Dusty mixup

This advert seems to be all over the TV at the moment.

Is it really an accident that the "dustballs" have more than a passing resemblance to User Friendly's Dust Puppy?


Dawkins in geek slur shocker

Today's Independent has an amusing Q&A with Richard Dawkins, many of the questions, and answers, had me smiling.

But I've got to take issue with the following:

How did a science geek like you get such an attractive wife? GARY HAMMOND, London

I suggest you go to salon.com, type "The Sexiest Man Living" in the search box and eat your words. But seriously (of course you knew there had to be a "but seriously"), science has an image problem with young people, and phrases like "science geek" don't help. Isn't it a bit like "kraut" or "dago"?
No, geek has an image problem, applying geek to a fan of all things science isn't the problem.


Idiotic vandalism

There's always some idiot who apparently gets enjoyment out of mindless vandalism:

This isn't a one-off either, it's a regular occurrence. Almost as soon as the bins are fished out of the pond and placed back in use they're back in the pond again. You'd think it would get boring after a while.

You can see more pictures of this idiotic vandalism in my photo album.


Holy Grit!

It's that crazy time of year again, when Lincolnshire blesses the grit.

"The gritting lorries are very visible on the county's roads, but their work is often taken for granted," said Dr Saxbee, who wrote the prayer for the ceremonies.
I wonder what he means exactly by "taken for granted"? Do I assume that it will be done? Yes, of course, I do, I pay the taxes required to make it happen and, big surprise, I expect the council to keep up their end of the bargain.
It is the fourth time the blessings have been held.
And, yet, road deaths in Lincolnshire this year are up on last year. Does he really think anyone is listening to him?


New look

I've moved all of my blogs over to the new Blogger beta system and, wanting to have a play with some of the new features, and not wanting currently to disturb my astronomy blog or my weather blog, I've decided to make this one the "test blog" for all the new stuff.

Hence the new template. Don't be surprised to see it change lots over the next week or so as I get to grips with what the new Blogger has to offer.


Far from home

Seen while waiting to be picked up from Grantham station:



Finally, we're almost there: Torchwood starts this weekend.

Please, please, please... let it be good!


The God Delusion

On Saturday I managed to get hold of a copy of The God Delusion by Richard Dawkins. I'm only a couple of chapters in at the moment and so far it's a good read.

Because of the release of the book he was interviewed by Jeremy Paxman on Newsnight last Friday. I managed to miss it but, as usual, YouTube comes to the rescue:

Note that the interview is also currently available on the BBC website — I've been unable to watch it there today because the stream is very choppy.


Poisoning Pigeons in the Park

Poisoned pigeons fall from sky in Texarkana, via Dvorak Uncensored.

No, I don't have a comment, but it was the perfect excuse to dig out some Tom Lehrer:


Still space rocking

It's well over a month now and I'm still listening to Knights of Cydonia most days — I just can't stop myself.

As a song it's very derivative, kind of obvious, it has simplistic lyrics but, but, but..... it just works.

And it seems to play well live too:

Given the probable average age of their core following I'm probably in the "dad" bracket in relation to them but I'd still really love to see them live...


Why I love the internet

Back in the mid to late 1980s, during my late teens, I was a huge Japan fan. This, of course, involved collecting as much as their output as possible — not just the records but also trying to get hold if promo videos and stuff like that.

Anyone who knows the band will know that they had an early "glam rock" phase that, as the band evolved, they sort of ignored. Videos from that period tended to be quite hard to find, generally only available in some sort of "bootleg" form.

These days, thanks to the net, it's so much easier to find this sort of stuff:


The name's LaForge, Geordi LaForge

I'm not great fan of weblogs that post one quiz result after another (yeah, I know, most online quiz things are stupid but they're often fun too). Normally I wouldn't post one right after another but after seeing a post on the Bad Astronomy weblog I had to have a go at this:

You are Geordi LaForge

You work well with others and often fix problems quickly. Your romantic relationships are often bungled.

Click here to take the Star Trek Personality Test.

