the London to Brighton run.

24 November 2011

Quotes of the Week

What a strange mix we have this week ...

If your dog had your brain and could speak, and if you asked it what it thought of your sex life, you might be surprised by its response. It would be something like this:
Those disgusting humans have sex any day of the month! Barbara proposes sex even when she knows perfectly well that she isn't fertile - like just after her period. John is eager for sex all the time, without caring whether his efforts could result in a baby or not. But if you want to hear something really gross - Barbara and John kept on having sex while she was pregnant! That's as bad as all the times when John's parents come for a visit, and I can hear them too having sex, although John's mother went through this thing they call menopause years ago. Now she can't have babies any more, but she still wants sex, and John's father obliges her. What a waste of effort! Here's the weirdest thing of all: Barbara and John, and John's parents, close the bedroom door and have sex in private, instead of doing it in front of their friends like any self-respecting dog!
[Jared Diamond; Why is Sex Fun?]

The impulse to cling to youth at all costs, to attempt to preserve your sexual attraction, to see even in middle age a future for yourself and not merely for your children, is a thing of recent growth and has only precariously established itself.
[George Orwell, "The Art of Donald McGill", Horizon, September 1941]

When making a decision of minor importance, I have always found it advantageous to consider all the pros and cons. In vital matters however ... the decision should come from the unconscious, from somewhere within.
[Sigmund Freud]

If you have psychopathic tendencies and are born to a poor family, you're likely to go to prison. If you have psychopathic tendencies and are born to a rich family, you're likely to go to business school.
[George Monbiot, guardian.co.uk, 7 November 2011]

23 November 2011

How Green is Your Green?

The answer may depend on the quantity of rare earth elements used.

A few days ago I spotted an article on the web under the headline Your Prius' Deepest, Darkest Secret points out that many products which appear to to reduce ones environmental footprint actually contain relatively large quantities of rare earth elements, which have to be mined and refined — a dirty process at the best of times.
Neodymium magnets turn wind turbines. Cerium helps reduce tailpipe emissions. Yttrium can form phosphors that make light in LED displays and compact fluorescent lightbulbs. Hybrid and electric cars often contain as many as eight different rare earths ... Walk down the aisles of your local Best Buy and you'll be hard-pressed to find something that doesn't contain at least one of the rare earths, from smartphones to laptop batteries to flat-screen TVs. They're also crucial for defence technology—radar and sonar systems, tank engines, and the navigation systems in smart bombs.
No surprise therefore that the demand for rare earths is sky-rocketing and mining is expanding accordingly. Mining and refining produce mountains of waste from rock spoil to harsh acids as well as consuming gargantuan quantities of energy. And mining companies don't have good track records at reducing and managing any of this.

Another side of the coin is that many of these elements are used in such small quantities that recovering them from old products and recycling them becomes equally as hard as the original refining.

As I pointed out here and as the article concludes: What good is green technology if it's based on minerals whose extraction is so, well, ungreen?


Fact of the Week : Phallocarp

This is from Why is Sex Fun? by Jared Diamond:

A hint that the large human penis serves as some sort of signal may be gained by watching what happens when men take the opportunity to design their own penises, rather than remaining content with their evolutionary legacy. Men in the highlands of New Guinea do that by enclosing the penis in a decorative sheath called a phallocarp. The sheath is up to two feet long and four inches in diameter, often bright red or yellow in color, and variously decorated at the tip with fur, leaves, or a forked ornament. When I first encountered New Guinea men with phallocarps, among the Ketengban tribe in the Star Mountains [...] I had already heard a lot about them and was curious to see how they were used and how people explained them. It turned out that men wore their phallocarps constantly [...] Each man owns several models, varying in size, ornamentation, and angle of erection, and each day he selects a model to wear according to his mood, much as each morning we select a shirt to wear. In response to my question as to why they wore phallocarps, the Ketengbans replied that they felt naked and immodest without them [despite that they] were otherwise completely naked and left even their testes exposed. In effect, the phallocarp is a conspicuous erect pseudo-penis representing what a man would like to be endowed with. The size of the penis that we evolved was unfortunately limited by the length of a woman's vagina. A phallocarp shows us what the human penis would look like if it were not subject to that practical constraint.

22 November 2011

Cartoon of the Week

Just for a Laugh ...

... go and look at the picture here. Remember to swallow your mouthful of coffee first. And don't depress yourself reading a the inane American comments.

21 November 2011

Hairy Mysteries

We are used to the fact that men grow hair on their heads and faces. And that some men even dare to grow hair on their chests — much to the horror, it seems, of most girls.

We also know that male hair growth is in part related to testosterone levels — or at least the testosterone level at some critical point in their development — as well as genetics.

So why is it that even the hairiest of men don't grow hair round where their shirt collar goes? (There are a few very, very hairy men who do grow hair under their collars, but they are unusual.)

It seems unlikelky that the lack of hair is due to collar abrasion. The area is totally devoid of hair and there is no sign of hair regrowth if collars are not worn. The collar also seems not to affect hair growth in those very hairy men who do grow hair on their necks.

This really does seem to be a genuinely hairless area.

Can anyone explain why this is the case and what evolutionary advantage it might once have had?

Or perphaps to put it another way ... why is facial and chest hair selected for, but neck and shoulder hair mostly isn't?

Lamb's Liver with Fennel and Pasta

Here's a quick, easy, cheap and wholesome meal. It's a variation on my usual theme of chuck it all in a pan until done. So I give you ...

