Thursday, December 29, 2005

Fags, Blags and Slags

My penchant for low-brow entertainment was given a treat over the past few days. While pre-Christmas browsing on Amazon, I located a double DVD containing both of The Sweeney movies for the bargain price of $14. So I settled down in front of the television with a nice single malt (well several, actually) and transported myself back 30 years to the era of flared trousers, kipper ties and autmotive icons like the Austin Princess (which makes the AMC Pacer look like a Rolls Royce). Now for those of you not resident in the UK or simply too young, The Sweeney was a wonderful TV cop series that really changed the shape of the genre. Its two lead characters "Regan" and "Carter" were played by the late great John Thaw and Dennis Waterman respectively (curious that the these characters' names were of American Presidents but as neither were elected before the start of the series this has to be a coincidence). The hallmark of this wildly popular programme as well as the two spin-out movies was a gritty realism that was carried by a gloriously pithy script by Troy Kennedy-Martin (yes he of the original Italian Job) -all fags, slags, blags and shags. For the time the violence, bad language and sexual content was quite shocking. American offerings of the period such as Starsky and Hutch couldn't come close. Unfortunately political correcteness has ensured that we'll never see the like of this material again. Oh, well...

Postscript. On re-reading this post I thought I'd add a glossary of some English slang words found in The Sweeney to aid comprehension by non-British readers. So from the Mad Dog Dictionary I offer the following definitions:
Fag = Cigarette.
Blag = Armed robbery.
Slag = Low class individual of either sex, likely to be a criminal.
Shag = Oh come on, you've all seen Austin Powers by now!

Wednesday, December 28, 2005

Final SETI

Final Seti
Somehow this seems a bit sad but the original Search for Extra-Terrestrial Intelligence (SETI) project ceased to give out work units just before Christmas. This little screen saver had been chugging away on all the computers I owned or had influence over since August 1999 looking for signs of space aliens. It was the first time I has come across distributed computing and back then seemed like a great project for the New Millenium. I don't think I found ET although several IT helpdesk people seemed to find the churning multi-colour graphs visually annoying and technically(from the standpoint of my computer) quite dubious. Personally I liked the graphics and miss the perpetually ongoing calculations. Now I'm not sure what I'm going to do for a screensaver. I'm not going to install the Son-of-SETI, otherwise known as BOINC as it looks very prosaic and appears to be a mish-mash of worthy but dull projects that don't inspire. And in any case I don't feel inclined to help in the rational design of a blockbuster drug without the promise of a share in the royalties!

If anybody has any suggestions for an interesting replacement screensaver (and not that wretched aquarium thing) please let me know...

PS Note the name of my account on the SETI screen shows an email address that ceased to be functional in 2001: please don't write to me there!

Monday, December 26, 2005

Boxing Day

Christmas cake

Boxing Day is the time to break out the fruit cake (as if I needed any more food). This one I baked myself. I use my Mother's recipe. It's quite foolproof and the cake is invariably delicious although has the density of a black hole -you know, super dense matter collapsed around its own weight. Yum! Tomorrow I'd better get back to the gym...

Sunday, December 25, 2005

Season's Greetings

Chez Mad Dog
Photo of Mad Dog's kennels, Bellevue, Washington

Merry Christmas to All!

Saturday, December 24, 2005

There is no Sanity Clause

There is no sanity clause
Oh goodness, tis the night before Christmas and I've finally got time to blog. I'm really sorry everbody but the pre-holiday period has been very stressful and work has been relentless so there's been little time for writing. Still deadlines have been met, the house has been decorated, presents have been bought and wrapped and I'm finally in a position to sit down with a glass of wine and relax a bit. Indeed I'm feeling quite festive. Handel's Messiah is being give its annual airing and the house if full of cooking smells. All very pleasant and soothing after a rather bruisng year. Even the cats seem more jolly than usual. So in the true holiday spirit I've hung out my stocking in the hope that Santa might drop something in it. I gather from the best brains in the country (indeed rocket scientists) at NORAD that he's been sighted nearby...

Friday, December 09, 2005

Routemaster Buses

Routemaster bus

Unfortunately this is another obituary. Britons everywhere are mourning the passing of the iconic doubledecker Routemaster bus which is being superseded by much more practical but quite charmless and decidely foreign-looking articulated things. That's progress I suppose. I'd no idea there were so many bus anoraks, though.

World Cup 2006

world cup 2006

First Round Draw Results
Trinidad & Tobago

Well, no Group of Death here! This must be the easiest first round for decades. Will Sven's boys proceed beyond this? (I hope so but am not very convinced; recent performances seem to be lacking). But things could be much worse and I'm remaining optimistic...

Thursday, December 01, 2005

The Smell of Victory


Well I'm hugely relieved to know that Dubya and cronies now have a plan for victory in Iraq although it might have been better to have formulated it three years ago!

Monday, November 28, 2005


Thanks to some silliness at the The Disgruntled Chemist, I now know that rearranging the letters of "George Bush" gives "He bugs Gore", "Madonna Louise Ciccone" gives "Occasional nude income" and "William Shakespeare", "I am a weakish speller"??!

