Why this Blog?

A place where I can lament the changing times; for eccentric comments on current affairs and for unfashionable views, expressed I hope, in cogent style; also occasional cris de coeur largely concerned, I regret to say, with myself.


I welcome your comments, so do please write. Please note however that all comments are moderated prior to publication. Whilst I fully appreciate that life can be frustrating, nevertheless, abuse, SMS language and illiteracy will not be tolerated!

Tuesday 30 September 2008

You Couldn't Make it up!

This is unbelievable.

A bloke bought a secondhand Nikon Coolpix camera on ebay for $31.

On downloading his holiday snaps, he found some extra images: these came from MI6 - the British Secret Intelligence Service (fictionally James Bond's stamping ground). There were names and details of Al Quaeda cells, information about an MI6 computer system, fingerprints and so on.

I have written here before about surveillance in the UK - and also I have pointed out how leaky the British system is.

Obviously the British Government has decided to ignore my various warnings!

Until the next time
(Story source Techcrunch)

Apologies: HTM 'Ell has done it again

Quite spontaneously, the link colour has changed to dark blue, though in the control panel it is still orange.

I have absolutely no control over this; perhaps once again it will change back - I'll try to edit a few of them for you.

Until the next time

Economic Meltdown? I had to lift this!

Boring I know, to recycle items from news sites, but Techcrunch's helpful list of gadgets to help us survive the economic winter made me smile - especially:

Mr. Beer - There’s no reason we can’t have any fun while holed up in the burnt husk of the Lehman Brothers building near Times Square, fending off flesh-eaters while trying to stay warm by burning old stock certificates. Enter Mr. Beer: this super-easy beer brewing system ensures you can drink from the sweet River of Oblivion before you eventually succumb to the elements.

Enjoy it!

Until the next time.

XP - Likely to Outlive Vista!

Source: Here

A fascinating article arrived today. Published in Redmondmag.com the article suggests that XP is not showing signs of lying down. The article even suggests that with its current 87% usage figure, it is likely that users will wait for the arrival of Windows 7 in 2010 -11.

A factor in the equation is the fact that given the current economic gloom, companies are most likely to hold back on new hardware purchases, and since it is well known that Vista's "bloat" requires considerable hardware resources, the companies will be obliged to continue with XP.

And since Microsoft will not be keen on upsetting the potential huge market for 7, it follows that support for XP may well be maintained.

Not good news or the hardware manufacturers, or for Vista, but good news for XP fans like me.

Until the next time.

The God of the Dead

Anubis Standing. Image source: Wikipedia

It was just a couple of weeks ago, I was reflecting on the name of this blog and the name "Anubis" suddenly entered my head. I couldn't guess when the last time was that I had given the jackal-headed god a thought; memory is a strange thing.

Curiously I had associated Anubis with standing guard at the bank ot the River Styx - the river that the dead must cross to reach the after life. I was wrong, and here it all starts to get confusing. "Anubis" is the Greek name for the Egyptian God Inpu. The River Styx is to be found in ancient Greek mythology and there the chap who saw the dead across the river was a rather boring type called Charron.

Anubis was said to have invented embalming and in to the ancient Eygptians was associated with embalming and mummification. His role as "god of the dead" was later taken over by Osiris, who was depicted as having green skin (the colour of rebirth) rather than Anubis's black finish - the colour of rotting flesh!

Osiris. Source: Wikipedia

Whatever the godly pecking-order in ancient Eygpt, and despite Osiris's attractive appearance, the image of Anubis is, in my view stunning - and quite haunting too. And despite Anubis's sinister/bizarre looks, he was viewed as a kind god, who took care of the dead. It seems that I am far from being alone in my opinion, and apart from the many classical images of Anubis, some artists have employed his image too - in rather humorous ways!

School! Source: Here

And it is not unreasonable to suppose surely, that just sometimes, Anubis might have the blues? In this case one assumes that the Mississippi Delta has been replaced by the Nile Delta.

Source: here

Finally, this little piece would not be complete without this strange tale all about Anubis the mummified cat, emblem of the Milwaukee Press Club.

I am hoping to compound a mythological felony and include Anubis (the god that is) in the title to this blog - Charron simply will not do!

Until the next time

Sunday 28 September 2008

The Day that Elvis the Pelvis met Tricky Dicky

Quite amazing: this meeting took place on 21st December 1970.

