Friday, 23 March 2012

Bird of Paradise Flower

Some years ago, Jenny gave me a Strelitzia plant and after a few years it started flowering.  It pushes the flower spikes up in the autumn, but they don't actually start to open until the spring.

So here it is today, and I post the picture, not just because I'm proud of the plant (it actually has 5 flower spikes, though only 2 are open) but because the one nearest the camera is unusual in being divided.

The flower stem seems to have extended right through the first flower, and then grown a second bud pointing in the opposite direction. 

A quick Google tells me this condition is not that uncommon, but I've not seen it before on this plant, nor noticed it before when I've seen the flowers elsewhere.

Thursday, 22 March 2012

Spring! Glorious Spring!

It has been such a glorious day!  16°C may not sound like much, but it's a major contrast with what we were experiencing a week or so ago!  The sun shone all day, the daffodils are out, what's not to love!

The work at the nature reserve was done by lunchtime and Doug had to disappear off to RSPB HQ at Sandy, so after eating lunch sitting in the sun and hanging about watching birds for a bit (2 buzzards, a yellowhammer, a chiff-chaff, several goldfinches, 2 mute swans, 3 lapwings) I went home and after quite a short time, got togged up and got the motorbike out.

This is its first outing since the autumn, and I was feeling slightly guilty, as there have been days when I could have got it out, but chose not to.  Today was not one of those!  I didn't want anything too challenging, so just drove roughly north, skirted west of Cambridge, then took the A14 towards Newmarket.  Rather before getting there, I peeled off at the Quy junction and followed what I assume is the old Cambridge to Newmarket road.  It has some wonderful, sweeping bends which you can take comfortably at 90, so I arrived at the far end exhilerated!

Turning right in the outskirts of Newmarket I joined the A11, then took the spur towards home.  The section from Newmarket home is not terribly inspiring, but that was fine.

Before I got home, however, I took a right turn and went to Melbourn, where Pam and John live,  and begged a cup of tea.  Actually, Pam was rather busy, but she very kindly took the time to make me tea and herself a coffee.  She was drying and ironing curtains, which she'd washed, and drying her hair, and waiting for a music pupil who was due to arrive in 15 minutes, so I shouldn't really have stayed.  However, I don't get to see as much of Pam as I'd like, so I took the selfish option, and it was lovely to natter to her.

And I feel really good about having got the bike out.  If it's nice and warm tomorrow morning, I might go to my Spanish class on it, saying which, I shall post this and then check the forecast.

Tuesday, 20 March 2012

A (possible) new supernova

The breaking news I pick up from Phil Plait's Bad Astronomy blog, via the Discover blogs, is that we might be in store for a new supernova, first spotted on March 16th.  This video is very informative and worth the watch.
One thing I got from it is that the galaxy containing the supernova, M95, is 38 million light years away, so the supernova actually exploded in the Eocene.  Awesome!


I think this is such a good idea, I'm spreading the word as fast as I can!

A while ago, I saw a TED talk, I think, in which the speaker was saying how there are millions of people around the world who want to learn a foreign language, and there are huge numbers of websites which are simply not available to most of the world's population, because they're in a language the surfer doesn't understand.

Duolingo decided to put the two things together.  They've created a website which teaches (in my case) Spanish, and presents suitably challenging web site extracts for me to translate into English.  I signed up straightaway, but have only just got to the top of the list.  I started working at it yesterday.  They seem to do German as well, but that's it so far.

You do a little test right at the beginning,  so the site can work out roughly what level you're at, and your translations are compared with those of other subscribers, so the system can decide statistically which the most accurate translation is.  I suspect the process is unlikely to result in works of great merit, but at least the translations should be reasonably accurate.  The folks behind Duolingo did try the system out before launching it, and it does look hopeful.

  • What is Duolingo?
    Duolingo is a service that lets you learn a language for free while simultaneously translating the Web. Learn more by watching this short video.
  • We're still working out a few kinks, so please bear with us while we improve the site. Duolingo is a very ambitious project, and it will take us some time to get everything right.
I did try to add a link to the Duolingo home page, but the site is too clever by half, and simply adds my account to the URL, so I never do get to the home page, just to my own bit.  Not sure what'll happen if you stick into your address bar.  Try it.

Monday, 19 March 2012


The difference between knowing your shit and knowing you're shit.

Thanks to Ned for passing that gem along!

Wednesday, 14 March 2012

Will we get same-sex marriage?

I really hope so, and was delighted to read the following in last week's Week Magazine, after Cardinal Keith O'Brien compared it to legalising slavery:
What a spectacular own goal to compare gay marriage with the reintroduction of slavery.  Note to Cardinal:  if slavery, now universally deemed immoral, is accepted in the bible, that must mean that morality is not fixed by biblical laws.  Which in turn means that homosexuality - deemed immoral in the bible - need no longer be seen as such.

(Some) Good news for Argentinian women

This BBC news article reports good, if limited, news for Argentinian women. 

Section 2, Article 86 of the Argentine penal code states that abortion is not a punishable act "if the pregnancy stems from a rape or an attack on the modesty of a woman of feeble mind".

