Saturday, 16 November 2013

Talk : Licence to Stun, the Physics of Less Lethal Weapons

A recent UoN Public Science lecture featured a fascinating talk by David Wilkinson (IoP Regional Officer). The talk was entitled "Licence to Stun, the Physics of Less Lethal Weapons" and gave an interesting overview of how the UK authorities characterise and compare less-lethal weapons. This is an exercise that is performed for the UK Police forces at the Centre for Applied Science and Technology (CAST), formerly known as the Home Office Scientific Development Branch (HOSDB). The talk forms the basis for this post, together with some extra links and references.

David explained how, historically, Police forces essentially had two choices of weapons : a truncheon...and a gun - which meant that an escalation in response by the Police very quickly became a very lethal matter.

Previously, this was the entry level of force application.
If it didn't work....

.... the next level up is this Glock

Some History
1960s onwards : The troubles in Northern Ireland were one of the driving forces for development of less-lethal, as described in this timeline

1996: The first incapacitant spray (CS gas) was introduced, but this only has a 5m range and very quickly affects people in the surrounding area as well as the intended target.

1999: The Patten Report, an outcome of the Northern Ireland agreement, looked at the issue of non-lethal weapons. Also, the shooting of Harry Stanley, who was reported to be carrying a gun, but was in fact only in possession of a chair leg wrapped in a plastic bag, further highlighted the need for weapons that bridged the gap between a truncheon and a gun.

As a University of Exeter report states:

"By the end of the 1990s duty of care, health and saftety and impending human rights legislation brought the whole issue of taking postive action to ensure a safe working environment and uphold the right to life, into sharp focus."

2003: The Police Complaints Authority report on "Police Use of Firearms" concluded that :

“….the development of less lethal options – including both the application of existing tactical options such as negotiators and police dogs and the development of new technologies – must be addressed with the utmost urgency to ensure that the police response is consistent with the requirements of human rights legislation.”

An existing steering group, formed to look at the use of less-lethal weapons in Northern Ireland, took on a UK-wide focus and led a review of "less lethal" weapons that were available around the world, which were ranked and assessed according to 22 specific measurable requirements.

The Troubles in Northern Ireland were a
big driver in developing less-lethal weapons

The Essence of the Problem
The problem with designing a "less-lethal" weapon is that on the one hand you want it to give a 100% guarantee of quickly stopping a large angry man on drugs who is running at you, and on the other hand you want it to give a 100% guarantee of not ever killing anyone.

This conflict is illustrated in the chart below, which shows how, in the case of guns, the level of force that needs to applied to be sure of stopping someone is also likely, in many cases, to kill.

In contrast, the ideal scenarios would be as shown below, where a level of force can stop 100% of people and yet kill 0% of them. This is something that is very difficult to achieve in practice. Indeed, none of the "less lethal" technologies available today can guarantee to do this.


The Two Main Methods of Stopping People
All forms of Police weapons work in one of two ways :

Pain Compliance (a truncheon falls into this category - it works by causing pain until the target gives up and complies)


Incapacitance (guns, Tasers, CS gas fall into this category - they work by making if physically impossible for the target to continue whatever they are doing)

David pointed out that pain compliance weapons are less effective on those who have had drink or drugs, and also explained that deterrence was a very effective tool in it's own right, with a large majority of targets giving up as soon as they saw the Taser laser lights on themselves.

The Tasers laser sight was enough to stop the palm tree
dropping coconuts on passers by

The Selection Process
The Steering Group looked at technologies from around the world in their initial screening exercise. Many of these came from the US, not least because there are many thousands of independant law enforcement agencies there to provide a large and diverse market for law enforcement equipment suppliers. In contrast, the 43 Police Forces in England and Wales only use equipment that has been approved by the Home Office.

The evaluation process quickly revealed that many of the technologies on offer did not come up the mark.

Notable examples were the projectile nets, which David described with the comment:
"First you have an angry man with a knife, then after you fire the weapon you have an angry man with a a net"
David also mentioned that there had been talk of electrifying the net but this still left the idea as one that was, in his words "bad, bad, bad".

And then there was the foamgun, which had the twin characteristics of spraying hot sticky foam onto bare skin and also offering the possibility of causing death by suffocation !

Water cannon was another possibility. However, it was pointed out that, on the continent, water cannon works because rioting happens in large open squares in the daytime, where water cannon has the space to be effective. In contrast, the British tradition is to riot at night in side streets - where water cannon vehicles find in much harder to move around.

In a comment that had ones heart swelling with pride, David said that the British were "world leaders in rioting" and also "world leaders in policing riots" - giving the example of how the Police in the UK are able to deal with mobs throwing petrol bombs whereas throwing a petrol bomb in the US will get you shot.

How the Germans do riot control

How the British to riot control

A number of incapacitant sprays were mentioned, including CS gas, Pepper Spray, PAVA, MACE and CR gas.

And there was also a roundup of kinetic energy devices, such as bean bag rounds (which can spin and act a bit like a circular saw), sock rounds, rubber bullets (rather dangerous), plastic bullets (less dangerous) and the current Attenuated Energy Projectile (AEP) (less dangerous still). The AEP is designed to deform if it hits bone, so preventing bone breakages.

