Nuclear Trains

Keir and I are beginning to roll out “Nuclear Trains,“which is a project we’ve been working on very on-and-off for almost a year. It uses data from Real Time Trains to tweet whenever a train carrying nuclear waste sets off from a power plant, passes by a station (and we chose which stations to bother with tweeting) and arrives at its destination.

I got the idea for doing it after discovering Real Time Trains. Whilst I was waiting on the platform one evening I was using RTT to look up the freight trains that passsed through Highbury & Islington. I noticed that there was a slot on the Time Table for a train from a place called Sizewell C.E.G.B. to a place called Crewe Coal Sidings (DRS). I immediately recognised the name Sizewell as the power plant (with CEGB standing for Central Electricity Generating Board) and the words DRS standing for Direct Rail Services – the train operating company owned by the Nuclear Decommissioning Authority. A quick search of the freight trains that went to and from Crewe Coal Siding (DRS) showed the network of nuclear waste trains in this country. Keir put together a script (available on GitHub) that checks Real Time Trains every morning and sees which trains are running that day. It then tweets when they’re timetabled to pass through a station.

So far the friends we’ve shown it to are supportive. We’re a bit nervous of being accused of being terrorists or something, so I wrote a reasonably comprehensive FAQ which refers back to my old Tycho’s Nose blog post about operation smash-hit.

The output of the script looks a lot like this:

Which I think is rather neat. We’ve even coded a special tweet for the trains from Wyfla power plant that pass through Llanfairpwllgwyngyllgogerychwyrndrobwllllantysiliogogogoch so we can fit it in.

In terms of putting it out there — I’ll show it to friends who have big twitter followings and see if they want to tweet about it. I’ve also wondered about emailing a link to gizmodo/motherboard because it would be neat if it gets some coverage. 99.9% of the work has been done by Keir so it would be good for him to have been able to get some recognition for it, and it would also be cool if people who know how to do things like make interactive real-time updating maps could get involved.

What I’m looking forward to most about it will be when Sizewell B next decides to ship some fuel to Sellafield and a train passes through Highbury & Islington so I can go and watch it.

Liquid Nitrogen Ice Bucket Challenge

For a full disclaimer and safety notice please see the original post.

I now do lots of science blogging over at Tycho’s Nose, an excellent blog put together by Gilead, Keir and myself. Whilst the site’s content usually consists of long, thought-out pieces on interesting and varied topics, I was challenged to do the blooming ice bucket and figured that I would only do it if i was teaching people stuff.

So yeah, combined gas law for the win. The experiment works beautifully and the moment where I pull in the whiteboard isn’t overly cheesy (although still very cheesy) but hell people have messaged me to say they enjoyed learning the gas law so why the hell not.


Personal Genome Project Party

[Most important update: a big old full statement and apology from the PGP here]
[Update: someone from PGP has commented to point out that this is PGP UK only and the international ones are run separately]

Last night the Personal Genome Project (PGP UK) sent an email out to everyone who’d registered an interest in taking part. 2 hours later one volunteer replied to the PGP UK with a query about the booking form. Unfortunately for the UCL-administered mailing list, the thousands of people that received the first email also received the second one.

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Does Microsoft Excel know more about Nicki Minaj than I do?

For a bit of a laugh, I frequently challenge my friends to topics on Quiz-up that I know we both know literally know nothing about. My main topic of choice used to be “Nicki Minaj” but recently I suspect that my younger brother is secretly studying Minaj facts so he can beat me at it.* Anyway, there have been a couple of times I’ve scored so badly in these joke Quizup games I’ve wondered:

Would I actually just been better off jabbing at the screen at random?

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