Friday, 31 October 2008

Halloween - and great poetry

Tam O'Shanter by Robert Burns, recited by Gerry Neary.

The words for Tam o'Shanter are below the belt:

WHEN chapman billies leave the street,
And drouthy neebors, neebors meet;
As market-days are wearing late,
An folk begin to tak the gate;
While we sit bousing at the nappy,
An getting fou and unco happy,
We think na on the lang Scots miles,
The mosses, waters, slaps, and styles,
That lie between us and our hame,
Whare sits our sulky, sullen dame,
Gathering her brows like gathering storm,
Nursing her wrath to keep it warm.

This truth fand honest Tam o'Shanter,
As he frae Ayr ae night did canter:
(Auld Ayr, wham ne'er a town surpasses,
For honest men and bonie lasses).

O Tam had'st thou but been sae wise,
As taen thy ain wife Kate's advice!
She tauld thee weel thou was a skellum,
A blethering, blustering, drunken blellum;
That frae November till October,
Ae market-day thou was nae sober;
That ilka melder wi the miller,
Thou sat as lang as thou had siller;
That ev'ry naig was ca'd a shoe on,
The smith and thee gat roarin fou on;
That at the Lord's house, even on Sundav,
Thou drank wi Kirkton Jean till Monday.
She prophesied that, late or soon,
Thou would be found, deep drown'd in Doon,
Or catch'd wi warlocks in the mirk,
By Alloway's auld,haunted kirk.

Ah, gentle dames, it gars me greet,
To think how monie counsels sweet,
How monie lengthen'd, sage advices
The husband frae the wife despises!

But to our tale:- Ae market-night,
Tam had got planted unco right,
Fast by an ingle, bleezing finely,
Wi reaming swats, that drank divinely;
And at his elbow, Souter Johnie,
His ancient, trusty, drouthy cronie:
Tam lo'ed him like a very brither;
They had been fou for weeks thegither.
The night drave on wi sangs and clatter;
And ay the ale was growing better:
The landlady and Tam grew gracious,
Wi favours secret, sweet, and precious:
The Souter tauld his queerest stories;
The landlord's laugh was ready chorus:
The storm without might rair and rustle,
Tam did na mind the storm a whistle.

Care, mad to see a man sae happy,
E'en drown'd himsel amang the nappy.
As bees flee hame wi lades o treasure,
The minutes wing'd their way wi pleasure:
Kings may be blest but Tam was glorious,
O'er a' the ills o life victorious!

But pleasures are like poppies spread:
You seize the flow'r, its bloom is shed;
Or like the snow falls in the river,
A moment white then melts for ever;
Or like the borealis race,
That flit ere you can point their place;
Or like the rainbow's lovely form
Evanishing amid the storm.
Nae man can tether time or tide,
The hour approaches Tam maun ride:
That hour o night's black arch the key-stane,
That dreary hour Tam mounts his beast in:
And sic a night he taks the road in,
As ne'er poor sinner was abroad in.

The wind blew as `twad blawn its last;
The rattling showers rose on the blast;
The speedy gleams the darkness swallow'd;
Loud, deep, and lang the thunder bellow'd;
That night, a child might understand,
The Deil had business on his hand.

Weel mounted on his gray mare Meg,
A better never lifted leg,
Tam skelpit on thro dub and mire,
Despising wind, and rain, and fire;
Whiles holding fast his guid blue bonnet,
Whiles crooning o'er an auld Scots sonnet,
Whiles glow'ring round wi prudent cares,
Lest bogles catch him unawares:
Kirk-Alloway was drawing nigh,
Whare ghaists and houlets nightly cry.

By this time he was cross the ford,
Whare in the snaw the chapman smoor'd;
And past the birks and meikle stane,
Whare drunken Charlie brak's neck-bane;
And thro the whins, and by the cairn,
Whare hunters fand the murder'd bairn;
And near the thorn, aboon the well,
Whare Mungo's mither hang'd hersel.
Before him Doon pours all his floods;
The doubling storm roars thro the woods;
The lightnings flash from pole to pole,
Near and more near the thunders roll:
When, glimmering thro the groaning trees,
Kirk-Alloway seem'd in a bleeze,
Thro ilka bore the beams were glancing,
And loud resounded mirth and dancing.

Inspiring bold John Barleycorn,
What dangers thou canst make us scorn!
Wi tippenny, we fear nae evil;
Wi usquabae, we'll face the Devil!
The swats sae ream'd in Tammie's noddle,
Fair play, he car'd na deils a boddle.
But Maggie stood, right sair astonish'd,
Till, by the heel and hand admonish'd,
She ventur'd forward on the light;
And, vow! Tam saw an unco sight!

Warlocks and witches in a dance:
Nae cotillion, brent new frae France,
But hornpipes, jigs, strathspeys, and reels,
Put life and mettle in their heels.
A winnock-bunker in the east.
There sat Auld Nick, in shape o beast;
A touzie tyke, black, grim and large,
To gie them music was his charge:
He screw'd the pipes and gart them skirl,
Till roof and rafters a' did dirl.

