Friday, July 31, 2009

Takeaway innovation

Gulfnews: Food outlets in Dubai safeguard themselves

The Gulf News has been following the story of a couple of kids who died soon after they ate takeaway food from a Chinese restaurant in Dubai.

Yes, those deaths are sad, but it's hard not be a little amused at the innovation this has led to. Yes, it's a case of parachuting in the lawyers, who no doubt helped the disclaimers that some outlets are forcing customers to sign:

"Please note that the Kempinski Hotel Mall of the Emirates takes no responsibility whatsoever for any food or beverage bought from the hotel or any outlets of the hotel for personal consumption.

"This is due to the fact that the Kempinski Hotel Mall of the Emirates has no more control or any way of ascertaining the safety and hygienic condition of this food and beverage once outside the premises. Please sign the waiver below to indicate your acceptance of the terms stipulated.

"Otherwise the hotel is unable to permit any food or beverage to be purchased," the disclaimer reads.

In another story noted in Gulf News, a Sudanese female journalist is challenging her arrest for wearing trousers in public. Several women were arrested by the "public order police", and "all but three of the women were flogged at a police station two days later."

Mind you, some women turned up in trousers at the court in support of the journalist, so it would appear that there is indeed a Great Trouser Showdown currently taking place in Khartoum.

It's a different world out there.

The problem with Tamiflu

Tamiflu causes sickness and nightmares in children, study finds - Times Online

A total of 103 children took part in the London study, of which 85 were given the drug as a precaution after a classmate received a diagnosis of swine flu. Of those, 45 experienced one or more side-effects. The most common was nausea (29 per cent), followed by stomach pain or cramps (20 per cent) and problems sleeping (12 per cent). Almost one in five had a “neuropsychiatric side-effect”, such as inability to think clearly, nightmares and “behaving strangely”, according to the research, published in Eurosurveillance, a journal of disease....

Health officials in Japan have recommended against prescribing Tamiflu to teenagers over fears it causes a rise in “neuropsychiatric events”. The researchers said that clinical trials had shown that about 20 per cent of adults reported side-effects of either nausea or vomiting after taking Tamiflu.

Something I don't understand ...(part of a never-ending series)

As far as I can make out, the English system of nationalised health services is too "socialist", with too little choice for the average punter. The US system is far too private/profit orientated, and is ridiculously inefficient when you compare money spent with actual health outcomes.

For all of its faults (and you have to assume that there is always going to be someone within every country that is not happy with some aspect of their own system,) the Australian system seems to be in a relatively happy position in the middle of those two extremes.

Does anyone in America recognize this? I certainly haven't heard anyone there going around pointing to us an example of a successful mixed system, with adequate universal cover but a system that allows those on moderate income to chose the level of additional private benefits they want. But it's true, isn't it?

Latest gay accessories

Three cats, two men — and now two babies
....the two dads — who outlaid $40,000 to collect eggs from one woman and rent a womb from another to gestate their babies in a Mumbai fertility clinic, are determined to bring another vexed issue into the public domain.

If they can pay taxes and raise children (one of them is the biological father and on the birth certificate, but they will not identify him publicly), why can’t they be lawfully wed, they argue. Tomorrow, in a bid to focus more attention on the issue of the gay marriage, Mr Elwell and Mr West will dress the little girls in symbolic rainbow coloured woollen hats (their neighbour’s mother knitted the garments for them), and take part in a mass mock wedding ceremony at the top of Collins Street.

Wrong in too many ways to count.

Thursday, July 30, 2009

Surprising news items

* Archaeologists in Israel find a first century cup with a clear inscription on it, but it'll be weeks before they understand what it means. Somehow, I expected first century Aramaic would be more easily read.

* A horrifying crime has one less victim than you would expect. (Baby cut from mother is found alive, with the presumably crazy women who decided this was a quick way to experience parenthood.)

* China gives birth to almost enough people for another Australia every year. And has 13 million abortions per year (perhaps more if unregistered clinics were counted.) As far as the top in the rate of abortion, however, Russia still easily holds onto that dubious title. What exactly holds back that country from effective use of contraception?

Colbert interview of the week

OK, so the week's not up yet, but Colbert's interview with Arianna Huffington allowed him to be pretty funny:
The Colbert ReportMon - Thurs 11:30pm / 10:30c
Arianna Huffington
Colbert Report Full EpisodesPolitical HumorTasers

Amusing review

The Bleat, Monday, July 27

James Lileks has seen Watchmen at home and didn't like it. A pretty amusing list of reasons why is at the link.

Let's see, maybe the best section is this:

Reminded me of the Dark Knight comics: Reagan was President, which somehow explained why the cities were such horrid dystopias. Makes sense, doesn’t it? Doesn’t it? Some how? Same here: the reign of Nixon (Jeezum crow, Nixon) ties in with urban decay, filth, moral calumny, and all those incidents of debauched decline Rorschack decried as he walked the mean streets. If there’s one thing we know for sure about hated iconic Republican presidents, they prefer a society full of prostitutes, child killers, drug addiction, and other sundry pleasures of modern life.

Uh huh. Imagine someone setting a comic like this in the 90s, with Dr. Bronx and the Jokester heading off to Bosnia to kill Serbs at the request of President Clinton - who’s in his third term, because he suspended the Constitution to prepare for Y2K - and later the Jokester, fresh from killing Vince Foster and Ron Brown, argues with InkBlot over who killed the American Dream, with InkBlot insisting it was supply-side economics. Meanwhile, ominous newspaper headlines note that North Korea has activated a plutonium factory, and the League of Solemn Scientists move the hands on a prop clock.

De-romancing the shaman

Do shamans have more sex? Why New Age spirituality is no more pure than old-time religion. Slate Magazine

Good article here on shamans not exactly being pure, spiritual purveyors of ancient wisdom.

Wednesday, July 29, 2009

The breakthrough mankind has been waiting for*

Long Duration Space Underwear
As Japan's first astronaut to spend long duration missions on board the International Space Station, Koichi Wakata has had the opportunity to do all sorts of interesting experiments the past few months. For example, he conducted several different cellular growth and crystal growth experiments, and has even flown a magic carpet in space. One other experiment has been – shall we say – kept under wraps. Wakata has been wearing the same underwear on board the ISS for two months.

"(For) two months I was wearing these underwear and there was no smell and nobody complained,” Wakata, speaking in Japanese, said through an interpreter during a press conference this weekend from the ISS. “I think that new J-ware underwear is very good for myself and my colleagues."
* Alternative title: "The breakthrough mankind has been holding its breath for"


Homicide By Mentally Ill Has Risen In England And Wales
There was also a rise in the number of homicides by people with schizophrenia – from 25 in 1997 to 46 in 2004 and an estimated 40 in 2005.

Professor Louis Appleby, Director of the National Confidential Inquiry into Suicide and Homicide by People with Mental Illness, said: "There has been an unexplained rise in the number of homicides by people with mental illness and we now have to try to understand why this has happened.

"It is important to emphasise that the increase has not occurred in mental health patients. It is also important to keep these findings in perspective. The risk of being a victim of homicide in England and Wales is around 1 in 1,000 and the risk of being killed by someone with schizophrenia is around 1 in 20,000."

If I lived in England, I would not find those figures particularly comforting.

Solar thermal progress

Technology Review: Cheaper Solar Thermal Power

It seems from the article above that the company Stirling Engine Systems may be doing better than my preferred stirling engine company - Infinia Corp. (I still say that Infinia's solar power dish has a much cleaner, cooler looking design, though.)

