Tuesday, December 30, 2008


The site seems to be getting a lot of hits from Hungary in the last week so to all you Magyars out there: Boldog új évet kívánok!

Oh and here's some Freddie with Dr Brian and the boys:

Thursday, December 25, 2008

Merry Christmas!


Merry Christmas Everybody!

Stay warm, don't eat too much and travel safely.

Wednesday, December 24, 2008

Driving in Snow: Rules and Recommendations

Snowed Road
A downhill ski piste otherwise known as a snow covered road in the Seattle Metro district

I'm at a total loss to explain what happens to the brains of drivers in Washington State when it snows even a little. Somehow their grey matter turns to slush or some other gloop that is incapable of cognitive function. Overall the collective IQ seems to drop by 50 points or more at the hint of a snowflake. In the past week we've had a considerable snow fall in this region and driving has been challenging, to put it mildly. Now even making allowances for inexperience and nervousness, some of the antics I've observed over the past few days have been inexcusable. So here are my top 10 recommendations for getting around in an automobile in winter conditions (some of these have been derived from experience and empirical experimentation driving like an idiot when 18 years old):

1. Keep your foot off the brakes if the car starts to slide: use the cadence braking technique -hit the pedal with a series of short taps
2. Remember that if you have a 4 x4/AWD vehicle it does not mean you are automatically glued to the road
3. Don’t drive too fast (especially you AWD people!)
4. Don’t drive too slowly -overly timid driving not only causes other drivers to be frustrated but you might be impeding a vehicle that is desperate not to lose momentum climbing an incline in front
5. Do not tailgate: you need 4-5 times the stopping distance of dry conditions
6. Turn traction control off, sometimes you need a little wheelspin to get going
7. Keep your foot off the brakes if the car starts to slide
8. Use the handbrake, (don’t try this with those worthless, foot-operated “parking brakes”) to slow your approach to a junction: this will scrub off speed without risking locking the front wheels: only do this when the front wheels of the car are pointed straight ahead
9. Don’t assume because you have right of way at a junction or a traffic light that you should proceed blindly ahead -this is a good way to get T boned by somebody in a slide or with locked brakes
10. Keep your foot off the brakes if the car starts to slide –did I mention this before?

P.S. Note to pedestrians, cross-country skiers, snow shoers, toboganners, snowman assemblers, carol singers, assorted wassailers, reindeer and jolly fat men in red tunics: don't bloody well amble down the centre of the road because I may not be able to stop even if I'm using the above techniques!

Tuesday, December 23, 2008

Nightmare Before Christmas

Nightmare Before Christmas
I hate it when this happens...!

Having fought ice and snow all the way through France last week I returned to Seattle to find I'm having to do the same thing here. And as a Christmas bonus I woke up to discover this 15' long branch on my car. Annoyingly it left an egg-sized indentation in the roof. Nothing for it but to pour myself a cognac, throw another log on the fire and fill out the insurance claim. Ho, ho, ho...!

Monday, December 15, 2008

That Time of Year Again

Bill's cat Henry, here seen in energy conservation mode, helps with the route planning

It's that time of year again, and I don't mean Christmas. Ten days before the start of the festive season is typically when Bill and I take a "peek at the peaks" otherwise known as a recon for February's Monte Carlo Historic. I'm writing this post from darkest Ardeche and all I can say is that the 2009 event looks like it's going to be the most testing rally ever. I'll give a full report when I'm back in country later this week.

Sunday, November 30, 2008

Seattle Marathon

Olivia and Dad 11/30/2008
Olivia and proud Dad at the end of the Seattle Marathon

Congratulations to offspring, Olivia, who today completed the Seattle Marathon in a sub-four hour time with very little training. A great result at only her second attempt. Next stop Boston. Below is short a video clip of her crossing the finish line (note to self -it's better to use a real video camera and you need to learn how to edit in iMovie).

