Thursday 31 July 2008


So GB thinks he has problems with Starlings!
How about these...

A Pakistani Lorry

In Pakistan, they love to decorate their trucks. It started out slowly, with just a garish decoration here and there, but rapidly spiralled into a nationwide truck phenomenon, a competition for each person to try and outdo the other. The result is an assortment of decoration styles, each one stranger than the last.

DID you know - Under the water...

Each year, three times as much rubbish is dumped into the world's oceans as the weight of fish caught.

Fish supply the greatest percentage of the world's protein consumed by humans and most of the world's major fisheries are being fished at levels above their maximum sustainable yield; some regions are severely overfished.

The swordfish and marlin are the fastest fish in the ocean reaching speeds up to 121 kph in quick bursts; the Bluefin Tuna (Thunnus thynnus) may reach sustained speeds up to 90 kph.

The Blue whale is the largest animal on our planet ever (exceeding the size of the greatest known dinosaurs) and has a heart is the size of a Volkswagen.

One study of a deep-sea community revealed 898 species from more than 100 families and a dozen phyla in an area about half the size of a tennis court. More than half of these were new to science.

Life began in the seas 3.1 billion to 3.4 billion years ago. Land dwellers appeared 400 million years ago, relatively recently in geologic time.

Because the architecture and chemistry of coral is so similar to human bone, coral has been used to replace bone grafts in helping human bone to heal quickly and cleanly.

The sea level has risen with an average of 10-25 cm over the past 100 years and scientists expect this rate to increase. Sea levels will continue rising even if the climate has stabilized, because the ocean reacts slowly to changes. 10,000 years ago the ocean level was about 110 m lower than it is now. If all the world's ice melted, the oceans would rise 66 m.

The top ten feet of the ocean hold as much heat as the entire atmosphere.

The lowest known point on Earth, called the Challenger Deep, is 11,034 m deep, in the Marianas Trench in the western Pacific. To get an idea of how deep that is, if you could take Mt. Everest and place it at the bottom of the trench there would still be over a mile of ocean above it. The Dead Sea is the Earth's lowest land point with an elevation of 396 m below sea level.

The speed of sound in water is 1,435 m/sec - nearly five times faster than the speed of sound in air.

The highest tides in the world are at the Bay of Fundy, which separates New Brunswick from Nova Scotia. At some times of the year the difference between high and low tide is 16.3 m, taller than a three-story building.

The oceans cover 71% of the Earth's surface and contain 97% of the Earth's water.

An estimated 80% of all life on earth is found under the ocean surface and the oceans contain 99% of the living space on the planet. Less than 10% of that space has been explored by humans. 85% of the area and 90% of the volume constitute the dark, cold environment we call the deep sea. The average depth of the ocean is 3,795 m. The average height of the land is 840 m.

Sharks attack some 50-75 people each year worldwide, with perhaps 8-12 fatalities, according to data compiled in the International Shark Attack File (ISAF). Although shark attacks get a lot of attention, this is far less than the number of people killed each year by elephants, bees, crocodiles, lightning or many other natural dangers. On the other side of the ledger, we kill somewhere between 20-100 million sharks every year through fishing activities.

(Thanks to MarineBio)

Wednesday 30 July 2008


Make the pie higher!

The following poem is composed entirely of actual quotes from George W. Bush.

Make the Pie Higher

I think we all agree, the past is over.
This is still a dangerous world.
It's a world of madmen
And uncertainty
And potential mental losses.

Rarely is the question asked
Is our children learning?
Will the highways of the internet
Become more few?
How many hands have I shaked?

They misunderestimate me.
I am a pitbull on the pantleg of opportunity.
I know that the human being and the fish
Can coexist.

Families is where our nation finds hope
Where our wings take dream.
Put food on your family!
Knock down the tollbooth!
Vulcanize society!
Make the pie higher!
Make the pie higher!

Tuesday 29 July 2008

Lunch Boxes

Do you want to spice up that lunchbox? Take a look at Bento.

Japanese Crime!

Yes, that's a gun that fires teddy bears. Although crime is rare in Japan, when it happens, it is obviously fun.

Monday 28 July 2008

Doyle Spirals

Super designs from a Doyle Spiral site...


For more Doyle spiral images see mathematical imagery by Jos Leys.

