Monday, 28 January 2008

One Mole, Two Moles, ...

A conservation charity is calling for thousands of volunteers to take part in a national survey of moles. The People's Trust for Endangered Species says the much-maligned mammal is actually a misunderstood creature which can help gardeners and farmers. The survey will involve a molehill count because the underground-dwelling animals are rarely seen. The trust hopes to compile a map of the distribution of the animals to help with future research.

Britons have historically had a mixed relationship with the creatures. Conservationists say farmers would hang moles from gibbets to ward off other moles, and moleskin clothing became so fashionable in the 19th Century that up to 13 million skins were sold a year. Ways of deterring or terminating moles are a frequent topic of conversation among gardeners. However, wildlife experts say moles are beneficial because they eat insects and aerate the soil with their tunnels.

The online survey will be taking place until September 2008.

Saturday, 26 January 2008

F1 number plate

A new record has been set for the UK's most expensive vehicle number plate - after "F1" fetched £375,000. Essex County Council said the registration number was sold privately to automotive designer and businessman Afzal Kahn, of Kahn Design Ltd. The previous record of £331,000 was held by the "M1" plate.

The number plate, which has been for sale for three years, was first registered in 1904 when it belonged to the county surveyor of Essex. It has remained in the possession of the county council ever since. Lord Hanningfield, the current leader of the authority, said: "It will be with some sadness that we will be losing this little piece of Essex history but we have sold it at a time when such number plates are reaching very high sale prices on the market and we have reached a deal which breaks all previous records."

Mr Kahn said: "I look forward to the F1 number plate being placed on the ground-breaking Range Rover Cosworth that we will be launching in the coming weeks."

A very sticky flatfish

A letter that a young girl in Japan sent into the sky in a balloon some 15 years ago has been found on a fish hauled from 1,000 metres (3,300 feet) below the Pacific. A fisherman found the still legible piece of paper "sitting on a sticky flatfish" in his catch on Thursday, along with a torn-off string and the fragment of a red balloon. He opened the folded paper, discovering it was a handwritten letter from a six-year-old girl at an elementary school in Kawasaki, 150 kilometres (93 miles) away from where the fish was caught off Choshi port.

The sender, Natsumi Shirahige, and her friends released letters as part of events to mark the school's 120th anniversary, which was in 1993. "Our school is 120 years old... If you pick up this letter, please write to me," the letter reads, listing the school's address. The 52-year-old fisherman said the letter was a nice surprise.

"I've been in fishing for a long time but this is unbelievable," the smiling man told the Asahi television network. Shirahige, now a 21-year-old university student, said: "I can't get over the wonder of how the letter survived 15 years. I never expected I'd get a reply this way."

Windy weather - but not here

At the flea market today it was beautiful weather; warm, sunny and only the slightest breeze. And yesterday, while colder and with a bit stronger breeze, was almost equally pleasant and I got out in the garden for the first time this year. Meanwhile, elsewhere - electricity was cut to more than 30,000 homes last night after falling trees damaged power lines across the north of England. Engineers from CE Electric UK worked through the night to restore power to homes across parts of Yorkshire, Northumberland and County Durham. Power lines were brought down as strong winds, some gusting up to 70mph, caused disruption across the region. Staff, who were hampered by many road closures, were now finding it easier to reach remote locations with equipment, the power company said. The high winds blew over at least 10 lorries on the A1 and buildings and roofs were damaged. Leeds Bradford International Airport was also affected by the strong winds, with some planes delayed or diverted by the weather.

Friday, 25 January 2008

Doomsday Vault

LONGYEARBYEN, Norway, Jan. 24 (UPI) -- Seeds from more than 200,000 of the Earth's crops are being stored in an underground Norwegian vault capable of keeping them safe for thousands of years.

The seeds -- drawn from vast seed gene bank collections maintained by the Consultative Group on International Agricultural Research, or CGIAR -- will be shipped to the village of Longyearbyen on Norway's Svalbard archipelago near the Arctic Circle. There they will be taken to the Svalbard Gloval Seed Vault that's been constructed on a mountain deep inside the Arctic permafrost.

Officials said the cornucopia of rice, wheat, beans, sorghum, sweet potatoes, lentils, chick peas and a host of other food, forage and other plants will be a repository of last resort for humanity's agricultural heritage.

The vault is intended to ensure the seeds will be available should a man-made or natural disaster threaten the world's agricultural systems.

