Thursday, September 27, 2007

Returning heroes

What do I make of the first episode of series two of Heroes? (No major spoilers) Well, it carried on pretty much as it left off (albeit 4 Months Later.) We're reintroduced to the majority of the previous characters and what's happened in their life since we last saw them (there's a lot of dialogue devoted to the standard exposition of what's gone on), with a couple of new faces put in there (in what'll probably be the new Nikki Sanders-type story.) Due to the who'll catchup nature of it there's a lot packed into the episode. But, I think the show has kept its style and pace really well. The opening episode has certainly asked a whole heap of new questions, some of which seem glaringly obvious, but others are more intriging. I certainly really enjoyed it and am now eagerly anticipating the second episode.

I've also watched the first episode of series four of House (Spoiler for end of series three if you've not seen it yet). I'm not quite sure why I persist with watching House, as, in classic medical drama style (well even more so in this case), it repeats very similar stories over and over. You'd think I'd be bored of it ny now. I think I just enjoy watching Hugh Laurie play House, while the same predictable things happen around him and his work colleagues seem duller and more annoying. At the end of the last series House's three employees either resigned or were sacked (and don't appear in this episode despite all the actors names being in the opening credits) and here we see him trying to solve a case himself without the help of his team. The whole point of the episode (as Cuddy and Wilson keep telling him in ever more irritating ways) is that he'd do better with I team and he should employ some people, but I didn't really get why as he solves the case perfectly well on his own (the main point of the entire show being that he's really bloody good at what he does.) I'll keep with the series, as I do perversely enjoy it still, until the supporting characters really do drive me insane.

There are a long list of other shows that I have in the pipeline to watch (some of which wee-n-sarcastic mentioned) including: Reaper, Bionic Woman, Life and of course, in the hopefully not too distance future, BSG. I'll review these as I get round to watching them.

Wednesday, September 26, 2007

Quote of the week

"... once you have tenure its all edible panties, firearms and blow." from Mark at CV.

Tuesday, September 25, 2007

Is it coincidence?

For those interested in gravitational wave detection you may be excited to note that as of this morning at 00:28 UTC the three LIGO detectors have taken one years worth of triple coincidence data. What this means is that there is now one years worth of overlapping data from all three detectors. Overlapping data is essential when hunting for unmodelled short duration bursts of gravitational waves (e.g. from a supernova or GRB), as seeing an event in multiple detectors gives you confidence that the event is real (one detector would never be enough for you to rule out that an event wasn't just some random instrumental glitch, or environmental contamination) and allows you to get some positional information about the event. The current LIGO science run (S5 - meaning the fifth run of data taking) had this one year target as its main goal, also the detectors have generally been at their design sensitivities, meaning there's lots of nice high quality data for us to search through.

Friday, September 21, 2007

Stick breakin, hard rockin

Just a quick post to say that yesterday's gig went very well. There were a few vocal level worries when we were soundchecking, due to our incomplete knowledge of the mixing desk we were using, but they got sorted out. The crowd mainly consisted of our mates, but they provided a decent turnout, and many were even wearing their official Look Up for Danger t-shirts.

I was a bit overenthusiastic for the first few songs, but calmed down to a better tempo for the remainder of the gig. I didn't take it that easy though, as I managed to snap two drumsticks (taking the total of stick I've broken this week, including during rehearsals, up to 5, after going a year and a half without breaking any.) I also had to finish one song with just one stick after dropping, and not being able to recover, two others, but it was fine. All the other band members played very well and it was great fun to play together, but sad to know that our guitarist (and founder) was playing with us for his last time. We did end on a high though, as at Chris's request we performed a footstomping, handclapping, barnstorming version of We Will Rock You with the full on Brian-May-style guitar solo ending. Marvellous! For those that have rocked, we salute you!

Thursday, September 20, 2007

The final countdown

Only 10 hours to go before the final Look Up for Danger gig (well depending if we decide to keep the name or not after today.) This time round we've got a set of 19 songs which will hopefully all rock! We just have to collect equipment (aka the drum kit), take it to the venue, have our final rehearsal, get some food, set up, sound check and then have a pint before it starts. Bring it on!

