Tuesday, October 31, 2017

Tuesday Titter

University lecturer keeps his Brexit opinions under wraps as witch hunt by the Daily Mail continues... (I agree with him BTW, as apparently does the Bank of England, oh joy, less workers and more civil-servants bet that'll look good on the balance of payments!)

Monday, October 30, 2017

Monday morning blues

Loads of people "off-sick" this morning, beginning to think that messing around with the space-time continuum isn't our best idea ever; or maybe it's just a flu virus.

Sunday, October 29, 2017

Zombie Dust

In the spirit of Halloween I brewed up a monster IPA based on a recipe from the famous US brewer "3 Floyd's Brewing" in Indiana. The beer is appropriately called "Zombie Dust" and is a classic American IPA/Pale ale loaded to the gunnels  with Citra hops which impart a tangy orange/grapefruit flavour which balances nicely with the 6.2% alcohol. For this brew I used a new product called Lupuln2 hop powder which is essentially just the flavorsome parts of the hop flowers (the lupulin glands) extracted and freeze dried; it's potent stuff, and has the benefit that you can dry hop your beer for much longer without imparting any "green" off-flavours from the leaf material that you usually get in hops.

Only had time to try a single glass last night but so far it's looking good, really well balanced, couldn't detect any booze (which is dangerous for a 6%+ beer) but it meant the fruit flavours shone through; it will benefit from a few more weeks of conditioning but pleased with the result, pretty authentic.

Friday, October 27, 2017

Deep Waters

Been listening to a radio interview that Roger Waters did a while back when he released his latest album, "Is this the life we really want". In it he talks about an omitted verse on one of the songs on that album called "Deja Vue" in which he muses on what he would have done if he were "God" It's a thought provoking track, as is the whole album, it's cut from the typical Waters mould (i.e. political activism) and it's hard not to disagree with most of what he says. The music has been produced to a very high standard IMO, highly recommended, anyway, the verse is as follows,

If I had been god I would not have chosen anyone, 
I would have laid an even hand on all my children every one,
Would have been content to forego Ramadan and Lent,
Time better spent in the company of friends,
Breaking bread and mending nets.

If I was God I would have left it in..

Friday Smirk

A little light atheist humour for Friday from theatheistpig.com


If I were the governing body of this particular sport I wouldn't let any country host the world championships unless they agreed to treat all competitors equally. Here an Israeli judo fighter wins gold but the host organisers in Abu Dhabi refuse to play his national anthem or show the Israeli flag - so he quietly sings it to himself on the podium, good for him. Why anyone goes to these medieval tin-pot gulf states I'll never know. Actually, scratch that, I do know why, it's entirely about filthy lucre and the lure of 10% off a fake handbag in a crappy shopping mall.

Thursday, October 26, 2017

Brexit bias


New J&M today; incredibly "progressive" cartoons.. :)

Wednesday, October 25, 2017

Dark-side progress update

I transferred my chocolate orange stout across to a secondary container today and racked the now fermented beer onto the Cointreau soaked cacao nibs.. Wow! What a fabulous aroma, plums, coffee, chocolate, orange, figs and the beer is as black you like with a gravity reading suggesting that it should finish up around 8.5% ABV In the photo you can just about see a few of the nibs floating around, I'll leave it here for about a week and then stick it in bottles (having filtered the debris out of course); then we wait patiently as it conditions and carbonates..

Wednesday grin

Might try this at my next board meeting...

On Craft

There's an interesting article on the BBC web site about "craft beer" but I would urge you to take a look at the comments if you want to see a truly "religious" conversation taking place, it's funny and sad at the same time, so much delusion based on incredulity and ignorance.

There are some classic canards being tossed around, I thought it would be fun to pick a few of the more acerbic ones apart..

- No such thing as "craft beer", we've had real ale in the UK for centuries, craft beer is just a new name for real-ale.

