davegodfrey: Coelacanth (Science)
Readers may have noticed that I have a bit of a thing for science communication. When its done well its beautiful to watch. Some scientists have a real flair for presentation (admittedly some don't- being an educator is hard.) But I haven't met a scientist yet who hasn't enjoyed talking to people about the research they do and why they do it.

Its one of the reasons I love UCL's "Lunch Hour Lectures" series (available on YouTube), the NHM's "Nature Live" programme of short talks,(which sadly aren't made available on the web these days), and the RI Christmas Lectures for the younger viewers.

The Vega Science Trust has put a whole load of science videos up on the web. There's lectures from the RI by Jocelyn Bell-Burnell, about how weird pulsars are (complete with the sort of demonstrations I recall from the RI Christmas Lectures of my youth), Richard Feynmann giving the Douglas Robb Lectures at the University of Auckland, and interviews with all sorts of Nobel Laureates and other scientists.

TV? Who needs one.
davegodfrey: Cyberman: The Future is Shiny (Shiny)
Given that there's a new one, and the price of the old one has dropped a bit on the second hand market I've decided to get a used Canon EOS 5D. Its a full-frame camera, so all my lenses do what they did on the old EOS-1 film body I have, rather than having a 1.6 crop as on the cheaper bodies. Also it won't be killed by the voltages from the flash kit I own too. It'll only work manually, but given the instant feedback that digital gives you that's not something I'm too unhappy about. I'll probably look out for a dedicated flashgun eventually, (and it looks like some of the modern flashguns will still work on a T90, which is a real bonus) but for now its all good, as they say.

I also finally found a hotshoe adaptor so I can use the long flash cable I have. Which is very useful, as you can see...

Now the only thing I need to look out for is one of these, an EOS to FD adaptor, without glass, so I can use bellows and fancy close-up lenses. Knowing there and then if the lighting or focussing are right is really helpful. Much as I'd love one, I just can't afford the MP-E65.

So am I abandoning film? Hell no. I'll still use it for lots of things- especially situations where I know what I'm doing with regards to lighting, etc. Plus I love the feel of the old cameras. I think the F-1 might see rather more use compared to the T90 now. With digital I shoot more, but think less. Which doesn't necessarily make for better photographs. With film I pay much more attention to what I'm seeing in the viewfinder.

But when it comes to experimentation? Digital is much more convenient.
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After Man

Dec. 11th, 2010 01:02 pm
davegodfrey: Coelacanth (Science)
I am a massive fan of speculative zoology. I adore the whole "what if the dinosaurs hadn't died out" ideas, and like many people of my generation I owned lots of books about dinosaurs many of which were written by Dougal Dixon. Who, back in 1981 wrote "After Man: A Zoology of the Future". He also subsequently wrote "Man After Man", which is essentially full on Sci-Fi, though I have to say that Nemo Ramjet did the whole "the next 500 million years of human evolution" thing better in All Our Tomorrows" (seriously, read it, its freaking awesome, if not a little nightmarish in places). In 1988 "The New Dinosaurs", which I read before Jurassic Park came out. Sadly this is the one that doesn't stand up that well to the massive amount of stuff we've learnt about maniraptorans and the like since then. Specworld is a very good modern version.

But its After Man, which was the first, and I think still the best. Not all of the future animals are particularly practical- I agree with Tricia that tusks on a mole are just dumb. but the hypercarnivorous rats are a masterstroke.

But I mostly want to point out that Japan seems to have gone completely nuts for him. There was an hour-long program (sometime in the '80s by the looks of it) with some rather lovely stop-motion animals. I think it also talks a lot about other aspects of evolution, but I don't speak Japanese, so I have no idea exactly what they're talking about, but there's shots of the Galapagos and that kind of thing.

