Mar 242017

On March 12th, in California, a Trump Golf course was vandalised by protesters. By contrast, in this very British protest, the important issues were discussed over a cup of tea!

Dr Jo House, University of Bristol with Ms Yashinee Aulum, TIGLS.

With thanks to Martin Ford.

On Saturday 18th March, climate scientists travelled to Trump International Golf Links, Scotland (TIGLS) to present a copy of The Ladybird Expert Guide to Climate Change, authored by HRH The Prince of Wales, and a statement on the importance of science and evidence in climate change policy making issued earlier this week by the Royal Meteorological Society.

The climate scientists wanted to highlight concerns that recent rhetoric and decisions from the Trump administration are contrary to the overwhelming evidence base on climate change and how it needs to be addressed.

Unexpectedly, they were offered the opportunity to discuss their concerns over a cup of tea!

The Head of Hospitality and Guest Services for TIGLS, Ms Yashinee Aulum, was pleased to receive the presentation. TIGLS is a business greatly affected by day-to-day weather, and one potentially at risk from future climate change.

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The visit to TIGLS followed a public science meeting at the University of Aberdeen entitled ‘Science and climate change in an alternative facts world’ which was held as part of British Science Week. The meeting was chaired by Prof Jo Smith (University of Aberdeen), and talks were given by:

Prof Piers Forster, University of Leeds,
Prof Terry Dawson, Kings College London,
Prof Pete Smith, University of Aberdeen,
Dr Jo House, University of Bristol,
Cllr Dr Martin Ford, Aberdeenshire Councillor.

Before the meeting, Prof Pete Smith, University of Aberdeen, who has served as Convening Lead Author for the United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change said:

“Climate change, and the way to deal with it, has been accepted by 196 countries at the Paris Climate Agreement, but Mr Trump has appointed a climate denier as the head of the US Environmental Protection Agency, and has previously pledged to withdraw from the Paris Agreement. The fact is, we need the US to cut its greenhouse gas emissions in order to meet the ambitious targets set out in the agreement.

“We all share the same atmosphere, so misguided actions in the US will not only affect Americans, it will affect everyone on the planet. We cannot allow decisions based upon ideology to replace those based on scientific evidence – and that is why we are holding this meeting today, during British Science Week – to urge Mr Trump’s administration to take the advice of its own climate scientists, and stick to US commitments under the Paris Agreement.

“The US will benefit from this. Failing to act when you don’t have the evidence is in some cases understandable – but failing to act when you are in full possession of the facts, which amounts to wilful ignorance, is inexcusable, and will cause great damage to the world we leave for our children and grand-children.”

Prof Piers Forster, Director of the Priestley International Centre for Climate, University of Leeds said:

“The US is a democracy that I am not part of so they are entitled to pass what ever crazy laws they want. If they want to burn more coal it upsets me but it is ultimately not my call.  However, I worry when their policies threaten science.

“The US administration are really contradicting themselves, saying there is not enough evidence that carbon dioxide causes global warming, then promptly threatening to cut agencies that collect the evidence. Scientists around the world depend on NASA and NOAA satellites and on the efforts of many US colleagues. More than ever we should be basing decisions on evidence rather than ideologies, and I hope the US administration wakes up and realises this.”

Prof Jo Smith, University of Aberdeen added:

“The lives of people in low income countries are already challenged by extreme weather events; climate change will make this worse. We can’t gamble with their lives. Climate change will mean more droughts and floods, and more people will die. The science is clear, so climate policies must be based on this evidence.”

Prof Terry Dawson, Chair in Global Environmental Change, Department of Geography, King’s College London commented:

“This year, the United Nations predicts the worst humanitarian crisis since World War II with several East African Countries being severely affected by drought. The lack of rain has contributed to massive livestock deaths, food and water shortages, acute malnutrition and widespread famine.

“Future climate change is expected to increase the magnitude and frequency of extreme climate events, such as droughts or floods and it is the poorest people in society that are most vulnerable to its negative effects.

“Climate change is a serious risk to poverty reduction and we, as scientists, feel a moral imperative to urge our political leaders act now – inaction or delay is inexcusable.”

Dr Jo House, Cabot Institute, School of Geographical Sciences, University of Bristol said:

“The Trump administration is choosing to ignore or deny the overwhelming scientific consensus on dangers of climate change to people’s health and well-being already, as well as in the future, and the urgency of putting in place long-term plans.

“We are affected in the UK by America’s emissions, but I have no voice there. Sadly similar denial or lack of action is taking place in our own country from a small number of newspapers, businesses and politicians.  UK governments since Margaret Thatcher have been at the forefront of climate action, as they, like the 196 governments who just signed the Paris Agreement, listened to the evidence and understood its importance.

“Climate change has recently slipped down the agenda of the Government. Many countries, states, and businesses have managed to slow or reduce their emissions while still increasing profitability. I am taking part in this meeting to stand up for evidence and for action, not just in America, but here at home.”

Aberdeenshire councillor Martin Ford said:

“Mr Trump is an environmental disaster. We knew that from his actions in Aberdeenshire over the last ten years, but now he can take decisions with global consequences. Mr Trump’s denial of climate change science will make progress with tackling the biggest threat facing the world immensely more difficult.”

