Sunday, 30 November 2008

A thought for a Sunday

“In theory there is no difference between theory and practice; but in practice, there is.”

Yogi Berra. Grow into these trousers... >>

Saturday, 29 November 2008

Albion Dreaming

I have just finished reading Albion Dreaming: A Popular History of LSD in Britain a book I mentioned before, written by my friend Agg (Andy Roberts).

And most enjoyable it was too. I set off to read it dispassionately, because I know the guy and we've kinda lived through much of these times, but I was soon hooked by the level of detail. Though the subject is contentious it is treated with accuracy, voluminous research often based on interviews or correspondence with those concerned, and somehow I detect a subtle underlying humour; or maybe that's just because I know the author and remember his dry wit.
This is not whiz-bang, far out man but a sober account of sub culture in recent history.

From Hoffman to Kemp and beyond this is a richly referenced, well indexed travelogue through the last 60 years or so. As the story develops we see that the effects of LSD on our culture go far beyond the experience of individual users, profound though that may be. The influence extends into music, art, fashion and politics. LSD has changed the lifestyle of many generations of non-users and I see this as a positive thing, but it's continued prohibition is a legal anomaly given the availability of ethyl alcohol.

In conclusion this is a book which could grace any coffee table with style and provoke a thousand conversations, just like it's subject matter.

There's a cosmic rush of music below the belt.
Agg, nice one, this is for you!

Curved Air - S t r e t c h

BLACK WIDOW - Come To The Sabbat (1970) LIVE video

Evening Over Rooftops - The Edgar Broughton Band

The Incredible String Band - 02 - The Juggler's Song

white rabbit (Jefferson Airplane)

And of course some Floyd.
Grow into these trousers... >>

Friday, 28 November 2008

Comical animations - Polar Bear

I've no idea where these originate but I love them:

Polar Bear - Holiday

Golf is below the belt.

Polar Bear - Golf
Grow into these trousers... >>

Thursday, 27 November 2008

Human Ancestry - cartoon style

Here's a gentle introduction to human origins from 23andMe on YouTube.

Ancestry 101: Prologue

I guess there's more to come.

Via Atheist Media Blog and Wired Science who rated it highly in their Top 10 Amazing Biology Videos. Grow into these trousers... >>

Where on Earth

"Do you know your Eiffel Tower from your Guggenheim? Where on Earth has you pinpointing the location of iconic buildings in the world."
It's similar to The Traveler IQ Challenge™ but with lots of landmark buildings.

Sorry 'bout the adverts. Grow into these trousers... >>

Wednesday, 26 November 2008

Old style rock

Often covered - rarely done so well.

Deep Purple - Smoke On The Water (Live, 1973)
Grow into these trousers... >>

Tuesday, 25 November 2008

I couldn't put it better


Via Primordial Blog - via Friendly Atheist. Grow into these trousers... >>

Monday, 24 November 2008

Update - Female evolution

In my post on female evolution I thought that Afarensis would have more to say. So click through for an update. Grow into these trousers... >>

A puzzle game

Draw walls and ramps with your mouse to drive the red ball onto the red square. Simple.

Can't work out how to see my scores though, but still infuriating fun. Grow into these trousers... >>

Sunday, 23 November 2008

Sad, but somehow beautiful

Imagine 4600 years ago near Eulau, Germany. A tribe or a settlement was viciously attacked and many were killed. Men, women, children. The survivors returned to bury the dead, these were the people they had lived alongside and maybe grown up among. Thirteen individuals have been found buried so far, interred with social knowledge and respect. One woman has a flint arrow head embedded in her back. Another has two huge blows to the top of her head, either one would have been fatal. Many have arm wounds, an indication they were trying to defend themselves but were unarmed or surprised. We will never know what happened, but the researchers* themselves describe it as "a strong indicator of lethal aggression".

Photo credit: PNAS

The remains have been analysed for DNA and for levels of the element Strontium. Specifically reported are mitochondrial DNA (mtDNA) and Y-chromosome DNA.

mtDNA is passed on from mother to child, both boys and girls, but only the girls can be mothers to pass it on again. The Y-chromosome is passed only from father to son.

