Entries from April 2008
April 30th, 2008 · Comments Off on Pastoral with invisible pastor
The hand-picked and well-loved sheep who live in this pasture now have springtime babies.
An antique wall separates this little flock from the road, which happens to be the village Iffley’s Church Way. So it seemed natural to wonder about the creator of what was before me, to try to decipher as much as I could about character and motivation as they were revealed by his or her many clear, visible choices.
Tags: Wide wonderful world
April 28th, 2008 · Comments Off on Inside looking out vs outside looking in
Here’s a view from inside Oxford’s Bodleian Library. Not the learning-stuff-now part upstairs where real scholars are working, but the just-for-show fifteenth century oldest bit of it.
Oxford has been kind enough to give me not only a tour but a real reader’s card so that I can sit in their lovely old reading rooms upstairs to read and take notes on some of their amazing collection.
The word “read” may seem overused in that last sentence, but it’s a word to conjure with here in Oxford. Another is “study.” Outdoors you see a magnificent and varied sky, but many of us want to formulate ideas about it beyond “Oh, wow, look at the sky!” Scholars, scientists, even poets have spent many hours inside staring at blank sheets of paper to make all the rest of us richer in appreciation of the sky above us.
The ideal, it seems to me, is to keep both visions at once. To be able to stand outside creating your own stuff instead of jealously debunking people inside. To be able to appreciate the privilege of getting inside and to use it without forgetting just how important outside is.
The Bodleian makes you take a different oath, but I like my own better.
Tags: Wide wonderful world
April 26th, 2008 · Comments Off on Particle physics and Napoleon’s hair
Particle physicists take on hard-to-answer questions — and some recently took on a historical riddle: Was Napoleon I poisoned by his St. Helena guards?
No, says the latest issue of the CERN Courier:
To examine Napoleon’s hair, the team used the technique of neutron activation, which has two important advantages: it does not destroy the sample and it provides extremely precise results, even from samples with a small mass. The researchers placed Napoleon’s hair in the core of the nuclear reactor in Pavia and used neutron activation to establish that all of the hair samples contained traces of arsenic.
So, was he poisoned? No. His hair had (what would be for moderns) high levels of arsenic even when he was a boy.
One surprising result (they tested a lot more hair samples besides just Napoleon’s) was the high level of arsenic found in everybody’s hair in the nineteenth century — 100 times greater than was found in more recent hair.
Future experiments planned by the Cryogenic Underground Observatory for Rare Events (Cuore) group in Pavia include studying the rare double-beta decay and measuring the mass of a neutrino.
Tags: funny · geeky · Science · Wide wonderful world
April 23rd, 2008 · 1 Comment
… especially when geeks take photos in low light and then enhance the heck out of their dark materials.
Oxford Geek Night last night was an interesting blend of Meetup with short but excellent unconference.
The Wikipedia “unconference” article seems to have been hijacked by proponents of exactly one specific brand of (un)conference.* But I think Kaliya Hamlin captures their essence and history quite a bit better:
The name “unconference” arose to describe conferences that step outside of the more traditional model — that is, presentations selected months beforehand, sponsors buying speaking slots, boring panels of talking heads, and high fees.
Gobion Rowlands talked about his company’s science-based Flash game “Climate Challenge” — I would have liked to hear more about the Flash and less about the company, but when keynotes are chopped down to only 15 minutes something has to go. (That’s because I’m working on a Flash game right now–I bet lots of the people there are thinking of their own startups and thought Gobion’s talk was absolutely perfect.)
Jon Hicks packed his 15 minutes with really useful “steal this idea” ideas about building a website “From Design to Deployment.” He also, bless him, posted the slides (pdf).
The five–minute talks, with countdoown clock, are also cool.
Only bad thing is that there are, by far, not enough chairs. I was surprised when I got there (early) to see that very few geeks had brought their own computers. By the time the talks started, with at least half us geeks standing up for all two plus hours, I understood why the laptops had been left at home.
* Update — since I didn’t like what Wikipedia said on “unconferences,” I dredged up some references (they supported my POV) and amended the article. But who knows what you’ll see now if you click this link?
Tags: England · geeky · Metablogging · Wide wonderful world
April 20th, 2008 · Comments Off on Leonardo’s springtime
We took a long walk with Leonardo da Vinci through France’s springtime, yesterday.
Da Vinci spent his last years as the guest of the French king — his rooms and some inventions are now on display at the Château du Clos Lucé near Amboise.
The kids with us, including Frank, loved pulling the rope, turning the crank, etc. on all the working invention models. A “helicopter” that can be rotated by a even a small visitor was the special favorite.
Now I have to get ready to take yet another train trip.
Tags: Science · Travel · Wide wonderful world
April 16th, 2008 · Comments Off on Morris dancing broke out in early April…
… and in other Oxford local news, readers of my blog can relax, because those stray pigs who wantoned through the allotments of Wantage did find a good home, with the help of “four RSPCA inspectors and three members of Oxfordshire County Council’s trading standards team” who “rounded up the porkers after enticing them into a trailer with several loaves of bread.”
I love local news, though the price of having lived now in so many places is that quite a lot of news is “local” to some past home. Just a few more to share:
Tip O’Neill says that all politics is local. Not all news is local, but lots of the best of it is.
Tags: England · Sweden · Travel · Wide wonderful world
April 14th, 2008 · Comments Off on “Ultrarich” disappeared fast from NYT front page
Wow! If you’re in the US this morning, you already missed this.
I wondered if my coffee-deprived, early-morning-in-Europe eyes were playing tricks when I noticed that the big front-page picture story of the NY Times online when I woke up in Paris (which would be about 2 a.m. in New York City) had disappeared by a few hours later. “Despite Tough Times, Ultrarich Keep Spending” had been deep-sixed into “NY Regional.”
As a search result from the NYT Archive, however, it’s still “Front Page – News.”
April 7th, 2008 · Comments Off on I love it that Marks and Sparks apologizes …
… for the inconvenience, on a recent Sunday, to customers who expect to swap pounds for Euros with no waiting, no fuss, and no commission!
If you have ever stood in line at a cashier’s window to change local money into some currency for an upcoming trip, if you have ever reached the head of the line only to shake your head at the exorbitant fees they were planning to charge you, look longingly at this machine in a Marks and Spencer, parked in between the bakery and dish soap!
I’m sure the store loses no money on this machine, which attracts people who will probably spend more money and time buying even more stuff in their store.
Tags: England · Travel · Useful · Wide wonderful world
April 4th, 2008 · Comments Off on Too many delights
The Oxford Literary Festival has come to town, driving distractible locals to distraction with its far-too-many delights.
In the past few days, I have heard wonderful talks by Colin Dexter (creator of Inspector Morse, who talked about Oxford literary landmarks), Roy Foster (aka R F Foster the famous Irish historian and biographer of Yeats), and Richard Fortey (whose new book takes us backstage in London’s great Natural History Museum.)
I also heard Shakespeare as performed by Edwin Booth and Ellen Terry, thanks to the magic of Naxos Audiobooks– and saw Brutus as “recommended” by an Edwardian acting manual, hilariously demoed by actor David Timson.
More today. More tomorrow. More the day after that. Thanks to the Sunday Times and to glorious Christ Church College for making so many delightful distractions possible.
Tags: Wide wonderful world