Friday, 31 July 2009

More creationist garbage in the UK

This Times Educational Supplement article reports how a body calling itself the National Recognition Information Centre (NARIC) which advises employers and universities about lesser-known qualifications is endorsing an evangelical Christian course which teaches that the Loch Ness monster not only exists, but is a plesiosaur and somehow proves that evolution is wrong.

Exams for an Evangelical Christian curriculum in which pupils have been taught that the Loch Ness monster disproves evolution and racial segregation is beneficial have been ruled equivalent to international A- levels by a UK government agency.
You can't imagine it could possibly happen here, can you?

Creationist creed

Are dinosaurs alive today? Scientists are becoming more convinced of their existence.

Have you heard of the ‘Loch Ness Monster’ in Scotland? ‘Nessie,’ for short has been recorded on sonar from a small submarine, described by eyewitnesses, and photographed by others. Nessie appears to be a plesiosaur.

Could a fish have developed into a dinosaur? As astonishing as it may seem, many evolutionists theorize that fish evolved into amphibians and amphibians into reptiles. This gradual change from fish to reptiles has no scientific basis. No transitional fossils have been or ever will be discovered because God created each type of fish, amphibian, and reptile as separate, unique animals. Any similarities that exist among them are due to the fact that one Master Craftsmen fashioned them all.”

Extract from Biology 1099, Accelerated Christian Education Inc. (1995).

Sadly, we were all wrong. It is happening here. The big question is, how do we stop it?

Good news, but watch out for hype!

This article in Biology News Net sounds, on first impression, like fantastic news - a component of red wine reduces inflammation.

Scientists from Scotland and Singapore have unraveled a mystery that has perplexed scientists since red wine was first discovered to have health benefits: how does resveratrol control inflammation? New research published in the August 2009 print issue of The FASEB Journal (http://www.fasebj.org), not only explains resveratrol's one-two punch on inflammation, but also show how it—or a derivative—can be used to treat potentially deadly inflammatory disease, such as appendicitis, peritonitis, and systemic sepsis.
Brilliant, yes?
They found that resveratrol used a one-two punch to stop inflammation in the mice by preventing the body from creating two different molecules known to trigger inflammation...
The reason I'm a tad cautious in my reaction is this; sometimes the body responds to infection by causing inflammation. The raised temperature and other facets of inflammation happen as part of the body's natural response to infection, and help to control it.

True, sometimes the inflammation gets out of hand and damages you, but you shouldn't automatically assume that preventing the inflammation is a good thing.

This article doesn't actually distinguish between treating the infection and controlling the inflammation. The section
...show how it—or a derivative—can be used to treat potentially deadly inflammatory disease, such as appendicitis,..
suggests that at least the person who reported this in Biology News Net didn't make that distinction. Of course, I've not seen the original paper. I hope this is just sloppy journalism.

This'll make you sit up

This post is a bit garbled. I might revise it when I get home.

I was about to mouth off about something I know nothing about, then decided I'd do a quick google and see what came up. Now I have to wonder just how much of Timothy Clack's Ancestral Roots, to which I've referred before, is actually telling the truth.

According to Clack, the fastest-growing segment of non-adult antidepressant users in the USA is the under-fives.

THE UNDER-FUCKING-FIVES!

I refuse to believe that children that young can possibly suffer from depression. They might be miserable, but they're not depressed.

OK, 5 minutes googling found this Wall Street Journal article which is slightly more balanced.

Rarely, antidepressants are given even to children under five. Two-year records of prescriptions for preschool children in Oregon indicated that about 2% had diagnosed emotional or behavior problems. Of those, 10% were taking psychotropic medications and 1/8 of that 10% were taking antidepressants — about one child in 5,000. Most of these children were not simply depressed but had severe attention deficit disorder, post-traumatic symptoms, or developmental disorders including autism.
That makes a bit more sense now.

I nearly posted a link to another article, this time by the World Chiropractic Alliance, but then I remembered that the BCA is suing Simon Singh, so decided against it.

