The following posts have no fixed theme or style, but I hope you enjoy reading them!

Saturday, 27 December 2008

Ruth's wedding and things

I never mean to have opinions of other people's boyfriends and girlfriends, but as some of my good friends know, I can become troubled by my friends' choice of partner and then moan about it lots. I'm sure that never used to happen, I was much more easy-going. I'm just hopeful that being opinionated is an isolated rarity. It's a puzzling question worthy of many hours on Radio 1's "Sunday Surgery", how much can a friend have opinions before it counts as interfering? I won't answer that because... well, because they spend enough time discussing it on the Sunday Surgery.

Anyway, I have been to several weddings this year and they have all been wonderful. I have approved of all brides and grooms, which has made the day easier. But weddings are wonderful. They are really special and romantic, also a great time to catch up with old friends and make new ones. The most recent one was of Cousin Ruth, who married Mark. Mark is an excellent bloke, and Ruth is wonderful too (not sure I have mentioned her on here before so it's worth mentioning that she's cool). So there is a new person in my ever-expanding family. I'd better get married quickly because the larger the family gets, the less likely any friends will be able to fit in the wedding venue!

At Ruth's wedding there were all the usual wedding things like a church service (talking to people afterwards, everyone seemed to have had tears in their eyes at some point, whether during the choir singing, the with-gusto-sung hymns, the vows or when various people walked up and down the aisle) and a reception. Also photos cake cutting speeches ushers first dances confetti bouquets nibbles champagne dancing veil bridesmaids you get the idea. It would not be our family if it were not organised with military precision and involving having large numbers of people at our house for drinks or food. At various meals around the wedding we managed 25 people, 14 people, 12, 22 (I think) and probably some other large numbers. So we were able to celebrate the wedding for several days, including after they had gone on their honeymoon. It was awesome fun and a good substitute for being in work.

Christmas happened too? Apparently. Merry Christmas!

Tuesday, 23 December 2008

Question #1

This series will explore questions of all shapes and sizes. The question is a wonderful part of the English language. English is a good language for questions. In french, Es-ce que... (is it that...) is horrible and clumsy. Mandarin is no better, as far as I can tell from my limited knowledge. Ni hao means hello. Ni hao ma? has ma at the end, which means ** this is a question **, so that means how are you? It's pathetic. But English and German have it down to a tee and it is possible to phrase questions in elegant ways.

The purpose of a question is also a big part. It can be a life or death matter, it can be abstract and philosophical, it can portray any feeling or desire, it can be mundane, it can be easy or hard to answer... quite simply, they are fantastic.

My first question is this:

Have I got news for you?

PS Don't feel compelled to answer these questions unless they realy provoke a response. Sometimes they are rhetorical

Saturday, 13 December 2008

Sports Personality of the Year 08

I started writing about Sports Personality of the Year, hoping to discuss it before the final votes were cast, but I have had a busy weekend and missed out. Here's what I started to write, before I tell you the result and my reaction...

This is an interesting year for sports personality of the year contest. For once, we have a number of contenders, who have proved themselves to be the best at their sport. The contenders are:

Rebecca Adlington - swimmer
Ben Ainslie - canoeist
Joe Calzaghe - boxer
Nicole Cooke - cyclist
Lewis Hamilton - racing driver
Chris Hoy - cyclist
Andy Murray - tennis player
Christine Ohuruogu - runner
Rebecca Romero - cyclist
Bradley Wiggins - cyclist

Every one of them has won either Olympic gold medals or has become World Champion, or some equivalent.

It really was a fantastic line-up. Rebecca Romero won an Olympic gold in cycling, having done it in rowing before. Christine Ohuruogo proved how good she is, and silenced those who thought she may have been a drug-taker after missing a few tests. Joe Calzaghe won another big fight to show he's the best fighter around. For personalities, Rebecca Adlington was hilarious having won two golds in the pool, but Lewis Hamilton can get a bit too competitive to the point of not being gracious

The winner was CHRIS HOY. I'm not just saying it because he has won but he was my choice. If you want to see a nice guy interviewed, watch him. He has a young family and is really down-to-earth, playing the father role in the Beijing Olympics to our other cyclists and the other althletes too. He's calm and collected, and speaks well, setting an example for footballers everywhere. He really is a gentleman. And even more than anyone else, he completely dominated his events. I have never seen such inevitable races, he was unstoppable. He could start from in front or behind, because once he got his legs going (as wide as my waist) he just went away from the opposition. He was as dominant as Phelps was in the swimming pool. A worthy winner. I hope you agree... please tell me if not

[sadly I didn't see the programme, but I was glued to Steve Davis vs Ding Jun Hui in the UK Championships. Snooker is back on, and I'm hooked already. Steve's 2-1 up, come on mate!]

Wednesday, 3 December 2008

Advice #30

Keep calm and carry on

Saturday, 29 November 2008

On Woolworths

This old brand is in administration. It has hundreds of shops around Britain and thousands of employees. Like me, you probably haven't been there in a while. That's why it's in administration. I have good memories of Woolworths. I remember going in there on a cold Saturday following some family member around town, and having the excitement of choosing pick-and-mix sweets from their huge selection. On another occasion I remember wandering aimlessly around town with some friends and going into Woolworths to press all the buttons on the electric toys, so that gun noises, sheep noises and electric boings rang out round the store.

But nowadays it really is in a mess. I don't know whether it was better in the past or whether I am just nostalgic about the past. I went in there today, determined to help out that old friend by buying something and pumping some money into the organisation. But there was nothing I wanted to buy. There is a panel of music CDs with generic titles like "Spanish Music", "Zen" and "Calming Sea Sounds". There are about three different power packs for Wii controllers. There are action toys for Harry Potter (that's getting pretty old now surely). Whoever chooses the stock for the shop has a quirky sense of humour. Somehow, they had managed to buy about fifty cuddly Pingu toys, each the size of a five-year old child, and placed them all round the store. Without price labels. It's an idea that might have caught people's imaginations, but if you don't tell them how much it costs, they definitely won't buy it. It's not that difficult. In the end I walked out with six teaspoons and a pack of After Eights, pleased that I had done my duty and spent some money.

I don't know whether I'm happy that it is closing, and there are certain endearing features, like pick-and-mix. And it's one of the few shops where you never know what they will have in store that day. But it's clearly a bit shite. If it doesn't modernise and fill itself with things that someone actually wants, then it will close forever, causing the next wave of unemployment in this country.

Tuesday, 25 November 2008

Advice #29

Try not to use electricity between 4 and 6.30pm on weekdays. The peak in demand at this time means that we often over-produce electricity in the rest of the day and night (it's hard to turn off most power stations for only a few hours), wasting electricity. If we cut our demand at this time of day (even if we used it at other times instead), we could probably produce electricity more efficiently and have less wastage in the system, saving money and the environment

Tuesday, 18 November 2008

Wind again

I was going to write a post explaining how terrible it was that I was cycling downhill the other day and had to pedal quite hard just to go downhill. That's not the way the world should work, because downhill means free-wheeling and accelerating! Then I remembered that in the last few weeks I have got angry by gusts of wind on the flat, and had wind so strong going up a hill that I had to walk. It's not particular types of wind, wind in general is just BAD. I want to know who the wind-god is who is out to get cyclists every time they get on a bike.

Buses and Coaches

I have often cursed buses. Sometimes I am stood at a bus stop and have to wait half an hour longer than I should have to, because buses seem to evaporate into thin air. You have to stand in the cold, with no idea when they will come, only to find the bus crowded and the driver grumpy on arrival.

But sometimes buses can be wonderful. If you're not in a rush, a bus will probably be on time. And there is nothing like a bus for watching the world go by. In a car, traffic is the main concern. In a train, grassy banks or trees often line the route. But in a bus you are constantly entertained. Many times I have sat in a bus watching the sun set with a splendid multicoloured sky. Then I continue to watch as the sky gradually darkens and the lights gradually appear in houses and offices.

Buses have a magical knack of making things happen around them. When you go down a street, there is inevitably some drama going on. Perhaps it is a dog attacking the other people on the street when it is on its walk. Perhaps it is a tearful goodbye between lovers. Maybe it is someone on the street finding five bucks and looking around to see who may have dropped it. The last time I went on a bus trip it was a rail replacement bus. As always, the bus's aura spread before it. On the way I spotted a lorry in some roadworks that had a fire blazing on the back of it, and the driver (working a couple of metres from it) didn't seem to have noticed. I wanted to bang on the window and yell to let him know, but we whizzed past at 40mph and the moment went before I could do anything. I hope the fire was meant to be there, but I can't think why it should have been. On the way back we ended up in a tiny country road at night, and there was a bend so sharp that it took three attempts for the bus to get past. I thought we were going to be walking or turning back and finding a different route. But our fantastic driver (and bus drivers are extraordinarily talented people - mainly) got us through so we got home safely

I used to get stressed at buses because they are so inefficient and slow, but if you pick your moments to travel by bus, they are The Place To Be

Sunday, 9 November 2008

"Diary entry" OR "Setting for the next scene"

So my grown-up life has started up north. This is definitely the biggest change for me since going to university. Life here was unlikely to be as fun as university. After all, I don't know as many people, I have to work full time and it's a pretty industrial area instead of being rural and picturesque. On top of that, everyone speaks with those "up-north" accents and it feels funny to be posh and southern!

It's fun though. It's exciting to go somewhere else, meet new people and do new things. I have new housemates in a new house at number 4, although getting a new house took a little longer than expected so I was forced to sleep on someone's sofa for a while. But now I have wonderful things like a bed and a room and storage space and things like that!

