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Thursday, 23 January 2014

Is there life on Mars?

No but there appears to be water on Ceres!

Which is amazingly exciting. We know there is ice in our solar system but actual water on and coming from Ceres is an amazing discovery. Especially as water - as far as we know it - is tied inevitably to life. This is a result of water being an ideal solvent for life processes to occur in.

Does this mean little green men? Well no but it does mean there is a chance for single-celled life to exist there - maybe multi-cellular but most probably single celled.

Actually it doesn't matter if its just the remains of life the chance that life has existed somewhere other than on Earth is still incredibly exciting!

This brings me to the excellent Bowie song. NASA are still investigating how a rock managed to appear in front of Opportunity recently. The chance is this is due to the rover itself dislodging and knocking the rock in front of itself. Still however anything out of the ordinary about Mars seems to capture our imagination and very quickly get reported all over the place. Well maybe not all over but it seems to be reported with more fervor than the Ceres discovery.

Which is strange as we all know how important water is for life!

However how many people know Europa has a surface covered in ice and an oxygen rich atmosphere?

Yet we still haven't fully investigated the possibility of life there, obviously the planets hold us in more thrall? Or maybe its just budgets can only stretch to missions in our local (ish area).

Actually scratch wanting to find out about life elsewhere in the universe, I think we need to first learn how to deal with life on Earth effectively!

Issues like this - sorry got massively side tracked with the senseless slaughter of dolphins in the week a new river dolphin species was discovered always remind me of this video by the too good for words Carl Sagan.

I have nothing more to add.


Sunday, 5 January 2014

Unfinished Melody: The 12” Pianist Story

I wrote this a long time ago... +Dev  edited it into the format you see below. It is about +Dev , +Graham , +Richard and myself.

Unfinished Melody: The 12” Pianist Story

Beginnings & Debut Album

12” Pianist have always divided opinions. Many viewed them as one of the most innovative rock bands, not just of their generation, but also in history. Others claimed that the band was simply not as good as it should be. Their use of lyrics drew particular attention. Were the lyrics simple in order to convey a message? Or were they a reflection of the band members’ sensibilities and intellects? Whatever your views or likes and dislikes about the band, there is no denying that theirs is an interesting tale of rock excess and the price of fame; which cost them almost everything. Eventually however, their love of music and their fans brought the group back from the edge of oblivion and is steering them into a bright future…

The origins of 12” Pianist can be traced back to September 2000, when they formed in the Friary School Sixth Form Centre in Lichfield. Founding member Chris Gibson had just quit the punk-rock trio ‘Unnamed Band’ due to personal issues with the bands direction, and its lack of progress (the band had never formally performed a gig or even written or recorded any material to play at said gig). With friend and guitarist Richard Mapley on board, Gibson decided to form a band that would not be pigeonholed into any single genre. As it turned out, critics created a new genre for the band, dubbed: ‘prog-punk-electro-pop-rock’. With the recruitment of Dev Patel on drums, and unusual instrumentalist Graham Cartledge, the mark one line-up was complete.

As the band recalls: “It was clear from the early jamming sessions that melding four individuals with differing backgrounds and preferences for music would be tricky.”
However, Gibson explains that it took ‘a surprisingly short amount of time’ to work it out: “The first few sessions were shit; I mean really shit! We all wanted to play different things at different speeds.
“I wanted to do some overblown 14 minute long instrumental pieces with synthesisers and fantasy-inspired imagery; Dev wanted us to be doing heavy metal type beats with the pace and power getting right in people’s faces and heart beats.
“Mappo wanted to play these punk songs that were shouty and had interrupted beats, and Gra would sit in the corner hitting spoons together or playing a swanee whistle and seeing how far he could push it.
“Eventually though, we realised that we were all such shit instrumentalists that we needed to take the simple facets from each of our favoured genres and run with it!”

Unfortunately with the fuss of what type of music the band should play, they didn’t give any thought to lead vocals.
Dev recalls: “Gibbo has a completely atonal voice when he sings modally and the only vocals he can manage are falsetto.
“Since our early work didn’t really suit that, the idea was a non-starter.
“Gra shouts a lot, which would have been good for some old school metal, but not for what we were working towards and Mappo struggles to keep his guitar riffs going without giving him lead vocals.”

It just so turned out that Dev possessed a haunting rangy voice, full of energy and raw magnetism, which was suitable for the punk style songs, which populate the bands early work. On early live recordings, Gibson and Cartledge can often be heard singing backing vocals in such a manner as to cancel each other out, adding an additional element to the performance.

With Patel now on drums and lead vocals, Gibson on bass and backing vocals, Cartledge on ‘other’ and backing vocals, and Mapley on guitars, the line-up was complete and the band began to play open-mic nights at local clubs. They became renowned for their energy and mainly rhythmic beats: it transpired that Mapley could only play rhythm guitar. To add to this, Patel had to stop drumming in order to sing the verses, which lead to Cartledge playing a simple snare drum during the verses and then switching instruments during the chorus and breakdowns at which point Patel would continue the drum beat.

