Friday, 27 February 2009

Lucky escape!

Lorna and Richard had a really lucky escape last night. Here's the saga.

On Wednesday, the plan was to buy in a Chinese takeaway and watch a movie. There were only 5 of us available, so although I picked up a menu, I didn't do anything about it until everyone had arrived. With hindsight, I should have made people pre-order, but I didn't. By the time we'd made our choices, phoned in the order and I'd gone to pick it up, it was 8.30, and we didn't finish eating until well after 9. We quickly abandoned the idea of watching a movie, and just sat about nattering and enjoying each other's company.

The portions were so enormous that even after Jane had taken some for Thursday's lunch, there was loads left over, so Lorna, Richard, Jenny and I agreed to meet again Thursday evening to scoff the leftovers and watch the movie.

At about 7 I started microwaving the food and had it all hot and waiting in the oven on a low light, but there was no sign of our guests. After pacing the kitchen for a while, the way you do, I opened the front door, thinking to see how things were progressing.

What I saw was this. All doors and windows wide open, the house full of grey smoke and Lorna and Richard frantically carrying stuff which was glowing orange out of their living room and into the front garden. We shot over the road to help out, of course!

In fact, they'd put the fire out themselves, but there was water all over the place, so much mopping up to be done. It turned out that they'd lit a candle in the living room, but then Lorna had been working at her computer in the dining room, and Richard was outside on the phone. I didn't ask.

Something obviously went wrong with the candle which was standing on a wooden storage box under the stairs (open plan living room) and the first they knew anything was wrong was when the smoke detectors went off.

Fortunately the amount of real damage was very slight, although the house stank of smoke. The stairs weren't badly damaged and they were lucky that most of what did burn was paper, wood or fabric, and not much plastic. The small amount of plastic did mean the place was pretty rank.

Once the worst of the mess was cleared up we all retired over the road to our house for a large drink and some dinner, the while keeping a surrepticious eye on their house in case the fire wasn't out after all. It was indeed out, thank goodness! Lorna and Richard stank of burned plastic, of course, but we let them off. We were OK as the worst was pretty much over before we showed up.

After dinner, we watched Ratatouille, rather than the Stone Tape we'd originally planned, since they were still in shock, unsurprisingly, and something light and frivolous was much more suitable.

Oh, and there was so much food that even after I'd taken some for today's lunch, there's enough left over for Jenny and me to have for dinner tonight. Yep, they were big portions, alright!

Wednesday, 25 February 2009

A spectacularly bizarre fish!

Sorry, couldn't resist the pun!

This week Jenny is giving 4 fish practical classes in the Zoology department (too many students to just do one) and in celebration, here is Macropinna microstoma which lives in pretty dark conditions and eats jellyfish. I actually stole the picture, rather inevitably, from PZ Myers. He has a much more complete description and more photos and a diagram.

The things that look like eyes on the front of its head are actually its nostrils. The eyes themselves are completely embedded inside the transparent skull and are the greenish hemispheres pointing upwards.

It can swivel them inside the head to look around. Amazing. The fish is also known as 'barrel eyes' because the eyes are actually tubular, suited to gathering the small amounts of light available, in order for the fish to see its jellyfish prey.

I'm astonished not only by the eyes themselves, but also by the transparent cranium.

Monday, 23 February 2009

Red tides kill seabirds with soapy foam

Ed Yong has this really interesting post on his Not Exactly Rocket Science blog. I'm pretty sure I've seen a reference to it elsewhere, but this one will do. We've all heard of red tides, the staining of the sea a somewhat red colour, caused by planktonic algae called dinoflagellates. Some dinoflagellates give off quite nasty toxins which have been known to kill fish, seabirds, sea lions, dolphins and whales, even people, generally after the victim had eaten contaminated sea food. There were red tides off the south coast of Spain a few years ago, and no-one was allowed to eat shellfish, for instance.

In this case, although many seabirds were dying, the dinoflagellates were not producing toxins. Instead, they made a foam which was loaded with surfactants, which are the group of chemicals used in detergents. The foam rendered the birds feathers no longer waterproof, as a result the birds had no insulation against the cold water and died of hyperthermia.