According to Geoff Hawtin, acting director-general of The International Center for Tropical Agriculture, "With coming climatic changes, higher food prices, and expanding markets for biofuels, our best available options for progress, if not survival, will be in what we have conserved and studied against all thinkable predictions."

Sunday, 20 January 2008


And still it rains...

Forecasters are urging people to remain vigilant and prepare for possible flooding as they predicted more heavy rain and snow. The advice followed the mildest January night in London ever recorded. On Sunday the Met Office posted early warnings of severe weather, forecasting heavy rain across the north of England and Scotland. It warned that flooding is likely in areas that are already saturated. There are currently 44 flood warnings and 129 flood watches in force.

Lewis Hamilton contract

Lewis Hamilton has signed a new five-year contract with McLaren.
The deal for Hamilton, 23, who enjoyed a stunning debut year in Formula One last year, runs through until 2012.
Hamilton was pipped to the F1 title in the last race of a season that was marred by his frosty relationship with former team-mate Fernando Alonso.
The British driver led the drivers' championship for much of the season before ultimately finishing second to Ferrari's Kimi Raikkonen.

Ferry study of jellyfish 'threat'

Scientists have posted jellyfish spotters on Irish Sea ferries to study a breed with a painful sting which could swarm along the Welsh coastline. Swansea University marine biologist Dr Jon Houghton has been given £50,000 to find out how many mauve stingers there are between Wales and Ireland. The small purple jellyfish recently wiped out £1m worth of salmon at fish farms in Northern Ireland.

Known as Pelagia noctiluca, they have a wasp-like sting and glow in the dark. Swarms of the jellyfish, which vary in size from a 10p piece to the size of a clenched fist, have affected Mediterranean beaches. They are small enough to drift through the mesh of salmon cages and in November 2007 billions in a layer 35ft (10.7m) deep and covering 10 square miles of water wiped out 120,000 salmon in a fish farm in Glenarm Bay, Antrim. This was the first major infestation of the mauve stingers affecting British waters and scientists suspect that global warming is probably the principle cause.

The Natural Environment Research Council has given Dr Houghton the emergency grant because there are fears more blooms of the jellyfish around British waters could be problematic, particularly in the summer months. Researchers began going out on ferries leaving from Fishguard, Holyhead, Larne, Rosslare and other ports around four weeks ago. "The trouble is that we know so little about these jellyfish," said Dr Houghton. "Until recently, they were viewed as bags of water that had little or no impact on our ecosystem. Now we need to learn, very quickly, about their behaviour and about their breeding patterns in our waters. We need to get some basic data about numbers, and the easiest and quickest way to do that is simply to send researchers out on the ferries. For the past few weeks, they have been standing on deck looking at the sea and counting jellyfish. That is how we are getting a baseline figure for their numbers."

Saturday, 19 January 2008


Thursday 17th January 2008

Heathrow Airport... Damn, missed the runway!

Thursday, 17 January 2008

English As You've Never Seen It Before

A "visual dictionary" showing what the English language looks like on the web has been created by boffins in the US.

Part of the map by Antonio Torralba, Rob Fergus and William T. Freeman . Although it may look like a piece of impressionist art, the mind-bogglingly detailed map actually shows all 53,463 nouns in English. Each word is represented by a coloured square, created from pictures generated using Google Images and other search engines.

The dictionary's inventors at the prestigious Massachusetts Institute of Technology collected nearly 80 million pictures in total - an average of 140 for each noun. They then ran a computer programme to find the "dominant visual characteristics" of each word. Each square corresponds to a word"For some, the average turns out to be a recognisable image; for others the average is a coloured blob,"
The above extracts are from an article by Hazel Tydesley on Sky News website.

I aimed for where I thought the letter G might be in th dictionary and came up with this - presumably "Fungi". If you fancy having a play with it yourself it can be found at

Wednesday, 16 January 2008


Engineering techniques have shown an unusual British dinosaur Baryonyx walkeri fed on fish, despite it looking like a meat-eater. The dinosaur's skull bent and stretched in the same way as the skull of today's fish-eating crocodiles, even though it had clear differences in structure.

The early Cretaceous dinosaur was found in Surrey and lived at a time when the area was warmer and had lagoons. The research is published in the Journal of Vertebrate Palaeontology.


Aberdulais Falls
It's raining again. Fortunately we are in an area that doesn't flood but elsewhere, especially around South Wales, Evesham and the Midlands it is getting almost as bad as last year...