Geordi LaForge
Will Riker
Deanna Troi
Jean-Luc Picard
Mr. Scott
Beverly Crusher
James T. Kirk (Captain)
An Expendable Character (Redshirt)
Leonard McCoy (Bones)
Mr. Sulu


I'm an emaciated hipster drinking dreams and eating consciousness

Silly quiz time (via Tim): The Famous Leader Test — I took 18 questions and ended up as:

I think I got a better deal than Tim did. ;)

And, if you're wondering about the title of this post, it's a line from Sophisticated Beggar by Roy Harper. It was either that or the other obvious one (well, obvious to me).


Amps to 11, space rock with me!

This week, I'll mostly be listening to Knights of Cydonia by Muse.

Okay, I admit it, I love space rock and that track comes about as close as anyone "new" has come for a long time.

Amps up to 11, here we go again...


OMG! Clowns!

From The BBC:

The Bestival, which takes place on 8, 9 and 10 September near Newport, Isle of Wight, had asked festival-goers to turn up in curly wigs and large shoes.

But organisers decided to shelve the idea after a number of ticket holders said they suffered from Coulrophobia.
Sure, phobias can be terrible things but I can't help wondering what they're going to do when the agoraphobics start to complain... And, wait a moment, it's on the Isle of Wight — pity the poor aquaphobics too...


RAF Waddington Airshow

Had a pretty good day out at the RAF Waddington airshow last Saturday. The content and mix of the display wasn't quite up to the usual quality this year although there were still some outstanding displays (the Typhoon display was the most impressive I've seen yet).

And, of course, the Red Arrows were as amazing as ever. I never get tired of them. Drawing a heart in the sky should be naff but, somehow, when they do it, it isn't.


Top Tip of the Day

Top tip of the day: if you have a ball stuck in a tree, don't try and get it down by throwing a garden rake at it, you'll then have two things stuck in your tree:


I am not a Doctor...

Via The Reg:

Former Doctor Who Christopher Eccleston has been "linked" with the lead role in a remake of The Prisoner, the BBC reports.
I'm a quite a fan of The Prisoner and the idea of Christopher Eccleston playing Number 6 does hold some appeal — although the idea of Sky One doing the remake does give cause for concern.


The Euston Manifesto

The Euston Manifesto seems to be making quite a buzz today. I've had a very quick skim of the document and found much that I agree with and, at first glance, nothing I totally disagreed with. I think I'll be printing this one out and having a good read over the long weekend (it's a holiday weekend in the UK — some sort of pagan festival or other from what I can gather).

If nothing else item 14 caught my attention as it deals with Open Source. Okay, it's bound to annoy the hell out of RMS if he ever reads it but, hey, it's nice to see it get a mention.


Quote of the week

From an article in The Guardian:

Last night, the Royal Society gave a public platform to Steve Jones, the award-winning geneticist and author, to deliver a lecture entitled Why Creationism Is Wrong and Evolution Is Right. Professor Jones said that suggesting that creationism and evolution be given equal weight in education was "to me, rather like starting genetics lectures by discussing the theory that babies are brought by storks."


Daily Mail in Theory Cock-Up Shock

It shouldn't and, to be honest, doesn't surprise me to find out that the hacks over at the Daily Mail don't have the first clue about what a theory actually is when talking about science.

A story there today, Pupils 'confused by science lessons in creationism' gets it very wrong in the wording of a poll associated with the story:

Should creationism be taught as truth or theory?
  • It should be truth
  • It's all theory
I think that's got to be the most biased set of answers I've ever seen from a poll but, in this case, it would appear that it's more to do with ignorance on the part of the person setting it as opposed to it being down to a deliberate attempt to get the answer they want.

Is it any wonder that the readership of the paper then make comments such as
The fact is nobody knows anything because theories are just thoughts or ideas and nothing more...Monkeys are cute and will never be humans.
Evolution theories change every other week because they haven't a clue really. Remember the big bang?
I really do not see what the Royal Society are getting all steamed up about! They admit that Darwin's theroy is just that - a theory.
And so on, that's just a random sample. Thankfully there are a couple of comments made against that story that actually point out what "theory" actually means.


Further AGAST

It seems that AGAST is now fully up and running. This morning I found a leaflet on the doormat and it also seems that they've got a website up and running — the site contains much of the text that's in the leaflet but nothing else.