Lamb's Liver with Fennel and Pasta

Serves 2-4 (depending on greed)

You will need:
400-500gm Lambs Liver (roughly sliced into 1x1cm goujons about 5-7cm long)
1 Red Onion (thinly sliced)
1 bulb Fennel (thinly sliced)
Garlic (as much as you like; chopped)
4 or so Ripe Fresh Tomatoes (chopped)
Herbs, Salt, Pepper, Olive Oil, White Wine
250gm Pasta (preferably fresh; shape of your choice)

Cook the pasta.
Meanwhile prepare the other ingredients.
When the pasta is (almost) done, sauté the onion, garlic and fennel in some olive oil until the onion is going translucent.
Now add the liver and herbs. Cook for 2-3 minutes stirring occasionally.
Add the tomatoes, salt & pepper to taste, and leave to cook (if possible with a lid on), stirring occasionally, until the liver is just done (probably about 5 minutes).
If the pan looks like it is getting a bit dry add half a glass of white wine.
You might also like to add something to give it some extra zing: lemon juice (instead of wine), a small amount of chilli, large splash of Worcester Sauce — you get the idea.
When the liver is just done, throw in the pasta and toss it all together for a couple of minutes.
Serve with a glass or few of red wine.


Of course, if you prefer you can serve the liver and the pasta separately.
And you could substitute chicken livers for lamb's liver.

Green Autumn

It's a warm and green autumn in the UK this year. It is mid-November; the daytime temperature is stills several degrees above average; I'm not aware that we've had any frost yet; and the fish in the pond are still feeding (in a normal year they stop feeding for the winter in mid-October).

What's interesting is that it has highlighted something I've known about for some time but which we don't usually see in action so clearly. That's the way in which (deciduous) trees lose their leaves.

As I understand it (and I can find nothing to substantiate this) there are two triggers to autumn leave loss: day length and temperature. Some trees start losing leaves when the hours of daylight fall below some critical point. For other trees the trigger is consistently low temperatures.

No I have no idea exactly what the trigger points are in detail, and I would expect them to vary between species. Some trees may also of course have a combined trigger where day length and temperature both have to fall; and again I would expect this to vary greatly by species.

But it is noticeable this year that some trees have lost their leaves according to much their normal schedule (presumably due to changes in day length triggering the process) and others are still green (where presumably the trigger is a drop in temperature).

Coming back from the supermarket this morning I did a quick, fairly unscientific, check and found:

Trees that have (mostly)
lost their leaves
Trees which are (largely)
still green
Horse Chestnut*
Silver Birch
London Plane

Can anyone confirm that I am right about the triggers and that the trees I see are acting the way they should?

And can someone please arrange some proper cold weather. I don't like these warm winters — if only because they tend to be grey and murky. I'd rather have cold and alpine. And besides, as the old saw goes:

A green Christmas means a fat churchyard.

* Horse Chestnut may be a red herring as most of the trees around here are infected with the leaf-mining moth Cameraria ohridella which is affecting these trees progressively across most of the country. This causes early leaf death.

Word of the Week : Defenestrate


Defenestration. The action of throwing out of a window.

Hence (as a back-formation) defenestrate. To throw out of a window or to exit through the window.

20 November 2011

Quote : Discrimination

It's just as racist to vote for someone on the basis of his ethnic heritage as it is to vote against him.

Teenagers and Sex ...

... go together like, well, err ... rutting animals?

Well maybe not so much.

I've written several times before (eg. here and here) although not recently.

Regular readers will know that I've long advocated the more liberal Dutch approach rather than the American (and British) proscriptively controlling approach. So I was interested to see yet more expert opinion and research supporting this view under the title "What We Can Learn From the Dutch About Teen Sex". The article is inevitably American, but in my view it is just as applicable to the the Vatican, the UK or indeed any culture.

I'll leave it to you to read the complete article and, I suggest, some of the linked items therein. What interesting is that Amy Schalet (author of Not Under My Roof: Parents, Teens and the Culture of Sex) who is being interviewed has experience of both the Dutch and American systems, and based on that experience is firmly of the Dutch persuasion. Here are a few quotes which struck me.
Teen birth rates are eight times higher in the U.S. than in Holland. Abortion rates are twice as high. The American AIDS rate is three times greater than that of the Dutch. What are they doing right ...
[What] I'd noticed with my American friends is that there wasn't a lot of conversation between parents and teens about sexuality and there was a lot of discomfort around the issue ...

Coming out of the sexual revolution the Dutch really decoupled sex from marriage, but they didn't decouple sex from love. If the first piece is that there weren't these immediate associations of teen sex with danger, the second is that it remained anchored in the concept of steady relationships and young people being in love ...

[The Dutch] say 'We permit so we can control' and that's also their attitude toward drugs and prostitution. It's worth pointing out that US teens are more likely to use drugs than the Dutch, even though there are more liberal policies [in the Netherlands].

That idea of 'It's actually a form of control' is for most people in the US counter-intuitive. But if you expect self-control and give people an opportunity to exercise it, you might get more of it ...

Something that did strike me when I came in early '90s to this country [USA] is that one of the differences in the aftermath of the sexual revolution is that Dutch society became a lot more secular.

