Category Archives: Science

One liner Wednesday…

1linerwedsbadgewes.jpgWhilst I wait for a flash of inspiration to provide me with a new format for my weekly one liners, today I’m going to go with a direct quote, followed by a slightly altered advertising slogan to go with it (apologies if the second part makes no sense to non-British readers);

“Wait a minute, so if I take hairspray and I spray it in my apartment, which is all sealed, you’re telling me that affects the ozone layer?” “Yes.” I say, “No way, folks. No way!”

– Donald “the science guy” Trump, West Virginia, 05/05/16.


“The future is dim, the future is orange.”



Pingback to Linda G Hill.


Tags: , , , , , ,

Everyday miracles…

Everyday miracles…

There are few things I dislike more than having to go to the doctor.
It’s not that I’m squeamish, I just don’t like being dependant on someone else’s opinion for my recovery, I’d rather just munch on a handful of painkiller, decongestant, or anti-inflammatory tablets and get on with my life.

However, there are some things on which you just have to get an expert opinion. In my case that has meant being signed off work with what I was initially told was carpal tunnel syndrome, but which the various medical practitioners involved now no longer seem able to agree on and may in fact be tendinitis.
I have a consultant appointment next week to be referred for either surgery or nerve conduction tests, neither of which sound like a fun day out.

I know several people who have had the procedure to alleviate CTS and have heard mixed reports as to its efficacy, but this relatively simple operation pales into insignificance when compared to some of the extraordinary results that can be achieved by modern surgical methods.
Two examples in particular have brought home to me just how fortunate we are to live in a time when medical science can be used to change people’s lives in ways that couldn’t have been imagined only a generation ago;

A little over a year ago I heard from good friend of mine up in Sussex who had some shocking news.
Due to continuing health problems (contracting multiple chest infections in a short space of time had left him seriously ill and dangerously short of breath) he had been told that he needed a double lung transplant.
Now, given the nature of such an operation the immediate concern was obviously the availability of suitable donor organs, so the only option was for my old friend to sit tight and see if the (necessarily tragic) generosity and thoughtfulness of a complete stranger would come in time to save his life.

As fate would have it, it seemed as if he’d barely had time to get on the donor register list before he received a phone call and made his way to Harefield Hospital in London where he was tissue typed and tested, before being informed that he’d been accepted as a recipient and booked in for surgery.

So on August 12th last year he had a double lung transplant.

Ten days later his wife was posting pictures of him sitting in the sunshine on a bench in the hospital grounds, and not too many days after that it was photos of him toasting us with a pint of his favourite ale in the beer garden of my old local.

And all the available evidence suggests that, a year on, he’s a new man, enjoying a new lease of life and a new perspective.

Let’s just go through that again slowly shall we?
Doctors open up your torso.
They remove both your malfunctioning lungs.
They fit a couple of nice healthy replacements.
They,…what, staple you up or something?
And off you go, the human equivalent of a Formula One car zooming into its garage bay for a three second pit-stop, then pausing only to warm up its tyres, heading straight for the checkered flag and the champagne.

Even now I have trouble getting my head round the amazing speed at which the human body can recover from what must be a deeply traumatic experience, not to mention the astonishing skill and dedication of the men and women who provide such an invaluable life-changing service to those of us who have come dangerously close to not finishing our race at all.

A big part of these of medical miracles is undoubtedly the human element, and not just on the part of those who perform the operations either. The support of loved ones, the will to survive and the strength and resolve of the patients themselves is also vital.
I know that my friend took great comfort from the good wishes and messages of support he received from far and wide via a Facebook group, set up to keep us informed about his life-saving transplant by his doting wife, the one person who provided constant love and encouragement through the whole daunting process.

But it’s the courage, determination and extraordinary strength of character, not to mention the irrepressible sense of humour, that make the subject of my second example of surgical wizardry so inspiring.

In an earlier post I mentioned that I’d recently met my sister’s new partner, an incredibly personable, athletic, funny and all-round nice guy called Oly.
Well, nice guy that he most definitely is, Oly is, um, shall I put this?…not all there.

When I asked him if he would mind sharing his story (as I happen to think it’s a truly inspirational tale) I had no idea that he would provide such a thoughtful and poignant piece of writing. I was expecting a timeline of surgical procedures and personal achievements that I could work into a……well, into what he has written.

So I’ll let Oly himself explain;

“I was born in 1984 with congenital limb deformities. 
In layman’s terms this meant I was born without both fibulas (calf bones) and missing digits on both hands. 
I also have one leg a few inches longer than the other, because one thighbone is longer than the other. (in case you’re wondering, it’s my left that’s longer). 
I’m told that my granddad took one look at me and said to my mother; “He’s still beautiful though”. 