My housemates are great too. There's martin and there's paul. Martin likes motorbikes, his girlfriend kelly, KFC and his guitar. Paul likes cars, gadgets and films. Those are in no particular order (before you start drawing conclusions about martin and his motorbike). They also like tea and don't really drink coffee. Unfortunately I know very little about motorbikes, kelly, KFC, guitars, cars, gadgets or films. Especially films. But they are all laid back and it's now an opportunity to find out things about all of the above things. And we have football and being men in common. And for men, that is often enough.

So, while I miss living with girls very much, living with blokes will be good too

Tuesday, 4 November 2008

Make a better cup of tea

If you are doing any of these things, you could improve. Remember, making a good cup of tea could be the key to making friends, finding a lifelong partner, or getting a promotion by impressing your boss. Well, it would at least impress me. A bad cup of tea is a terrible thing.

Firstly, don't use Lipton. Lipton is BAD. No, that's wrong, Lipton is REALLY BAD. In general, Unilever makes good things like Lynx (also called Axe) deodorant, Flora margarine and Domestos bleach, but Lipton is an exception. It is NASTY. If you are ever given Lipton tea, get some food to take away the taste. It doesn't taste of much, but what little there is, is the bitter horrible part of normal tea and should never ever be given under the pretence of serving tea.

Secondly, use the correct temperature water. Normally this means boiling. For God's sake, don't pour some 80 degree water into a cup, wait a bit, add the teabag, wait a bit more, and take out the bag. You have to give it some kind of chance to infuse a bit. Black tea infuses best at boiling temperature, and unless you want to spend the next few minutes stirring, you need to put the teabag in before the water.

Green tea is a different story. Add 75 degree water and infuse it for 3 minutes. Many people say they find green tea very bitter, but it is only bitter if it's stewed for much longer than it should be or if boiling water is found.

Keep an eye on your tea. Tea brewed for 2 minutes tastes very different to that brewed for 5. So don't just forget it. For the few minutes that you are making tea, the tea should be your main concern, because people really notice when you make a really good cup of tea. Even people who don't drink tea that often can tell if the tea you are making has been cared for.

To make it really good, use a pot and loose leaf tea. It tastes better to anyone and everyone who has ever had tea before. So do these things if you really want to impress someone. Oh, and one last thing... NEVER EVER SERVE A CUP OF LIPTON TEA TO ANYONE UNDER ANY CIRCUMSTANCES UNLESS IT IS AN ABSOLUTE TEA-MERGENCY

Sunday, 12 October 2008

Sorry, dear readers

I'll explain sometime while I haven't written on here in ages. Maybe you already know. However, I apologise for the lack of attention I have been giving to this site. I hope to be able to pick up where I left off in a week or so, when this site will once again be filled with my insight, emotion and bullshit as it usually is

Monday, 15 September 2008

How to eat responsibly

I have wondered and wondered how best to eat in an environmentally responsible way. I have asked environmentalists, vegetarians, vegans and scientists, and nobody has an answer on which foods are better than others, or how you should choose which food has the smallest carbon footprint. Now the New Scientist has the answer!

I advise you all to get the New Scientist dated 13th September 2008 and read the cover story.

This is a wonderful article. It's full of debate about what we know and what we don't know about carbon footprints. It's full of warnings that you cannot take the carbon footprint of chicken A and then assume it will have the same footprint as chicken B who lives on a different farm. But it also gives some guidelines about food.

Is it better to be a vegetarian?
Is it much much better to be a vegan?
How about buying things from the other side of the world?
Or organic food?

Now we have a few answers, although the scientific knowledge is not yet complete. Red meat and dairy products are the worst. Then chicken, eggs and fish. And fruit and vegetables are the best.

In the US, 11% of the carbon equivalent emitted is for transport.
A quarter of greenhouse gas emissions are actually nitrous oxide, from fertilisers.
In America, emissions from driving are only half of those from food production.
The emissions from fish depends hugely on how they are caught or farmed, and on whether they are carnivorous or herbivorous.

Anyway, don't trust me on all this. The discussion is much more complete in the New Scientist itself. This is something we all need to know. Giving up on plastic bags is NOTHING compared to knowing about stuff like this.

Of course, carbon footprint is only a small amount of what constitutes sustainability, as a wonderful university lecturer called Big Rob told us. If we eat all the herbivorous fish, that's not sustainable and if we don't trade fairly with the third world, that's not sustainable either. But global warming is important and this is information that I have found very hard to uncover until now

Sunday, 14 September 2008


It seems I have been “tagged” in a “meme”. Mème means “the same” in french, and it might mean something in English, but I don’t really know, it’s not a word I use. In this case, a meme (said “meem”) means a kind of chain letter in which you follow some instructions. This usually involves writing something down and then asking some of your friends to do it as well. This process of asking is called tagging. There’s so much pointless jargon in the computer world. And it’s not just from computer geeks, facebook alone has a vast number of words that have been invented around it. I hate it, but I use it myself, it’s hard to avoid.

Since I have been blogging about 18 months ago, I have been tagged a couple of times on memes and never done them. But now is the moment to bow to Rachel’s peer pressure.

August 2008
List seven songs you are into right now. No matter what the genre, whether they have words, or even if they’re not any good, but they must be songs you’re really enjoying now, shaping your [summer]. Post these instructions in your blog along with your 7 songs. Then tag 7 other people to see what they’re listening to.

This is difficult. I’ve been listening to Radio 1 all summer, and it’s hard to get into radio 1 music that much. After all, even the best songs can be over-played if you listen to them too much.

1) Lies by Fleetwood Mac
My cousin bought a Fleetwood Mac album recently and I discovered loads of songs that are by them and I never realised. This is a classic song that I had forgotten about. Love it
2) Mercury's in Retrograde by Bloc Party
I wrote about it here and it’s just quite good
3) Otherwise by Morcheeba
I keep hearing more and more by Morcheeba. It’s very sexy music, chilled and smooth. Housemate Maria likes them because they’re Swedish (and good). I might have heard this song through Maria, but I paid attention when I got it on a compilation I bought in a car boot sale
4) Letter from God to man by Dan le Sac vs Scroobius Pip
Guilty pleasure. I like the concept of the song and I think it's done quite well. Yes, it’s not very original. But most people think about these things sometimes and it’s nice to have someone doing it in a light-hearted way on a pop record
5) For What It’s Worth by the Cardigans
I’ve probably mentioned this song before, but it’s been one of my favourite songs for a little while now. It’s about a one-sided relationship in which one person is in love with the other, but it’s not reciprocated and the mere mention of love scares them away. The tune is beautiful and the words so powerful and painful. That’s why the Cardigans are the best band ever
6) Five Years Time by Noah and the Whale
Roz hasn’t heard this so she’s silly. I told you, I’ve been listening to the radio and this is what was on the radio. It’s cheerful, hardly a classic that will be remembered in, say, five years time, but it’s bouncy enough
7) Perfect 10 by Beautiful South
This isn’t really in my top 7 songs, but I always listened to this in Welsh Andrew’s room at university. Having left university and faced with the possibility that I will never listen to it in Welsh Andrew’s room again, I bought the Beautiful South album at the car boot sale mentioned above

March 2007
Post five things about yourself that (almost!) no one else knows

I’m a boring person. 18 months of thinking time has not given me any more ideas of what to write here. It’s so tempting to kop out (sp?) and write something that’s meant to be ironic and vaguely funny. But I just committed to doing this shit (as they say), so here goes

1) I breathe really slowly, slower than most people to whom I have paid attention. And yes, I do know that sounds weird
2) I would like to be more superstitious and try to remember to say hello to magpies. I genuinely feel bad (in a superstitious way) about killing spiders
3) I’m on bebo. Don’t feel left out if you don’t know that. I don’t remember the information I need to log on
4) If I could have a superpower, I’d probably fly, as long as it would be like superman and not like an angel with those crappy wings
5) Being given tasks like this makes me stay up very late on a work night, becoming more and more introspective and yet without ever coming up with anything original or interesting to say (that I haven’t told people before). After all, if it was that interesting, wouldn’t I have said it already?

Sorry, the last one was a kop out. But it is half past one, so please forgive me.

Oh, and tagging. I’m not doing that because I don’t know 7 people with blogs, let alone 7 people who would want to be tagged. But I would tag if I could, for sure

Friday, 5 September 2008

Advice #28

Try oolong. It's good tea.

Tuesday, 2 September 2008

Not such negative thoughts

Much has been made of the loss of confidence and pessimism that is sweeping the world. We are apparently heading towards a recession to the extent that it is very unlikely that we will avoid it now. I haven't heard the speech but apparently Alistair Darling (the chancellor) has now come out and explained that he is extremely worried about it. But while people feel out of control and pessimistic about the world's financial situation, a more positive attitude is sweeping the country. People are starting to believe that they can make the world a better place. And they are believing it more than they have in the last twenty years.

The nineties was an apathetic decade. It was comfortable, and people felt that things could continue how they were. It's only been in the last few years that people have discussed global warming, poverty and the environment as anything more than abstract ideas. After years of campaigning, plastic bags are actually being phased out. This is not happening from government pressure, but through normal people using cloth bags for their shopping instead of getting plastic ones. Almost all councils in England now collect recyclable waste separately from other waste, whereas almost none did until very recently. Make poverty history was a campaign that encouraged people to consider the possibility that poverty may not exist at some time in the future. That's an extremely idealistic proposition, but millions of people bought into the idea with things like their branded wristbands. Bill Bryson even managed to get a prime-time TV slot in which he moaned about litter for an entire episode of panorama. It didn't make great TV but it was a sign that people really think things like this are important.