This new found knowledge comes from a devilishly clever anagram generator that can be found here. I've wasted too much time playing with this bloody thing today but some of the results are quite hilarious. Here are some topical examples:

George Best = "Go get beers"
Tony Blair = "Tory in Lab"
Saddam Hussein = "UN's said he's mad"
Margaret Thatcher = "That great charmer"
David Beckham = "BV dickhead am"
Sarah Beeny = "Hen by areas"
Kirstie Allsopp = "Praise top skill"
Gary Glitter = "Try get a girl" (Over the age of consent, preferably)
Mad Dogs and Englishmen = "Handsome meddling nags"

Let me know any other interesting revelations...

PS I've got to add this one: Weapons of Mass Destruction = "US team swoops. Finds no trace!"

Sunday, November 27, 2005

More Passings

Richard Burns
Richard Burns 1971-2005

While I, along with legions of others, mourn the passing of footballer George Best and actor Pat Morita (whose script line "...wax on, wax off..." has become part of cinematographic mythology) we must not forget Richard Burns. Richard, who won the World Rally Championship in 2001, died on Saturday at the tragically young age of 34 after battling a brain tumour for more than a year.

Wednesday, November 23, 2005

Political Commentary

This little slide show is just hilarious, unless of course you are a Republican without a sense of humor...

Nod to The Disgruntled Chemist.

Tuesday, November 22, 2005

News Roundup

Gary Glitter

Do You Want to be in My Gang? (No, don't touch me you old perv)
So the egregious Paul Gadd, aka Gary Glitter, has been detained by the authorities in Viet Nam for having sex with a 12 year old girl. This after he fled the UK and then got run out of Cambodia for the same reason. I understand that in Viet Nam child rape has a maximum sentence of death by firing squad. I have no sympathies; he should have been shot for that awful "Rock 'n Roll Part 2" years ago...

Travellers' Advisory
When flying, watch out for chemically compromised, nicotine craving foreigners who may not be aware of the realities of air travel. A cursory search reveals that this kind of thing is not uncommon and indeed something similar happened locally quite recently. Bugger! Now there's another thing to worry about when flying other than the lack of food and deep vein thrombosis.

Beware Bioterrorists
The head of Interpol, Ron Noble, announced recently that it's only a matter of time before mean spirited individuals unleash the horrors of a bioterrorist attack on us. Actually he's been banging this drum for some time (lazy hack/recycled story alert). He's even warning about "suicide bio-weapons". Look Ron, I hope you don't prove me wrong but the concept of a person, deliberately infected with a virulent pathogen such as Ebola, running around in a viremic state long enough to infect large numbers of the public is improbable. Biological weapons have never been very effective in human populations. Americans in particular should be much more scared of a lack of health insurance.

Microsoft Malignancy
Stories of the new Microsoft xBox360, released today, seem to dominate the offside front lead in just about every newspaper and on the planet. Public reaction has been to form serpentine queues of epic lengths with punters willing to put down as much as $600 to ensure ownership of one of these devices. Look everybody, let's get this in perspective. The richest corporation on the planet has run a marketing campaign of unparalleled brilliance to make us believe that without one of these machines our lives will have no meaning. And the press have bought the whole thing, hook, line and sinker and are now running stories on how there may be a shortage. Oh dear, what a tragedy. The xBox is just a toy and there are shortages of real things like clean water. What's that you say? Oh yes, disaster fatigue...!

Tuesday, November 15, 2005

In Vino Veritas

Mad Dog

Now that's more like it!

Ever sane feline (Crotchet) is not impressed by the concept...

Monday, November 14, 2005

Soundfiles: Can Anybody Help...?

I've been trying to put links to some MP3 soundfiles for the last couple of days without any success. I'm not sure if the hosting ISP I've been using ( is being difficult or whether I'm just not getting it. I'd prefer to stay with a free service if possible. If anyone has any bright ideas please let me know -all constructive suggestions will be gratefully received.

Update: I've been fiddling a bit more and the problem is frankly driving me to distraction. There appear to be a host of issues including file format, Mac-PC incompatibilities and code idiosyncracies. Or maybe I'm just incompetent. Comments on a postcard please

Friday, November 11, 2005

Too Old to Rock 'n Roll, Too Young to Die

Ian Anderson

My all time rock heroes, Jethro Tull, were in Seattle the other night and for the nth time since 1968 when I first encountered the then fledging band at the UK's National Jazz and Blues Festival, I trotted off to see them. Ian Anderson and the boys were in fine form playing a mix of (mostly) old and new material, much to the delight of the crowd (I had no idea that many hippy types were still around). Most of the band are now 60ish and are certainly not too old to rock and roll as they so ably demonstrated -may they go on for ever! Here's one of my favourite songs.

Woops! Sorry everybody, I've completely bungled this link to a sound file. I'm not sure what I've done wrong so bear with me while I do some troubleshooting. And there I was thinking I was a clever bugger...!

Sunday, November 06, 2005

Bird Flu

Bird Flu

It seems that everyone in the media and blogsphere (I hate that word) has become an armchair virologist, so to save boring you all to death I'm saying nothing more on the topic...

