Tuesday, November 28, 2006

Reminder of the past

Tonight I watched my second live (via Sky Sports at a pub) Watford match of the season, and what a thorough disappointment it was. We lost 1-0 after a dull, and scrappy, scrappy game. In earlier games we'd been competitive, but generally missed out on results through misfortune or not putting away our best goal chances. Tonights game at home against Sheffield Utd showed that now our plucky but unfortunate guise doesn't seem to be the case - we're just shit. To be fair the whole game was shit, with barely a couple of minutes of what even the most generous of viewer could call football being played by either side. The majority of the match saw both sides mainly aimlessly hoofing the ball around the pitch. It wouldn't have been out of place from last season when both teams were in the Championship (in reality the standard was several divisions lower even than that). I hope that this match was a real anomaly, as from what I'd seen of us previously in this season I had some hope that we might make a decent hash of staying up. However we really must do a lot better, and home games against teams around us in the league table need to be won!

Monday, November 27, 2006

Crash, Bang, Hi-hat

It's taken a bit longer than expected, but I finally got the cymbals I ordered a while back. The set I got is the Sabian XS20 pack, which includes a hi-hat, 16" crash, 20" ride and a free (special Christmas offer no less!) 18" crash and cymbal bag. They apparently had to wing their way over from Canada, which is why they took a few weeks to arrive - I assume they had to shine them up with a veneer of Maple syrup. They do look very nice and I get my first go at trying them out this Friday at our next band practice.

Sunday, November 26, 2006

End of the season

Tonight I finished the first series of Battlestar Galactica. I've really enjoyed it so far and will be starting watching series two asap, mainly because I really need a resolution to the cliffhanger the first series has ended on.

Back with the penguins

A previous failed attempt at re-partitioning on my laptop left me with a small and unused Linux partition. The main reason it remained unused was that I didn't want to have to spend a long time getting my wireless card working under the distribution I was using. However in the last couple of days I decided it was time to give it a go again, so I downloaded the most recent version of kubuntu aka "Edgy". After installing this yesterday I have had to spend a bit more time than I'd hoped setting up the wireless network - which basically required installing ndiswrapper and copying across the Windows drivers for my network card. Now it's all up and running though and I'm very happy with it. I think I'll be using this Linux partition a whole lot more - in fact this post comes courtesy of kubuntu.

Friday, November 24, 2006

I don't like cricket...

...I occasionally-kinda-get-interested-in it. My last cricket post was during the last summer's Ashes tour in England. Now we're back down in Oz for this years tour and will hopefully retain that small urn (well in reality it stays in England at the MCC at Lords) after last years winning heroics from Freddie Flintoff and co. The first test started yesterday and the Aussie's went into bat. Unfortunately we were only able to take three wickets, whilst the Aussies got 340 odd runs. Maybe we'll have more luck taking some wickets during todays play. I'm just listening to a bit of the coverage via BBC Radio 5 Live's online broadcast, but will have to go to sleep soon - that's the problem with it being in Australia!

[Update - It seems we didn't do any better in todays play. Australia decalared at 602 for 9, and when we went into bat we lost three wickets for 53! Not very good at all. Hopefully Pietersen can score highly for us tomorrow, but I think we can at best only manage a draw in this test.]

Monday, November 20, 2006


It's been confirmed today that the Physics department at Reading University is going to be closed by 2010. This is the latest high profile closure of a university science department. The main problems being lack of students, which means that you don't money. Hopefully this'll be the last time we hear of such closures. Tony Blair recently described how science is essential for the British economy, so hopefully the government will try to reverse this decline in science take up and lack of funding (£75 million has been promised) - not just at university, but at school. I think we who work at universities have some responsibility to try and enthuse young people to continue to study sciences after school, especially due to the lack of us wanting to be school teachers.

My Sci-fi life

The BBC are trying to get a compilation of everyones science fiction experiences (in all it's forms) at their website here. It's fairly new - I think - so there's a lot of stuff that needs to be added. I'll have to have a think about my seminal sci-fi experiences and see if I have anything to add. Hmmmm... I do like a whole lot of sci-fi so this could take some time. There are, however, some quite large gaps in my knowledge which many would consider scandalous - for example I've never seen an episode of Blakes 7 and most Gerry Anderson stuff slipped me by (I think puppets slightly disturbed me!) I'm registered on the site as cosmiczoo, so look out for any additions I might make.