I spent the next 20 months or so as any other ‘normal’ baby.
You know the sort of thing, crying, pooping, eating. All the fun stuff.
In addition to this I had cosmetic surgery on both hands for functional reasons. I still managed to walk with specially adapted shoes and calipers though, and achieved this by 18 months old.
The next event of major significance was in December 1985, when I moved with my family from Bristol in Somerset to Crowborough, in East Sussex.
Part of this move found me being referred to Great Ormond Street Hospital, where a top peadiatric orthopeadic surgeon recommended that the only real option was an amputation. 
The only alternative would have been me spending the rest of my life in a wheelchair. 

The decision was made to amputate.
This must have been one of the most difficult decisions for my parents to make. Both being only 23 years old at the time, I don’t know how they did it. 
My younger sister was only 3 months old when they had to make this life-changing choice on my behalf, but I have never held it against them and never will. 

I had a double below knee symes amputation at the age of 2 and a half. This means they amputated through my ankles and wrapped the padding of my feet around the end of the bone. This gives extra padding to the end of the bone. 
From talking to other amputees throughout my life I’m told this is a good thing to have.
After speaking to my mother recently she tells me I was up and walking around on my prostheses within 6 weeks of amputation.
I never have liked sitting still. 
I even have a video of me in the hospital kicking a ball, only five days after having the limbs fitted.
My sister, who was 9 months old by then, was learning to walk at the same time. She seemed confused that she didn’t have to put on a pair of legs to stand up and walk.”

I don’t believe I have sufficient powers of imagination to even begin to contemplate what that must have been like for a young boy growing up, and yet the man I have now had the pleasure of meeting on more than one occasion is way more athletic and sporty than I’ve ever been or will ever be, incredibly self-assured and confident, and has the barely suppressed energy and mischievous grin of a teenager.
But then he’s got a lot to be grateful for:

“I suppose the next significant part of my life would be playgroup.  Here I met Tim and Martin who would turn out to be my best friends and still are to this day. 
From memory my favourite time at playgroup involved ‘Bikes’. 
If you’ve ever been to watch banger racing, imagine that but with 20 or so 2 year old boys on trikes in a church hall. 
There was never any question of my ability to scoot round on a trike, I just did it. In fact from an early age I don’t ever remember my legs causing me any problems, “disabling” me, or preventing me from doing anything that I’ve ever wanted to do.
The owner of my local gym recently said to me “You’re the most least disabled person I know” Now he’s not one for words but I kind of got the idea of what he was trying to say.”

There followed an obsession with basketball, which consumed his life to the point that he’d sometimes be found clutching his basketball as he slept, and joining the cub scouts, where his pack leader encouraged the other boys to treat him no differently than anyone else, further bolstering his confidence.

I asked Oly for anything that could be considered a particular achievement for someone with his start in life and the list he provided just made me feel old and unfit;

“Dale asked me to provide a list of my “achievements” as he put it. To me, they are just my life.
(These are only the ones I remember, there’s probably a lot more)

Learned to walk. Twice.
Play football.
Swimming. (Representing England internationally)
Ice/roller skating.
Jet bikes/skis.
Piloted a glider.
Go karting.
Rock climbing.
Most theme park rides (Even the ones where you dangle your legs)”

He is apparently too modest to mention that he works with disabled children at a local special school’s holiday club and also raises money for the extremely deserving Taylor Made Dreams charity.

It was only recently that I saw Oly last, when I went to meet up with him and my sister, on holiday with my niece and nephew in Dorset. He was proudly showing off his fancy new carbon-fibre prosthetics with the Superman artwork on them and clowning around in the swimming pool legless just like anyone else, and I’ll leave the last word to him;

“Whilst writing this I spoke to my mum a lot and she told me a story about something that happened at the local park when I was about 3 years old. 
Mum and my Nan took me to Wolfe Recreation Ground and like every other child I wanted to go on the slide. There were two slides, one small and one big. 
Guess which one I went for. 
Now my Nan was always worrying about me. She turned to my mum as soon as I started to climb the ladders to the big slide and said ‘You can’t let him climb them’.
My mums response was ‘I have to let him try’. 
My parents have always encouraged me to try anything and everything and not let my ‘disability’ stop me. Being raised this way has turned me into the person I am today, I never let anything stop me from doing things, yes there are certain things I have to do differently but I will always find a way to do the things I want to.  In my 30 years I’ve never come across anything that I haven’t been able to do. 

For those of you who say “I cant” when you come across something a little bit difficult, my response to you would be; If you want it badly enough you will find a way.

Go on give it a go, you wont know until you try.”

