Archive for the ‘UK’ Category


Mister Justin – With Daylight Still To Spare

13 September 2011

Mister Justin is – as far as I can tell – a bloke in London. He’s releasing an album of acoustic guitar-driven tunes called With Daylight Still To Spare, and I think it’s pretty cool.

The songs are based in six-string folk sounds. A couple of the album tracks are instrumentals, and Justin’s skill with a guitar is pretty evident: little riffs pop in and out, here and there. Some of the songs remind me of Roy Harper’s Stormcock. There’s an underlying peacefulness, even in the darker songs.

There’s a cover of old poem and sometime-folk tune “So We’ll Go No More A Roving”. The tune is high and mournful, and the guitar playing stays simple, which is what a song like that needs. “We Had Our Time In The Sun” is really good: a minor-key lament, full of strummed bitterness, and a female vocal counterpoint that makes the song bigger and sadder.

A couple of tracks are perhaps a bit too laid back. “My Only Crime Is I Take My Time” begins to veer a little too close to naff territory with its lyrics, and horns and strings.

But With Daylight…mostly avoids the twee “guy with a guitar” cliché by introducing occasional non-folk elements. There are fuzzy bass sounds, an Indian groove, and some shouting on “Memory Fade Out, Burn Out”. “Metal Song” may still be acoustic, and it contains a fiddle, but it’s fun, with tongue-in-cheek headbanger riffs acted out. “You Tell Me I’m Lucky To Have You” is an Irish drinking song with hilarious nonsense sounds.

This is interesting music, fun music, and creative music, well-played.

You can check out the entire album right here.


British Chiropractic Association v Singh – BCA admits defeat

15 April 2010

Yay! Since Simon Singh won his appeal in the libel suit brought against him by the British Chiropractic Association, the BCA has dropped the suit.

Now, to reform that UK libel law.


Libel Reform: A Conversation with Simon Singh

8 April 2010

From Open Culture, some background and a Q&A with the man who’s fighting for UK libel reform. An excerpt:

OPEN CULTURE: Why should this concern someone living away from the British Isles?

SIMON SINGH: The issue of libel tourism means that everyone in the world should be scared of the English libel law.  If you write anywhere in the world about a billionaire, then the London court can probably claim jurisdiction because the material can probably be read in England over the internet and billionaires typically have business interests in England so they can claim to have a reputation in England.  There are many cases of libel tourism, such as Saudi billionaires suing an American journalist, a U.S. company suing a Danish researcher, an Israeli technology company threatening to sue a paper written by a Swedish professor, a Tunisian man suing a German newspaper, an Icelandic bank suing a Danish newspaper, and so on – all these cases ended up in London, the libel capital of the world.

Thanks for the heads up from Dan.


Simon Singh: fighting unfair libel is a full-time job

16 March 2010

In May 2009 I blogged about how UK science journalist and personality Simon Singh was being sued by that country’s chiropractic association because he expressed his learned scientific opinion that chiropractic wotsits are bogus.

I followed up with blogs giving my support (for what that’s worth) and celebrating that Singh was fighting back.

Simon Singh

Last week Simon wrote a sad column for the Guardian; sad because it was his last. It turns out that fighting this lawsuit is consuming all his spare time and energy, and a lot of his money.

Today, comedian Robin Ince pledged his support for Singh. That’s good. Ince is a (funny) voice of scientific reason. He hosted a gig that finished Libel Reform Week in the UK. That’s similar to his Nine Lessons and Carols for Godless People, which Singh also contributed to.

It’s ludicrous that a nation like the United Kingdom has such backwards laws. Obviously people need protection from libel. But to quash what scientists debate in fields of science? You might as well expect the return of the Spanish Inquisition.


From pop star to physicist

13 March 2010

Once again, music and science come together on my blog. From last weekend’s Guardian, pop star-turned-physicist Brian Cox (no, not the actorspeaks about his new UK TV series. It can’t hurt to have a few more young, sexy things talking about science.


Stop homeopathy funding

26 February 2010

In December I blogged that a UK parliamentary health committee was looking into whether the National Health Service there should continue to fund homeopathy.

Today that committee gave its report. And – thank god – they said that there is no evidence that homeopathy has anything other than a placebo effect, that manufacturers must no longer be able to make medical claims for homeopathic products, and that the NHS should stop all funding of homeopathy.

Reason prevails.

Now, will the UK government accept the recommendations?


Online archive of UK science launches

25 February 2010

From the BBC, word that

The British Library has begun a project to create a vast, online oral history and archive of British science.

The three-year project will see 200 British scientists interviewed and their recollections recorded for the audio library.

An advisory board will help the project pick key technological innovators and scientists for the archive.

The interviews will be put online to form a permanent record of the way British science has been practiced.

