Monday, April 06, 2015

Gravitational Waves

Just finished a small article on Gravitational Waves it was for a competition on Dark Energy, but I can no longer find the competition. Hopefully, it amuses you.

Monday, March 18, 2013

dry cleaning and the origins of berserk

We all know that the word "berserk" came from those people that took part in hostile trading expeditions led by large congolmerates usually from the North. During complex trading negotiations these berserkers would take off their tops and massacre those they were in negotiations with (and probably quite a few of their own major shareholders). 

But, did you stop to think why they did this? Surely disrobing cost valuable massacre time?


Well, archeologists may have found the answer. In those old days, as now, it was possible to buy clothes from many stores. Also in common with current times, many of the garments contained washing instructions written in an ancient pictographic script that pre-dates the Cuneiform script. The meaning of these strange symbols have been lost in time. Well, almost lost in time. There is a small group that are still able to read and understand this ancient script. They were and still are called Dry Cleaners. They are able to take the garment, read the ancient script and apply the necessary know-how to clean the garment. 

However, in common with modern times, the cost of consulting the Dry Cleaner was not cheap. It could easily cost a hostile trader a month's wages, or a year in servitude if they were not careful. 


Hence, during times of hostile trading the more thoughtful, and canny, traders took off their tops before hostile negotiations started to save on the dry cleaning costs.

Monday, October 08, 2012

loose strings

If you make use of public transport (buses, trains, planes, space-craft) you will realise that there are certain things that you should and should not do. There's actually a manual produced by NASA that contains all the dos and don'ts for public transport I believe. One of the lesser known don'ts that deserves to be more widely known concerns the furnishings of the vehicle. You will notice loose pieces of fabric, or dangling wires, or loose beams. Do not attempt to tidy them up or pull them! Here's an example of what will happen if you do.

A few months ago I was on board a plane in Hong Kong bound for London. My job as a delayed passenger takes me to many countries. If an airline, or airport or both is running at a too high-level of efficiency I am instructed to appear and experience lost-luggage, delayed flights and overbooking in order to keep the efficiency within the approved levels (as determined by marketing). I had successfully boarded after spending 15 days sleeping in the airport waiting for my delayed flight to be scheduled (my ticket ensured I was unable to take any other flight without severe punishment).

As I waited on the plan for the remaining passengers to board and stow their luggage I noticed a piece of fabric dangling from the partition. Being a tidy person I tugged the dangling fabric. I freed the fabric and carefully folded it and put it into the seat pocket in front of me. As I settled back into my seat I heard a rather loud crash from behind me followed by a gust of fresh air. I turned around and noticed that the back-part of the aircraft (specifically rows 50-60) had detached itself from the front part and fallen to the ground. Fortunately, the boarding procedures ensured those rows were empty and only my luggage (which I strategically placed in rows 53-55) suffered and was now spreading itself over the entire airfield.

Moments later an irate engineer came up to me and asked me if I had touched anything. I responded that I had not and had only tidyed up a bit of loose fabric and showed her the piece of carefully folded fabric. She took the fabric and pointed out to me that I had just undone the double-bow that held the rear-part of the aircract to the front part. She explained that any aircraft has a number of strings and knots holding various parts of the aircract together.

She then proceeded to write me a ticket that would put 8 penalty points on my frequent-flyer card and ban me from accumulating points and the use of any cafe at any airport for a year. To compound my misery an irate air-traffic controller then appeared and berated my lack of responsibility allowing my possessions to fly around the airport in a totally uncontrolled manner and wrote me another ticket for allowing my possessions to use the airfield and take off without permission. I suffered another 8 penalty points and a ban from all sandwich bars in all airports for another year.

Since that point I have seen many loose pieces of fabric on planes, but I now know they serve an important purpose and leave them well alone.

Wednesday, September 26, 2012


Sitting on my mantlepiece is a pile of matchsticks. Where the matchsticks came from is an interesting and cautionary tale.

About five years ago I was walking around an exclusive and affluent port town where I happend upon a particularly opulent house in flames. My job as an innocent bystander took me to many interesting and far-flung places. I attempted to use a smouldering splinter from the white picket fence to light my pipe when the owner of the house came rushing from the side of the house with a toy water pistol in hand and beseeched me to help him put out the fire.

