Sunday, July 30, 2006

My humanity to others (ubuntu) remains

So I tried getting rid of my Linux (Ubuntu for those who are interested in my favoured distribution) partition, but failed. This is mainly due to my ineptitude at reconfiguring my partitions. Basically I tried to just delete the Linux partition and then expand my existing Windows (NTFS) partition into the free space - QTparted (which I was running from a Knoppix CD) didn't want to do this. Also because my GRUB loader now couldn't find the Linux partition (which I had managed to delete) it just decided to throw up an error and stop, so I couldn't even access Windows. Now I'm sure there are ways to get to your Master Boot Record and change things around there to make everything work again, but I don't know how to do this, so what I had to do was reinstall Linux (this time on a much smaller partition) so that I could reinstall GRUB. I did however manage to leave another 20Gb partition which I formatted as FAT32 so it can be accessed with read and write in both Windows and Linux - this should give me enough space to play with. So I still have Linux, which is good, and I now have more disk space to access from Windows - things didn't turn out too bad and I've not had to reformat the entire drive or anything.

Let the wall come down

Right, the time has come to remove the aparthied from my hard disk between NTFS and ext3. I currently have a Windows partition and a Linux partition, although unfortunately with my current level of disk space one of them has to go. After much soul searching and internal wrangling I've had to opt for the keeping of Windows - I know, I know, it shouldn't be that way, but for my purposes it's just how it's got to be. I just don't use Linux enough on my home computer, and still haven't been able to get the my wireless to work under it (admittedly I've not tried as hard as I could have), so the 20Gb it currently has is going to have to be given over to store more music and stuff. When in the future I get another harddisk then rest assured I'll get with the pengiuns again, but for now I'll just have to cope with only using Linux at work. I will post again soon if this process goes without hitches, otherwise it may be longer as I'll have to reformat the entire disk. Finger's crossed that qtparted can do it's stuff - yes, yes, I'm using a Linux tool to get rid of Linux, it's not quite right I know.

Thursday, July 20, 2006

They're floaty light

Floating confectionary. Helium filled flying saucers. Hot air balloonesque meringue. Clouds of whipped cream - whipped with Hydrogen that is. It's the future people!

Wednesday, July 19, 2006


The past few days have been noticably warmer than usual, in fact we (that is we as in the British summer) seem to be setting records in the old heat stakes. This heat provides me with ample opportunity to force the site of my bare torso on the unassuming public - and it seems that I'm not the only one. I'd obviously prefer to be doing this on a lovely tropical beach, but being as there's no such tropical beach a short strole away from Glasgow Uni, I've been having to strip down in the University grounds at lunchtime. It's a very nice place to sit and have lunch, but in the heat it does lack a bit of nice clear blue sea to dive into and cool off. They university needs to employ some roaming ice-cream/cold beverage/fan sellers to tend to our heat reduction needs during hot days like this. Or they could at least install some sort of paddling pool/lido on the grounds.

One thing that I've discovered is a rather sweaty activity to do in the sweltering heat is drumming - even when you are just wearing your shorts. I was having a bit of practice this evening and was dripping by the end of it - this is especially sweaty when trying to keep up with some high tempo beat. It's no wonder that drummers are famed for wearing cut-off t-shirts, or just discarding with the t-shirt altogether. I'll have to consult my bandmates to agree on a level of attire that they consider acceptable for me to wear.

Wednesday, July 12, 2006

Some things are like other things

Now don't you ever get caught out when trying to explain a bit of out there theoretical physics to the lay man, and think "what I really need is a useful analogy to a real world situation that they can relate to". Well if you don't then you should, because I'm forever in those sorts of situations. Why only today I was trying to explain the about Gravitational Radiation from Standing Accretion Shock Instability in Core-Collapse Supernovae to a passing ned (for non-Glasgow folk see here for the definitive ned guide) and instead of thanks for enlightening them on the subject I got a harsh chibbing. If only I'd had a Buckfast or Kappa based analogy to hand I might have only received a light bottling - I made this story up, but it illustrates the point.

So on this note (and having talked a bit about it with Bob the other day) I would like to set up some sort of repository of physics/astronomy analogies. I've heard some good ones in the past and promptly forgotten them, so it would be nice to have them written down and collated somewhere. For the moment this repository will just be this post and its comments section, but this may move somewhere else if I get a large number of analogies. And this is where you come in, my loyal reader(s), if you can think of or have heard any good (well even bad) physicsy analogies then send them to me. Also spread the word to others.

I would like to kick this off with a good analogy myself, but my mind is drawing a blank. I'll try better for tomorrow.