Thein Swee Lay

Today is the birthday of a one-time pen-pal of mine. By one-time, I mean a long time ago. At the risk of giving away a lady’s age, a very long time ago... When I was in my late twenties (and my first marriage) I got rid of my little black book (actually it was blue). But I did retain notes of some of the birthdays in it. And recently I came across those notes. When I began going through them I came across the name Thein Swee Lay. Swee Lay was a 1960s pen-pal in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, and I recall she sent me some post cards of the beautiful buildings in Kula Lumpur and also some dyed leaf skeletons.
Using the wonders of the Internet I decided to see if I could trace her. Hey presto. She is now Consultant Haematologist at Kings College Hospital, London; Professor of Molecular Haematology and Head of Division of Gene and Cell-based Therapy at Kings College London School of Medicine.

She graduated in medicine from the University of Malaya, Malaysia, in 1976 and then went on to complete her training in haematology in Leeds. Then she went to Hammersmith, the Royal Free and the John Radcliffe, Oxford. She is Associate Editor of the British Journal of Haematology.
A profile of her in asked “What is the most important lesson you have learned in your professional life?” Her answer was “Always listen to your instinct and trust your gut feelings in times of uncertainty.”
She lists her greatest achievement as being involved in DNA fingerprinting with Alec Jeffreys and co-authoring the first DNA fingerprinting papers.
Asked what her most evocative piece of music was she responded Richard Strauss “Four Last Songs” - “All of life summed up in one piece of work.”

Sunday 27 July 2008

Christian site's ban on the G word..

A “Christian” site's ban on the G word has sent Homosexual to the Olympics. Bigotry breeds hilarity. That's a turn-up for the books. I can usually find nothing funny at all about rabid, judgmental, right-wing, born-again, regressionist fundamentalist Christians - but when their tiny-minded view of the world spits back at them, well, I get a giggle. Here, their censorship software automatically changes "gay" to "homosexual" - and, out of an AP report, gives us a brand new Olympic athlete. We're all laughing. I am not sure about Tyson Gay.

Here's an extract of their mangled report:

Tyson Homosexual was a blur in blue, sprinting 100 meters faster than anyone ever has.

His time of 9.68 seconds at the U.S. Olympic trials Sunday doesn't count as a world record, because it was run with the help of a too-strong tailwind. Here's what does matter: Homosexual qualified for his first Summer Games team and served notice he's certainly someone to watch in Beijing.

"It means a lot to me," the 25-year-old Homosexual said. "I'm glad my body could do it, because now I know I have it in me."

(Thanks to Selina’s Stumble Upon for this - the words are all hers but I endorse the sentiments completely. Saline is a 90 year old married woman from Nashua, New Hamsphire, USA & Adelaide, SA, Australia. She describes herself as having " Two lives in two worlds. A lover of people, dogs, pelicans, spiders and truth." She's obviously a bit like GB with his two lives in two places. )

MEGRIMS and Opeldocs

I have just finished George Eliot’s ‘Felix Holt’. Whenever I can I read Victorian classics in the Everyman or Oxford editions. Both these have excellent footnotes. These help with some of the more obscure classical or contemporary references and words which are now obsolete like ‘megrims’. A delightful little word, meaning whims or fancies, I wonder what poor little megrims did to fall into disuse! Similarly, ‘opodeldoc’ – a medical plaster or liniment of soap, opium and herbs - is a wonderful word. I wish I had a chance to drop that into the conversation.

Saturday 26 July 2008

The Willows

Rather unoriginally, we called our house The Willows. According to the Halifax house names survey it is the tenth most popular house name in England. At least we have willow trees in the garden – I suspect a good number of those houses called The Willows don’t actually have any willow trees.

The big weeping willow was there when we came and one of our first acts was to plant this second one which, after a slow start, has begun to grow rapidly.

We also have a spiral willow in the back garden along with a dozen or so willow cuttings that are growing so quickly they will have to be re-sited soon.

To see more about my garden see the Pensby et al blog.

BACK Garden Wildlife

Helen and I both have blogs about the things we see in our back gardens. Helen and Ian, for example, have had a vole, slow worms and an emperor dragonfly in their Exeter garden in the last couple of weeks.
My garden sightings have been a lot less exciting but there are occasions when I am glad about that. The creature below, a 28’ 1” alligator, was found in the back garden of Anita and Charlie Rogers near Leesburg, Alabama. Alabama Parks and Wildlife game wardens had to shoot the beast – presumably they didn’t have a net quite big enough...