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Jun 032016

AIYF 81 - Credit Graeme MacDonald featJulia Heys,Marketing Executive,VisitAberdeenshire.

Leading festivals from across Aberdeen are to come together to cross-programme an entertainment marquee at the Aberdeen Highland Games later this month [Sunday Jun 19].

For the second year running, Aberdeen Festivals, a group of 10 multi-arts festivals, will deliver a line-up of art, science, workshops and live entertainment at the Highland Games, held annually at Hazlehead Park.

Spectra, Aberdeen Jazz Festival, Look Again, May Festival, Aberdeen International Youth Festival (AIYF), TechFest, North East Open Studios, TrueNorth, DanceLive and sound, will all present activities, performances or workshops as part of the main programme.

Steve Harris, Chair of Aberdeen Festivals and CEO of VisitAberdeenshire, commented:

“Last year, our presence at the Highland Games was a huge success. We saw upwards of 2,000 people make their way through the tent, with adults and children having a great time alike. This year we have another exciting programme packed full of entertainment and we look forward to welcoming visitors to the Aberdeen Festivals marquee.”

Sponsored by leading energy firm Statoil UK, Aberdeen Festivals is a revolutionary cultural initiative bringing together 10 member festivals. The group, set up in early 2014, works to raise the profile of festivals in the North-east as well as grow audiences through joined up marketing campaigns.

The Aberdeen Festivals Entertainment Marquee will open at 10am and run until 4.30pm. Highlights include art exhibitions from Look Again and North East Open Studios, hands-on children’s activities from Techfest and May Festival as well as live performances from True North and AIYF.

Sarah Chew, Managing Director of TechFest, added;

“Over the past two years our involvement with the Aberdeen Festivals project has seen us not only increase awareness but also significantly boost our audience levels. Working together at events like the Aberdeen Highland Games lets us showcase the truly unique and diverse offering of all the festivals in Aberdeen.”

The Aberdeen Highland Games will take place on Sunday 19 June from 10am-5.30pm at Hazlehead Park, Aberdeen.

Aberdeen Festivals is a cultural initiative sponsored by Statoil and is supported by VisitAberdeenshire and Aberdeen City Council. More information can be found at

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May 132016

With thanks to Eoin Smith, Senior Account Executive, Tricker PR.

Ambassador Awards - Prof John Watson

Professor John Watson recieved a special recognition award at the Team Aberdeen Ambassador Awards for his efforts in bringing conferences to the north east of Scotland.

Ambassadors responsible for bringing high profile conferences to the north east were on Wednesday (11 May) recognised at an award ceremony in Aberdeen’s Chester Hotel. The annual Team Aberdeen Ambassador Awards celebrated the efforts of those who brought conferences on a diverse range of topics – including gene regulation, translation, rural sociology and marine technology – to Aberdeen and Aberdeenshire over the past 12 months.

Twenty individuals received awards for their efforts in promoting the Aberdeen and Aberdeenshire to their associations, successfully bidding for and hosting 18 conferences in Aberdeen City and Shire over the past year.

Such events have highlighted local organisations’ expertise within a diverse range of subject areas, and have helped to promote the north east as an attractive conferencing destination.

A special recognition award was also given to Professor John Watson of the University of Aberdeen. Throughout his career, Professor Watson has been an incredible ambassador for the region. This special award recognises the wide range of academic events he has brought to Aberdeen over the years, including the European Optical Society 2012, 3DTV 2013 and IEEE Oceans 2007 and 2017 conferences.

Professor Watson says,

“I am absolutely thrilled to receive this special recognition award, and it is fantastic to see so many of my peers’ efforts being recognised as well. Organising conferences on this scale requires the support of a strong team, and we are all grateful for the hard work of our colleagues in helping bring them to fruition.

“As academics, we have wide networks of contacts that span the globe and it is important that we use these to bring our international colleagues to Aberdeen and Aberdeenshire for high-profile conferences and events. This not only benefits our own academic institutes by bringing world-renowned experts to Aberdeen, but benefits also the conference venues and has a knock on effect to the leisure tourism industry as visitors discover just what the region has to offer.”

Steve Harris, chief executive of VisitAberdeenshire, adds,

“Aberdeen is often called the oil capital of Europe, and many know about the large energy industry events which take place in the city. While the energy industry is obviously valuable to the region, it is important to realise and celebrate the diverse range of academic events that also take place.

Ambassador Awards - Winners“From Latin American studies to cement and concrete technology, the breadth of conferences held in the north east over the past year is staggering. It shows that Aberdeen and Aberdeenshire have a lot to offer in a diverse range of important research fields. 

The success of these conferences highlights the excellent facilities that the north east has to offer.

“From the Aberdeen Exhibition and Conference Centre for large-scale conferences to the hotels and exclusive use venues which host smaller meetings and events, the region has a lot to offer those looking for somewhere to hold a successful conference.

“We are incredibly grateful to the Team Aberdeen Ambassadors for all of the work they have put into promoting the region to their academic colleagues, and we look forward to working with them over the next twelve months to bring even more conferences to the area.”

