Wednesday, February 25, 2009

Zoo too

Today I had my first look at Galaxy Zoo (it's been up for well over a year and I've known about it from the start, but I'm slow on the uptake sometimes) - an online project that uses the online masses (i.e. us web users) to classify galaxy images in the Sloan Digital Sky survey. Part of the reason behind the project (I think) is that people are actually rather good at image processing in a way that it's quite hard to get an automated computer program to do. So by getting people to do the classification (with multiple people classifying each galaxy for verification purposes) you get a pretty reliable and accurate catalogue - and sometimes get new things spotted. Basically what happens once you sign up is that you get shown a picture of a galaxy and then asked a couple of questions about it's morphology answerable by clicking simple icons, i.e. is it smooth and regular looking, or does it have spiral features, and that's about it - you can then move on to the next image, and the next, and the next... I only did two images on my first go and they were both fairly ordinary looking ellipticals. [ooh, I just got a spiral - there were lots more questions for that!]

One thing I have wondered about Galaxy Zoo before is whether I've inadvertantly got any hits from people who were really looking for it (with this post it'll probably become more likely). Well if you were looking for Galaxy Zoo you now have the correct link to it.

Monday, February 23, 2009

Ah, Vienna

This weekend just gone I have been having a holiday (not associated with a meeting or conference, just a regular break) in Vienna. I have a friend who lives there and decided that it would be nice to visit her and see a new city (I'd heard good things about Vienna from couple of people). I'm very glad I did have my friend there to visit, because otherwise I may have wasted the weekend due to a complete lack of preparation. I have discovered (well it was partly evident from my Caribbean holiday) that I'm not really the type who plans ahead that much, so I'm in debt to my friend who took it open herself to find things for us to do. And a good job she did to.

On Saturday (after a late brunch) we took a wander through the city centre (via the University - I'll pretty much always head to the nearest University wherever I am, I think they make me fell more comfortable), before going on a guided city tour. This started off from behind the famous Opera house and took us through the Hofburg Palace (which houses, to name one thing, the national library), then down some of the major shopping streets, and finishing at St. Stephen's Cathedral. One thing I'd also not done prior to travelling was check the weather - I'd expected it to be quite chilly, but not as cold as it actually was. The walk was very nice, but had left me lacking feeling in my toes and face, which I tried to remedy by climbing up the Cathedral Tower, but was more comprehensively dealt with when we went into a cafe for hot chocolate and cake - as we were in Vienna I had some of the famous Sachertorte. That evening, after getting ourselves properly frozen again by walking around outside (and with a brief look into one of the best known Viennese Café's - Café Central) we went for dinner. I had the biggest Schnitzel that I'd ever seen, probably about 12" in diameter, which I struggled to eat - a German guy sitting next to us told me that if I didn't finish it there would be bad weather the next day, but even with that incentive I couldn't manage the whole thing. After being so massively stuffed with food the only option was to digest the food by going to the cinema, where we saw Frost/Nixon.

On Sunday, again with no planning on my part, we had a busy schedule. First stop was the Schönbrunn Palace, which was the summer residence of the imperial family. We took a tour round the family rooms, in which I was most impressed by some of the beautiful wood panelled floor, and I also learnt a bit of history - my knowledge of the Austrian Hap/bsburgs is now greatly increased (although it started at a very low level and I hadn't even realised [or maybe very vaguely knew] that Marie Anionette was one). The snow out by the palace was quite a lot thicker than in the city centre, but we walked though it in the gardens. We headed back into the centre for our lunch of kaiserschmarrnn [corrected at the request of my friend] (a thick pancake-like thing, covered in icing sugar and served with plum jam - very tasty) before more culture in the form of an art gallery. Vienna has many, many museums and galleries, and we went in to the Leopold Museum, where there was a large exhibit of the musuems extensive Egon Schiele collection - I liked a lot of his work, but my friend was horrified to hear that I'd never heard of him before going to the musuem (this happened with a lot of the artist's she mentioned - what can I say, my knowledge of large swathes of art, history, classical music, etc, is very poor). During our time in the museum the snowfall had picked up considerably and there was a thick covering as we headed to the openair ice rink in the park in front of the Rathaus (apparently, according to our tour guide the day before, the largest outdoor rink in Europe!) It was a lovely scene seeing the rink and town hall in the snow and all lit up, and it was fun to get out on the ice (the rink had two main skating areas that were connected by an ice path through the park), but we eventually had to stop as my feet were hurting from the hired skates (I later found a very large blister on my foot!) The evening ended with what my friend told me was one of the best foods in Vienna - Käsekrainer - sausage with bits of cheese through it, served with mustard (or horseradish) and bread. I enjoyed my Käsekrainer and it was a very nice way to end the day.