I listened to a talk the other day, given by Eugenie Harvey. She is the force behind the company which produced "Change the World For a Fiver", which is called We Are What We Do. Her idea is that small actions carried out by many people can have a big effect and actually change the world. Her ideas include unplugging mobile chargers and remembering people's names to make them feel more important. Her ideas are fantastic, but even more impressive is that she began the company and created a stir from absolutely nothing. More and more people are thinking like her. They don't simply believe that change can happen, they believe that they can help to produce the change.

Wednesday, 27 August 2008

This blog is getting longer by exactly one sentence on this occasion.

Tuesday, 19 August 2008

Advice #27

Follow your doctor's advice

Ear update

With a title like that I'm sure you'll be itching to read this.

But it's actually a cunning plan that only people who really like this blog will find out that I have a new job! I'm very excited, I'm going to start a proper career doing nice metallurgical things up north. It starts very very soon and I can't wait to meet some people, have a permanent place to live and a permanent job. It's the feeling of permanent that is so good I think. I am fed up of moving around and knowing things will not last forever. Even university was only going to last four years and I had decided that was all very early on. And jobs were terrible, filling summer holidays for only a few weeks at a time. Now I can get my teeth into something without worrying that my efforts will be forgotten in the blink of an eye. I think it's a career I want to get my teeth into as well, but only time will tell.

Anyway, you might have started reading this hoping for an update on my ears, following from this and this. I went to my medical for the job today and was told that the hearing in my right ear is worse than in my left. So my experiment has yielded a clear outcome... follow your doctor's advice

Sunday, 17 August 2008

Events in Rural Home-place

Went to church this evening, to find that there were two clergy and only three congregation. Well, once we turned up there were eight, but it was still a pitifully small service. It's so small that the organist doesn't turn up any more so we just read through the book of common prayer, take communion and leave. This is possibly the most interesting style of service ever devised. Actually, I am being mean. There was a sermon in which the vicar tried to go along the tightrope of whether to expect prayers to be answered or not. That was certainly worth seeing for the care with which he chose his words, even if not for his originality.

On the way out of church, we found a gathering of people chatting in an animated fashion. A large calf ran past. One man tried to stop it and the calf just ran past him too. The man looked slightly flummoxed by that. A second man came and waved a stick manacingly and the calf stopped. A minute later, it decided to go past the man with the stick. The man with the stick looked slightly flummoxed too. It headed along the road (speed limit 30mph, average speed 45mph) to the crossroads and went straight across and into a garden. Apparently the owner of the garden is very proud of his lawn thank you very much and could we please disturb it as little as possible. The chase went on regardless, into the next field. By this stage I had left the chase and taken up a spot near its home, hoping to guide it in when it returned (instead of it going straight past again). Ten minutes and a discussion of how best to cook beef later, my uncle appeared at the end of the road. He was waving the aforementioned stick and prodding the exhausted animal back to its field. It seemed to have enjoyed its run but decided it had had enough. It finally went back into its field, wagging its tail and looking pleased with itself with very little effort on my part. Then we left the farmer to check that he now had all his cows in the field.

We went home for a nice meal of roast beef, which had been delayed considerably by this. It was yummy.

Monday, 11 August 2008

My overdeveloped spirit of enquiry

Having been told by my doctor that putting anything in your ear to clean them (like cotton buds, fingers etc) makes them get blocked more easily (see here), I tested it out. I didn't really consider it, or decide to do it, but almost immediately after getting my ears unblocked last time, I started cleaning out my right ear using said "bad" methods, and following doctor's orders on my left ear. The doctor was right! My right ear is much more blocked than my left one and I am worrying that it'll block completely like last time! I have suspended all activities relating to the inside of both ears indefinitely. If only I could just take the doctor's advice, maybe I'd be healthier...

Sunday, 10 August 2008

A silly sign

I won't turn this site into a novelty picture site, because there are enough of those already. But just today I'll treat you to a novelty sign (there are plenty of those on the internet too) because it's in my village.

I could make you guess what it means and why it's there, but it's probably better if I just tell you. It is there to encourage people to park half on the pavement and half on the road. The pavement is very wide at that point because people are supposed to park there, but people found that cars made it difficult to walk past. So they put up the sign in the hope that drivers would leave more space for pedestrians. It's well-intentioned, but if I was parking there I wouldn't have a clue what the sign meant. And I'd probably park as much on the pavement as possible to avoid parking on the main street through the village

Friday, 1 August 2008

Mercury is Retrograde

That's the title of a new Bloc Party song. I haven't decided whether I like it or not. It's a kind of "bangin" track that I would sometimes jump around violently to in my room, and sometimes be utterly bored by. After all, it has a heavy beat, good rhythms, but only 3 words. In fact, put in those terms, the song Count Five or Six by Cornelius is similar. It has five and a half words in the entire song (those being "one, two, three, four, five, si...") and it's amazing because of the repetition and the good beat.

Another thing that those two songs have in common is that they are educational. I knew how to count to five or six. However, I was not entirely sure what retrograde meant. Well, I had some idea, but having found it on wikipedia, it turns out that retrograde motion is simply motion that is the opposite way to normal. So planets can spin in a retrograde way or move in a retrograde way relative to each other. Maybe it would make it clearer if I explained. If you are looking down on the solar system, you can see a planet going round it either clockwise or anti-clockwise. You can also see it is spinning on its axis either clockwise or anticlockwise. If these motions are different to each other, it is called retrograde spin. If the planet goes in the opposite direction round the sun to most of the others, then it is a retrograde orbit too.

I might be wrong, but Mercury is not retrograde in either sense. However, it can appear to have a retrograde orbit from Earth, because the motion we see is its motion relative to us, and we are moving too. Sometimes the stars can move across the sky from East to West, while Mercury will move from West to East. This looks like retrograde motion. But sometimes Mercury will go with the stars from East to West. It just depends where our orbits are relative to each other.

I think I might have complicated things so I apologise if I have... my conclusion is that saying Mercury is Retrograde is describing a temporary phenomenon as viewed from Earth.

I had hoped that it would be a universal truth. A song would be a wonderful way of remembering and spreading scientific knowledge. It's successful because the words sound cool. The question I'd like to ask you is this: if you could have any fact immortalised in a song so that people would remember it forever, what would it be? It should have cool words like "retrograde" and be an interesting fact. My initial suggestions would be

Atmospheric pressure is one BAR
Put your balls in a box to case harden my metal
Coke contains phosphoric acid
Martensite is diffusionless
Coble creep is along grain boundaries
Tungsten is amazing

PS sorry they are all materials science related and a bit obscure, maybe you have better ones

!EDIT! Apparently the song is called "Mercury's in retrograde" !EDIT!

Sunday, 27 July 2008

That'll tell them!

I won't stand for any more dilly-dallying with your higgledy piggledy jiggery pokery round here, thank you very much

Thursday, 24 July 2008

More evidence of long-term damage caused by living with girls

I was in the toilet when I noticed that the colours of my tie and pants clashed. My thought process was like this:
-Oh no, the colours and even the patterns clash
-Should I be making an effort to avoid that when I get dressed in the morning?
-Who for?
-Well, I suppose the only one to see my pants is me... do I care if they clash?
-YES [this worried me, I'm not supposed to care, I'm a man!]
-Do I care enough to spend time selecting pants in the morning instead of picking up the one at the top of the drawer?
-- Breathes a sigh of relief, masculinity is at least partly maintained

Sunday, 20 July 2008

You can always say that summer had its charm...

[title from The Cardigans - Sick and Tired]

I returned to 4th-year house in Universityland for the final time last week. I had to clear out the house so that we could give it back to the letting agent. The house had to be empty of our possessions and clean, and both emptying and cleaning took a lot of time and a lot of tea to get done. I can report that despite the huge numbers of cookies produced in our kitchen throughout the year, only one of them got dropped irretrievably behind the cooker. I can also report that fridges have little pots on the back of them. Any liquid mank collecting inside the fridge somehow makes its way into a mank-pot. Jo and I were left wondering whether emptying the mank-pot is a normal household task to be carried out periodically, or whether the mank-pot was expected to sit there gathering mank for the entire useful life of a fridge. Please send your suggestions on a postcard, with a stamped addressed envelope enclosed for a reply.

I was completely phased by the amount of stuff that turned up on my bedroom floor after my trip to 4th-year house. It turns out that I have a lot more stuff than fits in a room. So Uncle Val came to help tidy up, even if only to stop me going berserk in panic. I found it really helpful having someone else there. My instinct on finding something that doesn't have a 'home' yet is to leave it where it is and move on. But with someone else there, it's suddenly obvious that leaving most things just sitting on the floor doesn't really solve the problem I'm trying to solve. The actual solution (just to clear up any confusion) is to find a home for all your possessions or make a home for them if one doesn't already exist. In the end, I cleared out most of my drawers and cupboards, dispatched my kitchen things to the attic and my coin collection to the garage, and now everything fits. Hurrah!

