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Archive for May, 2005

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�No pasar�n!

Sunday, May 29th, 2005

Yep, another blockade has been called for Tuesday.

Last Friday we spotted a small components convoy on their way to either Aldermaston or Burghfield and I emailed Nukewatch, a network of dedicated people who keep a constant outlook for nuclear arms convoys on British roads. I was asked whether I would keep a dedicated watch on Burghfield one day a week. I’m not sure. I feel a bit pressurized. If it weren’t for that damn nuclear arms base on our doorstep, I would have ignored the whole thing. —Maybe we’ll talk about it at the blockade.

Colours and Culture

Sunday, May 29th, 2005

How is this for a travel-related research project? Paul Kay from the International Computer Science Institute in Berkley, California examined data from no fewer than 110 different cultures around the world, all with unwritten languages. Representatives from each were asked to identify the truest hues from a palette of 330 different colours. It turns out that our perception of colour is universial with nearly everyone choosing the same hue for the ‘truest’ red or blue
(New Scientist, 28th May p. 17)

Sadly, rather than travel the world, Kay and his team were confined to the lab for their analysis, using data collected during the World Color survey which was initiated in the seventies.

Culture Alert!

Thursday, May 26th, 2005

Local Borth Author Richard Collins had come good with a beautiful first novel which has made it on the Whitbread Book Awards shortlist (and netted him a six figure advance!).

The Land as Viewed from the Sea is an intriguing, atmospheric and timeless tale about friendship, conflict, love—and Borth. I have yet to read it (I rushed out and bought my copy yesterday) but it hits the nail on the head if this little excerpt is anything to go by:

Sean and Catherine are at the small village station waiting for his train. The single platform faces away from the village and the sea and so they find themselves looking inland, across the tracks to the marshes and the bleak hills beyond. They are the only people there.
“Busy today”, he says.
She looks at him enquiringly.
“Three cows,” hes says. “Oh, and two sheep in the field over there. I don’t know what your brother is going to make of this place. Straight from London to the edge of the known world. A bit of a culture shock.” ‘

—Borth in a nutshell! I just wondered what happened to the donkey that usually grazes nearby.

The Laotian ‘puzzle mouse’

Monday, May 23rd, 2005

Scientists have made a stunning discovery on a food market in Laos.

According to this week’s New Scientist (21 May 2005, p. 18), what Robert Timmins from the Wildlife Conservation Society, New York spotted next to a pile of vegetables is not just a new species of rodent but a new family; making the Laonastidae, the first new family of mammals to be discovered in over 30 years. The creature, locally known as kha-nyou and scientifically as Laonastes aenigmamus has subsequently been trapped in the Khammouan National Biodiversity Conservation Area but the discoverer has yet to see one alive.

Green-eyed Monster thoughts

Friday, May 20th, 2005

So what about whale watching in Biscay?

For several days now I have walked around in the happy afterglow of a dream day at sea, but I haven’t yet found the right words to describe it (I plunged almost straight back into more mundane writing tasks which I keep putting off, playing too much Sudoku instead). Now, on top of my happy memories, the old bitterness keeps creeping back irrevocably. It is a minor, minor feeling but it has been gnawing at me for so long that it eventually found its way to the fore, just as I woke up yesterday morning. So I might as well write about that instead, perhaps then it will go away and I can return to my dreams.
[read on]

Aftermath of the Blockade

Monday, May 16th, 2005

Just caught up with the Basingstoke Gazette that flutters through our letterbox twice a week. I was pleased that the recent blockade at AWE was mentioned, although the article was very succinct.

A journalist was present at the site for a considerable time, approaching both activists and the police, but her short account left the reader confused. It mentioned briefly that new building work under way at AWE is claimed by protesters to ‘lead to a new generation of nuclear weapons’ then went on to describe the arrests and alleged offenses at length. It finished with a quote from Thames Valley Police hailing the operation a success as everybody at AWE was able to get to work on time. I would not have thought otherwise with a scant dozen demonstrators sitting peacefully in front of the gate surrounded by three times the number of police. The point was to stage a perfunctory protest to raise public awareness about Britain’s involvement in the development of new nuclear weapons. It was all that we could do and a the time I thought that we had at least been partly successful in this. But if we were, the Basingstoke Gazette didn’t get it.

