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Monday, October 31, 2005

No action tomorrow

I know that I don't post everyday anyway but I definitely will not be posting tomorrow. A colleage and I are off to London for what promises to be a dull meeting. This entails me dragging my sorry arse out of bed at 05:30 GMT to get the train an hour later so that I can get to the meeting for 10:30. Admittedly a 3hour+ train ride is actually pretty good considering the distance from where I live to London.

Also I reckon that posting will be light to non-existent come Wedneday since we have an important set of visitors getting underfoot around here.

Oh yeah, my boss was in Dehli on the day that the bombs went off. She was also in London on the day of the bombing in July. She is now half worried that MI5 are going to come a calling.

Speak to you all soon.


Nothing much to blog about today, its been a quiet one really.

On the politics front, I note that David Blunkett is in trouble again. Jolly good.
He is selling the shares he has in the DNA testing company he became a director of in the brief few weeks that he was out of the cabinet. No. 10 is backing him all the way; before they know whether he was in breach of teh rules, of course.

Does anyone else find it funny that it was a DNA testing company? Surely he has a major vested interest? If anyone would know when there was going to be an upsurge in DNA testing it would be him?

I see that in America President George Bush has picked a new candidate for the Supreme Court. How quick was that? Anyway, by all accounts this one is a good choice guaranteed to keep everybody happy...

Saturday, October 29, 2005

Aurora Blogging....again

I thought that I might inflict a few more of my pictures on you. On the night of the 8th of October we actually had some clear skies in amongst all the rain. In addition we had a couple of substorms kick off as well, leading to some fantastic auroral displays that went on and on and on. A red arc was reported but due to work commitments I failed to see it, let alone get a photo of it. However there was a cracking arc, almost overhead. You can see some ray structure pointing down the field line towards us at the bottom left corner of the picture. The magnetic field at the radar site is inclined at 12 degrees to the south.

A little later there was a fantastic curled arc that held a special treat. You can see that this one had a nice reddy edge to the bottom of it. This indicates that there were more energetic particles present. The green light that you see comes from emission that is primarily in the ionosphere at ~120 km altitude. The red border is below that. The more traditional red emission that is seen at lower latitudes is from softer (less energetic) particles in the higher ionosphere.

In addition I managed to take advantage of the very bright emission to catch some good ray structure. One problem with photographing the aurora with a standard quality camera is that you cannot get the detail you might like on short timescales. As I might have said before, the aurora is often exceptionally dynamic with small scale changes rapidly fluctuating across the arcs and waves shooting from horizon to horizon. When you are limited to 10-15 second exposures it is too easy to miss all this. This picture shows that the rays in the arc taken at 5 second exposure.

And if you are sick of the aurora pictures then I offer this one. Taken in the fading light of the evening it shows Mars sitting bright in the sky alongside the radar dish. The ambient light looks brighter than it was since I used a 10-second exposure. This was taken looking north and if you look closely you can see a faint auroral arc in the background, below Mars and to the right of the dish. I resisted the urge to enhance it.

Googling oddities

Okay, so why would someone enter the whole URL for this blog into Google in order to come visit the site? This baffles me. It baffles me more that someone else would also do it. Though I guess that could be a case of trying to investigate what the former might have been doing.

More important though, I am still the google number 1 for 'pompous arse'. Hey Shinobi, was that you checking it out or is there someone else in Chicago who is interested in 'pompous arse'?

UPDATE: Woohoo! Another seeker of truth searching for information on female cirumcism (spelling deliberate). This one came from WAL-MART connect.

I wonder what would happen if I posted some articles with titles like 'big-bouncy-boobs' or 'hot nude cheerleaders'?

Friday, October 28, 2005

Now that's what I call...

... a meeting! Wednesday, Thursday and today we had the external examiners meeting for our MSc courses. Since I was lecturing last academic year I was requested to attend. I had already been to the undergraduate examiners meeting; it took all afternoon - I thought it would never end.

The MSc meetings were fantastic! I attended the Thursday and Friday meetings that covered the subjects I taught and the projects I supervised. Both meetings lasted less than 30 minutes. The one today was 20 minutes long! In addition 4 of the students that I supervised or co-supervised got distinctions. Everybody passed. Seems that though I hate it, I'm a pretty decent teacher.

Anyway, all meetings should be this good. Hell, in the Thursday meeting we even got cake!

