Tuesday, September 30, 2008

University for life

Two days ago saw the anniversary of me starting university, but this year is special in that it's been a whole 10 years since I entered the university system. And as you can see I've still not left. Can it really have been that long? Yes, is the answer, it really can. No wonder I feel so old compared to the fresh-faced, bright-eyed young students that I see milling around the university. But, hey, I plan to spend much longer in the loving arms of lady academia, so I'd better get used to it.

Tuesday, September 23, 2008

We wos robbed

This weekend saw Watford fall foul of an extremely bizarre refereeing decision. The final result of our game against Reading was 2-2, but the controversy surrounds Reading's first "goal" (and the quotation marks are very justified). Occasionally there will be times when the ball crosses the goal line, but the referee (or linesman) rules that it didn't and therefore doesn't give the goal. Sometimes the opposite happens and a ball that hasn't entirely crossed the line will be given as a goal. The common thing about both these kind of errors though is that the ball is in the mouth of the goal. What happened in the Watford game was a different kettle of fish. The ball did cross the line, but not didn't cross the line nor was it even within the goal mouth, and was in fact kept in by a Reading player, yet it was given as a goal by the linesman! There was some call for the game to be replayed, but that isn't going to happen. The only amusement I've got out of this situation is from a comments by Watford boss Aidy Boothroyd. When saying that he didn't blame Reading players for doing nothing to object to the goal he said "If someone stops you in a car park and gives you a present you don't say no do you?" Now I'd have to disagree with Aidy there. If a stranger came up to me in a car park, or most venues for that matter, and gave me a present I'd be very suspicious and rather unlikely to accept it.

Wednesday, September 17, 2008

Hitchhiking for cash

I just read how Eoin Colfer (the author of a series of children's books about a guy called Artemis Fowl) has been commissioned to write a new Hitchhiker's book. Now like many people the Hitchhiker's series holds a special place in my heart (to varying degrees depending on the book) and I'm not really sure that it should be added to by anyone other than Adams - and since he's dead, and a very strong atheist (so if he was in an afterlife he'd probably be a bit too embarrassed to send us back a manuscript for a new book), that doesn't seem a very likely possibility. Then again even if Adams was still around I'm not sure that even he should have carried on with the writing books in that series. Colfer himself said "My first reaction was semi-outrage that anyone should be allowed to tamper with this incredible series,". My main problem is that I just don't see the point (other than a money making ploy by the publishing company, which obviously is the main point) with someone else trying to get more out of the characters and Hitchhiker's universe. I really enjoyed the Hitchhiker's books, but I didn't continue reading them because I had a special fondness for the characters and just had to find out what happened to them next! I just liked the whole bizarre concept and thought it was very funny. Maybe I'm wrong and everyone else has a real need to know what these characters are doing now, but I don't think I do. Also as an author (which I'm patently not) I'm sure I'd rather be creating my own whole new vision, without the pressure and baggage of living up to some past expectation that carrying on a pre-established series would entail.

Friday, September 12, 2008

Conflicting information

Tomorrow I'm planning on taking a trip to Hamburg seeing as I've not been out of Hannover during my 3 months here in Germany. I wanted to see what there was to do in Hamburg, so googled "tourist information Hamburg" and on the first page of results was the Visit Sweden site! I don't know how they've managed to get their site such a high rating on a search for information about a city in an entirely different country! Anyway that site didn't really help me decide what I'm going to do, so I might just go on this bus tour instead.

Thursday, September 11, 2008

One win does not a good team make

It seems like it's time for England fans to get over excited about a single good result. Yesterday we managed a rather good 4-1 win away against Croatia in the World Cup 2010 qualifying campaign. I only got to see the second half, but was actually rather impressed by our performance and the player's commitment. But, and there has to be a but here, let's not get ahead of ourselves. This results doesn't now mean that we'll walk the group and be shoe ins for qualifying. We've always known that we've got the players to do very well, but one game hasn't convinced me that they can actually keep up the team ethic that they really need to progress beyond their current level. Let's just hope that Capello can keep it up though. That said if we do make it through to the World Cup in South Africa it's going to be way to hot for us to play at all anyway!

Wednesday, September 10, 2008

My LHC worries

I'm concerned about the LHC? "Why?" you ask, "it's not going to destroy world." I know that, but that's not what I'm worried about. What concerns me is this photo I saw from the CERN control room. Do you see? Do you see? Their control room computers are running Windows! These people should be dab hands at using Linux and writing custom control software for it, so why have they chosen Microsoft?

But, on a more serious note well done to all the people that got the LHC up and running today. Let's hope it all carries on without any hiccups and we get the first collisions soon.