The  problem is that this is rather ambiguous, and some courts have been ruling that abortion is only legal if it's a feeble-minded woman who has been raped.

The good news is that the Argentinian Supreme Court has now ruled that any woman who has been raped can legally obtain an abortion, and this ruling cannot be overturned.

Of course, it doesn't address the fact that most of the women wanting abortions haven't been raped.  There are an estimated 500,000 illegal abortions a year in Argentina, and the maternal mortality rate is correspondingly high.  The law for these women is clear and unambiguous, so needs to be changed by the government.  Don't hold your breath.

The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel

We went to the cinema last night and saw this great movie, despite the critics not being impressed.

Guardian: needs a Stannah stairlift to get it up to any level of watchability.
Daily Express: The cliché-ridden plot is predictable.
Sunday Times: If there's one thing worse than being ignored, it's being patronised.

How pompous and out of touch with the real world!  Fortunately, the rest of the public take as much notice of the critics as we did, and despite the fact that it was the Tuesday of the second week after release, the cinema was easily 3/4 full.

And the movie was terrific.  It was often laugh-out-loud funny, and equally reduced you to tears.  Sure, you have to suspend disbelief, but then you do for Bond movies, for Shakespeare, for Alien.  This was just such fun, and we came away chuckling, having already decided to buy the DVD when it comes out.

Friday, 9 March 2012

The Child Catchers are Here!

I was idly reading PZ Myers Pharyngula blog when I came across this post which put the shivers down me.  There's a group of evangelical christians which specifically targets 4 to 14-year old children, and they're not just doing it in church, they're doing it in schools, too.  To paraphrase whoever it was "Give me the child, and I will give you the man"  Essentially, they're brainwashing these kids into believing their own particular poisonous religion and it's sweeping America.

So I just googled UK Good News Club and immediately came up with a chilling hit.  They're not just in the US, they're all over the world, including the UK.  I found the Child Evangelism Fellowship of Britain.  This is seriously bad news.

Living on $1 a day

For years now, I've been under the illusion that the $1 a day figure quoted for people living in poverty was misleading, since a US dollar would go quite a long way in many developing countries, so it wasn't a realistic measure of poverty.

Today, I learned from the BBC news website, that the people who worked this stuff out had been a lot cleverer than I'd imagined, and in fact, it really is a useful measure of poverty.  Here's a clip of what the article said:
They looked at the price of hundreds of goods in developing countries. And then with reference to national accounts, household surveys and census data, they calculated how much money you would need in each country to buy a comparable basket of essential goods that would cost you $1 in the USA.
You were under the global poverty line if you couldn't afford that basket.
It's still a reality of life for 13% of people in China; 47.5% in Sub-Saharan Africa; 36% in South Asia; 14% in East Asia and the Pacific; 6.5% in Latin America and the Caribbean. Almost 1.3bn people in total.
That's quite a bit different, I think you'll agree.  A dollar won't fill much of a shopping basket in the US, yet people really do have to live on such a tiny amount.

I hope that makes you think as much as it has me.

Monday, 5 March 2012


Don't Let Bigotry Stop Two People In Love Getting Married

 I've signed this petition because I think that if two people love each other and want to get married, they should be able to.  Whether they're the same or different sexes is irrelevant.  I urge you to sign it, too.  And those damned bishops can go hang!

Passing the idle days

On Thursday we had another great day coppicing at the nature reserve, and I came home exhausted but full of endorphins at the end of the day, small amounts of blood oozing from a large number of perforations, as ever.  We made a big difference, though there's still at least another day's work to go before the meadow has been completely cleared.

On Friday afternoon, Jenny and I drove to the Hereford/Worcester border for another weekend's silversmithing at Bringsty Arts Studio.  I've blogged about this before, so I won't go on and on about it.  Suffice it to say we stayed in our usual, delightful B&B and had dinner both nights in the most excellent Talbot at Knightwick.

I finally finished the pair of wine goblets I've been making for the past eighteen months, and I have to say, I'm pretty pleased with them.  They are metal copies of a pair of glasses we've had for a decade or so, and everyone admires them.  I also made a piece for Jenny, which is both a pendant and a brooch, since it has a tube across the back for a chain to pass through, but also a vertical pin (with detachable protector!)  Hanging on a chain, you don't see the pin, but with the chain removed, the pin can be used to attach the item to a jacket, for example. The stone is a 10mm diameter cabochon-cut turquoise, which should give you an idea of the scale.

Ian, the tutor, said that if I'd not told him it was based on African masks, he'd not have guessed.  I've got several west and central African masks hanging in the dining room, as well as a few other pieces of African wood sculpture, and a number of books about masks, so to me, the source of my inspiration is obvious, but I can see that not everyone will make the connection.  There's an American website that sells masks, so if you're interested, you could waste a bit of time browsing, just to get an idea of what they look like.

Jenny made a cat earring, to replace one she lost, then a ring with a nice Blue John (fluospar) stone setting, and finally a most impressive stylized flower brooch/pendant using the trimmings I produced when I leveled off the tops of my goblets.  Altogether, a very satisfying weekend.