Tuesday, July 31, 2007

Michelangelo Antonioni

Blow Up, 1966

It's been a bad few days for film makers with the departure of Bergman yesterday and now Michelangelo Antonioni. I havn't seen one of his films for years. They were certainly intriguing although I wasn't convinced that his rambling, somewhat controversial style was the stuff of genius. Nevertheless the world will be a lesser place without him. Now let's hope I don't have to write anymore about dead people this week.

Monday, July 30, 2007

Ingmar Bergman

seventh seal
The Seventh Seal, 1957.

Well it's "Adjö" to Ingmar Bergman, film maker, multiple Oscar winner and genius who departed for the great sound stage in the sky earlier today. Those dark Scandinavian flicks are peerless and will be much missed.

Friday, July 27, 2007

Points of Clarification (Hopefully)

Light Sabre
Mad Dog's Weaponry

Sorry my last post may have been a little cryptic. Several people have asked what I was up to. Well the photo was supposed to show me "duelling with a light sabre". These devices were an amusing and completely functionless giveaway by a large pharmaceutical company. Despite the lack of practical use, confrerence attendees were snapping these things up by the truckload, including your humble author. Sad how a little flashing blue light thingy can have adults scrambling to grab samples like sharks in a feeding frenzy.

Oh and if anyone is curious, the term koshi refers to part of a martial arts technique. It's Japanese for "hip" and means that hip movement should be emphasised in certain forms to increase their power. A good example can be seen here. It's a standard point of correction for any iaido student.

Tuesday, July 24, 2007

Customer Relations

sword fight
Mad Dog (L) seeking to improve customer relations by engaging in light sabre/dagger fights with collaborators and clients. Company name has been obscured to save embarrassment and protect the guilty.

I was going to write a jocular post about my adventures at a big scientific conference and laboratory expo last week but have thought better of it. Not everyone might appreciate my sense of humour and some my observations would have been quite barbed. In anycase I don't want to be another "fired blogger" statistic so for now I'm keeping schtoom. Suffice to say that a productive and stimulating time was had by all and I'm looking forward to the next meeting with eager anticipation.

P.S. Before an iaido student points this out, I'm exhibiting poor koshi in the above picture and am working hard to correct this deficit (hopefully my Sensei doesn't read this blog).

Monday, July 23, 2007

Postcards from Southern California

Udeshi car
Mad Dog meets another blogger and visits a dojo.

My trip to San Diego last week was an unqualified success (watch for further posts on this topic) and tremendously enjoyable. One of the high spots was meeting a fellow blogger in person. So a big thank you to Uchi Deshi for most generous hospitality as well as the opportunity to partake in some aikido training: I would love to reciprocate if you come to Seattle. It's really funny where this blogging stuff leads to...

Sunday, July 22, 2007

Being Serious


Thoughts of sympathy and solidarity go to family and friends in the West of England who are enduring dreadful floods.

Saturday, July 21, 2007

Harry Bloody Potter

Harry Potter and Squeeze about to fall down a mineshaft (hopefully).

What is it about Harry Potter? I have absolutely no problem with children forking out £18/$36 for the book or Jo Rowling being the first dollar billionaire for writing fiction. What really gets my goat is adults reading it. Why? It's a children's book for crying out loud. Nearly 10 years ago a friend kindly bought me one of the first in the series: "Harry Potter and the Golden Cow Pat" or something. It was ok but my opinion was that it was mediocrely written fantasy set against a backdrop of romanticized 1950's England. The target reading age is 11 and Tolkien it is not.

I suppose I mostly rail against adults poring over children's literature because it seems to represent a dumbing down of reading skills. There's a wealth of much better written adult literature out there. Like Hemingway or something similar involving alcohol.

I gather there are deaths in the latest Potter iteration and I'm keeping my fingers crossed that the whole cast have fallen down a mineshaft and will never darken our bookshelves again.

Saturday, July 14, 2007

California Ho!


Tomorrow (Sunday) I'm off to my old stomping grounds in San Diego for a conference. I should be more excited but as usual I've got a million things to do before I leave and my talk is still only 80% ready. In any case I'm looking forward to working on some interesting new collaborations, catching up with old friends, getting together with a fellow blogger (believe it or not I've never met one before) and possibly doing some of this...

Friday, July 13, 2007

Friday Music Blogging: Pentangle

Here's a clip (love YouTube) of the wonderful jazz-folk band, Pentangle, perfoming perhaps their most famous song, Night Flight, which as I recall was the theme music from the 70's BBC TV show "Take Three Girls".

I saw Pentangle several times and their first album (long since knackered and replaced by a prosaic CD) was a very early addition to my collection.

Wednesday, July 11, 2007


Aoki Sensei

Shigehiro Aoki Sensei (Kyoshi 7th Dan) launches a fearsomely powerful nukitsuke (simultaneous draw and cut) in a demonstration at the recent PNKF iaido seminar in Bellevue, Washington.

Two Cats and Other Trouble

My big cat (Jaguar) has transmission difficulties which are invariably going to be VERY expensive.

My small companion animal cat has a recurrence of a nasty skin tumour (fibrosarcoma) which has a worryingly equivocal prognosis.

My dishwasher has packed up.

I'm way behind on professional and personal corespondence (especially concerning the aftermath of my Big Personal Project).

I have a lecture to write before the end of the week and a million things to do before heading off to a conference in San Diego on Sunday.

To compound matters the temperature in Seattle is predicted to soar to 105°F/40°C later today and we don't have air conditioning at my workplace.

I'm hot, stressed and worried....

Tuesday, July 10, 2007

The Lesser of Two Evils

I'm really not sure which is worse: the appalling lapses in the Chinese Food & Drug administration or this act of barbarism.

