Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Feeling sleepy

Banishing consciousness: the mystery of anaesthesia - health - 29 November 2011 - New Scientist

I'm not sure how long New Scientists keeps its free articles available for now, but this one, about recent research into trying to work out how anaesthetics work, is pretty interesting.

Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Back to Schmittner

RealClimate: Ice age constraints on climate sensitivity

Real Climate has a long and fairly technical look at the Schmittner paper, and also concludes that there is reason to think its estimate of climate sensitivity, although within the ballpark of current "best estimate" anyway, may be on the low side.

But the bit I wanted to note here was about the poor reporting of the paper, which I think occurred just about everywhere. Even The Economist called its report "Good News at Last?", which is kind of a meaningless statement unless you are prepared to address the question "compared to what?"

Anyway, as Real Climate points out, part of the problem was really with the press release itself, and some fairly careless comments by some of the authors, who surely have to be more cautious about "sceptics" taking quotes out of context:

Unfortunately, the media coverage has not been very good. Partly, this is related to some ambiguous statements by the authors, and partly because media discussions of climate sensitivity have a history of being poorly done. The dominant frame was set by the press release which made a point of suggesting that this result made “extreme predictions” unlikely. This is fair enough, but had already been clear from the previous work discussed above. This was transformed into “Climate sensitivity was ‘overestimated’” by the BBC (not really a valid statement about the state of the science), compounded by the quote that Andreas Schmittner gave that “this implies that the effect of CO2 on climate is less than previously thought”. Who had previously thought what was left to the readers’ imagination. Indeed, the latter quote also prompted the predictably loony IBD editorial board to declare that this result proves that climate science is a fraud (though this is not Schmittner’s fault – they conclude the same thing every other Tuesday).

The Schmittner et al. analysis marks the insensitive end of the spectrum of climate sensitivity estimates based on LGM data, in large measure because it used a data set and a weighting that may well be biased toward insufficient cooling. Unfortunately, in reporting new scientific studies a common fallacy is to implicitly assume a new study is automatically “better” than previous work and supersedes this. In this case one can’t blame the media, since the authors’ press release cites Schmittner saying that “the effect of CO2 on climate is less than previously thought”. It would have been more appropriate to say something like “our estimate of the effect is less than many previous estimates”.
Well, it's hard to see how that last suggestion would have made that much difference, but still, it seems to me the authors could have been more careful.

The Junior Justice League

Babies embrace punishment earlier than previously thought

"We find that, by eight months, babies have developed nuanced views of reciprocity and can conduct these complex social evaluations much earlier than previously thought," says lead author Prof. Kiley Hamlin, UBC Dept of Psychology.

"This study helps to answer questions that have puzzled evolutionary psychologists for decades," says Hamlin. "Namely, how have we survived as intensely social creatures if our sociability makes us vulnerable to being cheated and exploited? These findings suggest that, from as early as eight months, we are watching for people who might put us in danger and prefer to see regulated."

For the study, researchers presented six scenarios to 100 babies using animal hand puppets. After watching puppets act negatively or positively towards other characters, the babies were shown puppets either giving or taking toys from these "good" or "bad" puppets. When prompted to choose their favorite characters, babies preferred puppets that punished the bad characters from the original scene compared to those that treated them nicely.

The researchers also examined how older infants would themselves treat good and bad puppets. They tested 64 babies aged 21 months, who were asked to give a treat to, or take a treat away from one of two puppets – one who had previously helped another puppet, and another who had harmed the other puppet. These older physically took treats away from the "bad" puppets, and gave treats to the "good" ones.

More physics

Four reasons why the quantum vacuum may explain dark matter

I'm pretty sure I had a post when the idea covered in this article first came up, but it's worth revisiting.

Monday, November 28, 2011

Super battery possible

Battery electrode's 40,000 charge cycles look promising for grid storage

Apparently, lithium ion batteries are only good for 1,000 recharge cycles, although surely that can't include partial recharges? Anyway, it would appear that batteries capable of a lot more are possible. Good.

Sunday, November 27, 2011

About that climate sensitivity paper

Apart from the "Climategate 2" emails, about which it is really only climate change denying skeptics who are managing much excitement by taking out of context quotes to match their confirmation bias, the big news in climate science is the Schmittner paper which gives a new, lower range of climate sensitivity based on what happened during the last ice age.

Here are three sources of commentary that show why the paper is definitely not the end of concern about climate change.

