Cottenham Balloon Terror

A Virgin hot-air balloon was looming low over Cottenham, just North of Cambridge City on the evening of 22nd June. Drinkers enjoying the sun and the ale outside The Chequers pub were stunned to see the enormous inflatable bobbing low over houses opposite. The pilot seemed desperately trying to gain height and had the burner on full power.


The balloon eventually lifted up and floated a few metres above the sweetshop and Chinese takeaway opposite heading for the Community Centre and Co-op store on the dangerous dog leg in Cottenham’s long High Street. Fortunately, it was at an altitude of about 40 metres at this point, although it did not stay high for long.

With nowhere safe to land at this point in the village witnesses assumed that the pilot was desperately trying to navigate to a field or open country away from the houses.

“It literally skimmed a tree in my back garden! It was frighteningly low,” said Cottenham resident Sian Williams. “I could feel the heat from the flames in my bedroom. Is this allowed?” she asks.


“It was extremely low when it came over Rooks Street, another Cottenham resident and local businessman Chris Fryer said. “It cleared the houses but landed very shortly after. I’m no expert but it didn’t look deliberate.

The law is very strict on ballooning. Except with the written permission of the Civil Aviation Authority (CAA) an aircraft shall not be flown closer than 500 feet to any person, vessel vehicle or structure. “Virgin seems to have form in breaching the Air Navigation Order like this,” says Russ Swan who filmed a similar incident in 2010 that elicited an apology from Virgin on local BBC TV.

Experienced glider pilot David Allan told me that, “The only way they can get around this is in the case of an emergency landing (gliders and balloons have an exemption for field landings). If there was a problem the pilot should have set the ballon down before drifitng over a town – when there is nowhere to go.”

High Street balloon photo 雷竞技官网 . Balloon on Tree photo by Sian Williams

Classic Chords #13 – Purple Smoke in Japan

Almost every budding axe hero of a certain age used to play the seminal heavy rock riff that opens “Smoke on the Water”, from Deep Purple’s 1972 album Machine Head and the more exciting live version from Made in Japan. Almost every budding axe hero played it wrong. You can even watch Jack Black playing it wrong in the film “School of Rock”.


For a start, Ritchie Blackmore does not use a pick (plectrum) when playing that riff, but more importantly he doesn’t play the root note of the implicit chords. The fledgling guitarist assume it’s power chords all the way, but it’s not. Blackmore lops off those roots and leaves them to Glover’s pounding bass, which comes in later. Instead, what we have is an interveted G5, the D fretted at the fifth of the A string and a G on the D string, same fret, plucked with thumb and index finger in unison. Set your guitar tone right and you can hear it’s true, but Blackmore has explained all this several times in interviews. You can give a thumbsdown to any tutorial where the guitarist is using a pick for the intro to this song and/or playing the root note on the bottom E string. Here’s Steve Morse showing it’s done properly.


Classic Chords #12 – Message in a Bottle

The Police were a post-punk, new wave band, but the power pop trio all had jazz backgrounds. It’s not surprise then, that they used motifs from that world in their pop songs. ‘Message in a Bottle’ from the band’s second album, 1979’s Regatta de Blanc, could have just been a standard pop tune if it had followed a relatively conventional four-chord progression C#-minor, A-major, B-major, F#minor and then breaking out into an A-D-E.


However, the Sumner/Summers/Copeland combination opted to add the minor-9th note of the scales and arpeggiate the progression across a driving three-note guitar motif ahead of a rocking bassline and the cymbalic skuffling of Copeland’s hi-hats. A similar approach, four chords arpeggiated but with a more steadier, more staid and laid back rhythm and pulse was also used on ‘Every Breath You Take’.

Now, I grew up on the Northeast coast of England, although I spent most of the first year of my life on the outskirts of Newcastle in a town called Wallsend, where the aforementioned Gordon ‘Sting’ Sumner would one day be a teacher by day and a jazzman by night before he went on the beat. So, it might be my imagination or some kind of musical synaesthesia but those minor-9ths, the suspended seconds of those chords, give them an atmospheric, ambient but altogether marine quality…or maybe it’s just the song title and the subject matter.

You can hear my cover version of Message in a Bottle here.

More Classic Guitar Chords here.

Meanwhile, nice feature on Summer’s playing during The Police in Guitar Player magazine. They cover MiaB and several others including Every Breath You Take in which Summers sort of recycles those arpeggiated add2/9 chords but with a twist, exercise 7b in that column shows the chords he used but there’s staccato in there so you don’t have to fret the whole chord at once. In fact in Summers’ own videos where he reveals the tricks of his trade, you can see he doesn’t fret the complete chord all at once.

More Classic Guitar Chords here.