It's impossible to completely generalise, but, anyone who has actually made beer will understand why "traditional" bitters, i.e. real-ales (if we're talking about the UK) are different from more modern "craft" incarnations. It's all about the ingredients and how the beers are made. Firstly there are completely different hops involved, the "craft" movement came from the USA and hence the predominant varieties of hops used are American ones. Hops like Citra, Simcoe, Centennial and Cascade rather than more traditional English varieties like Fuggles, Goldings and Challenger. Often different adjuncts will be used, for example flaked oats in pale ales, pilsner malts in ale recipes or perhaps even fruit during the fermentation. Next the beers are made using different (non-traditional) techniques, like dry-hopping and barrel ageing. Of course some brewers will mix and match old and new ingredients and techniques but generally "craft" describes a style of beer that is much more hop-flavour forward, generally higher in alcohol and almost certainly using more exotic varieties of things like yeasts, hops and malts. (hence why they're usually more expensive) - it's all about variety and the taste experience, not necessarily better (that's the subjective part), but certainly different.

- It's nothing but expensive american type beer pushing proper British beer off the shelves. Mainly bought by people with skinny jeans and beards who used to drink cider with ice in it.

I guess when you don't have a real argument you attack the people involved for what they look like? Generalisations like this aren't based on facts, some of the best craft beer you can get is from the UK and Europe. When the best brewers, with unique heritages and a vast well of experience to draw on get their hands on new, exciting ingredients and are released from the shackles of the bean-counters of industrial breweries, guess what! They tend to produce some fantastic products, that's "craft", i.e. it's also about the scale of production, which tends to be small and local in character.

- Craft beer :) it’s home brew for God’s sake

What's wrong with home brew? It's probably fair to say that craft beer is often only one step removed from home-brew; most of the people involved in the scene started by brewing for fun. Often that enthusiasm, passion and spirit of experimentation is what distinguishes craft beer from "big-corporation beer", for many that's a plus rather than a minus.

- A re invention of a product and a flash in the pan

Sometimes in commerce it's a really good strategy to "re-invent" a product, evolution is often a much cheaper, quicker and more profitable way of expanding or disrupting an existing market. Is "craft" a flash in the pan? The quick answer is, so what if it is? But, a look at the data would suggest not.

At the top end (i.e. the top 20 or so companies) in the UK are growing in excess of 100% per year, this growth far outstrips that of the industrial conglomerates that have dominated brewing over the last few decades. Some of this growth is the law of small numbers, but if you examine the statistics around (traditional) pub closures vs. craft beer bar openings you will see a similar picture, people are queuing up to buy the stuff. There are now more breweries in the UK than there has been since the 1930's (up 60% in the last five years alone), these are all commercial indicators that this wave is real and will last for some time to come.

In the final analysis whenever a market is disrupted and things change there are some that are for it, some against it and some it passes by completely. It's about the forces of supply and demand, some see choice as a desirable commodity others see it as a threat, in the end, the consumer will decide.

Reasonable requests?

A nice response to the story this week that MP Chris Heaton-Harris sent a rather odd letter to University Vice-Chancellors asking for details of what they were discussing about Brexit. The request was fairly broadly criticised for being a) unnecessary as most of the information requested was available on public web sites and b) slightly "Stalinist" in it's tone. Heaton-Harris is now claiming that the purpose of request for information was as research for a book he "might" write, sure, I guess that's plausible (perhaps he needs to focus on his political work first?), but anyway, I still think the best response to this is not indignation, but mockery and ridicule. Lord Buckethead seems to have the lead on that front so far.

Monday, October 23, 2017

Put it on my bill

If your looking for a good example of how evolution works then look no further than out of your kitchen window! Two populations of Great Tits have been studied since the 70s one in the UK and the other in Holland, turns out that the UK population has a (significantly) higher percentage of birds with slightly longer beaks than their Dutch cousins. One possible cause of this difference is the higher propensity for people in the UK to use bird feeders in their gardens, leading to the longer billed variants successfully raising roughly one more chick in every five. Of course over time this difference would lead to the longer billed variants coming to (eventually) dominate the population over here. 