What stood out to me was that so often [in the US] people seemed to think you can only have morality and a strong social fabric if you believe in a higher authority, a God that would otherwise punish [people]. There isn't a belief that people are naturally cooperative, which lots of research suggests they are.
Schalet then goes on to expound her ABCD approach. Here are the one-liners.
A is autonomy. A lot of times people do realize that adolescents are supposed to develop autonomy during that phase of life, but that doesn't get applied to sex ...
B is build good, positive relationships. We need more emphasis on healthy teen relationships ...
C is connectedness. It's possible to really challenge the assumption that teens and parents have to be at loggerheads ...
D is diversity. A lot of sex education doesn't recognize diversity [and] I don't just mean differences in orientation ...
I wish I knew how we could change the prevailing ethos. It would be so much better.

Listography : Gadgets

Gotta get a gadget? OK. That's easy 'cos Kate's Listography this week is all about gadgets. Our top five gadgets ever. So here goes ...

Washing Machine. Now there are two types of washing machine: the clothes washer and the dish washer. Both fulfil essentially the same function on different commodities. So I'm going to cheat and choose both!

PC. Well I couldn't do above 10% of what I currently do without one. How did anyone run a society, let alone a business, using only a pen, a typewriter and a Roneo machine?

Digital Camera. I like looking at things and trying to make pictures. But I cannot draw for toffee and anyway it takes too long. So I'm glad I learnt photography when young. And then someone invented the digital camera so I don't have to do all that tedious darkroom work.

Spectacles. I've worn specs since I was about 14. That's nearly 50 years (eeek!). They're a part of me and I mostly don't even know I'm wearing them — only true specs wearers will understand the surrealism of trying to wipe your eye only to find you're still wearing your glasses. And I'd be as blind as a at without them.

Biro and Automatic Clutch Pencil. Again I'm going to lump these two together as essential writing implements. I hated the old "dip in the ink-pot pens" as I always ended up with ink everywhere. Fountain pens weren't a lot better. I can't abide blunt pencils but could never sharpen a pencil properly, even with a pencil sharpener and certainly not with a penknife. Good biros and good clutch pencils (I use the Sanford/Papermate PhD range which are so comfortable), while they may not have done a lot for handwriting, have made life so much more amenable. Three cheers for László Bíró and the inventors of the automatic pencil (Tokuji Hayakawa and Charles R Keeran).

So there you have it: seven gadgets for the price of five!

Oh! But wait! I've forgotten the most important gadget of all ... a wife. :-)

19 November 2011

Reasons to be Grateful

This week I've been reading Richard Wiseman's 59 Seconds: Think a Little, Change a Lot. This is a self-help book but with a big difference. As the book blurb says
Welcome to the new science of rapid change. In 59 Seconds psychologist Richard Wiseman exposes modern-day mind myths promoted by the self-help industry, and outlines quick and quirky techniques that help people to achieve their aims in minutes, not months.
And from New Scientist
This is a self-help book, but with a difference: almost everything in it is underpinned by peer-reviewed and often fascinating research. It could actually help you be a little happier, perform better at interviews, procrastinate less, improve your relationships, reduce your stress levels and be a better parent
And it does exactly what it says on the tin!

In the final chapter Wiseman briefly summarises ten things which he could explain in under a minute (the challenge he set himself at the start of the book) and which could make a difference:
  1. Develop the gratitude attitude
  2. Place a picture of a baby in your wallet
  3. Hang a mirror in your kitchen
  4. Buy a pot plant for the office
  5. Touch people lightly on the upper arm
  6. Wite about your relationship
  7. Deal with potential liars by closing your eyes and asking for an email
  8. Praise children's effort over ability
  9. Visualise your self doing, not achieving
  10. Consider your legacy
No they aren't all inherently obvious. And I'm not going to try to explain them here — you'll just have to splash out a few quid on the paperback.

Do they work. Well clearly Wiseman thinks they do. I don't know, although I follow the logic behind most of them. So what I'm going to do is try a little experiment of my own here: and that's try the first on Wiseman's list which he summarises as:
Develop the gratitude attitude
Having people list three things that they are grateful for in life, or three events that have gone especially well over the past week, can significantly increase their level of happiness for about a month. This, in turn, can cause them to be more optimistic about the future and improve their physical health.
So each weekend I'll write a short post about at least three (I'll aim for five) things which have made me happy or which I'm grateful for over the last week. And I'll aim to do this trough to at least the end of 2012. There's no control group so it will be hard to know how well it succeeds, other than maybe my qualitative perceptions — but then that is at least half of what it's all about. Anthony Powell attributes to his character General Conyers in Books Do Furnish a Room:
The General, speaking one felt with authority, always insisted that, if you bring off adequate preservation of your personal myth, nothing much else in life matters. It is not what happens to people that is significant, but what they think happens to them.
So here are my first five things which have made me happy/grateful over the last week:
  1. An excellent Anthony Powell Annual Lecture last evening from Prof. Vernon Bogdanor
  2. Noreen
  3. A stunning flower on our Hibiscus
  4. Sunshine
  5. Beaujolais Nouveau

18 November 2011

Links of the Week

This week's catch-up on things you may have missed, and which I missed writing about. This week: Sex and Science.

Now I know all maps are a 2D projection of a 3D surface, but I'd never realised before quite how many different ways there were of doing the map projections.

Does bestiality increase your risk of penile cancer? Why would anyone even think to want to find out?

First there was the Human Development Index — a sort of generalised national "happiness rating". Then someone decided to add some greenness and turned the whole thing upside down.

Lots of interesting, quick and easy video explanations of physics at Minute Physics. Worth a look — and not just for geeks.

Vulvanomics — on female genital cosmetic surgery. Why would anyone? But then as a fully paid up mail I will never understand.

