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Friday, August 27, 2010

What's in your TARDIS?

I've been inspired by Matt Smith and Karen Gillan in the video below to think about what would be included in my dream TARDIS, were I lucky enough to have one bestowed upon me.


AMEF weekender 007
What's in your TARDIS? Tweet ideas with #inmyTARDIS
In case you're not sure, the TARDIS is the Doctor's* time machine. Externally, it looks like a classic blue police box from the 1960s, but on the inside it's something else entirely. For starters, it's bigger. Much bigger. No one really knows how much bigger, but some schools of thought believe that it's infinitely big on the inside. We already know that the Doctor's TARDIS has certain features beyond the console room that we see regularly on TV: living quarters, bathrooms, a medical bay, the cloister room, a greenhouse, a library (complete with swimming pool), an enormous multi-storey wardrobe and even a secondary console room, but with such enormous amounts of space to play with, there must be room for customisation.

Matt's initial suggestions are disappointingly normal (a music room and a football pitch), but at least he's thinking big. But why not bigger? You could have your own stadium! Karen's go a little further into the wacky and wonderful with her idea of going down a floor by slide only. But what would you have if you could specify rooms or other features to be included in your TARDIS?

Some examples? Well, to take Karen's sliding down to lower floors idea a little further, if you've got the tech to stuff the enormity of the TARDIS interior into a police box, you already know how to fold space in on itself, so why not add a nip and a tuck here and there so that you can slide up to higher floors as well?
But the first original idea that came into my head was this: an exercise room that you can only get into by travelling up an escalator that only works in the downwards direction.

I'm sure you can come up with better ones, so either comment here, or post them on twitter using the hashtag #inmyTARDIS.




* As in Doctor Who. If you're still not sure what I'm talking about, you might like to have a browse through some of the tags in the sidebar on the right of this post for something more 'you'.

Thursday, August 26, 2010

Social poll: Do you read on the throne?

Do you sit on the toilet, loo, crapper or bog and open up a book or magazine for the duration? Or are you thoroughly offended by the very idea? Answer my poll below and we'll find out the consensus...

I realise the response section isn't all-encompassing, but assume that a 'yes' response covers everything from 'now and then' all the way up to 'I thought it was all part of the process', whereas 'no' includes 'it just hasn't occured to me to do so' through to 'you're a sick, sick individual for even thinking about suggesting it, and I can barely bring myself to take part in your poll for the convulsive wretching that's taking over my body at the mere thought of it.'

As always, your comments on the matter would be greatly appreciated!

Do you read whilst sitting on the crapper?
Yes (male)
Yes (female)
No (male)
No (female

  
pollcode.com free polls
By the way, I was prompted to do this by Martin Lewis's latest post over at moneysavingexpert.

And if you'd be interested in taking part in more social polls, just click on the 'social polls' tag!

Monday, August 23, 2010

'How to' and Photography - Conquering Snowdon

At the weekend (21/08/2010) I, along with Emma (@squiggle7) and Robin of The Foxes of Nevis climbed Mount Snowdon. I thought I'd combine a photo post with a bit of a 'how to' for people who consider themselves to be very amateur at mountain climbing (as we are!) There are more photos on my Flickr photostream, and more Snowdon photos (including full-sized versions of these) here.

Snowdon is the highest mountain in Wales, reaching 1085 metres at its peak. It is often stated to be the second highest mountain in the UK, after Ben Nevis, but this is not true: the top ten highest mountains in the UK are all located in Scotland. For more information on mountains, you may like to check out this post. And then go somewhere a little less... tongue in cheek.

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This was the view after we'd been walking for half an hour or so. We followed the Pyg Track on the way up, which starts at the car park at Pen-y-Pass. The car park currently costs £10 for the day and fills up really quickly quite early in the morning. Instead, we caught a bus from nearby Llanberis (where we were staying in a B&B) for £1 each.