Wednesday, November 02, 2005

On the Road Again

It seems that I've spent most of this year at work either writing grants or reviewing them. Now I'm off to Washington DC for the rest of the week to do the latter. These sessions are quite intense and my diet on these days seems to comprise mostly danish pastries and coffee (note to NIH; you have some of the best nutritional scientists in the world so how about heeding their advice and laying on better victuals -this sugar and caffeine diet has most of us buzzing around the room with advanced ADD after an hour or two). Next week I'll be hitting the gym. I doubt I'll be able to post until the weekend so bear with me.

So while I'm on the topic, I've updated the "Science and Scientists" links sections with a few additions. I've no time to do so just now but I'll try to say a few words of introduction about the newcomers very soon.

So while I'm away please talk among yourselves or check out the latest JibJab animation. Brilliant!

Tuesday, November 01, 2005

10,000th Visitor!

10,000th visitor

Congratulations to the individual above from the UK. You are the 10,000th visitor to site since I went public back in February. By the look of your search terms "Oliver Tiger Model Engine" you are a model airplane enthusiast. Possibly a sad bastard but not as sad as those on the perpetual Sarah Beeny/Kirstie Allsopp quest (oh, how they still flock here). If you ever come to Seattle, I'd be happy to buy you a pint of ether/castor oil/ amyl nitrate. Oh, and you can find a picture of my Oliver Tiger here.

Sunday, October 30, 2005

The Seven Ages of Man

Well maybe not quite the seven ages of man in the Shakespearean sense but a commentary on how we change during four years of undergraduate study. My inspiration for this post comes from Dawn over at Webmiztris who published a delightful series of pictures of her own evolution through grade school years. Sadly I don't have such a complete set. But I was rummaging in a box of snaps of my student days wondering how it could possibly be 35 years since I started out as a student at University of Wales in Cardiff. Well I can't explain that but here for your amusement is a pictorial record of my “development” through those heady days…
October 1970

October 1970. Freshman. Picture from Student Union ID card. Long hair, cluelessly styled. Awful glasses. No confidence.
October 1971

October 1971. Picture from SU card or similar. Better haircut (I’d found a barber who could do layering). Still got the awful glasses though somehow confidence growing. Cool leather jacket that got stolen from the SU cloakroom.
October 1972

October 1972. Another SU card photo. Big improvement. Now looking like I’d got a clue. I still have those trendy gold octagonal glasses somewhere. Hair is noticeably bleached by spending six weeks baking myself in Greece. I’m still terrified I’ll develop melanoma from those days.
October 1973

October 1973. Getting serious for the dreaded final year and hitting the books big time (mostly to compensate for behaving like a reprobate in the previous three years). Precision haircut with artfully sculpted facial hair. Fitted puke green shirt; I seem to remember I wore a lot of brown back then…
Graduation 1974

Graduation, 1974. Somehow proud owner of a very respectable degree in microbiology. I should have kept that tie as that style seems to be back in fashion. Don’t know about the brown suit though.

Saturday, October 29, 2005

Citroen 2CV


I haven’t posted on the “Vehicles I have Known and Loved” series for awhile. So here’s one for the memoirs. A Citroën 2CV, circa 1959/1960. I bought this little car in 1969 for £100 and borrowed most of the money from my parents. I’d finished my studies at Guildford Tech and was taking, what is now know in the UK as a “Gap Year” prior to going to University of Wales as an undergraduate. During this time I worked as a lab technician for the pharmaceutical company, Eli Lilly, and a commute was involved from the parental home. Back in 1969, Citroëns were rarely seen outside of France and having a left hand drive car in the UK was seen as eccentric, to say the least. But I loved this little two cylinder beast. It was very spartan but had some wonderful features. The canvas roof would roll all the way back and al fresco motoring was great fun. Furthermore the backseats could be lifted out and used for picnics and beach trips. The windscreen wipers operated from a drive on the speedometer cable so the faster I went the quicker they moved however when I stopped at a light they would also come to a halt and in heavy rain this would reduce my visibility to about a foot in front of the car. There was no gas gauge, just a 4’ long dipstick in the tank that I would examine at petrol station to the great amusement of onlookers. I don't remember any seatbelts.

I ran around in it for a year. It was probably the most fun, reliable, economical and easy to fix car I’ve ever owned. Indeed I once changed a rocker arm by the side of the road with a very minimal toolkit. It wasn’t fast and the body rolled like crazy but it stuck to the road like glue thanks to a suspension that was the work of genius. I repainted it in its Gallic Grey colour for the sum of £6 (the deal was that I would do the rubbing down and masking) and eventually sold it for £150 prior to heading off to University. A nice tidy profit -I don’t think I’ve achieved such a satisfactory conclusion on an automobile sale since…!

Thursday, October 27, 2005

Rallying Update

Bill and John at Ashford
Photo courtesy Chris Brown and MiniWorld.

