Friday, 30 April 2010

Boobquake makes the Guardian

I didn't spot this yesterday, or I'd have posted about it then. Still, now will do. Jen McCreight, the Indiana student who instigated boobquake, had a short article about it in the Guardian yesterday, and it fills out the story of what turned out to be a really big event! Way to go, girl!

Tim Minchin on the pope

(via PZ Myers)

Thursday, 29 April 2010

Where religions come to die

I like this. It's quietly relentless!

I got it from PZ Myers who in turn had it from the Richard Dawkins net

Actually, natural disasters are caused by baptists!

PZ Myers has posted the full text of a short essay in which the author, Janis Walworth, discusses the statistical evidence relating to claims that natural disasters are in some way caused by 'unnatural acts'. Essentially that the Christian god is so concerned with the way we behave, it takes vengeance by hurling thunderbolts, etc. at us.

Pat Robertson, founder of the Christian Coalition, once warned Orlando, Florida, that it was courting natural disaster by allowing gay pride flags to be flown along its streets. "A condition like this will bring about ... earthquakes, tornadoes, and possibly a meteor," Robertson said.
So she looked at the stats for tornadoes in the States and cross-reference them against an estimate of the density of gays by state, and look what she found:
In fact, there's no correlation at all between the number of gay folks (as estimated by the number of gay political organizations, support groups, bookstores, radio programs, and circuit parties) and the annual tornado count (r = .04, p = .78 for you statisticians).

So much for the "God hates gays" theory.

She did, however, find some interesting correlations when she looked at religious affilitaion.
Jews are off the hook here: there's no correlation between numbers of Jews and frequency of tornadoes. Ditto for Catholics. But when it comes to Protestants, there's a highly significant correlation of .71.
And then she broke Protestants down into sects:
But Baptists and others share the prize: both groups show a definite correlation with tornado frequency (r = .68, p = .0001). This means that Texas could cut its average of 139 tornadoes per year in half by sending a few hundred thousand Baptists elsewhere (Alaska maybe?).
This is just as good (if not as much fun to eyeball) as boobquake!

Wednesday, 28 April 2010

Ancient documents

The BBC News website has a report on some ancient documents which have been entirely digitised and are now available online. These are from the Parker Library, which was made by Matthew Parker, former Master of Corpus Christi College, Cambridge, and Archbishop of Canterbury in the 16th century and who donated it to Corpus Christi College, Cambridge, on his death in the 1570's.

The Beeb has a slideshow of some highlights which I commend to you, but one of the things that appealed to me was this one:
It's from the Bury Bible and is beautifully illustrated, but also shows a certain amount of what is known in the antiques trade as distress.

In the second picture, which is just a zoom in on the first, you can see where someone has obviously laid a piece of paper on top of the illustration and written something out.

The word food is quite clear, but I can't read the rest.

We all do this, from time to time, and curse when we realise, but it's revealing to see it on a priceless manuscript like this.

Awesome photo of Icelandic volcano

Eyjafjallajökull, Iceland

Icelandic photographer Örvar Atli Þorgeirsson took this and I came across it on the Discover blog.

This is a steam cloud that formed as the lava from the recent volcanic eruption in Iceland flows into steep canyons partly filled with deep snow and ice. Occasional explosions also occur as steam gets trapped under hardened lava, and can make things pretty hairy for anyone nearby[.]

Tuesday, 27 April 2010

Power really does corrupt!

An interesting study I found via the Discover blog, has shown that those in power really do judge others more harshly than they do themselves, and are more likely to cheat, while the powerless judge themselves more harshly and others less so. No shit, Sherlock!

The one thing that particularly hacked me off during the MPs expenses scandal was the shameful double standards.

When I first started freelancing in the early 1990s, I got nailed by the Inland Revenue as was, for claiming meals and accommodation when I was working away from home for an extended period. What I had taken to be legitimate out-of-pocket expenses were not allowable.

Now we look at what our gallant leaders were (legally!) claiming for : rent or mortgage interest on a local property, food, drink, cleaning expenses, decorating, moats, duck houses, you name it.

Of course, we shouldn't have been surprised; they drew up the rules themselves, so naturally it would be a clear case of the powerful rewarding themselves while hammering the powerless.

And yes, I am bitter, since you ask!

Caribbean lionfish on the menu

This Biology News Net article reports on research concerning the invasion of Caribbean coral reefs by Pacific and Indian Ocean lionfish, introduced in the 1990's by aquariums or fish hobbyists in Florida.

I found this picture on the web at Dreamstime, so thank you to them for making it available royalty-free.

Their spines are poisonous, so none of the local predators will touch them, and they use those same fins to shepherd smaller fish into corners in the coral before hoovering them up most efficiently.