White-crowned Sparrow

The village of Cley in Norfolk is currently playing host to a White-crowned Sparrow - only the fifth bird of this species to visit the British Isles. This North American bird arrived about 4th January in the garden of Sue and Richard Bending and so far well over a thousand twitchers have stood outside the garden gate to watch it.

The previously recorded sightings have been twice in 1977, at Fair Isle off Scotland and Hornsea Mere in North Yorkshire; once in 1995 at Seaforth on Merseyside; and once in 2003 in Cork.

Monday, 14 January 2008

Sat-nav no use here...

This is one of the first anti-sat-nav signs in the UK. Vale of Glamorgan Council in South Wales is the first in the UK to use road signs warning drivers not to believe sat-nav advice after once peaceful villages like St Hilary were reduced to bedlam when heavy-goods lorries got stuck in tiny country lanes.

I wonder if they will put a "Sat-nav doesn't work here" sign in Sheepy Magna in Leicestershire. Yes, there really is such a place and through it runs the appropriately named River Sense (seen in flood above). It was down this river, swollen by rains, a London woman in her twenties drove her £96,000 Mercedes sports car to its death (but fortunately not hers) when led astray by her sat-nav after a party. The Mercedes SL500 was swept 600 yards downstream, bouncing from one bank of the river to another before coming to rest. In the process of relying on her sat-nav the driver ignored an ‘Unsuitable for motor vehicles’ road sign so perhaps it would be a waste putting up an 'Unsuitable for sat-nav sign' after all... Perhaps a better alternative would be for all roads in the UK to have a 'Use common sense here' sign!

Sunday, 13 January 2008

10 things we didn't know last week.

1. Liverpool is not Europe's only capital of culture this year. (Stavanger, Norway’s oil boom town, built largely of wood, is the other.)

2. The UK has only one polar bear, at Edinburgh Zoo. Its name is Mercedes.

3. Window cleaners who work on very tall buildings are trained to lie flat if their platform comes loose - a tactic which appears to have saved the life of Alcides Moreno, who tumbled some 500ft (150m) to the ground in New York.

4. At school, Sir Edmund Hillary was in a gym group for those lacking co-ordination.

5. Siblings who are separated when adopted may be naturally attracted to each other in later life.

6. Etiquette dictates that at dinner parties, a man should always talk to the woman on his left during the first course, and right during the main course.

7. One in three British adults is on a permanent diet.

8. Octopi need mental stimulation.

9. Circumcision does not reduce sexual satisfaction.

10. Half of men aged 16-24 haven't read a single book in the past 12 months.

Capital of what?

It is ironic that while Liverpool was doing its capital of culture celebrations the two other Merseyside headlines on the BBC News website were of a man being critically ill in hospital following a stabbing Walton and two people from Norris Green refusing to co-operate with the police after being shot in Norris Green. Plus ca change...

Paddle your own kayak...

13th Jan - Two Australians have become the first people to paddle to New Zealand across the Tasman Sea in a kayak.
The 62-day, 3,300km (2,050-mile) journey from New South Wales was half as long again as they had planned. Strong winds and tides meant James Castrission, 25, and Justin Jones, 25, were swept in huge circles, and had to abandon hopes of reaching Auckland. Instead, they landed at New Plymouth in the west of New Zealand, greeted by a fleet of Maori canoes and a beer each.
Castrission and Jones paid tribute to another Australian kayaker, Andrew McAuley, 39, who disappeared while attempting the same crossing solo last February. His kayak was later found, but his body was never recovered; his camera showed that he had come within sight of New Zealand before he vanished.

Ferrari unveil 2008 car

Ferrari have unveiled their 2008 car while at the same time saying that it will look nothing like this when the season gets underway on March 16th in Melbourne. Duh!

Meanwhile, last Monday, McLaren drivers Kovalainen and Hamilton were there for the launch of the new MP4-23. McLaren also stated “The car will undergo significant aero changes before Melbourne.” No doubt sponsorship deals will also affect the logos so in other words we haven’t a clue what the cars are going to look like but I still enjoyed the excuse to show some F1 photos....

Bank overdraft fees

The OFT and the banks have asked the High Court for a ruling
A High Court test case starts on Monday that could bring a fundamental change to High Street banking in the UK.
The outcome may decide the level of charges that banks are able to levy on millions of customers who go overdrawn without permission every year. The Office of Fair Trading (OFT) will challenge seven leading banks and the Nationwide building society. The regulator claims the banks' overdraft charges are unfair, but the banks say they are entirely legal. "We have always believed that what we are doing is correct and legal," said a spokeswoman for the British Bankers' Association (BBA). "We are confident and think the hearing is an important opportunity to bring some clarity to the legal position," she added.