The full list of winners is:

  • Dr Raif Yuecel & Linda Duncan, University of Aberdeen – Scottish Society of Cytomics Meeting 2014
  • Dr Shauna Cunningham, Robert Gordon University – Diet, Gene Regulation and Metabolic Disease Conference 2015
  • Professor Patience Schell, University of Aberdeen – Society for Latin American Studies Conference 2015
  • Yasa Ratnayeke, Aberdeen City Council – Energy Cities Annual Conference 2015
  • Dr Graham Wilson, Royal Aberdeen Children’s Hospital – Association of Paediatric Anaesthetists of Great Britain and Ireland Scientific Meeting 2015
  • Karen Orchard, Aberdeen City Council – HyTrEc Conference 2015
  • Dr Alastair McKinlay, NHS Grampian & Dr Umesh Basavaraju, University of Aberdeen  – Scottish  Society of Gastroenterology Spring Meeting 2015
  • Professor Peter Reid, Robert Gordon University – i3 information: interactions and impact 2015
  • Dr Berndt Müller, University of Aberdeen – Translation UK 2015 Conference
  • Professor Bernadette Connolly, University of Aberdeen – International Student Research Forum 2015
  • Professor David Lurie, University of Aberdeen – 9th Conference on Fast Field Cycling NMR Relaxometry 2015
  • Dr Lee-Ann Sutherland, James Hutton Institute – European Society for Rural Sociology Congress
  • Dr Mohammed Imbabi, University of Aberdeen – Cement and Concrete Science Conference 2015
  • Dr Alasdair Mackenzie, University of Aberdeen – Neuropeptides 2015 Conference
  • Dr Barry O’Neill, University of Aberdeen – 12th International Workshops Methods for the Development and Evaluation of Maritime Technologies
  • Dr Ejaz Pathan & Dr Neil Basu,, NHS Grampian – Scottish Society for Rheumatology Autumn Meeting 2015
  • Elaine Cleary, Junior Chamber International – Junior Chamber International European Presidents Conference 2016
  • Professor John Watson, University of Aberdeen – Special Recognition Award – European Optical Society 2012, 3DTV 2013, IEEE Oceans 2007 and 2017

Team Aberdeen Ambassadors is a collaboration between VisitAberdeenshire, University of Aberdeen, Robert Gordon University, James Hutton Institute and Aberdeen Exhibition and Conference Centre, working together to increase the level of national and international association conferences being held in Aberdeen City and Shire. The Team supports individuals who can influence their own professional association in bringing events to the north east.

For more information, visit

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Nov 212014

From These Parts Rosetta duncan Harley (c)featBy Duncan Harley

In a remarkable interview, Philae comments on the success of the Rosetta mission to 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimrnko

We had arranged to meet in downtown Aberdeen in the March of 2004 but events moved fast and furious after fridge size robot Philae took off on a ten year mission atop the Rosetta spacecraft.

In the November of 2014 we finally met on the day after the landing.

Although initially Philae was uncharacteristically upbeat about the mission, the tone changed at the mention of mission gain.

  • “Congratulations on a successful mission. Folk on earth are dying to hear more about the sacrifice and endeavour which has led to this achievement. Tell me, in your own words, the story of the Rosetta mission from day one to the present day.


  • Beep. Yes, we took off ten years ago with the intention of answering some of the questions about comets. Rosetta is a spacecraft on a ten-year mission to catch the comet “67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko” (C-G). Rosetta will be the first spacecraft to soft-land a robot on a comet and also the first spacecraft to accompany a comet as it enters the inner solar system.


  • Folk on earth will be wondering about the mission’s backers. In particular, who funds the Rosetta Programme?


  • Beep. Yes, this daring international mission was spearheaded by the European Space Agency (ESA), with key support and instruments from NASA. NASA also contributed three of the orbiter’s instruments (ALICE, MIRO, and IES) and part of the electronics package for the Double Focusing Mass Spectrometer – one of two detectors on the Swiss ROSINA instrument. NASA is also providing science investigators for selected non-U.S. instruments. In all, NASA is involved to a greater or lesser degree in Alice, MIRO, IES, OSIRIS, Radio Science, ROSINA, and VIRTIS experiments. NASA’s Deep Space Network provides support for ESA’s Ground Station Network for spacecraft tracking and navigation.


  • That’s confounding, thank you. Folk on earth will be keen to hear more about why the name Rosetta became the mission programme name.


  • Beep. Yes, the Rosetta spacecraft is named after the ancient Rosetta Stone that you can visit today in London’s British Museum. The Philae lander is named after the Philae Obelisk which, together with the Rosetta Stone, provides the key to our understanding of Egyptian hieroglyphs. Scientists hope that the Rosetta spacecraft will enable us to translate the even older language of comets, as expressed by their thermal signatures, into new knowledge about the origins of our solar system and, perhaps, life on Earth. Comets are probably as old as time, whatever that is.


  • Our listeners will probably already know that. Do you have any more astounding facts?


  • Beep. Yes it turns out that 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko is made of ice.


  • But surely folk on earth knew that already? How much did this mission cost?


  • Beep. Beep, Bee……ppppp……………pp……………………p…..”

More about comets can be found for free at:

At certain times of year, you are likely to see a great number of meteors in the night sky. These events are called meteor showers and they occur when the Earth passes through the trail of debris left by a comet as it orbits the Sun.

