Thursday, 30 April 2009

The original is often the best

And it wasn't Roberta Flack!
Back in the mid 70's the band I was in used to cover this, thanks to Brenda's great lead vocals. I'd like another go today, my bass playing has improved since then. Brenda, where are you?

Killing Me Softly (original-1972) - Lori Lieberman
Grow into these trousers... >>

Men can multitask

It's true. Now watch this video clip and then go wash your hands...

Grow into these trousers... >>

Wednesday, 29 April 2009

Swine flu - a world map

I'm not sure how accurate the data is but it gives a good impression of the problem. For the real low-down visit Tara Smith at Aetiology.

Note: all influenza cases are shown by default. Click on "Swine Flu H1N1" (top left).

Via Grow into these trousers... >>

Tuesday, 28 April 2009

Worried about the flu?

At the very least get a hankie!

EMBED-Sneezing In Ultra Slow Motion - Watch more free videos Grow into these trousers... >>

Monday, 27 April 2009


Grow into these trousers... >>

Leeds University Power Cut - update

There's still no news on what caused the power failure at Leeds Uni last Friday, but it just seems to get more serious.

What I didn't know then was that it affected the hospital as well, that's Leeds General Infirmary. OK, I did know that some of the nurse's flats were without power but I just thought they were probably on the same grid as the University - one of the cleaners told me that!

Anyway news today: if I understand correctly, after the first power cut the hospital's generating station kicked in to keep it up and running. I would expect that. A half-hour or so later power to the Uni came back on; perhaps in a limited way I don't know yet, but then the Infirmary generators either couldn't cope or failed. The University's power had to be switched to the hospital. Even when power was fully restored they dare not throw the switches to bring back power to the Uni 'till many hours later. People over the road were on life support or in the operating theaters. Again, that is what I would expect - No matter their surgical skill, I would prefer not to have someone cutting up my squirmy pumpy bits with a sharp knife, by torchlight.

In other places, many people were trapped in lifts and (I shouldn't laugh) some people in ISS, the University's main computing service, were trapped inside behind computer controlled doors. For a long time. Way to go in the concept of 'failsafe'.

In the Faculty of Biological Sciences we don't always see eye to eye with ISS. We maintain huge computing facilities for X-Ray crystallography, protein sequencing, mass spectrometry, NMR etc & etc, as well as providing our own services for networks, secure backup, technical help and repairs. ISS have problems with doors! Their current news report, the only official thing I have seen begins:
"A review is under way to explore the causes of the power cut on Friday"
A review indeed...

I also received an email informing me:
"There exists a telephone cascade plan in the event of a critical incident which is held by the University Secretariat. Nonetheless I was not informed of the problems in the Faculty by any formal route (as it happens I was ill at home on Friday)."
What was lost is not just a couple of hours teaching time last Friday. I was talking to a teaching tech who had worked for a week growing and measuring Drosophila for a class today, results incomplete. When I was in research I have worked for months to set up a single experiment, people will have been doing the same last Friday afternoon only to lose everything. Think fridges warming up, spoiling samples and reagents. Think freezers warming up, affecting the validity of months, years, decades of samples.

All of this is, of course, mere anecdote. However, a reputable source tells me we should get real news tomorrow. I will wait and see. I'll try to post more news tomorrow night but I've got band practice, and yes we need it - gigs at the weekend! Grow into these trousers... >>

Sunday, 26 April 2009

Red Dwarf: Series 5 -Episode 2

Justify your existence - here is The Inquisitor:

Red Dwarf ~ The Inquisitor ~ Part 1 of 3

Red Dwarf ~ The Inquisitor ~ Part 2 of 3

Red Dwarf ~ The Inquisitor ~ Part 3 of 3
Grow into these trousers... >>

Centaurus A - Or wow, what a pretty picture

"The Chandra X-ray observatory has taken a closer look at the galaxy Centaurus A, and new images have revealed in detail the effects of a shock wave blasting through the galaxy. Powerful jets of plasma emanating from a supermassive black hole at the galactic core are creating the shock wave, and the new observation, have enabled astronomers to revise dramatically their picture of how jets affect the galaxies in which they live."
Read more at Universe Today. Grow into these trousers... >>

A thought for a Sunday

"Two hands working can do more than a thousand clasped in prayer."