I have to thank an online friend "Fleur" for pointing me to a fascinating website called the National Security Archive, which is where I found this extraordinary story (and the picture above).

The meeting was the result of an approach by Presley himself to the President. At the time Elvis was very concerned about the use of drugs by young people and wished to be appointed as a sort of roving Federal agent. He claimed that he would be welcomed by hippies, Black Panthers etc.

From this fascinating article here is a pdf of Presley's handwritten letter requesting the meeting(there is a transcription available in the article here).

Perhaps some Elvis expert can tell us what most likely prompted this really rather bizarre affair? 1970 was a time that (if memory serves) was really rather quiet in Elvis's career - I recall that he had sort of "re-surfaced" on TV about late 1968 and his big Las Vegas-style cabaret events were yet to come.

Finally the documents provide an interesting insight into how the matter was handled by the White House.

"Truth is stranger than fiction"!

Until the next time

EDIT: The power of the Internet! I asked for an "Elvis Expert" and one has appeared. Here is his excellent comment in full:

Hi Paul,

Regarding your Elvis article. You have some facts wrong. I'm an Elvis Historian. Elvis went to Washington DC after getting into a disagreement over his finances with his father. He did not go there originally to meet President Nixon. He went there alone at first and was going to meet up with a lady named Joyce Bova. After realizing he didn't know how to get a hold of her and that he was traveling alone which he never did, he flew to Los Angeles and picked up one of his employees, Jerry Schilling. On the way back to Washington DC is when Elvis wrote the letter to President Nixon. They were later joined by another employee, Sonny West.

Also, Elvis was already playing the Showroom, not the Caberate at The International Hotel, later The Las Vegas Hilton. He started playing there in 1969.

All The Best,

Cory Cooper Elvis HistorianElvisExpert@aol.com

Saturday 27 September 2008

Paul Newman: 1925 - 2008

Image source: BBC

Paul Newman, actor, racing driver, race team owner, former UN ambassador (disarmament), man of many good works and all-round good bloke, has died.

I know it's corny to say so, but the world would be a better place perhaps if there were more like him.

To finish, a couple of quotes:

"The light that you think you emanate is not necessarily the light that other people see. You think of yourself as a shy, retiring whatever it is, and some other people will see you in an entirely different way. ... You have to constantly learn. Obviously, you have to start with some kind of gift, but people don't understand that. ... I don't have a gift for anything. I've only had a gift of pursuit." — 1990.

"I used to make three pictures a year, and now I make a picture every three years. Things change. There have been a lot of good things out there, but they weren't the kind of pictures that I wanted to make. I didn't want to do pictures about explosions. I don't want to do pictures about shattered glass and broken bodies and blood. That just doesn't interest me." 2002.

(Source: Associated Press)

And a quote from a critic:

"But what really made everyone out there like him was that he became the rebel with a cause. As Cool Hand Luke or Butch Cassidy, Newman gave his audiences a vicarious thrill by thumbing his nose at an unjust society. ... It wasn't the blue eyes. It was the red blood and the gray matter." — "The 100 Greatest Stars of All Time," Entertainment Weekly. (Newman is No. 13.)

Until the next time
P.S. The Boston Globe has produced a fine obituary

Internet Connection - How Good?

Have you checked your Internet connection lately?

There are quite a number of free services that will tell you how fast your connection is. The best one I have found is MySpeed. MySpeed offers in addition to telling you the speed of your connection, a choice of locations around the world - which provides some interesting results - but more importantly it gives you a quality of service percentage - this is very revealing in my case.

My ISP is Free.fr. I pay €30 per month for what in France is called an ADSL (i.e. broadband) service and I get an Internet phone line with which I can make free calls around the world to landlines. Just now, I ran a MySpeed test with Paris as the location. MySpeed reported a nice download speed of 1.9Mbps. The upload speed, which is always pretty poor, was 142Kbps, actually about the highest I have ever seen! Typical, obviously they knew I was about to write this article... Quality of Service was given as 79%. Quality of Service in this context relates to the breaks in transmission - the speeds are actually averages, fine when downloading data, but useless when trying to listen to an online radio broadcast or for VOIP conversations like Skype. This is why the QoS figure is more important than the actual average speed.