I don’t think an alligator this size would have thought my little ponds quite adequate!

Friday 25 July 2008

Tom Holt

Normally I put quotes from books I read onto my book review blog but this one was so great I had to share it with readers of Rambles from my Chair. It comes from Tom Holt's "Grailblazers":-

“...a real kangaroo... was bounding happily along, its mind occupied with the one great mystery which obsesses the consciousness of the species; to the extent that it has stopped them dead in their evolutionary tracks and prevented them from developing into the hyper-intelligent super-lifeforms they would otherwise have become. Namely; how come, no matter how careful you are about what you put in your pockets, in the end you always find two paperclips, a fluff-covered boiled sweet and a small, worthless copper coin at the bottom of them.”

Paul Newman

At last Sunday's Indy Car race it was reported that Paul Newman was very poorly. It seems that it is only a matter of time before he succumbs to the lung cancer which he has had for over eighteen months. He will be mourned by both the acting and motor racing worlds.

Paul Leonard Newman (born January 26, 1925) is an American actor and a film director. He has won numerous awards, including an Academy Award, two Golden Globe Awards, a Screen Actors Guild Award, a Cannes Film Festival Award, and an Emmy award. He is also the founder of Newman's Own, a food company from which Newman donates all profits and royalties to charity. As of May 2007, these donations have exceeded US$220 million.

Newman was one of the few actors who successfully made the transition from 1950s cinema to that of the 1960s and 1970s. His rebellious persona translated well to a subsequent generation. Newman starred in Exodus (1960), The Hustler (1961), Hud (1963), Harper (1966), Hombre (1967), Cool Hand Luke (1967), The Towering Inferno (1974), Slap Shot (1977) and The Verdict (1982). He teamed with fellow actor Robert Redford and director George Roy Hill for Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid (1969) and The Sting (1973).

His last screen appearance was as a conflicted mob boss in the 2002 film Road to Perdition opposite Tom Hanks, although he continued to provide voice work for films. In keeping with his strong interest in car racing, he provided the voice of Doc Hudson, a retired race car in Disney/Pixar's Cars. He served as narrator for the 2007 film Dale, about the life of the legendary NASCAR driver Dale Earnhardt.

Newman is an avid auto racing enthusiast, and first became interested in motorsports ("the first thing that I ever found I had any grace in") while training for and filming Winning, a 1969 film. Newman's first professional event was in 1972, in Thompson, Connecticut. He ran the 24 hours of Le Mans once in 1979 and finished second in a Porsche 935 of Dick Barbour.

From the mid-'70s to the early '90s, he drove for the Bob Sharp Racing team, racing mainly Nissans. He became heavily associated with the brand during the '80s, even appearing in commercials for them. At the age of 70, he became the oldest driver to be part of a winning team in a major sanctioned race, the 24 Hours of Daytona in 1995. Newman co-founded Newman/Haas/Lanigan Racing with Carl Haas, an IndyCar team, in 1983. He is also a partner in the Atlantic Championship team Newman Wachs Racing.

Past and Present Newman-Haas Drivers

Justin Wilson (2008-Present)
Graham Rahal (2007-Present)
Sébastien Bourdais (2003-2007)
Bruno Junqueira (2003-2006)
Oriol Servia (2005; sub for Junqueria)
Cristiano da Matta (2001-2002)
Christian Fittipaldi (1996-2002)
Michael Andretti (1989-1992, 1995-2000)
Roberto Moreno (1997-1999; sub for Fittipaldi)
Paul Tracy (1995)

Nigel Mansell (1993-1994)
Mario Andretti (1983-1994)
Teo Fabi (1992; sub for Ma. Andretti)
Alan Jones (1985; sub for Ma. Andretti)

Newman was scheduled to make his professional directorial stage debut with the Westport Country Playhouse's 2008 production of John Steinbeck's Of Mice and Men, but he stepped down on May 23, 2008, citing health issues. In June 2008 it was widely reported that Newman, a former chain smoker, had been diagnosed with lung cancer and was receiving treatment at Sloan-Kettering hospital in New York City. Photographs taken of Newman in May and June showed him looking gaunt and he is now, by all accounts, very poorly.