Monday, November 24, 2008

Here We Go Again

Monte Carlo Historique 12th

In what is truly a triumph of insanity over reason, I've once entered the Monte Carlo Historique rally. Bill (Richards) and I have a strong feeling of unfinished business with this event and I think we are destined to keep attacking it until (i) we achieve a good final classification (i.e. 1st, 2nd or 3rd in class) or (ii) demolish all the bridges, mountain walls and other "street furniture" on the way to Monaco. And then maybe we'll hang our our driving gloves. Maybe. Now we've got to work like crazy to do a recon, make pace notes, get the car ready etc. As you might expect, I'll keep you posted.

Saturday, November 15, 2008

Another Tidy Up

I've just had another cull of dead hypertext links. It's amazing how many regular bloggers stall or give up. So it's goodbye to the following:

Arse Poetica –stopped blogging in June

Axis of Evel Knievel -stopped blogging in July

Blunt Cogs –stopped blogging in April

Dai Kyo Soku Kei –blog cut off ages ago

Disgruntled Chemist –stopped blogging in June

Queen of Sky has morphed into Queen of Screen (this new link is now up)

Shite Drivers –not the same since Niall stopped running the site

SAMOA –guys you don’t seem to be interested in Minis in motorsport

SCHPAA –looks so 2001 and no longer funny

Tabula Rasa –a shame about this one as Little Cricket was a blogger I’d actually met and was a regular contributor to the comments section at MD&E

Twenty Major -scatological Irish blogger will be much missed

Ubiqitous (sic) -Sarah has become Zero Point Perspective (cool name)

A few other links to sports clubs have also gone. I will re-instate any of the above if they start to post again.

P.S.  On the plus side, Dr Jim has a new blog, Time to Waste. I've added it to the sidebar (under "Science and Scientists" and it's well worth a visit.

Friday, November 14, 2008

Mitch Mitchell: RIP

Hard to believe that Mitch Mitchell, the last surviving member of the Jimi Hendrix Experience, sloughed the mortal coil earlier this week at the tender age of 61. He followed his compatriots, Noel Redding (2003, age 57) and of course Jimi himself who famously departed with a bad case of the rock musician's plague, vomit inhalation, back in 1970 when he was a mere 27 years old. A trio of fabulous musicians all gone and all too young. I've been playing "Hey Joe", "All Along the Watchtower" and other favourites a lot over the past few days and really should visit JH's graveside as it's only a few miles from where I live. At least these guys left a fabulous legacy at which we can only marvel. Here's a clip:

Friday, November 07, 2008

Friday Music Blogging: Humble Pie

We haven't done one of these music nostalgia thingys for awhile so here's a classic. Humble Pie were the epitome of the sex-drugs-and-rock'n'roll movement. Back in 1971 we booked them at Cardiff University for a Rag Week concert back. Onstage they were fantastic; backstage Stevie Marriott et al. were fixated on groupies, chemical substances, alcohol and heavy partying. Yob Rock at its finest. And despite my designation as official event photographer I was still knocked off stage by a monstrous roadie while clutching my precious Zenith E SLR (note to self: where did I put those negatives?). Great stuff, indeed!

Tuesday, October 28, 2008

Dave Chambers and Afroblue

Stapleton Hall Tavern
The Stapleton Hall Tavern (now renamed the Larrik), Finsbury Park, London*

Back in the early 1980s when I was a young postdoc, I lived in Finsbury Park, North London, where I owned a small flat. Those were fun, optimistic days and one of my favourite hangouts was the Stapleton Hall Tavern at the foot of Crouch Hill. The pub was slightly rough and I was witness to several brawls: reputedly it was frequented by the North London Mob (I wouldn't be surprised) and apparently Bob Hoskins was a customer in his pre-Hollywood days. What was for sure was the place had great live music. Better still it was free. I saw all kinds of jazz and rock bands including an early iteration of Iron Maiden. My favourite group by far was a jazz combo: Dave Chambers and The OK Band. Frontman, Dave, on saxophones and flute played a kind of electric version of classic jazz that I found very exciting. The pub's clientele seemed to agree as they were invariably bopping up and down by the end of the evening and calling for encore after encore. At one point I sidled up to Mr. Chambers and asked if he gave lessons (my bucket list includes playing flute in my own jazz band). He said he did and for ages I carried his address and phone number in my wallet. But I never did take Dave up on his offer. I moved to San Francisco and became deeply immersed in career, fatherhood and other such distractions. Memories of Finsbury Park faded.

