Monday, 22 December 2008

Please can I have my duck back?

The US space agency (Nasa) would like its rubber ducks back, please.

Ninety bathtub toys were hurled into a drainage hole on the Greenland ice in September - an experiment to see how melt waters find their way to the base of the ice sheet.

It was hoped the ducks would flow along subglacial channels and eventually pop out into the sea. They may still, but nothing has been seen of them so far.

Strictly is over

The Final of Strictly Come Dancing took place on Saturday. Over 13 million viewers enjoyed the spectacle. And what a magnificent spectacle it proved to be.

I believe the right two couples got through to the second stage (though I suspect GB may disagree when he gets his DVDs up-to-date in a few weeks). I never really took to Lisa and whilst I can appreciate her journey and Brendan’s skill in training her I cannot think of a single dance of hers that really wowed me.

Right up until the show dance I thought it was going to be Rachel’s but the show dance made me wonder if Tom could pull it off.

Bruce sang a song for us.

They opened the cages and let Kristina and Ola out to do some of the brilliant professional dances and to dance with their partners from the series. Whatever other health problems I may suffer from I can guarantee there are still some red blood cells left!

The five previous winners of Strictly Come Dancing - Natasha Kaplinsky, Jill Halfpenny, Darren Gough, Mark Ramprakash and Alesha Dixon - also appeared, with all but Kaplinsky performing a group fabulous routine to a version of Robbie Williams' Let Me Entertain You.

The winners – Tom and Camilla. Overall I think Rachel should have won and I felt sorry for her and Vincent. A score of 79 out of 80 for their two dances prior to the show dance – they could not have done more. But I would have felt sorry for Tom and Camilla if they had lost.

It has undoubtedly been the best Strictly Come dancing series yet.

Sunday, 14 December 2008


Woolworths, the stricken high street retailer, saw its biggest-ever day's trading on Thursday after administrator Deloitte launched a closing-down sale across the 800-store chain. Woolworths' 30,000 staff have been told that they could be out of work before the end of December if buyers for their stores are not found. Hundreds of Woolworths outlets are already under offer to third-party retailers such as Wilkinson and Iceland. However, separate approaches to save Woolworths as a going concern look less likely to succeed.

Strictly Semi-Final

During the week, on Claudia’s programme, we learned some Argentine Tango moves from Flavia and Vincent. I loved the ‘decoration’ in which the girl rubs her foot up the man’s leg. The dance originated in seedy nightclubs of Buenos Aires where the ladies of the night hung out. They had to be able to dance in case the place was raided. The ‘decoration’ was designed so that the girl could use her foot to check how much money the man had in his pockets.

The best celebrity Argentine Tango to date has been Mark Ramprakash and Karen. But no Argentine Tango on Saturday night’s show is going to be able to match the one done by Flavia and Vincent and another professional couple last week-end. That has to be one of the best dances I’ve ever watched on TV.

On the night the two dances by Rachel and Vincent were, in my view, simply perfect. Sadly Tom didn’t quite live up to my expectations. I think Austin would have given Rachel a better run for her money. Sorry, but I still can’t see what folk see in Lisa. There never seems the same life in her dances as there is in Rachel and Tom’s.

Craig Smith and Natalie Wolfe’s show dance was unbelievable. The way she rolled up his body at one stage was quite mesmerising. Then the group jive by the professionals knocked Tom and Camilla’s jive into a cocked hat. “All that Jazz” from 'Chicago' was equally fantastic.

The evening ended perfectly with all three couples going through to the Final.

Wednesday, 10 December 2008

Fans sought over abusive chanting

The BBC has published images that have been released of 16 Tottenham fans police want to trace over indecent and homophobic chanting directed at Portsmouth's Sol Campbell. The investigation follows abuse aimed at the former Arsenal and England defender during a game with Spurs at Fratton Park on 28 September.

Officers are asking the public to help them trace the men, who were captured on film during the match. The FA said it would ban for life any fans it could prove were involved.

Supt Neil Sherrington from Hampshire police said: "As part of our investigation into indecent chanting at Fratton Park, we have identified 16 people we would like to speak to. Our inquiry is aimed at identifying and putting before the court those individuals who engaged in unacceptable behaviour at this public event. Their abuse caused distress to some supporters and was targeted at an individual. We want to send a clear message that abuse of this kind will not be tolerated and that we are taking robust action. I'd urge anyone who recognises these people to contact us as soon as possible."

