Sunday, 31 January 2010


... is not something we're terribly good at as a species. That might seem an odd statement, given that we pride ourselves on being the most intelligent species on the planet. But let's explore it a little.

Long-term readers of this blog have probably been hospitalised by now, but there may be one or two survivors who recall me mentioning 'woolly thinking' way back in the day. By non-woolly thinking I mean exercising a rigorous mental analysis of a question or problem and arriving at a solution untainted by prejudice, preconception or emotion. Mostly we don't do this. We rely on 'gut instinct' a lot, and for the fairly good reason that gut instinct is what's kept us going as a species since our emergence on the African savannahs. When a lion-shaped animal was spotted approaching, the early hominid who insisted on a detailed and thorough analysis of the precise identity of the animal concerned, and a critical examination of statistics relating to lion/human attacks, turned rather quickly from an early hominid to a late one; a progenitor Darwin Award winner, if you will.

We can add to that the tendency of humans to have firmly-held opinions regardless of near-total ignorance of the subject in question; and also the tendency of humans to adopt the opinion of the peer group that seems most attractive to us. Herd instinct is another time-served and effective survival strategy.

However, the problems those of us in the developed world face today are not, by and large, the sort that are best dealt with using these old models. But our brains are not well wired for serious thinking. It hurts, damnit, and most of us will avoid it unless absolutely necessary.

Take these very simple questions. Are the obvious answers right? Of course not, as a moment's real thought will show. But most people find the obvious answers powerfully attractive.

First: If a brick weighs a pound plus half a brick, what do three bricks weigh?

Second: In a pub I buy half a pint of bitter and a box of matches. The bill is £1.10. The half pint costs a pound more than the matches. What do the matches cost?

Friday, 29 January 2010

And you thought I was strange?

A couple of recent Observations suggest that, while I may be a tiny bit eccentric in some regards, at least I'm not totally barking.

Firstly, there's this story, which has caused much merriment chez Observer. Advertising for reliable people discriminates against unreliable people, apparently. Dearie me, the poor things.

However, of almost equal cause for amusement is the presumption that reliable people are the ones to employ.

No. No, no. Let's think about it.

Reliable people are the ones who quietly get on with stuff. You don't really keep an eye on them; their tasks are accomplished on time and without fuss; the beady eye of management just sort of skates over them.

Meanwhile, the unreliable ones are always adrift with their tasks; need constant supervision; are not trusted by management to any extent.

So who, do you think, is the more likely to be syphoning off funds in the background? Running a porn site on the company server? Selling commercial data to the competition? Yep, good ol' Frank there. 'Never been late in her life' Noreen. Mrs Thing from accounts. They're the ones who'll screw over the employer in the long run, not Nutter Norman the useless trainee who's always, but always, got someone on his case.

The other item that suggests others out there are much more mentally ill than my good self is a rumour that a very major local employer has bought a 'landmark' local building, into which it proposes to move very many people in the near future. The expenditure will be mighty. And this it has done, according to a normally reliable source (though whether the source is reliably normal is another question), without going to the trouble of having a survey on the building. Questions are now being asked as to the fitness for purpose of the building. Several other questions spring to mind, as for example: "What dung-for-brains made that decision? Or did it just not occur?"

What a wonderful world! I feel less lonely already.

Wednesday, 27 January 2010

Breathe deeply

Not the most productive of days. No. Had better. Several drinks required.

Mrs QO and our currently resident police officer having left the premises for the day, I settled down to my important work. High on the 'to do' list was to telephone the number that Nurse Desirée had given me. I dialled eagerly, noting in a separate portion of my multi-tasking brain that it was about time we had a new word for 'dialling', since we manifestly don't any more.


"Hello, you're through to Dorks Anonymous. Press 1 for your local dorks group. Press 2 to hear the 12-step program that enables you to leave dorkdom behind. Press 3..."

I feel that the bitter depths of my disappointment and mortification may well be imagined, and thus left unrecorded here.

However, my spirits were soon restored by my elevenses (75ml of gin and 25ml of dry vermouth, plus today's tablets of course) and I turned to the other major project of the day - the setting up of a new laptop, recently delivered from those nice people that work for Mr Dell.

Welcome to Windows 7. Oh, brave new world, and let's hope fervently it doesn't suck as much as Vista. No, it doesn't, but it does have some funny ideas. Chief among these is its preference for only networking with other Win 7 machines. Given that there aren't that many of them out there, relatively speaking, this seems a little 'stand-offish', as we might say. Anyone who's tinkered with home networks will be expecting a little grief every time a new machine is added, but this really was harder than it need have been.