I'm a planner and can do nothing without a good solid plan. I steadied the distraught man and proceeded to outline about three potential plans in the gravel with the charcoal remains of one of the fence pickets. We discussed the merits of each plan as the fire raged and decided that the best plan was to save what we could. Which by now was pretty much confined to the rather large detached garage and a particularly fine decent sized yacht anchored in the front garden. 

We decided that we would load up his classic Ferrari with what possessions we could fit in and put the remainder in the yacht. We distributed his prized possessions between the two vehicles strapping a very fine and rare chippendale sofa to the roof of the Ferrari and putting his prized Mr Wong original films into the trunk. We put his large fish tank of exotic and expensive fish onto the yacht. We decided he would drive the Ferrari and some possessions out of harm's way after launching the yacht and having me navigate the fine boat far enough offshore to get a safe view of the bonfire. 

The launching went well and his detailed instructions on how to start the onboard motor and navigate helped me to sail away from the port. Unfortunately, we had neglected to go through the instructions on how to stop the motor, or how to lower the anchor. I manage to discover how to stop the boat when I reached international waters.  

I waited patiently for 3 days for news from the unfortunate owner; existing on nothing more than Champagne and caviar. Towards the end of the third day a fishing boat passed and helped me to navigate back to land where I learned that the unfortunate owner had suffered a breakdown on seeing his prized boat and exotic fish sailing off into the sunset. I also learned from the coast guard that as I had been at sea in possession of the abandoned boat for more than a day I was now the legal owner of the boat and prized exotic fish.

This was a small piece of good news as I had been having a little bit of trouble finding accommodation in the exclusive port town. To tell the truth I was actually finding it difficult to secure accommodation in any town in the country of my birth. I reasoned that since accommodation appeared to be a little difficult I would moor the boat a little offshore and live on that until I could find something better. 

I sailed the boat a few miles around the coast and found a nice decent spot to moor the boat for the evening. I decided to row to land and pick up some provisions for the week (including some exotic fish food for the exotic fish). On land I found a decently expensive convenience store and stocked up on what I thought I'd need. I loaded my provisions into the dinghy and set off for the yacht. I reached the place where I had moored the yacht, but could not find it. 

My sense of direction has never been too accurate, but I was pretty sure I was in the right place. I scoured the sea around me and spotted an object a little way off. I rowed out to it and found that it was the fish tank with the exotic fish and now a frisky seal who was hoovering up the exotic fish with great gusto. As I looked around I saw little splinters of wood along with the name plate of the boat. I rowed back to shore and walked back to the convenience store. I asked the owner what he thought could have happened. He told me that the I had managed to choose a rather busy submarine lane and most likely my boat was either in pieces or being dragged off to antarctica attached to the periscope of a submarine.

A few hours earlier I had been the proud owner of a rather expensive yacht and even more expensive exotic fish and now I was the owner of a fish tank containing a frisky seal and a small portion of driftwood. I later found out that although technically I owned the fish-tank I didn't own the seal and since the seal had been in possession of the fish-tank for more than a day the tank legally belonged to the seal.

I related my incidents to the convenience store owner who laughed heartily and proceeded to tell the entire town. However, he did take pity on me and allowed me to stay in an old disused lighthouse on a particularly inaccessible part of the coast.

I decided to collect a small portion of driftwood to remind me that sometimes some of us are just not meant to be lucky.

Monday, September 10, 2012

how to make a small problem larger

On Monday I had a small problem with a single ant wandering around my kitchen. No sooner had I carefully picked it up and put it out the window (being a believer in Chaos and not wanting to damage anything that would chaotically impact me) then it would appear again in the kitchen wandering aimlessly around. On Tuesday I discovered that this was not a single incredibly persistent ant, but a whole army of incredibly persistent ants. I discovered this after having the good fortune to have spilt an incredibly cheap imitation of expensive single-malt Whiskey on the kitchen table the night before and finding a whole army of drunken ants making merry on my kitchen table in the morning. I carefully noted this observation down with the intention of informing the Natural Zoological society on my findings after I had cleared up.

Clearly I was cohabiting with a nest of alcoholic ants with low standards.

I decided to consult the internet to seek advice on how to tackle my problem. After three hours of careful searching I homed in on a mine of valuable information. The user group I found pointed out, among other things, that the most humane way to get rid of ants would be to encourage a natural predator which would cause the ants to seek a less hostile environment to settle in. Among the huge list of natural predators (I did not realise that politicians were voracious predators of ants) I selected the simplest: the ant-eater. Clearly, such an animal should have no problem encouraging the pests to move on. 

