Saturday 22 August 2009


“I arise in the morning torn between a desire to improve the world and a desire to enjoy the world. This makes it hard to plan the day.” - Elwyn Brooks White

This morning I had been invited to give a presentation to the Victorian Society for Nuclear Medicine and therefore I woke up early as it was an 8:30 am start. The presentation went very well and the 150 or so attendees seemed to enjoy it quite a great deal. In fact I was asked to come back and address the meeting once again in the future. I enjoyed it also and it highlighted for me that I miss teaching and lecturing a little ever since I started my new job 18 months ago. It is quite an experience being in front of a room of people whose undivided attention you have (and you have to keep) for an hour and a quarter, while at the same time trying to teach them something.

I then went home before going out again at lunchtime as I had been invited to attend the football match between Carlton and Melbourne at Etihad Stadium in the City. Seeing football (and other spectator sports) is not my idea of having fun on a Saturday afternoon, but the football was only an excuse for more serious business. The meeting was in the corporate box of one of the Institutes that we are negotiating with about various agreements and collaborative projects and the discussions were quite successful. We had a nice lunch, we watched the game on and off, laughed a little and talked on and off about the matter at hand regarding the agreements. Quite a good way of doing business. Incidentally, Carlton thrashed Melbourne and is well on its way to being in the finals.

This evening there was another outing, but was this strictly for pleasure, and that was what made the day worthwhile…

And for Song Saturday, a French song by the very talented and sultry Patricia Kaas, “Mon Mec à Moi”.

Friday 21 August 2009


“Sandwich every bit of criticism between two thick layers of praise.” - Mary Kay Ash

I was in Brisbane for work today. A very early flight in and a late flight out. Kept busy all day, but fortunately the trip was successful and all went well. At lunchtime we had some sandwiches brought in and we continued working while we ate. It all reminded me of the origin of the word: Sandwiches were named after John Montagu, the 4th Earl of Sandwich (1718–92), an English nobleman said to have eaten food in this form so as not to leave the gaming table…

Here is the recipe for a very special open sandwich:


• 1 slice of white bread
• 50 g butter
• 2 slices of Leidsekaas (cumin-flavoured Gouda)
• Some butter sautéed mushrooms
• Tablespoon of mayonnaise
• 1 egg
• Salt, pepper, paprika, nutmeg, (curry if desired), sprig of parsley

Melt the butter in a flat omelette skillet and heat until it is sizzling and turning brown. Fry the bread in the butter until both sides are golden. Put the cheese and mushrooms on the bread in a plate and top with the mayonnaise. Add some more butter to the pan if there is not enough there to fry the egg. Fry the egg, seasoning well and top the open sandwich with it yolk side down, adding the chopped parsley last.

Have a good weekend!

Wednesday 19 August 2009


“Horatio: O day and night, but this is wondrous strange! Hamlet: And therefore as a stranger give it welcome. There are more things in heaven and earth, Horatio, Than are dreamt of in your philosophy.”
Hamlet Act 1, scene 5, - William Shakespeare

I read in the newspaper a couple of days ago that scientists have uncovered new evidence that life may be widespread in the cosmos. It relates to the finding of a fundamental amino acid, glycine (which is a component of proteins in all forms of life), in comet dust. The material was collected in 2004 by NASA’s spacecraft “Stardust” that sampled comet dust when it passed through the tail of the comet Wild 2. Comets have long been suspected of being “buses” that contain a variety of organic compounds, which may be transported for immense distances and seeded throughout the universe on suitable host worlds.

Carl Pilcher was one of the astrobiologists who was involved in the study and he purports that the presence of glycine in comets strengthens the argument that life throughout the universe may be common rather than rare. James Elsila was the lead author in an article in the journal Meteoritics and Planetary Science that reported on the results of the study, and in his article he maintains that the finding of glycine in comet dust also supports the idea that perhaps life on earth was initially seeded by material carried here from deep space by a rogue comet…

For the skeptics, and in the interest of good science, experiments were carried out on the carbon isotopic composition of the glycine sampled by “Stardust”. This confirmed the extraterrestrial origin of the glycine molecules and effectively discounted the argument that the amino acid was of terrestrial origin and contaminated the sample after it arrived on earth.

