Thursday, 27 May 2010

The demise of the blue tree

When we planted this cedar tree quite a few years ago now, the label said "Grows to 10 feet in 10 years" and we thought that meant it would stay relatively small. Wrong.

It's about 6 or 7 metres tall and is rapidly killing the silver birch next to it. It has to go!

Today the tree surgeons arrived and gave it a severe talking to.

I wanted to retain the basic framework of trunk and main branches to be an unusual, architectural feature in the garden, and by having the men cut off all the foliage, we hoped to achieve just that.

Conifers don't grow again from mature wood, so if you cut off all the green stuff, the tree should die.

Actually, I'm not convinced they've cut off enough, though the boss of the firm that did it assured me it should die in the summer and he'll come back and do it himself if it starts to grow again, so that's OK. It's still more of a mess than I'd hoped, but I may climb up there myself when I get a chance and just give it a bit of a tidy up.

Anyhow, it gives us the opportunity to go shopping, hoorah! I'm thinking in terms of a rambling rector rose or possibly a white clematis montana, but there are any number of rampant climbers we could put up it.

Tuesday, 25 May 2010

Of bishops and stuff


P Z Myers might not like it much, but I think it's very funny!

Monday, 24 May 2010

Looking for shark fossils

Jenny has a PhD student, Kelly Richards, who started working on Carboniferous sharks last October. The specimens came from Derbyshire in about 2005 and are really quite interesting, though I think, hard work.

The key problem Kelly's trying to address is that most shark fossils from around the world are simply isolated teeth. There are very few fossils representing the actual bodies of these fish, because, of course, they have cartilaginous skeletons, which don't preserve well after death.

So you can compare the teeth with modern sharks' teeth and get some clues about the ecological niches occupied by the ancient ones, but it's all rather tenuous, if I've understood the whole argument correctly.

Our Derbyshire material has some skeletal remains associated with teeth, so Kelly's project is to identify what we've got, which should give us a much better idea of what the sharks were actually like. It's not quite as straightforward as that sounds, since the preserved cartilage is a squidgy black mess which often doesn't show up well when CT scanned, and is also very hard to prepare physically.

The first picture is of Kelly having just discovered a nice shark's tooth on the first day. The second is Jenny and Kelly in the first quarry we visited on the second day. It was shaping up to be hot! Last two photos are of the final quarry we visited on Saturday, one just the view and the other, Kelly, of course. Well, you know, old guys, young girls...

Snow in May???

This is the sight that greeted me as I rode home from work last Monday. It's not snow, of course, but poplar fluff. I've never seen it in such abundance!

The fluff is actually the tiny seeds of these trees, puffed up so they get blown away from the parent tree.

It's ages since I've posted anything, but I have been incredibly busy. Now I've got lots I want to talk about, and only a little time, so I'll do several small posts. Of course, you'll only come to this explanation when you've read them. Oh well.

Friday, 14 May 2010

Climate Denial Crock of the Week

This YouTube site is very good and definitely worth the time it takes to watch the videos. Properly debunks the denialists, hoorah!

Thursday, 13 May 2010

Acute cartoon

Hat tip: Discover magazine blog.

Wednesday, 12 May 2010

Impossible motion!

This is so cool! You realise from the start it has to be an optical illusion, but you still can't see how it's done until you watch the video! I got it via the Discover blog.

Long-necked dinosaurs

Among many questions I've never thought to ask is this: why did sauropods (Diplodocus, Cetiosaurus, etc) develop those enormously long necks?

Turns out a group of researchers in Germany asked that very quetion about 6 years ago, and they've just published their results. elephant hardly has time to sleep. It spends 18 hours every day satisfying its huge appetite. 'This led us to one of the many riddles that gigantism of dinosaurs puts before us,' Professor Martin Sander from the University of Bonn explains.
Sauropods, having been very much bigger than elephants, must have had a big problem simply ingesting enough food, but the Germans have worked out a couple of key characteristics which helped them.

Sauropods had simple teeth and jaw mechanisms, so couldn't chew. They just nipped off mouthfuls of food and swallowed it. This meant their heads could be small and light, whereas an elephant needs a big, robust skull to house all the chewing muscles.

A tiny skull means you can stick it at the end of a long neck, so you can stand in one place and still reach a large area of vegetation. So the evolutionary pressure was to get bigger to be resistant to predation by large carnivores, and one helpful feature was a longer neck to reach more food without expending any energy in actually moving around. Neato!
However, the herbivorous giant dinosaurs had relatively small, light skulls. Only this fact enabled them to grow extremely long necks. And these again helped them to make food intake as efficient as possible. So they did not constantly have to heave their 80-ton body over the Jurassic savanna while looking for their greens. They just remained on the spot and used their agile neck to browse their surroundings. This was particularly relevant for the heavy-weights. Smaller dinos simply had far smaller necks compared to their body length.
The other thing which helped them along was a clever feature of their lungs, these days found in birds. About 230 million years ago there was a dip in atmospheric oxygen levels (I don't know why yet) to about 2/3 current levels. So the dinosaur's precursers were gasping for oxygen and evolved this neat trick.

Our lungs are relatively simple balloons that we inflate and deflate. Dinosaurs and birds have air sacs in various other parts of their bodies and when they breathe in, the air flows through the lungs and into these air sacs, so some oxygen exchange can take place on the in-breath. Then when they breathe out again, it all flows through the lungs again, giving a second chance for gas-exchange. The whole system is much more efficient than that in mammals.