Wednesday, September 19, 2007

Top table

I've been lax in not commenting on this sooner, but last weekend Watford went top of the league! Yes, with a mighty 12 points (from a potential 15) we took top spot in the Championship. Unfortunately, due to my slowness in reporting this news, we've now slipped down to second behind Bristol City following their 0-0 draw with West Brom last night. Never mind though as they are only ahead on goal difference and we have a game in hand. However, with a win or draw (preferably a win, obviously) in tonight's game against Cardiff we can reclaim our rightful spot at the zenith of the table.

[Update: We did it, we beat Cardiff 2-1 and went back to top of the table. Come on you mighty Hornets!]

Wednesday, September 12, 2007

Six from two

After the recently rare decent performance from the weekend England have managed to reproduce it with another very good win - this time against the tougher opponents of Russia. We started off the game very well, holding on to the ball and putting together precise forward looking passes which ending up with three goals. Gareth Barry again had a really good game and Michael Owen showed his quality with some class finishing on a brace of goals. We were a tad lucky in the first half when we were 1-0 up and the Russians had a goal disallowed for a dubious handball decision - well it wasn't a handball, but from the angle I first saw it, and from where the ref was, it did look like one. But other than that we did deserve to win, despite being a bit lacklustre for large parts of the second half - Shaun Wright-Phillips was looking very lethargic after his feisty performance on Saturday. Now we're second in the qualifying group. Croatia look like staying on top, but provided we can keep up the decent performances we have every chance of going through in second...

I should also give out a big congratulations to Scotland who beat France in Paris to go top of their group. It was a really good performance and despite being put under a lot of pressure from the French the Scottish defence held up brilliantly. It does now look like, of the home nations, only Scotland and England have chances of going through to Euro2008. Hopefully both of us can make it.

Sunday, September 09, 2007

183 days later

Last week, after about six months of reading, I finally finished Neal Stephenson's trilogy of books The Baroque Cycle. This consists of three rather chunky (just under 900 page each) volumes: Quicksilver, The Confusion and The System of the World. The books are kind of a follow on from Stephenson's previous novel Crytonomicon which is a very good book itself, and highly recommended by me to be read before or after these books.

You can read the wikipedia entries for a description of the stories' main plots and characters and I can't be bothered repeating them, but very briefly it's set in the late 17th and early 18th centuries, mainly in Western Europe, and follows the lives of several people mixed up in Natural Philosophy and the politics of the time, and includes many real historical figures. From here I'll just give my opinion on the books. Firstly if you're interested in the history of how much of modern science started (like the formation of the Royal Society), of English and Western European monarchy and politics, and of modern economics, then these books are great (especially the first one Quicksilver.) All these topics are covered as integral parts of the diverse storylines and are handled excellently. I'm not sure how accurate the historical accounts are, and there's obviously a fair bit of artistic license with real historical figures characterisations, but it all appears very well researched and timelined. You feel that your learning a lot and it makes you interested in finding out much more about the period. The two main storylines of the first book, that split into several others during the later books, before converging towards the end, are both equally interesting and well written so that you generally don't get disappointed when there's a switch between the two. Stephonson is prone to giving very long descriptions of things (hence the length of the books), but for the most part this enhances your enjoyment, however in the final book The System of the World these descriptions can seem overly long.

I really enjoyed the books and would recommend them to anyone who has half a year to spare (I can be a fairly slow reader, but they're going to take a while for anyone to get through.) I'd probably say that Quicksilver was my favourite, and that I was slightly disappointed by The System of the World. Quicksilver interest entirely throughout and didn't dragged at all, but The System of the World, despite probably being the fastest paced with regards to things happening over the shortest timescale, just had moments that I felt did drag and could have been left out or got through with fewer words.

I'll be looked forward to more or Stephenson's work in the future, but I've currently got three more books to keep me occupied.


