Sunday, December 31, 2006

Reflections on 2006

Olivia Graduation
Olivia receiving her degree at the University of Washington Commencement Cermony, 10th June, 2006

The past year was great. There were quite a few memorable "highs" and not too many "lows". Possibly the best moment was daughter Olivia's graduation from University of Washington with a very creditable Bachelor's degree in Psychology (with loads of additional honours for rowing, leadership etc) back in June. Definitely a good outcome after 21 years of conspiracy/worry. Well done, O, -now just make sure you get into medical school. I'll post a resized photo in due course. Something seems to be awry with my scanner just now and I doubt it has anything to do with the amount of champagne I've just consumed -in any case I'll try to fix it on the morrow.

Have a great New Year's Eve, everybody and stay safe (if in doubt take a cab).

Saturday, December 30, 2006

Forty Years Ago Today

First car
Mad Pup with first car; a pedal-powered Maserati -the only type of this marque I'm ever likely to afford.

While we're on the topic of things automotive, it was 40 years ago today that I passed my driving test. It was my first attempt. I was also the first person in my class at school to gain my driving licence and gained minor celebrity status as a result. Forty years though, it doesn't seem possible -doesn't time fly when you're having fun!?

Friday, December 29, 2006

Mad Dog Rallying Update

Rallying in snow
Mad Dogs on the Winter Challenge Rally 2001 (2nd in class, 13th overall)

Several people have asked me about rally plans for 2007. Earlier this year I proclaimed that the Mad Dog Rally Team would enter the 10th Monte Carlo Historique (MCH) event to be held in January, 2007. The repair of PRX 720B was completed and a rebuild mapped out with Bill Richards. Lots of upgrades to performance and safety (especially considering out altercation with a wall in 2005) were planned. Better still we obtained very valuable sponsorship from a major parts supplier as well as a US-based automotive magazine. But despite this promising start things slowed down mid-year and we failed to secure an additional major sponsor. It's an expensive business to be competitive in the MCH and in the absence of a personal fortune external funding is essential. Following this letdown I felt quite despondent about the future of the car and decided that one rally every couple of years didn't justify the the expense of keeping it in cosy lockup the rest of the time, so relcutantly I put it on the market.

I received quite a few enquiries including one or two that were serious. The publication of advertisment corresponded with a trip to the UK and needless to say I popped in to Bill Richards racing for a chat. In retropect this was not the most sensible thing to do if I'd wanted to remain objective. After sharing several glasses of good shiraz with Bill being exposed to an evening of his infectious enthusiasm I decided to pospone the sale for now and agreed that we will definitely enter the 2008 event (just one year away). The rebuild will start in January and I can assure you that the next iteration of PRX will be seriously hot: faster, stronger, safer and more reliable than ever before. The team is all on board and the sponsors are happy. Now we just need one more major investor to cover the entry fees (3000 Euro). So if any deep pocketed readers want to back the team in return for some substantial publicity please let me know.

Thursday, December 28, 2006

Cultural Observations: No.1, Phonophilia in the UK

English phones
Passengers on a UK train indulging in the national pastime.

What is it with the English and their phones? Stand one of them alone in a room/train/bus for more than 30 seconds and I guarantee they will pull out their mobile. Sometimes a phone call results but mostly they fiddle. I'm not sure what they do: check messages? check texts? write texts? web surf? play games? all of the above? Possibly they have cooler phones on the other side of the Atlantic or they've become more adept at SMSing (which seems to have just caught on here: I think the US is about 6 years behind Europe on this particular fad). Whatever it is the behaviour seems quite compulsive and much more evident than in the American counterparts. If you have any theories on this social phenomenon please feel free to speculate below.

P.S. And in case you were wondering it was I who took the photo of the above two gentleman with my own phone: they were clearly too absorbed in their telephonic twiddling to notice what I was doing!

Wednesday, December 27, 2006


Storm damage
A view of some of the storm debris at Mad Dog's kennels.

Earlier in the month I made a lightning pre-Christmas trip to the UK to organise some collaborations. While there I survived a tornado in North London and radiocactive contamination (I hope -at least I don't appear to be glowing, yet) from polonium 210 at UCL Hospital where the unfortunate Mr. Litvinenko met his recent demise. On the night of my return to Seattle I was, in a slightly self-congratulatory manner, I admit, contemplating my near misses before retiring to bed quite exhausted. I was woken up at 2.00am by the most violent wind storm and noticed that the power had gone out. The next morning, still without power, I surveyed the damage. It was quite unbelievable. Trees were down everywhere and millions of people were without electricity in Washington State, a wretched situation that continued for over week for some unfortunates. It took me a whole weekend to clean up the mess in my garden and heaven knows how long it will take me to dispose of the piles of debris. Oh Lord, I promise I won't be smug ever again...!

Monday, December 25, 2006

Merry Christmas!

Merry Christmas

Merry Christmas Everybody!

Tuesday, November 28, 2006

Alan Freeman, RIP

Alan Freeman
Alan Leslie Freeman MBE, 1927-2006

Farewell, Fluff. You entertained us PopPickers hugely.

Erm....not 'arf!

Bond, James Bond

James Bond

Now before you chide me, I haven't forgotten about the cowboy poll -it's just that I've been overtaken by life recently. So I promise to publish the results soon. However as we've been on the topic of spys and spying recently I thought I'd continue the leitmotif today. As a distraction from grant writing (now done, Praise the Lord!) I took myself off to see Casino Royale at the weekend. I have to admit to leaving the cinema ("movie theatre" in American) slightly breathless after two hours of non-stop action and I offer the following comments:

Daniel Craig is a great Bond; possibly the best since Sir Sean. And I mean Connery in the first two flicks, Dr No and From Russia with Love in which he was very phyiscal and quite ruthless: Craig did well to play a similar character. I note that Timothy Dalton (an excellent actor and an underrated Bond) tried hard to do something similar but was given rubbish scripts and as a result came across as a bit wooden.

