Eine Kleine Nichtmusik

Witty and pertinent observations on matters of great significance OR Incoherent jottings on total irrelevancies OR Something else altogether OR All of the above

Thursday, September 19, 2013

Q: Why is it a capella? A: Because theoretical physicists don't use scientific instruments.

I simply had to share this. Tom Lehrer wrote some of the funniest songs ever while working as a maths professor. Charles Ives was an insurance salesman, Rimsky-Korsakov a naval officer, and Bruce Dickinson flies passenger jets when not fronting Iron Maiden. But this is the first time (AFAIK) that a quantum physicist has written and performed a version of Bohemian Rhapsody with lyrics illustrating a theory of quantum gravity.

Not only that - it rocks. Seriously - give it a listen.



For more information see here

Tuesday, September 17, 2013

Loh Kup Your Daughters

...or in general your Taoists.

I spent Saturday and Sunday (around twelve hours each including meal breaks) taking part in a Lok Hup Ba Fa workshop at the Edinburgh centre of the Taoist Tai Chi Society. Loh Hup is an alternative form of Tai Chi, with 60 moves instead of the 108 in the normal set (though it seems to take about the same length of time to do a set.) The moves seem to my mind to flow more naturally into one another, and I have to say I enjoyed it immensely. The workshop is continuing, though as I have to work tomorrow (today is a local holiday) I just booked for the weekend. I got to meet all kinds of people from different parts of the world (when we were practising some more normal Tai Chi I was working with an instructor from Slovakia, and I was chatting a lot to American, Canadian and Polish students. About half the class were instructors (which made the class a good learning experience for me), though they weren't necessarily proficient in Lok Hup, for which there are very few accredited instructors.

The course leader was Chris (I didn't catch his surname) from Toronto, where he was taught by Master Moy himself. Chris had a nice laid-back style and was very good at demonstrating the moves without the need for words. He also hit on the excellent idea of getting one of the other very experienced instructors on the course (a diminutive Spanish lady named Carmen) to demonstrate the moves instead of always doing it himself. An excellent idea, not only because it always raised a laugh when he called on the long-suffering Carmen to come and demonstrate something, but because their styles were rather different. For example, in one move (which might me well described as "Wine Waiter Carries Tray In Rough Sea") i found it much easier to work out when to transfer my weight from one foot to the other by watching Carmen than by watching Chris, who seemed to float with no weight at all.

In the two days we made it through twenty moves, which is to say up to about 3:12 on this video clip. How much I'll remember next time I come to do it, we'll see.

Friday, September 13, 2013

I love the expression "a ten-storey weirdo"

Sometimes things that appear to be highly local humour actually travel pretty well. I can certainly imagine a version of this that would work for, say, Glasgow or Aberdeenshire, and I have no doubt there are parts of Texas and so on that could take the same treatment.

Any fans of the cyclist Mark Cavendish (winner of many TdF stages and former World Champion sprinter) will be familiar with the accent here. Oh and the TT is the annual motorbike race for which the IoM is pretty much shut for half of June.

Thursday, September 12, 2013

The unspeakable in ass-licking pursuit of the unelectable

Of course, if we are remembering the military coup in Chile and its supporters in the United States Government (“I don’t see why we need to stand by and watch a country go communist because of the irresponsibility of its own people” — Henry Kissinger) it would be remiss of me not to mention three present-day members of the US House of Representatives who made a special trip to Egypt to praise the military dictator there, comparing him to George Washington and Thomas Jefferson (presumably on account of those gentlemen's little-known propensity for massacring unarmed pro-democracy protesters, banning opposition political parties and arresting "leftists") and blaming the September 11th attacks not on al-Qaeda but on the Muslim Brotherhood. Stand up, brave supporters of tyranny and implacable foes of democratic governments around the world, Representatives Michelle Bachmann, Steve King and Louie Gohmert. One has to ask though - will this adoration for General Sisi's jackboots be translated into an overwhelming desire to remain in Egypt rather than returning to the United States they so despise?

On this day.....

.....in 1297, the battle of Stirling Bridge was fought in the 'First War of Scottish Independence'. William Wallace and Andrew Moray defeated the English near Stirling.

Also on this day, Sept 11th 1997, the Scottish devolution referendum was held in which the Scottish people supported the restoration of the Scottish Parliament.

It's conventional to remind people of the overthrow of the elected government in Chile by a US-backed military coup on September 11th 1973 - but let's not forget the happier anniversaries too.

Wednesday, September 11, 2013

Fun, fun, fun

I'm just about to replace my car. Not the big family vehicle which is in Hilary's name, but the little runabout which these days gets used allmost as much by the kids (and Ruairidh's drum kit) as by me. I have reserved one of these beauties:

as I got an excellent deal on it. I shall be selling my existing car to my daughter, who has been wanting her own wheels for a while now. The logistics of picking the car up are slightly complex, so it will probably be just over a week before I get my hands on The Vehicle To Be Known In The Saunders Family as Connie.