With the dismal service I receive from Free, I have seen QoS figures as low as 15% which is an absolute disgrace, and frequently when listening to radio broadcasts, the sound cuts out.

Now compare this rubbish with a newly announced Japanese service reported in Slashdot.

A Japanese company has announced a new service for domestic subscribers - 1Gbps - send and receive. The service includes a telephone line and will cost the equivalent of $56.60 per month - say £30 or €38.

I'd pay that I think, just to get the service I am already paying for!

Until the next time

Wednesday 24 September 2008

Electroinsanity - and Hackaday

These maniacs have built an enormous capacitor rated at 24 kilo-joules which they apparently charge up from a microwave oven transformer. Now I don't think that I can explain to you what 24 kilo-joules represents, but it looks like a lot to me.

I found this video on a site called Hackaday, which covers much, much more than mere "Electroinsanity." There are hacks to be found there for everything from cellphones to Xboxes. There are also other maniacal things - such as how to destroy a hard drive - permanently - using Thermite, which is pretty spectacular.

So if you have some technical nous and time weighing heavily on your hands, pay a visit. All most entertaining I must say.

Until the next time.

Tuesday 23 September 2008

The Curse of Gnome

The title refers to an occasional feature in the excellent satirical magazine Private Eye in which subsequent events have demonstrated that the Eye's forecasts/prognoses/analyses have proved to be correct.

The cartoon below appeared in the Eye in January this year...

Until the next time

Monday 22 September 2008

No CERN LHC? I tried CERM too...

The results speak for themselves...

Until the next time


Autumn always comes too soon - and here in rural France it seems to be early this year (perhaps it's just me).

But nice work Google!

Until the next time

Financial Chaos Part II

Image source: here

As you will all know by now, the announcement that the United States Government is prepared to commit the staggering sum of $700,000,000,000 to buy so-called toxic debt, prompted on Friday last, a surge in stock values around the world.

As is often the case with parties, the passing of the weekend has brought a hangover ,and stocks have fallen again, with the leading indices all down by around 2%. And as might be expected, oil is up by over 8% and gold now stands at $904 - $35 up.

It seems to me that having had the weekend to think about things, investors are perhaps wondering what will be the consequences of the staggering "investment" proposed by the United States Federal reserve Bank in the form of one Hank Paulson; will the cure be worse than the disease perhaps?

Well, one observer, Mike Swanson thinks that the proposed programme will be fatal for the dollar, suggesting instead that the example of Franklin Delano Roosevelt be followed:

A banking crisis happened in the beginning of the Great Depression, but Franklin Roosevelt and the government did nothing like what is being proposed today. They did not bail out the banks. What Roosevelt did was declare a banking holiday. He shut the banks down. for about a week Then he had officials go into all of the banks and look at their financials to determine which banks were truly bankrupt, which were fine, and which could be saved with a little bit of money. When the bank holiday ended the banks that were bankrupt did not open back up and the ones that were fine did.

Confidence was restored, because depositors now knew if their bank was fine or not - and it didn't require putting the financial future of the entire country at risk to do this. It cost hardly a dime. Yes some people lost money. A lot of banks went under, but the dollar didn't go to zero and future generations weren't saddled with debts. The credit freeze ended in a week.

Mr Swanson's article makes interesting reading and I commend it to you.

Until the next time

Saturday 20 September 2008


Yes I know that they were engines of destruction etc., but the F117 "Stealth" aircraft always took my breath away.

Depressing I think. Image source: here

Gizmodo reports on what is happening following the retirement of the world's first "stealth" aeroplane - it has to be said that defence is very expensive. After all, the reported cost of a F117A was around $100,000,000!

As a small instance of this, a valve ("electron tube" for my American friends) dealer once told me that he was invited by the British Ministry of Defence to bid for some surplus material.

When he arrived to inspect the material he was amused to see that included were items that he had sold to the Ministry just six months earlier! Unlikely to have occurred I suppose with a F117A...

Until the next time

Financial Chaos

It has been said that amongst the many types of "rocket scientist" employed, at least until very recently by the banks, were chaos mathematicians. It has also been said that a bank manager is one who will lend you an umbrella when the sun is shining.

Well, I might add, so it has come to pass. There are now politicians (all of whom of course are not responsible) who are saying things such as "These 'rocket scientists' came up with products and procedures that few can understand." As far as it goes I am sure that this is true.

