Category Archives: Out and about

Whimsy with the Moon

The Moon. It inspires stories, songs, spirituality, whole religions, silliness and conspiracy theories. Not to mention being responsible for the tides and the very existence of life on Earth as we know it. Not a bad hall of fame for a large lump of cheese.

It’s also the home of the Clangers. They say it isn’t; they say it’s a planet that just resembles the Moon, but that is a cover-up. A cover-up, I tell you! Incidentally, have you ever taken a close look at the Clangers? Rather sweet and ditsy little creatures, central to the childhoods of people of my parents’ age?

Oh no. No no no. Look again.

The Clangers on the Moon, with other stuff going on. They're alarming massive

Look at them. They’re fucking massive.

Let’s look at the facts. You can clearly see the curvature of the Moon in the illustration above, which also shows the Clangers pointing at a large lump of rubbish. This tells me the following: the Clangers are fucking massive.

I was going to do a whole bunch of calculations based on the circumference of the Moon (10,921 km), its angle of curve in that picture, and the relative height of the Clangers to find out how tall that would make them, but frankly I can’t be arsed. Suffice it to say, they are clearly taller than a very tall building.

Would you really want to be anywhere near giant mice with voices like slide-whistles and a penchant for volcanic soup? I think not.

Anyway, the thing that sent me down this particular garden path was this picture from I Fucking Love Science. (I do.)

A series of photographs of people doing cool stuff with the Moon, to make it look like the Moon is within reach.

All the things you can do with the Moon (no Clangers involved).

How cool is that?

What can you do with the Moon?

Lightning has an electromagnetic personality

In the late 1700s, Charles Augustin Coulomb put the snap, crackle and pop from a number of perilous experiments together and deduced the form of the electrostatic force law. Here’s what he found:

  1. You can’t tell just by looking at an object whether or not it carries a charge. Unless you’re an X-Man. Possibly.
  2. There are only two types of charge: positive and negative. Opposites attract, as the old cliché goes. And an object with equal amounts of each is electrically neutral, like Switzerland.
  3. All normal matter contains electric charge (except Findus lasagnes, which are not yet understood by science).Electrons may be transferred from one object to another.
  4. In an isolated system, the total electric charge is always conserved. So when you rub a balloon on a cat, no charge is created – electrons are simply redistributed between the cat and the balloon (and anger is created in the cat. Cats are often not subject to the usual laws of physics. Mine can teleport). Charge has its very own law of conservation.
  5. Because of the attraction between unlike charges, any item with a deficit of electrons (which has, therefore, a positive charge) will attract negatively charged items. But that’s not all: it will also pull in any electrons that happen to be hanging around. That’s how electric currents work, in the very simplest terms. Put a negative thing next to a positive thing, and electrons will flow from one to the other until they’re sharing them equally.

Fun facts about electric charge

  1. A small plastic troll doll with purple hair. Looks like it's been introduced to a Van der Graaf generator.

    Me. On a Monday.

    If you super-dry your hair then give it a vigorous brushing, you can make it stand on end. I often don’t need to put this much effort in; my barnet’s natural state appears to be one resembling those little trolls. 

  2. You can stick balloons to the ceiling using electrons, thus defying the laws of gravity. This is an interesting demonstration of the difference in strength between the electrostatic force and the gravitational force. Relatively speaking, the electrostatic force is MUCH stronger. Mind-bogglingly so. (Although you can’t really compare them, because they are fundamentally different things with arbitrary units of measurement.
  3. If you’re wearing nylon clothes, and you take them off in a dark room, you can sometimes see sparks as the separation of the clothing from your skin causes the air around you to undergo electrical breakdown. You can dismantle the air, like an X-Man. Possibly.
  4. Electrostatic charges are responsible for lightning. (More below.)

One of my favourite things is finding out that an everyday (but brilliant) phenomenon is still not fully understood by our biggest brains. We really don’t understand how lightning works! Partly because experiments are bloody dangerous…

A scientist named Georg Wilhelm Richmann, a German physicist living in Russia, was killed during a lightning experiment in 1753. He has the dubious honour of being the first person killed during an experiment involving electricity.

He was electrocuted in St Petersburg while “trying to quantify the response of an insulated rod to a nearby storm”. Any excuse to duck out of a meeting, even back then: he dashed off on hearing the news of a thunderstorm, taking his engraver with him to record the event for posterity.

