mirrorshard: (Terrella)
[personal profile] mirrorshard
Bear with me while I brain-dump. Lots of things happened to blog.


Spent an extremely pleasant evening at the Royal Society's Summerscience event, in the delightful company of [livejournal.com profile] fjm, and of [livejournal.com profile] chilperic and [livejournal.com profile] ad_mediaevalist who sadly had to leave early. We learnt (in no particular order) about neutron microscopy, low-noise aircraft design, optical illusions, and Polar expeditions. We tried to learn about pressure chemistry, but were thwarted by an amusingly incompetent demonstrator (who used an experiment that a) didn't work the first time, b) wasn't very spectacular when it did, and c) bore no relation whatsoever to the subject). We discussed typewritten letters as works in progress, gender discrepancies between chimp-talking and neutron bomb research, and the incredible difficulties involved in disposing of charts showing the scale of the universe.1.

We played a game involving helping Tux the penguin slide on his stomach down a twisting slope and eat herrings. The novelty here was that you controlled him using a motion-sensor hooked over your right ear - I believe it kept track of position relative to base stations on the large screen. There was a certain amount of control lag involved, but it was hard to tell whether that was deliberate, software-based, or inherent in the (state of the) technology. The other game we played involved being the Last Piranha Standing (or rather swimming) as various other marine fauna attempted to eat them. [livejournal.com profile] fjm made an extremely good piranha, almost instantly deriving the winning strategy and getting us both some rather good chocolate.

We completely failed to recognise Quorn on the microscopic level (it really shouldn't have looked so un-fungoid) and were soon distracted by large chunks of metal claiming to be a CLEVER, or Compact Low-Emission Vehicle2, which looked as though a Sinclair C5 had unexpectedly come into season in the very welcome company of a Reliant Robin. It was an attempt to build a low-footprint urban transport vehicle, but to be honest it didn't look like a very good one. It would hold one passenger in moderate comfort, plus a second very small one in moderate discomfort and mild peril or a couple of bags of shopping. The interior acoustics were extremely mushy and claustrophobia-making, and to be honest I can't see it taking off.

The next room held blackboards commissioned from Eminent Scientific Personalities, done all at one time specifically to be displayed, which I feel is rather missing the point of a blackboard. After that, though, a demonstration of thermochromic paint proved much more interesting. They'd plumbed in an ordinary-looking bathroom sink, a plain-looking dark purple; the demonstrator turned the hot tap on and the area the water covered turned bright red almost instantaneously. It took about thirty seconds to begin fading back to purple, but apparently that's tunable, and this paint is very durable and can handle an arbitrary number of cycles. The second demonstration was also rather interesting, though raised some questions - she took a black tile and used a hairdryer on it, causing it to turn white, and explained that it was turning transparent to show the colour underneath. I have to wonder, given that, why they weren't demonstrating it on plate glass instead? That would really be a good application there. We'll no doubt find out eventually.

It was an interesting event, though we had to push a bit to get them to explain things at an adult level - everything seemed pitched at A-level students or even younger, and several of the universities there were clearly treating it as a recruitment exercise. Having two of us, with very different backgrounds, to talk to them at once helped and made it a lot more interesting for both of us.

Have also scored a small number of hippy pencils - I've only ever seen black or beige ones before, "made from one recycled plastic cup". These were a very nice blue (right the way through) and were "made from recycled CD cases". Clearly the hippy-pencil manufacturers are branching out.


Went over to the Museum in Docklands at lunchtime on Saturday, to hear Jerry White - author of London in the Nineteenth Century - talk about the relationship between Londoners and the police in those times. It was interesting, but not as much so as I'd hoped - he was reading almost verbatim from his notes, which were clearly lifted wholesale from the relevant chapter of his book, and not looking up much. The combination of neon-bright pink stripy shirt and shiny beige Prince of Wales check jacket was a bit distracting, and he talks like a museum display when he reads, but he livened up a lot when answering freeform questions at the end.

What he was talking about was as much the historiography of policing in London as the history - what's been written about them looking back, who did the writing, and so on. Their original aim was "the prevention of crime" (the phrasing says enough about that in itself), and his point was that they had pretty much done a lot of what they set out to, ie. reduced the crime rate drastically over time. One problem with that, though - which I had to ask him about - is that the only non-anecdotal figures for crime in London we've ever had have been those kept officially by the City & Metropolitan police. Another, which is more or less what we've always known, is that the only people expressing opinions in official contexts are the Respectable classes.

"Who stole the mutton?" refers to a policeman convicted of just that, stealing a leg of mutton from a pantry. Oddly, the police were being taunted with not just that, but with reference to other foodstuffs too - it moves to lobster, then to goose, over time.

There was quite a lot of demi-official3 sanction for sexual harassment, too. Prostitutes, anyone whom a policeman thought looked like a prostitute and couldn't prove otherwise, and domestic servants were quite likely in Trouble if his eye fell on them. The Haymarket sex industry - run by men, of course - practically owned the detective branch for a long time.