Sadly, so far, it seems that they're running the usual sort of FUD campaign that is common to many protest groups. This tends to be a case of preaching to the converted, it seldom seems to convince anyone else. Worse yet, it plays right into the hands of the opposition.

I think the thing that really reduces the usefulness and believability of the site (and the leaflet) is that some bold claims are made (literally, some of them are written in bold) but no source is given for the information. That's a real shame. I can understand space being short on the leaflet but there's no reason for failing to cite sources (and link to them where possible) on a website.

Take the claim that the plans are for "6 of the largest on shore turbines in Britain" for example. Okay, ignoring for a moment why that's actually an issue, where's the evidence, where will they actually be in the wind turbine height league for the Britain? I'd have an easier time believing this and putting it into some useful context if the details were actually given.

Another example: "It is reported that from as far as 2 miles the aerodynamic sound can be heard and felt like the boom boxes teenagers have in their cars". Sounds bad doesn't it? Even more so in Billingborough because there are plenty of those sorts of cars around so many people know what that's like. But, "it is reported" where and who reports this? Is this hearsay evidence, just an anecdote? How do I test the validity of this? Compare this with the BWEA's factsheet on wind turbine noise where they give plenty of values, place them in context and provide you with information as to who did the study so you can follow it up. While I wouldn't expect AGAST to do the same it would make the whole thing appear a little more believable if I know where it had been "reported".

I won't comment on the rest of the content as pretty much every item is presented as a fact with no backing whatsoever. I hope this was a design decision, I hope the intent was to get people thinking about the issues — sadly it doesn't look that way, it looks a little more like an attempt at FUD.

I'm not, by default, opposed to a wind farm on our doorstep; then again I'm not, by default, fully in favour of one either. I've been doing a fair bit of reading up, on and off, and so far I've failed to find very convincing arguments either way (although the balance is slightly in favour of the "pro-" rather than the "anti-" side but only because the "pro-" arguments tend to be more rational).


Get a Life!

I got an email the other day, I don't think I know the author of it. It read:

great site!!

but reckon you need to get out more, perhaps for a byte (?) to eat or something
That was it. If I knew the person it would make sense as a good-natured dig, but as an email that's totally out of the blue from a total stranger...

Leaving aside the obvious problems with the content, and leaving aside the fact that this person talks about my "site" without saying which site they're talking about (my main site, my astronomy site or my weather site?), what I find really odd is the false dichotomy that the email is based on.

It's something I've run into for most of my adult life, and for a large part of my teens too. As well as having the sorts of interests that most people have (eating, drinking, practicing procreation, socialising, shouting at the TV, etc...) I also have a whole bunch of "geeky" interests too. Astronomy and computers have been with me since I was a child, an interest in the weather is a pretty recent development and is still very much in its infancy. What is it about the "geeky" interests that makes people like the author of the email create that dichotomy that says "either you do normal things, or you do geeky things, but you can't do both?"

I've tried to get it a number of times but, mostly, I just can't get there. I can't understand what it is about some people such that when they see you have a passion about something they assume that's the total of you, that's all you do, that you have no life outside of that interest.

Just how insular do you have to be to think like that?


Thin end of the wedge

From this article on the BBC:

Creationist theories about how the world was made are to be debated in GCSE science lessons in mainstream secondary schools in England.

The subject has been included in a new syllabus for biology produced by the OCR exam board, due out in September.
It would appear that the thin end of the wedge is finally going to find itself in mainstream UK classrooms.

Although there are some sensible points raised in the article it's sad to see it start out with the phrase "creationist theories". I think the author of the article needs to go and learn what a theory is.


SciFi Crew Quiz

Saw the quiz over on Matt's blog and couldn't resist. Shame I've never seen this "Serenity" mob.