Campbell, who left Tottenham on a free transfer to north London rivals Arsenal in 2001, joining Portsmouth in 2006, was subjected to prolonged abuse during the game. Complaints from Portsmouth fans were made to Hampshire police, who initially said they could not take action because of the number of Tottenham fans involved.

Singing and chanting is part of the fun of being at a football match and I am not overly p.c. but I fully endorse action of this sort. It is good to know that people can no longer just hide in the crowd and get away with things that they would neither have the courage nor the stupidity to do on their own.

Monday, 8 December 2008

New pterosaur species found

A new fossil species of flying reptile with a wingspan the size of a family car has been uncovered by scientists. A researcher at the University of Portsmouth has identified the new type of pterosaur, the largest of its kind ever to have been discovered. It would have flown in the skies above Brazil 115 million years ago.

Mark Witton estimated that the pterosaur had a wingspan of 16.4ft (5m) and would have been more than 39in (1m) tall at the shoulder. The partial skull fossil, found in Brazil, is the first example of a chaoyangopteridae, a group of toothless pterosaurs, to be found outside China. Mr Witton said: "Some of the previous examples we have from this family in China are just 60cm (2ft) long - as big as the skull of the new species. Put simply, it dwarfs any chaoyangopterid we've seen before by miles. The discovery of something like this in Brazil - so far away from its closest relatives in China - demonstrates how little we actually know about the distribution and evolutionary history of this fascinating group of creatures."

Mr Witton has named the new species Lacusovagus, meaning lake wanderer, after the large body of water in which the remains were buried. Mr Witton's findings were published in the journal Palaeontology in November.

Strictly Weekend

There were eight dances on Saturday. My favourites were Tom and Camilla’s Foxtrot; Tom and Camilla’s Rumba; Rachel and Vincent’s Tango; Rachel and Vincent’s Cha Cha Cha and Austin and Erin’s Salsa. Rachel was judged to have done another perfect dance.

Austin was at the bottom of the leader board. On the basis of my perception of the dances I decided to give Tom and Rachel two phone votes each and Austin one phone vote. I wonder who will be in the dance off. Could be any of them at this stage. Whatever happens someone really good is going to be leaving.

On Sunday the Professionals did a couple of wonderful dances – firstly a Viennese Waltz.

And then an Argentine Tango.

Then Barry Manilow sang Copa Cobana to the accompaniment of a Samba by the professionals again.

Sadly, as Arlene pointed out, the dance that the performers had to s
do on the night affected the outcome of the dance off and Austin and Erin’s best dance – a latin - was judged to be not as good as Lisa and Brendan’s best dance – ballroom. Austin is out. Very sad.

So it will be Austin and Erin on Claudia’s couch on Monday night.

Monday, 1 December 2008

Pygmy Tarsiers

Conducting a survey of Mount Rore Katimbo in Lore Lindu National Park on the island of Sulawesi, a team led by Sharon Gursky-Doyen of Texas A&M University captured three pygmy tarsiers, a tiny species of primate that was last collected in 1921 and was assumed to be extinct until 2000 when two scientists studying rats accidently trapped and killed an individual. Gursky-Doyen's team spent two months using 276 mist nets to capture the gremlin-like creatures so they could be fitted with radio collars and tracked. One other individual was spotted but eluded capture.

Pygmy tarsiers are among the smallest and rarest primates in the world. The species is distinguished from tarsiers by its diminutive size (50 grams) and its fingers which have claws instead of nails, which Gursky-Doyen believes may be an adaptation to its mossy habitat some 7,000-8,000 feet (2,100-2,440) about sea level.

Week 11

Vincent wiping away tears at the end of the show but not because he and Rachel were out. They were in the dance off but it was Christine and Matthew who left Strictly on Sunday.

The right result but very sad because she has been such a lively, bubbly, happy character. Obviously much loved by the other contestants and professionals as witnessed by Vincent’s emotional response.