Were it not for the fact of the misery and suffering that these financial crises cause, I would be cheering to the rafters at the discomfiture of the banks - all greedy bastards every one of them. I am not in the slightest a "man of the left" but just because this is the case, it does not mean that I think that there should be a financial environment in which the occupants can operate in a moral vacuum and without a scintilla of responsibility. Moral bankruptcy in fact.

My own bank is said to be the largest retail bank in France. I read recently that its profits had declined by 94% over the past year. It seems that I am personally expected to make good this decline in profitability judging by the charges it has exacted from me for an overdraft that at its largest was less than €500. These charges would make Shylock blush. Bastards - voleurs.

How I wish they could all go to the wall - but sadly it cannot be allowed to happen, which effectively means that national governments have retroactively to sanction the banks' greed and irresponsibility.

As a man who is not of the left, I loathe Government interference; how sad that it is necessary because of the culture of greed in the banking and financial services sectors! And sadder still that the taxpayer, already bled white by these parasites has to foot the bill - again.

As you know I often quote from the International Herald Tribune, an associate title of the New York Times/Boston Globe group. The IHT has produced an interesting piece suggesting that President Bush must share the blame for the current crisis. The NYT (and therefore the IHT) tends to a slightly Democratic view, but this piece is actually fairly balanced; recommended.

Until the next time (probably from a cardboard box)

Friday 19 September 2008

Time is Terrifying

Today is my birthday.

It is on one's birthday that one realises how quickly time passes and, when one is of a "certain age" that it is passing quicker than ever.

How terrifying then, is this magnificent clock, created in Cambridge (England of course) by John Taylor?

Until the next "time"

Wednesday 17 September 2008

Hard to believe

Mr & Mrs Vader I presume?

I wonder how they met?

Gizmodo, from where I got the picture above, invites readers to subscribe to a caption contest:

"Is that a light sabre in your pocket or are you just pleased to see me?"

Over to you.

Until the next time

Tuesday 16 September 2008

Unanswered Questions: 9/11 - Loosechange

Typically of those "Can you remember what you were doing when...?" questions, I can recall distinctly where I was and what I was doing when the news came through that the Twin Towers of the World Trade Center had been attacked by hi-jacked aircraft on 11th September, 2001. I was at work and can remember a colleague saying "Oh God! Bush will press the button!" I can also remember replying "And whom will he target?"

Since then - that is up to now - I have had the conventional view of the tragedy, that is that a group of Arab terrorists under the direction of Osama Bin Laden planned and mounted the attacks.

The following film, I am afraid lasts over two hours. I didn't think that I could find time to watch it, but once I weakened and watched for five minutes, I was utterly hooked.

As my title suggests, the film raises many significant unanswered questions: perhaps the most disturbing image is the footage of the collapse of Building 7 in the World Trade Center. This really requires a convincing explanation; depressingly it seems that this explanation is unlikely ever to be presented. There are other disturbing images of course, such as the descriptions of the backgrounds of those making up the 9/11 Commission!

I have to offer a "thank-you" to William Skyvington for including this film on his excellent blog Antipodes.

I am not a conspiracy theorist.

Until the next time

Sunday 14 September 2008

Even Bigger Brother

Last month, I wrote about the British Government's plans to record every email; internet site visit, text message etc.

Now, on CNET it is reported that following a proposal from the Chinese Government that the UN, in particular its ITU - International Telecommunication Union, is looking into means of ending the ability of those using the Internet to remain anonymous. The article adds that the United States' National Security Agency is also looking into "IP Traceback."

Of course there are justifications: spammers, those sending out viruses or Trojans, but according to a leaked ITU document there are other possibilities:

1.5 Proxy "Safe harbor" A political opponent to a government publishes articles putting the government in an unfavorable light. The government, having a law against any opposition, tries to identify the source of the negative articles but the articles having been published via a proxy server, is unable to do so protecting the anonymity of the author.
I should add that the veracity of this document has been denied by an attender* of ITU sessions, but in the words of Mandy Rice-Davies, "He would wouldn't he?"

Mandy Rice-Davies
Image Source: here

I cannot honestly say that I feel threatened by these rather sinister proposals, but I am certain that there are parts of the world where others are going to feel very differently.