The dead species included fulmars, loons and grebes. The latter two groups are particularly vulnerable to oil spills too, for they are totally aquatic and never come into land, even during winter. That makes their waterproofing especially important. Without it, even healthy individuals would freeze, especially during winter when they've just finished a long migration and are in poor condition.
I had not heard of red tides producing a non-toxic, yet still lethal, foam. The world is a wonderful place, isn't it? All that stuff just waiting to be found out. You just have to want to learn about it.

Saturday, 21 February 2009

Road salt affects rivers and lakes

Why am I not surprised? This University of Minnesota study shows that most of the salt they use to keep the roads clear of ice eventually makes its way into the local rivers and lakes.

The effects could be severe. Continuous levels of chloride concentration (as low as 250 mg/L, the equivalent of one teaspoon of salt in five gallons of water) have been shown to be harmful to aquatic life and to affect the taste of drinking water. In 2008, the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency listed five metro area streams as already impaired by chloride. Increases in sodium and chloride have been shown to decrease the biodiversity in wetland areas, altering the development of wood frogs, decreasing the number and types of fish available, and increasing mortality rates of organisms that rely on an aquatic system.

While the page I've linked to doesn't give the actual concentrations they found, it is worrying, and I'm quite sure exactly the same would be found here if we looked.

Well, not in Hertfordshire, of course, where the gritters get caught in the gridlock we immediately get when half an inch of snow falls around here and everybody panics.

Thursday, 19 February 2009

Bitwise arithmetic

Now this might not be entirely true, but....

At work, I've had a manual translated into simple Chinese, and I'm in the process of setting the translated text into the Adobe document. It's tedious, but requires close attention, which makes it quite tiring. Setting the document in French is a breeze, as I do speak a smattering of French. I speak less Spanish and no Italian, but I can still manage OK, and ditto German.

But Chinese is in pictograms, and I have no chance of working out which pictogram equates to which chunk of English. I have to be very careful.

So, in an email exchange with the translator, he said that (at least in the context we were discussing) the words "and" and "or" were interchangeable. Any Chinese speakers among both my readers who could confirm that? Is it in all contexts, or just "Press this key or that key"?

So I'm not about to try to explain bitwise arithmetic (used frequently in computing), which I barely understand myself, but here's something I do know. Whereas in ordinary arithmetic, plus, minus, times and divide by are the operators, in bitwise arithmetic, the key operators are AND and OR. So it's not hard to work out, that if Chinese doesn't actually distinguish between "and" and "or", bitwise arithmetic could be a hard concept to internalise.

Bones give clearer evidence about climate

This is really neat. As reported by ScienceDaily.com, a PhD student has found that the bones of ancient wolves give a much clearer picture of the state of the climate than tree rings or air bubbles trapped in ice. The problem with these other methods of monitoring climate is that there's a lot of 'noise', which makes it hard to tease out the real data.

But moose eat trees and wolves eat moose....

"Wolves consume many prey animals—a minimum of 150–200 moose contribute to an Isle Royale wolf’s diet over the course of its lifetime—and the prey consume a whole lot of plants," Bump explains. "Just by being who they are, wolves and other top predators increase the sample size, because they do the sampling for us."


How cool is that?

Lost in translation

This BBC report is really funny. Apparently someone called Prawo Jazdy has been flouting driving regulations all over Ireland, and each time he gets caught he gives a different address. Irish police were baffled, until someone spotted something.....

"Prawo Jazdy is actually the Polish for driving licence and not the first and surname on the licence," read a letter from June 2007 from an officer working within the Garda's traffic division.

Hahahahahahaha!

Wednesday, 18 February 2009

Evolution is a soap-opera

So a hat-tip to PZ Myers for picking up on this and posting about it on Pharyngula.

He lifted the whole idea from a blog called Watching the World Wake Up in which the blogger discusses one thing that's wrong with the way we present evolution to the public at large and how his idea is better. What's more, he's right.

To summarize: most folks see evolution as that well known picture of a monkey on the left, then a chimpanzee, then several intermediate hominids with a Neanderthal and then H. sapiens sapiens on the right. The problem with this is that it implies a direction to evolution and a result, both of which are wrong. Evolution goes whichever way the wind blows, with neither purpose nor progress. The ape-man picture is simple, easy to understand, and wrong.