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This photo shows Emma and Robin in the foreground, and the Pyg Track, dotted with people, stretching back into the distance. In the distance, about a third from the left and a quarter from the top of the photograph, you can see a small cluster of white buildings. This is where the Pyg Track starts. It was about here that the going started to get a bit more 'mountainy'.

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This is the view in the other direction. The Pyg Track curves round and up this elevation, and crosses to the other side of the mountain on a ridge between this peak and the one you can see in the background, Crib Goch. It is at this point that there is the option of breaking off the Pyg Track and following the Crib Goch route, which takes you up and over this summit before carrying on to Snowdon's peak. This is recommended only for experienced climbers and those not used to mountain climbing may find themselves quickly out of their depth. We didn't go that way!

DSC_0316

This is Robin grinning like a loon. We stopped here for a snack after the first challenging 'climbing' bit. Just to clarify, when taking the Pyg Track you don't actually do any real rock climbing in the style of, for example, Sylvester Stallone in Cliffhanger, but there are a few places that require you to get stuck in and use your hands. Again, in this photo you can see the beginning of the Pyg Track in those tell-tale white buildings.

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Over the ridge, and inside the 'horseshoe' of mountains, there is an astounding array of beautiful scenery that changes  minute-by-minute as you walk. The next part of the track is fairly easy going, very uppy-downy, but not so much so that it is arduous.

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Here's Emma having a break. Robin was busy finding a place to rest his bag and coat so that when a big enough gust of wind came it would be in danger of blowing it all over the edge and down into that beautiful lake you saw in the previous photo. Thankfully, when the gust of wind came it was only just not-big-enough and merely caused the birthing of a couple of litters of kittens as we realised what almost happened. This was shortly before Robin was saved by a passing mountaineer from a potentially traumatising Jaffa Cake loss event.

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Here's the continuation of the Pyg Track. Snowdon's summit is round the corner a bit and lost amongst the clouds.

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And looking back on the lakes within the horseshoe.

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Looking back before the most challenging part of the ascent began, just after the Miner's Track joins the Pyg Track: for most of our walk, the Miner's Track was visible down below us, and looked much easier until the climb up to the Pyg Track, and then the following climb almost to the summit - they made up for it then.

DSC_0358

I didn't take many pictures of the next bit, as both hands were needed to help the climb, and I was very fearful of seeing my D60 bouncing all the way back down the mountain and landing with a plop in the lake at the bottom. It went back in my rucksack for a while...

DSC_0359

We stopped for a break and a quick munch after the tough bit and I took this. You can see where the track goes if you follow the people. We were about 20 minutes from the top, here. I'll take this opportunity to say something about footwear and other equipment: If you're going to do this, you need good, sturdy walking boots, a few layers of clothing (it gets pretty cold towards the top, but you'll be sweating like a pervert near the bottom) and a waterproof coat and trousers in your bag just in case. I saw some people doing the climb in jeans, t-shirt and trainers, and thought they were mad. They were lucky with the weather we had, but if it had started to rain they'd have been drenched and freezing by the time they got to the top. I wouldn't have felt safe doing it in trainers, and you need ankle support and a good solid sole as, if you're not used to it, mountain climbing takes it out of your joints and leg muscles, and the paths are far from smooth tarmac!
I heard other climbers talking about someone they'd seen doing the climb in sandals. I dread to think what state their feet were in when they got home.

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Here's Snowdon's summit taken from about the same place as the previous photo. You can just about see a group of people standing there.

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Reach the ridge before the final climb to the summit, and this is the view over the other side.

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And looking back down at the route we'd taken- you can see a hefty portion of the Pyg Track in this photo. The most difficult parts are in the bottom-right of the picture.

DSC_0370Emma and Robin at the summit. It was quite crowded- there were loads of people climbing Snowdon, and apparently this isn't unusual. There's practically no chance of getting lost because the paths are just a constant stream of people going in both directions. It'd almost be possible to send a note from top to bottom without moving, just by passing it from person to person.
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This is an installation at the very top of Snowdon that tells you what, on a clear day, you're looking at. Mostly what we were looking at were clouds- we were in them! But they cleared now and then so that we could take a photo or two from the top:

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You can just about see the zig-zag of the end of the Pyg Track that we came up on the right-hand side of this photo. The Llanberis path that we descended on goes down the far side of this ridge.