Bee orchid – Ophrys apifera

Apparently, we have a bee orchid, Ophrys apifera, growing on the margin of our front garden. This is, according to a neighbour, a rare(ish) wildflower. Aside from being rather pretty and having flowers that attract bees as pollenators, the chemistry of their pigments is intriguing. The flowers contain quercetin and kaempferol glycosides as acylated or as cinnamic acid derivatives, while the pink outer sepals contain anthocyanins.


The specimen in our garden is in a bad way, it being effectively on the edge of the relatively busy pavement outside our house, and rather downtrodden, trampled underfoot in the words of Led Zeppelin (or is it?). So, what to do with it, should I lift it from the tarmac and soil and replant it somewhere safer in the garden, or just leave it and hope it has self-seeded and that we will find its offspring elsewhere on the border next year, rather than embedded in the pavement?

Incidentally, this is how it should look when it is not downtrodden and still in bloom


Intriguingly, lots of these flowers are growing in the grass verges at the Metro Centre in Gateshead, near my home town…

Roundup: forming hydrogen, butterfly effect, arsenic and photonic mixtures

Forming hydrogen – The gas can be released efficiently from liquid formic acid for use in fuel-cell powered vehicles. Proof of principle utilised nuclear magnetic resonance (NMR) spectroscopy to follow the catalytic chemistry involved in the process. More…

X-rayed butterfly - Researchers have used X-ray coherent diffractive imaging to take a close look at how the photonic crystals on the surface of a butterfly’s wing generated the brilliant iridescent colours we perceive. More…

By C.T. Bingham – Fauna of British India – Butterflies (Vol. 2), Public Domain,

Atomic arsenic – Researchers in Argentina have developed an optimized flow injection hydride generation atomic absorption spectroscopy (FI-HGAAS) method for the determination of total arsenic concentration in various foods. More…

Now the twain shall meet - Future quantum computational and other devices might rely on the mixing of photons and molecules. Now, researchers in the UK have demonstrated how a single molecule trapped in a tiny optical cavity can emit a photon, but that particle of light re-enters the molecule before it leaves the cavity, mixing molecule and photon completely. More…



My journey so far in three little words

I began life in upon voice wink but spent my first few months in brains dock bumpy before the family moved to the coast, the little fishing village of pepper assets slides. I went to school there and then attended penny tribe facing university. During which time I took my first trip abroad to disturbed nuns topples.

Next trip was InterRailing around driftwood spanning luxuriating, started on the ferry from bake rides acute and landed in sprinkled governed stalls. Travelled to october donor outlined, then flow state press, then tensions incline cutlets and on to tones bearings count, if I remember rightly.

Other places on that trip we visited included: swimmer retina unhappy, perfume riots diggers, uptake retrial roof, hinders reading slate, but we never made it as far as detail arrive tower. Returned via bake rides acute and then home to pepper assets slides.

Since then I’ve travelled and worked in revised eloquently shimmered, toured earnestly reclining remark, taken a long Land Rover safari trip in meows yielded corruptly and visited things swinging flinches. I’ve also camped in tones bearings count, manned starring remove and many other places. Hoping to visit burying youth happy later in the year and maybe take Mrs Sciencebase to visit thinks confetti inks next year…

Addressing the world differently…with just three little words – What3Words.

To find out where I’ve been take each of my three little words addresses replacing the spaces with a fullstop/period (.) and search the What3Words site e.g. search for burying.youth.happy, or better still try a URL like this:

There’s now a What3Words app too.

Things I will never say

I once made a tagcloud of BS that included Reiki, homeopathy, antivax rhetoric and much more besides, but in the spirit of inverted positive thinking, here’s a short distillation of things you will never hear me say:


“Congratulations, Boris!”

“Nice tattoo”

“Love the man bun”

“Good riddance to the EU”

“Another beer, Donald”

“Think I’ll try homeopathy”

“What time’s Eastenders on?”

“Tell me about your perpetual motion machine”

“I hope this couscous is GM free”

“You’re right, Big Pharma is behind the Zika virus”

“That Rupert Murdoch’s a nice chap, isn’t he”

“Stuff the NHS and the BBC!”

“I am so loving the new Kanye album”

“I can’t wait to see the new Star Wars movie”

“Letting everyone own a gun, great idea”


Three Word Addresses – What3Words

December 2019 update – There’s an app for iOS and Android.

June 2016 – A new addressing system that maps every point on earth to a unique triple of just three words could make house number, street names and postal codes a thing of the past, According to Josh Howgego on Twitter, Mongolia is already adopting the system.

This is very curious, I found our house address and its three words, although I’m not sharing them in public just yet, instead I’ve got a phrase for the local primary school – innovator.pollution.cartoons. The church down the road comes up as warblers.fights.sharpens while the local pub is Each triad corresponds to a 9-square-metre plot on planet Earth.