The talk described the technology and testing of Tasers in some detail. One surprising fact was that "Taser" stands for "Thomas A Swift's Electric Rifle", which is based on a title of a childrens book that Jack Cover, inventor of the Taser, read as a kid.

The source of the name "Taser"

Tasers are incapacitive weapons, in that they disrupt voluntary control of muscles, thus causing incapacitation. They have a range of approximately 10m, although accuracy does reduce at the longer ranges. In particular, the distance between the two darts widens with distance, increasing the chance that one of the barbs will not hit the target. David pointed out that, if this happens, instead of an incapacitated suspect:
" are not going to have anything other than an angry person with a fish-hook sticking out of them".

The reports detailing the Taser evaluation work are available online, examples being (PSDB Further Evaluation of Taser Devices and Supplement to HOSDB Evaluations of Taser Devices)

The reports are rather impressive in the scope and detail of work that they cover, looking at the performance in cold conditions, effect on pacemakers and even what happens if someone who has been sprayed with PAVA or other flammable solvent containing spray is then hit with a high voltage Taser.

Finally, it is worth mentioning that the talk also included a number of juicy anecdotes. But if I told you those, I'd have to shoot you...albeit with a less-lethal weapon....

Image Sources:Truncheon, Glock, Bloody Sunday, Tree, British, German, Book

Sunday, 3 November 2013

"Ideas Factory" sciency brainstsorming at NCVS

As part of the preparations for National Science & Engineering Week (14 – 23 March 2014), the British Science Association hosted an "Ideas Factory" at Nottingham CVS.

The event was attended by 40 people from a range of organisations ranging from Wildlife Trusts to Girl Guide leaders to University outreach teams- and aimed to give practical help and inspiration to anyone thinking of holding an event in March 2014

Attendees were given information on the, rather wonderful, support resources available at

After which there was a workshop session in which the attendees formed groups and outlined their experiences of what works in science outreach. This produced some great nuggets of information, including:

How the BSA Nottingham branch hosts an annual "Science in the Park" event at Wollaton Hall, featuring real life researchers, fascinating talks and interesting exhibits – they are looking for stewards for the day, if you are interested, walk on over to

Info on some really eye-opening sciency demonstrations from the "Science Busking" activity pack ,including how to fit a 50p coin through a hole the size of a 5p coin and how to balance a cork on the end of your nose. A discussion revolving around the free nature-related activity resources from Opal. These included activities such as bug-hunting, earthwork surveys and tree indentification

Feedback from the participants was positive, with comments including "I enjoyed finding out the range of people organising things across Nottingham, and finding out that other people need a bit of help too” and "Events like this re-invigorate and help spread ideas”

For more information about National Science & Engineering Week, our Nottinghamshire Branch, or their event Science in the Park, please contact Hannah Stretton, Regional Programmes Officer on

For science related news and events in your region, follow @MidlandsScience on Twitter.
Trying out some of the sciency experiment resources

Tuesday, 24 September 2013

The Science Museum, London

NSB is quite often close to London, and often takes the opportunity to take sons and/or nieces to visit some of the wonderful museums there.

The main museums are free to enter, which means that NSB is able to visit them quite often. Rather than giving a donation at the entrance, as the museums suggest, NSB always pays a visit to the cafe and spends some money there.

Anyway, NSB took a few pictures during a recent visit to the Science Museum (see also here and here) and thought they might be worth sharing to give a feel for the breadth of the topics and types of exhibit at that fine institution. . .

The "Wow" factor begins even before you enter, with a gorgeous sculpture called "Ferryman" by Tony Crag outside the building. It's perforated surface means that "allows one to simultaneously view structure and surface".

Ferryman by Tony Crag

And the Science Museum and its neighbout The Natural History Museum are buildings that are a delight to look at, with their beautiful, detailed brickwork

Beautiful architecture of the Science Museum
(or possible the Natural History Museum next door)

Inside, the first area one comes to is the "Power Gallery", which houses a replica of Stevensons Rocket and a huge (occasionally operating) steam engine and much else.

Operating steam engine

Further in, joy upon joy, is the exploring space section. . .

J2 Engine as used in the second and third stages of the Saturn V

Moving weather patterns are projected onto this globe - its pretty impressive!

Fans of computer history are not left disappointed. One highlight for NSB was seeing an example of "magnetic core" memory, simialar to that used on the Apollo moon landing missions.

Magnetic core memory, about 1k per layer !

Close up of the magnetic core memory, showing the individual iron hoops

It was also great to learn how Napiers Bones worked - NSB had not know that they were based on Arab mathematics and the lattice multiplication used by Matrakci Nasuh as well as later work by Fibonacci.

Have a go at Napiers Bones !

As a child of the 80s, tears were close to welling up at the sight of a ZX spectrum, a ZX81 and a Vic20. Happy days programming BASIC on a machine that had less than a 100k of RAM.

