Monday, 29 December 2008

Hyde Hall RHS garden

It was pretty cold yesterday and we decided we wanted to get out of the house and do something, rather than sit and read all day, which does tend to be the default option right now. So we got in the car and drove to Hyde Hall, just south of Chelmsford. Hyde Hall is an RHS (Royal Horticultural Society) garden we've visited a few times before and which we very much like. Things thriving outside there are likely to survive in our garden, so it's always interesting to wander around.

It was lunchtime when we arrived, and we were feeling a tad peckish, so first stop was the restaurant. I was slightly concerned as we seemed to be the only visitors, and I thought they'd not open the restaurant if there was no-one to serve, but in fact, most of the visitors were inside the restaurant ahead of us.

Normally I don't eat a huge lunch, but I think my body had decided to start making up for the poor appetite of the previous week, and I dived into the roast pork from the carvery with a vengeance. And roast potatoes and peas and carrots. Lovely! A real pleasure to actually feel hunger and have the opportunity to sate it.
The garden was interesting, too, in a quiet, mid-winter way. Not much in flower, of course, but lots of interesting textures and plenty of cornus shrubs, with brightly coloured stems. I stole a couple of pictures off the net to show you.

The hares were made of what looked like electrical cable, and I thought were completely wonderful.












Sunday, 28 December 2008

A Technical Networking Problem

If any of you is or knows a PC networking expert, you may be able to help me solve a problem. For the rest of you, please ignore this post, as it is unlikely to evoke your enthusiasm!

My home network consists of a Belkin ADSL wifi router (192.168.2.1), a PC, a wireless printer and that's about it. Downstairs, for the purposes of the film-fest, I have a media server, which really should be connected to the internet, so I also brought home a Lynksys wifi router.

Once the media server was set up and working, I tried to install the wifi router. It should be simple. All I have to do is configure it to not give out IP addresses and it should receive its own IP address from the router upstairs. But no, it will not communicate. I made the Belkin the default gateway and DNS1, by the way.

I think the problem is that the Lynksys defaults to 192.168.1.1, so is listening on a different net. I've tried giving it a static IP address 192.168.2.200 (the Belkin gives out addresses between 2 and 100) without success. It just disappears entirely and I have to reset to factory defaults. I wanted to change the subnet mask to 255.255.0.0 but the Lynksys only offers about 8 alternative values from a drop-down list (255.255.255.n), and won't let you enter anything manually.

There's clearly something fairly simple I've overlooked, but I've no idea what it is. It's not critical for the film-fest, but it would make it better. At the moment about 20% of the movies I've loaded don't have any metadata associated with them - names of artists, director, any synopsis information, cover art, etc. They didn't look up cleanly when I loaded them, and I can only sort it out properly with an internet connection. Not the end of the world, since the films show just as well without.

Hope someone can help!

Unexpected Success!

To my surprise, when I woke up on Boxing Day, I felt pretty much normal. I was still coughing like a goodun, but I could breathe, and I felt good, and Jenny was also better, though she hadn't made as good progress. We were still pretty dubious about actually singing, but definitely felt much more positive about the whole venture.

Driving to collect Jane, we realised that the week's illness had also induced amnesia, and I'd neglected to fill the car with diesel, so we'd have to do that first. The Esso garage was closed, Tesco had queues, then the Shell was closed, then the next Tesco only had 2 pumps operating and a long line of cars.

We decided that Jane should drive, since she knew a good route through London, so swapped drivers, then pulled off at Stevenage and, to our joy, the Sainsbury there was both open and queue-free, so the worrying yellow light was extinguished.

Leaving Stevenage at 12, I was completely convinced we were going to be late, but I was utterly wrong (never happened before, of course!) and we rolled into the Dean's yard at 12.50, and found a parking spot right outside the door!

My coughing gradually faded away, so that in the service itself it was no worse than anyone elses, and it all went pretty well. The worst error was not the choir's, but the guy singing the Responses. He did one of them twice, which rather threw us. I think enough of the choir realised to repeat the one we'd just done again, so that was OK. The church was not full, despite the promises that had been made, but there was still a decent number of folks there, and the clergy were very welcoming. The only thing that went wrong for me was that my nose started to bleed during the first reading. Oh ta very much, that's just perfect. Fortunately, it stopped pretty quickly.

Back home, Jane reappeared after dinner and we watched Ratatouille, which was lovely.

Thursday, 25 December 2008

An Interesting Challenge

Tomorrow, some of the Priory Singers are making up numbers for Collegiate Singers who are doing Choral Evensong in Westminster Abbey. We've been looking forward to this for ages, of course.

Sadly, over the past week, Jenny and I have had really bad colds, which don't show much sign of shifting. We're listless and lethargic, have fluxuating temperatures, aching limbs, some quite violent sneezing and a really rich, fruity, bubbly cough. The persistent cough has given me a pretty sore throat, while Jenny has managed to pull an intercostal (between-ribs) muscle making sneezing and coughing really painful.
Edit: Oh yes, I forgot; and a savage loss of appetite. Perfect for Christmas Day. I've lost 2 kilos since Saturday.

So we're well set up to sing evensong with a bunch of much higher-standard singers in one of Britain's top, prestigious churches. Oh yes.

J & I had a run through the music today, standing by the piano, and it actually wasn't that bad, but I can just tell that when we stand up in the Abbey and take a deep breath, we'll dissolve into coughing fits, the way you do. So we'll go, but expect to spend the time in the congregation.

We expect to listen to

Infant Holy, Infant Lowly (CC1)
Reading Responses
Dyson in F
Rutter: Nativity Carol (CC2)

and I 'm sure it will be lovely. Abbey should be packed, too, I gather. Shame I'll not be singing.

Wednesday, 24 December 2008

Always the bloody same!

So I borrowed some high-tech hard-drive video equipment from work and have organised a film-fest with our usual bunch of friends. Just asking for trouble, of course! The idea is to hook up the new equipment to an overhead digital projector, showing as many movies as we can cram in, on a large, pull-down screen, with the sound wired through the hi-fi.

Sounds simple, but in the end, I dismantled everything in the hi-fi cabinet, introduced some rationality into the spaghetti at the back, and started plugging it all in. Before I got too far, I thought I'd just check some of the basic functionality - does the sound work, frinstance.

Bummer! Only one channel. Can I fix it? I can not. I've tried all the wires, and it really does start to feel like something in the pre-amp, but it's pretty hard to be certain. I'm not a hi-fi engineer and haven't a clue how to start diagnosing where exactly the problem is. There are many things I can fix, and this tends to make me over-confident, so I suppose it's no surprise Jenny said "But you always break it when you touch the hi-fi!" Thanks Jen! Fortunately she followed that with "And then you fix it!"

Now in one respect, we're very lucky, because the kit was made by Quad in the mid-70's (it was seriously expensive, but has worked fantastically well every since) and Quad just happen to have their HQ in Huntingdon, not 30 miles from here, so I can take it over there and have them fix it. I know they will do this, because I've had it serviced there a couple of times.

But not in time for the film-fest.

I am going to have to investigate the possibility of hiring something. I think I'll give Sevenoaks a ring on Saturday.

And here's a tip for others amongst you with a pile of spaghetti lurking - if you can lay hands on some 2cm diameter plastic pipe (I use grey, but it also comes in white, blue and various other colours) you can use it to tame some of the wires. Cut a 10cm length (tenon saw, hacksaw, even junior hacksaw) and then saw it lengthways on just one side. In other words, it's split lengthways but is still a cylinder. Concertina your cable and push the bunch into the split pipe.
Oh all right, here's a (slightly blurry) photo.
You can buy a helical strip of plastic to tame cables, but I just use left-over water pipe, which is effectively free. Of course, this is not likely to be a useful suggestion to anyone living in a one-room flat, for which I apologise.

