Thursday, November 29, 2007

live rock is on a roll

We've never had it so good. Old concert halls to reopen amid live music boom.

Even Oxford now has a "Carling Academy" where people appear whom I might actually want to see. Even though I admit that the 4 gigs I went to see in the last 18 months were all by Shakira. I think over the last 5 years I saw 12 major concerts (of which no more than 6 were Shakira's, so come on, it's not that bad!). The other six headliners were Kelis, Jem, Xtina, Alanis, Avril, oops, either I'm forgetting one or there were only 5 others.

Well, anyhow, it is exciting to have so much live music going on around here, even if I tend to pick only a very small set of artists from the broad spectrum offered ...

Wednesday, November 28, 2007

a prize for bad writing

Britain has about a zillion literary awards, ranging from the best novel set in the village of XYZ, up to the prestigious Booker, Orange, etc. awards. To my knowledge there are only two "razzie" style awards, including one for the worst opening line (the Bulwer-Lytton Fiction Contest, in "honour" of the author of the opening line "It was a dark and stormy night ..."), and the notorious bad sex award, which gets acres of press coverage each year.

Now I wonder what this might be telling us ... I mean, in Spain there is a prestigious prize for good erotic writing, la sonrisa vertical. But British writers are still not allowed to write about the most natural thing in the world. (Seriously -- I have read opinion pieces in the press that effectively said, this topic should not be written about at all.) Though censorship battles have moved on to TV and watershed issues, I think ridicule might be nearly as effective as censorship.

Tuesday, November 27, 2007

el amor en los tiempos del colera

Shakira contributed three songs to the soundtrack of the film "Love in the times of cholera":

La despedida

Hay amores (with lyrics)

Pienso en ti (live from Las Vegas)

The last one is from Pies Descalzos, the other two are new songs.

all at sea

My great-grandfather, Julius Düsselmann, was a bit of an adventurer, but eventually settled down to have a family (lucky for me!). Apparently his cousin Walter never did. He sailed the seas all his life and survived some dangerous adventures. Here is what we know about him so far.

CV Walter Düsselmann

22.12.1882 born at Krefeld , parents: August Düsselmann (*1844) and Anna Josephine Hagermes

1904 Stewart on the ship Elfrieda, from Rotterdam to Portland, Oregon, arrival 21.5.

1913 11.10. Third officer on the Volturno, which burns out in the North Atlantic.
Even though 9 other ships come to help, the heavy weather makes any rescue efforts dangerous. Of 657 people on board, 136 die. See Volturno pages for a full account of the disaster.

1916 Second officer on the Libau, which is trying (but failing) to deliver arms to Ireland’s Easter revolution. The captain of the ship, Karl Spindler, writes a book about the adventure a few years later.

1921 Christmas. Dedication from Walter to his cousin Josephine Bender (1881-1966) in a copy of Spindler’s book he gave her for christmas.

17.10.1943 died in the war, not clear where.


Arthur Spurgeon: The burning of the Volturno, Cassell and Company Ltd. London, 1913.
Karl Spindler: Das geheimnisvolle Schiff. Die Fahrt der Libau zur irischen Revolution, August Scherl Verlag, Berlin, year?.
Mario Vargas Llosa: El sueño del Celta

PS (Jan 2012): A new(ish) blog dealing with the Volturno has come to my attention: Fire on the ocean
PS (Sept 2013): A page about the wreck of the Libau / Aud is here PS (Aug 2014): An English translation of Spindler's book, Gun running for Casement in the Easter rebellion, is freely accessible on Google Books.

Monday, November 26, 2007


I'm afraid I've developed an addiction to Nena's album of covers, Cover Me.
(to the non-German part of my audience I need to explain that Nena, of 99 red balloons fame, was anything but a one hit wonder in Germany and has recorded lots of albums with her own music, too).