I LOVE digital TV

... not only did they provide me with a much needed dose of the best 80s show ever, Magnum P.I. (come back soon!), but shortly they will give me a dose of the best 60's show ever:

Hurrah! BBC4 is showing reruns in the near future. I cannot wait. It was highly weird but entertaining.

Oh and please don't spoil this by mentioning the incredibly lame film. For starters, if you think that Uma Thurman was better than this:

Then you are a mad, mad fool.

I'm sorry that I missed the 1960s, not because of freelove and drugs. No, I'm sorry because of Diana Rigg.


Of course my wife is going to kill me when she sees this...

Plame case results so far...

A followup up to this post

Well there you have it. Scooter Libby has been indicted for one count of obstruction of justice, two counts of making false statements and two counts of perjury.

At last the waiting is finally over. Now we just have the joy-oh-joy of the post-indictment analysis and the countdown to a trial. This story will not die and I imagine that lots of people from both sides of the ailse are going to say fatuous things that make them look stupid before it is over. Speculation will be rife. Pundits have wet dreams over stories like this. I bet Pat Buchanon could have an extension built on his house from the money he will claw in for numerous appearances as more discussion of the second-term blues are held on the airwaves. Now what will Robert Novak tell us...

Will this lead to a major investigation into the decisions leading up to the Iraq war; a massive expose of facts previously unknown? Well, we shall see, but don't hold your breath.


I have been filled with a tremendous sense of pride. You wonder what it could be that has filled me such. What is the great accomplishment that I am so proud of? Nothing really. Just that this humble blog appears to be currently number one for anyone googling pompous arse.

Someone wandered to my site in search of pompous arses and was greeted by my award post to Professor Reynolds. Who knows how long I will remain at number one for pompous arses? Perhaps this post will supplant the other just for the sheer number of times that I say pompous arse. And who would google for pompous arse anyway?

Anyway, how cool is that?

OK, so its been a slow day for excitement, so sue me...

Spoiling for a fight?

The sentiment was not surprising but the vehemence and the timimg was incredible. Does Iran really want to fight the rest of the western world? With the single act of uttering his repugnant views, the Iranian President has brought condemnation down from all quarters, at a time when one might think he would be trying to cultivate 'allies' in his efforts to progress with a nuclear programme.

Europe has been turning blind eye, after blind eye to Iran and has carefully overlooked heinous opinions (policies really), such as the refusal to recognise Israel, all in the name of politics and diplomacy. But now, even what some call 'old Europe' have been pushed into condeming Iran for the inciteful words of its president.

In yet another case I feel obliged to agree with the malignant TB:

"Can you imagine a state like that with an attitude like that having a nuclear weapon?" he asked rhetorically.

So why now?

Perhaps it is because it sees the US overcommitted to Iraq. Iran feels somewhat confident that the US cannot impose any martial policy due to being bogged down with Iran's old enemy. Perhaps they draw comfort from the view that America can be contained in this manner. Are they right? I don't know, but they seem to feel confident. Britain is in no place to react in any way but across diplomatic channels since the current government (and its predecessor) has gutted our armed forces.

We know that Russia and China would not back military action anyway. They are too reliant on Iranian energy - the driving force for most political alliances in the middle east.

So, will there be war? No. Lots more talk and Iran probably knows this and it is why its President will continue to make statements such as it does. Until the day before it gets the bomb and Tel Aviv nukes Tehran.

Thursday, October 27, 2005

Surprise? I think not.

So Ms. Miers has withdrawn her candidacy for position of supreme court justice. I won't speculate over much about the timing, I'll leave that to others but I will post this from the BBC that I thought was interesting:

Mr Bush praised Ms Miers for her decision, which he said was motivated by a desire not to allow Senators access to confidential White House documents.

"Harriet Miers' decision demonstrates her deep respect for this essential aspect of the constitutional separation of powers - and confirms my deep respect and admiration for her," Mr Bush said.

First of all, huh? Considering all of her recent work has been in the Whitehouse did Bush really think that she would get confirmed without senators wishing to see some sort of paper trail that covered her work?
Second of all, did it not have anything to do with mounting opposition from all sides and a complete lack of credibility when it came to constitutional law?

Wednesday, October 26, 2005

Tales of the quasi-bizarre

from the BBC

A man accused of raping a student in Midlothian has lodged a special defence of alibi and has told the court he has an identical twin brother.

This is quite bizarre. Basically this guy is alleging that the rape was committed by his twin brother. As far as I am aware this does rule out the DNA evidence as a clincher. The police will really have to find air-tight witnesses that can place him without a doubt and other forensic evidence. Of course, assuming that he is telling the truth, his brother isn't going to be best pleased with him. Unless it is a cunning trick to push for reasonable doubt.