I think you might like the Guardian article though.

Thursday, 30 July 2009

Very clever!

This is brilliant! A friend sent it to me. I've no idea who they are or where they hail from. (groan!)

video

And you thought British TV was dumb...

No comment. Oh, alright, check out Iraq.

Oh how very depressing

The Romanians are apparently teaching creationism in their school science classes. This is a country in the EU, for goodness sake! That's seriously bad news.

I was going to include a few quotes from the Romanian Humanist Association posting about this, but I just found it too depressing to keep reading. Sorry.

If you want to get the gist, along with some predictably ascerbic comments, but without exposing yourself to the poison, take a look at PZ Myers' post here.

Wednesday, 29 July 2009

Truth and lies

Some US media folks, for example on Fox News, have been claiming that the Netherlands' liberal experiment with tolerance, particularly in the areas of sex and drugs, is breaking down and that the country is collapsing into anarchy. Here's a Dutch response to that.



Just beautiful!

Saturday, 25 July 2009

A walk on the wild side

Jenny announced today that she'd like to visit Shepreth Wildife Park, so we went this afternoon. I must admit, it wasn't top of my list of places to visit before I die, but I was very pleasantly surprised. Sadly, we didn't take the camera, so I had to rely on my phone, which is not great.

You are hit by a very powerful smell of zoo when you arrive, but in fact, the nose habituates to that remarkably quickly, and you soon stop noticing it.

Having not thought about getting a guidebook, we just wandered randomly in a clockwise direction around the place, and there were some very interesting things to see. Prairie dogs, for instance, not exactly confined anywhere, of which, more later.

Quite an interesting tropical house; I understand why lots of bits of hardware were draped with plastic plants, but it's still a shame it's not all real. Pigmy caiman, various turtles, some monitor lizards, a big iguana. The pink cast to this photo is not because some vandal has had at him with a tin of spray paint, it's because he was sitting under a heat lamp.

The nocturnal house was really interesting, with Egyptian fruit bats flying back and forth. As this is a walk-through cage, the bats, which have a wingspan of a good 30 cm, get really quite close. Not one got caught in our hair, I'm afraid. They have day and night reversed, so the bats think it's night-time and are active and feeding while we walk around. Again, it would be improved by real plants, which would grow perfectly well, given proper lighting.

We also saw coati mundi and a raccoon, but sadly, the pics are rubbish.

Next up a model crocodile from some film or other. Must be Peter Pan, since it was from Neverland. Or is that Jacko? Anyway, rather fine, I think you'll agree.

And then the highlight of the afternoon, the tiger. There are two in the enclosure, though we only saw one of them. The pic is not great as I couldn't get close enough, but you'll see that he has something small and furry in his jaws.

Yep, it's a prairie dog. They can't keep 'em in, and this one strayed into a dangerous place. The tiger, being a cat, just played with it for a while, then left its mangled corpse on the grass.

One of the staff apologised that we had to witness that, but actually we were just sorry we'd missed the action, only coming on the scene after he'd caught the snack.

We overheard another member of staff saying that at least once he'd caught it, he killed it straight away, which is not what we saw at all. He stood there for several minutes with the beastie in his jaws and you could see quite clearly that it was alive and moving. He did kill it eventually, but not for quite a while. Well, he's a cat, for goodness sake. That's what they do!

So overall, I was really pleased we went. They also had lynx, cougar, wolves, various big owls which they fly at lunchtime, and so on. A good way to spend a couple of hours of a weekend afternoon.

Ah, I just learned something about my phone. As you zoom it, to take a faraway scene, it shrinks the photo. So the croc, in normal unzoomed mode, has a huge photo lurking behind what blogger shows you, while the tiger, zoomed quite a long way in, is smaller behind the scenes than in the posting. So you can't see any more detail I'm afraid.