During the experiment, and somewhat predictably (with the benefit of hindsight), he was struck by lightning. (It’s said that it was ball lightning, a very rare phenomenon that wasn’t believed to exist until the 1960s.)

The explosion that followed blew up his shoes, singed his clothes and knocked him dead. That wasn’t the end of his scientific exploits, however; his body was dissected to find out what effect his terminal experiment had on his organs.

We don’t understand lightning

Lightning is probably the most dramatic and well-known natural phenomenon resulting from electrical charge. But how does it work? Well, here’s what we know:

  • On humid days, rising air currents carry water vapour up into the atmosphere.
  • This occurs in giant clouds – they’re around 10km thick.
  • The water droplets cool as they rise, then freeze to form hailstones. Hailstones are required for lightning to occur.
  • The hailstones grow as more water condenses on them, then begin to fall under gravity when they become obese.
  • As they fall, they tend to melt and emerge from the cloud as heavy rain.
  • Lightning flashes develop near the base of a cloud, and are caused by the separation of positive and negative charges within the cloud.
  • The electrical activity occurs at an altitude where the temperature is between 0°C and -10°C – the only temperature range in which both hailstones and supercooled water drops can exist simultaneously.

Beyond these facts, we’re not really sure of anything!

We all know what lightning looks like, but this video shows a whole plethora of beautiful phenomena set to the strains of Robert Miles epic tune ‘Children’. One of the soundtracks to my messy youth.

Theorising about lightning

Most of the theories about the origins of lightning are based on a transfer of charge between the rising water drops and the falling hailstones. This leaves the water drops with a net positive charge and the hailstones with a net negative charge.

With the water drops pulled to the top of the cloud by rising air currents, and the negatively charged hailstones falling under gravity, the result is a net excess positive charge near the top of the cloud and a net negative charge near the bottom.

The tops of clouds are happy. The bottoms are angry.

Diagram illustrating the charge distribution in a thundercloud.

This process increases until the electrostatic charges are so large that one of two things (may) happen:

  1. The vapour in the cloud undergoes electrical breakdown, allowing the electrons to flow up through the cloud in a giant spark of lightning – a ‘cloud flash’.
  2. The air beneath the cloud suffers electrical breakdown and the negative charge at the bottom flows to the positively charged ground as forked lightning.

As I said, though, the charging mechanism is not really understood. The middle of a thundercloud is a bit of a hairy place to be, so there are not many experiments documented. I quite fancy making some kind of protective bubble and mooching into a cloud. If anybody would like to fund this hare-brained scheme, do drop me a line. You could be in line to share a Nobel Prize, you never know…

Unexpected Developments Scupper New Year’s Resolutions

On January 1, 2011, I wrote this post. So, as promised, I’m revisiting it. I was on a false high, and in complete denial about just how bloody miserable I was. I was also convinced that I would have achieved everything on my list. Well, that didn’t happen – but for once I’m not full of woe and self-recriminations.

This year has been a hell of a ride. I left The Worst Job in the World™ and, instead of wallowing, I slapped myself around a little then stood up. I held my head high, took a deep breath, set my shoulders back and my chin in the air, and Changed My Life.

With a little help from my friends, and a LOT of love, support and encouragement from my husband, my family and my splendid friends, I started my own business. Sunflower Communications was born in April 2012, and has been so successful so far that I can’t quite believe it.

Then, I became part-owner of Wylie’s, The Ironmongers with the fabulous Charlie Collett. Which was unexpected but brilliant. I’ve always wanted a shop. Next  year will be super busy…

2012 has been the hardest, in places worst, but generally best and most rewarding and satisfying year of my life. So I will forgive myself for not achieving everything on last year’s list:

  • Try something new at least once a week.
Me and my girls at our first burlesque show

My burlesque début!

Not quite once a week, but I have tried something new very often indeed. And each time, it’s enriched my life, even if I didn’t like it. Plus, this little resolution gave me burlesque, and a group of fan-bloody-tastic, strong, clever, funny, kind ladies who I love very much.

  • Buy more music.

This, I achieved. Florence and the Machine, Nina Simone, Imelda May, Propeller Heads, dubstep, Scroobius Pip…

  • Spend more time with my family.

