Monday, December 31, 2007

Reflections on 2007

MD and Offspring in Seattle Last Week (in case anyone dares suggest this is a studio picture, I can tell you that we nearly got frostbite getting this shot).

Well there's another year gone (and don't they just fly by these days -one of my resolutions for 2008 will be to not blink). 2007 was by no means bad. Several longstanding personal issues were finally resolved and in many ways closed a quite painful chapter of my life and opened a new one which promises to be very exciting in 2008 and beyond. Work was very rewarding and also moved up a gear: I'm certainly not short of projects for the next year or so. Travel was highlighted with four major international trips taking in Ireland, France, Greece, UK (x3) and Thailand and as many more domestic jaunts. A quick glance at the calendar tells me that things will be just as frenetic in 2008. Let's hope health and sanity hold out over the next 12 months. Now enough introspection -it's time to drink some champagne!

Tuesday, December 25, 2007

A White Christmas!

White Christmas

Well it wasn't exactly a blizzard but we did have a significant snowfall here in Seattle today (even if it was a bit wet and rainy too).

Merry Christmas Everybody!

Sunday, December 23, 2007

Mad Dogs and Englishmen

I don't want to overdo this YouTube cross-posting business but in keeping with an encroaching mood of pre-Christmas insouciance (or is it hysteria?) here's a clip of total genius featuring the incomparable  Noel Coward.

Thursday, December 20, 2007

'Fings Ain't What They Used To Be

Mad Dog, at school side door, 1967

John 2007
Mad Dog, at school side door, 2007 (note to self: don't tuck a scarf into a buttoned up jacket as it makes you look fat)

Somebody, maybe Chertz, said "...depression is the price you pay for nostalgia...". Sometimes true, perhaps, but not always. It depends on the circumstances. If it were, I'd be reaching for a catering pack of anti-depressants by now. On my recent trip back to the UK, I met up with my brother and for a morning we indulged in a shameless walk down memory lane including visiting our old school in surburban Surrey. It was a training day and the building was closed (sounds like a skive to me -these things didn't exist when I was a pupil). The caretaker noticed the two middle-aged men lurking suspiciously in the driveway and after we had convinced him we weren't hooligans he invited us in. Well nostalgia is not a strong enough word to convey the emotions that followed. Still there in the entry hall were the boards with the gilt-enlaid names of all the Head Boys and Girls. The main hall itself, the scene of maybe a 1000 assemblys when I was there, not to mention plays concerts as well as some mass interrogations from the Principal (a future blog topic), looked exactly as it was 40 years ago. The place even smelled the same. Oh memories, what thou art?

Never mind the Prozac, I'm off to pour myself a stiff single malt...!

Wednesday, December 19, 2007

Monte Carlo Countdown: Start -45 Days

I can't explain the allure of classic rallying. Something about challenging myself but Heaven knows that there are less elaborate and certainly less expensive ways of doing this. But trying to maintain a steady speed of 45 Kph (accurate to 1:100th of a second up a snowy mountain road, often no wider than a cart track) is as exciting as it is physically and intellectually demanding. This clip from the 2007 event captures the gestalt.

Tuesday, December 18, 2007

Another Sidebar Cleanup

It's time for another tidy-up of the sidebar. Thus I've purged dead links and also removed some that no longer quite pique my interest. And I've added a few new ones although sensible suggestions for fresh and exciting sites are most welcome. I've also got rid of a lot of junky buttons that mostly didn't work.  Anyway here's the summary:


Baghdad Burning
Writer and family have left Baghdad for safety reasons. Poor buggers.

No longer about science.

Mini Crazy
Stefan –where did you go?

Rockall Times
Tag line “There’s f*** all on Rockall”. Blogging finished a long time ago and now there’s just f*** all.

This excellent site was brought down by malicious hackers. Bastards. Now it’s reverted back to its roots (Shakespear’s Sister).

Tiny Voices in My Head
Dawn has given up blogging to be a rock star. Best of luck (said without irony).

Two Glasses
The posts were more and more about sports I don’t understand (y’know, the American ones) and less and less about politics.

Walking the StreetsMr. Stickers has moved to Canada and now only operates a closed blog.


I’m cheating here as I quietly added this one a little while back. Anyway, an excellent bio-science/medical blog by Tara Smith.

Arse Poetica
Great political commentary.

Canadian Cynic
Excellent snarky socio-political commentary from a hilarious Canuck.

English Soldier
Fascinating diaries of an English soldier in WW1: I love this historical stuff.

Monday, December 17, 2007

What's in a Name?