Coffins stood round, like open presses,
That shaw'd the dead in their last dresses;
And, by some devilish cantraip sleight,
Each in its cauld hand held a light:
By which heroic Tam was able
To note upon the haly table,
A murderer's banes, in gibbet-airns;
Twa span-lang, wee, unchristen'd bairns;
A thief new-cutted frae a rape -
Wi his last gasp his gab did gape;
Five tomahawks, wi bluid red-rusted.
Five scymitars, wi murder crusted;
A garter which a babe had strangled;
A knife a father's throat had mangled -
Whom his ain son o life bereft -
The grey-hairs yet stack to the heft;
Wi mair of horrible and awefu,
Which even to name wad be unlawfu.

As Tammie glowr'd, amaz'd and curious,
The mirth and fun grew fast and furious;
The piper loud and louder blew,
The dancers quick and quicker flew,
They reel'd, they set, they cross'd, they
Till ilka carlin swat and reekit,
And coost her duddies to the wark,
And linket at it in her sark!

Now Tam, O Tam! had thae been queans. .
A' plump and strapping in their teens!
Their sarks, instead o creeshie flannen,
Been snaw-white seventeen hunder linen!-
Thir breeks o mine, my only pair,
That ance were plush, o guid blue hair,
I wad hae gien them off my hurdies,
For ae blink o the bonie burdies!
But wither'd beldams, auld and droll,
Rigwoodie hags wad spean a foal,
Louping and flinging on a crummock,
I wonder did na turn thy stomach!

But Tam kend what was what fu brawlie:
There was ae winsome wench and wawlie,
That night enlisted in the core,
Lang after kend on Carrick shore
(For monie a beast to dead she shot,
An perish'd monie a bonie boat,
And shook baith meikle corn and bear,
And kept the country-side in fear).

Her cutty sark, o Paisley harn,
That while a lassie she had worn,
In longitude tho sorely scanty,
It was her best, and she was vauntie...
Ah! little kend thy reverend grannie,
That sark she coft for her wee Nannie,
Wi twa pund Scots ('twas a' her riches),
Wad ever grac'd a dance of witches!

But here my Muse her wing maun cour,
Sic flights are far beyond her power:
To sing how Nannie lap and flang
(A souple jade she was and strang),
And how Tam stood like ane bewitch'd,
And thought his very een enrich'd;
Even Satan glowr'd, and fidg'd fu fain,
And hotch'd and blew wi might and main:
Till first ae caper, syne anither,
Tam tint his reason a' thegither,
And roars out, 'Weel done, Cutty-sark!'
And in an instant all was dark:
And scarcely had he Maggie rallied,
When out the hellish legion sallied.

As bees bizz out wi angry fyke,
When plundering herds assail their byke;
As open pussie's mortal foes,
When, pop! she starts before their nose;
As eager runs the market-crowd,
When 'Catch the thief!' resounds aloud:
So Maggie runs. the witches follow,
Wi monie an eldritch skriech and hollow.

Ah, Tam! Ah, Tam! thou'll get thy fairin!
In hell they'll roast thee like a herrin!
In vain thy Kate awaits thy comin!
Kate soon will be a woefu woman!
Now, do thy speedy utmost, Meg,
And win the key-stane of the brig;
There, at them thou thy tail may toss,
A running stream they dare na cross!
But ere the key-stane she could make,
The fient a tail she had to shake;
For Nannie, far before the rest,
Hard upon noble Maggie prest,
And flew at Tam wi furious ettle;
But little wist she Maggie's mettle!
Ae spring brought off her master hale,
But left behind her ain grey tail:
The carlin claught her by the rump,
An left poor Maggie scarce a stump.

Now, wha this tale o truth shall read,
Ilk man, and mother's son, take heed:
Whene'er to drink you are inclin'd,
Or cutty sarks rin in your mind,
Think! ye may buy the joys o'er dear:
Remember Tam o'Shanter's mare.
Grow into these trousers... >>

Halloween - a cartoon

Here's a nice little cartoon to celebrate the festival.

The Legend of Sleepy Hollow

Part 1

The rest is below the belt:

Part 2

Part 3

Part 4
Grow into these trousers... >>

Thursday, 30 October 2008

Wildlife Photographer of the Year

The Natural History Museum and BBC Wildlife Magazine have announced the winners of this year's competition.

The overall winner was Steve Winter for Snowstorm leopard. It's a great picture, but I thought this was much more interesting. 1st in the Animal Behaviour: All Other Animals category was David Maitland:

DeadlockCheck out David's other photo too. Grow into these trousers... >>

Next on my reading list

A welcome sight on the doormat today was a freshly minted copy of Albion Dreaming: A Popular History of LSD in Britain by my long-time friend Andy Roberts - (I'll call him Agg to avoid confusion).

Agg and I were part of the same clan as we emerged into consciousness through our teens. Looking back it was one hell of a roller coaster ride.

But we made it and as the years passed we both continued to probe the nether regions of reality, though in utterly different ways:
Agg through his sceptical interest in folklore, mythology, UFOs and other cultural phenomenon, and his deep understanding of their philosophical entanglement.
Myself with trying to work out how the hell algae make bile pigments and use them for photosynthesis.