Despite this, the band found popularity, as their lyrics were simple and repetitive; which was ideal for inebriated revellers to sing along to, and their beats were easy going; which people enjoyed playing along to. The band was beginning to gather momentum, which lead to a four-album deal with the prestigious Obsequious Metamorphosis Records (OMR).

The band’s debut album, ‘I’d Like a…’, received mixed reviews, most of which were unfavourable. Q described listening to the album to be like ‘listening to epileptic monkeys in a music shop’. Kerrang claimed that ‘this is the kind of pompous crap your un-cool uncle would listen to while he fondles a choir boy’. The Sunday Times was even more critical: “I wish these boys had stopped before they’d started.”
The Daily Mail was also hyper critical of the style of the album with their remark: “This is the kind of music asylum seekers on ASBOs and benefits would make.”
The sole positive review of the album came from NME who made the band their cover and stated: “This is the greatest, most innovative debut album in 30 years! Fresh and original; this is an instant classic.”

The band was undeterred as, despite the negative press, album sales were strong. It broke into the UK Top 20 Album Charts and remained there for three weeks, peaking at 19, before slipping down and eventually out of the charts.
‘I’d Like a…’ spawned three singles which achieved reasonable commercial success. The first single, entitled ‘I Want to Do Your Mother’, peaked at #38, although its theme and style were more suited to the lavish live shows. The more simple and sweet ballad of young love, ‘Hold My Hand, then Sit On My Face’, fared much better. It charted at #11 before outrage saw it withdrawn from the shelves, resulting in it only charting for one week.
However, the standout single was the epic prog-rock inspired ‘This Fish STILL Has Bones In It!’ which was based on a BBQ event in Gibson’s life. The single broke the top 10, reaching #3, where it stayed for four weeks before dropping into the top 20. In total, the song remained in the UK top 20 for a mighty three months and helped promote the band’s extended first nationwide tour.

It was at this time however that Gibson, working on more ambitious material for the tricky second album, began to have difficulty sleeping and Cartledge, having had an over-heated Mapley sweat on him on stage, began to shower three times a day. These issues began to snowball and plague the band during the years they wrote and recorded their second and third albums.

Second Album & First European Tour

For the tricky second album Chris Gibson took on near-complete creative control, and the band continued under Gibson’s direction until the fourth album. Richard Mapley remembers that particular band meeting very well: “Gibbo [Chris Gibson] walked into the room looking like he hadn’t slept in a week, when it turned out it was three weeks, and threw a load of papers on the table and informed us that it was the next album.
“We all looked at each other thinking, ‘what the fuck dude?’
“But he was adamant. The bad reviews had really affected him; especially the criticism of the lyrics.
“We were just pissing around but all of a sudden we were inappropriate and crude.
“What’s with that?
“Anyway we looked at the stuff and we really liked it so we decided to run with it.”

Cartledge also conceded that the music on offer was of a high standard: “It was better than the first album and he told us we could add our own feel to it so we just ran with it.”

In a departure from the previous album the dance-ability of the songs took a back seat to the music and Gibson began writing about dreams, previous dreams and his wish to be able to sleep in order to dream again.

“It gave the album a real dream-like quality that I think people liked,” remarked Dev Patel.

The album ‘Why Can’t I Sleep… With You?’ charted at #3 and received mainly positive reviews with most critics impressed by the maturity and scope of the songs. Cartledges use of household cleaning sprays on the track ‘My Bed Feels Like Rusty Nails’ was highly praised although urban legend states that Cartledge was actually cleaning the studio at the time and not deliberately contributing to the track!

However a lone dissenting voice was NME who slated the album claiming that it was ‘the product of a bunch of schoolboys trying to act like adults’ and that ‘this album has lost the fun of the first album and replaced it with stuff that isn’t fun!’.

However the band was undeterred, especially after the five singles released from the album had performed so well. ‘My Bed Feels Like Rusty Nails’ became the bands biggest single reaching #2 in the UK charts and breaking, for the first time, the top ten in many European countries while claiming the #1 spot in Belgium for 4 months!

What followed was a gruelling tour schedule encompassing the UK and Europe that would test the friendship of the band members as well as expose the cracks that their sudden rise to fame had created. It was during one fateful trip to a café in Amsterdam that Gibson was first introduced to Horlicks, which would lead to a dependence on the substance that would nearly tear the band apart.

Also on this trip, Cartledge’s compulsive cleaning caused huge problems in the hotels the band stayed in. They were famously evicted from the Hilton in Paris after he was found vacuuming the corridors at 3am wearing nothing but a white ‘moon suit’ and a fedora. Patel would also begin to fall victim to the excesses of fame as he began buying thousands of DVDs at a time – many of which he has never watched.

The tour was finally completed at Twickenham Stadium in England on October 23 2002 in front of a sell-out crowd. The band played one more gig for friends and family in the Sixth-Form Centre at the Friary, where it all began, before taking a holiday.

The Troubled Third Album

Due to the effects of his Horlicks addiction (he was averaging five cups an hour at its height); Gibson was sleeping, on average, 19 hours per day. However he was still able to write enough material for the rest of the band to work off and create the third album.