View over the Vercors Plateau last week

You have to love the way the French name places and geographical features. While the English have some delightfully eccentric places such as Pratts Bottom, Foul End, Great Snoring and Thong, the French seem to have a much more literal approach. As Bill Richards and I drove around the mountains in south central France last week on our rally recon some of the places we passed through had a wonderfully muscular nomenclature. Col de la Homme Morte, Col de la Machine, Col de La Morte and especially Die all jumped off the map and seemed very appropriate for rallying (maybe just "Feels like you're about to Die" would be preferable). Anyway, the scenery was stunning as it always is in this part of the world although the weather and road conditions were severe (see below). And it's only December; Heaven knows what it will be like in the first week of February when the snowfall peaks. One thing is for sure it won't be a dry run. We'd better get those snow tyres sorted out.

Col L'Eschassarone
The Col L'Echarasson always seems to be like this

White Out
Snow and freezing fog equal white out in the Ardeche

Tuesday, December 11, 2007

Stairway to Heaven

BackpackDave was there. The rest of us are jealous. Thanks for the post, Dave...

Sunday, December 09, 2007

Mazel Tov!

Sara & Tom

Congratulations Sara and Tom. It was a fine wedding and I wish you every good fortune on your journey together.

Monte Carlo Countdown: Start -53 Days

Maps for the Monte

I've now been back in the UK for three days. So far I've been to Oxford to discuss a project and also seen my brother for some family business. I've also been to Stamfords's in Covent Garden and bought all the maps necessary for the rally. Later this afternoon I have to attend a wedding but before I don my tuxedo I'll do some basic route plotting in preparation for my reconnaissance with Bill later in the week.

Tomorrow I'm going down to the Bill Richards workshop and I'll go over the car which is undergoing the finishing touches to its preparation. I'll write an update on that in my next post.

Wednesday, December 05, 2007

Leaving on a Jet Plane

Max Yasgur's farm, Bethel, NY, August 1969

No time for a proper post as I'm once again running to the airport. So here's a YouTube filler from an aeronautically-inclined bunch. Unfortunately even the wonderful Grace is not immune from the ravages of the ageing process but her wit is most definitely intact.

Stay tuned; with any luck the next post will be from somewhere in Europe.

Tuesday, December 04, 2007


black macbook
Mad Dog's new productivity tool

Well according to the Geniuses at the AppleStore, the faithful old iBook is in a bad way and it will take another week to complete the repairs. It needs a new hard disk and a DC input card. And this is on top of the wireless card, the bluetooth card and the motherboard that were replaced in the summer. The hard disk was pretty full and the machine was due for replacement anyway -I just hadn't planned on doing it it this side of Christmas. but now I have no choice, unless I want to go unwired for two weeks. This is not really an option so I pulled out the debit card and shelled out for a new Black MacBook with IGb of Ram and a 160Gb hard drive. Precisely double the memory (in each area) of the poor hospitalised thing. I'll pick up the new one on this evening and thus will have it for my trip on Wednesday. Fingers crossed the data transfer goes OK...

Oh, and Blackberrys are an experiment for another occasion. I'm still not quite convinced that I want to be always "on"!

P.S. After Christmas I will upgrade to 2 Gb of RAM and will purchase the Apple Procare service agreement -after five years of hammering a couple of iBooks this is a must.

Monday, December 03, 2007

Blackberry and Apple Pie

I've really tried to resist society's current demand that we are always available for communications. The last time I relished being away from email was my Grecian vacation back in September. Yet despite enjoying the concept of being unwired for two weeks, the reality was that after two days I cracked and was to be found typing away in an internet café. Now, with another trip coming up, Christmas bearing down and rally planning to do my trusty iBook's hard drive has decided to come apart at the seams. This is inconvenient to say the least. I have two days to sort things sort before I head off to the airport once more. I may have to invest in one of these or these. Or even both. In the meantime posts will be minimal.

Friday, November 30, 2007

Friday Music Blogging: Colosseum

Dick Heckstall-Smith

Jon Hiseman's Colosseum were surely one of the best British jazz-rock fusion bands of the late 60s/early 70s. Unfortunately the clip I wanted to show has disappeared from YouTube (surely not copyright infringement, er,hum?). This one is not bad although is of the re-formed group in the 90s. It features the Valentyne Suite which was a signature piece. Great sax playing from the late lamented Dick Heckstall-Smith.I saw this band in their first life at diverse locations including Guildford and Cardiff. And Jon Hiseman I've seen many times drumming in Barbara Thompson's Paraphernalia.

Oh, sorry, I forgot to mention that YouTube has turned off the embedding on this clip so you have to access it by clicking here or the link above.