Comfortingly, the laws of room-sorting were adhered to:
1) Some things were found that had been lost for years
2) Some things were lost that had been treasured for years
3) When dividing possessions into sensible categories to go into drawers, the amount of possessions in a single category is always slightly bigger than the drawer available
4) Some things that should be thrown out are retained for the next good clear-out in five years' time, even though they could probably go now. And you know exactly which ones they are and STILL won't throw them out
5) One item just crops up again and again. For me, it was photos. I had photos from different holidays over the last decade and it seems I had spread them evenly through all the drawer and cupboard space available. Now they have their own drawer. I am proud of my Organisation Skills
6) Some things appear that have never been in your room before. Where that pair of sunglasses appeared from I shall never know
7) You have more juggling balls, silly hats and T-shirts than you thought
8) There is something there that recalls ambitious plans that never came to fruition. This happened so often in the sorting procedure that it's not worth boring you with all the sordid details
9) It looks worse before it looks better
10) Having decided which drawers are for which objects, something extra-large turns up and spoils everything. And I don't mean Chris Moyles. I'm thinking of that logic puzzle that wants to be a Rubik's cube but just isn't good (or cubic) enough to manage it. It didn't fit in the drawer that was intended for 'games, puzzles and novelties' and destroyed the whole system
11) You give up at the end and have a 'random stuff' drawer just to clear the mess

Wednesday, 2 July 2008

Not posting means I have been existing more and not less

Hi, haven't written in a while, and you can tell because this post is going to come across all rambling and nonsensical, like some letters I write. I read letters like that back through, give up on understanding what I meant by them in the first place... and then send them anyway. Sorry if you have received any like that, or if you do receive any like that in the future.

Anyway, I didn't come on here to tell you about letters. After all, I am a bit busy and it's late at night. I started writing with the aim of telling you all why I haven't written much lately. Well, I have some news.

I'm a graduate! Graduated on Saturday in a wonderfully traditional ceremony and stupid clothes. It kind of feels like it set me free a bit. I don't want to leave Universityland, but the time came anyway. Before the end I had to pack in loads of experiences because it was my Last Opportunity, and now I can actually do things that are about the future and not the past. I hate planning the future, but sometimes you gotta do something and it's worse if you put it off.

So, I have been applying for jobs. My wonderful Aunt-person found me a summer job with a materials-based company. My temporary work won't allow me to use my materials knowledge too much, but still, it's nice to know that materials science will be all around me. AND, I have applied to lots of jobs, got further in some applications than others, but I feel like I'm actually making progress.

So life is hectic but good. I feel like some things are getting neglected such as tea research and blogging, but they will intensify again when the evils of future-planning have gone away

Wednesday, 25 June 2008

More about me and the environment

I am fiercely independent. If someone tells me to do something I get defensive; I don't automatically do the opposite, but I certainly have a good look at the options to see whether it would work to do something else. I want to be absolutely sure that I am my own person. And I do it obsessively. When someone says they can predict how I'll react to something or what I'll say, it throws me into a kind of panic and I don't know what to do. I cast about for new ways of being unpredictable. I don't want to be weird, but I certainly do want to decide things myself and I pride myself on having original ideas and new ways of doing things.

It's perhaps because of this that I am a man of short term obsessions. I have had my hatred of umbrellas, my love of cheese, my love of the cardigans, my love of tea, my obsession with cacti, and many more. When someone finds me out, or, worse, is more obsessed than me, it shocks me and I flee in panic!

But slightly contradictorily, I like to take up the same opinions as my Dad. You could probably say that the time when I was gaining all my background of opinions and way of thinking was a time when I listened a lot to my Dad. He was a Quaker, he was slightly anti-establishment, he was an environmentalist and a scientist. Everyone has beliefs and values that are unquestioned, and these are some things that are firmly ingrained in me.

A wonderful thing about university is that there are a lot of people with carefully considered opinions. I don't discuss life, the universe and everything too often, but certainly over a few years you get through most things. So you start to question your ingrained values. That's important to me, because then I get to be that little bit more independent in my thoughts.

I realised only recently that environmentalism was something that I should question too. My Dad died before everyone believed in global warming, so I can't just steal his ideas on that. It brings up lots of problems that he probably thought through but I just accepted.
What kind of world are we trying to save?
Do we want to stop seas from being filled with fertilisers that kill off local fish populations?
Do we mind that a land filled with people, our houses, infrastructure and agriculture is unnatural?
Is the destruction of sea habitat somehow more important or more avoidable than the destruction of habitats on land?
Is biodiversity very very important? It's not so natural either. After all, if you leave land to do its own thing, nettles could cover it and squeeze out anything else. Or bracken in the highlands.
If we will be able to survive the problems of global warming, is that enough?
In terms of importance, if you give a human life a value of 10, what's the value of a frog?
If there is a huge swarm of insects is it more justified to kill them rather than a lone bug?
Can we even define the state of the Earth environmentally?

I'm not planning on abandoning my environmental views, because I think they are important. But it's something to think about, because unquestioned views are dangerous no matter who you are.

Sunday, 22 June 2008

Advice #26

Before and during crossing a road, Stop, Look and Listen
And when I say "look", I mean, look right, look left, and look right again
(or left right left if in a foreign place where people drive on the right)

Thursday, 19 June 2008

Fractal Fripperies

Rachel's boyfriend has a new company called Fractal Fripperies. You can browse and zoom around fractals and then choose a pattern and get a T-shirt with it on. It's great! Fractals are infinitely detailed, and the whole concept of that scares me slightly, but it also amazes me. It just blows my mind slightly. But they are cool, so next time you want a new T-shirt, get your own personal fractal!

Sunday, 15 June 2008

Your Favourite British Coins

The results are in from the survey:

It's a tie between 50p and £1 coins, both receiving around 43% of the vote. I haven't seen any of the new ones yet, but they should be in the mint already

Wednesday, 11 June 2008

Excuses excuses...

In my department at university they set everyone exams to work out which grades to give. But to make sure that everyone has the right grade, they give some people a viva (oral exam). They interview a few people to work out the quality of the year as a whole and also some people who are near grade boundaries so they can decide which side of the boundary to put you.

I figure I need to talk like someone who tried his best and has excellent knowledge but somehow didn't show it in the exams. And that got me thinking about excuses I could use.

1) We went to the tea shop after each exam and so I was really distracted thinking which tea to have.
2) I have been in a state of worry and tension because the fridge taunts me with noises that I can't respond to. And it does that really loudly and at me, even if there are other people in the room.
3) I have been in a state of worry and tension because some people managed to get a balloon tangled in the telegraph wires near our house back in spring and it bothered me. I moaned incessantly to my housemates about the fluttering of them in the wind, the problems of littering and how they were in my field of view when I worked

Until eventually, a man from BT came to get them down (right hand picture)

4) I understand everything, there was just too much to learn
5) I'm a slow eater and I shouldn't be persecuted for it.
6) My Gran died
7) I was troubled about the lecturer I mentioned here and couldn't possibly work
8) Living with girls clouded my brain
9) My shoelace kept coming undone because it was in need of repair
10) I spent too much time writing silly blogs like this instead of revising

Anyway, with the viva in only a few hours, I'd better do some work...

Sunday, 8 June 2008

More on the new British coin designs

I forgot something that I should have put here, when talking about the new coins to be released this year (we could start seeing them within a couple of months by my reckoning). The 50p coin is the most radically changed design. It will retain its seven-sided shape, but instead of having a base at the bottom so you can stand it up and see the design the right way up, it will be upside down. And the obverse ("heads") will also flip at the same time. So we'll have one of the points of the heptagon at the bottom rather than the top.

Which current design is your favourite though? Let me know on the poll on the left... it closes in only 4 days!

Saturday, 7 June 2008

Entropy and Glasses

Having spent much of the last few weeks concentrating non-stop on exams, I have learned to appreciate this subject a little more. So, as a celebration of finishing yesterday, I wanted to tell you all why it's quite so cool.

The two most important statements in physics are Second Laws. Newton's Second Law of Motion states "Rate of change of momentum is proportional to the force producing it". This leads to the equation F=ma. That's pretty cool, almost as cool as the Second Law of Thermodynamics, which states that Entropy Always Increases.

Entropy is disorder. If atoms are in a mess, entropy is high. Entropy means that when you add a nice square lump of sugar into tea, it will stop being nice and square and orderly, and spread its atoms all through the tea by dissolving (making your tea taste all sweet and gross). Entropy also means that if you heat up your room, the heat spreads out of the windows, doors and through the walls, and in the end your room is almost as cold as it ever was. Hot things have high entropy, because the atoms jiggle a lot and swap places and move around. And there's no way that they will stay in a nice ordered way like that. There is order involved in having all the heat in one place (your room), and it's much more disordered to share it out randomly (everywhere else), hence your room getting cold.

This law has never been proven wrong. If something creates order in one place, you will create that much disorder (and probably some more) in another place to compensate. Entropy always increases. We are doomed to become disordered.

The law leads to an equation that goes like this:
G = H - TS
This is one of the most useful equations ever. The second law of thermodynamics says entropy must go up. This equation does the same thing. G is called a free energy and in all processes, free energy G must go down. G is related to entropy of the universe somehow. S is the entropy of what you're looking at. If you line up a load of atoms in a row, then entropy of those atoms, S, goes down. But although you'd think that wouldn't be allowed from our law, it is, because the entropy of the whole universe could still go up, even if the entropy of this little bit goes down.

It happens all the time. You freeze some water to make an ice cube, and it has quite a low entropy. But freezing gives out heat. And it heats up the rest of the universe, so the rest of the universe has a higher entropy. This process of giving out heat (or even taking heat in) is explained in H. H is called the enthalpy. Giving out heat gives H a minus sign, and taking in heat gives H a positive value. The other letter in this equation is T, for Temperature.