Cassete Tape! Vic 20! ZX81! ZX Spectrum!
Memories of happy, happy days

The Sinclair Executive - the future started here.

Note multifunction keys and how BASIC commands were right there centre stage

A less glamorous area, but one that NSF finds endlessly fascinating is the Agriculture Gallery, where one can trace the development of farming methods from pre-history right up to the modern day.

It was disturbing to read that the German blockade of the UK in WW1 resulted in Britain being reduced to just two weeks of food reserves by 1917. With the cream of Britains manpower either dead or at the front lines across Europe, the only answer was speedy mechanisation. So the Prime Minister, David Lloyd George, ordered 5,00 Fordson tractors from the US, to be delivered in three months. These machines powered a transformation in British agriculture.

Fordson F type tractor, of the type supplied to the UK in 1917

The dioramas might seem a little old fashioned to some, but NSB loved them, they really give a feel the time and place they are describing. And they never break down.

Diorama depicting medieval farming
Other items that caught NSB's imagination were a beautiful Damascus Steel sword..

Turkish "Damascus Steel" Sword - A thing of beauty

.. and a model of Vitamin B12, the result of years of study by Dorothy Hodgkin, and which used Alan Turing's PilotACE computer to help unlock the secrets of this complex molecule. Frankly, NSB is gobsmacked that there is any way of figuring out the structure of something so complicated.

A model of Vitamin B12

There is, of course, only a small fraction of what is on show at the Science Museum, and, in particular, has not mentioned the excellent "Launchpad" area for young children that is very, very, hand-on and fun.

Saturday, 20 July 2013

What would the public want?

NSB is hugely excited to have been one of the presenters at the "8th Annual Science in Public Conference, 22-23 July 2013 on ‘Critical Perspectives on Making Science Public’ held at the University of Nottingham.

NSB's presentation covered three main areas :

1) Some examples of the "Good Stuff" universities already do to engage with wider society.

2) A look at what happens when wider society tries to engage with universities by asking universities to provide information or some kind of action

3) Some suggestions on what could be done better.

Good Stuff – May Fest
May Fest is an annual event at which the University of Nottingham throws open its doors to the community.

It's a great event, with something for all ages and all levels of interest. Checkout NSB's photoreview of this year's event here.

It is worth noting that community organisations can be a powerful "force multiplier" for university outreach activities. In the case of May Fest 2013, good examples can be found in Berridge Junior School (Hyson Green) and the Islamic Centre (Curzon Street).

Berridge really went the extra mile in promoting the event with their pupils. The efforts by the school are particularly important as it has a catchment of relatively disadvantaged children and pupils new to the UK.

NSB tried hard to get the Islamic Centre to promote the event last year , sadly without success. But this year has been a different story. An announcement encouraging the congregation (of some 1000 people) to take advantage of May Fest was made and a senior member of staff there told NSB that they had attended the event with their family and that it had been "really great".

Incidentally, NSB notes that the Physics community is particularly keen on publicising their work and engaging with the public, as shown by the work of the Physics Buskers, who seem to turn up all over the place.

NSB has yet to see a comparable "History Buskers", "Social Science Buskers" or even "Engineering Buskers" – so respect to the guys who know their neutrons from their neutrinos!

Good Stuff – Public Lectures
Nottingham is blessed with a number of organisations who deliver science related public talks throughout the year (examples being UoN, NTU, Cafe Sci, and EMMS)

These events are a great way of gaining an insight into current research efforts without having the information filtered by a headline seeking media. One aspect that is perhaps particularly worth noting is the Café Sci format which involves a short 20min talk, but a long, 60min, discussion afterwards. As a general rule, the discussion is at least as interesting as the actual talk, often more so and universities may wish to consider moving towards this model in some of their talks.

As with May Fest, public lectures are a great way of introducing a university setting, and university researchers, to people who may have no prior experience of academia. Or who are even wary of universities, thinking that they are "not for the likes of us". Pitching the tone of lectures can therefore be very important, and this is something that we will return to later in the discussion.

Public lectures can sometimes provide information that is really rather important to know – one example of this was a slide showing Cholesterol crystals in a talk by Prof Jonas Emsley. The image really brought home how dangerous they could be, and one could readily imagine the damage they could do if they broke free and travelled through the blood system.

White crystals of Chlolesterol
Why, NSB asks, had this information never been provided by any media or health source?

Finding Out About Public Lectures
NSB wondered how easy it is for an ordinary person to find out what public lectures a university is holding in the future, so asked some friends to search the websites of 6 East Midlands Universities to see if they could find info on any future sciency events or, even better, a comprehensive list of future events. There was only rule – the participants could spend a maximum of 2 minutes on each university's website.On the internet, of course, 2 minutes is forever.

The results showed that:
i) None of the sites were sufficiently easy to use that all participants could find information

ii) There was variability in results for each university, usually participants would report a range of outcomes, some being successful, some less so.

iii) There was one East Midlands university where no-one could find any useful information. Oh dear.

