Monday, 28 June 2010

This squirrel doesn't know he's on the menu!!

Being a gentleman of leisure, on Friday I was sitting on the patio soaking up a few rays while reading Darwin's Voyage of the Beagle when I heard a scurrying sound. Looking up, I saw a very young grey squirrel, sharing the patio with me. It was as fearless as the animals in the Galapagos, and just carried on doing whatever it was it wanted to do, aware I was there, but not seeing any threat.

In this it was justified in fact, since it was far too small to make anything more than a light snack. I'll wait until the autumn before catching it!

And I apologise for the black panel you see here instead of the first frame of the movie. I visited the Blogger help forum and it seems Blogger broke this in about February and they've not bothered to fix it. No idea why. It still plays OK if you click it, just looks naff.

Thursday, 24 June 2010

Showing off or what!!!

This is where we went yesterday. Are you impressed?

Each year the Royal Society holds a Summer Science Exhibition, usually at the society's headquarters in Carlton House Terrace, but every 50 years they make it a special bash, and this was one such.

As the president, Martin Rees, said, 50 years ago they were privileged to welcome the Queen and Prince Philip, who are patrons of the society, and we're doubly pleased that they were able to be with us once more.

Curiously, though I don't feel particularly strongly about it, I kind of like the fact that we have royalty, even if they are hellish expensive.

We also had the Duke and Duchess of Kent, the Princess Royal and Prince Andrew, the latter being accepted as a Royal Fellow. I don't think you have to be especially brainy to be a Royal Fellow of the RS, but his acceptance speech was OK and mercifully short!
While waiting for it all to start, we were entertained by a couple of 2m long penguins and a similarly sized ray, flying around the auditorium. Yes, they really did fly by flapping their wings! They were clearly helium balloons with control systems added, being flown by radio control by a bunch of guys down at the front. They were spectacular and thoroughly entertaining, and drew much applause when they were finally put to bed. Sadly, I had decided not to take my camera, opting to rely on my phone, so the movies are pretty poor quality, I'm afriad.

After about an hour of ceremony, we retired to one of numerous bars where we drank complimentary fizz, which was very nice, though I had to keep in mind that I was driving home from the park-and-ride later in the evening. We wandered around the exhibition, letting enthusiastic scientist (mostly students!) enthuse at us, then retired hurt to a restaurant close by for some dinner. And more wine, of course! While outside, we took in the life-sized model pterosaurs that have been slung overhead.

And the bonus of the day was that half the world had taken the day off to watch the footie, so our coach ride into and out of the wicked city took 3/4 as long as expected, saving us half an hour in each direction.

Later: I found a leaflet, so scanned in this pic of the flying animals, as it shows them much better than the phone movies.

Tuesday, 22 June 2010

My first day of idlness!

Actually, I've not been idle at all, I've been quite busy!

First I decided to email Wicken Fen about volunteering. Then took a quick squint online to see what technical author jobs might be available, followed by 45 mins on the phone registering for job seeker's allowance at the Job Centre. This afternoon I went over to Letchworth Job Centre for an interview where the registration process was completed.

By the time that was done I'd had a reply from Wicken Fen to say they were overflowing with volunteers, what with all the warm sunny weather, so I emailed the RSPB at Ouse Fen, actually not far from Bar Hill where I used to work. The RSPB website didn't show any vacancies at Fowlmere, whereas Ouse Fen did.

But then I did what I'd wanted to do all day; I went back to Fowlmere Bird Reserve, bearing binoculars and camera, bird book and insect book, and spent a happy couple of hours watching wildlife.

This is the view from one of the hides, and although I didn't see much from here today, I know I'll be back and will see lots as time goes by.

I did see, at other points around the nature trail:
several Emperor dragonflies (Anax imperator)
a willow warbler
a reed warbler
lots of long-tailed tits
a common sandpiper
various ducks
a black cap
what might have been a female golden oriole.
Edit: actually much more likely to have been a juvenile green woodpecker.

This latter I saw three times, but didn't manage to get a decent view. It was about the size of a collared dove and had lightish brown feathers with yellow flashes. It had a harsh cark! cark! cark! alarm call and flew like a magpie - 5 or 6 flaps followed by a short glide. Golden orioles are summer visitors, so it's not impossible, and the book says they're greenish, which is not a million miles from the pale brown I thought I saw.