* James Annan, whose own work also argues against the possibility of really high climate sensitivity, still suspects that the sensitivity indicated by this paper may be an underestimate.

* Skeptical Science has an excellent article on the paper, and notes (as have some others around the place) that the "glass half empty" way of looking at it is that even if it shows lower temperature sensitivity, it can be taken to mean that modest changes in CO2 seem to be capable of making dramatic climate changes on land:

...Schmittner et al. have assumed that the difference between a glacial maximum and interglacial temperature is a mere 2.6°C.  The global average surface temperature has already warmed 0.8°C over the past century.  During the LGM, the surface was covered with huge ice sheets, plant life was different, and sea levels were 120 meters lower. As Schmittner notes:
"Very small changes in temperature cause huge changes in certain regions, so even if we get a smaller temperature rise than we expected, the knock-on effects would still be severe."
*  One of the co-authors gives a detailed interview at Planet 3, and if very specific about saying that they do not feel they have "proved" that really high climate sensitivity outcomes are not possible. 

Yet more Waugh stories

My life as a Waugh | Life and style | The Guardian

The Waugh family seems to be a never ending source of anecdote about odd literary characters of the 20th century, and here we have another example, with an interesting interview with one of Evelyn Waugh's nephews.

It's mostly about Evelyn's older brother Alec, but we do get this snippet about the famously cranky uncle:

When he was nine, Peter was introduced to Evelyn. It is a vivid memory. His uncle sat behind an enormous desk in his library. "Bring him in," Evelyn called, and Peter was ushered into the room by Evelyn's wife, Laura. "Turn him round." Peter was spun round. "Take him away," Evelyn barked.

"Can you imagine an uncle saying that to you?" says Peter. "Talk about intimidation."

The terrified boy fell in love with his Aunt Laura. "I thought Evelyn Waugh was an ogre and I was going to rescue her," he says. "I did see him being very funny, but Evelyn was cruel. My sister once asked about the pre-Raphaelites and he said, 'Do you know anything about painting?' and she was only a young girl and didn't, and he said, 'Well, I won't bother then.'"

It's not as good as the eating all of the rationed bananas in front of his children, but still.

Friday, November 25, 2011

Tony Abbott...

is not having a good end of year celebration. See Dodopathy for details.

Gotta be careful

A report at the BBC notes that accidental 'slow' overdoses of paracetamol are not so uncommon.

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

An interesting medical issue

"The Walking Dead" characters mistakenly think the morning after pill causes abortion. Do the writers?

I wasn't aware that there was a debate about how the "morning after" pill works, but apparently there is:
Morning-after pills are not abortion. You can't even get abortion pills from a typical pharmacy, since RU-486, the actual abortion pill, is dispensed mainly at doctor's offices. Morning-after pills are contraception, and they work by stifling ovulation before any sperm can make their way toward the Fallopian tubes. Anti-choicers claim they work by preventing fertilized eggs from implanting, but there is no scientific evidence for this claim, and strong evidence against it. But even if you mistakenly believe this is how emergency contraception works, that still has no bearing on pregnancies that have already begun and show up on pregnancy tests, as portrayed on this show. She might as well have been sucking down candy cigarettes in hopes of causing an abortion.
That link leads to this abstract:
A major barrier to the widespread acceptability and use of emergency contraception (EC) are concerns regarding the mechanisms of action of EC methods. Today, levonorgestrel (LNG) in a single dose of 1.5 mg taken within 120 h of an unprotected intercourse is the most widely used EC method worldwide. It has been demonstrated that LNG-EC acts through an effect on follicular development to delay or inhibit ovulation but has no effect once luteinizing hormone has started to increase. Thereafter, LNG-EC cannot prevent ovulation and it does not prevent fertilization or affect the human fallopian tube. LNG-EC has no effect on endometrial development or function. In an in vitro model, it was demonstrated that LNG did not interfere with blastocyst function or implantation.

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

A way to increase use of public transport

Gosh:  if only government or Councils would pay for such performances to take place on random trains each day, patronage could increase quite a bit.

While we're in a happy video mood, you should also go watch the one from last year featuring the Hallelujah Chorus as done in a small Alaskan village.  It's very charming, and gives a bit of an idea of what it's like living in that remote part of the world. 

Both of these came from Happy Catholic, who does indeed seem to always be happy.

