Monday, 30 June 2008

Missing Glastonbury :(

Well, I missed Glastonbury Festival again, that's eight years now. And the weather wasn't too bad this time, despite my earlier predictions. I wanted to post more webcam images but the system went down due to 'electrical faults' (damp, I guess) and that snafued that!

However the BBC have lots of video (and no doubt YouTube will have soon).

I throw open a challenge! Compare and contrast:

Jay-Z - Saturday

Neil Diamond - Sunday

That 'they performed at different times of day' is not an answer.

Compare: Both these artists have put in a lot of hard work over the years, they are widely recognized and know how to pull and hold an audience.

Contrast: One of them shouts incoherently like a street drunk, the other could sing a bit when he was younger.

Comments? Grow into these trousers... >>

Thursday, 26 June 2008

Friday's predominant weather is forecast to be - 'heavy rain'.

So says the BBC forecast just now and it's Glastonbury Festival. Owww! Ah, it's much more fun in the sunshine.

Here's the main stage webcam at about half-eight on Thursday eve.

And here is twenty past eleven

Are those raindrops on the lens? If not, beware the brown acid. Grow into these trousers... >>

Saturday, 21 June 2008


This seemed appropriate today.

I've been to Stonehenge been 3 times.

The first time I went, and I have to hazard a guess, it was summertime 1976. My dad let us have the car for a week’s holiday and Stonehenge was on our hitlist. It was very late at night as we came along the A344 so our first impression of the stones was of a looming presence in the darkness. We parked up, let our eyes adjust and went to try to get closer, but found a chain fence along the roadside keeping us out. We slept in the car, in a layby which turned out to be the main carpark. In the morning damn tourists started arriving and then we noticed the gift shop, a van selling ice cream or hamburgers (or both, can't remember) and of course, the tunnel under the road to get to the stones. In those days access was unrestricted, you could go right up and pat them. I did, and it was a great feeling somehow to bond with the achievements of people from so long ago.

The third time I was there I was with my (ex) wife in about 1992. She was/is a keen archaeologist and went on to get a good degree (last I heard). We toured South West England, taking in: Old sarum, Cern Abbas, Uffington, Avebury, West Kennet, Silbury hill. The obvious places, and of course Stonehenge. There we found: damn tourists, the gift shop, a van selling ice cream or hamburgers (or both, can't remember) and of course, the tunnel under the road to get to the stones. Which were now closely encircled by a barbed wire fence closing off the public.

The second time I visited Stonehenge is below the belt.

Stonehenge Festival - 1984

At dawn I was across at the stones watching the Druids, see 40:40. Sunrise was much quieter than the video depicts. Later on things got a bit more stroppy but at sunrise, strangely, I remember the crowd being more hushed and leaving the Druids to get on with it. Rapt in our own experience (or should that be wrapped?). The actual moment was pointed out by someone with a digital watch* as the event was obscured by clouds. Look at the height of the sun in the video, that's long after sunrise.

What do I remember from that free-for-all?
  • No damn tourists. The people who were there, were there to celebrate a particular day. As was their right.
  • Festival gift stalls selling things I might like to buy.
  • A more varied diet than a van selling ice cream or hamburgers (or both, can't remember).
  • The tunnel under the road to get to the stones.
  • Inner city Unit playing 'Raise the Bones of Elvis' (sorry no link).
But now we are many years on from this. We have a responsibility to those stones and to our heritage. Do we allow unfettered access or put a glass dome over it for all but the privileged. In the latter case how did this lot get in as part of what was supposed to be a serious archaeological dig?

In fairness Timothy Darvill and Geoffrey Wainwright were reworking a previous dig, which has it's own recursiveness.
The overall science seems to be valid but I question the two week time frame and the 'do it for the media' attitude. That is a ridiculous way to do archaeology on such an important site. Had it had been left for another 50 years, how much better would we be able to study it?


*Far out in the uncharted backwaters of the unfashionable end of the Western Spiral arm of the Galaxy lies a small unregarded yellow sun. Orbiting this at a distance of roughly ninety-eight million miles is an utterly insignificant little blue-green planet whose ape-descended life forms are so amazingly primitive that they still think digital watches are a pretty neat idea.
Douglas Adams, The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy

Grow into these trousers... >>

Friday, 20 June 2008

Is it ice? Part 2

Pull up your trousers: Is it ice?
A few sols back (a 'sol' is a Martian day) the robotic arm on Phoenix dug a trench which uncovered some white material. There was excitement about ice but nothing could be said for sure until more analysis. Note that in this image the bright white areas at the top of the trench are difficult to interpret. It all depends on how you set the contrast. I would rather draw your attention to the light coloured 'pebbles' in the shadow at the bottom left.

If the white stuff was ice then, exposed to the thin Martian atmosphere and warmed by the Sun, it would sublimate. That is, the ice would not melt as it does back home, but evaporate directly from solid to gas with no intermediate liquid phase. It's the same behavior we see on Earth with dry ice (frozen carbon dioxide).