Now, imagine that you have a load of atoms just sitting around. You decide to cool them down until the temperature, T, is zero. Absolute zero. It's minus 270-odd degrees C. Now, according to the equation, G = H - TS. If T is zero, then T * S = 0, no matter what S is. So G will try to get to a minimum value, and the only way it can do that is by lining up all the atoms so that H is as low as possible. From the paragraph above, we see that we need to find a way of giving out as much heat as possible, since this makes H as low as possible and so makes G as low as possible.

For any pair of atoms, you can work out what energy there is between them. They interact in some way, and have an energy. If there is more energy available than they need to interact, they give it out as heat. We can make a guess that there will be some optimal distance between the atoms that will make them give out the maximum amount of heat.

If you have a load of atoms at a really low temperature, they will all move to that distance away from each other, because that gives the lowest H and therefore the lowest G. That's what a crystal structure is. It's an ordered layout of atoms. Most solids have a nice ordered layout of atoms.

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Just let me make it clear... the entropy of this crystal is very low, but in making a low entropy system, the rest of the universe is getting hotter, and entropy is increasing. So from the second law of thermodynamics we can work out that crystals are the most stable structure of anything if you get cold enough.

Glass has atoms that are all over the place though. And cooling glass down to absolute zero won't change that. That goes precisely against what I have been saying. Glass should not exist. It is unstable, according to the second law of thermodynamics, which is NEVER wrong. In fact it CAN exist, but only exist because at low temperatures, atoms don't have enough energy to move around, so when they try to arrange themselves into a crystal structure as they cool, they can't arrange themselves quickly enough so a disordered structure is left over.

The fact that science can describe so much using the law "Entropy always increases" (and I've only just scratched the surface of one area), and the things it predicts are correct is the reason why I love science. It's a triumph of logic, and just so, so powerful. That's why I'm sad I won't go to any more undergraduate lectures about it.

Thursday, 5 June 2008

End of university

I seem to have finished all the work and exams for my degree. I'm not sure what to think of it. Results aren't out yet, maybe I'll know what to think of it then

Friday, 30 May 2008

Advice #25

To assume makes an
ASS of
U and
so don't do it unless necessary. And don't you forget what you assumed either, so it can't come back to bite you unexpectedly afterwards
[This nugget of advice was given to me at school by Mr Nutter]

Tuesday, 27 May 2008

News: Murky Past May Surround Materials Department

I have been stewing over this ever since I found it last night. It appears that a lecturer in our department had some terrible mishap occur some time in 1999. The website for his group says:

"Since the recent departure of [six people] from the group, we are currently down to two active members and urgently require the injection of new blood. If you are interested in materials issues at high temperatures, you are warmly welcomed to join us!"

I wonder what happened to them. And why did the website then get abandoned for so many years? Did they leave together to join a cult or a foreign materials department? Did they have a suicide pact or were there lives cruelly taken away by an air disaster on the way to a conference in Nairobi? It sounds like they may all been sucked away when an unstable material spontaneously disappeared in a puff of smoke. Reminds me of star trek somehow. Anyway, I don't think his group has ever recovered, and I have never worked out since I have been in the department where he does his research. It's possible that the mental scars from this incident have plagued him ever since and he has never returned to "active service", being housed by the Materials Department in a way that appears to betray some kind of guilty feelings that the department may also harbour over the incident. But maybe it's just my overactive imagination...

Sunday, 25 May 2008

Recent musical experiences

I went to see the Alexander Hawkins Ensemble on Sunday, and I can report they are very good. I'm not sure if they are famous in the jazz world, but they seem to be extremely talented and have a lot of fun. They are really versatile, sometimes playing the kind of modern jazz that I don't really "get", sometimes making atmospheric sounds that wouldn't be out of place in an album by the cinematic orchestra, and sometimes playing jazz with funky beats and rhythms. There was one solo guitarist-singer song too, and one moment where the pianist interchanged between big romantic classical chords and making sounds with the strings by reaching inside the piano. The players were playing (mainly) a piano, double bass, cello, electric guitar, drumkit and steel drum. I've never seen a steel drum and a cello together, and several other combinations there aren't too normal either.

It was music that you could allow to direct your thoughts here there and everywhere in the sections where it was it was hard to follow all 6 parts. My thoughts wandered to other music I have heard, to sex, to exams and the future, to my family and the past, and finally to looking for the personality in each player individually...

The first one that struck me was the drummer. He was a Roman. An ancient one. Playing the drums. He was quite solemn about it as if he were performing a ritual. I doubt he knows he's a Roman, but I do.
Then there was the pianist. He knew how to make so many noises on the piano, I can imagine him dropping out of a conversation just to enter into his little reverie in which he thinks of new sounds to make.
The double bassist was from the twenties, with a serious job by day, keeping the books for the family business, who sneaked out at night to a speakeasy to play his double bass while they weren't watching.
The other ones had personalities too, but the ones I invented weren't as good, so I won't bore you. And it was good. And I'll probably be getting either a cinematic orchestra album soon cos I enjoyed the concert a lot.

My second musical experience was the Eurovision Song Contest last night. A bit of a contrast to the aforementioned concert, I admit. As usual it was full of terrible songs, comedy acts, people who take themselves seriously and people who don't. A group of people from the materials department came to our house, and enjoyed lots of pizza and other food while pointing out the little touches that made the songs special, like flashy lights, costumes, women taking off clothes, props, fireworks, dance routines and backing singers. We were dismayed by the lack of cheesy key changes in this year's contest, but the voting patterns did not fail to impress, with drinking required when your chosen "bad" song got points, and when your chosen "good" song didn't get any. We were too well-behaved to get very drunk, but it's always fun! I didn't feel that Terry Wogan was at his best though, he definitely came out with some classic comments about belly-buttons and political voting, but his irony was tinged with sadness that the best song would never win because of the "political" (I doubt it actually has much to do with politics) voting. He was right of course, the Russian song that won was average at best, even by the standards of eurovision. And it seems he may not be back to present the contest next year. I wonder how many viewers will turn off without his wonderful comments on the performers and presenters on stage.

Other recent musical experiences include:
-finding a load of my Dad's old music and discovering he listened to Lenny Kravitz in addition to Chris de Burgh, Trad Jazz and Dire Straits that I already knew about. Urgh!
-listening to an interview with Usher in which he said the song "Love in the club" (about making love... in a club) was connecting with men because everyone thinks it, and then telling the interviewer that he had never made love in a club but had done in various other places e.g. planes. Listening to people discussing a song like that made me chuckle - it really doesn't seem like there's much to add, the lyrics are clear enough
-joining a choir in college. More to follow at some point I imagine on that one

Sunday, 18 May 2008

The new British coin designs

Most people don't seem to have heard the terrible news. The reverse (tails) is changing on all British coins except the £2 coin later this year. This does not mean that the size, shape or material of the coins will change, and the old designs are not being taken out of circulation. However, new coins are produced every year to replace those that are lost or drop out of circulation for some other reason, and these will all carry a new design.

The new design for every coin features a part of the Royal Shield, with the effect that if you line them up in the right way you can see most of the shield (see the Wikipedia article for a picture of this and more information on everything I write here)
But this seems like a novelty, and seems like a poor replacement for the coins that we already have.

The penny has the symbol of parliament, a portcullis
The twopence has the symbol for the prince of wales: ostrich feathers, a crown and the motto "ich dien" (I have a feeling it means "I serve" but I'm too lazy to look it up)
The five pence has a scottish thistle
The ten pence has an english lion
The twenty pence has the rose (used after the war of the roses; you know, the one combining the white rose and the red rose of the opposing sides in the war...)
The fifty pence has Britannia, who has been on our coins for at least 3 or 4 centuries, and after whom songs are still sung
The pound has a big variety of designs, with different ones each year. It works like this: the countries take it in turns to have a design for them i.e. the UK then Scotland then Wales then Northern Ireland then England then back to the UK. Something I have only noticed today is that the designs are themed for each cycle of designs. So the first two cycles had national plants, the third and fourth cycles had symbols like the welsh dragon and the northern irish celtic cross, and the fifth cycle (ending in 2008) had bridges.

So we are exchanging around twenty symbols for a single one. And the one we get to keep is the £2 coin, which is some kind of abstract pattern that's meant to represent innovation or something equally modern and meaningless.

If this only lasts one cycle (five years) then I won't mind, and the gimmick will have run its course, but I really hope we go back to the old ones at some point. However, the royal mint has given no indication that it will go back.

Is my inner numismatist (coin collector) coming out in this indignation? I find myself checking my coins for rare dates and good condition so I can hide them away, as I used to when I took my coin collecting more seriously. Do you care? Even if you don't, have a think now and fill out my poll on the left - which coin design will you miss the most?

Wednesday, 14 May 2008

Did you know?

The word on the street is actually three words

Saturday, 10 May 2008

Milk in tea, Part III

-on when to add milk; a literature review

Tea with milk is clearly a controversial issue and has been for many years. The number of comments on my first post on the subject is testimony to that. However, the problem does not stop at “would you like milk with that?” There is much more debate to be had about when to add the milk. If you’re using a teapot, should you pour the brewed tea onto the milk, or should you put in the milk afterwards? If you’re teabag dunking, does it make a difference if you put the milk in either before the bag like Housemate Jo), immediately after the water is added or after it is brewed? This all feeds into broader questions of how to make the perfect cup of tea that I won’t discuss here, though I will possibly address them at a later date: Is loose leaf intrinsically better? Should you warm the pot before you use it? With teabags, should the tea be added to boiling water, or should boiling water be added to the tea? The questions never end, and people are extremely vociferous in explaining or defending their views.