Slightly disappointing news I'm afraid. Bill Richards and I have decided not to enter the 2006 Monte Carlo Historique rally for a number of reasons. First, I've got a lot of private and professional commitments for the early part of next year and wondering how I was going to fit everything in was becoming very stressful. Second, we hadn't achieved the level of sponsorship necessary to compete at top level. The 2005 event showed us exactly what we need to do to place well. As you might expect there is no real secret to success, but it is essential to do a lot of homework (including a practice run through the route) and a great support team. But all this costs more money than can be covered personally so we need sponsorship. Frankly we didn't get this organised although this was more down to our approach rather than lack of effort. Thus we've decided to wait until the 2007 event but we'll get going on our sponsorship deals early; that is to say almost immediately after the 2006 rally is over. Last weekend Bill and I discussed a revised fundraising strategy in the light of this year's experience and I'll share that with you in another post. So for now PRX 720B is going to remain in his warm lockup, but not for long. Watch this space for more details to follow soon...

Wednesday, October 26, 2005

Atlantic Crossing


It's the fourth anniversary of my third Atlantic Crossing (in the residential sense). A lot of water seems to have swirled under the bridge (or perhaps I should say "around the ocean"?) since then. I hasten to point out that while travelling economy class on United Airlines lacks a certain sense of adventure, the flights are mostly reassuringly dull and those little underseat life jacket thingys that we love to disparage would have been quite welcome to passengers on the Titanic.

Tuesday, October 25, 2005

What a Dick!

What a Dick
"That's about the size of it..."

Today I woke up to the sensational report in the New York Times [you might need to register to read this story] that Dick Cheney was the one that had fingered CIA agent Valerie Plame. And there I was thinking it would be Karl Rove's neck on the block which in itself would be bad enough for Dubya -but for the Vice President to be complicit in a possibly treasonous act is beyond the pale. I have no doubt the White House's Damage Limitation Machine is about to strip its gears on this one. Interesting times...!

Monday, October 17, 2005

California Bound


Phew, I seem to be a on a treadmill these days. Now I'm off to California for a couple of days. Specifically to the architecturally-challenged University of California at Irvine to organize a scientific collaboration. Blogging may be light and the usual caveats about getting smog poisoning apply. Otherwise I'll be back on Wednesday...

PS The latest obsession with Google searchers finding the MD & E site is "Jasmin Harman". I really have no clue about this! Can anyone enlighten me...?

PPS OK I couldn't stand it and did a Google search myself; now I'm enlightened. All this presumably prurient interest is understandable. See here for more details. Indeed it would seem that Ms. Harman is extremely easy on the eye and rather more interesting than either Sarah Beeny or Kirstie Allsopp.

Friday, October 14, 2005

Miscellaneous Musings

Wow, It's been a busy week with no time for proper blogging. Here's a few observations that are neither here not there...

England have qualified for the 2006 football World Cup by beating Poland 1:0. Somehow this news is underwhelming. Why do I get a sense that the infamous old laissez faire attitude has returned to the squad...?

The choice of Harold Pinter for the Nobel Prize for literature was, to me at least, unexpected and deserving. Especially after that odd Austrian woman last year. Pinter manages to make profound statements while being quite hilarious. Definitely one of the 20th century's greatest playwrights...

In a similar vein, hats off to Mohammed Al-Baredi, who along with the International Atomic Energy Commission won the Nobel Peace Prize last week. Dr Al-Baredi stood up to the most mean-spirited bullying from the current US Government by stating repeatedly that there was no evidence of (nuclear) weapons of mass destruction in Iraq and that military intevention was not justified.

The world's news media continues to propogate a culture of fear regarding bird flu. Thosuands of birds in Romania have been slaughtered as a precautionary matter. It would seem birds have more cause to be worried.

My site traffic counter has gone totally berserk this week. Of my last 100 visitors, about 60 were searching for Sarah Beeny,10 for Kirstie Allsopp, 3 for Seetha Hallett and 2 for Jasmin Harman (who?). What's going on? Has a new series The Property Ladder started? UK readers, feedback please.

Sunday, October 09, 2005

Infection Control


Following my post last week (October 5th) the spectre of an epidemic of Avian flu, the disease seems to have remained in the news. Now I'm very suspicious that the news media is happy to amp up this topic it takes our minds off the Iraq quagnmire and and the US and UK governments are of a similar mind. In addition W's macho posturing seems to be overcompensation for the royal screw up he made of managing the Hurricane Katrina disaster not to mention the fact that the economy is going down the tubes, petrol prices are going through the roof, his own party is apalled by his overt self-serving cronyistic behaviour and it looks like Karl Rove is going to be indictated.

But never mind all that for a minute. The point I'm trying to make is that a military solution to a flu pandemic is not going to work. Professor George Annas, Chairman of the Department of Health Law, Bioethics and Human Rights at Boston University School of Public Health, describes why in this superb article in the Boston Globe and reprinted on the Effect Measure site. Take a look; it should be compulsory reading for members of the government at least!

Friday, October 07, 2005

Python vs Alligator


Workwise, I feel a bit like this python who bit off more than he could chew when he swallowed an alligator and EXPLODED!. The Tuesday grant deadlines are looming and I've got piles of work to do beforehand. There won't be much respite until then. I just hope I won't explode...