Back at home I found emails from both Ouse Fen and Fowlmere Bird Reserve, so have opted for Fowlmere, which of course, was my first thought anyway. They have a maintenance session on Thursday, so I'll be busy that day!

Monday, 21 June 2010

A Gentleman of Leisure

For almost five years I've worked for a company called Imerge Ltd. in Bar Hill, just west of Cambridge, initially as a software test engineer, then partly as Technical Author, writing manuals and later dropping the testing in favour of software development (which is what I've spent most of my working life doing.) Imerge made luxury audio-visual equipment.

Sadly, despite having several excellent, cutting-edge products on the market, our US parent company recently pulled the plug on us and we were unable to find a buyer or someone to fund us in the short term, despite our having a very good chance of achieving $20 million turnover within five years. The term "shafted" is the one that comes most readily to mind. If you're interested, this is a rather jerky, 10 minute YouTube intro to the user interface of the MS1HD which is a unit that plays and stores music and movies on a hard drive (up to 36Tb).

So today being my last day, I finished early and on my way home dropped into Fowlmere RSPB Bird Reserve, intending to volunteer if there was anyone there. It's a very small reserve, and it was no surprise to find no-one in attendance, but I did take half an hour to wander around a little.

I saw a few of these orchids which might be an early purple, though I'm not sure. I didn't notice spotted leaves, which the early purple has, so I could be wrong. There were also some pretty purple-flowered vetches, but I was unable to get a half-way decent photo of them.

Heard quite a few birds: blackbirds, song thrush, wrens, chiff chaff, dunnock and from a hide I saw what might have been a reed bunting, but it was too quick for me and I didn't have my binoculars with me, so I can't be sure.

The web didn't show any volunteers needed for Fowlmere, and I was about to email the guy at Ouse Fen, which is not far from Bar Hill, when I remembered Wicken Fen, over Ely way. Now I'm torn; RSPB or National Trust?

I think I'll ask Jenny. I have a memory that Wicken Fen is associated with research at the University, so that might actually be a better bet, even if it is rather further away.

Saturday, 19 June 2010

The first picture is of a ladybird larva on a cyprus cone. We've had the cyprus growing in half a barrel in the front garden for ages, never watering or feeding it enough, so it's pretty stunted, and this is the first time it's produced a cone. Ah, how sweet!

I think the ladybird larva is pretty cute, too, but I may be in a minority there.

The second picture is of some pinks, which smell gorgeous and I'll be picking some in a minute. The story behind this plant is that when I was freelancing I did some work for the British Library at their base in Boston Spa in West Yorkshire, and stayed in a nice B&B for most of that time.

The landlady was really nice and we would chat over breakfast and occasionally at other times. She had a bit of a cough, and after a while I discovered that she was absolutely livid with her GP who had dismissed her concerns over this rather persistent cough, until finally sending her for some tests, which had revealed that she had lung cancer. She'd never smoked in her life.

The last time I saw her she was still undergoing treatment, but to be honest, the 5-year survival rate for lung cancer is not good, so I imagine she's dead now.

With her permission I took cuttings of several pinks growing in her garden, and this is one such. I have a number of her pinks growing in the back garden, and I take cuttings from time to time, remembering her each time I see them flowering.

And the final picture is of my potatoes. As you can see, I'm growing them in bags which are now fully unrolled. There's space for another 10 cm or so of compost on the top and then they'll be done. They're maincrops, but I don't yet know when they'll be ready. I'll have to look that up.

Thursday, 17 June 2010

Surf's Up!

As P Z Myers said on his posting of this photograph, it's beautiful and exotic. It's a wave breaking on the shores of Alabama.

However, I read on Huffington Post that el Prez has been criticized by language expert for being too "professional" in his Oval Office broadcast about the spill.

Though the president used slightly less than four sentences per paragraph, his 19.8 words per sentence "added some difficulty for his target audience," Payack said.
You couldn't make it up, could you?

He singled out this sentence from Obama as unfortunate: "That is why just after the rig sank, I assembled a team of our nation's best scientists and engineers to tackle this challenge -- a team led by Dr. Steven Chu, a Nobel Prize-winning physicist and our nation's secretary of energy."

Yes, that crystal clear sentence is so terribly unfortunate! To "connect" with Americans, Obama should have definitely said: "OIL GO BOOM! ME NEED HELP FROM BIG BRAINS. I CALL THE CHU-MAN ON THE RINGY PHONE."