Sadly, Infinia say they are not aiming to get into the small scale residential market. If you need a Megawatt, they are interested, but unless you are planning on setting up a small scale aluminium smelter in your backyard, that is a little excessive for most houses.

Ah what a pity. I was hoping that if the neighbours annoyed me (and believe me, they do), I could use a roof mounted Infinia dish to set fire to their washing on the clothes line.

Big drop

No. of foreign tourists visiting Japan plunges 29% in Jan-June

Wow, that is a big drop off in tourist numbers for Japan.


Kingston Unveils the World’s First 256GB USB Flash Drive

Mind you, it says it will only be "built to order", so it's not likely to be cheap. Maybe it comes with leather upholstery in a selection of colours?

But really, this is remarkable, isn't it? The last desktop I bought for home (about 5 years ago; it's on its last legs - I found the motherboard had a burnt bit on it last weekend!) had a hard drive of 40GB. I know that's tiny by hard drive standards, but flash drives with hundreds of GB capacity still surprise me.

Tuesday, July 28, 2009

Ocean acidification update

It's been a while since ocean acidification has been mentioned here. There have been more studies reported, often with confusing or uncertain results:

* it was reported a month ago that tank studies with fish indicate that they grow bigger ear bones in more acidified water. This is the opposite of what was expected. Does it matter? No one knows, but there is speculation it might affect affect their navigation and orientation. Presumably, the studies to look into that are underway.

* The latest studies for coral are quite mixed. One tank study on a species of Mediterranean temperate coral indicates that it is not particularly sensitive to more CO2. (Although it is noted that this might be because it is relatively slow growing coral.) Yet, another study shows a mechanism for how a Hawaiian species can suffer more erosion under higher CO2. A third study, this time on an Atlantic species, indicated that it was indeed sensitive to decreased aragonite saturation (which is a consequence of increased acidification.) The overall picture then: still not good seems a fair conclusion.

Update: overnight, another paper has turned up indicating that coral around Bermuda:
...will experiences seasonal periods of zero net calcification within the next decade.... The Bermuda coral reef is one of the first responders to the negative impacts of ocean acidification, and we estimate that calcification rates for D. labyrinthiformis have declined by >50% compared to pre-industrial times.
* So, what about phytoplankton?, I hear you say. (Assuming you are still awake.) Well, this seems unexpected, but it seems some tank tests in coastal waters off Norway indicate that higher CO2 can lead to a phytoplankton bloom which then leads to more dissolved iron being in the water. (I don't quite follow how that works.) Anyhow, the abstract notes that this may be a good thing:
"If applicable to the open ocean this may provide a negative feedback mechanism to the rising atmospheric CO2 by stimulating marine primary production."
Of course, whether this happens out in the deep ocean is not known. And are phytoplankton blooms in shallow areas necessarily a good thing? Certainly, some algal blooms are not good.

* On a related issue, if AGW does increase water temperatures, it seems that it will cause a significant shortening of the lifespan of many cold-blooded creatures:
“We were intrigued by the fact that that pearl mussels in Spain have a maximum lifespan of 29 years, while in Russia, individuals of the same species live nearly 200 years,” said Dr. Munch....

For the study, the researchers looked at lifespan data from laboratory and field observations for over 90 species from terrestrial, freshwater, and marine environments.

They studied organisms with different average longevities-from the copepod Arcartia tonsa, which has an average lifespan of 11.6 days, to the pearl mussel Margaritifera margaritifera, which has an average lifespan of 74 years.

They found that across this wide range of species, temperature was consistently exponentially related to lifespan.

“It is interesting to consider how cold-blooded species are likely to react in the face of global warming. Because of the exponential relationship between temperature and lifespan, small changes in temperature could result in relatively large changes in lifespan. We could see changes to ecosystem structure and stability if cold-blooded species change their life histories to accommodate warmer temperatures but warm-blooded species do not,” said Salinas.

It surprises me that a consistent relationship between temperature and life span was not noticed before.

* Someone should tell scientists how to write more clearly. There is a lengthy paper here about pH testing of the ocean near Hawaii over a number of years, but I have trouble working out exactly what it concludes. I think it indicates that ocean surface pH is dropping as expected (subject to seasonal variability), but the picture at depth was more complicated than they expected.

Merton and orthodoxy

'I was tired of a Christ who had evaporated' - Catholic Herald Online

I've been posting about religion a fair bit lately, but what the hey, it's my own, relatively unread, blog.

I have never read anything by Catholic monk Thomas Merton, as the spirituality aspect of religion has always held limited interest to me, and I also thought he was promoted as quite a faith liberal.

This article indicates that this view of Merton is misleading (although it certainly points out he was anti-war, anti-technology [another reason why I am not running to buy his books] and all-round political liberal.) The key is this quote:
In fact, he consistently rejected Christian theologies that no longer respected orthodoxy and tradition. "My coming into the Church was marked by a pretty strong and dazzled belief in the Christ of the Nicene Creed," he wrote. "One reason for this was a strong reaction against the fogginess and subjectivity and messed-upness of the ideas about Christ... in various kinds of Protestantism. I was tired of a Christ who had evaporated."
Well, nice to hear.

Looks change

Recently, I was watching with the kids some episodes of the 1980's Spielberg produced TV show Amazing Stories. (Happily, they quite like it. I have to admit it was a pretty uneven series, definitely with too much tendency to the whimsical in the story ideas; but some episodes were great.)

But here's the trivia I wanted to note. The 1980's was dominated by what I would call a glowing, warm style of cinematography. Spielberg was particularly fond of it in his heyday (think ET especially,) but when I was watching Amazing Stories, it struck me that there was a lot of non-Spielberg stuff from the 80's that have the same look. From memory, if you look back at the popular music videos of the day, you would see what I mean, although I am hard pressed to name titles right now.

It is a look that I still find quite pleasing.

Cinematography now, on the other hand, seems to much more commonly favour a blu-ish, washed out colour, hard edged, fluorescent-light style of look. This is especially deemed to be appropriate to hard edged stories (crime and drug stuff in particular.) Maybe it is partly due to the increased use of video in both cinema and TV over film stock?

Whether it's the aesthetic fashion of the day, or partly technological, I have to say I miss the warmth of the 1980's.

A bit of a puzzle

It would seem that doctors in Britain are getting more and more certain that high doses of THC (such as in strong strains of cannabis) can cause psychosis, even in people who have shown no previous disposition for that illness.

Yet, in a study that was not publicised much, a retrospective study of the rate of schizophrenia and psychosis in Britain did not indicate any increase in the period following substantial increase in the use of cannabis.

Worth more research, I am sure, before it can be fully understood what is going on. (Or before you could be very confident that legalisation would be a safe measure for public health.)

Marked as a "fail"

Andrew Bolt (and Jennifer Marohasy, naturally) pointed people last week to a new paper, published in a proper peer reviewed journal, by AGW skeptic Bob Carter and others. It argued that (my paraphrase) ocean cycles were behind most late 20th century warming.

Given Bob Carter's reputation, I was immediately doubtful that it proved what he was indicating it did. Indeed the paper seems to have been pretty comprehensively taken down. See Real Climate (well of course, skeptics will say) but more importantly, follow the links they have that explain why the paper fails to say anything significant. The explanation is very clear, and it will be very interesting to see if Carter and his fellow authors respond at all.

It's also interesting to note that even Lucia, who is sometimes quoted by Bolt and other skeptic blogs, seems to think the paper is a non-event (or even might mean that warming is worse that we thought!) I think we can safely count it as a fail for CO2 warming skepticism, peer-reviewed or not.

As I was saying...

