Monday, May 31, 2010

Possibly important

Failure of Bell's Theorem and the Local Causality of the Entangled Photons

Physicist Joy Christian has had a string of papers recently at arXiv (well, I see now that he has been putting his position in print for a few years) in which he argues that "quantum non-locality" is actually an illusion.

His argument is hard to follow (even by other physicists, it seems) but he talk of an topological error and (to quote from an earlier abstract):
When topologies are correctly identified, local-realistic completion of any arbitrary entangled state is always guaranteed in our framework. This vindicates EPR, and entails that quantum entanglement is best understood as an illusion.
To put it another way, as the paper linked to at the top of this article says:
One of the first steps we often take towards measuring a physical quantity is to set up a Cartesian coordinate system {x, y, z} in the Euclidean space E3. This amounts to modeling the Euclidean space as a 3-fold product of the real line, IR3. This procedure has become so familiar to us that in practice we often identify E3 with its Cartesian model, and simply think of IR3 as the Euclidean space.

As we shall see, however, this seemingly innocuous act of convenience comes with a very heavy price: It is largely responsible for the illusions of “quantum non-locality.” Once a coordinate-free geometric model of the Euclidean space is used, the correlations observed in the EPR-type experiments involving photon pairs ... are easily understood, in a strictly local-realistic terms.
Well, it's not clear to me what this means, but my hunch is that if he might be onto something.

There's not too much about him on the web, but there is a bit of a bio here (and proof that he is a "he", not a she.)

Getting rid of quantum non-locality sounds a good way to make the world more aligned with common sense, but maybe Christian's ideas have their own form of counter-intuitiveness as well. (If only I could understand his explanation of the topological issue.)

One disc to rule them all

Japanese team discovers 'super disc' material
A Japanese research team has found a material that could be used to make a low-price super disc with data storage capacity thousands of times greater than a DVD, the lead scientist said Monday.
And the material is a form of titanium oxide, which has this advantage:
Titanium oxide's market price is about one-hundredth of the rare element -- germanium-antimony-tellurium -- that is currently used in rewritable Blu-ray discs and DVDs, Ohkoshi said.
"You don't have to worry about procuring rare metals. Titanium oxide is cheap and safe, already being used in many products ranging from face powder to white paint," the professor said.
Very clever, those Japanese. Now if only they would get out of the lab and have children...

My ovaries are safe, then

Drinking tea may reduce ovarian cancer risk

It's research from Queensland too. Yay.

Mercury still rising

Experts fear Taiji mercury tests are fatally flawed | The Japan Times Online

The Japan Times keeps up its (I think) single handed media attack on the issue of the mercury poisoning in Japan from eating dolphin.

This latest update questions whether the health of those found with high levels of mercury really has been assessed properly, and includes comments from more experts (including one from pilot whale eating Faroe Islands!) saying that it's crazy for the government to let them keep eating it.

For those interested...

in manufactured chicken sandwiches, I have updated my story about them a few posts back.

Funny 'cos it's true...

As a person who still works in Wordperfect, never uses IE if I can avoid it, and thinks Irfanview is the best image viewer, I understand entirely.

Saturday, May 29, 2010

Inconsistent from the start

Abbott no Captain Courageous

Lenore Taylor gives a lists of the ways in which Tony Abbott has been inconsistent in policy since he became leader. She doesn't mention how many positions he had on the ETS in the half year before he became leader, but his flexible views are still on display now:
To audiences such as the listeners of climate sceptic and 2GB host
Alan Jones he says things like ''in the end, this whole thing … should
be a question of fact, not faith - and we can discover whether the
planet is warming or not by measurement and it seems that,
notwithstanding the dramatic increases in man-made CO2 emissions over
the last decade, the world's warming has stopped''.

To the environmental business leaders on Thursday he had a
differently nuanced argument: ''I am confident, based on the science we
have, that mankind does make a difference to climate, almost certainly
the impact of humans on the planet extends to climate.''

There are changes in the last few months that even I hadn't noticed, such as the "Green Army" being downsized from 15,000 to 1,000. It's a corny idea in the first place. There is the hint that he will still try to introduce a bigger "baby bonus" as an election promise.

As Taylor notes, it's only the "ham-fistedness" that has suddenly swept over the Rudd government that has stopped more media concentration on this. But it seems to me a very cogent case she makes for Abbott's unsuitability for top office.

And in other commentary: Michelle Grattan rips into Rudd for the decision to run an expensive ad campaign for his mining tax changes:
TO SAY the government is hypocritical is an understatement. After all Kevin Rudd's sanctimonious statements about getting the politics out of taxpayer-funded advertising, we have Labor's $38 million campaign to sell a new tax.

It's back to John Howard and the GST campaign, ''Unchain My Heart''. Politicians with their backs against the wall can't resist dipping into the public honey pot to help get across their message.

Still, you have to wonder about Rudd's reasoning. Maybe the government is simply desperate - the miners' onslaught has bitten more than expected. Otherwise, it is hard to explain why the PM, already under attack for backflips and broken promises, would further trash his reputation.

Yet the advertising was planned only days after the tax was announced. Maybe the government thinks we won't remember what Rudd said three years ago.

Once again the PM is victim of his own hyperbole. In 2007, he condemned partisan government advertising as a ''cancer on democracy''.

The government doesn't just look hypocritical, but dodgy too.
What an appalling choice between hopeless, awful leadership we have coming up in the next election.

Friday, May 28, 2010

Not enough rats

This blog has been lacking something lately: cute rats:

The well travelled chicken sandwich

It's close to lunch time.

Yesterday, I purchased a pre-packaged "herb chicken" sandwich from Coles supermarket. (They are quite nice.) But I noticed on the packet that it appears to have been made by a company in Victoria.

This seems an extraordinarily long distance for a chicken sandwich to have travelled before it reached my stomach. No wonder Australian CO2 emissions are so high, when our chicken sandwiches have to travel a thousand kilometres before consumption.

This is, of course, something about which we should take action. Local chicken sandwich manufacturing could just be the thing for small pockets of high unemployment. But then, how much CO2 can you really save if the chicken sandwich meat industry is all based in Victoria, and the filling has to travel from there until it makes it to the (local) chicken sandwich factory?

Chickens are raised everywhere though. Surely we don't ship chickens from Brisbane to Victoria to be turned into chicken sandwiches which then travel back to Brisbane?

These are all very vital questions, I am sure you will agree. Write to your local politician and demand a Royal Commission into the Chicken Sandwich Industry of Australia.

Meanwhile, I will try to remember the website of the Victorian company, as soon as I buy my new sandwich today, and report here further.

UPDATE: Relax everyone. The sandwich making company involved has got 'fresh operations' sites in each capital city, including Brisbane. It appears quite possible that my sandwich came from Slacks Creek, a suburb of Brisbane, not Melbourne. (Although the website is not entirely clear on the point.)

According to their website, Australian Convenience Foods makes 14,000,000 sandwiches a year. Some of their range is sold to shops frozen. (I don't think herb chicken is, but I can't find it on the website at all.) I am feeling hungry now.

I have also learned of a new product in their range of stuff you microwave at a convenience shop if you're really desperate:
...we have launched a new burger, ready go eat Double Cheese Burger. It offers high satiety, and is a welcome addition for tradesmen and male teenagers looking for a substantial hot snack or meal.
Well, at least they're very honest about the target market. And "high satiety" is a phrase I look forward to using at the next dinner party I'm invited to.

Thursday, May 27, 2010

Playing with God(s)

The Three Christs of Ypsilanti: What happens when three men who identify as Jesus are forced to live together?