Unlike Darwin, who also noticed variations in the beak shapes of similar birds, scientists today now understand the mechanism for these differences. The specific genes that control facial shape have been isolated and do indeed show evidence of selective changes in the the two populations. The hypothesis regarding the bird feeders being the driver for this difference is, as yet, unproven, but never the less it's certainly credible and fascinating if true.


Sometimes my days feel like this...

Saturday, October 21, 2017

London treats..

Special treat for us yesterday, we attended a service at Westminster Abbey that celebrated my daughters school (which was founded in Westminster) It was delightful, the girls put on a great show, choral and dance performances all very polished in a wonderful setting. I also learned that the ex-head girls of her school are allowed to marry in the Abbey, now there's an incentive! Of course I was less keen on all the God stuff, but being in the presence of Darwin, Newton, Rutherford, Thompson and Faraday, I couldn't really complain, you can see Newtons tomb centre picture. 

Afterwards we went for a great meal at Temper in Soho, an open fire-pit (mostly) beef & lamb restaurant. It was also great to see tons of people out enjoying themselves on a Friday night, it was a beautiful sunny afternoon and the streets were heaving; feeling more like August than late October. We caught the train home around 9 and were all tucked up in bed by 10:30, a memorable family day out.

Thursday, October 19, 2017


Yep, this is pretty much what my kids would think.. 

Back in the day, I remember trying to buy a copy of Windows 3 while working in Cape Town. Back then the old style 5 inch floppies were the norm down there but my computer (a relatively new one) was fitted with a 3.5 inch drive. Predictably, the shop I was in only had the software on the old larger floppy disks and I think Windows came on a pile of about 20 of them!

I explained my predicament to the chap in the shop and, after much confusion, he suddenly realised what I was on about and said in his thickest Afrikaans accent "ah so you want a stiffy" I'd never heard these disks called that before and it took me a while to realise what the hell he was on about (I did initially think the conversation had taken a rather odd turn), but, it made perfect sense, you have floppy's and stiffy's. For years afterwards I deliberately and mischievously used this term, predictably with much associated giggling from my Northern hemispheric colleagues, of course the joke died with the device, still, now we have pokes and fat-pipes to snigger about instead.

Wednesday, October 18, 2017

Tuesday, October 17, 2017

Militant Atheists

So this is what "militant atheist" means (in the eyes of believers)...

Tuesday titter

I've only felt like this for a very few box-sets, House, Soprano's, Breaking Bad not much else..

Collide and conquer

I was sitting in the car with my teenage son yesterday and we were listening to someone on the radio talking about the announcement from scientists at the LIGO detector this week. In it they were discussing the incredible detection of both visible and gravitational waves from a neutron star collision, in which the flash of the smash was seen via telescopes at exactly the same time as a gravitational wave passed through our planet, distorting space-time under our very feet. I noticed that he (my Son) was fiddling with his phone and not really paying attention, I asked if he was impressed at this detection but he said that he wasn't very interested in it and didn't really understand what was being said. I can understand his frustration, it's unlikely that many people really understood the magnitude of this feat nor the amount of skill, dedication and hard-work required to achieve it. 

I took some time to try and break it down for him, explaining what happens to stars as they grow old and run out of fuel, how gravity causes them to collapse and become super dense and how even a teaspoon of matter from such a star would weigh millions of tons. Then I asked him to imagine what it would be like for two of these super-heavy monsters to smash into each other, creating a black-hole and completely obliterating themselves causing ripples in the very fabric of space-time itself, and, how unlikely it was that we would be able to see all of this from Earth and detect the minute distortion at exactly the same time as seeing the explosion through various telescopes, demonstrating that gravity travels at the same speed as light. Then to cap it all, to think about the fact that all this mayhem was actually going on over 130 million years ago, when dinosaurs roamed our planet and before Human beings had even evolved on the savannas of Africa, ergo, it's amazing what we can achieve and learn when we just collaborate.