These showers are given names based on the constellation present in the sky from which they appear to originate. For example, the Leonid Meteor Shower, or Leonids, appear to originate in the constellation Leo.

It is important to understand that the meteoroids (and therefore the meteors) do not really originate from the constellations or any of the stars in the constellations, however. They just seem to come from that part of the sky because of the way the Earth encounters the particles moving in the path of the comet’s orbit. Associating the shower name with the region of the sky they seem to come from just helps astronomers know where to look!

In far off 1957 Perry Como had a take on it at:

© Duncan Harley

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Nov 222012

Scientists have announced the sequencing of the entire genetic code – the genome – of a dwarf birch from Trees for Life’s Dundreggan Estate near Loch Ness in Glen Moriston, where the conservation charity is working to conserve a natural population of the species. With thanks to Richard Bunting.

Dwarf birch (Betula nana) is a nationally scarce species in Britain, occurring mainly in small populations on Scottish mountains.
The genome sequencing – a laboratory process identifying the complete DNA sequence of an organism – lays the foundations for genetic research into the birch genus, which includes up to 60 tree species.

This will benefit studies on the conservation of dwarf birch. Project lead scientist Richard Buggs, based at Queen Mary University of London, told Aberdeen Voice:

“Increasing our understanding of tree genomes is essential for our long-term ability to conserve and grow tree species in the UK.”

 Award-winning charity Trees for Life’s executive director Alan Watson Featherstone added:

“This is a tremendous breakthrough. Together with our woodland restoration work at Dundreggan, where we have one of the greatest concentrations of dwarf birch in Scotland, it will do much to benefit the conservation of this important species.”

Dwarf birch forms part of the mountain tree line, where woodland gives way to open moorland. This tree-line contains a unique assemblage of species and should be a miniature, waist-high species-rich woodland; in reality, it has become a ‘forgotten forest’ in the UK, overgrazed and in poor condition.

As part of its Million More Trees campaign, Trees for Life has launched an appeal to restore the ‘wee trees’ that form the natural tree-line, including those growing at their altitudinal limit as well as specially-adapted species such as dwarf birch.

By restoring the ‘wee trees’ of the Caledonian Forest, the charity also hopes to create a woodland link between Glen Affric and Glen Moriston, providing an expanded habitat for many species.

A healthy population of dwarf birch will also benefit the black grouse living along the woodland edge, and ptarmigan and golden plover nesting on the upland moors.

“Dundreggan offers a unique opportunity to restore the complete tree-line community and all its species,” said Alan Watson Featherstone.

The genome sequencing project was funded by the Natural Environment Research Council, and is being published in the journal Molecular Ecology.

Queen Mary University of London, Trees for Life and Highland Birchwoods are partnering to supervise PhD student James Borrell, who will survey the genetic diversity of dwarf birch populations in Scotland over the next three years.

Trees for Life has demonstrated the benefits of conservation action for this declining tree species.

In 2002 they fenced an area of dwarf birch to protect it from grazing deer, with astonishing results: dwarf birches now grow healthily above the surrounding vegetation and support a unique assemblage of species, including a rare moth that is a conservation priority for Scotland and three different sawflies, two of which were unknown in the UK until they were discovered at Dundreggan.

Such finds have established the Inverness-shire estate’s reputation as a ‘lost world’ for the Highlands.

The charity’s work at Dundreggan is a key part of its restoration of Scotland’s ancient Caledonian Forest to a spectacular wilderness region of 1,000 square miles to the west of Loch Ness and Inverness.

You can support Trees For Life by funding dedicated trees and groves, while the charity’s Conservation Weeks allow people to gain practical conservation experience in beautiful locations. For more details, see or call 0845 458 3505

For details of Trees for Life’s Return of the Wee Trees Appeal, please visit

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Oct 082012

There are three films I’ve really enjoyed this year, all seen at Vue.  Prometheus comes tops, easily, along with Batman: The Dark Knight Rises, an unexpected surprise for me. And then there’s Looper. So says Andrew Watson who mans the Voice celluloid review desk this week.

Looper is a mind-bender, with a script that twists and turns to its conclusion I will try to do its complexity justice without giving away too much of the plot, to help give you the will to stick with it until the very end.
Joe, played by Dark Knight Rises actor Joseph Gordon-Levitt, ekes out an existence as a mercenary of sorts.

He obliterates, from point-blank range, mob hits teleported from the future into the present and is more of a dispatcher than mercenary. He disposes of the bodies and therefore any evidence connecting his criminal employers with these disappearances. One of the corpses is actually Joe’s future self, played by Bruce Willis!

Very early on, I was quite impressed. Maybe I’m a bit dim in this respect, but I was honestly trying to see where Bruce Willis’s character would fit into the storyline. Joe seemed like the bad guy in the trailers, but would he turn out to be the cold-blooded killer, albeit complete with three-dimensional, if not redeemable, traits?

Thankfully, there are varying degrees of good and bad between his present and future selves; neither character, as the scales weigh alternatively up and down throughout the film, seems dastardly enough to make such judgements anything but a close call. All part of the film’s complexity.