In one grave are three children and one female adult. This was the lady who had her head smashed twice, but by mtDNA she is not the mother of two of the youngsters, the lineage of the third is currently unknown. What happened here and why bury them together? A paternal aunt maybe? A childminder with her charges?

The family unit is below the belt. It reminds me of this discovery.

Credit: Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences/PNAS

At the top is an impression of how the bodies were laid out. The square symbols denote males, the circle is a female. The colours show blue for the male (Y-DNA) and pink or orange for the female (mtDNA) lineages. So the father and mother were definitely unrelated. His mtDNA (oran
ge) comes from his mother's line, hers (pink) from her different maternal history.

The two male children are without question this couple's offspring, they carry their mother's mtDNA (pink) and their father's Y-DNA (blue), but the deliberate placing of the bodies says much. Daddy's favorite son, mom's little soldier, who knows? The people who buried them I suppose, but there would have been a reason.

Ah strontium and you thought I had forgotten. I always associate strontium with red fireworks and, in its radioactive form together with caesium, a nutritional hazard post Chernobyl but that's the point. From Wikipedia:
Since Strontium is so similar to calcium, it is incorporated in the bone. All four isotopes are incorporated, in roughly similar proportions as they are found in nature... However the actual distribution of the isotopes tends to vary greatly from one geographical location to another. Thus analyzing the bone of an individual can help determine the region it came from. This approach helps to identify the ancient migration patterns as well as the origin of commingled human remains in battlefield burial sites. Strontium thus helps forensic scientists too.
By measuring strontium isotope ratios, in this case from teeth which are laid down in childhood, the research shows that the men and women were raised in different places. This implies inter-tribal contact for the purpose of choosing a spouse, and further implies an understanding of the problems associated with inbreeding.

A fascinating study.

PNAS doi: 10.1073/pnas.0807592105
"Ancient DNA, Strontium isotopes, and osteological analyses shed light on social and kinship organization of the Later Stone Age", Haaka et al, PNAS, Nov 2008.

Supporting information.

Grow into these trousers... >>

A thought for a Sunday - Zen

A samurai once asked Zen Master Hakuin where he would go after he died. Hakuin answered “How am I supposed to know?”

“How do you not know? You’re a Zen master!” exclaimed the samurai.

“Yes, but not a dead one,” Hakuin answered.

Zen proverb

Via LGF. Image credit: Calisphere. Grow into these trousers... >>

Saturday, 22 November 2008

Sussed the bug

Some 'Internet Explorer' folks have told me of an error on the blog causing the main page to abort loading. Well I hope that's fixed now. It seemed to be because a closing </span> tag was missing on one post last week. This is annoying seeing as how a) the Blogger software generates these tags automatically, b) is supposed to check that they come in opening and closing pairs before you publish and c) it's hardly a big deal.

More annoying is that some versions of IE fail catastrophically whilest Firefox displays perfectly. Having been forced to use IE for an evening to sort this out I can only say I think it's crap. Get Firefox now! Grow into these trousers... >>

An incident close to home

My bus journey to work yesterday took me right past here. I saw the police tape and thought... nothing unusual, this is Windybank estate, a locally notorious region. Then the news items pop up.

It turns out that, following an internet leak of membership details of the right wing BNP, a so called political party in the UK, someone decides it is acceptable to fire bomb a car.

But the BNP guy wasn't in, so they trashed his neighbor’s car instead.

Wankers. Grow into these trousers... >>

β Pictoris b

They are coming thick and fast. Is this yet another exoplanet? Well it's a good candidate. It's is a difficult image to interpret but have a look at the star β Pictoris.

Credit: ESO

The light blue disc has been digitally enhanced, β Pic is at the centre and normally its glare would obscure everything, this glare has been removed. The multi-coloured flares are a ring (or rings) of dust circling the star similar to Fomalhaut but here we are looking exactly edge on. And there it is, just offset from the centre at 11 o-clock, a faint point of light. More work needs to be done to make certain that it's not a foreground or background object, but there is good evidence for a planet. Noticeably it is directly aligned to the rings. Had it been at 1 o-clock a non-planetary explanation would be more likely. Also estimates of its mass are about 8 times the mass of Jupiter, calculated from its brightness and its postulated effect on the ring system. Big, but planetary.