Win 7 pc: "No, what you want is for me to start a Homegroup."

Old XP pc: "Get stuffed, matey. We don't know diddley-squat about Homegroups. What's wrong with good old Workgroups?"

Win 7 pc: "Oh, my... listen to the ol' banjo-playing wierdo. Get with the now, buddy. Workgroups are like, soooo twentieth-century. Homegroups. Get used to it. Oh, and would all the mouth-breathers kindly leave the information highway?"

Old XP pc: "Don't like your attitude, sonny. When you've earned your third service pack, then we might listen. Until then, you're the newbie on the block and it's gonna be WORKGROUPS DO YOU HEAR ME????"

At this point I had to step in, and give both machines a good slap upside the TCP/IP... several hours later, I'd managed to get them at least politely acknowledging each other's existence, and even grudgingly swapping a few files. We still need to talk about the printer, though.

So little real progress today. I really must get on with exploring the possible presence of aliens among our political leaders; with a general election coming up, this could be quite critical.

Sunday, 24 January 2010

New directions

Having spent a quiet few days under Mrs QO's patient ministrations, made some notes for future action and experimented with different dosages of my latest meds (not only do they look good in a dry martini but you can get some excellent fizzing out of them if dropped into Newcastle Brown or Thwaites Bomber), I find myself at something of a crossroads.

The call of science is strong, and there can be no doubt that sacrifices are necessary in the quest to push back the borders of our knowledge. And yet... and yet... there is equally no doubt that should one's experiments go just a tiny bit wrong, vile calumny and contumely is heaped upon one's bowed head from all and sundry - and I cannot except my own dear Mrs QO on this point.

It is furthermore the case, as I was lately informed, that a Constable of Her Majesty's Metropolitan Police will be residing chez moi for some four days, doubtless to carry out special interrogation into recent events. I am hoping to dull his powers of detection somewhat with alcohol, but it is nonetheless another hindrance to further work along my previous lines.

It is of course true that my über-intellect is such that any field of study is feasibly open to me, and I have long been a believer that a generalist approach is a fruitful one. As Heinlein remarked: "Specialisation is for insects." Perhaps, therefore, I may for some time at least put my purely scientific endeavours to one side and expand my interests to other spheres.

"But what other spheres?" I hear you say. A pertinent question. Let me answer it with a few examples, to demonstrate to even the most meagre intellect the variety of my projected investigations. I will, for clarity's sake, group these forthcoming projects under some helpful headings.

Domestic chemistry and dietetics
I shall commence working to achieve the Perfect Cornish Pasty.

It has come to my attention that a local political leader may be a member of an alien species. This surely bears investigation.

Nursing in the 21st century
Having had some recent experience to form the basis of a study, I could perhaps follow this up with some in-depth interviews. (Now where did I put Nurse Desirée's number??)

Socio-legal engineering
I propose, perhaps once a week, to put on some form of special clothing and go out to administer summary justice to startled local ne'er-do-wells. Some of them may be aliens too, I suspect, given some of their behaviours.

Can hamsters get drunk?
We don't know, but it's going to be fun finding out.

So, that should give you some idea of where we may be going with the course of study and of course the blog. Do feel free to suggest other avenues for research.

Friday, 22 January 2010

The to-do list

1. Investigate the possibilities of the washing machine for preparing large quantities of food (NB to self: suggest leaving clothes out of preliminary trials).

2. Instruct lawyer (Blaggitt, Scrote LLP) to dispute bill from electricity supplier. This purely as cover, while executing covert hack of electricity supplier mainframe to eliminate record.

3. Listen to more Elgar.

4. See if Mrs QO will invite Lena for tea. (Suspect not, at least not while she's packing heat. A shame.)

5. Buy more parsnips. They're getting restive. No, not the parsnips, you fool.

6. Construct and consume a large dry martini.

7. Listen out for chaffinches. The great tits are singing, so it won't be long.

8. Talking of Nurse Desirée... what to do with this phone number?

9. Get more sleep, during which we may hope the subconscious can find a half-way feasible way out of the plot cul-de-sac in which we currently languish.