Thursday, November 29, 2007

What's the Obsession with Minis About...?

Little Cricket asks this excellent question in the comments section of the previous post. It's hard to explain if you haven't driven one (or possibly not lived in the 1960's). In this case a video clip is probably worth a million words. Here's some classic footage featuring the car's designer, Sir Alec Issigonis, who explains all.

Wednesday, November 28, 2007

Monte Carlo -Here We Go

MCH graphic

Hard to believe that it's been nearly three years since I donned my Nomex gear and did battle but another adventure is nigh. My entry with Bill Richards to the 2008 Monte Carlo Historique rally has been accepted. So now the work starts. There are maps to buy, routes to plot and a reconnaissance to do. And above all the trusty Mini Cooper has to be prepared. I'll document all our preparations over the next two months (at the time of writing there are 66 days to go).

In the meantime here's the re-run of the 2005 event which culminated in an intimate association with an Alpine mountain wall 50Km outside Monte Carlo.

Monday, November 26, 2007


Phone in loo
Undesirable placement of telephone and toilet

I'm now safely back home after my jaunt to the Far East and recovering from 18 hours of being cooped up in a metal tube and forced to consume some kind of substance purporting to be food. But fortunately I avoided the gastrointestinal difficulties that have in the past made traveling in far off lands a miserable experience. Indeed following a trip to New Delhi a few years ago, I remember praying for death for several days after making innumerable trips, mostly on my hands and knees, to the bathroom. But that's a story for another day. However I do wish to comment on the growing, and to the mind of this old microbiologist, the quite rebarbative trend in so-called luxury hotels of placing extra telephones adjacent to toilets. The last thing I want to do when I'm, err, doing my ablutions, is to receive incoming phone calls. And if I make a call to someone I certainly don't want to talk to them while they are otherwise engaged. Most of all it has to by unhygienic as by definition the user cannot have washed their hands. It's beyond the pale. I'm going to start a movement (pun intended) which I'm going to call the Campaign for the Removal of Ancillary Phones (CRAP).

While we're on the subject Chertz makes a related observation.

Sunday, November 25, 2007

Packing my Trunk

On Elephant
Mad Dog driving a pachyderm: bloke at the back was bearing the trusty Holland & Holland nitro express -you never know when you may have to bag a tiger.

The conference is over, papers have been presented, collaborations established and plans made. Also some sights seen. I have to say I find this part of the world quite intriguing and I'll probably be back in the not too distant future. Now it's back to Seattle (I'll be in the airport in 6 hours after a bit of sleep) where the shock of reality awaits. I have a lot of projects on the boil including rallying. More when I'm back in the Land of the Free.

Wednesday, November 21, 2007


Mad Dog considers a career as a Tuk Tuk driver

Transport in Thailand can be hair-raising to say the list. On Monday I spent the afternoon in a Tuk Tuk. These things are hilarious three wheel motorscooters that seem to be omnipresent in South East Asia. Most seem to be powered by smoky two stroke engines (for the petrolheads out there, I think these are triple cylinder jobs –think Kawasaki c1979). As mentioned in my previous post they are dirt cheap to hire. However potential passengers should be aware that these machines are not exactly encumbered by modern safety equipment. So don’t hail one if you are expecting seat belts, air bags, ABS brakes, crumple zones etc. Mine didn’t even have a grab handle. You also stand a pretty good chance of being asphyixiated and by diesel fumes that belch from a large proportion of buses and truck. And if the pollution doesn’t get you and you can avoid a physical collision there is still a high risk of heart attack from the tactics of the drivers who seem to draw their inspiration from kamikaze pilots and Stirling Moss in about equal measure.

Watching TV
This cab driver liked to watch TV while driving

Another heart-in-mouth journey was across the city to the domestic airport. This time the trip was made in a conventional taxi and I thought this would be a normal, prosaic conveyance. But I was to have no such luck: no sooner did we set off than the driver started to fiddle with a dashboard-mounted screen that I had mistaken for a GPS navigation device. However as the driver started to fiddle with a collection of DVDs I realized what was happening. The screen was a LCD television and the driver intended to watch while weaving in and out of the Bangkok traffic. And that’s what happened. For the duration of the 15 mile journey we were treated to a slapstick Thai gameshow with an extremely raucous soundtrack exacerbated by the constant chattering of the taxi’s radio. Fortunately we got to the airport unscathed. The next time I attempt a similar journey I’m going to make sure I have Valium and Ibuprofen at hand.