The fact that I like Nena is a bit odd, as I hate 80s music and I didn't like German pop all that much until the new wave of Silbermond / Juli etc. came up. So Nena is the one exception to both rules.

The Cover me album has one disk with covers of German songs, and another one with English covers (and one in French). I don't care much for the German disk, but the English one has lots of tracks that take me right back to my childhood -- the Dylan / Stones / Neil Young kind of mix that could have come straight from one of the tapes my mother used to listen to when I was maybe 10 or so. And amazingly, these songs work very well with Nena's voice. It's the kind of longing encapsulated in these songs (After the goldrush, it's all over now baby blue, she's a rainbow, the last time, ... ) that her voice fits so well with. Intriguing.

science on film

If any biomedical scientists out there are dreaming of making a documentary about a scientific topic, try the Wellcome Trust's new initiative Science on film.

As I understand it, winning applicants will get to do their dream documentary with lots of professional help and get it screened, too. Deadline is Dec. 10th.

Thursday, November 22, 2007

new look bookshelf

I've dusted down the book shelf on my home page,, a bit. Apologies to anyone who was confronted with a messed-up page yesterday, as I started off on the wrong foot ...

blogging in German

I've joined the Wissenslogs family of blogs run on the website of Spektrum der Wissenschaft. I've committed to blogging there (in German) at least once a month. My first entry is here. Discussing three remarkable career changes that I've mentioned here before, namely of Matt Ridley and Paul Drayson away from science, and of Queen guitarist Brian May who came back ...

Wednesday, November 21, 2007

vintage book review

My MySpace buddy and fellow science writer Paul Halpern discovered a page where our 1997 books are reviewed together: Lebensformen unter extremen Bedingungen.

Tuesday, November 20, 2007

an excellent initiative ?

Science in Germany has received a huge confidence boost this autumn, with 2 Nobel prizes and six new "elite" universities. Read my story here.

However, once the champagne has been mopped up, it is far from clear how the broad base -- which you need to sustain a high peak -- is going to benefit from all this. Lecture theatres are still overcrowded, and word in the street is that the country doesn't even produce as many academics as it will need in a modern world ...

Monday, November 19, 2007

platypus pix

... busy sorting out the illustrations for the platypus book this week ...

Have also seen a draft of the cover design. Looks funny. In a good way, I hope. To me, that's always the point when I start to believe it's really going to happen, there will be a real book. It feels more real when I've seen the cover.

Friday, November 16, 2007

links and labels

blog entries related to the topics of my books

Life on the Edge
Light and Life
Travels to the Nanoworld

can now be easily retrieved using the labels:


respectively. Plus they are also linked to from the news pages of my website, so I never have to update those again ...

Thursday, November 15, 2007

around the world in 397 days

Now, well, that DVD:
love the concert recording, it's just perfect. Filmed beautifully, without too many gimmicks.

Also very pleased to see the bonus track with Obtener un Si -- wonder whether they recorded that in Spain, as I believe it was dropped from the setlist later.

Very happy to see the bollywood dancers and Alejandro Sanz included. Very happy with the language mix as well, I think it probably reflects the composition of her audience (both in Miami and globally) quite nicely.

Shame about the CD though, why not put the whole soundtrack on the CD, as in GreenDay's bullet in a bible, to name a random example ?

And the "Around the world in 397 days" (or whatever number it was, I wouldn't trust Shakira with the counting anyway!) docu was much too short of course, covering only India, Egypt, and the US. Should have covered all countries ! And then they nicked the "Guten Abend Frankfurt ... etc." soundclip from the previous DVD!

And isn't it amazing how many details one can spot for the first time on seeing the concert for the 5th and 6th time ? Need to watch the DVD another 100+ times to make up for the gigs I missed ...

Wednesday, November 14, 2007

being fidel

There is a very nice review of Fidel Castro's My Life by Seumas Milne, who used to edit the Guardian Comment pages in times when they were about the only hope for sanity in this world.
See whether I can find a Spanish edition of that around here ...