I have no idea why this story has a run in Slate now, but it's an account of a fascinating experiment, as follows:
In the late 1950s, psychologist Milton Rokeach was gripped by an eccentric plan. He gathered three psychiatric patients, each with the delusion that they were Jesus Christ, to live together for two years in Ypsilanti State Hospital to see if their beliefs would change. The early meetings were stormy. "You oughta worship me, I'll tell you that!" one of the Christs yelled.
As Slate explains, the experiment did not really help any of the three "Christs", and even Rokeach later regretted the unethical nature of what he did.

I'm not so sure he should feel so bad. In the 21st century, we've had years of Big Brother: unethical psychological torture for public entertainment.

Local hero

It's well worth watching this video for a bit of ordinary heroics. It's noteworthy for how little attention the episode, in which he could well have just saved a young life, gets from the other people in the shopping centre.

This is the end....surely

Sex and the City 2 Movie Reviews, Pictures - Rotten Tomatoes

As I expected, the movie is attracting aggressively bad, and somewhat funny, reviews.

For example, the Salon review notes this about the marriage of "Carrie" and "Big":
Big yearns to lie on the $12,000 leather couch, get fat on takeout food and watch the Weather Channel on his new flat-screen TV -- the character seems to have bypassed his 50s and gone straight to supper-at-Denny's age since the first SATC film -- but through various forms of time-honored feminine coercion Carrie extorts diamond jewelry out of him and drags him to restaurants and red-carpet premieres night after night. Oh, the suffering! They're like the wounded couple in Bergman's "Scenes From a Marriage," except with millions and millions of dollars and no souls. When Carrie asks Big, "Am I just a bitch wife who nags you?" I could hear all the straight men in the theater -- all four of us -- being physically prevented from responding.
And that's one of the milder passages from becomes an increasingly savage review.

Surely it's the end of the "franchise".

Conspiracies continue

U.S. Is a Top Villain in Pakistan’s Conspiracy Talk -
Conspiracy theory is a national sport in Pakistan, where the main players — the United States, India and Israel — change positions depending on the ebb and flow of history. Since 2001, the United States has taken center stage, looming so large in Pakistan’s collective imagination that it sometimes seems to be responsible for everything that goes wrong here.

“When the water stops running from the tap, people blame America,” said Shaista Sirajuddin, an English professor in Lahore....

“People want simple explanations, like evil America, Zionist-Hindu alliance,” said a Pakistani diplomat, who asked not to be named because of the delicate nature of the topic. “It’s gone really deep into the national psyche now.”

One of those pundits is Zaid Hamid, a fast-talking, right-wing television personality who rose to fame on one of Pakistan’s 90 new private television channels.

He uses Google searches to support his theory that India, Israel and the United States — through their intelligence agencies and the company formerly known as Blackwater — are conspiring to destroy Pakistan.

Creator of many worlds

CultureLab: The many-worlds physicist couldn't cope with this one

I've mentioned a fascinating fact about Hugh Everett III here before, and now there is a full biography out about him, his theory, and his sad personal life. Sounds like I should read it.

Wednesday, May 26, 2010

Be the first to find that hidden alien presence

Moon Zoo

That's my plan, anyway.

Parasite of the day

Dangerous lung worms found in people who eat raw crayfish

I'm not sure why Americans would be eating raw crayfish in the first place (sushi-mi, maybe?), but it can cause a serious parasite infection.

The half-inch, oval-shaped at the root of the infection primarily travel from the intestine to the lungs. They also can migrate to the brain, causing severe headaches or vision problems, or under the skin, appearing as small, moving nodules.

Some of the patients had been in and out of the hospital for months as physicians tried to diagnose their mysterious illness and treat their symptoms, which also included a buildup of fluid around the lungs and around the heart. One patient even had his gallbladder removed, to no avail.

It also happens in Asia:
Paragonimiasis is far more common in East Asia, where many thousands of cases are diagnosed annually in people who consume raw or undercooked crab that contain Paragonimus westermani, a cousin to the parasite in North American crayfish.
Travellers beware, I guess.

The main question

Crop circle season arrives with a mathematical message - This Britain, UK - The Independent

I find it hard to believe that there is anything mysterious behind crop circles, but the big question to my mind remains: why does it seem that crop circle makers are never (or rarely) caught in the act?

Doesn't seem fair

I fought the squirrel… and the squirrel won | Science | The Guardian

According to this brief article, which indicates squirrels in England can be just as invasive as rats in Australia:
Woods says that more and more people are buying traps from him. "However, it's illegal to re-release squirrels into the wild. So if you use a live trap, you need to kill the squirrel yourself and the only legal ways of doing that are shooting it with an air rifle, or putting it in a sack and hitting it on the head."
What's wrong with release? Although grey squirrels are an invasive species there, I thought scientists now thought they weren't causing much harm.

And I see that pro-grey squirrel activists now have their own website. How nice.

Psychiatric disorder of the day

People who are certain they stink, and the psychiatrists who sense this may be a disorder

We've all known of people who have bad body odour but don't know it. It turns out there are people with the opposite problem; they only think they smell:

Patients with the proposed diagnosis of "olfactory reference disorder" (sometimes referred to as a "syndrome") are certain beyond doubt that they stink, when in fact they smell no worse than is average for a 21st century American. According to Dr. Katharine Phillips, director of Rhode Island Hospital's Body Image Program, four in 10 people who likely have the disorder have sought out medical treatments for what they believe to be bad breath, foul body odor, stinky feet or residual fecal or urine smell. Their worry preoccupies them for between three and eight hours a day, on average, and impels patients to shower for hours, consume bars of soap or gallons of mouthwash in a single day -- even to drink perfume in an effort to eradicate the imagined smell.

A slight majority -- 60% -- of sufferers appear to be women, Phillips told her colleagues, and most began to suspect that they emitted foul odors at around 15 to 16 years of age.

Clearly, this is not something author Lionel Shriver suffers from. (See her mention of how her dislike of clothes washing leads her to wear the same clothes for a week, despite her cycling everywhere.) Call me weird, but my description of her as "quite the oddball" at another blog yesterday, when she says in the same interview that she is "eccentric" and thought of as "peculiar," seems entirely apt.

Worth a look

Nitro PDF Reader out to blow away Adobe

This appears to be little more than a PR blurb for some new .pdf software, but it does sound worth a look:
Nitro not only lets people read paperwork scanned in Portable Document Format (PDF) but lets it be annotated, filled-in, or otherwise altered and then saved as files.

Adobe's widely used free reader lets people see and print digitized documents but not tinker with them, a restriction that can foil efforts such as filling in emailed or online PDF forms.

One thing I really hate about the .pdf forms that government websites sometimes provide is how, if you need to put in more words than the box allows, it just keeps reducing the size of the font until it's unreadable. Maybe use of Nitro allows a way around this?

UPDATE: here's the link to the Nitro reader site. It does look pretty good and innovative, but I haven't tried it yet.

Tuesday, May 25, 2010

Martin Gardner - a belief ignored

The Great Beyond: RIP Martin Gardner

So Martin Gardner, who is well known and respected in skeptic circles, has died at the age of 95.

Apart from his long running maths columns in Scientific American, he is best known for his work “discrediting scientific fraud and quackery”. This means, for example, that he is getting favourable and sympathetic comments from rabid atheist PZ Myers and his followers.

Yet, few people are noting in detail that, despite his generally skeptical take on life, Gardner never became an atheist, and wrote an entire book in which he justified his "philosophical theism."