Sunday, October 15, 2017

Seasonal vistors

We had an unusual visitor to our little garden today, it's a Goldcrest, a lovely little bird with a striking yellow/gold stripe on its head. It must be something to do with the weather at the moment and also that I spent most of the day standing by the kitchen window (I was brewing beer and had my camera out, hence the snapshot) I noticed several interesting species of bird including, coal, long tailed, blue and great tits, chaffinches, wrens and several jays, all of whom popped by briefly to (I guess) feed on the various insects around who are being fooled by our Indian Summer into much higher activity levels than usual, either that or birds are oddly attracted to the smell of malt!

A little of the dark-side

It's a beautiful day here in the South East of England, unseasonably warm and sunny. So, to celebrate I thought I'd kick off a full brew-day to make a Christmas beer, a dark Winter-warmer! In the photo above you can see the different grains I used, we have pale malt, pilsner malt, roasted malt, chocolate malt, brown malt, crystal malt and various other adjuncts like flaked oats and lactose. Hopefully this little lot will combine to make an unctuous black beer  that I'm going to flavour with cacao nibs soaked in Cointreau, giving it a kind of Chocolate-orange vibe, should finish around a cockle warming 8-9% ABV so ideal to sip (in suitable moderation) next to a roaring fire.

Here you can see the grains "mashing", it's essentially just mixing them with hot water and holding a steady temperature of around 65 Centigrade for around 90 minutes. When you do this enzymes in the barley convert the starch in the crushed husks into sugar giving the yeast something to further convert into alcohol. You can't really see it in this picture but the final liquid (wort) came out treacle-black and already visibly viscous, the beer will take a couple of weeks to ferment and then another 6 weeks to condition in bottles, hopefully it'll be just about ready as the holiday season kicks-off!

Friday, October 13, 2017

Puking, relatively

Reading this book currently; fascinating stuff, some of which I already know and some I don't. It's basically a history of science kind of book but drills into a little more detail on key discoveries in physics, like the relationship between electricity and magnetism and general relativity. 

I like Krauss, he's a good writer and even better speaker, he uses humour to get points across and generally keep the audience engaged in what can sometimes be a fairly dry subject. Last night I read his through his attempt at explaining relativity and the speed of light using a metaphor involving his daughter projectile vomiting onto the back of his head whilst driving to nursery school. Slightly more tangible than clocks, mirrors and steam trains; looking forward to the next instalment.

Nostalgia ain't what it used to be.

Feeling nostalgic today, must be my age..

I remember when this song (see image above) was in the charts (35 years ago!) I was at university and had a week-end job as a chef in a greasy-spoon cafe a couple of miles from where I was living at the time. I used to cycle there and back and the route had a really long hill section in it. I recall having this track pumping out of my Sony Walkman, cranking the volume up to 11 as I got faster and faster down the hill on the way to work, it felt exhilarating. As things levelled out and I was at maximum velocity an open top triumph Spitfire drew alongside me being driven by some flash bloke with shades and a tash, to my horror, in the passenger seat was my recently "ex" girlfriend! Clearly she had "moved-on" and feeling somewhat out-done that I was still on a push-bike and she was in a snazzy sports car I struck my best "uninterested look" by directing my gaze upwards and away from the car. I felt it was going well (the music was helping) until I realised that, in my state of distraction, my front wheel had brushed the curb and I was in one of those uncontrollable wobbles that you sometimes get on two wheels when steering corrections get ever more violent and pronounced ending in inevitable disaster.

Over the handlebars I went, the world spun for a few seconds and I ended up in a ditch full of blackberry bushes by the side of the road, blood oozing from several nasty scratches on my arms and face. They didn't even stop to see how I was, and I limped on to work to get plastered-up and put in a full shift (we weren't snowflakes in those days, although my Dad would probably disagree) I limped back home later that evening to fix my bent front wheel, lick my wounds and feel sorry for myself. I threw the cassette-tape into the back of a drawer and I never set eyes on that girl again, but as fate would have it, like this song, she's scorched into my memory because of the powerful sensory associations I experienced in those moments. I can't help being reminded of that event every-time "eye of the tiger" pops up on the radio or on the TV. These days I sometimes forget why I'm in a particular room but remember that moment as clear as a bell, such is the interconnected nature of memory.

