The Pains of House Sharing

I moved to Exeter about a year and a half ago. I had never been to uni so had never lived with anyone else before. My friends dad buys and rents houses, he gave us a special deal. The shenanigans began.

First there were 4 of us, one of them was the most annoying person I have ever met, she left (or we annoyed so much and drove her out). Then two others moved in and another left a few month later. Now there are 4 of us again: Myself, Steve, Clara and Steph (these are pseudonyms).

I like things done my way, so you could say it all starts with me. Nevertheless my housemates do things that utterly nark me off. Steve has the most astoundingly long showers, leaves the power to the shower on and the tap not quite turned off. Washing up is left to be done for days at a time – do it when you’ve finished with it for Christ’s sake! People’s washing is left in the washing machine for even longer, it stinks and needs re-washing, it’s an endless cycle. When it does get to the washing line, it seemingly never comes down. I come back off nights and house lights have been left on for hours while everyone’s sleeping. Steve finishes watching TV in the living room and leaves it on with no intention of turning it off. The bin is always left until it is crammed to the brim, a state where it is impossible to remove the bin bag from the bin without the rubbish going everywhere.

I don’t like causing confrontations though. I grit my teeth and sort it out. Unless, that is, the heating is on. If the weather’s not good enough to dry clothes on the line, they’ll be put on the radiators and the heating switched on and then forgotten about. We all have airers so there is no need for this. I even came back today to find the heating on because ‘it’s cold outside’. It’s June, and whilst I know the weather hasn’t been great, it’s frickin’ 17°C outside. If you ask me, the heating shouldn’t be switched on until the maximum day time temperature is below 8°C.

My housemates are all lovely and we have great laugh though. If only they did things my way!

Abandon Ship! The Shocking Difference between the Costa Concordia and Air Crashes

The recent events involving the Costa Concordia cruise ship have intrigued, saddened and shocked me. Intrigued that a £400,000,000 cruise ship could not detect its impending doom and end up like this. Saddened by the loss of life. But most of all I am truly shocked by the captain and first officer abandoning ship before the passengers and crew were safe.

The Costa Concordia

I am not aware of many major recent similar shipping disasters and as a result I may be about to make a sweeping generalisation, but the point is interesting nonetheless.

I read a lot of air crash investigation reports. I find them interesting and it’s useful for me in my line of work to understand what can go wrong and to get an overall better understanding of the situation pilots face in the cockpit. Out of all the major recent air crashes I have read about never have I ever heard of the captain evacuating the plane before all crew and passengers were safe. Examples of this are the Heathrow BA38 B777 crash where both engines failed shortly before landing and as a result the aircraft landed short of the runway. The passengers evacuated and the captain was last off the plane. The US Airways 1549 crash in which an A320 ditched in the Hudson river due to a double engine failure. It was a dangerous evacuation in freezing cold waters. Yet, as the plane was sinking, yes sinking, the captain went up and down the plane to make sure everybody was off before leaving himself. These are only 2 of the most well known incidents, there are many more and I’d challenge you to find an occasion where the captain has left before everyone else. These people are true heroes. Not only did they manage to safely land their planes under exceedingly difficult conditions but they put themselves in danger to ensure everyone was safe. This is why these people get paid their ridiculously high salaries, and rightly so.

The US Airways 1549 Crash

A ship, I know, is completely different but the situation is similar. I’m not suggesting the captain should have checked every single of the 100’s of cabins in the ship, no that would be silly. What I’m saying is that he should have remained on board to co-ordinate the evacuation. This captain, to me, appears to think only of himself and seemed to have minimal concern for the 4000 passengers and crew on board. He endangered lives and I imagine will be found guilty, directly or indirectly, of multiple manslaughter. We can only hope this is not a common occurance in shipping incidents.

A captain should remain on board until he is sure a safe evacuation is complete and a rescue mission underway for those people trapped. Whatever happened to going down with the ship?

Update: I’ve just found this article too. It’s an Italian Coastguard captain telling the captain of the Costa Concordia to get back on his ship.

What does God do in his spare time?

