Sunday, 28 February 2010

A thought for a Sunday

"Today the world changes so quickly that in growing up we take leave not just of youth but of the world we were young in".

Sir Peter Brian Medawar (1915 – 1987) Grow into these trousers... >>

Saturday, 27 February 2010

What's in two names?

I seem to be nicking ideas getting inspired by others' posts just recently. Today it was Duncan at Madhatters who'd posted What’s in a Name? about the unfortunate names parents burden their children with. I love the idea of a Ray Gunn, and Joe King or Joe Kerr I'm sure will exist (but not Juan I hope).

It reminded me of the short sighted clergyman who asked "Is that Fanny Greene I see in the congregation?". The reply echoed "No vicar, it's just the way the light's shining through the stained glass window".

My mental butterfly flittered on, and I recalled following back research papers on haemoglobin to the unlikely conjunction of Huisman and Dozy (I always wondered who did the thinking and who did the lab work on that team).

And that got me thinking about different name pairings and what they shouldn't be doing for a living, if they exist of course.

For instance:

Jackson and Pollock - interior decorators

Dyer and Dryer - ladies hairstylists

Filler and Pullman - dentists

Cooper and Fowler - chicken farmers

What else can we come up with... ? Grow into these trousers... >>

Thursday, 25 February 2010

What makes a saint?

The delicate Laura raised the question today about which saint to turn to for particular help and intercession when our daily lives become over demanding. It made me think and one name bounced straight to mind.

Not St George, though he's cool for killing a dragon, but St Hilda.

Hilda of Whitby (c. 614 - 680)

Hilda was a great niece of Edwin, King of Northumbria. That's the land in northeast England which extends north of the Humber estuary, up to the border with Scotland. Hilda's father for some reason, was exiled and later poisoned and it is thought that she was raised in the court of King Edwin. At some time Edwin converted and, as the first Christian king of Northumbria, he appointed Paulinus as the first Bishop of York, thus establishing the importance of that city in the life of the church and the politics of England. King Edwin himself is considered a saint.

Times were violent. In 633 Northumbria was attacked, Edwin was killed and his lineage ended. Northumbria split back into two older kingdoms, Bernicia in the north and Diera to the south. Somehow Hilda escaped or was protected until the descendents of the long-deposed Bernician king rallied from their exile among the Celtic monks of Iona, off the coast of Scotland. Oswald became the new king of Bernicia and, asking of his old refuge at Iona, he called for a bishop to come and build a monastery. Bishop Aidan arrived and founded Lindisfarne. Both Oswald and Aidan are revered as a saints. Hilda was already a nun and returned to Northumbria to be much influenced by the teachings of Aidan. She became Abbess of Hartlepool in 649.

Over this same time Oswald had been killed in battle and his brother, Oswy (or Oswiu), was now king. King Oswy reunited Northumbria, granted land to the church and from this Hilda was able to found a monastic community at Whitby. The ruins we see today date from ~1078 onwards, but stand on the same site Hilda was given in about 657. Her abbey would have been mainly built of wood though.

It's a bleak headland, exposed to the sea and legend says it was infested by snakes. Despite efforts to clear the site, the snakes could not be moved but the indomitable Hilda refused to give up. Taking a whip she lashed them all into the sea, cut off their heads and turned them to stone. This coastline is now renowned for the fossils of ammonites, the victims of the wrath of a saint.

Hilda was actually a successful abbess and the reputation of Whitby grew. In 664 King Oswy called the first Northumbrian synod there and it was agreed that calculating the date for Easter should follow the ways of Rome. This decision firmly split Catholicism from Celtic Christianity and the Celtic monks withdrew, first back to Iona, then to Ireland.

Hilda died on November 17, 680 and it is said that the bells of nearby Hackness monastery rang in sympathy and her soul was seen ascending into heaven by the nun Begu (herself later to become a saint). Perhaps in memory of Hilda's encouragement of the first recorded English poet C├Ždmon, Hilda is considered a patron saint of learning and culture, including poetry. But just remember, if you ever have problems with snakes Hilda is the one to call.

Some people think Bram Stoker's Dracula is a great story. Give me the times of St Hilda any day. Grow into these trousers... >>

Tuesday, 23 February 2010

Late night music - Burning Spear

I fancied some real deep-bass reggae But, unfortunately I can't get my sound system loud enough to feel the gut-vibrating-bass I have in mind (unless I set up a big PA in the house and then it'd blow out the windows). Think of being slapped on the belly to every bass note, with a jiggle of your loose bits. Imagine being physically punished by the bass line...