Antibiotics with a side of steak. Worrying commentary on agribusiness.

And finally ...

Some lucky women are having orgasms in an MRI scanner. Now how cool is that?

But they're doing it to show that only Epilepsy brings more activity to women’s brains than does "self-stimulation" to orgasm.

We live in a strange world!

17 November 2011

Beaujolais Nouveau est arrivée!

Yes, today, the third Thursday in November, is the official release date fr this year's Beaujolais Nouveau.

Being organised I bespoke mine some months ago, especially as the prognostication was this this would be a good year. For the last few years I've ordered from a small wine merchant Nick Dobson Wines who have two excellent Beaujolais suppliers: Philippe Deschamps and Vincent Lacondemine.

My couple of cases (why didn't I buy more?!) arrived this morning.

We waited until this evening to open a bottle. Well actually we opened a bottle of Beaujolais Villages Nouveau from the small vineyard of Vincent Lacondemine. And if you like your Beaujolais, Lacondemine makes some wonderful "proper" Beaujolais Villages which aren't outlandishly expensive (I don't buy outlandishly expensive wine).

It came straight out of the bottle, into the glass and down the gullet. And it was brilliant — it is every bit as good as last year's stunner. A deep raspberry red in colour, with a hit of blackcurrant. Exceptionally fruity. A slight raw, acidic edge but much less than one would expect from Nouveau. And none of the so frequent yeasty taste. Like all Nouveau this is a drinking wine, not a keeping wine. It will probably be past it's best by Christmas. (OK, so that's why I didn't buy more.)

If you haven't got to this year's Nouveau yet, it is well worth it. But you'll likely not get any from Nick Dobson as he has (all but) sold out — as he deals with such small vineyards and buys not a lot more than he has pre ordered. Obviously I can't say what other vintners have produced, but if they're anything like the one bottle we've swallowed so far it will be good.

Definitely a Red Wine Letter Day!

Quotes of the Week

The usual eclectic and eccentric mix this week ...

If you can't see the bright side of life ... then polish the dull side.

Wear short sleeves ... Support your right to bare arms!
Thoughts of Angel

The very concept of "average" necessarily implies variability.
Emily Nakoski, On monkeys, bullshit, and scale

I hold this truth to be self-evident, that a debt crisis cannot be resolved with more debt.
Hellasious on Quantum Economics

It seems to me that our three basic needs, for food and security and love, are so mixed and mingled and entwined that we cannot straightly think of one without the others.
MFK Fisher quoted in Why Do People Eat Too Much?

Ponder less on what you yourself perhaps think than on what will be the thoughts of the majority of others who, carried away by your authority or your reasons, become persuaded that the terrestrial globe moves among the planets. They will conclude at first that, if the earth is doubtless one of the planets and also has inhabitants, then it is well to believe that inhabitants exist on other planets and are not lacking in the fixed stars, that they are even of a superior nature and in proportion as the other stars surpass the earth in size and perfection. This will raise doubts about Genesis, which says that the earth was made before the stars and that they were created on the fourth day to illuminate the earth ... then in turn the entire economy of the Word incarnate and of scriptural truth will be rendered suspect.
17th-century Rector of the College of Dijon writing to the priest-scientist Pierre Gassendi. With thanks to Barnaby Page.

14 November 2011

World Diabetes Day

Today is World Diabetes Day.

Who knew? I certainly didn't and I have diabetes! So they've kept that one quiet. Or was I asleep? Yeah, probably.

Think you don't need to read this? It'll never happen to you, will it? Think again. Do the Diabetes Risk Assessment. And then read on anyway.

On this day Diabetes UK are asking us to highlight the 15 healthcare essentials which they see as a basic right of all diabetics. Many are surely the basic healthcare rights of everyone.

I've listed these 15 healthcare essentials below with a note of when should get them done and how well I do against this.
  1. Get your blood glucose levels measured. Annual blood test. Check.
  2. Have your blood pressure measured. At least annually. Check.
  3. Have your blood fats (cholesterol) measured. Annual blood test. Check.
  4. Have your eyes looked checked. Annual. Check.
  5. Have your legs and feet checked. Annual. Check.
  6. Have your kidney functions monitored. Annual blood and urine tests. Check.
  7. Have your weight checked. As required. Check.
  8. Get support if you are a smoker. As required. N/A
  9. Receive care planning to meet your individual needs. As required. Never really needed this.
  10. Attend an education course. At initial diagnosis. I've only recently been offered this after 6 years.
  11. Receive paediatric care if you are a child. As required. N/A
  12. Receive high quality care if admitted to hospital. As required. Yes, on the odd occasion it's been needed.
  13. Get information and specialist care if you are planning to have a baby. As required. N/A
  14. See specialist diabetes healthcare professionals. As required but at least annually. Check.
  15. Get emotional and psychological support. As required. Not needed anything specific.
Well I've actually done better than I thought. Really only the education has been badly missed.

And as you'll see little if any of this is onerous. And it is definitely worth doing as these simple actions can head off (or at least catch very early) the common long-term complications of diabetes: heart disease, retinopathy, neuropathy and kidney disease.

You can find more details about each of these here.

[46/52] Hibiscus

[46/52] Hibiscus
Click the image for a larger version.

Late last week, so early this week ... here's my week 46 entry for 52 weeks challenge.

We had this gorgeous flower out on our Hibiscus yesterday. It was absolutely stunning. Really what more is there to say?