Some of the comments participants made are shown below (from a variety of participants and relating to a variety of universities)

"Half a dozen available (look good too!). Good descriptions etc”
“Straight to superb page with loads of events. Very comprehensive"
"Only globalisation and economics lectures listed”
“There was only one event in the list. “
“Rubbish. I was not able to find any info on science related lectures.”
“Horrible, frustrating format ”
“Excellent. Events on homepage…lists science related public lectures”

The difficulties many people were finding in seeing what events were forthcoming has a number of adverse effects on the impact public lectures can make:

Firstly, and obviously, people are simply unaware that there are so many events going on.

Secondly, this lack of a comprehensive listing means that supportive community organisations cannot effectively promote public lectures because they do not have a comprehensive online list of events to point people towards.

Thirdly, this lack of awareness ineveitably reduced turnout, making public lectures seem less attractive than might really be the case and discouraging presenters and organisers.

Ironically, the evidence is that there is a huge appetite for science learning in Nottingham . For example, a "Star Gazing Live" event attracted thousands to Wollaton Park on a cold, dark night to see the stars. In fact the event was so well attended that the outdoor stuff wasn't actually any fun, with queues 100metres long to have a look through the telescopes, although NSB did catch this cool talk at the event on the history of radio astronomy

It is NSB's view that the only difference between the huge turnout for Star Gazing Live and the small turnouts for university public lectures is the level and quality of publicity.

One final point regarding lists of forthcoming events is that universities sometimes have a "silo" mentality, with each department having its own list of events on a different page. This makes it hard for people who have an interest in more than one subject (which is hopefully most people) from keeping track of what is going on. NSB is certainly interested in attending events covering topics ranging from Economics to Energy Technology and from Politics to Physics – and if universities could only put all their future events in one place, it would make it easy to occasionally attend something a bit unusual.

Engagement with Universities
NSB's experience has been that universities sometimes respond very quickly and positively to requests for small actions (e.g. add a link on a university webpage)

But sometimes it can take multiple emails and calls over a period of years to get a relatively simple task done (e.g. have a central point for forthcoming events)

NSB believes very strongly that members of the public who take the time to engage with universities are a rare and precious resource, especially if they are young adults undertaking their first activity as active citizens. As such NSB believes they should be treated with respect and have their questions answered promptly and with a spirit of meeting their needs (if practical), not kicking their requests into the long grass.

What would the public want?
Imagine you are a member of the public who is keen on learning more about the topic of a public lecture. Or a blogger who wants to report on the key points of the talk. What kind of things would help you get the most out of a talk?

Minimum jargon !
Some subjects are relatively easy to explain to the general public – e.g. engineering, physics (strangely) whereas some are much harder and susceptible to the early onset of jargon – e.g. electronics, chemistry, biology. Perhaps a good rule of thumb is to pitch a talk so that a bright 16yr old could understand it. Another suggestion is that any terminolgy or acronym that is never heard outside of “work” should not be used without explanation. Adopting these approaches would have the added benefit of giving community organisations the confidence that they can bring teenagers to these events without the talks going over their heads.

To listen and not have to take notes!
Public lectures are almost always jam packed with fascinating information – but listeners often take notes frantically in case info will not be available afterwards.Why not put the slides online – and tell the audience you have done so at the beginning of the talk.

To find more information easily !
When the general public tries to look up references, they very often hit a pay-wall. One way around this is for universities to have information on their own websites (ideally with a note allowing bloggers and students to use the images themselves). CERN does this very well.

Improving engagement with communities
Based on NSB's experience as a volunteer in a number of organisations , the following are some useful points relating to building long term relationships with local communities.

i) Engagement and building relationships takes years.

ii) Getting to know, and work with, supportive stakeholders (bloggers, community workers, youth workers) is absolutely key. Universities should be prepared to make stuff happen, not just offer platitudes and invites to events.

iii)The enthusiasm for engagement with universities is generally not at the top of community organisations – but rather about half way down, at the coal face, with younger volunteers and youth workers.

iv)Key stakeholders can pass on supportive messages to thousands of people, with a greater authority than the academic institution has – particularly important for BME and economically disadvantaged communities.

v)Are academic institutions ever going to say to the local community “what lectures do YOU want us to hold” – and how will they ensure that the community – as opposed to “community leaders” make this decision? (e.g. some "hot topics" that may be of particular interest to local communities are antibiotic research funding and approaches, GM foods, energy policy etc)

A Closing Challenge
NSB closed the presentation with the following two challenges to the audience, which NSB would like to extend to you, dear reader…

Can you say, hand on heart, that your institutions have a central list of public lectures, that engaged members of the public are responded to and that copies of public lectures are available online?

If not, can you commit to trying to improve the situation at your institution?

Some of the above ground also covered, with panache, in this guest post by Adam Reuben at

Related Content
Rick Borchelt on Science Communication

Monday, 27 May 2013

Talk : Prof Dunham on Viruses

A recent UoN Public Science lecture featured a fascinating talk by Steve Dunham, Associate Professor of Veterinary Virology. The talk was entitled "How do viruses cause disease? Lessons from our feathered friends and other animals" and gave an interesting overview of the nature and effects of viruses.