Thanks to the Aussie, who now appears to be my UK science ‘n’ music hookup.


UK’s Royal Mail to release album cover stamps

11 November 2009

The Royal Mail is always releasing new stamps with images of British life on them. I just heard – thanks to the Aussie – that they’re releasing a set featuring iconic rock album covers. They’ll even be shaped differently to show the image of a bit of vinyl album peeking out one side. Very cool.



Scientists fighting back after government attack in the UK

7 November 2009

Looks like I left behind a storm of public policy on science in the UK.

Professor David Nutt is the chairman of the government-sponsored Advisory Council on the Misuse of Drugs. He’s been trying to put into perspective some of the hysteria around the relative levels of harm of cannabis and ecstasy – drugs to which the UK government had softened, then recently re-hardened, their stance.

It seems that caused some public arguments that resulted in Nutt questioning the UK’s drug policy. That, in turn, got him fired from his position on the Council.

The BBC reports that senior UK academics are now urging the UK government to live by principles of scientific independence, and not to politicise the viewpoints of experts.

Of course, that paper-based collection of excrement The Daily Mail – which loves a good drugs panic – indulges in some deep moral and intellectual relativism about how those arrogant scientists don’t know everything. Unbelievably, they even break Godwin’s Law.


Al Martino, First Man To Top UK Charts, Dies

14 October 2009

Al Martino was an Italian-American crooner back in the ’50s. His song “Here In My Heart” was the first number 1 song in the first UK pop charts in 1952. He’s passed away.

Some people – like my brother – will know him best from his acting role in The Godfather, though. He played singer Johnny Fontaine.

Al Martino performing in 2007

Al Martino performing in 2007


A week of non-stop jazz across the UK: the NeverEndingSong

7 September 2009

Restaurant chain Pizza Express have always supported jazz music; it makes a gentle and comforting background to their just-classy-enough middle-of-the-road market position.

Now they’re setting some musicians out on the road to play a jazz riff around the clock for seven days. They’ll tour the UK, picking up improvisers along the way.

An incredibly talented group of jazz musicians will perform a specially created piece of music non-stop, 24 hours a day for seven days as they tour the length and breadth of Britain.

With this being jazz, the ‘song’ will continually evolve as it’s shaped by collaborations with local talent from the cities and regions it passes through: London, Brighton, Cardiff, Birmingham, Manchester, Leeds and Edinburgh.

I know I’ve listened to some jazz that made it feel like it’d been going on forever. But I heard the start of the NeverEndingSong this morning on Radio 4 and it sounded pleasant enough, with lots of space for variation and additions.


ESA establishes first UK research centre

27 July 2009

From the Guardian:

The European Space Agency has opened its first research centre in the UK in a move designed to bring more British scientists and engineers into contact with the space industry. The agency has earmarked £1.3m for the facility’s first year of operation.

Work at the centre, which is based in a former computing lab built in the 1960s at Harwell science park in Oxfordshire, will focus on climate change science and robotic missions. Other plans include a “planetary protection facility” that will develop procedures to ensure missions to other planets do not contaminate them with terrestrial chemicals or bugs.

The centre will also operate as a storage facility for moon rock, meteorites and other material brought back from space that needs to be kept under clean-room conditions to protect it from the environment.


Is the UK government’s vision for science and engineering ambitious enough?

26 July 2009

A Commons select committee says no, it does not.

Listen to Liberal Democrat MP Phil Willis, who chairs the universities, science and skills committee, briefly discuss it with Sir David King, director of the Smith School of Enterprise and the Environment, on Radio 4 the other day.


Public consultation of GCSE science curriculum

13 July 2009

The UK government has just launched a public consultation on plans to reshape the GCSE science curriculum in this country.

That sounds like a good thing. But science teacher, filmmaker, and Guardian blogger Alom Shaha thinks that just now – as the school term is closing and students, parents, and teachers take off for summer holidays – is a very poor time to do it. He also thinks that the form of the consultation doesn’t lend itself to easy contribution: you have to read several different PDFs and then complete several lengthy forms.

So Shaha’s created another website, which he hopes will be an easier forum for educators and those who care about science eduction. He has secured promises that that input will be considered in the consultation as well.

If you care about changing science education in the UK you should check out both pages and contribute in whatever way is best for you.


UK science research funding leaning towards economic returns

14 May 2009

A good Guardian article here that wonders whether scientific research funding is now required to justify its economic returns.

Last month the UK research councils, which provide 90% of the funding for acad­em­ic research, introduced a requirement for those seeking grants: they must describe the economic impact of the work – the “demonstrable contribution” research can make to society and the economy – they want to conduct.

This is wrong. I’m worried that science proponents may have shot themselves in the foot, though. We’ve been trumpeting science and technology as key to getting out of this economic downturn. But that doesn’t mean that every – or even any – future application of basic research is predictable before it even happens. We don’t know in advance which blue-skies ideas will pay off. Only investing in those where we think we do know is extremely risky.