Whether or not you consider me paranoid, I do recommend that you read the CNET article.

Until the next time

*I absolutely refuse to use the word "attendee." The suffix "ee" signifies passivity, as in "nominee", one who is nominated. Similarly, the words "retiree" and "standee" (!) are rubbish and should be eschewed by any with respect for the English language.

One More Word (for now) on LHC

I should really have looked at XKCD last Wednesday. Here's their offering:

Click on the image for the full view

Until the next time


I have not yet found a video of someone watching paint drying, but the video here might prove to be almost as exciting for you.

And then I found this - here the "un-boxer" appears to be treating the occasion with a sort of religious reverence.

Until the next time

A Video Gem

Featuring Chris Barber's version of Sidney Bechet's "Petite Fleur" this little video is superb - and a reminder that ants are actually quite sophisticated in their way.

Once again thanks to Wired!

Until the next time

Saturday 13 September 2008

SImultaneously scares me and makes me smile...

But not necessarily in that order.

"What's he rambling about now?" you are saying to yourself I expect. Well it's the big "R": religion. Before I start I should make it clear that (God knows!) I am in no way religious

As the Papal visit clogs the streets of Paris (much of the clogging possibly due to all the special French security police) there is news of a problem in the Amish community in the USA.

It seems that the US government wishes to use RFID (radio-frequency identification) tags on cattle in order to check on disease. The Amish however have joined in with a law-suit that suggests that the RFID tag is in fact "the mark of the beast", and naturally, as you'll understand if you clicked on the Amish link above, they object. From the law-suit: "Use of a numbering system for their premises and/or electronic numbering system for their animals constitutes some form of a 'mark of the beast' and/or represents an infringement of their 'dominion over cattle and all living things' in violation of their fundamental religious beliefs."

Yes it's easy to smile, but on reading about the Amish I could not help reflecting that, whilst to most of us, many of their beliefs and practices seem risible, one has to ask oneself, what harm have they done? And their treatment of old people might make some of us in our "advanced societies" pause for thought.

Image source: Here

For some reason, reading about the Amish reminded me of the story of Joshua Abraham Norton (1819 - 1880) the self-proclaimed Emperor of the United States and Protector of Mexico. If every there was someone larger than life he was it. In San Francisco, where he lived, he was treated with deference, the currency he printed himself was accepted by shopkeepers and the City Council even paid for a uniform made by a firm of first-class tailors.

"Emperor Norton" Image source: Wikipedia

When he died, the San Francisco Chronicle ran the headline "Le Roi est Mort" and 30,000 mourners attended his funeral. Robert Louis Stevenson admired the people of San Francisco for their fostering of this harmless eccentric, and a judge remarked, on rebuking a policeman who had arrested Norton for lunacy: "He has shed no blood, robbed no one and despoiled no country, which is more than can be said for most kings and emperors."

The leaders of many of the world's religions would do well to reflect on the words of this wise judge I think.

Until the next time.

Friday 12 September 2008

Bill & Jerry's New Ad

I think that the Bill Gates/Jerry Seinfeld ads are excellent. What do you think?

Here's number two:

Until the next time

More HTM 'ell

The sharp-eyed amongst you will have noticed that the links (well some of them) have returned to their original orange.

I have to say that this has absolutely nothing to do with me.

HTM 'ell managed it all by its clever little self.


Patriotism in Action - The USA USB

Hello again; it's Friday (hoorah) and after my last gloomy post, here's something that should make you smile.

USA -USB from fi5e on Vimeo.

Until the next time

Thursday 11 September 2008

The Great Satan

Is how the USA is viewed in many parts of the world.  Now that the USA has decided to take direct action to control the terrorists that are operating from Pakistan with impunity and, it is alleged, the covert co-operation of the Pakistani intelligence services, Pakistanis are now describing the USA as "Terrorists."

Well here's my view: no, I do not believe that the USA has "clean hands" - there is plenty of dirt to dig - with recent revelations about secret CIA jails in Poland for example.  But I think that the US, which cannot have taken this decision lightly is, I believe entitled to do all it can to defend its soldiers who are fighting a nasty UN-sanctioned war in Afganistan.