Wednesday, October 05, 2005

Spanish Flu

Spanish Flu

Normally George W has me worried when he attempts to speak on topics that require anything more than the ability to count to 10 or an understanding of polysyllabic words. His look of dumbfounded cluelessness when confronted by a slightly complex question does not befit the leader of the Free World. But yesterday he positively terrified me. He was talking about the Government's preparations for an epidemic of Spanish flu -a very nasty infection that killed more people in 1918-1919 than the First World War. The thing that worried me was not W's carefully enunciated sentence alluding to the "H5N1 virus" (how long did his handlers take to teach him that tidbit of scientific jargon?) but his overall approach to another domestic disaster. Essentially he wants to use troops to enforce quarantine in infected regions. Now apart from the political ramifications of such an action (states don't like being overruled by the Federal Government) and that such measures are unlikely to be very effective for disease control what really bothers me is how badly he's missed the point. What we need is increased research to develop better anti-viral drugs and vaccines, not cuts in the National Institutes of Health (NIH) budget to give tax breaks to the rich and fight illegal foreign wars! A global pandemic of Spanish/Avian flu is predicted to kill 140 million which could mean 5-7 million deaths in the US alone. George, this is serious! For goodness sake get your priorities right and get a grip.

Tuesday, October 04, 2005

Ronnie Barker

Ronnie Barker

Ronnie Barker OBE

September 29, 1929- October 3, 2005

Comedic genius


Monday, October 03, 2005

George Best

George Best in Manchester United team colours, c1970.
I've read with great sadness that George Best is in intensive care with some kind of infection. I hope he makes a speedy recovery but the signs are not good. Since his liver transplant a few years back, he's reverted to drinking, suffered a humiliating prosecution for driving under the influence and his wife has left him. Overall it's been a sad, undignified and very public descent from superstardom. To non-UK readers, George emerged as a brilliant football (soccer) talent in the 1960s and 70s. He was the first celebrity sportsman in Britain and lived the high-life to the full. But although the media came to be obsessed with stories about his partying and checkered love life, where he really entertained was on the football field. George had masterful ball control and his ability to dribble through massed ranks of defenders was nothing short of breathtaking. He was certainly one of the finest players of his gereration and many pundits consider him to be an equal of Pele.

So, George, get well soon. After all you've got to love a bloke who can say, "...I spent a lot of money on booze, birds and fast cars. The rest I just squandered..." !

Sunday, October 02, 2005

Fame at Last

Mini at Ashford_1
My 1965 Cooper S at the old Ashford railway station. Picture by Chris Brown and courtesy MiniWorld.

SaneScientist's blog contains a weekly feature, The Tuesday Twat, in which he draws attention to the moronic behaviour of certain elements of society. His latest award (September 27, 2005) goes to boy racer types who spend vast amounts of cash on their hopeless cars in an attempt to make them appear sporty (they usually end up with a stereo thet is more powerful than the motor) and then annoy the hell out of the neighbourhood by driving about in a psychopathic manner and making way too much noise in the process. These sad Twats are invariably devotees of MaxPower magazine which appears to be geared primarily towards knobhead antics.

With this in mind I'm slighly sheepish about announcing my lastest publication in the October issue of MiniWorld magazine, which being a serious member of the automotive press, would never encourage boy racer cars. The article is a full feature on the build of my 1965 Morris Mini Cooper S, the rally exploits of which launched publicly this blog back in February. I have to say I'm very pleased with the article. It has been my experience that any kind of media, broadcast or print, can make the subject look extremely silly. But to be fair MW has done an excellent job and the pictures of the car, taken by ace photographer, Chris Brown, are quite superb. Fame at last...!

And will Mad Dog rallying be competing in the 2006 Monte Carlo Historique rally, I hear you ask? Good question indeed -the answer is hanging in the balance and will be the subject of my next post.

Friday, September 30, 2005

Oh Bugger, Now I'm Never Going SCUBA Diving

20000 leagues
A poster for the 1954 Oscar winning, Disney Film, 20000 Leagues Under the Sea

Following this news report in the week, one of my lifetime goals, namely to get SCUBA certified, is very much in doubt. Ever since my childhood, when I watched with rapt attention Kirk Douglas, James Mason et al. do battle with a giant sea squid in Twenty Thousand Leagues Under the Sea, I've been terrified of the idea of such things lurking below the surface of the ocean. I don't much like the idea of box jellyfish that can kill an adult human with a few picogrammes of poison (to non-scientists, that's a very, very, very miniscule quantity) sea snakes and other such slippery, slimy creatures. But the giant sea squid has always been the king of nightmare monsters. Until now I've always taken refuge in the thought that these things didn't really exist and were the stuff of fiction. Well guess what? Not only are they alive and kicking but every bit as aggressive and scary as anything dreamed up by Jules Verne/Walt Disney. Bloody hell, just take a look at this thing:
Photo by T. Kubodera and K. Mori. The squid (Architeuthis) attackes a baited line.