What we need is a simple, easy to understand, convincing way to present evolution that is also right.

Enter the soap-opera. I think I'll lift a section straight from Watching the World Wake Up here, rather than type it all in myself.

Days of our Lives (a soap, I need hardly interject) has been on the air since 1965. Dozens, probably hundreds, of characters have come and gone. There have been murders, affairs, rapes, and (for all I know) alien abductions. The show isn’t going anywhere. And yet as any soap-opera fan will tell you, their favorite soap has had dozens and dozens of riveting, heart-breaking stories over the years, that make the series so gratifying and rewarding in the long run.

And that’s exactly the deal with evolution. It isn’t going anywhere, and yet it’s going to keep on going and going and going for as long as there’s planet to go on, and even after that it’ll probably be going on someplace else.


Hence the simply excellent tree of life at the top of this post. Great poster. Shame it's all in German, but you can't have everything.

Community astronomy

This looks like an interesting project, and I'd like to take part, but I already don't have time to do the things I'd like to, so adding to the list is unlikely to be helpful. However, you might prioritise your list differently, so I thought I'd draw attention to it in case you feel like helping.

The idea is that when you log in to Galaxy Zoo, you're shown photographs of galaxies about which you then have to answer a series of simple questions regarding the shape. Apparently our brains are much better at classifying shapes than even very powerful computers, so the organisers are asking for volunteers to do this. I think they have well over 100,000 volunteers, but then, there are billions of galaxies, so there's lots to be done!

Click on the Galaxy Zoo image to visit the site.

Tuesday, 17 February 2009

The Guardian on creationism

There's a terrific article in today's Guardian in which James Randerson discusses creationism, particularly here in the UK. It seems balanced and fair-minded, but still concludes

In reality there is now stacks of evidence for how speciation can occur. Scientists have studied it in great detail happening in the lab – for example in fruit flies.

There are still scientific debates to be had about the details of how natural selection operates – for example, to what extent characteristics acquired during life can be passed on to off spring via chemical modifications to DNA – but there is no serious disagreement in the scientific community about the fundamentals of Darwin's theory. A century and a half of science from fossils to DNA has turned up nothing that would bring Darwin's theory down. In fact, it has made his defences stronger.

Top 7 Missing Links found since Darwin

National Geographic had published a list of 7 major 'missing links' discovered since Darwin, and it was very gratifying to see Jenny's beast illlustrated on the first page. Shame the picture isn't all that accurate, but hey, publicity is good!

The discoveries of these and other "missing link" species have helped dispel what Darwin called perhaps "the most obvious and gravest objection which can be urged against my theory" of evolution--the former lack of transitional fossil species.

Friday, 13 February 2009

Yay! McDarwins!

I love this cartoon which I stole straight from PZ Myers' Pharyngula blog. We'll gloss over the rather sloppy use of the word "ancestor", since it's only a bit of fun.

Thursday, 12 February 2009

Happy Birthday Charles Darwin!

As you're probably aware, it's the 200th Anniversary of Charles Darwin's birth. Hip hip, hooray!

Wednesday, 11 February 2009

National paper gives space to tripe-peddler

My mother sent me a clipping from the Sunday Telegraph in which someone called Christopher Booker has an article entitled "The theory survives, but is it the fittest?", discussing both Darwin's theory and climate change.

I've known for a while that the views expressed in the Torygraph are unlikely to be ones with which I agree, but I do find it distressing that a major UK newspaper can allow drivel like this to be peddled. He drags out all the tired old anti-evolution arguments that have been endlessly refuted, claiming (wrongly) that most scientists either ignore the facts or agree that evolution by natural selection is inadequate to explain the way the world is today. What he says is the usual combination of lies, misrepresentations and ignorance, and isn't worth the paper it's written on.

Then he goes on to claim climate change is not man-made. Given that thousands of climate scientists (ie, the people likely to know) disagree with him, I know who my money is on.

So the link above takes you to a page from which you can browse other Booker rants, but personally, I've read enough already. I don't actually want to burst a blood vessel.

