November 30, 2012

The University of Mo-chester, UK: Scientific Movember Team

Movember is now in its tenth year but like many men, I’ve resisted the urge to grow a Mo because of

  1. an inability to grow a decent moustache
  2. a reluctance to look like a p0rn star / seventies pervert / gay cowboy [delete as appropriate]
  3. a fear of scaring off potential collaborators, customers, undergraduates, postgraduates, friends etc
  4. a long history of fine facial foliage from Errol Flynn to Tom Selleck, Henry Wellcome to Freddie Mercury, Charlie Chaplin to Lemmy from Motörhead. How can you compete with distinguished facial hair like that?

Then I looked around me and thought, what the heck,  that’s not stopping anyone else. So with a few colleagues we got together and created the University of Mo-chester, CSMCR team. So far we’ve raised over £1000 for prostate and testicular cancer and you can still sponsor us. There’s a group photo of us below – you can’t actually see my moustache in that picture because it is blonde. Honest guv’.

csmcr mobros

CSMCR Mo Bros, from left to right: Bijan Parsia, Sean Bechhofer, Alan Stokes, Nicolas Matentzoglu, Dimitri Tsarkov, Kristian Garza (cheating with a beard!), Matthew Makin, Simon Harper, Jim Miles, Yours Truly, Michele Filannino and Toby Howard.

There’s an interesting back story to Movember, told here by its Aussie founder, Adam Garone:

Movember isn’t just about raising money, it’s about raising awareness too. If you’re a bloke, have you felt your balls lately, for testicular cancer (obviously)? Do you know about prostate cancer? With a few caveats [1], Movember is having a generally positive effect on human health [2] – and its a lot of fun too!


  1. McCartney, M. (2012). Is Movember misleading men? BMJ, 345 DOI: 10.1136/bmj.e8046
  2. Jeffcott, M., Cagiannos, I., & Zorn, K. (2012). Movember update: The Canadian perspective Canadian Urological Association Journal, 6 (3) DOI: 10.5489/cuaj.12037

July 27, 2012

Olympic Science: The Long Jump to Conclusions

Snohomish Long Jumper by Philo Nordlund

Long jumper for Snohomish. Creative Commons licensed picture by by Philo Nordlund on Flickr

If Science were an Olympic sport, which events would scientists excel at?

During the Beijing Olympics in 2008, I wondered what Olympic activities scientists would be good at, with a list of events. This satirical post was kindly re-published [1] by the learned American Physical Society (thanks guys!) in their newsletter, though some of the proposed events look a little dated now.

Doesn’t time fly? Here we are four years later and London 2012 is already upon us. The Boris Johnson Olympic Stadium is finally complete. Oscar winner Danny Boyle has the eagerly anticipated opening ceremony all planned out. Sculptor Anish Kapoor’s spectacular Orbit Olympic observation tower looks out over the Olympic Park. Teams of athletes from all over the world have gathered in the capital to see how years of training will pay off.

Meanwhile Team Science [2] also play their part in supporting the Olympics, through sports science, drug testing and other services. Some are sparring for their bouts of impact factor boxing but may need a soothing ego massage afterwards to recover from the particularly painful peer-reviewed punches. Others are limbering up for the long jump to conclusions an event at which some scientists (and many policitians) are strong medal contenders. There are lots of other events proposed for the future too, some of them quite controversial [3,4,5], they might need genetically enhanced security guards, with superhuman abilities (sponsored by G4S)?

Readers of this blog will probably have much better ideas than the rather ropey suggestions I cobbled together. If that’s you, please post them below in the comments section or tweet them with the hashtag #OlympicScience.

Scientists and athletes have much in common, many are naturally obsessed [6] with their eyes firmly fixed on the prize and will often bend the rules to win Gold [7]. So wherever you are, whichever prizes you admire, enjoy the superb sporting spectacle that is the London 2012 Summer Olympics.