I know Agg's writing style, and I know it's far better than his piano playing, so I'm looking forward to a good, well researched read. Grow into these trousers... >>

Wednesday, 29 October 2008

Great but simple comedy

I almost forgot to post this.

Spike Milligan - Amnesia

Bonus Spike below the belt.

The Epilogue - Spike Milligan

Grow into these trousers... >>

Tuesday, 28 October 2008

Move over Einstein, here come the Starlings

After watching the video of Einstein the parrot the other week, it was fun to see these posts of European Starlings by GrrlScientist.




I'm no twitcher, so correct me if I'm wrong, but starlings used to flock in hundreds of thousands over the cities of Northern England, their chatter clearly heard above the traffic noise and their effluvia a distinct menace to the unlucky pedestrian. I used to watch them wheel and flow in tight complex formations up in the evening sky, as both they and I journeyed home to roost. Now I see few if any in the city. What happened?

I watched a pair last spring, nesting under the eaves next door. So did my cats. Sadly, some of the 'doorstep presents' I received surely came from that brood. Grow into these trousers... >>

Monday, 27 October 2008

Beyond Belief 2008

The videos from Beyond Belief 2008 are beginning to come online.

If you haven't come across this conference before you may be in for a real treat. It's a meeting of deep thinking people discussing science, philosophy, culture, reality...

Beyond Belief: Candles in the Dark

Where else might you see A.C. Grayling, V.S. Ramachandran, Sam Harris, Pat Churchland and Chris Mooney all at the same venue. With hopefully talks to come from Harry Kroto, Michael Shermer and even Paul Davies, who are all on the long list of participants.

I'm waiting till I have a couple of days of free time, then I'll try to watch as much as possible (or as much as I want) in sequence. I'm a sucker for good conference; it keeps the ol' brain ticking over. However we all miss out on what must have gone on during coffee, lunch or in the bar later on. Hey, I'm still capable of eating and drinking on my own! These videos, a beer and a pizza delivery will do just fine.
If you did miss the previous years, here are the links.
Highly recomended.
Beyond Belief: Science, Reason, Religion & Survival - 2006
Beyond Belief: Enlightenment 2.0 - 2007
Grow into these trousers... >>

Sunday, 26 October 2008

You Don't Know Jack

Here's one for the quiz junkies:

That should have been episode 1, it goes up to episode 100. If you want more, there's a full list here.

Have fun. Grow into these trousers... >>

A thought for a Sunday

"Time flies like an arrow; fruit flies like a banana"

Groucho Marx Grow into these trousers... >>

Saturday, 25 October 2008

The Atheist Blogroll

Big thanks to Mojoey at Deep Thoughts for adding by humble blog to the Atheist Blogroll. This was done so quickly too, it can't be easy.

Scroll down to see the link in the sidebar. Join up yourself, it's free. There's lots of people like us all around the world, so don't hide your thoughts, speak out. The world is listening. Grow into these trousers... >>

Why am I an atheist?

I have just asked to be included in the Atheist Blogroll (see sidebar), a worldwide community of similar minded people to myself. Please have a look at some of these blogs, I know you will find lots of interesting reading.
Why am I an atheist?

This is a good question because I never went through any kind of deconversion. I guess I was simply never religiously indoctrinated. Born in the UK in the 1950s and living in rural West Yorkshire, my schooling was Church of England, though my parents were raised as Methodists. I have dim memories of Sunday school at the local Chapel but religion was rarely, if ever, discussed at home. It was just what people did. Christenings and weddings were what churches were for to me, I was much older before my first funeral. At school we had daily morning assembly, with hymns, and celebrations for Easter, Christmas and suchlike. Most of this just passed me by but I always enjoyed the singing and was a member of the school choir for many years.

One of my clearest early memories is of my father lifting me up to look into a birds nest in a hedgerow and seeing a clutch of chicks with gaping mouths. I guess I was about four. I could take you to the same spot now, fifty years later, the hedge and the fields are still there. Though they do not seem so vibrant any longer.

I had an early passion for the natural world and lived surrounded by fields and common land, this is where we played as kids.

Keeping caterpillars in jam jars - there began my awakening - metamorphosis. Butterflies, bees and wasps through the long summer days, moths battering the windows at night. Beetles, spiders, ladybirds and daddy longlegs. Pond dipping for dragonfly, damsel, caddis and mayfly larvae. Gammarus shrimp and bloodworms. When given a microscope I found there were cyclops, hydra and daphnia. Spirogyra, volvox, paramecium, euglena, amoeba. Oh, and brine shrimp from dust-like eggs, wow!

Tadpoles! Frogs, toads and newts. Sticklebacks and minnows. Angling for roach, chub, perch and tench. (It broke my heart in later years when I took my wife-to-be on a walk round the small ponds I knew from childhood. All of them were gone bar one. Filled in, drained or built upon. We went home, I took up a spade and dug a pond in our garden. The next spring it was full of spawning frogs).

