Posts from 26th August 2004

Aug 04

U-S-uh, how does it go again?

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U-S-uh, how does it go again?
Watching the highlights of the Olympics women’s football final this evening (a fitting end to the great Mia Hamm’s career) it struck me that one of the reasons a lot of people find the US’ sporting successes difficult to stomach is the constant chant of “USA, USA, USA, USA” that dominates the air whenever their folks are doing anything but losing.

That wall to wall USA could be regarded by non-Americans as annoying and smug is nothing new, of course. What hadn’t occurred to me before, though, is the fact that it’s probably the easiest sporting chant on the circuit.

It’s got everything. It’s short, it’s punchy, it’s difficult to misinterpret, it demands very little in the way of the spectator’s energy, and it seems to go on for ever. It certainly gets its message across. You’re never in doubt when the Yanks are about.

Think about the competition (and I think it’s important to stress that I’m talking objectively about pure motivational aesthetics rather than expressing any particular personal bias or allegiance).

We Brits have the effective but dull Iiiiiiiinnng-glund and Scawwwwwww-tlund, as well as the less snappy (though no less worthy) Wehhhhhh-yulls, but all these require a great deal of energy for relatively little payback, and thus tend to give up the ghost before the American chant.

France are unimpressive, with neither the country’s name nor the substitute “Allez les bleus!” being particularly forceful. “Italia” is certainly effective, as is the Japanese chant of “Nippon”, all undoubtedly aided by their clap-along potential.

There are many other examples, where passion for sport can overcome a trickily constructed name. Swathes of South America, Africa and Asia can boast such dedication.

But I’ve yet to find a country that really matches the US for reliability, style and efficiency.

It’s just. Not. Fair.

And that’s one more reason to try our best to beat them.

Hi, this is my first post here, so here’s a bit about me … I’m Barry Bruner

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Hi, this is my first post here, so here’s a bit about me … I’m Barry Bruner, and if I can tear myself away from watching the Olympics and go back to writing my thesis then I will be Dr. Barry Bruner someday. I’m nearing the end of my Ph.D. in physics at the University of Toronto, and the title of my thesis will be something like “Diffractive Optics-Based 2D-IR spectroscopy of Liquid Water”. Honestly, I’m not trying to be a prick by throwing out complicated scientific sentences — this stuff is my life. Except for music. Sometimes.

There were several interesting articles in the August 19 issue of Nature — a U.K.-based publication that is arguably the most prestigious general science journal in the world. There was an update on the latest inquiries/research into Gulf War Syndrome (they still don’t know exactly what it is or what causes it), an obituary for Francis Crick (co-modeler of DNA — Crick did not “discover” DNA) informatively written by two of his friends and colleagues, and an editorial about the US Food and Drug Administrations’ concern over the possibility of importing bioterrorist-contaminated pharmaceutical drugs from Canada. This brief editorial displays a sense of humour that is far too rare in scientific writing (sample line : As that acclaimed documentary the South Park movie demonstrated, the United States’ paranoia about its threatening northern neighbour is richly justified“).

And following up on James’ recent comments about the 50th anniversary of CERN, there was a short article about the history of CERN and what lies ahead (sorry if any of this has been covered on Proven By Science previously, but I searched and couldn’t find anything). Even if CERN were never used again, its place in scientific history is more than secure. In 1983, the W and Z particles were discovered there, leading to a Nobel Prize the very next year for Carlo Rubbia and Simon van der Meer. Theorists had proposed the existence of these particles in the previous decade, they said “build an particle accelerator capable of reaching such-and-such energy levels and you will find them — this will make our understanding of subatomic particles (and by extension, the building blocks of all matter) nearly complete”. So hundreds of people gambled billions of dollars, and it paid off. Had it failed, it may have meant the end of Big Science as we know it. It might have meant no more large-scale collaborations, and therefore no need for physics groups scattered all over the world to share their large data sets, and therefore, no World Wide Web invented for them to do so (the WWW was invented at CERN to serve this purpose).

As I wrote above, the W and Z discoveries nearly completed the subatomic picture. The most significant particle that has yet to be discovered is the Higgs particle, proposed by British theorist Peter Higgs in 1966. The theories all claim that a Higgs mechanism is necessary for certain particles to acquire mass (through absorption of a Higgs particle). So if the Higgs particle isn’t found (or worse yet, if it doesn’t exist), then the rationale behind particles having the masses that they do will not be understood. But unlike the theories behind the W and Z, these Higgs theories don’t accurately predict the mass of the Higgs particle, which means nobody knows the exact energy of particle accelerator that is needed to look for it. People are hoping that the facility opening at CERN in 2007 will be powerful enough to see it, but nobody knows for sure.