Which brings to mind a Greek song sung by Manolis Lidakis and Eleni Tsaligopoulou “Υλικό Ονείρων” (Yliko Oneiron - Stuff of Dreams):

“Είμαστε πλασμένοι από υλικό
Που γίνονται τα όνειρα.
Είμαστε πλασμένοι από υλικό
Που γίνονται τα αστέρια…”

Είμαστε πλασμένοι εσύ κι εγώ απ’ το υλικό
Που κρύβεται στα όνειρα.
Είμαστε πλασμένοι εσύ κι εγώ απ’ το υλικό
Που καίγεται στα αστέρια…”

(We are made of the stuff
That dreams are made of.
We are made of the stuff
That stars are made of…

(We are made, you and I, of the stuff
That hides in dreams.
We are made, you and I, of the stuff
That burns in the stars…)

The Search for Extra-Terrestrial Intelligence (SETI) is a project that has been on-going for several decades now. It concerns itself with questions like: “How many planets exists which might support life? What is required for life to exist? How does life start? How does it evolve, and what fabulous creatures can evolution produce? How often do intelligent creatures appear in the giant tapestry of life?” Such questions are the domain of astrobiology and SETI has long tried to answer them.

A famous astrobiologist, Dr Frank Drake, has tried to answer these questions by mathematical means and his equation attempts to quantify the number of planets in the universe that harbour intelligent life. Although this equation has no generally accepted “solution”, many people have tried to “solve” it and in the great majority of cases, even with the most conservative numbers, it becomes obvious that the presence of intelligent life in our galaxy is inevitable. All it remains for us to do now is to conclusively demonstrate its existence…

And the word of the day, aptly, is:
Astrobiology |ˌastrōbīˈäləjē| noun
(Also known as exobiology, exopalaeontology, and bioastronomy) is the study of the origin, evolution, distribution, and future of life in the universe. This interdisciplinary field encompasses the search for habitable environments in our Solar System and habitable planets outside our Solar System, the search for evidence of prebiotic chemistry, life on Mars and other bodies in our Solar System, laboratory and field research into the origins and early evolution of life on Earth, and studies of the potential for life to adapt to challenges on Earth and in outer space.
ORIGIN: from Greek astron ‘star’ and bios ‘life’ + -logia ‘denoting a subject of study or interest’.

Jacqui BB hosts Word Thursday

Tuesday 18 August 2009


“Everything is blooming most recklessly; if it were voices instead of colors, there would be an unbelievable shrieking into the heart of the night.” - Rainer Maria Rilke

For every part of the world where a dismal Winter reigns, there is an antipodean Summer. Dreary Autumn is diametrically opposed to another part of the world where the blush of Spring colours the earth’s cheek. To every coin two sides, heads you win, tails I lose. To every story there are two versions, his and hers. For every relationship two endings, one happy and one sad…

Spring in the Antipodes

A brilliant day today, Spring!
Sky sapphire-blue,
Sun shining strong, golden-warm.
Unlike the sickly silver sunshine
Of two weeks ago in Winter.
The buds have swelled
On plum trees,
And the wattles a riot of yellow
That I have just noticed today.
In the garden, my anemones
Have bloomed purple and red.

And I, ensconced deeply
In the dark recesses of my office,
I labour under reams of paper,
And do battle with numbers,
Trying to discipline them,
Getting them to abide by the
Budgetary constraints…
Outside my window,
Birds flutter, their twitters
A distraction as are the emerald leaves,
Newly sprung on street trees.

With afternoon tea comes sympathy,
And loneliness that lurks in the stairwell,
Also in the dimly lit corridor,
Illuminated by cold neon lights
(a special pity today!)
My pigeon hole bare of letters
Again today, you do not speak to me
Your face sullen, your eyes a cool blue.
I won’t speak either.
Where is my optimistic morning mood?

And the day marches on
And evening comes quickly
(in Spring, days are still short).
Back home,
The nagging insistence of night falling:
“The temperature will drop to 3˚C tonight…”
And then it’s dead of night,
Spring just a phantom
Once again this year…

Poetry Wednesday is hosted by Jacqui BB


“As iron is eaten by rust, so are the envious consumed by envy.” - Antisthenes

Today is the birthday of:
Virginia Dare, first American-born child of English parents (1587);
Brook Taylor, mathematician (1685);
Antonio Salieri, Italian composer (1750);
Meriwether Lewis, American explorer (1774);
Fabian Gottlieb von Bellinghausen, Antarctica circumnavigator (1778);
John Russell, British Prime Minister (1792);
Max Factor, cosmetics empire builder (1904);
Shelley Winters (Shirley Schrift), actress (1922);
Rosalynn Smith, former American first lady (1927);
Roman Polanski, director (1933);
Robert Redford, US actor (1937);
Martin Mull, actor (1943);
Patrick Swayze, actor (1952);

Vinca major, the blue periwinkle is the birthday flower for today. It symbolises early friendship. Astrologically, the plant is ruled by Venus.