Sunday, November 19, 2006

Soup of the day

The other day I made a nice chicken broth, so I thought I'd jot down the recipe for future reference (although it's actually rather simple and doesn't take too much remembering).


  • 1 chicken breast
  • 1 parsnip
  • 1 carrot
  • 1 sweet potato
  • 1 leek
  • 1 tomato
  • half an onion
  • a chicken stock cube
  • mixed herbs
  • salt and pepper

Chop up all the vegetables into fairly large chunks. Cut up the chicken into small pieces and lightly fry, in a large saucepan, until cooked through but not too brown. Add in the onion and leek and also lightly fry. Add in the tomato. Add in the water, chicken stock, herbs, seasoning and other veg. Bring to the boil, cover and then leave to simmer for about an hour. Eat! Other veg could be added, but the ones I went for this time work very well.

In brief diversion into football Watford were cruelly beaten by Portsmouth yesterday. A controversial late penalty gave Pompey the win, after Watford had previously been denied a couple of penalty decisions. Aidy Boothroyd was none to happy with the referee. Our next game is a week on Tuesday against Sheffield United, so hopefully we can get our second win against our fellow newly promoted team.

Via the medium of blog

Cosmic Variance's prolific writer (and theoretical cosmologist) Sean Carroll has just announced his engagement to fellow blogger Jennifer. I offer my heartiest congratulations to them both. It seems that they first met (in person) at the April APS meeting in Dallas, which I was at, although I don't remember any physics based love ins! It's very nice that love can blossom through the blogosphere. I hope that they have a great secular wedding.


A couple of days ago I did my first real academic style job - I set an exam question. I can't tell you what the question is just in case an actual student has a look at this here blog. It's a question for a general physics paper (something I never had to go through during my undergraduate days) which meant that there was a fairly large scope when thinking of it. I'm quite proud of my question and hope it makes it onto the exam paper. If it does make it onto the exam it could mean more marking for me though!

Thursday, November 16, 2006

Food, glorious food

If you're a fan of really good food and live in or near the West End of Glasgow, then I highly recommend trying out Roastit Bubbly Jocks on Dumbarton Road. A few of us went there last night and were all treated to uniformly delicious meals. I started with a asparagus and wild mushroom risotto, followed by a venison casserole, finished off with a nice bit of sticky toffee pudding and ice cream. I am still pretty damn full this morning. The restaurant is fairly small and unassuming from the outside, but it has a nice friendly atmosphere on the inside and the staff were very nice. Go there if you can!

Tuesday, November 14, 2006

Expanding my memory

I decided today that I should have more storage space on my computer, so have bought a 250 Gb external hard disk from Amazon. On searching for one of these I almost had a Google based Freudian slip as I typed in "external hard dick", which I luckily caught before I hit enter for the search. Hopefully 250 Gb should see me well for a while and will definitely allow me to back up everything I currently have, with plenty of room to spare.

[Update - My hard disk arrived yesterday, and looks quite funky - it's shaped like a black hardback book. So far so good, with it working right from plugging it in, although I wouldn't have expected any problems from a brand new device. It has a lot of air vents to keep it cool, which is good as overheating seems to be a problem with some of these devices after extended use. It came with a FAT32 file system, which I will be keeping for when I want to use it with a Linux system, rather than re-formating as NTFS. It's currently housing some videos and some of my old presentations. Still has oddles of space to be filled though.]

Monday, November 13, 2006

The life of Brian

Via this post at Cosmic Variance I found out that Queen guitar legend Brian May has a blog/soapbox. It's a, well how can I say in a good way, interesting read! Now I know my own ramblings may not be the most eloquent things put on the web, but Brian should maybe stick to finishing his thesis, or selling out with his Queen legacy (think for example the Ben Elton musical We Will Rock You and letting 5ive do cover We Will Rock You). That said I think Brian should be applauded for his promotion of astronomy - I really do. I hope he keeps it up.

Goodbye Global Surveyor!?