Note: click the image :) Grow into these trousers... >>

Saturday, 25 April 2009

Indus script, language or not?

The Indus script, dating from around 2500 to 1900 BC, has long been thought not to be a true written language. Just mere imagery relating to religion and/or politics.

The Indus Valley Civilization (think modern Pakistan) was very formative in the development of humankind. At that period they were unprecedented in making measurements, particularly of weight and scale. This leads me to guess they were trading widely and were very shrewd in business deals. Their spoken language however, is unknown. As are any writings other than a few symbols, often just 4 or 5 (the longest has 26), grouped together.

But a new study reveals tantalising hints of a true written language. Rajesh Rao et al from the University of Washington in Seattle, compared the Indus script to known languages and non linguistic forms with a computer analysis of randomness, or as they call it, 'conditional entropy'. This relies on the fact that the positioning of letters in words, or words in phrases, has an underlying structure. ie in English the letter 't' can be followed by the vowels plus some letters like 'h' or 'r' but not 'b' or 'd'. Similarly, in a short phrase, 'the cat sat on the...' could be followed by 'mat' or 'wall' but never 'learn'. It's nonsensical ('the cat sat on the green' made me think though).

Rao's analysis also included DNA and protein sequences, the computer language FORTRAN and simulated scripts for controls; one totally random, one totally ordered.

As you may have expected FORTRAN code was very highly ordered, it's got to be unambiguous. Known languages had more disorder, whilst DNA and protein had the highest randomness.

The Indus script fell into line with other languages.

No translations yet, no Rosetta stone, just more evidence that our ancient cousins were not the illiterate barbarians many people imagine. Grow into these trousers... >>

Friday, 24 April 2009

Power down - Power up - Power down

Well, I got out of work early today because there was nothing I could do.

At 3pm I was with the rest of the Faculty IT team just starting our monthly meeting when ... ping! We were plunged into darkness. All you could hear was a descending hummmmm.... from the air conditioning. Then eerie silence. Someone pointed out the obvious, "powers gone off". I looked behind me and noticed "the emergency lighting's on". Boss says "Er, right. Meeting postponed.", and off we all shoot. Big Mike was just behind me muttering the word "servers" in a worried voice.

Those of us not connected with 'servers' gathered outside and we were looking round. Lights off in that building, lights off over there, lights off all round. Even the Belisha beacons on the zebra crossing were off. Students and staff passing us in droves, going home.

After about 15 mins we noticed some signs of lights, and it wasn't reflections from the basement where the GM mice are. We went back inside.

Power's on but no computer networks. "DS is down" says one guy (DS is the main University network) - I should have twigged then. "BMB-LEEDS is down sez I" (that's a local network I need for my job).

Nothing else I can do so I fielded the Help Desk phone. It was strangely quiet, most folk were sensible enough to call it a day and go home. One young lady really, really, really needed some data NOW! So I had calm the situation and explain about UPSs and failsafe, and no I didn't know when the systems will be working again. Another guy, given his professorship, should have known better than to phone to say his email wasn't working after the power cut. Just wait man, reboots all over the place.

Then I learned that the power outage had been all over the Leeds campus. University wide! So Leeds Uni was offline. Heads will roll! Over the next few minutes some networking did begin to percolate back to life , then... ping!

Power off again.

Leeds Uni campus is the size of a small town (bigger than a large village anyway), people live onsite. There are shops, cafes, sports facilities, bars, a pharmacy, an opticians even. A renowned music venue too.

I can't do my job without computer networks, so I went home. Via The Wickham Arms. WooHoo.

As I write this at half-past nine, the Leeds University website is still down, email is down and I can't ping anything.

Oooh this is serious :) Grow into these trousers... >>

Thursday, 23 April 2009

A nice bit of flute playing:

For a heavy breather.
Greg Pattillo

Beatboxing Flute "Peter and the Wolf"1

The true flute-master is below the belt.
Aqualungs not provided...

Jethro Tull - Boureé2

As usual, I save the best till last. Here's Bourrée by Per-olov Kindgren, solo on acoustic guitar:

Bach: Bourree in e-minor

1 Sergei Prokofiev
2 Johann Sebastian Bach
Grow into these trousers... >>

The best logo ever!