Aftersnark: That reads like a ringing endorsement of the wildlife park, but I realise I need to temper it a bit. I came away feeling not entirely comfortable about the big cats, the wolves and the big birds. These animals naturally have large territories and are built to cover them. The cages at Shepreth are much bigger than any Victorian zoo would have had, but they are nonetheless tiny, compared with the space the animals actually need. This was particularly obvious in the case of the male snowy owl, which had plucked the feathers of its neck pretty much all out.

So it is an impressive place, and we did have a good time, but actually I think the animals' welfare requires some of them to live elsewhere. Shepreth is too small for wolves and tigers.

Wednesday, 22 July 2009

Today's Cool Tetrapod

Picture swiped from the BBC Science webpage. Researchers have found that the sandfish lizard moves under the sand by forming a sinusoidal wave with its body, thus swimming in the sand like a fish and not using its legs at all.

Jimmy Carter: a hero for women

In a characteristic distortion of fairness, the bumbling idiot Ronald Reagan is seen as a great warrior-hero, while Jimmy Carter, a man who liked to ask questions before gunning-em-all-down is portrayed as weak and inneffectual.

Well Carter is a man who stands by his principles; he has left the Southern Baptist Convention, a church he has supported for 60 years.

This quote is taken from the blog Canadian Cynic:

In an act more courageous than anything conceived in the poisonous heart of a Reagan or a Bush, Carter has actually chosen to live by his principles and by his faith. He isn't a church whore , bending his knee for appearances, power and votes. He remains a man of conscience and commitment. Last week, while Washington's "Christian's" were shedding crocodile tears over their latest round of infidelities, lies and graft and angling for the ways and means to continue their wretched grasping for power, Mr Carter left them in his wake. Jimmy Carter, a true American hero, walked away from the corruption of the message in the book he lives by. Jimmy Carter left the Southern Baptist Convention and in a stirring essay in Australia's The Age took a stand for the rights and future of women in the face of persecution and dehumanization as wrought by the world's major religions.
And this is directly from his article in The Age:
So my decision to sever my ties with the Southern Baptist Convention, after six decades, was painful and difficult. It was, however, an unavoidable decision when the convention's leaders, quoting a few carefully selected Bible verses and claiming that Eve was created second to Adam and was responsible for original sin, ordained that women must be "subservient" to their husbands and prohibited from serving as deacons, pastors or chaplains in the military service.
Read the article; applaud the man; spread the word!

NZ cuddles up to Oz

Apparently last week's 7.8 magnitude quake in the Tasman Sea has expanded New Zealand's South Island westwards by about 30cm, though of course, with 2250 km between NZ and Australia, you're unlikely to notice the difference. On the other hand, if this keeps up, they'll have to update their GPS systems or they'll all be parking in the sea.

And sadly,

as the New Zealand media have observed, is it likely to bring cheaper air fares.

Tuesday, 21 July 2009

Water volumes

Just for the hell of it, I just did a very quick calculation. For the entire earth to be covered with water, sea level would have to rise by 8.84 km (Height of Everest). I calculate the volume of the earth to be 1,083,642,907,017 cubic kilometres. This is pretty close to what Wikipedia gives.

Add 8.84 km to the radius, and the volume increases to 1,088,241,825,523 cubic km. The difference, the extra water needed, is about 4.5 billion cubic kilometres.

That's an awful lot of rain to fall in 40 days and 40 nights. Especially when at least one estimate of the amount of water in the atmosphere is a paltry 14,000 cubic kilometres.

And where did it all go to afterwards?

Birds caught in speciation event

An impresive new study has discovered two populations of a species of bird in the process of splitting into two distinct species.

Speciation, the process by which different populations of the same species split into separate species, is central to evolution. But it's notoriously hard to observe in action. This study, led by biologist J. Albert Uy of Syracuse University, captures two populations of monarch flycatcher birds just as they arrive at that evolutionary crossroads.
These birds live on a group of islands, but the population on the large, main island has entirely black plumage, while that on the smaller, surrounding islands is black with a chestnut-coloured belly.