The online magazine, Quartz, gives three slightly more well-known examples than my local landmarks. The White House, at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue, Washington DC, is “sulk.held.raves”, the Tokyo Tower is located at “fans.helpless.collects” and the Stade de France is at “reporter.smoked.received.”


At first glance it may seem odd and pointless. The triads of words are not meant to be meaningful, but they are easier to remember than standard map coordinates or data from the GPS. But, more importantly, they address the problem that 4 billion people across the globe face in not having a conventional postal address, which often means they cannot access banking and other services, receive deliveries or be reached in an emergency.

Of course, seriousness aside, there’s fun to be had, just pick three words and enter them into the What3Words search box and see where it takes you…I pseudorandomly picked the words ballooning.camel.particle and apparently that’s somewhere in the South Pacific. So remember, next time you’re at a party and ask someone where they live and they say “sulk held raves” and their name is not Obama or Clinton Trump, you know they’re lying.

Classic Chords #11 – Brass in Pocket

UPDATE: I’ve had some Twitter debate with Richard Perkins of Bath Guitar School who half tongue-in-cheek points out that this chord might more formally be called an Aadd9. The note B is second and ninth in the scale of A major and personally, if I’d been playing a C major chord with an added D not on the second string, as in countless songs that go from Dmaj to that version of C to Gmaj, I’d have probably called it a Cadd9.

There is lots of confusion, Aadd2 = Aadd9, but Aadd2 is not Asus2 and nor is Aadd9 A9, novices hoping to expand their chord knowledge need to be aware of this. These types of chords are major triads with an added tone that isn’t a standard interval up.

The scale of A major is A, B, C#, D, E F#, G#, so the (dominant) 7th chord has the flattened 7th note (G) and the 9th chord has the 9th note (B) to be a 9th chord, whereas the Aadd9 lacks the flattened 7th and simply adds the B. One might think of it as the added 2nd rather than the added 9th if that B is closer to the root A rather than being more than an octave higher. But, there is no difference technically speaking, certainly piano players wouldn’t care in the way that we guitarists do.

Brass in pocket…it’s a song about sexual confidence, in case you hadn’t guessed, but also a reference to finding loose change in some dry cleaning. Seriously. As with contemporaries The Police, The Pretenders rose in that post-punk, new wave. It was still about the grit, but there was less spit, and the chords were a lot more mature. There’s lots of palm-muted, double stopped harmonies in here and those big jangly Rickenbacker chords with lots of chorus and reverb.


There’s also the confounding fact that Chrissie Hynde was playing rhythm to James Honeyman-Scott’s lead and there’s non-coincident voicings of the guitar chords. But, the stand out chord is not dissimilar to the Rush Hemispheres Chord but moved up to the A-major at fifth position and with not only the B and high E strings ring open but accompanied by the open A string. Of course, there’s also the suspended fourth (the D) which resonates and gives the chord progression that nostalgic 60s electric 12-string feel. Here’s a very rough attempt at getting half the sound on a single guitar.

More Classic Guitar Chords here.

Sodium and water, explosive video

Yet again somebody is throwing a chunk of sodium metal into a waterway and cause quite the viral explosion with their “hilarious” video. What is particular amusing to the “experimenters”, one has to assume, is not only the sound and fury, but the murder of myriad aquatic creatures.

The perpetrator “skims” a mere 1 lb (half a kilo-ish) of the metal, which I believe you can buy in ingots online, across a river and the metal on contact with water, reacts violently (and exothermically) releasing flammable hydrogen gas and forming sodium hydroxide (caustic soda) much of which dissolves in the water but will also be carried in caustic clouds of steam and gas.

2Sodium(s) + 2Water(l) –> 2Sodium Hydroxide(aq) + Hydrogen(g)

I was wondering out loud on twitter whether this kind of “scientific” demonstration is actually allowed under health and safety and environmental laws in any given country or state. I’d have hoped not, not least because in this latest video, the “skimmed” ingot of sodium as it begins exploding reverses direction and I didn’t notice any protective screens or safety specs being used on the riverbank.

Anyway, back in 1947, the US military had several tons of sodium leftover from the war effort, which was apparently disposed of in water at Lake Lenore, Washington (generated 162,000 cubic feet of hydrogen gas and caustic fumes). People have been chucking chunks of sodium into water longer than that, of course, and it is a perennial of so-called popular “science” shows and countless other viral video wags dating back at least a couple of decades. Now, I don’t want to spoil anybody’s fun, but you could lose an eye…and a lot of fish, you know?

Incidentally, he’s rubbish at “skimming” stones, he uses a pathetic and ineffectual backhand technique and gets a mere two bounces, whereas proper skimmers use a forehand technique and can easily get a 7-er!