A long history of inaction

The history of American health-care reform : The New Yorker

I was arguing yesterday at another blog about how the Tea Partiers calling health care reform in the US "socialism" really drove me nuts, and showed that they were stupidly tribalistic.

I didn't realise initially that the history of calling it socialism was so old in the US, and that attempts have been made for a century now to get \universal health insurance going. The above article provides some details, and people should also read the Wikipedia article on Ronald Reagan's 10 minute 1961 recording on the e-vils of socialised medicine.

Monday, November 21, 2011

That's odd

Weatherwatch: Puzzling phenomena of sky battles | News | The Guardian

I've long liked reading about historical mysteries, but I can't say I have heard of these before:

Perhaps the most puzzling of meteorological phenomena were the battles in the sky which were reported right up until the 19th century in many European countries, including England.

In September 1654, for example, soldiers in Hull witnessed a great battle between two armies of cavalry and infantry in the air. Formations of pikemen repeatedly charged each other; the battle ended when a third army appeared and scattered the others with cannon fire and musketry. Another such battle was seen in Hull in October 1658, and witnesses even reported the smell of gunpowder.

Sometimes whole villages or towns witnessed sky battles, including respectable citizens.
The article, which is rather short, then just says that most commentators believe these to be re-workings of storms, clouds or the northern lights. Sure sounds rather active imaginations in those days, though.

Past unhappiness

Very naughty boy

I see from this short interview with the seemingly calm and happy Alan Davies that he has had some difficult issues in his life. One hopes his current state of contentment continues.

Sunday, November 20, 2011

Cotton shorts thoughts

For the last year or so, nearly every weekend when I am putting on shorts (as one usually does in Brisbane, even during winter,) I think about the longevity of cotton clothes.  I'm not sure of the age of the three pairs of shorts between which I alternate, but I would guess 8 years.  They still fit, but two of them have developed holes in the pockets in which I keep my keys, and I have been meaning to shop for some new ones for a long time.  As for style, let's face it:  provided you buy mens' cotton casual shorts that are of roughly knee length and moderately heavy fabric, fashions in this part of one's attire tend not to change rapidly.  And given the ridiculous hardiness of cotton, it tends to be either an expanding waste line, the fading colour of the cotton, or pocket holes, that provide the urge to replace them; not any lack of integrity in the material itself.

Thinking about cotton's durability made me realise I knew nothing of the history of cotton clothes.  Let's Google around and see what we can see.

Starting at Wikipedia's "History of Cotton" entry (perhaps written by someone else with long lasting shorts?):
The history of the domestication of cotton is very complex and is not known exactly.[1] Several isolated civilizations independently domesticated and converted cotton into fabric.

It goes on to mention cotton being spun in the Indus Valley since at least 3500 BC, although it would seem likely it was being done in Mexico and South America even earlier than that.  Getting closer to properly recorded history, it notes:
Herodotus, an ancient Greek historian, mentions Indian cotton in the 5th century BCE as "a wool exceeding in beauty and goodness that of sheep." When Alexander the Great invaded India, his troops started wearing cotton clothes that were more comfortable than their previous woolen ones.[5] Strabo, another Greek historian, mentioned the vividness of Indian fabrics, and Arrian told of Indian–Arab trade of cotton fabrics in 130 CE.[6]

But a more detailed explanation of cotton in pre-history is to be found at some other websites.  One site notes, for example, that the oldest cotton cloth found was from Mexico and dates from 5000 BC.  It also says the Egyptian use goes back to 3000 BC.

Another site which mentions cotton talks about the invention of weaving and clothes in a broader context.  It's been around for a long, long time:
We have no direct evidence for the antiquity of clothing, but a researcher named Mark Stoneking recently identified variation in different species of human hair and body lice that he argues indicate clothing came into use among Homo sapiens around 70 Kya (= thousands of years ago).
The oldest evidence for weaving is around 25 Kya, from a site called Dolni Vestonice, in the Czech Republic.  This evidence takes the form of impressions of woven fabric left on clay artifacts that were later fired and preserved.  It is almost certainly the case that fiber-based clothing is much older than this, but tropical environments do not usually preserve such organic remains.

Oldest evidence of cotton and weaving are both fairly young, from Neolithic contexts in the Near East, after 10 Kya.  Again, it is almost certainly the case that both the use of cotton and weaving are much older than this.
Sadly, this whole topic is one of those archaeological "blind spots" where we can give only very qualified answers.