You can reckon the species have divided when the populations stop breeding together, that's the fundamental definition of what a species is, but how to tell whether these wild bird populations are interbreeding? This is what makes this such an elegant experiment.

Flycatcher males defend their mating territories. If a potential rival male enters another's territory, fights often ensue. If all-black males react less violently to chestnut-bellied males and vice versa, that's an indication that the two don't recognize each other as reproductive rivals. If they don't see each other as rivals, then one can assume that mating between members of the two populations is rare.
Which is exactly what they found. Not that there was no agression, but much less. So they're probably not completely separated, but pretty close. Fascinating!

Sunday, 19 July 2009

Because it will annoy some folks!

Isn't he young?!


Hat tip: PZ Myers.

A small mystery

Last week , I forget which day, we came home to find a few dozen fly pupae in a corner of the kitchen floor. Intrigued, we investigated further and found several dozen more embedded in the carpet-covered base of the cat's scratching post, but we could not find the source. We'd not smelled any rotting meat at all, and to this day, remain mystified as to where the things came from.

It's become clear over the past few days, however, that we didn't find all the pupae, as there are loads of flies flying about the place. They're mostly common houseflies, Musca domestica, with a few greenbottles, Lucilia sericata, thrown in. I've killed several dozen so far. Fortunately they are very slow, so my favoured method of execution is to creep slowly up, tissue in hand, and pounce, squashing the fly preferably inside the tissue, or, failing that, against whatever surface it's resting on.

If I understand their lifecycle accurately, I'd expect them all to have hatched within the next day or so, after which we'll be back to the normal levels of summertime fly infestation. Quite looking forward to that!

Judging by the number of pupae and flies, I'd say we're talking about a mouse here, so I'd have expected to smell it, but we were spared that. The cat is doing its best to compensate by catching and eating the odd fly.

Saturday, 18 July 2009

Hunt and peck

For the past 8 or 9 years I've had a condition called Dupeytron's Contracture in the little finger of my right hand. This involves a subcutaneous tissue gradually contracting, pulling the finger inwards, until eventually, if left, it would fold the finger in completely. I didn't let mine get that bad.

It's not painfull, just awkward, and occasionally embarrassing when you're introduced to someone and they think you're giving them some sort of secret handshake.

Yesterday I was in Addenbrookes Hospital having it fixed, so today I can't type, of course. As I normally touch-type, my present hunt-and-peck is quite frustrating!

And working a mouse left-handed is pretty hard, too!

I was out for about an hour and a quarter, and woke feeling quite perky, which is a reflection of how good the anaesthetists were. I'd expected to feel quite groggy. But I was rather cold, and the nurse was slightly concerned that my temperature was only 35.2°C. And also at my pulse, which was a leisurely 49. "I could claim I run marathons" I jested. "Do you?" she asked. "No" I had to admit, so they kept me in the recovery ward for a bit longer.

Having had to undergo a general anaesthetic for this procedure, I am taking things a bit easy today, but managed to find something to celebrate anyway, which was this pretty little beastie.

We have tomatoes and peppers growing in the greenhouse and I'd noticed yesterday that the peppers were getting a bit top-heavy, so went out to give them some supports. While there, I spotted this sweet little harvestman.

It's called Dicranopalpus ramosus and its body is about 4mm long. It's originally from Morocco and when we looked it up in our spiders book we thought at first we'd got an interesting record (ie found something rare in our garden), but then realised the book had been published in 1984, so was likely to be out of date.

A quick google informed us that it was first seen in the UK in 1957 and by 2000 had got to Scotland, so not rare after all. Still, a pleasant surprise to find one in the greenhouse.

For those not in the know, harvestmen are related to spiders and mites, and are voracious predators, like spiders, but instead of the 2 blobs making up the body that spiders have, they just have one. I think they may be more primitive than spiders, but I'm making that up. None of the UK ones could bite you, and I've not heard of biting or poisonous ones anywhere.