And if that wasn't enough, someone made a cartoon sequence with all these animals in it. Which would be perfectly sane if that happy dancing bipedal baboon wasn't supposed to be the size of a Tyrannosaurus

But what I most want is this the "After Man" model kit. (It looks like there was more than one "After Man" cartoon based on that too. And yes, the Nightstalker, a flightless, blind, bipedal, killer bat, from Hawaii, really was supposed to be five feet tall. Call Roger Corman, I've got an idea for a film...
davegodfrey: South Park Me. (Default)
Day 23 - A YouTube Video

Egosofts X-Series games are probably my favourite games out there right now. They're the closest anyone's come to Elite with modern graphics. And best of all, while it isn't open source by any means there is a very active mod community- fan-made scripts are regularly incorporated into offical bonus packs, and after one game got a particularly detailed and expansive mod they hired some of the people who produced one mod to work on the next game they made. A little while ago there was a competition to make videos using the game.

Yep. Space trading games that cost £20 can now be used to make films that look better (and are often better plotted, written and acted) than things in Doctor Who, Babylon 5, and plenty of other SciFi. My god this truly is The Future.
davegodfrey: South Park Me. (Default)
Day 22 A Website

I've already mentioned Mike Everhart's Oceans Of Kansas website elsewhere, so I'll point you somewhere else instead.

Palaeos is one of the greatest websites I have ever found. It discusses pretty much the whole of palaeontology, covering thousands of taxa, providing primers on cladistics, morphology, biogeography, etc, etc. And its just been wikified, so if you think you can help then jump aboard.

I think probably my favourite essay on there, and its hard to choose there are so many, is the essay "What Is A Tetrapod?"
davegodfrey: South Park Me. (Default)
A Hobby of Yours

Well, I think I've spammed you all with enough photos, so I'll have to pick something else I do. (No, not drawing and painting, though I've been known to do a fair bit of that).

Recently I've got into this thing called fishkeeping. Well, I say recently, I've thought about it off and on for a long time, usually distracting myself with things like plants- a bedroom full of plants at 16- most of which are still alive, even if the cycad has been looking a little peaky for a couple of years now. At some point I'd like to live in a house with space for at least a few of them- although quite where I'd put three 6' citrus trees I'm not entirely sure.

Someone once said that fishkeeping was basically lots of chemistry with some fish involved, and I've certainly come to appreciate that. To start up an aquarium you need to have a colony of bacteria, which turn the toxic ammonia waste into something less lethal, and then there's the problem of dealing with other aspects of water chemistry. Anyone living in London knows that their water is very hard, which plenty of species aren't too fond of. And then there's temperature- I don't think I can keep many native species in the tank I have- it won't get cool enough in winter, and gets too hot in summer- Which is a shame s the native plants I've got in there right now are going great guns.

So I'm having to re-evaluate what I can keep. It looks like there'll be a few things I can happily accommodate- there are several Asian Bitterlings that are relatively readily available (the European one is banned as its considered an invasive species), and don't mind the relatively alkaline hard water I have, a swan mussel or two might encourage them to breed, though they're a git to keep alive. And I think I'll be ok with the pond loaches. So the plants will be wrong, but there'll be a nice little community set-up in that.

The only problem is that both species are social, and with the 1" to 1 gallon rule for stocking, the 240 litre (55 gallon) aquarium I have is starting to feel a little small, and that's before I've even put the fish in there...

Oh, and the other problem with fishes? MTS Multiple Tank Syndrome. I've no space for it yet, but I'm already planning the next three, a 30 gallon for Blind Cave Tetras, a 20 gallon for shell-dwelling cichlids, and perhaps a tiny little 10 gallon for shrimp.

Tomorrow I think I'll pootle off to find some more rocks and bogwood. I'd still like to get the pH down a little if I can...
davegodfrey: Hello Cthulhu! (Cthulhu!)
They've remade The A Team?

I'm not sure mid-air tank fights are going to save it however.

Clash of the Titans

While they've dumped Ray Harryhausen's stop motion maquettes (could they not at least have got him to design and build the monsters and then CGI'd them?) they have at least preserved the original's penchant for getting big name actors in for the deities. If nothing else its got lots of monsters, which is nice.

Iron Man 2

I'd see this purely for the soundtrack frankly, even if I wasn't expecting it to be fantastic. Moar AC/DC whoo!

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davegodfrey: Coelacanth (Science)
Today is the 200th birthday of Charles Darwin. Best known for formulating the theory of evolution by means of Natural Selection (which explains how the peacock got its wings), less well known for coming up with the theory of Sexual Selection (which explains how the peacock got its tail), and totally ignored for explaining how coral reefs formed.