Word of the Week : Verisimilitude


1. The appearance of being true or real; likeness or resemblance to truth, reality, or fact.

2. A statement etc. which has the mere appearance or show of being true or in accordance with fact; an apparent truth.

Listography - Random

Yet again I've not done Kate's Listography for a few weeks, in part because she has used several weeks of Listography space running a Top 5 Toys for Christmas survey for which I wasn't eligible ('cos her rule said "parents only").

But this week we're back to normal and I'll let Kate herself introduce this week's exam:
This week's Listography is simple but with a very wide scope — Top 5 Random Things I Like.

Just one word of warning though - random is not 'I like chocolate' — that's just not going to cut it round here. However 'I like chocolate sauce with my chips' is getting a bit warmer.
So, in the hope that my choices are whacky enough, here we go ...
  1. Wasps. They generally get a bad rap, and I would agree can be annoying. But they are superb creatures and wonderful predators. Without them we'd be knee deep in creepy crawlies.
  2. Plane Crashes. Not because I like seeing people hurt or killed. Of course I don't and I wouldn't wish it on anyone. No, my interest is forensic and analytical: I like to try to see if I can work out guess what happened and why. Think of it as a giant puzzle game.
  3. Curry with Avocado, Banana and Mayonnaise on the Side. Yep it works really well. Chopped avocado and chopped banana. Mayonnaise instead of yoghurt dressing (although I like that too). It's a nice combination of flavours and contrasts of hot and cooling.
  4. Latin Liturgy. Despite not being at all religious — indeed I'm anti-religious — I do find that proper Tridentine Latin Mass does something to me. Well it is a spell, isn't it?!
  5. Deep-fried Haggis. Yep again this works wonderfully well. I first met it 40 years ago when a student: the chip shop nearest the university in York used to sell it. Sausage-sized haggis, thickly battered and deep fried. And bloody good it was too especially on a cold winter's night after a few pints. Sadly I don't recall seeing anyone doing it since. And anyone want to try deep fried black pudding — I reckon that would be good too.
So there you are. I'm sure I have more interesting "random likes" than this but they escape me for now. Anyone care to add to the list?

12 November 2011

[45/52] Scouts

[45/52] Scouts
Click the image for a larger version.

Week 45 entry for 52 weeks challenge.

No time for any decent photography this week, so we've dug deep into the archives again.

This is from about 1964/5. I'm the urchin in the poncy white gloves leading the SE Hertfordshire District Scouts St George's Day Parade. Although I have Patrol Leader's stripes I can't be more than 14 as I'm not wearing glasses.

Those were the days when shorts were mandatory, even for Scout Masters, although thank heaven we didn't have to try to maintain those old style hats.

Photograph, probably by my father, taken at Turnford, Cheshunt, outside the then Rochford's Sports Ground. The road is what was then the main A10 to Cambridge (it's been bypassed now and is the A1170).

11 November 2011

Links of the Week

A collection of the curious and interesting you may have missed. This week we have a selcetion of the eccentric and the scientific ...

First up here are nine equations true (science) geeks should know — or at least pretend to know. No I'd never heard of some of them either!

Why is this cargo container emitting so much radiation? Seems fairly obvious to me but it clearly puzzled the Italians.

Science, philosophy and religion: which best offers us the tools to understand the world around us? Here's the scientist's view, which is much as expected but still interesting to read.

John Lennon's tooth bought by Canadian dentist. FFS why?

And finally ... They're baffling but they're rather splendid. Who left a tree and a coffin in the library?

10 November 2011

Quantum Economics

This is an old one, but given the current dire situation of a good proportion of the Euro-zone countries, it seems strangely apposite — again!
Quantum Economics

The discussion of the creation of money and debt puts me in mind of the creation of virtual particle/antiparticle pairs in the vacuum. I wonder how many other Quantum Physics concepts can be applied to money.

Cash is not continuous but exists in discreet levels. The smallest quantum of money is called the Plank Penny.

Like energy and matter, money can be converted into things and vice versa. However during the conversion some money is always lost to a form of entropy called VAT.

It is not possible to be absolutely sure of both where your money is and how much it is worth. Finding out how much your money is really worth involves spending it which destroys the money. This is called the Uncertainty Principle.

Large accumulations of money distort the economic space around them producing an effect comparable to gravity. This is called the Million Pound Note effect.

Large accumulations of debt (anti-money) also have the effect of attracting more debt. Eventually the debt can collapse under its own weight forming a black hole. The space near a black hole is characterised by strong economic distortions such as hyperinflation and large amounts of spin.

The three laws of thermodynamics, apply equally to economics:
1. you can't win
2. you can't break even
3. you can't get out of the game.

And the final reason why economics is like quantum physics? If you think you understand it, then you don't really understand it at all.

Click the image for a larger version

09 November 2011

Ten Things - November

Number 11 in my 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 about me.
  1. Something I Like: Beaujolais Nouveau (This year's is supposed to be even better than last year's which was superb; and it'll be here in a few days time!)
  2. Something I Won't Do: Plumbing
  3. Something I Want To Do: Visit Norway & Sweden
  4. A Blog I Like: Cocktail Party Physics
  5. A Book I Like: Douglas Adams, Hitch-Hikers Guide to the Galaxy
  6. Some Music I Like: Handel, Messiah
  7. A Food I Like: Pizza
  8. A Food or Drink I Dislike: Sweet Potatoes
  9. A Word I Like: Mendicant
  10. A Quote I Like: The universe is not only queerer than we suppose, but queerer than we can suppose. [JBS Haldane]

Fact of the Week : English Words

English possesses about 750,000 words of which some 100,000 are obsolete.