Nevertheless I also see that US helicopters are landing aid in Haiti, following the damage caused by hurricane Ike.  Haiti is a country ruined by the rule of utter bastards (like that disgusting piece of shit "Papa Doc Duvalier" - makes me hope that there is  a hell and that he is keeping Pol Pot, Joe Stalin, Odilo Globocnik et al, company in the very hottest part). And I see that US ships are landing aid in Georgia, perhaps for political reasons, but nevertheless, aid is aid.

I do not see Russian, Chinese, Arab or Pakistani ships unloading aid, so my message to the complainers is:


Until the next time

More on CERN, the LHC and Higgs

There is a good article today in the London Daily Telegraph on a variety of topics: there is an interview with Professor Higgs himself and also a report saying that there has been a "difference of opinion" in that Prof. Higgs has criticised Prof. Stephen Hawking, saying that his work is not quite up to scratch: "My understanding is he puts together theories in particle physics with gravity... in a way which no theoretical particle physicist would believe is the correct theory."

Here's a video that includes the interview:

Now, here's a statement from Prof. Hawking:

Both of these videos came from the Daily Telegraph, which I think has done a splendid job with its coverage of this very important project.

Until the next time

A "Word" from Matt

Here's yesterday's Matt cartoon from The Daily Telegraph:

Until the next time

Wednesday 10 September 2008

Sub-Atomic News

Driving past CERN this morning about four minutes before the big event, I had half hoped to see a bunch of demonstrators from PETH (People for Ethical Treatment of Hadrons) but sadly I saw them not.  I did see a lot of news agency types with cameras and vans with satellite dishes on the top.  There was a bunch of them outside Entrance A on the Route de Meyrin.  They were busy capturing images of people arriving at work in their cars.  Should make for rivetting TV.  

I reflected that as the real action is below ground, there was little to catch "upstairs" so to speak; I suppose they were waiting for a statement from Dr A. Spokesman.

On my journey home, the numbers appeared to have increased slightly...

The BBC reports a successful start-up which I think is good news - I wish the team at CERN all the best with this exciting project.

And Google has joined in the fun too!

Image Source: Wikipedia

Finally for those of you who feel that we are all about to be sucked into a black hole or vapourised etc., there is an entertaining little piece on Wired

Until the next time

And there's more:

A pitcure from CERN's control room following the first tests:

Image source: Here

Tuesday 9 September 2008

Pack Your Bags*

*"Faites vos valises" says CM on her excellent and always interesting blog Jour Après Jour adding that "Le fin du monde est prévue pour Mercredi 10 Septembre 2008." (The end of the world is expected on Wednesday, 10th September 2008).

She is of course, referring to the switching-on of the Large Hadron Collider experiment tomorrow and to demonstrate the point has found an excellent video which shows beautifully what happens when the Earth meets a black hole.

I hope she will not mind the fact that I have shared the video.

In return: Read Jour Après Jour!!

Until the next time*

*If there is a next time: tomorrow morning I shall be driving right past CERN , so if the little black hole finds me irresistible, this will be my last post.

More HTML Grief

Further to my rant about the appalling HTML, I must apologise to my readers.  When the blog went "tits up" yesterday and wrecked my post, it did another nasty thing.  Links are meant to appear in orange - to contrast nicely with the black background.  Now they are dark blue.  I have checked in the settings and indeed it SAYS that they are orange... That's HTML for you - and the same thing happened on another blog I run.  I cannot change the colour of links.  I must make it absolutely clear that until this evening, I had not changed or even looked at the settings for weeks.

I am afraid that I am unwilling to change the colour of the overall blog, so until Google, the providers of the BLOGGER service, find a way to operate without HTML (which obviously doesn't work properly) I must ask you to put up with the dark-blue links.

Addendum: I have found a way  out of this nightmare: each time I enter a link I have to change the colour of the word manually - you will still see a dark-blue underline, but of course I have no control over that.

Apologies again.

Until the next time

Monday 8 September 2008

HTML is shit

I have spent a considerable time preparing an interesting post about cell experimentation at Harvard and Governor Palin. I am sorry it looks so stupid, but this is in no way my fault.

I went so far as to save the text in Word, and start anew (on a different computer) with the same stupid result.


If anyone cares to email me, (proof101.p@gmail.com) they are welcome to a Word document version.

Until the next time (if I haven't slashed my wrists)

EDIT: Well I managed to get the text to appear - I know it looks like rubbish, but you now know what is to blame don't you?