As he remembers it: “It was like a mental fog. I was just so relaxed all of the time it was untrue.
“I think at this point I began to believe my spirit was due to leave my body so whenever I was conscious or had enough about me to work I was incredibly productive.
“The problem became being able to put my ideas across to the rest of the band as most of the time I had my head in a cup drinking more H’.

However both Mapley and Patel remember the time differently: “It was beginning to show that he was in the midst of a Horlicks addiction,” said Patel.
As Mapley recalls: “The work he was bringing us was shite. I mean really ropey.
“And what made it worse was that Gra wasn’t there at all to help out with it.”
Indeed Cartledges compulsive cleaning led to him being frequently absent from the recording studio as he was busy sterilising his apartment. When he was able to attend in order to record something it would take him hours to get all of the instruments suitably clean and he insisted on washing his hands between using each instrument.

“It was terrible for live shows, but then I [Gibson] can’t talk. I was mostly asleep during them.”

The difficulties with Gibson and Cartledge allowed Patel and Mapley to morph Gibson’s rough musical concepts into something more in line with their own musical image. As Gibson was half asleep at most of the recording sessions for the third album he was not in a position to argue with the direction the album had begun to take and, as a result, the album had a stripped down feel to it since most of Gibson’s complex arrangements were lost in his mind as his Horlicks addiction reached its worst level. Cartledges involvement was also minimal as he spent most of his time in an aseptic tank!

On March 3 2004, nine months behind schedule, 12” Pianist’s third album was released to the paying public. ‘Screaming Orgasm’ saw Mapley take charge of most of the lyrics which prompted a return to the boyish style of the debut album, whilst Patel provided a much more intense musical accompaniment by drawing on his influences in heavy metal. Whilst reviews were generally positive they were split over the use of lyrics, especially in songs such as ‘Handcuffed to the Bedroom’ which contained the line: “Lick my love truncheon, then I’ll beat you with it like a convict.” Despite Mapley attempting to explain the metaphors of the lyrics no one believed him and in their review of the album NME dubbed him ‘Captain Bullshit’.

Despite the mixed critical reception of the album public reaction was positive which forced OMR to create the most extensive tour in the bands history. In the summer of 2004 12” Pianist played an extensive festival list including the famous Glastonbury set where Gibson was playing on a chaise longue and fell asleep halfway through ‘Spaff In Your Hair’ and Cartledge, dressed in his now trademark white moon suit and fedora, was busy sponge bathing the front row rather than joining in with the set.

The tour moved on to mainland Europe where the final nail sealed the coffin of the band. During a gig in Düsseldorf Cartledge ran out of hand soap mid set after a stage hand failed to get replacement soap to him and he collapsed and had to be carried from the stage in a state of hysterics. To compound matters Gibson was found two days later half asleep on a beach in Calais eating Horlicks out of the tub with that little blue scoop wearing only a feather boa. He couldn’t remember the gig or how he got from Germany to northern France. Patel quit the tour, much to the managements shock, and retired to his newly purchased multiplex to begin a DVD marathon that would last five months as his collection was now standing at over 250,000 unwatched films. Eventually emergency services transported the severely dehydrated Patel, who had been living on salted popcorn and a famous brand of cola, to hospital where amongst other ailments he was suffering from severe eyestrain.

The tour was cancelled and OMR were on the threshold of pulling the plug on 12” Pianist when a spokesperson for Mapley announced the guitarists retirement from the band to become a lighthouse keeper. With the only viable member of the band now living on an interesting but dangerous outcrop of coastline OMR were stuck as to what to do about the band. The tour for ‘Screaming Orgasm’ was a financial disaster and the public soon began to forget about the troubled stars.

OMR produced a fourth album based upon demos, unfinished songs and live material entitled ‘12” Pianist: The Final Verse’. On hearing that they had now been released from their contract at OMR, and that their manager who had first signed them had given the go ahead for the fourth album the members of 12” Pianist were either unable to care, or no longer did. On April 28 2005 a message was posted on the bands official website confirming that they were on an indefinite hiatus.

Solo Work & Other Projects

Richard Mapley was the first member of 12” Pianist to branch out into other projects. The acoustic ‘Richard Mapley – Live from the Lighthouse’ became a favourite of BBC Radio 2’s Terry Wogan and received positive reviews from critics. More mellow and grown up than his work with 12”, the contrast showed that Mapley's solitude in the lighthouse had finally allowed him to begin to view the world as a responsible adult and not a drunk horny teenager. In autumn 2006 Mapley quit his lighthouse keeper job to tour full time and promote his second solo album - the upbeat ‘Brighter Futures’.

After recovering from his epic movie marathon Dev Patel became an in-demand session drummer and eventually returned to regular touring with Volcanic Albatross - a heavy metal group from Coventry. Patel’s drum beats and fills were so fast and complex on the title track from ‘On a Flaming Wing and a Hollow Prayer’ that it was believed to be the product of a drum machine and not a real living person. Patel quashed this rumour by performing the song live on Channel 4’s ‘The Paul O’Grady Show’ even though he was not scheduled to be a guest!

