The Listener


He never meant to throw her from the bal­cony. In a panic he looked round. There was no one else in the dimly lit theatre other than him­self and the girl who had con­fron­ted him.

Duncan Smith was used to meet­ing young women after shows. Women were the bulk of the audi­ence for his “Crossing the Divide” shows. Many did noth­ing for him, but he was often happy to offer com­fort to his younger female fans if they had someone. If they were will­ing enough, he’d sched­ule private time after a show to attempt a per­sonal séance with the depar­ted, and maybe some more intim­ate sup­port afterwards.

He’d thought the young woman hanging around on the bal­cony after the show was one of these. Lighting was handled from the pro­jec­tion box on the upper level, so often someone would be wait­ing for a per­sonal moment. What he hadn’t expec­ted was a young woman by the pro­jec­tion box with a micro­phone. She claimed she had a record­ing she claimed revealed all his tricks. Unlikely, he cheated in so many ways, but no one needed the illu­sion shattered.

He’d never meant to push her. He simply wanted the record­ing. She’d struggled but she didn’t have to. If she had given him the record­ing none of this need have happened. She retreated to the bal­cony edge, and after a tussle for the record­ing she was over the bar­rier. It was almost like she wanted to jump.

He stared down at the fig­ure below, broken across the seats in the stalls, look­ing back up at him. She’d won. She’d jumped out of spite to end his career, and show she looked back up, gloat­ing in death. She’d won. She had the recording.

He looked by the seats and found her bag. Sure enough there was a small micro­phone, plugged into a phone. He tried unlock­ing the phone to delete the record­ing, but he didn’t have to the code. Damn.

He looked up from the phone, guilt driv­ing him to check if she had seen him tamper with the phone. He looked down to the stalls below and saw only her dead blue eyes. This could look bad. He needed to show he’d done noth­ing wrong. He’d tried to stop her from jump­ing, and now… He took out his own phone and called the emer­gency ser­vices. “I need an ambu­lance at the Meridian Theatre. There’s been a ter­rible acci­dent.”
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Chromebooks, revisited


I put up thoughts on the HP Chromebook 11, after hav­ing one for a couple of weeks on Google+. At the time I said I liked it, and I still do, but it’s not per­fect. I’m happy with it, but if it dis­ap­peared I don’t know if I’d get a new one or some­thing else.

What I’ve found is that it’s mainly a tab­let replace­ment for me. The HP Chromebook 11 is light enough to do that. What I really like about the machine is the dis­play, which is Mac-like. It’s 1366 x 768 pixels, which is the stand­ard res­ol­u­tion for all Chromebooks (and the same at the MacBook air I think). The smal­ler dis­play you have on your Chromebook the bet­ter it will look.

I also like the key­board. I bought an iPad, think­ing I’d type into it. I really don’t like doing that. The HP key­board on the other hand is per­fectly usable. I’m sur­prised, because I thought an 11″ machine would be a bit too small for ser­i­ous work, but I have hap­pily sat down and typed for a few hours. For me, the dis­play and key­board are crit­ical. The HP 11 is the best of the Chromebooks for that.

Where the HP 11 lags is with the chip. The HP 11 and Samsung machines use an ARM chip. This means they’re fan­less, but also they aren’t as fast as the Intel based machines (like the HP 14 and every­one else). This caused prob­lems with YouTube videos, which seems to have improved since I got the machine, but there are still lags on the laptop. Some of this is my poor inter­net con­nec­tion, but I also won­der if some of it is the machine being a bit under­powered. It really isn’t by a lot, but it’s not quite seam­less.
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For a minute Rudolph McMurdo had been wor­ried. He was hardly old. At the age of eighty-two he was still a year short of another media mag­nate, and his own news empire sup­plied him with the best health care money could buy. Yet he had been warned by med­ics that he had car­diac prob­lems and the crush­ing pain in his chest had felt like the end. It wasn’t entirely com­fort­ing to real­ise it was. At least he had the sat­is­fac­tion of know­ing his demise proved he wasn’t has heart­less as the smug bas­tards in the lib­eral media claimed. Nevertheless, it was cruel that death had finally come on his hon­ey­moon night with his fourth and pre­sum­ably final wife.