10. Consider whether it's time to do a different kind of blog entirely. Ooo-er.

Tuesday, 19 January 2010

Dulce domum

I see no profit in describing in any detail the agonies that I underwent during the magnet-removal procedure in hospital. Few mortals, I suggest, could have withstood such pain and lived, let alone endured it in the patient and dignified silence which I maintained throughout. At one point I noticed Nurse Desirée and Mrs QO standing together, doubtless finding mutual support during the ordeal which, given their partiality to myself, must have been a significant one indeed.

I should not like it to be suspected that I criticise the care and skill of the doctor who attended to my case. There should be no doubt about it whatsoever! I condemn with what little energy is left to me the barbarous and clumsy treatment I received; had I not been so weakened by my suffering I would have destroyed the soi-disant medic on the spot, and then sought out the institution that, surely as a result of purely financial incitement, issued his alleged qualifications, and burned it to the ground, stamping with relish on the glowing embers. I don't say that everyone would have been so modest in their reactions, but then I have always prided myself on my self-control.

Eventually my oppressor laughed cheerily and said he would leave me for Nurse Desirée to finish off. Alarmed at first, I thought he intended her to administer a coup de grâce, and waved weakly at Mrs QO for her immediate assistance. However, his meaning was evidently that she would complete such tasks as were prefatory to my release, since it was scarcely 30 minutes later that Mrs QO was helping me to the taxi which she had thoughtfully engaged. As we approached the door to the ward, I turned back to the dark beauty who was carefully watching our departure.

'Despite the savagery meted out to me by your colleague, I must thank you, Nurse, for all your kindness. I hope we may meet again some day and continue our earlier discussions. You know. About your...'

At this point a new and sharp pain in my right ear asserted itself. A glance in that direction suggested that the cause was none other than Mrs QO, who had, with an enigmatic smile, taken a firm grasp of the aural appendage in question and was using it as a crude but startlingly effective means of encouraging my progress through the door. Glancing back, I saw Nurse Desirée waving and, strangely, wearing an almost identically enigmatic smile to that worn by my dear wife.

How true it is that: 'Woman-kind, in her heart and mind, sails on a restless ocean.' They are a mystery to themselves as much as to men. What on earth was I to make of the fact that, tucked into my pyjama jacket pocket, was a piece of paper with a telephone number written upon it in a girlish, looping script?

A question for another day. For now, I shall enjoy being back in the quiet peace of home, safe from intrusive medical interference, and able to catch up with my notes.

Thursday, 14 January 2010

From Nurse Desirée's diary

Had an interesting chat with Mrs QO while we were watching Doctor see to removing the fridge magnets from her husband's head. Nice lady - she offered me some bourbon from her flask.

"Better not, thanks, I'm on duty."

She nodded.

"What a lot of fuss he's making. I suppose you did give him some anaesthetic?"
"Oh, of course. Mind, I expect it does sting a bit."
"Serve him right. Two days' worth of ice blown to buggery, and I was fond of that magnet with the raccoon on. And God knows what the bill will be from the electrician. Ah well. Better than his last little escapade, I suppose. At least we still have the roof."

She took another sip of bourbon and glanced sideways at me.

"How much trouble has he been?"
"Oh, well, not too much. Not once I'd got the cuffs on him. He seemed fascinated by my breasts... he asked whether they were... well, real, or not, and I thought it might be best if he was restrained. You know, just to keep things under control."

She nodded.

"I was going to ask if you wanted to borrow my cattle-prod, but you seem to have things sorted."

She looked at me again.

"About your breasts..."

I was all set to get indignant.


She looked me straight in the eye.

"You didn't tell him, I hope?"
"Certainly not. None of his business."

She grinned.

"Good. Keep the little bugger guessing. It might just take his mind off 'his latest experiment', God help us. Listen, if he starts going on about the meaculpa oblongata, just let him whitter on, OK? He's mostly harmless, but he does get these odd ideas. Don't let him talk you into any 'experiments', whatever you do."

I nodded slowly.

"And of course, since he's the first male ever to work it out, we don't want the word spreading."

We stood in silence for a moment, then my curiosity got the better of me.

"Why did you marry him?"

She thought for a moment.

"Well, his cunning plan was to keep me drunk for the first four years of our relationship, so when he popped the question I wasn't at my sharpest. And there have been some moments of fun, if you don't mind the occasional missing roof or totally destroyed deep-freeze. And he cooks a mean chilli - especially when he's trying for boeuf bourguignon. Everyone needs someone to look after them."
"It's what we do, isn't it?"
"Until someone comes up with a better plan, yes, that's what we do."

Nice lady, Mrs QO.