  1. Yours Truly (2008). If Science Were an Olympic Sport Zero Gravity: The Lighter Side of Science, American Physical Society (APS) Physics
  2. Daniel Cressey & Ewen Callaway (2012). Science at the Olympics: Team Science, Nature, 487 (7407) 292. DOI: 10.1038/487290a
  3. Helen Thompson (2012). Performance enhancement: Superhuman athletes, Nature, 487 (7407) 289. DOI: 10.1038/487287a
  4. Timothy Noakes & Michael Spedding (2012). Olympics: Run for your life, Nature, 487 (7407) 296. DOI: 10.1038/487295a
  5. Juan Enriquez & Steve Gullans (2012). Olympics: Genetically enhanced Olympics are coming, Nature, 487 (7407) 297. DOI: 10.1038/487297a
  6. Mariano Loza-Coll (2012). Piled too high, Nature, 486 (7403) 431. DOI: 10.1038/nj7403-431a
  7. Michael Brooks (2011). Free Radicals: The Secret Anarchy of Science ISBN:1846684056

Update: The real games started on a scientific and technical note with help from Tim Berners-Lee

#OlympicScience didn’t really take off, but #Nerdlympics (Olympics for Nerds) did much better – a selection below. 

July 19, 2012

Is word play friendly branding the key to successful technology?

βατόμουρο / Raspberries by Fir0002/Flagstaffotos

The Raspberry Pi (not pictured above) is currently blowing raspberries at its competitors at an impressive rate of four thousand per day. Creative Commons licensed picture of Rasberries by Fir0002/Flagstaffotos on wikipedia.

The key to successful technology is not just the tricky combination of innovation, determination and investment but also word play friendly branding.

Consider two technology companies, Google and Raspberry Pi:

So is word play really the key to technological success? Successful technologies often encourage word play, but word play does not make technology successful. Correlation does not imply causation and the examples above are very anecdotal.

Still, word play is fun and probably helps brands without doing them any harm [2]. Raspberry Pi is a particularly ripe brand for punning, are there any other #TechnoWordPlay examples?


  1. Rory Cellan-Jones (2012). Raspberry Ripples from the Raspberry Pi Foundation, BBC News
  2. Guy Swillingham (2005). Shop Horror: The Best of the Worst in British Shop Names, Harper Collins ISBN:0007198132

July 6, 2012

Delicious Parthenon Marbles Cake, stolen from Athens

Parthenon by K_Dafalias on Flickr

The Parthenon at night by Konstantinos Dafalias, creative commons licensed picture available on Flickr. If you look carefully, you can see the inscription “Elgin woz ‘ere, 1801″ where the Marbles were stolen from.

Here is a recipe and serving suggestion for delicious Parthenon Marbles cake, originally developed by Thomas Bruce, better known as Lord Elgin.


  1. Buy a return ticket from the UK to Athens, Greece
  2. On arrival in Athens, find the most spectacular and beautiful cake you can
  3. Remove and vandalise the tastiest looking parts of the cake
  4. If anyone asks what you are doing, tell them you are an “ambassador”
  5. When you have finished vandalising, return to the UK with your souvenir cakes, leaving the leftovers in Greece.

Serving suggestion

These cakes are traditionally enjoyed in London. They are often decorated with large servings of patronising propaganda and a sprinkling of insults against the Greek nation. See for example Elgin Marbles: Relocation Debate on wikipedia and the Parthenon Marbles at the British Museum website.

Some people will tell you these cakes are many decades past their best before date. Ignore them if you can, while you enjoy the cakes at a safe distance from any Greeks who will legitimately demand that you return them to Athens immediately.

This is a controversial recipe as the ownership of the ingredients is keenly contested [1,2,3,4,5]. Consequently, it may not be possible to enjoy these cakes in the UK for much longer so enjoy them while you can.


  1. The Parthenon Marbles Should Be Returned to Athens, Intelligence Squared Debate, June 2012
  2. MarblesReunited.org.uk: promoting the case for the reunification of the Parthenon sculptures
  3. Trevor Timpson (2012) Stephen Fry’s Parthenon Marbles plea backed in debate vote, BBC News.
  4. Trevor Timpson (2012) To sue or not to sue? Parthenon Marbles activists debate, BBC News.

May 16, 2012

Blue Moon hypothesis tested in Large Football Collider (LFC)

The Manchester Derby 2007. What a difference five years makes

“This is how it feels to be City, this is how it feels to be small, this is how it feels when your team wins nothing at all.”  [1,3]

If you are not interested in Football Science, look away now. Normal service will be resumed shortly.

There is a controversial idea in football that money buys trophies, also known as Mancini’s Blue Moon hypothesis.

Two rival Universities have led the way in testing this idea, The University of Old Trafford and the The University of Eastlands, both in Manchester. One institute is led by a Scot, Professor Ferguson the other by an Italian, Professor Mancini. Both Universities have assembled teams of elite researchers including Doctor Vidic (PhD, University of Spartak Moscow) and Doctor Kompany (PhD, University of Hamburger) in their respective labs to carry out the necessary experiments.