I travelled home this morning (my friend even helped with this by looking up the timetable of buses to the airport for me - I am useless!) after a very nice weekend. I now have to go back there when it's a bit warmer. I also now have another airport to add to my pointless airport list :)

Thursday, February 19, 2009


After my last post about science on TV I just thought I'd plug my friend Michelle's appearance on last night's episode of BBC's The One Show - she can be seen here demonstrating how science shows that you can break a plank of wood with your hand (whether she'll thank me for pointing out her appearance or not is another thing!)

Tuesday, February 17, 2009

Can we make... an inappropriate cut scene?

I wasn't really planning on watching tonight's episode of Horizon, but I was sat in front of the TV and it came on after MasterChef, so I stayed seated and gave it a look. Now the reason I hesitate to watch Horizon is that I (like many people I've talked to) have got more and more frustrated with it over the last few years. It's gone from a respectable science program that was informative and inspiring, without being too stuffy and impenetrable, to a gimiky show that is more about fancy computer graphics, wierd camera work, controversial titles, and very little (and also badly presented) science content - this may be just the way you have to do things in TV these days (and I probably have a rose-tinted view of some of the way it used to be - in fact I generally preferred Channel 4's Equinox), but I doesn't seem a good method to present science to the public (and actually get them to be interested and learn something) to me.

Tonight's episode was entitled "Can We Make a Star on Earth?" and was presented by Prof. Brian Cox - the BBC's current go-to guy for physics related programming (he's already got at least a couple of other Horizon's under his belt). The program was essentially about investigations into using nuclear fusion as a future power source, as well as a fair amount of the background science leading up to fusion and our energy needs. I actually was rather surprised as I thought the program was pretty good, but with some reservations. The science content of the program covered a good deal of topics at a nice level and was generally well presented. The scientists that were interviewed were well chosen and did a good job explaining and enthusing about their subject. The experiments were impressively presented and you got a good idea of the challenges that they face. So the general things that I liked about how Horizon used to be were there. The problems came when they did pieces to camera - they just didn't work or add to the program. We don't need the bizarre camera angles and weirdly positioned shots (including strange almost subliminal close-ups of his food) and cut scences. We don't need the opening minutes of random pointless musings, which almost made me switch off. When Cox was just there as a narrator, or interviewing others, all was rather good and he can do it well, but when he's on screen they decide to take it too far. In reality I don't really think Horizon requires having a presenter - a good narrator can convey all the information as well as adding awe, excitement and perspective about the science being presented.

Seeing as I know exactly how the show should be I think the BBC should ask me to take over. I'm sure it would be easy... ;)

Sunday, February 15, 2009

Six Cups

Yesterday I went to the pub for a double header of sport - I was watching both the Wales v. England Six Nations Rubgy match and the Watford v. Chelsea FA Cup 5th Round match at the same time (there were side-by-side screens showing the games). Neither match went the way of my hoped for results (i.e. England and Watford wins), but they were both enjoyable nonetheless.

In the rugby the fact that England were beaten by Wales wasn't a surprising or unexpected result, but the way England played was the most surprising aspect of the match. We actually played a decent game! We played some good rugby with movement and attacking options and managed to score two rather decent tries, and if it hadn't been for giving away too many silly penalties and getting players sin binned we could have taken the game.

In the football the excitement mainly came in the form of nail-biting tension as Chelsea pummeled the Watford penalty area, but without managing to score (for the first 75 minutes at least). And then Watford got a surprise break and a goal to take the lead! We obviously got the goal too soon as we then managed to concede a hat-trick to Anelka, but it was very nice while it lasted. Chelsea deserved the win, but we at least made them work for it in the end.