Lots of the old stuff is gone. Mercifully improbable stunts and ridiculous gadgets have been deleted (why did it take so long for the producers to get rid of this nonsense?). Notable missing items are:

-the Aston Martin DB5 (although there is a hat tip to it)

-the Walther PPK (I guess too old fashioned and puny -now the preferred pistol seems to be a modern Walther, always carried with a quite phallic silencer)

-Ms Moneypenny (but again there is hat tip but you have to be awake to catch it)

-"Q" nobody could really step into the shoes of the late, great Desmond Llewellyn (and please don't even mention John Cleese) and in any case the gadget-gimmick stuff became seriously silly after the autogyro in You Only Live Twice

-Martinis, shaken not stirred. Bond does drink in the film. Indeed he seems to drink quite heavily but when asked if he prefers his Martini shaken or stirred he snaps "do I look like I give a damn?"

In fact with so few references to the past you could be forgiven for thinking that the movie was just a plain old action-thriller but then in the final scene Daniel Craig reinvents the Bond character as he introduces himself to the arch villain as "Bond, James Bond" -then as the credits play the old familiar Monty Norman theme tune starts up for the first time. Brilliant!

Now don't get me wrong. There are still big stunts, luscious ladies and some extraordinary violence. But somehow it all appears credible.

Overall, Daniel Craig and the producers have more than reversed the rot that started to in creep into the films after Goldfinger. Heaven knows, I never thought the franchise would be taken seriously after Roger Moore (bloody hell, what did do to get his knighthood -if I had my way I'd have him thrown in the Tower of London for his efforts).

Now I can't wait to see Bond #22...

Friday, November 24, 2006

"...the bastards got me..."

Apart from the occasional sideswipe, I don't really do politics on this site. However I was very moved by the death in London of former Russian spy, Alexander Litvinenko. Mr Litvinenko was almost certainly assassinated by elements from his former country who used an unusual form of toxin: a radioactive isotope known as polonium 210. The story bears ominous similarities to that of the unfortunate Bulgarian dissident, Georgi Markov who was killed in London in 1978 (ironically on 9/11). In this latter case the poison ricin was used and deliverd by a miniscule pellet fired from an umbrella. Why I am disturbed by a single act of political violence in an era when it is commonplace to read of 150 people killed by car bombs on any given day in the Middle East, is the sheer sinister nature of the deed. The use of a rare isotope suggests that a degree of sophistication well beyond that of the common criminal was involved: a notion that will probably be reinforced when the toxin delivery system is revealed. I am thus saddened and outraged that acts of overt political criminality are perpetuated by governments pretending to have foresworn such activities. But more so I was moved by the dignified statement issued by Mr Litvinenko before hs passing and I will repost here:

I would like to thank many people. My doctors, nurses and hospital staff who are doing all they can for me, the British police who are pursuing my case with vigour and professionalism and are watching over me and my family.

I would like to thank the British government for taking me under their care. I am honoured to be a British citizen.

I would like to thank the British public for their messages of support and for the interest they have shown in my plight.

I thank my wife Marina, who has stood by me. My love for her and our son knows no bounds.

But as I lie here I can distinctly hear the beating of wings of the angel of death.

I may be able to give him the slip but I have to say my legs do not run as fast as I would like.

I think, therefore, that this may be the time to say one or two things to the person responsible for my present condition.

You may succeed in silencing me but that silence comes at a price. You have shown yourself to be as barbaric and ruthless as your most hostile critics have claimed.

You have shown yourself to have no respect for life, liberty or any civilised value.

You have shown yourself to be unworthy of your office, to be unworthy of the trust of civilised men and women.

You may succeed in silencing one man but the howl of protest from around the world will reverberate, Mr Putin, in your ears for the rest of your life.

May God forgive you for what you have done, not only to me but to beloved Russia and its people.

Alexander Litvinenko
21 November 2006

Thursday, November 23, 2006

Happy Thaksgiving

Happy turkey day to all US readers. In the meantime I'm still writing the wretched typhus grant. No peace for the wicked, as they say! More soon...

Tuesday, November 14, 2006

30,000th Visitor

Today the 30,000th visitor passed through the portals of MD&E. Congratulations to IP address 81.79.152. I note that you work at Energis, UK and that you visited just after five pm GMT. I hope you won't get into trouble for surfing at work and that you enjoyed the picture of Sarah Beeny who is still very popular according to the search titles on my sitemeter.

It's taken two years and three months to achieve this modest level of readership. No fewer than twenty thousand of you have pitched up here since last November which is gratifying as I've been fairly quite for a large part of 2006. Anyway a hearty thanks to all readers; please keep visiting and feel free to add (hopefully polite) comments.

Monday, November 13, 2006

Concerning Rats, Disease and History: Spot-the-Bug Competition #5

guess this?!
Mad Dog's latest enemy (or at least a close relative).

I have a huge grant deadline coming up in the next week and blogging may be a bit sparse: just talk among yourselves for awhile. For those readers who have some background in the biosciences, see if you can can guess the name of the bug that's the topic of my latest activities. It's an age old foe and it shouldn't be too difficult to figure out considering the clues here and in the electron micrograph above (apologies to the authors for borrowing their data but I'll give the citation when I've announced the results in about a week).

Cowboy poll results coming soon.

Saturday, November 11, 2006


Celebrity look alikes

My nocturnal activities have reached a new high (or low depending on your POV) in frivolity. For the most part I'm quite happy with these comparisons as most of these guys are pretty cool but I bet a certain ex-politician is laughing his arse off loudly about the results following Thursday's sideswipe. What goes around comes around, I suppose.

If you want to try this silliness for yourself, click here. Hat tip to Dawn for this link.

Thursday, November 09, 2006

Oh Frabjous Day!

Oh Frabjous Day

Callooh, Callay!

And there I was quite looking forward to going mano a mano in nuclear combat with Iran, North Korea and sundry failed states and terrorist groups. So I suppose I'd better hold off on the construction of the nuclear bunker in my basement now.

Tuesday, November 07, 2006


Election year2_1_1
As an immunologist I've always loved this cartoon which I borrowed from the now sadly defunct satirical magazine "Punch" (May 1981 issue, believe it or not).

