Complete short stories – H. G. Wells

800+ pages of excellence.

After recently re-reading Wells’ “War of the Worlds” and seeing the Hallmark produced mini series based on some of Wells’ short stories on the UK Sci-Fi channel I ordered a copy of his complete short stories. I’ve only read about 10 of them so far, out of the 84 it contains. But they really are excellent stuff. Incidentally it says in the editors introduction that Wells said of his short stories: “I would rather [they] were found in the bedrooms of convalescents and in dentists parlours and railway trains than in gentlemen’s studies”. I’ve been reading them whilst recovering from surgery. So his wish has come true in my case!

The edition I got is on Amazon UK here.

Seven wonders

We all know about the seven wonders of the ancient world. Whilst these were certainly marvels there are other marvels that really intrigue and delight me.

I’ve been kicking around the idea of doing a web site for people to post their seven wonders for a long time now. I’ve just never got round to it. The site would be for people to list seven things that really inspire, delight or intrigue them. They would have to outline the workings of the items, not just provide a list, so that others could gather some details of why they are included.

My seven are listed below. In this soapbox entry I’m going to break my own rule and just give the list. I’ll flesh it out later either here or on the web page if I ever get round to it. My seven wonders, in no particular order, are –

• Chemical bonding
• Plate Tectonics
• Music
• Aerodynamics of a cricket ball
• Mitochondria
• Books
• Star and planetary system formation

Letter to express concern at the teaching of creationism in some UK colleges

There has been much media discussion of the fact that creationism is being taught in science classes in Emmanuel City Technology in Gateshead. It is a ridiculous state of affairs that taxpayers money is used to foster this lie on the pupils of the college. The text below was drafted by two friends and myself for sending to the UK government Education Department, the Shadow Education Secretary, The MP for the constituency where the college is located and the two main teaching unions. It was also cc’ed to Dr. Stephen Law and Professor Richard Dawkins. Whilst we don’t expect to change the policy of the government with this single letter we hope it will add to the existing outcry about this situation and hopefully encourage others to also express their concerns.

The text –

For attention of –

Rt. Hon. Charles Clarke MP
Secretary of State for Education and Skills

Dear Sir,

We write to you to express our concern, and dismay, at the inclusion of so called “creation science” in science classes in Emmanuel City Technology College, Gateshead. We are also concerned that this ethos will be replicated in other colleges, under the control of the same parent body, in the near future.

Evolution is the basis upon which the modern biological sciences are founded and affects every aspect of our lives, from the standard of science education received to the quality of the medication issued when we fall sick. The dangers posed by the so-called “creation science” movement in The United States of America (USA) are well known and documented. It was therefore distressing when it became publicly known that Emmanuel City Technology College was encouraging its teachers to promote “creation science” alongside evolutionary theory in the science classrooms. While we understand and indeed applaud Prime Minister Blair for actively promoting the mantle of high education standards, this should not be allowed to be utilised as a cover for sneaking pseudoscience in through the backdoor. If ideas such as “creation science” are to be addressed in the curriculum then their place is in Religious Education classes or comparative theology classes. In these it can be discussed alongside other creation stories such as those of Buddhism, Hinduism and the numerous other religions.

In this light, we are deeply concerned at the announcements that the group which runs Emmanuel City Technology College is planning, with the backing of local and governmental authorities, to expand and open up yet another school to be run along the same lines. This new school will also be permitted to introduce creationism to its pupils as a form of valid scientific thinking. This is not only disingenuous and doing a grave disservice to the standard of teaching the pupils will receive, it is a matter of grave concern that teachers who call themselves Christians would willingly lie to the pupils entrusted to them.

It is unacceptable for HM Government to try and sweep these events under the carpet on pretence of the schools’ otherwise fine academic record and to pretend that creationism does not pose a threat to the United Kingdom. While it is true to say that creation science does not have the same following yet in the UK as it does in the USA, it is noticeable that young-earth creationism (which posits that the Earth is only 6000 years old) is on the rise here in these troubled times. Such data was adequately presented by Dr Stephen Law at the recent Darwin Day celebrations held by the British Humanist Association. An overview of the presentations given and a transcript of Dr Law’s paper is provided online at – <>.