Serenity (Firefly)


Deep Space Nine (Star Trek)


Moya (Farscape)


Millennium Falcon (Star Wars)


SG-1 (Stargate)


Nebuchadnezzar (The Matrix)


Enterprise D (Star Trek)


Galactica (Battlestar: Galactica)


Babylon 5 (Babylon 5)


Andromeda Ascendant (Andromeda)


Bebop (Cowboy Bebop)


FBI's X-Files Division (The X-Files)


Your Ultimate Sci-Fi Profile II: which sci-fi crew would you best fit in? (pics)
created with QuizFarm.com



I just happened to read Tim's blog entry regarding wind turbines and then I notice this story over at the Grantham Journal. I went to see the exhibition given by Iberdrola a few weeks back (and actually got interviewed by someone from the Grantham Journal — the quotes that were published weren't a million miles away from what I said, thankfully) and have been waiting to see what happens regarding local opposition. Personally I've got no direct reason to oppose the turbines being built close to Billingborough but I'm more than happy to be convinced of any reasons why I should oppose them. I guess my greatest concern will be how such a development would affect the quality of life for those who live out on the fen itself — I have seen some worrying coverage from people who do have to live with them.

There's been no sign of the leaflet mentioned in the article — it'll be interesting to see what sorts of reasons they give for opposition of the proposed project. I do hope that the reasons given are sound and rational.


Doing the Selfish Time Warp

I got a very curious email from Amazon today:

Dear Amazon.co.uk Customer,

As someone who has purchased books by Richard Dawkins, you might like to know that "The Selfish Gene" will be released soon. You can pre-order your copy for just GBP 7.49 ( 50% off the RRP) by following the link below.

The Selfish Gene
by Richard Dawkins

Release Date:March 16, 2006

List Price: GBP 14.99 Our Price: GBP 7.49 You Save: GBP 7.50 (50%)
A URL was also included that pointed here.

I can't remember how long I've had my copy of TSG but the book itself was first published in 1976.

I guess it's supposed to be some sort of 30th anniversary edition or something but the wording of the email seems plain silly.


Proportional Education

As part of the comment discussion in Tim's weblog post "Disco-dancing with the scientists" a point was made about how religion is taught in UK schools (at least, Tim's experience of it anyway, I'm a little older than he is and I recall things being a little different). The idea is that different types of religion are given differing amounts of time and are taught in differing levels of detail based on how prevalent they are in the UK. Here's what Tim said on the matter:

Abrahamic religions got most of the time, and IIRC something like Hinduism and a few others got a couple of lessons each - sort of bogo-proportional-representation as per UK or something. No harm in giving it a blast in the US - the kids can only end up better-educated about folks they're likely to meet, after all.
The idea being, in the UK you're probably more likely to bump into a Christian than you are, say, a Hindu and so it would appear to make sense to teach Christianity in more detail.

It's not the first time I've seen this said and this approach has bothered me for some time but, oddly, I've never really been able to put my finger on what it was that concerned me. Having given it some thought last night the obvious concern came to me.

Assuming that Religious Education in the UK is about teaching children about religion in general and specific religions in particular it doesn't seem to make much sense to portion out the time and the detail based on number of followers (for want of a better word) that are found in the UK. If the idea is to educate children in the beliefs of the people they'll engage with over their lifetime why would it be that the more common religion requires greater detail? Why would it seem reasonable that a child knows more about the beliefs of someone who is a Christian than, say, someone who is a ­Bahá'í? If the idea is to equip children with details of religious beliefs why wouldn't it make more sense to equally teach them about all of the religions that appear in the UK?

The more I think about it the less I find the "portion out time and detail based on numbers of followers" idea credible. I don't know how RE works in UK schools these days (with a child heading off to school this year I'll be finding out soon enough) but if past experience suggests that one religion got more time than another the motivation can't have been "chances of encountering a follower" or, if it was, it seems like flawed reasoning to me.

Mumble elsewhere

Mumble started life back in 2003 as a "sort-of-but-not-quite" weblog type affair on my main website. The biggest problem with it is that it's never had any sort of commenting facility and, to be honest, I've never really been that interested in rolling my own (unlike Tim or Rich who have both rolled their own blogging software that allows comments).

Because of this I've tended to shy away from posting some stuff that interests me because it probably would have attracted comments and I tend to think it's unfair to write something that might be contentious and then not allow comments about it.

So, here we go, a new home for Mumble...