As I’ve just started reading The God Delusion, I’ve found myself pondering more about religion than usual. Just how stupid it is basically.

I have some friends who are religious, not extremely religious, but religious nonetheless. They all accept the scientific method, believe in evolution, the Big Bang and so on (if so why they believe in God I don’t know). Thinking about this I came to a startling conclusion. God must have a heck of a lot of free time.

God initiated the Big Bang and set forth the clock of cosmic evolution. He would have been exceedingly bored for about 13.5 billion years until we came along and he could give us rules to live by, and so we could kneel down and worship him. What did he do with all that time? I usually got bored when I haven’t done anything for 15 minutes.

I almost think that, after pondering about this, if you believe in God, creationism makes a bit more sense – God created the Universe a few thousand years ago, made people and there wasn’t really much free time.

Ofcourse, creationism is a load of bollocks.

Thoughts?

My Trip to the Homeopathists

Strictly speaking I think that should read ‘Homeopath’, but let’s not worry too much about that.

Some of you may be truly shocked, gasping for breath, clutching your heart in agony at hearing the fact that I have indeed been to see a homeopath. What the hell was I doing?

I was a lot younger, I hadn’t come across the wonders of science yet, I was applying for the RAF and had a minor skin irritation. It was just a small patch of eczema on my back, but I couldn’t have that on my official medical records because the RAF wouldn’t give me the job I wanted in which case.

My mum suggested I go to the homeopath. I didn’t have a clue about what one was but was given the impression by my mum that they were technically doctors.

It was a strange experience. I was taken into a large room in which were 2 chairs. It was nice calm and relaxing room. We sat down. She, the homeopath, started asking me lots of questions. About my history, about my life, what got me stressed, what got me chilled. This went on for at least an hour. How was this helping, I thought. At the end I was given a little pot of pills.

I went back about a month later. Things hadn’t got better. We talked again and a higher dosage was given.

It never worked.

I never went back, I never joined the RAF. A year later I started to figure out who I’d actually been to seen. I scrutinised the science and the evidence. I had been given what is effectively just water, sugar pills…a placebo.

I don’t think the placebo ever really worked with me because I was never really truly sure that the homeopath would have an effect.

So here I tell you. If you’re ill, no matter how minor, go and see your GP. They know what they’re doing, they will give you medicine that isn’t water. Homeopaths endanger the lives of people who go to see them, especially people who go to them for anti-malaria treatment and similar. Just don’t do it, it doesn’t work. If you want a placebo, go get a placebo, they’re just as effective if you know it’s a placebo too. My recommendation though, see your bleeding doctor!

A Stroll up Ben Nevis

I finally got a bit of time off again recently so two friends and I decided it’d be a corking idea to climb the highest mountain in the UK, Ben Nevis. We all live in rural sunny Devon and so decided it’d be best to spend 2 days traveling northwards. The perfect stop happened to be Windermere in the Lake District. It’s about 5 hours from Exeter and 5 hours from Fort William. Perfect!

We were away for 6 days in total. 2 days driving up, 2 days in Fort William, 2 days driving back. We’d climb Ben Nevis on whichever day was forecast to have the best weather, I was entrusted with reliable and accurate forecasting! The first day happened to offer the best weather for us. A few showers, strong winds on certain parts of the mountain reaching 30kts, and a foggy summit. The next day was horrific with persistent heavy, if not torrential, showers.

I just wanted to share some photos of the truly majestic Scottish highlands and our hike up Ben Nevis with you now. Unfortunately the summit isn’t visible in any of the photos because firstly it was clouded out, and secondly you can’t really see it from the route we took.  Enjoy.

Panorama from the beginning of the hike. Looking in the opposite direction to Ben Nevis

Me with a waterfall just under halfway along the route

Near the summit there are a few nasty ravines. Easy to see normally, not so much when it's foggy. You've got to be careful!

My friend Phil at the summit. Here he is the highest person in the UK!