Whilst recovering from his mental breakdown over the lack of soap on stage Graham Cartledge briefly relocated to Munich - which he claimed to be ‘ruthlessly clean’. New-wave rockers ‘Schwarzwälder Kirschtorte’ (German for black forest gateau) asked him to contribute some unusual sounds for their upcoming album ‘Everything Smells of Poo!’ Cartledge jumped at the chance and produced some of his finest work to date - especially on the tracks ‘Ich bin eine Dame (I’m a Lady) and ‘Die Mechanisierung der Industrienation‘ (The Mechanisation of the Industrial Nation). It was at this time that he began to see a hypnotherapist in order to help cure his incessant cleaning.

Beginning a strict regime of yoga and juice, Chris Gibson detoxed his body and began to be able to enjoy healthy and natural sleep. Following this he again became a prolific songwriter. He also began to work with Patel providing distinct backing vocals on some Volcanic Albatross albums. In late 2007, following the bassist’s death in a combine harvester racing incident Gibson stepped in to help the band finish the tour. In January 2008 Volcanic Albatross broke up and Gibson and Patel travelled to Germany to visit Graham Cartledge who had now made a complete recovery.

By February 2008 Gibson, Patel and Cartledge were again playing music together and invited Graham’s younger brother Philip to join them. The foursome went by the name ‘Voluptuous Weapons’ and released a self-titled album in May 2008 and followed it up with a UK tour. A massive success, the band attempted to get Mapley to join them however he was busy in the USA trying to ‘break it’.

However, Mapley's tour of America had an unexpected side effect. The youth of America had been slowly introduced to the music of 12” Pianist in the three years since the bands hiatus and most of the TV and radio stations wanted to talk to him about this band rather than his solo work.

Returning to England feeling deflated, Mapley sat down with his young family to watch VH1’s ‘Most Unfulfilled Acts of All Time…Ever!’
“And there we were, number fucking 12! I mean wow, how can you ignore that shit.”

He quickly contacted his former band mates who themselves were at an impasse over the second album for Voluptuous Weapons. As Gibson recalls: “The first album had mainly been the songs we had generated over two years of recovery and rehab.
“Every time we sat down to write something for the next album it was a 12” Pianist song.
“Then out of the blue Mapley rings up asking if we want to ‘get together and maybe see how it goes’.”

Comeback & Future

Voluptuous Weapons were instantly shelved and work began on an EP to ‘test the water to see what the public thought’. Patel remarked: “We recorded the EP because we were scared. We didn’t exactly shower ourselves with glory towards the end of the first round!”
However the EP was a hit both critically and commercially. ‘Captain Eclectic Rides Again’ featured songs written by each of the members for the first time on a 12” Pianist album and also featured new member Phil Cartledge who had been retained from Voluptuous Weapons to take over drumming duties while Patel focused solely on lead vocals. The final song on the EP entitled ‘Song #6’ is the first work to have been written by the new line up and was released as a single on an independent label. It went straight to #1 on the download chart where it stayed for seven weeks. This firmly established the bands return and a successful UK tour was followed by a world tour which took the band up to early 2009.

In May 2009 the refreshed and focussed 12” Pianist returned to the studio to create the fourth album that mismanagement at OMR had prevented them from recording. ‘Forward Thrusting Motion’ retained the boyish lyrics from their earlier work and combined it with more grown up themes and progressive musical structures. Critical reception for the album was unanimously positive. With Q giving it a five-star rating, believing ‘this is the album we knew they had in them but just refused to produce’. The Sunday Times proclaimed it the ‘best cross-over album in years, I defy anyone not to find something to love about it’. The lone voice of dissent was from NME - but then no one listens to them any more.

Released in July 2009, the album crashed in at #1 on the album chart while the title track claimed the top spot in the singles chart. An extensive world tour is scheduled and the band is pencilled in to headline many of the major festivals in 2010. New member Phil Cartledge silenced the critics in a recent interview when he was asked if he felt the more fragile members of the band would survive such an intense and gruelling tour schedule. ‘Fuck off, wanker’ was all he needed to say! Gibson himself has come out stating that the band intends to move on to bigger and more ambitious projects after the tour.

12” Pianist are back, bigger and stronger than ever and hopefully they will continue to be around for many years to come. God knows that without them, music is too repetitive, too boring and not nearly enough fun!

S. Icophantic

Chairman of the 12” Pianist Fan Club

Sunday, 22 December 2013

Something on Black and White holes.

Written a while ago...