Designed for the Catholic Church, in the '70s. Spot on!

Many thanks to The Invisible Pink Unicorn. Grow into these trousers... >>

Wednesday, 22 April 2009

What ?

From the BBC budget report:
• Alcohol taxes to go up 2% from midnight - putting the price of the average pint up 1p

Don't worry, I'll be doing my bit for our National economy.

If only Brown and his Darling would do the same. Grow into these trousers... >>

Tuesday, 21 April 2009

Sharif don't like it

President Ahmadinejad, if you wish to be taken seriously on the world stage:

               1) learn basic history
               2) look up the word 'diplomacy'
       and 3) don't resort to hate speech

otherwise the rest if the world will just point and laugh.

the clash rock the casbah w/lyrics
Grow into these trousers... >>

Monday, 20 April 2009

Over at the Madhouse!

Oops sorry, Madhatters, they seem to have been drinking the tea again.

I warned Alice last time I saw her, "don't leave your mushroom stash in the teapot!" but she did... Dormouse & Mushroom tea is the special-extra-reserve.

So what is on the table?

Monetary problems - the female will always know exactly what you have, and more, with or without 'agreements'.

A nuclear strike on Cheltenham - actually, kinda makes sense. It needs one.

An attempt to kill a plum tree fails! - Now it's next spring. And of all the other seasons, it just chooses this one to re-sprout! Good, well done. Plum and apple wine is a nice homebrew.

Pacman attacks a supermarket - includes ghosts.

Bohemian Rhapsody - performed by ancient computer equipment.

A video about farting - where you have to read the comments to find the link due to problems 'embedding'. Alice would be shocked...

There's other stuff about torture and chatting, as normal. So anyway grab a seat and enjoy the tea. Grow into these trousers... >>

Breaking news - Hawking 'very ill'

Physicist Stephen Hawking (67) is undergoing tests after being admitted to Addenbrooke's Hospital, Cambridge.

Hawking, who suffers from motor neurone disease, has been battling with a chest infection for several weeks and is said to be 'very ill'.

My best wishes go out to him. Grow into these trousers... >>

Sunday, 19 April 2009

Red Dwarf: Series 5 -Episode 1

Poor Rimmer, all his wildest dreams come true - almost!

Red Dwarf ~ Holoship ~ Part 1 of 3

Red Dwarf ~ Holoship ~ Part 2 of 3

Red Dwarf ~ Holoship ~ Part 3 of 3
Grow into these trousers... >>

A quick funny one

see more Lol Celebs Grow into these trousers... >>

A thought for a Sunday

“There is a story, which is fairly well known, about when the missionaries came to Africa. They had the Bible and we, the natives, had the land. They said 'Let us pray', and we dutifully shut our eyes. When we opened them, why, they now had the land and we had the Bible.”

Archbishop Desmond Tutu. Grow into these trousers... >>

Saturday, 18 April 2009

Classic Fawlty Towers

Mrs Richards, her hearing aid and a win on the gee-gees.

Fawlty Towers Communication Problems (1of 4)

Fawlty Towers Communication Problems (2of 4)

Fawlty Towers Communication Problems (3of 4)

Fawlty Towers Communication Problems (4of 4)
Grow into these trousers... >>

Friday, 17 April 2009

Er - what?

Remind Me from Röyksopp on Vimeo. Grow into these trousers... >>

Pirate Bay founders get jail

A year in jail and a fine for doing nothing wrong. No copyright material was ever posted on their servers. All they provided were links in the same way as Google, Yahoo and thousands of other search facilities.

This comes less than 4 years after Sony Music Entertainment, one of the companies claiming copyright infringement, were themselves guilty of infecting millions of computers with a rootkit. That's a technique often used by virus writers to embed a piece of code into a computer's system files to monitor activity. Sony were constantly using your own processor power, just to see if you were playing a Sony CD or not. I know, I was infected and it took ages get rid of their intrusion short of a complete re-install.

