Today might be the birthday of former Soviet Foreign Minister Vyacheslav Molotov. I say “might be”, because while most sources tell us that he was born today in 1890, there does seem to be some disagreement, with several others insisting that he came into the world on February 26th that year.

Vyacheslav popped his clogs on the 8th of November 1986 so we can’t ask him. And, by most accounts, that was no great loss to the world, given that he didn’t appear to be a very nice man. Although he had many roles throughout his political career, he will be best remembered (politically, at least) for his negotiating and signing the German-Soviet Nonaggression Pact (aka the Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact) with Nazi Germany in August 1939, which was one of the major precursors to the outbreak of World War II.

Soon after the war started, Soviet Russia invaded Finland. During their occupation, they dropped bombs and incendiaries on Helsinki. When challenged, Molotov is credited with countering that this was incorrect, and that the Russians were merely dropping food and drink to their comrades. This was fake news misinformation on the scale of Saddam’s “Comical Ali” or anyone in the Zuma government might give us.

Molotov’s equation of incendiary bombs with drink quickly resulted in the coinage of the black-humorous term ”Molotov breadbasket” to describe a multiple incendiary bomb, and then ”Molotov cocktail” to describe an incendiary bomb based on gasoline. The Finns used these weapons effectively against Soviet tanks then invading their country.

Since then, the easy-to-make firebombs have been used in protests and conflicts all over the world.

And to make astounding slo-mo videos

New Job

Back in the day, I almost went to Birmingham University.
But then I didn’t.

I might go now though, because there’s this job I want:

I’ll be absolutely honest: I have limited experience in this field. But can you imagine going to a party, chatting with some people, and when they’ve told you that they’re an accountant or work in advertising, you get to mention that you’re a Galactic Archaeology Research Fellow?

As you might expect:

In addition to planning and developing research contributions to the subject area using methodologies, critical evaluations, interpretations, analyses and other appropriate techniques, the successful applicant will work on developing, validating, and applying methods to dissect the Milky Way discs at various epochs.

I dissected an apple in the kitchen just this morning, so I’m sure that just a bit of scaling up [note to self: really  big knife] the Milky Way discs will be fairly straightforward as well. And I’ll have to dissect them at all of the epochs, because I mean, how else are you going to:

…quantify the role of secular processes that have shaped the present-day thin and thick discs

if not by:

…combining constraints based on spectroscopic, astrometric and asteroseismic observations, determining the vertical and radial properties of the Milky Way’s discs and reconstructing their star-formation history with unprecedented temporal resolution.

possibly (if I’ve managed to gauge the day with unprecedented temporal resolution), all before lunchtime. Because your afternoon will be spent working on the old Asterochronometry project to:

 …determine accurate, precise ages for tens of thousands of stars in the Galaxy by developing novel star-dating methods that fully utilise the potential of individual pulsation modes, coupled with a careful appraisal of systematic uncertainties on age deriving from our limited understanding of stellar physics.

before you head down to the pub for drinks with the nerds.

In short, this job sounds exactly what I’ve been  after for a while now. A new challenge in an exciting field, before heading down to the pub for drinks with the nerds.

And I’m only short of two of the two entry requirements:

– A PhD in Physics/Astronomy and
– Experience and expertise in Galactic structure, chemical evolution and dynamics, stellar populations studies from large-scale surveys

But nothing ventured, nothing gained, so I’m sending them my CV, because the chance to:

capitalise on opportunities provided by the timely availability of astrometric, spectroscopic, and asteroseismic data to build and data-mine chrono-chemo-dynamical maps of regions of the Milky Way probed by the space missions CoRoT, Kepler, K2, and TESS and reconstruct the early star formation history of the Milky Way’s main constituents

just sounds too good an opportunity to risk missing.

I will arrive at the interview in a dressing gown, and will be carrying a towel.

Alien Invasion


Half the DNA on the NYC Subway Matches No Known Organism 

Indeed. But Don’t Panic!