Today mid-term elections are being held in the USA and the results are awaited with interest. Despite extensive TV campaigns I haven't got a clue what either party stands for, especially the Democrats. I have seen an awful lot of awful attacks ads though. UK residents count yourselves lucky that these things haven't crossed the Atlantic yet (although I suspect it's just a matter of time).

Cowboy poll results, just like the Elections, to follow.

Monday, October 30, 2006

Cowboy Poll

Le Bon La Brute Le Truand
Poster from a Souffle Western

This week it's back to cowboys again. I'm doing a poll so please nominate 'winners' for the categories below. I'll publish the results combined with my own opinions (did I ever say this was a democracy) shortly. Feel free to add any categories I may have missed. Anyway, here we go: poll-me-up in the comments section...

1. The Coolest

2. The Nastiest

3. The Hardest/Toughest

4. The Funniest

5. The Most Annoying

6. The Most Camp

7. The Best Partnership

8. The Best Horse

9. The Best Cowgirl/Heroine

10.The Best Cowboy Movie

Thursday, October 26, 2006

On Matters Equestrian

John Horseman_1
Mad Pup on horse in Co Wicklow, Ireland, c1959. MP's brother is holding the bridle.

I've never had much truck with horses. Somehow riding them never appealed. When growing up, I didn't seem to have much in common with horse-owning members of my peer group and I hated the intrusion of any program with an equine content (show jumping, racing, showing)on television. In more adult years I think it's fair to say that horses and I maintained a mutual disinterest and in addition I held a view that if God had intended us to ride these beasts, he wouldn't have allowed us to invent superchargers. So up until now my sum total of equestrian matters is (i) as a 10 year old, I sat on a cart horse of some description on my Uncle's farm in Ireland (see above picture) and (ii) a few years back I was bitten, yes, bitten, by some nag whose nose I was offering to stroke. Curiously enough I have ridden, and been thrown off, camels.

Recently, however, I've become curious about the whole riding business. I'm not quite sure why but it's proabably something to do with an interest in the Old West. So I've decided to add horse riding to "things to do before I slough the mortal coil" list. I mean it can't be THAT difficult, can it? Yes, I know it makes yer bum sore but so what. I have sore muscles all the time after aikido. So I hope to manage a lesson or two before the end of the year: watch this space for updates...

Wednesday, October 25, 2006

Remembering John Peel: Mad Dog's Music

john peel
John Robert Parker Ravenscroft, OBE (aka John Peel):30 August 1939 – 25 October 2004. RIP.

Today is the anniversary of the passing of John Peel. I was profundly affected by his death two years ago: I'd been a devout listener from the time I first encountered him on Radio London in 1967/68 and then when he moved to the BBC after the demise of pirate radio. Not only did he influence my listening and record/CD collection but he became a sort of pillar of the establishement -a bit like the Beeb's shipping forecast or the saturday afternoon football results. He had a warm, comforting, reliable, voice and its absence came as a great shock and left a vacuum. So as a tribute, I've compiled a list of "JP-endorsed" bands that I saw in the golden era of 1967-1975 (my formative years as a student). I've trawled through YouTube for footage. I should point out that that (i) I had other favourites however couldn't find archived film clips (ii) I've omitted some great bands I've seen since that period e.g. Led Zeppelin, Queen, Grateful Dead, Rolling Stones even though they had received the JP stamp of approval but were mainstream, adult-oriented rock by the time I finally got to see them and (iii) I've left out some groups that, despite the JP endorsement I thought sucked like a truckload of Dysons (take note Third Ear Band, Hawkwind and Edgar Broughton -amazingly all still seem to be in existence). Anyway, here we go in alphabetical order:

A concert from my Cardiff days, c1972 at the Old Student’s Union. They were not particularly memorable except for the “Hold Your head Up” anthem which everyone loved.

Bond Organisation, The Graham
An amazing bunch of musicians. I’ve cheated a little with this clip as it’s pre-1967 but was all I could unearth. However it features Jack Bruce, Ginger Baker, John McLaughlin and the late Dick Heckstall-Smith and is taken from a hilarious campy, sci-fi, flick, Gonks Go Beat). I think I saw Graham Bond first in the unlikely venue of Woking, c1969, and later as part of Ginger Baker’s Airforce at a festival in Sussex. His apparent suicide in 1974 was a great tragedy.

Sorry, this is a contemporary clip but it was all I could find. I first encountered Jon Hiseman’s mighty Colosseum at Guildford Tech around 1969 and then again at the Top Rank Ballroom, Cardiff about two or three years later when they had recruited the amazing Chris Farlowe on vocals. Jon Hiseman was the first drummer I’d seen with twin bass skins. I’ve seen him many times since with Barbara Thompson’s jazz band, Paraphernalia.

Curved Air
Cardiff, 1972. A genteel and intellectual lot. I chatted to all of them. Sonja Kristina was strikingly lovely and very polite: I was quite besotted.

Deep Purple
Timeless power rock practitioners. I first say them at Guildford Tech, c1968 in their pre-"Smoke on the water..." days.

Fairport Convention
I saw them several times, the first being at the 1968 Jazz and Blues festival at Sunbury Race Course. John Peel was compering in a tent of smaller acts which included Reg Dwight (now Elton John). Unfortunately I couldn’t find a clip which included the wonderful Sandy Denny in the lineup.

Fleetwood Mac
Now this was a super band. I think I saw them first at the Albert Hall in the summer of 1969 along with Pentangle and the late, great, Duster Bennett. To this day I don’t think I’ve ever seen a group so dominated and controlled (in a positive sense) by then lead guitarist and founder Peter Green.

No they are not Jethro Tull! This combo of flying Dutchmen pitched up at Cardiff University Student Union along with half the population of South Wales who, needless to say, didn’t have tickets. It was 1973 and the band were at the peak of their fame. As part of the “Events” committee my job was to maintain the door security which was an impossible task. My memory is of a running battle the entire evening with Focus’ music playing as a soundtrack.