Finally, I'd like to wish the Christians amongst you a very sincere happy Christmas! Just because I don't believe in your gods, doesn't mean I can't send you my very best wishes in this festive season.

And for the rest, have a very happy Mythmas!

Later: having given up on the audio problem, I was clearing up, including installing the hard-drive video stuff, and fired it up, just to make sure the video side was OK, confident audio was still broken. Behold, audio from the new kit was fine, so we've just watched Blackadder's Christmas Carol, which seemed rather appropriate. So there's clearly nothing wrong with the kit, and it really must be my having broken the wiring. I'll have another go tomorrow. Well, what else would you do after opening your presies?

Monday, 22 December 2008

Champagne Lunch!

Lorna, Jenny, Jane and I decided last night to meet up today in Cambridge for lunch, since they were all going to be there anyway, and I work only just out of town and could easily get in.

We met in All Bar One which we all quite like. When I arrived, Jenny was at the bar organising drinks, so I joined the rest at the table. After a while, Jenny appeared with a bottle of Moët & Chandon and champagne flutes.

Oh yes, we say, what's the celebration? Answer: Jenny got her NERC grant approved! Hooray! This is such a wonderful Christmas present, but I guess I'm going to need to explain it a bit.

NERC is the Natural Environment Research Council, which is a government body (ie you and me!) that funds science projects. It's ludicrously over-subscribed, so of course, you stand almost no chance of actually getting your project funded. I suspect Jenny had given up all hope of getting this grant, and we still won't know until January whether she's got everything she applied for or only a proportion, but even so....

Wha-heyyyyyyyyy! (dances around the office!)

Saturday, 20 December 2008

Friday Night Fast Food

With an apology to Jane, who should have been enjoying curried grey squirrel with me this evening!

This took half an hour, and yes, it is intended to make you salivate! Tesco Finest rumpsteak, matured for 28 days. No idea what breed, but it was pretty tasty. I hate buying stuff from Tesco, but I needed something easy on Friday night, and a 2-pack suited my mood. Hence the need to get the other one out of the freezer just now.

Potatoes: dice, toss in olive oil, add dried mixed herbs, garlic if you want, black pepper and salt. Toss again to coat evenly, stick on a baking tray in the oven flat out for 20 mins or so. You'll need to turn them a couple of times with a fish slice or they'll stick to the baking tray.

Courgettes: fried in olive oil with black mustard seed. Get the oil hot, chuck in half a tsp mustard seed and put the lid on. When you hear the mustard seed exploding, add the courgette, turn down and fry for a few minutes until done.

Steak: I use a cast iron frying pan. Add a little oil or butter and get it smoking hot. Put in the steak and cover with one of those mesh anti-spatter things to try to keep the hob reasonably clean. Give it a couple of minutes on each side. Be careful here: Add a slug of brandy and tip the pan so the fumes catch light from the gas. (Ah yes, for other heat sources, you'll need a match or lighter). Shake the pan to put out the flames before the brandy has all gone. If you're not quick enough, stick in some more but don't ignite it. This is what makes the minimal amount of sauce you get with this dish.

If any blood has oozed out of the steak while it was in the fridge, remove the steak to the dining plate and stir in the blood. If no blood or you need more sauce, you can add cream, yoghurt or crême fraîche. Or you can use white wine. The alcohol deglazes the juices in the pan and gives you a yummy sauce, but it's true I often end up with not enough.

Serve immediately and pat yourself on the back for making fast food worth eating.

Rick Warren at the Inaugural. Wrong in so many ways.

This is a really interesting essay by Greg Laden, so I thought I'd post the first paragraph and a link.

Category: GLBTAPoliticsReligion

Posted on: December 20, 2008 12:06 PM, by Greg Laden

In my opinion, having Pastor Rick Warren give the invocation at Barack Obama's inaugural is a mistake, but it is a complicated, meaningful mistake that calls for a certain amount of analysis.

Rick Warren at the Inaugural. Wrong in so many ways.

Poorly Sick in bed

On Tuesday Jenny started showing symptoms of that rather nasty cold that's going the rounds, and on Thursday just sat huddled in a corner throughout the carol service, though she perked up a bit when we retired to the conductor's for cottage pie and a few drinks. She really didn't want to be ill, because on Friday she caught a train up to Glasgow where today she has just given the annual address to the Palaeontological Association's 52nd annual symposium. The talk was scheduled for 5.15 so I assume will have finished about 20 minutes ago. Hope she's feeling better than she was on Thursday, when she had a day off.

Today I was supposed to be going with Jane to Royston Choral Society's Christmas Concert, after which I'd planned to feed her squirrel curry, but when I woke up, I had all Jenny's symptoms - achey limbs, tired, slight temperature, coughing, (and inevitable sore throat as a result), headache, etc. Being a bloke, obviously my symptoms are much worse than Jenny's.

So I dragged myself out of bed and cleared up the kitchen, having just left it last night, but couldn't face breakfast. I went to Bury Lane Farm Shop to collect the beef for Christmas day and the squirrels I was supposed to be currying for Jane, but they'd still not managed to get any. I bought a tray of mixed diced game (venison, partridge, pheasant) instead. I wanted rabbit, too, but they only had whole rabbits.

Back home, I phoned Jane to cry off tonight. I figured it would be unkind to cough through the concert (though I know I wouldn't have been alone) and I wanted to offer Jane the chance to avoid catching my disease. I could pretend I was slightly dismayed at the alacrity with which she accepted my suggestion, but actually, I was ready for it.

After that I took a Lemsip to bed and have spent most ot the day there. Jane very kindly pushed a pack each of Day Nurse and Night Nurse through the letter box, as Jenny has taken ours up to Glasgow, of course.

So the game is in the freezer and I've just got a steak out. Slow food can go to hell; I want simple and easy, right now!

Wednesday, 17 December 2008

The environment is perfectly safe

I love this. I saw it a few weeks ago, but it was posted on Greg Laden's blog today.

Tuesday, 16 December 2008

A Two Pet Family

A week or so ago I was in the shower when I noticed a small spider on the window frame. Now although I don't have much of a spider phobia, I don't like having to clear up their webs, so tend to put them out when I come across them.

Accordingly, I knocked this one into my hand and dumped it unceremoniously out of the window. It was only about 10mm long, and my hand was wet, so it didn't run about too briskly. As you'd imagine, I didn't expect to see it again.

Some days later, bugger me, there was an identical (I suppose) spider, lurking on the ceiling. I knocked it into my hand and put it out of the window, but did register the fact that it might actually be the very same spider. No way of knowing, but an interesting coincidence if two identical spiders had taken up residence within such a short space of time.



Last weekend, who should I see, but my old friend the spider. She tried to escape this time, by dropping down on a long thread, but I was too clever for her, and out she went once more.

I did decide on that occasion, however, that if she made it back inside, she would have earned her place as a family pet, and could stay. This morning, there she was, so she's now officially the family pet spider. (Along with, I need hardly add, the two in the car door mirrors, of course!)

So the reason for the photos of arachnids is that our new guest is possibly a Steatoda species, though there are so many damn species of small dark spiders in the UK it would take a specialist to be sure.

The top two are both Steatoda species; the top one is called the Rabbit Hutch spider, though the second doesn't seem to have a common name.

The exception to the "put them out" rule applies to Pholcus (daddy long legs) spiders. These, being an alien invader, and far too fragile to put out manually, get vacuumed up. Cruel, I know, but no more than they deserve.

The only other thing I know about them is that they're more venomous than most native spiders, though their tiny jaws are too small to bite us succesfully. But I think they deal with Tegenaria etc because the big house spiders can't find anything to bite, while the nastily poisonous Pholcus have no difficulty finding a bit of Tegenaria to sink their jaws into.