A new Dolphin

Thanks to DNA testing, a new species of bottlenose dolphin has been discovered in the waters off southern Australia. It is only the second new dolphin to be discovered in 50 years. I always thought examining a moth's genitalia to tell which species it was seemed a bit far to go but when you have to check it's DNA that seems a bit like cheating to an old-fashioned guy like me. As yet the species has not been named.

Sunday, 30 November 2008

A Thai Museum

Praserd Sriyonyong’s innocuous-looking house in Thailand holds everything from mammoth heads to dinosaur bones, a massive testimony to the man’s obsession with collection and natural history. There are around 400,000 natural history items, including an incredible mammoth head and dinosaur skeleton inside this very unusual house. Sriyonyong says he bought them from some “rich people” in Thailand’s rural hinterland that had them in their possession for generations.

"I have 300 heads of “kouprey” (Cambodian forest ox) alone; neither the British Museum nor the Louvre has even one specimen of this extinct animal. I also hold the world’s record for antlers”, says Praserd Sriyonyong with pride, a tall, striking-looking man in his early fifties. Sriyonyong is now looking for partners, financial and related specialists, to build and house his fabulous collection as a modern museum, to be centred around a tourist complex by the side of the main road near the ruins of Ayutthaya, Thailand’s historical city founded in 1350 A.D. and destroyed in 1767, now a UNESCO heritage site.

Conservation scientist Antony Lynam of the Asia programmes of the Wildlife Conservation Society said “All who have seen the collection agree that it represents a unique resource for scientific research and education.”

Another Strictly

Another good Strictly night – the first on which the competitors have had to do two dances. As usual I preferred the ballroom dances to the Latin but there were so many good dances it was a great evening.

Rachel and Vincent’s Waltz kicked off the evening in fine style and earned a suitably high score.

You know a dance is good when you don’t want it to end. And that was certainly the case with Austin and Erin’s Paso. Len may have thought it was all performance and no content but everyone else gave it a standing ovation. It was most unusual to see Craig give a ten and Len only an eight! Austin and Erin’s foxtrot was also brilliant.

Other tremendous dances were Christine and Matthew’s Salsa, Tom and Camilla’s Waltz, and Rachel & Vincent’s Paso Doble to It's The Final Countdown.

Tom and Camilla danced their waltz to Moon River – what better song could you get for a waltz?

Tom got told off for sticking his rear end out but I didn’t notice it – his lines looked perfect to me even though they obviously weren’t up to the judges’ standards.

I just can’t get worked up about Lisa and Brendan. The judges seem to think she is first class but I don’t get any good vibrations from them. Added to which I can’t get enthused about her personality. There is no way I would have had them at the top of the leader board at the end of the evening but that is where they ended up.

On the basis of tonight I should hate to choose the finalists but the next one to go looks like it’s going to be Christine. On the other hand if the public save her we could lose one of my favourites. Oh dear, better go and do some telephoning...

Thursday, 27 November 2008


The last A1 race of 2008 last weekend saw Switzerland take the win in a messy Sprint race which had a major crash at the start, saw GB pull out with a gearbox problem on lap 1 and South Africa damage the Malaysian car in a hopeless overtaking attempt. New Zealand was second out of the pits in front of France but had to give the place back because of an unsafe pit release. Mexico went off the track to add to the excitement. Switzerland’s pit stop was quick and clean as befits the team which won the series last year.

A rolling start is supposed to be two abreast not six!

Korea not on the grid for the feature race because of a technical problem gave the US their rear wing to replace the damaged one from the sprint race. The camaraderie between teams in A1 is a notable contrast to F1.

At the start of the Feature Race GB dropped straight from second place on the grid to fifth; India got taken out by the Netherlands who themselves had been hit. Switzerland, trying to make his way up from the back after a penalty, went off. Ireland, led Portugal, Lebanon, Malaysia and GB. Malaysia got past Lebanon but as GB tried it both cars went off and on getting back on the track GB got overtaken by a few cars and then lost his front wing as France hit him. Not a good day for GB. It got wortse and the car ended the race in the garage.