Friday smirk

Patience, patience..

Thursday, October 12, 2017


Looks like it's started already..

Wednesday, October 11, 2017

The inevitable clash

J&M bang on the money as usual. It seems to be a fundamental property of intransigent unfalsifiable beliefs that they eventually clash with cultural evolution and tolerance. The problem is that because reason isn't used to arrive at them, reason and evidence can't easily be used to dismiss them! It's usually violence, marginalisation or sheer weight of numbers that does it in the end.

Tuesday, October 10, 2017

Hubble trouble..

Stop sniggering at the back!

Monday, October 09, 2017

Not alot

I always thought that this whole "God" idea was much ado about nothing..

Sunday, October 08, 2017

Sunday smile..

Love this response; 

Saturday, October 07, 2017

Judging covers

It's been a long week at work and having arrived at Friday we decided to treat ourselves to a bottle of Chardonnay, some nice cheese, crackers and a chick-flick. 

So, I opened a wine from Santa Barbara that we'd never tried before, one with a wacky label! It didn't disappoint, lovely fruit, apples, ripe pears, citrus, off-dry with a really nice mouth-feel to it. I picked this up at a wine sale over in Hampshire the other week I think I paid around £15 for it (it's normally around £30) At the time I thought it looked a bit naff (just look at the label!) but now I regret not snapping up a whole case! As the old saying goes, never judge a book by it's cover!

Friday, October 06, 2017

Advertising lamb?

This ad from the Australian meat industry has sparked some controversy (which was probably the aim) It's certainly got people talking, but I'm not sure they'll go out and buy more lamb chops because of it. I think it's irreverent, edgy, topical and above all else has an Atheist in it! (shock, horror) 

I love it, it's harmless but in typical Australia fashion takes no prisoners at the same time as being genuinely amusing. Take a look and see what you think.


The satirical cartoons this week are brutal. Good.

Friday Smirk

Spot the difference..

Sex scandals, money scandals, fame, riches, arrogance, law breaking, unwarranted adoration, silly hats, nope none of those, the only thing I could come up with was that the guy in the top picture didn't pretend to know stuff he couldn't know!

Now, call me crazy but technically, that would make Hefner more honest than the Pope wouldn't it?

Thursday, October 05, 2017

What price a pint?

Borough market pub "The Rake" was attacked in the mainstream media recently for charging around £13 for a pint of beer. As I'm writing this I can hear many of my friends saying "WTF! £13 a pint, what a rip-off", so, is it a rip-off? As usual in life, things aren't quite what they first seem.

Firstly you need to understand that the particular beer being sold for this price was a rare craft beer from a tiny brewery in Manchester (Cloudwater) only available at a handful of pubs in the country and at around 10% ABV was only being sold in 1/3rd pint measures. The beer is made using exotic malts and hops, and in minuscule (relatively) quantities, it's a specialist product made by hand that has more in common with high-end wines than dishwater pints.

There is something about the word "pint" that puts people in mind of a standard, production-line product, much like "Big-Mac", clearly you would never pay £30 for a Big-Mac! The statement elicits a visceral negative reaction because many people have one single experience and image of what a "pint" is. But, that kind of standard bitter/lager "pint" is not what we're talking about here, in this case the product is much more aligned to wine than beer. The beer in question is complex in both labour to make it and taste profile and much like a fine wine it has been specifically "designed" to deliver a particular flavour experience. For example, it has been aged in red-wine barrels for months and secondary fermented using champagne yeast. At around £4 for a large wine-glass full I would challenge anyone to find a London restaurant selling an even average French wine for less; as a taste experience and when looked at through the lens of wine this beer starts to look like an absolute bargain! For comparison, in most Michelin starred London restaurants a top (rare) Bordeaux wine would weigh in at >£100 PER GLASS, sometimes much more! When you have a limited quantity of a desirable product, with a limited shelf-life, the price just goes up, this is simple economics.