So the outlook for CERN over the next couple of decades is basically Higgs Or Bust. If it isn’t found, will it be because they haven’t looked hard enough? Or because there isn’t enough energy at CERN to find it? Or the worst case scenario — there is no Higgs particle, meaning forty years of theoretical particle physics may have to go back to the drawing board. Risky stuff — and considering the financial costs, the manpower required (five thousand people), and the decades of research that is at stake — it’s perhaps the riskiest physics experiment ever.

I won’t normally write this much (call it a first-time only “bonus”) so cheers if you actually read all of this. Also, sorry that I can’t link to these articles, you need a subscription to view most of the content in Nature (most universities should have a site subscription, so if you work at one, try visiting if interested).

On other occasions, I hope to comment on some of the actual scientific submissions.

A challenge for the research-oriented

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A challenge for the research-oriented — this question came up elsewhere but as an answer couldn’t be found, I bring it to you: is there a service or webpage or the like which lets you know what albums are in print? Something like the All Music Guide if you like, but with a specific focus on what’s actually available at the present time. Enquiring minds want to know, etc. Thanks in advance!

The closest I got to the Marquee was the pub that took it over

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The closest I got to the Marquee was the pub that took it over — four times been to London, and while I’ve seen a couple of shows courtesy of Meltdown (it was Scott Walker’s year and why yes I *was* desperately trying to get into the Radiohead show but couldn’t), I’ve not seen any other rock concerts. Did go to the Royal Albert Hall for one night of the Proms, though, and that was good fun because they were playing “Fratres” by Arvo Part, one of my particular favorites among modern composers. But you can’t exactly headbang there, even though I was tripping out on imagining past shows there by Siouxsie, the Sisters of Mercy, Marc Almond, Echo and the Bunnymen — ah, if only.

Getting into Melody Maker in the early nineties meant — as I’m sure getting into it any other year for any other Anglophile did — getting a vision of London where there were shows going on all the time (and there WERE! the gig guide proved it!) and where you could see everybody you wanted to all in one place at one time, practically. I remember one time reading about a Chapterhouse/Slowdive/Moose show back in 1991 or so and DAMN RIGHT I WAS JEALOUS. Same with hearing about the Cranes/Young Gods shows. Etc. etc. etc.

So the concert London that I never experienced held a certain fascination, though I’m sure it’s just the equivalent of my experiences going to shows in LA. “Oh it’s at the Whisky? That’s nice I guess…is the beer even more expensive now?” So I don’t think of places like there or the Palladium or the Palace (or whatever it’s called now) as storied venues, they’re just spots where I’ve seen bands, good and bad. London clubs can’t be any different, though if anyone wants to compare and contrast based on direct experience, feel free. I assume the chief difference at present is the lack of smoking out here.

Of course these days if I was given a chance to see a London club show, I admit I’d be leery. If Coldplay is (as I’ve heard alleged) the role model for so many upcoming bands and the Disco Inferno EPs are still out of print, there is no god. (So post some recommendations of bands I should see when I next get over there, darnit! And where I should see them!)

On Monday I set off

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On Monday I set off earlier than usual for work. I was pleased with myself because I had caught a bus just as it was starting to rain. I was going to get in dry and have a nice productive early start. Less than a minute from home, the bus was held up. The Police had cordoned off the road. We all had to get off and walk, in the strengthening rain.

I have started taking the bus all the way to work from where I live by Peckham Rye, to New Bridge Street. The quick way is to take the bus to Peckham Rye station then train it straight up to Blackfriars. Most days, though, the bus only takes ten or fifteen minutes longer and it’s more fun seeing people come and go, up through North Peckham and along the Old Kent Road, all the students at the Elephant, and the abject anonymity of Blackfriars Road. Also, having a single journey gives me more time to read my book, or listen to some music.

As we walked around the cordon I realised there was an AIR AMBULANCE waiting on the Rye itself! I haven’t seen one of these on the ground since a game at Torquay years ago, it landed on the pitch at half time as part of a fund-raising display. There had obviously been some sort of crash on the road. A motorbike was down, a car was stopped. Someone was being cared for, all I could see was his jeans. There were a few people who’d stopped to look: I didn’t. It shakes me, seeing road accidents. I supposed he was going to be alright. None of the watchers looked terribly distressed. People seemed to be talking to the fellow who was on the road. On I went to work. I silently wished him good luck and hoped he was in a state to enjoy his ride in the helicopter.

Making the decision to take a slower, more pleasant form of transport in preference to a faster, nastier one is something which makes me feel like a Londoner. Far more than knowing mostly how to handle three degrees of bus separation from anywhere in London to anywhere else. Far more than knowing the stops on the tube. It’s something about qualitative choice rather than information retention. I like recognising people on the bus, and sometimes even saying hello to those who seem to recognise me. I enjoy the thought of all those wildly different life trajectories held together for thirty five minutes on a 63, all these lives I’ll never touch and likely won’t touch me. I like to be reminded that I’m alive in London, and that they all are, too. Looked at this way, the view inside the bus over Blackfriars Bridge is as exciting as the breathtaker up and down the river.