Wednesday, 15 July 2009

Extraordinary insect migration

If this is confirmed (and that, of course, is what real science involves) then the new record-holder for the longest insect migration is a group of dragonfly species that migrate from India to the Maldives, then the Seychelles and into east and southern Africa, an astonishing round trip of 14,000 to 18,000 km. That's twice as far as the current champion, the monarch butterfly which can only manage a feeble 7,000 km.

Biologist Charles Anderson has published details of the mass migration in the Journal of Tropical Ecology.

Each year, millions of dragonflies arrive on the Maldive Islands, an event which is well known to people living there.

"But no-one I have spoken to knew where they came from," says Anderson, an independent biologist who usually works with organisations such as the Maldivian Marine Research Centre to survey marine life around the islands.

There is still quite a lot of speculation, but circumstantial evidence suggests they're taking advantage of weather systems to achieve these spectactular migrations.

However, in October, and continuing into November and December, a weather system called the Inter-tropical Convergence Zone moves southwards over the Maldives.

Ahead of the ITCZ the wind blows towards India, but above and behind it the winds blow from India. So it seems that the dragonflies are able to reach Maldives by flying on these winds at altitude above 1000m.

And inevitably, there are predators taking advantage of the swarm of food.

He says the migratory paths of a number of insect-eating bird species, including cuckoos, nightjars, falcons and bee-eaters, follow that of the dragonfly migration, from southern India to their wintering grounds in Africa. That suggests the birds feed on the dragonflies as they travel.

"They [fly] at the same time and altitudes as the dragonflies. And what has not been realised before is that all are medium-sized birds that eat insects, insects the size of dragonflies," he says.

And it all started because some guy in the Maldives asked "Where do all these dragonflies come from, that appear all of a sudden in October?"

Tuesday, 14 July 2009

Progress in America!

Hoorah for the Anglican Bishops in the United States who have abandoned the pointless moratorium on the election of gay biships. I really can't see what religion has to do with your sexual orientation, so this is, on the face of it, really good news.

On the other hand, along with most of the rest of the population of the world, I'm really crap at working out the long-term effects of any particular action.

Certainly, it looks likely that the Anglican Church will split, though into how many parts is unclear, and quite what the effects of that will be is anybody's guess. Many of the African sects are vociferously anti-gay (Xtianity being such an inclusive, forgiving religion, you understand) so they'll probably form their own nasty, bigoted clique.

The UK lot will presumbly stay woolly and vague as ever, not wanting to offend anyone.

The only bit that really worries me is that as the Anglican Church declines, so my opportunities to sing the music I love decrease. Now that's really important!

Unbelievable, to be sure!

Apparently the Irish constitution requires that blasphemy be illegal in Ireland, so such a law was recently introduced, with a hefty fine for anyone causing religious offence. Depending where you look, the fine is either €25,000 or €100,000. Either way, it's just silly.

So of course, there are moves being made to get the charade sorted out. Check out Atheist Ireland and blasphemy.ie.

Presumably this only applies to blaspheming in a Christian context. Bet I wouldn't get far claiming my pirate sensibilities had been offended by something the Dean of Dublin Cathedral had said about the Flying Spaghetti Monster.

How to make yourself a laughing stock in one easy lesson!

Sunday, 12 July 2009

Royal Society inauguration

I want to make a start on this post, even though I know I won't finish it in one session, so expect to see me adding to it as the day goes by. And possibly tomorrow, too.

Last week, Jenny, along with 44 others, was inaugurated into the Royal Society, which is the most prestigious scientific society in the UK. It was formed in 1660, chartered by Charles II, and early members included people like Isaac Newton, Robert Hooke (invented the microscope), Christopher Wren (designed many new buildings for the rebuilding work after the fire of London in 1666), and more recently, Joseph Banks (botanist explorer), Charles Darwin, Stephen Hawking, David Attenborough.

Wednesday and Thursday were taken up with the new fellows each giving a brief talk about their work. On Thursday I went down to London to join in the fun, along with all the other spouses, at a dinner in Burlington House, the home of the RS. It was excellent, and I could tell what a wonderful time I'd had by the state of my head the following morning.