Fast forward 25+ years. I was fiddling around on the internet and came across a photo of the Stapleton Hall Tavern. I poked around a bit further and discovered that Dave Chambers is very much alive and kicking and has a new band, Afroblue. He also has an excellent CD which he sent personally following an email. Cheers, Dave, you're a gentleman. And you're still making great music after all these years (please don't just take my word for it -go here and check out Bahula's Benfit for wonderfully joyous song)!

Dave Chambers (second from left) and Afroblue

* Photo courtesy Ewan Munro.

Monday, October 27, 2008

OK By Me!

Last week I had occasion to be Tucson, Arizona. Now for those of you not resident in the US, I should point out that this area used to be frontier territory and in many ways still is. Devotees of this site will have noted my fascination with the Wild West and I was fortunate to have sufficient time (thanks, Ram) to visit the legendary town of Tombstone, site of the OK Corral and its infamous gunfight as well as Boot Hill cemetery. Tombstone today is something of a western theme park with many of the locals still dressing the part and going around tooled up like John Wayne. All in all the visit was fairly harmless fun: here's a few pictures for your perusal:

The site of the gunfight, 127 years ago

The outcome was brutal with only Wyatt Earp escaping unscathed

Pistol Pete
This gentleman was making a point!

MD needs boots, hat and a gunbelt to avoid looking like a tourist

Bullet hole
This really is the wild west: this truck has a real, large calibre, bullet hole in its door and you will note that the bullet has been fired from inside. Heaven only knows what constitutes entertainment out here...

Cactus at sunset
The saguaro cactus is Arizona's signature desert plant and has a very striking profile, particularly at sunset

Saturday, October 25, 2008

Leaving this Town

Scott's Sufferance Wharf (right side), St. Saviour's Dock, London, SE1

Hard to believe that it's seven years to the day since I left my cozy flat in London's docklands (above) and a nice secure academic job to return to the USA. My motivation for a second stint (the first was 1982-1992) in America was a complex mix of personal and professional reasons. Chapter Two in the US has been very different from the first and I may elaborate at some point. Some of the issues I intended to address back in 2001 have now been resolved but for others it's still a matter of "work in progress". In any case the past seven years have been an interesting ride and demonstrated to me that we are always on life's learning curve. My entire career seems to have progressed in units of either five or ten years and I'm tempted to speculate what will happen when I've reached the end of this current decade in c2011/2012. But then maybe that's premature...?

Wednesday, October 22, 2008


Crotchet, ??-22nd October 2008: RIP

Mad Dogs
Oenological cat

Crotchet by fireside
Fireside cat

Crotchet on sofa
Musical cat

Crotchet under Christmas Tree
Christmas cat with best friend, Minim

Comfy Cat
Comfy cat

Friday, October 17, 2008

Travels in Zanzibar, Part IV: Diving

A particular highspot on my jaunt to Zanzibar was learning to SCUBA dive and I'm very proud of the fact that I'm now a PADI-certified Open Water Diver. Diving has been a fascination since my early childhood when I used to beg to stay up late to watch Lloyd Bridges in Seahunt. But for any number of reasons I'd never got around to trying it in my youth. Cold water was always a deterrent and also a fear of Kraken and other such monsters of the deep. But in the 28°C crystal clear waters of the Indian Ocean it was impossible to find an excuse. The photos here are from my final dive: investigating the wreck of a British cable laying ship, the Great Northern, that went down off Stonetown on New Year's eve, 1902. The remains of the ship have formed a magnificent artificial reef and it's a popular site for diving expeditions. Thanks to divemaster, Yannis, for some of the pics.

MD geared up: the equipment is heavy and in addition I carried 8Kg of lead weights to achieve negative buoyancy

Going down...