So, what's really driving these reactions? After all no one is forcing anyone else to buy beer here! (the pub had plenty of other beers to choose from at average London prices) Well, as usual it's a healthy mix of snobbery, ignorance and herd mentality. The fact of the matter is that all "pints" are equal (in volume), but some are more equal than others (in taste) Like wine, as the beer market has deepened and widened in the last few years, snobbery and ignorance start to creep into the discourse. 

You have folks creeping out of the woodwork who look down on beer, usually wine or whisky/brandy drinkers. They wouldn't pay £13 for "just a pint of beer", but are clearly ignorant of the skill, tastes, pleasures and sheer variety of beer these days, they have no clue how far we've come since the days of Watneys Red-Barrel, and should really just get out more! Then, at the other end of the continuum we have folks who've drunk Carling lager their whole lives, never tried anything else, never paid more than £3 for a pint and see no reason to change. That's fine, each to their own, but for many people the fun about beer, wine, food et al, is all in the taste experience, beer for them is not just something cold and wet to make you drunk on a Friday night, it's part of something much, much broader for which there is a (albeit small) highly lucrative market.


Is this the British dream she was on about?

Hidden messages?

I see Theresa May inserted some hidden messages in her conference speech...

Wednesday, October 04, 2017

Scanning teenagers

I spent a few informative and stimulating hours at Reading University yesterday at their school of Psychology and Neuroscience. I was attending a research session with my daughter who volunteered to undergo testing and fMRI scanning along with some of her schoolmates. 

During the experiment her brain was scanned in high-resolution (highlighting blood-flow to specific regions) whilst playing a video game. I watched proceedings from the comfort of the observation room (alongside all the computer screens). The purpose of the research is to look into how the brains of teenagers behave while being motivated (or not), and also, through the identical scanning of classmates the possibility that the brains of friend-groups are in some simple ways "synchronized" over time as they do similar things (like learning at school).

The game she played was specifically designed to stimulate certain areas of the brain (which you could see lighting-up on the screen) and especially what happened when subjects became frustrated (the game became impossibly fast after a while) and motivation tested. We also had a little talk by one of the PhD students on the team, who showed us several really cool brain-tech gizmos, one of which allowed you to control (i.e. move) virtual-objects using the power of thought alone (yes really!). It worked well, and was fascinating, it was like wearing a shower cap full of electrodes. 

After all the experiments ended, we were able to ask questions. I found myself having to resist the temptation to take the conversation off down a path of topics like free-will and consciousness, two areas that I would have loved to have explored the current thinking on, but, I didn't want to hijack the session (we wanted to encourage the kids to ask their own questions) All in all a stimulating diversion from the daily routine! Afterwards, I took my daughter out for a good old chin-wag about school, friends and life in-general as we munched our way through pizza at a restaurant in Caversham, a thoroughly enjoyable day, one I will treasure. 

You could say I've had a privileged insight into the teenage mind (in more ways than one!)

Premature excitement

Probably best not to get too excited about Saudi Arabia finally allowing Women to drive cars, it's unlikely that their male guardians will give them permission to leave their houses anyway..

Monday, October 02, 2017


Apparently it's quite legal to openly carry a machine gun in Las Vegas, even when drinking; and there's no limit on magazine capacity either. The fact that many could and did have guns of their own made zero difference to the (still rising) death-toll, the NRA fanatics would defend their position by claiming that people in these kinds of scenarios are safer with their own weapons, I guess we all know the truth of that position that now.

Sunday, October 01, 2017


I learnt a new word today.. 

"Faraging" - To make demands you know to be impossible whilst denying complex reality in order to win hollow cheers from the furiously hard of thinking.

If you're looking for a concrete example of "faraging" then just take a butchers at what our buffoon of a Foreign Secretary is saying in the papers this weekend.