Archive for the ‘Odds and sods’ Category

Mt Etna

November 4, 2013


A couple of weeks ago I saw a volcano erupt for the first time. A lifetime ambition achieved- and it wasn’t even the best thing about last month…


Lighting up the Dark Ages

January 24, 2013

First there’s this BBC piece, which is basically a summary of a series of papers published over the last few months describing unusual isotopes in tree rings and ice cores from the 8th century, attributable to some kind of external high energy radiation ‘event’. Perhaps a supernova, a solar superflare, or— as per the most recent paper, which is the focus of the BBC piece— a gamma ray burst.

Too intriguing to just leave there. What’s pleasantly surprising is that it’s relatively easy to follow the the back-and-forth in the academic literature— even with the frustrating Nature paywalls, and without understanding much of the detailed science.


Homo economicus, the pirates’ code, and the squeezed middle

April 3, 2012

…the code is more what you’d call “guidelines” than actual rules.

Captain Hector Barbarossa, in Pirates of the Caribbean

A brief foray into economics, prompted by a recent ‘big idea’ article in New Scientist magazine. (more…)

I can’t predict a riot (with pictures)

August 9, 2011

Supposed to be at work now. But my place of work has closed for the afternoon, because of riots or somesuch. I turned up and the health centre doors were firmly barred, the car park empty. I’m not sure this sends out a good signal.

Anyway, I thought I’d nip out for some bread and milk. But the local cornershop is closed up. There are police and PCSOs everywhere. The supermarket was open but here is the bread aisle:


Vulnerability to natural hazards, and other linky stuff

May 17, 2011
More links/placeholders.

Economist reports Fukushima post mortem

May 6, 2011

See here.

The fact that Japan organised a prompt evacuation, provided iodine pills and kept radioactive material out of the food chain means that experts expect Fukushima to have a negligible public-health effect, at least in terms of radiation (stress, fear and being removed from one’s home are forms of harm less easily measured). Less widely acknowledged is how well safety procedures for the staff in the plant appear to have worked. According to Mr Masui, not a single worker at the Fukushima Dai-ichi plant received a radiation dose of more than 250 milliSieverts, the raised limit for emergency responders set by government dispensation. That is five times the maximum annual dose for a nuclear worker, but it is well short of what is seen as a serious health risk. Given the circumstances—the lack of instrumentation, the explosions, the power outage, the psychological pressure, the possibility of bereavement and so on—the disciplined behaviour needed to avoid really bad exposures has been impressive. There is undoubtedly a lot wrong with the culture of Japan’s nuclear establishment, and various plants have had well-chronicled safety lapses. In this particular case, though, at least one part of the safety culture of the sorely tried workers seems to have held up remarkably.

Reflections on the Human Lake

April 17, 2011

Belated response to, and placefinder for, Carl Zimmer’s great article The Human Lake.

As the first commenter wrote: “excellent on so many axes”. Does what all science writing should do, regardless of the audience or context— communicates difficult concepts fluently, in this case making convincing connections between very different branches of biology.

And it managed something extra for me, when it took an entirely unexpected turn half way through. The piece first looks at some early history from the science of ecology, when a limnologist working in the 1930s named G Evelyn Hutchinson used a small glacial lake in Connecticut to further develop the pre-existing concept of the ‘ecological niche’.

So far so good.

Christchurch and Japan earthquake visualizations

April 8, 2011

Amazing stuff.

The Volcanic Explosivity Index (VEI)– and some general thoughts about indices

November 20, 2010

I like a good index.

VEI 3 (Mt Cleveland, Alaska 2006 as seen from ISS)

Here’s one:

Icelandic volcanoes, poppies, visualising science

November 11, 2010

The title says it all. More random ruminations and recent links.

Great blog on Icelandic volcanoes and earthquakes— where I’ll go to check on Katla in future months.

Poppies– why are they used to commemorate Armistice Day, as opposed to any other flower?

Most people know that it was because poppies grew in profusion on many World War 1 battlefields, as popularised by Canadian doctor, soldier and poet, John McCrae:

In Flanders Fields

In Flanders fields the poppies blow
Between the crosses, row on row,
That mark our place; and in the sky
The larks, still bravely singing, fly
Scarce heard amid the guns below.
We are the Dead. Short days ago
We lived, felt dawn, saw sunset glow,
Loved and were loved, and now we lie,
In Flanders fields.

Take up our quarrel with the foe:
To you from failing hands we throw
The torch; be yours to hold it high.
If ye break faith with us who die
We shall not sleep, though poppies grow
In Flanders fields.