The picture was taken at 2,950 feet (900 meters) beneath Japanese waters near the Antarctic, where scientists attracted it toward cameras on a baited fishing line. Yikes! So I think that's it for SCUBA training. Sharks and such don't bother me, -heck, I did my PhD on them (oh, alright, dogfish are very small sharks) but this Squid is another kettle of, er, fish (sorry!). And before any of you rational pedantic types point out that 900 meters is a very long way beyond SCUBA diving depth, let me say that it doesn't matter. They are down there and they are waiting...


Once again I must apologise for the light blog. unfortunately the lot of today's biopharmaceutical scientist is as much about raising money as it is about doing experiments (or at least supervising them). There is a saying that goes along the lines of " class research requires world class spending..." Too true although I'm inclined to think that generating one's own funding is the only sure way to stay employed in this day and age. So this is why I'm now working day and night to meet two huge grant deadlines due on October 12. Until then it's going to be a bit a of a white knuckle ride and blogging is going to be patchy until then.

Friday, September 23, 2005


Sky Television hits the nail on the head!

As I write Hurricane Rita is about to hit the coastline of Texas and the patched up walls of the New Orleans levee that were breached so catastrophically by Hurricane Katrina two weeks ago have already ruptured. I feel depressed by my powerless as I watch, with morbid fascinatiation, this next disaster unfolding on TV. I'm now resolved to join the Federal Emergency Management Agency as a Citizen Volunteer.

The epic incompetence and cluelessness that we have witnessed in the Country's leadership over the past two weeks is just beyond the pale. But then what can be expected from a President who has to ask his Secretary of State if he can go to the toilet...?



Well Dr Jim has done it again. He quite correctly named this week's bug as Burkholderia pseudomallei. This bacterium, despite its distinctive name, is somewhat off the radar screen of many European and US microbiologists. It is an inhabitant of South East Asia where it lives mostly in the soil. It causes a rather nasty disease called Melioidosis which is tricky to diagnose and treat. More recently it has been designated a "biothreat" pathogen as it can be used relativel easily as a an instrument of bioterrorism. Its cousin, Burkholderia mallei, which causes the disease "Glanders" has been used for this purpose, notably in World War 1. For my sins I'm working a project to develop an improved testing technique for Melioidosis and a vaccine will be the next thing on the list.

So another venti latte goes to Dr. Jim. He seems to have been cleaning up in this area recently so when he eventually comes to collect I'll have to insist, for the sake of his health, that this week's winnings are decaffeinated. Oh and I've got a couple more Spot the Bug candidates up my sleeve. The next one will be really difficult!

I must acknowledge the Sanger Institute for the micrographs which I, er, borrowed.

Sunday, September 18, 2005

Spot-the-Bug Competition 4



Here are some very cool, colour enhanced, micrographs of a rather unusual pathogen. Last year I attended an international conference devoted soley to its study (see previous post). It causes a disease that is less common in the western world. Can anyone guess what it is? Clue: historically it has been used in biological warfare.

Answers on a (Haloscan) postcard, please. The solution will be forthcoming later this week. along with all due acknowldegements for the photos.

Saturday, September 17, 2005

One Year Ago Today

Singapore Sling

Precisely one year ago I was sitting in the world-famous Raffles' bar in Singapore drinking a Singapore Sling -sorry about the poor quality of the photo but it's the best I could do with the silly so-called camera in my phone. The trip was more memorable than the drink which was nothing more than an overpriced, low alcohol, high sugar, synthetic cocktail ladled out to gullible tourists like me. But at least it's another thing checked off my list...

My reason for flying half the way around the world was to attend a conference dedicated to a single disease. As a direct result of this trip I wrote a research grant that was subsequently funded and now pays a good portion of my salary. Thus I have fond memories of this long journey, even though an engine fell off the airplane on the way. I'll elaborate a bit more in my next post and I'll also have a new "Spot the Bug" competition. Bet you can't wait...!

Wednesday, September 14, 2005

A Quick Comment

God Almighty, who dreams up things like this? While I have zero tolerance of rapists, I can't believe such devices will do much to protect women. My view is shared by others, it seems. A nod goes to Transcontatlantic Relations for the subject matter.

A Joke

I try to avoid re-hashing other people's jokes but I couldn't resist this one:

Q. What does George Bush think of Roe vs. Wade?

A. He doesn't care how people get out of New Orleans..!

...pause for cymbal crash...

Two Birthdays

TCD Boxing Team c1944
My father, top left, as an undergraduate in the Trinity College Dublin boxing team, c1945.

Today I acknowledge and celebrate two birthdays.
The first is that of my Father, the late A.W.Morrow: scientist, athlete and gentleman. He would have been 87. Happy Birthday, Dad, I miss you and think of you every day.

jr and jm drinking in the SU c 1972
John Roberts, top left, and self, as undergraduates in the University College Cardiff drinking team, c 1972.

