Thursday, 24 December 2009

COP out

On the one hand, the Copenhagen talks were a gross disappointment and a horribly missed opportunity.

On the other, had they been successful, we might have been deprived of this Seussian work of genius by Marcus Brigstocke:

Every cloud, eh?

Tuesday, 15 December 2009

All things ginger #5: Santa loves ya....

Apparently there was an element of doubt as to whether Father Christmas included ginger kids in his list of 'good children'.

Nice of Tescos to clarify things.

Wednesday, 28 October 2009

Still advancing gingerly, in absentia

I realise I've been a bit quiet lately. I have various excuses for your consideration:

  • I've started a Masters degree
  • I've moved
  • I've been spending my net time promoting my online shop selling knitted hats
  • I am currently reliant on a netbook and mobile broadband, neither of which are conducive to intense blogging
  • My brain has been replaced by a jellyfish
  • Goblins kidnapped me and forced me to dye my hair blonde, thus rendering me ineligible to be an author on this blog until it had all washed out.
Some, none or all of the above are true. You are welcome to speculate as to which is which.

Thank you for your patience.

Monday, 14 September 2009

Biology lesson

This makes me want to go on a date with a fellow biomedical scientist, just to see if it happens:

It would also be nice to feel that the years studying genetics weren't wasted.

(From xkcd)

Wednesday, 9 September 2009

All Things Ginger #4: Redhead day hits the mainstream media

It seems that this year's Redhead Day has got a lot more media coverage in the UK than before. I first became aware that it must have made the news when two of my colleagues separately told me about this 'red hair day thing' they'd heard about. I'm not sure whether they believed me when I told them it was my intention to go to the Dutch festival at some point in the future. Today there was a decent length feature on the BBC magazine pages, with some great pictures here. Nice to see 'my people' getting some positive coverage.

I should point out, of course, that Advancing Gingerly was talking about this event last year. About time the press caught up!

Before I sign off, just cos I still find it bloomin' funny, here's Tim Minchin again with what I presume would become the national anthem when the Gingers finally take over:

Monday, 17 August 2009

Women in science

In the same week that Athena SWAN commended university departments which it considers are making positive steps in encourgaing women working in science, engineering and technology, I stumbled across a new governement website called 'Science: [so what?]'. I shan't let the overly 'cool and edgy' use of punctuation detract from the fact that I am delighted to see a site aimed at engaging non-scientist members of the general public with the science that underpins both the natural world and human innovation around them. But why, you might be asking, am I mentioning these two things in the same paragraph?

Well maybe it's because, of the scientists featured, the biomed people were female while the engineers were almost exclusively male. Maybe it's that they made a point of mentioning that Rachel Riley, co-presenter of Countdown, was "the only girl to read mathematics" at her Oxford College (shame on you, Oriel!) And that she beat beat 1000 other women to the job. Were men debarred from applying? Is she the maths brain, or eye candy? Oh, and let's chuck in "she was bullied at school for being clever."

The site may well provide some answers to how things work (although the content seems a bit thin on the ground at the moment). But if it harbours any desire to inspire people to go into science careers (and this page would suggest it does), then it's awful. In summary, I have learnt:
1. Biomedicine is for women, engineering for men
2. Girls studying maths at uni are a unusual
3. If you're smart and sciencey, you risk getting picked on.
4. Their suggested link for careers advice does not recognise the scientific field I work in when you search their site for it.

Helpful. Thanks for that.

Thursday, 13 August 2009

Overcoming certainty

Given that even the credit crunch has failed to prevent the ordinary folk from having to pay taxes, it's nice to know that not everything is set in stone. According to the BBC, taking a more positive view of life can actually help you to cheat death! The key to eternal happiness has been found!

This discovery was announced the other morning on the BBC News pages as follows:

Quite a claim! While pessimists are busy shuffling off the mortal coil, the probability of the cheerier souls following suit is considerably less. Presumably some of them cheat it entirely, judging by that headline.

Perhaps, unsurprisingly, the text subsequently changed to the somewhat more prosaic "Why optimism may be key to a long, healthy life - at least for women". Shame the editor didn't follow through and change the article itself. It still starts as follows:

What they actually mean is that over the years in which the study was conducted, the death rate among optimists was lower than that among the pessimists. This is not the same as having a lower risk of death. Let's be clear about this - the risk of death for every person on the planet is 100%. 10 out of 10. As certain as taxes. Is the Pope a Catholic? Yes. Are you going to die? Yes.

That's not to dismiss the research itself - one's state of mind can have a profound influence on one's health and longevity. Whether life is 'nasty, brutish and short' or otherwise, one might as well find a way of enjoying it, and a sunny disposition may well aid you in receiving a telegram from the Queen. But is it too much to ask that people charged with writing science stories actually proof-read what they've written, and check for logic? No, I suppose not, or else we might have been spared this effort today:
Isn't 'downing a drink' a tad colloquial for a 'quality' news site? Are we dumbing down English as well as science? Mind you, it looks like the proof reader had had a couple.