Given this background, it is of even graver concern that the group co-ordinating the setup of these schools does itself have connections with the influential American young-earth creationist organisation “Answers in Genesis” –

We believe not only that “creation science” should not be permissible in science classrooms but that the teaching of evolutionary theory in the current biology curriculum should be brought up-to-date and strengthened at all levels of schooling, from primary through to university level.

This is the responsibility not just of the Department of Education & Skills and the respective local educational authorities, but indeed of the teacher unions, influential university staff members and clergy, of all denominations, who can bring the relevant pressure to bear upon the Government and local authorities, but also concerned members of the general public who wish to see the children of this country receive even higher standards of scientific education to better enable understanding of the world around them and prepare them adequately for the real world which awaits them.

Yours faithfully,

Mike Brass
Oxford, UK

Ian Robinson (contact for correspondence)
Technical Design Consultant
Belfast, UK

Alan Wilson
Chartered Engineer
Congleton, UK

Cc to:
Lord Sainsbury of Turville, Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Science and Innovation
Damian Green MP, Shadow Secretary of State for Education and Skills
Phil Willis MP, Shadow Secretary of State for Education and Skills
Rt. Hon. Joyce Quin MP, Gateshead East & Washington West
Professor Richard Dawkins, New College, University of Oxford
Dr. Stephen Law, Heythrop College, University of London

Pathology results

I got a telephone call from my urologist this afternoon with the pathology report on the testicle removed during my orchiectomy. I will get a copy of the actual report later but basically the doctor said it was –

Seminoma only
No spread to the sperm tubes or other areas
Did have vascular invasion

So it could have been worse. This is in addition to my negative CT scan and negative blood markers.

I’m being referred to another doctor to discuss options for further treatment. The protocol in Northern Ireland seems to be give everyone preventative radiotherapy. I’ll discuss the option of surveillance with him.

So all things considered, happy days.

We Are One

Just caught a re-run of the Babylon 5 episode called The Paragon of Animals. This series contained many marvellous moments but this particular episode contained G’Kar’s “Declaration of Principles”. This was written for the interstellar alliance featured in the series but it would be very nice if humanity adopted these principles here on Earth.

The Universe speaks in many languages,but only one voice.
The voice is not Narn, or Human, or Centari, or Gaim or Minbari.
It speaks in the language of hope.
It speaks in the language of trust.
It speaks in the language of strength and the language of compassion.
It is the language of the heart and the language of the soul.
But always it is the same voice
It is the voice of our ancestors, speaking through us, and the voice of our inheritors waiting to be born.
It is the small, still voice that says:

We are one.
No matter the blood
No matter the skin
No matter the world
No matter the star
We are one
No matter the pain
No matter the darkness
No matter the loss
No matter the fear
We are one.

Here we gather in a common cause.
We recognise this singular truth and this singular rule:
That we must be kind to one another because each voice enriches us and enobles us and each voice lost diminishes us.
We are the voice of the Universe. the soul of creation, the fire that will light the way to a better future.
We are one.


I got out of the hospital today after surgery, for what looked like testicular cancer, and as a result have a (very sore) scar on my abdomen and 1 less testicle 🙁

On the upside my CT scan result was negative for lymph node enlargement and there were no tumour markers in my blood. The surgeon told me that I need to get the path lab report to be sure but he cut the removed testicle open in the theatre and it looked like a seminoma to him. Seminoma is a cancer of the germ cells in the testicle. It is very treatable. See the Testicular Cancer Resource Centre or the page for more details.

So, assuming it is a seminoma, he will be referring me to an another doctor for further treatment options. I’ll probably get some radio treatment to the lower back lymph nodes as a precaution just in case any of the cancerous cells have spread to the lymph nodes but haven’t had time to manifest yet.

I’ll also arrange some sort of surveillance schedule for the next few years. All in all a better outcome than some other possibilities.

Getting a CT scan

I had to get a CT scan of my chest, abdomen and pelvis. A CT scan is an x-ray technique that takes pictures of your body in slices. CT is an acronym for Computed Tomography. It is also called a CAT (Computed Axial Tomography ) scan. The reason it is done is so that doctors can see if there are any anomalies (like tumours etc.) in your internal organs or body cavity.