It was a sense of injustice over this that gave him an anchor in this new place. It was hard to tell exactly where he was. It was black, but well lit — though from no vis­ible source. It cer­tainly wasn’t dark. He could see him­self well enough, a curs­ory exam­in­a­tion of the back of his hand revealed the usual mottled. That was another thing someone would have to sort out. If he was dead then there was no need for him to be old.

The noise from behind was quiet, but was the only sound in the oth­er­wise silent place. Rudolph spun round in sur­prise. Some dis­tance away an old man in what may have been a robe, or pos­sibly a toga, was sham­bling towards him. His gait was hindered by the need to avoid his over­grown beard that could have slipped beneath his feet as he walked. His head was stooped, like the most fas­cin­at­ing things in the world were his toe­nails. The image was everything Rudolph asso­ci­ated with reli­gious nut­ters. Christ! You can’t even escape the bleed­ers in the after­life. The man seemed to be mut­ter­ing to him­self. As the fig­ure got closer it wasn’t what Rudolph had expected.

…and then someone says ‘let’s have some religiously-inspired gen­o­cide.’ It would be nice if, just once, they thought of the poor sods who have to pro­cess every­one after­wards. I told him ‘Thou shalt not kill’ and ‘Turn the other cheek’ were too ambigu­ous, but would he listen? Ooof!”

The final syl­lable punc­tu­ated the man’s col­li­sion with a fas­cin­ated Rudolph. The man looked up and into Rudolph’s face with benign incom­pre­hen­sion. Rudolph waved his hand in front of the man. “Hello? D’yer work here?” Rudolph asked.
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My first Geocache find


I star­ted with Geocaching at the week­end. It’s some­thing like hide ‘n’ seek for people with a GPS or smartphone.

So how does it work in prac­tice? I looked for geocaches near me, and one that caught my eye was Welcome to the Withybeds. I’ve joined Radnorshire Wildlife Trust, but I hadn’t been to Withybeds yet. I made it the first cache on my list of things to find, and found it pretty much where I expected.

The river Lugg at the Withybeds.

The river Lugg at the Withybeds.

The Withybeds reserve is small but pleas­ant, on the north side of Presteigne. I’m not sure how much longer it would have taken me to find the time to visit, if it hadn’t been for the geocache.
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I’m giving up writing at Medium


I’ve been ser­i­ously think­ing about mov­ing to Ghost or Medium for writ­ing. Ghost uses Markdown, which I like is handy for when I write in StackEdit​.io. Medium has a very simple inter­face. It’s not cus­tom­is­able, but the flip side of that is that you don’t waste time try­ing to cus­tom­ise it.

I gave Medium a go with two short stor­ies I’d writ­ten. I was going to post some ser­i­ous and researched sci­ence art­icles, but I chose to put up the short stor­ies as I’d not be bothered if got no views. Here are the res­ults.
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5 Years On — Chemotherapy Works


I wrote someone out of my will today.

It was five years ago I had chemo­ther­apy for can­cer. It should have been six, but I held off get­ting a dia­gnosis because I was in the last year of my PhD and help­ing out with eld­erly rel­at­ives. I wasn’t strictly in denial about hav­ing can­cer, but the tim­ing was bad. Relatives died which caused more prob­lems. When another close rel­at­ive was hos­pit­al­ised it was obvi­ous there wasn’t going to be a con­veni­ent time.

I was dia­gnosed on a Monday after­noon and oper­ated on the fol­low­ing day. It wasn’t that bad a situ­ation, someone else had can­celled their oper­a­tion due to snow. I was offered either their spot, or else wait a few weeks for the oper­a­tion. Hanging around with the tumour inside me seemed like a really bad idea, so in I went. The follow-up was a brief course of chemotherapy.