Monday, July 10, 2006

Zi Zi Top

So the World Cup is over. We've had a month of intense football to light up our days and nights, and now there's only void. There've been some good times and some bad times, but it's been an exciting part of my life for the duration (maybe that makes me sound a bit sad and football obsessed, but what the hey). No more sights of the pie man himself Ronaldo, attempting to waddle ineffectually towards the ball. No more amazement at Klinsmann somehow pulling it out of the bag and turning the German's into a major force. No more confusion at how the Spanish and Dutch managed to, once again, have really great teams, but still not making it very far. No more concern over how some of the match officials were allowed to officiate on such a high level stage. No more cameramen focusing on the most attractive girl in the crowd. No more bewilderment at the lack of a star striker shining through in the tournament - it was all midfielders! No more tension between Martin O'Neill and Marcel Desailly in the BBC punditry team - O'Neill was as brilliantly blunt as ever. No more theatrics and pouting from Cristiano Ronaldo. No more 25 pass wonderfully worked goals from the Argentinian's. No more jeans wearing, chain smoking managers like the Mexican manager Ricardo "the Wolf" la Volpe, or histrionics from Guus Hiddink. No more super volley's from the likes of Cole and Maxi Rodrigez. No more Rooney petulance. No more of Zidane's breath-taking excellence and show stopping madness. No more dream destroying red cards. No more heart breaking penalty shoot outs. No more superlatives. No more... football... and all the brilliantly bizarre side show that goes along with it.

Well I suppose there's only just over a month until the new Premiership season starts and I get the joys of watching the mighty Watford taking their rightful place amongst the big boys. First match is against the Toffeemen - bring 'em on.

Thursday, July 06, 2006

Space: Above and Beyond

I was going to post this yesterday, but hadn't finished writing it - so now in all its glory is my controversial space rant (also the post I reference was actually written a week ago, so I'm being rather slow on the uptake in the fast moving world of the blogosphere - can't believe I just used that word!):

This post has nothing to do with the little known space war type sci-fi effort from the producers of the X-files - much under-rated and cancelled criminally early though it was. Instead I'm going to talk about a much debated subject amoung astronomers - whether we should be spending money on (NASA) sending people back to the Moon and on to Mars. I'm just writing this now, because I saw a post about it on cosmicvariance the other day. Many professional astronomers/astrophysicists it seems are the harshest critics of more manned spaceflight, with a proposed return to Mars being subject to lots of ire. There are good reasons for this, and generally the biggest reason is that money spent on manned spaceflight could see them potentially out of a job! This is due to NASA having a limited amount of funding, a large chuck of which has been earmarked by the current US administration for R&D into Moon/Mars missions, meaning other projects for which money had been promised are either scrapped or greatly delayed. These scrapped/delayed missions are ones that many astrophysicists need to continue there research and to get grants for post-graduate students/post-docs. So you can see they wouldn't be pleased about this diversion of monies away from their projects. Indeed one of the missions being held up (at the NASA end rather than the ESA side) by this funding issue is a the space-based gravitational wave mission LISA, so I should myself declare a vested interest.

Having said all that I'm all for manned spaceflight of the going out to Mars variety even though it costs an extraordinary amount of money. A quandary that many astrophysicists who are so opposed to spending money on this rather than their own particular pet project must have is that a lot were probably inspired into their line of work by the thought of space travel. You'll ask many what they wanted to be when they were kids and they'll have said "Astronaut". Also by our very nature, we astrophysisicts are of quite a geeky bent (ok so a bit of a grand generalisation there) and grew up reading/watching far too much sci-fi of a flying through space/visiting other planets/meeting aliens style. This is why we got into the job in the first place people! But, hey, I suppose you have to leave those grand dreams of childhood behind especially when you're job could be on the line. It just annoys me that the very thing that inspired so many, is something that they now turn their backs on.

There are some astrophysicists who think the whole idea of sending people into space is just a big old naive pie in the sky dream (I don't like that type I don't). "We don't need to send people to other planets to do good science, look at what robotic mission's are already doing - it's great stuff" they say. And yes you can do loads of great science with robotic missions, and yes they're cheaper and less risk, but, god, they can be boring! I mean they still quite excite me - I like pictures of Sojourner trundling along the Martian landscape - but to the general public it must seem fairly pish really. I mean you could put a picture of a cute kid's face on a Mars rover and call it little Timmy, but it's not going to evoke an emotional response. What you need is people. People can empathise with people, they can see the endeavour that they've undertaken, the risks, the hardships, all for the sake of exploring something new. And they could do some very good science whilst also being all "Look at me, I'm the first person on Mars. Aren't I great!" - it's not quite Armstrongesque, but you get the picture. And this is the point - people in space inspires others - it creates an interest in space that other things can't achieve. There are some who say that the amazing science achieved (and I agree there's been some pretty ground breaking and Nobel prize winning, down right awesome results) by the HST/Chandra/WMAP/XMM/Spitzer/etc should be enough to inspire interest in astronomy/physics/sciecne in the general public, but is it really? At the moment we have astronauts on the ISS, but it doesn't do it for people as they're not seen as doing anything up there. But if they were striking out across the solar system, that'd be another thing. The public would lap it up, and all things space would see the benefit.