George Orwell was one of the most influential people to have entered the debate. He wrote an entire essay on the subject entitled “A Nice Cup Of Tea”. In this essay he puts forward his view that “by putting the tea in first and stirring as one pours, one can exactly regulate the amount of milk whereas one is liable to put in too much milk if one does it the other way round”. This is a controversial view, as he himself admits at another point in the essay. Contradicting advice is given on Wikihow claiming that milk should be added first. Of course it is not quite that simple. Tea companies give their own advice: Tetley advises us to add milk after brewing when using teabags. Twinings (being a more upper class brand), focuses on loose leaf tea: “Pour a little milk into each cup before pouring the tea through a strainer if necessary, and sweeten as required.” A representative of Yorkshire tea called Simon gives his personal view although he seems to accept views from both sides in the debate - “If the tea is being poured from a teapot, milk in the cup first. If the tea is being made in the mug or cup, milk should go in last. Others may say the other way around but that is my personal preference.” First Class Teas is equally equivocal in their fun, quirky way: “There are many different schools of thought on how to brew tea, and that's before we even think about pre-tea milk-pouring issues! One of the great intrigues of tea is the personal discovery of one's own styles and tastes, and as such I don't like to dictate to people what they should or shouldn't do. After all, if you like something and it isn't causing any harm, who's to tell you it's wrong?”

Some people have tried to describe the reasoning behind different opinions. According to this website, for example, “Some people saying that the milk should be poured in first and others saying that the tea is poured first. Obviously as a nation we have got used to brewing tea in a mug. This way the tea is always added first. However, to make a real cup of English tea the milk is always added to the cup first, followed by the tea.” i.e. tea should not be brewed with milk present; to avoid that, milk should be added after if dunking a bag, but before if using a teapot.
A BBC article believes that traditions dictate the correct answer on this. It says that adding milk before the tea is better, but that “This is socially incorrect. The socially correct way of pouring tea is to put the milk in after the tea. Social correctness has traditionally had nothing whatever to do with reason, logic or physics.”
The people responsible for tea’s inclusion as an official icon of England (a project from the government department of culture) wrote about tea and milk, explaining more debating points about milk in tea. It says that there are class issues behind it, as there are with most things in Britain. Poor quality china was used by the middle classes during the 1700s, which would crack at high temperatures, as opposed to the fine china of the aristocracy or earthenware of the working class. The price of milk was apparently a factor in the amount of milk to add too.

From weebl and bob (my favourite online duo) to tea museum founder Edward Bramah to Steven Hawking, everyone has an opinion.

So how can we lay this matter to rest? I suggest two possibilities: conventional wisdom and science.
Conventional wisdom is hopefully expressed in the British standard BS6008 (here, though I think you’ll have to pay to see it. It's the effectively the same as ISO 3103 although I believe the Brits got there first), used for tea tasting. It says for 5.6g tea, half a pint of boiling water should be added and it should be brewed for 6 mins. Milk should be added before the tea (5ml), but if you insist on adding it afterwards, it should be added when liquid is 65-80 degrees. It adds that milk sometimes helps to accentuate differences in flavour and colour.
Real scientific peer-reviewed work was done on it too, as reported by the guardian here. And there is agreement! Again, milk should be added before the tea. The scientific argument is that milk poured onto boiling water is heated more quickly because the surface area of the milk is higher, increasing the risk of denaturing the proteins in the water, which is bad for the taste.

So do we have an answer? The problem will never solved completely, but it looks like the evidence is just starting to lead to putting the milk in first if you add tea from a pot. Results also suggest that you should add the milk after when dunking a teabag.

I am currently carrying out systematic taste tests to see if any of this actually makes a difference or whether the whole thing is a storm in a teacup (sorry I couldn’t resist). I’ll report back to you, probably next month.

Tuesday, 6 May 2008

Advice #24

Take your towel when you go for a shower
[it causes huge embarassment if you don't, I can tell you]

Saturday, 3 May 2008

Saturday thoughts

Hey everyone. I've been thinking, so I think a record of this occasion needs to be made.

1) Boris Johnson just became mayor. To me, this seems like a bad idea. He has odd views on immigration, he drinks too much, and he's an object of fun for everyone in the country who pays attention. He's a very tory tory indeed. But I think he's probably harmless. Most things in this country are run by the civil service, not politicians. It takes a government a long time to force anything through civil service that they think is a bad idea. Boris seems like a man who will ultimately do what Dave Cameron tells him. He has been well-behaved during the campaign, so we can hope that he'll keep it up now he's in the job. So maybe it's a good idea to have a famous politician, a celebrity, as London mayor. It worked for California. If it makes people interested in the process of making the country a better place, maybe it's worthwhile. But I can say that happily, I don't have to live in London!

2) Snooker has been taking over my life. I have been failing my degree, losing contact with friends and losing respect from my housemates at my insistence to watch every shot. This year has been the best year I have seen, if only for the first semi-final match between Ronnie (the rocket) O'Sullivan and Steven (7 world championships) Hendry.

I used to watch Steven Hendry when his way of clearing up the table was brand new. Nobody had ever done it frame after frame before. Bear in mind that the first maximum break at the world championships was in 1983 and the second was in 1991. Steven Hendry began winning major tournaments in 1990, and got his first maximum at the tournament in 1995 [there were two this year so far]. He had a knack of spotting a red miles away down the table, potting it and then clearing up the rest of the balls without the other guy having a shot. This got a bit boring to watch, because even fairly good safety shots could result in this happening, and it became a game of target practice rather than one of tactics. Nowadays everyone can do that. I end up watching the "rubbish" old players like Steve Davis, because they think the game out a bit more and rely on safety rather than attack.

This match between Ronnie O'Sullivan and Steven Hendry opened up a new era of snooker though. Ronnie has improved his safety game to the extent that every safety landed near a cushion with a ball in front, so Hendry never had an easy safety or a shot. It's no longer a case of putting the white ball near the baulk cushion, you pick the spot along the baulk cushion where it's virtually impossible for your opponent to play a safety. The break-off shot was more precisely played in this match than I have ever seen before too. In 7/8 frames in the second session, it was played so that every red ends up in the bunch with the exception of one red, which ends up on the cushion. This makes it almost impossible to pot a ball straight away. My point is that in this match, it was won by the best safety player, whether he was the most consistent potter or not.

There were two shots that I'll remember too. Ronnie played a 4-cushion escape from a snooker, and just touched into the bunch of reds at the end. And Hendry, having fouled twice missing a red off two cushions, decided to take on a pot that he would never normally have considered, along the cushion from miles away. And he got it! Break-building is suddenly interesting again when you know that they got the opportunity by a carefully considered safety rather than a brute-force shut-your-eyes-and-hope pot from distance. But I'm trying not to watch any more, it's my final university term, so it's not the ideal time...

Thursday, 1 May 2008


An almost imperceptible nod to you all this May day

Sunday, 27 April 2008

My thoughts echoed in other people's words

I love it when someone says something, and it matches up really well with how I think about things. Here are a couple of examples.
. ~ . ~ . ~ . ~ .
Thierry Henry is a footballer who was hugely successful playing for Arsenal, but has had less success at Barcelona this season, after his transfer. He has had injuries and people have suggested that he should not have left Arsenal. He said

"There has been since I arrived here a lot of speculation from day one but, hey, go back where? There's only one team for me in my heart. It took me a while to understand what that club, Arsenal, meant."
Did he regret moving, though?
"I don't regret stuff in my life. Stuff happens for a reason. You don't regret stuff that you thought about. I don't regret it."

He's right. If you think long and hard about a decision, it's much harder to regret it. If it goes wrong, you can forgive yourself, because it is impossible to see the future. Even if it was a mistake that somebody else could have forseen; if you could not have forseen it yourself, it was not a rash decision, it was hardly even a mistake. Maybe Thierry Henry would have been better to stay at Arsenal, but he will never know, so he's better not worrying about it.
. ~ . ~ . ~ . ~ .
For some reason I have a little book of meditations from Marcus Aurelius, extracts from his writings in the 2nd century. I really should read more, because I like what he writes (Maxwell Staniforth's tranlation, published by Penguin):

"Were you to live three thousand years, or even thirty thousand, remember that the sole life which a man can lose is that which he is living at the moment; and furthermore, that he can have no other life except the one he loses." He explains, "the passing minute is every man's equal possession, but what has once gone by is not ours. Our loss, therefore, is limited to that one fleeting instant, since no one can lose what is past, nor what is yet to come"

I don't think this means that the past and the future are irrelevant. After all, both affect the present (or at least the expectation of the future affects the present). But death means that a person goes from existing in the present, to not existing. It is a complete, 100% change, no more and no less. It is a 100% change for everyone, no matter how long they have lived or who they are. I think it's important to realise that. Marcus Aurelius was a stoic. I got reading his wikipedia page and pages about stoicism. It is interesting, remind me to look into it in more detail sometime

Wednesday, 23 April 2008

Milk in tea, Part II

Brits are quite sensible putting milk in most tea that they have, because most of it is blends of predominantly Kenya tea from a generic teabag.

Making tea that tastes really nice is actually harder with teabags, especially the pyramid bags that are advertised as being so perfectly designed. You'd think that a PG Tips pyramid bag would be the simplest, but actually the moment you pour boiling water over a pyramid bag, the entire flavour comes out, enough flavour for two cups in fact. In my opinion, teabags are not well-designed for a single cup; there are too many leaves.