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A significant portion of the Pyg Track.

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A significant portion of Wales.

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We walked down the Llanberis path which is one of the easiest routes for climbing Snowdon, but also the longest as it starts in Llanberis itself. It covers roughly the same route as the mountain railway, crossing it a few times as it descends/ ascends (depending on which way you're going).
I found the Llanberis route hardgoing on the way down- it's very rocky and I was already tired from the climb up. Also, whilst the scenery is breathtaking at first, it changes very little as you descend and, still beautiful at the bottom, it gives you little that is new to look at for the 3+ hours you're walking it.

All-in, the climb and descent took us somewhere between 7 and 9 hours, with the downward portion taking the longer time- it was further, we were tired, and blisters had started to form. It was a hell of an experience, though, and one I'd probably repeat given the opportunity. I'd like to try Scafell Pike at some point, and then Ben Nevis too!

There are more photos on my Flickr photostream, in the Snowdon set.

Wednesday, August 11, 2010

Blogstronomy hits 100!

Not mine... click for originator
Yesterday, Tuesday 10th August 2010, my astronomy blog, Blogstronomy received 104 visitors. That might not sound like a lot, but it's the first time it's had a hundred visitors in one day, so I'm pretty pleased with it!

It's a small milestone, but I'd like to take the opportunity to do two things:

1. It can't work without you!
Blogstronomy's main aim is to bring the science of astronomy to a wider audience by answering those space-y themed questions that might pop into your head. Sometimes you're not sure whether the questions are silly or obvious, or you might feel odd contacting some random stranger on a website... Please believe me when I say that whatever your question it is not silly or obvious, and someone else is thinking the same thing. I want your questions: I'm frequently surprised by the things I'm asked because they're often things I wouldn't even think of writing about, and I love being surprised in that way.

So please keep asking questions! There are a number of ways you can do so:

Of course, if you know me in any other way feel free to ask a question any way you see fit!

2. It can't work without you!
Still not mine... click for originator!
Your questions tell me what people want to know about space, astronomy and related areas of maths and science. I'm trying to attract people who want to know more about those things, and I'm not working to a list, curriculum or work scheme, so your questions help to give me a focus. So:
  • If you subscribe or visit regularly, thanks!
    Please keep doing so, and I hope you'll start to comment on the posts that interest you, and maybe even ask some questions if any come to you.
  • If you've asked a question, double-thanks!
    You're directly influencing what happens with this blog; please carry on! Please comment and let me know what you think of my answers to your questions, and feel free to ask me to clarify anything that needs it, or ask any other questions that arise from my response!
Whoever you are, if you like what you read, please, please, please refer this Blogstronomy to anybody you know who might be interested. If you do this, hopefully I can have more questions coming in, and more answers being posted. Questions, views and comments are all encouraging things and will let me know that you like what I'm trying to do, or what to change if you don't!

Monday, August 9, 2010

Conquering Snowdon

I'll get my own pic soon...
In a couple of weeks' time, @squiggle7, a wiley fox named Robin and myself will be travelling to Wales to climb up Mount Snowdon for no reason other than because we feel like it. I thought it'd be prudent to find out a little bit more about mountains in general before we went.

Mount-Taints
Mountains were first invented in 1732 by London-born but Lancaster-settled Edward Taint, from whom they gained their name: after an amusing leg-humping incident involving a prospective financer's dog and Edward himself, the erections became informally known as 'mount-Taints'. This caught on, and the marketers contracted the name to 'Mountains' for the sake of simplicity and common decency. Originally marketed as scenic devices, they quickly caught on as tourist attractions and there are many famous examples the world over, of which Snowdon is just one.