The book is "The Whys of a Philosophical Scrivener", and I do have a yellowing copy on my bookshelf. As someone who wrote a review at Amazon explains:
Gardner is a "fideist," meaning that he acknowledges the impossibility of demonstrating rationally the existence of God and related issues, but insisting that faith is an appropriate mechanism for getting around these difficulties. Gardner is never heavy-handed or preachy in his positions, and he gives the arguments against him a fair hearing.
That's a position I basically agree with, and as such I did find it a very good read. Gardner did not go so far as to believe in Christianity, but his position is one that I think any thoughtful Christian could call a very reasonable "fall-back" position.

What I find a little curious, though, is how in atheist circles, like PZ Myers' blog, this aspect of Gardner seems to be being ignored, or at least downplayed. I don't really see why Gardner's views, and his deep faith in "faith", so to speak, should not be the subject of the same ridicule that Catholics and other Christians have faced from Myers. Maybe he just hasn't read the book.

In fact, I am a little curious as to whether Gardner in his later years, was starting to get a bit indignant about the aggression of the "new atheism".

Someone else has already noted that the New York Times obituary paints his religious belief quite misleadingly, if you have read his "Whys.." book. I suspect it is one of his least read, but most deserving, works.

Strangest consequence of 9/11

9/11 attacks linked to loss of male babies | e! Science News

This is a very surprising story:
The stress caused by psychological shock from the 9/11 terrorist attacks, felt even by people with no direct link to the event, may have led to an increased number of male children being miscarried in the US. Researchers writing in the open access journal BMC Public Health found that the fetal death rate for boys spiked in September 2001, and that significantly fewer boys than expected were born in December of that year...

Bruckner and his colleagues used data from the National Vital Statistics System, which compiles fetal death data from all fifty states of the US, from January 1996 to December 2002 to calculate how many male fetal losses would be expected in a 'normal' September. They found that in September 2001, this figure was significantly exceeded. Speaking about the reasons for this, Bruckner said, "Across many species, stressful times reportedly reduce the male birth rate. This is commonly thought to reflect some mechanism conserved by natural selection to improve the mother's overall reproductive success."

A good comment

A woman writes a really long piece in the Guardian about how much she hated the first Sex and the City movie, even though she loved the series. She thinks the second movie looks even worse, going by the trailer.

This is a topic of mild interest to me, given that I still find it hard to believe that so many women felt that a show about gay men played by women was deep and meaningful. But my favourite comment following the article is this:

At college I wrote essays about the cultural significance of shows like Friends and Frasier, even Dawson's effing Creek.

Then I became an adult.

Read a book, love.

UPDATE: well, yeah, I should be reading a book, but if David Edelstein's take is anything to go by, I will have the pleasure of reading many bad reviews and bitchy comments soon:
The film is an epic eyesore. It’s as if they set out to make a movie that said, “You’re right! We are hideous!” It begins with the nightmarish manic gaiety of Mamma Mia!, with strenuous lockjawed smiles that make you think you’re watching stroke victims. Then Liza Minnelli shows up to perform a gay marriage. Heralded (and hooted at) as the embodiment of camp unreality, she looks more human—nervous but happy to belong somewhere—than the four leads....

Amy Odell, of’s The Cut, accompanied me to the screening and was kind enough to whisper that a particular dress of Carrie’s cost 50 grand. But what’s the point of spending that much when the cinematographer, John Thomas, lights Sarah Jessica Parker to bring out the leatheriness of her skin? How did he manage to mummify the lovely Cynthia Nixon? Kim Cattrall, fresh off her witty, subtle work in The Ghost Writer, is costumed to look like a cross between (late) Mae West and (dead) Bea Arthur. Kristin Davis gets by (just) pulling little-girl faces, probably for the last time.

Journalists: look, over here!

I could have missed it in the Australian press, but as far as I can see from Googling, only the ABC has mentioned the important Nature paper that came out last week on ocean warming.

What is wrong with our journalists? For years they re-printed any press release regarding the more dubious possible effects of climate change, without any sign of independent thought at all. Then, when AGW skeptics use such reports as alleged evidence that global warming is not to be believed at all, the journalists say "oh yeah, we'll be rather quiet now for a while." (I guess I have put my finger on the problem with that bit about "no independent thought".)

All at a time when in fact it looks increasingly clear that:

a. "climategate" is not going to reveal any fundamental problem with the temperature record;

b. the issue of "missing heat" is more of a technical one about the difficulties of measuring ocean heat content;

c. increasing ocean heat content is pretty consistent with the models on the bigger scale, just as climate change is something that has to be looked at on the bigger scale.

Anyhow, important commentary on the ocean warming paper is to be found at Real Climate, and John Cook has a really good post about it with links that get around the Nature paywall so you can read directly the commentary by Trenberth.

My fantasy politics

Not much choice between Robopol and Terminator | The Australian

This article by Niki Savva expresses my sentiments perfectly, and helps explain why I haven't been saying much about politics here lately. Everyone with political common sense can see what's happened in Australia in the last six months, and what the cure would be: a joint address to the nation by the administrative leaders of each the major political parties in which they admit and agree:

"1. We're terribly sorry, we've both made terrible, terrible mistakes in the selection of our current leaders. Yes, we know, we're not blind: the Labor Party always knew Kevin was a jerk who faked his way into the job, but we were surprised how long it took the public to realise it. Everyone already knows Tony doesn't really want the job and is too full of self doubt and anxiety that only goes away when he is on bicycle. They are both completely hopeless as leaders, and all reasonable people, even within their own parties, can see that.

2. We've agreed, and there will be no point scoring between us: Malcolm, all is forgiven, and you can have your party back. Julia, your political appeal is undeniable, and have the Prime Ministership now; not in another 2 or 3 years of bloodless meandering by K Rudd.

3. OK, now that we know we have a real contest, let the election campaigning begin."

Monday, May 24, 2010

Still not enjoying it

Doctor Who review: Vampires of Venice - Telegraph

Well, it's good to see it's not just me. A considerable number of comments following the above review of this week's episode agree that there is just something "off" about this season's Dr Who. As commenter "Mike" says:
I do agree there's a problem with the new doctor. I can't decide what annoys me more, his occasioanl and completely unexplained rages, or the inconsistent plot lines where you're left wondering if a led to be and then to g whether you'd dropped off through c, d,e and f. It's a shame, you can't blame the cast, they're trying their best, but the writing and direction isn't working. Maybe steven should just direct from now on and have someone else write.
Pity really.

Saturday, May 22, 2010

They have to get out more...

Taste Test: Passion fruit - Boing Boing

Boing Boing runs a story by someone who has only recently discovered passionfruit? As an Australian says in comments: "I had no idea passionfruit was so little-known".
(Several comments are also about how gross the insides look - like frogs eggs. They make your average Australian seem like a regular Anthony Bourdain.)

UPDATE: I mentioned this to my wife over the weekend, only to be told that she had eaten frog's eggs, as a dessert, at an expensive Chinese restaurant in Japan...

Lane on Robin

“Robin Hood,” review : The New Yorker

Anthony Lane's review of the new Robin Hood begins in amusingly bitchy fashion:
Our hero is one Robin Longstride, played by Russell Crowe, who seems a bit short for the name; it suggests someone rangy, whereas the dauntless persona that Crowe has constructed, over many films, owes less to his gait than to his lightly submerged temper and his bearish build. The solution would have been to call him Robin Phonethrow, but Scott has a thing for historical details, so I guess that didn’t wash.
Overall, his impression of the film as too dour and serious is similar to that in many reviews, and puts me off seeing it.

I am a bit surprised how so many reviewers of the new movie mention in passing how bad the Kevin Costner version was.  Yes, his accent was hopeless out of the place, but I thought RH Prince of Thieves was still quite fun and enjoyable in its way.  Certainly sounds a better experience than this present take.

Friday, May 21, 2010

Small nuclear update

Miniature Nuclear Plants Seek Approval to Work in U.S (Update1) - BusinessWeek

Maybe not too much new in this story, except for the fact that development of small scale nuclear power is proceeding, but with government certification of them not even started yet.