There’s been a lot writ­ten about how bad chemo­ther­apy is, but I had no prob­lem. Here’s a selfie from five years ago while I’m hav­ing chemotherapy.

chemo selfie

I pottered around the house and had no trouble at all. I didn’t have any prob­lem, though one day I did fancy some Jaffa Cakes and there were none in the house. So I went out to the shops to get some. This is a map of how far away the shop was.

Map via Google Maps.

Map via Google Maps

I was tired well before the first corner. Continue read­ing

WordPress shortcodes for DOIs and other research links


I’ve writ­ten a plu­gin for WordPress that adds short­codes to link to research. To use it you’ll need a self-installed WordPress blog. A blog at word​press​.com won’t be able to use it.

[doi id=“10.1093/aob/mct148”]link text[/doi] links the link text to http://​dx​.doi​.org/​1​0​.​1​0​9​3​/​a​o​b​/​m​c​t​148 It also does a few more things.

If there are research codes used, the blog checks to see if it has cita­tions stored for them. If it does then it out­puts a References sec­tion at the end of the post. It’s not in this post, because I’m not actu­ally using the short­code in this post.

If there isn’t a cita­tion stored, the blog will go through each DOI and make one. It’s designed to make cita­tions com­pat­ible with the ScienceSeeker web­site. If you’re a sci­ence blog­ger then you would do well to sign up to this.

It solves a prob­lem with alt­met­rics too.

At AoB Blog we post about vari­ous papers, usu­ally from Annals of Botany or AoB PLANTS. If people like what they see and tweet a link to the post, the post gets credit for the link, but the ori­ginal paper doesn’t. It wasn’t the ori­ginal paper tweeted, it was the post. I’ve talked with people at OUP and Altmetric​.com and the answer we settled on was to add a meta tag in the header.

<meta name=“DCTERMS.isBasedOn” scheme=“DCTERMS.URI” content=“”/>

This gives a way to con­nect a post to the paper it’s com­ment­ing on. It only works from the second time a page is loaded, but the first is usu­ally a pre­view by the author, so that’s not critical.

Not everything people want to link to has a DOI. What do you do if you have a mix of DOI and http:// links and you want to use them in the same ref­er­ence sec­tion? There is a url shortcode.

[url id=“” author=“Chaffey, N.” date=“2013” title=“Brachypodium is NOT Arabidopsis(!)” website=“AoB Blog”]

…will out­put a cita­tion in a sim­ilar style to the DOI cita­tion, with a ‘date accessed’ note added, set to whenever you first run the short­code. If you don’t spe­cify a pub­lic­a­tion date then it sets this year. If you don’t spe­cify an author then it is set to ‘Unknown’.

You can down­load the code from Dropbox and install it, or have a laugh the at code. The code is not sleek, because I wanted to see what was hap­pen­ing each step of the way. As a warn­ing, I don’t know if this is secure code or not. That’s not likely to be a big prob­lem if it’s just you on your site, but it’s an issue if you have a multi-author blog.

Also it doesn’t handle a few other things yet. There is a space for an [arxiv] short­code. I haven’t added this yet because arxiv out­puts metadata in a dif­fer­ent way to dx​.doi​.org. Despite hav­ing DOIs, Figshare doesn’t work with it either. I don’t know why Figshare out their DOIs in a dif­fer­ent way, because I haven’t spoken to them yet. There’s prob­ably a good reason, so that might mean mak­ing a [fig­share] short­code to handle those links.

At the moment the code is up for dis­cus­sion. Once I’ve under­stood this page and added arxiv and fig­share sup­port then I’ll see about adding it to the WordPress plu­gin repository.

Download the plu­gin as a zip file

Update: Thanks to Stack Overflow I now know how to get data for an ISBN, so an [isbn] short­code will be pos­sible too.