So, at least 10,000 years of cotton pants (or their equivalent)?   If you want to go further into a time line of clothes generally, you can always look at the Wikipedia  Timeline of clothing and textiles technology.   One unusual thing that caught my eye:
c. 3000 BC – Breeding of domesticated sheep with a wooly fleece rather than hair in the Near East.[2]

What?  Sheep used to just have hair?  Do any of those survive?  I must follow that link another day...

Anyway, we know now that cotton clothes were a hit with the Europeans when they saw it.  But move forward a bit, and there's a good essay on line about the question of how popular cotton was in the medieval and renaissance period.   Apparently, there was some confusion about the exact nature of the fibre:
In Medieval times, cotton was incorrectly identified as a type of wool by Europeans. It had been described by Theophrastus (306 B.C.), the disciple of Aristotle, as a wool-bearing tree with a pod the size of a spring apple, and leaves like those of the black mulberry. To further complicate matters, John Mandeville (pseudonym), in 1350, wrote an account of seeing Scythian Lambs: "There grew there India a wonderful tree which bore tiny lambs on the endes of its branches. These branches were so pliable that they bent down to allow the lambs to feed when they are hungrie". Late Medieval authors located the tree-lamb in the region of Tatary beyond the Volga (Mongolia). This book, originally written in French, was very popular and was translated into most European languages. The blending of these 2 "facts" was largely responsible for the medieval understanding of "cotton".

The essay includes this cute diagram, presumably from the book, showing the tree lambs:

Cute, in a weird medieval way.

The essay then gives a short history of the spread of cotton through much of Europe (not counting Spain, which was an early user due to their Arab invasion):
Cotton was first "officially" introduced to Europe after the First crusade. Italy was the first Christian nation to understand the significance of cotton, and began marketing it from the 12th century onwards. As a luxury fabric, Germany's earliest record of cotton products was in 1282 as overland transportation from Venice. France began to demand cotton after it appeared at the Champagne Fairs, the first record of sale was from 1376. From those fairs, it spread to England, but in such small quantities, that it was not well known until after the defeat of the Spanish Armada in 1588, and English merchant ships reached the Levant. And even then, it was heavily opposed by the wool guilds and traders until cotton overtook wool in popularity in the mid 18th century.

I guess this helps to explain the Italian reputation in fashion - they recognised the benefit of cotton ahead of the rest of Europe.

The European cotton industry also appears to have advanced due to a bit of dirty work undertaken by a Catholic priest:
Indian master craftspeople and dyers had for centuries kept the secret of how to create colourful patterns. But some converted to Christianity and were betrayed by a French Catholic priest, Father Coeurdoux, in an early act of industrial espionage. Although sworn to secrecy, he published a step-by-step guide in France. The European textile industry got a leg up.
Father Coeurdoux gets a brief mention in Wikipedia in the entry on chintz.  I didn't really know what that was, but you can go and check it out yourself if, like me, you are vague on fabric terms.  (Interestingly, it was so popular that its import into England and France was banned for a long time to protect the fabric industry in those countries.  Hence the intense interest in exactly how the Indians were making it.)

There is slightly more detail about Father Coeurdoux to be found in this extract from a book Cotton: The Biography of a Revolutionary Fibre (I had to take a screenshot):

Surprisingly, it seems cotton was even important in improving lighting (this is from the medieval essay which is linked to before):

Lighting took a revolutionary turn with the advent of using cotton wicks with wax and tallow candles. First recorded in the 13th century, Arboreum cotton was spun to a thick thread that would then be used to dip into waxes to create candles with better burning and lighting properties. Before this time, candles would have used a bark, wood sliver, or sinew wick, and would have produced a smoky, weak flame. Still, candles made of wax and cotton wicks were expensive, and at first, were used by the church and wealthy. However, by the 16th century, cotton wicks seem to have become the standard, with edicts issued in most Italian towns for the mandatory use of cotton with wax for candles.
What wasn't cotten good for?