What is remarkable about Darwin's theory is that the:

"...whole theory was thought out on the west coast of S. America before I had seen a true coral reef."

"But it should be observed that I had during the two previous years been incessantly attending to the effects on the shores of S. America of the intermittent elevation of the land, together with the denudation and the deposition of sediment. This necessarily led me to reflect much on the effects of subsidence, and it was easy to replace in imagination the continued deposition of sediment by the upward growth of coral."
Darwin observed volcanic islands in the Atlantic, and the second of his books on the geology observed on the voyage of the Beagle (Volcanic Islands, published in 1844) discusses the evidence for crustal uplift as caused by volcanic activity, and corresponding subsidence after the volcano became extinct. On the coast of South America he saw (and when caught in an earthquake, felt) the evidence for large-scale, and long-term movements of the Erth's crust. Having worked out how coral reef ought to form he was in a position to study real reefs to confirm or refute this hypothesis.

Gathering data from soundings taken by the Beagle's Captain Fitzroy, and from a wide range of other sources Darwin confirmed that the "polypifers" that created coral reefs were shallow water organisms. Darwin was unaware of the diversity of deep-water organisms, nor of the range of organisms that contribute to reef formation- had he been, he would have needed to qualify these observations. Rosen (1982) notes that this lack of knowledge probably helped Darwin to formulate the theory.

Darwin also considered the ecology of reefs, noting that the most exposed parts of the reef are mostly home to massive corals and red algae, and this was the area of most active reef growth. Once a reef has reached sea-level it then grows outwards. In the 130-odd years these basic observations have not been seriously challenged.

It was his work on coral reefs that earnt him scientific credibility, and made him a member of the scientific establishment. So by all means raise a toast to one of Natural Selection's founding fathers, but don't forget he was more than just a biologist. He was also a geologist, oceanographer, biogeographer and ecologist, long before many of these disciplines were recongised.
davegodfrey: South Park Me. (Default)
Was really very good, but it did confirm my personal dislike for Ricky Gervais. However the host, Robin Ince was very, very good, with his Hannah-Barbera Feynman impressions, and humorous rants about Anne Coulter, Stephen Green and all the other people who provide a reason for the "New Atheists" to be so vocal. Plus he gave a shout-out to Tycho Brahe. Who doesn't get talked about nearly often enough at comedy gigs.

There were a couple of acts that didn't quite work for me. Mostly it was the musical numbers. Which I'm sure were a matter of personal taste. I'm not really sure that the one-man Beach Boys parody quite fitted.

The Carl Sagan snippets were very well chosen. I never watched Cosmos when I was a child. I don't think they repeated it much in the 1980s, unlike the ubiquitous deity that is Sir David A. But on the basis of those few minutes I can understand why he was so popular with so many people. (And then the Mystery Fax Machine Orchestra played a very silly version of Thus Sprach Zarathustra).

Simon Singh was good, and it was nice to hear his Katie Melua rewrite- as sung by the lass herself. I remember hearing it on the Today programme a few years back.

I can understand why Dawkins chose the pieces he did, and it reminded me that I still haven't got a copy of Unweaving the Rainbow. Though if he'd spent the entire time talking about Fig Wasps that would have been equally enjoyable.

Stewart Lee was very good too. I will never hear the "dance as ancient as time" cliche in quite the same way.

Natalie Haynes was rather funny, and I shall have to look out for her work in future.

Ben Goldacre's polemic was fantastic. His columns are always worth reading, and he brings the same mix of wry humour and outrage at the actions of people like Matthias Rath to his spoken word stuff too, and provided a reminder that pseudoscience is not harmless.

Tim Minchin rounded off the evening with a brilliant beat poem. Someone else I shall have to look out for in future.