{If you would like to read the full text of Oly’s tale, as written by him,  – edited here to save space – please go the the Oly’s Story… tab at the top of the page. Also see the comments below for Simon’s full account of that transplant ordeal}


Posted by on September 6, 2014 in Blogging, Guest spots., Personal anecdote, Science


Tags: , , , , , , ,

Very Inspiring Blogger Award – The tenuous ten…

Once again Diary of an Internet Nobody has been honoured with an award.
I’m pleased to report that I’ve been chosen to receive the Very Inspiring Blogger Award, for “Keeping the blogosphere a beautiful place”, by Globe Runner over at Journey Around The Globe and as usual the accolade comes with a set of rules.

As anyone who reads this rambling stream of semi-consciousness regularly will know, I’m not a great one for rules, so I will be following my usual meandering path through the blogs that I’m nominating.
However, should any of my nominees wish to stick to a more conventional route, here are those rules in full:
1) Credit and link back to the blog that nominated you.
2) Post the award picture and list the rules.
3) Share seven random facts about yourself.
4) Nominate 15 other blogs to receive the award.
5) Permanently display the award on your blog and follow the person who nominated you. (optional)


Well that’s 1) and 2) taken care of.
I shall be nominating ten blogs for the award, my randomness will be supplied by a musical accompaniment (in the style of The Tenuous Lynx) and I shall proudly display the virtual plaque on my awards page.

So without further ado, let’s move onto my first nomination;
(please check out the blogs and their musical partners via the links provided)

Why Evolution Is True is a fascinating blog that covers, amongst other things, scientific theories and discussion on both evolution and creationism. Well worth a visit, whichever side of the theological divide you fall on.
I chose to accompany this first nominee with a classic, gonzo video offering from the era of grunge:

Jam is a condiment similar to marmalade.
A marmalade tom is a cat with orange fur.
Otherwise known as ginger.
Connecting us to the next nomination, an eclectic and sometimes surprising photo-blog, including links to the inventive “52 rolls” project, Gingerlea Photography and I’m linking Fresh Ginger’s blog to a song from one of my favourite albums:

If you had a spirit wife, you may feel the need for some spiritual guidance.
For which you might turn to a monk.
And who’d have thought it but nominee three is Culture Monk, Kenneth Justice’s musings on life, coffee and the occasional foolishness of humanity.
His hand-picked tune is this non-PC slice of ’70s post-ironic pub rock:

The same phrase could be used to describe many of the photos taken by my next nominated blogger, because of the sometimes bizarre appearance and abundance of legs displayed by some of the subjects featured on Ron Scuberdiver’s Wild Life.
A vibrant, colourful and fascinating travel, photography and wildlife blog, check out Ron’s world if you enjoy being transported to exotic places.
I’d like to pair Rob with a true original, formerly plain old David Jones but now known across the universe by many names, including The Thin White Duke and Ziggy Stardust:

Unless I’m misinformed, the wild teenage life of someone in “sixth grade” is still yet to come, and yet my next nominee is only twelve years old.
Kiran Hiremath writes The Ink Stain, a mixture of personal journal, thoughts on life and beautifully written fiction with a maturity that belies the author’s age.
In an interesting juxtaposition, I’m accompanying his nomination with a new-age, psychedelic dance/trance/soul/a cappella number with a suitably trippy video.
You’re welcome.

Aya was the Akkadian goddess of love and my sixth choice of blogger to receive the award is Tim Love and his View Of The World.
If you want passionate writing that will touch your heart, from a writer with heart and a touch of passion, do yourself a favour and visit Tim’s blog.
The link to his tune is I think, self explanatory:

Samba is a musical style, and music requires notes.
Which connects us rather nicely to Notes Dropped In The Well, the new blog from my friend Lisa.
But before you start mumbling about favouritism and the like, let me say that her beautifully descriptive prose has been inspiring me on her Facebook feed for long enough to easily qualify her for a mention. I’m not going to quibble about where I read her work, I’m just glad more people will be able to enjoy it.
And her musical notes are dropped into a more magical portal:

To wish someone well at the end of a letter, you may write “Yours Sincerely“, which by crazy coincidence is the title of the blog from Monique Le Roux which is getting my next nomination.
I first encountered Monique when she asked for blogging tips and I rather embarrassingly told her that I thought she was a spammer with an outrageously over the top, fake French name.
Fortunately her sense of humour matches the tone of her quirky, optimistic and thoughtful blog and she saw the funny side in the end.
I’m hoping that humour will extend to forgiving me for thinking up her music link before I checked the relevant spelling:

Bulletproof is the name of a movie, which I’m sure my penultimate nominee has an opinion on, given that she is an accomplished film reviewer, as well as a journalist, travel writer and photographer.
Charlie Derry is a prolific blogger and one of the most consistently accurate movie reviewers I’ve read.
I have also greatly enjoyed her travel writing, especially her recent odyssey around Scandinavia, a journey that was accompanied by some stunning photos.
And from Charlie Derry we go to Derry, Northern Ireland, for her tenuous tune, a classic slice of ’70s punk-pop and John Peel’s all-time favourite record:

Undertones singer Feargal Sharkey is very vocal and opinionated on the matter of musicians’ rights, campaigning for better royalties and tighter copyright controls for artists’ work.
Another Opinionated Man is my final choice for the Very Inspiring Blogger Award.
His is an inspiring story in itself and you should check out some HarsH ReaLiTy for yourselves for blogging advice, plenty of opinions, poetry and more.
Bringing us to the final musical morsel in this tangled trail of tangents, a glacial slab of icy, swirling synths:

Thanks again to Globe Runner for nominating me, I hope you found something new and interesting to entertain you amongst the nominees here, and I hope you got at least one “Ooh, I haven’t heard this for ages” moment from the tenuously linked tunes too.

Ok, time to pick up the goodie bag and face the paparazzi…

[Thank you to Jeremy, “happiness engineer” on the WordPress support forum, for helping to sort out my problem with embedding video]


Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

The blog now leaving from platform two…

I hope you all had a successful and hangover-free new year.
For myself, since boxing day I have been – and still am – suffering from a particularly virulent form of flu-like unpleasantness, coupled with a nasty chest infection.

I did attempt to go to work last week, on the first day back after the Christmas break, but I felt so dreadful that I came home after just three hours.
For the next few days I diligently drank plenty of fluids, ate all the right foods, and blanket-bombed the germs with cold remedies, decongestants and ibuprofen, all to no avail. If anything I felt even worse by the end of the weekend, finally giving in and going to the doctor on Monday to beg for antibiotics. He cheerfully informed me that there was indeed “something nasty going around”, managing to imply that any other details would be beyond my medically-untrained ability to understand.
Or maybe he just didn’t know.

Whichever it was, he wrote me a prescription for amoxicillin and gave me a week’s certificate for work, helpfully saying; “It would probably go away on it’s own after two or three weeks, but I expect you want to get better don’t you?”
Well, yes that’s why I came to see you, you’re a doctor.

Anyway, the result of this enforced house-arrest is that I’ve had nothing to do but sit under a blanket, alternately shivering and sweating, whilst reading or surfing the net on my new tablet.
You’d have thought that this would be an ideal excuse to knock out a whole batch of blog posts, but when it feels like someone has poured warm glue into your sinuses and stuffed any remaining space in your head with cotton wool, the creative process tends to grind to a halt.

By yesterday however, my brain – if not my other organs – had recovered sufficiently for me to attempt some sort of writing so
I took the opportunity to look into something I’d been interested in for a while.


There is a website that I’ve followed ever since I got myself online a few years ago called io9 (tagline; We come from the future) which posts daily updates on science, science fiction and fantasy, space and astronomy, and loads of culture and media stories in the same vein.
What I have always liked about the site are the discussion threads that accompany the articles, populated as they are by a community of quick witted, occasionally snarky and frequently very funny commenters.
I’ve always fancied having a go at commenting on the site and I have now discovered that in order to do so (and also to comment on other Gawker Media sites), one needs to register on a blogging platform called Kinja.


This is all new to me so I set up a profile – which was simple enough, logging in via my Facebook account – and straight away managed to start a discussion on an io9 post about upcoming sci-fi TV shows.

In case you’re interested, here’s the article I commented on. You may need to scroll through the comments to find my screen name (dalecooper57). To expand the whole conversation, click the little square icon next to the number of participants.


This alone gave me some considerable sense of achievement, internet novice that I am, but now I needed to investigate the blogging side of this new platform.
Their useful help section informed me that my blog profile would display the articles I commented on, along with any posts that I cared to publish myself. I assume that the only people who will see these posts will be fellow Kinja users who decide to follow me or people who click through to my profile via discussions that I comment on.

Having said that I also have you, my lovely readers to rely on.
So if this new side project takes off I shall post notifications on Diary of an Internet Nobody with links to my Kinja blog, in the same way as I have with previous guest posts for other blogs (apologies to Lanthie and Matt at Life Cherries and Ramblings of a semi-mad man, I’ve been neglecting my duties of late, I’ll get round to writing something for you soon)

So with that in mind, I’d like to share the first post on my Kinja blog, (which is currently self-titled) introducing myself to a whole new community.