They're slowly moving north through the UK, and I imagine haven't yet reached Yorks yet, since Arctic Fox posted a photo of a Tegenaria (I think) only the other day. I haven't seen one of those down our way for some years.

Alternative 'Nativity Play'

I think this variant on the nativity is pretty funny!

Edit: I felt like putting this quote in here, which I lifted straight from the above post. I think it's my favourite bit....

Some time later

Receptionist: Welcome to Bethlehem Travel Inn, how can we help you?

J.Carpenter: Here's three nails, put me up for the night

Receptionist: LOL, that's an Easter joke, sir

Sunday, 14 December 2008

Joe Carpenter and Son

Last night we took part in a peculiarly English nativity play in Standon village church. We've done this 3 or 4 times over the past decade or so, and it's always lovely. I hoped to find a description of it on the web, but have found nothing. You can buy it from Amazon if you want to do it yourself.

It's the traditional nativity story, with all the text in verse, and a narrator, shepherds, angels, kings, etc. The action is interspersed with carols and one or two wassails, and the whole thing has a distinctly 'village' feel to it. I'm not sure really how to express that. It's not just that it's an amateur production, or that everyone knows everyone else, or that it's all a bit of a giggle and not to be taken seriously, or that everyone collapses in heaps of laughter when the angels line up on the steps to do their bit only for the tiniest to realise she's forgotten her bells, so runs back to get them. Somehow it's a combination of all those things and probably quite a few more that I've not thought of, that define this kind of warm, cuddly and distinctly rural event. Notwithstanding that the church itself was bitterly cold!

Afterwards many of us retired to the house of several of the participants (Caroline - soprano, David - narrator, Lizzie - Mary, Richard - lights) where Caroline had prepared 2 enormous casseroles and several puddings. Bloated and well filled up with booze, we were still home early, allowing time to sit in front of a log fire and enjoy the warm fuzzies of an evening well spent.

And special thanks to Jane who drove us home in my car. My turn to not drink will come on Thursday when we're singing in a school carol service, again in Standon church.

And no, I've not forgotten I'm convinced it's all fairy stories, I just suspend my disbelief and have some fun!

Who is Harun Yahya?

When our friend gave us a copy of Harun Yahya's Atlas of Creation, he put a couple of sheets of paper in it, with information he'd discovered about the author. It was just a web page www.mukto-mona.com printed out. It's quite illuminating.

According to mukto-mona, Yahya, real name Adnan Oktar, runs an organisation involved in organised crime. Blackmail, extortion, etc. And yet, according to the man's own website, he lives a life dedicated to faith.

Of course, you can't assume that what you read on the net is reliable, but given the trash he printed in his Atlas of Creation, I feel more inclined to believe mukto-mona than Adnan Oktar.

Friday, 12 December 2008

Islamist creationist book.....

Jenny, like all fellows of Darwin College, has already received a copy of the ridiculous Islamic Creation book that's doing the rounds. [I'll put in the proper title and author later when I've made the effort to go downstairs.] It is enormous, and filled with beautiful, hi-res photographs of masses of photographs of fossils. Today, for no reason we can so far resolve, a friend of ours delivered us another copy.

Though the book is complete garbage - you don't have to be even remotely atheist to realise the arguments are silly, this turns out to be useful. Jenny is cutting her existing copy up to use the (excellent) illustrations in the Zoology Museum where she works. The extra copy is great, as that means she can use both sides of each page.

The bad news about religion

I'm posting this late at night and without editing it, because I think it's important.
I hope I still think the same in the morning.
-----
Oh bollocks, I've forgotten who's blog I lifted it from .... I'll fix that tomorrow, promise.....
Edit: Nope. Can't find it anywhere. I know I copied it, but I have no idea whence. Sorry.
-----

We already know that prayer doesn't work. It might feel good, like eating a bowl of sugar, but, like a sugar diet, it isn't going to keep you alive. Yet we still live in the dark ages:

GLADSTONE, Ore. - Authorities say a teenager from a faith-healing family died from an illness that could have been easily treated, just a few months after a toddler cousin of his died in a case that has led to criminal charges.

Tuesday's death of 16-year-old Neil Beagley, however, may not be a crime because Oregon law allows minors 14 and older to decide for themselves whether to accept medical treatment.

"All of the interviews from last night are that he did in fact refuse treatment," police Sgt. Lynne Benton said Wednesday. "Unless we can disprove that, charges probably won't be filed in this case."So, he was brainwashed to death. Because his family are a bunch of wack-a-loon cultists who have turned back the medical clock 2000 years and they crammed that crap into his head from a very early age.

An autopsy Wednesday showed Beagley died of heart failure caused by a urinary tract blockage.

He likely had a congenital condition that constricted his urinary tract where the bladder empties into the urethra, and the condition of his organs indicates he had multiple blockages during his life, said Dr. Clifford Nelson, deputy state medical examiner for Clackamas County.

"You just build up so much urea in your bloodstream that it begins to poison your organs, and the heart is particularly susceptible," Nelson said.

Nelson said a catheter would have saved the boy's life. If the condition had been dealt with earlier, a urologist could easily have removed the blockage and avoided the kidney damage that came with the repeated illnesses, Nelson said.It would take just a catheter. It's not even surgery. They just put a tube up your willy. It's barely uncomfortable, despite all the traumatic whining you hear out of some men...

And yet that couldn't be done. Instead, futile prayer was the answer. And, I'm sure, after his death they said it was "the Lord's will" and "he's in a better place."

No. He's dead and his parents killed him by filling his head with superstitious nonsense. They are to blame. They taught their child wrong.

And what's worse. They want respect for their barbarous beliefs. They don't want science in your school. They do want their religion. So they can infect your children with their medieval world-view. And they too can die of treatable illnesses, get pregnant for lack of contraceptives, and set our culture back to when women and black knew their place - under the lash of the white man.

These people, in their own way, are more dangerous than terrorists. We can see that danger clearly. But this insidious corruption of society by religion... Not as easy because we're socialized to respect religion, not hold its feet to the fire.

Thursday, 11 December 2008

Einstein

I came across this on Dr Cormac O’Raifeartaigh's blog and I just couldn't resist stealing it! Wonderful!

Shannon Matthews

It's worth reading every bit of the text. A great work of Photoshop art!

Wednesday, 10 December 2008

Entertaining Quote

Just picked this up from the JustGiving site for the Campaign against UK Faith Schools - "a 5 year old is no more a Christian than he is a member of the Postal Worker's Union." How true!"
Night night!

Rainbow conspiracy

This is a spoof, yes? Please tell me it's not for real!

Penguin Cheats Death!

Will this work?



Hat tip: Zooillogix

Tuesday, 9 December 2008

You are, quite definitely, a fish. Believe me!

This is a really good video explaining in no uncertain terms why we quite definitely evolved from other mammals (and by extrapolation, fish.) It's on YouTube but I don't know how to download it and stick it up on my blog, so I'm afraid all you get is a link. Don't be put off by the early stages, which do come across as a bit technical and nerdy. Once he gets into his stride and starts talking about an early rodent-like ancestor, it gets really simple and straightforward.

Hat tip erv on scienceblogs.com

Guinea Worm nearly eradicated

I'd heard of dracunculiasis and seen photographs of the worms being painstakingly wound out of people's feet, but had no idea there was a project (just one of several posts about it) to eliminate it. The name is derived from the Latin "affliction with little dragons" and relates to the painful burning sensation experienced by the patient. It's also known as the fiery serpent. Youch!

Hats off to ex-president Jimmy Carter for having the will and skills to persuade those with the money and expertise to actually get something done. From (IIRC) 3.5 million cases a couple of decades ago, we're down to about 4,000, mostly in Ghana and Sudan.