Humble Pie
Stadium yob rock at its best or worst depending on your POV. I encountered this bunch of hooligans during Cardiff Rag Week, c1973. Indeed I was on the committee that booked them. They were loud, raucous, and sent members of their entourage out to ensnare young females to entertain messrs Marriott, Frampton et al. after the concert (there seemed to be no lack of willing volunteers). One of their roadies knocked me off stage while I was photographing the band: as I was the official photographer for the event my pride was severely dented although the camera remained intact.

Kinks, The
A tremendously enjoyable, professional, bunch that I saw at the Top Rank Ballroom, Cardiff, sometime in 1973. To this day they are one of my all time favourite bands from this era.

Kirk, Roland
I’m showing great restraint by inflicting only one jazz musician on you. My memories of Roland Kirk (or Rhaasan Roland Kirk as he became) emanate from Ronnie Scott’s Jazz Club, London, around January 1970. RK was chaotic and charismatic: you’ve got to love a guy who can ply three saxophones at once, can do circular breathing (the first time I’d seen the technique) and wandered through the audience and out into the street while still playing. And he was simply the best jazz flute player I’ve seen, ever!

McTell, Ralph
I know “Streets of London” has become a bit clichéd but Ralph was/still is a great performer. I saw him in Cardiff on several occasions. Apologies for the contemporaneous clip but I couldn’t locate any classic old stuff.

Moody Blues
I think the first group I ever saw. Guildford Tech c1967. I’ve liked the use of flute in rock music (not to mention jazz) ever since.

Nice, The
One of the very first groups I saw -again at Guildford. Keith Emerson played with his organ in spectacular style. Unfortunately these antics degenerated into pretentious wankery with Emerson, Lake and Palmer.

Perhaps one of the most complete and accomplished groups I’ve seen to this day. I saw them first in Guildford. They played together in the most complimentary manner. Jacqui McShee’s voice was angelic and the John Renbourne-Bert Jansch guitar partnership just magical. John Peel wrote the sleeve notes to the band’s first album (which I still have).

Not an intellectual or virtuoso band but they could work the crowd like nobody else. They were a student union favourite and I must have seen them on three or four occasions during my Cardiff years.

Steeleye Span
This lot were just great. Lively, engaging and super musicians. Maddy Prior’s voice was always pristine. I wish I could have found a clip with a more interesting song though..

Tull, Jethro
Ah yes, another enduring fave from my first ever rock concert at which John Peel was in attendance. I’ve remained a fan of Ian Anderson through thick and thin even though he sorely tested my loyalty with a lot of crappy offerings in the 1980s.

Who, The
A slight cheat here as I didn’t see The Who in the golden era. I did try though. In my first week as a freshman undergraduate in Cardiff (1970) I failed to obtain tickets to see them although subsequently met Keith Moon (absolutely plastered) when he was guest drummer with a visiting band, Sha-Na-Na. He shook my hand, gave me a stick of “Cardiff Rock” and implored me to “Rock on, man”. I didn’t wash my hand for a week afterwards! I eventually got to see The Who around 1980 but by that time Moon the Loon had sadly self-destructed through vomit inhalation.

Friday, October 20, 2006

Facts and Figures


Sir Mick and the boys were in town two nights ago, apparently their 10th visit to Seattle since 1965. I watched their armada of trucks unload equipment in the parking lot behind my place of employment and the roadies wheel it over to the adjacent Qwest field football stadium. And it was a lot of stuff too. So much so that it takes a fleet of 70 articulated trucks or “semis” as they call them over here to transport it across the country. The special stage weighs 300 tons, occupies 20,400 sq ft and has a 2,450sq ft video wall. All of this equipment is lugged about and assembled by a road crew of 235 and 150 local workers are hired to build and take down the stage.

I have to say that having grown up with the RS their longevity, both individually and collectively, has been quite amazing especially considering their lifestyle. The have outlasted six US presidential administrations, seven British Prime Ministers, Vietnam, the Falklands, Gulf War No. 1 (unfortunately not yet Iraq or Afghanistan), Watergate and even The Beatles. As a matter of trivia, Charlie Watts and I employed the services of the same hairstylist in London back in the early 1990s.

Reviews of their concert were very enthusiastic. Mick strutted and pranced around the stage in a highly energetic fashion for two hours; Keith Richards, true to form, chain smoked. The music was classic stones and the special effects and firework finale were spectacular. Did I go, I hear you ask? You must be joking. I saw them at Wembley Stadium in 1981 and am still traumatized by the length of time it took to get out of the parking lot. Also I find the way that iconoclastic values have been dumped in favour of mainstream corporate adoption and sponsorship (RS tunes are used to sell just about everything from banks to cars these days) quite objectionable. And besides I’m not prepared to spend $700 on a ticket. Funnily enough I’ve never had an RS record or CD in my collections either. Now tonight I’m off to see Pink Martini who are more my style these days.

Tuesday, October 17, 2006

Highway 1 Revisited

Mad Dog at the Lone Cypress, Carmel, c1984. There's something quite disturbing about the tightness of those jeans…

Today is Part 2 of my account of the roadtrip I made up the California Pacific Coast Highway back in August. North of Hearst castle and San Simeon the road winds along the Big Sur coastline in spectacular fashion for a hundred miles or so before arriving in Carmel and Monterey. At Carmel I resisted the temptation to have a “Dirty Harry Burger” at Clint Eastwood’s Hog’s Breath Inn. I did, however, take the opportunity to cruise along the 17 mile drive –a spectacular stretch of privately owned beach road that passes through some of the most amazingly expensive real estate and golf courses in the country. I made this run over 20 years ago. Nothing much has changed except that the Lone Cypress tree seems to have more preservative in it than Lenin as it looked like it was on its last twigs back in 1984. But overall the scenery is as gorgeous as ever.
Lone Cypress
The image-trademarked (yes, really) Lone Cypress has either been filled full of embalming fluid or replaced since my last visit!