Archbishop of Canterbury attempts to paper over Church schism -Times Online

Dr Rowan Williams has, I believe, made exactly the same point that I set out in a recent post. Here's the Archbishop's way of putting it:

Referring to people in gay relationships, he added: “Whatever the human respect and pastoral sensitivity such persons must be given, their chosen lifestyle is not one that the Church's teaching sanctions.” Therefore, he stated, they should not be ordained priests and especially not bishops.

“It is that a certain choice of lifestyle has certain consequences. So long as the Church Catholic, or even the Communion as a whole does not bless same-sex unions, a person living in such a union cannot without serious incongruity have a representative function in a Church whose public teaching is at odds with their lifestyle.”

Dr Williams compared those in gay relationships to heterosexuals who cohabit.

He wrote: "A person living in such a union is in the same case as a heterosexual person living in a sexual relationship outside the marriage bond; whatever the human respect and pastoral sensitivity such persons must be given, their chosen lifestyle is not one that the Church's teaching sanctions and thus it is hard to see how they can act in the necessarily representative role that the ordained ministry, especially the episcopate, requires."

Actually, that is so clearly put, it's almost hard to believe they are his words. (It's also fairly conservative sounding for him to be using the phrase "chosen lifestyle" in the context of gay relationships.)

Monday, July 27, 2009

Big pop coming

The China Bubble's Coming -- But Not the One You Think | Foreign Policy

A pretty easy to comprehend explanation of the Chinese bubble.

Atheists with too much time on their hands

Ranks of atheists grow, get organized |
Some 15 percent of Americans claim no religious affiliation, up from 8.2 percent in 1990, according to Trinity College's American Religious Identification Survey, released in March. Also, the American Humanist Association claims 20,000 financial supporters. That marks a doubling from five years ago, says spokeswoman Karen Frantz.
Yeah, fine, knock yourselves out. But it's this bit of silliness that's the reason for this post:

In Florida, atheists are pioneering a new ritual: de-baptism. Since last year, American Atheists' Florida state director Greg McDowell has been donning a mock clerical robe and officiating at services where family and friends come to watch the baptized renounce their baptisms.

The events spoof baptisms by using blow-dryers in the place of baptismal waters. They culminate in certificates for the "de-baptized" and letters to churches requesting that the names of those de-baptized be removed from baptismal rolls.

Sounds just like a bit of silly publicity seeking, I suppose, but the article notes that there is a bit of a split in the non-belief movement as to the value of ritual:

In some ways, the lack of structure or ritual has been a defining characteristic of atheist groups. McGowan notes that many atheists bristle at ritual because it feels too religious or superstitious. American Atheists' Mr. Silverman insists, "there are no rituals with us."

But America's 27 Ethical Societies, which attract many nontheist attendees to their humanist "platforms," or services, see growing interest in rituals, ranging from children's education to weddings, according to membership chairman Thomas Hoeppner.

Through ritual, "you build up not just common intellectual values, but the emotional and personal connection with people," says Mr. Hoeppner, a member of the Ethical Humanist Society of Chicago. "That's what it's all about."
Rituals need tradition behind them to make them compelling, so deliberately created new ones always seem a bit, um what's the word I need? - naff is the best one that comes to mind.

We like to consider all possibities...

Scientists try to stop schizophrenia in its tracks

Interesting story on schizophrenia "prodrome" - the early symptoms of possible coming psychosis:

In the prodrome, people can see and hear imaginary things or have odd thoughts. But significantly, they understand these experiences are just illusions, or they have a reasonable explanation.

In contrast, people with psychosis firmly cling to unreasonable explanations instead. When someone interprets an odd halo of light over a bedroom doorway as an urgent message from a dead relative, "that's when they have gone over to the psychotic side," said Dr. Thomas McGlashan, a Yale University psychiatry professor.
Either that or they are misinterpreting a message from the Mysterons.

Sunspot uncertainties

Is the Sun Missing Its Spots? -

Not a bad summary of what is known and not known about sunspots, sunspot cycles, and the weather.

In all cases, the answer seems to be: not very much. For example:

With better telescopes on the ground and a fleet of Sun-watching spacecraft, solar scientists know a lot more about the Sun than ever before. But they do not understand everything. Solar dynamo models, which seek to capture the dynamics of the magnetic field, cannot yet explain many basic questions, not even why the solar cycles average 11 years in length.

Predicting the solar cycle is, in many ways, much like predicting the stock market. A full understanding of the forces driving solar dynamics is far out of reach, so scientists look to key indicators that correlate with future events and create models based on those.
Who would have thought that a rotating ball of gas big enough to burn your eyes out if you're not careful is still that hard to understand?

Balcony fears re-enforced

Lawyer victim of 'skylarking' tragedy - Yahoo!7 News

This is a pretty awful story, of the type that you think might only appear in the movies:

The 41-year-old was "skylarking" when he fell, it has been reported.

Mr Catts fell 17 storeys and landed on the fifth floor landing of The Sebel Suites hotel at 11.45pm on Thursday night, in an accident witnessed by his wife of eight months, Katrina...

It is believed Mr Catts' wife tried to save him as he clung to the balcony railing before his fall.

Well, I get a little nervous being on any apartment balcony more than a few stories high, so the idea of "skylarking" on one 22 floors up is fairly foreign to me. I don't mind heights per se; I just don't like being near the edge of a drop that it would take little effort to fall over. (Time for more self disclosure: years ago, I once explained to a Catholic girl I was dating that I don't like the idea that I could have a sudden un-controllable urge to jump over the rail. She said she felt exactly the same way. Maybe it's a residual Catholic fear of temporary possession, or something!)

Not your average summer camp

Gaza campers stage 'Schalit abduction' at ceremony | Jerusalem Post

According to Israeli defense officials, more than 120,000 Palestinian children are spending the summer in Hamas-run camps. In addition to religious studies, the children undergo semi-military training with toy guns.

At a recent summer camp graduation ceremony, the children put on a show reenacting the June 2006 abduction of Schalit. Present was Osama Mazini, a senior Hamas political leader, who is in charge of the Schalit negotiations with Israel on behalf of the terrorist group.

The article has a photo of the cute little guys re-enacting the kidnapping of Schalit. (By the way, I assume Schalit has not undergone Stockholm syndrome, otherwise he would have been on display.)

Only 10% here

Microbes ‘R’ Us - Olivia Judson Blog -

I'm not feeling very topical today, so just some more unusual facts from the New York Times:
The typical human is home to a vast array of microbes. If you were to count them, you’d find that microbial cells outnumber your own by a factor of 10. On a cell-by-cell basis, then, you are only 10 percent human. For the rest, you are microbial. (Why don’t you see this when you look in the mirror? Because most of the microbes are bacteria, and bacterial cells are generally much smaller than animal cells. They may make up 90 percent of the cells, but they’re not 90 percent of your bulk.)

A bit of mutilation for a Monday

Sexual mutilation, madness and the media

This appeared a couple of weeks ago in Peter Stothard's blog in The Times: a fairly lengthy account of controversy in the 1860's in England about a London surgeon who did clitoridectomy as a "cure" for mental illness.

His practice was written up in The Times, which brought the issue into the open, and led to an investigation. The anti-clitoridectomy faction of medical opinion won the day.

A remarkable story.

A useful post

Andrew Bolt does one of those useful "remember what they used to say" posts about Labor and "jobs snobs".

He also points us to an article in The Australian about how bad the figures are for the world being able to achieve the goal of 450ppm CO2. It would seem, essentially, that everyone may as well stop pretending it can be achieved.

