Saturday, December 29, 2012

Musical Postcards: The Blooming Heather...

No, this is nothing to do with Francis McPeake's wistful folksong about bonnie Scotland so if you came here looking for stuff about wild mountain thyme and so forth you're going to be sorely disappointed. This is another vignette in my local musicians series and features the terrific Heather Sullivan and an assortment of talented friends tearing it up at the Pogacha bar in Issaquah, Washington. Jackson Rice's trumpet solo is simply outrageous! Rock on, guys!

Wednesday, November 14, 2012

Musical Postcards: Pearl Django

Collecting video clips of local musicians seems to have become an inadvertent hobby. Sometime ago, while wandering around a local shopping mall in Bellevue, Washington, I chanced across this delightful nugget of  gypsy jazz.  In this clip, Seattle-based Pearl Django perform the Reinhardt/Grapelli classic, "Djangology".  If this doesn't make you tap your feet, there is no hope. Excellent! Usual excuses about image quality with a mobile phone...

Wednesday, October 31, 2012

Happy Halloween!

Beautiful full moon over Bellevue, Washington, this evening.

I caught this lovely, eerie, full moon over Bellevue this evening. Now I'm checking to see if I've got hair growing on my hands...

Happy Halloween!

PS Note to my shutterbug readers: sorry about the fairly average snap but I was caught with just my phone (HTC One S) so this will have to do. 

A Chip off the Old Block

At the risk of appearing nepotistic, I'm going to recommend this as an entertaining way of spending five minutes. It would appear the girl can not only write but has a well-developed sense of humor too. Enjoy!

Tuesday, October 30, 2012


Despite my advanced age, I still like to listen to modern music including new and emerging bands.  I"m very aware that "my era" produced some of the most innovative and enduring rock anthems of all time but I have no intention of getting stuck listening solely to the likes of Cream, Zeppelin and Hendrix for the rest of my mortal existence. Recently, this jolly bunch from the UK caught my attention and are one of the best rock bands I've heard in a very long time. And they do ROCK! Dorje [dawr-juh] comprises musical virtuosos Rabea Massaad (guitar), Dave Hollingworth (bass) and Ben Minal (drums)  - the ensemble is fronted by the charismatic YouTube guitar guru, Rob Chapman (guitar, vocals).

Take a listen. In contemporary vernacular it's pure filth!

Monday, October 29, 2012

Laptop or Stovetop?

Here's a cautionary tale for laptop users (I would guess most readers of this blog).

One hot day, back in the summer, I noticed that the front of my thighs were sore.  Nothing awful but there was a pronounced tenderness in the region of my quadriceps muscles as I moved around. At first I  didn't think anything of it but the discomfort increased.  Twenty four hours later, both my legs were quite painful and eventually, when I could no longer ignore the problem, I pulled down my trousers to examine the tender spots.  What I saw was quite horrifying. The skin above my knees on both legs was vividly red and blotchy. Several blisters were evident: the left side was particularly bad. At first I was mystified  about the pathogenesis of these lesions (see Picture #1 below).  I cogitated on the matter for a bit.  Was it some strange bacterial infection?  A Staph perhaps or worse some horrendous, flesh-eating, bug (technically necrotizing fascitis caused by a Group A Streptococcus)? Possibly it was an incipient autoimmune condition such as pemphigus or even a T cell lymphoma.  I felt distinctly neurotic as my imagination ran riot. Sometimes it doesn't help to have a background in immunology/microbiology. And then the light bulb went on...!  The previous day(s) I'd done quite a bit of work on my laptop with the machine on my, err, lap. Generally I try to work with it placed on a desk as I'm very aware that extensive typing with a computer placed on one's knees leads can lead to postural problems (I have the chiropractor's bills to prove it). However for a number of reasons I'd been using the machine on my lap on this occasion. The computer in question is a 2011, metal-cased,  MaBook Pro with a 15" screen. It's quite powerful and its heart (or should I say brain?) comprises four Intel microprocessors clocked at 2.2GHz. All this grunt comes at the price of power consumption and heat is produced as a consequence. I'd noticed that the bottom of the Mac became quite warm after use.  But could it have been burning my skin without me noticing? I'd never had any problems with laptops in the past although they were invariably plastic case models and did not have the conductive problems of aluminum. Furthermore I'd never owned a machine as powerful as my MacBook Pro.

1. Author's left thigh above the knee. Large florid blotchy patches and blistering that  occurred after laptop use. The right leg was slightly less affected.

2. The temperature almost anywhere on the rear of the case exceeded 110°F.                                                                              

3. Around the rear left of the case, directly below the microprocessor cluster, the temperature approached and exceeded 120°F within a few minutes. 

4. Another temperature reading after being revved up for 3 minutes  with  YouTube usage or the video game "Rage". 120°F was achieved very easily and more intense provocation would probably generate temperatures in excess of those recorded here.