Once they arrive, about 80% of the smaller fish disappear, which will have a devastating effect on the coral. With no herbivorous fish to keep algae suppressed, much of the coral could be overwhelmed by weed, which would effectively be the end for it.

So the plan is to eat them, though it sounds like early days yet. Apparently they're easy to catch and taste good, which is promising, and selling them as an environmentally positive food has to be a bonus. If you've ever seen live footage of one swimming, you'll understand why they're easy to catch - those great long spiny fins might be poisonous, but they also create an immense amount of drag to slow the fish down.

This is an encouraging photo! These were caught by a diver with a harpoon. However, we need a lot more divers out there doing this to make a dent in the population.

Homeopathy charity worker fraud!

Unfortunately, this guy has only been arrested for the disappearance of £300k, not for selling water to the gullible.

Well, you can't have everything.

However, thinking about homeopathy reminds me of something I read not long ago about someone researching a homeopathic bomb. Take some real explosive, dilute it in the usual homeopath fashion until there's nothing there but water, and you surely have the most powerful bomb you can make.

Where's the flaw in my logic?

Monday, 26 April 2010

In my garden today

I took some pics in the garden over the weekend and I thought I'd share them with you! The white shrub is a Chaenomeles that my lovely friend Jane gave me for my birthday last year.

The yellow daisies are Leopards' Bane Doronicum orientale which does work; I've not seen a leopard in our garden since growing it!

Will the earth move?

Brace yourselves for boobquake! A student in Indiana (and I introduce you to Jen McCreight) has decided to test the claims of the ridiculous Iranian cleric, that immodestly dressed women cause earthquakes.

Since the number of earthquakes happening daily is pretty well known, she decided to encourage her fellow women to all dress as immodestly as they feel comfortable with, today, so as to have a coordinated show of immodesty. If the cleric is right, the seismometers should show it.

In her case she's wearing a top that displays some cleavage, a garment she'd normally wear only at night, not during the day.

Sunday, 25 April 2010

Army disinvites Rev. Franklin Graham to Pentagon Prayer Day

I had an email from the American Family Association (an unpleasant organisation whose distribution lists you can't unsubscribe from) loudly bewailing the fact that a raving priest has been barred from the Pentagon on the US National Day of Prayer

because he once called Islam "an evil and wicked" religion, and because he wants Muslims to know that Jesus Christ died for their sins.
Well good for the US military, I say. The nasty bigot represents much that is bad about religion. Of course, I don't hold with the National Day of Prayer either, but that's a different issue.

Friday, 23 April 2010

Octopus nebula

I found this image on the BBC News website in a slideshow celebrating the Hubble telescope's 20 years of operation.

It's not called the Octopus Nebula, as far as I know, but it should be.

I offer it to PZ Myers who is a cephalopod nut, but he never comes here, so I guess he'll only see it if he visits the BBC slideshow.

Wednesday, 21 April 2010

Polar Bear

I found this picture in a BBC News article about polar bears, and post it because it reminds me of our trip to Greenland in 1987, but not because we met any bears, I'm glad to say!

Animals which live up where we were, 300 miles inside the arctic circle, have to be pretty opportunistic when it comes to food, as this bear is. It's investigating whether or not the sock is edible.

Although we saw no bears, we did see arctic foxes, and they behaved similarly. Once we left a bucket of clothes soaking in BioTex overnight, only to find socks and knickers distributed over the tundra the following morning.

On another occasion a bar of soap vanished from its container, and we found it days later, tens of metres away, with what we took to be arctic fox tooth marks on it.

Less unexpected was the foxes' habit of burying surplus food. A tin of tongue was delivered with some food once, and as none of us liked tongue, we cut it into small cubes and left it out for the fox. Later we saw it collecting the cubes one at a time and burying them in the tundra against hard times. The meat would probably have kept a reasonable length of time as the permafrost was less than a foot below the surface.

Tuesday, 20 April 2010

The real cause of earthquakes

According to this BBC news report, a senior Iranian cleric (so you know it must be true!) claims that immodestly dressed women cause earthquakes.

Hojatoleslam Kazem Sedighi told worshippers in Tehran last Friday that they had to stick to strict codes of modesty to protect themselves.

"Many women who do not dress modestly lead young men astray and spread adultery in society which increases earthquakes," he said.

Presumably it's the earth moving while they're all crazily committing adultery that does it.

The initial response is to lie on the floor howling with uncontrollable laughter, but then it gets altogether more depressing when you realise how many people there are in the world who believe such idiocy and much in the same ilk.

Some even live in our own country, IPU* help us!

* Invisible Pink Unicorn

Friday, 16 April 2010

When did you last see one of these?