Sunday, July 26, 2009

When your co-worker strips...'s probably because he is Japanese, and having to put up with a fairly remarkable government idea:
Takashi Kadokura used to strip down to his underwear when working late because of the heat.

"We couldn't concentrate on our work," said Kadokura, 37, then an economist for Dai-ichi Life Research Institute in Tokyo. "The air conditioning was set at 28 degrees and we weren't allowed to change it."

The experience led Kadokura to question the government's Cool Biz policy, which recommends companies set air conditioners at 28 degrees to reduce carbon dioxide emissions. Kadokura says sweaty offices lead to lower productivity, and estimates the policy reduced economic growth in 2008 by ¥653 billion, or 0.13 percent of the gross domestic product of ¥497.4 trillion

More details in the Japan Times: Cool Biz said to undermine productivity

Changes in Christianity

There are two posts of interest at the First Things blog about the changing demographics of Christianity:

* first, Episcopalians, despite (or, more accurately in my view, because of) their progressive reputation are dwindling. First Things quotes from another blog these figures:

In a historic shift, more people are now attending Assemblies of God churches on weekday nights than worship in Episcopal Churches on Sunday mornings.

Average mid-week evening attendance at Assemblies of God churches is now 756,263, according to the denomination’s official statistics.

Average Sunday attendance, among Episcopalians, is 727,822.

In the past 45 years, Episcopal Church membership has dropped from 3.4 million in 1964 to 2.1 million in 2007. At the same time, the inclusive membership in the Assemblies of God has skyrocketed, from 572,123 in 1964 to 2.9 million in 2008.

* Secondly, this post, looking at world-wide changes in Christianity, contains lots of surprising figures, such as this:
This past Sunday it is possible that more Christian believers attended church in China than in all of so-called “Christian Europe.”...

This past Sunday more Anglicans attended church in each of Kenya, South Africa, Tanzania and Uganda than did Anglicans in Britain and Canada and Episcopalians in the United States combined...

For several years the world’s largest chapter of the Jesuit order has been found in India, not in the United States, as it had been for much of the late twentieth century.
On the same issue, John Micklethwait, editor of The Economist, had been doing the media rounds in the last month or two promoting his recently co-authored book "God Is Back", which argues that religion is indeed catching on in lots of new countries. (I think he views the house church movement in China as particularly big.) There's an interesting, even if not sympathetic, review of the book in the New Statesman.

The toughest job

Readers will recall that I am making my way through the surprisingly enjoyable book "Life and Leisure in Ancient Rome". This weekend, it was the chapter about slavery, and I have to say that I did not realise that things could be as tough as this:
"They were bound to promote their master's welfare at every turn, because there was no limit to the punishment which he could inflict on them if he was dissatisfied; and they were encouraged to preserve his life by the strongest of all imaginable deterrents; if he was murdered, the whole of his slave-household were put to death without even the formality of a trial, on the grounds that, since they had not prevented the murder as they should have done, they were all accessories after the crime. ...

In AD 61, stung by a personal grievance, a slave of the City Prefect Pedanius Secundus killed his master; the whole vast slave household of four hundred slaves was executed..."
The book points out that this prompted a riot in Rome (people were by this time starting to think the law was - literally, I suppose - a bit of an overkill), and that:
"...despite C. Cassius' eloquent protest that society would collapse if the slaves were not killed, a number of senators had doubts and troops had to be fetched in before the executions could take place."
Talk about your hard nosed conservatives!

Things did improve later for slaves, with Hadrian restricting those who could be killed to those slaves near their murdered master at the time of his death.

But the book also makes the point that well treated slaves were often very loyal to their master.

By the time of Christianity, despite the church institutionally accepting slavery, individual Christians often, at the moment of their conversion, freed their slaves. A good way to mark a conversion, I think.

Friday, July 24, 2009

Look to the skies

Consulting with clouds: A clear role in climate change

Interesting story on new research on clouds and their likely future role in global warming. The news doesn't sound great:
Using observational data collected over the last 50 years and complex climate models, the team has established that low-level stratiform clouds appear to dissipate as the ocean warms, indicating that changes in these clouds may enhance the warming of the planet.
Furthermore, this is something that a lot of current models don't show this, apparently:
...most of the state-of-the-art climate models from modeling centers around the world do not reproduce this cloud behavior. Only one, the Hadley Centre model from the U.K. Met Office, was able to reproduce the observations. "We have a long way to go in getting the models right, but the Hadley Centre model results can help point us in the right direction," said co-author Burgman, a research scientist at the University of Miami.

Together, the observations and the Hadley Centre model results provide evidence that low-level stratiform clouds, which currently shield the earth from the sun's radiation, may dissipate in warming climates, allowing the oceans to further heat up, which would then cause more cloud dissipation.

Presumably, poor modelling of cloud behaviour could have something to do with the recently reported study that CO2 alone did not account for anywhere near enough warming at PETM, 55 million years ago. Skeptics took the uncertainty from that study as encouragement. People like me took as more of a sign that we should be uneasy that warming from CO2 could be at the high end of the current estimates due to poorly unstood feedbacks.

Really necessary?

BBC NEWS | Technology | Wireless power system shown off

This wireless electricity technology that's been talked about from time to time looks ready to actually take off.

I don't quite understand why it has appeal: sure, you can do with a few less electricity cables around the house, but get to have many more magnetic fields too.

They are saying magnetic fields are not dangerous to humans. I don't know enough about biology to know, but I would have thought most people would take a cautious attitude towards it.

Besides, I thought magnetised iron had been found not only in bird brains, but human too? (Yep, my memory is correct.) Maybe people who use this system will become completely hopeless at sensing direction (since magnetite in birds was believed to be related to their navigation skills.)

Wasn't there was a Heinlein short story (or novella?) in which the health of the human species was being weakened gradually by wireless power system?

You heard this caution here first, or last, or somewhere in between.

Research for the future

Experiments Show 'Artificial Gravity' Can Prevent Muscle Loss In Space
....researchers at the University of Texas Medical Branch at Galveston have conducted the first human experiments using a device intended to counteract this effect — a NASA centrifuge that spins a test subject with his or her feet outward 30 times a minute, creating an effect similar to standing against a force two and half times that of gravity. Working with volunteers kept in bed for three weeks to simulate zero-gravity conditions, they found that just one hour a day on the centrifuge was sufficient to restore muscle synthesis.
One of the interesting things about long term colonies on the Moon or Mars would be whether the people (or especially, a baby conceived in low gravity) would weaken sufficiently so as to find it impossible to return to Earth.

Maybe just low gravity is enough to provide sufficient muscle tone, but no one will know until we can go there. I imagine mouse or rat breeding on the Moon would be a very interesting experiment.

There was a made-for-TV movie I half watched a few years ago about a Helium 3 mining colony on the moon. In it, a woman fell pregnant, but was spending some time each day in a centrifuge type device to make sure the foetus was used to higher gravity. (I think she was returning to earth to actually give birth.)

It may turn out to have been quite accurate.

Thursday, July 23, 2009

Reality fat, and comedy woes

Next on TV: A family of 300-plus folks, heavy girlfriends and, yes, Ruby

Disturbing news of new American reality TV concept:
TLC has ordered six episodes of a show titled, "One Big Happy Family," chronicling the life of an obese North Carolina family: dad, 340 pounds; mom, nearly 400 pounds; and two teenagers, 330 and 340 pounds each.
There's also a overweight dating show on Fox.

Will this trend soon be on Australian TV? Was "The Biggest Loser" an imported concept?

It's all academic to me, I guess, since I don't think there has ever been a reality TV show that I have been able to watch for more than 10 minutes.