At this stage an unbelievable downpour occurred (on the Wirral not in Sepang) and the picture disappeared. By the time the rain / hail eased off the first round of pit stops had occurred. Close but fair racing between Ho Pin Tung of China and the US’s Marco Andretti showed that overtaking without hitting people is quite possible. Later, Malaysia and Italy also demonstrated skill, good judgement and fairness as they fought. Perhaps Adrian Zoug of South Africa could learn from these drivers.

Malaysia was in a comfortable third place when some miscommunication brought him into the pits unexpectedly losing him so much time he ended up well back, disappointing the home crowd. In the end Adam Carroll took first place for Ireland, chased by Portugal with USA a good deal behind in 3rd.

Tuesday, 25 November 2008

Newark & Sherwood Council is not just talk

A torc (an iron age gold collar) worth more than £350,000 that was found by an amateur metal detectorist in a muddy field in Nottinghamshire has been described as the best find of its kind in half a century, according to a Guardian article.

"I was only in the field because a customer kept me late," Maurice Richardson, a tree surgeon from Newark, said yesterday. "Normally I'd never want to go into this field because a plane crashed there in the last war, and the whole place is littered with bits of metal." The first beep from his detector was indeed a chunk of wartime scrap metal, but as he bent down to discard it, his machine gave a louder signal. Expecting to find a bigger chunk of fuselage, he instead discovered the 2,200-year-old collar.

The piece, a near twin of one already in the British Museum, was the most spectacular of 1,257 finds reported over the last three years. Treasure reports have increased every year since the Portable Antiquities scheme was set up to record finds by the public in England and Wales. The scheme itself came near to being lost in government cuts but, like the torc, has been rescued!

"It's a fabulous thing, the best Iron Age find in 50 years," said JD Hill, head of the British Museum's iron age department. "When I first saw a picture of it I thought somebody was pulling my leg because it is so like the Sedgeford torc in our collection that it must have been made by the same hand. What is fascinating about it is that it turned up where no torc should be - to put it mildly, the Newark region is not known for major high-status iron age finds. This wasn't in a grave, wasn't on a hilltop - it opens up a whole new chapter of the history of this area."

Unusually, the torc has been acquired by his local museum in Newark, after heroic fundraising efforts. Most such finds go to national museums. Sarah Dawes, head of leisure and culture at Newark and Sherwood district council, said: "I took one look and rang my chief executive to say, sit tight, don't leave the office, we've got something to tell you."

When it was originally reported back in 2005, the BBC ran a story on the torc, stating it was probably worth £100K. In the event the artefact was valued at £350K. It has therefore been a massive achievement for the Newark and Sherwood Museum Service to acquire it for display locally, as JD Hill of the BM has been quoted: "It’s a daunting prospect for the British Museum or the V&A to raise £350,000. "

The local council stated in their minutes, that they decided to seek funding to purchase the object because they wanted to: ..ensure that an exceptional artefact relating to the historical importance of the District is secured for local and national interest. Many congratulations to the officers and Members for a job well done.!

Monday, 24 November 2008

Prostitutes to go self-employed...

In a wonderful piece of new legislation the Government is to encourage prostitutes to go self-employed, according to an article in The Independent.

Ministers have proposed new legislation that would make it a criminal offence to pay to have sex with someone who is "controlled for another person's gain". Under the proposed law, the Home Office would create a "strict liability offence" meaning that prosecutors would not have to prove that a man knew that the prostitute they had hired was trafficked or pimped. Prosecutors would simply have to show that the prostitute was trafficked or coerced and that cash changed hands.

In fairness, the aim is to target men who use prostitutes who have been trafficked or who are being forced into prostitution by pimps or drug dealers. But I’m not sure how the aim and the legislation match. Where is the incentive to catch or prosecute or punish the trafficker or pimp? Whilst all my experience of this field comes from reading fiction my understanding is that the general police view is that most prostitutes are better off having someone to 'look after them' - i.e. a bodyguard. It would certainly seems safer in the light of the fact that they are so often the target for murderers and other nutters. (Oops, sorry, that wasn't very p.c., was it?)

And what about prostitutes who are forced into that life by poverty – is the government going to prosecute itself for failing to have a higher standard of living in the UK?

Ah well, I’m sure it’s a good idea really.