Monterey was awash with tourists but even so they failed to disturb the Steinbeckian images evoked by Cannery Row. It’s a truly lovely place. I did visit the Monterey Aquarium of which I’d heard great things. Sadly I was sorely disappointed to find a theme-parked, Disney-like playground full of hyperglycemic children and not the natural habitat that I’d expected. The fun-loving sea otters compensated for a lot, though.
Blue jay
Blue Jay atop a fence at Nepenthe –the nicest place imaginable to stop for a drink.

After Monterey I pointed the Jag in the direction of San Francisco and continued my trip north…

Monday, October 16, 2006

Citizen Hearst

Pacific Coast Highway
Driving the Pacific Coast Highway (please don’t ask how I got the photo).

OK, OK, I had no idea that my last piece of frippery about cowboys, horses and the Wld West would stir up so much interest, so I’ll post on these topics again in the near future.

But for now I want to say a bit more about the road trip up the California Pacific Coast Highway back in August before it fades from neuro-retention. If you are not familiar with Highway 1, it’s sufficient to say that it is one of the greatest coastal roads in the world. It runs from Southern California to San Francisco and has a backdrop of breathtakingly spectacular ocean scenery. The stretch south of Monterey known as "Big Sur" is simply magnificent and that whole region is quintessential California. If you ever get the chance to drive it don’t hesitate or you’ll miss out on one of the spectacular drives on the planet.

Half-way between posh Santa Barbara in the south and historic Monterey in the north lies San Simeon and the amazing Hearst Castle. Built by newspaper magnate, William Randolph Hearst between 1919 and 1947 on a 250,000 acre estate known as 'La Cuesta Encantada' ('The Enchanted Hill' if my O level Spanish is still holding up) is not only an astonishing feat of construction but an extraordinary collection of art treasures looted purchased from around the world.
Hearst Castle 1
Hearst Castle façade in the style of a Spanish cathedral by San Francisco architect, Julia Morgan.

It’s really quite astonishing what you can do when money is no object. Hearst made (and lost) a fortune or two in his lifetime. He pioneered jingoistic, sensationalist journalism (Rupert Murdoch paid close attention to this model) and agitated for the Spanish-American war. The principle character in Orson Welles’ film “Citizen Kane” was modeled on Hearst (I still haven’t figured out why it’s everybody’s favourite movie -it’s a miserable, charmless, flick IMHO). Throughout all this, Hearst continued to build the castle and fitted it out with an amazing art collection. The grounds were populated by exotic animals and The Ranch became the place to visit for the rich and famous. Film stars, politicians, adventurers, writiers, socialites and captains of industry were all to be seen at The Ranch (as Hearst liked to call it) during its heyday.
Hearst Castle 2
One of the pools at Hearst Castle. The parthenon-like structure was constructed with genuine Greco-Roman columns.

But all good things come to an end and following another financial reversal and then William Randolph’s death in 1951, the Hearst Corporation donated The Ranch to the State of California in 1957. Definitely the public’s gain. Perhaps George Bernard Shaw summed up the place the best when he said: "This is what God would have built if he had had the money."
Hearst Castle 3
Despite the fact that Hearst Castle is now in the public domain, the hoi polloi are not allowed in the pool!

Monday, October 09, 2006

Quick Draw

Sprint advertisement

This post is a reflection on what a sad bastard I've become in my dotage. First it highlights an increasing obsession with YouTube, second, it reflects a childhood fascination with cowboys and the American Old West and third, it indicates that I can be quite easily amused by superficial, physical humour. But I don't care; I find this video clip, an advertisement for Sprint broadband, quite hilarious. Oh, and if anybody is interested, it's taken from a 1970 spaghetti western called Lo chiamavano Trinità (They Call Me Trinity) starring Terence Hill and Bud Spencer. Curiously both of these actors are Italian...

Sunday, October 08, 2006

Oh, bugger...!

Mushroom cloud

I note the human race's self-destruct gene is in full evidence. I suspect this can only end in tears...

Tuesday, October 03, 2006

Tidy Up

I've just removed a cartload of links from the sidebar. They were either dead, dead boring, unfunny or politically rebarbative. Others are on probation. There seem to be a lot of bloggers, notably scientists, running out of steam (don't look at me) which is a shame. So from now on, sites that don't offer a new post after three months will be deemed moribund and, unless I hear to the contrary, will be purged.

P.S. October 9th 2006. OK, don't say I didn't warn you. I've just deleted links to another dozen tragically dull or deceased web logs. If you want to stay here please keep writing and be nice.

Monday, October 02, 2006

New Wheels

Old Jag
The friendly old cat that was Mad Dog's daily driver for five years.

There has been a truly silly level of travel activity in the Mad Dog kennels recently. So much so that time available for blogging has been severely restricted. However I really should mention a trip to San Diego, California, I took back in August. The purpose was to pick up a new (used) car from old friend, mechanic, English ex-pat and generally top bloke, Mel Muzio. Back in 2001 when I arrived once again on the shores of the New World I needed an inexpensive pair of wheels to traverse the greater Seattle area. Mel had mentioned he had a decent 1988 Jaguar Vanden Plas for sale. It was a high mileage car but inexpensive so I flew down to California, stumped up the readies and drove back to Seattle over the Thanksgiving weekend with my daughter who was keen to take a look at the University of Washington as a potential site for her tertiary education. Frankly I was nervous about the concept of an old Jag and catastrophic bills but then I was really only planning to keep the car for a year and get one of new MINI Coopers that were due to be imported.