Burning Spear - but not the mix I want.

Burning Spear-Slavery days
Grow into these trousers... >>

Sunday, 21 February 2010

A thought for a Sunday

"Inanimate objects can be classified scientifically into three major categories: those that don't work, those that break down and those that get lost. The goal of all inanimate objects is to resist man and ultimately to defeat him, and the three major classifications are based on the method each object uses to achieve its purpose. As a general rule, any object capable of breaking down at the moment when it is most needed will do so".

Russell Baker (b. 1925)
From The New York Times, June 1968. Grow into these trousers... >>

Saturday, 20 February 2010

Bearcam 2!

I just checked in again with Lily the Black Bear.

Lily was very active, snuffling round the opening with both her muzzle and claws. Baby was at first very noisy and demanding but then they both settled and baby began to make a contented rumble which sounded akin to a cat's purr. Soon after, the youngster kicked up a fuss again and Lily began to lick. The fuss and purring faded out into sleep and I was going to move on... Then I saw baby...

Look at the bottom, just left of centre, that's a paw and a little muzzle. Mum's face is higher up, sideways on and you can see her ear. I wish them both well. Grow into these trousers... >>

Friday, 19 February 2010

Late night music - Paco

Yet another version of Mediterranean Sundance from the master.

Paco de Lucia - Rio Ancho
Grow into these trousers... >>

Photographing our neighbor

Whenever I think of a classic spiral galaxy I think of something like this:

The Andromeda galaxy - M31

Andromeda, this swirling mass of stars, is a naked eye object - well, it is on clear, dark nights away from the glow of all or any street lights. It's the closest large galaxy to our own Milky Way, a mere 2½ million light years away, and is our sibling if not quite our twin. Together we are locked in an eternal dance of gravitation and it's thought that, at some time in the far distant future, we will pass through each other and perhaps even merge.

It is a beautiful thing, but looking with our own eyes can only reveal part of that beauty. Last December saw the launch of WISE (Widefield Infrared Survey Explorer), a space telescope designed to take images at wavelengths between 5 and 35 times longer than the human eye can see. It is discriminating between different sources of heat. The first results have just been released and are very impressive as this glorious new image shows.

Yes, that's Andromeda again. A little rotated compared to the top image but you get that in astronomy.

The bright yellows and reds are bands of dust, heated up by young stars forming within the clouds. The blue haze comes from older stars which have long absorbed or blown away any gas and dust. You can see the same dust in the optical picture as dark lanes blotting out the starlight. Now it comes into proper focus, beautiful.

Images from Big Cigar Astronomy and APOD. Grow into these trousers... >>

Wednesday, 17 February 2010

Late afternoon music

One of my favourite classical pieces.

Beethoven - 6th Symphony - Pastoral
Grow into these trousers... >>

Tuesday, 16 February 2010

Without God, how can we have sexual morals?

The wonderful Greta Christina gives this excellent talk on the nature of human sexuality as seen from a non-religious viewpoint. She is open, funny, and has some great ideas. Go watch...

Greta Christina on Atheism & Sexuality

See other videos by Jennifer McCreight on Vimeo.

Warning 1! It's 90 mins long and once you start you may be hooked. I was.

Warning 2! Beware of broccoli.

From Jen @ Blag Hag via Pharyngula. Grow into these trousers... >>

Monday, 15 February 2010

Tracking things in the snow - an xkcd guide

Given the weather we have had in the north this winter, this easy to follow guide to snow tracks may be of use.

I especially like the last two :) Grow into these trousers... >>

Sunday, 14 February 2010

A thought for a Sunday - St Valentine's Day

"Someday, after mastering the winds, the waves, the tides and gravity, we shall harness for God the energies of love, and then, for a second time in the history of the world, mankind will have discovered fire".

Pierre Teilhard de Chardin (1881 - 1955) Grow into these trousers... >>

Friday, 12 February 2010

Early night music

It's Friday night, get the glad rags on...