In the meantime a soil sample delivered to one of the analyser ovens showed no trace of water. Emily Lakdawalla explains:

No surprise there then. If there had been ice in the sample it would have evaporated away before reaching the oven.

So what has happened in the trench, 4 sols since the first photo?

This is not phototrickery. It's real.

Some folks are saying this is proof of ice, even the Phoenix team themselves. Others, such as Emily Lakdawalla, are more cautious.

I'm still hesitating to say I'm fully convinced. Not that I think alien pixies flew off with those lumps during the darksol, I just want to see a water signal in the gas analyser.

Grow into these trousers... >>

Thursday, 19 June 2008

4/4 time in modern music

A couple of weeks ago I posted about Oliver Sacks and his study of music in neurology. In the comments Kai Roberts asked:
"At a slight tangent, I was recently pondering on why the 4/4 time signature is so ubiquitous in popular music and why, as a musician, it's so easy to fall into. Is it simply learnt behaviour or is it somehow primal (perhaps connected with the rhythm of walking, for instance)?"
I find this a difficult question. 4/4 does have a satisfying appeal but I don't know why it singles itself out in popular music. Other timings are widespread in our culture. Two-steps, polkas and quicksteps are 2/4 or sometimes 2/2, waltz is 3/4 and then you get your foxtrots and tangos etc at 4/4. There are others, 6/8 springs to mind. All seem equally enjoyable to play, sing, listen or dance to. So why 4/4?

And what is the rhythm of walking? It repeats every two steps :Left Right: is that 2/1? Heartbeat must be similar.

Just recently I found the website Science Friday. They have a great archive of videos and podcasts and I found a couple of things which may add to the discussion.

I want to know more about this software. Watch the video Predicting Hit Songs (sorry, embedding didn't work).

Also on SciFri is another interview with Oliver Sacks on 'Musicophilia'. Watch the video for a snippet, but the full interview is in the audio player, top left. He makes an interesting point: very young children readily dance to music and chimpanzees do not. Somehow music and rhythm are associated with being human, or must have conferred some advantage to our ancestors. Why?

Why does beating a stick on a hollow log feel so good?


Thanks to Rob at bayblab for the link to SciFri. Grow into these trousers... >>

Tuesday, 17 June 2008

Unquestionable proof of global warming

The argument rages about the reality of global warming. Is it natural or anthropic?

Below the belt I present the known facts...

Grow into these trousers... >>

How to use 'bleeps'

The renowned blogger Pooflinger posted a nomination for the "Creative Censorship - Most creative use of bleeps" category.

This had me dredging my own cesspool for a long forgotten memory. Then, with a pull on the chain of YouTube, the waters became clear...

My nomination is
The Two Ronnies: Swear Box

How true it is.

Updated broken link 22.02.09 Grow into these trousers... >>

Sunday, 15 June 2008

Some (not) pretend music for Sunday night

No pretending - here's The Pretenders. Love you Chrissie!

Night in my Veins

Brass in Pocket

Back on the Chain Gang

Grow into these trousers... >>

A must see introduction to critical thinking

The Bad Astronomer posted this link to a video a few days back. It's ~40 mins long so I queued it up to watch today. I'm glad I did:

Here Be Dragons

Brian Dunning, noted skeptic and pocaster, presents a great documentary pointing out the biases and fallacies of pseudoscience, pop phenomena etc, how to recognise them and how to think through them.

Enjoy and be educated at the same time. Grow into these trousers... >>

Thursday, 12 June 2008

I had a YouTube moment - Bela Fleck

"Prelude from Bach Violin Partitia #3" by Bela Fleck

On banjo

Grow into these trousers... >>

Authentic Unicorn found in Italy.

It's true, there's even a video...

Nah, that's no unicorn. It's a deer with a genetic abnormality, it's not pink and it's visible. Grow into these trousers... >>

Is it ice?

NASA's astronomy picture of the day (APOD) gives a tantalising look underneath the Phoenix lander.

Hi-res is here.


Edit: just after I posted this I learned that the robotic arm has delivered soil samples to both the optical microscope and one of the gas analyzer ovens. GO, GO Phoenix.

Grow into these trousers... >>

Monday, 9 June 2008

Weeing down my trouser leg #1

I'm thinking of having a new category called "Weeing down my trouser leg" for those posts I make under the affluence of incahol.
There will always be a point to these posts - I'm just blown if I can remember what it was.


Thanks as ever to PZ Myers for the link.

What if scripture really did foretell science?

I agree, and I quote from 'The Book of Astropithicus" ch.5

1And it will come to pass that understanding will sweep the land, for weight is not always, though the spirit of weight continueth.

And the motion of the spirit perpetuates, though it is often lazy.

Yet those without that spirit will have fastest motion and they will light the world, though their time will be measured. Others will follow to expand the world.

But the barter will be bright, the spirit of weight and the weightless twice themselves give bountiful reward.