[In case you are worried I'm plotting to usurp Dr Goldacre from his post as Chief Health Story Inaccuracy Pointer-Outer, I won't. He does it with far more skill than I, and I haven't got the time. But I reserve the right to carry on shouting at the telly when they say stupid things about health. And I may well subject you to a rant about swine flu coverage at some point. Sorry.]

Sunday, 9 August 2009

Bad Science

I was delighted to hear Ben Goldacre on The Now Show the other day, not least because I'm currently in the middle of Bad Science, a book that I imagine I will badger everyone I know into reading before the year is out. He says an awful lot of things about the relationship between the media and health research that I would like to communicate, but in my case I end up shouting at the telly and getting too aerated to construct coherent blog posts, whereas Dr Goldacre manages to focus his frustrations into far more concise and persuasive arguments.

If you'd like a taste of his perspective, here's his slot on The Now Show:

Well, quite. My only gripe is that The Daily Mail Oncological Ontology Project (surely the best named blog ever) ran for a mere 4 days before ceasing to progress. Perhaps the author spontaneously combusted under the strain of reading all the crap spouted by the Daily Maul. Given the general ignorance about the difference between correlation and causation, I feel confident in stating (on the basis of this scant 'evidence' which I have extrapolated from an observation) that reading the Daily Mail is bad for your health.

Tuesday, 21 July 2009

Ginger's Guide to London Plinths

Originally designated for a statue of William IV , Trafalgar Square's fourth plinth stood empty for many years. Ten years ago the Royal Society of Arts decided to change that, commissioning artists to fill the plinth for fixed periods. The programme has yielded some interesting results. Some (Marc Quinn's Alison Lapper Pregnant, Rachel Whiteread's inverted plinth) I liked. Some (Thomas Schutte's Model for a Hotel) I really didn't. The current 'installation' is rather different. Anthony Gormley (of whom I've been a fan since Event Horizon) has launched the 'One & Other' project where the plinth will be occupied by... people. For more than 3 months the plinth will be continually occupied by selected members of the public who each get to be public art for an hour.

Gormley's Event Horizon
Tonight when I went past the Anthony Nolan Trust had taken the stand. The rule is only one person on the plinth, so to make themselves more eye catching they had around 30 of their supporters wearing 'donor' and 'patient' t shirts in the square below. They had brought along some grey crates which they had upturned for a game of musical statues. Every time the music stopped, the donor and patient pairs hopped onto the mini-plinths. When it started again, they would get off and dance, hike or 'fly' around, while their official plinther held up placards proclaiming how many people had organised balls, been on sponsored walks or jumped out of aeroplanes to raise money for their cause. I thought it was quite a clever way of getting attention - not least because I personally find it difficult to walk past any speaker blaring out 'Amarillo' without going to investigate.

I did think of applying to participate. Not because I particularly want to be on show for an hour, but I thought it would be interesting to get a view that I wouldn't otherwise see, as well as being part of something curious. It's not too late to apply, but I can't think of anything sufficiently visually interesting to do for an hour. I considered dressing as a pigeon, but that's already been done (as too has holding a sign proclaiming that the plinther is not a pigeon). What do you reckon? What would you do?

Monday, 20 July 2009


Tuesday, 9 June 2009

Lightning never strikes twice

Shame the same can't be said of the RMT.

In fairness, they haven't gone on strike so far this year, which by their standards is pretty good. It doesn't take much for Bob Crow to throw his toys out of the pram and get members to strike, often for the daftest of reasons.

This time it's a more conventional strike over wanting a 5% pay rise. But hang on a minute -we're in the middle of a recession, no? People all over the place are losing jobs while others are asking for over the odds. RMT members often seem to be unhappy with their lot but it's questionable as to how much this is justified. Don't like your unsociable hours? Try working for the police. Don't enjoy dealing with drunk/aggressive members of the public? See if you can hack it as a paramedic. Feel your pay doesn't reflect the value of the public service you provide? Try living on a Healthcare Assistant wage.

For once I find myself in agreement with Boris; his description of this action as a 'ludicrous and unnecessary disruption' hits the spot. I'm impressed by the contingency plans that they are trying to put in place, with guided cycle routes and shared taxis. It's just a shame resources have to be deployed to this end. And it's not just commuters and their employers who are going to be inconvenienced - all the businesses that would have got passing trade will be affected... all those cups of coffee and sandwiches that would have been sold to people who will choose to work from home. I wandered through Covent Garden this evening and it was relatively quiet - presumably evening diners had decided to get home before their tube carriages turned into pumpkins.