Wednesday, 13 January 2010

Justice: seen to be done

I must say these new meds are excellent. A little on the large side, and rather green; the resemblance to a green olive was so remarkable I started taking them in my breakfast dry martini, and I've been really quite lucid since. I said so to Mrs QO, thinking this might reassure her after the trials of the last few days. "For a given value of lucid, no doubt," she said, which I thought was most generous of her.

I believe my last update was shortly before a period of unconsciousness while handcuffed to a hospital bed. My next recollection was the sight of two large and stern-visaged Officers of the Law leaning over me, one on either side. I gazed up at them in some confusion.

"Ah, feeling a bit more awake, are we, sir? Good. Thought we'd bring you up to speed, so to speak, sir. We've investigated the circumstances, and run everything by Mizz Voletreader of the Crown Prosecution Service."

"Hur hur. She's quite a lady, in't she, sarge?"

"She is indeed, PC Ballvalve. Top-class lawyer, hates villains and..."

"...legs up to her armpits, sarge."

"Yes, well, PC Ballvalve, we don't want any suggestion of gender-based innuendo, if you'd be so good. And if you value your career, such as it is. Anyway, sir, Mizz Voletreader said that unless we could find a 'Prohibition on Being a Complete Arse' on the statute book..."

"We did look. Twice."

"... then there really wasn't an obvious avenue for charging you with a criminal offence. I did suggest to her, sir, that we might explore the possibility of 'wasting police time' but she said that we'd have to charge most of the Government if we charged you and that was likely to irritate the Chief Super."

"We don't want that, sarge."

"Indeed, no. So, sir, I'm here just to issue an official caution and then leave you in the capable hands of Nurse Desirée."

I was rather bemused by all this, but managed to enquire on what basis I was being cautioned.

"Don't irritate Nurse Desirée, sir. Those handcuffs aren't ours. They're hers."

He straightened, adjusted his tunic, touched a finger to his helmet.

"PC Ballvalve, with me, son. G'night, all."

And with that he proceeded in official majesty and a south-westerly direction toward the ward door, a testament to Sir Robert Peel's vision.

I felt a deep wave of relief wash over me. I would not, then, have to face the Magistrates; I instinctively felt my explanations would not have found favour with those severe and unbending arbiters, and I could surely not have avoided finding myself a helpless prisoner in the remotest dungeon of the best-guarded keep of the stoutest castle in all the length and breadth of Merry England.

However, all was well. I brightened. Surely once the necessary if tedious medical procedures were complete, I would be released and I could continue my experiments. A minor setback had been encountered, yes, but the path to enlightenment has never been said to be an easy one. (Even with stout boots and a GPS.) I relaxed back into my bed, and looked forward to Nurse Desirée's return.

Monday, 11 January 2010

A hiatus

An hiatus, perhaps? I dunno. Let's say 'a caesura'; slightly less accurate but more poetic.

Any road up, you may have noticed that the 'mad scientist' alter ego has taken over more than somewhat of late. Part of the fun of blogging with no detailed plan (story of my life) is to see where it goes, and although the current plotline has been great fun, I refuse to be tied to a traditional model of narrative continuity on this blog. I get quite enough of that at work. For the time being, therefore, we leave myself dazed and confused ('for so long it's not true', and more parsnips to anyone who spots the source for that) and handcuffed to a hospital bed under the caring attentions of Nurse Desirée Gaspinforit, she of the bountifully mammalian aspect.

One of the most irritating things about New Year is the amount of advice that is wished upon one by well-meaning idiots. I don't object to practical suggestions about drinking less, exercising more and so on, but I do get a little tetchy over the amount of vague, pseudo-spiritual, lets-all-reconnect-with-ourselves drivel that washes around the blogosphere and our e-mail inboxes at this time of year. A particularly emetic example arrived yesterday and I was reminded of an occasion, almost exactly 10 years ago, when I was an habitué (a habitué? dunno) of one of the world's first online communities. Somebody posted an inferior set of 'desiderata' and some sarcastic and cynical contributor overlaid it with their own thoughts.

I grant that sarcasm is the lowest form of wit, and that a cynic is one who knows the price of everything and the value of nothing. That said, I post the text herewith, and you can take from it what you will.


I'VE LEARNED that you cannot make someone love you. All you can do is be someone who can be loved.....The rest is up to them.
You can make them love you. Just offer them money.

I'VE LEARNED that no matter how much I care, some people just don't care back.
So don't bother caring.