Well its funny how things change. I had never seen myself as the driver of a Jaguar saloon -too big, bourgeois, expensive and stodgy. Up until that point I preferred small, high-powered, noisy buzz boxes. So it was slightly disconcerting to realise that I loved wafting around in the Jag. I was calmer, less aggressive and reaally enjoyed its cache effect. Everybody loves these old cats, even when they have faded paint and are clearly a bit past their prime. So after the first year of ownership I did not trade up (or down?) for a MINI but elected to continue driving my iconic piece of UKmobilia. And so I continued for five years when it became clear that a change would be necessary in the interests of both safety and economy. Once again I contacted friend Mel who said that he had just the car for me: a black 1998 XJ8 in pristine condition and with all the worrying mechanical weak spots for that year corrected. So once again I flew down to San Diego, completed the transaction and drove back to Seattle. This time however, I didn't blast back in wintry rain and snow as I did in 2001 but opted for a leisurely cruise along the sunny and stunningly beautiful Pacific Coast Highway to San Francisco before jumping onto the more business like Interstate 5 to Portland, Oregon and Seattle. I arrived back home feeling relaxed and refreshed (note to self: the feeling had better better last, pal, as it's the only vacation you're going to get this year!)

New XJ8
Black Cat, Mad Dog and Mel.

Big Sur
Big Cat on Big Sur.

And what about the car you ask? Well I'm still learning about it and I sometimes have to (Heaven forbid) consult the owners manual. In essence it has a 300hp V8 motor with sports exhaust, traction control, electronic stability control, cupholders (a first for me) as well as a 6 CD player ("so 1990" I know, but again this is a first for me). The interior materials must have required the clear cutting of a forest of burr walnut and the extermination of several large quadripeds. Overall it's quite gorgeous and according to the onboard computer is drinking at the very reasonable rate of 19.4 mpg (and don't forget that's US gallons, not 10% larger Imperial measure). My only reservation is the rear windows which are tinted black: while fine for Southern Californian pursuits such as drug dealing and drive-by shootings they are less suitable for the Pacific Northwest where these activities are less popular.

Saturday, September 30, 2006

Custer's Last Screw Up

Last Stand Hill
Last Stand Hill, Custer County, Montana. After the battle, the bodies of the hapless 7th cavalry men were buried where they fell.

I seem to have become a monthly blogger. As mentioned in previous posts there is nothing dire going on in the background -quite the reverse, in fact. Work is going quite satisfactorily and I've been fortunate to pick up a couple of decent sized grants over the summer (long may this trend continue). Indeed I've been crazily busy and running around like the proverbial headless chicken trying to organise various projects and develop some momentum. So in the course of things, I've had reason to travel to Montana; until now a state I've not had an excuse to visit. I have to say the landscape was fascinating although the the whole region is terribly depressed economically and food consists of steak and more steak (think the Monty Python Spam sketch but substitute steak). My ever increasing interest in the historical Old West caused me to stop at the Little Bighorn battlefield (Custer’s last stand, 1876). It's a poignant and lasting tribute to complete arrogance and stupidity in a military command. Unfortunately I don't think we've learned a great deal since...!
Custer's Last Stand
General George Armstrong Custer met his end here although his remains have since been interred at the West Point Academy. Now, look Georgie boy, if you happen to be reincarnated as a warrior, please read Sun Tzu's Art of War before going into battle again.

Thursday, August 31, 2006

Hard to Believe

Goodness, it's hard to believe that a month has gone by since my last post. I can blame this dearth of productivity partly on having taking a short holiday (more about that soon)as well as the usual pressure of work. I've got lots of stories to tell and will relate them in the near future. In the meantime, I came across this video clip of a guitarist playing Pachelbel's canon on YouTube. I'm not usually impressed by this sort of thing but this fellow is simply amazing; not just by his virtuosity but by his (IMHO) good taste. Take a look ...


P.S. Since this post it has come to my attention that Mr FunTwo, now "unmasked" by the New York Times as a 23-year-old South Korean lad by the name of Jeong-Hyun Lim, is simply doing a cover of an original arrangement by Taiwanese guitarist Jerry Chang and indeed credits him (as Jerry C) at the beginning of the clip. Here is Mr Chang's version. I still have a slight preference for the FunTwo iteration as it is a bit cleaner, especially in the middle passages. Jerry C is possibly more passionate though...

Monday, July 31, 2006

Madd Max

Madd Max

It's a bit churlish of me to exploit such obvious schadenfreude but I really can't resist. Mel Gibson is such a smug, sanctimonious, pseudo-pious, twerp that I can't help but snigger as he manages to shoot himself in both feet and possibly the head at the same time. Give the large number of Jews in the upper echelons of Hollywood, his anti-semitic comments might be a tad ill-advised. Oh, well he might have to live off his earnings from the Passion of the Christ from now on: at a stretch they may run to a couple of weeks in the Betty Ford Clinic. Life can can be brutal, can't it? MADD indeed!

Another Foster's, anyone...?

Monday, July 24, 2006

Thoughts of Far Off Lands

Corfu 1972
Mad Dog in Corfu, July 1972

With the Big Personal Project and a few other things, 2006 has been a fairly challenging year and I'm starting to ache for a decent holiday. I really envy the tradition of European vacations where families decamp to a Mediterranean destination or similar and just hang out for three weeks. There is no sense of such things over here which is both unenlightened and a shame. I get two weeks (that is 10 working days) paid leave a year and that's it. Devotees of this blog will know that the Greece is one of my favourite spots on the planet: I've been in love with the place since I first visited 35 years ago (see above for gratuitious nostalgia photo). Next month I'm going to take a week off and hang around in California. It will be fun but I'm hoping that I can get back to an island in the Ionian Sea in the not too distant future...

Wednesday, July 19, 2006


Crotchet post-surgery

My lovely, fluffy, ragamuffin cat, Crotchet, is recovering from surgery. Awhile ago I noticed an odd lump on her back which didn't feel like a sebaceous cyst, granuloma or any other lesion of benign origin. The vet was initially skeptical about my worry-wort behaviour but then agreed to lop the thing off. I duly picked up Crotchet who was very dopey and wrapped in a body bandage. The poor thing hid under the bed for three days. The vet had made an astonishingly large crescent-shaped incision, about 12cm long, across her back and was tight-lipped about a possible diagnosis. Unfortunately, my fears turned out to be well-founded when the pathology report came back. The lump was a fibrosarcoma, a particularly nasty kind of soft tissue cancer. The prognosis is not great but markedly improves if the tumour is caught early and the surgery is fairly radical (now I know why the incision was so large for a less than 2cm lump). Another point in Crotchet's favour is that the mass was not yet vascular (infiltrated with blood vessels) so I'm keeping my fingers crossed that we won't get any recurrence. This particular kind of cancer is apparently a rare side effect of Feline Leukemia vaccination (your cat is at much greater risk for developing FL than this complication so please don't stop the shots) but ironic as I've spent a large part of my career developing vaccines. Incidentally if anyone has any ideas how a killed preparation of FeLV can induce a tumour please let me know (come on Dr Jim, you've always got a view on these things: I suspect a protein promoter myself).