Guardian Dinosaurs

Well, the lovely Guardian newspaper wins out again. I've just found the Dinosaur page of their Science site, courtesy of Michael J Ryan's Palaeoblog, and it really does look good. I've not spent long there yet, (lunchtime is over!) but plan to revisit soon. Enjoy!

New Scientist regains a little credibility

I don't subscribe to New Scientist, and swore never to do so after their appalling "Darwin was wrong!" cover the other week, but I was interested when I colleague passed me last week's issue, which includes an article suggesting that our brains are hard-wired to invent religion. I found it plausible. (I can't post a link to the online issue as that seems to run a week behind, but here's a generic NS link. Maybe if you look next week, you'll be able to see this week's issue.)

More interestingly, however, the editorial was about much the same thing. I particularly liked two statements:

Take the comforts away, however, and the rationality often evaporates too. When human beings lose control over their lives, they become more prone to superstition, spiritual searchings and conspiracy theories.

My immediate thought here, not original by any means, is that since mankind has spent most of his time not in control of his existence and struggling to survive at all, it's hardly surprising that religions have sprung up all over the world and for as long as we've been around.

And:
The other lesson is more direct: be careful. In a recession, or any other time of uncertainty, you are more likely to make bad decisions.
And at something of a tangent, from an article headed Science the Catholic church can't ignore, this:
Failure to accept modern biomedical understanding of human conception will keep the church as mired in the past as it was when it opposed Galileo's understanding of the nature of our solar system. And as long as it allows the foundations of its morality to be fixed in the past, ignoring advances based on changing knowledge, its moral authority will remain questionable.
A Catholic church that subscribed to 21st century values would be vastly less damaging than it is now, but sadly, that's not a change likely to happen in my lifetime. Or even yours.

Tuesday, 10 February 2009

A wacko loony in UK politics

Well, I guess it had to happen. We can't expect to stay completely free of denialist morons. Here's a BBC report of Northern Ireland's Environment Minister, so help us, who has blocked a government advertising campaign on climate change. If there were a god, I'd be pleading for strength!

A Northern Ireland minister's decision to block a government advertisement campaign on climate change has led to a call for his removal from office.

The advertisements urged people to reduce energy consumption and cut carbon dioxide output.

But Environment Minister Sammy Wilson claimed the adverts were part of an "insidious propaganda campaign".

The fact that most of the world's climate scientists say the exact opposite to his views is irrelevant, I guess. But the bit I don't get, is how can he stop a government campaign based simply on his own ignorant opinion?

I wonder if he had his children vaccinated with the MMR vaccine? Care to guess, anyone?

Advertising

This is pretty funny, despite some glaring inaccuracies. Am I being unnecessarily picky? I also like the inbuilt assumption that evolution happened, which must help counter the fundies.

Hat tip: Greg Laden

Monday, 9 February 2009

I didn't expect to like this...

PZ Myers posted this on his Pharyngula blog and I nearly didn't play it, but I'm glad I did. Made me laugh, anyhow.

Saying it like it is

Hoorah for today's Guardian in which the editorial discusses the uniquivocal evidence supporting our understanding of evolution and a distressing survey showing how few Brits accept it.

This bit lifted directly from the editorial:
...a survey which showed that only around half of all Britons accept that Darwin's theory of evolution is either true or probably true. In a democracy, citizens should respect each other's beliefs; and citizens have a right to express their beliefs. But in a democracy, a newspaper has an obligation to what is right. The truth is that Darwin's reasoning has in the last 150 years been supported overwhelmingly by discoveries in biology, geology, medicine and space science. The details will keep scientists arguing for another 200 years, but the big picture has not changed. All life is linked by common ancestry, including human life. The shameful lesson of this 200th anniversary of his birth is that Darwin's contemporaries understood more clearly than many modern Britons.

Thank you, Guardian, for saying it like it is.

Eating squirrels again

Yesterday Jenny went to Brussels for a conference for a few days, and I took advantage of her absence to invite Jane to dinner. That sounds iffy, but actually it was perfectly innocent. Jenny's a little squeamish about eating squirrel, but Jane has been keen to try some for quite a while now, and yesterday was the perfect opportunity.

I'd caught a couple of squirrels in January and they were waiting in the freezer, so all I had to do was work out how to cook them.