On Friday morning the new fellows heard talks by several of the officers of the society, then there was lunch, followed by the actual inauguration, during which the new fellows sign the same charter book that all previous fellows have signed. The pages are vellum, the pen is a quill, and of course, every few years they have to add more pages, but everyone's signature is there, including Newton and Darwin. Sadly, I didn't get a photograph of any famous signatures, though I did photograph Jenny's page. Jenny's X is in the middle of the middle column of the left-hand page.

If I'm going to name-drop, at lunch on Friday, I sat next to a lady called Cheryl Holdren, wife of John Holdren, who is one of Barak Obama's science advisers. Sadly, I didn't realise who they were until later, but we did talk briefly about the appalling rise of creationism in the USA and the UK. She wasn't aware that we have the same problem here, albeit on a smaller scale.

Incredibly, I completely failed to take a picture of Jenny herself, so will have to wait until Angela Milner (colleague and long-term friend, as well as BMNH dinosaur expert) sends me copies of the ones she took. (Now sorted, as you'll have noticed!)

So I had the morning free, and went to the Royal Academy Summer Exhibition, which was just up the road. It was the expected mixture of the brilliant and the rubbish, but it was definitely worth the visit. Photography is strictly forbidden, so I took a few, apologising profusely each time I was caught, the way you do.

The village scene in the middle is by my cousin, Michael Johnson, who is a trained artist, and you can see from the red dot that it has been sold. Good for him!

Saturday, 11 July 2009

Depressing

I thought I was reasonably creative, a bit artistic, able to make innovative art, a bit. After all, I've got a number of pieces in a local art gallery....

Then I saw this.

Arctic Fox sent me the link, because he knew I'd adore it.....

You know when you sense that there are these leagues, and you're just not even in the least of them.....

Outrageous distortion in the broadsheet press

I am so cross I could spit!

Time was when you could depend on the Daily Telegraph for its accurate reportage. You might not like their politics, but you always knew that what they reported was accurate.

No more.

At a recent conference, Sophia Shaw, an MSc student presented some preliminary findings on her dissertation.

Shaw spoke to about 100 men, presenting them with various situations around being with a woman, and asking them when they would call it a night, in order to explore men’s attitudes towards coercing women into sex. “I’m very aware that there are limitations to my study. It’s self report data about sensitive issues, so that’s got its flaws, participants were answering when sober, and so on.”

But more than that, she told me, every single one of the first four statements made by the Telegraph is a flat, unambiguous, factually incorrect misrepresentation of her findings.

I'm not sure this is actually what the Torygraph wrote, as they've pulled the original article, but this seems to be what was written:
Women who drink alcohol, wear short skirts and are outgoing are more likely to be raped, claim scientists at the University of Leicester.
Here's the title of her presentation to the conference:
Promiscuous men more likely to rape
Here's a link to the University of Leicester press release, and to the Ben Goldacre report on what the Guardian had to say about it.

I can only think of one word for this kind of reporting: despicable.

More jewellery for Jenny

I started this brooch last weekend at the Worcester silversmithing course, but didn't have time to finish it, so finally did so today. The little opal is 4mm across, to give you and idea of the size, and I bought it in Sidney in April, 2007. OK, so I work slowly! I originally planned to make myself a chunky ring with it, but actually only wear rings occasionally, so it made more sense for it to decorate a brooch for Jenny.

The setting is not the best I've ever done, but is not bad. As I said regarding the garnet and CZ ring I made her last weekend, few people ever look really closely, so no-one's likely to notice.

I'm quite pleased with it, and I think she'll like it when I give it to her in about 30 seconds time.

Ah, Jenny pointed out that we'd decided to give it to my mother instead, as she's been really quite ill recently. So I've wrapped it and will post it on Monday.

Awesome!

wingsuit base jumping from Ali on Vimeo.