P.S. Just to show I'm an incorrigible smarty pants here's a video clip of my Tuk Tuk ride; yes I've figured out how to do YouTube uploads so watch out...

Tuesday, November 20, 2007

More Bang(kok) for the Buck

Tower on Chao Phraya Riverfront

Yesterday I did a quick tour of Bangkok with the primary objective of taking in a few Buddhas. There certainly is no shortage here. My first port of call was the Grand Palace which I got to by public water bus. The waterfront scenery was diverse ranging from the prestige skyscrapers of multi-national corporations, historic temples through to corrugated iron shacks. The water of the Chao Phraya river is invariably an opaque brown. I don’t want to think why!

Orange robed Buddhist monks at the Thai Grand Palace

On arrival at the palace I made a plan to visit three sites of interest (all Buddha of various shapes and sizes) and negotiated the hire of a Tuk Tuk a three wheeled motorscooter for the princely sum of 30 Thai Baht ($1.00) –and this for two hours of transportation entertainment. A bargain if ever there was one! I’ll elaborate more on that in my next post. Anyway I survived the trip (just) and observed some spectacular architecture and astonishingly beautiful Buddha. Apart from the Tuk Tuk adventure I felt curiously peaceful by the end of the afternoon. Curious.

Part of the Grand Palace

Emerald Buddha
The Emerald Buddha

As a side note, my first reaction on seeing soldiers marching around the Palace with shouldered rifles was to think that this was a bit incongruous with the peace and tranquility theme. Then I noticed that the weapons contained no magazines/bullets and were thus only symbolic. A nice gesture in this day and age.

Soldiers marching
Guard at the Grand Palace: the guns are not loaded

Saturday, November 17, 2007

Postcards from Thailand


Views from my hotel over the Chao Phraya river. The sheen on the lower picture is because it was taken through glass.

Well, with the exception of losing the folder containing my itinerary (I've got an email record so it should be ok) I've arrived safely in Thailand and recovering from the physical trauma of spending 18 hours in an economy class seat designed for a midget and the cognitive dissonance of losing a whole day from my calendar (I took off on Friday and arrived on Sunday). Here are a few random observations from the past 30 hours:

• Over the entire trip (two flights) I was offered "...Chicken or Pasta..." on the three meal occasions. How's that for imagination.

• The chicken curry was uncontaminated with a single molecule of piquant spice.

• Old fashioned Boeing 747s have more legroom than newer 777s.

• United Airlines offer the worst entertainment system choices in the airline industry: while not a particularly big fan of British Airways, UA would do well to take a look at their rival's movie system and library.

• At a three hour layover at Tokyo's Narita airport, I felt an strong urge to travel into the city and find an iaido dojo. Aikido's Hombu dojo also beckoned.

• Despite my love of most things Japanese, shopping and eating opportunities at Narita were minimal. There was no cell phone signal, either.

• Bangkok's international airport is a architectural marvel.

• Overall there seems to be a lot new money in Thailand: the skyline is dominated by high-rise, high-tech buildings.

• To compensate for more than 24 hours of barely edible airline food, I've just had the best breakfast I can remember.

More notes from the road soon. Now I'm off to look at some Buddhas...

Friday, November 16, 2007

On The Road Again, Again


Once again I'm heading off the airport. There's been a lot of travel on the agenda this year and I've still got two major trips before the end of the year. On this occasion I'm going to Thailand, a land I've not yet visited and I'm excited. I should get in a couple of days sightseeing on either side of the conference. And if there's time I'll try one of those "body treatment programs" the hotel brags about on its website. The problem with these jaunts to far-flung places is the opportunity to acquire interesting new gut flora which in the past has resulted in me praying for death for as long as a week. So this time I'm armed with a bag full of contingency pharmaceuticals including cipro. Fingers crossed it will be enough. Hopefully I'll manage a post or two from the road. More soon...

Monday, November 12, 2007

Classic Iaido

Classic iaido
T. Mitsuzuka (R), 7th dan kyoshi, MSR iaido, training with T. K.Chiba (L), 6th dan MSR iaido, 8th dan aikido. Berkeley, California, 1989.

Despite all the freneticism of the past month my pathway in iaido has continued slowly but steadily. I recently unearthed this superb photo of my original aikido and iaido teacher, Chiba Sensei, demonstrating a Muso Shinden Ryu kata with Mitsuzuka Sensei. Wonderful!

Sunday, November 11, 2007


IEmbattled 2
Mad Dog has been under siege for the past month

Phew, over a month since a post. Sorry everybody but I've had the busiest month in recent living memory, quite possibly since returning to these shores in 2001. All memories of my Grecian vacation are long gone and I've felt like a candidate for karoshi. Here's a list of just a few of the things I've been up to (there's a few I haven't mentioned too).