Thursday 24 July 2008

Fold and Fun

Every so often I stumble upon a site worth mentioning in my Blog. This one is a simple site from which you can print the outlines for these cut-out figures. Nowadays when so much in the way of children’s toys requires a computer chip and batteries it is lovely to come across something, like the old cotton reel tanks, where the fun comes from making it yourself and using your imagination to play with it. The suggestion in the heading that the fun is not included is quite wrong in my view – the fun is most definitely included in simple things like this. Well done to whoever created this site.

USEFUL Latin Phrases

As regular readers of this blog will know I am a fan of Latin. So here, for the benfit of those who do not have a classics background, are some useful Latin phrases.

Si hoc legere scis nimium eruditionis habes
If you can read this you're over-educated

Quantum materiae materietur marmota monax si marmota monax materiam possit materiari?
How much wood would a woodchuck chuck if a woodchuck could chuck wood?

Sentio aliquos togatos contra me conspirare.
I think some people in togas are plotting against me.

Vidi, Vici, Veni
I saw, I conquered, I came

Vacca foeda
Stupid cow

Raptus regaliter
Royally screwed

Fac ut gaudeam.
Make my day.

Utinam barbari spatium proprium tuum invadant!
May barbarians invade your personal space!

Vescere bracis meis.
Eat my shorts.

Fac ut vivas.
Get a life.

Catapultam habeo. Nisi pecuniam omnem mihi dabis, ad caput tuum saxum immane mittam.
I have a catapult. Give me all the money, or I will fling an enormous rock at your head.

Wednesday 23 July 2008


The Shiants were clearly visible past Kebock Head as we drove over the Braigh on a few days during my holiday on Lewis.

Photo from The Heb

Known as the Enchanted Isles, the Shiants are five tideswept miles off the coast of Lewis – a miniature St Kilda, beckoning but tantalisingly out of reach. To get there you have to cross the Stream of the Blue Men – a crash of cross currents – and even then landing is often impossible. Now, a 35 year old Harris man, Seamus Morrison, has established trips to the Shiants whose towering basalt cliffs are topped by Jurassic mudstone which forms high fertile meadows. These high meadows are used for summer grazing for sheep from Lewis.

Garbh Eilean from Eilean Mhuire by James Smith

The Shiants consist of three islands joined by rocky bars, one separate island and a few offshore rocks and stacks to the West. They were formed by the slow cooling, deep underground, of volcanic intrusions through the Gneiss and Granite and the dolerite cliffs are over 100 metres tall with pillars over 2 metres wide in places. These pillars dwarf those of the Giant’s Causeway in Ireland and on Staffa.

A summer colony of nearly a quarter of a million Puffins are among the seabirds to be found there. The islands also have Black Rats from a shipwreck many years ago, making them one of the few places in the UK where the Black Rat is still found.

Archaeological evidence suggests they were inhabited as long ago as 1200BC. There are also early Christian remains. A gold torc was dredged up by Scalpay scallop fishermen a few miles SW of the islands.

The human population in recent time reached a peak of 20 in the 1700s but by 1821 there were only 6 people. In 1901 when the island was finally abandoned the eight inhabitants went to Harris and included a 21 year old girl who had never previously left the Shiants. From 1925 to 1934 they were owned by author Compton MacKenzie. Then they were bought by the Nicolson family and Adam Nicolson, the current owner, wrote a book on his brief stay in the bothy there – “Sea Room”.

There is a fine website about the Shiants.

Tuesday 22 July 2008

Motor Sport Sunday

What a super motor sport day last Sunday was. First of all we had a Formula 1 race at Hockenheim – one of those few tracks which seems to actually encourage overtaking. Lewis Hamilton won despite McLaren making a cock-up of the pit-stops. A brilliant follow-up to Hamilton’s win at Silverstone. Renault's Nelson Piquet Jr. was a surprise second and Felipe Massa of Ferrari finished third behind Hamilton, whose fourth season win was the first for McLaren-Mercedes at Hockenheim in a decade.

Then we had an Indy car race – not on the ovals but at Mid-Ohio – another track with good overtaking opportunities. For those who don’t follow Indy Car racing it uses cars similar in appearance to the 1990s F1 cars and has a mix of oval races (including the Indy 500) and circuits. Regrettably the folk I was rooting for – Danica Patrick (about whom I shall do a posting one day) and Marco Andretti came 12th and 25th respectively.