Secondly, the leaves are actually different too. It will come of no surprise to you that teabags from supermarkets are not of the same quality as loose leaf tea. The worst quality leaves, the dust left once the leaves have been dried and taken away, are used in teabags. So although most of what's in there is indeed tea, my guess is that it comes from the crap leaves that fell apart as they were processed, probably because the leaves had been picked when they were old and manky on the bush. In any case, the grade and taste of the tea is generally thought to be lower in your average teabag compared to loose leaf. Such crushed leaves have a very high surface area so all of the flavour diffuses out the moment water gets near it. So you're almost guaranteed to have a cup of tea that is too strong from the start and needs milk to take away the bitterness that comes from overbrewing and bad quality leaves.

Apparently the tea does not infuse well through the bag, but I have no evidence for that, and I don't see why it should be any worse than an infuser. In my opinion, teabags taste worse than loose leaf because of the leaves that go into them. I imagine that the best quality teabags are as tasty as loose leaf, because they use better leaves (although I have not tested this thoroughly).

The British public is very sensible having milk in tea. Because it's very hard, with the tea we're given, to make tea that tastes any good without it. Luckily for these teas, consisting as they do mainly of Kenya tea, the addition of milk can be quite a positive thing. But I assure you, many of the best teas are absolutely wonderful without milk.

Saturday, 19 April 2008

Milk in tea, Part I

Milk is not a taste that any tea lover wants in their tea. Who wants something that masks the flavours pure fresh taste of the tea with a creamy taste that completely changes the texture and taste of the tea? To me, the texture of milk is the worst thing. Drinking tea is like drinking water because it has such a clean and fresh texture. Milk just fills your mouth with fat and it's a bit gross.

And yet sometimes I do put milk in my tea. Kenya teas or an assams for example, have a lovely strong taste, but it is very easy to let some of the bitter tastes come out of the leaves as it brews. Milk has the amazing property that it sucks up all the bitterness with a minimal effect on the rest of the flavour. But be clear, use as little as possible, just a tiny little amount if you need it, and none at all otherwise. And in my opinion, you should use skimmed milk. Fat in your tea is distinctly manky, and that minimises the problem. Now, I don't actually like drinking milk on its own, so maybe I am biased against it, but if you want to taste the tea, you need the cup to be filled more with tea than with milk. Otherwise just drink milk, dammit!

Wednesday, 16 April 2008

Fun in the house

My relationship with my housemates can best be described as "increasing fondness".

Isn't Maria radishing?

Yes, she certainly is radishing, or she was when the picture was taken

Monday, 14 April 2008

Update on not-so-grinny guy (below)

Having filled in the form again, I submitted it. It then showed me the completed form that I had submitted. And it was blank. Apart from the submission date and the referees at the end. AAAaaaargh!

And I had some tea. Some of Chris's favourite Twining's Traditional Afternoon tea. And it tasted really weird. Well, Jo can't tell, but Maria thought it was odd too. Weird tea? AAAaaaaargh! But luckily the jasmine is better.

Time to abandon this mess and do something else!

"Once upon a time there was a scientist with a nose made of silver [Tycho Brahe]
He found that there were far too hurtless days a year that one could do without
He called them black letter days
And the rest is silence..."
Black Letter Days - The Cardigans

not-so-grinny guy

I'm angry like I haven't been in ages. I spent all day yesterday filling in an application form for a job. I mean, I really really hate applying for jobs and that kind of future planning, but I finally did it, and I finished it at about midnight. I thought it would be sensible to leave it until the morning to proof-read it rather than send it off at midnight straight away, so I saved the on-line form and left it.

Now it's GONE! I woke up this morning panicking about my exams, but I thought, at least I have done a job application so I can concentrate on exam work for a few days at least. But NO. It's disappeared. Currently I want to throw something, maybe the computer, but I don't think it is really the computer's fault. It's that bloody website. AAAaaaargh. I can't afford another day on it now, but I also can't afford to wait any longer to apply for jobs because come the summer I'll be living at home getting in the way and being stressed. AAAaaargh! Shit, what a crap start to the day

Saturday, 12 April 2008

Advice #23

If you're going to eat the whole cow, don't choke on the tail

[GAP puzzled me with this advice a few years ago via a T-shirt]

Thursday, 10 April 2008

Proudly Pro-Ana

Don't let the propaganda take away from the truth. Ana is very important medically. Without terminology I fondly like to call Ana-logy, the medical profession would be lost. So let me profess my pro-ana leanings here and now. Ana is a prefix from Greek, meaning up or anew. It leads to many, though not all, of the ana words below (with their definitions from a science and technology dictionary):

(1) Anaphylaxis - An acute immediate hypersensitivity reaction following administration of an antigen to a subject resulting from combination of the antigen with IgE on mast cells or basophils which cause these cells to release histamine and other vasoactive agents.

(2) Anabolic - metabolic events which can lead to the synthesis of body constituents

(3) Anaesthetists - Those skilled in the administration of anaesthetic drugs (drugs producing insensibility to touch, pain and temperature) (in US, called anaesthesiologists)

(4) Anaemia - Diminution of the amount of total circulating haemoglobin in the blood

(5) Anabiosis - A temporary state of reduced metabolism in which metabolic activity is absent or undetectable

(6) Anaplasia - Loss of the differentiation of a cell associated with profligate activity (a characteristic of a malignant tumour)

(7) Anamnesis - The recollection of past things, the patient's recollections of symptoms and past illnesses

(8) Analgesia - Loss of sensibility to pain

(9) Anal - Referring to the opening of the alimentary canal by which indegestible residues are voided

(10) Anorexi... oh, sorry, that begins with ano, don't know how that sneaked in

Friday, 4 April 2008

Those at the top of the virtual ladder

The internet is sometimes said to open up a whole new world of competition, where consumers have the ability to choose the best products for them at the best prices in the whole world. New businesses have flourished and consumers have benefited from the stiff competition, forcing companies to be the best they possibly can be for their customers.

But is this really happening? More and more, entire global markets are becoming dominated by one large company:
"Google" - web searches
"e-bay" - web auctions
"Amazon" - books, and debatably other products
"Tomtom" - satnavs
"wikipedia" - knowledge
"Windows/Microsoft" - operating systems and many programs
"BBC" - news
"iPod" - MP3 players

The more attached a system is to the internet, the more likely there is to be a monopoly. For example, Tomtom relies on the internet for updates to maps and things, and their monopoly is very strong. MP3 players are less dominated by iPod, and we notice that many people buy their MP3 players from shops so they are not as tied to the internet. Price comparison websites are not controlled by a single company, but they advertise so much on television that they cannot be seen as existing purely online either. At the other end, Spybot Search and Destroy is certainly the only anti-spyware software I can name, and that's entirely an online phenomenon.

According to the tiny amount of economics I learned at school, monopolies are a BAD thing. Well, if a monopoly is maintained or has the potential to be maintained by "barriers to entry" into the market, then it is, since it prevents competitors from competing fairly.

So the question is, why do these companies have a monopoly? Is it because they provide the best service, products and price, or is it because the competition is suppressed somehow? Of course it's a combination. All of the companies above produce excellent products and services, but there are barriers to the competition too.

Since the internet is a new world, people are not aware of the competition. There is so much advertising for small companies, inefficient companies, rubbish companies that it is impossible to work out what is a good deal. If you order a CD from a random seller, will it ever arrive, will it be in the condition they say? Questions like this put people off trying out websites and companies who they don't know. In addition, a visit to an unknown website may result in you acquiring a virus and still not acquiring the product you're looking for.

Search engines are no help either. Top of the list is always the same business, and everyone buys from that company. It makes sense, it's quicker, easier and safer to do that. But it stifles competition, because if you're company number 2 and you're unknown, nobody will even see your products, unless they ignore search result 1 (even though it came up first and is therefore more popular) and visit your website instead. These are huge barriers to entry into the markets. It's very difficult for anyone to come into that.

At the moment, I don't see it as a problem. As I say, I think the monopoly companies in general offer good service, value for money and products. However, with these barriers existing, it does not have to stay like that. Most of these companies have only existed for ten years, so they haven't had the chance to go off the boil. But they will, all companies do, especially when they don't have the competition to drive them forward. And then the customers will suffer.

I'd like to see specialised "internet malls" set up, with the top ten search results for e.g. books, all equally advertised. That might encourage people to look around and choose based on getting the best deal rather than looking for the familiar face. It's not a good idea, but it's something and we need to do something. At the moment, people still shop on the high streets, but as we buy more online, the problems of internet monopolies will become more apparent. A solution must be found.

Tuesday, 1 April 2008

Advice #22

Drink plenty of water

Saturday, 29 March 2008

One of those grumpy, how-I'm-feeling-today posts

"There'll be rain on our wedding day
Rotting roses in my bouquet
There'll be rain on our wedding day
Grey be the sky
Too late to cry"
Slow - The Cardigans

I feel a bit grumpy at the moment, although not in an angry way. It's as if I am suppressing something, so I feel slightly agitated and devoid of whichever emotions I'm supposed to be feeling.

I guess a lot has happened recently:
At university, I had my last lectures of my undergraduate time although I still have a few seminars and lots of work to do next term. I am sad not to have any more lectures because I enjoy them, but I'm not sure how much I will miss them and the opportunity they give to learn some quite important and difficult things relatively easily (more easily than reading, for example).

Also at university, I handed in my bigass final year project. I'm glad to have handed the project in, but I made the mistake of re-reading it after handing it in, and spotting all the ways I could have improved it. Nevertheless I'm not too unhappy with it, but now it is gone I have to look forward to the exams in June and think about time after June too. Revision and job-hunting are two activities I REALLY don't enjoy doing, so the reality of my post-project time has not lived up to expectations.