• Organised and endured one major project review meeting

• Entertained several collaborators from overseas

• Received a contract to write a book on Vaccines

• Dealt with a mountain of paperwork

• Booked a trip to Thailand for a conference later this month

• Applied for entry to the 2008 Monte Carlo Historique rally

• Had another fibrosarcoma-like lump removed from my cat

• Filed my income tax return

• Become certified in CPR and First Aid

• Fired a machine gun (yes, really –and before you ask, it was quite legal)

And this is not the complete list. Anyway I'll try to pick up some momentum in the next few days.

Tuesday, October 09, 2007

Is It Just Me...?

Brent Spiner [Lt. Commander Data in Star Trek]

Tory Boy
Tory Boy

No time for serious blogging just now; post-vacation "real life" has hit me with a vengeance. However I can't resist this bit of snark. With all the talk of a General Election (or not) in the UK, I've been paying more attention than usual to the characters involved. Now I'm sure this may have been said before but is Tory leader, David Cameron, the doppelgänger of Brent Spiner (the actor who played the sentient synthetic lifeform, Lieutenant Commander Data, in Star Trek: The Next Generation)? Having said that, I'm not sure if an android at the reins of power would be a bad thing.

Friday, October 05, 2007

Friday Music Blogging: Rhassan Roland Kirk

Since my return to reality at the beginning of the week I've been overwhelmed with urgent stuff to do as well as cope with the idiosyncracies of a new computer at work and the usual post-longhaul flight rhinovirus infection. Thus proper blogging will have to take a back seat. In the meantime here's a clip of one of my all time favourite jazz musicians (Rhassan) Roland Kirk playing a signature piece, Serenade to a Cuckoo, on the flute and making use of the overblowing technique which he largely pioneered.

P.S. I should add that I saw Mr. Kirk at Ronnie Scott's Club, London in 1970 and was simply astonished by his technique. Apart from his flute pyrotechniques he also demonstrated how to play three saxophones simultaneously and how to do circular breathing. Jethro Tull do a pretty good tribute to RK here.

Tuesday, October 02, 2007

Got It (the Grant Not the Disease)!

scrub typhus_poster

Well the email inpile was not quite as bad as I'd imagined. One of the messages was a notice for a grant award to study typhus. This seems like a little bit of compensation for spending last year's Thanksgiving holiday slaving over a hot laptop preparing an application that was subsequently rejected like a piece of discarded chewing gum. Devotees of this site may recall (don't feel bad if you didn't: I had to search for the post) that I submitted a modified re-application in June. Well the pain was worth it. Apparently funds will be released in about two weeks so now I'll have to get my arse rear end in gear to get the work done. There's absolutely no breathing space here. Oh well, it's better to be busy...


Monday, October 01, 2007

I'm Back

Aghios Stephanos Sunrise
Sunrise at Aghios Stephanos last week.

Sadly I'm no longer in Greece. Normal service will be resumed as soon as I've dealt with my email inbox (urgh, shudder) found my mobile phone, and adjusted to the inevitable Seattle drizzle....

Sunday, September 16, 2007

War Stories: Battle of Britain Remembered

My brief transit through the UK has reminded me that it's the anniversary of one of the most critical battles of World War II. The Battle of Britain was fought in the skies over the South of England throughtout the summer and autumn of 1940. The peak of the battle is generally regarded as ocurring on September 15th -a day in which nearly 300 German aircraft were shot down by the RAF's frighteningly minimal squadrons of Spitfire and Hurricane fighters. The Luftwaffe's losses were unsustainable and the following day their attacks virtually ceased. Operation Sealion, Hitler's plans for the invasion of Britain, were postponed indefinitely. Here's a few photos lest we forget that turbulent time 67 years ago:
Spitfires Scramble
A Spitfire squadron scrambles
Bomber  over Surrey Docks
Heinkel bomber over the Surrey Docks, London
tower bridge blitz
London burning
Vapour trails over StPauls
Vapour trails over St. Paul's Cathedral
Crashed Heinkel
Heinkel bomber crash landed at Findon, West Sussex.

Friday, September 14, 2007

Normal Service Will Be Resumed As Soon As Possible

Did I mention that from today I'm off to the Ionian Islands (via London) for a couple of weeks? I did? Fancy that. Anyway in the unlikely event that I'll find myself in a wireless broadband zone, normal blogging will be resumed on or after October 1.

Go Zorba José...