The first range of mountains to be exhibited by Taint's company were the Pennines, running from Derbyshire's Peak District* up to the West Pennine Moors of Lancashire**, and become known as the 'backbone of England', presumably due to the not inconsiderable number of jobs created during the fourteen years of its installation, which secured England's place on the world financial scene.

The building of mountains was originally licensed only to Taint's company, and for around fifty years it developed ranges specifically for use in the British Isles: The Brecon Beacons range, for example, was snapped up by the Welsh, the Grampian range was designed specifically for Scottish use, and the Wicklow Mountains was a special commission for the Irish tourist board.

The Pennines close to completion
Around a century after their inception, Wales installed Snowdon on the site of an old hill (Snow-don meaning 'snow hill') that was destroyed in a freak accident. It became the highest mountain in the world, and the phenomenon started to generate overseas interest for the first time. Taint's ancestors felt that the record should be held by the country of origin, so they built Scafell Pike in Cumbria's Lake District in an attempt to smash the current record. Unfortunately, due to a problem involving conflicting units of measurement on the original plans, Scafell Pike fell short of the record by over a hundred metres. Not wanting to be left out, Scotland joined in and went a bit mad, ending up with the ten highest peaks in the world at the time. Even today, they remain the ten highest peaks in the UK, with Ben Nevis topping the list.

Everest today
By this time the interest from overseas was so much that Taint's company couldn't keep up with demand, and licences were produced that would allow other countries to develop their own ranges under the 'Mountain' brand name. Many mountain ranges were developed for various purposes, not least the 'solution' to the great Indian-Tibetan conflict at the time, which was to install the Himalayas between them. The cost of this in terms of labour as well as finances was so great, and the building time so long, that by the time the mountain range was in place, many of the causes of disagreement between the two countries had been sorted out as a necessity of working together to get them built in the first place.

Mauna Kea: A source of contention
The Americas inevitably joined in, and they did so in style, building the tallest mountain the world had ever seen, Mauna Kea, using an innovative new technique of pumping liquid rock up through the base of the mountain which cooled as it rose and solidified at the top. A south-east Asian conglomerate put together the finances to beat this in a move which has long been regarded as underhanded: they built a new mountain on top of the previously existing Himalayas range. They have since proudly claimed Everest to be the tallest mountain in the world, but American groups steadfastly and consistently label this as cheating and refuse to this day to acknowledge that it beats Mauna Kea: Although Everest certainly reaches a higher altitude, Mauna Kea's base is nearly 20,000 feet below sea level, which is where the American mountain lobbyists say that measurements should start. As a quiet response to this, Asian groups have installed a system based loosely on Mauna Kea's production techniques that is causing Everest to grow by as much as six centimetres per year. They have stated that with an increase in funding (probably from tourism) they will be able to accelerate this growth, eventually making Everest's claim indisputable.

Don't get me started on Chimborazo.






* These were known as the Derby Flatlands prior to the building of the Pennines.
** Previously titled the East Lancastrian Moors.

Friday, August 6, 2010

A little ditty...

I've heard this song on Radio 2* a few times recently. I'd never heard it before**, but I really like it, so I thought I'd share it. It's called Jack & Diane, from the album American Fool and was written and performed by John Mellencamp in 1982***.


At the time, John Mellencamp was performing under the name of John Cougar. I hadn't heard of him under either name until some time this week. This seems a bit odd considering, as I have found out whilst researching this post that he has so far had 22 US Top 40 hits, won a Grammy, been nominated for twelve others, and has a new album, No Better Than This, coming out this month. I don't recognise any of the titles of his other songs, but maybe someone might be able to point me in the direction I may have heard on the radio at some point?

His voice is very melodic with a hint of gravel kicking in now and then, which I really like. The song itself has an interesting arrangement and it doesn't, to me, stand out as being typical 80s fayre- it could almost have been made last week. Give it a listen and see what you think!

Mick Ronson, best known for his work as guitarist with David Bowie and the Spiders From Mars, worked on the American Fool album, but had particular influence over Jack & Diane. Mellencamp said "Mick was very instrumental in helping me arrange that song, as I'd thrown it on the junk heap."