A panorama just below cloudbase about 30mins from the summit. In view is a mountainous loch and in the distance Fort William

Panorama from the bottom of the hike. The Ben Nevis summit is hidden but part of the mountain is viewable, second from left

Overall the hike took about 7 hours – 4 hours up and about 3 down. My legs are still hurting, I got pretty bad rock shock on the way down. It was great though, the feeling of achievement when you get to the top is fantastic.

We spent the next day dodging rain, visiting castle, distilleries and museums, enjoying the scenery, shopping and drinking tea!

More photos can be found here on Flickr, and the whole smash here on Facebook

These Crazy Republican Candidates

I must say, I forgot how bizarre and insane these people are. And you should be worried.

Some of the new Republican candidates are pretty impressive. Rick Perry stands out as a complete asshole, more on him later. Michelle Bachman, a modified, more intelligent version of Sarah Palin, can even string together a coherent sentence. Impressive.

There’s one thing they all have in common though. They’re all religious nutjobs. They’re anti-science. Rick Perry doesn’t believe in human induced global warming, saying the science ‘isn’t settled’. Hate to say Rick, but I’m afraid it is. It’s is the consensual view, accepted by 98% of the worlds scientists. There are copious amounts of indisputable evidence. Don’t bring up Climategate, they’ve been cleared of wrong doing.

‘Evolution is a theory with holes in it’ he’s been heard saying. Of course Creationism makes perfect sense here, no explanation needed. God just created shit, right?!

I saw a video on YouTube of Rick Perry being quizzed on science, by a mother and child. Now I hate parents using their kids for this kinda thing but Perry’s response is interesting. When asked about evolution he says America is great because they ‘teach the controversy’. This is just a posh way of saying with teach evolution AND creationism. I mean come on, there is no bloody controversy!

Everything will be ok though if Rick Perry becomes president. Prayer will sort everything out. Ladies and Gentlemen I give you the power of prayer!

Why religion has such a prominent position in American politics escapes me. Here in the UK, if David Cameron started spattling on how religion would save us, he’d be out of office in a flash. I’m thankful for that. Creationists in the UK are rightfully scorned and laughed at, but in America are accepted as the norm. Why?

There’s one candidate that stands out though. Jon Hunstman. He’s a simmer of hope for the Republicans. He says you can’t argue with evolution or global warming. You need to accept science to move on. Here’s a clip.

So, if you’re a Republican reading this. Please, please don’t vote Rick Perry or for these other nutjobs. Vote for Jon Huntsman. Even better perhaps, just vote Democrat at the next election!

Prague

I had been in Durham for a few days to see an old friend of mine. He’d just received his university results and ended up with a 1st, which is the best you can get. After spending a few days exploring the sites of Durham and Newcastle and much drinking I headed to Newcastle airport to catch my flight to Prague.

I’d checked the weather before I left and things looked a bit bumpy coming in to Prague. There were a few thunderstorms around! And indeed, it was a bumpy descent!

Part of a Cumulonimbus

Here’s a picture of one of the smaller cumulonimbus clouds as we came in to land. Even flying through some of the smaller cumulus clouds produced a heck of a lot of turbulence. Needless to say I enjoyed the approach. We had a lovely view of the city as we came in too. I was itching to get exploring.

Things ran very smoothly. We’d got off the plane, got through passport control, and my bag was already waiting for me on the conveyor. Now to get to my hostel.

I knew exactly how to get to my hostel and it involved a few different forms of transport (although I regret to say I didn’t once use a tram on my trip). The only problem was is that I only had 200Kr notes and the ticket machine for the bus only took coins. I rushed back into the terminal to buy a bottle of water, figured out how to use the ticket machine and caught my bus to Djevicka. Here I went down to the metro and caught the train to Muzeum, changed lines and ended up at the main train station. Here’s where things get interesting. I had my map, I’d read the instructions on how to walk to my hostel, I’d checked it all through on Google Street view, I couldn’t go wrong, right?