This, too, I achieved. But it’s on this year’s list too.

  • Go to more gigs.

Although I did probably go to more gigs than I did in 2011, I would like to see more live music.

  • Improve my wardrobe: instead of purchasing several cheap items of clothing from random high street shops, spend a similar amount of money on one item that is beautiful, well-made, and will last.

I achieved this – and made my own clothes too! Long may this continue.

  • Motorcycle road trip around Europe with some good friends.

This was quite good fun 🙂

  • Become a bloody brilliant pole dancer.

Well, I don’t know about bloody brilliant, but I’ve certainly improved enormously. Which pleases me enormously.

  • Go clubbing several times.

I did this. It was okay.

  • Cultivate an aura of calm togetherness.

I don’t think that this is ever going to happen!

  • Embrace the fact that I am now a corporate whore.

I’m not! I’m not! I am a small business owner, and I am HAPPY.

  • Run at least one half-marathon.

Oops… This year though, for sure.

  • Be a better, kinder, funnier person.

I hope I have achieved this last one. I’ve worked hard.

Resolutions for 2013

This year, I am being a little more realistic. I’ve made a few resolutions over at my Sunflower blog, but they’re mostly business related. Here are my personal resolutions.

  1. Get away for a week with Joe. Just the two of us.
  2. Spend more time with our families, especially my lovely brother, his fabulous fiancée and my little niece Ella.
  3. Run more. I’ve joined Park Run, and I want to do a half-marathon next year, and perhaps a full marathon the year after. Perhaps.
  4. Read more books.
  5. Pay off the credit card.
  6. Spend more time camping and walking and bicycling and picnicking with good friends.
  7. More improvements in yoga and pole.
  8. Make more time for studying.
  9. Continue enjoying burlesque!
  10. Write more. Blog more. Rediscover my love for writing about science.

Happy new year

Happy new year readers. I wish you all the very best for 2013; and if life throws terrible things at you, I wish you the strength and courage to emerge from them stronger, with grace, and with your heads held high.

Big love. Peace out.

Got any jobs, mister?

No, really. Have you?

I’ve never been terribly forthcoming with blowing my own trumpet; I always felt it to be unseemly, immodest and a little bit vulgar. But frankly, if I’m not going to market myself, then who on Earth is?

Here is my situation: I am a creative, talented and enthusiastic writer and researcher who is currently on the lookout for a fabulous role with a fabulous organisation.

So, why am I looking? There is always the question of why I am currently in the market for a new job. That is perfectly valid, and I can tell you honestly: my last role, although it provided me with plenty of new skills and developed some existing ones, sadly wasn’t the right one for me. The job did not turn out to be what I thought it would be, and did not provide me with the opportunities that were indicated.

I can, however, provide you with numerous references from colleagues who will be glad to tell you what an asset I would be to your organisation. (That sounds terribly vain. In real life, I’m as modest as they come.)

I’m not going to present my entire CV in this blog post. That is available on my LinkedIn profile and is currently scattered far and wide across the internet. But I am going to tell you a little bit more about what I’m looking for.

Ideally, I’d like a role that allows me to scribble some words on paper, on the web and across the wide range of social media tools available to us. To be creative, to get a worthwhile message out to a wide audience. To have good ideas and be encouraged to implement them.

I really enjoyed my time in the busy press office of a national charity, and if I could find my way back into the not-for-profit sector that would please me greatly. It sounds trite, but getting important messages out to society – especially the more vulnerable citizens, using new and emerging media – was tremendously rewarding.

The Great Job Hunt is not limited to the charitable sector, however, and my interests are many and varied: I love science (I mean, I really love science), technology and motorcycles; running, jumping and aerial acrobatics; music and the theatre; yoga; camping; water (just generally – it’s fascinating stuff); and I am, ultimately, a bit of a tree-hugging hippy. So I’m up for almost anything.

Working for a living is obviously crucial, but money isn’t everything and job satisfaction and good career prospects are equally, if not more, important to me.

I have become aware, also, that it’s not just up to candidates to sell themselves to a company; the company has to sell itself to candidates. So I’ll be asking a lot of questions when I’m interviewed. I’m bright and interested in just about everything, so be prepared for a bit of a grilling.

