Sunday, October 31, 2010

2010 Ricardipus Racing Awards

Once again, in what is becoming an annual tradition around here, I give you:

The Third Annual Ricardipus Racing Awards!

[cue sounds of crickets chiriping]

Well, these may not be as exciting as the official series awards, but in late August I again trekked out to Mosport International Raceway for the 2010 edition of the American Le Mans Series race weekend, the Mobil 1 Grand Prix of Mosport. History will record that the race was won by a rather speedy Porsche RS Spyder, at the hands of previous Mosport Trans-Am winner Klaus Graf and 2010 24 Hours of Le Mans champion Romain Dumas, on loan from the factory Audi team, more or less.

But, once again, the Ricardipus awards are emphatically not about the race winners - they're about silly things not related in any way to the podium.

So - here we go:

Loudest Vehicle: #3 and #4 Chevrolet Corvette C6.R (tie). The two 'vettes rumbled their way to a win in this category, for the third year running. Nothing else came close, although the Lotus and one of the Porsches from the World Challenge race earlier in the year would have given them a run for their money.

#3 Corvette C6.R, Mosport 2010
The noisy end of the Corvette.

Friendliest Drivers: Patrón Highcroft Racing - Simon Pagenaud, Marino Franchitti, David Brabham. Truth be told, most ALMS drivers are pretty friendly, but this crew just edged the competition slightly (Romain Dumas from the Cytosport team losing a point or two for talking on his phone a lot). Pagenaud was a co-winner of last year's "Most Cheerful-Looking Driver" award, so this is kind of a double for him. Honourable mention to Paul, Lord Drayson for being generally friendly, cheerful and a lot more available than your average member of the British Peerage.

Patrón Highcroft Racing autograph session, Mosport.
Brabham (foreground) also wins for "silliest sunglasses", in a tie with series rookie Frankie Montecalvo.

Best Livery Featuring Teeth and Mermaids: Green Earth Team Gunnar. In a surprising development, there was only one entrant in this class, which replaces last year's "Nicest Paint Highlights" category, ably taken then by Melanie Snow's pink-detailed Porsche.

Gunnar Jeannette, Mosport 2010
It's also got seashells and fish on it.

Silliest Doors: Drayson Racing Lola B09/60. Just edging out last year's winner, the attractively re-painted Dyson Racing Lola (see below), the Draysonmobile wins by virtue of its reflective silver window coatings - attractive, but undeniably silly.

Drayson Racing Lola B09/60, Mosport
Also the unofficial winner in the "looks like a space-ship" category.

Special Award: Best-looking Car That Tested on Friday, Crashed on Saturday, and Didn't Race on Sunday: #61 Risi Competizione Ferrari 430GT. Last year, they managed to crash the sister #62 in qualifying, but started the race after an all-night rebuild. This year, although the #62 raced, they weren't able to put Humpty Dumpty (below) back together again in time.

#61 Risi Competizione Ferrari, Mosport
Fun trivia - the driver who crashed this car was Pierre Kaffer, who had trouble with the same turn in a Porsche two years earlier.

And, finally:

Special Award (Public Relations and Marketing category): Best Job of Re-Painting a Car in a Popular "Classic" Livery to Avoid Association with a Company that Just Flooded the Gulf of Mexico With Crude Oil: Dyson Racing. Last year's green-and-white BP livery mysteriously disappeared earlier in the season, in favour of the perennially-popular Castrol colours. The cognoscenti were not fooled - Castrol is, of course, a BP brand.

Dyson Racing Lola-Mazda, Mosport, 2010
Great-looking vehicle, in any colour scheme.

So there you go. I'm slightly heartened by these awards being only marginally sillier than the ALMS's "Tightest Firesuit" and "Mr. Modesty" awards, which you can read about here. And, as always, you can see more of the race weekend by heading over to Flickr for the full set of photos.

See also:

2009 edition, featuring loud Corvettes, Gil de Ferran driving through the grass, and pink details on a Porsche.
2008 edition, with a smiley Aston Martin, some horrid day-glo yellow paint highlights, a Ferrari hiding behind a post, and a slightly bent Porsche.

Saturday, October 30, 2010

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Science Is Vital - For, as they say, The Win.

Science Is Vital

And so the rally, the lobby of the British Parliament, the Petition (with over 33,000 signatures at the time of delivery to 10 Downing Street) and most importantly, the news that science funding in the UK will not be cut by the threatened 25%, but is instead frozen for the next few years, have come and gone. A success by any measure.

Large amounts of media coverage, reports from those "on the ground", and associated commentary, are nicely aggregated on the Science Is Vital website, right here.

And, those of you who were were able to sign the petition received a nice thank-you note from Science Is Vital Commander-in-Chief Dr. Jennifer Rohn, the text of which I will quote here for the benefit of the rest of us (the petition being sensibly limited to signatories resident in the UK). Thanks to Aled for passing this along - he signed it, have you? There's still time.

(Any errors in the following are my fault as a result of stripping truly mammoth amounts of html formatting out of the original email. Honestly, I've never seen so many <span> tags in my life.)

Dear Supporters,

The Chancellor revealed the results of the government's Spending Review yesterday. The science research budget has been frozen. This means that we will be spending 10% less on research in 2014/15 than we are today. It could have been far, far worse.