Professor Mancini’s research laboratory have recently produced some intriguing experimental results by winning the 2012 Premier League title with generous funding from the Mansour Research Council (MRC) [2] (not to be confused with the Medical Research Council). The MRC has invested significantly more funding than rival bodies like the Glazer Research Council (GRC) not be be confused with the Global Research Council, which has opened up exciting new research opportunities in applied football science.

Some leading football scientists say Mancini’s Blue Moon hypothesis has been proven beyond all doubt; money does buy you trophies. Other scientists say that is it too early to tell, these results are inconclusive and more research is needed. Professor Ferguson insists that other factors besides money are significant in winning trophies.

Experimentalists will resume their research when the Large Football Collider (LFC) is switched back on in August 2012 after its annual summer shutdown. Is Mancini’s hypothesis proven or not? Tune in next season …


  1. Inspiral Carpets (1990) This Is How It Feels to be Lonely, This Is How It Feels to be Small Mute records
  2. The Premier League Research Council (PLRC) funds research into basic and applied football science in collaboration with the Mansour Research Council and many others. These football science councils have a larger fund than all the other traditional scientific research councils combined (EPSRC, BBSRC, NERCMRC, STFC and PPARC etc).

March 15, 2012

Be nice to nerds … you may end up working for them

Thought for the day: be nice to nerds because you might end of up working for them.

This sound advice comes from DARPA defector and newly appointed Googler Regina Dugan (see picture below).

Regina Dugan by Steve Jurvetson

What’s that you say? You’re not sure exactly what a nerd is? There are many definitions but the graphic below sums it up better than the Oxford English Dictionary ever could.

Are you a nerd, geek, dork or dweeb?

But beware! Many self-confessed nerds may actually be dorks, dweebs or geeks. It’s a grey area out there in the Venn of Nerdery, not quite as clear cut as the diagram above. To be sure of treating nerds right, you’ll need to be nice to dorks, dweebs and geeks too! See video for details…

[Creative Commons licensed picture of Regina Dugan at TED via Steve Jurvetson]

October 26, 2011

Why can’t people just say what they mean?

Stephen Fry

Why can’t the English just say what they mean, dammit?

Stephen Fry’s Planet Word is an entertaining romp through the English language. It provides a timely reminder as to why people don’t always say what they mean, see the episode on uses and abuses of language for some entertaining examples. Talking of the divergence between what people say and what they actually mean, reminded me of this handy British / American English translation key (which comes via the good people at OpenHelix).

What the British say What the British mean What others understand
I hear what you say I disagree and do not want to discuss it further They accept my point of view
With the greatest respect I think you are an idiot They are listening to me
That’s not bad That’s good That’s poor
That is a very brave proposal You are insane They think I have courage
Quite good A bit disappointing Quite good
I would suggest… Do it or be prepared to justify yourself Think about the idea, but do what you like
Oh incidentally/ by the way The primary purpose of our discussion is… That is not very important
I was a bit disappointed that I am annoyed that It doesn’t really matter
Very interesting That is clearly nonsense They are impressed
I’ll bear it in mind I’ve forgotten it already They will probably do it
I’m sure its my fault It’s your fault Why do they think it was their fault?
You must come for dinner It’s not an invitation, I’m just being polite I will get an invitation soon
I almost agree I don’t agree at all They are not far from agreement
I only have a few minor comments Please re-write completely They have found a few typos
Could we consider some other options I don’t like your idea They have not yet decided

All human languages have the facility for the kinds of little white lies shown above, not just English. Life would be quite different if people always said precisely what they meant, and the English would have less fun confusing Americans with their ludicrous limey language.

July 1, 2011

Anything that calls itself a Science, probably isn’t…

Way Cool Science Stuff by Mark A. Hicks www.markix.netScience, is a big word that gets used and abused with reckless abandon. Virtually any discipline can award itself extra kudos by adding the magic S word at the end. For example, which sounds weightier, sports studies or sports science?

This phenomenon has been noticed many times before, for example, the philosopher John Searle once remarked that:

Science has become something of an honorific term, and all sorts of disciplines that are quite unlike physics or chemistry are eager to call themselves ‘sciences‘.