Incidentally, I’m not sitting idly by and waiting for something to knock on my door: I’m getting myself out there, in the real world and the online one. My marketing experience is being put to good use for a couple of good friends who have their own businesses. I’m putting a lot of effort into my Open University degree in my free time. I’m keeping fit, practising for pole competitions and running obstacle races through knee-deep mud with friends.

So, it’s a bit of a cheek, this article, but worth doing anyway I feel. Please do get in touch with me via vicky<dot>j<dot>fraser <at> gmail<dot>com if you are recruiting, or simply fancy a chat!

UPDATE: Somewhat fabulously, I’ve been offered some freelance writing work with a rather lovely design agency. So I shall be doing that too. Today has been splendid.

Get out there and get stuff done!

Build your dreams. Get out there and grab life by the throat. It’s nearly summer, and we live on a staggeringly beautiful planet, surrounded by incredible people.

Take a look at this.

Then get out there and LIVE IT.

Snow, pain and science

This is going to be a mostly science-free post, as I have been busy for the last couple of days. Busy being a tough cookie, and busy recovering from said toughness.

However, a quick recap of where I’m at now: I am almost at the end of my virtual study tour in the Teign Valley, having just taken a look at the water composition of the river and its tributaries. I’ve got to be honest, the course isn’t gripping me so far. BUT – the books look much more interesting, so I shall not be disheartened.

It’s most definitely more of a “geography with science benefits” course, and I am very much looking forward to getting stuck into the pure science again after this course. Astrophysics all the way, baby!

I am, though, learning a lot about spreadsheets. This is useful, but dull. It’s driving me to drink.

Enough of that, though. I spent yesterday evening doing this: the Grim Night Terror. Here is what it looked like:

Grim.

Yes, that is snow. Basically, we ran seven miles (it was supposed to be eight, but the ice necessitated a change of course) in an hour and ten minutes. In the snow. It was bloody good fun, and felt fabulous!

During the last mile, I was struggling to put one foot in front of the other – and then there were the crowds of onlookers. It’s astonishing the difference a bunch of strangers shouting encouragement can make. Suddenly, with their help and a man to overtake, I found a burst of speed and crossed the line at pace with a huge grin on my face.

That was nothing compared to the journey home though – four hours in heavy snow, with vehicles spinning off the motorway left, right and centre. It was quite exciting, and completely exhausting. Driving snow gave me flashbacks to my misspent youth…

With a swollen knee – not to mention the swollen sense of pride – I’ve just signed up for this one too: The NUTS Challenge. And I’m probably going to do the Tough Mudder in the summer.

I am this: NAILS. Factoid.

Sign up now. It is fun most excellent.

Night terrors?

I get them. Those nightmares that are so real, that you wake up still in them, and fight things that aren’t there, or panic outrageously.

Here’s an example: I half woke up not so long ago having slept awkwardly (I presume) on my left leg. I couldn’t feel it at all – and this had filtered through to my dream. I was tapping on my left foot, and in my dream, my foot was made of wood. So I woke up convinced that someone had sawn off my foot and replaced it with a wooden one. Which made a wooden tapping sound, like when you knock on, well, wood. I screamed the place down; Joe leapt out of bed and looked for burglars.

I also talk about spoons.

I’m not quite as bad as my friend Muz, who regularly fights with the wardrobe while restraining his wife.

But I digress. The night terrors to which I am currently referring are Grim Night Terrors. I’ve been persuaded by some “friends” and colleagues that it’s a good idea, and I’ll have a great time.

So on Saturday, February 4th, I’m running eight miles across boggy, muddy woodland, jumping through puddles and crawling under cargo nets. In the dark. For fun. And apparently people will be jumping out at us. Last time somebody jumped out at me, I threw my cat in the air and then cried.

It’s this, here.

The charity they support is Macmillan Cancer Support, which is worthy indeed. So I may be tapping people up for a bob or two.

Training is going well so far, although my left knee is – and this is a technical term – a bit shagged. However, I’m sure eight miles of mud will sort it right out. I’m actually quite looking forward to it; particularly the party afterwards; and the people I’m running with are a good bunch really (despite the peer pressure) so it should be amusing. I’ll post some pictures for people to point, and mock, and laugh.