Take a look at this and try to remember last time you saw one of these. Not the dark triangle top left, which I caught by mistake, but the rest of the picture.

What you see here, my friends, is sky. Just sky. Not a contrail to be seen. And isn't it magnificent?

I can't remember the last time I saw sky like this in the UK. Sadly, it'll be over all too soon when the winds change, the dust plume blows over someone else and the jet planes start to fly in and out of UK air space once more.

It's deliciously quiet, too. We live beneath one of the Stansted stacks, so we have pretty constant aircraft noise during the day.

I shall continue to revel in it as long as it lasts. With any luck it'll still be here tomorrow night when we plan our first barbie of the year. Think of that! A barbie without the constant roar of jets overhead.

To be fair, planes these days are much, much quieter than they were in 1970 when I was at university. I was at Westfield College in London, and we were under the Heathrow flight path. It was normal for the lecturer to have to wait while a plane taking off cleared the area before carrying on, as the noise was so loud (s)he couldn't be heard.

So we complain about noise pollution, but actually it's better than it used to be. Lots and lots more planes, but much quieter than before.

That Icelandic volcano

We all know how the plume of volcanic dust has disrupted flights in northern Europe, so here's a satellite picture I stole from the Discover blog, showing it happening.

Rather glad I don't live in Shetland which gets a direct hit in this photo. My friends Dave and Jacqui do. Might get in touch and see how it's affecting them.

Wednesday, 14 April 2010

Do plumbers sit to wee?

We went to a Royston Choral Society rehearsal last night for the first time in ages. They're putting on the Verdi Requiem which is one of our all-time favourite pieces of music, and that was enough of a bribe to get us back there for a few weeks.

The society rehearses in Royston Parish Church, and at half-time I went to the loo, where I found that the toilet seat would not stay upright.

I can't believe it's hard to arrange a toilet bowl, cistern and seat in such a way that you can lift the seat and expect it to stay up, so I'm forced to infer that plumbers don't regard that that particular feature as important, leading to the obvious conclusion that they sit to pee, so never lift the seat anyway.

Wee-urd (sorry!)

Tuesday, 13 April 2010

Please shield the poor, innocent pope!

Our poor, innocent pope is clearly not a man of the world, so has to be shielded from images that might corrupt his whiter-than-white presence.

He's due to visit Malta some time soon, and the mayor of some village near the airport has demanded this wonderful sculpture be removed before the pope lands.

The object... is not the most fitting way in which to greet the Pope, especially by what is considered to be the most Catholic country in the world," Mr Schembri was quoted by the Times of Malta as saying.

Fortunately the Maltese government have no intention of removing the sculpture.
Mr Critien [the artist] said his creation was not a phallic symbol but a modern representation of a symbol dating back to ancient Egypt.

So the pope knows enough to advise that condoms promote AIDS and that it's OK to bugger the choirboys, but not enough to appreciate this stunning piece of art. Oh, do me a favour!

Monday, 12 April 2010

Another dose of Ballet Black

I've posted about the exquisite Ballet Black before, so I'm not going to go on too much about them now, save to say that we saw them in the Arts Theatre in Cambridge on Friday night and they were as brilliant as ever. If they come your way, go see them. Buy seats as close to the front as you can afford.

Richard had been slightly late booking this time, and there were six of us, so the best he could do was Row E, fifth from the front. The view was perfectly good, but at the end of the first set we could see there were four unoccupied seats in the front row, so in the second set, Julie and Jane moved forward. In the third set, I joined them, and it was just brilliant.

We emerged breathless with the pleasure of it all!

Thursday, 8 April 2010

Is this funny or just sad?

Transcultural sexology: formicophilia*, a newly named paraphilia in a young Buddhist male. (Published by the National Centre for Biotechnological Information.)

*The sexual interest in being crawled upon or nibbled by ants

Children whose species-specific, juvenile sexual rehearsal play is thwarted or traumatized are at risk for developing a compensatory paraphilia. The case of a Buddhist male exemplifies the cross-cultural application of this principle. His syndrome, formicophilia, was endogenously generated without reference to or influence by commercial pornography. The complete causal explanation of paraphilia will require both a phylogenetic (phylismic) and an ontogenetic (life-history) component. The treatment of paraphilia may combine an antiandrogenic hormone with sexological counseling.
I can't help smiling at the thought of this kid getting .. er .. aroused by having ants crawl all over, and possibly bite him. It seems mostly harmless. On the other hand, what must have been done to him to make this his preferred fetish?

(Tiny) Anaerobic animals discovered!

This really is completely unexpected: researchers from Italy dredged up some sediment from deep parts of the Mediterranean Ocean where the waters are completely anoxic and found multicellular animals living there. (Click the picture to visit the BBC report on this.)