Rock the boat

Today I was out on a river trip to the Lower Orchy (which was the first river I ever went out on). I didn't have to drive the club minibus this time round, which was quite nice as I could just sit back and relax in the bus for the journey. For this trip I was able to borrow a friends boat, which worked out well as it was a perfect size for me and I felt nice and stable in it. The river was good fun with some decent rapid sections that had slightly larger waves than I remembered, however the weir at the top of the run was rather smaller, and far less intimidating, than I remember from my first trip. I got down fine without any problems and wasn't close to having to swim.

Our plan after doing the Orchy was to check out the middle Etive, but this was scuppered by the car accompanying our group being involved in a slight accident (effectively shutting down the B8074). After this was dealt with we then had to give aid to some paddlers from the Edinburgh University Canoe Club, one of whom had damaged his shoulder getting out of a boat, and so we had to shuttle their driver back to her car. Further on the way home we helped out a member of the Glasgow University Mountaineering Club, who had been out for the weekend, but needed a lift back to Glasgow. These all added to a slightly more eventful trip than normal, but an enjoyable one.

Monday, February 02, 2009

Pointless airport post

This post is a rather pointless post in which I've decided to list all the airports I've been through. There's no reason to it and it's not some internet meme (which I generally dislike and ignore), it's just a list I thought I'd create (just because I occasionally like making lists - I once, many years ago, listed [in my head] all the London pubs I'd been to - maybe I'll write them down if I'm bored [I semi-joke]). Here goes:

  • Glasgow International Airport (GLA)
  • London Heathrow (LHR)
  • London Luton (LTN)
  • London Gatwick (LGW)
  • London Stansted (STN)
  • London City (LCY)
  • Glasgow Prestwick (PIK)
  • Birmingham International Airport (BHX)
  • Manchester Ringway International Airport (MAN)
  • Cardiff (CWL)
  • East Midlands (EMA)
  • Paris Charles De Gaulle (CDG)
  • Amsterdam-Schipol (AMS)
  • Hannover (HAJ)
  • Berlin-Tegel (TXL)
  • Pisa Galileo Galilei (PSA)
  • Geneva (GVA)
  • Palma Mallorca (PMI)
  • Corfu International Airport (CFU)
  • Vienna International Airport (VIE)
  • Budapest (BUD)
  • Munich (MUC)
  • Dusseldorf International Airport (DUS)
  • Southampton (SOU)
  • Cork (ORK)
  • Nice (NCE)
  • Paris Orly (ORY)
  • Rome Fiumicino (FCO)
  • Faro Airport (FAO)
  • Verona Airport (VRN)
  • Tenerife South Airport (TFS)
  • Reykjavik Airport (KEF)
  • Dublin (DUB)
  • Arecife, Lanzarote (ACE)
North America and Caribbean
  • Newark (EWR)
  • Boston (BOS)
  • Miami (MIA)
  • Los Angeles (LAX)
  • San Francisco (SFO)
  • Burbank (BUR)
  • Phoenix (PHX)
  • Baton Rouge (BTR)
  • Detroit (DTW)
  • Atlanta (ATL)
  • Memphis (MEM)
  • San Juan (SJA)
  • Houston (IAH)
  • Dallas-Fort Worth (DFW)
  • Austin (AUS)
  • Seattle-Tacoma (SEA)
  • Minneapolis-St. Paul (MSP)
  • New York JFK (JFK)
  • Jacksonville (JAX)
  • New York La Guardia (LGA)
  • State College (SCE)
  • Philadelphia (PHL)
  • Beef Island International Airport, Tortola (EIS)
  • Pasco Tri-Cities Airport (PSC)
  • Ronald Reagan Washington National Airport (DCA)
  • Chicago O'Hare (ORD)

Rest of the World
  • Sydney (SYD)
  • Melbourne (MEL)
  • Brisbane (BNE)
  • Singapore (SIN)
  • Jakarta (CGK)
  • Dubai International Airport (DXB)
  • Beijing Capital International Airport (PEK)
  • Hangzhou Xiaoshan International Airport (HGH)
  • Shanghai Pudong International Airport (PVG)
  • Hong Kong International Airport (HKG)
[I may rate each one in terms of how much it has pissed me off whilst travelling through it - I can tell you now that Newark rates high on the piss-me-off-ability scale.]