His "sustaining fantasy" is that he is worth reading

ABC The Drum Unleashed - Sustaining fantasy

Bob Ellis, who always now gives me the impression of writing under the influence of a bottle of red, writes of the "sustaining fantasies" that people use to get through life. It contains pearls such as this:
We are told a priest who buggers choir boys can eat Christ's flesh on our behalf and save us a billion years of fiery torture thereby, though he himself will suffer a trillion of fiery torture for buggering choir boys against God's will though God, who is all powerful, neglected to prevent him from doing this, a God who loves us all. And some of us believe that too.
I'm fairly certain it's been quite a while since he looked into Catholic theology.

And there is a distinct sense of self justification for past behaviour in this section:
We are told there are faithful husbands who spend months each year travelling the world. Who are they? I would like to see a list of ten names. Yet we base our notion of civilised society on this premise and sack our politicians if they don't live up to it. What a fantastical premise it is and how useless it is to believe it.

Adultery has been frequent since the invention of the bicycle and very, very frequent since the invention of the Pill and the universal availability of cheap interstate air travel and we should probably work out how to cope with it, in rules that won't be easy to construct. But denying it happens or saying it won't happen in particular cases is ludicrous fantasy.

It's easier to give up smoking. The wife-swapping parties of the 1950s and '60s (so well evoked in The Ice Storm) seem wiser now than they did then and the destructive, child-smashing divorces of today a moronic alternative.
Yes Bob, but I wonder what your past partners think about this.

Thursday, May 20, 2010

Wacky hotel

Dezeen » Blog Archive » Inntel hotel by WAM Architecten

This is a supremely wacky looking hotel from the Netherlands.  (Maybe it's all the drugs in the coffee shops.)  Go on, have a look and tell me I'm wrong.  I can't stop looking at it.

For more information, I see the Guardian had an article about it about 6 weeks ago.

Ocean temperature rising

Robust warming of the global upper ocean : Nature

No doubt this will be a much discussed paper. The abstract above needs some interpretation, which can be found in the Physicsworld report:

After gaining an understanding of the sources of uncertainty in each OHCA curve, the team was able to combine the data to obtain a curve that is more representative of global ocean temperature than its constituents. It reveals that the oceans have warmed at a rate of about 0.64 ± 0.11 W/m2 over the past 16 years. According to Kevin Trenberth of the National Center for Atmospheric Research in Colorado, this is "reasonably consistent with expectations from other indications of global warming".

However, the re-analysis sheds little light on why ocean temperatures appear to have remained steady since about 2004. This is at odds with satellite measurements, which suggest the Earth has continued to heat up over the past six years, leading to questions over where the "missing heat" has gone.

Indeed, Stefan Rahmstorf, a climate scientist at Potsdam University near Berlin, says that the new study does solve this problem. "The accuracy of measurements is still not sufficient to close the energy budget particularly for short-term variations, in other words, over a few years, as associated with El Niño".

Team member Doug Smith of the Hadley Centre in the UK points out that this stalling seems to occur just when the Argo floats became the primary data source. This could mean that further work is needed on how to interpret Argo results and how to integrate them into temperature records.

Well, that's still a little confusing, but I'm sure the major climate change blogs will be onto this soon.

Understatement of the month

Good news! Kentucky Fried Chicken doubles-down on the KFC Double Down

It has featured at this blog before in a very funny Colbert clip.  But the "sandwich" has turned out to be popular:
KFC says Americans are gobbling down so many Double Down sandwiches that the fast-food chain will offer the bunless, meaty sandwich longer than it had planned.

Originally the sandwich — bacon and cheese surrounded by chicken filets — was to have been available through Sunday.

But KFC said Wednesday that the sandwich will be available now for as long as customer demand remains high.

What I really like about this story, though, is this fine bit of understatement at the end:
Some have questioned the sandwiches' nutritional value.

Skepticism's wheels get wobbly

It's a peculiar thing, but just at the time when a significant part of the public seems to be thinking that "climategate" meant that global warming science has become somewhat tarnished and deserves to be taken less seriously, there has evidence gathering at skeptic blogs themselves that AGW skepticism is looking distinctly wobbly. For example:

1. Raw temperature / adjusted temperature not so different after all? Lucia's Blackboard is a well know "soft" skeptic site, but she has been running posts lately about individual bloggers attempts (if I read this right) to chart "raw" land temperature records to see how the results looks compared to the adjusted "official" temperature records. (Remembering that many a post at Watts Up With That and elsewhere loves to find examples of adjustments to individual station records that they think shows something untoward going on with the "official" adjustments.)

Well, guess what? These amateur attempts at charting raw data are not giving any reason to doubt that the official temperature charts are far off the mark. Have a look at Lucia's latest post about this.

She doesn't seem to be exactly making a clear point about this, but unless I am misunderstanding something here, this is a pretty damning indictment of the irrelevance of much of AGW skepticism when it comes to questioning the temperature record.

2. Widget fails. I have been wondering whether skeptics are starting to be a little embarrassed about the Watts Up With That's widget. It was meant to help encourage the view that there was not much of a relationship between CO2 increase and temperatures. But look at it now:

I wouldn't be surprised if some people think the purple CO2 line is just the mean of the temperature anomaly graph - which is far from the impression Anthony Watts intended.

3. Stepping out of his knowledge zone. Speaking of Watts Up With That, regular contributor Steven Goddard recently got inspired to start his own reappraisal of planetary physics, by posting that he had worked out all on his own that NASA and many, many scientists were completely wrong about CO2's role in creating a greenhouse effect on Venus.

He convinced no one, apart perhaps from some the old Velikovsky faithful (Australia's very own Louis Hissink amongst them.)

I reckon this foray into a topic he is ill prepared to fully understand has substantially harmed Goddard's (and Watt's) credibility.

4. Ice issues. While skeptics were heartened by the extent of North Pole ice cover over winter appearing to be back to being very close to average in April, barely a month later and it's virtually back to the 2007 low. (And this does not take into account the question of how much ice is "old" ice, a topic skeptics don't seem to discuss much.)

If Arctic ice this (northern) summer drops well below 2007, skeptics are going to have to start making excuses again. In fact, there's a touch of pre-emption in Goddard's recent post about it here.

Skeptical Science also had a post recently criticising WUWT's claims that sea ice is nearly "back to normal", and in particular Goddard's understanding of Antarctic ice. Goddard did not take the criticism well.

Wednesday, May 19, 2010

Learn about papyrology

The Oxford Handbook of Papyrology - RN Book Show - 14 May 2010

Last week I happened to hear this long interview on Radio National with an expert on Eygptian papyrology (basically, reading and studying the thousands of old bits of papyrus scrolls still being found in Egypt.)   It was very interesting, but it's only available as an audio.  Worth a listen, though.

Tuesday, May 18, 2010

Further doubts about Nietzsche

Gosh I'm happy that Bryan Appleyard is back blogging. He's come out and helped confirm my hunch that I don't have to bother having to read Nietzsche.

Warm weather

NOAA has announced that April was warm - warmest on record in fact:
The combined global land and ocean surface temperature was the warmest on record for both April and for the period from January-April, according to NOAA. Additionally, last month’s average ocean surface temperature was the warmest on record for any April, and the global land surface temperature was the third warmest on record.
Go look at their map with all the dots to see where the heat anomalies were highest. (Hint: think of toy making elves wearing galoshes.)

Gospel truth

Searching for Jesus in the Gospels : The New Yorker

This is a long essay by Adam Gopnik, covering some of the latest books considering the question of the historical Jesus, and adding some of Gopnik's own thoughts, particularly in relation to the Gospel of Mark. He writes very well on the topic.