I'VE LEARNED that no matter how good a friend is, they're going to hurt you every once in a while and you must forgive them for that.
Nonsense. Smack 'em around a bit. They'll learn.

I'VE LEARNED that just because someone doesn't love you the way you want to doesn't mean they don't love you with all they have.
Or it might mean they're slow learners. See above.

I'VE LEARNED that regardless of how hot and steamy a relationship is at first, the passion fades and there had better be something else to takes its place.
Pizza will do it.

I'VE LEARNED that there are people who love you dearly, but just don't know how to show it.
Comes to the same thing. Discard them.

I'VE LEARNED that true friendship continues to grow, even over the longest distance. Same goes for true love.
That's the beauty of a telephone, isn't it?

I'VE LEARNED that although the word "love" can have many different meanings, it loses value when overly used.
Like most forms of credit, yeah.

I'VE LEARNED that maturity has more to do with what types of experiences you've had and what you've learned from them and less to do with how many birthdays you've celebrated.
You've obviously never had a really good birthday celebration.

I'VE LEARNED that it isn't always enough to be forgiven by others. Sometimes you have to learn to forgive yourself.
Because you're worth it, right?

I'VE LEARNED that no matter how bad your heart is broken the world doesn't stop for your grief.
Shout louder, and it might at least slow down a little.

I'VE LEARNED that our background and circumstances may have influenced who we are, but we are responsible for who we become.
So next time you're sacked, assaulted or insulted, it's your fault if you get upset about that. Hmmm...

I'VE LEARNED That sometimes when my friends fight, I'm forced to choose sides even when I don't want to.
Why not just mind your own business and let 'em get on with it?

I'VE LEARNED That just because two people argue, it doesn't mean they don't love each other. And just because they don't argue, it doesn't mean they do.
Nice going, Sherlock.

I'VE LEARNED That sometimes you have to put the individual ahead of their actions.
But mostly not. This is why we have the criminal law.

I'VE LEARNED That we don't have to change friends if we understand that friends change.
Unless they change into axe-wielding loonies. Or evangelists. Then you DO have to change them.

I'VE LEARNED That you shouldn't be so eager to find out a secret. It could change your life forever.
And make you lots and lots of money.

I'VE LEARNED That two people can look at the exact same thing and see something totally different.
I noticed the exact same thing myself. Or, wait, maybe it wasn't the exact same thing...

I'VE LEARNED That no matter the consequences, those who are honest with themselves get farther in life.
Name names, pal. You reckon Bill Clinton is honest with himself?

I'VE LEARNED That no matter how many friends you have, if you are their pillar you will feel lonely and lost at the times you sometimes need them the most.
Try being their obelisk, then.

I'VE LEARNED That even when you think you have no more to give, when a friend cries out to you, you will find the strength to help.
Depends on much you're enjoying being their pillar that week.

I'VE LEARNED That credentials on the wall DO NOT make you a decent human being.
Depends who signed the credentials, doesn't it?

I'VE LEARNED That it's hard to determine where to draw the line between being nice and not hurting people's feelings and standing up for what you believe.
Well, you can stand up nicely. Or draw a very faint line.

I'VE LEARNED That it takes years to build up trust, and only seconds to destroy it.
If it takes years to build up trust, fraud would hardly exist. Go check the statistics.

I'VE LEARNED That sometimes when I'm angry I have the right to be angry, but that doesn't give me the right to be cruel.
Why not? A little applied cruelty might save you having to get angry next time.

I'VE LEARNED That money is a lousy way of keeping score.
But it works well for the vast majority of transactions. Back in the old days we used rocks, but they wear out your pockets.

I'VE LEARNED That either you control your attitude or it controls you.
I hate an uppity attitude. Smack it down hard.

I'VE LEARNED That it's not what you have in your life but who you have in your life that counts.
...and what those people have, of course.

I'VE LEARNED That you can get by on charm for about fifteen minutes. After that, you had better know something.
Yep, like how to offer someone money. Or pizza.

I'VE LEARNED That it's taking me a long time to become the person I want to be.
Probably because you've never properly defined your objective and spent too much time passing on empty platitudes.

I'VE LEARNED That you can keep going long after you think you can't.
But you very seldom want to, and that's quite natural.

I'VE LEARNED That learning to forgive takes practice.
So does flipping someone the finger. But it's worth working at...

Friday, 8 January 2010

O, call back yesterday, bid time return!