So there are those who don't want to see money wasted on space travel at all and then there are those who still like the thought of people in space, but say "if you could only just wait until after I've got funding for my project, please". It's a case of just put it off for a bit, because obviously in the future there won't be other people equally desperate to get funding for their vital-to-the-understanding-of-the-universe satellite. You can't just keep saying let's put it off for a bit, or it'll never happen.

An even more annoying group of people in the anti-going back to the Moon/Mars group are those who are opposed to it just because it's been proposed by the Bush administration. As Bush is somehow the most evil thing ever - sort of a combination of Hitler, Stalin, Pol Pot, Wile. E. Coyote, Blofeld and Darth Vader rolled into one - nothing that comes out from his adminitration can be a good idea. I don't know if putting funding into space travel is some vaste right-wing neocon conspiricy, but to automatically say it's a bad thing cos it's done by Bush just seems rather narrow minded. Well maybe I'll be proved wrong when I find out that the money's actually not for sending people to Mars, but instead for setting up a solar system wide chain of Starbucks, or stealing oil from the Europans, or maybe even just commiting some sort of genocide the way evil types tend to do.

But basically I want a Neil Armstrong-type moment in my lifetime. I'm sick of seeing the footage of him stepping of the lander at Tranquility base and saying his immortal line, but knowing that I was 21 years too late to see it live. Everyone who saw it remembers it and it regularly tops polls of best thing ever done, ever! So I think we deserve another moment like that for ourselves.

Also, I want to go into space goddamnit. Imagine standing on one of Saturn's moons and looking up at Saturn's rings filling half the sky - I'm there!

Wednesday, July 05, 2006

Feeling hot, hot, hot

It's bloody roasting here. I have many windows open, but I still need dipping in something cool.

I did have an actually proper post to put up earlier today, but I got distracted from writing it by actual work - i'll finish it tomorrow, so prepare to be underwhelmed.

So as not to make this post completely pointless I got sent a couple of links today (by Iain) that people might want to look at. The first is not for those of a nervous disposition, and when I just said "might want to look at" really read "should steer well clear of", but it is a music video by the Hoff. It actually gets exponetially worse throughout, with no plateau or break in the attrociuosness. It also contains a mocked up version of KIT, as I assume the real KIT would have had no truck with such garbage.

The other link is to a trailer for the Tranformers movie. I don't want to spoil it, but Colin Pillinger was holding out on us!

Monday, July 03, 2006

Milk Man

I'm currently (well make that was) listening to a very strange tune called Milk Man by Aphex Twin (well it's by Aphex Twin so it's not that strange comparatively) - it goes along the lines of "I wish the milkman would deliver my milk in the morning, I wish the milkman would deliver my milk when I'm yawning... I would like some milk from the Milkman's wifes tits, I would like some milk from the Milkman's wife tits" etc, etc. It's actually a rather good tune, but I'm not sure about the dubious nature of Richard James' (aka Aphex Twin) prefered milk delivery mechanism. I think I was going to write about something else but I've gone a bit off topic there!

So what else have I been listening to whilst writing this - well there's been a fully instrumental version of Metallica's "The Unforgiven" by Apocalyptica, "My Red Hot Car (Girl)" by Squarepusher, which is very good and is probably the most bassy tune I have, "Mr Wendal" by Arrested Development, "Soul to Squeeze" by the Red Hot Chili Peppers, which I didn't actually know I had, and now I'm listening to "Sloop John B" by the Beach Boys (in both mono and stereo). Fairly eclectic I'd say.

Sunday, July 02, 2006

Becoming England

Ok calm... calm... yep, just about calm enough.

I've been living in Scotland for almost four years now and really I should know what to expect when watching England football matches in public. Despite this I still put myself through the torture of watching the games in pubs. This is all the worst if it happens to be a game which could send England out of a major tournament, the World Cup for example.

So yesterday for the England versus Portugal game, in the quarter finals of the World Cup, I found myself watching in the fairly anti-England environment of a Scottish pub. I had my parents and grandparents in tow, as I'd just had my PhD graduation that morning (yes I can properly be called a Doctor now, with the piece of paper to prove it). My friends had saved me and my family some seats in the corner of the pub, which was fairly rammed full of people. There were the odd couple of other England supporters in the pub braving it out in actual England tops, but we were by far the minority. I wont dwell on the details of the game, what with Rooney's sending off, the blatant underuse of Lennon down the right, the use of Beckham in the first place, the crimal misses of goal scoring opportunities, and Carrager's retaken penalty, but will go through my emotional journey. With almost all competitive England games I get a slight feeling of nerves and anticipation before hand which will either settle down or increase to hair pulling heights during the match. For this match my nerves where actually fairly settled at the start, the sense of dread had yet to kick in. Also duing such matches a foul mouthed beast takes over the use of my mouth and the most common thing I can be heard saying is "OH, FOR FUCKS SAKE!" with increasing levels of volume and vehemence. I had warned my parents of this before inviting them along to the pub to watch the game, but I don't know if they knew that I'd be swearing at top volume almost continuously. By half time in the match I'd gone through a fair old battery of expletives, but was still suprisingly calm despite some outside appearences - well I say calm, and I mean it in a worked up and tense kind of way, but calm compared to how things would get. To gauge my levels of tension some of my friends had worked out a system based on the angle of my body, with sitting bolt upright being the least worked up, to curled up in a foetal ball weeping on the floor being the highest level.