Just have to wait for more data.
Via the Bad Astronomer, Universe Today and ESO. Grow into these trousers... >>

Friday, 21 November 2008


Great music and now I want to watch Altered States again. Here's the film trailer.

But now the music!

Pink Floyd - ECHOES - 1 of 3

Parts 2 and 3 are below the belt

Pink Floyd - ECHOES - 2 of 3

Pink Floyd - ECHOES - 3 of 3

Grow into these trousers... >>

Thursday, 20 November 2008

George Hrab time again

For a dose of jokes listen to the latest Geologic podcast. A half hour of good laughs. Grow into these trousers... >>

Wednesday, 19 November 2008

These guys must be knowledgeable, brave or daft

Via GrrlScientist comes this amazing video of killer whales hunting a penguin.

Very happy Gentoo penguin

The guys in the dinghy seem so relaxed, I would have been crapping myself. Any one of those orcas could have taken the boat straight out, just by lunging for the penguin. Do they know this pod well, have they nerves of steel or what?

Shame about the music. Grow into these trousers... >>

This is what we need

Monty Python have their own YouTube channel. About time, if this what it seems to be I can only say WhoHoo!

The Monty Python Channel on YouTube

Bonus video below the belt for anyone who may not share my fascination with all things spacey (and for everyone else too).

Galaxy Song
Grow into these trousers... >>

Tuesday, 18 November 2008

Beware the moggies

Is your cat plotting to kill you?
Via Evolving Thoughts.
Grow into these trousers... >>

Monday, 17 November 2008

Wolfram's rule 34

I've said it before, xkcd is the best.

A Bunch of Rocks

Here is Wolfram's Rule 34 and xkcd Rule 34. OK? And, yes I know this is shameless self-promotion :) Grow into these trousers... >>

A short puzzle game

It's just far too short. More levels. Part 2.

Thanks to PZ Myers. Grow into these trousers... >>

2009 - The International Year of Astronomy

This looks set to be interesting. The International Year of Astronomy, a "global celebration of astronomy and its contributions to society and culture". And remember that it's only 400 years since Galileo Galilei first pointed a telescope to the heavens. Our understanding has come a long way since then.

The highlight for me, as if I don't have enough to listen to already, is an astronomy podcast every day for the whole year.

Listen to the warm up episode. Grow into these trousers... >>

Sunday, 16 November 2008

An update on Fomalhaut b

Pull up your trousers here and here.

The image I posted last time doesn't really make a good case for the presence of a planet around Fomalhaut. It's just a fuzzy dot among fussy dots. Now here's the clincher - they imaged it twice, and lo it hath moveth. Behold:

Credit: NASA, ESA and P. Kalas (University of California, Berkeley, USA)

Fomalhaut b, as it is called, is on an 872 year orbit at 10 times Saturn's distance from our Sun. I've heard mass estimates between 1 and 3 Jupiters based upon the stellar dust ring. If the planet were bigger or smaller the ring formation would be different or it would have rapidly dissipated. Fomalhaut is 25 light-years away.

NASA/ESA have a good report at Space Grow into these trousers... >>

An online response to an offline comment

My IRL* commenter made a valid point the other night by saying he "just didn't get" my excitement and enthusiasm for the space exploration posts I regularly make. Circumstance (ie the bar) meant I couldn't reply just then. So, if I may, I will try to explain now... Nah, can't be bothered, this will have to do:
Man you are missing out on the endless wonder of Nature and the amazing engineering feats of which humankind is now capable. Don't forget, the natural resources of this planet will run out. Sooner or later change will come so let's not leave it too late to do this exploration. Little milestones on a longer journey, these fill me with hope for the future.
*IRL Grow into these trousers... >>

A thought for a Sunday

"Those who believe in telekinetics, raise my hand."