Thursday, September 13, 2007

Stairway to Heaven

zeppelin reunion
Unfortunately Mad Dog will not be here.

Damn! On that day I'll be Over the Hills and Far Away. Here, specifically. Clearly a Communications Breakdown.

Wednesday, September 12, 2007

On This Day: Famous Birthdays

Today the following have birthdays:

1575 - Henry Hudson, English explorer (d. 1611)

1818 - Richard Gatling, American weapons inventor (d. 1903)

1883 - Gus Cannon, American blues singer and jug band leader (d. 1979)

1888 - Maurice Chevalier, French singer and actor (d. 1972)

1913 - Jesse Owens, American athlete, Hitler’s nemesis (d. 1980)

1914 - Desmond Llewelyn, Welsh actor (“Q” in James Bond films) (d. 1999)

1921 - Stanisław Lem, Polish science fiction writer (d. 2006)

1931 - Sir Ian Holm, English actor, genius

1943 - Maria Muldaur, American jazz singer

1944 - Barry White, American singer, inexplicable cult icon (d. 2003)

1951 - Bertie Ahern, Irish politician

1957 - Rachel Ward, Anglo-Australian actress

1972 - Jason Statham, English actor, Olympic diver, Cockney wide boy

1980 - Yao Ming, Chinese basketball player, giant, Apple pitch man

???? - Mad Dog, Eccentric, blogger, geriatric

Tuesday, September 11, 2007

Ode to a Grecian Urn*

Parthenon, Athens, 1972. Photo taken by Mad Dog in the days when it was permitted to climb all over this priceless site.

"What's a Grecian Urn?"

"They say Prince Philip makes about £359,000 a year from the Civil List"

Drum roll and cymbal crash

Don't expect any sense out of me over the next few days as thoughts of my impending vacation seem to have addled my brain (in an insouciant kind of way).

* With apologies to John Keats.

Sunday, September 09, 2007

Happy Anniversary!

Newlyweds 1947_1
Parents "Going Away", September 1947.

This weekend would have been my parents' 60th wedding anniversary. Unfortunately their earthly togetherness was only to be just over three decades. In the 28 years of the marriage that I witnessed, I never heard an argument or angry word. And I took this blessed and wonderful relationship for granted. As they say, it was a hard act to follow...!

Friday, September 07, 2007

Friday Frivolity

The last 5 seconds (be patient) of this clip have got to be the funniest thing I've seen in years.

Thursday, September 06, 2007

Farewell, Maestro

Luciano Pavarotti, 1935-2007

Well its "addio" to unlucky Luciano Pavarotti who sang his last aria yesterday after a losing the battle with pancreatic cancer. While he was known for his classic operatic deliveries and performances with fellow tenors, Jose Carreras and Placido Domingo he was also happy with cross-cultural mixes and appeared with all kinds of popular music celebrities including James Brown, Queen (yay!) and the Spice Girls (yes, really). Goodbye, Maestro, we'll miss you sorely.

Tuesday, September 04, 2007

Reading Material

James Joyce
Mad Dog is having a rematch with James Joyce in the next month.

Ohara has asked me what I'm going to read on my imminent Grecian vacation. This is a good question. One of the delights in my adult years has been selecting a number of books to consume on holiday. My life being what it is these days, this is the only time I get to do any serious reading. So here's my selection:

1) Ulysses
James Joyce
Joyce, you bastard, you won't defeat me this time.

2) Journal of a Plague Year
Daniel Defoe
What else for a microbiologist?

3) Cracking the Emperor's Codes
Michael Smith
I love this nerdy, military code cracking stuff.

4) McCarthy's Bar
Pete McCarthy
Apparently hilarious Irish travelogue -I'm intensely curious about my parents' country.

5) Blindness
José Saramago
I've got to have one serious offering from a Nobel Laureate.

6) The 4 Hour Work Week
Timothy Ferriss
Retirement planning of sorts; shameless NY Times best seller pulp filler.

So that's my top six. A mix of fiction and non-fiction, humour and gravity, intellectually challenging (not difficult these days) and lightweight as well as another epic battle with Ulysses (what better place than Greece for this?). And absolutely no bloody Dan Brown or JK Rowling.

PS Yesterday a friend loaned me Issai Chozanshi's classic The Demon's Sermon on the Martial Arts. I'll try to sneak that one in too.