Their charges may be legal, I wouldn’t know, but “correct” – you have to be joking if you are using that in the sense of “in accord with accepted standards of usage or procedure”. I don’t know anyone who finds them acceptable!

Warning on Windows virus

And a different sort of virus...

Security experts are warning about a stealthy Windows virus that steals login details for online bank accounts. In the last month, the malicious program has racked up about 5,000 victims - most of whom are in Europe.

Many are falling victim via booby-trapped websites that use vulnerabilities in Microsoft's browser to install the attack code. Experts say the virus is dangerous because it buries itself deep inside Windows to avoid detection.

Vomiting bug 'hits three million'

You'll be pleased to know there is no illustration with this post!

Almost three million people have been affected by the norovirus stomach bug so far this winter, figures suggest. Norovirus causes sudden vomiting and diarrhoea. Surveillance from the Health Protection Agency shows cases in England and Wales are double those seen last year.

Doctors advise people to stay at home for 48 hours after symptoms have gone to cut the risk of the bug spreading. The HPA said the norovirus season began unusually early. For every one of the 1,922 reported cases, it is estimated another 1,500 have been unreported. These cases will have been in people who did not visit the doctor (like Jo and Richard though the latter’s New Year’s Day effort may have had more to do with New Year’s Eve!).

This equates to around 2.8 million people affected so far this winter and the virus is still circulating.

Florida pile-up

From one collision to another - A 50-vehicle pile up in central Florida, USA, forced the closure of a 15-mile (24km) stretch of motorway.

Huge gas cloud will hit Milky Way

A giant cloud of hydrogen gas is racing towards a collision with the Milky Way, astronomers have announced. Smith's Cloud, as it is known, may set off spectacular fireworks when it smacks into our galaxy. It contains enough hydrogen to make a million stars like the Sun, say experts, and its leading edge is already hitting gas from our galaxy. But I wouldn’t worry too much about it – it will be 20-40 million years for the collision happens.
When it does hit, the cloud could indeed set off a new burst of star formation in the Milky Way. Details of the work, by a team at the US National Radio Astronomy Observatory and the University of Wisconsin-Whitewater, were unveiled at the 211th meeting of the American Astronomical Society in Austin, Texas.


A rare creature, persecuted and hunted to near-extinction in its native Madagascar, has been born born at Bristol Zoo. Two-month-old Raz is only the second aye aye to be born in Britain. The tiny mammal fits in the palm of his keeper's hand but will grow to be the world's biggest nocturnal primate. The aye aye is a type of lemur that looks like a cross between a mouse and bat and its unusual appearance has led local people in some regions to believe they are ill omens and kill them on sight. Four keepers are hand-rearing Raz by giving him two-hourly feeds round the clock.

His name is short for Razafindranriatsimaniry - a Malagasy name meaning "son of a Prince or noble man who envies nobody".

One of his keepers, Caroline Brown, said: "We made the decision to hand rear this infant in advance of his birth because his mother has not had much success rearing her babies." The picture above is of his brother Kintana who put in an appearance in April 2005 and was only the second ever Aye Aye bred in captivity.

The Antarctic Run

A historic flight between Australia and the Antarctic touched down on a newly built ice runway, launching the first regular air link between the continents.

14 year old derails trams in Lodz

A boy of 14 has been arrested in Poland for hacking into Lodz transport system and severely disrupting the city's tram network. Adam Dabrowski, described by teachers as an electronics genius, caused the derailment of four trams which injured many passengers on board. With a device he made using a TV remote control, Dabrowski changed the track points. Police say he had targeted "the best junctions to move trams around and what signals to change." The police spokesman added: "He treated it like any other schoolboy might a giant train set – but it was lucky nobody was killed."

Saturday, 12 January 2008

Liverpool, European Capital of Culture


Liverpool has made a spectacular start to its year as European Capital of Culture. On Friday 11th January around 40,000 people gathered on St George's Plateau for the People's Opening of 2008, which featured a cast of hundreds, including ex-Beatle Ringo Starr alongside up-and-coming Liverpool band The Wombats.

On Saturday, January 12, Liverpool - The Musical will be staged at the new Echo Arena Liverpool, Kings Dock.