What happens during the scan?

I was told not to eat or drink anything for the 4 hours prior to my appointment time. As my appointment was for 09:30 this meant no breakfast! I arrived at the x-ray department about 09:20 and was given a jug of liquid to drink. There was about a litre of this liquid which was flavoured with black-currant juice. This drink is an x-ray contrast solution that makes your stomach and small intestine stand out better in the CT scan pictures. I hate black-currant 🙂 Also I was told not to drink this quickly but rather to spend about 5 minutes sipping each cup full. Yuck!! It took about 30 minutes to drink it all. This reminds me of an important point. You have to wait about an hour for this liquid to make it’s way into the small intestine. As everyone knows the magazines in waiting rooms are crap. So take a book with you if you are going to get this done. I took “The Universe Next Door” by Marcus Chown. Excellent stuff. I’ve been told by others who have gone through this that the drink can really open the sluice gates and staying near a toilet is recommended. That hasn’t happened to me yet. I’m writing this about 12 hours after the scan.

At 10:35 I was called for the scan. I had to strip to my boxers and socks and put on one of those weird hospital gowns. The CT scanner itself is like a big doughnut with a bed through the middle. I had to lie on the table of the CT scanner table with my head in a hard pillow that has a cut out section for the head. One of the medical staff tried to put a line into my left arm. She was unable to get a good vein for the needle. She did try. Boy that was sore 🙁 She went for plan B and put it into my right arm instead. The line in is used to inject “dye” into the blood system during the scan. This is to make the blood vessels, and the tissues they flow through, stand out during the scan.

During the scan itself I had to place my arms above my head and tight against my ears. The scanner operators spent about 2 or 3 minutes taking practice pictures to orientate the scanner to my body. During this time the table moved to take me through the scanner. The operators talk to you during the scan, and there is the typical pre-recorded voice with a north American accent that gives instructions like “breathe in and hold your breath”. The doughnut part of the scanner does not move, but you can see the bits that spin inside it through a plastic window. On one of the trips through the scanner I felt a sensation of heat in my chest. It was very pronounced, like having deep heat rub inside your lungs. This was caused by the dye that was pumped in via the line in. A very weird sensation indeed. This lasted about 30 seconds and I moved through the scanner during this time. That was it. The scan was over. The actual scan bit lasts about 5 minutes. During that time about 500 pictures are taken as slices through your body.

All in all an experience of 2 “halves”. A first half with a lot of waiting about drinking that yucky drink then a second half burst of activity as the scan is done. I had read a lot about the CT scan procedure before going so I sort of knew what to expect. I hadn’t read anywhere about the warm sensation caused by the injection of the dye. That was disconcerting but about 5 seconds into the sensation I realised this was what it was and I was not getting cooked by the x-ray machine or having a heart attack 🙂

So if you ever have to go for a CT scan don’t sweat it. It is a painless, reasonably fast procedure. About an hour after the scan, when I was at home, I fell asleep for about 3 hours in my chair. Not sure if this was a result of any of the stuff pumped into me, or the drink or just a reaction to the anxiety associated with getting the scan.

Now I have to wait for the results of the scan and see if it has highlighted anything weird. Fingers crossed it didn’t 🙂

Why you should get to know your nuts

We have posters on bus shelters. We have advertisements on TV. We have leaflets in public places. All encourage men to do monthly checks for abnormal things in the region variously described as “your bollocks” or nuts. Most people think it’ll never happen to them. Right?

Well you could be wrong.

I’d like point the gents reading this to the Testicular Cancer (TC) Resource Center at –

Or the Cancer Research UK’s Testicular Cancer site at –

Do yourselves a favour and read up on the self exam and do it once a month.

I had an appointment with a urologist on Friday to get something that had been bugging me for a few weeks checked out. I suspected that I had TC in one of my testes. As a aside – if anything down there is going to get bigger why couldn’t it be the bit I could use to impress the girls 🙂

Anyway after some tests (ultrasound, blood etc.) it transpires that I will be going in for an operation from which I will emerge 50% deficient in the bollock department :-[ Luckily evolution has given us a redundant system. You only need one. Actually the surgeon asked me if I wanted to get an artificial one fitted during the operation. I declined. Maybe I could get a battery put in to power my Apple iPod 🙂

Become a Cyborg!!