Still, every cloud... at least Tube strikes have the pleasant side effect of allowing me to be smug. All those people who turn their nose up at South London and declare it to be rubbish cos we don't have the tube are going to struggle to get to work tomorrow. And I can catch my usual train, have a short walk, and hopefully not add more than 10 minutes to my journey.

Sunday, 31 May 2009

Cash for castellations

I think the thing that has tickled me most in the MPs' expenses scandal has been learning the vast array of things one can go through life spending money on. Oh, how my horizons have been broadened. I guess if I'd given the matter some thought, it would have occurred to me that if one has a moat, one needs to pay someone to clean it. But the existence of duck houses shaped like mansions was a bit of a surprise. My absolute favourite, though, has to be the monogrammed well grate. Who knew?

In other news, did anyone else get the apology/vote for us letter from Gordon Brown? Any idea why he got one of his kids to sign it on his behalf using a Berol Fine pen?

Thursday, 21 May 2009

Making a pig's breakfast...

Sorry I've been a bit quiet lately. I seem to have misplaced my magic blogging dust somewhere along the line, but I spect it'll turn up behind the sofa.

I did start writing a long ranty post the other week about swine flu, and how it was another example of the media distorting the facts for their own agenda. In my view the approach of the WHO and health authorities here was entirely approriate to the situation. The media, meanwhile, seemed to be gagging for panic on the streets.

But as usual, other people are more adept at putting across a message more succinctly. Here is a recent offering from the wonderful PhD comics. (click to enlarge)

So very true.

Saturday, 4 April 2009

All Things Ginger #3: Jamaica Ginger Cake

I’m not sure many people associate McVitee's Jamaica Ginger Cake with calculus but I am one of them.

I never knew it existed until I was studying A Level Further Maths. There were several maths classes in my year at college but only a handful of us were nuts enough to do a second A level on the subject. By the time we reached the upper sixth an even smaller number of us remained. We were blessed with a cheerful Geordie teacher who was happy to interrupt our two-hour lessons for a sneaky tea break. If we put 20p in the ‘charity pot’ we were entitled to a cuppa and the chance to help ourselves from the biscuit tin. By the end of the year we had accumulated £76 for Guidedogs for the Blind.

Anyhoo, sometimes the biscuit tin wasn’t called for because there was cake. Specifically, Jamaica Ginger Cake (I never recall any other type of cake being on offer). Definitely a bonus day.

I can’t say it’s the most gingery thing on the planet. In fact, were it not for the label, one might have difficulty identifying the flavour, beyond something vaguely warm and spicy. I mean, we’re not even talking about the still-fairly-tame-but-at-least noticeable levels of ginger in gingernut biscuits. But no matter. It is sticky, claggy, warming and friendly. And makes 3D vectors marginally easier to deal with. Happy days.

Thursday, 19 March 2009

The world outside your window

Google unveiled its newest feature today: Google Street View. Already launched in a number of places elsewhere in the world, this impressive project today added 25 UK cities to its pages. All you have to do is go to Google Maps, pick a location, click and drag the little orange man to any of the roads outlines in blue, and you can have a nose around.

My initial reaction was astonishment at the sheer scale of the undertaking. Wonderful possibilities popped into my head - checking out what the route to a new place was like before visiting it; giving extra directions to colleagues who were coming to our building for the first time; enhancing my (admittedly rather dormant) London Street Guide.

Once I had got over my excitement at being able to 'wander around' familiar central London locations, on a whim I did a quick search for my house. And it was there. When they said they were including whole cities they really, really meant it.

It's hard not to feel slightly perturbed. I meant - having a visual database of commercial and public buildings is pretty cool. But ordinary residential property? I reckon I could work out to within a couple of weeks when the photo was taken, based simply on the arrangements of cars on our street and the flowers in bloom in our front garden. It seems to me there are many ways in which this could be used for less than positive things. Google Maps' satellite feature has already been exploited by teenagers who used it to work out which houses had swimming pools they could invade. Apart from being a stalker's dream, surely Street View has potential for such pleasantries as identifying places with a lot of expensive cars, checking which properties had burglar alarms or security weaknesses, making assumptions about potential employees' socioeconomic status etc?

Sure, one could glean the same information by actually visiting the places in real life. But this makes it an awful lot easier. Given that the government are sufficiently paranoid that we're supposed to jump at the sight of photographers and mobile phone enthusiasts, it's surprising that the authorities are at ease with this. And how does this sit with point 6 of Google's ten things?

Perhaps this is just the way things will go. The early web was was created by the chosen few. Web 2.0 has been Joe Public's domain. Maybe another volte-face will lead to Web 3.0 consisting of those in the know imparting information about Joe Public? The pace of change in technology is hard to halt. Perhaps the best thing is just to embrace it. So here's a suggestion for the next phased of Google Maps:

Google CCTV.