Kurt Vonnegut (1922 - 2007). Grow into these trousers... >>

Saturday, 15 November 2008

Universal Soldier

Here's another blast from the past
Donovan: Universal Soldier
Grow into these trousers... >>

Female evolution

A new fossil find in Northern Ethiopia from 1.2 million years ago gives an insight into human evolution and specifically the female of our species.

A fossil pelvic bone from the aptly named Homo erectus (it means walking upright), shows that the females were physically adapting to the larger brains of their offspring. A larger brain needs a bigger head and the mother has to accommodate this . The birth canal of the fossil is described as bigger than previously anticipated based upon a male fossil pelvis (err?).

It had been thought that H. erectus was a slender species, an adaption to aid heat loss in the hot African sun, but it was known to have had a large brain. Clearly a narrow pelvis would limit the brain size of the newborn so this discovery may herald the beginnings of more a human-like foetal development, another aspect of the link between mother and child.

My 'below the belt' thoughts continue below the belt.

A wider pelvis is what gives the ladies that alluring sway of the hips. Sure it has a place in human evolution, it's the wiggle in the walk. It beats the magic-apple-eating rib-woman theory anyway.

The Big Bopper - Chantilly Lace - 45rpm

Note: I'll be watching for an update at Afarensis.
Grow into these trousers... >>

Thursday, 13 November 2008

I can't resist posting this

HR 8799 with three planets! Grow into these trousers... >>

I am stunned. This is history.

Extrasolar planets have been imaged.

Stop and think for a moment. We now have pictures of planets in orbit around stars other than the Sun.

In these images the central star has been blocked out to stop the glare, this allows the faintest of faint reflected light be detected.

Here's the first: a dust ring round the star Fomalhaut has a shepherd.

And I did say 'stars'.
Here is the second result, the star is snappily called HR 8799:

HR 8799 also is reported to have a third planet orbiting closer in. I haven't seen an image yet. I'll try to write more at the weekend but you can follow up on Bad Astronomy, Universe Today and BBC news.

Now I am off to calm down.


Update, the BBC has an image of HR 8799 with 3 planets. Grow into these trousers... >>

Tuesday, 11 November 2008

Under pressure

How cool is this?
Rehearsal, performance and the reason why.

Under Pressure - Bowie and Lennox

Freddie Mercury Tribute (4)- David Bowie & Annie Lennox

Queen - Under Pressure (Live At Wembley Stadium 1986)
Grow into these trousers... >>

Final news from Phoenix

Artists impression - Credit: NASA

As the Martian winter sets in, and the days shorten, there is no longer enough solar energy to power the circuits or charge the batteries. For a few days Phoenix struggled to maintain contact with the orbiting satellites but this was draining the batteries and shutting down the computer. If the batteries recharged at all the computer would reboot and try again to establish contact, which drained the batteries. Once looping like that there was nothing the mission controllers could do but call it the end. Ever decreasing circles as daylength declines.

Phoenix was designed to operate for just 90 days. It has far exceeded expectation and the scientific legacy will be studied for years to come.

So it's farewell to a fantastic mission. Will Phoenix arise a year from now in the next Martian spring? This is very unlikely. As winter progresses Mars' northern polar cap will grow and will entomb Phoenix; not in water ice but in sold CO2, dry ice.

People will be listening though and next year, if there is a beep, then this Phoenix will have arisen not from ashes but from ice.

For a brief overview of Phoenix, the podcast Quirks and Quarks has a good report from a few days ago, before the shutdown. Download it from here. Or you can read my earlier posts here. Grow into these trousers... >>

Monday, 10 November 2008


A silly animal quiz - have fun.
Grow into these trousers... >>

Sunday, 9 November 2008

A thought for a Sunday

The Road Not Taken - Robert Frost

Two roads diverged in a yellow wood,
And sorry I could not travel both
And be one traveler, long I stood
And looked down one as far as I could
To where it bent in the undergrowth.

Then took the other, as just as fair,
And having perhaps the better claim,
Because it was grassy and wanted wear;
Though as for that the passing there
Had worn them really about the same.

And both that morning equally lay
In leaves no step had trodden black.
Oh, I kept the first for another day!
Yet knowing how way leads on to way,
I doubted if I should ever come back.