Ah, but there's the rub. Sudan. How likely are they to be successful there in the next decade? I suppose it could have been worse, though. Could have been Somalia.

Foie Gras in a TED talk

I came across an interesting TED talk today, but didn't have time to watch it all; it's 20 minutes for goodness sake, but suffice it to say I was impressed, and thought I'd put a link to this talk by Dan Barber who is a chef in New York. I'll watch the rest this evening when I get home.

The talk is about foie gras and how you can make it entirely naturally, without the nasty force-feeding bit. Now you're talking! And there are other neat touches which I'll leave you to discover.

Airheads!

A study by Lawrence Witmer and Ryan Ridgely at the University of Ohio has just been published in which they discuss the results of using CT scanning techniques on dinosaur skulls to map the air cavities and speculate about the effects of all that air inside the skulls. This link to Palaeoblog is where I picked it up from, but that just takes you to the top of the blog, not to the actual post. I don't know how to do that.

It's long been known that beasties like T. rex had reduced bone in their skulls in order to maximise lightness while maintaining strength. Everyone familiar with their skulls will remember the gaping holes and remember why they're there.

Turns out, previous CT studues had been focussed on the bones and muscles, without really considering actual air spaces (as opposed to absence of bone), which turn out to be rather more extensive than previously thought. eg the fleshed up head of T. rex was 18% lighter than it would have been without all the air. And since it weighed in at around half a tonne, that's a saving worth the effort!

Something I'd not expected, however, was a casually-dropped aside in the course of discussion of ankylosaurs. These have been known for a long time to have had extensive and quite convoluted nasal passages:

“Not only do these guys have nasal cavities like crazy straws, they also have highly vascular snouts. The nasal passages run right next to large blood vessels, and so there’s the potential for heat transfer. As the animal breathes in, the air passed over the moist surfaces and cooled the blood, and the blood simultaneously warmed the inspired air,” said Witmer. “These are the same kinds of physiological mechanisms we find all the time in warm-blooded animals today.”

Did you spot that? ... mechanisms we find all the time in warm-blooded animals today. I didn't know ankylosaurs were warm-blooded. Did you? Or am I just over-extrapolating?

Monday, 8 December 2008

New composite ceramic

Scientists at the U.S. Department of Energy's Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory (Berkeley Lab) have created a ceramic/polymer composite with much greater strength than either constituent individually. Reported in this week's Science magazine, the material has similarities to nacre, the irridescent mother of pearl that lines the shells of shelled molluscs. The inclusion of the polymer allows the ceramic crystals to slide very slightly under stress, thus absorbing the force rather than fracturing.

By an interesting coincidence, I was reading only today on Ediacaran blog, how arthropod cuticle consists of a hard outer layer and a softer inner layer, providing comparable toughness with flexibility. In this particular post he was talking about how the Cambrian top predator Anomalocaris was able to munch trilobites, but that's incidental to this particular post.

1989 Montreal Massacre

Wow! I'd never even heard of the Montreal Massacre before stumbling across it on the ScienceWomen blog. A moment's silence is appropriate, I think.

The Truth about MMR and the Medjah

This report in the Guardian on Saturday is a damning indictment of several UK papers. It shouldn't come as a great surprise, but I'm still very disappointed. But hey, whoever said the medjah had to report anything fairly?

Summary:

On Tuesday the Telegraph, the Independent, the Mirror, the Express, the Mail, and the Metro all reported that a coroner was hearing the case of a toddler who died after receiving the MMR vaccine, which the parents blamed for their loss. Toddler 'died after MMR jab' (Metro), 'Healthy' baby died after MMR jab (Independent), you know the headlines by now.

On Thursday the coroner announced his verdict: the vaccine played no part in this child's death. So far, of the papers above, only the Telegraph has had the decency to cover the outcome. The Independent, the Mirror, the Express, the Mail, and the Metro have all decided that their readers are better off not knowing. Tick, tock.

I wanted to indent the quote, the way Greg Laden did, but don't know how to, so if any of you knows, please pass on the tip.

Sunday, 7 December 2008

A Walk on Therfield Heath

Today was such a glorious day we went for a walk on the nearby Therfield Heath. I thought I'd share a few photos with you.
The white fluffy stuff is seeds of Old Man's Beard, which is wild clematis.

Saturday, 6 December 2008

Punished for decapitating Jesus and Joseph

Ah, this is really funny. Not the bit about the prat who committed the vandalism, the quote of a Daily Herald journalist at the bottom of the post. :)

Thursday, 4 December 2008

Financial Crisis Piggy Bank

Heh!

Thousands of new species found

Under the heading of "Ain't got nothin' better to do" I've spent my lunchtime reading Pharyngula and following a few of the links he's posted. If you click this picture of a squat lobster it'll take you to the Zooillogix blog which has several cute photos of some of the new species, and links to National Geographic articles with more photos.

The first paragraph of the Zooillogix posting reads:
An expedition to a tiny island in the South Pacific's Republic of Vanatu has yielded hundreds of new species, including possibly 1000 new species of crab.
which (apart from the unfortunate innumeracy of the author) is pretty awesome in my book.

Go on, waste some time, you know you want to!

Many new species
On Espiritu Santo;
Scientific bliss!

Wednesday, 3 December 2008

Fishy haiku

Acanthodians
Were very spiny fish;
Hunters and hunted!


I stole this picture from Wikipedia!

Another Geological Haiku

This is the forelimb of Acanthostega gunnari, which is a beast Jenny has been working on for the past 20 years. As you can see, it had 8 digits. It also had 8 toes.

For those of you that are not computer specialists, counting to base 16 (instead of 10, which we normally do) is called hexadecimal.

Acanthostega
Worked in hexadecimal.
Polydactyl-ly.

Tuesday, 2 December 2008

Geological Haiku Meme

There's a geological haiku meme going on at http://suvratk.blogspot.com/2008/11/geology-haiku-meme.html. I'm not sure if it's still extant, but felt like taking part anyway, so here are a couple of contributions.

Devonian skull
Winks at me from rufus scree.
I dream of Greenland!

In 1987 Jenny and I were part of a 5-man Cambridge/Denmark expedition to Greenland where we collected a lot of Devonian tetrapod and fish fossils. It was tough and cold, but we had a fantastic time, particularly as we were finding wonderful stuff. And that part of the arctic is spectacularly beautiful. I still dream about finding fossils! Edit: copying someone else's idea, I've added this picture of where we camped for part of the time we were in Greenland. The mountain to the right is Stensiösbjerg and we were there in July and August.

A body decays;
Sediment accumulates;
A fossil is born!

No idea how you judge the quality of this or any other art

Saturday, 29 November 2008

The Police, according Ladybird Books.

My older brother sent me this. http://www.theclacks.org.uk/Ladybird Policemen.pps I thought it was pretty funny.

A Bench for DJK

I understand DJ Kirkby collects photographs of benches, so thought I'd post a photo of the bench in our back garden. We really like sitting on it on hot, sunny summer days, as it's beneath a 20-year old paper bark birch tree, which gives lovely dappled sunlight to enjoy.

Less happily, it's right underneath the bird feeders, one for birdseed and one for peanuts, so if you zoom in, you can see it's liberally spattered with birdshit. One of these days we'll move the bird feeders to somewhere more sensible, but for now, we just have to clean the bench from time to time.

And now I have to sort out the VCR. Ever since we bought a flat-screen TV the other week, this particular VCR has recorded a black screen rather than the actual programme. Oh, and videoplus codes don't seem to generate a programme number or channel, just the time. I have no idea why not, but I'm going to go through the basic set up process and hope that fixes it. Otherwise, I'm kind of stuck. The shop that sold me the VCR has closed, the manual doesn't mention the error message I get and googling yields nothing. I suppose I could email Panasonic, but I'll try fixing it myself first. Wish me luck!