And finally, Mellencamp has ben Simpsoned and Yankovic-ed at the same time:






* Yes, I listen to Radio 2. What of it? Ain't gettin' me anywhere near that Radio 1 balls.
** @squiggle7 tells me that she knows the song well and has heard it many, many times throughout her life. This is the opposite way round to normal...
*** An awesome year.

Thursday, August 5, 2010

How to: Make a home-grown-vegetable curry

I've just had an awesome curry. It was prepared by @squiggle7 and myself out of garden vegetables (bolstered with some other non-gardeny bits and bobs). Please read the whole thing through to make sure you have workable ingredients- I'm not listing them because it's the kind of thing that's infinitely variable and I want you to take some responsibility for your own dinner. It's also worth noting that I have made the steps more complicated and waffly than they need to be, as well as very vague. Make of this what you will.
  • Preparation time: About five months (+ 1/2 hour)
  • Feeds: Some to Many, depending on quantities used
You too can make this delicious curry
Here's the secret in 8 easy steps:
  1. Grow some vegetables. - I did this by letting @squiggle7 do it.
     - Home-grown vegetables taste much nicer than shop-bought ones. This is not just something said by those who grow their own vegetables in order to justify it; it's true.
  2. Harvest the vegetables.
     - I did this by letting @squiggle7 do it.
     - We ended up with carrots, courgettes and runner beans. We only managed a couple of strawberries, they were very small, and are not a traditional ingredient in many curry recipes, so we left them out.
  3. Chop the vegetables up and put them into a saucepan.
     - I did this by letting @squiggle7 do it*.
     - How many is up to you: I'd suggest somewhere between a few and lots depending on how many you want to feed, individual appetites and other factors. Bear in mind that the finished article will freeze perfectly happily to be consumed another day, so you'll probably want to make too much rather than too little. Again, which saucepan to use is heavily dependant on how much you're making- go for too big rather than too small**.
     - This is where the 'bolstering' stepped in too: we added a tin of chopped tomatoes, a tin of sweetcorn and a tin of red kidney beans***.
  4. Pour in a jar of some variety of curry sauce.
     - Many people will say this is cheating. It's perfectly acceptable, not to mention greener and more economical, to make your own sauce, and feel free to do so if you know how, but we were hungry, had a jar of sauce that needed using up, and are not adverse to a little rule-bending now and then.
  5. Mix it up a bit and get the hob going.
     - Make sure the one you switch on/ light is the one underneath the saucepan. I didn't, but was thankfully corrected by @squiggle7. You may not be so lucky.
     - At the same time, get the rice going in another saucepan.
     - How much is, again, dependent upon how many you are catering for and the size of their gluttons. If you don't know how to cook rice at this point in your life, either find out quickly**** or shoot yourself.
  6. Keep an eye on both saucepans***** until the food is done, ready, cooked and finished.
     - Give 'em a stir every now and then so the stuff at the bottom doesn't burn. It should be ready within 20 minutes or so, but the best thing to do is try a little bit now and then- don't be a dunce, and let it cool a bit before shovelling it in, though.
     - Rice is done when it's at a consistency that pleases you. I've eaten rice with people who like barely out of the crunchy stage and also those who believe rice is only properly cooked once the grains have lost their individuality and all become part of one great, mushy collective. The same is true for the curry- it's veg, so when it's hot, it's done. The only thing you really have to think about is how crunchy or soggy you like it. It's a free world, so do as you please.
     - One other thing to think about- if you like your sauce runny, no problem. If you like it nice and thick, you may need to let it simmer for a while until some of the water has evaporated off. If you do this, it should be at a temperature that will allow it to steam without actually bubbling too much.
  7. Serve.
     - This can be done according to personal preference. The standard is, I believe, to serve the rice first with a depression in the middle into which the curry is spooned/poured/ladled/slopped. Variations include putting the rice on one side of the plate and the curry next to it; serving the rice and curry in separate bowls; putting the rice on top of the curry (unusual); serving both in a large cornet with a naan-strip 'flake' (very, very odd).
     - A curry always goes down well with pappadoms, pappadums, popadams, pompadums, poppadams and/or naan bread.
  8. Eat.
    You can use any item of cutlery for this, but chopsticks may well mean that you're there for weeks, and steak knives can cause unnecessary personal injury without actually bringing anything positive to the experience. We both chose forks.