I'd decided to buy Connie before I realised that its distinctive styling had been arrived at by way of Facebook crowdsourcing. But not before I made a trip out to the showroom with my son's bass drum to make sure it would fit in through the hatch (it does, just).

Having only ever owned two cars (one very briefly between inheriting it and selling it) which weren't Citroens, it will be rater comforting to return to their somewhat quirky fold. None more quirky than this hymn to minimalism, of which I still have very fond memories despite its being the only car in which I regularly had to spray de-icing fluid onto the inside of the windscreen on winter mornings (no fan in a 2CV).

It's not "creeping sharia" that Newham needs to worry about, it's creeping creeps from the murder industry and their attendant atrocity whores

I don't often feel ashamed to be British, but just occasionally there is a story on the news that makes me feel that way. This one, for example. Not so much because of the greed of Britain's grotesquely taxpayer-subsidised mass murder industry, nor even for the sycophantic drivelling of our Defence Secretary (just one of many MPs desperate for corporate kickbacks in exchange for all that public subsidy of an otherwise uncompetitive industry). No, what really made me feel sick was the hangers-on; the ghouls; the creepy profiteers from the vile after-effects of the murder trade.

Close to stands showing off modern lethal weapons is the medical and disaster relief zone. "They do the damage, then they come to us for help" is the refrain among exhibitors there.

Exhibitors include Amputees In Action, which advises and helps to train British troops. They act as a consultancy for emergency services as well the armed forces, and also provide amputee actors and stunt artists for the film and television industries. AIA proudly describes itself as the BBC's "preferred agent".


These guys may like to portray themselves as humanitarian operations, but they would be devastated if there were no more wars to provide them with their profits. In a way they're even worse than the weapon makers, who get their money even if nobody is hurt by their products. These at-arm's-length creeps only make their billions after people have been killed or maimed.

A knight in DPM armour

Hilary and I were fascinated this week by the story of Jason Thomas, the retired US Marine who grabbed his uniform and ran to help the victims of the World Trade Center attacks, saved two people who would otherwise certainly have died, and then vanished before anyone found out who he was. we heard about his from this TV programme.

I suppose it's inevitable that when US Marines make the news over here it's usually because of something they've done wrong, whether it's pissing on the dead bodies of enemy soldiers in Afghanistan or massacring civilians in Iraq. After all, we have our own Royal Marines if we want stories of heroism. So it's good to see a US Marine getting recognition for doing what they (mostly) do, and for doing it quietly. Semper Fidelis, indeed.

Lest we forget

Now usually on 11/9 (get real, people, 9/11 is in November) I like to remind my readers that not all the victims were in New York. But then I read this story, and felt the focus this year should swing back to Manhattan.

As long as there are creeps like Pamela Geller and Debbie Schlussel trying to pretend that the only Muslims who died in the attacks twelve years ago were the perpetrators, we will be hearing stories like Ms Hamdani's.

So - let's hear it for the Muslim victims of the September 11th terrorist attacks.

Wednesday, September 04, 2013

And also these.

Of course, if we allow less commercial songs (the previous bunch were all major hits) then songs like these come into the equation. Not that they'd necessarily win, but still.....




Every One's A Winner

No apologies for posting this. Not sure precisely what brought it to mind, but it's my favourite Sinatra recording (the arrangement alone lifts it to a whole other level) and a strong contender for a podium place in any list of Rob's favourite popular songs.



Of course, also on the podium would be this.



And this.



Those three might just about edge out this one, valiantly trying to keep up.



And even (whisper it) this one. Though this definitely gets the jersey for most imaginative tempo control, as well as being the highest placed British entry.

Shoulders to the wheel, noses to the grindstone

(Cartoon by Ronald Searle)

Well, term is well and truly under way back at Edinburgh College, and the somewhat convoluted administration grinds its way through the student admissions and enrolments. Meanwhile, my timetable is growing again: having shhrunk from its nominal fifteen hours per week (which with preparation time is about two-thirds of full time) to a more slender twelve, it's now back up at fourteen and likely to go up to sixteen. Much of the new work is not in IT teaching but in other "Core Skills" areas, to wit Numeracy (maths) and Communcation (English). Which is great, not just because it gets me more work but because it gets me more variety. Last year I was teaching seven different IT course, whike this year I'm teaching one (at two slightly different levels), so having two new courses (indeed two new subject areas) to contend with is a challenge I'm really looking forward to (with, of course, plenty of help from those already involved in teaching those subjects).

My students range in age from fifteen to sixty, in nationality from Argentinian to Icelandic, in personality from shy to voluble. Their abilities and confidence levels vary widely as well, which should help to keep things interesting.

It all goes to demonstrate the unpredictability of life. A year ago the thought of a teaching career, even in IT let alone in maths and English, wasn't something I was considering at all. But there we are. As Yogi Berra once said (although it's been attributed to Niels Bohr, Albert Einstein and many others) "It's hard to make predictions, especially about the future."

My students don't look like these ones - though it's certainly been a long time (38 years) since I had a teenage life..... Always liked the song though.