[AC Grayling, The Form of Things]

Fukushima Revisited

I've not written recently about the nuclear disaster in Japan following March's earthquake and tsunami. This is largely because there has been little in the way of new news. However a few days ago an IEEE Spectrum report was released which looks at the first 24 hours at the nuclear facility following the earthquake and highlights some of the design and procedural errors which exacerbated the disaster.

Although the situation in the reactors was clearly far worse than we had been led to believe, I'll not extract the report here: you can read a summary on-line. And it is worth reading: it's clear, lucid, gives a flavour of just how complex these situations really are, how much wasn't know (or wasn't told) and how people react under extreme pressure.

What I will do is mention the six major lessons which have been highlighted by the report, with the inevitable handful of comments. This should be sufficient to show where there were errors in the design of plant and procedure. Before that there's one important thing to note:
[The] report is based on interviews with officials from the Tokyo Electric Power Co. (TEPCO), Japan's Nuclear and Industrial Safety Agency, the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission, the International Atomic Energy Agency, local governments, and with other experts in nuclear engineering, as well as a review of hundreds of pages of official reports.
So it isn't just make-believe; it should be good stuff. Anyway here are those lessons:

Lesson 1. Emergency generators should be installed at high elevations or in watertight chambers.
Sounds obvious, doesn't it. But it all comes down to good risk analysis. If you aren't expecting significant flooding it makes great sense to put plant, especially emergency generators etc., on the ground: they're excessively heavy and when operating generate huge amounts of noise and vibration.

LESSON 2. If a cooling system is intended to operate without power, make sure all of its parts can be manipulated without power.
Again sounds obvious when stated like that, but far too easy to overlook, although good design reviews should have picked this up.

LESSON 3. Keep power trucks [mobile emergency generators] on or very close to the power plant site.
Why would we do that? Isn't a central facility more cost effective? In this case no, it may not be!

LESSON 4. Install independent and secure battery systems to power crucial instruments during emergencies.
Same comment as for Lesson 2.

LESSON 5. Ensure that catalytic hydrogen recombiners (power-free devices that turn dangerous hydrogen gas back into steam) are positioned at the tops of reactor buildings where gas would most likely collect.
You're never going to get a big build-up of hydrogen inside a containment building are you. Wait: isn't that what a containment building is for? But be honest, how many of us would have thought of this?

LESSON 6. Install power-free filters on vent lines to remove radio-active materials and allow for venting that won't harm nearby residents.
Again, see Lesson 2.

What remains clear to me is that the plant, the systems and the procedures worked correctly, and were implemented correctly, as they were designed. What failed is the 40-year-old design and the procedures which didn't go far enough in their disaster scenario planning.

We would (and do) do much better now and will do even better as a result of this disaster. Because of its safety critical nature, the nuclear industry is like the aviation industry: every accident (and near-accident) is analysed for the underlying root cause(s) and there is a culture of incremental improvements and (where necessary/possible) of retro-fitting improvements. Notwithstanding the fact that Fukushima was (and is) a disaster, exacerbated by continuing failures in transparency and communication, I see this as a positive experience which should make nuclear power safer and more acceptable — not the reverse.

The biggest disaster is the effect on the displaced and frightened people which is largely psychological and social rather than medical; and that's in large part down to the obfuscation and half-truths of the TEPCO and Japanese government communications. One day governments will learn that total transparency is the only safe course of action.

Poppy Off

So FIFA have decreed that the England football team may not wear poppies on their shirts during their friendly match against Spain this coming Saturday. This is on the grounds that:
Fifa decrees that shirts should not carry political, religious or commercial messages. "Such initiatives would open the door to similar initiatives from all over the world, jeopardising the neutrality of football," [FIFA] said.
I'm with FIFA. For once they're absolutely right. If an exception is made in this instance it'll be made for every other instance. The words "wedge", "thin" and "end" come to mind.

Moreover someone has to stand up to this sycophantic poppy nonsense. As I wrote last year, I'm not saying we should forget all about the wars for the liberation of Europe, the bravery, the fallen, etc. But the whole thing is so totally out of hand one dare not do anything but go along with it. It's dictatorial; it's sycophantic; and it's backward looking. We need to turn round and be going forward in happiness, thanks and peace; not looking backward in a sugar-coated, maudlin, pseudo-Christian, glorification of war. Yeuch!

I don't expect other people to agree with me — although I can hope that some will. But it is only if dissident voices are heard that opinions (on anything) will ever change and progress will be made.

08 November 2011

Cartoon of the Week : Books

Click the image for a larger version.

07 November 2011

Word of the Week : Amaranth


1. An imaginary flower reputed never to fade; a fadeless flower (as a poetic conception).
2. A genus of ornamental plants (Amarantus, family Amarantaceæ) with coloured foliage, of which the Prince's Feather and Love-lies-bleeding are species.
3. A purple colour, being that of the foliage of Amarantus.
4. A yellow amaranth: A composite plant (Helichrysum Stœchas).

05 November 2011

[44/52] Vintage Speed

[44/52] Vintage Speed
Week 44 entry for 52 weeks challenge.

There were a a few vintage cars wandering around the Mayfair/Bayswater area of London this afternoon, presumably having been on display/parade in Regent Street ahead of tomorrow's London to Brighton run. They're a real challenge to photograph in amongst all the other traffic especially as many are so small they tend to hide. In the end I managed to take this from the passenger seat of our car as we overtook one on the Bayswater Road near Lancaster Gate tube station.