And some will call it the egg and some will call it the mushroom.
Grow into these trousers... >>

Saturday, 7 June 2008

This should be our National Anthem

The current tune is a bit of a dirge isn't it? And few know all the lyrics. There's also talk of dumbing it down. What we need to do is change it.

Many peoples choice for a replacement would be Jerusalem, but in today's politcal climate, that would be misunderstood.

So: there can be only one.

On Ilkla Moor Baht 'at On Ilkla Moor Baht 'at On Ilkla Moor Baht 'at
Now then we would live in a country to be proud of.

Or maybe you prefer...

Grow into these trousers... >>

Evolution disproved

You may stop listening before your ears melt if you wish.

Now hang on my fast-talking friend, evolution can be readily disproven. As JBS Haldane is reputed to have dismissively observed, “a rabbit fossil in the Cambrian.

Oh bugger…

Read the full article here.


See also: Thunderf00t's video rebuttals of Shawn aka VenomfangX

Grow into these trousers... >>

Friday, 6 June 2008

A blast from the past

Melanie Anne Safka-Schekeryk, usually just known as Melanie.
Often imitated, never bested:

Brand New Key

Look What They've Done To My Song Ma

Ruby Tuesday

Spears and Winehouse should be ashamed.
Grow into these trousers... >>

Thursday, 5 June 2008

I want one of these

Forget lava lamps and oil wheels, I want one of these:

Time Fountain - Optical Illusion
Grow into these trousers... >>

Wednesday, 4 June 2008

We're all going to Hell {:Dung Ding Dong:}

And the end of the world is nigh:
Well, speaking as a drunken, lying, thieving, blaspheming, money-loving, atheistic, gambling, porn-loving, pot smoking, fornicating, masturbating, evolutionist; I'd better get the BBQ sauce ready.

Er, hang on ... SPORTS FANS? Come on, what sport is that bad?

ALF: "I'd like to go bowling this afternoon Deirdre."

DEE: "I'll come and watch Alfred"


Cue The Bastard Fairies

The caress of a tentacle to PZ Myers Grow into these trousers... >>

Monday, 2 June 2008

Biology or Physics?

Take this quick quiz : Biology or Physics?

Me? 12/12 easy-peasy, but I've worked in biochemistry and have a lifelong love of astronomy.

Let's see how you do.

Via Pharyngula, and PZ is quite right. Physics should be the correct answer for them all. Biology is an expression of chemistry is an expression of physics. Grow into these trousers... >>

Sunday, 1 June 2008

Old style comedy, the best, and some music

After my last post on music and the brain I found my web butterfly flitting onwards...

Amusia, where a person has no perception of tone or rhythm in music and just hears a cacophony, must be difficult in the modern world. Music is everywhere and some great moments in comedy would be incomprehensible.

Les Dawson, playing the piano

MORECAMBE & WISE : Andre Previn (1/18)

(Eric: “I'm playing all the right notes, but not necessarily in the right order”)

To the amusic why would this be funny? This got me thinking even more about the perception of music. It's not just tapping your foot. People's voices have tonal changes, when asking a question for instance. How do the amusic hear this?

I would also love to know the amusic’s feelings about Karlheinz Stockhausen*.

Now I was just going to cite some trivial piece by Philip Glass when I remembered Koyaanisqatsi and web butterfly goes off at a tangent.

Koyaanisqatsi is amazing. If you haven’t seen it, get it now. The whole movie seems to be on YouTube but you've got to view it in hi-res on a big screen with loud music.

Sorry, I do feel a deep emotion for anyone who cannot enjoy music so here is some more comedy.

Shirley Bassey & Les Dawson

(Les: "He was an atheist for years but he was getting no holidays")

MORECAMBE & WISE : Elton John (7/18)


* Karlheinz Stockhausen

Grow into these trousers... >>

Here's a book I'd like to read - (hint, hint)

While I was scanning the news headlines today I came across this article - Neurologist, choir explore music's healing power
Noted neurologist Oliver Sacks has found common ground with the pastor of Harlem's Abyssinian Baptist Church: Both men believe in the healing power of music.

[Sacks] shared the church stage Saturday with the famed gospel choir as part of the inaugural World Science Festival, a five-day celebration of science taking place in New York this week.

"It should be an exciting and unusual event," Sacks said in an interview this week. "I will talk about the therapeutic and beneficent power of music as a physician, and then their wonderful choir will perform. ... And the audience will make what they can of it."
Oliver Sacks is Professor of Clinical Neurology and Clinical Psychiatry at Columbia University Medical Center. His latest book is called Musicophilia: Tales of Music and the Brain. I was intrigued. A few clicks later having had my memory jogged by The Man Who Mistook His Wife for a Hat, remembering having heard Oliver often on the radio and no longer confusing him with Jonathan Sacks, I found a few YouTube gems.

Sacks is promoting his book with some video shorts. In no particular order here's:

Oliver Sacks - Musicophilia - Amusia*

And the rest:

*amusia - see Wikipedia, BBC news

Grow into these trousers... >>