Snail Trails

During the summer, particularly when we had the drains crisis and had to have the conservatory floor up, all the plants that normally live in the conservatory were distributed around the garden. Not all of them liked that, unsurprisingly, but that's not really the subject of this post.

Our garden is heavily infested with snails. We've not used the blue metaldehyde pellets since Jenny kept a couple of caecilians (tropical legless amphibians) in her office, feeding them earthworms from the garden. Both died after bleeding from all orifices, and we concluded that the worms had eaten decomposed remains of slugs and snails we'd killed with metaldehyde.

The snail population is very good for the thrushes, which do their best, but an unexpected side effect was that when the plants came back into the conservatory, it quickly became clear that someone had laid some eggs in one of the pots. Or maybe it was someseveral.

This morning we put the heater on so that after breakfast we could sit out there and drink our coffee, and the windows immediately misted up. No surprise there. I hadn't expected the snail trails, however.

There are quite a few tiny snails in the conservatory, and we're having to collect them up. They don't do much damage individually, but there really are quite a lot of them, and the total damage is significant.

Such a busy week

I have been working harder than I have done for years, and I've really enjoyed it, especially that great sense of achievement at the end. That's why I've done almost no blogging, so I apologise now for not visiting or commenting much.

What I've done in the past 7 working days is to take a 22 page Installation Guide and convert it into a summary which is printed on one side of A3. There are 3 flavours, depending on the exact configuration, but essentially there are 16 boxes, each of which contains a bit of text and maybe a diagram or a screenshot. The idea is that as long as the installer is just taking all the default options, this summary should be all that's needed to get the kit up and running. It took a lot of effort and I had a lot of help, but it's really great to have got it finished. Of course, the acid test will be next week when the kit gets shipped and the dealers actually start trying to follow my instructions! The Support department are anticipating a few phone calls!

Today I have to replace the roofing felt on my 3-year-old shed. Must do it today as the forecast is for rain tomorrow. That's very poor, for the felt to only last 3 years. Not impressed, but of course, it's out of warranty. Natch. Might write and complain anyway.

Friday, 28 November 2008

Last night we watched Joanna Lumley travelling up Norway in search of Northern Lights. Dead jealous that she found some. Actually, we watched because she ended up in Svalbard where we hope to go looking for fossils.

I found her a bit too luvvie for my taste, but could really relate to what she said about having waited all her life to see this. Not that I have, but it was easy to see the emotional hooks.

Fantastic. I stole these pics from iPlayer, but you can watch the whole prog there.
http://www.bbc.co.uk/iplayer/episode/b00dhv1n/b00dhtx0/Joanna_Lumley_in_the_Land_of_the_Northern_Lights/




Wednesday, 26 November 2008

These guys are just idiotic!

I truly cannot believe the EU actually pressed hard against measures to conserve stocks of bluefin tuna in the Med. Are they out of their tiny minds? What on earth possessed them to oppose this? Just stupid, stupid, stupid! The single most important aspect of the proposal would just have banned tuna fishing for a couple of months to give them a chance to spawn. How hard is it to work out that if you massacre them while they're spawning, you pretty soon won't have a tuna fishing industry. Bleugh! I just want to spit!

http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/sci/tech/7746965.stm

Morality Monitor 2.0

Sorry, failed.
You just have to visit this: Morality Monitor.
Hat-tip, Pharingula, of course.
love
Rob

Tuesday, 25 November 2008

Amazing deep-sea squid


This is one of a small collection of photos at http://www.mnh.si.edu/cephs/vetal01/vetal01.html showing some very unusual-looking deep-sea squid, photographed by oil companies' ROVs. They seem to be new to science, and exist all around the world. There are several short movie clips as well as stills.

Looking at them, the short, sticky-out sections of tentacle seem to be what you might call the conventional tentacles, and the vertical bits look like almost unmuscled extensions that just hang in the water. Quite what they do is hard to imagine, but I'd guess it's connected with feeding. Are they sticky? Do they have stinging nematocysts like jellyfish?

Just fabulous. I love this sort of stuff!

Hat-tip Pharyngula, of course! I must start stealing stuff from somewhere else!

Monday, 24 November 2008

Playing with Fireworks!

This looks like fun, though I don't think Health and Safety would let us try it here in the UK!

http://www.koreus.com/video/grece-bataille-feux-artifice.html

Sunday, 23 November 2008

Fucking OWWWW!

This, boys and girls, is a friction burn, and yes, I am after the sympathy vote! Edit: You can't tell, but it's a photo of the lower calf of my left leg, just above the ankle.

I was out in my shed, carving the lump of paduck, when I realised that if Jenny landed at 13:45 (as confirmed by the BA website) she'd shortly be making her way to the tube and thence to Kings Cross and so home. If there was any sort of a problem, she'd phone, and since the shed is a phone-free zone, I needed to come inside, just in case.

Just about to sit down and read in the living room, I spotted that we were rather light on kindling, so went down to the cellar to collect some. I was wearing moccasin-style slippers, which have a nasty plastic sole. The stairs down to the cellar are plain wood. I wasn't rushing or doing anything stupid, but the combination of damp plastic sole and smooth wood was pretty slippery, and I took flight, as it were.

I expect to have a big bruise on my bum where I sat heavily, but the burn is the much more painful. I guess my left leg just slid down those 6 or so steps, separated from the wood by jeans and a sock, which between them removed quite a lot of skin.

I don't know what the density of nerve endings is on the lower leg, but I can tell you that those 12 square centimetres have far more than I care for, right now. They're all telling me I'm injured, and well actually, thanks guys, but I already know that!

That's what friends are for!

I've never lived alone for long, and I hate being by myself for extended periods, so I usually don't much look forward to the times Jenny is away from home. This weekend would have been the same, except I managed to persuade Jane to come to dinner last night. I do like cooking for myself (you may have noticed!) but it's much preferable to show off to someone else! I'd promised her squirrel, but in the event the man at the farm shop couldn't come up with the goods, which was a bit of a shame.

Anyhow, I'd planned all along to do a Madhur Jaffrey lamb rogan josh just in case the squirrel turned out to be nasty, so just did that instead. I cooked it on Friday evening, since, like many similar dishes, it benefits from being left to stand and then recooked.

For starters, I did a carrot and beetroot salad that I made up myself. After peeling and topping and tailing a carrot, I used the potato peeler to cut it into thin sheets, then a regular kitchen knife to cut the sheets into long matchsticks. Then I did the same with a small amount of beetroot, ending up with perhaps a quarter as much beetroot as carrot. My beetroot was cooked, because that was what I happened to have in the fridge, but raw would have done just as well. After piling that onto a couple of side plates, I scattered about half a teaspoon of finely diced fresh root ginger over each, drizzled olive oil and balsamic vinegar over and served.

I was pleased with the result, and was interested to note that not only was it rather time-consuming to make, but it took much longer to eat than you'd imagine. Not sure why. You'd have thought one carrot and half a beetroot between two would last about 30 seconds, but we were there for a good while.

Having finished that, we went back into the kitchen while I cooked the rice, spicy fried aubergine and Gujurati green beans to go with the lamb. I can't find the aubergine recipe online, but here's what I do: slice the aubergine in half lengthways, then each half into 3, also lengthways. Then cut it across into half-centimetre slices. Dump the lot into one of 2 glass bowls and glug some olive oil over. Invert the other glass bowl on top of the first, and holding tightly, shake it vigorously to distribute the oil over the aubergine. This uses much less oil than just chucking them in a pan to fry.