"Nah pop no style, ah strictly roots"

Althea and Donna - Uptown Top Ranking
Grow into these trousers... >>

Singh it loud, Singh it clear

Last summer I posted about Simon Singh’s court battle with the British Chiropractic Association. In an article in the Guardian, Singh was critical of unsubstantiated claims by chiropractic practitioners for its effectiveness in treating ailments far distant from bone and joint problems. The BCA did not respond with rational arguments to back up their claims but rather, sued Singh for libel and initiated a purging of their websites and public literature. This alone says much.

The UK’s libel law places the requirement for proof on Singh to demonstrate his claim of ‘bogus’ vs the BCA’s claim of effectiveness.

Singh is a single individual, chiropractic in the UK is huge. Surely such an organisation would not run scared from the truth? In the interests of their patients would they not be willing to examine their practices for the benefit of all? It seems not, and something is wrong when the law places corporate interests above the common good.

The libel laws themselves, in the UK, need to be re-examined.

If you are a blogger based in the UK go sign this petition. If you are outside the UK, sign it anyway to register your concern. It will not give you the right to slag things off as you wish, but it may go part way towards enabling your freedom of expression.

Asking for scientific evidence should not make you a defendant in court. Grow into these trousers... >>

Thursday, 11 February 2010

The placebo effect

Ben Goldacre, medical doctor, journalist and blogger at Bad Science, gives an easy-to-follow explanation of the placebo effect. He also touches on the ethical problems of using placebos as treatment.

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

Wednesday, 10 February 2010

Late night music - Tracy Chapman

Fast car -Tracy Chapman

Tracy Chapman - Talkin bout a revolution
Grow into these trousers... >>

Love is... ?

In celebration of the upcoming festivities on St Valentine's day, Just Jill at Elemental my dear has asked, nay challenged, her readers to post their own descriptions of that deep emotion so close to all our hearts, love.

To me, it's much more than flowers, chocolates and romance...

Love is - fetching a pillow to rest her head as she lies on a rug in the warmth of a blazing fire.

True love is - also bringing a bowl for her to throw up into. Grow into these trousers... >>

Monday, 8 February 2010

Late night music - John Martyn

The Gypsy just came home. As normal, music is a priority and he jogged my mind of this old song.

John Martyn "Big Muff"
Grow into these trousers... >>

Sunday, 7 February 2010

Music for a Sunday

More from the Bonnaroo 2002 DVD.

American rockers Widespread Panic team up with gospel singer Dottie Peoples for a bit of Sunday worship.

Widespread Panic with Dottie Peoples 2002 Tall Boy + Testify
Grow into these trousers... >>

A thought for a Sunday

"My definition of an intellectual is someone who can listen to the William Tell Overture without thinking of the Lone Ranger".

William Connolly, Jr. (b. 1942)

Bonus thought from the Big Yin:

"If Jesus was a Jew, how come he has a Mexican first name?" Grow into these trousers... >>

Saturday, 6 February 2010

Late night music - Ben Harper

I've had enough now, I just chillin...

Another track from the Bonnaroo 2002 DVD.

Ben Harper "Burn One Down"
Grow into these trousers... >>

Friday, 5 February 2010

The rat man cometh

"The taxpayer in this country is going to be faced with a bill of £20-million for the visit of the Pope, a visit in which he has already indicated that he will attack equal rights and promote discrimination".
Terry Sanderson, President of the National Secular Society
I have been meaning to sign this petition for a few days... done that now. I have no respect at all for this man but, currently, I see no reason to deny his right to visit the UK. The question for me is about the responsibility for his security while he is here. Surely, some deity is ultimately responsible? If his superior sees the need for guard details then surely the company is responsible for the cost. Grow into these trousers... >>

Thursday, 4 February 2010

A quiet evening of music?

Nah - don't be silly...

Les Claypool's Flying Frog Brigade - Thela Hun Ginjeet

From the remarkable Bonnaroo festival 2002. Grow into these trousers... >>

Tuesday, 2 February 2010

A couple of smiles from Failblog

Well, a fail and a win to be exact.

Grow into these trousers... >>

Monday, 1 February 2010


I just found this great video site - Llewtube - which features host Robert Llewellyn (yes that's Kryten) driving around giving lifts to various guests and interviewing them during the journey. Here he is with the physicist Brian Cox.

He has also interviewed the likes of actor Patrick Stuart, comedian Arthur Smith, journalist and rationalist Ben Goldacre, Skepchick founder Rebecca Watson and lots more...

Shame about the crap Flash based site though, but it works. Grow into these trousers... >>