Rabbits, chickens, dogs and cats. Hedgehogs, rats, mice and voles. Cows, pigs, sheep and horses. The call of the cuckoo in spring, robin redbreast in winter. Magpies, wrens, thrushes, sparrows and starlings. Visits to the seaside. Starfish and anemone, crabs, shrimp and lobster. Dab, plaice and mackerel.

And then there were fossils...

I never really needed to be taught about evolution. Man, the interconnectedness was obvious from the world in which I lived.

My elder sister bought me a telescope for Christmas one year, and another world opened up. Craters on the moon, Andromeda, Saturn! A mobile library visited the village once a week so I began to satisfy my thirst for knowledge there. Chemistry, physics, maths and electronics (how I failed to kill myself I am not sure). Then into the '70s: drugs, girls and music. Ahh, music, it is so important to me. Strip me of all else but please leave a tune or two in my head.

Always I have tried to find deeper meanings to my experience of life and this has taken me through meditation, martial arts, LSD and finally real research science. Thirty years later I now appreciate that true understanding is having the ability to ask the next question. Learning never ends. Questioning reality never ends.

The legacy from my family I now realise was vast. They gave me the freedom to explore and learn independently. For that I will be eternally grateful.

So why am I an atheist? Because there is no other way to be. Grow into these trousers... >>

Friday, 24 October 2008

Well, I guess I won't be running for President of the USA

New Scientist has an article called:
Are YOU fit to be president?
Basically you take a personality test and copy some of the results into another assessment to see how you might shape up to be President.

Take the short test or the long test and plug the results in here.

I did the long test and I bare my arse below the belt.

Activity Level52
Excitement-Seeking 7
Your score on Extraversion is average, indicating you are neither a subdued loner nor a jovial chatterbox. You enjoy time with others but also time alone.

Your high level of Agreeableness indicates a strong interest in others' needs and well-being. You are pleasant, sympathetic, and cooperative.

Your score on Conscientiousness is average. This means you are reasonably reliable, organized, and self-controlled.

Your score on Neuroticism is average, indicating that your level of emotional reactivity is typical of the general population. Stressful and frustrating situations are somewhat upsetting to you, but you are generally able to get over these feelings and cope with these situations.

Artistic Interests95
Your score on Openness to Experience is high, indicating you enjoy novelty, variety, and change. You are curious, imaginative, and creative.

So how do I measure up as a president?

I am quite happy with this result.
Grow into these trousers... >>

Wednesday, 22 October 2008

Here's a nice little tune - Ramble on Rose

Grateful Dead: Ramble on Rose Live at Radio City Music Hall
Grow into these trousers... >>

We can all do things wrong

But not this wrong, come on...

via Unreasonable Faith. Grow into these trousers... >>

Tuesday, 21 October 2008

Physics - If it were like women

I can't fully find out who the author is really, but he seems to be a scientist/poet.

Whatever, this is priceless:



- - - -

0. Newtonian gravity is your high-school girlfriend. As your first encounter with physics, she's amazing. You will never forget Newtonian gravity, even if you're not in touch very much anymore.

1. Electrodynamics is your college girlfriend. Pretty complex, you probably won't date long enough to really understand her.

2. Special relativity is the girl you meet at the dorm party while you're dating electrodynamics. You make out. It's not really cheating because it's not like you call her back. But you have a sneaking suspicion she knows electrodynamics and told her everything.

3. Quantum mechanics is the girl you meet at the poetry reading. Everyone thinks she's really interesting and people you don't know are obsessed about her. You go out. It turns out that she's pretty complicated and has some issues. Later, after you've broken up, you wonder if her aura of mystery is actually just confusion.

4. General relativity is your high-school girlfriend all grown up. Man, she is amazing. You sort of regret not keeping in touch. She hates quantum mechanics for obscure reasons.

5. Quantum field theory is from overseas, but she doesn't really have an accent. You fall deeply in love, but she treats you horribly. You are pretty sure she's fooling around with half of your friends, but you don't care. You know it will end badly.

6. Cosmology is the girl that doesn't really date, but has lots of hot friends. Some people date cosmology just to hang out with her friends.

7. Analytical classical mechanics is a bit older, and knows stuff you don't.

8. String theory is off in her own little world. She is either profound or insane. If you start dating, you never see your friends anymore. It's just string theory, 24/7.
via Berto: Philosophy Monkey Grow into these trousers... >>

Monday, 20 October 2008

Where does surreal begin? Try this.

Tom Waits: God's away on business

I'd sell your heart to the junk-man baby
For a buck, for a buck!
If you're looking for someone to pull you out of that ditch
You're out of luck,
You're out of luck

The ship is sinking,
The ship is sinking,
The ship is sinking

There's a leak, there's a leak in the boiler room,
The poor, the lame, the blind
Who are the ones left in charge?
Killers, thieves and Lawyers

God's away, God's away, God's away
On business. Business.
God's away, God's away, God's away
On business. Business.