It seems that Mars Global Surveyor has been out of communication for a week (also see here). MGS has been sending back bountiful information from its orbit around Mars for almost 10 years, so has had a very good run. Hopefully contact can be regained and it'll have another few years of dutiful service sending us piccies of Mars' surface. If not then I'll raise a glass to all it's achievements and say a fond farewell to a great spacefarer.

[Update - NASA have conceded that they are very unlikely to regain communication with MGS - I'll raise that glass when I next have a drink to hand.]

Bring back theocracy!?

Last week (yes I know that's a long time ago in this hyperfast day and age) a new religion backed think-tank called Theos published a report called Doing God: A Future for Faith in the Public Square. This called for links between religion (Christianity I assume) and state to be upheld (and strengthened) and has been backed by leading (Christian) figures. Following this the Archbishop of York has been condeming the erosion of Christianity from public life due to illiberal atheists undermining Britain's religious heritage. It's a position that secularists (me being one) would argue very strongly against, as religion should be a private affiar and should be totally separate from the state. There should be no government preference (perceived or otherwise) towards any religion, or non-religious group, with everyone treated equaly in the eye's of the state. Apparently there's only the UK and Iran where religious leaders sit on the state legislature - these being the bishops in the House of Lords. A response to this report can be found on the National Secular Society's website here.

In another note from the NSSs website there was a quote by our good reverand Tony Blair saying talk of Creationism in some schools (being some of the new part privately funded City academies sponsored by the evangelical Christain Peter Vardy) was "hugely exagerated". He goes on to say “I’ve visited one of the schools in question and as far as I’m aware they are teaching the curriculum in a normal way. If I notice creationism becoming the mainstream of the education system in this country then that’s the time to start worrying,”. Now I have some issue with what he says there. I don't think you should wait for Creationism to become mainstrean before you start worrying there Tony. I think if Creationism is being taught in even one school then you should be worried and stamping it out hard. You can't let these schools teach there own warped brand of knowledge just for fear of losing people ready to sponsor you City academies scheme. It's a very dangerous route to let any school go down.

[Update - In todays Guardian there was an article on an Intelligent Design information pack being sent out to UK school by the group Truth in Science (it was also on Newsnight tonight). You'd hope from a group called Truth in Science this would be an information pack on how to counter ID arguments, however in reality it's an ID propaganda exercise. From the article is scarily seems that there is some positive feedback and take up of this information pack from school head's of science!

"The teaching pack, which includes two DVDs and a manual, was sent to the head of science at all secondary schools in the country on September 18 by the group Truth in Science. The enclosed feedback postcard was returned by 89 schools. As well as 59 positive responses, 15 were negative or dismissive and 15 said the material was 'not suitable'"

The claim as ever by the distributors of the pack is that they are just trying to give the ID theory a voice in the science class and be critical of Darwinism. The reality is that they are trying to put across a religious viewpoint as if it has some basis in testable science. This should be kept well clear of the science classroom.

The government to it's credit has said "Neither intelligent design nor creationism are recognised scientific theories and they are not included in the science curriculum.", however the fact that there are some science teachers who are willing to use this material is still very worrying.

There are quite a lot of other places in the internet where you can read about people speaking out against ID, so I'm not going to say anything lengthy here, although read this for the ruling from a US case brought to court about teaching ID in schools.]

Space battles galore!

After recommendations from several people (and due to my flatmate downloading it) I've started watching the re-make/re-interpretation of Battlestar Galactica (also see here). I've only watched the pilot mini-series so far, but that's been enough for me to catch the sci-fi show bug again. I think I'll be watching the rest in fairly quick succession over the next few weeks, until I've caught up with the middle of series three which is currently showing. What more could a sci-fi fan want than huge space battles, evil cybernetic robots, and attractive women - it's got them all. I now just have to get used to Starbuck being a woman rather than Dirk Benedict, although this shouldn't be too hard as she's far more attractive than I ever thought Dirk was.

