I’ve become a bit fed up with television in recent years. It seemed to be on a steep downward path with crap drama, crap "reality" programmes and indifferent current affairs coverage. Increasingly, unless something can be "dramatized", be it crime, history or buying a house, it seems to be of little interest to programme makers. Consequently, these days I watch very little telly and, when I do, I’m frequently disappointed.

Just occasionally, though, something comes along to restore my faith. This week that has happened twice. The first instance was the documentary Absolute Zero on the subject of cold and based on the book by Tom Shachtman, who is clearly barking mad, particularly when trying to recreate very dangerous historical scientific experiments. The second instance was tonight’s programme Atom, which took the potentially mind-numbing subject of quantum physics and turned it into a gripping story filled with amazing personalities, which is exactly what it is. Both of these programmes show that you don’t need to dramatize something in order to make gripping and exciting television. (Remember that horrendous Supervolcano programme? Why did that need fictional characters and drama, including an aircraft saved by a hero geologist? Surely the Yellowstone park erupting and causing global winter is dramatic enough!)

Thank goodness for BBC Four.

When a book would be better than the Internet

I’ve just seen a lovely bumblebee in the garden. I like these fuzzy-bottomed creatures, but I’ve never seen one quite like this one – a slightly tapered bum (abdomen, I think) with three distinct amber-coloured stripes around the tip. The problem I have is that I’d like to know what type of bumblebee it is and whether I’ve spotted something rare or unusual. It’s this sort of thing that shows the limitations of the internet. If I had a book of insects, I could open the page of bees and compare all the different sorts until I spotted an illustration that best represented the creature I saw. However, the net relies on me making a search using the name of the creature I am seeking (looking for "bumblebees" is too vague). Wikipedia only offers a detailed description of the most common species.

Any suggestions? I’ve had a similar problem when I’ve spotted an unusual butterfly or moth. Birds are another group of creatures where I go straight to the bookshelf first.

On nappies

Two things:

  • I’m never going to look at a jar of Loyd Grossman curry sauce the same way ever again.
  • Why don’t we have this service available here? Apparently, this company is now offering this service in Australia, the Netherlands and California. Let’s just hope that it is a matter of time, as I’d certainly feel much happier knowing that Tom’s pooped pants were being recycled.

Mmmmmm pi

I was listening to the radio this morning and was heartened to learn that today is International Pie Day. I had visions of celebrating with some pastry-surrounded-meat concoction.

Unfortunately, it turns out that today is International Pi Day, which is far less exciting.

Picture perfect?

Interesting theory about the possibility of artificially creating every possible television image.

So, Google makes a computer program that renders out all these pictures and stores them on hard drives. They make some kind of amazing image search techniques, and let the television industry buy footage.
Google will have all the pictures to cover all the Olympics that could possibly be arranged and all the pic-tures to put together every Super Bowl that could ever be played. They would have a bunch of new epi-sodes of Friends and all the seasons of Lost that could ever be produced…

It would need a computer the size of Manhattan to make it work, but an interesting theory nonetheless.

Wild flower survey

The new edition of the Vascular Plant Red Data List for Great Britain has been published. Whilst there are some positive news points there, it generally makes fairly dismal reading – a large number of plants that were familiar during my father’s childhood are now very much threatened. Hopefully, the list can be used as a tool to improve conservation measures, as well as directing research to areas where it is most needed (a quick scan of the list reveals that our understanding of montane species is pretty poor, for example).