The relationship between Black and White Holes.
Since they were first postulated by Oppenheimer and Volkoff [1] Black Holes have been a popular area of science. This is in part to their mysterious nature and also to them providing science fiction writers with a handy Deus Ex in stories. In turn this has led to Black Holes being part of everyday vocabulary and knowledge despite the fact that we know very little of them. This mysterious nature was partially reinforced by our inability to detect Black Holes and so prove their existence for much of the 20th Century in fact it was only into the 1970s that laws explaining how they could exist and be tracked were proven [2]. It has also been shown that we can now detect Black Holes due to their radio frequency output [3].
There has also been links shown between Black Holes and White Holes. The evidence supporting the relationship between the two has been shown experimentally in laboratories and the red and blue shift associated with light at their respective horizons [4]. The linking of White and Black holes in a similar way to which two ends of an Einstein-Rosen bridge link [5] is an interesting thought when we consider the nature of Black Holes. Often we think of them as being similar to either an egg timer or a funnel. This is our 2D way of resolving something in 4D which our minds can’t comprehend. If ever you have seen a Black Hole on a film or television program you may have seen that they appear to be disks which then funnel inwards linking another part of space-time. However space time is not a 2D flat land and so the disk idea of a Black Hole does not fit.
A better analogy for our minds to understand is to imagine space-time as being something denser that we are familiar with. If you can picture a giant swimming pool and imagine that the swimming pool has objects suspended into it – similar to how space has planets and stars. Now if we imagine something akin to a black marble suspended in the water, then that would be more similar to a Black Hole than a disk like object. The reason being that whichever angle we approach the Black Hole would be the same as the other directions of approach. If we are in our swimming pool universe then we could swim around the black marble and it would be identical from all angles. This would be more in keeping with the high gravity present than a disk shaped Black Hole.
Why is this analogy important? We have evidence proving that Black and White Holes are able to exist in space-time [6] [7] although as yet no way to identify White Holes then it is important to consider their relationship to one another. The reason for this is that there is an idea that they are joined together so that the Black Hole will lead to the White Hole. If we consider the Black Hole to be the marble in a swimming pool however, then there can be nowhere for it to lead to, at least not in our perception of space and time. This is because you can move around the Black Hole and not disturb any passage way it might be creating. As it is in an environment which is at least 3D then there has to be another solution which does not involve a drastic alteration of what is the fabric of reality. A possible solution lies in the idea that our Universe is within a Black Hole, and as such would be a White Hole [8]. In this idea imagine that a Black Hole is within another Universe (U0). The Black Hole is absorbing matter from U0 and expanding. Inside U0 the matter is able to be compressed and drawn together due to gravity and form stars, nebulae and galaxies. As a result we could begin to think of another Universe (U1) as having begun to exist within the confines of the original U0 Black Hole. As the Black Hole begins to engulf more matter it stands to reason that it would begin to expand, giving rise to our evidence of an expanding universe. Also there is no reason for the U1 to have begun with a Big Bang, which would still fit our models of the creation of everything and also answer the question of where the initial matter came from. In this way we have the inverse of a Black Hole present, a White Hole and our idea of the cosmic marble works. It is just that the marble is gradually expanding.
This concept works if we accept that due to scale it is possible for the Universe either U1 or U0 to be much larger than we can ever imagine. In the same way that electrons are much smaller than human minds are able to comprehend just by observing the macro structure of the Universe. It does not however concern the formation of Einstein-Rosen Bridges but just that Black Holes lead to White Holes. Only that instead of the White Hole being another point in the same space time the White Hole is within the Black Hole and present as a separate Universe, in this example U1.

Chris Gibson
(881 Words)

[1] J. R. Oppenheimer and G. M. Volkoff, “On Massive Neutron Cores,” Phys. Rev. 55, 374 (1939).
[2] J. M. Bardeen, B. Carter, S. W. Hawking, “The four laws of black hole mechanics”, Communications in Mathematical Physics, Volume 31, Issue 2, pp 161-170 (1973).
The Astrophysical Journal, 551:L17–L21, (2001).
[4] T. G. Philbin, C.Kuklewicz, S.Robertson, S.Hill, F.König, U.Leonhardt, “Fiber-Optical Analog of the Event Horizon”,  Science 7, Vol. 319 no. 5868 pp. 1367-1370, (2008).
[5] Nikodem J. Popławski, Radial motion into an Einstein–Rosen bridge, Physics Letters B, Volume 687, Issues 2–3, (2010).
[6] R. Gomez, S.Husa, L.Lehner, J. Winicour, “Gravitational Waves from a Fissioning White Hole”,
Phys.Rev. D66 (2002)
[7] G. E. Volovik, “Hydraulic jump as a white hole, ”Journal of Experimental and Theoretical Physics Letters, 82, Issue 10, pp 624-627 (2005).
[8] M.S.Berman, “Is the Universe a white-hole?”, Astrophysics and Space Science, Volume 311, Issue 4, pp 359-361, (2007).

When the end is a beginning disguised as an end and wrapped in the new.

I have not written anything, teaching or bloggy based in a while. Apart from helping Nick the Meerkat to reach the keys for his few posts (he is currently sleeping off some food but states he will blog again soon). 

In fact most of what I have been up to in the past 4-5 months has followed a similar vein.
  1. Get annoyed at work, stressed and frustrated.
  2. Run for as long and as far as I can to remove said frustration.
  3. Complete the tasks I have been set.
  4. Have missed something off my to do list.
  5. Get pulled up on not completing something.
  6. Rinse and repeat.
Most of you probably don't know but those who do know me and what has been going on know I left my previous school to move across the trust to take up a position of Deputy Head of Science (my Nan thought I was becoming a deputy head though - bless). 

I was excited to take up the post for several reasons, mostly the extra TLR and also because if felt like any misgivings or worries about suitability to teaching had finally be laid to bed. I was committing to pursuing teaching as a career and off I went. 