Sadly I couldn't find someone to take up the spare ticket I ended up having. But at least this time I remembered I was supposed to be at a gig. ;)
davegodfrey: Coelacanth (Science)
This blog seems to have turned into a TV/Media reporting site recently. Never mind.
The Beeb have a new series out called "Fossil Detectives". Presented by Hermione Cockburn it is an 8-part series made by the OU. (So that should be a good indicator of quality.) Sadly, unlike the OU shows I remember as a child there's a distinct lack of beards, and less detail in some things than I would like. But being the OU what is there is top-notch stuff. This weeks episode concentrated on Central England, so we got a look at the Dudley Bug (the trilobite Calymene), the serial grinding work of Peter Sheldon that revealed a fossil sea-spider, David Attenborough reminiscing about his childhood collecting fossils, and the Ediacaran fauna of Charnwood Forest in Leicestershire.

What most excited me was the section on the BGS's work in rediscovering one of the more obscure Lagerstätten deposits, an Oxford Clay site in Wiltshire where volcanic eruptions poisoned the water, creating a predator trap, and preserving soft tissue in phosphate. The site had previously revealed beautiful cephalopod fossils, belemnites with their hooks in life positions, and squid with their arms, fins and ink sacs preserved. Sadly the site was lost as the local collector provided misleading information as to its location, but the BGS have rediscovered it.
 What was especially exciting for me is that I'd looked at the NHM's collection as part of my undergrad degree, so the thought of this site being rediscovered warms the cockles of my dead-squid-loving heart.

Next weeks episode is on London, so of course we get "hippos in Trafalgar Square", and the other episodes detail different regions , with input from the appropriate scientists, Jeff Liston discussing Leedsichthys in Peterborough for instance. I'm rather  looking forward to them.

One of this week's "Charlie and Lola" was entitled "It is very special, and extremely ancient." Charlie is given an ammonite, and his sister Lola is very interested in it. Its even older than 25. Lola decides to look for fossils with her friend Lotta. Of course they start looking in all the wrong places (digging holes in sandpits, etc) before being taken to the beach where after an unsuccessful day they finally find something right at the end. Its a wavy line in the cartoon. Lola thinks its a centipede, Charlie isn't sure its a fossil at all, and it turns out to be a Nematode worm, and is Very Special and put on display in the museum.

There's definitely a degree of accuracy. Very often the most exciting finds occur on the last day of the dig (this happened to John Ostrom when he discovered Deinonychus, and seems to crop up in every other episode of Time Team). But the nematode fossil? That really would be something special. Nematodes are soft-bodied, so their chances of being fossilised are extremely rare. Some are known from Scotland, found inside the remains of a decaying sea-scorpion (Gigantoscorpio), others from Mazon Creek in Illinois (and I assume that Charlie & Lola don't live near Chicago), and still more from amber, including records of parasitism. However trace fossils resembling the wavy lines of nematode trails are known from Triassic and Eocene deposits, and Cochlichnus, a similar fossil is often attributed to nematodes, so perhaps that's what Lola found.

If a kids cartoon can get this sort of thing right, and it didn't take long to find the information via Google, then why can't newspapers?

Stormer, L. 1963. Gigantoscorpio willisi, a new scorpion from the Lower Carboniferous of Scotland and its
associated preying microorganisms. Skrifter Utgitt a v Det Norske Videnskaps-Akademi i Oslo, 8:1-171.

Valentine, J. W. 2004. On the Origin of Phyla. University of Chicago Press.


Mar. 11th, 2008 06:56 pm
davegodfrey: Cyberman: The Future is Shiny (Shiny)
I like macrophotography. And by like, I mean its one of the first things I wanted to do with a camera. One of the first lenses I bought for my SLR kit was a Tamron 90mm lens, which is perfect for plants, and excellent for insects. I have either extension tubes or bellows for all the cameras that will take them, the Bronica, the EOS kit (although I don't have a macro lens for this one), and both for the Canon FD kit.

Getting out of work at 4 means I got the chance to pop into York Cameras ('round the corner from the BM). Where I found both these lovely lenses in for £199 each. I'd never seen them other than in the catalogue. They only work on a set of bellows, but I have those. The 35 looks relatively easy to use, giving me between 2:1 and 6:1 reproduction (2x to 6x life size as reproduced on the negative). The 20mm goes from 4:1 to 10:1 magnification! Holy Giant Insects Batman!

So much for the "saving money plan". I haven't bought either of them. Yet.

Must Resist The Shiny...


davegodfrey: South Park Me. (Default)
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