And this reminds me - I never got around to mentioning a post at First Things which led to a good article in Christianity Today by a New Testament scholar (Scot McKnight) explaining how he now believes the quest for the historical Jesus has failed. He quotes another scholar who makes some revealing points:
Allison admits this about one of his own books on Jesus: "I opened my eyes to the obvious: I had created a Jesus in my own image, after my own likeness." He's not done: "Professional historians are not bloodless templates passively registering the facts: we actively and imaginatively project. Our rationality cannot be extricated from our sentiments and feelings, our hopes and fears, our hunches and ambitions." So, he ponders, "Maybe we have unthinkingly reduced biography [of Jesus] to autobiography."

On top of this genuine problem is the problem of method. Allison: "The fragmentary and imperfect nature of the evidence as well as the limitations of our historical-critical abilities should move us to confess, if we are conscientious, how hard it is to recover the past." With one ringing line, Allison pronounces death: "We wield our criteria to get what we want."

There is, in other words, no value-or theology-free method that will enable us to get back to Jesus. Allison is not a total skeptic; he thinks that we can get behind the Gospels to find some genuine impressions. But his book led me to conclude, "The era is over."
Earlier in his essay, McKnight writes this:
Most historical Jesus scholars assume that the Gospels have overcooked their portrait of Jesus, and that the church's Trinitarian theology wildly exceeds anything Jesus thought about himself and anything the evangelists believed. These scholars pursue a Jesus who is less than or different from or more primitive than what the Gospels teach and the church believes. There is no reason to do historical Jesus studies—to probe "what Jesus was really like"—if the Gospels are accurate and the church's beliefs are justified. There are only two reasons to engage in historical Jesus studies: first, to see if the church got him right; and second, if the church did not, to find the Jesus who is more authentic than the church's Jesus.

This leads to a fundamental observation about all genuine historical Jesus studies: Historical Jesus scholars construct what is in effect a fifth gospel. The reconstructed Jesus is not identical to the canonical Jesus or the orthodox Jesus. He is the reconstructed Jesus, which means he is a "new" Jesus.

Sounds about right to me.

UPDATE: I didn't realise I had a couple of bad links there. Been fixed now.

I'll wait for the opera version

Doctor Who: coming live to a stage near you

The Doctor – plus assorted adversaries and creatures including Daleks, Cybermen and Oods – is to tour the UK this autumn with Doctor Who Live....

The new Doctor, Matt Smith, and assistant Karen Gillan, will not appear in the stage show, which is being developed by Doctor Who's head writer Steven Moffat and will feature in "on-stage battles, pyrotechnics and special effects".

The show, produced by the BBC's commercial arm, BBC Worldwide, will open in wartime London and conclude with "an epic onstage battle". There will also be a live soundtrack, performed by a 16-piece orchestra, by Doctor Who composer Murray Gold, responsible for the programme's controversial new theme tune.

Yeah, I'm not so keen on the re-arranged title music either.

Colebatch worth reading again

Swan's budget numbers hide ugly reality

Lately, it seems to be Tim Colebatch's columns which are the most readable, straight forward explanations of economic issues.  I think he does a good job again today, where (amongst other things) he covers the new mining "super profit" tax.

Monday, May 17, 2010

Who cares?

For some reason I am finding it hard to be very engaged by the new series of Dr Who.

The problem is not the cast: Matt Smith, although having a distinctively strange looking head, seems to do eccentric quite well, and I think Amy Pond was instantly likeable as the new sidekick.

The problem to me seems more with the storylines, which just don't seem to be containing any real emotional pull at the moment, as did the best episodes of the first couple of seasons of David Tenant's reign. Part of the problem may be the direction, but I think it is more to do with the scripts, which seem in most episodes to be too rushed (although one could also say that many Russell T Davies episodes were not exactly sedate, either.)

And while this may sound like a silly complaint about a show in which science was never important, it seems to me that that the quasi-scientific ramblings are becoming less credible than ever. Last night, for example, the Doctor realises that "time can be re-written", and that this explains why no one recalls the giant Victorian robot that stalked London (from one of the episodes a year or so ago.) Russell Davies ended up playing with multiple universes more in his scripts, and this offers a more credible line in why things happen that can't be remembered.

Certainly, my kids are still enjoying it enough (with Amy's sudden throwing of herself at the Doctor getting the typical 10 year old boy groans of disapproval from my son last night), and it may engage me again sometime soon. But so far, I do feel a bit let down by the current series.

Sunday, May 16, 2010

Akaroa - a final New Zealand post

During the recent holiday to New Zealand, our last night was spent at Akaroa, a small town on a pretty harbour just outside of Christchurch. Here's a stitched together panorama shot I've made, which would look much better if you click on it:

Neither my wife nor I had heard of this place before, but as it was close to Christchurch, and boasts a French influence, we thought it would be interesting.

Indeed it was. As Wikipedia explains, the French and British both turned up here in 1840 within days of each other. Germans were in the area as well, with Wikipedia noting that they set up "dairy, sheep and cocksfoot farms", which leads in turn to the question "what the hell is 'cocksfoot'?" Turns out it's grass.

Anyhow, the town has retained a French influence in both its buildings and food. Here's one of the houses, used as a Bed & Breakfast, although how old it is I have no idea:

(I'm no expert, so maybe this bears no resemblance to a French style at all, but you have to admit it's cute anyway.) We stayed at the Akaroa Village Inn, which is on the waterfront and has a good range of apartments and rooms from which to choose. The view from the one stayed in was pleasing:

We didn't have time to do much other than look around the waterfront, where "swim with the dolphin" tours seem to be the popular thing to do, and have a quick lunch at the local winery:

Ok, so it's a not-so-old imitation French style building, but it's still set up with roses and grapes vines everywhere, and is a nice place to see.

I didn't partake of the wine, because the road in and out of this area, which is formed from old volcanoes, is car-sick inducing windy. You can see the volcanic looking origins of the local geography from the Google map:

As I checked out of the accommodation, and in one of the shops, I commented that I had never heard of this charming location before. They were both surprised, and said that Australians make up more than half of the tourists staying there in the peak summer season. I guess I must have missed that episode of Getaway.

In any event, it looks like an ideal spot for an extended, relaxed stay. I think it's time Australia simply annexed the NZ and granted all Australian born citizens the right to commandeer any house we like there for 3 weeks holiday a year. I mean, the owners are probably going to be living in Australia anyway, and what other country is going to stop us?

Not strictly necessary

MYER Head Office

Myers have a new head office, and seem to have spent an inordinate amount of money to make the walls, well, different.

I'm not convinced it's worth the effort.


Saturday, May 15, 2010

Great moment in British TV

This turned up on the New York Times humour section, and it amused me more that it deserves:

Friday, May 14, 2010

Blogging notes

Well here's one reason to be cheerful: Bryan Appleyard has started blogging again, after disappearing (without explanation) for a couple of months. I've fixed the link to his new site over in the blogroll.

It seems to me that blogging has passed its peak of popularity and now in decline. More and and more blogs that I previously read seem to have moved permanently into cyberspace doldrums in the last year or so, and it certainly seems hard to find new blogs (especially sole author ones) that are active and engaging to replace those which have slowly died.

For people of a certain age, a move into social networking is almost certainly to blame. But a lot of adult bloggers presumably haven't become obsessed by the ephemeral Twitter.

Part of the reason for the blogging decline, I think, is that the Bush and Howard administrations were periods of considerable political and social controversy, and the whole question of the appropriate response to a terrorist threat is something about which it is "easy" to have a strong opinion. This encouraged people to voice their opinions in any forum, including their own blogs. Current world events, being dominated by economic crises, are so complicated in the details it is hard for your average person-in-the-street blogger to contribute very much about them.