Digging up the dead with a shovel and a pick
It's a job, it's a job
Bloody moon rising with a plague and a flood
Join the mob, join the mob

It's all over,
It's all over,
It's all over

There's a leak, there's a leak, in the boiler room
The poor, the lame, the blind
Who are the ones that we kept in charge?
Killers, thieves, and lawyers

God's away, God's away, God's away
On business. Business.
God's away, God's away,
On business. Business.

[Instrumental Break]

Goddamn there's always such a big temptation
To be good, to be good
There's always free cheddar in a mousetrap, baby
It's a deal, it's a deal

God's away, God's away, God's away
On business. Business.
God's away, God's away, God's away
On business. Business.

I narrow my eyes like a coin slot baby,
Let her ring, let her ring

God's away, God's away,
God's away on business.
via LGF Grow into these trousers... >>

Sunday, 19 October 2008

A thought for a Sunday

"I do not feel obliged to believe that the same God who has endowed us with senses, reason, and intellect has intended us to forgo their use and by some other means to give us knowledge which we can attain by them. He would not require us to deny sense and reason in physical matters which are set before our eyes and minds by direct experience or necessary demonstrations. This must be especially true in those sciences of which but the faintest trace (and that consisting of conclusions) is to be found in the Bible."

Galileo Galilei (1564 - 1642)
Letter to the Grand Duchess Christina of Tuscany - 1615 Grow into these trousers... >>

Nikon Small World 2008

Each year, photography and imaging giant Nikon holds a competition to find the best photograph taken using a microscope. the results are often stunning and hauntingly beautiful.

This year was no exception with first place going to Michael Stringer of Westcliff-on-Sea, Essex, UK for this view of the marine diatom Pleurosigma.

“My objective was to display diatoms in today’s modern style, through the careful application of colors,” said Mr. Stringer, “I couldn’t be more pleased that the Small World judges recognized the artistic vision in this image. I dedicate this award to the diatom and especially to my dear friend, Klaus Kemp, who in my opinion creates the most exquisite slides of these tiny bits of silica.”
I was also rather taken with the image in 20th place from Solvin Zankl of Kiel, Germany with this view of a Sergestes larva (deep-water decapod crustacean).

See all of this year's finalists at Nikon Small World 2008.
Grow into these trousers... >>

Saturday, 18 October 2008

What is the evolutionary advantage of religious belief?

Following a talk about his book The God Delusion, for the University of Liverpool in February 2008, biologist Richard Dawkins was asked the following question:
Religion is widespread at least historically, perhaps universal, and human specific. My question to you is do you think religion or religious belief evolved in humans and if so did it confer an evolutionary advantage?
Dawkins' response is here:

The full talk with Q+A is below the belt.

Richard Dawkins Public Lecture - Liverpool 2008

HT to [GBG] Atheist News.
Grow into these trousers... >>

Friday, 17 October 2008

Weeing down my trouser leg #9 - The Man In Black

Earlier tonight, in the pub, a good friend commented on my Tom Petty post from last week. Note - he comments in person and not online - wuss.

So just for you man, here's the same song by The Man In Black.

I Won't Back Down/Johnny Cash

Bonus track below the belt.

Johnny Cash - San Quentin

Grow into these trousers... >>

Thursday, 16 October 2008

A cappella hip-hop

This is rather surprisingly good. Another gem from TED.

James Burchfield: Sound stylings by a human beatbox
Grow into these trousers... >>

Wednesday, 15 October 2008

Are you like anyone famous?

Take this quick test to find out:

Which Fantasy/SciFi Character Are You?

Engage - below the belt.

Which Fantasy/SciFi Character Are You?

Ay that's him, Mirfield lad, Stewart they call him.
Grow into these trousers... >>

Go! Go! gogreen18 - I'm right there with you

Have a look at gogreen18 on YouTube, and then listen to what she is saying.

I agree, say it loud and say it proud.

Why Atheists Care About YOUR Religion

Well done lass.

Bonus video below the belt.

I'm Going To Hell

:Dung Ding Dong:
Grow into these trousers... >>

Tuesday, 14 October 2008

Another day older and deeper in debt

Well that’s the way it seems to me, given the current financial gloom. I read today that the inflation rate is way up at 5.2% and the Retail Prices Index (RPI) is up to 5%. This is good news for me 'coz I have a pay rise next month based on the RPI today, 14th Oct, and 5% will be welcome. It's bad news for many others though, and even for me I doubt it matches the true cost increase of daily living.

Tennessee Ernie Ford - Sixteen Tons
Grow into these trousers... >>

Einstein talks at TED

I was hunting round for a bit of entertainment when I remembered the TED (Technology, Entertainment, Design) website. It's always worth a visit and I was rewarded with this short video of Einstein the Parrot. This is a must see:

Grow into these trousers... >>

Monday, 13 October 2008

Late night music

Tom Petty - I Won't Back Down

Grow into these trousers... >>

A boy and his dog

A boy and his dog were walking down the road. The boy was enjoying the walk, when it suddenly occurred to him that he was dead! He remembered the truck, the splat and that his dog had died with him. They carried on walking. After a while, they came to a high, white marble wall along one side of the road.