Whilst the doctors can’t say if it is TC until the testicle is out and tested under the microscope, they are pretty confident it is. I also have to get CT scans and possibly radio treatment or chemo depending on the staging of the cancer.

TC has three stages. Stage 1 is when it is confined to the testes. Cure rates for this are 99% (Will probably be 100% when they have data for the last 10 years). Stage 2 is were the tumour cells have spread to the lymph nodes in the lower back near the kidneys. Cure rates for Stage 2 are above 90%. Stage 3 is where the tumour cells have spread beyond the lymph nodes to other organs like lungs, bones or brain. Cure rates for stage 3 are between 50% and 80%. The CT scan and blood tests are used to determine the stage. I suspect that I will be stage 1 or 2.

So I am going to have an interesting time over the next few weeks and months. Working on the principle that “every cloud has a silver” lining I plan to use the experience to study the biochemistry behind this. Should be interesting to study the structure of the molecular markers that the tumour cells release. Should give me an impetus to read the sections on cancer in “Molecular Biology of the Cell” (Albert’s et al) that I bought last year. I plan to put up info re: treatments, thoughts etc. on this site.

So the bottom line is get to know your nuts 🙂 Better yet get your SO to do your monthly check.

If you want a good laugh check out this personal story –

Fundie shuffle

Unsubstantiated nonsense spouted on BBC “Thought for the Day”.

“Thought for the Day” is a ring fenced religious slot broadcast on BBC Radio 4 each weekday morning. Mostly it is meaningless platitudes. Every now and again there is some nonsense that is even more stupid than usual. The one broadcast on 11th March 2003 is a good example. A transcript is available on the BBC site.

Some comments on this nonsense.

Mr. Das rehashes the old canard that evolutionary theory is as much of a faith based system as religion. This is just nonsense. Mr Das opines –

processes inside the brain. Often, philosophical ideas involving a “ghost in
the machine” are dismissed as mere fantasy or “untestable hypotheses”. But, I

The reason these “ghost in the machine” ideas are dismissed is because there is no evidence to support them. Mr. Das is free to present supporting evidence that can be tested whenever he feels like it.

Mr. Das continues –

feel there is as much dogmatic belief, some of it quite irrational, in the
fields of neuroscience and evolutionary theory.

He should then be able to present supporting evidence to back up this assertion. Both areas of scientific theory that he mentions are well supported by both direct observation and current theory. Evolution for example has supporting evidence from fields such as comparative biology, biochemistry, genetics, palaeontology and others. There is no more “dogmatic belief” in the theory of evolution than there is in the theory of plate tectonics or gravitation. All scientific theories are tentative and subject to revision in the light of new experimental data. Evolutionary theory is a very successful theory for explaining the biodiversity we see on Earth today.

I note that Mr. Das acknowledges the publication of Crick and Koch’s data and conclusions in a peer reviewed journal. Namely –

However, the evidence published in Nature Neuroscience by DNA discoverer,
Francis Crick and his co-researcher, Christof Koch was not so clear cut. In

At least they are willing to have their ideas challenged by their peers and not delivered via an unchallenged monologue from the safety of a ring fenced religious slot.

I think the BBC should seriously consider if the “Thought for the Day” slot is past it’s sell by date if this is the sort of misinformation it serves up.

War of the Worlds – H. G. Wells

The classic alien invasion story.

I bought a copy of H. G. Wells’ “The War of the Worlds” as one of about 10 books I picked up with book tokens that I got as Christmas presents. I finally started reading it last night. I’d forgotten how well written it is ( I read it about 25 years ago). Wells’ writing style is really clear.

It’s also interesting to note the scientific topics that Wells touches on in the first few chapters. He addresses evolutionary theory, geology, physics, astronomy and planetary science. Not to mention the biological aspect that comes at the end. Wells did do a degree in Zoology (and studied under the supervision of T. H. Huxley) and taught biology for a while. Interestingly he had to give up teaching when he was injured by a pupil during sports.

This book was published about 100 years ago. It’s sad to think that the vast majority of people today know less science that Wells and his audience did 🙁