This definitely comes in the "you wouldn't catch me doing this" category! Not sure about when I was younger and madder. It is definitely something people have wanted to do for hundreds of years and only in the last decade (I think) has it actually been possible.

If you want to stop the video, just move the mouse cursor over the picture, and the transport controls will reappear.

Wednesday, 8 July 2009

Grim

A GIFT FORGOTTEN (TWISTED HAIKU)

By Allison Koster

Puppy in closet -
Birthday present for Tommy!
Now, nothing but bones.


Lifted straight from Science Creative Quarterly.


Jenny has a new paper out

I found this post on LiveScience quite by accident, so decided to post a link here in case anyone is interested. In case I haven't already mentioned about a thousand times, Jenny works in Cambridge University Museum of Zoology, researching the evolution of land vertebrates (aka tetrapods) from their fish ancestors.

It's not unusual for a paper to be accepted for publication many months before it actually appears, so I'm not greatly surprised that I don't remember anything about this particular one.

Talking about some of the early tetrapods, Jen is quoted as saying:

"Some looked like crocodiles, some looked like little lizards, some like moray eels, and some were snake-like," Clack said. "They occupied all sorts of niches and habitats. And they varied tremendously in size — from about 10 cm [4 inches] long to 5 meters [16 feet]."

And later

Moreover, some changes are consistent with an evolutionary quirk known as paedomorphosis, in which species retain in adulthood the youthful dimensions that their ancestors had as juveniles.

"Paedomorphosis is definitely there — the descendents of some groups are retaining the proportions that their juveniles had in the past," said Clack.


Paedomorphosis is seen in the living Axolotl, which stays rather tadpole-like into adulthood, and can reproduce in that condition, unlike most amphibians which have to achieve their adult form first.

I definitely want that design on a T-shirt, however!

Tuesday, 7 July 2009

Showing off

Some of you will know that a couple of years ago I entered a poetry competition being run by BBC Radio 3 for Valentine's Day. I heard part of it on the radio as I drove to work, and put together a very short poem when I arrived. I was amazed to hear it being read out later that morning, though I didn't win.

For no better reason than I'm sometimes curious about what happens if I google for people I know or things I've done, I put part of the first line into google, and the hit was much better than I'd expected. I found a Radio 3 web page about the event, with the winning poem and 9 runners up listed.

And mine was the first runner up listed after the winner. I came SECOND!!!!! Coo! So I'm going to inflict it on you again.

The slipper comfort
Of pensioner passion
Still needs the teetering lunacy
Of bright pink heels.
And magically, you're both,
Valentine!
And then one of the other runners up, which, IMO, is actually the best of the lot.

Runner Up: Larder for Mr E. by Gill Learner

In case this cornucopia runs out, I'll set something by:
fire a drum of applewood to smoke split kisses;
seal your voice in shiny tins; string private jokes
and dry them; press a bunch of your best anecdotes.

I'll hoard memories of Cornwall layered in salt;
whispers distilled in tiny bottles; vacuum packs
of secret looks; nights simmered in honeydew, poured
into jars and stored where the sun shines through.

That just brings tears to my eyes reading it. (Though I have an inkling she doesn't know what honeydew is!)

If I ruled the world

If I was in charge, I'd reserve a special place in hell (yes, I know, it's a myth, but bear with me!) for the folks who design and manufacture the packaging ready meals come in. You all know the instruction; remove outer packaging and clear film, place on baking tray and bake for 20 - 25 mins at 190C.

You know, as you start to do this, that the clear film covering the food will not peel cleanly away from the base. You'll be left with 93 shreds of clear film (heavy with static electricity, so it sticks to your fingers) scattered about the kitchen and still there will be bits attached to the edges of the base.

Can you safely leave those, you wonder, or will they melt during the cooking and drip into your food, slowly poisoning you?

GAAAAAAAAAHHHHHHHHH!!!!!!!!!! I HATE THEM!