Oh yeah, and now there's a couple more reports of rumours he's admitted to being a muslim. They just never give up, do they?

Some great news from Nebraska!

NCSE (US National Center for Science Education) reports that the Nebraska Board of Education has proposed new state science education standards to be voted on this summer, which includes evolution being taught in a rational and scientific way, with no mention of creationism or ID.

Three members of the Nebraska Board of Education say they're not aware of any effort by board members or the public to include intelligent design in Nebraska's new science standards.
So there are sensible states in the US; states not subject to the whim of fairy stories or otherwise living in fantasyland.
Evolution is the bedrock on which much of modern science is built. Everything from government policy to agricultural biotechnology, medical advances to ethics issues can require an understanding of evolutionary principles and findings. Children who lack a solid background in the fundamentals of modern science can be at a considerable disadvantage.
It's really good to be able to report something so positive. Hooray for Nebraska!

Wednesday, 16 June 2010

Bake Jesus Day - July 3rd

This posting gives details of the upcoming Bake Jesus Day which is a protest against Spanish suppression of freedom of speech.

Javier Krahe, a musician from Spain, has been charged with blasphemy simply because of a benign and victimless act of self-indulgence committed over 3 decades ago. Krahe made a satirical home video in 1978, in which he oven-baked a properly seasoned statue of Jesus that he pulled off a crucifix. A few frames from this 54 second video were shown on Spanish TV more recently and the Catholic church went all batshit crazy over it. Now Krahe could end up paying a fine of up to 192,000 euros.

I have set myself a reminder to get cooking that day!

Consequences of erudite vernacular utilized irrespective of necessity: problems with using long words needlessly.

This is interesting and in any case it's worth visiting the blog just for the bumper sticker!

In summary, if you use unnecessarily long words or hard-to-read fonts, you'll be judged by your readers to be less intelligent than if you don't.

Monday, 14 June 2010

Handel's Messiah

Yesterday we put on a charity concert in the back garden of a house in the village of Standon, about 10 miles south of here. We were a bit apprehensive on a number of counts, but in fact it worked out beautifully.

First, there were only 28 of us, which is a smallish choir for Handel's Messiah. Then, we were singing out of doors, which means no friendly accoustic to support your voices. Small choir, big work, outside. Recipe for disaster. Small orchestra, too; only about 20 of them. Forecast of showers. Oh terrific! Singing outside in the rain while the orchestra scrambles to protect their instruments from the water, which is extremely destructive of violins, cellos, etc.

In the event, we found that the garden sloped steeply up behind the house, terraced into about 5 steps, and amazingly, if you went up to the top you could hear every word. Astonishing. Just like an amphitheatre. I was tempted to publish the photos I took on my phone, but realised that could compromise the privacy of our hosts, so I'm afraid you'll have to do without.

So although there were very few of us, all of the audience could hear us really well, and it was a pretty creditable performance.

And although we and they watched lots of really black clouds gather, and we drove over wet roads on the way home, we experienced only a very few droplets of rain during the performance. Enough to have the orchestra casting worried glances at the clouds, but not enough to actually have them running for cover.

A really great evening.

All supplemented by having Jane drive us home (she loves driving my car!), followed by gently relaxing in front of a wood fire with several glasses of red. Jane stayed for a well-earned glosso, I'm glad to say!

Weekend fripperies

On Saturday we took advantage of a Royal Society offer to fellows and their guests to view the Trooping of the Colour from the terrace at the back of the society's base in Carlton House Terrace. We've never taken any interest in this event before, and it was about what we'd expected - lots of shouting, quite a bit of gratuitous marching, a few bands accompanying the carriages. We saw the Queen and Prince Philip, Charles and Camilla and someone else, all for about an eighth of a second each, as the Mall is lined with plane trees which effectively obscured our view.

What the hell, we had a nice lunch, then watched them all go back, after which the highlight of the event was a flypast. Hence the photos of the Red Arrows.

After that we went to the British Museum where we'd booked tickets for the Kingdom of Ife exhibition, which is of 14th - 16th century brass and terracotta sculptures from the kingdom of Ife in Nigeria. Ife was next door to the better known kingdom of Benin. Everyone's heard of Benin bronzes, and these are just as good.

Hot Dog!

Right now I have rather little to do at work (I'll explain in a few days) and you can tell how desperate I was for something to do because I clicked the 'Next Blog' link at the top of the page a few times.

It was definitely worth it, because I found the LongIslandFoodBlog with this pic!