All films need lighter moments and Looper has them. Jeff Daniels, best known to me for Dumb & Dumber, plays head minion Abe, who only lords it over Joe and company in the present because his superiors in the future have positioned him there. He doesn’t quite convince in displaying the menacing aspects of his character and is perhaps deliberately cast in the role for that reason, funny being something he does well.

His poor son, some slack-jawed paragon of ineptitude with a large gun, acts as his foil in a way you’d think Daniels’ comic sparring partner of yesteryear, Jim Carrey, could just about replicate. Both, particularly Daniels, are reminiscent of the perennial jobbing actor, desperate to avoid being bullied into typecast roles over and over again.

How can actors like John Goodman, for example, play roles like badass black market gun dealers in Kevin Bacon’s Death Sentence when they’ve already starred as Fred Flintstone? Probably not Goodman’s finest performances, but certainly the two I seem to remember.

Looper also tackles the fate versus freewill argument

I suppose, paradoxically, that the little comic nods here and there give a sense of reality, despite the film being way, way into the realms of science fiction.

Life’s not all doom and gloom, and we don’t inhabit a world where people want to be super-serious and watch films like Inception all the time.

Don’t get me wrong, that’s a fine film but my only reservation about Looper was that it would surely just be another Inception? There are similar, intertwined aspects in both films, but, thankfully, another Inception it isn’t.

Rounding off my attempt to sell you this film, I feel you should know that thematically it tackles some of my favourite subjects, including the nature versus nurture debate.  There’s a chosen one in the film too and Looper also tackles the fate versus freewill argument. Is it destiny to save or wreck humankind, or can conscious efforts be made to change a supposedly inevitable future? The way these two issues are conflated appealed to me immensely.

On the other hand, some of the dialogue is clunky. Swearing should be an art form, not something thrashed through by tongues of unthinking thespians, and there’s a Freudian slip by the scriptwriter implying accidental incest. I’ll let you weather that storm, one of many, lateral and literal; yet one of few that’s aesthetically offensive to the filmgoer’s eye.

Oct 082012

Resident Evil: Retribution, on release at Aberdeen’s Vue Cinema, has its moments, but, latterly, seems to descend into realms of the ridiculous, a departure from the franchise’s previous four outings, writes Andrew Watson.

I hesitate to describe it as a saga, because this film is principally a money-making exercise; one which doesn’t seem to have the decency to stay even remotely faithful to the B-movie but superbly intriguing plots which unfold on your computer screen.
However, this is the most successful and highest-grossing video-game-to-silver-screen adaption ever and one should expect consistency with the four other films in the series.

In that sense, Retribution delivers – plenty of stunts, swords, goring, guns, beasties, beauties and a good dose of apocalyptic foreboding.

The strikingly and unusually beautiful Milla Jovovich plays Alice, a former employee of the Umbrella Corporation who sets her sights on nemesis Wesker, a man to whom, in a perplexing sense, she is grateful. In the previous film, Afterlife, he has injected her with an antidote to the zombifying T-virus that reverses her superhuman abilities. Her chemical and physical reaction to the biohazard is a miracle in the story’s scope of modern medicine yet it helps her become and feel more human. Awww….

Films aren’t films without twists, though, and Alice, captured by Umbrella for the umpteenth time, finds herself in a compromising position which necessitates the help of Wesker, who, since Afterlife, has severed ties with the company. Not exactly the most trusting person at this juncture, Alice resigns herself to a fate in the hands of the perpetual and proverbial devil’s advocate. And so it goes, until the end. Let’s just leave it at that.

When the plot sags, when eyelids are drooping, when your boredom-dependent insanity is fighting and winning against every other impulse in mind, body and soul, the moments of comic relief somehow bring clarity to vision. Without sufficient prescription of hilarity, you’ll be as well signing up for the T-virus and becoming a zombie yourself. Because let’s face it, you are one in all but name

Did this film deliver laughs, then?

To be honest, the film wasn’t that bad.  Believe it or not, this film tricked me into believing it really was absolute crap, rather than decidedly average, and that’s why I’m giving this film a kicking!

You see Michelle Rodriguez already died in the first film. So what the hell was she doing in this, four sequels later, and not as a rotting corpse? “Hah, bet they’re running out of money; using the same actors and actresses to play different characters,” I deducted.


Perhaps giving away too much, even about a bad or decidedly-average film, is unfair, but when a kid, knowing glint in the eye – OK, that last part isn’t true – tells Michelle’s character that her sister isn’t a particularly nice person, you know you’ve been hoodwinked.

Audience? Laughing. Me? Scraping the egg off my face.

The only thing funnier than this, though, is the ending. An ending, tragically, delivered in all seriousness. Think Resident Evil 6: Dungeons, Dragons & Castles.

Seriously, though, if you want an action film with big dollops of horror thrown in the mix, you’ll probably enjoy it. I enjoyed it in that sense. However, if you’re somehow hoping for an overhaul of an already-established franchise, one which has resolved to undo all past wrongs in one fell swoop, and with sublime attention to detail of the video game series, then you can forget about it.

Sep 212012

Suzanne Kelly reports on the results of some important research presented at the recent Science Festival.

Aberdeen Science Festival had an amazing array of lectures, talks, trips and cabaret events which thousands of visitors enjoyed.