MSNBC headline:

File this one under 'no shit, sherlock'.

“Anybody who recognizes Israel will burn in the fire of the Islamic nation’s fury"
Repeat after me: complete nutcase and dangerously moronic to boot.

This was said at a conference called "The World without Zionism". Nice.

I myself support a world without zionism. That's because I want a world where the Israelis do not have to constantly fight for the right to have their own country because they have their own country and no bugger is trying to take it away from them!

The Iranian president is living in a fantasy world and is blissfully unaware that if God does exist then el presidente is very likely to burn in hell for this attitude. Somewhat ironic, eh?

Stupid University Policy #1

In its august wisdom the university has banned smoking in all buildings. That is great as far as I am concerned. I have no problem with people who want to kill themselves with fags, but I do object when they abuse my right not to work in a smoky atmosphere and get dragged down with them.

Anyway, this was a policy enacted a long time ago. I support it wholeheartedly. However, some pillock had the idea:

"Since the smokers can no longer smoke in the building they need somewhere else to smoke."

Fair enough.

"Well, it needs to be close to where they work."

Fair enough.

"I know, let's put the smoking area right outside the entrance to the building".

Fair en..wha?

You have to be joking, surely? So now everytime we want to go in and out of the various building on campus we have to pass through a miasma of death. In addition there is a tendency for the lobbies to fill with smoke, since in the winter it gets so cold that the smokers leave the doors open and huddle close to the warm insides. Also, the way this university is arranged you have to walk along right past many main entrances to get where you are going.


What if nothing happens?

I'm just asking?

Speculation is rife that today is the day that indictments will be handed down in the 'Plamegate' affair. A perverse part of my brain is gleefully hoping that nothing happens; that Fitzgerald just shuts up shop and heads home with nothng to report.

It would just be interesting to register that brief moment of silence as the breathlessly waiting media are stunned that their predictions are all wrong before the massive free-for all of opinions and attacks on 'what went wrong' and 'how we are all vindicated'.

It could be funny.

best news of the day

As a non-American citizen I find the news that the US has dropped its desire to create a 'bunker-buster' nuclear device as incredibly uplifiting. I am sure there are plenty of American citizens out there who feel the same.

Some see more than a touch of hypocrisy in the US demands that Iran abandon a nuclear programme. An argument I have heard is that why should America dictate who can and who cannot have nuclear weapons considering that they have a huge arsenal of them already? My views is that we have plenty in the world already and I don't see the need for any country to develop additional weapons. I can accept that hypocrisy as I am not blind to the realities in the world - nuclear weapons are here to stay and as much as I might like to see them all gone I can readily understand the rationale for the US, the UK, France, etc. to retain those weapons that they have.

However, I ahve always thought that it was somewhat of a 'bridge too far' for America to demand that other countries respect non-proliferation of nuclear weapons whilst stating a desire to develop new, smaller nuclear weapons that some argue could blur the line between nuclear and conventional war making. It is patently absurd.

Therefore I applaud those in congress who have fought this and I applaud the administration for backing down from what could have been the worst mistake they would make.

Tuesday, October 25, 2005

Get it right this time

When George Galloway last appeared before the US senate he ran rings around them. He made them look like unprepared idiots spouting unproven (and in some cases debunked) allegations against him.

Now they say that they have evidence that he is
guilty as charged and also lied under oath when questioned by the senate. They had better be right. George is already demanding that they charge him and and take him to court. Basically he wants them to put up or shut up. Is he bluffing? He might be; he might be relying on the fact that he made them look like fools before and he can do so again.

If the senate has the good then I hope they nail him. If they don't have the evidence then I hope they learn from last time and stop making over reaching accusations. It just hands Galloway ammunition and that is the last thing he needs. If they cannot convict him then they should let him sink into anonymity where he is a threat to no one.

On a side issue I was pleased to see that Jane Fonda took my advice. She claims that she was unwell, but other observations would suggest otherwise. :-)

Wednesday, October 19, 2005

Cheney Resignation Rumours

Hat tip to NTodd.

Apparently there are some rumours that Cheney might resign. I am not one hundred percent sure that I believe them except that I was actually expecting his resignation/retirement sometime within this 4 year term.


Well, I think we can all be reasonably certain that Cheney has no desires on the top job. I would be very surprised if he ran for preseident on the coat-tails of George W. Bush. My take is that he has no interest in that. However, I think that Condi Rice does have an interest.