Damn! A week's gone by without a post. I've even got few drafts ready to upload but haven't been able to summon the energy. The past few months have been physically and emotionally exhausting and I'm absolutely knackered. A lot has been going on at work (good but demanding), there's been a pile of legal/administrative stuff to do at the end of the Big Personal Project (tedious and a bit ugly) and just about every electro-mechanical device I own has failed (expensive and irritating). In addition my lovely fluffy cat has twice burst her stitches following recovery from a nasty operation. I feel like I'm walking around wearing lead diver's boots while at the same time waving the white flag. Never mind, in two weeks I'll be here:

Kassiopi 1972
Corfu, Greece. Photo taken by Mad Dog, 1972.

No email and no phone for 14 days. Just a lot of books to read and a gentle existence. I can't wait...

Tuesday, August 28, 2007


Railway viaduct
Railway viaduct, Co. Durham.

Once in awhile I get pangs of nostalgia for scenery like this. Quintessential England. Sigh...

Monday, August 27, 2007

Summer of Love 1


There seems to be a musical leitmotif going on around here at the moment. Probably something to do with all the stuff I keep hearing about the 40th anniversary of the Summer of Love. Was it really all that remarkable or is my retroscopic vision bathed in a rosy glow of nostalgia? Well here's what was in the UK Top Ten charts in August 1967:

1. The Beatles: All You Need Is Love
2. Scott McKenzie: San Francisco (Flowers In Your Hair)
3. Dave Davies: Death Of A Clown
4. Vikki Carr: It Must Be Him*
5. The Monkees: Alternate Title (aka Randy Scouse Git)
6. Tom Jones: I'll Never Fall In Love Again
7. The Turtles: She'd Rather Be With Me*
8. Stevie Wonder: I Was Made To Love Her
9. Pink Floyd: See Emily Play
10. Procol Harum: A Whiter Shade Of Pale

Remarkable? It was bloody amazing...!

* My apologies to Vikki Carr and The Turtles but I couldn't find suitable video clips.

Sunday, August 26, 2007

Happy Anniversary!


Happy blogiversary to me.

Three years and 346 posts.

Who'd a thunk it...?

Thursday, August 23, 2007

Twinkle Twinkle Super Star

Brian May
Brian May on the Roof of Buckingham Palace Plays for the Queen.

Well congratulations to Brian May of Queen who sucessfully defended his PhD dissertation in astronomy yesterday, 36 years after abandoning it for a career in music. As I always told my graduate students, the key to success in science is tenacity. Now a word of advice. Bri, it's been 29 years since you, Freddie and the boys had me standing on my seat at Wembley Stadium and I've been a fan since the early 70s, but don't you think that permed hairdo is a little bit passe and unseemly for a 60 year old man?

PS I wonder if you're going to do a postdoc now...?

Monday, August 20, 2007

Many Happy Returns

Olivias birthday

Inexplicably my 8-year-old daughter turned 23 today.

Happy Birthday, Olivia!

Friday, August 17, 2007

Friday Music Blogging: Barbara Thompson's Paraphernalia

What with one thing and another there has been a preponderence of musical themes in my posts recently. Even so, I'm unapolgetic for today's offering of one of my favourite contemporary jazz groups, Barabara Thompson's Paraphernalia. I've been attending their concerts since the late 1970's and we seem to have grown up together. This clip is BT's signature song, Little Annie-oo, which I was delighted to find on YouTube a few days ago. The late, great, Ronnie Scott is the compere who makes the introductions in his own inimitable way.

Thursday, August 16, 2007

So What Were You Doing When...?

Elvis Aaron Presley, January 8, 1935 – August 16, 1977.

Bloody hell, has it been 30 years? Where did they go? I remember exactly where I was and what I was doing when John Peel announced that “…the BBC has received an unconfirmed report that Elvis Presley has died…”. I was living in Wembley, North London and sharing a flat with an old pal from undergraduate days (Colin Watters, where are you now?). In the daytime I was exactly six weeks into my first professional job; the rest of the time I fully engaged in the tedious task of writing up my PhD. And thus it was in the evening of Tuesday 16th August 1977 when I was labouring away on the introduction of “The immune response of the dogfish, Scyliorhinus canicula L” that the news was delivered.

So where were YOU and what were you doing?

Wednesday, August 15, 2007

Out of Town


Today I'm off to the smogbound hellhole that is Orange County in Southern California to discuss a collaboration. Blogging is thus on hold until after I'm back from Mickey Mouse land on Friday...

Monday, August 13, 2007

Friday, August 10, 2007

Friday Music Blogging: Curved Air

Darryl Way of Curved Air absolutely shreds his violin, Hendrix style, in this rendition of Vivaldi. And how we love analog synthesizers. One of my all time favourite 70's prog rock bands.

Wednesday, August 08, 2007

You Say Goodbye and I Say Hello

In the interests of keeping this site fresh and clutter free I've been reviewing the links. So...