04 November 2011

Joseph Campbell

From time to time I dip into all manner of curious authors, often returning to them at protracted intervals. One such is the late Joseph Campbell (1904-1987) the American mythologist and author who is best known for his work in comparative mythology and religion. He was one of those early/mid-20th century polymaths who managed to see deeply into everything and extract paradigm shifting ideas and ways of explaining things. His words invariably make one think long, hard and deep — even when they at the same time contain a certain throwaway humour.

So I thought I'd share with you a few I picked, some while ago, from an anthology of his work compiled posthumously. In no particular order ...

Our Purpose
When we talk about settling the world's problems, we're barking up the wrong tree. The world is perfect. It's a mess. It has always been a mess. We are not going to change it. Our job is to straighten out our own lives.

If you go into marriage with a program, you will find that it won't work. Successful marriage is leading innovative lives together, being open, non-programmed. It's a free fall: how you handle each new thing as it comes along. As a drop of oil on the sea, you must float, using intellect and compassion to ride the waves.

Spiritual Need
If what you are following, however, is your own true adventure, if it is something appropriate to your deep spiritual need or readiness, then magical guides will appear to help you.

People ask me, "What can we have for rituals?" Well, what do you want to have a ritual for? You should have a ritual for your life. All a ritual does is concentrate your mind on the implications of what you are doing. For instance, the marriage ritual is a meditation on the step you are taking in learning to become a member of a duad, instead of one individual all alone. The ritual enables you to make the transit.
Ritual introduces you to the meaning of what's going on. Saying grace before meals lets you know that you're about to eat something that once was alive. When eating a meal, realize what you are doing. Hunting peoples thank the animal for having given itself. They feel real gratitude.

Vegetarianism is the first turning away from life, because life lives on lives. Vegetarians are just eating something that can't run away.

When we talk about scientific truth — just as when we talk about God — we are in trouble, because truth has different meanings. William James said, and it's valid, "Truth is what works".
The idea of Truth with a capital "T" — that there is something called Truth that's beyond the range of the relativity of the human mind trying to think — is what I call "the error of the found truth". The trouble with all of these damned preachers is the error of the found truth. When they get that tremolo in the voice and tell you what God has said, you know you've got a faker. When people think that they, or their guru, have The Truth — "This is It!" — they are what Nietzsche calls "epileptics of the concept": people who have gotten an idea that's driven them crazy.

Those women were going around in tents! Even their eyes were covered with cheesecloth, so you did not know if it was an old hag or a glorious goddess walking around. And you can't respond to a tent.

"Any object, intensely regarded, may be a gate of access to the incorruptible eon of the gods". That is James Joyce. The statement is quoted in Ulysses by Buck Mulligan. The situation is that Leopold Bloom, thinking of his home problem, is looking intently at a red triangle on the label of a bottle of Bass ale. When someone starts to disturb Bloom, Mulligan stops him, saying "preserve a druid silence. His soul is far away. It is as painful perhaps to be awakened from a vision as to be born. Any object, intensely regarded, may be a gate of access" and so on.

There is a wonderful line in the Portrait [of the Artist as a Young Man, by James Joyce], where Stephen's friend, who's been hearing all this heretical stuff, asks if he intends to become a Protestant. "I said that I had lost the faith," Stephen replies, "but not that I had lost my self-respect. What kind of liberation would that be to forsake an absurdity which is logical and coherent and to embrace one which is illogical and incoherent?”

The obvious lesson ... is that the first step to the knowledge of the highest divine symbol of the wonder and mystery of life is in the recognition of the monstrous nature of life and its glory in that character: the realization that this is just how it is and that it cannot and will not be changed. Those who think — and their name is legion — that they know how the universe could have been better than it is, how it would have been had they created it, without pain, without sorrow, without time, without life, are unfit for illumination. Or those who think — as do many — "Let me first correct society, then get around to myself" are barred from even the outer gate of the mansion of God's peace. All societies are evil, sorrowful, inequitable; and so they will always be. So if you really want to help this world, what you will have to teach is how to live in it. And that no one can do who has not himself learned how to live in it in the joyful sorrow and sorrowful joy of the knowledge of life as it is.

A bit of advice given to a young Native American at the time of his initiation: "As you go the way of life, you will see a great chasm. Jump. It is not as wide as you think".

I'm currently dipping into The Power of Myth, so expect some more of the above in due course.

Links of the Week

This weeks collection of the curious and interesting you may have missed ...

Lord Norwich makes some sly remarks about Popes. But how does he know what Pope Nicholas V was like?

Now apparently out gut bacteria may be causing obesity. And you thought it was because I ate too much.

Scientists also think they've discovered why some of us hate Brussels Sprouts. Yes it's all in the genetics, and our taste buds.

In other news, speculation is rife that Palaeolithic man went in for piercing his penis. It all sounds pretty tenuous to me, but then there's nothing new under the foreskin sun.

And finally ... And finally someone in "authority" has come to realise that what we've been saying all these years might just be helpful: prostitution could be solved by decriminalising brothels. Government: smell the coffee ... it ain't going to go away and if you licence it you can tax it!