Now the purpose of this blog is not and has never been to criticize others and I am not going to start now. It is not my way and it is not fair. 

However it became apparent after about a term or so that something was not right in the new post world. In fact things were in danger of dropping to a level of bad that they had not been since my NQT year. 

Which was not the best situation. 

There may have been other factors which were affecting my time as a second in department but the upshot was massive dislike of the job, school and myself coupled with a complete falling apart of my teaching. 

Going through the motions is a phrase often attributed to sportspeople or actors who are there in body but never mind, its also a pretty good way of summing up how my teaching was at that point. 

This is not to say I did not try, several times, to get myself together and try to be the teacher/person/position that I was being asked to be. 

It just wasn't for me, I don't (at least yet) think in the way that they wanted me to or expected me to. 

My focus was not on science or teaching or enjoying moving students on but on data, targets, schemes of work and the performance of other people - made harder when my own performance was suffering. 

As a result I stepped down from my position and returned 'to the trenches' as a teacher of science.

I have to say it is the best decision I have made in a while. 

Instantly I started feeling happier and more secure in what I was doing. The job suddenly become more manageable and I felt like I could do the role better.

Plus I started to scheme and make plans again. Something hard to do when your whole world becomes built around what you have to get done for other people all the time.

As a results, and the reason for sharing this harrowing tale, I have a list of things I need to write up. The blog title refers to the fact I aim over the Christmas holiday to write up and post some of the things which I have shelved since my workload became too much.

I also aim to complete some of the free online courses found here to get back to feeling like a scientist again.

Well that's the aim at least.   

Sunday, 7 July 2013

I can see clearly now...

The Sun is shining, temperature is ratcheting up and the smell of BBQ is in the air. This can mean only one thing! Yes summer is almost here/here already. It is a curious thing being a core subject because in all honesty I don't feel like I have any real gain time to speak of, however I do have lots to do to fill this fictional extra time!

My friends who teach subjects like history and psychology who no longer have year 11 and sixth form all seem to have days of non-contact in order to plan and prepare (or muck about) before September. I think I have gained 3 lessons over the week...

Anyways the Sun is shining and there are 2 weeks left until the end of term so there is nothing to really complain about. Although the last week has been a bit of a rush.

Being science we always seem to get called in to do the transition 'stuff' which I can understand. If you do an experiment with year 4/5/6's in a lab then it is something they have never experienced and they go away with a good impression of your school. My friend even went so far as to get his year 4 classes who were in to wear lab coats while testing acids and alkali's. Which was very cool.

I spent 3 days doing transition work this week. Tuesday I was making fruit batteries with year 4's and Wednesday and Thursday I was in a local primary school doing CSI days with their year 6.

And yes I was the chalk outline. Which was strange as our scenario did not involve a dead body! These days are a lot of fun to do although they are very tiring. It is a bit of a culture shock to be in primary school though as I am unused to students doing exactly as I ask the first time I ask them too.

Wednesday evening was a STEM cluster event at a local secondary, these events have been sponsored by the Royal Society of Engineers it seems and every school represented gets a box of 'goodies' to take back to their STEM clubs. This meeting involved testing some thermochromic paint, smart materials and building (slowly in our case) a skeleton bob for a doll. It was, as ever, a lot of fun and surprisingly our team managed to get the bob to travel the furthest.

It is nice to win things.

Back to reality means back to test marking as due to the time of year we have had all of our end of year/end of key stage testing going on. Another annoyance with the outreach days (reminds me I have to plan a year 6-7 activity for this Thursday) is that I missed out on PPA's to get ahead with the test marking. However I have already found some beautiful answers in the work already.

Fantastic stuff I am sure you will agree. The end of term is also a weird bit of the year when it comes to setting work. Often courses have completed or you and the students are on a bit of a wind down, especially when the weather is very good outside, and so activities tend to get set that you may not do the rest of the year. Added to that we are moving into a subject plaza for September so we are trying to get as much display work produced as possible. One activity we got our year 9's to do was to design your ideal house and then list the materials used and the energy efficiency and energy saving technologies used. Here is my ideal house;

For someone with minimal artistic skill I am pretty pleased with it.

Our year 10 have a 'community action week' approaching where they will undertake various volunteer roles within the wider community. Most of these involve being outdoors and doing something fairly manual. The science department is going to work with a group of around 10 students to create a science garden which we will be working on with a lower ability group once a fortnight starting in September. One of our department is running a project to see if attainment can be improved by taking ownership of a project like this. The results will be interesting. It does remind me though that we need to keep an eye on plants in pots a bit more than I did with some of mine at home. 

There has been a lot of talk and articles written about the sad demise of bee populations. However I must be the only person who has not seen this as I am sure I have seen more bees (bumble and honey) about this summer so far than ever before. Maybe it is a Kent thing but I seem to be seeing about 5-10 bees a day. 

I also managed to get a closer picture.

I like cropping photo's can take a simple looking picture and really bring out some detail.

And cropped becomes.

Works nicely doesn't it? Which is probably what I should be doing now, these tests don't mark themselves. Which is a shame.