Well said, my Lord Salisbury, well said. I feel for you. Let me admit from the outset that the disastrous results of the day were entirely my fault. You will, I am in no doubt, be on tenterhooks to know the outcome of my prediction that today - Friday - would be the day that Mrs QO reverted to type and opened the icebox in search of bourbon coolant. For those of you who have not followed the current experiment's progress in detail, there is a briefing here.

How bitter is the thought that my prediction was correct, but that by my own thoughtlessness the opportunity was cast away.

I had, during the day, become somewhat distracted by my recent interest in the enduring appeal of Bram Stoker's work for the current generation. Being a long-standing advocate for the oeuvre of that well-known Vampire Slayer, Sarah Michelle Gellar, I thought I'd give her a call to take her views. (I tactfully decided to avoid mention of Scooby-Doo which was, frankly, jejeune, I'm afraid to say.)

Acquiring her phone number was the work of a few moments and a laughably easy Apache exploit on her agent's server. We had an interesting conversation, though I must say I had to carry most of it, her contributions being limited to:

"Who is this?"
"The Quizzical which?"
"How did you get this number?"
"If I have to come over there with my pointy stick, you'll be sorry..."

I gallantly assured her that nothing could be further from the truth, but at that point she terminated the connection.

I was mulling over our enjoyable chat when Mrs QO arrived home.

"What a day. Do you know, since it's Friday, I think I could allow myself a tiny glass of something. Be a poppet and get me some ice, would you?"

Qui s'excuse, s'accuse. I can do no more than state the bare fact that, in my state of distraction, I bent down and opened the icebox door.

There was a blinding flash of light, a noise like that of a mighty wind tearing silk asunder and several sharp impacts upon my person... and then everything went dark.


It has taken some little while to type this entry, since my left hand is handcuffed to the hospital bed. Shortly after I came round, a nurse with the face of an angel and unfeasibly beautiful breasts came to attend to me, and explained that two officers of Her Majesty's Constabulary wished to interview me, as did a representative of the local electricity supplier. Seemingly the firing of my home-built MRI (and, I became uneasily aware, the fact that to ensure a steady power supply I had bridged the 30-amp fuse with an old screwdriver) had plunged several of the neighbourhood streets into darkness. It seemed, further, that several of my neighbours wished to visit me to make comment on the same point, particularly since the temperature outside is below zero and falling. I painfully raised myself onto one elbow:

"But where, nurse, is my dear Mrs QO? Has she not come to see her helpmeet in this medical durance vile?"

"Durance what, mi duck? Oh, she's here, she's just outside cramming some snow into her bourbon. Seems there's no ice at home, she said."

"Ah, thank you."

"Now don't you worry, we won't let any of them bother you until we've got the fridge magnets out."

"I beg your pardon?"

"Yes, you poor love, you've got five fridge magnets stuck in your head. Doctor thinks he can get them out under local, not to worry. And we all love that one with the raccoon on."

I slumped back into the comforting embrace of the pillows. It was going to be a long and tiresome night.

"Nurse... thank you for your care, but... could you possibly do just one thing for me?"

"Course I can, love, what is it?"

"Could you just tell me.... I simply have to know... are those breasts real? They're... magnificent."

She straightened and gave me a level look.

"You'll never know, dear. I thought your wife looked as if she could do with a large drink."

I know, I know, it was crass. I should have known better. Her anecdotal assertion would have proved nothing; some tangible evidence would have been required, something I could weigh up with my own hands and eyes. It was terribly unscientific of me.

I felt rather strange... shock, perhaps... perhaps a little sleep would restore my faculties...

Thursday, 7 January 2010

Adapt and survive

The UK is currently enduring temperatures only 2˚ higher than the South Pole, and this old 1901 house has an R-value lower than that. I was conscious while enjoying my new breakfast product (sausage in a sock - it goes rather well with a poached egg, though I may investigate whether the spin cycle helps or not) of a distinct chill, and decided to save valuable energy today by switching off most of my brain. Since Mrs QO has not so far returned to her last-decade habit of a 5.30 bourbon, our experiment is still pending, so no valuable progress would thus be lost.

You probably know that the average human brain consumes some 20% of the body's energy despite representing only some 2% of the body's mass. In my case, of course, the factor is considerably higher, and I therefore decided to close down many of the higher brain functions for the day and lapse into what we may call a cerebral torpor, leaving active only sufficient processing power to keep the autonomous systems ticking over (heartbeat, peristalsis, coffee, cigarettes). Few humans have sufficient voluntary control over their brains to achieve this, but then I have spent time in East Anglia.