May I present: In at the geek end…

Please take a look round the site and tell me what you think. (Sorry about the brain-frying gif at the top of the post, I did think better of it after posting, but I can’t work out how to delete it)

And if anyone has any experience of Kinja, any and all advice would be gratefully received.

[Logos taken from Google images and used without permission]


Tags: , , , , , , ,

Elevenses with Tina…

Welcome to the second to last but one post in this list of 13 pop culture and news highlights (in no particular order) of 2013(ish) brought to you each day via a tortuous route through seemingly unconnected reference points.
Tenuous lynx, if you will.


Yes, you.

Today, the eleventh outing for Tina (formerly The Internet Nobody Awards, for any late arrivals) and her feline friend, takes us to something a little more cerebral, with some science facts instead of just science fiction.

But you’ll still get two nostalgic ’80s hit singles, one a Texan beardy rocker and the other a Brit synth-pop classic, and a full movie thrown in for good measure.

Yesterday we left poor old Brad Pitt battling zombies in World War Z, pronounced “zee”, as it’s an American film, so let’s start off with a song;

TV Dinners was a hit for impressively hirsute boogie-woogie good ol’ boys ZZ Top, accompanied by this early claymation video.

Whereas an example of the British pronunciation would be Peter Greenaway’s surreal black comedy, A Zed and Two Noughts.
Greenaway also directed a top British cast, including Joan Plowright and Bernard Hill, in another of his trademark darkly humorous tales, and you can watch “Drowning by numbers” in full right here.
By contrast, in 1980 techie geek UK synthesiser popsters New Musik made the charts with this catchy school disco favourite.

Living by Numbers is taken from New Musik’s album From A to B, possibly inspired by the quote;
“Logic will get you from A to B. Imagination will take you everywhere” 
Albert Einstein.
Arguably the twentieth century’s greatest scientific mind, Einstein proposed the Special Theory of Relativity, which was instrumental in our understanding of how the universe works.

All of which can only mean that my choice for scientific breakthrough of the year, and possibly the century so far, is one that increases that understanding, the discovery of the Higgs boson or “God particle” by British professor Peter Higgs and his French counterpart, François Englert.
So in tribute to their towering intellect and dogged perseverance – even Stephen Hawking bet against them finding it, and lost $100 – here’s a fascinating documentary about their search for that elusive building block of the cosmos.

See, educational too.
Until tomorrow…


Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

The perception collective…

Some of the best sci-fi creations of recent years are The Borg, those cold and emotionless, humourless, part man, part machine assimilation addicts from Star Trek : The Next Generation.


“A man walks into a bar..AND IS ASSIMILATED!!     Damn, I did it again”

And despite their deplorable lack of compassion, inability to tell a good joke and unimaginative fashion sense, they do have one thing in common with their human counterparts, albeit rather overdeveloped.

The hive mind.

Now, you may not think that you’re part of a gestalt collective with a communal consciousness, but there have been some very interesting studies conducted which seem to suggest otherwise.
In 1991 in California, a computer scientist carried out an experiment involving a movie theatre audience, a vintage video game called Pong, and some coloured paddles.

The audience were not given instructions or told what was going to happen, or what the small paddles they found on their seats were for.
The paddles were red on one side and green on the other, and with the use of hidden cameras and computers, could be used to control the moving bats on the movie screen.
One colour being shown by more than half of a given section of the audience would cause a bat to move upwards and the other would make it go down.

The audience were given a few minutes to see if they could work out what effect the paddles had on a cloud of coloured dots projected on the screen before the Pong screen appeared.


Before Call of Duty there was…. Pong.

To get the bats on the screen to successfully keep up a rally, the audience would have to collectively (and instantaneously) decide what proportion of paddles on their side of the auditorium showed each colour, to ensure the bat would rise or fall the correct distance in order to intercept the moving ball.

Sounds impossible doesn’t it?

A load of strangers with no clue what they’re doing there, no way to communicate with each other in time to pass multiple instructions, and no practice.

Well just watch the amazing short clip, via the link below, to see just how wrong that assumption is.

             WATCH VIDEO

Isn’t that incredible?
Who’d have thought all those naked people would have turned up…

(… right, that should take care of those people who can’t be bothered to click on a three minute link)

How does that work then?
Collective consciousness does seem like a tempting explanation doesn’t it?

And that isn’t the only example of how a large group of people in collaboration can get better results than individuals working alone.

How about the study, made by Francis Galton, of the spectators at a county fair in the 19th century.
Galton established that when nearly 800 people attempted to guess the weight of a 1900lb prize ox at the show, even though the individual guesses ranged from vastly overweight to ridiculously light, the average of all the recorded guesses was only 1lb out.
This principal also works with crowd estimates of numbers, time and distance, and although it doesn’t have quite the same dramatic impact as the Loren Carpenter Pong experiment, with a little forward planning, crowds could possibly use their collective perception to predict all sorts of outcomes, from lottery results to poker hands.