Integrating live performance and film in a radical new way and vertically stacking performers seven stories into the air, the show features a once-in-a-lifetime cast including: Vasily Petrenko and the Royal Liverpool Philharmonic Orchestra in collaboration with; No Fakin DJs, Ringo Starr, Echo and The Bunnymen, The Farm, Riuven, The Wombats, Pete Wylie, Dave Stewart and the people of the city.

This live indoor production also includes:

A cast of 700, including 100 school children
Age range of performers from 6 - 78
200 moving lights
Four km of cable
600m of trussing
Event personnel of 120 who have put in 15,000 man hours to create and build the show
Choirs include: Sense of Sound, Formby High Midnight Voices, Sound Central Community Singers, Liverpool Philharmonic Gospel Choir, One Voice Community choir, 1 heart 1, ACCORD community gospel choir, Liverpool Welsh Choral
90 minutes of film, edited from 480 minutes of footage
Running time: 100 minutes.

What I want to know is what you do with 600 metres of truss!

2008: 'Dirtiest Presidential Campaign in History'

Before the First Vote Is Cast, Some Political Experts Say the 2008 Campaign Is Already Showing Its Ugly Side
Iowa Democrats received a new round of anonymous phone calls this week, under the guise of opinion poll research, slamming former Sen. John Edwards and Sen. Barack Obama, in the latest display of the ugly side of this year's presidential campaign. Shari Baeth, a schoolteacher in Des Moines, Iowa, caught one dirty campaign trick -- what's called a push poll -- on tape. Push-poll phone calls are made by anonymous callers who push negative information on voters under the guise of opinion polls.

Even before the first vote is cast, 2008 is being called "one of the dirtiest campaigns in American history" by a political science professor who is tracking campaign dirty tricks and opposition research attacks on rival candidates.

Lynne Brindley OBE, Chief Executive of the British Library

Lynne Brindley, Chief Executive of the British Library, has been made a Dame of the British Empire in the New Year Honours. She receives the honour for services to education, having led the British Library since July 2000.

Lynne Brindley said, “I am truly delighted to receive this recognition. It is, of course, a great personal honour but it is also a tribute to my many talented colleagues at the British Library and in the library and information profession.

“It is particularly pleasing that the citation is for services for education: in a world that is ever more focused on information, expanding access to knowledge – in schools, universities, and through lifelong learning – is vital to all our futures.”

Lynne Brindley has been the Chief Executive of the British Library since July 2000. She is the first woman and the first information professional to have held the post. The BL reaches out to a wide public, increasingly through its digital services.
Lynne came to the British Library from the University of Leeds where she was Pro-Vice-Chancellor. Previously she was a senior consultant with KPMG and has held leadership positions in information technology and knowledge management at Aston University and at the London School of Economics. Lynne is active in high level international, European and national bodies concerned with media and information society initiatives, digital infrastructure and libraries, and cultural and public sector leadership. She is a visiting professor at City and Leeds universities. She has received a number of honorary degrees, including from the universities of Oxford, Leeds, Sheffield and University College London. She is a Companion of the Institute of Management and has recently been elected to the Court of the Goldsmiths' Company.

She enjoys music and is a competent pianist and enjoys buying modern art, particularly abstract landscapes and ceramics with Cornish influences; she likes to walk in the Yorkshire Dales and on the Cornish coastal footpath.

Nanowire battery can hold 10 times the charge of existing lithium-ion battery

Stanford Universityresearchers have found a way to use silicon nanowires to reinvent the rechargeable lithium-ion batteries that power laptops, iPods, video cameras, cell phones, and countless other devices.

The new technology, developed through research led by Yi Cui, assistant professor of materials science and engineering, produces 10 times the amount of electricity of existing lithium-ion, known as Li-ion, batteries. A laptop that now runs on battery for two hours could operate for 20 hours, a boon to ocean-hopping business travelers.

"It's not a small improvement," Cui said. "It's a revolutionary development."

The breakthrough is described in a paper, "High-performance lithium battery anodes using silicon nanowires," published online Dec. 16 in Nature Nanotechnology, written by Cui, his graduate chemistry student Candace Chan and five others.

The greatly expanded storage capacity could make Li-ion batteries attractive to electric car manufacturers. Cui suggested that they could also be used in homes or offices to store electricity generated by rooftop solar panels.

Cui said that a patent application has been filed. He is considering formation of a company or an agreement with a battery manufacturer. Manufacturing the nanowire batteries would require "one or two different steps, but the process can certainly be scaled up," he added. "It's a well understood process."

Friday, 11 January 2008