It's Life Captain, but not as we know it

A Protocell - Image source: Wired

My favourite technical news site is Wired. Today there is a lengthy and fascinating article about a project at Harvard Medical School whose aim is to create a form of life that may never have existed. By using fatty molecules that can apparently trap "bits of nucleic acids", the plan is that these cells will be able to evolve.

I am by no means a micro-biologist so I think it best if you read the piece for yourselves; certainly ths project should if it succeeds, be a fascinating one to follow.

From my point of view, it is pleasing that this is happening in the USA, where the Republican Party has just nominated a vice-presidential candidate, Sarah Palin, who believes in "Intelligent Design" - in common parlance she is one of the "creationists". How many of these "creationists" still hold the view that the earth was created in six days etc., etc. I have no idea and frankly couldn't care less - until of course they start attempting to ram this superstitious nonsense down my throat.

Miss Palin has other views that appear to me to be downright contradictory. From Wikipedia: I have learned that she is a supporter both of "Feminists for Life" and of capital punishment, a member of the National Rifle Association etc.

Looks like a bit of an Old Testament job to me - I do accept that others might not find the views listed as being contradictory, but then I like being contradictory. Lovers of cuddly animals etc., will not like Miss Palin after reading this. And Sarah herself probably won't like it either - or this (sorry cannot find the link anymore thanks to HTML fucking up this blog). To me it is staggering that the Republicans can be so inept - but then I'm not there; perhaps they know that there are enough fruit-cakes ready to vote their way!

If the GOP wins the Presidential Election, which on the face of it seems unlikely, I hope that Miss Palin will not feel obliged to ban the cell research on some specious heretical grounds - if she has read the article I mentioned above, she will know (I daresay that she does already) that scientists have an irritating habit of being scientific and expecting proof - a component that is sorely lacking in religious texts (I should know - I was brought up as a Catholic).

I suppose that it is fortunate that the USA is a very big country - or as I like to say to my European acquaintances, it is in fact fifty countries.

Until the next time

It's life Captain, but not as we know it: Governor Palin

Sunday 7 September 2008

Air Mayhem - Reno

The International Herald Tribune reports that a competitor has been killed at this year's Reno Air Races; this follows three deaths at last year's event. In consequence the US Federal Aviation Authority plans to keep a closer eye on procedures at Reno (elsewhere - especially in England - of course, this madness would have been banned years ago I suppose - good for the Americans!).

I have mentioned before that I have had a life-long fascination with military aircraft. At Reno, aircraft dating from the Second World War and shortly afterwards compete over a simple course marked out by pylons. These aircraft are not quite as the designers intended: they are hot-rods - highly polished, with engines that have been extensively developed. I believe that the outright speed record is held at 507mph achieved by a P-51 Mustang. There are no jets, only propeller aircraft are permitted to race, but these highly-modified craft regularly reach 500mph (800kph) whilst flying as low as 50 feet (17m) from the ground. And I love the noise they make.

Here's a short clip presented by former F1 driver Damon Hill which provides an introduction to the races.

If "aero-porn" appeals then you simply must click on this link. It features some breathtaking flying; it's loud, rock 'n' roll, high-energy and very American!

Until the next time

Australian Politics in Action

Or perhaps not. I suppose I should add that this interview shows a "politician" who is willing to give direct answers; very rare indeed!

Until the next time

Wednesday 3 September 2008

I said that Google is usually Pretty Fast

Google has reacted promptly to the outcry - justified in my opinion - about the copyright issues I mentioned in my last post.

I just read the report on Gizmodo (from which the cartoon above is taken) which states that the Google spokeswoman explained that it was just a "cut-and-paste" error.

As the article points out, this is a little strange for a product that has been two years in development!

Until the next time

Have you tried Chrome?

Image source: here

The word on the bazaars is that Google has released Chrome a little early as a result of the famous leak the other day.

So far many reports have been favourable, particularly in regard to the speed of the new browser. I have loaded it onto one of my computers (it refuses to install on the other one) and it seems pretty quick to me. However it is very much in Beta - one cynic commented: "Aren't all Google's products in Beta?"!