So blogging is not what it used to be, but it might be something that is a bit cyclical. We'll see.

Pro soccer

Prostitutes flock to South Africa ahead of World Cup 2010

I didn't realise the World Cup and prostitution were so much entwined:
The event is no stranger to the sex trade. The 2006 World Cup in Germany, where brothels and prostitution is legalized, brought on an additional influx of an estimated 40,000 sex workers – plus a lot of criticism from rights groups. South Africa's Central Drug Central Authority has also estimated that 40,000 sex workers will come to Johannesburg for the 2010 World Cup, though the agency gives no reasoning for this figure.
Great. A further feather to my bow in arguing against the "sport is good for character" meme. Repent, you sports fans!

Shake it up

Zap testes with ultrasound for temporary 'vasectomy'- New Scientist

Apparently, it works on rats. They don't know how exactly. I wonder it any man has yet volunteered for the process:
Armed with their new funding, the researchers now intend to find out the mechanism by which sperm are destroyed - thought to be a combination of heating and shaking. "We also need to know the minimum effective dose and track how long the effect persists," says Tsuruta.

"The idea in people is that the testes would be in a little cup of water, or another liquid that ultrasound can be transmitted through," Tsuruta says.

Thursday, May 13, 2010

Land of the setting sun

Number of suicides stays above 30,000 for 12th straight year

It's something to their credit, I suppose, that the Japanese government does seem to worry about the suicide rate now. Their rate is very economy sensitive:
The number of suicides in Japan grew sharply in October 2008—a month after Lehman Brothers Holdings Inc collapsed, throwing the global economy into a prolonged recession.
The comment by Bobbafett following the article is interesting too.

Pricks aren't to be trusted

Doubt Is Cast on Many Reports of Food Allergies -

“Everyone has a different definition” of a food allergy, said Dr. Jennifer J. Schneider Chafen of the Department of Veterans AffairsPalo Alto Health Care System in California and Stanford’s Center for Center for Primary Care and Outcomes Research, who was the lead author of the new report. People who receive a diagnosis after one of the two tests most often used — pricking the skin and injecting a tiny amount of the suspect food and looking in blood for IgE antibodies, the type associated with allergies — have less than a 50 percent chance of actually having a food allergy, the investigators found. ...

But for now, Dr. Fenton said, doctors should not use either the skin-prick test or the antibody test as the sole reason for thinking their patients have a food allergy.

“By themselves they are not sufficient,” Dr. Fenton said.

Wednesday, May 12, 2010

Crichton and the pirates

I've just finished Michael Crichton's posthumously published novel "Pirate Latitudes".

It's said to have found as a complete manuscript on his computer, and no one seems quite certain when it was written, or finished. Around 2006 seems to be the speculation.

I don't know if this has been said before, but I think it is perfectly clear why he did not publish it: it is very, very similar in many of its elements to the Pirates of the Caribbean movies; [spoiler warning] even so far as featuring a Kraken attack. (More about that below.) I wouldn't mind betting that this one of those unfortunate cases of creative coincidences; Crichton had probably been researching and thinking about it for years, finally got around to getting it down on paper, only to find before he could get it to his publishers that Disney studios have well and truly gazumped the market for far-fetched pirate events.

So, did I enjoy it? Well, I have said here before that Crichton only seemed really good at the rate of about every second book. This is not a "second book", but it was not his worst. (I recall Sphere as being particularly awful in a new age-y sort of way.)

One of the reasons for reading him was always to get a bit of an education on a topic. In this respect, the novel does provide interesting insights into the 17th Century world of pirates, and that was its best feature.

It is, however, a particularly violent book for Crichton. But by far its worst aspect is the credibility breaking appearance of a real life Kraken. Yes, the attack on the ship is just like the one in Pirates of the Caribbean II. It's not a giant squid being mistaken for a Kraken; it's a gigantic thing the likes of which has never been seen.

Why would Crichton include this? As far as I know (and as the Wikipedia entry appears to confirm) no cryptozoologist in modern times has ever suggested more than that the Kraken legend perhaps derives from the rarely seen giant squid that roam the deep. (Possibly a giant octopus had something to do with it too.) As I say, I found Crichton's other watery novel (Sphere) pretty unconvincing too; he liked sea monsters, but as far as I know there is no one out there seriously suggesting that a massive, novel, tentacled Kraken-like creature is still waiting to be discovered.

Ah well. I see that Spielberg is said to be actively developing a film of the book. This seems pretty surprising, given the fact that there is another POTC movie already on the way.

I guess a realistic, gritty, semi-educational pirate movie could still have an audience, but my key advice to Spielberg would be: dump the Kraken!

Right back at ya

Sex, religion, and Kagan's right to privacy. - By William Saletan - Slate Magazine

Andrew Sullivan, amongst others, thinks it should be clarified whether or not Supreme Court nominee Elena Kagan should is lesbian.

William Saletan quotes Sullivan right back at him, and argues strongly why it should be left alone.

Funnily enough, one would have thought that Sullivan could see the silly games that could be played with such enquiries: he's the (now) married gay man who was (according to his 2001 sex seeking ad) nonetheless "into bi scenes."

Very strange

BBC News - China children 'hacked to death' in new school attack

It appears that there have now been six cases in China of a crazy person going to a school and attacking children randomly (and killing a great many) in the space of a few months.

This is not the sort of thing that I would normally expect to be the subject of copycat behaviour. Suicides: yes, we know they go up the more they are publicised. But going out to kill kids you don't know? Very odd, I reckon.

Tuesday, May 11, 2010

Funny and instructive

Strange to say, but Colbert Report seems to be taking more care this season to have some guests to actually explain international situations. Tonight's segment on Greece was both pretty funny in parts, and instructive:

The Colbert ReportMon - Thurs 11:30pm / 10:30c
Greece Wither Soon - Scheherazade Rehman
Colbert Report Full EpisodesPolitical HumorFox News

Famous friends

H G Wells: Another Kind of Life by Michael Sherborne: review - Telegraph

In this review of a new biography of HG Wells, there is much mention of his sex life, but the most fascinating snippet is this:
....for many years he was at the heart of Britain’s artistic and political life, with an address book like a global Who’s Who. There can't be many writers who criticised Stalin to his face and survived, counted Charlie Chaplin among his friends, and persuaded G B Shaw and G K Chesterton to dress up as cowboys and roll down a hill in a beer barrel for a home movie.
Chesterton was shaped like a beer barrel, from what I recall. I can't imagine him fitting in one with Shaw.

What were they up to?

gulfnews : Bahrain arrests 14 Chinese with fake Japanese passports

Lower the jury duty age

Psychologists say babies know right from wrong even at six months

How do you tell that a baby knows right from wrong? It's pretty entertaining research:
In one experiment babies between six and ten months old were repeatedly shown a puppet show featuring wooden shapes with eyes. A red ball attempts to climb a hill and is aided at times by a yellow triangle that helps it up the hill by getting behind it and pushing. At other times the red ball is forced back down the hill by a blue square. After watching the puppet show at least six times the babies were asked to choose a character. An overwhelming majority (over 80%) chose the helpful figure. Prof. Bloom said it was not a subtle statistical trend as “just about all the babies reached for the good guy.”