Continuing the descent -note left hand on the buoyancy control button

The hull of the Great Northern appears

The shipwreck has formed an artificial reef

Unknown creature
"Name the creature" competition. I've no idea what it is but it's very well camouflaged. Any ideas, Chuck...?

Iron ship parts and debris was everywhere

Follow the leader
Our dive party plays follow the leader through the wreckage

Pipe fish
Pipe fish

Party fish
Party fish

Thursday, October 16, 2008

Travels in Zanzibar, Part III: Dolphins

This clip is self-explanatory and was one of several sightings of these fascinating creatures. At first I thought the dorsal fin was a shark but the playful and friendly behaviour announced "dolphins". Sometimes the animals engaged in spectacular and downright showoff antics such as barrel rolls off the bow of the boat (unfortunately I was too amazed to get these tricks on camera). Apologies for the shaky quality of the clip but there is only so much you can do with a little point and shoot camera designed for still photography.

Wednesday, October 15, 2008

Travels in Zanzibar, Part II: Nungwi

After a few days in the heat of Stonetown I travelled to the northernmost tip of the island and stayted in Nungwi, a small fishing village. Here are some images:

Dhow on shore
Fishing dhow of the coast at Nungwi

Dhow fleet
The Dhow fleet sails out in the late afternoon:I counted more than 60 sails on the horizon

Blue water, white sand
Off Mnemba atoll: have you ever seen whiter sand or bluer water?

Back on shore vegetation is lush


I did get some time for reading but Ulysses still defeats me!

Sunset at Nungwi

Actually there's nothing like sunsets in Zanzibar so here's another shot

Sunday, October 12, 2008

Travels in Zanzibar, Part I: Stonetown

A picture may be worth a thousand words and photoblogging is considerably easier than writing so here's the first episode of my Zanzibar adventure. Stonetown is the capital of Zanzibar and has a special charm. Its muddled warren of narrow streets have been designated a World Heritage site and Freddie Mercury was born here. Take a look around:

Stonetown port II
Stonetown Port

Sultans palace
The Sultan's Palace: the cannon weren't much use against a British naval bombardment in 1896 which has become known as the "40 minute war"

Stonetown roofscape: the towers in the background are a Catholic cathedral -several major religions are represented here
Roofscape: the towers in the background are a Catholic cathedral: several major religions are represented here.

Roofscape 2
African, Indian and Arabic influences are evident throughout the city.

Colonial doorway: to this day Zanzibaris are amazing carvers, carpenters and woodcraftsmen

Livingstone plaque
Dr Livingstone, I presume?

Stonetown prison

Barack Obama enjoys tremendous popularity here; I didn't see any stickers for Sarah Palin, though.

Wednesday, October 08, 2008

Crowning Glory

Yesterday, for my sins, I had a dental crown fitted. I feel quite grateful that despite being brought up in the era of no water fluoridation and crap NHS dentistry (i.e. the UK in the 60s and 70s) I've attained a relatively advanced age without the need for these things. While I've always sought out progressive dentists I was still surprised to be offered a choice of movies (from a menu of 400+) while I prepared for my two hours of drilling and filling (but discovered subsequently that I was at the practice of "Seattle's Best Dentist"). My first request to the young but highly competent assistant was for Marathon Man (see above clip). Unfortunately it wasn't in their library and furthermore the young thing had no clue what I was talking about. My first reaction was that she didn't understand my twisted sense of humour but to be fair she was certainly born well after Dustin Hoffman, Laurence Olivier and Roy Scheider were chewing the scenery off the walls in this flick. In the end I settled for The Maltese Falcon. At the time I didn't realise what a great choice this was: I'd completely forgotten about lines from Bogie such as "...talk like that can get a guy's teeth knocked out...". Classic stuff but let me assure you that when you have a head full of anaesthetic, a rubber dam in your mouth and the ultrasonic drill is screaming away, script of this nature can easily give you an attack of the giggles. My dentist didn't get it until much later when I had the bloody dam out of my mouth and could explain. Anyway in the course of my fun filled two hours I started to think of other films that would be appropriate for viewing while in the dentist's chair. Here's my list:
  1. Marathon Man
  2. Thomas Crown Affair
  3. Jaws
  4. Drillbit Taylor
  5. Mona Lisa Smile
  6. Jewel in the Crown
  7. Raw Nerve
  8. Any James Bond(ed) -geddit?
  9. Novocaine (yes, there really is a flick with this title)
  10. Decay (as for #9)
I'm sure there must be more as I compiled this list while in the chair and not exactly compus mentus. Please let me know you're suggestions...