Peter Sunde of The Pirate Bay said they would refuse to pay the £3m fine for 'damages':
"We can't pay and we wouldn't pay. Even if I had the money I would rather burn everything I owned, and I wouldn't even give them the ashes."
This is not about criminality, it's about media control of your computers, your minds and your cash. Beware! Grow into these trousers... >>

Thursday, 16 April 2009

Clement Freud dies at 84

Sir Clement Raphael Freud (24 April 1924 – 15 April 2009)

Reports of his death and obituaries fill the news today. He was a larger than life character, whose wit and dry humour will be long missed on Just a Minute where he was a panellist since 1967. He will be fondly remembered. Grow into these trousers... >>

Wednesday, 15 April 2009

A spectacular collision

Rocket sled hits family car - KABLAM!!! Woohoo!!

Go. Watch. Amazing. Video. Boom. ! Grow into these trousers... >>

What Darwin's theory tells us about ourselves

Many thanks to the Atheist Media Blog for posting this oldish (1998) but remarkable discussion on the meaning of evolution as applied to humanity.

Covering ground from evolutionary development to the appreciation of music this round-table talk gets a triple AAA from me.

Chaired by Melvyn Bragg, historian and broadcaster - now Lord Bragg and Chancellor of the University of Leeds.

On the panel are:
Steven Pinker, professor of psychology at MIT - now at Harvard.
Meredith Small, Cornell professor of anthropology.
Steve Jones, biologist and a professor of genetics and head of the biology department at University College London.
Sir Jonathan Miller, theatre and opera director, neurologist, author, television presenter, humorist and sculptor (if you are unfamiliar with Miller, watch this).

The Darwin Debate (1/5)

The debate continues below the belt:

The Darwin Debate (2/5)

The Darwin Debate (3/5)

The Darwin Debate (4/5)

The Darwin Debate (5/5)
Grow into these trousers... >>

Tuesday, 14 April 2009

Bald Eagles on camera

The Hancock Wildlife Foundation has live webcams of nesting Bald Eagles in British Columbia, Canada.

There are two eggs in this nest and they must be close to hatching, that will be worth seeing. Note, the cameras can be a couple of seconds out of sync.

There are more eagle cams at the Hancock Wildlife Foundation and the Seattle Times has a news report.
via GrrlScientist.
UPDATE: I had missed this earlier but the Sydney new nest has chicks. I've seen 2 but the forum says there are 3! Grow into these trousers... >>

Monday, 13 April 2009


Love 'em or hate 'em, they are as much a part of us as the skin, liver, brain and gonad cells which carry our own DNA.

Watch Bonnie Bassler speaking at TED:

Discovering bacteria's amazing communication system

via Pharyngula. Grow into these trousers... >>

Sunday, 12 April 2009

An asteroidy game

A good update to the old arcade game Asteroids.

Gather up the smallest asteroids on your force shield and blast them out to destroy the big ones.

Battle for Terra: TERRAtron
Grow into these trousers... >>

A thought for a Sunday - Easter

Grow into these trousers... >>

Saturday, 11 April 2009

An Easter message - from Monty Python

Pope and Michaelangelo
Grow into these trousers... >>

Friday, 10 April 2009

A song to pay attention to

Say Something - James
Grow into these trousers... >>

This was unusual

The Today programme this morning on BBC Radio 4 featured an atheist and an agnostic, and then on PM at tea time I hear an interview with John Hunt who requested debaptism from the Church of England...

On Good Friday! Is auntie beeb finally getting the message that broader discussion is what people want. Let's hope so.

However, not everyone is happy. Grow into these trousers... >>

A Darwinian Easter egg

"An egg collected by Charles Darwin during his voyage on HMS Beagle has been rediscovered at Cambridge University." - BBC News

You may ask what kind of bird lays that kinder egg? (And is the toy inside a bit of a yolk?)

So I tried to find out.

News reports say the egg's origin was traced back to a friend and contemporary of Darwin's, Alfred Newton, a Professor of Comparative Anatomy at Cambridge. His notes reveal:
"One egg, received through Frank Darwin, having been sent to me by his father who said he got it at Maldonado (Uruguay) and that it belonged to the Common Tinamou of those parts."
Frank Darwin was, I guess, Francis Darwin, Charles' third son, who received the egg from his father and passed it to Newton for the collection at Cambridge, where it lay in obscurity till earlier this year.

Now, the tinamous are a large family of South American birds with 47 recognised species, though none are called the 'Common Tinamou'. There is a tinamou named Dawin's Nothura, Nothura darwinii, but this is an Andean species and not from Uruguay where the egg was collected.