Prof Dunham began by explaining that viruses are very small, much smaller than bacteria for example. Viruses essentially comprise a section of DNA wrapped up in a protein coat - and needs a host cell to replicate.

The Human Rotavirus (which causes diarrhoea in children) can be used to give some examples images of a virus:

Schematic showing structure of a Virus

Computer generated model of Rotavirus

Rotavirus in childs faeces

Some examples of common animal viruses are :

Rinderpest (which has now been eradicated but previously could kill 100% of a cattle herd in a matter of days)
Bird Flu (more on this later)
Cat "Flu" (actually a form of Herpes)
Distemper in Seals
Coronavirus which cause respiratory diseases in animals
Papilloma Virus

Cattle who have died from Rinderpest, South Africa, 1896

Cat "flu"

The reason viruses cause animals to get sick is that they cause cell death and damage or can cause cancer.

Prof Dunham mentioned that, in some cases (Palilloma Virus being one) a human vaccine has been developed on the back of previous work developing a vaccine for animals

One problem in combating viruses is that they can spread in animal communities without the animals showing any symptoms, or may have delayed effects in terms of reduced fertility or later disease

Factors in the effect a virus has on animals include the virus type and load, as well as the age and condition of the host. The environment is also a factor, particularly the degree of overcrowding that the animals are living in (chicken herpes being an example of this, and is a disease that was not seen before the industrial housing of poultry that began in the 1950s)

Animals have a number of barriers and defences to viral infection, including tears/sneezing/saliva, fatty acids(which can attack viruses), Diarrhoea (to expel the virus) and Fever (to overheat the virus).

The response from the immune system is also multi-layered. Withing the first two days it is the Cytokines that are mainly doing the defensive work. Killer Cells then peak at day 3-4, with antibodies and T-cells arriving on the scene at around the one week mark.

Going back to the case of bird flu, there are many of varieties of this virus and most are carried by ducks without any ill effect - but the ducks can pass the virus on to other species who are very vulnerable to the virus. Chickens, for example, can die overnight from bird flu.

The designations given to the strains of bird flu (e.g. H5N1) relate to two proteins, hemagglutinin and neuraminidase, that are on the surface of the virus. Hence the H and the N abbreviation. The numbers that are included in the virus name signal a genetic change in the virus. Some combinations of H and N cause serious illness and death, while others only cause mild symptoms. Flu viruses that begin with H5 or H7 are highly likely to make birds and people sick.

It is the accumulation of random changes in the genetic code of the virus (which is not as stable as the genetic code of animals) cause new strains of viruses to develop. Indeed, only two genetic changes are required to get from bird flu to human flu.

Fortunately, some strains which could be more dangerous to humans lack the ability to spread via airborne droplets, reducing the chance of them causing epidemics.

Avian Flu - showing H and N protein structures

Image Sources
Virus Structure rotavirus reconstruction, Rotavirus, Rinderpest, Cat "Flu", Bird Flu

Sunday, 26 May 2013

Talk : Alan Turing - The Building of a Brain

A recent talk at Nottingham Café Scientifique was presented by Prof Barry Cooper from Leeds University and was entitled “Alan Turing - The Building of a Brain ”

About half of the talk consisted of a biography of Turing. Given that Turing has a surprisingly detailed Interweb presence, this part of the talk is perhaps best covered by reference to some of the following resources for information of Turing's life:
* Alan Turing's Wikipedia Page (like, duh!)
*Andrew Hodges (author of "Alan Turing: The Enigma") website devoted to Turing.
* The Turing Digital Archive

The other half discussed the nature human and artificial intelligence, including mentions of some experts in the field, and this is covered below.

One of the many experts referenced was Nassim Taleb, a Lebanese American essayist and scholar whose work focuses on problems of randomness, probability and uncertainty. Taleb is the author of the "Black Swan" theory (and book). This theory describes the extreme impact of certain kinds of rare and unpredictable events and humans' tendency to find simplistic explanations for these events retrospectively. Taleb correctly predicted (and made a lot of money out of) the 2008 financial crash, so he is perhaps someone worth listening to!

Alan Turing

Prof Cooper posed the question of how nature computes, pointing out that the universe around us is arranged in a complicated way. A relevant expert here is theoretical physicist Dr Peter Woit, who has highlighted that "The Standard Model" of Physics only works because 17 key parameters have been given arbitrary values, suggesting that we do not have a good understanding of the forces and nature of the universe.

Fundamentally, as Dr Cooper said "The trouble is, we don't really know what reality is, do we?", instead we try and fit reality into the straitjacket of a mathematical model.

Related to this is the phenomena of "Morphogenesis" (how lifeforms take their shape). This is an area Turing looked at in an important 1952 paper, which you can read here and read about, in laymans terms, here

Also related is the idea of "Emergence" (how complex systems and patterns arise out of a multiplicity of relatively simple interactions). A good example being the way in which complex termite mounds are built by very simple actions of many termites.