Antonio Salieri (1750-1825) was Mozart’s contemporary and during their lifetimes, Salieri was infinitely more popular and more successful than Mozart. His music nowadays sounds curiously simplistic and devoid of expression of feeling, although technically competent and satisfying in form. He appreciated Mozart’s genius and may have even helped the younger composer. But was he also envious of him? Did he, as one playwright would have us believe, have a hand in Mozart’s untimely death? Peter Schaeffer’s “Amadeus” may have done irreparable harm to Salieri’s reputation and unfortunately it may all be groundless slander! Who knows for certain? He wrote over 40 operas, none of which have been revived and his instrumental output although smaller is the only part of his oeuvre that is nowadays available. Some of his works that are entertaining and possibly an illustration of “classical muzak” are his concerti: Concerto for Fortepiano and Orchestra (1773) and Concerto for Flute, Oboe and Orchestra (1774). They are rather light and have no pretensions of being deep and emotionally challenging…

Just by way of comparison, here are the first movements of piano concertos by Salieri (Concerto for fortepiano in B flat-major, composed around 1773 when Salieri was 23 years old) and by Mozart (Piano Concerto No. 9 in E flat major, K271, composed in 1777 when Mozart was 21 years old).

Now compare this to Mozart’s effort in the same genre:

Monday 17 August 2009


“Humour is perhaps a sense of intellectual perspective: An awareness that some things are really important, others not; and that the two kinds are most oddly jumbled in everyday affairs.” - Christopher Morley

We watched a strange film at the weekend, one that wasn’t quite what we expected, but which we nevertheless enjoyed in the end. It was Shane Black’s 2005 “Kiss, Kiss, Bang, Bang”, which certainly had a lot of kisses and a lot of bangs in it. I chose the film as I read in the back jacket of the DVD the scanty write-up of the plot which described it as an action thriller. They had left out the bit about the black comedy! This best describes the film, which was quite a funny spoof of a film noir. One word of warning: If you are likely to be offended by piquant language, this is not the film for you – the film-makers have gone out of their way to “offend the viewers of the Midwest” as they confess in the last few minutes of the film! I am not a fan of blue language in films, but I did not particularly mind it in this film, it was about the dregs of society living in L.A. after all, it was to be expected that this was the way they spoke (OK, maybe I live a sheltered life)!

In a nutshell, the film concerns itself with a petty criminal in New York who, in order to escape the police who is chasing him ends up in an audition room and gets selected to take part in a film being made in L.A. He runs across his high school sweetheart who is now an aspiring starlet in Hollywood and gets involved in murder and conspiracy quite by chance. There is also a gay detective, a jaded Hollywood director up to his dirty tricks, identity theft, murder, car chases, incest, murder, a hungry dog (oh no!), and some quite original comedic devices that are very effective (did I mention murder?)

The actors do a fantastic job, with Robert Downey Jnr giving a great performance as the idiotic, gauche Harry, the petty thief. Val Kilmer is “Gay Perry”, the detective with the faultless grammar (the recurring joke bad/badly, adjective/adverb is very funny), while Michelle Monaghan plays Harmony, the aspiring young starlet. The supporting actors were also all very good and there is great chemistry amongst the leads. Once the initial few minutes of this film were seen and digested and the caricatures of the pulp film noir are appreciated, one can sit back and enjoy the humour and clever dialogue. At the same time I should stress that it’s not slapstick, and the ludicrous situations that develop are mainly because of the ineptitude of Harry as the “detective-in-spite-of-himself”.

The director, Shane Black (Lethal Weapon, Last Boy Scout, Long Kiss Goodnight) wrote the script based on an idea based on the novel by Brett Halliday “Bodies Are Where You Find Them”, but he has imbued it with his own brand of tongue in cheek humour, fast-paced dialogue and sick ideas. Incidentally, the title is from the Japanese description of James Bond movies! Good fun all round…