In another experiment the babies were shown a toy dog puppet attempting to open a box, with a friendly teddy bear helping the dog, and an unfriendly teddy thwarting his efforts by sitting on him. After watching at least half a dozen times the babies were given the opportunity to choose one of the teddy bears. The majority chose the helpful teddy.
And at 21 months, most will even "punish" the bad toy:
A third experiment used a puppet cat playing with a ball with a helpful rabbit puppet on one side and an unhelpful rabbit on the other. The helpful rabbit returned the ball if the cat lost it, while the unhelpful rabbit stole the ball and ran off with it. In this test five-month-old babies were allowed to choose one of the rabbits, and most chose the helpful one. When the test was repeated with 21-month-old babies they were asked to take a treat from one of the rabbits. Most took the treat from the unhelpful rabbit, and one even gave the rabbit a smack on the head as well.
Maybe I should have been a psychologist. A day at the office could be quite fun.

Monday, May 10, 2010

Severe danger avoided

gulfnews : Joggers furious as Sharjah shuts parks in the morning

I am not quite sure where the municipality of Sharjah is in the Gulf region, but you can't accuse them of not taking action on serious matters:

Sharjah Municipality has just passed a law that keeps all parks closed to the public until 4pm.

They will stay open until 10pm.

The law includes free-entrance neighbourhood parks and those which have an entrance fee.

A Sharjah Municipality official told Gulf News the new rule aimed to prevent gardeners from staring at female visitors.

"The municipality cannot accept the responsibility of having its employees staring at women and making them feel uncomfortable," said Sharjah Municipality Agricultural Department head Yaseen Mohammad.

What a mad place.

Still singing (sort of)

Julie Andrews: She's climbed every mountain - Profiles, People - The Independent

Julie Andrews surely doesn't need the money, but is starting a (sort of) singing tour in England again. (She's warning that her voice is not what it was. Maybe Whitney Houston could have considered the same tactic!)

Anyhow, this potted history of her life, which I have read about elsewhere, claims as follows:
Like her fellow musical star Judy Garland, Andrews became both a gay icon and a family favourite.
Really? I thought her screen and private lives both lacked the strange melodramatic style which seems to be the key characteristic that marks actresses as gay icons.

In any event, she seems to enjoy a broad reputation as a very decent person.

That time of year again

It's more likely to be rats in the belfry, possums

The Age reports on how the onset of winter means rats start moving into the roofs of Melbourne houses.

It's exactly the same in Brisbane. Sitting at the computer the other night, I heard what sounded like slight roof tile scrapping. I suspect it was my first visitor of the season squeezing its way in between tiles.

Time to bait the ceiling space again. Pity this causes them to die and decompose there too...

Could be interesting

The LA Times gives top marks to Laura Bush's memoir. The New York Times quite liked it too. It must be pretty good.

Took them a while to work this one out

Mice pull pained expressions : Nature News
Humans are not the only ones to grimace when they are in pain, scientists have found. Mice show their discomfort in the same way.
When you look at the photos in the article, it seems a little odd they didn't know this before.

Nuclear in the earthquake zone

Monju fast-breeder reaches criticality | The Japan Times Online

I see that Japan has just restarted a prototype fast-breeder reactor, which was halted some years ago after a sodium leak.

It's odd, isn't it, that one of the most earthquake prone countries in the world should also be the one forging ahead with developing a new type of nuclear reactor plant that has one good feature, and one somewhat scary one (molten sodium.)

As such, I am a bit unsure about whether to be impressed or worried.

Sunday, May 09, 2010

Further comments on New Zealand

Some observations from the recent short New Zealand (south island only) holiday:

Things I liked a lot:

* the mussels. These featured in maybe 3 meals while I was there, and although I have been wary of their chewiness when trying them in Australia, the New Zealand meals did them well and I quite enjoyed them. The black mussels which are farmed in Australia can be very hit or miss in terms of the amount of mussel meat you'll get: at some times of the year, the common kilo pack really is barely enough for a meal for two. That never seems to be a problem with green lipped mussels, which always seem to be very substantial. I also liked the large "scoop your own" vats of live mussels in every New World supermarket we went to.

* the scenery. Well, naturally.

* good service: they do seem to be doing a pretty good job at customer service for tourists in that country. There was one grumpy person we came across twice (at the rest stop on one of the main highways.) But her unhappy demeanour perhaps stood out all the more because everyone else seemed very cheery.

* the wine: of course, we stuck to New Zealand wines, and not just the sauvignon blancs. (While the later are no doubt very good, am I the only person who sometimes finds some of New Zealand examples have too much of that famous "herbaceous" character?) However, the sauvignon blanc we did try were great, but we also really liked the other whites (and a pinot noir) too. They were all very modestly priced (nothing more than $15 per bottle) and seemed high quality for the price. (It seems to me, in fact, that New Zealand wine should be cheaper in Australia, considering its price over there, and the advantageous currency exchange.) Clearly, it's a country that is doing wine well.

* smoked food. Colder places seem much more interested in smoked food. Last year, for example, while visiting Adelaide, I was happy with the wide variety of smoked fish available at the central markets. The best smoked thing we ate in New Zealand was smoked venison. In fact, it seemed to be a pretty common entree in restaurants: smoked venison served with a bit of blue cheese. Very tasty.

Things we were slightly disappointed with:

* soft cheese. We tried a couple from the supermarket, and tasted one at a small cheese maker's, but neither of them were really good examples of (I think) brie. The country seems to do your regular hard cheeses very well, but soft cheeses, for some reason, they don't seem to have mastered as comprehensively as in Australia.

* beer. Tried a few, found all of them pretty unremarkable. No doubt this may just be bad luck (as may the soft cheese too.)

Things it's lucky you have a bit of cash left over for:

* The $25 per adult airport departure tax. Fortunately, I was told, it will soon be added to airline ticket prices, which is clearly the more sensible way to go.

Waiting for Nietzsche

There's no doubt that intellectual interests in life can change over time. An unappealing topic in your youth can gradually change to one which you do want to read up on in your later adulthood.

So knowing that, and given the number of people who seem to like to debate the merits of Nietzsche, I have suspected for some years now that, someday, I will probably get the urge to read him (or even about him).

Yet it is also entirely possible that this day may never come, if this review (by Francis Fukyama, no less) of a new book on him is any guide.

This is the final paragraph:
Young appropriately underlines the notion that postmodernism, with its embrace of diversity in values, is no different from the 19th-century modernism that Nie­tzsche hated. He would not have cele­brated alternative lifestyles, non-­Western cultures or the right of every fourth grader to be his or her own value-creator. Acknowledgment of the death of God is a bomb that blows up many things, not just oppressive traditionalism, but also values like compassion and the equality of human dignity on which support for a tolerant liberal political order is based. This then is the Nie­tzschean dead end from which Western philosophy has still not emerged.
I suspect there'll be people out there debating the accuracy of this representation of Nietzsche (there always is: has there ever been a philosopher more frequently defended as having been misunderstood?) But I think this Fukyama quote does help explain my lack of interest in Nietzsche: I guess I have also always thought of him as an exponent of "dead end" philosophy, and that's something about which I just feel doesn't deserve a lot of effort to learn about in detail.

But as I say, who knows? In 20 years time, maybe I'll be reading him.

Friday, May 07, 2010

Bovine construction method

Dezeen » Blog Archive » Trufa by Anton García-Abril

From the above post at Dezeen:
Photographer Roland Halbe has sent us his photographs of a holiday home in Spain by Anton García-Abril of Ensamble Studio, cast in the earth and hollowed out by a cow.
It's actually kind of interesting...for a small house built by a cow.

That's interesting...

BBC News - Incredibles' Bird to direct fourth Mission: Impossible

Brad Bird, who has directed three terrific animated films (Iron Giant, The Incredibles, and Ratatouille) is to make Mission Impossible IV as his first live action film. I suspect he'll do a much better job with the action than John Woo or JJ Abrims did on the last two.