Take the second bowl off and throw in a mixture of half a teaspoon ground turmeric, and eighth to a quarter teaspoon of cayenne and a good grinding of black pepper. Cover with the second bowl and shake vigorously once more. The pieces of aubergine should now be evenly coated with the spices.

Using a heavy-based wide pan on a moderate heat with another glug of olive oil, fry the aubergine in batches . They're a pain to turn, but you do need to do so. Once they're starting to go golden, you should notice some of the oil seeping out. I usually judge that to mean they're cooked.

Jane was laughing at me as I cooked, because I always get in a bit of a panic, unsure of precise timings and what to do next. In the end it all worked out OK, but I did wonder once or twice.

Pudding was mango and passionfruit brulée. Nope, can't find that one online either. Dice the flesh of a peeled mango and put it in the bottom of a heat-proof glass dish. Or you could use individual ramekins. Whip 150 ml of suitable cream (double or whipping) until it's softly stiff, then fold in 200 ml Greek yoghurt and the juice and pips of 4 passionfruit. Pour that lot on top of the mango, then spread a thin layer of soft brown sugar on top, covering all the cream. Chill in the fridge for an hour. Get the grill really hot, then put the brulée under until the sugar bubbles up and starts to caramelise. I never get that bit right and I have yet to serve this dish with nice crisp caramel on top. I've tried it under the grill, I've tried a blow torch, nothing ever works for me. Jenny can manage it easy-peasy, but not me. Cool, then refrigerate until time to serve.

And it did seem to go down OK. Along with an astonishing amount of wine. I counted the bottles this morning and was amazed to be feeling fine.

After loading the dishwasher, we retired to the living room, resurrected the log fire and watched Horton Hears a Who on the big screen. I've seen it 3 times now, and I still think it's great!

So a thoroughly enjoyable evening. Thank you, Jane, I had a lovely time. Oh, and you can relax; the wine didn't stain the rug!

Friday, 21 November 2008

Convert Dead Mormons to Homosexuality!

As you're probably aware, the mormons have this bizarre habit of postumously baptising people, which is not only stupid and a waste of time, but also gratuitously offensive in the case of Holocaust victims, for instance.

Although not a Holocaust victim, I'd be mightily pissed off if they did that to me. Except, of course, being dead, I'd be blissfully unaware of it.

Now a blog called Daily Kos has set up in opposition, encouraging us to convert dead mormons to homosexuality! Brilliant!

Thursday, 20 November 2008

Well, here I am alone....

Today Jenny flew to Uppsala in Sweden, where she's to be external examiner for somebody's PhD viva, tomorrow, I assume. She's back on Sunday afternoon, so I have to plan something nice to cook for her when she gets back. I should have been thinking about that already, since I'll be doing most of my shopping tomorrow night, but in reality I've done some carving, read a book for a bit (Jenny Uglow's Lunar Men, which is a great read, even if it is a bit of a tome) and watched an Attenborough (First Eden, made in the 1970's I think, about the history of the Mediterranean Sea), the latter two while sitting in front of an open log fire with a glass or two of Rioja to keep me company.

Jenny's staying with Prof Per Ahlberg and his wife Janet and daughter Anna. He, as I've mentioned before, was her first PhD student and we've known them for decades. He keeps threatening to force us to visit them in Sweden, but somehow I find the whole prospect just too daunting. A pre-teens daughter, the Swedes notorious vice-like grip on alcohol, and Per's somehow relentless earnestness make it all seem more of a task to be undertaken than a pleasure to be anticipated.

The reality, of course, is that I have almost certainly carefully picked out the worst slants on the whole biz, and when we do go, I'll have a fantastic time. I don't recall, for instance, in all Per's recent visits here, finding his company the least bit arduous; it's just the perception I carry forward, and I don't entirely know why.

Referring back to the first paragraph, and this evening's entertainment, I really love the Attenborough programmes, especially the early ones, where he is so unashamably young! And of course, the graphics are not yet computer generated, but still all made by hand and each frame individually photographed. The sequence showing the advance of Africa on southern Europe, resulting ultimately in the Mediterranean being cut off from the Atlantic was accurate, as far as I can tell, and interesting, but quaintly crude.

And this just opens a new can of worms, of course. As I approach 60, I realise that my heroes are either already dead, or getting pretty decrepit. Well, Hailwood died long before his time, of course, but Attenborough is 80. George Solti was a fantastic conductor who's recording of the Verdi Requiem (this recording is the one I like best) still reduces me to tears.

No, I'm not going to go there. It's too late in the evening, I've had too much to drink, and in any case, you're not interested in such self-centred ramblings. Good night!

Beautiful zebra fish picture

I realise I'm getting into the habit of just copying things PZ Myers posts on his Pharyngula blog, but this really is a stunning image.

He says: "This image was made using brainbow fluorescent microscopy. Transgenic fish carry an assortment of fluorescent protein genes that are randomly flipped on in the cells to produce these multicolored views of a subset of the neurons."

Click to see a larger version, and gasp in awe and wonder! Which idiot said science takes away the beauty? In this case, science shows the beauty!

To translate into English, you're looking down on the top of the brain of a very tiny fish. The brownish blobs on the left are its eyes and the tapering structure to the right is the spinal cord.

They seem to have tinkered with the genes of these fish so some of the nerves produce proteins which fluoresce in different colours, presumably when illuminated with UV or something. Since a fish this small is transparent anyway, anything that shines is visible, so here we see individual nerves snaking through the brain and down the nerve cord. Fabuloso, I say!

Tuesday, 18 November 2008

Another opportunity to offend!


Hey, check this out! A cut-out-and-keep card game published by the New Humanist! Make up your own rules! Click the pic to visit their site and see the whole set.

Hat tip, Pharyngula!

That stupid Radio 2 fuss

I've not been following the Brand/Woss fuss too closely, but that's not going to stop me expressing an opinion, oh no! Here's my take on it.

Yes, it was puerile schoolboy humour, and a bit over the top even for that, but come on, that's what they're known for, isn't it? Which is presumably why the Beeb allowed it to go out on air.

And there were, after all, only a handful of complaints during and immediately after the programme. It was only when the medjah got hold of it and gave it the fully hyped treatment that complaints came in in any numbers. And of course, the more complaints they screamed about, the louder the vox populi. (Is that right? I don't know much Latin, but I like to get as much in as I can, now I know it's not PC!)

Anyhow, I think the other reason there were a brazilian complaints is that it's just too easy now. No need to drag out a pen and paper, find a stamp, walk to the post box and post it. Oh now, now you just dash off an outraged email. I've done it myself!

I propose the Beeb should make it a standard policy that if your complaint doesn't arrive written on paper, using a fountain pen and delivered by snail mail, it doesn't even get opened. Then the only people who actually complained would be those who really felt strongly about it, rather than witless wonders without enough to do at work.

There! I feel better now! Please don't hit me!

On Saturday we went to the Fitzwilliam Museum in Cambridge where we saw a fabulous exhibition of grave goods excavated in Georgia over the past 50 or so years. The main site is at Vani, marked by the A on the map.

The area was known as Colchis at the time, around the 7th century BC. I'm not clear whether it was an actual Greek settlement or simply that the Greeks had set up some settlements around the coast of the Black Sea, but anyway, you get the gist. As you'd expect, they traded with Greeks and Persians, among others.

The grave goods are of an astonishingly high quality, so I took a few photos of the leaflet we brought away, so I could share my wonder with you. If I were making the 2 satyrs now (far too difficult for me!) I'd carve a wax original, then cast using the lost wax process I described a month or 2 back. From memory, they're about 10 cm high. Gold. Two thousand, five hundred years old!

The rather fuzzy basket-shaped object with a reindeer on it is a head ornament of some sort. It was only about 4 or 5 cm high, and the workmanship is just exquisite. All these things were soldered together using a charcoal brazier, don't forget.