Prof Cooper then went on to discuss the famous "Turing Test" as a way of determining whether a computer program genuinely had artifical intelligence (see also here). He pointed out that there was something of an "AI War" underway between those (such as Marvin Minsky) who have taken a rather analytical approach and those (such as Rodney Brooks) who take a more experimental path to developing AI technologies.

The consensus seems to be that AI may work well in specific, narrow, applications (such as chess computers) but will be more difficult to implement in the wide ranging way that humans, for example, have intelligence.

Things got pretty heavy and philosophical at this point, with the talk looking at the relationship between mind and body. One person to note here is Jaegwon Kim

A rebuild of a WW2 "Bombe" Codebreaker at Bletchley Park
Turing was a key figure in its development

Prof Cooper made quite a few mentions of "data types". For example, in a typcial living room there is a lot of high level data. All the items have a temperature, texture, size, shape, smell, sound, hardness, porosity etc. But when a human looks at that room, all they do is sample a very small part of the available information (largely visually) and construct a mental model of the room from that.

In addition, there is something special about the human brain that allows us to appreciate the "higher level" nature of complicated structures such as Mandlebrot sets or termite mounds - something that computers find difficult to do.

In the (always interesting) question and answer session, Prof Cooper commented that people were starting to realise that context is very important to data. For example, a person might give very different answers to a question depending on his or her perception of the environment (is is threatening, do they feel safe, it is warm or cold, who is asking the question, why are they asking the question)

Prof Cooper felt that this developing understanding of the complexity of intelligence are likely to result in a lot of algorithmic code being junked over the coming years, perhaps being replaced by "Evolutionary Algorithms".

The final word should perhaps be given to one of the last quotes of the evening, from American inventor, scientist, engineer, entrepreneur, and author Danny Hillis, who said "Maybe we'll evolve evolutionary machines before we understand them"

Image Sources
Turing, Bombe

Saturday, 25 May 2013

Wildlife,Cycling and Other Uplifting Stuff

NSB thought it might be nice to record some of the wildlife that is seen in the (not very big) NSB garden, and also a little wider afield whilst out cycling...

Note : Includes posts about scenery, buildings and other non-wildlife stuff!


Ever since the idea that "Everything is better with bobble" was floated at the end of an episode of Mark Thomas's "Peoples Manifesto", have thought that, indeed, bobbles can make the world a better place. So, many years later, have put this into practice by "bobbling-up" the cycling helmet...

Bobbled up!


Leaves on the ground, Dec 2016


Street through a rainy windscreen, 2016


 A bonfire 


A couple of pics of a bonfire (2016)

Another image of the same bonfire


A couple of pics taken while camping near Buxton, Derbyshire.

Fernlee Reservoir, Derbyshire, 2015

Trees, Derbyshire, 2015


2015 : Visited the incredibly beautiful Rhossili Bay recently. The image below really doesn't do it justice.

Rhossili, deservedly voted best beach in the UK

Rhossili Bay has been voted Britan's most beautiful beach. Not a surprise really...


Common Garden Spider, Autumn 2017

Suspect this is a female Garden Spider


Autumn leaves, 2017

Rather like how this has turned out, but wish had paid more attention to the composition!


Cycle track

Love the new cycle training area in Wollaton Park!


Tottle Brook Flood Barrier

Intrigued by this flood barrier - on the Trent near the retail part. Presumably it is to stop the Trent from flooding Tottle Brook - but if the barrier is in operation then where does the Brook flow to? You can find out more about the brook hereand also at this map from Rushcliffe Council


Coypu seen in a German park recently

Rather enchanted by these Coypu seen in a German park recently - much tamer than rabbits, would love to see them in the UK.


Beetle,  Summer 2017

Flowers, West Bridgeford, Autumn 2017

Horses, close to A52 Ring Road, Summer 2017

Lovely wildflower, no idea what type, Nottingham, 2017

Common Red Soldier Beetle, Carsington Water, Summer 2017

Very still Trent, Autumn 2017


Odd beach structures (eroding soil?) Newborough Beach, Anglesea, Summer 2017

Ladybird, Summer 2017

Sky, Barmouth, 2017

Beach, North Wales, 2017


NSB passes a fungi covered tree stump on the way to work and, one day, decided to take some pictures and try to identify the fungi. There were more fungi species than NSB expected and, as NSB knows nothing about mushroom identification, some help was required. The help came via Twitter from kind (and very clever) souls @Nottswildlife, @curataceae, @susieoftraken and @stu_rock who, between them, provided the information attached to the pictures below:

3 types of mushroom at the base of the stump 1/3

The small light ones to the bottom left are possibly Coprinus micaceus or Coprinus silvaticus. The darker ones on lower right are Coprinus disseminatus (fairies bonnets). The grey ribbon like fungus might possibly be Bjerkandera adjusta.

Fungi on the other side of the stump, Nottingham, 2017 2/3

This large fungi is Cerioporus squamosus (see also here)

Fungi on the top of the stump, Nottingham, 2017 3/3

Same ribbon-like "bracket" fungus as in the first image so possibly Bjerkandera adjusta.

As UoN's Craig Sturrock (@stu_rock) commented, "Nice multi species community structure!"