At the top of a long hill, the wall was broken by a tall arch with gates that glowed wondrously in the sunlight. The arch was wrought by clouds, the gate was magnificently carved from mother-of-pearl and the street that led there shone like gold. The boy walked up, and as he got closer he saw an attendant at a desk to one side. "Excuse me" the boy asked, "do you have any water?"

"This is heaven son" the attendant answered, "and of course we have water. Come right in, and I'll have some iced water brought straight up." The attendant waved an arm and the gates swung open.

"Can my friend come in too?" the boy asked, looking down at his dog.

"Oh I'm sorry son, but we don't accept pets."

The boy thought a moment. Then, with a sigh, he turned back toward the road, continuing the way he had been going with his dog. After another long walk, and at the top of another long hill, he came to a dirt road which led through an open farm gate. As he approached the gate he saw a man inside leaning against a tree and reading a book.

"Excuse me!" he called to the man. "Do you have any water?"

"Yeah, sure, there's a pump over there." The man pointed to a place that couldn't be seen from outside the gate. "Come on in."

"How about my friend here?" the boy gestured to the dog.

"There should be a bowl by the pump."

They went through the gate, and there was an old-fashioned hand pump with a bowl beside it. The boy filled the bowl and put it down for the dog. While the dog was drinking, he took a long drink directly from the pump. When they had quenched their thirst, and the boy had washed off the dust from the journey, they walked back toward the man standing by the tree who was waiting for them.

"It's very nice here. What do you call this place?" the boy asked.

"This is heaven," was the answer.

"Well, that's confusing" the boy said, "the man down the road said that was heaven, too."

"Oh, you mean the place with the gold street and pearly gates? Nope. That's really hell."

"Doesn't it make you mad for them to use your name like that?" the boy asked.

"No, but I can see how you might think it's wrong. It's good for us though, it screens out the bastards who would leave their best friends behind." Grow into these trousers... >>

Sunday, 12 October 2008

After my last post, there's maybe more point to this

  1. Go to Google
  2. Type in gift from god
  3. Click on the top result
  4. Say Hallelujah!
Thank you PZ Myers, and...
Now Wash Your Hands Grow into these trousers... >>

Don't expect a point to this...

Flash timewasters from VectorPark. Lots of them. I really like the 3-legged acrobots.

Thanks to Chaotic Utopia. Grow into these trousers... >>

Saturday, 11 October 2008

GFP is awesome, and the Nobel committee agrees

First isolated and purified in the 1960s and 1970 green fluorescent protein (GFP) has become a remarkable tool in the understanding of cellular biology and gene expression. It's found in glowing jellyfish, notably Aequorea victoria. The energy for their glow actually comes from an interaction between another protein, aequorin and calcium ions, Ca2+. Binding to calcium pushes aequorin into an excited configuration which relaxes by giving off a photon of blue light. That's bioluminescence. Fireflies do it too and many deep sea fish and plankton, each in their own way.

Now here's the interesting bit, GFP absorbs the blue light from aequorin and re-emits it as green light. It fluoresces; shine a blue light on GFP, it glows green.

In 1992 the gene for GFP was cloned by Douglas Prasher and a new branch of science took off. Get the gene for GFP into about the right place and it will be expressed alongside a normal gene. Then by shining a blue light you have a measure for that gene's activity, observe the green glow. Get the GFP gene into exactly the right place and you can tag a protein with a fluorescent marker, and then follow it's movements by its glow.

As an example I was going to include a video of the nematode Caenorhabditis elegans* expressing GFP in it's nervous system, but the poster at YouTube won't let me! Come on, it's 11 seconds long man, get real... anyway you'll have to click this link.

In the main, I was surprised by the lack of GFP videos on YouTube. GFP is cool, get posting your work guys...

Among the few is another video of C. elegans, this time there are two of them and they are very young. I don't know what protein they are expressing but watch it dissipate and re-group during cell division.

Of course technology and understanding move on over the years. Now it is not just green fluorescent protein but a spectrum of colour.

Here's the Brainbow mouse -->

As Roger Tsien wrote in 1998**
In just three years, the green fluorescent protein (GFP) from the jellyfish Aequorea victoria has vaulted from obscurity to become one of the most widely studied and exploited proteins in biochemistry and cell biology. Its amazing ability to generate a highly visible, efficiently emitting internal fluorophore is both intrinsically fascinating and tremendously valuable. High-resolution crystal structures of GFP offer unprecedented opportunities to understand and manipulate the relation between protein structure and spectroscopic function. GFP has become well established as a marker of gene expression and protein targeting in intact cells and organisms. Mutagenesis and engineering of GFP into chimeric proteins are opening new vistas in physiological indicators, biosensors, and photochemical memories.
Martin Chalfie, Osamu Shimomura and Roger Y. Tsien share the 2008 Nobel Prize in Chemistry for their discovery and development of the green fluorescent protein***.
*I can't pronounce it either. Say C. elegans and it's OK.
**Tsien RY. Annu Rev Biochem. 1998; 67:509-44.
***And why not Douglas Prasher?
Grow into these trousers... >>

Friday, 10 October 2008

Ukulele Henry wows Leeds talent festival

I've only one thing to ask, where's the wheelbarrow to carry his balls back offstage?