Here is what a Bush insider had to say:

"And if that should happen, there will undoubtedly be those who believe the whole thing was orchestrated – another brilliant Machiavellian move by the VP."

Hardly machiavellian. Look at it from the point of view whereby we strip away overtones (or undertones) of malicious intent:
  • The current VP does not want to run for President.
  • At the moment there is no number 1 candidate for the GOP at the next election.
  • One name that has been floated as a potential candidate is Rice.
  • Bush, for all his faults, is loyal to his people and will want to help those he thinks would do well. I would place Condi in this group.
  • A significant step in helping Condi would be elevating her to VP, a role that many in the past would certainly have imagined her as competent in.

Condi would have an increased profile with some experience in governance. Plus any administration would want to see someone in power who they think will continue their legacy and uphold their views. Therefore from that point of view, placing Condi in the VP slot makes perfect sense.

I had originally expected it to occur later than this if at all, simply so that Condi could make up her mind whether she wanted the top-job or not. Additionally, this whole speculation might be jumping the gun significantly, anyway.

New Intake

Whilst I was away, term began back at university.

I have arrived back to falling leaves and a fresh, new intake of students. Eager minds desperate to learn and understand. Young minds, filled with potential and excitement. Inquiring minds, looking for new life experiences and a foothold on the path to their future. For many this is their first time away from home for such an extended period; they may struggle to make ends meet and to find their independence. Others will blaze a trail, never more setting foot in the family home as anything but a guest.

All around me there are bright eyes and uncertain smiles, mingled with the more confident gaits of their returning contempories. Those for whom their first year now seems lost in the haze of the distant past stride around their campus, just as their forebears have done for decades. Already one can see the young pushing to become the old; the immature to become the mature; the ignorant to become enlightened

Overall, I can't help but think: they really make the place look untidy.

Tuesday, October 18, 2005

Ken is out...

And so is the Conservatives chances of forming a government in the next election. Not that I care that much. I do actually quite like Ken Clarke and his more centrist position appeals to me (though his support of tobacco firms does not). Recent polls of the actual electorate have indicated that of the prospective leaders Ken had most chance of beating Labour in the next general election through actually appealing to the people.

Of course the Tory MPs have once more shown how they are completely out of touch with the current electorate. But, who knows? Perhaps whoever is chosen will do some good for the party. Though I cannot imagine David Davies (right of Howard) appealing to the British people. Though 4 years is a long time to wait and see.

I wonder which way Clarke's supporters will jump? The gap between Davis and David Cameron is only 6 votes and Clarke held 38. Liam Fox had 42 and so could leapfrog Cameron, though I suspect that most of Clarkes supporters will throw behind Cameron who is the most ideologically similar to Clarke. If that is the case, I expect Liam Fox to drop out in the next round and the two Davids will be put to the party member vote.

Of course, there could be some interesting politics in play here. Assuming that all of Ken's supporters prefer Cameron and believe that he can carry the grass roots against Liam Fox then they might decide to scupper David Davis' chances, especially if they think he could carry wait with the more traditional (right-wing) party base. In that instance they might split their support between Fox and Cameron so as to sideline Davis. I doubt that will happen though. If the grassroots once again swings to the right then it does not matter who Cameron faces, he is out; both Fox and Davis are considered right-wing.

Back from Norway

A quasi-successful trip. Lots of rain which scuppered our optical observations on all but one night, and broken equipment scuppered some of the observations on that night.

My experiments went very well, along with some bonus results. very quick paper coming up soon.

In the meantime, I am mad busy trying to do many, many things this week. It just never stops...

Saturday, October 08, 2005

It's Saturday morning at 7 am local time and I have been up for over an hour. I feel knackered.

However, my radar experiment appears to be working and I have only another 7 or so hours of staring at a couple of computer monitors to go.

THIS is dedication to one's work. COME ON!

Now has anyone seen where the caffeine is...?

Thursday, October 06, 2005

Pompous Arse of the Night Award Goes to...

Professor Reynolds, our scholarly but loveable web-watcher.