Tuesday, September 09, 2008

Beam me up

The LHC turns on tomorrow for its first major test run with proton's circling around one of the two rings. As there's only going to be one beam there should be actually be no collisions just yet. This is still quite exciting as it should test out a lot of the systems needed to ramp the whole thing up to a proper operational level. I don't want to pander to the sensationalist media that seems to have been getting the public unduly concerned about it destroying us all, but I do want to add another word or two as to why it won't do that - particle physicists are not maniacal Bond villians! They do not want to destroy the world or participate in its destruction through anything they do. They really like living (and skiing - CERN is pretty near the Alps you see), and anyway discovering something cool and new really isn't worth shit if you've not there to see that you've discovered it (or if you can't go skiing anymore!) If they (the thousands of physicists who've worked on the project, and even more of their colleagues at universities and labs around the world) thought there was any chance of the LHC doing anything bad then they wouldn't do it. So let me reiterate the LHC is perfectly safe and there is no chance at all of it so much as harming a fly (well a fly could get irradiated if it was stupid enough to go near the beam tube or one of the detectors while it running, but then it would be its own darn fault).

The main thing I'm worried about tomorrow is if something technical goes wrong like some of the superconducting magnets failing as that could set things back a while, and we've already been waiting ages for it to come online. But while your waiting to see if these first tests are successful and things are running smoothly you can go and play at being a particle physicist yourself here.

Sunday, September 07, 2008

Hip hop don't stop

[Disclaimer: If you are offended by a fairly middle-class white man talking about breakdancing and repeatedly using the words crews (although not spelling it with a u ) and skillz then you may wish to avoid this post.]

Last night a little piece of 1980s New York came to Hannover in the form of a breakdancing competition (or battle). Not wanting to miss out probably my only chance to see Germany's top B-boy crews in action myself and a few friends went along to see it. The competition was to see who would qualify for the international Battle of the Year final to be held next month (you can also currently see a recording of the whole of last night's event at that website). Before going along we were a bit dubious about that quality of dancing that we'd be seeing (we had pictures in mind of fairly stereotypical German youth's trying in vain to spin on their heads) and also whether we'd stick out as obviously not from the German hip hop scene. Both these worries were fortunately not born out and when we arrived there was a diverse enough crowd for us to not look out of place (although jakeybob bringing along some garlic in his bag was considered a bit strange!)

The competition consisted of 12 competing crews from around the country with names like Big Bang (the local Hannoverian crew, who got a huge reception from the home crowd), Incredible Syndicate, Street Beatz, etc, each of which performed a 10 minute choreographed performance. These ranged in quality, but each crew had something original to show and generally had at least a couple of star performers who could pull off the biggest power moves. One of the most audacious moves was from one of the Berlin crews (Street Beatz I think) which had an under-10 years old looking boy who they used as a kind of skipping rope! Some teams tried to have a bit of a story in there routines, some had a few props, whilst others just tried to showcase individual skills. The teams who fared worst generally were a bit younger and didn't have anyone strong enough to pull off the major moves.

After each crew had show their skillz four semi-finalists were chosen. The semi-finals were in a proper crew face-off battle like you'd see on the mean streets of the Bronx (or in the Run DMC vs. Jason Nevins It's Like That video). This gave each crew member the chance to show off what they could do, but also gave the whole team a chance to show of some big preprepared set pieces (for example forming your crew into a cock and jizzing silly string onto the others!), with the difficultly level of the moves, and the good natured antagonism between the crews, building as the battle progressed. These were when some of the most impressive moves came out. The team that won overall were TNT who did seem to have some of the best skills, including a guy who span around on the palms of his hands (which caused something of a mini pitch/dance floor invasion from certain parts of the crowd), but were a bit too arrogant and twatish to be actually likable.

One of the most difficult things about the whole night was trying to stop myself from attempting some dancing. When the vibe's in the air it's hard not want to break into a bit of body-popping (of which there was disappointingly little from the crews) or spinning around on the floor.

Wednesday, September 03, 2008


A rather bizarre paper was posted on the astro-ph arXiv today. In it (well from the abstract that I've read) the authors propose that a sufficiently advance civilisation could have the means and desire to add phase modulations to Cepheid variable stars as a way of broadcasting signals over a large distance. They suggest that we should therefore try looking for such non-natural modulations in the large collection of Cepheid observations that have been made over the past 100 years. Now I don't want to suggest that this is a silly idea, but the reason I point out this article is because I like the termed they've coined for such a civilisation of Cepheid manipulators - they call them the "star-ticklers".