Tuesday, October 07, 2008

Rapacious Bastards

Bock sums up the current global financial crisis and the contribution to it by weery greedy bankers perfectly. $300 million in compensation over a mere 8 years for doing nothing more than screwing up and decimating the savings and pensions of countless individuals?  And then wanting a bonus out of the government bailout?  Anybody in the financial sector heard of Performance Related pay? Enough is enough  -time to bring back the stocks.

A Nobel Cause


Prof. Luc Montagnier, Nobel Laureate, 2008
(photo taken from Wikipedia and used under a creative commons licence -original photo from Proline)

The announcement that Luc Montagnier and Françoise Barré-Sinoussi (for the discovery of HIV) along with Harald zur Hausen (for linking HPV with cervical cancer) have won the 2008 Nobel Prize in Medicine is long overdue. At the risk of name dropping, Prof. Montagnier is one of half a dozen Nobel Laureates I have actually met although I suspect if we bumped into each other today he would say either "Qui sont vous, mate?" or "Vous êtes le bloke qui nearly ruined my lecture at UCSF in 1986 when you knocked over the projector: quel plonker!". Perhaps what is more significant about this year's award is who didn't get the prize. I've already seen predictable carping to this effect. All I can say is that bullying and misconduct should never be rewarded. Those in the biosciences will know who I mean; to lay readers please forgive me but I'm withholding names to protect me from the lawyers of the guilty!

Monday, September 29, 2008

Back in the USA

MD looking more crazed than usual

Despite the best efforts of Kenya Airlines (remember you get what you pay for) I'm now safely back in Seattle having survived all manner nasties over the past three weeks.

Essays on the subject of "What I did on my Holidays" will be forthcoming over the next few days when I get over the jetlag.

Saturday, September 13, 2008

On Me Hols

Now I really am On the Road to Zanzibar. Yay!

In the unlikely that my accommodations have wireless internet, blogging will be non existent for the next two weeks. Fingers crossed I don't get Dengue Fever, Malaria or some other tropical nasty. And that the jellyfish and Kraken leave me alone.

Back in two weeks...

14th September 1918

The late Major A.W. Morrow, MA, Royal Army Medical Corps with Mad Pup, c1951
This is an early post as tomorrow I'll be on the road (or in the air) but I couldn't let this milestone go by without comment. September 14 is my late Father's birthday. He would have been 90. It's hard to believe that so many years have gone by without him. He was a gentleman, scholar, athlete, scientist and warrior. He had the patience of Job and the highest standards of integrity. Truly a lovely man and great role model. Happy Birthday, Dad, -I miss you and think of you everyday.

Friday, September 12, 2008

Snake Oil Salesman

Royal Holloway College
Royal Holloway College, University of London

I'm currently attending a conference here. It's one of the most astonishingly gorgeous Victorian buildings I know. The university knows it too and apparently the local fire brigade are retained primarily to protect the place. It was built by this man:

Thomas Holloway
Thomas Holloway, 1800-1883

Thomas Holloway was a philanthropist and made his money in advertising, an industry in which he was a pioneer. He also made a pile by selling medications, notably this "general purpose ointment":

General purpose ointment
Holloway's General Purpose Ointment

Modern analysis of Holloway's medications have revealed that they contained no known efficacious ingredients. So there we have the secret to success in the pharmaceutical industry: identify a marginally effective (if at all) medicine and hype its properties to death through weasel advertising. I'm sure Mr Holloway must be laughing in his grave in the knowledge that nothing has changed since his era. But thanks for the building...