Alice’s Restaurant Massacree

In other news, Australia’s ongoing experiment with biological warfare doesn’t appear to be having any more success than it did with cane toads.

Killing dingoes has side effects” (and presumably not just for the dingoes) screams the Nature Research Highlights headline.

If you poison dingoes, according to a paper in Proc Roy Soc B, you allow kangaroos to flourish, which leads to less vegetation, with less room for small critters to hide. In other words, “multiple cascade pathways induced by lethal control of an apex predator, the dingo, drive unintended shifts in forest ecosystem structure”.

Yeah. You’d think they’d have learned lessons like that a long time ago. Just shoot the bloody roos—there’s good eating on them.

Posted in Art, Internet, Rants, Video | Tagged , , | 6 Comments

Downbound Train

A funny thing happened on the way to Borough this evening. The train was delayed as we pulled into Old Street. The driver said there was a faulty train ahead being taken out of service. He warned us that lots of passengers—who’d had to get off the faulty train—would want to get onto our train, and he wished us good luck.

Sure enough, it was a bit crowded, and, as we approached Moorgate, we had to wait to allow the faulty train to clear the station.

Then things started to get weird.

As we approached Bank, the automated PA said “The next station is closed. This train will not stop at the next station.”

And we didn’t. No matter, we collectively thought, silently. We’ll be able to get off at London Bridge. But the same thing happened. The driver came over the PA, and told us he wasn’t quite sure why this had happened.

When the same thing happened at Borough, he said he had asked the controller what was going on—and was waiting to hear back.

My fellow commuters appeared to be slightly worried, but were taking all this in good humour. There were a few sighs. Myself, I was wondering what would happen if we had a bomb on board, and had to keep going all the way to Morden. As you know, one does not simply walk into Morden.

As it happens, the train did stop at the next station—Elephant and Castle. Those of us who had been trapped on the train since Bank or London Bridge got up to leave.

But the doors remained closed.

The driver again announced over the PA that the train automated driving system was playing up and was not opening the doors. Finally however, and much to our collective relief, the doors did open. The driver said that there were obviously problems with the newly installed automated system.

“It’s Bob Crow‘s revenge,” I said, deadpan.

The entire car’s passengers creased up, and went upon their way, somewhat happier, I hope, than they may otherwise have done.

Posted in Don't try this at home, London, People | Tagged , | 2 Comments

Caption competition


Go on. You know you want to.

Posted in Nonsense, Personal | Tagged , | 11 Comments

Guns + ammunition

Just after I started shooting I was listening to a couple of the old(er) timers bitching about their recent poor performance. One of them blamed the ammunition they were using. The other pointed out that while shooters often blame the grade or particular batch of ammunition, nobody ever credits their ammo when they shoot a particularly good card.

You might not think that your choice of ammunition would make such a difference. Pretty much like pipette tips, you might say, within limits a bullet is a bullet. I mean, yes, you’ve got your tips that come in bags so that you have to contaminate them yourself when you rack and autoclave them and you’ve got your ordinary racked tips and your plugged RNAse-free tips and tips that were packed by the lily-white fingers of virgins brought up on a diet of organic fava beans on a Pacific island, but essentially a pipette tip is a pipette tip. Except for the ones that stay on the Gilson just long enough for you to suck up 37.5 µl of incredibly rare primary antibody only to fall off halfway between one Eppendorf tube and the next, sending 5 years’ work down the drain but hey, never mind we get cheap tips because the lab tech is shagging the sales rep.

I mean, you’ve even got different calibres. 10 µl, 200 μl, 1 ml, 5 ml: that could almost be .22, .308, .38 Special and 50 cal.

Anyway, there are differences in quality of ammunition (or so the manufacturer claims) and as ever, you get what you pay for.

Before Joshua was born I was routinely shooting cards in the low- to mid-90s. Not brilliant, but getting better; and I entered into a winter competition. Handicapped of course; my team mate and I are up against people who have a similar average. Of course, then the man cub was born and I became chronically sleep-deprived and my averages dropped off to 90, 88 on a bad day. Not to worry—I figured that the man child will soon start sleeping through the night and then I won’t be so tired and I’ll be able to straighten up and shoot right again.

Laughing baby
Recent acquisition

Except… last week I was talking to one of the old(er) hands and I noticed that he was using some rather sexy looking black ammo, rather than the brass-cased entry level stuff I was using. So I asked him about it and he said that Eley were re-branding everything and that what he was using was anodized so that (he said) the round was more likely to leave the casing smoothly, without sticking at any point and therefore tumbling; resulting (he said) in more consistent shot-to-shot shooting.