We have (probably) not been invaded by aliens. This is merely a reminder that science still (and always will) have its limits. It’s not that half the DNA on the NYC Subway belongs to stuff from other planets, it’s just that we can’t match it against our genetic libraries right now because we simply don’t have enough books in them yet (he said, completely mangling the analogy).

As we continue to improve our knowledge of which bits of DNA come from which organisms (and we’re really just talking about bacteria here, because we’re kinda up to date with mammals and the like), so the next time we see that chunk of DNA on a subway (or anywhere else), we can attribute it to a given organism, and reduce that 50% bit by bit until there’s very little that’s unknown about the DNA on the NYC Subway.

In the meantime, there’s a really nice interactive map here, allowing you to look at which bacteria were found at which stations, or – better still –  to search by types of bacteria to see what they are associated with (from “heart valve infections” to “mozzarella cheese”) (no anthrax, though) and see whereabouts on the network they were found.

Let’s just say that I’m going to be avoiding 168th Street and East 149th Street for some time. Possibly forever.

I mean… Dysentery! Really?!?

On Flickr Explore

I’m on Flickr. I’ve been on Flickr for well over 10 years.
I have never made it onto Explore.

What is Explore?” I hear you ask…

Users who aspire to the ultimate level of recognition within the Flickr community will certainly become aware of something called Explore. Explore is a daily stream (viewed by thousands of people) of the top 500 photos as selected by Flickr’s “interestingness” algorithm.

Explore is somewhere I go to view some of the best photos uploaded in the last 24 hours. And it’s good that they cut them down to 500 because going through all 25,000,000 daily uploads would be a bit of a pain.

And there are some absolute gems in there, as there should be with a 99.998% rejection rate. But it’s clear that there is a huge difference between “bestness” and that intriguing but ultimately flawed “interestingness” algorithm. I mean, look at this from this morning:

Nine wonky photos of school buses? Is that really the best we could do?

Those images made it in to Explore simply because about 20 people clicked the “favourite” button on them. Evidently, the school bus spotting fraternity in the US had been waiting for something to get excited about for… well… quite a while. And then nine came all at once*.

How ironic.

I’d love to get onto Explore: photography, after all, is meant to be seen. And every view increases the potential of more of this kind of thing. I like this kind of thing.

There’s a good thread about Explore here, and there are plenty of sites around where people with far more time than me have looked at common features of Explored photos and kindly shared them with us. Apparently, things that can influence your chances include the time of your upload, how many followers you have, whether you pay $25 to be a member each year etc etc etc.

It’s taken me no time to work out that if I am going to get Explored any time soon, I need to make some fairly radical changes to how I use Flickr. I’m not there just yet.


* and there are over 5000 more where they came from…

Intra-operative pic

So, long story short, it seems that my op didn’t go as well as we had hoped. The bleeding post op has been quite serious, and I’m still going to be struggling with the effects of that for at least a few weeks. I saw the surgeon again this morning to have the stitches removed and he wasn’t hugely happy with the way things have gone.

That said, this mini check-up did give him a chance to share some photos with me that he had taken during the op. And aside from the one which showed the bit that wasn’t quite right (and so which he removed), the rest of them were simply to demonstrate just how good my knee joint is (was?) actually looking.  But when he showed me this one, I had to take a quick snap of it, because I think it’s epic.

That’s a cellphone pic of his computer monitor, but I still think it’s pretty good. My cellphone is pretty good, remember?

Anyway, that was taken by an arthroscopic camera inside my knee joint, shows the scalpel making the incision for the arthroscopic instrumentation coming into the joint from the other side. (They make two incisions and use two tools, like this.) That smooth white thing at the top right is the bottom end of my femur.

You can see the writing on the blade!

This sort of photo appeals to me. It’s one thing to watch videos and see photos of scientific and medical stuff, but it’s quite another when the picture is of a bit of you that has been just there [points at knee] all your life, but you’ve never actually seen. I’d love to have been able to have a local anaesthetic and watch the whole thing live. (I… er… have done that before).

But how amazing is this photo?
Well, probably not hugely to you, but for me, it’s incredible. Because it’s me, see?

If it was you, you’d be amazed too.