A good rule of thumb to keep in mind is that anything that calls itself a science probably isn’t.” –see [1,2]

So let’s make a list. Starting with things that probably aren’t a Science because they call themselves one:

We could carry on for ages with this list and eventually include:

So are maths, physics, chemistry, biology etc real sciences™ too? Using Searle’s definition, it’s difficult to say. To avoid confusion, it might be a good idea to use a subjects non-scientific original name (“biology” rather than “life science”) that way, we know (paradoxically) they are real sciences. Probably.


  1. John R. Searle (1986). Minds, Brains and Science (1984 Reith Lectures) Harvard University Press ISBN:0674576330 (see also audio from the BBC Reith lecture archive) not  Speech Acts: An Essay in the Philosophy of Language. Cambridge University Press. ISBN:052109626X (as originally stated in the first version of this post)
  2. Fuller quotation: “Science has become something of an honorific term, and all sorts of disciplines that are quite unlike physics and chemistry are eager to call themselves ‘sciences’. A good rule of thumb to keep in mind is that anything that calls itself ‘science’ probably isn’t — for example, Christian science, or military science, and possibly even cognitive science or social science. The word ‘science’ tends to suggest a lot of researchers in white coats waving test tubes and peering at instruments. To many minds it suggests an arcane infallibility. The rival picture I want to suggest is this: what we are all aiming at in intellectual disciplines is knowledge and understanding. There is only knowledge and understanding, whether we have it in mathematics, literary criticism, history, physics, or philosophy. Some disciplines are more systematic than others, and we might want to reserve the word ‘science’ for them.”
  3. Peter J. Denning (2005). Is computer science science? Communications of the ACM, 48 (4) DOI: 10.1145/1053291.1053309

June 19, 2011

Sunday at the Lab with Uri Alon

Ah Sunday, a day of rest, recuperation and roasted food

Unless you’re a scientist, that is, in which case you might be working. If that’s you, this one goes out to all you committed high-calibre, driven scientists [1,2,3] who are spending this Sunday working at the laboratory bench. The amusing little ditty below is written by biologists Michael Elowitz and Uri Alon, and performed here by Uri Alon.

I kissed my wife and kissed farewell
I must go down to run my gel
I’m going to spend another Sunday at the lab

My wife said “Uri, you’ve got to promise,
you love me more than doing Science”
I said “Honey, can we discuss this another day?”
I’m going to spend another Sunday at the lab

My mum said “Son, don’t waste your life,
go home and spend time with the wife
you must have heard this from your father
why can’t you be more like your brother?
No son of mine spends Sundays at the lab.”

My dad said “Son, you need a shrink”
The shrink said son “you need a drink”
Those Rorschach spots reminded me of blots
He said “Oh God, you obviously have an obsessive compulsion
to spend all your Sundays at the lab”

My wife she left me
My mum disowned me
The shrink pretends he doesn’t know me
Because I can’t be myself
Without some buffer on the shelf

So if you need me, you can phone me at the lab
I’m going to spend another Sunday
I’m going to spend another Sunday
I’m going to spend another Sunday at the lab


  1. Elowe J (2010). Workaholism: between illusion and addiction. L’Encephale, 36 (4), 285-93 [Boulomanie : entre illusion et addiction] PMID: 20850599 DOI: 10.1016/j.encep.2009.12.002
  2. Overbaugh, J. (2011). 24/7 isn’t the only way: A healthy work–life balance can enhance research Nature, 477 (7362), 27-28 DOI: 10.1038/477027a
  3. Anon (2011). The 24/7 lab: Nature’s readers comment online Nature, 477 (7364), 280-280 DOI: 10.1038/477280c

November 12, 2010

The Infinite Professor Theorem

Filed under: funny — Duncan Hull @ 10:15 pm
Tags: , , , , , , ,

Prof Brian Cox by greyhawk68 on FlickrIf you took an infinite number of Professors, added some comedians, recording studios (instead of typewriters) and got them to record random radio shows you might just end up with a program like the Infinite Monkey Cage.

After a brief break, Physicist Brian Cox (pictured on the right with the sun shining out of his behind) and Robin Ince return for a third series of their phunny physics show which takes a “witty, irreverent look at the world according to science”. The next program will be broadcast Monday 15th November on BBC Radio 4 at 4.30pm and is available as a podcast too. Worth tuning into if you like your science comical, physical and audial.

[Creative Commons licensed picture of Brian Cox by John Roling (greyhawk68)]

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