The audience were pretty good, though some did spend rather more time than necessary drawing parallels between then and now - White answered one with "In my judgement, corruption's lower now than it ever has been before. However much that was."


Last night, [livejournal.com profile] redcountess and I went to [livejournal.com profile] spikeylady and [livejournal.com profile] ciphergoth's housewarming party. Good time, nice people, tasty cake, v. nice flat, &c. A prime sample of London night life occurred on the way home, as the night bus driver grounded it on the outskirts of Leyton to call police on someone who'd cut up at him, and we decided to hop off and pay a visit to the nearby chip shop rather than sitting there waiting-and-waiting. Got slightly lost walking to the next bus stop along (or back, probably) but it did mean we saw some very nice ecclesiastical architecture whilst eating free chips. (Somehow, they forgot to charge us for those, just the chicken. We figured we deserved some karma.)

At the next bus stop, we managed to pay off said karma by finding a woman asleep-unconscious-or on the pavement, no obvious trauma, no bags, not dressed for sleeping rough, in a reasonable approximation of recovery position with no pools of vomit or bottles of cheap booze. I checked for ABC (all there) while [livejournal.com profile] redcountess called 999, who sent a paramedic over promptly. Turns out she was unharmed and vocally uncooperative, and in fact once the paramedic'd had a good look at her he recognised her - apparently she does this all the time - but there could've been something seriously wrong. So we got home fairly late, but in a succession of good causes.


On a trip to Camden last weekend, I succumbed and acquired a new coat. Matte-finish black leather greatcoat, one rear split, calf-length, shoulder cape, entirely immune to rain, practically Regency style, fits perfectly, and was heavily discounted since the shop was closing down. One good thing about the recent unpredictable rainstorms - even though ours are relatively light in comparison to most of the country - is that I get to wear it in without looking like a complete idiot. Only as much of one as normal.

Today, sneezing a lot and not doing much except sleep-deprived snuggling with herself. Domesticity is good, especially with cats around. Will probably not manage to get to the pub - is nice, but all my people-needs got taken care of last night and the rest is optional.



1. I want to be able to use the phrase 'of Creation' there. It sounds much nicer. But people might mistake me for some sort of anti-science idiot.
2. No, I don't know where the R came from either. Sorry.
3. A Kipling term. Something that could only occur in an English system.

Date: 2007-07-09 02:24 pm (UTC)
ext_3375: Banded Tussock (Default)
From: [identity profile] hairyears.livejournal.com


Wish I could've gone, but I spent Saturay hitting a Scotsman with a Very Large Lump of Wood.

Meanwhile, the intellectual level of the 'pitch' by the Royal Society is rather worrying. Are there no educated laymen out there? Or even 'in here', an event which was surely aimed at them... I fear that even the Royal Society have fallen into the intellectual dead-end of the BBC*, who regard 'Science' as something dull-but-worthy which must be presented in a fun way for children as part of the childhood education experience.

On other topics, is Jerry White presenting this material anywhere else in the near future?


* The Beeb have no concept of an educated adult in any endeavour outside politics, and being themselves dull and uneducated, are unable and unwilling to see that scientific subjects are interesting in and of themselves. David Attemborough being the honourable exception, but he has the clout to overrule just about everybody in the organisation. If you disagree, ask yourself: when's the last time you saw any scientific programme that you considered new, or 'challenging' in any sense other than the polemic?



Date: 2007-07-09 03:08 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile] mirrorshard.livejournal.com
I'm sure there are educated laymen, but I'm also wondering whether this was a deliberate decision to pitch to A-level students in the hope of attracting undergraduates. There certainly wasn't any literature aimed at potential mature students, whereas I'm looking at a giveaway poster with 'undergraduate info' splashed across the bottom as I type.

Encouragingly, most of the crowd there with us were adults rather than teenagers - with the caveat that it was an evening session, ie. after work.

I cannot disagree with your assertion regarding the BBC, since I never see television programmes - my experience of their written news article does bear that out, though.

This was part of an OU open day, so I have no idea whether he'll be elsewhere, I'm afraid. I strongly encourage you to read the book though - it's the same one I was reading at the pub the other week. I'd happily lend it to you, in about *checks* 80 pages' time. Sadly, I didn't think to take it along and get it signed.

Date: 2007-07-10 04:49 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile] keira-online.livejournal.com
As its part of an OU open day, it will be aimed at people who've only got as far as A-Levels (regardless of their actual age).

Date: 2007-07-10 04:56 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile] mirrorshard.livejournal.com
Ah, sorry for the confusion - I meant that Jerry White's lecture was part of an OU open day, and that it was a separate event to the Royal Society one, which was what I'd originally been grumbling about as being pitched too low.

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