The award is for this post on the attempts of the EU and UN to remove ultimate control of the internet from US hands. My personal view is that if it isn't broke, do not fix it. Reynolds and readers are seeing a terrible future ahead, I'm not so sure; but again why bother changing something that clearly works. I think the fear is that the other countries will impose their political wills on the internet and so stifle free speech or set monitoring standards. One argument seems to be that any UN oversight council won't be able to deal with human rights issues (i.e. silencing online voices); I wasn't aware that the US was actively pursuing this with any success. I could be very wrong. I am somewhat sympathetic to those other countries concerns, after all the web is a powerful thing. Plus not being American means that I may have a different viewpoint when it comes to watching the players on the world stage. Additionally chances are that you are using protocols in your web browsing that were invented and designed by a Brit working at CERN in Europe. The internet may be American, but the world-wide-web was born and raised in Europe (in fact the internet was based on work done by Louis Pouzin in France - Freedom Internet anyone?).

Anyway, Glenn wins the award for this self-righteous and pompous line:

Indeed. The U.N. and E.U.'s moral high ground is usually spurious, in my experience.

And the USA is always standing atop mount virtue? Anyway, all heil to that international crime buster, jet setter and all round superhero and righter of wrongs Professor Reynolds. Congratulations.

Tuesday, October 04, 2005

Ronnie Barker RIP

Ronnie Barker is dead. He was a large part of my childhood, a regular feature of weekend evening TV with his comedy partner, Ronnie Corbett. The popularity of the Two Ronnies was massive in the eighties, and in fact the affection that the Great British public had for their comedy sketches endured. It endured so well that it encouraged Barker to emerge from retirement to do introductions with Corbett for a four week run of the Two Ronnies Sketchbook earlier this year. It was a fantastic Friday night treat and did very well in the ratings.

Ronnie Barker was not just a comedian, he was a talented sketch writer, playwrite and film writer. He was an unparralled comedy actor involved in two of the best British sitcoms ever: Porridge and Open All Hours. Comedy Gold! Above all, though, he was a fine actor, first and foremost. He started as an actor and carried that into everything he did. He was apparently very shy and much preferred taking to the stage as someone else rather than as himself.

His influence on British comedy spanned the years and is evidenced by the warm and glowing tributes that have appeared from contempories, so-called alternative comedians and upto modern comics. Our only consolation is that he left a huge body of work behind for us to enjoy. 76 years old was too soon for him to leave.

Rest in peace, Ronnie.

Monday, October 03, 2005


This post will remain at the top of the page for the next week. See below for new posts from the Norway adventure

There have been an awful lot of human tragedies recently. In fact there always are, it is an on-going problem that we always face wars, natural disasters and brutal dictators. Sad but true.
It seems that there is always one more charity to donate to help elleviate yet another terrible situation.

I say this because when I first started to write this post Hurricane Katrina battered Louisiana and surrounding states. I decided to put off this post until later, even though it was inspired by this story that came out at that time.

The great apes are disappearing. Some species could be gone within our lifetime. Current guesses place the total number of Sumatran Orangutan at 7300 in the wild. Now consider the population of the UK: ~60.5 million. The number of Sumatran Orangutans equals about 0.01% of the population of the UK; that is ~10% of the population of the Isle of Man.

Thankfully the Borneo Orangutan is doing much better at 45000. Well, comparatively better anyway; the number is still 1000 less than the town of Salina, Kansas. Plus that figure has been estimated to have declined 10-fold since the middle of the last century.

The other apes aren't faring too well either. Gorillas in Congo, Nigeria and Camaroon number less than 1000. They are falling prey to hunters after bush meat and have now started to succumb to the ebola virus, as too have Chimpanzees and Bonobos. All in all the future is very, very bleak.

The Diana Fossey Gorrila Fund International
Great Apes Survival Project

My wife and I donate to the International Orangutan foundation and we encourage you to think about donating something to help preserve the great apes.

We foster a young Orangutan called Yoris.

Sunday, October 02, 2005

Hi folks, I am still up in Norway and will be for some days yet. I have been busy with my other blog (work stuff) and so have not posted much here for a few days. It feels as if I have been cheating on you and since I'm not splashing out on flowers and chocolates just to have them rightfully thrown back in my face by you all I bring you something better:

The Return of Aurora Blogging

For the past couple of days it has been very grey and wet but a few nights ago it was pretty clear. It had started off cloudy but my colleague and I were surprised to see incredibly bright aurora behind the clouds,really lighting the sky up. Mercifully it then cleared and we saw a great display, though nowhere near as bright as the previous must have been. The photos I shot come nowhere near capturing the magnificance of the slowly dancing and undulating northern lights. Once again, it made me wish for a more powerful camera. However my little Canon S45 did not do too bad on the maximum 15 second exposure. Enjoy!