He also said it’s good to use the same sort of ammo in a gun and as my recent acquisition was likely to have been using something a bit more than the entry-level stuff I might as well get used to it. And so even though I hadn’t yet collected said acquisition I thought that for an extra tuppence a round I might as well try out the sexy black stuff.

Man cub

So I went to the range officer and bought 50 rounds of the sexy black stuff; put up a card for the competition; and promptly shot a 96. That’s better than anything I’ve put down the range since summer, and only 2 off my best score ever. Now, I’m not claiming that the ammunition made the difference, but it was the only thing that has changed.

Tomorrow night I’ll be going down the range with my own rifle for the first time, and it’ll be very interesting to see (if I manage to adjust all the adjustable bits and get comfortable with her in time) to see if I can get a score that high again, using the sexy black ammo of course. What I should do in addition is the experiment: club rifle, new ammo; my rifle, old ammo—but frankly that sounds too much like hard work. Science has its limits, eh?

Wondering about the title? Try this…

Posted in Don't try this at home, Personal, Shooting | Tagged , , , , , , , , | 9 Comments

Yakety sax

I made this a couple of years ago, but seeing as it’s almost Christmas I thought I should bring it out for another airing. Those of you who remember ‘Benny Hill’ should get a chuckle out of it; the rest of you, enjoy the amazingness of the big angry macrophage!

Posted in Silliness, Video | Tagged , | 3 Comments

On the River

Back in July I went, for one reason or another, on a meandering bike ride. I ended up here:

Thames Barrier, in calm conditions
My bike. And the Thames Barrier

The Thames Barrier is apparently the world’s second largest movable flood barrier (I believe the Dutch have the largest immovable such barrier: most of Holland is actually a giant dyke). I’ve never seen in it action; not even Thursday night when we were skirting Stormageddon and flying back into my favourite aerodrome—as the Barrier is west of the runway you only tend to get views of it on takeoff.

But it does spring into action, and yesterday the Environment Agency reported it closed against the highest tide since it was completed in 1984. What would have happened if the Barrier wasn’t there, or if it hadn’t closed?

Flooded River
What London might have looked like, today

Take another look at that—the red rectangle is the approximate location of my (ground floor) flat.



Posted in Don't try this at home | Tagged , , , | 3 Comments

On Social Media

We are social creatures. No doubt there are evolutionary reasons why this is so and why it persists, although I’m not qualified to do more than speculate. However, it seems self evident that there are advantages to acting as a group, from care and feeding of young all the way up to coping with environmental challenges and defending against predators, meteorites and space aliens.

Being social has its own challenges. Members of a family, tribe or other social unit will need to absorb the mores of that unit in order to survive. As any parent might tell you, this necessary learning occurs through a mix of formal instruction and a kind of behavioural osmosis—monkey see, monkey do, if you like.

Those who for whatever reason fail to learn these mores can not only fail to fit in but also become actively excluded. Sociopaths and outcasts.

People with Aspergers, who find it difficult to pick up on and interpret cultural osmosis cues, can end up incredibly isolated and vulnerable. Everyday communication, with all its nonverbal subtext, is a nightmare. Then came the Internet: from email and BBSs and USENET right up to Twitter; the ability to communicate without worrying about subtleties in body language, without even having to know that such things exist, must have been a godsend. The Internet became a family. (This, by the way, is part of the reason I refuse to make a serious distinction between Internet-related social activity and ‘real life’. It is very real, and real relationships are made and broken.)

Unfortunately, while this family brought a sense of belonging, much of the instructional imperative of a more immediate, physical family was lost. As in physical families there were fights and arguments, but precious little of the guidance and instruction that a mother or father (should!) give their children to equip them to function in society.

The sort of example I mean? Letting them know they are standing too close to someone, or that the other person’s facial expression is showing discomfort; maybe change the subject. It isn’t appropriate to say those things in public. It isn’t appropriate to say those things to a young woman in public OR private.

Or maybe, perhaps more pertinently: those things might have been ok when you were all peers, but now you are a supervisor/boss/have authority, and so the whole game has changed.

And this is a problem because we have ended up with a situation where somebody has behaved badly, and continued to behave badly, because nobody in the online community said “wait, this is wrong, and you need to stop.” Rather, the online community that should have been teaching, instructing, supporting ended up braying for his blood.

I’ve been exchanging DMs with somebody with professional psychological experience. Their take is that this man—through no fault of his own—is clueless about boundaries: “He was like a kid in a candy store shoplifting, and people let him because he’s oh, so cute”. He didn’t get that it was wrong, which is no defence, but not one of us told him, or tried to make him stop. As my psychologist contact says, “Everyone in the science community enabled that shit to continue because no one ever said STOP… every one of us encouraged it to a degree, with the #ihuggedBora thing, the Blogfather, cuddle, cuddle, don’t we heart him… He was just going along, hunky-dory, enjoying life, and meanwhile, women were traumatized.”