The Tinamou Research Group website notes two Uruguayan species: the Red-winged Tinamou, Rhynchotus rufescens, and the smaller Spotted Tinamou, Nothura maculosa. The video in the BBC report shows two rather moth-eaten museum bird specimens and doesn't identify them, but the Spotted Tinamou seems to match well in size and colouration.

Nothura maculosa. Photo credit: Wikimedia Commons.

The eggs too match with Darwin's:

Nothura maculosa - eggs. Photo credit: Wikimedia Commons.

At the Internet Bird Collection you can watch a couple of videos of Spotted Nothura, and at the foot of that page is a recording of it's song. The BBC quote from Darwin's notes that the bird had a "high shrill chirp". Ear piercing I would have said.

So have I identified the correct species? I don't know, I'm not an ornithologist and comments are welcome. Seeing as how they went to the trouble of videoing the museum specimens, the BBC could have identified it and saved all the hassle but then I may not have had such an enjoyable, two-cup coffee break this morning.

Happy Easter! Grow into these trousers... >>

Thursday, 9 April 2009

This is too good to miss

My feelings exactly.

From Hell's News Stand - where you can download a poster size version - via Respectful Insolence. Grow into these trousers... >>

Wednesday, 8 April 2009

A nice synopsis - Evolution/Creation

Via LGF, I was tipped off about this video on The Basics of Evolution. It's from QualiaSoup, a YouTuber who deserves more attention. He's not bad.

It's a good presentation of evolutionary biology with the bonus of clarifying the misconceptions of some religious points of view.


For those unfamiliar with the banana and crocoduck arguments, there are further educational videos below the belt:

Do not feel obliged to watch all of this, but:

See ~3:50 for the hilarious crocoduck
God must exist... because the crocoduck doesn't!

And look ~2:30 in for cola cans and bananas (FFS have they never heard of the Cavendish?)
The Way Of The Master : Atheism (Part 1 of 3)

You may now feel the need to wash your brain. This is perfectly normal!

BTW, my earlier thought that the Rational Response Squad had been pulled from YouTube was misinformed and JREF have been reinstated (thought it's still unclear to me why they were pulled in the first place - a copyright issue?).
Grow into these trousers... >>

Tuesday, 7 April 2009

I got mail

Imagine my excitement to get an email at work with the subject:

Invitation to Stoner Colloquium...

There I was imagining a hall full of chilled-out academics listening to a guest speaker explaining his research into lighting systems and hydroponics, seed stocks and cross breeding, genetic manipulation even. With free test samples.

Then a long Q+A session where the participants could give their own insights, experience and comments; a general sharing of ideas and stash. Trade stands in the lobby with the finest Dutch imports and rare examples of the world's great crops which you never see these days.

Then imagine my disappointment to find it's about 'the application of neutron and x-ray scattering techniques to nanomagnetism' to be held in the E.C. Stoner building at Leeds Uni.

Damn! Grow into these trousers... >>

Monday, 6 April 2009

Red Dwarf: Series 4 -Episode 6

Rimmer takes risks and destroys a civilization, Winnie the Pooh gets executed and Elvis sings the closing credits.

Red Dwarf ~ Meltdown ~ Part 1 of 3

Questions regarding Mahatma Ghandi may be answered below the belt.

Red Dwarf ~ Meltdown ~ Part 2 of 3

Red Dwarf ~ Meltdown ~ Part 3 of 3

That's the end of series 4. I'm digging round for more but it's not easy.
Grow into these trousers... >>

Sunday, 5 April 2009

Ha Ha Ha!

Mecca mosques 'wrongly aligned'
Tawfik al-Sudairy, Islamic affairs ministry deputy secretary, downplayed the problem in remarks quoted by the pan-Arab newspaper al-Hayat.

"There are no major errors but corrections have been made for some old mosques, thanks to modern techniques," he said.

"In any case, it does not affect the prayers."
Oh dear!, the old guys got it wrong and Allah didn't intervene to correct generations of mistake, some God!

So either, Allah doesn't care, prayer doesn't work (why bother then with pointless alignments?) or someone is making up a huge pile of bullshit. I suspect the latter. Grow into these trousers... >>

Oh what a beautiful morning

Don't worry, I'm not going to start singing.