The only problem is that surely "reality TV" draws resources away from worthwhile drama, comedy, and other creativity in TV. I mean, with the demise of Scrubs, there is not a sitcom worth watching. (Maybe 30 Rock, which I have never seen due to its odd scheduling here.)

As for the current alleged successes in TV comedy:

Two and a Half Men: a half-clever concept (playing on Charlie Sheen's real life playboy image,) but humour based on wildly promiscuous lifestyles wear thin after a very short time if that is the only joke that exists about a major character. (Having it as a raison d'etre of a more minor character is fine - the whole show doesn't revolve around them.) So I can't warm to this show, and always feel a little queasy when young actors are partaking in double entendre and other low brow humour.

How I Met your Mother: can't get into it. Seems weak and convoluted.

State of the Union: not a sitcom, but Tracey Ullman's latest sketch show. I've always thought she is very talented, with shows that feature a pretty appealing eccentricity. But - she's got too much control now, it seems, and the language and some of the skits are in very poor taste. (We don't really need jokes about ejaculate in a woman passenger's hair, do we?)

The Chaser's War on Everything: haven't cared much for it for a long time, due to its inability to know where to draw the lines between clever, stupid and tasteless. Should have ended about midway last season.

Wind problem for Great Britain

Wind power plan blown off course

The Government was facing a growing credibility gap over green jobs last night as environmental campaigners and trade unionists united to fight the closure of Britain's sole major wind turbine plant.

Only last week, ministers proclaimed a green employment future for the UK involving 400,000 jobs in environmental industries such as renewable energy – yet this week they are declining to intervene over the forthcoming closure of the Vestas Wind Systems plant on the Isle of Wight, with nearly 600 redundancies.

Mars within reach (eventually)

Ion engine could one day power 39-day trips to Mars - New Scientist

Ahem. If people want an idea of what it's like to have been a space enthusiast for the last 43 years, I can tell you that I remember in primary school I once gave a short "topic talk" on the promise of ion engines. This was based on a very detailed book at the local library (in the kid's section, mind you) about the future of space technology. I can still kind of remember the look of the book.

I also remember coming up with a detail about ion rockets which was a bit of a guess, but years later I read something that indicated it was correct.

Mind you, I don't remember anyone in the class room being particularly impressed. I think the teacher's reaction was one of half interested approval, but for all I know she may have thought it was all science fiction.

So, 40 years later the idea is still being talked about as a possibility, and work on them continues at a very slow pace.

Maybe my grandchildren will take a cruise to Mars on a ion rocket, and on the way read this digital evidence of my foresight (and high self regard.)

Wednesday, July 22, 2009

Travel warning for all male Goth readers

Gulfnews: Sharjah police enforce old law against men wearing accessories

Thirteen-year-old Mohammad was with a group of friends in Al Qasba area when he was reportedly approached by a police officer and taken to the police headquarters. His silver necklace had to go.

Another resident, Jeril Jaison Varghese, says he was in front of the Multiplex in Mega Mall to watch a movie when a CID officer asked him for his identification.

"I was taken to the Sharjah Police office inside the mall by a security guy from the mall. My silver bracelet was confiscated by the CID," he said.

When Varghese asked why his bracelet was being taken away, he says, police said men are not allowed to wear bracelets or any fashion accessories in Sharjah malls even if it is silver and not gold.

Mohammad from Sudan said his 18-year old nephew who came from Abu Dhabi to visit his grandmother in Sharjah was taken last week to the headquarters for wearing a silver necklace.

"The boy was afraid. He was standing in front of his grandmother's house when police took him to the CID. After three hours he contacted us," said Mohammad. Residents said Sharjah authorities should inform people who wish to come here that men must not wear fashion accessories.

Diamond earrings, silver bracelets and necklaces are all verboten for men by law in this corner of the Middle East. Pity that most teenagers don't read the newspaper and don't know about an 8 year old law that they have suddenly decided to enforce. (Pity about tourists too.)

How nice can you make a box?

House in Nagoya by Suppose Design Office

This small house in Nagoya looks almost like an oversized shipping container on the outside, but inside it's really very nice.

One obvious issue though: as many people in comments observe, is it really a good idea to have the toilet separated from the dining room only by glass? Talk about your shy bladders. Maybe when that internal plant grows bigger, you can literally go "behind the bushes" without ever leaving the house.

Someone in comments thinks they can see a curtain rail in the bathroom ceiling, so maybe there is a chance of privacy.

The other practical issues I can see with this design are:

* in summer, so many skylights present a real heat problem, surely.

* with so much internal glass, the owner's had better like having to wiping huge areas with Windex every week.

* it has a fairly typical designer's (and Japanese) disdain for safety about heights. No rails on the stairs, open windows on the upper level overlooking the internal garden. It's like a death trap for small children and drunks. (A very elegant one, but a death trap all the same.)

Fish up, red meat down

Large Study Points to the Brain Benefits of Eating Fish

The study, which included 15,000 people ages 65 and older in China, India, Cuba, Venezuela, Mexico, Peru and the Dominican Republic, found that those who ate fish nearly every day were almost 20 percent less likely to develop dementia than those who ate fish just a few days a week. Adults who ate fish a few days a week were almost 20 percent less likely to develop dementia than those who ate no fish at all.

“There is a gradient effect, so the more fish you eat, the less likely you are to get dementia,” said Dr. Emiliano Albanese, a clinical epidemiologist at King’s College London and the senior author of the study. “Exactly the opposite is true for meat,” he added. “The more meat you eat, the more likely you are to have dementia.” Other studies have shown that red meat in particular may be bad for the brain.
The story, however, notes that this was an observational study, not a randomized clinical trial, so maybe the figures are not as reliable as they could be.

If they believe it is the Omega 3 that is the protective element, is it so hard to do the proper randomized trial on that as a supplement? Or has it already been done?

Well, that just took a quick Google to find that some studies have been done with Omega 3 as a supplement, and the results are very mixed. (Although it looks to me like the studies were done on people who already have a problem. I guess it is very hard to randomly pick a bunch of 60 year olds, get them to take a supplement for years, and see what protective effect it has.)

Back to the drawing board

Death knell for NASA's Ares rockets? - New Scientist

Quite a detailed explanation here of a major safety issue for the planned Ares rocket. (It's very hard to work out how to get the crew safely away from an exploding first stage.)

Update: I see Zoe Brain had a good post about this before me, which included a very spectacular video of a solid rocket explosion that is well worth watching.

Good sense

PM Kevin Rudd told nuclear is best hope by Rio Tinto | The Australian
MINING giant Rio Tinto has urged Kevin Rudd to immediately begin work on a regulatory regime allowing use of nuclear energy in Australia, arguing the viability of energy alternatives has been dramatically overstated.

The company has advised the government to consider "every option" for power generation because its pledges on reducing carbon emissions and using renewable energy will expose industry and consumers to huge increases in their power bills.

And it says that overly optimistic assumptions on the viability of alternatives such as wind and geothermal power, as well as so-called clean coal technologies, have created a "false optimism" which the government must challenge by commissioning new research.

Of course, the first challenge is to get the Labor Party to change its anti nuclear policy:
....Resources Minister Martin Ferguson emphatically rejected the need for nuclear power generation in Australia, insisting that the nation had ample resources of cheap coal and gas to meet its energy needs.

Mr Ferguson told The Australian he saw no reason for next week's federal Labor Party conference to review the party's prohibition on nuclear energy.

I can't imagine Labor changing its policy any time soon, and even if it did, election predictions on Insiders last week were that the Greens will hold the balance of power in the Senate next time, whether or not there is a double dissolution.