Found this at the end of some homework. Is very uplifting to find things like this.

Sunday, 30 June 2013

What came first, the chicken or the egg? The importance of asking the right kind of question.

Questions are all around us. They are inescapable. We know that there are good questions and bad questions. There are questions that pique our interest and ones that we do not really pay much heed to. There are questions that seem so complex that they hurt our head to contemplate and seem impossible to answer. The opposite of this are questions so simple that we wonder why people have bothered to ask them in the first place. In amongst this variety of questions are those that continue to occur repeatedly. One of these questions is the question ‘what came first, the chicken or the egg?’
When asked, the questioner often will sit back and smile as the questioned wraps their mind around the concept. How could you know what is in the egg, who laid the egg, what makes a chicken? Surely this is a question that will prove a conundrum and a talking point for a long time. It is probably this ambiguity about the solution which is why the question has entered into common lexicon and is used when considering such lofty topics as the origin of the universe [1]. Could the genetic classification of species provide a suitable answer? [2]
There are answers from both sides of the chicken or egg fence. These range in merit from philosophical takes on the problem [3] to sophisticated scientific endeavour in looking at the proteins produced in egg development and their evolutionary origin [4]. The philosophical argument given supports the egg viewpoint and the protein history claims to show that the chicken had to have come first.
However I take a different approach the question and propose that all attempts at answering are irrelevant and incorrect because they are answering the wrong question. This is not some attempt to divert the topic down a false avenue or some metaphysical plane of existential thought. In fact let us look at the question more closely.
The question asks ‘what came first a chicken or the egg’. The egg, an egg, whose egg are we talking about? We need to know nothing about the evolution of chickens, or the ideas of classification of species, or even philosophical argument we only need to know 2 pieces of information in order to solve this question. Firstly when did chickens appear on the Earth and secondly were their animals on the planet before chickens that laid eggs?
Remember the question only states what came first the chicken or the egg; it is not specific about which type of egg. It could be an avian egg but there may have been other birds present before chickens came into being!
In fact a quick search for dinosaurs laying eggs on the internet yields articles on the egg laying of dinosaurs from the Cretaceous period [5] [6] (over 66 million years ago).  Now if we look to see when chickens appear we find they are domesticated versions of Red Jungle Fowl, an event which occurred around 5 thousand years ago [7].
Even if that estimate is out by a hundred thousand years or a million years or ten million years eggs still came first by a long way.  We know that life began in the sea and that fish lay eggs so there were species much older than dinosaurs that will have laid a form of an egg. So to answer the question which came first the chicken of the egg it was the egg. Simple really, yet that is not the question that people mean to ask. People mean to ask what comes first the chicken or the chicken egg.
Now that is a much better question and that is the point. If we want to get useful answers to the important questions we need to make sure that the question itself is first scrutinised. Our first act must always be to question the question.
For only when we understand exactly what the question is asking are we able to produce an answer worth merit.

Chris Gibson

[1]  Theosophy "Ancient Landmarks: Plato and Aristotle". Theosophy (September 1939).  27(11): 483–491.
[2] James Mallet, A species definition for the modern synthesis, Trends in Ecology & Evolution, 10, Issue 7, July 1995, Pages 294-299, ISSN 0169-5347, 10.1016/0169-5347(95)90031-4.
[3] The egg came before the chicken. Roy A. Sorensen. Mind, July 1992 101, 403

[4] Simulations of Ovocleidin-17 Binding to Calcite Surfaces and Its Implications for Eggshell Formation Colin L. Freeman, John H. Harding, David Quigley, and P. Mark Rodger The Journal of Physical Chemistry C 2011 115 (16), 8175-8183

[5] A nesting trace with eggs for the Cretaceous theropod dinosaur Troodon formosus Varricchio, DJ (Varricchio, DJ); Jackson, F (Jackson, F); Trueman, CN (Trueman, CN). JOURNAL OF VERTEBRATE PALEONTOLOGY : MAR 15 1999 19,  91-100

[6] A Pair of Shelled Eggs Inside A Female. Tamaki Sato, Yen-nien Cheng, Xiao-chun Wu, Darla K. Zelenitsky, and Yu-fu Hsiao. Dinosaur Science 15 April 2005: 308 (5720), 375. [DOI:10.1126/science.1110578]

[7] A genetic variation map for chicken with 2.8 million single-nucleotide polymorphisms. International Chicken Polymorphism Map Consortium (GK Wong et. al.) 2004.Nature 432, 717-722| doi:10.1038/nature03156 PMID 15592405

Saturday, 18 May 2013

That time of year, teaching reforms, brains and Gibson's Laws of Nature...

Well that time of year has approached. Not just because students have their exam timetables, or year 11's are jaded and seemingly climbing up the walls in order to leave school now but mostly because my dinning room table is full of stacks of end of topic/mock/revision tests to mark through.

There goes my weekend (again).