I shall be telling this with a sigh
Somewhere ages and ages hence:
Two roads diverged in a wood, and I--
I took the one less traveled by,
And that has made all the difference.
From Mountain Interval 1920 Grow into these trousers... >>

Bali bombers executed

Via BBC News.

Now the death toll is 205.

No one 'deserves' to die. Deliberate killing is ALWAYS wrong. Grow into these trousers... >>

Saturday, 8 November 2008

More creationist nonsense

Via The National Secular Society and

Concludes an email poll by Teachers TV.

What? I hope the respondents were PE teachers or have nothing to do with biology or any other science. Why do I fear I am wrong? (Note: it was 31.1%. That is not one third, it's nearer 3 out of 10. Good start Teachers TV).

So a proportion of teachers feel it is acceptable to hold back scientifically aware students while they pander to superstitious belief! Why are those children taking science in the first place, are they advised that way? Kind of "It's good to have a science qualification and biology is easy. None of those damn formulae and stuff." If true that is bad advice for the children. If it's not true then surely remedial classes, at the pupils expense (or their parents) would be more productive - why opt to study biology when your background understanding is lacking?

I followed this up by watching the featured video on Teachers TV School Matters - Adam Rutherford on Evolution and Creationism.
Whilst it starts well it descends rapidly into murk.

Michael Reiss appears early on and I still think he's wrong. In fact Jeremy Pritchard and Randal Keynes seem to be the only sane voices.

Next appearance was from the inappropriately named creationist organisation 'Truth in Science*' who mailed their propaganda to all schools in the country a couple of years ago. Fifty nine schools responded that it was a "valuable classroom resource". OK there are thousands of schools in the UK but 59 responded positively, and that is 59 too many. I hope some of those head teachers were joking. Or was it the PE teachers again. I doubt it. Truth in Science produces some very modern looking science videos which are just eye candy to draw the unaware into bullshit. The sensible move would be to bin it and forget it. It's about as valuable as Harun Yahya's fishing lures (more on this some other time).

The program had also contacted various faith schools/organisations to see if they would enter into dialogue. The answer? No, not one of them. None would even offer an opinion. That says a lot about closed mindedness. Only one teacher, seemingly found at random taking a school trip round the Natural History Museum, was willing to speak about his faith and it's just blustering apologetics.

On to a school classroom where the teacher had won an award, and the lesson looked like good fun till it was polluted by a 'chaplain' misinforming a young man about the evolution of the eye. The teacher then claimed it was a case of playing devil's advocate, so what is happening? Are the kids being taught biology or debating skills?

Should creationism be taught? Yes, as part of a study of comparative religion, contrasting mythologies from around the world. I have no argument with that, social studies are important. History, especially the history of science is anther field where creationism has a place. Teaching how modern thought has developed (evolved) from Dark Age belief can give an insight into the scientific methods used today.

But classroom time in real science is too valuable to waste on primitive ideas which make no contribution to understanding.

Only one thing left to say:

* this link has the rel="nofollow" attribute so Google will not count it as any kind of positive endorsement.
Grow into these trousers... >>

Friday, 7 November 2008


This was just what I needed to put a grin on my face.

Fawlty Towers The Psychiatrist ( 1of 5 )

Links to the rest are below the belt.

Fawlty Towers The Psychiatrist ( 2of 5 )
Fawlty Towers The Psychiatrist (3 of 5)
Fawlty Towers The Psychiatrist (4 of 5)
Fawlty Towers The Psychiatrist (5 of 5)
Grow into these trousers... >>

Thursday, 6 November 2008

For The Birds

A short video from Pixar

Grow into these trousers... >>

Wednesday, 5 November 2008

Bonfire Night!

Remember remember the fifth of November
Gunpowder, treason and plot.
I see no reason why gunpowder, treason
Should ever be forgot...

When I was a kid this was the most looked-forward-to night of the year except for Christmas. The winter festival was for presents and family get togethers. Bonfire night was ours. We would start in late summer. Stockpiling wood in our gardens, anything we could drag off would end up being burned. I know there are many other colloquialisms for this but we called it chumping.