I fiddled around with the machine, deliberately trying to make it work hard by giving it demanding jobs such as playing big videos from YouTube and running various games. It did seem to get pretty hot. but was it enough to burn skin?  I had to be more objective so I purchased a small thermal scanner, revved  up the Mac again and took some readings. The results were surprising. The temperature at the bottom rear of the case was always well in excess of 100°F and went up to a peak of 120°F around the rear left side of the case, exactly below the microprocessor cluster (see photos).  The ambient temperature was 72°F (sorry for the use of Imperial units but the US is locked into it and regards the metric system with suspicion -if my little scanner had a built in Celsius readout, I couldn't find it).  Although I repeated the procedure a couple of times, I concede it wasn't a very scientific study but if anything the readings were conservative.  One thing is clear, however: the Mac gets bloody hot with just fair use and the heat is conducted very efficiently through the metal case.  The Burn Foundation states that a temperature of 133°F for 15 seconds will cause third degree burns so I'm pretty sure that a piece of metal heated to 120°F+ will cause tissue damage when pressed against skin for 60 minutes or more. I was wearing trousers when the injury occurred but thy were just light, summer weight, cotton chinos which didn't provide much in the way of insulation. Why didn't I feel the burn occurring? Well, in retrospect I did notice that the Mac was disagreeably warm and I moved it about a bit to mitigate the discomfort but at no time did I suspect it was causing a burn of any kind.

Anyway that's the story. Two, no three, months later my skin is still quite red and blotchy and I think will take the rest of the year to fully heal. I did mention the incident to a resident Genius in the local Apple Store and he pointed out that MacBooks aren't meant to be used on a lap even though they are universally termed "laptops".  There's an irony in this somewhere. Let the user beware: you have been warned! P.S. Note added two weeks after the initial post: I've just learned that my condition is a well documented phenomenon and is known as erythema ab igne or toasted skin syndrome. How I hate hindsight...!

Sunday, October 28, 2012

Immunologically Speaking

As one of the longest, most expensive and certainly most toxic US election campaigns in history approaches its peak, I thought I'd share a scintilla of humour. As an immunologist, I've always loved this cartoon which I found many years ago and borrowed from the now sadly defunct  British satirical magazine "Punch" (May, 1981 issue). Somehow the depicted situation seems more relevant today than ever before; B cells, T cells, T bags...Oy!


OK, as you have doubtless noticed, I've had the decorators in. I'm not sure about the new look yet but the old template was definitely worn and faded. This one is fresher, warmer and has a retro feel. I seem to have lost a few of my old links  -not necessarily a bad thing as many were out of date and putting long lists of hypertext links on one's site looks "so 2005".  I'll restore one or two once I've figured out how to do the HTML again (damn, that was a chore last time) in the next week or so.  In the meantime please feel free to leave me feedback (preferably polite): I now have a "Comments" box again. The old one disappeared awhile ago with the loss of the Disqus free service and was actually the straw that broke the camel's back in terms of my tolerance for the old template.

Thursday, September 27, 2012

War Stories: The Spitfire Table

Old friend and noted furniture maker, Huw Edwards-Jones, has a table for sale. Now this is not like anything you'll find at IKEA or advertised on eBay. Indeed it's such an astonishing fusion of art and engineering that it caused me to emerge from my blogging hiatus to comment.  The table is essentially an authentically reconstructed nosecone of a Supermarine Spitfire -the iconic WWII fighter aircraft. It is constructed from many original parts of verifiable provenance. For example the propeller blades are numbered and Huw has a complete history of each airplane to which it was originally attached. The aluminium has been shaped to the original size and contours of a Mk IX Spitfire and is assembled using original fastenings. The exhaust stubs are genuine Rolls Royce Merlin parts (did any engine ever sound better than that glorious supercharged V12?) and the propeller and nose cone rotate noiselessly on a crankshaft bearing. The time from concept to completion was is excess of five years and the details of the table's construction can be found here.

I can say, honestly, that I've never seen anything like it: the construction is a work of genius and the overall effect is breathtaking. I should point out that Huw is not a common or garden chippy  - among other things he is Liveryman of the Worshipful Company of Furniture Makers and a Freeman of the City of London. This is kind of a big deal. First of all only 300 individuals are admitted to the Company, membership of which entitles him to herd sheep across London Bridge and "go about the city with a drawn sword, to be drunk and disorderly without fear of arrest, and if convicted of a capital offense, to be hung with a silken rope”. Handy stuff. I should add that Huw's portfolio is amazing and stewards of his furniture include members of the British Royal Family. 

So if you are thinking of a rather different Christmas present for a loved one or you feel your current dining table is looking a bit passé, why not consider acquiring this brilliant conversation piece and give Huw a call. Be warned though, he told me the parts alone cost close to £60,000 (let's say $100,000 US, give or take a bit) so it's not going to be cheap...!