I decided to do two different dishes, just to explore the possibilities, but started by following Hugh Fearnley-Whitingstall's Squirrel Ragout recipe. For those outside the UK, Hugh is a TV Chef and restauranteur in the southwest of England. The idea here was to cook the squirrel so that I could strip the meat from the rather tiny bones, then use that to prepare the actual dish I was planning.

With my two, rather small piles of meat, I was about to start preparing a stew using a venison recipe, when I realised that the stock I'd used to cook the little beasties in smelled really rather good. And then it occurred to me it would be wasteful just to chuck it away, so I ended up more or less following the original recipe for that pile of meat.

Once I'd reduced the sauce a bit I stuck it in a small casserole dish and left it in the oven until about an hour before I'd planned to eat the main course. I thought an hour at about 140°C would be enough to finish it off nicely.

With the other animal I made a rogan josh, using Madhur Jaffrey's lamb recipe. When that was done it went into the oven next to the ragout, to await the final hour's cooking.

The starter was roasted red peppers, which is simple and easy, though actually it needed a higher temperature than the 140°C the oven was set at, so they were a little crisp. Still OK, just would have been better hotter.

I was going to put a link to the recipe in, but can't now find a page with it on, so here's what I do. This works equally well with yellow or orange peppers, but not green.

Try to select box-shaped peppers so you can cut them in half and have them sit squarely on the baking tray. Most peppers are triangular in section, so you always end up with a lop-sided half.

When you cut them in half, slice the stem in half too, so you have a piece of stem on each half, and leave it there. This helps the fruit to retain its shape when you roast it. Scoop out the pips and excess pithy bits from the inside.

Chop up enough fresh tomatoes to more or less fill each half. I happened to have baby plum tomatoes, but any except a beefsteak tomato would do.

Chop some garlic very finely and distribute among the pepper halves, and ditto some anchovy. I find anchovy rather strong, so I'd say half an anchovy per pepper would be fine, but if you like it better, put in more.

Give each pepper a smallish slug of decent olive oil and a grind of black pepper, then stick in the oven for 45 mins at 180°C. An hour at 140°C is not enough!

For the main course, to go with the two squirrel dishes, I did some spicy fried aubergines (chop, toss with turmeric, a little cayenne and black pepper, toss with olive oil, fry) and experimental chips. I wanted to get the flavour of old fashioned, authentic chips, cooked in beef dripping, so spiked some sunflower oil with a good dollop of dripping, but sadly, it wasn't enough, and the chips just tasted of chips.

The squirrel dishes, though I say so myself, were bloody good. The sauce for the ragout had gone silky and luscious, and the rogan josh had a little more bite than I usually give it, and was all the better for it. Clean plates all around, and Jane was satisfyingly complimentary!

Pudding was pears in spiced read wine, which is a long-time favourite of mine.

Not long after we'd finished, Lorna and Richard came over, and we spent the rest of the evening setting the world to rights. And I have the washing up waiting for me this evening, as I was too idle to sort it out last night. Good job we have a dishwasher!

Thursday, 5 February 2009

Be vigilant

You might think this is extreme, but in reality it's increasing in the US, and frighteningly, here too. Fortunately in this country, they're just kooks, and don't actually have much power. So far.

http://democracyforamerica.com/blog_posts/27752-texas-teacher-suspended-for-being-liberal-and-an-atheist

Curiously, just as I was posting this, pharyngula's posting vanished, so I'm not sure what's going on. It's possible that there's a real legal reason he removed his post, or there was some threat, legal or otherwise. Hard to know right now. Did he remove the post or did someone else? Who knows?

Summary: The teacher has been in conflict with a or a few students who's views on evolution differ from his own. The teacher was suspended. Some parents objected.

Quote
The Principal of Brookeland High School, not only refused to take this petition to the board but forbade the students from such actions. Mr. Mullins is being railroaded by a School board of which all of those who support his removal are members of the same church. A church who's pastor has openly called for there to be only Christian teachers in the Brookeland school district.
/Quote

Need I say more?

Atheist Eve Cartoon

Ah, I spend too much time blogging. I found this via the Atheist Eve blog, and it just made me laugh out loud! I think if you click the image you get to see it bigger so you can read the words.