In a major turn-up for the books yesterday's England v Israel Euro2008 qualifier was actually a decent game - for the English team at least. It was always thought that the Israeli team would be very defensive in this game (even more so than in their home leg in Tel Aviv), and in that they didn't disappoint - they only mustered a couple of meaningful attacks in the whole game - but that meant that England would have to keep up tempo and take the game forward. That's not been England's forte recently and things could have carried on in the same vein, but fortunately the team decided to play. There were a couple of interesting decisions in the squad forced by various injuries, like having Emile Heskey (who's not played for England for three years) and Gareth Barry (who's not played for England in over four years) in it, but their inclusions seems to have been one of Steve McClaren's best decisions since becoming England manager. Heskey was very impressive, and strong, in holding up the ball and knocking it on, and there wasn't a sign of his old trick of falling over at the slightest touch - he did however have a chance on goal that he should have done better with. Also very impressive was little Shaun Wright-Phillips who scored the first goal and had so much pace and energy during the game (we really don't need Beckham back down the right, he's just not got the pace or ability to run at and frighten defenders), unfortunately we didn't get to see Ian Wright's reaction to the goal up in the BBC pundits box. Deserving a mention are the performances of Joe Cole, Micah Richards (who scored and is looking like he'll be a regular at right back and probably push Gary Neville out the squad) and Michael Owen who scored one of his best ever England goals. The game was good because we took it to the Israeli's and didn't just sit back. Even when we'd scored a couple of goals we saw the opportunity to score more and kept things going. We should in fact have had more goals as on several occasions some great build up play was let down by poor finishing. Hopefully this will set us up well for Wednesday's game against Russia, although they'll likely be tougher opponents than Israel and will attempt a more attacking game.

After the football I watched the England v USA rugby game (our first game in the Rugby World Cup). Despite England winning (which they were expected to do easily against a team like USA) we played really poorly. It was a really dull performance that didn't show any real passion to win. It's not the most promising of starts given the performances of teams like New Zealand, Australia and South Africa in their opening matches.

Wednesday, September 05, 2007

Beyond funding

I've just got this news via cosmicvariance. The US National Academy of Science has just released its recommendations to NASA and the DoE for the Beyond Einstein program - see here for the press release. The basic conclusion they came to is that a Joint Dark Energy Mission should be first off, given that it will be using pretty much proven technologies and a mission could be easily put together, whereas the space-based gravitational wave detector LISA requires more technological testing before they could place it top of the list for recommending. It does, however say that LISA should become the flagship mission in the future. What all this means in practical terms for the US side of LISA funding I'm not sure? LISA has been pushed back with regards to a potential launch date due to technological and funding issues for ages, but this could lead to yet more delays (although not entirely unexpected.) This is obviously a bit of a disappointment for a gravitational wave researcher like me, and I honestly think that the science return from LISA would be more than one of the JDEM missions could give - I mean they're only trying to understand what potentially makes up 70% of the universe, so who cares about that? ;) But seriously LISA has the potential to do very good cosmology as well as provide loads of other fundamental astrophysics with possible completely new discoveries being made - it just has a little bit more risk attached to pull off the mission, but many people are working very hard to make it as sound as possible. As Sean at cv notes maybe ESA should consider finding a more reliable partner for LISA - China, Japan, India what are your thoughts?

[Update: Apparently, according to my boss, the US recommendations are pretty much a match for the timescale that ESA was planning for LISA anyway, so they shouldn't really cause any significant extra delays. Not so bad really then.]

Chili time

I've not written down a recipe for a while, so here's a new one for the chili con carne I made today (it's a fairly standard recipe, but it did come entirely out of my head and it did taste very good, and is in fact the first chili I've ever made from scratch!)


  • 750g lean beef mince
  • 1 large onion
  • 3 garlic segment things
  • 2 peppers (one green and one red for more colour variety
  • 1 tin of chopped tomatoes
  • 2 tablespoon of tomato puree
  • 1 small tin of kidney beans
  • 1 small tin of sweetcorn
  • 4 closed cup mushrooms
  • 1 beef oxo cube
  • 2 tablespoons of hot chili powder (you should probably use real chili's, but I didn't get any!)
  • half tablespoon of cumin
  • half tablespoon of paprika
  • salt and pepper
  • splash of lemon juice

Chop up the garlic and onion and fry it up with a bit of oil in a large saucepan until golden. Add the mince beef and fry until brown. Add the oxo cube, spices, lemon juice and seasoning. Add the tomato, sweetcorn, kidney beans and chopped mushrooms and stir it all together. Put a lid on the pan and simmer it for about 20 mins. Serve with rice, a jacket potato, tortias or whatever you want. This recipe should make enough for about three fairly substantial portions (I've have quite a bit left!)