This happened last Thursday and I wanted to post about it then but real life intervened (nothing too bad, but enough to gobble up my free time - I might post on that later).

Anyway, it was a clear, warm, sunny morning and I was full of the joys of spring.

What put me in such a good mood? It was simple, unexpected and interesting. Early morn, before I even pulled back the curtains, I had made a coffee and was sitting at my desk when I noticed a brightness over my shoulder. There, cast on the white-painted room door, was a perfect circle of light. About 3cm across and fully in focus. The nerd in me must have kicked in because I knew what it was. My house faces due East, and a tiny chink in the curtains was making a pinhole camera and throwing an image of the rising Sun across the room. Whoa! Over the next half hour I watched the image track down, after blu-tacking a sheet of white paper on the door for better viewing. As hard as I looked though, the disc of the Sun was featureless.

Well, I kinda knew that sunspot activity was at a minimum, but no sunspots at all? Well it's true, this is the lowest sunspot minimum since 1913.

This has a knock on effect for us all. It means that satellite communications have less noise and fewer errors for instance, GPS accuracy improves and electricity grids are less prone to failure. On the minus side the displays of aurora diminish and the weaker solar wind allows more high-energy cosmic radiation to penetrate the heliosphere. This increases the radiation dose received by astronauts, a possible long term health hazard.

The Sun will recover, the 11 year cycle has been very regular since records have been kept, but interestingly the long Maunder Minimum of sunspots, from 1645 to 1715, coincided with the coldest part of the Little Ice Age when much of Europe and North America experienced extremely deep and cold winters. That was the time when the river Thames would freeze over and entire communities had to be abandoned due to the severity of the weather.

Are we entering a new 'Maunder Minimum'? Who knows. Would that be enough to offset global warming? Unlikely but Nature is endlessly fascinating. Grow into these trousers... >>

A thought for a Sunday

When I was a kid, I used to pray every night for a new bicycle. Then I realized that the Lord, in his wisdom, doesn't work that way.

So I just stole one and asked him to forgive me!

Emo Philips (1956 - ) Grow into these trousers... >>

Saturday, 4 April 2009

Star Formation: The Game

Via Bad Astronomy...
Set off supernovae to compress the gas cloud and trigger star formation.

Science and gaming together, bliss.

Here's an article on gas clouds and stars from the game's astronomy consultant, Adam Frank. Grow into these trousers... >>

Friday, 3 April 2009

Weeing down my trouser leg #14

Videosh shtartsh wi noh misic. crap. OH NOO

I ;ike thish guy, hsz OK.
Iztz my shhout.
Wear is evibody? Grow into these trousers... >>

Thursday, 2 April 2009

Another bubble popping game

Bubble spinner

A bit like Deep Pearl, but different. Grow into these trousers... >>

Wednesday, 1 April 2009

Are you contributing to global warming?

Take this quiz to find out:

You are a 62% Fart Master!

You can let out a few room clearers that's for sure, but there is room for improvement. Your inner trumpet wants to blow a solo.

How gassy are you?
Take More Quizzes

Grow into these trousers... >>

A round-up of today's breaking news

Hot off the presses from around the blogosphere:

Highly Allochthonous reports on a Precambrian fossil find which will overthrow the science of evolutionary biology (however, evolution has been disproven before).

There's a new iPhone application which allows users to share contact details with a bump, and an investigation of the inverse square law from Cosmic Variance.

The Freethinker reveals the devastating news of the religious conversion of both Richard Dawkins and Christopher Hitchens. Shame on those two - I passed the pickle test some time ago.

Universe Today informs us that NASA could be fined under wildlife protection law, and describes the recent observation of a new class of linear galaxy clusters.

NASA is again in the news with this photograph of an upgraded space helmet, the HEAD 9000.

Bug Girl describes new work on hair-growth promotion using beetle extracts.

Finally, via Sandwalk, comes the announcement of the Nobel Prize in Biochemistry for 2009. Here is a breakdown of Behe's work into the snare complex of Mus musculus.

Finally-finally, Phil Plait writes at skepticblog on the doomed nature of science education in Texas. No, wait - that's for real??? Grow into these trousers... >>