Monday, 6 July 2009

A productive weekend

Over the weekend we went to a silversmithing course near Worcester. We've been going to Bringsty Art Studios for a couple of years now I think, trying to go about every 6 months, but not actually succeeding.

Anyhow, I needed to finish a silver pendant I'd made for a friend for her 60th birthday, so took that along, and also wanted to learn how to set small, brilliant cut stones, as I have a pile of those, accumulated over the years, and have always found them fiddly and difficult.

So here's the pendant, with a 1mm box chain and a T-bar fastening. I'm rather pleased with it, and only sorry it's a week late. Oh, and that I've not yet had it hallmarked. She may not be bothered, in which case I'll not do so, but if she wants the official mark, she can have it.

A nice touch, which the teacher introduced me to was this; I drilled a 1.5mm hole for the chain to go through, which it duly did (O level geometry: the chain is 1mm by 1mm, so the diagonal is √2, ie 1.414), but when I picked the thing up by the chain, the pendant didn't slide smoothly along it.

I was toying with the idea of enlarging the hole, when he handed me a thing with a conical tip, which I rotated by hand in the hole, to open up either side, while leaving the centre of the hole the original diameter. I don't know what it's really called, so you'll have to follow the link I'm afraid. Anyhow, the result was that it now slides easily along the chain the way you expect, while I didn't have to enlarge the hole and risk breaking through the side of the silver bar. This is, of course, why we go on courses!

The second thing I made was a ring for Jenny. The teacher described how to use a piece of tube to make a claw setting, and quite by chance, I had a short length of the right diameter tube to match some of the tiny stones I had.

I had a go, and to my delight, found it quite straightforward. I did find that as my piece of tube got shorter, as I made and cut off settings, so it got harder and harder to file the slots actually along the longitudinal axis of the tube, rather than at a slight angle. Doing them at an angle makes the setting look distinctly weird!

So the second photo is Jenny's latest ring. The red central stone is a 5mm garnet, and the 'diamonds' are 4mm cubic zirconium. There are faults, of course, particularly as it's the first such piece I''ve done, but mostly people don't look that closely, and Jenny is delighted with it. Actually, I'm feeling rather smug about it myself!

The weekend was enhanced by birds. First, driving over on Friday evening, we spotted four red kites, flying together over the A14. Very nice.

Then, drinking chilled white wine on the grass at the front of the Talbot at Knighwick, we spotted 3 buzzards patrolling the forested hillside behind the pub. Two were tumbling and playing in the air, so presumably a pair, while the third we assume was a juvenile. I've blogged about this pub before, and it was as good as ever.

Finally, again on the grass drinking dry white, this time on Saturday evening, we spotted a kingfisher flash over the river. Lovely.

And just to round of a great weekend, Jane had invited us over to hers for dinner, which was both opportune and delicious! Thank you, Jane!

Wednesday, 1 July 2009

On the origins of morality

If ever someone claims that without religion, we would have no morals, here's something to think about. I'm lifting it (not quite verbatim) from Timothy Clack's book Ancestral Roots ISBN 978-0-230-20182-8, at about page 192.

In one study, [by Sarah Brosnan and Frans de Wall at Emory University, USA] capuchin monkeys were taught to perform tasks in exchange for tokens. The tokens could then be exchanged later for food.
Initially, the tokens could only be exchanged for cucumber, a tasty capuchin snack, but later, some capuchins were allowed to exchange their tokens for much more highly favoured grapes.


The monkeys which were only getting cucumber became upset. Responding as a child might, some refused to continue.

ie if you don't play fair with me, I'm not going to play with you at all.

The negative response intensified when a 'cucumber-trading' monkey was placed next to one who received grapes. The reaction was nothing short of outrage.

This experiment has been repeated with other primates, with identical results.

Ehrnst Fehr, an economist from Zurich University commented: [This] suggests that this is a very deeply rooted behaviour...

In other words, this concept of fair play evolved in a remote primate ancestor, predating religion by a very long way indeed. I know that doesn't constitute the whole of our morality, but it's actually a pretty fundamental part.