On top of that, my gran died. She was a lovely old lady. Her husband (my grandfather) died before I was born, and her son (my Dad) in 2000. But she put up with these things amazingly, particularly as she was living alone. She was old-fashioned, intelligent and dignified. Well, she was, but her health had been declining steadily over the past few years, starting with her eyesight going as a result of diabetes and ending in a nursing home she had only recently moved into. She did not show people her feelings much, but that meant that getting a glimpse of them was a special occasion that made you feel special. I don't know how much I will miss her, but I'm sure there will be times when I miss her a lot or would have liked to talk to her or ask her something. It will be odd not to see her at Christmas, or think of her going on holiday to Wales every summer.

Talking about this is probably what I need to do, but as always, finding the right person is difficult. Which is why I end up writing a moody blog post like this.

Monday, 17 March 2008

Cardigans on the BBC

Despite reading the BBC website religiously, this article slipped by me until I had a good read of the forum on the Cardigans website. It seems that someone at the BBC did some good research and has summarised where the Cardigans are at very successfully - hopefully plenty of people read it and will go and buy their new best of or the rest of their music!

Saturday, 15 March 2008

Everyone wants to be me

...when I have a potato this good

Friday, 14 March 2008

Wie Nanoröhren etwas besonders sind

Vor Weihnachten habe ich ein Projekt über Nanoröhren in der Uni geführt. Ich habe entdeckt, wie interessant das Material ist. Sie sind sehr oft in der Nachrichten, aber die Nachrichten kümmern sich sehr oft an die Anwendungen, ohne das Material zu verstehen.

Haben Sie etwas von Buckybälle gehört? Sie sind kleine Bälle aus Kohlenstoff, die sich in Rauch befinden. Sie bestehen aus 60 Atome Kohlenstoff und sehen wie kleine Fussbälle aus. Sie können sich vorstellen, man könnte die Bälle verlängern, und noch ein paar Atome in der Mitte stecken. Und Wissenschaftler sehen doch, dass es auch Moleküle mit 70, 80, 90 Atome gibt. Nach genügend Atome eingebaut worden sind, ist es schon eine Röhre geworden. Man sieht wie klein die Struktur ist, wenn man denkt, sie hat erst einen Umkreis von 10 Atome! Der Durchmesser ist ungefähr einen Nanometer.

Die Atome sind, wie auch in Graphit, in Sechseckformen ausgelegt. In Graphit gibt es Schichten von Atomen in Sechsecken, also ist eine Nanoröhre einfach ein Teil Graphit der aufgerollt wurde. Man kann mehrere Schichten von Graphit aufrollen, um eine Multi-Wand Nanoröhre zu machen.

Man hört sehr viel über Nanotechnologie, weil in Nanotechnologie die einzelne Atome wichtig sind, denn die ganze Struktur ist so klein. So ist es anders als normale Technologie. Wenn Strukture so klein sind, sind sie auch anders wie normal. Zum Beispiel, Materialien die ein paar Nanometer lang sind, sind selten spröd und zerbrechlich.

Nanoröhren sind sehr steif und fest. In Vergleich mit Stahl sind sie 1000 Mal steifer (hoffentlich habe ich das richtige Wort gefunden für "stiff" - ich meine, dass man nicht einfach sie recken kann) und sie sind sind gar nicht so schwer. Eine Nanoröhre kann auch leitend oder halbleitend sein (es kommt auf wie die Sechsecken sich ausrichten an). Das Problem ist so; einzelne Nanoröhren sind etwas besonders, aber es ist schwierig, davon ein Faser zu machen, der selbst auch so gut ist.

Die Möglichkeiten für solche Materialien sind enorm. Aber es endet noch nicht. Man kann auch andere Materialien auf der Wand wachsen lassen, die selbst interessant sind. Katalysator sind eine Möglichkeit, da sie eine grosse Oberfläche brauchen. Also Nanoröhren sind stark und steif, haben interessanter elektrische Eigenschaften, und können auch ein Basis für andere Nanomaterialien sein. Deshalb gibt es so viele Artikel in Zeitungen, Zeitschriften und im Internet. Und deswegen finde ich sie auch interessant!

Sunday, 9 March 2008

on Gran Turismo

The first Cardigans album I bought was Gran Turismo, having heard "Erase/Rewind" and "My Favourite Game" on the radio. Of course, I wanted more of the same catchy, bouncey rock music, but that's not what Gran Turismo is about. It's the coldest record imaginable, full of tension and stress. The singles that I wanted to hear were simply punctuating the album with a bit of joy, stopping it from freezing over completely. When you reach "Nil", the final (instrumental) track of the album, you can feel the tension ease from your shoulders and the feeling come back into your toes. So I wasn't that impressed. Of course, I learned to love it. As I did so, I found that a lot of the tracks had more energy and positivity too like "Hanging Around" with its rocky guitar solo and "Higher" with the lyrics we'll make it out of here, oh yeah. The singles are an important part of the album, but they're not everything that the Cardigans are about.

One in particular remains cold, the opening track of the album. It has sound effects of swirling winds and Nina's high wailing voice over deep bass chords singing never lose your grip / don't trip / don't fall / you'll lose it all / the sweetest way to die. But this is one of the most beautiful songs they have ever done, just because it is so chilling. This is where your sanity gives in / and the love begins - you're insane, you're going to die, but in this twisted world, that's the place to find true love.

"Best of the Cardigans" (CD1 in the 2CD version) contains all the singles, but even in that "My Favourite Game" and "Erase/Rewind"-style songs are a small minority. In their review, digitalspy says
Ranging from the sunshine pop of their early 90's releases to the brooding beauty of 2005's Super Extra Gravity, it features a kaleidoscope of musical styles... of the most underrated bands of the last 15 years

Quite right!

Advice #21

Don't look over your shoulder too much.

Or if you do, switch shoulders from time to time to avoid straining your neck and back

Wednesday, 5 March 2008

At last

Since the HMV e-mail telling me that my CD, Best of the Cardigans, is on the way, I have been sick for 3 days out of 7. Maybe there's a link, maybe there isn't, who can say? But it arrived a few minutes ago, and it has certainly cheered me up! Being sick is very stressful as well as being boring. I'm only half-way through listening through CD 1, but it's pretty good! Yay

Monday, 3 March 2008

Self-healing and thermoreversible rubber from supramolecular assembly

That is the title of the Nature article (Nature 451, 977-980 (21 February 2008)) that I wrote about here. At the time I was complaining about the way this BBC article had described the science involved.

So I had a look at the original Nature article, and agree that it is a wonderful and novel substance, so BBC picked up on a good thing. Let me explain it as I understand it. I hope I'm not too far wrong in this, please correct me if I am.

A normal rubber consists of longs chains of atoms, held together by so-called cross-links. The chains like to be coiled up, but if you pull on them, they can uncoil, so the material stretches. If you let go, it will go back, simply because it prefers to be in its coiled-up state*. Since the chains are cross-linked together, it remembers better than other materials how it was before, so it is more elastic than normal materials. Without the cross-links, it would be a plastic, which does not remember its shape as well.

If you cut a rubber, you break some of the bonds. These are covalent bonds, bonds that have strength because they share electrons. Once a covalent bond is broken, one half of the chain takes more electrons than the other, so this half is negatively charged and the other half is positively charged. Positive and negative charges cancel out at the drop of a hat, and they get rid of their charge as quickly as possible. They might grab a gas molecule from the air or react with another part of the rubber, so in a tiny fraction of a second, the loose ends have been tied up and the cut has sealed over. After it has closed up, it's stable and happy, and will not react again. So when you bring the other bit of the rubber back, it will not go back together, even if you do it as quickly as you can posibly imagine.

This rubber is different, because it is made of short molecules, that are all held together by hydrogen bonds. Hydrogen bonds hold the structure together, but they are not quite as strong as covalent bonds. Just like a normal rubber, the end effect is that a network of bonds is created, where segments can stretch and coil up. So this is still a rubber in terms of how it acts normally. The benefit is that a broken hydrogen bond does not leave positive and negative charges. It will tend to attract molecules to tie up the loose ends, but this is not a quick process. This gives you time to put the rubber back together. Slight movement (diffusion) of the chain ends allow the molecules to line up and bonds back together, so that the material heals and the seal is as good as the original rubber if you give it long enough.

There are polymers (materials that come in long chains of atoms) that can re-heal by diffusion already. These chains do not have cross-links, so they are not so rubbery. To heal themselves, the chains just wriggle together until they are knotted together. That works pretty well, entanglements are the way that loads of polymers hold themselves together anyway. But a material like that is able to flow like honey or jelly (two really good foods)**, so it is not a real rubber.

So the material that they have created is unique and special, in being a useful rubber and being able to heal itself. I'm sure there will be lots of places where it can be used, although the authors do not suggest any themselves (they are more interested in the science, as I am too). The same issue of Nature also contained the comment from Justin Mynar and Takuzo Aida “The potential applications are manifold. Tears in clothes that effectively stitch themselves together, long-lasting coatings and paints for houses and cars, and to take one example on the medical front, self-repairing artificial bones and cartilage.” To me, the possibilities seem endless, and given that it is cheap and easy to make, and easy to degrade (so it can be disposed of environmentally), I think we will see a lot of this in the future.

If this article did not make sense, try Physics World. The Times also enjoyed thinking up uses for it.

* it's all about entropy - coiled up structures have a higher disorder so they are preferred, it's a law of physics
**depending on how liquid it is, people talk about creep or viscosity when they talk about a material flowing (under its own weight or otherwise)