It makes me wonder whether the great hive mind might not be the pool of inspiration that we all dip into from time to time, fishing for ideas.
And as I mentioned in my last post, it may explain why some of us come up with the same ideas simultaneously.

That’s my excuse and I’m sticking to it…


Posted by on September 12, 2013 in Blogging, Computers, Science


Tags: , , , , , , ,

The Weird Weird West…

What’s the connection between giant bird eating spiders, astrophysicists, ancient technologically advanced civilisations, prog rock pioneers, and near death experiences?

Give up?

Well, they were all on the agenda at this year’s Weird Weekend at Woolfardisworthy in Devon, once again held at the fabulous Community Hall, comprising an auditorium, exhibition hall, canteen, social club and bar, and sports fields on which camping was allowed for the duration of the event.


Our genial host, Jonathan Downes, by Thomas E Finley

I arrived for my second annual dose of anomalous apparitions and fantastical flora and fauna on Friday afternoon, to bright sunshine and blue skies over the campsite.
I assembled my cobbled together  tent/tarpaulin porch accommodation and went in search of fellow Weirdies.


Paranormal Panoramic campsite. photo – Paul James Pearson

I had already arranged to meet digital artist, photographer, and Wicked Spins Radio DJ, Shaun Histed-Todd and his family. I first met them at last year’s event and I have since become good friends with them and visited them on beautiful Dartmoor on more than one occasion in the intervening twelve months.
This year Shaun was to give a talk on Saturday evening on The Evidence for Civilisation X, exploring the case for societies with advanced technologies that may be lost to history.


But first it was time to watch the predictably eccentric introductory film from Weird Weekend co-founder Richard Freeman.

…followed by his alter-ego, self confessed “bad nightclub comedian” Barry Tadcaster, and surreal glove puppet sidekick, introducing Richard Ingram’s lecture on The search for inhabitable planets.

Despite being slightly hampered by the A/V set up misbehaving, I found his talk very interesting and when I cornered him outside the auditorium to tell him so, he suggested we go for in the bar for a drink and a chat.
There followed the sort of conversation that I found myself getting used to in the company of such an eclectic collection of wildly theorising and intellectual people. It began with a discussion on the – currently partially broken – Kepler space telescope and how it might be fixed, and somehow managed to take in Mark Twain, Shakespeare, and West Side Story by the time we were done.
A truly fascinating man with an incredible breadth of knowledge on so many subjects that it was an education just talking to him.


It’s amazing the variety of topics and range of expertise you can get exposed to in the space of a couple of hours in a bar full of Weird Weekenders.
At one point I was in conversation with big cat expert Jonathan McGowan and all round science brainiac Dan Holdsworth, and discovered the following interesting facts:

Dan – A man whose car broke down on a remote African road known for lion activity had to walk some distance to get help. Knowing (as you do) that lions don’t like the smell of petrol, he took a can with him and whenever approached by curious feline beasts, sloshed the stuff liberally over himself. When he got to the nearest town he was apparently trailed by a whole gang of hungry lions who couldn’t quite bring themselves to overcome the smell and eat him.

Jonathan – Ah, but not so with leopards, who actively seek out the pungent aroma of hydrocarbons.  They are actually known to have been caught licking the sides of land rovers under the petrol cap because the smell is reminiscent of the musk of females.

Now, where else could you find that out in a social club bar?

By the end of the evening the sky was still full of stars and a decidedly eldritch moon was peering out from behind the wispy clouds.


Having been up since 5 a.m. I crawled into my tent with a feeling of pleasant exhaustion, only to be kept awake by drunken laughter from outside the bar and then woken at seven on Saturday morning by the hall’s alarm system unaccountably going off for half an hour.

Oh well, a whole new day of strangeness ahead and nobody had even mentioned the words “flying snakes” yet.
Things were looking up.

It really is a testament to the relaxed attitude and good humour of these extraordinarily clever people, that they would still cheerfully accept me back into their collective bosom for a second year running despite the fact that all I did last year was take the piss and ask awkward questions.

However, this year I was prepared to tone down the sarcasm and cynicism for the sake of cordial relations with the assembled intelligentsia, but it seemed as though there were other non-believers in attendance with whom I could vent my skeptical opinions.
And, to be honest, the speakers,  enthusiasts, exhibitors and organisers at the event are such lovely people that it seems churlish to make fun of them too much.
Indeed, I thoroughly enjoyed all the talks that I attended, including that given by my friend Shaun.