I wished Mrs QO 'good day' as she prepared to leave for work and mentioned my intention to her.

'Jolly good, dear,' she said. 'But how would we tell the difference?' And swept out.

I wonder about her sometimes.

Wednesday, 6 January 2010

An enigma of pinkness and palm trees

There can be few of us who have not wondered... just what was the relationship between the delectable Lady Penelope Creighton-Ward and Jeff Tracy?

He was clearly some years the elder, but it does seem that Lady Penelope was somewhat estranged from her parents; perhaps Jeff was something of a father-figure as well as a colleague in the rescuing business? And surely there was some deep intimacy - if not ultimately physically expressed - between them. He called her 'Penny' and she would interrupt her afternoon tea to receive his calls.

I've always been just a little in love with Lady P. She's a bad girl, really. She employs a convicted criminal, she smokes, tools around the place in a heavily-armed Roller, wears furs, and never wears a seat-belt. Mad, bad and dangerous to know. You couldn't blame old Jeff, now could you?

Tuesday, 5 January 2010

No success... but only partial failure

Curse this New Year resolution business! If I ever finish my time-machine, I shall go back and seek out the benighted fool who came up with the idea, and put some cogent arguments to him with a large stick. Mrs QO came home and, instead of heading to the icebox as I had every right to expect, announced with every evidence of pride that one of her resolutions was to do something of domestic value every day, and she was going to put a load of washing on. Imagine my mortification!

Fortunately, by explaining in some detail my plans to commence collecting early Etruscan stoneware, I managed to distract her somewhat during the loading phase, so she didn't notice the icetray, ice-cream and sausages already in there. Her eyes were acquiring the sort of glaze one might expect on one of the better sort of pot, interestingly.

Unfortunately, I myself got distracted during the evening (studying social behaviour among weasels, and quite fascinating it was). I had intended to empty the washing machine myself; partly to avoid what I suspected would be a tedious conversation with Mrs QO, and partly because it had occurred to me that the outcome of a wash cycle including food items might be of potential interest. Large quantities of stews, casseroles and so on could easily be prepared - a serendipitous subject for future research!

However, as I say, my distraction - and Mrs QO's new-found diligence - meant that she herself was the one to open the washing machine. You will not be surprised to read that a tedious conversation then indeed took place. A tedious and rather lengthy conversation, during which I was accused of some rather hurtful failings. I gather that the casings or skins of the sausages had not survived the experience, and that she was troubled by the quantity of semi-cooked pork meat now adhering to the laundry. Obviously I could not reveal the truth so, with great presence of mind, I explained that I had been experimenting with a new method of preparing large quantities of stews, casseroles and so on.

"But you had sausages and [expletive deleted] ice-cream in there!!"

"Ice-cream? Really? Oh dear. I thought it was frozen stock of some sort."

"Frozen chocolate stock? With [expletive deleted] nuts in?"

I fear it would be of little value to record the entire conversation, so let's just say that the sooner she starts drinking again, the better for my peace of mind and for the world of science.

Not all is lost, of course, since the icebox of the deep-freeze remains primed for our experiment. It can surely only be a matter of time before she heads for a 5.30 bourbon on the rocks (Friday would be my guess) so all may be well. I've decided I will turn the delay to advantage by adding some more magnets and converting the electricity supply to three-phase. That should put some ooomph behind it. I can't wait.

Monday, 4 January 2010

Now is the winter of our discontent

I have to say Mrs QO was entirely discontented with the alarm clock going off at 'you must be joking'-o'clock on this, the first day back at work. I myself was slightly inconvenienced, given my entire failure to observe any NY resolutions regarding alcohol, but I was nonetheless fortified by the opportunity looming.

Here's the thing. I work from home, while Mrs QO dutifully entrusts her dear person to our local bus company and labours elsewhere. I have been painfully conscious of my lack of progress on my study of the meaculpa oblongata. Now, some of this can reasonably be ascribed to the social and rather violent distractions of the festive period, but scientific progress cannot wait on such forever, and I had formulated an approach which required several hours' uninterrupted preparation.

Mrs QO having been so unreasonably difficult about lending me her meaculpa oblongata for study (I have to admit that it is likely to be in constant use during the January sales), I have come to the conclusion that I must adopt a stealthy, non-invasive method of exploring the organ in question.