Marco, in fact, crashed out through no fault of his own coming upon an accident involving half a dozen vehicles and having nowhere to go. Normally I wouldn’t root for Marco but if he had won it would have made the Andretti family the first to have grandfather, father and son winners in open-wheel racing as he is Mario’s grandson and Michael’s son.

And finally we had a brilliant MotoGP race at the best circuit of all – Laguna Seca whose corkscrew is one of the best features (if not the best) on any motor racing course.

Poor Jorge Lorenzo highsided on Lap 1 and with his bike going backwards and him going skywards it was a spectacular incident. Sadly he’s broken a couple of bones in his foot – and that after only just recovering from broken ankles, etc.

Virtually the whole race was a Rossi / Stoner battle – and what a battle. Very hard but, in my view, fair. Casey wasn’t too happy but I think the incident that concerned him was one that happened because Rossi bounced off the kerb and Casey didn’t realise that was what had happened. By the time they were on the podium they were shaking hands and friends again. From lap 1 to lap 23 there was never more than a couple of bike lengths between them and on some laps the lead changed two or three times. They were in a class of their own and the guys behind were having a separate race in a different Zip Code.

Then, with nine laps to go Casey went off line and off track and almost in slow motion dropped the bike in the gravel. Despite this he got going again, only losing sixteen seconds in the process and keeping his second place. The advantage of Casey dropping the bike on Lap 23 was that we were then able to cut away to all the other battles taking place right through the field.

Chris Vermuelen on his Suzuki was a creditable third.

What a fantastic sporting day – and I haven’t even mentioned the Open at Birkdale – I taped that and I still didn’t know the result by Monday evening.

NICE is not nice

The only time I find the use of the word ‘nice’ acceptable is in relation to the biscuits of that name. I am definitely on the side of those folk who ostracise the word as being inadequately descriptive. In one children’s school I know there is a poster which shows the word being thrown into a dustbin. ‘Nice’ is banned from all composition on the grounds that it isn’t descriptive enough. Many teachers share this view.

(It is worth noting that the biscuits should really be pronounced ‘Neece’ as they are named after the French city. They were seen as a posh treat for afternoon tea when they first appeared in the 1920s. Nice is not a brand name and consequently lots of different companies make them all over the world. The recipes can vary but all feature coconut as a key ingredient, tend to have a sprinkling of sugar and, of course, have the word ‘NICE’ embossed on the top.)

For me the ultimate misuse of the word occurred on the ITV regional weather forecast before Sunday’s Grand Prix. It showed a screen with the words ‘Showers and some nice sunshine’. Ugh, ugh, ugh!!!

Monday 21 July 2008

Cobblers and Capricorn Beetles

I mentioned last week the cobblers that was talked by some of the customers at the flea market. Not to be outdone, an article in the Daily Mail was brought to my attention this week. (Please Note I do not read the Mail – the article was brought to my attention!!!) The article claimed “A giant beetle unseen in the UK for 300 years and rare anywhere in the world has been discovered living in Llanelli..... Startled workers at a furniture restorer almost smashed the bug to bits with a hammer in their fear before cooler heads prevailed. Others believed the 2.6 inches long bug, with two antennae up to 4 inches long, was a child's plastic toy brought in as a joke.... It is a male and he was found in timber labelled English oakwood, so it makes you question whether this massive beast is alive in England too.... This type of long-horn beetle was supposed to be have been extinct in the UK since 1700....”

The story was about a Capricorn Beetle but since it didn’t bother with the scientific name (and there are a few beetles called Capricorn Beetle) it took me a while to track down which one it was referring to. It seems it was the Giant Capricorn ( Cerambyx cerdo ).

Investigation shows that the beetle possibly disappeared in the early 18th Century but that there is really no evidence it ever was a native here after the Bronze Age – the few records may well have been in imported timber. The one that appeared in Llanelli was also probably from imported timber. The beetle is found throughout France and although rarely seen is widespread in mainland Europe (as in the Capricorne des maisons – Hylotrupes bajulus). The larvae, considered a culinary delicacy in the sub-continent, can cause widespread damage to woodwork. As result those that aren’t cooked are exterminated by injecting the wood (despite an international agreement that it should be protected.)

As for it not having been seen in the UK for 300 years that is cobblers too. Even allowing for ones that are not reported there is usually a discovery of one every couple of years as for example in Warwickshire in 2005. Still, so long as it keeps the newspapers and their readers happy I suppose the truth is fairly irrelvant.

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