So the sauropods could eat without moving around much, and breathed really efficiently. Such a shame about that damned asteroid!

Tuesday, 11 May 2010

The picture in the previous post is just so horrible, I'm just going to have to post something so I stop seeing it when I visit my blog!

So last weekend we (Royston Priory Singers) sang choral eucharist on Sunday morning and a secular concert at 5 pm in Binham Priory, somewhere I've blogged about before, and we had a simply splendid time.

We drove up to Sherringham on Friday night, where we had rented a holiday flat for the weekend. Lorna and Richard arrived right behind us and after quickly unpacking, we took our usual stroll to the nearby excellent chippie for cod and chips. Actually, Richard had brought some fish of his own, as being coeliac, he can't have battered fish.

On Saturday we'd planned to go to Cley marshes to do a spot of birdwatching, but it was raining, windy and cold, so mostly we just sat in the flat and read our books. However, it did clear up a tad in the afternoon and Lorna wanted to visit the pottery shop in Cley, so off we went despite the inclement weather.

Lorna could not find the pot she wanted, but over the road was the Pinkfoot art gallery, so we looked in the windows and saw some wonderful sculptures by Robert Aberdein, including some magnificent bronze falcons. Sadly, far too expensive for us to contemplate!

But while there, we had a good look at everything else, and Lorna ended up buying a nice little picture by a local artist, so that was OK.

On Saturday night, as ever, we dined at No 10, where the food, wine and company were all excellent. It's why we keep going back, of course.

Sunday's eucharist went well. We sang a mass by Batten, a Tallis piece called and If ye love me and Surgens Jesu by Phillips.

After lunch Jenny and I went back to the Pinkfoot gallery and bought a lovely little bronze casting called Frog in a Pod.

Tell me that isn't just gorgeous!

The concert at 5 was much better attended than previous evensongs, so that was quite satisfying, and we were pleased with our performance. Finzi, Chilcott, several madrigals, some Ireland, Vaughan Williams and then, sadly, Fields of Gold and Bridge over Troubled Water. We do not understand why our conductor insists on including these in what is otherwise a decent programme, but David Boarder inflicts the same sort of thing to Choir 18. It really is most odd.

Wordless Tuesday

You know it's spring when the girls start showing off their belly buttons!

Thursday, 6 May 2010

Smoked mackerel on toast

I made this for lunch today. I think it's a cracker!

Smoked Mackerel on Toast

This is based on a Nigel Slater recipe in which he uses double cream instead of crème fraiche, and I think he adds chives but doesn’t use broccoli.

Serves 2 for a light lunch

2 smoked mackerel – I used Pinneys of Orford mackerel from Bury Lane Farm shop and they were moist, succulent and delicious. I expect you could use Tesco mackerel at a pinch.

3 tablespoons crème fraiche
3 tablespoons grated parmesan
A handful of purple sprouting broccoli spears
Nice bread for toast, cut slightly thick

Put the broccoli on to steam.
Lightly toast the bread.
Skin, if necessary, and roughly flake the mackerel but don’t be too thorough.
Add the crème fraiche and parmesan to the fish, then microwave for a couple of minutes just to heat it through.
Stir to mix the fish, parmesan and crème fraiche.

Lay the broccoli on the toast, then pile the fish mixture on top. Grate a little more parmesan on top of that and give it a grind of black pepper.
Grill for a few minutes so the top starts to bubble and lightly brown.

Serve immediately.

A poem for the Oklahoma legislators

No comment required.

Wednesday, 5 May 2010

New medical show!

Check this out!

Monday, 3 May 2010

In my garden today

The blue flowers are camassia, a bulb which is slowly spreading in our garden, self-seeding as it goes, which is nice. The orange-tip butterfly posed most obligingly, but sadly the sunshine was too strong for the camera and the butterfly itself is a bit washed out.

The yellow flowers are a wonderful deliciously-scented azalea Azalea luteum, which I first encountered at Sissinghurst about 10 years ago. We have to keep it in a pot as our soil is chalky, and last year we neglected it rather, so it's flowering rather sparsely. Hence the close-up rather than a shot of the whole shrub.

And finally a Clematis alpina which I grew from seed taken from a similar clematis in another part of the garden, also quite a while ago. It's not quite the same blue as its parent and has taken a long time to scramble up into the apple, which is Red Sentinal. It sometimes has a few flowers in the autumn as well. I think I'm going to have to chop it back a bit this year as it's getting a bit heavy for the apple.

On Friday we drove over to the Hereford/Worcestershire border for a silversmithing course with Ian and Sue Buckley at Bringsty Arts Studio.

We stayed, as ever, in the wonderful Talbot Inn at Knightwick, where , as usual, we were made very welcome and extremely well fed and watered.

I struggled with this pendant, though it looks pretty simple, but there were several aspects which gave me trouble. In the end I was very pleased, but it took much longer to make than I'd expected. And I learned several new tricks as I fought my way past the snags.

The chain is 1mm square box chain and the stone is a 5mm diameter bright-cut garnet. The catch is magnetic, which works well but in fact causes a problem in the jewellery drawer as the magnets stick to anything magnetic, including the magnetic catches of other necklaces and pendants!