I might not have expected the paper to be sympathetic, but I had hoped for a more informative article when the BG bothered reporting the incident at all. It might well be that the journalist got out of bed too early and on the wrong foot but, needless to say, they didn’t print my letter either. —Again. Why all the secretiveness? The days of the Cold War are past and with this country’s recent involvement in an illegal war and the general election just over it is high time to call for an open debate. Even in a local free-sheet. The BG is proud of their worthy campaign to keep rural post offices open but blind to the more sinister goings-on on our very doorstep.

The Sudoku Craze

Monday, May 16th, 2005

The country is in the grip of a craze. Everywhere—on the tube and trains in cafés and at home—people are obsessively filling in grids with the numbers 1-9 in each column, row and 3×3 square. I first came across one of these puzzles in the Times 10 days ago when visiting my in-laws and was immediately hooked. A few days later there was an item on Newsnight because the game of Sudoku (based on the invention of carrés magnifique by the great 18th-century mathematician Leonard Euler, according to Saturday’s Independent) apparently helps to sell papers. The Guardian carries a version that is ‘hand-crafted in Japan’ and the Independent, my staple, publishes three levels ranging from elementary to difficult. Every Saturday, they also publish a super version of a 16×16 grid comprising the numbers 0-9 and letters A-F. This I brought back with me when I arrived at our mates in Islington after my trip to Bilbao.

All night, they and John sat up, trying in vain to solve it (I tried and failed three times to solve the normal-sized version before giving up and going to bed) and John and S consequently spent most of Sunday writing a program that eventually cracked it. John is working out the system behind it. If successful he might enter the Independent’s competition to become Sudoku Grandmaster of Great Britain but I’m not getting my hopes up. There are people out there who can do this in their heads but a computer scientist, a mathematician and another mate who has a PhD in both were not among them. At least I’m not alone 🙂

Whales in the Bay of Biscay

Thursday, May 12th, 2005

With its varied habitats (continental shelf, deep water, trench), a great variety of cetaceans inhabit the waters in the Bay of Biscay. 23 species have been encountered so far, making these waters nearly as diverse for cetaceans as those off Sri Lanka.

The underwater canons of Sandander trench are a particularly suitable habitat for the elusive beaked whales. The Bay of Biscay is the location where a living True’s Beaked Whale was photographed for the first time.

Whale Watching in the Bay of Biscay

Tuesday, May 10th, 2005

Hurrah, hurrah, I’m off whale watching in the Bay of Biscay tomorrow! That is if I catch the ferry which I should do—it leaves at 20:45. Portsmouth is only just over an hour away from here. The whales are practically on our doorstep!

I’ll be back with an update on Sunday or Monday. Can’t wait!

They Shall Not Pass! (2)

Monday, May 9th, 2005

I know democracy is not just about voting. In fact most of it isn’t about voting. It is about engaging the government in dialogue, about debate, about protest.

This week, delegates from the 187 signatories of the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) meet in New York to discuss the future of nuclear disarmament. At the same time, the US intends to build a new generation of tactical ‘mini nukes’ for deployment in future conflicts such as the war in Iraq. They are, as ever, closely cooperating with their British counterparts. In some ways the Brits are even ahead. The planned Orion laser facility at our Friendly Neighbourhood Atomic Weapons Establishment, which could simulate test conditions to allow the design of such weapons without contravening the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty, is more advanced than the facilities already in place in the States. In combination with the—likewise—proposed hydrodynamics and materials labs plus a new super computer it will be far in excess of what’s needed for maintenance or dismantling of the existing (tiny) arsenal. If I didn’t know better, I would almost think Britain is stepping back from it’s solemn promise to undertake to make progress towards disarmament.
[read on]