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