Munch crunchia!

PS Of course I know it's Photoshopped. I don't care!

Organisation Chart

The guy at the top looks down and sees nothing but shit.
The guys at the bottom look up and see nothing but arseholes!

Thursday, 10 June 2010

Now you're talking!

After a week or so of looking out at a blue tree that really wasn't the way I wanted it, I finally left a message for the tree surgeon the other night. I do think I didn't express my original requirements precisely enough, so was prepared to pay a bit more to get it done properly. I heard nothing.

But today, when I came home from work, there it was, almost perfect. If I'd been here while he was doing it, I'd have asked him to shorten that one branch sticking up top right, but apart from that, I'm delighted with it.

So I've left him a message saying so and asking how much I owe him. Be nice if he says "Nothing" but I'm quite willing to cough up a bit more.

I did have a tiny go at it myself at the weekend, but it's more difficult than it looks. You can climb up the branches, but then to reach to the ends is quite a stretch and I didn't get far before deciding discretion was the better part of valour!

Spreading the wealth

Ho ho ho! Love this!

[Hat tip: Greg Laden]

Thursday, 3 June 2010

Ben Goldacre on detox regimes and other woo.

A bit repetitive, but still worth watching, and it's only 7 minutes long.

Wednesday, 2 June 2010

Singing in Florence and Pisa

When the choirmaster made the arrangements for Choir18 to sing in Florence I got the mistaken impression we would be singing in the Duomo, which you see on your left.

Until we got there on Friday, I'd only ever seen pictures taken from a distance, and had no idea the building was entirely faced in white, green and pink marble. I was completely blown away.

We had a walking tour of Florence on Saturday morning when I saw it in the light and also went inside. Rather to my surprise, all the effort to impress had been expended on the outside, and inside was rather dull and plain.

I took a brazillian pictures of statues and buildings, most of which will never see the light of day. I do plan to do a website with rather more photographs, but that won't be straightaway.

In Florence, we actually sang in the church of San Lorenzo, which is rather more modest, though still enormous inside. We sang a concert for a little less than an hour, and it wasn't bad, though it was all a bit tense as the church folks didn't seem to be expecting us and then wanted to charge our audience to come in, despite the fact that it was supposed to be a free concert.

On Sunday a coach took us to Lucca which is near Pisa, where we sang in an oval piazza which you can see here.

The area had been a slum in the 19th century. The authorities cleared the area and discovered a Roman amphitheatre underneath it, so the houses they put up are on the eliptical outline of the amphitheatre.

It was very pleasant to sing there, with a row of caf├ęs around, and we had a decent, appreciative audience.

After lunch the bus took us to Pisa where we sang in the cathedral, which is also called the Duomo, hence my original confusion.

We arrived rather before we were due to sing, so admired the buildings and had some refreshments while we waited. Our tour guide, Camilla, blagged us 5 minutes in the baptistry, which is a cylindrical domed building near the west end of the cathedral.

It had a 10 second decay, which is another way of saying if you snapped your fingers, the sound would take 10 seconds to fade away. We sang two pieces we know very well, singing them at about half normal speed, and the effect was simply astonishing. In an accoustic like that, if you sing too fast, all the detail just disappears into a blur, so you sing more slowly than usual. I fess I was moved to tears by the experience. Music is a funny thing and can get you like that.

I didn't notice, until proofreading this post, that the photo of the cathedral and leaning tower has been distorted by the camera. To compensate for the fact that the light-sensitive panel in the camera is flat, the software or possibly the optics compensates, but in so doing distorts the picture. You'll notice that the leaning tower of Pisa is in fact upright in my snap!

After that we moved into the cathedral itself, where we sang a concert for an hour. The interior shot is of the Pisa Duomo, and I have to say, I rather like the white marble altar near the camera.

And just to make a brilliant weekend perfect, and to compensate for the fact that Jenny had to stay at home marking final year exam papers, my lovely friend Jane came with us, even though she's not in the choir. She flew over on the same flight, stayed in the same hotel and was one of the choir groupies. Ah, life's good!

Tuesday, 1 June 2010

Derbyshire follow-up

This is a truffle. On our first day hunting shark fossils in Derbyshire we were hacking away at the spoil-heap of an old mine, somewhere we'd found shark bits before, and I found this object. I had never seen a truffle before, but guessed this might be one. The identity has since been confirmed.

All I have to do now is find out how to use it in cooking!