The sediments of a deep-sea hypersaline and sulfidic Mediterranean basin have yielded an unexpected discovery, the first multicellular animals living entirely without oxygen.
Until then, they'd thought only bacteria, viruses and archaea could survive without oxygen, and although the bodies of these animals had been found in the sediments, they'd always been dead, so had been assumed to have died and sunk to the bottom.
Loricifera are small (< 1mm), exclusively marine meiofauna that belong to a relatively recently described marine phylum.
<Aside> Meiofauna are bigger than microfauna and smaller then megafauna. Aren't you glad you asked?</Aside>

On the other hand, at less than a millimetre across, these beasties are pretty tiny; there are single-celled animals bigger than that!

You can read a summary on Biology News Net or download the pdf from BMC Biology.

Wednesday, 7 April 2010

I love Rachel Maddow!

You have to watch this video clip. We have a new heroine! You tellem, Rachel!

Visit for breaking news, world news, and news about the economy

Tuesday, 6 April 2010

Late spring? What late spring?

The other day I took this photo of the wild plum tree growing at the far end of our garden. We just love it when the tree breaks out into snowy white blossom, but this year it seemed especially poignant as it seemed so much later than usual.

So over the weekend I actually got around to checking just how late it really was. In 2006 I pointed the camera out of my dressing room window most weekends and took a shot to record what the garden was doing that week, so this became a perfect reference for comparison.

And the answer, I know you'll be fascinated to learn, is that the second shot here was taken on 1st April, 2006. So as far as our white tree is concerned, this spring is timed exactly the same as that of 2006. There. You weren't expecting that, were you?

Sunday, 4 April 2010

Rustic brickwork

This is what we've spent today doing, at the far end of our garden. The corrugated iron shed is Ted's our neighbour at the back, and as you can see, it's not exactly easy on the eye. As it's visible from our bedroom and my dressing room windows, we decided to put up some sort of screening.

However, that would have to be screwed to the wall behind our shed, and that wall was in rather poor shape, the top several courses being held together by gravity.

So today, while Jenny gallantly creosoted the shed, I relaid what looks like a rather small section of wall. In fact, there's a similar length hidden by the shed, and that's the reason it took me so long. There's only about 25cm between the wall and the shed, so squeezing in there to lay bricks was quite awkward. But is done, so that's OK.

The brickwork is what you'd call 'rustic', in that it already consisted of a random mix of different coloured bricks, and when I had to replace bricks, as some had degraded to the point that they just fell apart, I used whatever I had lying around the garden. The top course, for example, is concrete paving blocks.

It's not done to professional standards, but hey, it's a garden wall mostly hidden behind a shed!

Squirrel Ragout

We've had 3 squirrels in the freezer for a few weeks now, and I've given up trying to catch the fourth one I once saw. I haven't seen it for a while and completely failed to catch it, so gave up.

On Friday I cooked the Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall squirrel ragout recipe for Jenny, and it was not bad, though for some reason, not as good as when I did it for Jane. Trouble is, that was 18 months ago, and I can't actually remember exactly what I did. Didn't follow the recipe that closely, is certain!

So here are some pics.
First, 21 ounces of succulent grey squirrel, ready to go. This is roughly half, as the other half was being browned when I took the photo.

I poached it gently in stock with some finely chopped celery, carrot, onion and garlic, along with the inevitable red wine and bouquet garni. Oh yes, and made some roasted tomato puree, which I certainly didn't for Jane. I think her version got a squirt of commercial puree instead. Gave that an hour and a half, then took the meat out and when it was cool, defleshed the tiny bones.

I strained the stock but didn't try to push the veg through the sieve too hard. Maybe that was where I went wrong.

Anyhow, I reduced the sauce by a third, whisked in a knob of butter, then returned the meat and gave it time to heat up.

Served, as you see, on a bed of tagliatelle. Actually there was rather too much, and we had the rest for lunch yesterday. Yum!

Thursday, 1 April 2010

Happy Easter!

Congratulations, Simon Singh!

Simon Singh, who criticised the British Chiropractic Association in a Guardian article a couple of years ago, today won his appeal against being sued by the BCA. Here's a linke to today's Guardian.

And hoorah for that, I say, although we still need the UK libel laws to be changed so that this kind of thing is less likely to happen. The defence cost Singh £200,000, which would be enough to make me back down!

Born this day, 1710.

Today is the 300th anniversary of the birth of the little-known organist and composer, Willem Gottfriedt Lard, son of a butcher, who found prominence as organist in the Kirke Santa Maria in Leipzig.

His most significant work is the motet for multiple choirs, Spam in Oilium.