Sane Scientist
Sorry old chap but one post in four months is not blogging and in anycase that piece you wrote on cats was a bit off. I'll reinstate you if you start writing again.

Chestnut Tree
Site taken down.

Kung Fu Monkey
Great title but content a little dull for my tastes. Nothing about Kung Fu, needless to say.

Wasting Words
A very charismatic and interesting site.I'm not sure what it's all about, though but I'm intrigued.

Nobody's Friend
Arty, cryptic and curiously engaging.

This latest sort-out leaves me with a net loss of one in my links. I'd like to keep numbers up if possible but so many of these weblogs fizzle. Or become dull or sometimes nasty. There are quite a few on my watch list but none are particularly compelling (I've just spent 30 minutes going through them). If anyone would like to nominate candidates for linkage please let me know.

Monday, August 06, 2007

Foot and Mouth

aw morrow
Historic landmark article by Mad Dog Senior.

This is a strange tale of the influences of nature and nurture on a career. It's a bit longer than my usual offering but bear with me.

When I was a lad I tried very hard to suppress any interest in biology. I didn’t study it in secondary school pretending it was too “girly” and immersed myself in physics and chemistry instead. My interest lay in aeronautical engineering and as a teenager I did indeed show some talent in this area. To this day I’m immensely proud of the plaque in my study that proclaims I was Woking & District Model Aero Club Junior Champion, 1965. I really thought I was destined for a career in this field and who knows, I may have been the best airframe designer that Boeing or Airbus never had. But somewhere along the way things changed. The reason for my denial of interest in matters biological was that my Father was a professional microbiologist. My earliest recollections were of stories he would relate of plagues and pestes and vaccines. Thus I picked up some very advanced knowledge of these topics by osmosis. Yet like most adolescents, I didn’t value these facts and denied any interest in this area simply because it was “what Dad did” and I didn’t want to seem terminally unimaginative and follow the same path.

Well somewhere along the way things changed. I became quite obsessively interested in biology while attending Guildford Tech and later went off to university where I decided to study microbiology –for reasons I can’t really explain the aeronautical stuff had become too abstract and mathematical and fell by the wayside. Subsequently (and rather to my surprise) I found that a PhD followed in which I immersed myself in immunology. One thing led to another in my postdoctoral career and I came to grips with various nasty pathogens as well as many facets of the immune system and it was quite a logical step for me to study vaccines. One particular aspect of this field is the use of adjuvants: substances that stimulate the immune system to make bigger and better responses. And as you may have guessed I ended up working on adjuvants for a one and a half decades and published quite a lot on the topic.

Fast forward to 1997. The London medical school at which I was then employed had finally got “The Internet” (several years after everyone else in the academic sphere had access to the virtual world –but that’s another story). Even in those pre-Google days I was marveling at the power of search engines. PubMed, the oracle of the medical publishing fraternity was a notable fascination. After I’d done the obligatory ego-surfing looking up my own name I cast around for other key words to search. So I plugged in my Father’s name and initials. At this stage I should point out that by this time Dear Dad was long departed. Sadly he passed away just as I was finishing my PhD two decades earlier thus depriving me of the possibility of having professional level conversations with him as a scientific equal. I had a vague idea of his work in a government animal health lab but I didn’t know what he actually did, thus looking up his publications on Medline would be very enlightening. We’ll I didn’t realise how enlightening this would be. As his publications popped onto the screen I almost fell off my chair. A paper from 1969 (see above) indicated that not only had I followed him into biology, microbiology, vaccines and adjuvants but he was using a class of the latter compounds (saponins) that I had made the focus of my own research. At the time of this occurrence I was of the view that the use of saponins as adjuvants was an invention of the 1980s* and I had never heard Dad speak of such things. In sum, believe this is a wonderfully example the power of genetic predisposition or aptitude and environmental conditioning working syngerstically to chart one’s career pathway through life, despite strong adolescent protestations.

Oh and the bigger picture of this story? Well the combined use of two different classes of adjuvant, namely alum and saponin, was a very advanced concept in 1969, even though Dad and Dr Hyslop didn’t know all the effects it would have on the immune system. However this alum-saponin mix is still the formulation used in some of the presently available Foot & Mouth Disease vaccines. So with the current outbreak in the UK, let’s not have the ridiculous governmental dithering we witnessed in 2001 and get going with “firebreak vaccination” and control this damn disease as soon as possible…!!

*As I later discovered there's nothing new under the sun: the use of saponins as vaccine adjuvants was first described in the 1920s.