The technique of sticking lots of tiny round beads onto the object is called granulation, and according to a book I read many years ago, was known from ancient times, then lost, then rediscovered. Who knows the truth?

Anyhow, you can't just solder them on, even using silver or gold solder, as the surface tension in the molten solder sucks it up between the granules and you lose that delicate effect of completely round granules just resting on the surface.

The technique today for silver (no idea if gold is the same) is to coat the granules and the base with a thin layer of copper and then heat carefully until the copper dissolves into both the surfaces. If you're really lucky skilled, it forms a tiny spot-weld. I've never succeeded. All my granulation is soldered, and therefore crap.
So the animals adorning the top of the head ornament are lions, I think, though they're hard to see. I was a little surprised to see a reindeer, but perhaps they're more widely distributed than I thought, or perhaps it's not really a reindeeer.

The best of the jewellery, I thought, was this turtle necklace, which I magically managed to get a reasonably sharp photograph of. The actual turtles are only a couple of centimetres long, and the granulation is exquisite. We spent hours there!

The exhibition is called From the Land of the Golden Fleece, and is in the Fitz until early January. After that, I don't know where it's going.

Ah, at the last minute, I discover you can see much better photos and get all the info (including spotting my errors!) at the Fitzwilliam Museum exhibition web page!

Sunday, 16 November 2008

Lorna and Richard's Hot Water Cylinder


Lorna and Richard had a new central heating boiler fitted at the end of last week, and the job included replacing the hot water cylinder in their airing cupboard. Since I work with metals and like to keep a bit of copper sheet about the place, they were kind enough to donate their old tank to me, so last night I dragged it over the road into our back yard. It weighed an absolute ton!

Today I cut the top off with a hacksaw, and discovered it was 1/4 to 1/3 full of limescale! No wonder it was heavy! You don't really get the right impression from the photo, but that white stuff is over 30cm deep! Their new tank came with the usual sprayed-on insulation, so it's possible they'll see a reduction in their heating bills.

Now we're going to play in the wine cellar, moving stuff from the 'lay it down' section to the 'drink it up' section. Ah, the joys of living in an ex-pub!

A Meme of 7

I've been tagged by Margot at A mother's place is in the wrong to do a meme of 7s, which I found quite hard. Actually, I can't find 7 of everything, so have done my best. Here goes:

7 Things I want to do before I die:
Visit the Galapagos Islands
See a basking shark
Finish carving my reclining nude. (I'll post a photo in a minute)

7 things I do now:
Carve wood and stone
Sing in a choir
Flashy cooking
Collect fossils
Snorkel
Drink too much
Loathe Tesco

7 things I can't do
Sing the high notes I could
Run more than 50 metres
Sub-aqua dive
Foresee consequences
See close up
Speak a foreign language other than rather basic French
Without Tesco


7 things that attract me to the opposite sex
Intelligent
Extrovert
Slim (sorry!)
Interesting conversationalist
Smartly casual dress
Not religious


7 things I say most often
Oh for goodness' sake! (often replacing goodness with other (in)appropriate terms!)
Coo! That's nice (usually food or wine)
Why did that happen?
That was fantastic dinner, Jen! Thank you. (I really do say that, and it's true!)
I'll just have one more glass.
Must I get up now?


7 Celebrities I admire (tricky. Can't think of 7)
David Attenborough
Kirsty Wark (the Edinburgh accent is the killer!)
Alice Roberts
Aubrey Manning
Monty Don (ah, how we miss Monty Don!)


7 Favourite foods
Almost anything slow cooked, esp. hand of pork roasted with garlic and fennel seed for 8 hours
Roasted grass-fed Aberdeen Angus or Little Dexter
My own roast potatoes, which might not be the bestest in the whole world, but are pretty bloody good!
Wild rainbow trout microwaved with butter, dill and white wine
Bubbling plum and orange compôte (I might have to post the recipe, since I can't find it using google)
Moussaka Muntjac. How could I forget muntjac?!
Penne with Aubergine (I add onion and top with crisply-fried pancetta)



Here is my reclining nude as she is now. Very much early days yet, of course. The real target date is September, when the Herts Visual Arts Forum has their Open Studios event, and I suspect it's going to be a struggle to make it.

Carving the shape is not too bad, but finishing stuff like this is always about 80% of the time.

The wood is called paduck and is an African hardwood which in real life looks rather redder than this picture shows.

OK, Bubbling Plum and Orange Compôte

This is from the Hamlyn All Colour Book of Puddings and Desserts by Carol Bowen, which was published in 1982 and I think is out of print, but is available second hand.
Serves 4

25g raisins
100ml medium dry sherry
3 tablespoons soft dark brown sugar
1 cinnamon stick
2 large oranges
450g red plums, quarterd and stoned
soured cream to serve

Put raisins, sherry, sugar, cinnamon stick and a strip of rind pared from one of the oranges into a pan and bring to the boil. Remove from the heat an leave to cool until lukewarm. (That latter bit (cooling) I think is redundant. I never do it.)

Add the plums to the sherry, etc, and cook gently for 6 - 8 minutes until the plums are tender but not disintegrating.

Peel the oranges and cut the flesh into segments. (I slice the peeled oranges horizontally into 1cm slices, then quarter the slices and remove the central pithy core).

Add the oranges to the plum mixture and heat through. Discard the orange peel and cinnamon stick before serving.

This is nice cold, too, and reheats well if you've made too much. And you can freeze it.

Oh yes, I have to tag 7 people: Dr But Why, D J Kirkby, Alternative Anna, Cantoris Bass 1, Trousers, Sparx, East Anglian Troy. Guess I'd better go and tell them I've done so.


Sunday, 9 November 2008

Saturday Night Indulgences

Poking around on Friday evening before shopping, trying to decide what to cook over the weekend, we came across Jamie Oliver's Spicy Pork and Chili Pepper Goulash. Yesterday, we bought the necessary pork from our local farm shop, but made a rather fundamental error. The recipe says 2 kg shoulder, skinned and boned, so we had the man get a shoulder of pork out of the fridge, skin and bone it and weigh us out 2 kg. Wrong. Even to feed 6, 2 kg is far too much meat, and it was a real struggle getting it into our biggest casserole dish. We've got a work colleague of Jenny's staying Monday and Tuesday, so planned to eat some last night and the rest on Monday, but even so. And Lorna (Richard was out doing some work thing) came to help us, but even so.... Still, it was completely delicious.

After dinner, Richard arrived and we settled down to watch a DVD called Horton Hears a Who, which is a Dr Seuss animation and was completely LOL funny. We were rolling around! I'm a bit ancient for Dr Seuss, but my younger brother was brought up on the Cat in the Hat, etc, so I'm quite familiar with it. I strongly recommend it, even if you don't have kids as an excuse. I got it from Amazon.

Today we washed the bikes and put them away for the winter, it being generally too cold, wet and miserable to ride. And after a minute amount of gardening, we've given up. I'm going up to my shed to do some carving, then we'll be having bobotie for dinner. Yum! (The recipe is not the one we use, but I can't see that anywhere. Ours uses minced lamb instead of beef, and includes a grated Granny Smith apple, but this is one of those that everyone has their own favourite version, so I'm sure the BBC one will be good.)

Saturday, 8 November 2008

Random Snippets Meme

Cantoris Bass 1 has tagged me to do this meme. I can't remember the rules, but it's something like

  • reveal 6 random facts about yourself
  • notify your tagger that you've done so
  • tag 6 other victims friends.
Actually, I don't think I'm going to specifically tag anyone, but if you feel like picking up the meme, please do so and let me know, so I can read your posting. If you look at CB1's entry, it's clear he's a crossword fan. I have no idea what gems he's revealed in his post. I just don't understand them!