His lecture on lost technologies of ancient civilisations was highly thought provoking and made some startling comparisons between the iconography and known locations of various races from the Egyptians and Olmecs to the Mayans and Aztecs.
I’m told that all this year’s talks will eventually be up on the Weird Weekend website, so check back regularly to see what you’ve been missing all these years.
The final talk that I planned to see was one that I was to be given by a speaker I was most intrigued to meet.

A few years ago I was given a double CD concept album called Curly’s Airships by a man who was a founder of ’70s prog rock pioneers Van de Graff Generator called Judge Smith (that is to say he recorded it, not gave it to me)
This extraordinary piece of work also featured ex-members of various prog and punk groups, and is about the R101 disaster.

It has to be heard to be believed.

Anyway, I had noticed that a man with the same unusual name was speaking on Saturday evening and not long before he was due to start, I bumped into him in the bar:
Me – Excuse me, are you Judge Smith?
J.S. – (beaming, pleased,charming) Yes.
Me – Wow, you’re responsible for Curly’s Airships aren’t you?
J.S. – (looking even more pleased) Yes, that’s right
Me – What an extraordinary piece of work, sounds like nothing I’ve ever heard before. And you were in Van De Graff Generator. (adopts Wayne’s World style “not worthy” pose)
(J.S.‘s girlfriend bursts out laughing and got me to do it again so she could photograph it)

And five minutes later, he proceeded to give an absorbing talk on life after death.
He even fielded my slightly cheeky question about the lack of negative messages from séances with good humour;
J.S. – Maybe the negative people get sent somewhere else from where they can’t answer.
Me – You mean that grumpiness can get you sent to Hell?


Here come the Judge.

And that, bar the Saturday night socialising, was my Weird Weekend 2013. I didn’t have time for the Sunday session, so I said my grateful goodbyes and made the journey home, already looking forward to next year.

Talking of gratitude, I’d like to do a few thank yous –

To Jon Downes, Richard Freeman, Nichola Sullings and all at the CFZ, for organising the excellent event.
To Jonathan McGowan, Richard Ingram and Dan Holdsworth, for telling me all sorts of amazing stuff
To Nadia, for proving that Germans can be funny and charming.  (What do you mean I can’t say that?)
And to Paul for being a brother in skepticism and for additional photography.
And finally to the staff of the Community Hall and social club. (When I walked in on Friday, I was met by the barman, Mick – who I met for the one and only other time exactly a year ago – “Oh hello, back again? Pint of Thatchers was it?

Now that’s service.


Tags: , , ,

Feed your head…

Aren’t back-handed compliments wonderful?
The other day Elaine said to me, “You haven’t got any middle age spread at all, you should be ashamed of yourself”

Well, having established that by “middle age spread” she didn’t mean fish paste or something, I decided to consider it complimentary none the less, until my brain caught up with the middle age part of the sentence and started banging on the wall to complain about the offensive language.

Really, none of us want to see ourselves as old, getting old, or even halfway-to-being-dead, which is essentially what “middle age” means after all.
But I don’t think this is necessarily a vanity issue, I think it’s more likely to be due to our constant internal monologue with ourselves.
And the reason for this is because the vast majority of these silent, trans-synaptic conversations we have in the privacy of our own heads aren’t held with the (in my case) 47 year old version of ourselves, but with version 1.0, that 15-20 year old who we were when our hopes and fears, our obsessions and prejudices moulded our personality into who we are today.


Just think about it, every time you have a rant to yourself about the idiotic behaviour of other drivers, every tantrum that fumes inside your cranium, every ridiculous little story you make up to amuse yourself when you’re bored at work, all these exchanges take place in the unmistakable tones of righteous teenage rage, or the sort of childish terms you wouldn’t dream of using in the company of your mates.

I reckon the most likely explanation for this is that our brains are coming to the end of the sequence of developmental changes that are usually complete by the time we reach our early twenties, (until recently it was thought that this process had finished by our mid-teens) and that period of personality development is like the default setting for our inner selves.
That’s my theory anyway.

This leads me to wonder if this is also the reason that most people who indulge in the recreational use of certain naturally occurring (yet largely illegal) substances, generally tend to do so earlier in life rather than later.
After all, the more progressive scientific thinking is that psychoactive experiences can give access to hitherto unexplored areas of conciseness, and at what better time to plumb those depths of the psyche than when we are still developing that inner voice, and when we still listen to what it tells us.
Because, cliché or not, you dorealise some truly amazing things whilst under the influence of certain hallucinogens, and although they may seem trivial in the cold, squinty light of morning, they stay with you in one form or another, stored away in the apocalyptically untidy teenage bedroom of your subconscious.