Because 5 million cameras can't be wrong.

Saturday, 14 February 2009

Generation ADD

I do sometimes think that the problem with the younger generation is not that they have no ability to concentrate - it's that they're treated as such.

Example? Just watched an hour long programme celebrating the 25th anniversary of Torvill and Dean's Bolero routine which earned them a perfect score and a gold medal at the 1984 Olympics.

Various people were interviewed about the routine. Oh, how they were touched by the emotion of it. Transfixed. Couldn't believe that the pair of them weren't really in love. We heard how ground breaking and rule stretching it was. The struggle to find the music, and then make it an appropriate length. The story behind the opening sequence. All the way through we were teased with how wonderful a routine it was.

Finally, the last section of the show. The moment the viewers have been waiting for. The dated 80s footage appears and that music starts. We watch with rapt attention. And then.... 35 seconds in, a talking head appears telling us how much the routine meant to him. Another 30 seconds of footage, and then thoughts from their coach. In total there were probably only around 2 minutes of footage shown, interspersed with various atmosphere-shattering comments.

Four minutes. All they had to do was show a four minute routine, uninterrupted. But some numpty thinks the audience couldn't possibly cope with that. I guess we should be lucky that they didn't cut to the adverts after the first 20 seconds.

Ah well. For those of you blessed with enough concentration or interest to get this far, Advancing Gingerly presents Bolero in its entirety. I won't interrupt. Promise.

Tuesday, 3 February 2009

All Things Ginger #2: World Carrot Museum

Don't ask me how I found this out, but I recently discovered that there exists on our planet a World Carrot Museum. Seriously. Perhaps unsurprisingly, it's an enterprise located in the British Isles, but overseas readers will be delighted to learn that it is, in fact, a virtual museum, and thus they will be able to get just as much out of a visit as I possibly could.

I'm not quite sure how it all began. One can glean that the author is left handed, the names of his cats, and countries he's visited, but no particular statement as to why one would create an online carrot museum. But then, who cares, when you have the opportunity to learn about Carrots in Literature, discover where to attend a Carrot Festival, how to make antifreeze from carrots (useful at the moment), or peruse a list of people interested in collecting carrotabilia. I have to commend the attention to detail and sheer amount of research that has gone into this endeavour. I can assert with some confidence that it is unlikely that I will ever come up with a carrot-related enquiry for which they are unable to provide an answer.

There are also a bewildering collection of links including other unusual museums at the bottom of this page. No mention, though, of the rope museum I've been to, or the pencil museum a friend has visited.

I know it's customary to use hyperbole to make what you do sound more enticing, but I must admit to being somewhat befuddle by the tagline: 'Discover the Power of Carrots'. Perhaps they are the future of alternative energy. Orange gold...

Monday, 2 February 2009

"You're not too tired for this life, and it's not gonna matter if you fall down twice"

Ok, so I eventually shrugged off the 'Stranded Commuter' persona and went for a walk where I rediscovered the Joy of Snow™.

(The feet are mine but the snowman wasn't)

I can't say I'm gutted that I couldn't go in today. Time to brace myself for a trek tomorrow though. I have a feeling it's going to be a bit of a mission.

And the prize for the most helpful web update ever goes to...

...South Eastern Trains, for the following highly informative description of their current service status:

Great Britain - ready for anything!

In my neck of the woods, there's about six inches of snow. They've been telling us for days that it was coming. It's quite unusual to get that much settling snow in London, but it's hardly at Siberian quantities. Capital Radio has just announced that it's the heaviest snow in London for.... six years. Gee, that really is historical.

Despite all the advanced warnings:
- There are no buses running in London. None. At all. Not one.
- Only one tube line has no disruption.
- There are no trains on my line, according to the radio. Which I cannot verify as the train company website won't load. National Rail Enquiries seems to have collapsed. Transport for London is loading better, but doesn't have the information I'm looking for.

I guess I could try walking to work but (a) it's a longish way, (b) I have no snow shoes and (c) I don't think I'm really important enough to bother.

It's just as well we're not proposing to host the Winter Olympics.

Saturday, 24 January 2009

All things ginger #1: Through a Lens

There was an article in today's Guardian magazine about redheads. I've noticed that these kind of articles feature in at least one broadsheet each year, and I certainly didn't glean any new anecdotes or facts from this one, save for learning that there's an exhibition in East London starting next month of photos of gingers.

Not that that's a new idea - it's the third photo project I've been aware of. What with that, and the fact that we're going extinct, am I destined to become a museum piece?

Wednesday, 14 January 2009

Something for the new year...

Too busy to blog at the mo, but here's something new I'll try for 2009:

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