Then building the bonfire in late October, with dens inside and places to keep watch. No health and safety here; you had to be vigilant or rival gangs would descend like locusts to nick your wood, or worse, fire it early - like the night before.

Getting old clothes from our mums, stuffing them with straw and scrunched up newspaper, fastening them together to make an effigy and pulling it round on a cart. Penny for the guy? Of course that was real UK penny pre-decimalisation, probably worth less than a farthing now.

The night itself: lighting the fire, the delight and wonder as your beacon went out into the night. Biscuit tins with your fireworks in, setting them off one at a time so you didn't miss anything. Jacket potatoes roasted in the bonfire embers, parkin, blocks of rock solid toffee you had to smash with a hammer.

All for one night, and that is what made it so special. It was seasonal.

Nowadays people can buy and ignite stunning fireworks whenever they want. Has it lost some magic somewhere or am I just getting old?

Any which way have a great evening. Grow into these trousers... >>

Tuesday, 4 November 2008

The "Origin of" videos

A while ago I posted a video by cdk007 called The Origin of Life - Abiogenesis.
I've been a bit slow to keep up but parts 2 and 3 of the "Origin of" series are on YouTube.

Part 2
The Origin of the Genetic Code

When I came to part 3 I found an all too common occurrence. In the notes for the video cdk007 says:
For my regular viewers, this is a REPOST. YouTube removed the original video. Let's send the creationists a message that they cannot censor the truth.
Help spread this video.
Repost it, Link to it, e-mail it to friends. Thanks.
Happy to oblige. I like a good laugh.
Part 3, The Origin of the Universe - Justnowism, is below the belt.
Grow into these trousers... >>

Monday, 3 November 2008

Not that I have any say

But here's my take on the US election.

Grow into these trousers... >>

Sunday, 2 November 2008

A thought for a Sunday - Dean visits church

Dean goes along to the Sunday service and listens to the hymns and the sermon. Towards the end the vicar asks anyone who needs special prayers to come forward to the altar.

Dean gets in line, and when it's his turn, the vicar asks: "Dean, please tell my why you need prayer and the Lord will provide for you".

Dean replies: "Reverend, I need you to pray for my hearing".

The vicar puts one finger in Dean's ear, and he places his other hand on top of Dean's head and prays and prays and prays. After a few minutes, he removes his hands, stands back and asks, "Dean, how is your hearing now?"

Dean says, "I don't know, Reverend, it's not 'til next Wednesday". Grow into these trousers... >>

Another time waster to drive you crazy

Sorry about the advert.

Loops of Zen

Found at Grow into these trousers... >>

Saturday, 1 November 2008

New videos from Pat and Laci

The outspoken Pat Condell has a new video on YouTube. First class as always:

Godless and free

Laci is below the belt.

And then I learn that Laci, AKA gogreen18, who's videos I found only last month, was suspended from YouTube after two of her videos were banned in a campaign against her. Apparently someone thinks they have the sole right to censor others. Of course her videos were immediately reposted in support, making a joke of this infantile attack. Here you go:

gogreen18's Atheism: The Anti-Drug

gogreen 18's God Hates Fags?

But, she bounced right back!

My Suspension

Grow into these trousers... >>

Another petition - axe state funding for religious schools

Watch the first few mins of this video to get the mood. Nah, watch it all, it's got updates on the Atheist Bus Campaign, the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Bill and Sex and Relationships Education (SRE) in all schools. (And I hope that means ALL schools - see below)

I love the "lions are cats too" bit at the end. Growl
I'll get to the petition below the belt

If you're still not convinced faith schools are a bad idea take note, this is where we could end up:

Now head on over to and read the proposal.
It is grossly unfair that schools are allowed to discriminate against children on the basis of their parents' religious beliefs.

We all pay taxes to fund all our schools; why should they only be open to a select proportion of our children? And this discrimination is not even based on academic ability or how far away they live--but upon which god or gods their parents happen to believe exist...
If you agree, sign up.
Grow into these trousers... >>