It has been long accepted that we have areas of our grey matter that remain a mystery to us, (although the much-quoted statistic about only using a third of our brain is nonsense) but it will be abundantly clear to anyone who has ever partaken of “Magic” mushrooms that there is certainly a portion of it reserved for doing things that it just can’t do the rest of the time.


And now there is plenty of evidence to suggest that these mystical fungi (or rather their psychoactive ingredient, psilocybin) may also hold the key to treating many medical and psychological conditions.

There have of course been studies carried out before on the use of hallucinogenic drugs to treat mental disorders, most notably the infamous Oakridge psychiatric facility’s program of “experimental” treatments on drug addicts, in which men were given huge doses of LSD and then stripped naked and locked up together for prolonged periods. (Oakridge is currently being sued for inhuman treatment of patients under their care)

Things have moved on somewhat however, and a recent series of tests at Johns Hopkins University involved 18 healthy volunteers with an average age of 46 being given varying doses of psilocybin whilst in comfortable, controlled surroundings.
They were accompanied by trained staff who acted as “monitors” and were asked to lie in a comfy position, listen to classical music on headphones, and let their minds drift naturally.

In the study (published in Journal of psychopharmacology) they found that, over a year after the tests, 94% of participants still considered it to be in their top five “meaningful experiences”, while 39% claimed it was still their all time number one.
What’s more, families and friends reported a marked increase in empathy, cheerfulness, and ability to relax in daily life, amongst all the volunteers.
Doctors are hoping to utilize these properties of the drug to help alleviate anxiety in patients suffering from terminal illnesses, and to treat conditions ranging from depression and PTSD (Post Traumatic Stress Disorder) to drug addiction and psychosis.

Not the first time a dying patient has had the benefit of “going out on a high” so to speak, Aldous Huxley famously penned a last request, (he was unable to speak in his final days) that his wife administer a gigantic shot of LSD on his deathbed.
She wrote about it in her book This Timeless Moment and you can download a free pdf copy of it here.

Huxley – “Oh great, another article on me getting wasted”

Unfortunately, hopes for the introduction of such therapies in the UK have taken a turn for the worse recently as a court ruling has declared that the use of banned (natural, freely available) recreational drugs are not permitted in clinical trials or the resulting medication that may be developed from them.

A campaign to have this decision re-evaluated is being lead by perennial thorn in the sides of successive government anti-drug lobbies, Professor David Nutt.

Meanwhile, should you still hunger for more knowledge (or can you only thirst for knowledge?) here’s another view on the medical properties of shrooms, from someone who’s obviously a a Fun Guy to be with!

Oh come on, you didn’t think I’d be able to resist that one do you?

Happy hunting…


[There, that should cover it]


Tags: , , , ,

Give me a second…

So, what did you do with your extra second this morning?
I had a bit of a lie-in because we were out with friends, watching a band last night, and I was slightly the better for wear (well, I thought so, others apparently thought my volume could have done with attenuating) after partaking in maybe one too many Thatcher’s Gold ciders.

That extra second in bed made all the difference.
But what’s it all about, this leap second business?


The last one, since their introduction in 1972, was added last night, at 23:59:60. This bought GMT (or UT1 as it’s now known) into line with Co-ordinated Universal Time, (UTC) which is designed to keep all time on Earth in line with solar time – the reason for there being 365ish days in the year – and make sure that an hour is an hour, wherever you are.


Graph showing difference between UTC and UT1. Leap seconds indicated by peaks.

24 hours is 86400 seconds. Earth’s rotation varies according to many geological, cosmic, and climatic factors, meaning that every now and then we have to manipulate our perception of time to ensure that there are 86401 or 86399 seconds in one particular day.
The only trouble is, the furthest in advance you can predict the need to do this is about six months, which is why leap seconds are added (or, theoretically, subtracted) at such irregular intervals. 25 seconds have been added since 1972, none taken away.


Deviation of day length from SI unit second. (1962-2010)

The largest variation in the Earth’s rotation time is caused by tidal friction which is basically, a giant centrifugal brake on the whole planet made of water, which if not adjusted for, could have added over 2 minutes per century to our perceived idea of solar time.

There are arguments for the abolition of the leap second, but they’re way too complicated to go into here. If you need further reading on the subject however, go here.

If you’d rather read an altogether more entertaining theory on, for instance, why Tuesday afternoons drag by so slowly, or how it is that the last hour in the pub whizzes by in no time at all, then you need to be educated about Procrastinators. Something dreamed up by Terry Pratchett for his fabulous book, Thief of Time.

Thanks to the (deep breath) International Earth Rotation and Reference System Services, we will have six months notice for the next leap second, so plan what to do with it carefully, you never know when you’ll get the next one.


Posted by on July 1, 2012 in Science