And this morning, like a kick in the guts, the yellow sign: Fatal Accident. Monday 23rd August. They were appealing for information. Of course, I have none.

An alien in my salad

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An alien in my salad
You can always tell when a new brood of creative caterpillars has successfully survived its infancy in advertising and grown into beautiful butterflies.

Suddenly, for a few months, those dull, formulaic, panel-tested commercial breaks get flashes of colour and inspiration, as someone with A New Idea gets unleashed on the target market.

We’re going through such a purple patch at the moment.

Firstly, there’s the Florette ad, with various groups of men doing operatic battle in the middle of a field, proclaiming allegiance to their lettuce of choice. “Lollo Rosso,” sings a group of tenors. “Radicchio,” comes the counter-attack from a platoon of baritones. “Lollo Rosso”, “Radicchio”, the salvos fly back and forth between the two advancing parties. The tension is heightened by a skirmishing band of Frissee-wielding counter-tenors entering the fray.

But as the three groups fight for dominance, suddenly dark figures appear on the brow of the hill. “Rocket! Rocket!” from the cloaked bass voices sends all the other combatants flying for cover.

Say what you like about the product itself, but you’ve got to admit they’ve got chutzpah. After all, when was the last time you saw an ad for lettuce on the telly?

Then we have the vaguely disturbing Cadbury’s Happiness campaign, in which ill-looking people are encouraged by their animal alter-egos to eat chocolate. Eerie, but effective, although probably shouldn’t be shown before the watershed. And if I was Philip Pullman, I’d be straight on the phone to my lawyer.

Finally, the one that hit me out of nowhere: Nik-Naks’ Alien tribute. In its recreation of the movie’s most infamous scene, it’s almost perfect.

The dialogue, the camaraderie, the chest-burster, Parker’s headband, the infant Nik-Nak’s gurgle – a great pastiche.

But then they spoil it all by playing Le Freak. It’s just so much at odds with the rest of the ad.

Fair play to them, though, as they probably had no idea how to end the ad. It’s hard to improve a legendary piece of cinema. But it leaves me with a bad taste in my mouth – a little like the product itself. And that reminds me why I never buy Nik-Naks. So on the sales point, nul points guys and girls, but that shouldn’t stop you trying.

Pretty soon, though, the long hours and long lines will wear these bright young things out, and they’ll have Jim Davidson’s agent and double-glazing firms on speed dial.

Like the butterfly, the creative doesn’t tend to have a long life. But while they survive, they brighten up the world around us.

Split Allegiance: a Very Bad Idea I’m Going to Try

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Not sure how this’ll translate, but I’m going to root for two NBA teams this year. I realize that this means that I will be being disloyal to the Portland Trail Blazers, the team I’ve followed my entire life, but they deserve it. I’ve stuck by them in the lean years; we used to go see them at the Memorial Coliseum back before they were any good at all, a new franchise that always had the Rookie of the Year but no veterans and no discipline and no hope. I’ve triumphed with them: I actually left the room during Game 6 of the 1977 finals so I wouldn’t jinx the final moments of the game, 55 howling suburbanites screaming for Philly blood and me in the Stark’s backyard with my fingers and toes crossed. They got really bad right after that, then good again in the mid 1980s and early 1990s, only to be thwarted by Detroit’s mini-dynasty and Chicago’s major one. And I stuck by them in the last few years, the “Jail Blazer” era, when we went through a succession of unlikable unmanageable prima donnas and troublemakers and knuckleheaded decisions by management.

But I cannot root for them anymore, not wholeheartedly. This is NOT because we failed to make the playoffs for the first time in two decades this year, and it’s NOT because we just traded two fairly good role players for aging headcase Nick Van Exel, nor is it even really because I never got over the way we rotated our logo 90 degrees to make it “cooler,” only to achieve the opposite effect. No, none of those things.

It is because my heart has been stolen by another team, the gritty overachieving Milwaukee Bucks. Michael Redd, he of the square head and the deadly shooting touch! Lurch-like fellow Daniel Santiago, who will probably start again now that we lost Brian Skinner to the Celtics! Tiny rookie point guard T.J. Ford last year, slicing up defenses like birthday cake, only to suffer a season-ending (but hopefully not career-ending) spine injury! And the guy I think should have been Coach of the Year, Terry Porter, who went to college up here at Wisconsin-Stevens Point, was on the Trail Blazers for the resurgence, and managed to take this team of nobodies to the playoffs when every single pundit had us slated for a bottom-five finish!

My old team is still strong in my heart but my new team is just as strong right now. This is madness, I’m torn between two lovers unless I can learn to EXPAND MY HEART like the Grinch on Christmas morning and love them both equally, tragically, ecstatically, unwisely, too well. Pray for me, Freaky Triggers, pray like you’ve never prayed before.

Enough of this velodrome nonsense

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Enough of this velodrome nonsense, check out some proper cycling.