Brian Malow on Evolution

I gather Brian Malow is an American comedian. I'd never heard of him before I stumbled across this clip of him on the Atheist Media Blog. Enjoy! (Assuming the embed code works this time!)

Bill Gross's TED talk about alternative energy

Oh hell, the embed code the TED talks have posted doesn't work, so all I can do is post a link.
Here.

This guy has got a solar energy generator almost to the marketplace. He talks at about a hundred miles an hour, but it's really worth listening to.

I was excited by two things in particular. First, he's built a relatively cheap solar concentrator and generator, which should get both cheaper and easier to install as time goes by.

Second, to solve some of the intractible problems he encountered, he used what he calls Genetic Algorithms. You find a way to mathmatically express your problem, then you get your computer to try out variations and decide which variants work better. You select those. You combine parts of close relations (ie, your solutions have sex!) and you put the results back into the mix.

Watch the talk. It lasts about 20 minutes and is really worth the effort.

One Ginormous Snake!

Get a load of this picture, which I lifted straight from Ed Yong's blog Not Exactly Rocket Science, over at ScienceBlogs. On your left, I present to you a vertebra from a recently-deceased average run-of-the-mill South American Anaconda, a beastie which can grow to 7m in length.

And on your right, ladies and gentlemen, a vertebra from a related fossil snake recently excavated from an open-cast mine in Colombia and now named Titanoboa, which they reckon grew up to 13.5m long and weighed in at an impressive 1.3 tonnes. Fortunately it lived 58 - 60 million years ago, so we're safe from it, at least. Actually, it would likely not have been interested in eating us other than as a snack for elevenses.

They've got numerous Titanoboa bones, so are pretty confident of their estimates. Yowser!

Wednesday, 4 February 2009

New kick-ass proto-whale found

An article at Greg Laden's blog discusses new fossils of a proto-whale, found in Pakistan. The full paper is published at PLoS ONE, which means anyone can go and read it for free, though I admit I've not done so yet.

These fossils are important not only because they enhance the sequence showing the transition from land-living artiodactyles to fully aquatic cetaceans, but also because they are substantially complete, so the anatomy can be clearly seen and daft creationist arguments clearly refuted.

And for added cuteness, the female skeleton was found to contain a baby, in the head-first birthing position you'd expect an animal being born on land to take up, rather than the tail-first position whales and dolphins assume.

As PZ Myers pointed out on the Pharyngula blog, a whale being born head-first would most likely drown before the tail emerged.

Andrew Marr talks to Sir David Attenborough

In this interview, Andrew Marr starts out talking to David Attenborough about the hate mail he's received from "Christians" who think he should ascribe the fabulous nature of life on earth to some supreme being. Given that Christians claim that love and forgiveness and tolerance are an integral part of their religion, I figured the quote marks were justified.

The only bit that concerns me is that at one point, Attenborough sounds as though he's saying that life has evolved over three thousand years. I suspect he meant to say 3 billion years, but it sounds as though the wrong word dropped into his brain at the critical moment.

Could be a bit unfortunate, that.

Canterbury

Just had news from our conductor - we sing in Canterbury Cathedral, 15 - 21 August, 2011. Coo! Talk about smug!

So this year is Gloucester - which I think is 16-23 Aug.
Next year is Exeter, though I'm unsure of the dates. I love both Exeter and Gloucester Cathedrals.

Gloucester, last time I was there, had a magnificent polished stainless steel statue of the virgin mary.

And I once made a blood sacrifice in Exeter Cathedral. We visited some long time friends who, having been together for really quite a long time and had 3 kids, had finally decided to get married. No idea why. So they actually got married on the Friday, but the party continued through the Saturday and we finally went home on the Sunday.

Diversion:
On the Saturday afternoon, the party spread out into the garden. Fortunately the weather was clement. They had a small stage set up, and a band was playing, and although I'm much more into 'classical' music these days, I thought they were pretty good.

Then I noticed our host getting up there with them, guitar hanging from his neck.

"Oh my god" I thought, "this is going to be embarrassing."