Monday, July 17, 2006

That Headbutt


Well it would seem that Zidane's headbutt has given rise to a few copycats. Maybe this is set to be a new form of greeting in France?!

Thursday, July 13, 2006

Is it Just Me...?

Pink cannon

Some time ago, I spotted this pink-barreled cannon on the mean streets of Bellevue (no that's not the lunatic asylum that Bruce Springsteen sings about so poetically -this is Bellevue, Washington; a middle class suburb with the charisma of a boiled cabbage). Now is it just me that finds this odd bit of iconry profoundly disturbing? I mean it's not outside a nightclub, singles bar or anything like that: it's in the parking lot of a bank of all things. Now what the hell is that about? I was tempted to speculate that it was a metaphor for the bank's attitude towards customer relations but that would almost certainly result in a lawsuit and me living in penury for the rest of my life so I'll refrain. Anybody got any suggestions...?

Wednesday, July 12, 2006

How Did This Happen?

Olivia in gown 10:6:06
Olivia in Bachelor's gown + various achievement medals and honours. Commencement, University of Washington, 10 June, 2006.

For reasons that I fail to comprehend, my 2-year-old daughter is now 22 and for the past month has been the proud owner of a Bachelor's degree in Psychology from the University of Washington. And she even has a real job prior to taking the next step in her education (a PhD in clinical psychology or a medical degree, I'm informed). I don't know how this happened; I must have blinked or something. However it does make me feel old. Oh, tempus fugit!

Tuesday, July 11, 2006

Water Under the Bridge

Crotchet can barely contain her excitement in the Wold Cup Final penalty shoot out.

Phew, some water's certainly passed under the bridge since my last post. To those well wishers who've sent emails to enquire as to my well-being let me express heartfelt thanks -it was very touching to hear from you. Anyway let me reassure you all that I'm in rude health and nothing sinister has been going on. I've just had very little time for blogging having been on the road, grant writing (an interminable processs), watching the World Cup (Rooney you little git, if you are going to foul somebody watch the clip of Zizou's headbutt and learn -it was formidable), attending daughter's graduation, planning the next MCH rally, doing lots of aikido and iaido training and dealing with a feline health crisis. Needless to say I have lots of stories and I'll relate some of them to you over the next week or so. In the meantime I've posted a pic displaying my my companion animal's interest in football...

Monday, May 01, 2006

Painting the Beetle

Painting the Beetle
Mad Dog Autobody Shop c1974. God, I was skinny back then. Lots of hair too...

I haven't done a nostalgia post for quite awhile so to correct this deficiency here's one in the "Cars I Have Known and Loved" series. In this case it should have been cars I have known and hated. In my youth I owned two Volkswagen Beetles although unfortunately I have photos of only one. Frankly both were disasters and set the scene for an infelicitous relationship with German cars that has continued to this day. Although they had something of a cult following they were unreliable and expensive and difficult to fix (and none of that nonsense about "you can get the engine out in 10 minutes" -this apocryphal bit of automotive folklore is most definitely not feasible when your only tools are a screwdriver and a pair of pliers). Anyway this one was probably the "least worse" of the two. It was left-hand drive, had a fabric sun roof and faded yellow paint. I addressed the latter issue by respraying it in the driveway of my parents' home one summer evening. I remember distinctly that the new colour was Ford Truck Yellow -it was bright and cheerful. The thousand or so mosquitoes who adhered to the wet paint remained as a permanent endorsement to this sentiment!

Friday, April 28, 2006

A Real Mad Dog

Chihuaua handstand

A couple of days ago, while out and about on the streets of the great metropolis of Bellevue, Washington, I had an Alice in Wonderland moment. No it wasn't a grinning Cheshire Cat that I stumbled across (actually that sort of happened a bit later, but that's another story) but a promenading chihuaua. Now people with small dogs are not uncommon in this city but what the dog was doing was quite amazing: it was walking on its front paws, handstand style, while simultaneously peeing. Quite astonishing and before you ask the answer is, no, I hadn't been at the shiraz or ingested any kind of mushroom.

A quick search on Google revealed that this behaviour is not uncommon with this breed: see picture above (apologies to the person whose Flickr album I plundered). in addition it would seem that other members of the animal kingdom get up to similar antics. My guess is that these creatures are males and are cavorting in this manner to impress females....

panda peeing
Panda doing handstand (courtesy of the BBC).

Friday, April 21, 2006

Did You Find It...?

Broken window

This is just a quick note to say three things to the individual who was looking for something in my car yesterday:

1) I hope you found what you were seeking. You must have been in a hurry as the interior was quite untidy by the time I arrived. I trust you've taken care of the cut you acquired. Glass can be very sharp, can't it? It must have been nasty as there was quite a bit of blood on my aikido jacket that you pulled out of its bag. Please make sure you cover up the wound as I would hate you to get some horrible infection.

2) In your haste you forgot to pay me for the window. We are all so busy these days it's such an easy thing to do. And I hate to ask friends for money -it seems so vulgar. Anyway the cost for a new one is $439 but I managed to find a used item for $177 (tax, tip and fitting extra). It's amazing what a little piece of glass costs. Perhaps you would be so kind as to leave a cheque on the windscreen under one of the wipers. Cash is acceptable although I don't think you should leave it on the screen. There are quite a few unsavoury characters in the neighbourhood and it's better to be safe than sorry. Alternatively you could pay me in person if you visit The Triangle Pub (see below).

