Monday, February 12, 2007

Darwin Day, 12 February 2007

Here at ASU we just had a little lunchtime get-together to wish Charles Darwin a happy birthday. Tea and cakes, we sang Happy Birthday, and there was a little talk on his early life and background (up until the Beagle voyage). It's a step in the run-up to the big bicentennial in '09.

I was particularly pleased to attend as my wife and I got our doctorates from the Cambridge department of Earth Sciences, which has an excellent collection of Darwin's geological samples and great material on Adam Sedgewick (who taught Darwin geology).

Happy Darwin Day to all :)

A brief note on the "controversial" topic of evolution and religion:

Evolution, the fact that all forms of life are descended from a common ancestor, is not a scientifically controversial topic, in much the same way that the proposition that "if I drop this rock, it will fall" is not controversial. We've been looking at the subject for quite some time now and it's just the way things are. In other news, the earth goes round the Sun.

If you have religious objections to evolution, then you are wrong, much as religious objections to the earth going round the Sun were wrong. You will get a better handle on physical reality by paying attention to science than by reading Bronze Age legends, however poetic.

I would, however, strongly encourage everybody to read the Bible, in detail and with attention. There is no better cure for fundamentalism than to actually read the religious text in question, in all its self-contradictory, arbitrary and historically inaccurate glory.

Saturday, February 10, 2007

The issue of tea

It's been said that Britain and the USA are two nations divided by a common language. A second, and far more important, source of division is tea. Trying to get a decent cup of tea in the USA is practically impossible.

There is one (1) thing about making tea that you ought to know.


I've lost count of the number of times I've been served a cup of hot (or even lukewarm) water and a teabag. This combination will not make anybody happy. The flavour ( and the caffeine! Yay caffeine!) of tea will not dissolve well if the water isn't really hot when you brew the tea. Not boiling the water will not give you tea, much as not baking the dough will not give you bread.

Kettles are not that pricey. Your kitchen must have some way to boil water. Please, please, use it.

The temperature issue is also why you should warm a teapot before brewing tea in it- just pour in a little boiling water, swill it around and pour it out once the pot is hot.

Ironically, one of the few decent cups of tea I've been served in the USA came from an espresso stand. A teabag or some leaf tea in an espresso machine brews just as well as coffee does (Mmm, espresso!). Just don't use the same brew basket for tea and coffee. And let's not make tea in a drip coffee machine, mmmkay?

All the above applies to ordinary black (fermented) tea. I'm told that green tea should be brewed with water at 80 degrees Celsius. Personally I don't work to that degree of precision, but then I don't drink much green tea, so no harm done.

As for herbal tea, let us note that it is drunk only by Marxists.

Because proper tea is theft.

Friday, February 9, 2007

Line of dance

If you're doing ballroom dancing, you will meet the term "line of dance." The progressive dances, such as waltz, foxtrot and quickstep, go round and round the room counter-clockwise. Obviously, dancing against line of dance is a bad thing on a crowded floor, as you will be running against traffic. Faster-moving dancers generally take the outside line while slower-moving dancers stay closer to the middle of the floor; so the faster you dance, the bigger the radius of the circle you make around the floor.

Some songs are suitable for dancing both a progressive and a non-progressive dance; something fast in 4/4 time may work for both quickstep (progressive) and swing/jive (non-progressive). Dance floor etiquette is for people doing swing to stay in the MIDDLE of the room, so the progressive dancers can go round the outside. Swing dancers on the outside of the room are a traffic hazard as progressive dancers have to dodge them.

It's common for people who feel nervous or uncertain, or who don't want to show off, to feel that they should stay on the outskirts of the room. This is counter-productive; staying on the outskirts puts you in traffic, plus you'll be close to a wall or the edge of the floor. Safety, anonymity and free space lie in the middle of the floor.

So when we quickstep, swing dancers PLEASE stay in the middle.

That's not so hard, is it?

Heads up

Life, as we all know, is full of ambiguity and unanswered questions.

Life is also full of answered questions, yet people frequently don't know the answers. This causes confusion and frustration.

This blog is intended to present answers which people ought to know. These include how to make a decent cup of tea. These things are not so difficult, people. Pay attention.