I followed the advice of the user group and phoned the local zoo pretending to be the headmaster of a primary school interested in showing their children some live, but harmless, exotic animals. The zoo dutifully dropped off a mid-sized, very hungry ant-eater on Wednesday morning. I opened the box and aimed the surprisingly strong solution at the source of ants ( a small hole just under the sink u-bend in the kitchen. It's little eyes detected live food and it rushed as fast as it could towards the u-bend. 

One thing I did not realise, and the user group neglected to point out, is that ant-eaters have incredibly sharp claws. It made short work of the cheap plasterboard wall and rammed its head into the enlarged hole hoovering up the ants with apparent glee. 

I neglected to warn the ant-eater that not only the ants were in the hole, but a toxic combination of whiskey-laced ant powder, whiskey-laced bleach and some bovril. None of these items had any effect on the ants who had insisted on thumbing their noses at me by walking around my apartment leaving small bovril-whiskey-bleach stains everywhere. The concoction may have not had any effect on the ants, but it did appear to have an effect on the ant-eater which retracted it's head from the hole, turned around in a circle and expired.

It's now Wednesday late afternoon and I am left with a large hole, a large number of live ants and a dead ant-eater.

After I have sent an addendum to the user-group regarding things to avoid when deploying the ant-eater I will search the internet for a way to get rid of an expired ant-eater and how to patch-up an ant-eater's excavation. As for the ants I have also found that a hostile environment also deters ants. The user group points out that the most effective hostile environment, apparently, are reality TV shows. I will have to book a weekend away and turn the TV onto a 24hour reality TV channel. I only hope that my neighbours will forgive me. 

Saturday, May 05, 2012

End of the World??

Apparently, on 5/May/2012 we will have a super-Moon which is when the Moon is closest to the Earth. The Moon is Earth's closest satellite.This is an ideal time for alien forces to attack and launch Operation Liberate Earth. This may astound you. But, think back. They have been preparing this moment for years. 

By carefully feeding so called 'reality shows', which are nothing more than extra-terrestial propaganda explaining how wonderful life will be under their tutilage, we have grown accustomed to strange and unusual practices. These shows will allow the invaders to land unchallenged and take their rightful positions of authority. Thanks to our reality show conditioning we will not notice. They have already made a few select attempts in the past. For example, in Italy the  Venutians deployed their agent Berlusconi to masquarade as the First Minister. They would have succeeded if they had been a little more patient and not subjected the Italian populus to full-on Venutian life-style so early. The dimiutive French President Sarkozy who hails from Jupiter where the gravity results in people of short stature (on his home planet Sarkozy is considered a giant) has been partially successful in promoting Jupiterian practices. Although the current round of elections hint that the French are not fully aclimatised to the Jupiterian code. 

The Martian forces have had more success with the re-affirmation of their agent BorisJohnson as the rightful leader of London. She (on Mars BorisJohnson is considered a mata-hari like figure) is now in place to institute more alien practices to make the city and thus country habitable for the invading forces.

What can we do?

The clue actually comes from the UK where the Government (infiltrated with Martian and Mercurian agents) has placed a heavy tax on pasties (partially edible pies filled with meats that are currently banned by the Geneva Convention in most countries). Pasties are known to be highly toxic to extra-terrestial life-forms. The mere smell of a hot pasty is enough to bring down an elite platoon of alien troops. By launching satellites filled with microwaves that are able to deploy hot pasties in a protective ring around the Earth we will be able to neutralise the alien threat.

Strategic placement of hot pasties at Government and other high-level leadership organisations will help to root-out the alien agents and restore normality to Earth.

Friday, April 06, 2012

Holes and Air

Holes are critical to life. It's a fact. If you live in a large multi-cultural city like Bognor or smaller villages such as London you will have noticed that there are rather a lot of holes in the street that appear to be abandoned. Some of them have water spouting from them, or gas, or fire. In the small village where I live I have talked to the Council Scientists about this. They have told me that these holes are not Council or utlitities negligence, but are a critical part of modern life. They have told me that in order for a village or city to live and thrive it needs a certain number of holes. These holes allow the place to breathe. 

They told me that the number of holes goes roughly as 1:10 for every tax-paying citizen in that locale. Without these holes the environment would quickly shrivel-up and die. They told me that it costs a lot of money to dig these holes and keep them and even more money to compensate people, cars and animals that fall into them. 

So, next time you see what appears to be a neglected hole ignore it as it has a very specific function.