03 November 2011

Quotes of the Week: Sublime & Ridiculous

The Tuesday scowls, the Wednesday growls, the Thursday curses, the Friday howls, the Saturday snores, the Sunday yawns, the Monday morns, the Monday morns. The whacks, the moans, the cracks, the groans, the welts, the squeaks, the belts, the shrieks, the pricks, the prayers, the kicks, the tears, the skelps, and the yelps.
[Samuel Beckett, Watt]

The moon lives twenty-eight days and this is our month. Each of these days represents something sacred to us: two of the days represent the Great Spirit; two are for Mother Earth; four are for the four winds; one is for the Spotted Eagle; one for the sun; and one for the moon; one is for the Morning Star; and four are for the four ages; seven for our seven great rites; one is for the buffalo; one for the fire; one for the water; one for the rock; and finally, one is for the two-legged people. If you add all these days up you will see that they come to twenty-eight. You should know also that the buffalo has twenty-eight ribs, and that in our war bonnets we usually wear twenty-eight feathers. You see, there is a signif­icance for everything, and these are things that are good for men to know and to remember.
[Black Elk, quoted somewhere I now forget by Joseph Campbell]

Moyers: What happens when a society no longer embraces a powerful mythology?
Campbell: What we've got on our hands. If you want to find out what it means to have a society without any rituals, read the New York Times.
Moyers: And you'd find?
Campbell: The news of the day, including destructive and violent acts by young people who don't know how to behave in a civilized society.
Moyers: Society has provided them no rituals by which they become members of the tribe, of the community. All children need to be twice born, to learn to function rationally in the present world, leaving childhood behind ...
Campbell: That's exactly it. That's the significance of the puberty rites. In primal societies, there are teeth knocked out, there are scarifications, there are circumcisions, there are all kinds of things done. So you don't have your little baby body any more, you're something else entirely.
When I was a kid, we wore short trousers, you know, knee pants. And then there was a great moment when you put on long pants. Boys now don't get that. I see even five-year-olds walking around with long trousers. When are they going to know that they're now men and must put aside childish things?
Moyers: Where do the kids growing up in the city — on 125th and Broadway, for example — where do these kids get their myths today?
Campbell: They make them up themselves. This is why we have graffiti all over the city. These kids have their own gangs and their own initiations and their own morality, and they're doing the best they can ... they have not been initiated into our society.
[Joseph Campbell; The Power of Myth]

Out of this scrimmage Thomas Drury emerges as something of an orchestrator, an impresario of knaveries …
[Charles Nicholl, The Reckoning: The Murder of Christopher Marlowe, 2nd edition, 2002]

A fair hot wench in flame-coloured taffeta.
[Shakespeare, I Henry IV, I ii]

02 November 2011

Fact of the Week

There are many strange, and strangely named, diseases in the world. This includes one known as

Motley Dwarf Disease

No it isn't a non-PC comment about persons of limited stature but a viral disease of carrots.

More on Greece

Thinking more about the Greek situation last evening, I realised there was one thing I hadn't said — and which is picked up today by the news reports.

Papandreou clearly knows that in order to make the rescue deal work he has to take the Greek people with him. But that ain't about to happen just because he (or anyone else) dictates the deal. So they have to agree voluntarily and than means getting them to vote in favour of the deal. Hence he has to hold a referendum — however much is pisses off Merkel and Sarkozy. Fortunately the Greek Cabinet seem to have got the message.

01 November 2011


I don't normally blog about politics, economics, etc. but I'm amused that the Greeks are playing chicken with the world monetary system and planning to hold a referendum on whether to accept the deal brokered last week by Germany and France.

From Papandreou's point of view I guess he figures he has little to lose as outlined by Robert Peston on BBC News. Whatever he does he knows Greece will be a pariah. And by holding a referendum, what ever the outcome is, it won't be Papandreou's fault — the people not the government will have made the decision.

So what are the possible outcomes. Not good whatever the Greeks decide.

Greek parliament ...
It seems to me that in calling a referendum Papandreou is hoping it will stimulate a paradigm shift in the brains of his party members opposing the deal. But news reports seem to indicate this is unlikely and that there will be fierce parliamentary opposition to a referendum. If parliament reject a referendum (or indeed the deal) then the Greek government falls. That might be as catastrophic as the Greek people rejecting the deal, and will be further uncertainty which will force the markets even further downwards (they are falling already).

If the Greek people accept the deal ...
Well they may as well be turkeys voting for Christmas as all they'll get is austerity and yet more austerity.
But the Euro and the banks get a reprieve for a year or so until the next round of threatened defaults by one of the bankrupt Euro-zone countries. Oh that's all of them then!

If the Greeks reject the deal ...
Greece has little choice but to default on it's debts.
While this will save the Greek government the repayments, it ain't going to do much 'cos they'll still have no money and not be able to borrow any. So the people will still get austerity.
And once Greece defaults there will be a domino effect. Italy, Spain and Ireland will likely follow suit.
Which means France will lose it's AAA credit rating and Germany will ultimately end up picking up the tab for the whole of Europe.
That in turn will likely bring down the Euro, a number of world banks and possibly even the EU.
Which is going to be messy because the world leaders — and especially France, Germany and the USA (whose banks are also hock deep in all this) — can't afford to let this happen.

So from a Greek perspective it looks like a "heads we lose, tails we don't win" scenario; either way the Greek people lose.
And from everyone else's point of view it's "heads we can't win, tails we lose everything"; the best that happens is the next banking crisis is postponed by a few months.

And whatever the Greeks now do, they manage to piss off Merkel and Sarkozy big time — even bigger time than they have already. The meeting between Papandreou, Merkel and Sarkozy scheduled for later this week could be fiery, to say the least.

Plus Greece is on the slippery slope to becoming a third world country.

Interesting times we live in, innit?!