One of the more important issues covered was the very serious subject of second-hand smoke and its effect on children.  I took the  opportunity to talk to Dr Stephen Turner ( pictured ) of Aberdeen University and Rachel O’Donnell of ASH Scotland on a promising initiative to attempt to tackle this complex problem.

You smoke, or your partner smokes; you have a couple of children and a cat.  No harm in smoking around them in the house – just open a window and the smoke can’t bother them.  Can it?

You close the window when you’re done smoking.  You don’t smell much smoke and you can’t see any clouds of smoke at all, so there’s no risk to anyone.

The truth is that ANY smoke residue can definitely harm your children and your pets.  Smoke that you can see and other chemicals in smoke that you can’t see or smell are injuring kids.   About 85% of cigarette smoke is invisible.

You might not believe this to be true, but please remember the old ‘canary in a coal mine’ story.  Miners would take canaries down into the mines and if the bird suddenly died, either the oxygen was running out, or there was something dangerous, but invisible and scentless.  Things you don’t see can indeed hurt you and your children.

REFRESH is an intervention aimed at reducing the exposure children get to second-hand smoke which was presented during the Aberdeen Science Festival.  Dr Stephen Turner and Rachel O’Donnell were available to explain how they worked with smoking families when they did their research.  They were not trying to make parents stop smoking, but instead were making people aware what the consequences can be on children’s lives.  The full details are written in a paper called ‘REFRESH – reducing families’ exposure to second-hand smoke in the home:  a feasibility study.’

Families where young children were living with regular smokers were asked to take part in a study which would measure indoor air quality in their homes.  The personalised air quality data were presented to the smoker, then a motivational interview was held and positive solutions were suggested for cleaner, healthier air for the child.

There were about 60 Aberdonian participants in this study with each receiving four visits.  At the first meeting a questionnaire was filled in to get a picture of the household members and their smoking habits; saliva samples were taken for chemical testing and monitoring equipment was set up.  At the second visit the indoor air quality result was given to half of the households in addition to the motivational interview.

The chart below shows smoke levels in one study household.  

Any quantity over 25 micrograms of smoke in a cubic metre of air space is harmful; the higher the figure, the more harm.

When the smoker was asleep, the levels dropped to non-existent.  When the smoker lit that first cigarette, the levels went up to between 500 and 950 micrograms of smoke in a cubic metre of air.

Throughout the day, the smoke lingered – even when the smoker assumed the room was clear of smoke.

This came as quite a revelation for the smokers.  Here is what some of them had to say:

“Seeing the results made a big difference.  It was like a shock because I didn’t realise.  Like I don’t sit here and smoke in front of my child, I do it in the kitchen, but for the readings to be high like that when I’m not like anywhere near it, if you know what I mean, it’s like a shock factor to realise what it can do.  So I think that’s the best thing that like helped me.”

“I showed them how high it was, and some of them was like – you’re  joking?  And I was like no…”

“For it (monitoring) to be done in your own home and for you to know that the level of smoke is so high and you’re putting your children at risk of asthma, emphysema, all kinds of things, it’s quite shocking.”

One comment in particular shows the strength of the motivational factor provided by caring about children’s health:

“For me I think my son’s health, that’s my priority.  So I would like to think that all mothers would think like that, that their kids come first no matter what.  My bad habits shouldn’t be put onto my child.  Because I can’t stop smoking doesn’t mean he has to suffer.”

After one month the research team revisited the houses, repeated the air quality measurements and, this time, gave all the households their results.  During the month the air quality had not changed in the houses where air quality data was not initially given but air quality had improved by more than one third where the graph was used as part of the initial motivational interview.

  personalised measurements of smoke in the home, while shocking, can also be very motivational

The trial was not large, but its results show that a future, large-scale programme would be beneficial.  Like everything else, budgetary constraints are a factor.  The vast sums that the NHS has to spend treating smoke-related illnesses should be sufficient to show that prevention should be actively pursued as one solution to the smoking issue.

The study has shown that lay people can most definitely engage with science and can understand complex matters when it is presented using clear, audience-appropriate, audience-relevant formats.   Crucially, the personalised measurements of smoke in the home, while shocking, can also be very motivational.  As the paper concludes:

“…in almost all participating households, indoor air (quality) approached a threshold considered unhealthy, suggesting a need to reduce indoor air (quality) in many households across the UK, and that many people would benefit from such an intervention.” 

It seems that this combination of personalised data, positive suggestions and active participation of smokers might be the way to tackle smoke exposure to children.  It is hoped this small study won’t be the end of the matter.  The research goes on but, in the meantime, parents who smoke can create smoke free homes and smoke free cars to protect their children from the harmful effects of second hand smoke.

Smoking is still a social norm for many families but in the same way as drink driving and not wearing a seat belt are no longer acceptable, in future smoking will be considered as not acceptable by society.

PS for animal lovers –  according to Dr Turner, the incidence of feline leukaemia is twice as high in cats that live in a smoker’s home than for cats that live in a smoke free environment.

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Sep 072012

By Suzanne Kelly.

This year’s TechFest is bigger than ever before, and it’s not too late to catch a host of lectures, activities and events.  TechFest runs through Sunday 9 September at various venues throughout Aberdeen. Archaeology, Psychology, Geology and even Mixology get a look in this time around.