The Greens will doom us if the Senate's co-operation is needed to ensure nuclear power. (I presume it is for the new "regulatory regime".)

Vote Coalition for sensible long term nuclear policy!

Tuesday, July 21, 2009

Liddle on Dubai

Sordid reality behind Dubai's gilded facade - Times Online

First it was The Independent, now the Times has run a lengthy, detailed article absolutely ripping into Dubai.

It's by Ron Liddle, so there is humour in there too, but he is clearly genuinely appalled at every aspect of the place.

Liddle makes it clear that the most offensive thing is that it is built by appalling treated immigrant labour, about which he writes:
The Indians rioted too last year, but were forced back to work by water cannon. In the year 2005 alone, the Indian consulate estimated that 971 of its nationals died in Dubai, from construction site accidents, heat exhaustion and — increasingly — suicide. The figure for suicides the next year alone was more than 100. The Emiratis were, to give them credit, appalled by this figure, so they asked the consulate to stop collating the statistics.
The whole article is worth reading.

Convenient memory lapse

Neighbour watches woman prepare syringes in front of children: inquest

The neighbour of a Sydney woman whose child died of a methadone overdose told police he watched her prepare syringes full of amphetamines in front of her children on several occasions, an inquest has heard....

In the statement, taken in May 2006, the man - who cannot be named for legal reasons - described being at the woman's home on five occasions sharing $100 worth of amphetamines with her partner and his own partner.

"I have seen [the woman] divide the powdered drugs up and melt her half in a spoon and then put it into two separate syringes. This all occurred in [her] home," the man said in his statement.

"I remember seeing both the two girls running around the house when we used to divide the drugs up."

The man said he often saw "lots" of syringes around the family's home.

But before the coroner today:

...the man could not recall much of what he said in his statement and said he did not know why he had said it.

"Compared to other kids, they were excellent ... always well dressed," he said.

"[The boy] was always smiling.

Drug users are such a likeable bunch.

More lunar comments, and why humanity should expand

* Last night I saw some of the 2007 doco (previously noted on this blog) "In the Shadow of the Moon" about the Apollo program. (It's currently showing on a Foxtel movie channel.) It is very, very good. I see that the DVD version has lots of worthwhile extras. Go on - some reader finally reward me, you cheap freeloaders. :-P

* How come it's now that everyone thinks it's all interesting and heroic? Is it because of a realisation that the manned space program being stuck in orbit for the last few decades is kind of dull by comparison? You fickle public - I've been wanting NASA to go back to the Moon for 30 years, so my retirement cave could be built by now. But no, you wanted to twiddle around on earth, waiting for the next asteroid to take out civilisation.

* Warning: religious speculation and sentiment follows: Actually, I do want to talk more about that last point. It seems to me that to a significant extent, some versions of Christian (and probably Islamic, or even Buddhist) faith act as something of a hindrance to the idea of humanity expanding beyond earth. I don't share the view, and want to explain why.

As far as general anti-science sentiment is concerned, I find it hard to understand why conservative Christians seem to be strongly associated with disbelief of Anthropogenic Global Warming (or ocean acidification): do they just have faith that the Second Coming will happen before people can really stuff up the planet?

Actually, a lot of them resist AGW because of their perception of the environmentalist movement as a replacement religion for the one true religion. I used to pretty much agree with that assessment, and it annoyed me that the Greenies were against space programs and tended to be anti-science and development generally. (The Deep Greens are just anti-people.) But now, I don't see how anyone can plausibly claim that climate scientists as a group are motivated by such quasi-religious views. There are too many who have come to the same opinion; some may have a prior philosophical bent towards being "treehuggers", but it's more plausible to believe that most are actually quite fond of technology, people, and high living standards. Even if they are recommending big changes to the way we use resources, I doubt that many are motivated by valuing nature more than humanity.

On the other hand, environmentalists have seemingly become a bit more sanguine about the practically implausible idea of ever being able to eradicate poverty in every corner of the Earth before you can justify doing something off it.

If anything, the threat of AGW is turning sensible environmentalists into technology fans - especially when it comes to nuclear power. Is it too much to hope that we might also see soon environmentalists warming to the idea of lunar colonies as a lifeboat for the survival of humanity and its knowledge? This function of space exploration is, in my view, actually quite a sound immediate justification. It's also why I think it is rather a waste to go to Mars in the short term, especially if you can find ice on the Moon. Nothing's ever going to be able to come back from the Red Planet in a hurry.

Christian religious ideas can intrude into other scientifically plausible plans for humanity's protection. Once, I was talking to someone about the merits of asteroid watch programs, so that plans could be made to push them out of the way before they can hit the earth. The response (from a not overly devote Catholic) was "But maybe it's God's plan that the earth be hit."

Of course, sensible people don't say that any more about a deadly disease that we can vaccinate against, but when it comes to space projects, I think the sentiment is not that uncommon. It just seems that when the scale of a project becomes very large, it's easy to slip into fatalist mode. If the person is religious, that may entail the idea of not resisting a divine plan.

As for some Christian views about the colonization of space, I suspect there is also skepticism that this is where the future lies due to a limited imagination for the Second Coming. This may be a particular issue for evangelical Protestants, but I also suspect conservative Catholics have this influence.

The thing is, some believers feel that it must only be a earth-bound event. It's been painted that way in popular fictional works in American Protestanism in particular. But even so, my sister made speculative comments to me years ago that maybe it would only involve the earth, and that the rest of the universe would continue. (Indeed, she said that maybe heaven was on another planet. The Mormons are inclined to think that way, but I was surprised to hear it from a Catholic.)

Well, for my part, I have always assumed that the Christian view of the end of the world involves the entire universe. The very fabric of reality would change entirely, not just a single planet. Maybe if you believe in a "steady state" universe, the idea of being able to live for eternity as a resurrected person within the universe we see is half-way plausible. But if you believe (as everyone virtually does now) in an evolving universe that will end in either fire or ice, I don't see how you can believe in just a local transformation.

(By the way, a change to the quantum vacuum energy state does to allow for a possible way for the entire universe to flip into something very different. I like to speculate that a resurrected body in a universe with very different physics may have a chance of avoiding the decay and calamities of normal matter in this universe. But really, I tend much more towards the idea of eternal heaven being extra-dimensional, or in a divine cyber realm, rather than involving any form of dumb matter at all.)

So - maybe it's because I have never believed in a purely planetary Second Coming that I have never had any religious motivation for doubting that God does not care if humanity moves off planet.

Furthermore, there is not a lot of evidence that God takes particular care to preserve humanity from death by natural disaster.

It's one of the odd aspects of faith that believers can realise that the idea of effective prayer raises all sort of philosophical conundrums, yet engage in it anyway as a fundamental part of their faith. (CS Lewis writes well about this.) Similarly, I don't see it as especially problematic that we should indeed hope that it is not within any divine countenance that humanity could be snuffed out by planetary catastrophe, but at the same time take our own collective steps to make sure it doesn't happen.

If you take the Old Testament as a guide, people used to believe that God was not necessarily adverse to instigating widespread destruction, albeit with the possibility of humanity starting afresh. While I would never promote that the idea of the Flood as fact, perhaps it's something of a pity that modern Christians have lost the belief that the entire world could be pretty much destroyed by nature, and instead view God as always being our foolproof protector.

If only all believers could accept that God helps those who help themselves, as the old saying goes, even on the planetary scale. It seems to me to be the sensible way to act, and I don't see the risk of any offence to God. Presumably, He's quite happy to see us out of caves and not being smitten by disease and disaster on as regular a basis as before. Yet He didn't build our cities, hospitals and houses for us, I don't see why it would worry Him if we did it off planet.