3) I think you left your rock in the car (see picture). It hasn't got a name on it but I'm sure it's yours. Do you recognise it? I know how useful these things are. If you like I could meet you at The Triangle Pub on the 500 block of 1st Avenue S where I can return it to you in a ballistically efficient manner.

Have a nice day!
Rock on

Thursday, April 20, 2006

Let's Kill all the Lawyers

Coronation of Henry VI
Nice print depicting the coronation of Henry VI

Old Bill Shakespeare certainly had a point when he wrote in Henry VI (Part 2) "...the first thing we'll do, let's kill all the lawyers...". I've had cause to interact quite a lot with the legal profession lately and while I've got no personal cause for complaint other than the sheer expense involved, other friends and colleagues certainly do. Consider this:

Recently, old crony, Mel, turned up to a court hearing only to find that it had been posponed at his lawyer's request. This would not have been quite so irksome in normal circumstances but Mel had a broken leg at the time and hauling himself around was a non-trivial task. Quite naturally he telephoned his lawyer's office and complained about the lack of communications to a legal assistant. A little later Mel received a call back from his lawyer who apologised profusely for the situation. For a brief period Mel thought that perhaps attorneys had an undeservedly bad reputation. But then he received his statement of account and found he'd been billed for his lawyer's apologetic phone call!!

As the saying goes, "lawyer, rope, tree -some assembly required".

(Feel free to share lawyer stories).

Monday, April 17, 2006

Normal Service Resumed

Jim on Vacation

I'm back! Sorry to have alarmed some of you -I was quite touched by the concerned emails. Actually nothing sinister was going on; I just didn't feel motivated or inspired to write and I think I was more than a bit drained by the Big Personal Project. Anyway I'm back so watch this space for pontifications on the usual assortment of subjects. Oh, and "What about the picture, -have you been on holiday?" I hear you ask. The answer to that is an emphatic "no". I received the photo yesterday from friend and MD rallying team boss, Jim Wirtz in response to a rather prosaic email. He sent it to me via a text message from his mobile phone proclaiming that he was in Juan-les-Pins. Jim, sometimes I hate you...!

Thursday, March 02, 2006

Gratuitous Art (and Violence) Blogging

Battle 2
Battle of Kawanaka-jima by Utagawa Kuniyoshi (1797-1861)

This print is the center panel of a triptych and is reproduced by courtesy of the Board of Trustees of the Victoria & Albert Museum, London. I had the photograph commissioned with permission from the V&A where the original print (if there is such a thing from a woodcut) is stored and I used it in the design of a book cover. The woodcut dates from c1856.

No fewer than five battles were fought at Kawanaka-jima between 1553 and 1561 (the Sengoku Period) by Takeda Shingen of Kai province and Uesugi Kenshin of Echigo province at this plain which is located in the north of Shinano Province, very near the modern-day city of Nagano. The fourth battle was the fiercest. Heavy losses were sustained by each side but the outcome(s) were inconclusive. I cannot be sure which encounter this picture represents: the battle was a popular topic with Japanese historical artists and many versions exist.

Wednesday, March 01, 2006

Popular Culture

arctic monkey
Despite my advancing years I do make attempts to stay tuned into popular culture. It was thus with interest that I read of the phenomenon of the Arctic Monkeys, a popular electric beat group, that is selling more records than the Beatles. I duly forked out for their album (I bought a CD as it wasn't available at the iTunes store) and gave it a spin. Well I have to say that I don't really understand the hype. They sound like a well-produced indie band but are certainly not up there with Jagger-Richards or Lennon-McCartney. Some songs are quite catchy,though, and I quite like the ditty, Fake Tales from San Francisco. I'll give them a 6.5 out of 10: at least they are better than that droning, sanctimonious, bunch of mingers, U2. From now on I'm going to stick to stick to Corelli, Coltane and Cesaria Evora.

Tuesday, February 28, 2006

Sci-Fi Character

It seems tht my Sci-Fi character is Babylon 5. Damn, I was hoping to be the captain of Serenity! Who thinks up this crap, anyway?

You scored as Babylon 5 (Babylon 5). The universe is erupting into war and your government picks the wrong side. How much worse could things get? It doesn't matter, because no matter what you have your friends and you'll do the right thing. In the end that will be all that matters. Now if only the Psi Cops would leave you alone.

Babylon 5 (Babylon 5)


Millennium Falcon (Star Wars)


Deep Space Nine (Star Trek)


Bebop (Cowboy Bebop)


FBI's X-Files Division (The X-Files)


Nebuchadnezzar (The Matrix)


SG-1 (Stargate)


Serenity (Firefly)


Andromeda Ascendant (Andromeda)


Galactica (Battlestar: Galactica)


Moya (Farscape)


Enterprise D (Star Trek)


Your Ultimate Sci-Fi Profile II: which sci-fi crew would you best fit in? (pics)
created with

Monday, February 27, 2006

California Dreamin' (Not)

Typical air quality in San Diego i.e. not very different from mustard gas.

I'm now back in Seattle after my trip to San Diego to sort out the Large Personal Project. It seems strange to me that when I mention this Californian destination some people go into raptures. I really don't understand. To me San Diego is a gridlocked, smog-bound hell hole and more culture can usually be found in the bottom of a youghourt pot (with apologies to the communities of Leucadia, Encinitas, Solana Beach, Cardiff and Valley Center which I really like). At least one thing amused me, though. After crawling through yet another traffic jam on one of the interstates on Friday morning, the cause was revealed. Two Hummers, you know -those garishly painted sheds-on-wheels that do 8mpg (on freeway with professional driver: yours may differ) had crashed into one another. There was glass, metal and Police everywhere. I was hoping the wrecks might be terminal. Couldn't have happened to two nicer vehicles!

Sunday, February 19, 2006

Up Hill, Down Dale

Blogging will be light to negligible for the next week. Like Sisyphus, I've been rolling a rock that is a Large Personal Project up a long gradient for what seems like an interminable length of time. Hopefully, this week I'll finish pushing the bloody thing to the top of the mountain: please keep your fingers crossed that it doesn't roll back to the bottom...