Saturday, July 07, 2007

Musings on 07.07.07

King & Queen
Crime scene: the King & Queen public house, Cleveland St., London, W1

Apparently 7/7/7 is a lucky date and members of the public are engaged in all sorts of slightly bizarre antics that they believe will have an auspicious outcome on this once-in-a-century occurrence. Well I've now seen this date in two separate centuries and on neither occasion was it fortuitous. Now I'm not really a TimeLord; the last occasion I lived through a succession of sevens was 7/7/77 (which I know is not quite the same) some 30 years ago.

I can remember the day quite well. It started with Noel Edmonds playing Emerson Lake and Palmer's version of "Fanfare for the Common Man" and crowing that he started the record at precisely seven seconds  into the seventh minute past seven o'clock in the morning. Noel has always been a smug, pretentious, patronising, git. Anyway, shortly thereafter I noticed that I couldn't find my cheque book. I didn't think much about this and proceeded to my new job at the Middlesex Hospital Medical School. I was living in the residential quarters of the Middlesex at the time and the end of the day I returned and had a determined look for the missing cheque book. It was not to be found anywhere but I wasn't particularly worried as even back then cheques were rarely accepted without a guarantee card which I was carrying safely in my wallet. Or was I...? I then rummaged though my wallet and the card was not to be found although all other items, credit card, cash, driving license etc were all there. This was very odd. Had I simply misplaced the items or had something more sinister occurred? And then I had one of those feelings-of-doom moments...

The previous night I'd ended up in one of the medical school's favourite watering holes, the King & Queen pub in Cleveland Street. I can't quite remember the initial social circumstances but I ended up chatting to a very engaging young fellow about life, the universe and everything. He appeared very well educated (he almost certainly was) and claimed to be the son of the Taylor in the then well known Taylor-Woodrow construction partnership. I remember talking to "Mr. Taylor" in an increasingly animated and well-oiled kind of way until closing time whereupon I made my way back to my digs and passed out. However I did remember quite clearly that at one point I'd paid a visit to the toilet and asked "Mr. Taylor" to keep an eye on my wallet (which as you may have guessed contained my cheque book and card). Now I wasn't entirely without neuronal function back in those days and had the presence of mind to call my bank and report a possible loss/theft of the items. I also popped into Tottenham Court Road police station to do the same thing. The bored officer who took the report assured me that theft was extremely unlikely as "these types always make off with the lot sir, cheque book, credit cards, cash, you name it". When I suggested that a con man could buy a lot of time if they didn't resort to such crude tactics the officer merely looked at me with that "just leave it to the professionals sir; Sherlock Holmes you are not" expression. I traipsed out of the cop shop feeling naive and slightly foolish.

I was however vindicated a couple of days later when a gentleman from the National Westminster Bank fraud division phoned and enquired whether I'd been writing cheques at Fortnum & Masons, Harrods and other London up-market retail establishments. I replied I hadn't: I was only a new postdoc, and until a week previously, had been living in grad student austerity. Such places simply weren't on my radar screen. Well the thief went on an amazing shopping spree for three days, stopping only when all the cheques were expended. I think the accumulated bill was about £600 which was a small fortune back then. Fortunately because I'd reported the theft in a timely manner I wasn't liable for a penny. I didn't hear any more of the matter until a couple of months later when I had a call from the Tottenham Court Road plod. They wanted to know if I would be prepared to identify the thief. I agreed and was duly escorted by a pleasant officer to Scotland Yard (disappointingly we didn't go in a police car with sirens wailing but rather prosaically on the tube [subway]). At Scotland Yard I was presented with a large volume of mug shots and told to look through them and see if I could recognise anyone (no line up, unfortunately). I didn't have great expectations but lo and behold on the second page there was "Mr. Taylor". He was even wearing the same suit he had on that evening in the King & Queen. I duly fingered him and asked the officer about Taylor's rap sheet. Hw wouldn't tell me anything other than "He's a very clever bloke, that one..". No kidding, he certainly had me fooled!

Well that was then and this is now. The events of today have been possibly less exciting but more expensive and certainly not lucky. I've just been informed that my car needs major transmission work that comes with a price that will induce nosebleeds. And to add insult to injury my dishwasher has packed up. As Hugh Grant would say, "sodding, buggery, bollocks!". I probably won't make 07.07.2077 but if I do I'm going to lock myself in a concrete bunker and not emerge for the entire day.

Thursday, July 05, 2007

George Melly R.I.P.


Let's have a last encore for George Melly, jazz singer, writer and broadcaster who departed for the great stage in the sky earlier today at the age of 80. He was a wonderful, hilarious, entertainer and I saw him on numerous occasions, notably with the excellent John Chilton's Feetwarmers at Ronnie Scott's Club, London. Goodbye, George, we'll miss you...

Wednesday, July 04, 2007

Independence Day

Boston Tea Party

Happy 4th July everyone and be careful with those fireworks.

Now I'm off to make myself a nice cuppa...

Sunday, July 01, 2007

Thirty Years Ago Today

Middx Hosp

Hard to believe but it's 30 years ago today that I nervously left Plymouth in a battered Citroen 2CV to start my postdoctoral fellowship at the Middlesex Hospital Medical School, London (now UCL School of Medicine).

My new home was to be the Department of Immunology which was then chaired by the formidable Ivan Roitt whose claims to fame were the discovery of thyroid autoimmunity and the naming of T and B cells. The five years I spent under him were exciting, turbulent, sometimes difficult, but overall highly productive and I learned a great deal. Better still I made firm friendships that endure to this day.