The other birthday is that of my life long friend, John Roberts. By some coincidence, John is also a scientist (turned teacher), athlete (turned sportsman) and gentleman. Hard to believe that it’s been thirty five years since we were first supping beer in the Student Union at Cardiff University. Oh tempus fugit…

Tuesday, September 13, 2005

Season of Mists and Mellow Fruitfulness


It's been a beautiful sunny September day in Seattle. The temperature has hovered around a very agreeable 20 degrees Celsius (that's 68 degrees Fahrenheit to die hard American adherents to Victorian measurement systems) but the air has that edgy coolness indicative of an approaching autumn season. As I drove along Alaskan Way the water of Puget Sound was flat calm and shimmered enticingly, the sky was azure blue and snowcapped Mt. Rainier jumped out of the near distance like a painted theatre backdrop. Unfortunately I didn't have my camera in the car so I've had to settle for filching this one (apologies to the anonymous photographer) which is not as spectacular. Never mind, -you get the idea. And if I carry on in this vein for much longer I'll end up reciting "Ode to Autumn"(it's ok Mr. Keats, I promise I won't...!).

Monday, September 12, 2005



Oh joy, oh frabjous day! The England cricket team have, after a 17 year hiatus, beaten the much vaunted Aussies to reclaim The Ashes. Yipee! Congratulations to Michael Vaughan and his team for an amazing series. Special mention must go to Kevin Pietersen who raised his game to score his first century in Test cricket and thus enable the team to hold off the Australians, draw the game and win the series. Congratulations to all, I was riveted to streamed Radio 5 from the early morning (Seattle is 8 hrs behind the UK). And this on my Birthday too -it doesn't get any better.

Oh, apologies to my non-UK readers. I would try to explain the basics of cricket but past experience has taught me it's a fruitless exercise.

Sunday, September 11, 2005

9/11 Remembered: Cousin Robert

From L-R: Barbara, Robert and Angela Eaton, Me, Laura Eaton (Robert's mum); December 26, 1981.

Sorry, I haven't felt like blogging for the past week. Something to do with the Hurricane Katrina catastrophe. But that's another story and I'll comment on another occasion.

Today I am remembering another awful occurrence that touched me personally. It's four years ago today since my cousin, Robert Eaton, lost his life in the North Tower of the World Trade Center. Unfortunately subsequent world events constitute an even greater tragedy. In any case, Robert, you will not be forgotten.


Friday, September 02, 2005

The Self-Destruct Gene

Nature Cover
This week the prestigious science journal, Nature, published the full sequence of the chimpanzee genome. As it happens the international team of scientists who performed the study was led by a group at my former institution, the University of Washington in Seattle. But I digress. The difference betweeen the ape and human genetic blueprint is quite small although so far the researchers have found no sign of a chimp equivalent of the human self-destruct gene. What's that I hear you ask? Well it's the gene that is found in homo sapiens and appears to be upregulated in times of stress. Its influence has been very much in evidence in the aftermath of the dreadful Hurricane Katrina. For example, when large numbers of individuals are threatened with starvation, exposure and disease what do they do to survive? Why they loot stores not for food and medical supplies but for televisions, beer and guns. There are even stories of aid helicopters being fired on. WTF is that about?

Sometimes I despair of the human condition and think we are doomed...

Tuesday, August 30, 2005

Don’t Want to Play

Olivia's birthday party

I don’t feel like blogging today. Or working, either. I think I’m feeling a bit tired and in need of a holiday. Of late I’ve been writing too many grants and had too much on my plate. Even the usual escapist thoughts of planning the next Monte Carlo rally seem onerous.

I’ll try to post something interesting tomorrow. In the meantime here’s a pic taken at daughter Olivia’s 21st birthday party last week. O is looking great as usual despite that rather dubious top but hell, she’s officially an adult now and can do what she likes (and would waste no time telling me so if I dared suggest otherwise). I’m looking distinctly dissolute (please don’t say drunk -I was driving and being quite abstemious); I’d like to blame the camera, the angle, the lighting etc but I suspect this is my real appearance. Oh, well…!

Sunday, August 28, 2005


Sketch of the Flying Spaghetti Monster Deity by Bobby Henderson

As I said on previous occasions, I mostly keep away from controversial topics on this blog however I can’t resist a post on the following “religious” matter:

Now that George Bush has announced that he thinks Intelligent Design should be taught in schools I’m starting to despair as to where this whole religion thing is going. For those of you not resident in the United States, Intelligent Design is nothing more than creationism in a party frock. However the school boards of some states want Creationism/Intelligent Design taught alongside Christianity in their comparative religion classes and dismiss evolution as ‘just a theory’. It comes with no surprise that Kansas is leading the charge. Now as a scientist I have to raise my hand and point out that evolution is not a theory but a pragmatically verifiable fact. I’m also tempted to point out that if Intelligent Design is behind the construction of the Universe why did we end up with the Kansas School Board?

Having said all this I’m reprinting the letter below from Bobby Henderson making a case for representation of the Church of the Flying Spaghetti Monster that seems just as valid as Intelligent Design.


I am writing you with much concern after having read of your hearing to decide whether the alternative theory of Intelligent Design to be taught along with the theory of Evolution. I think we can all agree that it is important for students to hear multiple viewpoints so they can choose for themselves the theory that makes the most sense to them. I am concerned, however, that students will only hear one theory of Intelligent Design.