So on came the second half and Rooney's sending off for accidentally crushing a Portugese players nads beneath his studs and then pushing Cristiano Ronaldo (well we've all wanted to punch him in the face at some point haven't we). This was head in hands time, we were down to 10 men with half an hour of normal time to go, and we still hadn't scored a goal, and we have no strikers! Most of the pub obviously go ecstatically wild (but we'll get to that later). I resign myself to defeat - or do I, no I still have some hope. Occasionally losing a man forges a team together, more than making up for the numerical disadvantge. And with 10 men we still did well, we sat fairly deep, but Portugal didn't look like scoring - unfortunately neither did we, which could only mean one thing: extra time. By this time I've managed to use of another bucket load of expletives, with my dad looking quite bemused by it. I'd also decided, I expect like pretty much every other England supporter, that I should be instantly transported out to Gelsenkirchen to take Sven's place as manager, because he didn't know what the fuck he was doing. This didn't happen, so I just had to shout as loudly as I could at the TV screen. So it's extra time and we've already played 90 minutes in the sweltering heat - I'm talking about us in the pub as well as the players cos it was roasting in there - and we've got to go on for another half hour, and my nerves are fairly shot through. Again during extra time there were few chances on goal from either side, and despite my dearest wish of an England goal on the 29th minute we don't get it. Horror! Pain! Death! Torture! Big scary monstery things! It's a penalty shoot out! A penalty shoot out for England in a major championship! A penalty shoot out! For England! In and major championship! There's only one way it can go... ...but still some tiny, tiny shread of hope remains. I cling to it and go foetal.

It really is the cruelest thing to do to an England supporter - you could peel his (or her) skin off with a rusty potato peeler, whilst sprinkling salt and vinegar on his exposed raw flesh and forcing him to watch you molest his beloved puppy (or kitten), and he'd still take it over a penalty shoot out in a major championship. We don't like them, get it! I watched! I couldn't actually look at the Scots around me supporting "not England" (not a Portugal supporter amoung them from what I could see), as with each Portugal goal and England miss my despair was converting to anger. Emotions are funny things and can easily transform from one thing to another, and strong emotions of one form will quickly jump to another strong emotion. I'd invested a lot of emotion in this match and this team. They represented the country of England, but they also in some way represented me. Stating the obvious here but I'll never play football for my country in a World Cup, so these players we're my proxy, and their pain at losing was my pain, and frustration, and despair, and anger. For someone who doesn't really follow a team in such a way it seems so completely irrational to feel so strongly about a game, but there are few things in life that you can get so attached to and passionate about and will give you such an emotional roller coaster of lows, but could sometime, maybe, in your wildest dreams, give you such heights of joy. So I wasn't particularly happy when we lost.

If I'd been in England (or even Portugal say) my despair would have kept in that emotional state and I would have sat quietly with my head in my hands reliving moments of the game in my head, until eventually it after 20 minutues to half an hour I'd have rejoined the rest of the world. But I wasn't in England, I was in the worse place for an emotional England fan to be - Scotland. And this made all the difference in converting my hurt into anger, because (and as I've said at the start of this post I've known it to be the case all along) a large proportion of Scot's revel in England's demise - and when they cheer and whoop at Portugal winning the game, I know that they don't actually give a shit about it being the Portugal team - they just care that England have lost. They haven't spent the rest of the World Cup anxious and tense at every other Portuguese game, and most of them won't care if Portugal lose to France on Wednesday, whereas I'd given my soul over to the England team and didn't appreciate having my nose rubbed in it. So I got angry and wanted to hit things - people, inanimate objects, anything. As I'm not actually a violent person I didn't do that, but I did have to leave the pub pretty sharpish just in case. I know there are many reasons given about why the Scots hate the English football team in particular and I'm not going to write about it now, but it doesn't mean I'm going to like it. I love living in Glasgow, I think the city's great and have a really good group of friends, but for future crucial England games I might have to make the trip south of the border, because for those 90 plus minutes a large proportion of Scots (in my eyes at least) become complete fuckwits. And I know you think the same of us too.