Getting lost whilst traveling, I think, is an important part of the experience. You usually find something you weren’t expecting. This isn’t useful however in the late afternoon when you’re trying to find your hostel, and even worse when you get lost pretty much immediately, as I did. It was pretty hot, I had my 65 litre backpack on my back and my normal dag bag on my chest, the map strewn in front of me and I was sweating. Nice! After aimlessly walking around for about 10 minutes trying to find street names a nice Czech chap approached me and guided me in the right direction. When I figured out where I was I was amazed at how badly disoriented I was – how did I get this lost so quickly! I found my hostel with relative ease. I set up my bed, had a shower, found somewhere for dinner, got to know some of the other travelers and promptly headed off for bed. A day of exploring awaited.

I soon found that Monday in Prague is much like a Sunday in the UK. Everything’s closed. I changed my plan to wonder around, get to know the place, where things were and if anything was open I’d pop in and look around. My first stop was the Old Town Square.

Old Town Square

The Old Town Square is a busy place. Packed full of tourists, tour groups, cafes, restaurants, horse drawn carriages and people trying to sell stuff. It’s hectic!

I’d managed to arrive at 5 minutes to 10, which was pretty lucky because it meant the Astronomical Clock was about to do its thing. There was a huge crowd and I hustled into a decent viewing position.

The Astronomical Clock

It’s next to impossible to tell the time on this intriguingly looking device, it’s far easier to look up to the top of the tower and read off the normal clock. Every hour a skeleton feature to the top right of the clock pulls a cable that rings a bell, along with this two doors open up at the top and figures move past for about 20 seconds and that’s it. The crowds then flee elsewhere. On every other day a group of people were at the top of the tower where a guard with a trumpet trumpeted a tune every hour.

I made my way towards Charles Bridge now as I’d planned to visit the castle on the other side of the river. After briefly getting lost again I arrived at the bridge. This is a lovely stone bridge with large figures, some covered with small pieces of gold, sat at regular intervals. It was quite difficult to get a good look at any of these statues, hordes of tourists shoved you by so they could get there photo taken with every other one. This was a shame really as it’s a fantastic little bridge and perhaps I should have taken the advice from my guide book and gone along in the early morning or evening. As well as the tourists the bridge had artists and musicians playing wonderful music. At the end of the bridge the long climb up a rather steep hill to the castle began.

At the top I had to sit down to rest and catch my breath. Thankfully this gave me a chance to enjoy the superb view over Prague. You could see everything!

View over Prague

Prague castle is apparently the largest castle complex in the world. The place looked huge. I found the ticket office and managed to wangle a student priced ticket (I’m a part-time student at the Open University but never sure whether I’m entitled to full student discounts) that’d enable me to view just under half of the buildings – the full price ticket was a bit too expensive for me and I didn’t really have much time left in the afternoon to see everything.

The first stop (and I’ll only talk about this one so I don’t make this post too long) was St Vitus’ Cathedral. The cathedral was founded back 925, yes over 1000 years ago. It was expanded and upgrade in 1060 and again later in the 12th century. It’s a great example of gothic architecture and houses the remains of many Bohemian kings.

St Vitus' Cathedral

The interior is a beautiful mix differing stained glass, impressive statues made of stone and metal, some rug like items hanging from the ceiling around one monument and splatterings of beautiful gold and silver.

The exterior of the church is equally as exquisite. Tall enough to be seen from nearly all of Prague you strain your neck to look up at this masterpiece of early architecture.

Exploring around the castle complex took up the rest of my day, so I headed back for dinner and a good nights sleep.

The first thing I planned to do was to visit the Johannes Kepler museum which was located close to Charles Bridge. Hadn’t it have been there I wouldn’t have found it. This is a small and new but rather unknown museum hidden in the depths between some small shops. It is actually located where Johannes Kepler once lived and worked whilst he was in Prague for a time. He is a great and very important astronomer and I want to talk about what this small museum shows, about Kepler’s life and the work he done in Prague. Work that changed the face of astronomy for ever.

Johannes Kepler

Kepler was born in Germany on the 27th December 1571 and at a young age showed great mathematical ability. At the age of 6 he saw the Great Comet of 1577 and a few years later a lunar eclipse. He had become awed by the heaves and at the age of 23 became a teacher in mathematics and astronomy.