  1. My maternal grandfather was head of the Post Office in South Africa in the 1950's. I didn't realise he was quite so high powered until fairly recently. I don't think he was paid much, despite the top position. At least, we never saw any indication of it.

  2. We have solar panels on the roof of our house, generating electricity which feeds into the National Grid, for which I get the same rate as I pay for the power I import. There was a short-lived opportunity a few years ago when the gummint would pay roughly half the cost of the installation, and I managed to get in there. Sadly, soon afterwards they capped the grant at some rather pathetic figure, so now there's not much incentive. Well, to tell the truth, there is an incentive because there are also these things called ROCs. Renewables Obligation Certificates. The power generators have to buy the certificates from folks like us who generate from renewable sources, one certificate per kWh. Which doubles what they pay me, since they buy ROCs at the same rate as they buy the actual power. Re-reading this, I realise it's almost completely unintelligible, but I don't have time to reword it right now. I'll come back some time later and do something about it.


  3. I love fixing things, and hate throwing anything away. When I was a kid, my father was always making stuff or fixing stuff, and I guess that rubbed off. He did all the servicing on the car, made the dining table when we lived in Cape Town, made cabinets for record players, all that kind of stuff. Now when things break at home, I always take them apart to see if I can fix them, and I often can. Washing machines, dishwashers, fridges, vacuum cleaners. It distresses me that so much is regarded as unfixable these days. There used to be a man in Royston who mended things, but he went bust because so few people brought stuff to him. They just threw it in the bin and bought another one.

  4. I have Dupuytron's Contracture, also known as Grandad's little finger. The tendon on the palm of my right hand that pulls my little finger has deposits of calcium building up inside. As the calcium accumulates, it effectively shortens the tendon, pulling the finger inwards. So now I can't straighten my little finger. The operation to remove the deposit is fairly trivial, but sadly the scar tissue that's left provokes further deposition, so they leave it as long as possible before getting out the knives. It's inconvenient, that's all. There will come a time when, shaking hands with someone I've not met before, I'll have to tell them it's not a funny handshake.


  5. Whenever I wash a kitchen knife I remember Janet in Dr Finlay's Casebook, which was a TV soap in the 60's. Dr Finlay and Dr Cameron were Scottish doctors who lived a quietly genteel life with Janet, their housekeeper. Like the Archers on Radio 4, it was used by the authorities to convey public health information, dressed up as drama. On one occasion they had an honoured guest staying but he was taken ill with food poisoning. Came down to Janet's habit of only wiping the kitchen knives rather than washing them properly. I surmise that was due to the knives in question being carbon steel rather than stainless, so you'd want to keep them dry to prevent rusting.

  6. I was instrumental in kick-starting Jenny's career in Cambridge. After she'd submitted her PhD a year or so after starting in Cambridge, she was casting around somewhat, looking for a research project. She'd often bemoaned the lack of information about the early tetrapods and the fact that all the material was in Stockholm, where the increasingly decrepit Erik Jarvik seemed to do nothing. I said (jokingly) that we should either mount a commando raid and steal the fossils or go to Greenland ourselves and find some more. Jenny made enquiries around Cambridge and soon met geologist Peter Friend, who'd run a few trips to the right part of Greenland around 1970, and he turned out to have a couple of tetrapod skulls in a drawer in his office. The truly lucky part was that these were not Ichthyostega, which was the beast Jarvik was working on, but Acanthostega, so by working on that, Jenny would not be treading on Jarvik's toes. And what she discovered about Acanthostega was truly groundbreaking stuff and resulted in quite a long publications list.

Thursday, 6 November 2008

Look away now

Well everyone knows what the effects of taking antibiotics are, so no surprise there. After taking the pills for the required week, my gut flora (complete misnomer, since what lives in my gut is almost entirely bacteria) have been massacred, with the result that I now have what, in my youth, was called an "upset stomach". That in itself is no big deal, but it's also becoming obvious that the few surviving bacteria that have reproduced to fill the resultant void, as it were, are of the type to produce prodigious quantities of methane. Not an ideal combination!

Bonfire Night

Last night we went into Cambridge to see the fireworks on Midsomer Common. (And here's a message for Google maps - no, I do not mean Midsummer Common! Hell's teeth!)

Anyway, I wandered over the road to scoop up Lorna and Richard, and when we emerged from their front door there was a car parked across our drive and a man banging on the front door. He turned out to be the guy that had installed our water softener. I had been sufficiently impressed to put a reference to him on Which Local, and he was bringing me a free bag of water softener salt as a token of appreciation, as he was picking up business as a result. How nice!

I parked in the Zoology Department car park and when Jenny joined us we walked over to the common, along with about 50,000 others. The fireworks were splendid, though they were unlucky with the smoke, which was extremely dense and didn't blow away the way it normally does. The breeze shifted it around in our direction at the end, and some of the lower altitude fireworks were somewhat obscured, but overall it was a very impressive display. And no corporate sponsorship this year, so I put more in the bucket than I normally would have.

Afterwards we had a pizza and then Jane very kindly drove home. It was about time she had the opportunity to open the car up a bit, after the nightmare of the drive home from Winchester in August! She still didn't manage to get it into 6th, mind you!

Peter and Julia couldn't come to the fireworks, so they've organised dinner tonight in a Turkish restaurant which opened in Royston recently. We've been there a couple of times, and liked it a lot.

This raises a new issue. Time was, if we couldn't make it on Wednesday, we didn't eat out that week. Now that seems to have morphed into if you can't make it on Wednesday, organise another night. How long before we're eating out every night of the week? How long before I need a complete new wardrobe to accommodate the new, enlarged me? How long before I have to find a second job to pay for all this? Questions, questions!

Wednesday, 5 November 2008

Congratulations, USA! I've not been following the US elections closely, so have only heard Barak Obama saying how change is coming to America. I've not heard him say anything at all about the detail, so I'll be interested to see what he actually does.

Assuming he doesn't get shot first, of course.

Less happy is the prospect of California's Proposition 8 being passed, and it looks possible that'll happen (47:42 last time I looked). Proposition 8 is a hateful campaign, strongly supported by the religious right, seeking to define marriage as being between one man and one woman, thereby excluding same-sex marriages. Once again, religion sets itself up as in some magical way authorised to interfere in the private lives of others.

Sunday, 2 November 2008

Unbelievably lucky (and skilled) pilot

I guess this must be available on YouTube, but I thought I'd post it anyway. Just astonishing.
Edit: Ah, the lads at work say it's computer generated. Shame. I was really impressed up until that point!
video


And in other news, I'm very proud of having won DJ Kirkby's Wordless Wednesday award! Thank you DJK!

Tonight, it being Jenny's birthday tomorrow, I'm cooking her a special birthday meal. Well truthfully, I'm sure she'll do some of the cooking, though I'll be wearing the chef's hat.

To start with, seared scallops, probably with sage and capers, maybe with a spoonful of lentils.
Then slow-roasted duck with sour cherry sauce, roasted potatoes, some combination of carrots, cauliflower, broccoli.
For pud bubbling plum and orange compote.

Not sure what we'll drink with it. There's some nice Chablis downstairs, as well as a rather heavily-oaked South African chenin blanc. Also some decent Crozes-Hermitage blanc, so we'll need to get down there and choose.

For the red it will probably be Klein Constantia Marlbrook, which is Jenny's favourite, but equally might be a Warwick Trilogy or a Vergelegen. We'll see, but whatever we choose, we should get it upstairs in the kitchen reasonably soon so it comes up to room temperature. I don't mean to say it'll take that long, just that if I don't do it while I think of it, I could forget and then I'd have to microwave it (shudder!).

Hopefully Jane, Lorna and Richard will appear around 9 to round off the evening.