Blackberries - food on the go! Various locations Nottingham Summer 2017

Manky Looking Granthan Canal, nr Holme Pierrepont, Summer 2017

Corn by the Big Track, Summer 2017

Combine Harvesting, by Holme Pierrepont, Summer 2017


Weather Station near Queens Drive Park and Ride, Summer 2017


Not something you see every day...

Drought Horse, Near Beeston Weir, Jun 2017


Rather beautiful flower - even did a U-turn on the bike to come back and take this picture!

Thistle flower,  Nottingham & Beeston Canal, near Boots, June 2017


Spotted this handsome chap (and his other half, out of shot on the right) whilst cycling along the Big Track in Nottingham.

Pheasant, Big Track, May 2017


According to the RSBP, Egyptian Geese "was introduced as an ornamental wildfowl species and has escaped into the wild, now successfully breeding in a feral state."

Egyptian Goose, Highfields Park, April 2017


Interesting initiative by #GetFitNotts to "to get fit together, and make a dent in Nottingham's obesity crisis!"

Also check out Nottingham People on Bikes who are a "group of individuals who passionately believe that our city needs to become a safer place to get about on a bike. By achieving this goal, we will improve the health and happiness of Nottingham residents, ease congestion, improve air quality and make our communities more liveable for people."

Of course, the daddy of all Notingham Cycling organisations is PEDALS. Founded in 1979, Pedals is "a member of Cyclenation (the former Cycle Campaigns Network) and also works closely with the CTC (national cyclists’ organisation) and Sustrans. We also work closely with other cycle campaign groups and individual cycle campaigners in the East Midlands, through the informal East Midlands Cyclists Forum, with occasional meetings as well as email contact and exchanges of information between the meetings.


Link to an informal cycling group in Nottingham, who last year did a "coast-to-coast" ride for charity - No1 Son participated on a number of their rides in 2016.


View across the Trent, from the South Side, Apr 2017


Wollaton Park Lake, Mar 2017


Love that Nottingham Council trim the foliage by the Big Track
sent an email to Council to say thanks!


Not strictly wildlife, but rather like this contrasting picture of a tree against a dusk sky...

Tree, dusk, Nottingham, Nov 2016


Beautiful Scenery, Nutbrook Trail, Sep 2016

Well, hello there Mr Teenager Swan! Nutbrook Trail, Sep 2016

Field of Wheat, next to the Big Track


Garden Spider (?) Autumn 2016


Mushrooms, Autumn 2016


Nov 2016
London Plane Tree leaves can be surprisingly large.
This one is about 2/3 width of bike handlebars !


Ride along parts of the Nutbrook Trail and Erewash Valley Trails (Sep 2016)

By pure chance it turned out that BFTF was cycling to work on National Cycle to Work Day, so took the opportunity to ride home the scenic way, via the Nutbrook Trail and Erewash Valley Trails. Some pics and bloggage below!

BFTF joined the Nutbrook trail at Shipley Country Park. The Nutbrook Trail follows the route of the dismantled Stanton railway branch line, which no doubt explains is gentle gradients...

The Nutbrook Trail takes you away from the traffic and into the countryside

The Erewash Valley Trail is the result of funding and development by a range of partners, including :

Erewash Trail Development Partners

BFTF is very grateful for their foresight and perseverance in making this wonderful trail a reality.

Sometimes the scenery is too pretty for words

Well, hello there Mr Teenager Swan!

Setting sun at Trent Lock - better get a move on if want to get home before dark!

Cracks me up every time!

Now I know I'm nearly home!


Sep 2016
Field Grasshopper, Sep 2016


Spring 2016
Emden Geese, by the Nottingham and Beeston Canal
Emden geese have long since been domesticated. They grow quickly and mate for life... ahh, how sweet!


Spring 2016
22 spot Ladybird, on a  mug of tea
Unlike ordinary ladybirds (which eat aphids), these little chappies eat mildew!


Spring 2016
Newt in a Derbyshire Garden, 
(used with kind permission from Darren Sims Photography)


Spring 2016
Field Mouse in a Derbyshire Garden,
(used with kind permission from Darren Sims Photography)


Spring 2016
Swan v Duck at Rushcliffe Country Part


NSB has been impressed with the efforts of a number of people to start up an informal cycling club in the Wollaton area of Nottingham.

Starting in the summer with short 10-20 mile rides, which initially had so many punctures and mechanical failures in the group that one of the leaders, Ajaz, commented on the need for "due diligence" on riders and bikes in future rides - and then moving towards longer rides of 30-50miles - yet being able to also retain short rides for any newcomers or those who felt the full monty was a bit much for them...

Brutal 50 miler to Belvoir

...and culminating in a "coast to coast" ride in October (complete with back up logistics team). At the end of this 3-day event, Ajaz commented that :

"Highlights of C2C challenge for me was being able to ride up all the hills without stopping, while I was also watching out for others along the way. No major incident or injury we had over £150 worth spare parts but only had 5x punctures, they were fixed at roadside within minutes. A truly amazing experience of riding on different terains (gravel stones, tarmac, mud, puddles, leafs, grass) through country roads, villages, over dual carridgeways, under and over bridges. experiencing all types of weather ( rain, wind, sun, mist, drizzle). Seeing crack of dawn each day as we left the hostels at 6am."