It also seems to me that, 60 years ago, at the dawn of the space age, religious figures did not express the type of expansionist skepticism that seems to be around now. CS Lewis, for example, while deeply conservative, read and wrote science fiction, and never to my knowledge expressed views that it would be wrong to explore or live off planet. A few priests in the 1960's might have had sermons about government priorities in spending, but it was not a big feature in my experience. I think there was just an assumption at that time that humans would move outward, and faith would follow. (Ray Bradbury had priests on Mars, and many other writers of the Golden Age of science fiction saw that religion would still be around in the future. I find it an annoying feature of a lot of recent science fiction that so many of its authors have cannot imagine our present religions playing such a role.)

So, it is unfortunate that religion, to some degree at least, can play into the hands of anti-expansionist sentiment that is still strong in some branches of environmentalism. It does not have to be that way.

Stupid fashion of the month

Bleached or shaved eyebrows are now all the rage

Mind you, you can't say that strange ideas as to what looks good with head hair is only a recent phenomena. I have long wondered how on earth the Japanese thought the male top knot with partially shaved pate was a good idea for so long. (And the Japanese certainly have never forgotten that the fashion existed: period dramas featuring it are a perennial feature on NHK TV in particular.)

Monday, July 20, 2009

Happy 40th

Here's some of the more unusual stories around about the 40th anniversary of Apollo 11:

* the Los Angeles Times has a great article on the engineering side of building the Saturn V rocket. It seems it was a remarkably close call that they sorted out all of the engine problems in time, and it's noted that the Russians failed in their competitive attempt due to their engineering failure in overcoming the same problems.

* Edgar Mitchell, a moonwalker from Apollo 14, gives a brief interview about his experience. He's of note because of his (some would say) esoteric interests in ESP, global consciousness, UFO's and such like.

* Those who worked at the NASA Australia radio dishes have been spreading the word that the movie "The Dish" gets the history wrong. The first images of Armstrong stepping out did not come through the radio dish at Parkes:

Some will know the story of the movie 'The Dish' which tells a 'Hollywood-view' of what happened. However, the radio telescope at Parkes was not the dish that provided those first images. In fact those views first came through the NASA station in Goldstone, California, but an incorrect switch setting and poor ground-links meant that their TV picture was upsidedown and poor contrast (although the sound was perfect).

With moments to spare before Armstrong was on the surface, NASA looked to the Parkes Radio Telescope, Tidbinbilla and the Honeysuckle Creek tracking stations. Parkes didn't have a strong signal at the time due to the low position of the Moon above their horizon. Tidbinbilla was supporting the Command Module. Honeysuckle Creek was prime on the Lunar Module with the astronauts on the surface. They had a TV image and this was being transmitted through ABC studios in Sydney to TVs around Australia. NASA saw the feed coming through Honeysuckle and switched over for the international broadcast to their picture - meanwhile the sound for the international broadcast was still coming through Goldstone.

The first 8 minutes of the broadcast including Armstrong's first steps on the Moon were seen through the transmissions received at Honeysuckle Creek. Once the Moon was higher in their sky, the TV picture at Parkes' larger dish were then relayed over to Houston and the remaining 2 hours of the Moonwalk were seen through that antenna.

* According to one report, Neil Armstrong thinks going back to the Moon first is the better choice than planning on going to Mars. I agree. See some of my previous posts here, here and here.

* The Daily Telegraph paints a picture of Armstrong as a recluse who doesn't want anyone knowing who he is. The article gets better, but at the start it makes it sound like he lives in a spooky looking house and the local kids throw stones at "Boo Armstrong". The Independent has a more flattering look at Armstrong and all of the Apollo astronauts.

As for my recollections of the day, I have to make an embarrassing admission. While an avid follower of all things NASA since I was a child, my memory of where exactly I watched Armstrong stepping out has become blurred. This is because some of the time, they set up a TV at school and we watched Apollo 11 stuff in the classroom, but I am also pretty sure that they allowed us home to watch the first footstep there. Certainly, I see other Australians have posted that their school let them go home, so I think I probably watched it in glorious black and white (the only TV that existed in Australia at the time, moon landing or not) at home. I was 8; I guess there isn't a whole lot I can remember specifically about that year.

One would think my memory of this would be clearer, but for years I have realised I do not have as good a recollection as I would have hoped.

Update: the NASA orbiter photos of the Apollo landing sites can all be seen here.

Sunday, July 19, 2009

Der Spielgel goes undercover

Pubic Shaving Trend Baffles Experts - SPIEGEL ONLINE

The article notes the shaving industry's promotion of this fashion, with dubious surveys being done for PR purposes, as well as a new issue it is causing for females (dissatisfaction with the external appearance of the region that was formerly not so obvious.)

That second issue was the subject of a (what else) Channel 4 documentary shown on SBS sometime last year.

That cosmetic surgeons should be doing operations to change the appearance of perfectly normal bodies in a region hardly on regular display just reinforce my resolve that, come the revolution (ie, upon my ascension to the position of Benevolent Dictator) that is first profession I would be sending to the Gulag. (At least until they recant and open up as bulk billing General Practitioners in underserviced towns.)

Saturday, July 18, 2009

More deep thoughts for a weekend

An interesting sounding paper has turned up on arXiv talking about physicist John Cramer's "Transactional Interpretation" of quantum theory.

Wikipedia has a short entry on the theory, which basically involves the idea of the quantum world being governed by "offer waves" that travel forward in time meeting up with "confirmation waves" that travel backward in time.

The paper talks about the "Quantum Liar Experiment", which has this consequence:
Elitzur and Dolev refer to this as the “quantum liar” experiment because, in their words: “The very fact that one atom is positioned in a place that seems to preclude its interaction with the other atom leads to its being affected by that other atom. This is logically equivalent to the statement: ‘This sentence has never been written.”’
An issue with the transactional interpretation is the nature of the waves. It seems Cramer says they are physical waves, but the author of this new paper has a different take:
Clearly, when we consider experiments like the QLE in the usual conceptual way, we encounter nothing but paradoxes and contradictions, which are always the hallmark of a constraining paradigm. We can break through the impasse by viewing offer and confirmation waves not as ordinary physical waves but rather as “waves of possibility” that have access to a larger physically real space of possibilities.
In the conclusion, it's said:
...TI continues to provide an elegant and natural account of quantum phenomena, provided that we consider offer and confirmation waves as residing in a “higher” physical space corresponding to the configuration space of all particles involved. This space can be considered as a physically real space of possibilities; thus “real” is not equivalent to “actual.” This is admittedly a bold new ontological picture in the context of quantum theory interpretations, but it should be seriously considered because it accomodates the formalism of quantum theory, including its implicit time-symmetric aspects, in a natural way. As a side-benefit, it also provides further insight into the origins of “quantum wholeness.” In this picture, actualized phenomena constitute just the “tip of the iceberg” of a space of physically real possibilities.
What does it all mean? I don't know, but I like the phrase "physically real space of possibilities", becuase I am sure there must be theological fodder in it! (Sounds to me like somewhere God would live.)

What's the hurry?

Doctors split over organ donation switch

DOCTORS are calling for tougher rules on organ donation after a new national protocol said surgeons could start removing organs just two minutes after someone's heart has stopped beating.

While most organ donations in Australia have, until now, involved brain-dead people, a new technique called "donation after cardiac death" has raised legal and ethical questions about what can be done to keep donors' organs viable and who can provide consent for such procedures....