Don’t misunderstand me. Bora did wrong, and is paying for that. But the blame is not his alone. Somebody told me on Twitter that many of the incidents happened one-on-one, that we didn’t know it was happening.


We knew, didn’t we? Which one of us really didn’t think the #ihuggedBora thing was just a little bit creepy? And we remained silent. I have seen conversations on social media which made me, as an observer, uncomfortable. The victim didn’t seem to mind, and I didn’t say anything. In retrospect they did mind; they just didn’t have anyone to turn to. I could have, should have said something. And I bet I’m not the only one.

We, as a community, let Bora down—and as a consequence we have allowed women to be hurt. We let them, the victims, down, too. For what it’s worth, I am sorry for that.

Let’s not leave it there. Let us own that culpability, and figure out not just how we can rehabilitate Bora (because the man is only human and is really hurting right now), but how we can support his victims, as well as STOP IT THE FUCK HAPPENING AGAIN.

Because if we are to participate in this rather bizarre online community, we have a responsibility to our fellow human beings to watch out for them, to prevent inappropriate behaviour, to talk to just one trusted person if we think we are witnessing harassment or abuse or anything that makes us itchy. It is just as real as the physical world, and it’s our responsibility to make it better.

Otherwise, what’s the fucking point?

Posted in Ill-considered rants, Internet | Tagged | 4 Comments

Three Steps to Heaven, Mk II

You may remember that two years ago, after much nudging, I created and published a guide for corporate twits. I haven’t tweeted in a corporate capacity since, although I have remained responsible for more ‘serious’ accounts than my personal one, including @LabLit and @ScienceisVital.

Something came into my twitter stream yesterday that made me wince. As a result, I’ve amended the original slightly, adding my “Zeroth Law” of Twitter, if you like.

Richard’s Guide to Corporate Twitter Etiquette, Mk II

0.   Content first. Be prepared to post 50 original tweets (not RTs or @’s) before you get your first RT; or your first non-spam follower.

  1. The point of tweeting—as with all social media—is to drive traffic to the site & bring it to the attention of potential new customers.
  2. We try to achieve this by building a community and a network around
    our social media activities.
  3. Communities are built on trust. People trust other people; it is important to maintain personal connections while remaining professional.
  4. People trust you to share interesting and relevant content; trust that you will respect other members of the community.
  5. Therefore, your tweets should be enticing and catchy, but never misleading. You are publishing: always factcheck; never libel.
  6. Your own voice is important—try to become a trustworthy voice of the company. We all have different voices and this is good.
  7. You are speaking on behalf of the company. Say ‘we’ when appropriate, and don’t write anything you wouldn’t repeat in the boardroom.
  8. Add value. Are you making the company look good? Are you interesting to other people? Are you putting the company before yourself?
  9. Through your tweets, your links and your conversations, give people a reason to follow our twitter account. See #1.
  10. Check what other company tweeters have just written. Duplicate tweets are good, if there’s at least few hours between them.
  11. Try to keep your tweets to about 100-120 characters, not 140. This gives people room to retweet and comment on your gems.
  12. Use hashtags responsibly, on keywords, e.g. #Ecology #RCT #Vaccination. Don’t overdo it: #This #is #silly. Examples follow:
  13. “Congratulations to F1000 Members @lauramenenti and Peter Hagoort on ‘Shared Language’ #psychology #fMRI”
  14. “Retweet for the other hemisphere: on the importance of good note-keeping #retractions”
  15. Follow interesting people back, but don’t feel you have to follow everybody. Don’t set an autoresponse for new followers.
  16. Engage: take time to respond to people who ‘@’ you. Reply to and retweet interesting tweets from others.
  17. Together, @s and RTs should take up no more than 66% of your output; and you should send fewer RTs than @s.
  18. Be polite and courteous at all times; even when you’re arguing with a muppet. Again, see #1.
  19. Punctuate. Try not 2 use txt spk. Rephrase rather than mangle the English language. And don’t swear. Ever. Even in jest.
  20. Have fun.

(Original on Twitter and G+.)

Posted in Internet, you | Tagged | Comments Off

Joshua fit the battle of Jericho

I am typing this slowly, with one hand.


I do of course already have two lovely daughters, but welcoming Joshua—their half-brother—into the world wasn’t any less special. And the original Pawn, Rachel, seems equally thrilled.


Posted in Don't try this at home, Personal | Tagged | 8 Comments