Strictly Out of It

Before I comment on Sunday’s Strictly can I just lay the John Sergeant thing to rest by quoting a couple of sentences from three paragraphs by a Cumbrian blogger who, like me, was upset at the whole ‘thing’. Her posting was the most sensible thing I’d read on the whole subject. “I’ve watched Strictly Come Dancing for about five series now and every time there is some unfortunate soul who lasts far, far longer in the competition than is truly wise because the chance for the average viewer to both witness humiliation and effect rescue is too good to pass up. It’s all the fun of watching your favourite Christian in the amphitheatre, knowing that with a press of a button you can send the lion down the trapdoor, if need be..... Seeing the tempers mount on the message boards has been a disconcerting experience for me, revealing the war-mongering heart of folk who were supposedly enjoying a gentle, old-fashioned Saturday teatime programme. I know some people find a big old row thrilling spectator sport, but I hate the conflict and the excess.”

A brilliant group dance. An intervioew with Felicity Kendall. And by far the best dance off yet. What more could one want?

I thought Jodie’s jive was the better dance but it was Lisa who survived.

So long, Jodie and Ian.

Sunday, 23 November 2008

Mammoth genome

About 18,545 years ago, give or take a few decades, a woolly mammoth died. Succumbing to causes unknown, the creature was buried in Siberian snow. Many other mammoths must have met similar fates but this one, which we now know as M4, is special. Almost 20 millennia later, its beautifully preserved remains were unearthed by scientists who have revealed both its body and its genetic code. For the first time, the genome of an extinct species has been sequenced almost to completion.

To learn more visit one of my favourite blogs - It's not exactly rocket science.

Strictly special

After Rachel and Vincent’s perfectly scored Foxtrot, Tom and Camilla’s excellent Tango and Austin and Erin’s Cha cha cha the competition is really open. I wouldn’t like to forecast which of those three is likely to be the eventual winner. The others will fall by the wayside but still gave us our money’s worth on Saturday. I’m hoping that Christina will survive ‘tomorrow’ but suspect it will be her and Jodie in the dance off.

John and Kristina’s last dance was suitably emotional and will not be forgotten in a hurry.

Wednesday, 19 November 2008

Nobel Prize for Medicine

In October, the Nobel Assembly at Karolinska Institutet decided to award the Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine for 2008 with one half to Harald zur Hausen for his discovery of “human papilloma viruses causing cervical cancer” and the other half jointly to Françoise Barré-Sinoussi and Luc Montagnier for their discovery of “human immunodeficiency virus” [HIV].

Gentleman John Sergeant

Just in case you've been under a rock all day.....

Ex-political journalist John Sergeant has pulled out of BBC One's "Strictly Come Dancing" because winning would have been "a joke too far", he has said. The 64-year-old has received strong support from the public since the show started, but the judges have been critical of his dancing.

I fully support John in his decision and his timing.

He told a press conference he was quitting but would return on Saturday's show for a "farewell dance".

Sergeant said dancing on the show was "a wonderfully enjoyable thing", particularly with his Russian partner, Kristina Rihanoff. "But if the joke wears thin, if in fact people begin to take it very seriously, and if people really are getting so wound up that it's very difficult to carry off the joke, then I think it is time to go. It's like when you decide when you leave a party, and the time to leave a party is before the fight starts, and I think that's really what's happened on this occasion," he added.

Rupert Adams, of bookmaker William Hill, told the BBC News website that Sergeant had gone from being a 66/1 outsider to win the series on Saturday morning, to a 10/1 shot by Wednesday morning.

The programme's co-host Bruce Forsyth said he felt "very sorry" for Sergeant. "He was put in the most awkward position, looking at the other dancers and knowing they were better than him. He must have felt guilty in a way. It's a bit sad - the whole team adore him," added the entertainer.

Cluadia introduced an hour long "Strictly - It Takes Two" on Wednesday night as the shock news travelled across the nation.

Sadly, the controversy continued.... Half the people are now saying that he shouldn't have left.... The very same people, like James Jordan, who were complaining last week that he was still in! I've really gone off James - I wonder what Ola seems in him!

Just so you get my point of view - Nobody else has the right to make John's decision for him. So the decision must, therefore, be the right one. And thank you to him and Kristina - a brilliant dancer and choreographer - and all the entertainment they gave us.