Friday, November 10, 2006

Ministry of experiments

Today Lord Sainsbury announced he would be quitting his position as the government Science Minister. His reason for leaving has yet to be revealed although there are murmurings of possible links to the whole cash for honours/peerages scandal, although he received his peerage before his own large donations to the labour party (some of which he might not quite have disclosed fully) were made. Over his time in this position he has overseen a large rise in the government spending on science and as far as I can tell has actually taken a fairly large interest in his job (apparently it's never been a ministerial brief that anyone's really wanted before). There also appears to have been a fair amount of respect for him among the scientific community (according to this article at least). He's definitely been the most prominent and visible Science minister I can remember, in fact I have no idea who any of the previous science ministers have been. A lot of his prominence has been down to his donations to the Labour party, his closeness to Tony Blair, and his Sainsburys supermarkets based fortune, but I have actually also seen him championing science on a fair few occasions. I don't really know if he's had much direct impact on funding within Physics and Astronomy, but I assume some of the extra money that's been put into sciences (from £1.4 billion in 1998 to £3.4 billion next year) must have come our way. The new appointment for the post is going to be Malcolm Wicks MP, who has been holding the position of Minister for Energy. I don't know if he has any science background, but from his biography he seems to have spent a lot of time working on issues for the aged and for carers. My main hope is that he is actually interested in taking up his new post, rather than dismissing it, and will be active in fighting the corner of science in general.

Wednesday, November 08, 2006

Word of the day

Today my word of the day is gubernatorial. I'd never heard or seen this word before until reading reports of the US midterm elections, but I liked the sound of it. Apparently it comes from the Latin word for governor, which is gubernator. When applied to someone like Arnold Schwarzenegger it seems all the more appropriate.

Saturday, November 04, 2006

Better late than never

We've finally done it! After 10 games of draws and defeats Watford have finally got their first win! We just beat Middlesbrough 2-0 at home. Don't know anything about the game yet, but who cares what it was like cos we won. I really hope I can be saying that a lot more this season.

Friday, November 03, 2006

Rock 'n' roll star

We've actually had band practice for the last three consecutive weeks after a hiatus of about a month and a half. I think we are improving, which is obviously the direction we were hoping to head. Last night we even managed to put together a short four song set list and run through them all the way through. There needs to be a fair bit of tightening up of those songs, but we've got a good base to build on. Other songs are still rather, errm, how should I say... ropey (our Spanish isn't quite up to one particular song yet!). Another band practice is set for next week. We've kind of also agreed on a preliminary band name.

After my purchase of an electric drum kit I've gone further down the road of aquiring things to hit by buying a set of cymbals. When we practice I've always had to hire a set, which costs extra money, and the set is generally of fairly shit, old, broken quality anyway. Having my own set will mean I can use shiny new, great sounding cymbals, although will have the downside of me having to lug them to and from practice. I've just got to wait two weeks for them to come in stock at Drum Central.

Thursday, November 02, 2006

My God, it's full of stars!

Today involved wrestling with a large inflatable dome in our Physics Department common room. Not just any dome mind you, but a dome containing the promise of revealing the wonders of the universe. For you see the dome, once suitably filled with air, became the basis of a portable planetarium. Also required was a quarter of a spherical mirror, a data projector, a laptop with the Stellarium software (which I thoroughly recommend people get by the way - don't worry it's free to download), and several people to stand around and go "Ooooohh! Aaahhhh!". The reason for assembling the planetarium was so that people who'd not seen it done before (i.e. me) would know how to do it when we are potentially sent to schools to show kids the wonders of space. We also wanted to know how quick we could inflate/set it up and deflate it for these events. The features of the software allowed a very good range of control over the sky when in the planetarium - from just show the motions of the celestial objects to projecting constellations or reference grids, captioning objects, or zooming in on particular objects. It all looked very nice and was impressive for what you consider was just a normal data projector in a blow-up sheet of material - apparently this was considerably more hi-tech than the previous portable planetarium, which used a can with pin holes in it to project objects! The whole excersize proved quite fun and entertaining, but now all us budding planetarium show volunteers need to get ourselves acquainted with the software and think up our own style of show. ellielabelle also expounds the wonders of the planetarium in her post here.

I may be rather crude, but I did see another opportunity for use of the planetarium. With it's shape and rather labia-like opening (I should really post a picture - of the planetarium, not a labia, I'm not that kind of website!) it seemed that it could be used in sex education classes (once we've taught the astronomy - no, not as part of the sex-ed). A womb like environment could be projected on the inside followed by a birthing experience as people emerge from the dome. I think there may have been a similar exhibit in the Body zone at the Millennium Dome.