Wrong. He was brilliant, and had obviously jammed with those guys long and often. Seriously impressive.
/Diversion

Anyhow, the blood. On the Sunday morning, Jenny and I realised we were up in time to make Mattins, so walked to the Cathedral. I was much more uncompromising about going barefoot than I am these days, so walked the couple of miles like that. As we crossed the Cathedral close, I picked up a tiny splinter of glass in one heel. Obviously I realised what had happened, but we were too late to stop and sort it out immediately. Sitting at the back of the Cathedral, listening to the music, I picked the glass out of my foot, but of course, left a small bloody stain on the stone floor.

Tuesday, 3 February 2009

Badminton

In the olden days, when I worked for the Wellcome Trust Sanger Institute rather south of Cambridge, I used to play social badminton once a week in a nearby village college, but as the badminton club was subsidised by the Sanger, when I left the institute, I couldn't continue to play there.

Ever since, I've been looking for a club to join, but all the clubs I found played between 7 and 9pm. The Sanger club played from 6 to 8, which was perfect for me - I'd play for an hour, shower and be home by 7.30, which is roughly when we'd normally eat. I didn't want to eat later, nor to eat before playing, so I was stuck.

On Sunday, I was reading the Listing, which is a free, monthly magazine produced in Royston, and was delighted to find a reference to Royston Rackets, a badminton club that plays on Tuesday evenings, 6 to 8, in Royston Leisure Centre, which is less than a mile from where I live. I had to buy some emergency trainers from the loathsome Tesco, as my old ones had fallen apart and, it being Sunday, sports shops would be closed.

What a revelation. It's only 4 years since I played, but I was puffing by the time we'd warmed up! I played a game, then had to sit out for a game, played another, ditto, finally played a third, during which my constant thought was "We'd better lose soon or I'll not be able to walk off the court!" We did win a few more points, but lost almost exactly on 7pm.

I had to sit for several minutes before I could breathe slowly enough to shower! I obviously have a long way to go in the fitness stakes. Rather to my surprise, I found that when I could actually hit the shuttle, I hadn't forgotten everything I'd known, and I did manage some rather good shots. Lots of crap, of course, and very irritating to keep missing the damn thing entirely, but enough good stuff to feel very encouraged.

I've not forgotten how to keep an eye on the opposition to see which way they're moving so I can plan where to place the shuttle. Once or twice I actually got that right! Very satisfying.

I'll have to buy proper trainers, as the Tesco ones don't grip much and I fell a couple of times. Well, they were only a tenner, and probably fair value at that.

Later: Oh yes indeedie. Stiffening up fast! Will I be able to get out of bed tomorrow?

Wish I'd thought of that!

I stole this directly from Paul Fernley's blog. It's a classic! Of course, he posted it on Monday.

So, it’s been snowing today, and it’s been reasonably heavy across the country - including in Nottingham.

At BBC Nottingham, they’ve set up a streaming webcam over the city’s Market Square - it stops refreshing at 10pm and starts going again at 8am so one picture stays up overnight - which was probably a fine system until last night -


Monday, 2 February 2009

On the resurrection of the body

I'm reading the Portable Atheist by Christopher Hitchens, and after a rather slow start, I'm really beginning to enjoy it. It's extracts from the writings of quite a few people on the nature of religion and gods, which Hitchens has assembled into a substantial tome.

Right now I'm reading a section by Bertrand Russell, and this bit made me laugh out loud. Talking about the resurrection of the body at the end of the world, he says:

St Thomas Aquinas, the official philosopher of the Catholic Church, discussed lengthily and seriously a very grave problem, which, I fear, modern theologians unduly neglect. He imagines a cannibal who has never eaten anything but human flesh, and whose father and mother before him had like propensities. Every particle of his body belongs rightfully to someone else. We cannot suppose that those who have been eaten by cannibals are to go short through all eternity. But if not, what is left for the cannibal? How is he to be properly roasted in hell, if all his body is restored to its original owners? This is a puzzling question, as the saint rightly perceives.

Heaviest snow for 18 years

Just noticing how variable snowfall is. Here in Royston we had much more in 2003, yet this is apparently the heaviest for 18 years. Still, it's an excuse to stay at home and point the camera out of the window!

If the forecast had said "No more snow today" I'd have gone to work, as the roads look not too bad, but in fact the forecast is for more, so I'm staying put!