Ukulele Henry - Bad Moon Rising

Catch up with Ukulele Henry on YouTube and give him some support with his charity fundraising.

Bonus track below the belt!

Thank God For TV

Nice one Henry!
Grow into these trousers... >>

xkcd is the best

It made me laugh anyway:

Numerical Sex Positions Grow into these trousers... >>

Thursday, 9 October 2008

Mercury in closeup - Kuiper and more

Credit: NASA/Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory/Carnegie Institution of Washington
This stunning view is Kuiper* crater, the central feature in the image from last Tuesday. The crater itself is 62km in diameter (39 miles) but the ejecta from the impact fan out over a much greater distance.

The Messenger website observes:
Bright ejecta rays such as these are produced as impacts excavate and eject relatively unweathered subsurface material. The ejecta rays of Kuiper and other large craters are observed to extend for hundreds of kilometers across the cratered terrain of Mercury
But the real guy responsible for the rays is here:

Credit: NASA/Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory/Carnegie Institution of Washington
This is the (as yet unnamed?) crater at about 1 o'clock in Tuesday's image. Measuring about 110km across (68 miles) the central impact has spread ejecta over half the planet.

Again from the website:
A striking characteristic of this newly imaged area is the large pattern of rays that extend from the northern region of Mercury to regions south of Kuiper. This extensive ray system appears to emanate from a relatively young crater newly imaged by MESSENGER, providing a view of the planet distinctly unique from that obtained during MESSENGER’s first flyby. This young, extensively rayed crater, along with the prominent rayed crater to the southeast of Kuiper, near the limb of the planet, were both seen in Earth-based radar images of Mercury but not previously imaged by spacecraft.
Yeah, but what do they mean by young?
*Named in honour of Gerard Kuiper, he of Kuiper Belt fame. Though is seems he had bugger all to do wih it really.
Grow into these trousers... >>

Wednesday, 8 October 2008

Just Chillin

Lou Reed
A Walk On The Wild Side

The Velvet Underground - Sweet Jane (Live)
Grow into these trousers... >>

Tuesday, 7 October 2008

Rationality FTW - YouTube reinstates banned video

Pat Condell's banned video has been reinstated by YouTube. I have little doubt this is due to public protest against their censorship and their denial of free speech.

If you missed the point, pull up your trousers or catch up here.

As a bonus, Pat has a posted a second video:

Plus there is a new poll to register your opposition to sharia law in the UK. We have laws in this country and we are all equal before those laws.

Sharia law does not respect those rights, nor does it comprehend the meaning of the word freedom. Register now, and tell all the right minded people who you know to do the same.

here's the link again: Grow into these trousers... >>

Mercury in focus

Phil Plait says it much better that I ever could:
"Holy Haleakala. Look at those rays! They go all the way across the planet!"
Go read his first report. Grow into these trousers... >>

Monday, 6 October 2008

George Hrab sings a song

You might know by now that I like the Geologic podcast.

So here is George doing his musical best. Which is good.

Sweet Dreams Are Made of This - by George Hrab on vocals. Grow into these trousers... >>

MESSENGER fly-by of Mercury

Earlier today the Messenger spacecraft flew past the planet Mercury (images to follow as they are released).
The photo here is ~15h before closest approach
Credit NASA / APL

This is a long term and complicated mission...
Launched in 2004 Messenger aims to go into orbit around Mercury in 2011 and collect data for a whole year.

Remember, Mercury is the closest planet to the Sun. If you were to aim a craft directly, the Sun's enormous gravitation would cause so much acceleration that the craft could not carry enough fuel to slow down in time to enter mercurial orbit.

So what do you do? You launch it sideways into orbit around the Sun, use gravity assists (flybys) and short engine burns (using the precious fuel) to gradually nudge the craft into a diminishing solar orbit until it is captured by the gravitation field of Mercury.

From the mission website:
To become the first spacecraft to orbit Mercury, MESSENGER must follow a path through the inner solar system, including one flyby of Earth, two flybys of Venus, and three flybys of Mercury. This impressive journey will return the first new spacecraft data from Mercury since the Mariner 10 mission over 30 years ago.
See the Messenger site for this timeline of the mission:

One more Mercury fly-past (29th Sept. 2009) and two more fuel burns (DSMs - Deep Space Maneuvers) before it goes into orbit (18th Feb 2011). Grow into these trousers... >>

Sunday, 5 October 2008

BBC wildlife video - lion kill.

I'm not promoting the new 'Big Cat Live' series on BBC1, but have a look at the website. They have four live webcam streams running day and night (with infra-red).

No doubt this clip will be broadcast:
The BBC's Natural History Unit cameras are in Kenya's Masai Mara Reserve for a week of live programmes - and already they have seen some astonishing sights.

The cams are live right now but I don't know for how long.