Coast to Coast - Day 1

Coast to Coast - in the lanes

Coast to Coast - off road

Coast to Coast - Signage

Coast to Coast - highest point

Coast to coast - mission completed

The Coast to Coast route

Oct 2015
NSB has seen the majestic deer in Wollaton Park recently, but did not dare get as close as Ghufran Shah did to get this (and many other) awesome images...

Deer at Wollaton Park, Oct 2015, via Ghufran Shah
 * Not sure if getting this close is a good idea *


Summer 2015
Picked up a piece of wood that had been lying on a garden path for several weeks and found an ants nest, with many ants eggs, underneath. Within a few minutes the ants had taken all the eggs through cracks in the paving to a safer location underground.....

Ants taking care of business..


Summer 2015
Didn't really know where to put this, so have shoehorned it into this post - lovely vision of green while driving on the A6 (it's ok, the picture was taken from a layby!)

Wall of trees, next to A6, Derbyshire


Field of Wheat, next to the Big Track


Found a rather handsome example of the Common Frog in the garden....

Common Frog


HGV's on the Nutbrook Trial, 2014

Several times each day, traffic on the Embankment has to stop for this....
Aug 2014

Very handsome indeed ! Nutbrook Trail, Derbyshire, Aug 2014

Herons, Colwick Park - Jul/Aug2014

Lovely colours as bright sun behind BFTF plays on the fields and dark clouds ahead.
Near Beeston Weir - Jul/Aug2014

Fields of Wheat, between Stapleford and Bramcote- Jul/Aug2014

A work colleague showed NSB this leaf that had had two very neat sections cut out of it by a leaf cutter bee. For scale, that leaf is only about 1 inch long.

Leaf cutter Bee


Saw this while out cycling. Think it is a Cinnebar Moth Caterpillar..

Cinnabar Moth Caterpiller


Realised that a number of pictures taken while cycling would fit nicely into this post...

Saw this rather groovy creature (which I believe to be a Mongolian Ringneck-type Common Pheasant) at the Park and Ride by the Trent.

A pheasant, looking cool, 2013


Sep 2013
Saw this rather handsome slug on a path in the south of England, which @george_gorilla has confirmed is probably a "Limax maximus" (commmonly called a Great Slug or Leapard Slug).

A Great Slug

A work colleague NSB was cycling home with recently spotted this, bright orange, fungi on a tree. Fungi are tricky to identify, but @george_gorilla thinks this might be a type of Polyporus, which are a type of fungi that break down wood.(see also here) - and an awesome set of mushroon images can be found here

Unidentified Fungi on a tree. Can you identify it?

NSB's brother has a back garden that is perhaps a little on the overgrown side, but this has the advantage of making it something of a butterfly magnet, and NSB was enchanted to see perhaps a dozen Peacock Butterflies flitting amongst the buddlia.

Inachis Io (Peacock Butterfly)


May 2013
NSB found these mushrooms, a few inches in diameter, in the flower pots recently - and has no ideal what they are. Fortunately, @george_gorilla was able to put NSB in contact with a mushroom expert who commented :
"It would be useful to know the size of these mushrooms and also to dig one out to look at the base of the stem. At first sight looking at the pure white cap skin which seems to have a bloom upon it and the pale gills, I think it may belong among a genus called Clitocybe. It will not be possible to go further without a microscope as Clitocybe contains a number of species with white caps and whitish gills, some of which are very poisonous. If the stem base has a volval bag and the gills become pink it may be a Volvariella. If the gills become pink and there is no basal bag, just a plain or bulbous stem base it may be a Pluteus which suggests there is buried wood. There appears to be no ring on the stem so it should not be Amanita, another genus with poisonous species and volval bag at stem base.Does it smell of anything in particular by the way? Just mushroomy, sweetish, floury or mealy, mouldy?"

Crikey, NSB had no idea it was so tricky to identify a mushroom!

A large unidentifed mushroom. Can you help identify them?

And saw this, which @george_gorilla instantly confirmed as being a common, if rather large, House Spider

Also saw this big bad boy on a fence post.

A friend posted these pictures of a Mason Bee (his identification, NSB would not have know what type they were!) that had made a home in a hole on the lug of his childrens climbing frame.

A Mason Bee has found a home in a friends climbing frame hold
And here is the Mason Bee close up


Winter 2012/2013
Beautiful Spiders Web, lit up by raindrops

A surprisingly tame fox that wandered around work,
black legs indicate that it is a youngster


NSB did once share ownership of a Giant African Land Snail, which would gnaw on peoples fingers in a gentle can't-really-do-any-damage kind of way). The snail was called Sammy, by the way, because that works for both males and females, and snails are notoriously sexually ambiguous.

Sammy as a baby, on a slice of cucumber

Sammy a few months later, trying to give someone a manicure