It was but a moment's thought to settle on magnetic resonance imaging as the method of choice. I knew, of course, that the finest models employ superconducting magnets of around 1.5 Tesla, requiring several miles of wire immersed in liquid helium at a temperature of -270 Celsius or so. There's generally some other stuff like array processors capable of performing a two-dimensional Fourier transform in fractions of a second, antihelmholz-type gradient coils, RF and imaging coils and quadrature detectors. However, for my purposes, I was confident I could knock something together that would give me at least some kind of useful image.

I did consider enlisting expert help, and wondered which of the illuminati of the world of science and engineering I might approach. I thought about Professor Kathy Sykes and Dr Alice Roberts.

And so passed a most enjoyable hour.

However, I eventually and regretfully decided they would probably be busy and fell back on my own not inconsiderable resources. I had to hand a combination of useful parts from an old camera, a spare disk drive, Mrs QO's heated hair-rollers and a couple of flashguns, and several hours' work with soldering iron and 4-pound lump hammer saw my prototype device mounted in the ice-tray section of our deep freeze. This served two essential objectives. Firstly, it supplied the required cooling of the two dozen fridge magnets now hooked up to my device and, secondly, it formed part of my cunning plan.

You see, the technological challenge was one I was confident of cracking. However, how to capture the image itself, without Mrs QO's cooperation (of which I was in some doubt), was a greater hurdle by far. Fortunately, it had occurred to me that the very first thing she would do on her return from work was bend down and open the icebox door to acquire some ice for her 5.30 bourbon. Her head would thus be in the perfect position for the image I wanted to capture.

Brilliant, I think you'll agree. I placed the contents of the icebox (amounting to a large icetray, three boxes of variously-flavoured ice-creams and a pack of sausages) into the washing machine for temporary storage, and completed the wiring of my device to the 30-amp feed from the cooker. Thus prepared, I eagerly awaited her return...

To be continued

Saturday, 2 January 2010

A day without a plan

During December and the holiday period, Mrs QO and I have driven nearly 1,100 miles to visit friends and family in Cambridgeshire, Yorkshire, Cumbria and Hampshire. We've seen a good number of our closest friends, all our parents, siblings, nephews and nieces and an assortment of cats and dogs. This has been very pleasant, and fully in accord with the spirit of the season, but it has of necessity required careful planning and there has been little unallocated time. Finding ourselves back at QOHQ with nothing planned and nobody to see, we have enjoyed being able to spend a day spontaneously.

I never intended this blog to be yet another Diary of a Nobody, but perhaps I might indulge myself just this once with an account of a day thoroughly wasted (from some points of view).

Arising disgracefully late, I brewed some strong coffee and observed the fat, wet snowflakes falling from the beaten-pewter sky. Sod the healthy walk, then. Having made tea for Mrs QO on her emergence from under the duvet, I could imagine no finer way to improve my bodily and mental hygiene than to retire to a very deep bath of hot water and continue my recent research into the political and religious tensions during the Tudor period. About an hour later I padded pinkly into the bedroom to dress and noticed a pack of underwear that Mrs QO had bought in a retail frenzy with friends a couple of days ago. Being in whimsical mood, I opened the pack and tried one of them on. Remarkably comfortable, I thought, and decided to spend the rest of the day thus apparelled.

This frenzy of activity took us nicely through to lunch, after which I thought I'd renew my acquaintance with Quentin Tarantino's masterly dissertation on the nature of revenge. A big, daft film like this requires a big, daft drink and, when it comes to those, I'm your barman. I opted for a dry martini comprising 75ml of gin and 25ml of dry vermouth. (I didn't add the usual green olive, as it was quite soon after lunch and there's been quite enough over-indulgence recently.) I decided that I would like Uma Thurman to have my babies, though regretfully acknowledged that the chances of this seem slim.

Having had all the baths one can usefully have in one day, there was something of a blank spell during the late afternoon, where little of interest happened. I think some beer happened. In the early evening, I managed to get Mrs QO to cook supper by the simple expedient of singing songs at her until food was put in front of me.

I'm afraid to say that after that I just let myself off the hook and did nothing whatsoever except drink red wine and slump in front of a film of ineffable silliness about a hijacked US nuclear submarine. (The heroes managed to defeat the hijackers, unfortunately.) I'm sure you've had the experience of accidentally starting to watch something so mentally numbing that your brain can't even fire off enough synapses to enable your fingers to change channels? No? Oh well, perhaps it's just me.

And so to bed.

I must say this underwear really is very comfortable. I'm glad she bought six pairs.