Oh, and the DVD I mentioned a couple of times before arrived yesterday, review to follow.

Tuesday, November 13, 2007

the blog's the answer

in over 10 years of running my website, I've always had the problem of trying to keep up simultaneous "news" pages in various parts of the page, e.g. news on each of my different books and book projects, on journalism, research, etc., and somehow, the news always ended up looking embarrassingly old.

Now I've figured out what I should have realised 5 years ago -- I can use specific links to keyword searches in my blog. So on my books page, there is now a link to my new book, which simply gives you the relevant blog entries.

Similarly, on my science journalism page, there is a link to science journalism related blog entries. Within the next few days, I'll adapt the cob-webbed "news" pages of the book pages accordingly.

Friday, November 09, 2007

going nuts

Recently I mentioned the science writer colleague who tried to run a bank. To continue the informal series "crazy career moves":

Earlier this year I interviewed Powderject cofounder Brian Bellhouse for a feature in Oxford Today about Biomedical Engineering. He mentioned his company co-founder and son in law, Paul Drayson, telling me in an amused tone that Paul, now Lord Drayson, left the Biotech revolution in order to buy battleships and aircraft carriers for the government. And I thought that was crazy.

Yesterday, Drayson was reported to have resigned from his government post in order to develop his motor racing career and try to win the 24 hours of Le Mans. Oh, and he wants to do that using biofuel, too. Here's his resignation letter and the report in the Guardian, and the relevant wikipedia page.

Now that leaves me feeling really frustrated and way too normal. But then again it is easier to go nuts when you have a nice fortune to fall back on ...

Wednesday, November 07, 2007

live dvd on the horizon

The oral fixation live DVD will be out in less than a week (France: 12., US: 13., Germany: 16., UK 19.11.). Sony UK seem to be dragging their feet as always, but I ordered my copy from France, hoping to beat them.

There will be advance screenings in cinemas across the US on the 12th, and there are extracts available on MySpace and at I just watched the La Tortura clip on MySpace, and it's quite fantastic, of course. The clip is now on my MySpace profile, too.

green fuel turning black

Further insights into the problems caused by the rush for biofuels produced from specially grown crops are to be found in George Monbiot's latest column.

As I understand it, all efforts should be directed towards gaining biofuels from abundant agricultural waste material (straw in Canada, sawdust in Sweden, sugar cane bagasse in Cuba). The current government-promoted gold-rush into fuel crops is inefficient at best and quite probably damaging in lots of ways.

Tuesday, November 06, 2007

platypus update

Pleased to report that the entire text manuscript of my next book,

The birds, the bees, and the platypuses

is now with the publishers, as are the figure legends, and some versions of most figures.

The book will be 65,000 words long (just over 200 pages), and it is due to be published by Wiley-VCH in May 2008.

I'll post more details and some reading samples a bit closer to the publication date (and after sorting out with the publishers how much they will allow me to post!).

Watch this space !

Monday, November 05, 2007

German stuff

In the monthly round-up of German stuff, we have a knockout mouse insensitive to moderate cold (more about knockout mice next month!) and the Encode project, which aims to understand the intergenic DNA:

Groß M:
Nachrichten aus der Chemie 55, Nr 11, 1101
Einblick in die Funktion der Nicht-Gene

Groß M:
Spektrum der Wissenschaft Nr 11, 19-21
Die Maus, die in die Kälte ging

Thursday, November 01, 2007

mademoiselle curie

Eve Curie, the author of one of the most popular biographies ever written of a scientist, Madame Curie, has died at the age of 102 years.

I guess there are lots of lessons to be learnt from this, such as:

* working with radiation can halve your life expectancy (even though Nobel prizes are said to increase life expectancy!)

* whatever radiation Eve was exposed to in utero and as a child, seems to have had no ill effect.

I have no idea why the Guardian hasn't published an obituary yet, but there is one in the New York Times