Personally I ally myself with the school of thought that hates exams as they only test how good students are at passing exams. In a subject like science there is so much more to being a 'good' or able scientist than being able to recall and use information. In fact the whole concept of memory recall is pretty much outdated owing to the information age we live in. If you want to look up or remember something you can find not only the factually (in)correct information in a matter of seconds but also the opinions of half the world. Surely then we need to go to a more skills based curriculum. In other words training people in how to use the information, how to decide if an opinion is valid or poorly thought out or maybe I am wrong in my opinion and the current system is the biggest and bestest in the world!

Actually while I am on the subject of subjects (ish) I do find it a bit of a missed trick with Mr Gove. I am not going to slate him (though it would be easy to do) I will leave that to the Headteachers Union this weekend. I am though going to feel slightly sad that he wants us to go backwards in terms of what students learn. Surely (and forgive my science heavy leanings) he could have really revolutionized and brought up to date not only the content but the focus of 21st Century education. Look forward no backwards to the careers and fields which are going to require future graduates and workforce's. The world is ready for another massive shift forward once the privatization of space gets underway, the UK is extremely well poised to be on the forefront of that. Personally I feel we should put our eggs in that basket. Try leading the world again instead of riding on the coattails of other countries. The reason why it is a shame is that Gove seems to have the drive and self belief (arrogance) to push things through regardless of their merits. Pushing through the need for UK students to be science and space literate would mean we could have been world leaders in this area. Which would not only have been exciting but also very good economically!

As I say, a missed trick, ah well.

A long time ago (I was pretty drunk at the time) someone told me an analogy of the brain that despite mine being pickled at the time has always stuck with me, even though the persons name hasn't. They said that the brain could be thought of as a hotel. Imagine a giant hotel with different levels and each level containing many rooms. Now each level of the hotel is representative of a form of intelligence (a little like Gardner's multiple intelligence model but not abused for students to cop out of certain activities). However everyone has the same floors. So for arguments sake they could be a numeracy floor, a creative floor, a writing floor and a critical thinking floor. The overall intelligence of a person is not denoted by the floors they have because we all have them but by the doors which are unlocked.

This is the part I really liked because the door potentially could all be unlocked if you acquired the correct keys (learning). Some people with high intelligence have lots of doors unlocked. Other people have doors unlocked in different amounts on different floors giving rise to talents and abilities. Geniuses   would have almost a skeleton key allowing them access to any of the rooms at any given time.

Education should be allowing people to unlock different doors and allowing people access to the information and abilities in that room. Often, and this was why this came up in a conversation with a colleague about exams and education, I feel that with some students we are actually closing and locking the doors. That instead of engaging and illuminating things for them we are in fact providing barriers to their natural intelligence and curiosity. In other words, are their some students who don't really need us other than to just point them in the right direction?

Would those students get those grades with or without us teachers at all? Especially in an age of instant information available? I am not saying teaching is redundant but it has made me wonder if a model of teaching from a time where information required research in libraries and books etc is now outdated in today's tech savvy world? Lots of questions and not many answers, but then I am a scientist so this is a normal state of affairs for me.

Actually there is a kind of answer, and it is mainly my attempt to piss of Physicists. See as a Biologist I often feel looked down on by Physicists and Chemists. Especially Physicists, who seem to constantly be on TV these days, but this may be because I got an E at A-Level Physics despite really enjoying it (I love Physics but it doesn't love me). Anyway before this turns into an episode of Jeremy Kyle I shall move on.

Physics is looking for a law that will link everything together. If you don't know about this the short of it is that big things act differently to very small things. The very small things have some really weird properties which mean that the laws of Physics which explain the big things don't quite fit. Most people have heard of Schrodinger's cat and this is an example of how weird things can get, although as a thought experiment no cats have actually been harmed. Now Physicists are looking for a set of rules which will link the very small and the very big.

One of their problems is that they are trying to find Mathematical rules to explain their findings and nothing as yet has managed to fit perfectly. Well I have simplified things and done what I try to do in most of my life and remove the Maths (although I did argue to include statistical testing in my Masters dissertation...).

As a result, based on observation, Gibson's first law of nature states;

An object will behave in a way which is in accordance with its nature.

An object can be anything from organic to inorganic and the nature of that object is said to be the way in which it behaves naturally with nothing else impacting upon it outside of its natural setting. Imagine a chair sat in a room, no one sitting on it, just there waiting.

Following on from this we have a law which explains what happens when we alter something temporarily;

The nature of an object can, in certain circumstances be altered.

So now the chair has been tipped over, if we stand it back up it is back to being its chair but while it is on its side it has had its nature altered.

The third law of nature explains what happens to things that have been permanently changed;

If the change in nature is permanent the object can no longer be said to be in its original form.

The tipping of the chair broke a leg, so when you stand it up it no longer stands on 4 legs but 3, it is no longer the original chair as it has been changed.

There we go, Physicists you are welcome a set of laws that link everything!

Gibson’s 3 laws of nature
1. An object will behave in a way which in accordance with its nature
2. The nature of an object can, in certain circumstances be altered
3. If the change in nature is permanent the object can no longer be said to be in its original form

Now it seems to work for all the conditions I can think of from students to electrons to elements but I am sure there is someone out there who will disprove this. Or maybe prove it.

If you can Mathematically prove it I will share some of my Nobel Prize with you.

Right off to mark, now where has my green pen gone?