The Bill Bryson talk may be sold out, but there are still plenty of free events for people of all ages.  These include:-

  • ‘Is Access to Water a Human Right’ – Friday 15.30pm
  • ‘CSI – Fact or Fiction?’ – Saturday 10am
  • ‘Café Cosmos’ – Sunday 10am
  • ‘Looking for Leviathans’ – Sunday 1pm
  • ‘Multi-Track Mixing’ – all day Saturday
  • Festival Finale – Sunday from 7pm

Do check the programme for dozens more events, event locations (some free events may still require booking in advance).  Times may change; check with the organisers.  Or better still, wander up to the Spiegeltent on Aberdeen University Campus, and see what’s going on when you get there.  Details and booking:

There is a festival bar at Elphinstone Hall, and other eating and drinking venues on campus.

Sep 072012

Voice’s Old Susannah looks at events over yet another vibrant and dynamic week in the ‘Deen. By Suzanne Kelly.

Tally Ho!  I hope everyone’s had another exciting week in  Aberdeen.

The Science Festival has kicked off, attracting visitors, scientists and lecturers from around the world.
It is most kind of them to visit Aberdeen– we have a garden that’s not at street level and we don’t have a web – we should be most grateful to them.

We should be grateful to BP as well, which is investing £100 million in the area.

Old Susannah discovered beer cocktails at BrewDog this past week.  They are gorgeous, and very enjoyable in these trying times.

I am amazed BrewDog chose to open its brilliant bar and factory in our area when we didn’t go for the granite web.  It’s almost as if the gardens were not a factor in their plans.

The more cynical among us wonder:  Would businesses really prefer operating here if we were £92 million in debt and had a giant city centre construction zone for at least a year?  If you listen to the SNP, some LibDems (funny, HoMalone doesn’t seem to be the charismatic leader we all thought she was) and ACSEF, then the answer is yes.

The petition to ask Sir Ian to spend his wealth to Africa instead of the web is now one week old.  Please do visit, read, and hopefully sign at£50M-to-africa-as-promised   No doubt the mainstream press will take the story of this petition up any day now.  After all, our local papers wrote about the MASS demonstration planned by pro CGP activists when the figure was around 200.  Guess the Wood petition is about to be massive, too.

And massive and genuine thanks to Lush shops throughout Scotland; last weekend they raised hundreds of pounds to benefit Willows Animal Sanctuary.

Finally, Morris the Monkey has a new pal in Si the Seagull, new mascot for AFC.  Word has it that the fans are not necessarily impressed by this development, but I’ll wait and hear what Si himself has to say when he starts working for BiG and promoting the web.

On with a few definitions.

Union Terrace Effect: (modern English phrase, attributed to F. Wilkinson) – scheme in which powers that be allow a building, park or structure to decay deliberately, until such time as there is an outcry for a new replacement to be built- which is what the desired outcome was to begin with. 

Old Susannah heard this term recently, but can’t think of a single historic building, museum, school, terrace gardens or Tullos Hill that would fit this definition of something left to rot so it could be sold off / developed.  If I think of anything, I will let you know.

The Itemiser: (mod Eng noun) a portable particle scanner which can detect microscopic traces of a variety of substances.

We will all be safer soon!  Result!

traces of the drug (cocaine) can be found on any bank note

First, we are considering building a giant ‘state of the art’  prison soon – yet another construction job coming our way!  Secondly, the police now have a portable scanner which can find particles on a microscopic level of things like cannabis (!) and hard drugs.

They plan to go from bar to bar and search people here and there, for traces of drugs.  Anyone who’s been in contact with these substances (except for politicians, the wealthy, successful creative types, celebrities, etc) will be thrown in jail – where tons more drugs and interesting career training opportunities will freely available.

There is just one flaw in this cunning plan of searching citizens for microscopic evidence of crime, and that is this little fact:  90%+ of all paper money in circulation in the United Kingdom has traces of cocaine and/or heroin on it.

Old Susannah can’t begin to imagine how or why that should be – but next time you buy something in a bar, use coins rather than folding money – or it might just be off to jail with you.

The Daily Mail was one of the many news media that reported the presence of drugs on currency; it wrote:-

“A senior analyst at the FSS, the largest provider of forensic services in the UK on behalf of police forces, says traces of the drug (cocaine) can be found on any bank note regardless of its geographical location.

It takes just two weeks for a new note to pick up the drug… “

Read more: http://www.dailymail/Every-British-bank-note-contaminated

So to sum up, anyone with traces of drugs on them is either:  a)  a drug fiend who should be locked up, and/or b)  someone who has £5, £10, £20 or £50 pound notes on them.  We will all be safer if these types are all locked up.

If anyone’s worried about any bothersome civil rights issues over this type of presumed guilt / mandatory search, infringement of freedom, they could always organise a protest.

Witty Kevin Stewart is making a stir once again.

Except that Gordon McIntosh is proposing to the Council that we get rid of such things as protests, or at best only allow them in the Castlegate, where any crowds can easily be kettled.  Thanks, Gordon.

Anyone suggesting his latest report (which also recommends charging groups for holding events in parks as well as banning protests) is over-stepping his remit will be locked up.