Some doctors have told The Age that they have serious concerns about the protocol, including the minimum time of two minutes between a donor's heart stopping and surgery; the potential for donors to still have feeling during surgery; the risk of ante mortem interventions harming the donor, and what constitutes informed consent for such procedures.

Friday, July 17, 2009

Nine years of bombs

Gulfnews: Timeline of recent bomb attacks in Indonesia

Many of these from earlier in the decade I don't recall. Still, it's quite an appalling death and injury toll over the period.

Cranky man speaks

Jonathan Miller looks back in anger, and a few laughs - Times Online

Jonathan Miller is probably best known here for his old TV documentary series "The Body in Question," but I also remember him as being terribly funny in some Parkinson interviews in the 1980's. As he has spent most of his time since then doing opera, he hasn't cut a very high profile (outside of those rarified circles) for many years.

He's now 75, and looking his age (he smokes, silly man), but his sharp tongued political observations continue unabated. He was famous for saying Margaret Thatcher's voice was like "a perfumed fart", but here is his assessment of Tony Blair:
“Well, I have a deep disdain for them [Tony and Cherie]. I couldn’t bear that grinning, money-hungry, beaming, Cliff Richard-loving, Berlusconi-adoring, guitar-playing twat. I suppose I would say that, at the risk of being inoffensive. No, it’s that beaming Christianity and that frightful wife with a mouth on a zip-fastener right round to the back of her head. And both of them obsessed with being wealthy. And he got us into this disastrous war with Iraq because he had consulted with God. Like Bush. Well, anyone who claims to do something on the basis of a personal relationship to a non-existent deity . . .”
Top marks for invective, anyway.

Nature restored

Male penguin couple splits over widowed female

I also learned from Colbert last night that San Francisco's "gay" penguin couple had split up, with one of them taking up with a "widowed" female. (See story above.)

Funny, but when I search this, it seems to have attracted much less media attention than the original story of the male birds pairing up.

Anyway, I'll allow for humans to start taking their moral cues from animals when hamster mothers stop eating their babies.

Guns, guns, guns

The Colbert ReportMon - Thurs 11:30pm / 10:30c
Difference Makers - Doug Jackson
Colbert Report Full EpisodesPolitical HumorJeff Goldblum

Colbert Report has a funny/amazing story on some gun law changes in the USA.

When it comes to guns, a substantial number of Americans are undoubtedly "different", but not in a good way.

Thursday, July 16, 2009

Track the shuttle

A Google gadget for real time space shuttle tracking is now at the bottom of this page. (I may fiddle and put it somewhere more prominent later.)

Do people also realise that the "Clouds" gadget is updated every 3 hours to show global clouds. (I expect some people think that clouds are fixed.)

All very cool, if you ask me.

Green shellfish

How to pick out sustainable seafood. - By Nina Shen Rastogi - Slate Magazine

Interesting to note for the above article:
For an easy way to cut your seafood-related emissions, try to shift your diet toward farmed oysters, mussels, and clams—these shellfish don't require any processed feed. (They eat plankton instead.) Many experts also recommend that you make like a European and learn to love smaller, schooling fish like sardines, anchovies, and mackerel. They're easier to catch than big, bottom-dwelling carnivores like cod and haddock, meaning less fuel is expended to harvest them. (Plus, since they're lower on the food chain, they're naturally more energy efficient.)
For some reason, though, fish shops around Brisbane charge quite a high price for sardines.

Media trouble in Gaza

Why Palestinian leaders have banned Al Jazeera |
The Palestinian Authority (PA) on Wednesday banned Al Jazeera television from operating in its territory and threatened to take legal action against the Qatar-based Arabic satellite channel because of allegations it made against President Mahmoud Abbas. Al Jazeera ran an interview a day earlier in which Farouk Kaddoumi, a senior leader of the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO), charged that Mr. Abbas conspired with Israel in 2003 to kill Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat....
Officials in Ramallah have complained in the past few years – particularly since Hamas ousted Fatah from Gaza amid intense fighting in 2007 – that the station has grown more sympathetic toward Hamas than Fatah.

Kind of hard for peace in the Middle East to be reached when one side is so incredibly fractured. (Yes, Jews are pretty divided on how to reach peace too, but their problems do not extend to internal kidnappings, murder and media bans.)

Bing off

Bing continues to climb. What’s Microsoft’s target? (Hint: It’s not Google.)

Apparently, Microsoft's Bing search engine is gaining ground at a good enough rate.

I am not convinced. Based on comparisons for the same search terms in Google, I reckon it's pretty hopeless. (Especially when I search for this blog!)

The half expected orphans

Oldest mother, Maria Carmen del Bousada, dies at 69, leaving baby orphans - Times Online

Wednesday, July 15, 2009

Some Japanese photos

Japan hasn't featured around here much lately, but I can recommend these links for the photos, all from Bouncing Red Ball:

* One of the great things about Japan is the apparent laissez faire attitude to town planning and building design, yet the cities still work. Can you imagine, for example, even the smallest cafe or bar in Australia being allowed to incorporate a toilet situated like this one?

* It's not just the corridors, there are entire buildings which are just incredibly narrow by Western standards. Such designs make me very curious as to how the interior is set out.

* I've already posted about the giant model Gundam robot that has been built in a Japanese park, but you should really look at this very impressive set of photos of it.

Pork your way to health

Eat more pork to fight type 2 diabetes

The funding for the study came (surprise!) from Australian Pork Limited and the Pork Co-operative Research Centre, not that there's anything wrong with that...

Tuesday, July 14, 2009

Odd behavioural problem of the day

Treatment for Hair-Pulling Shows Success - TIME

Quite a surprising report about how an over the counter antioxidant appears to help a majority of people who suffer from compulsive hair pulling.

The report also notes some interesting details about the condition:
We seem wired to attack our hair under traumatic conditions, possibly because forcibly extracting hair is painful; it can divert attention from stress to the more immediate matter of how to solve a pressing problem. For chronic hair pullers, that diversion turns into addictive psychological relief. Some people with trichotillomania pull out hairs not only from their heads but also from their pubic areas and armpits; as many as 20% eat their hair; a small minority pull other people's hairs.
Why does the antioxidant work?:
The compound is thought to work by reducing the synaptic release of a neurotransmitter called glutamate. As Grant told me, glutamate is the communication chemical that "tells the brain, 'Do it! Do it! Do it! Do it!' And the rest of the brain can be overwhelmed by this drive state." Reduce glutamate and you may reduce the drive state. Previous studies have suggested the supplement may also reduce urges to use cocaine and to gamble.
Well, that sounds a useful first thing to try for other strange obsessions then, from wanting a perfectly normal limb removed to having a sex change operation (at least if you are not genetically inter-sexed). Cue Zoe Brain to explain why I should not be drawing equivalences between those two conditions.

Makes sense

If you care about climate change, stop talking and start taxing. - By Anne Applebaum - Slate Magazine

Applebaum argues that governments simply need to tax oil, gas and coal at sufficient levels so as to make alternative energy investment attractive to clean energy entrepreneurs.

A tax can do that tomorrow. A carbon trading scheme full of compensation, introductory periods and in need of further amendment down the track may take years to get that right.

(The only hesitation is that taxes are subject to revision too, I suppose, but still it removes so many of the complexities of carbon trading, I think it's a worthwhile risk.)

Krugman is down

Paul Krugman was on Colbert Report tonight, and seemed so depressed about the prospects for economic recovery that he simply ignored most attempts to engage in humour:

The Colbert ReportMon - Thurs 11:30pm / 10:30c
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Colbert Report Full EpisodesPolitical HumorJeff Goldblum