Of course, the above can be simplified to:
  1. Chop veg
  2. Cook veg in sauce
  3. Serve with rice, poppadoms and/or naan.
But where would be the fun in that?



* Actually, to tell the truth I took over from her part-way through this step.
** Forget this 'less is more' rubbish. More is demonstrably more.
*** We luuuurves the kidney beans.
**** Either:
1. Phone your mum;
2. Ask anyone over the age of about 7; or
3. Boil it.
***** Not literally: this is painful and achieves nothing.

Wednesday, August 4, 2010

Your Horoscope with our resident Astrologer, Madame Teakay: Thank you, and good night

I've done a full set of horoscopes this year, and I think I'm going to leave it there because the idea may be getting old, and I don't feel that anyone is really reading them any more.

However.
If you'd like me to write a personalised horoscope, either for you or someone else, please contact me via the Inspire me! form, ask nicely, and include some information about the person you'd like me to write it for, such as:

  • Date of birth
  • Star sign
  • Details of special occasion (if applicable)
  • Favourite colour, food, TV show, movie, band, dog breed etc
  • Day job
  • Hobbies
  • 'In' jokes
  • Quirks, oddities and idiosyncrasies 
  • Anything else that might help me to make the horoscope funny, interesting and personal
I will not charge for writing horoscopes (well, not yet, anyway...), and I give you permission to do with them as you wish so long as you credit me and the blog.

A quick disclaimer: Madame TeaKay is just me in a headscarf and jangly beads affecting a falsetto voice. These horoscopes are entirely made up, by which I mean I don't use star charts or any special calculations to make them up; I just make them up.


You can take a look at your own star sign's horoscope(s*) here:




* Any future horoscopes will be tagged with the appropriate labels, so although there's only one for each at the time of writing, if anyone asks me to write any more, you may see more when you click on those labels.

Tuesday, August 3, 2010

Guitarists: Angus Young

I posted this on twitter earlier, and @squiggle7 responded with this, which prompted me to find this:



Scottish-born co-founder, songwriter and lead guitarist of rock band AC/DC, Angus Young was born on 31st March 1955 and formed the band with his brother Malcolm in 1973. Famed for his wildly energetic performances and trade-mark school uniform, he is also recognisable as an enthusiastic demonstrator of Chuck Berry's duck-walk. The school uniform apparently came after a line of failed stage costumes including 'Super-Ang', Spiderman, Zorro and a gorilla.

A lot of people put AC/DC into the category of 'shouty music', but I don't; largely because I don't like shouty music, but I do like AC/DC very much*. I like them because of their attention to detail, their musical talent and the down-to-Earth, tongue-in-cheek, rock'n'roll and often hilarious themes and lyrics that they give their songs. They're a phenomenal live band, and one of the most fun groups I've ever come across: if you've never given them a try, I suggest you change that, and you can't go wrong with a copy of Highway to Hell** and/or Back in Black***

I love Angus as a guitarist because he's one of those musicians that treats his instrument much as one would expect an extra body part to be treated- he uses it to the full, and appears to have complete mastery of it. He's also one of those guitarists who, due to a combination of style, equipment and attitude, are instantly recognisable just from an audio recording of their work. On top of all this, of course, he's bonkers.




* Yes, I realise that this is a bit wishy-washy.
** Bon Scott's final album with AC/DC
*** AC/DC's comeback album with Brian Johnson at the helm. The title song 'Back in Black' is a tribute to Bon Scott who died after a night of heavy drinking in February 1980.