King Midas: (ancient Greek mythological figure).  Midas was magically transformed so that everything he touched turned to gold.

Witty Kevin Stewart is making a stir once again.  Back in the day, he told the people in care homes, schools, Choices, etc. that we all had to be ‘reasonable’.  Then he cut their services off and closed their schools.

ACSEF was of course allowed to flourish, city real estate was sold at bargain basement prices, and we wrote off millions of pounds in bad debts.  Reasonable indeed.

Kevin had a wonderfully clever sound bite this week, aimed at Aberdeen City Council’s web-rejecters.  For the benefit of those who have stopped reading it, the P&J wrote:

“MSP Kevin Stewart claimed the administration had an “inverse Midas touch” hindering future private investment in the city.”

As mentioned before, I guess someone forgot to tell BrewDog, BP and a host of other businesses about the hindering future private investment in the city.  But as painful as it is to correct him, I feel I must remind Kev the moral of the Midas story.

King Midas was not a bad man per se; but he loved wealth and lived for gold.  So far, so good – if you’re an ACSEF member.

Kevin Stewart forgot part of the legend when making his brilliant comment

As a reward for his kindness to a Satyr, he was granted a wish – he wished that everything he touched would turn to gold.  At first very happy to be surrounded by his new wealth, Midas soon learnt that he could not eat, as his food turned to gold.  Then he touched his daughter, and she turned to gold as well.

Kevin Stewart forgot part of the legend when making his brilliant comment.  Midas realised his folly in thinking gold and wealth was more important than the environment, living creatures and of course his own daughter.

Midas was cured of his lust for gold, and once cured of the Midas Touch too, he retired to the countryside to enjoy nature. It was almost as if something in life was more important than wealth creation.  Ultimately, the moral of the Midas tale is that the environment and people are more important than gold.  How backward-looking is that?

I’m sure that this ending of the story would horrify our average Chamber of Commerce member, who would gladly have brought their golden daughter to a pawn shop to flog as scrap metal.

In an uncharacteristic slip, neither Kevin nor our local press found time to mention that Kev was on the City Gardens Project Management Board when writing about Labour having the Midas touch in reverse.

Some people might think his connection to the project is relevant to his attack on Labour, but that would just be jumping to the conclusion that a person on a board of a project would want the project to go ahead.   (And that would be as silly as assuming someone in a football supporter’s club might be biased towards the football team).

You might expect this service-axing champion of the people to advise fiscal restraint now until we truly got on our feet again.  You might even think he’d advise restoring some services ahead of web weaving.

No, Kev would prefer us to borrow £92 million on this real estate speculation which he supported as a board member.  (Note – I suppose I should just call it ‘TIF Funding’ like the professional reporters do; if you call it ‘funding’ rather than a ‘loan’, it sounds better and safer, doesn’t it?)

Amnesia: (noun; medical term) forgetfulness; loss of memory.

Isolated pockets of amnesia have hit our business community, press and government.

these ‘industry chiefs’ and our press forgot how rosy things looked earlier this year in a moment of mass forgetfulness.

Kevin forgot to flag up his direct involvement in the CGP project when he criticised Labour for cutting the web.  We’re told by ACSEF, pro CGP politicians, the Evening Express and the Press & Journal that the future is all gloom and doom, and no businesses will come here without the web.

They say we’re ‘closed for business’, we’re ‘frightened’, we’re ‘embarrassing’.  (It’s not that we’re being environmentally-friendly, economically prudent or aesthetically intelligent – no, we’re in the wrong if we don’t want the golden web).

And yet as recently as February of this year things looked so much better.  This is what the Press & Journal had to say back then:-

“Aberdeen is in prime position to help drag the UK economy out of recession, experts revealed today.

“The city has more start-up businesses than anywhere else in Scotland and will suffer fewer public sector job losses than anywhere else in Britain, says a new report.

“Aberdeen was named as one of five cities which Cities Outlook 2012 said was well-placed to aid recovery from the current economic gloom.

“Last night industry chiefs said the Granite City was an ideal location for new firms to flourish.”

I guess that is only true if we have a web though.  Either that or these ‘industry chiefs’ and our press forgot how rosy things looked earlier this year in a moment of mass forgetfulness.

We’re also being told by the guardians of accuracy, PriceWaterhouse Cooper that we need to attract 122,000 people to work in Aberdeen’s energy sector in the next ten years.  Funny, the £71,000+  they earned from web-related consultancy doesn’t get much of a press mention either – yet more amnesia, I think.

So amnesia-wise – Kevin and the press forgot to mention his involvement with the CGP when he attacked Labour; PwC forgot to mention in the press the money it made over the web so far when supporting it, and the media forgot its reports earlier this year as to what a great future Aberdeen has.

Do I think these people and institutions are possibly dishonest, scheming, colluding, corrupt or greedy?  Certainly not – I just think they have selective amnesia.

Additionally, BrewDog and BP forgot that the city cannot survive without the Granite Web when they committed to the area.  Yes, amnesia is at epidemic proportions.

And there we shall leave it until next week.

PS  very best wishes to Declan Michael Laird for his film premier; have a great time tomorrow night and a good trip back to LA. 

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