As yet there's nothing as good as Battle at Kruger but you never know. Grow into these trousers... >>

Saturday, 4 October 2008

Public Image Ltd

There is something about John Lydon that you just have to admire. Er! Oh yeah here it was:

PIL - Rise

More below the belt

PIL - This Is Not A Love Song

Hey, times don't change much.

Sex Pistols - Pretty Vacant

Grow into these trousers... >>

Phoenix, a long awaited update

Watching the clouds go by.
Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/University Arizona/Texas A&M University

Recently, results from the experimental kit on Phoenix have been slow to be released. Now suddenly there's all this fascinating stuff at once.

The gentle but persistent heat of the analyser ovens (TEGA - Thermal and Evolved Gas Analyzer) and the wet chemistry lab (MECA - Microscopy, Electrochemistry and Conductivity Analyzer) have both recorded firm evidence for calcium carbonate in 'soil' samples from Mars.

From NASA:
The TEGA evidence for calcium carbonate came from a high-temperature release of carbon dioxide from soil samples. The temperature of the release matches a temperature known to decompose calcium carbonate and release carbon dioxide gas, which was identified by the instrument's mass spectrometer.

The MECA evidence came from a buffering effect characteristic of calcium carbonate assessed in wet chemistry analysis of the soil. The measured concentration of calcium was exactly what would be expected for a solution buffered by calcium carbonate.
Calcium carbonate is limestone, or chalk or marble and can even form cave features such as stalactites. It is also an integral part of many marine organisms on Earth. Don't be confused though, there is no evidence for life on Mars, just carbonates which chemically are to be expected given Mars' CO2 based atmosphere, but it needs water. It's a bit like this:

H2O + CO2 --> H2CO3

Water plus carbon dioxide gives carbonic acid. Now, remember what happens when you mix a metal, such as calcium, and an acid?

Ca + H2CO3 --> Ca2CO3 + H2

You get a salt, calcium carbonate, and hydrogen gas.


Another part of MECA is the atomic force microscope. They (try to) sieve in some dust from the Martian 'soil' and scan the surface of the particles with incredible precision. Here's an image:

This image's field of view is approximately 23 microns wide. That's 23┬Ám or 23×10−6m, or 23/1,000,000 metres. That's at the low end of human hair width. It's described as platey material, flat sheets with clearly defined edges.
"We are seeing smooth-surfaced, platy particles with the atomic-force microscope, not inconsistent with the appearance of clay particles," said Michael Hecht, MECA lead scientist at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, Calif.
Clay minerals are typically formed over long periods of time by the gradual chemical weathering of rocks (usually silicate-bearing) by low concentrations of carbonic acid.
TEGA has also found hints of phyllosilicates, These results just drip with water.

Here's the stunner though. It was snowing on Mars.

Martian clouds, like those in the animation above, have been followed by the Meteorological Station (MET) aboard Phoenix. It caries a LIDAR or light detection and ranging instrument. Basically a radar but done with a laser beam.

Watching the clouds go by, with a laser.
Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/University Arizona/Canadian Space Agency

Something was dropping out of the clouds and being buffeted by the differing wind speeds as it fell. Ice crystals; we might call it snow.
It can't be frozen carbon dioxide, it's not cold enough for that yet. It is very cold though:

A thin layer of water frost is visible on the ground around NASA's Phoenix Mars Lander in this image taken by the Surface Stereo Imager at 6 a.m. on Sol 79 (August 14, 2008), the 79th Martian day after landing. The frost begins to disappear shortly after 6 a.m. as the sun rises on the Phoenix landing site.
Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/University of Arizona/Texas A&M University

As the winter progresses it will get much colder still. Cold to the point where Phoenix will cease to function, and be entombed in ice and solid CO2. Until the Martian spring that is. As the polar cap again retreats Phoenix will be re-exposed and, if the sunlight charges up it's batteries, it may just manage a last "Still Here". I hope so, this is a great mission.
Grow into these trousers... >>

Oops -

Had a bit of a brown-out. Some code got scrambled (read - me pissing about) and the 'Grow into these trousers... >>' link stopped working. I had my template backed up but restoring it didn't solve the problem (???).

Anyway, things seem to be stable again now. I've changed all the code for the fullpost trousers link and, mops brow, I didn't have to reinstall all my widgets! Grow into these trousers... >>

Friday, 3 October 2008

Pat Condell - petition the government

I finally found the petition that Pat Condell refers to in the 'banned' video.

Sign up here Do it quickly though. In fact, do it NOW because the deadline is the 4th Oct.

Thanks to The Freethinker. Grow into these trousers... >>

Thursday, 2 October 2008

Music again - Rolling Stones

Check out this version of 'Paint it Black' - it pressed the right buttons for me.

Rolling Stones - Paint it Black
Grow into these trousers... >>

Wednesday, 1 October 2008

I said he wouldn't be very happy

A couple of weeks ago I posted about the imposition sharia law in Britain being legitimised by our government. I thought at the time that Pat Condell would have something to say about this. He did, and the video was promptly banned by YouTube. Don't worry you can see it below and keep up with Pat here.

Welcome to Saudi Britain:

This is a bad move by YouTube and I will be making them aware of my displeasure. Grow into these trousers... >>