Monday, September 03, 2007

Pubbing dangerously

After living in the Maryhill area of Glasgow for the last year and a half I've finally visited one of my local pubs - don't worry I've not gone into Framptons or the Viking as I'm not that willing to die (they haven't got the most favourable of reputations, especially considering I'm a fairly middle-class Englishman, and haven't got a pitbull or a Glasgow smile!) The pub in particular, called Crosslands, is actually slightly famous having featured in the film Trainspotting! You know the scene where Begbie chucks the pint glass off the balcony in the pub and it glasses the person below - well it's that pub! I'd been informed by a friend that despite its look from the outside, and believe me it doesn't look the most inviting of places, it's fine when you go in (and to be fair there are reviews that say it's a very friendly place). So after band practice today we took the plunge and went for a pint there. You'll be (hopefully) pleased to know that none of us got glassed, or otherwise roughed-up, and in fact we had a pleasant couple of drinks. The place was mostly empty, so it would have been hard for us to antagonise anyone, but it wasn't at all intimidating. Maybe it'll become a regular band haunt... or maybe not!

Moores law

In another very brief astronomy related post the head of the Astronomy & Astrophysics group at Glasgow Prof. John Brown and my friend Fiona were on the Sky at Night last night. I've not watched it yet, but will try and catch the repeat or download it. From what I've heard it mainly consisted of John doing magic tricks - he links in astronomy with his magic as part of public outreach - but I'm intrigued to see how it comes across on the TV.

Do you feel lucky

I'm not quite sure why it was BBC website front page news (although I'm glad it was and is pretty cool especially if you're astronomiclly inclined), but there's an interesting story about a couple of research groups produing high resolution images from ground based telescopes. The reason that this is cool is that normally from the ground the resolution of the images you can produce (i.e. the ability the distinguish between separate objects - like stars - or pick out detail) is limit by the turbulent motions of the atmosphere. Patches of air with different denisties along the line of sight to the object will bend (refract) the light (like light passing through a glass prism) by different amount leading to the image at the telescope jittering around and varying in intensity (basically the same as the twinkling of stars when you look at them with you eye). To image faint objects you need fairly long camera exposure times; these variations in the atmosphere happen on far shorter timescales, so the jittering/brightness variations of the source will smear it out on the final image. In general there's a rule which says that the bigger a telescope you have the better resolution you can get, so an 8.2m telescope like one of those at the VLT should be able to tell two objects seperated by ~0.02 arcseconds apart (i.e. two objects seperated by about 30 metre on the moon), but is in practice limited to a resolution of ~0.5 acrseonds by the atmosphere - that doesn't mean that bigger telescopes on the ground aren't better than smaller ones as they still collect more light and can therefore see fainter objects.) To get round the effects of the atmosphere the Hubble Space Telescope was built, which was able to achieve its full theoretical resolution of ~0.5 acrseonds with its 2.4m mirror, however Hubble was very expensive and is hard to maintain - being in space and all - so people have been trying to think of way to get around the atmospheric effect with ground based telescopes.

The article above talks of two ways of doing this, which have both seperately been around for a few years (the adaptive optics idea for longer), but seem to have finally been used together. The first idea is that of adaptive optics, which basically monitor the effect of the atmospheric distortions on the image and then corrects for these by applying and opposite distortion to one of the secondary mirrors in the telescope thereby correcting for the atmospheric effects. The monitoring and corrections have to be performed on a millisecond timescale. The second idea, which is now also making use of very efficient CCD cameras, is Lucky imaging. This basically comprises of taking lots and lots of photos of the object with short exposure times (hence the need for the very efficient cameras, so as to catch as much light as possible in a short time.) Some of these lucky images will have been taken when the atmospheric distotions were small, so you keep these and thow away the bad ones. You can then stack up the lucky images to help build up a stronger image. It's actually rather simple!

Anyway that was a rather unexpected astronomy post and the main reason I started it was so that I could show this cool movie of the Crab pulsar (which I do research on) taken using Lucky Imaging - you can see the flashing star with a bright pulse and then a fainter interpulse as radiation beamed from the star's poles intercept Earth once per rotation - the image is slowed down from the actual rotation rate of 30 times per second.