Meanwhile at The Register the conspiracy theorists have been hard at work, mercilessly lampooning Google's "cartoon-style" launch documentation pointing out that the European map shows a "Greater Denmark":

On the other hand, The Register has a more serious point to make about copyright issues that appear in Google Chrome's End-User Licence Agreement (EULA); the opinion is expressed that any user of Chrome is required to assign copyright of all his material to Google. This of course has those conspiracy theorists up in arms although others suggest that it's actually an oversight at Google; we shall see - Google is usally fairly quick to react.

Nevertheless it's a timely reminder to all those (like me) who click "I agree" rather than read through all that legal blurb.

This time it really is a case of "watch that space."

Until the next time

Tuesday 2 September 2008

Could You? I Couldn't!

Image source: here

Could you eat 59 of these in ten minutes? I'm certain that I couldn't, but apparently according to the IHT, a man with the resounding name of Joey Chestnut managed this feat and in doing so won a hot dog contest at Coney Island, New York on 4th July.

The article also reveals that another man won a contest in Ohio, by guzzling 11lb 8oz (5.2kg) of chilli spaghetti - again in ten minutes. The name of the champ is Bob Shoudt; I find it impossible to resist adding that really, he should be "Bob Shouldn't.

As with all competitive sporting events, there is a governing body for eating contests; this is I.F.O.C.E., the International Federation of Competitive Eating. This illustrious organisation has a splendid badge:

Click on the link under the picture and you will enter IFOCE's website where you can find lists of records and pictures of the champions. Amongst the latter I was especially interested to find 40-year-old Sonya Thomas:

Sonya weighs 105lbs - 7 stone 7lbs or 47.6kg, remarkable when one considers some of her achievements:

  • Cheesecake: 11 pounds Downtown Atlantic Cheesecake / 9 minutes/ Sept. 26, 2004

  • Chicken Nuggets: 80 Chicken Nuggets / 5 Minutes

  • Chili Cheese Fries: 8 lbs, 2 oz Wienerschnitzel Chili Cheese Fries at the Queen Mary / 10 minutes/February 11, 2006

  • Crab Cakes: 46 Phillips Crab Cakes/Baltimore Waterfront Festival / 10 Minutes/ April 29, 2006

  • Deep-Fried Okra: 9.75 lbs Deep Fried Okra/GoldenPalace.net at the Oklahoma State Fair / 10 Minutes/Sept. 16, 2006

  • Eggs: 65 Hard Boiled Eggs / 6 minutes, 40 seconds

For my European readers 1kg = 2.2lbs; how about 5kg of Cheescake in nine minutes - and those eggs!! The short biography of Sonya tells us that she is single - perhaps's it's "comfort-eating" - but after 65 hard boiled eggs, I have to say that her spinster status comes as no surprise to me.

Turning to the records section, I was very impressed with one Don Lerman, who managed to consume six pounds (2.73kg) of baked beans in one minute 48 seconds.

I expect he's single too...

Until the next time

Monday 1 September 2008

Form and Function: More Stealth

Image Source: Here

A while ago, I wrote about the retirement of America's F117A "Stealth" fighter-bomber aircraft, under the title "Time is Stealthy". Having had a look at pictures and video of various new stealthy aircraft I have come to the conclusion that the F117A will go down in aviation history as unique. Apart from the black finish, to me it is the extraordinary angular shape that makes it difficult to imagine a more sinister-looking aeroplane, although I suppose that the B2 bomber comes very close indeed:

Image source: Here

Ever since I was a small child, I have always found advanced military hardware fascinating and indeed almost irresistible, despite its terrible purpose. Now, the angular shape of the F117A was no accident (!), but it still makes me wonder if the manufacturers of these extraordinary craft are apt to factor in a "sinister" appearance in their design briefs. Consider the newly-announced "Killer-Bee" UAV (unmanned aerial vehicle) from Raytheon:

Image Source: Here

Shades of "War of the Worlds" isn't it? It is said that a fierce marketing battle is likely to develop between Boeing which produces a successful operational UAV and Raytheon which claims that its "Killer-Bee" is a better performer. I wonder if its terrifying appearance will have a sub-conscious effect on the Air Force staff?

Well, to close this piece, here's a video starring the F117A and three well-drilled individuals, an aerobatic team (not in the F117A!) and some organ music from J.S.Bach, the famous Toccata and Fugue in D minor, so beloved of horror film directors.

Until the next time