In 1600 Kepler went to Prague and was introduced to the astronomer Tycho Brahe who had carried out lots of accurate measurements of the movements of the planets. After a brief dispute with Brahe Kepler was allowed to work for Brahe with less restricted access to his observation. Kepler returned to Graz to pick up his family but due to various political and religious issues was unable to return to Prague until he refused to convert to Catholicism when he was banished from Graz. In late 1600 he returned to Prague.

After Brahe’s sudden death in 1601 and after studying his observations meticulously, eventually in 1609 Kepler published his first two laws of planetary motion. They are seemingly simple:

  1. Planets orbit the Sun in an ellipse with the Sun at one focus
  2. A line joining a planet and the Sun sweeps out equal areas in equal time

The first law was difficult to come to. At the time, and in the past, scientists were believers in a perfect celestial geometry. That is that the orbits were in circles. However Brahe’s observations of Mars did not fit in with a circular orbit and after many years finally came upon the ellipse. Kepler was a great man of his time, one of my favourite quotes of his is:

The truth is more sacred to me – Johannes Kepler

It appears Kepler was one of the first secularists, giving way to critical thought rather than assumption. He must be courageously respected for this.

Eventually after many more years he came upon his third and final law of planetary motion:

3. The square of the orbital period of a planet is directly proportional to the cube of its semi-major axis (average distance from the Sun)

This can more put into a nice, simple equation – P2 = a3 where P is the orbital period and a is the semi-major axis.

Carl Sagan explains these laws nicely in his 1980’s series Cosmos.

There’s no over-stating how important these 3 laws are. They are used by scientists even today, and will continue to be used ever more. They also led Issac Newton to develop his theory of gravity.

Johannes Kepler Museum

The museum houses a fair few information boards coming from the walls that detail Kepler’s life, his works, his laws, his personality and so on. Kepler was also fascinated with how snowflakes grow and there are small interactive features showing you snowflake growth. It’s beautiful, no wonder he was awed by it. It’s also interesting to read about other famous scientists views of him. There’s a board with opinions from Albert Einstein, Carl Sagan and many more.

There is a display about the new NASA Kepler mission that is currently out searching for Earth-like planets, and whilst not directly related to Kepler’s work it’s main principle is relating to orbits.

I spent over an hour wondering around this tiny museum before heading back into the Old Town Square where my next port of call was Tyn Church. This church stands out amongst everything else in the area. I made my way in to be greatest by vast swathes of gold. After looking around for a while it became apparent that some of the old wall artwork had been destroyed, meaning this place was once even more magnificent. I silently made my way round taking in the beautiful artwork and architecture. Towards the front was the grave of Tycho Brahe which had recently be exhumed, but you couldn’t tell.

I headed back towards Charles Bridge to explore the Klementinum. I was to be left disappointed because large refurbishment works were being carried out which meant I was unable to see anything in the buildings. I’d really wanted to visit the Astronomical tower where observations had been made in the past. But oh well, maybe another time.

The next day took me to a few of Prague’s museums. First off was the Czech National Museum. I found myself in the rock and minerals exhibit. 5 rooms of rocks and minerals, fantastic, the geologist in me could go mad! Whilst others hurriedly scurried past I took my time looking at all the different rock types, some seemingly plain and others extravagant and extreme. I then came across the meteorite exhibit in which was to be found large metallic meteorites and then to my complete surprise part of two meteorites I’d learnt about in my recent planetary science course – Allende and Murchison. Allende is the largest carbonaceous chondrite meteorite to fall to Earth. The white grains that can be found inside it represent the oldest material in the Solar System – in excess of 4.5 billion years old! I spent a further 3 hours in the museum looking at the paleontology exhibits, the stuffed animals and the ancient history exhibits. I then moved on to the museum of Communism to learn about the Czech Republics history with Communism. A very interesting and sometimes upsetting experience.

This pretty much marked the end of my short trip. I found time to walk around up to the national monument to enjoy the greenery and the views but promptly had to get myself to the airport and home. There’s so much more to do in Prague that I’ll almost certainly be visiting again at some point in the future.

Czech National Museum

Looking Back at Charles Bridge