We’re encouraged that the government has listened to the economic arguments showing that science is vital. It is a difficult time for this country, but protecting science will result in a better future for the UK.

There is no controlled experiment, a world in which the Science Is Vital campaign did not exist, a world where nobody raised their voices to defend UK science. And we know that some people in high places believed in the economic importance of science independently of us. But I think that we can all take at least some credit for this result. Our central message was powerful, and it seems to have been heard and heeded:

  • 33,000 names on a signature delivered to Downing Street, gathered in only 3 weeks
  • 2000+ (police estimate) scientists and their supporters demonstrating outside the Treasury
  • 100s of articles, radio interviews and TV films in national and international media
  • a 45-minute meeting with Science Minister David Willetts to discuss the issues
  • a question raised in Prime Minister’s Questions
  • a packed lobby in Parliament, including Prof. Adrian Smith, sent by Vince Cable to report back
  • 110 MPs from all main parties signing our Early Day Motion
All of you had a part to play in these achievements. I would like to extend my heartfelt thanks, especially those who put in a little extra: the marshals and first-aiders at the rally, those of you who volunteered their time to design posters and artwork, to make placards, to nominate slogans, who donated the videos, photos and comments to enhance our website, or sent us links to important pieces of evidence for the economic case; who travelled from far away to attend the rally or the lobby; who donated money to the cause; who helped spread the word by emailing their departments or deans or student unions, or took the time to explain the issues to friends and neighbours who then went on to sign the petition or write to their MPs – the list goes on. It just goes to show how powerful people can be when many act as one.

UK science is still not entirely safe. While we have made cuts to science, our competitors in the US and Germany are increasing their investment – there is still a risk of a brain drain. Reforms to university funding, severe pressure on capital projects and the detail of the allocation of the budget are all still to come. The UK science community must weather this.

Science is Vital. As a campaign we’re going to keep on fighting for the interests of science through these tough times of cuts and change. With your permission we’ll occasionally email you with updates and requests for help. But for now on behalf of the entire Science Is Vital team: thank you once again for your support, and for helping to make a difference.

With best wishes,
Jenny Rohn

If you'd like to contact Science Is Vital, contact them here:

Science Is Vital Campaign
c/o CaSE, Gordon House
29 Gordon Square
London, England WC1H 0PP

And one more thing... all that saving of Science funding ain't cheap, so if you'd like to contribute, I'm sure the good folks at the Campaign for Science and Engineering (CaSE) would love to hear from you:

Thank you to everyone who contributed to cover our campaign and rally costs. The response has been great. Please click here if you would like to support CaSE (Campaign for Science and Engineering).

All of the above is Copyright © 2010 Science Is Vital Campaign, All rights reserved. Technically, I didn't ask for permission, but if the SciVit folks are upset I'm sure they'll let me know.

Cross-posted at Life Science Tools of the Trade.

Friday, October 01, 2010

Science IS Vital

Science Is Vital

There is a protest brewing, if I can mix metaphors so early in this post.

Among all the technical widgetry, complex protocols and other knick-knacks that we all use as our daily "Tools of the Trade" (including, I cheerfully admit, the occasional blog-friendly computer), there is one that is the Great Enabler, the Sine Qua Non of experimental research:


All research scientists spend copious amounts of time applying for it, securing it, agonizing over how best to spend it, and justifying what they did with it. All of us, either directly or through various intermediate agencies, obtain it from taxpayer-funded sources. All of us are dependent on government policies to continue to facilitate this flow of funds, and those policies, in turn, depend on public opinion. Science, politics, money - they're all connected. And in the United Kingdom, that connection is now being rather severely strained.

I am not, I think, the person best equipped to summarize the recent flood of rhetoric resulting from UK politician Vince Cable's remarks about cutting research funding. For one thing, I'm not located in Britain (although I am a British citizen, with a long-expired passport to prove it); for another, it's all been collated for us on the rather informative Science Is Vital website. Let's just say that there are many persuasive arguments why restricting basic research funding in this way is a bad idea: a prominent editor of Nature makes some of them in this slightly whimsical letter, and many more are listed here.

The suggestion that the UK cut science funding dramatically, and focus only on research with immediate commercial applications (at the expense of longer-term projects, and fortuitous discoveries), has galvanized the British scientific community. The result? A call to arms, a petition to sign, currently with over 9,000 signatures, a rally in London on October the 9th at 2:00 PM, and a Parliamentary lobbying session on the 12th. A whole lot of somebodies have been hard at work at this - you can find some of them, and more background information, here. Particularly impressive is the engagement of a number of prominent research institutions and organizations, and some fairly weighty scientific names, including apparently over 25 Fellows of the Royal Society. All of this is supported by a letter-writing campaign, an astonishingly active Twitter feed, and far too many supportive blogposts and news articles for me to even attempt to link them here.

So - if you're in the UK and at all sympathetic, why not start with signing the petition? Don't bother if you're located elsewhere in the world - to maximize impact, it's restricted (by postal code) to domestic signatories only. Fair enough. Then think about writing your MP, attending the rally, and signing up for the lobbying session.

If you're elsewhere, as I am, you could always do your part on Facebook, Twitter, or wherever on the web you hang your virtual hat. Your British colleagues, I am certain, will thank you.