Here’s the article’s conclusion. The comments that follow it, many from science researchers, are good reading too.

The economic impact summaries they now write ensure that all researchers will be aware that the business of universities is business. As the white paper points out, universities are already “providing incentives (for example promotion assessment)” to persuade researchers to engage with business. If your research doesn’t make someone money, you’re not likely to get very far.

Even judged by its own objectives, this policy makes no sense. The long-term health of the knowledge economy depends on blue skies research that answers only to itself: when scientists are free to pursue their passions they are more likely to make those serendipitous discoveries whose impacts on society and the economy are both vast and impossible to predict. Forced to collaborate with industry, they are more likely to pursue applications of existing knowledge than to seek to extend the frontiers of the known world.


British Music Experience open at the O2

10 March 2009

In its continuing efforts to take over the world of live music, O2 has just opened the British Music Experience at the O2 centre in Docklands. This is a permanent exhibit, sort of a British Rock ‘n’ Roll Hall of Fame, I guess. From the site:

Whether you’re more of a ‘Wannabe’ than a ‘Living Doll, prefer ‘Anarchy in the UK’ to ‘Life on Mars’ or you’re feeling ‘Supersonic’ or like a ‘Puppet on a String’, from Trad Jazz to Happy Hardcore you can take your own trip through British music history.

Using state of the art effects and iconic memorabilia we show how rock, pop, dance and other genres were formed and have influenced the last sixty years of British culture. From the classic era defining sounds of The Beatles, Rolling Stones and Dusty Springfield… to stadium filling giants like The Who and Queen… to the irresistible anarchy of bands like The Specials and Sex Pistols… right up to recent crowd-pleasers such as Spice Girls, Oasis, Coldplay, Arctic Monkeys and more.

Along your journey you can step into interactive audio visual spaces that explore great British music moments throughout history, you can witness fascinating one-off interviews between the biggest stars, see an awe inspiring display of famous artefacts “come to life”, record songs, learn instruments, bust moves on the dance floor and even feel what it is like to perform at a virtual concert.

Adult tickets are £15. There are kid and family tickets.

I’ll have to go at some point, but my gut tells me it will be cheesy.


UK Young Scientist of the Year awarded

7 March 2009

The UK Young Scientist of the Year is a new competition for people aged 13-19 who have shown exceptional achievement in discovery, exploration and explanation in the sciences (natural, medical and social) and mathematics (there’s also a UK Young Technologist of the Year for achievement in technology or engineering).

The first Young Scientist award has been given to Peter Hadfield, a 17-year-old student. Here’s a BBC radio clip where he discusses his invention – a hand-held particle detector called Lucid – which is based on one of the particle detectors used in the Large Hadron Collider. Lucid will actually be used in space in 2010.

Nice one, Peter.


Update on PM Brown’s science address at Oxford

27 February 2009

The address has happened:

Gordon Brown has said that science provides an opportunity for young people to be “more inspired by those who give to the world, than by those who take from it”.

Speaking in Oxford on Friday, the prime minister was also set to outline new targets to increase the number of pupils studying science and maths.

He said that within five years 90 per cent of all state schools will offer the ‘triple science’ option of physics, chemistry and biology.

That would mean a rise from the 32 per cent of state schools which currently provide the option.

The government aims to at least double the number of state school pupils taking the three science subjects.

And the prime minister is also setting a new target to increase the numbers of young people sitting A-level maths, from 56,000 at present to 80,000 by 2014.

His keynote speech will also pledge to ensure that science funding does not become “a victim of the recession”. [emphasis mine: That's good, and I hope it's a promise that holds, otherwise the economy will stall when the pendulum swings back]

And graduates with science, maths and IT degrees who lose their jobs are to be encouraged to retrain as teachers. [emphasis mine: Good idea, if teachers are still needed. Are they?]


PM Gordon Brown to address link between science and the economy at Oxford today

27 February 2009

I heard about this on Radio 4 on the way in today:

Prime Minister Gordon Brown is to give the prestigious Romanes Lecture at Oxford University. The speech focuses on the connection between science and economics and comes as debate rages within the science community over what kinds of scientific work should get public funding. Professor Don Braben, a physicist at University College London and Lord Krebs, principal of Jesus College, Oxford, discuss if the government should increase funding for science.

If you go to the Listen Again page today and scroll down to the 07:38 mark you can listen to the short segment.


Britain From Above

25 February 2009

Okay, this BBC site is freaking me out. Infrared maps, airports, population distributions, farmland, motorways, and lots more. Satellite imagery really does let us get a whole new view on things.

more about “Britain From Above“, posted with vodpod

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