There's at least one other promising precedent for an animation director turning to live action: Andrew Adamson did Shrek I & II, then did a great job on the two Narnia films.

Speaking of babies...

This documentary is attracting some good reviews:

UPDATE: Salon has an insightful bit of commentary about the film, and documentaries generally.

Times are changing

Study: 1 in 7 U.S. Babies Born to Moms 35+ - CBS News

What's more surprising is this figure:
While most women giving birth are doing it within the context of marriage, researchers said a record 41 percent of births were to unmarried women in 2008. That's up from 28 percent in 1990, according to the study, "The New Demography of American Motherhood." The trend crossed major racial and ethnic groups.

This is not a good thing, if you ask me.

A service to the community

As I have observed previously, one of the benefits of having a small blog readership is that it is easy to check via Sitemeter where my referrals have come from. Therefore I know, for example, that, years after I posted about it, nearly every day I still have at least a couple of visitors who have arrived via Googling "Julie Gillard's ears". There are many more fans of big ear lobes out there than you might expect.

But I see today I had a visitor via Google with a particularly specialised interest in the Catholic Church, as this was the search term:

"naughty nuns stories dvds videos ets etc how to jion via catholic chuerch"

I am glad to see that this blog is indeed performing a vital community service.

Three unusual weather stories

It's a risky business drawing connections between particular examples of unusually bad weather and climate change. Half the time anyone does this, someone will come up with an example from the last 100 years which was in fact worse. Still, I am getting the impression lately that there is something a little peculiar going on. My, very cautiously offered, evidence:

1. The Tennessee floods. Record breaking rain, and a meteorological explanation given for it in the CSM.

2. Rain in the Arctic in April. This is, it seems, very, very unusual at this time of year.

3. This morning: a deadly tornado and storm in China, which is, according to the BBC, pretty unusual.

Greece explained

Greek lesson in the perils of overspending

Tim Colebatch does a good job at giving a concise summary of what's been going on in Greece. 

Thursday, May 06, 2010

Happy blog-a-versary

My last post reminded me, by virtue of my searching for an old post here, that this blog has just turned 5 years old. Yay.

That's some sort of achievement, I think, given that it's all written by yours truly with only the occasional short break while on holidays.

Keep those cards and donations coming*. (I don't even bother putting a Paypal button on here any more, but if anyone wants permission to send me money, just send me an email and that can be rectified!)

Which also reminds me: no comment yet on any of my lake, mountain, water and/or duck photos of New Zealand. That's it, I'm bringing out the sheep photos now:

* As if, you cheap bastards. :-)

Smelly ape sightings

In search of the skunk ape » Big Story » Valdosta Daily Times

A skunk ape seems to be a skinny relative of Bigfoot, and some people think they have seen one in South Georgia, USA, recently.

As I noted here way back in 2006, I did once know someone who was scared mightily by a strong, foul smell and some crashing around the bush sounds while he was camping  in some State forest near Brisbane.  The association of strong smells with sightings of odd creatures has interested me ever since.

No good will come of this

Steven Spielberg is to direct War Horse - Telegraph

Spielberg is apparently to direct a boy and his horse novel set in World War 1. But the bad news:
For fans of Morpurgo, it is also good news that the screen adaptation is being written by Richard Curtis and Lee Hall, both past masters at bringing a tear to the eye.
Richard Curtis! I hate all his post-Blackadder work.

Need a stiff drink?

African moonshine: Kill me quick | The Economist

In a Kenyan slum:
The equivalent of $1 is enough to buy four glasses of illegally brewed chang’aa—and oblivion. Some drink the local special, jet-five, so called because the fermentation of maize and sorghum is sped up with pilfered jet fuel. It can damage the brain. Elsewhere in Nairobi, chang’aa is spiked with embalming fluid from mortuaries. The name, meaning literally “kill me quick”, is well chosen.
And Uganda may have this distinction:
The UN’s World Health Organisation reckons that half of all alcohol drunk in Africa is illegal. Neighbouring Uganda may consume more alcohol per person than any country in the world. Much of this is waragi, a banana gin. Some 100 Ugandans died from toxic waragi in April alone.

Not worth the effort

Mind Hacks: Paradise learnt

An interesting story here of a man who, starting at the age of 58, has pretty accurately memorised the whole of Paradise Lost (a mere 10,565 lines.) He's now 74 and still got it on (in?) his brain.

Do such amazing feats of memory training help your general cognitive abilities though? Apparently not:

Although not formally tested, JB's everyday memory is apparently normal for his age, with his exceptional memory for Milton's poem apparently arising from his relentless practice and dedication.

This is a common pattern in mental practice or 'brain training' style scenarios where we get better at the tasks we repeat but that improvement doesn't seem to carry over very effectively into other areas of mental life.

So I guess some mornings he still can't find his car keys, but at least he can recite line 8,576 of a poem while he's looking for them.

Smile your way to 100

Longevity subject to lifestyle
Professor Richmond and her team studied 188 Australians who had made it to 100, and found that maintaining social networks, keeping physically and mentally active, and being open to change were common traits.

“About 20 to 30 per cent of the likelihood of living to 100 is because of your genes. But that leaves 70 to 80 per cent up to environmental factors,” Professor Richmond said.

“The major finding of this study is the impact of personality.”

Sounds a little dubious to me, but what do I know?

Wednesday, May 05, 2010

Plenty more where they came from

There are many photos of lakes and mountains on my hard drive that I am yet to post here, and I may just keep doing it until someone says something nice about any of my photos.

Much trickier than a cat up a tree

Unlucky for some

Are You Living in a Former Meth Lab?

According to this article in Discover, living in a house that used to be a methamphetamine lab is decidedly unhealthy:
The chemicals used in methamphetamine production are highly toxic and can include not only pseudoephenadrine—the main ingredient in meth and active ingredient in decongestants—but also 32 other precursor chemicals. These include acetone, the active ingredient in nail polish remover, and phosphine, a widely used insecticide.

Home-cooking meth spreads toxins to every inch of the room where the meth was cooked and beyond. Nothing escapes contamination—the carpet, walls, furniture, drapes, air ducts, even the air itself becomes toxic. "Ingesting some of these chemicals, even a tiny drop, can cause immediate death," said Smith.

There are specialist meth lab clean up businesses in America:
In dealing with toxic chemicals, most meth lab clean-up crews follow general guidelines. In the room where the meth was made, they scrub all surfaces, repaint the walls, replace the carpets and air filters, and air out the property. However, there are no national standards for meth lab cleanups—regulations differ from state to state. And in some states, getting a license to decontaminate a house is as easy as taking a few hours of class and a written test. "There are some bad certification methods out there. You could be a pizza delivery guy, study for a month, pay $250 and be certified," said Joe Mazzuca, a methamphetamine contamination expert and CEO of Meth Lab Cleanup, a nationwide meth-lab-specific cleanup company based in Boise, Idaho.
Finally, guess the State which is the meth lab capital of the world:
And although meth houses are more concentrated in certain states—Missouri is the meth capitol of the world, with 1,471 labs discovered in 2008 alone—there are meth houses in all fifty states, and they can be found in posh towns.
What a distinction. And why Missouri?

Revkin doesn't care for "clean coal" either

Coal Sans CO2: Appealing Pipe Dream - Dot Earth Blog -

I see Andrew Revkin thinks CO2 capture from coal is a pipe dream, literally:
Overall, I have yet to see anyone rebut the simple calculations of Vaclav Smil, the resource and risk polymath at the University of Manitoba, who has shown how capturing and processing just a small percentage of today’s CO2 from coal combustion would require as much pipeline and other infrastructure as is now used globally to get oil — a costly commodity — out of the ground. Imagine the price required on carbon to make that doable beyond boutique scale.