Let us remember that there are multiple theories of Intelligent Design. I and many others around the world are of the strong belief that the universe was created by a Flying Spaghetti Monster. It was He who created all that we see and all that we feel. We feel strongly that the overwhelming scientific evidence pointing towards evolutionary processes is nothing but a coincidence, put in place by Him.

It is for this reason that I’m writing you today, to formally request that this alternative theory be taught in your schools, along with the other two theories. In fact, I will go so far as to say, if you do not agree to do this, we will be forced to proceed with legal action. I’m sure you see where we are coming from. If the Intelligent Design theory is not based on faith, but instead another scientific theory, as is claimed, then you must also allow our theory to be taught, as it is also based on science, not on faith.

Some find that hard to believe, so it may be helpful to tell you a little more about our beliefs. We have evidence that a Flying Spaghetti Monster created the universe. None of us, of course, were around to see it, but we have written accounts of it. We have several lengthy volumes explaining all details of His power. Also, you may be surprised to hear that there are over 10 million of us, and growing. We tend to be very secretive, as many people claim our beliefs are not substantiated by observable evidence. What these people don’t understand is that He built the world to make us think the earth is older than it really is. For example, a scientist may perform a carbon-dating process on an artifact. He finds that approximately 75% of the Carbon-14 has decayed by electron emission to Nitrogen-14, and infers that this artifact is approximately 10,000 years old, as the half-life of Carbon-14 appears to be 5,730 years. But what our scientist does not realize is that every time he makes a measurement, the Flying Spaghetti Monster is there changing the results with His Noodly Appendage. We have numerous texts that describe in detail how this can be possible and the reasons why He does this. He is of course invisible and can pass through normal matter with ease.

I’m sure you now realize how important it is that your students are taught this alternate theory. It is absolutely imperative that they realize that observable evidence is at the discretion of a Flying Spaghetti Monster. Furthermore, it is disrespectful to teach our beliefs without wearing His chosen outfit, which of course is full pirate regalia. I cannot stress the importance of this, and unfortunately cannot describe in detail why this must be done as I fear this letter is already becoming too long. The concise explanation is that He becomes angry if we don’t.

You may be interested to know that global warming, earthquakes, hurricanes, and other natural disasters are a direct effect of the shrinking numbers of Pirates since the 1800s. For your interest, I have included a graph of the approximate number of pirates versus the average global temperature over the last 200 years. As you can see, there is a statistically significant inverse relationship between pirates and global temperature.

In conclusion, thank you for taking the time to hear our views and beliefs. I hope I was able to convey the importance of teaching this theory to your students. We will of course be able to train the teachers in this alternate theory. I am eagerly awaiting your response, and hope dearly that no legal action will need to be taken. I think we can all look forward to the time when these three theories are given equal time in our science classrooms across the country, and eventually the world; One third time for Intelligent Design, one third time for Flying Spaghetti Monsterism, and one third time for logical conjecture based on overwhelming observable evidence.

Sincerely Yours,

Bobby Henderson, concerned citizen.

P.S. I have included an artistic drawing of Him creating a mountain, trees, and a midget. Remember, we are all His creatures.

Friday, August 26, 2005

Happy Blogging Birthday!

It's a year today since I tentatively submitted my first post to Blogger, mostly as a technical exercise to see if I could do it. Since then this column has taken on a life of its own and I've developed a kind of blogging personality as dictated by choice of topics and so forth. Some of this is guided by the fact that I don't write anonymously and so I won't criticise employers (goodness, I'd have some stories to tell if I did), I refrain (often with some difficulty) from bad language and I tend to steer clear of highly contentious topics such as politics and religion. There are too many great political writiers out there and in any case I've no wish to attract unwanted troll activity -life is abrasive enough already.

So in the past 12 months I've learned how to post photographs (Flickr, the host service I used tells me that I've used 200 in my articles), how to do some basic HTML manipulation and carry out Google bombing. I really would like to fiddle with the site a bit more but right now I just don't have time so I'm using one of the made-to-measure templates I found on Blogger. I've made 183 posts in the past 365 days and I seem to have a fairly regular readership, excluding the sad surfers who are looking for Sarah Beeny pictures. I've had 6,585 hits since I added the counter thingy, and all but a couple of hundreds of these visits have been since going public with the blog back in February with the Monte Carlo Rally reports.

So I'd like to take this opportunity to thank you all for visiting. Please continue to drop by and feel free to leave comments (preferably polite). Blogging over the past year has been an interesting, exciting and therapeutic process for me and I'll do my best to keep you entertained in the next 12 months.

Saturday, August 20, 2005

My Cloning Experiment

Primal scream

Olivia+Dad 1984
My “8-year-old” is 21 today! Hard to believe it’s been over two decades since the Orwellian year of 1984 and I was a terrified father-to-be awaiting the arrival of a squealing infant. While I can state categorically that bringing up a child is the hardest thing I’ve ever done, all concerned seem to have survived the process with flying colours. And the process whereby the bawling blob (above) develops into an intelligent, reasonable and (on most occasions) a quite delightful human being (below) has been amazing to observe.

Happy 21st Birthday, Olivia!
(no, I'm still not going to buy you a sports car)
Birthday party