Anyway, the point of this ramble was to find out that cotton has been around for a very long time indeed, but I wonder:  how long did (say) cotton togas last 2,000 years ago.  I suppose you have to take into account washing methods, which leads me to this interesting pamphlet:  "How did we Improve our Washing Methods Since Prehistory".   It notes that the Greeks just washed clothes in water, but the Romans washed in large ancient laundromats (as it were) involving trampling on clothes in vats, and used this technique for keeping whites white:
Detergents were used, such as the creta fullonica (fuller’s earth), that was stored in small bowls. It helped remove the grease and enhanced the colours. Urine, collected in public urinals, was used for bleaching, and so was sulphur, which was burned under wooden frames over which the cloth was suspended.
It's hard to imagine how well urine soaked and sulphur smoked clothes could have ended up smelling, but I guess it depends on how well the rinsing process worked.   A more detailed description of the Roman method of urine washing can be found here.

[Incidentally, the urine was collected from public urinal pots, into which the public could empty their chamber pots.  I suppose that it's a bit better than just throwing it onto the streets from your apartment, which is what I remember being told was the practice in Edinburgh (and no doubt many other European cities) centuries later.] 

In any event, I would assume modern washing methods, particularly using the front loading washing machine and the relatively gentle tumbling way they way, is going to make your average bit of cotton cloth last a lot longer than your average toga.

I think we've all learnt something today, including the key result that my shorts could potentially last another 7,000 years or so.

What should I look into next?  Underwear?

Friday, November 18, 2011

Attribution wars

We're going through another outbreak of the Attribution Wars, with a BBC report of a draft IPPC report that apparently seems to take a cautious approach to attribution of recent extreme weather to AGW.   The Guardian, on the other hand, looks at the glass half empty side of the report, for a completely different take.

As for new papers on the issue, James Hansen has a new "manuscript" out which deals with statistical increases in extreme heat.  John Neilson-Gammon thinks it does not always put things in the best way, and refers to his own analysis of the recent Texas heat wave and drought that (more or less) argued that climate change made a severe drought that would have come anyway extraordinarily severe.

But the Hansen paper contains a clear statement in support of a hunch I expressed quite a while ago - that the extreme weather attribution statements coming out of NOAA over the last year or two seemed to be leaping too quickly into a "no connection with AGW" conclusion.  As Hansen writes:

People who deny the global warming cause of these extreme events usually offer instead a meteorological "explanation". For example, it is said that the Moscow heat wave was caused by an atmospheric "blocking" situation, or the Texas heat wave was caused by La Nina ocean temperature patterns. Of course the locations of the extreme anomalies in any given season are determined by the specific weather patterns. However, blocking patterns and La Ninas have always been common, yet the large areas of extreme warming have come into existence only with large global warming. Today's extreme anomalies occur because of simultaneous contributions of specific weather patterns and global warming. For example, places experiencing an extended period of high atmospheric pressure will tend to develop drought conditions that are amplified by the ubiquitous warming effect of elevated greenhouse gas amounts
One other paper that I have not seen noted anywhere much on the internet or media.  A study noted at AGW Observer blog concludes this about the Australian recent drought:

In the context of the rainfall estimates introduced here, there is a 97.1% probability that the decadal rainfall anomaly recorded during the 1998–2008 ‘Big Dry’ is the worst experienced since the first European settlement of Australia.
That seems a pretty significant finding.

On the attribution issue generally, I still think that Michael Tobis' "black swan" argument is pretty convincing. 

Thursday, November 17, 2011

Technology aiding stupidity (again)

'Pox Parties' in the Age of Facebook -

So-called pox parties, where parents would arrange play dates with infected children, were practiced before the introduction of the varicella, or chickenpox, vaccine in 1995. Now some parents are turning to Facebook and other social media sites, using the Internet to facilitate the exposure of their children to chickenpox and other diseases like measles, mumps and rubella. The parents say they would rather their children acquire these diseases and develop natural immunity than run the risk of vaccine side effects.

On Facebook the groups go by names like “Chicken Pox Party Line” and “Find a Pox Party.” As one group notes on its Facebook page, “Consider this your ‘registry’ so that if any other members have an infected kid, you’ll be notified and have the option of setting up a pox playdate.”

Not only that, but licked lollipops have been offered for sale too:

The offer – for lollipops infected with chickenpox virus – appeared on Facebook last month and quickly circulated among parents who oppose vaccinating their children against diseases....

“I think it’s an incredibly bad idea, whether you’re getting it from a lollipop or somewhere else,” said Dr. Rafael Harpaz, a medical epidemiologist at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. “Chickenpox can cause severe disease and death. Before the vaccine was available, we were approaching 100 children who died every year in the United States. You’re basically playing a game of Russian roulette.”

This month, law enforcement officials began clamping down. Jerry E. Martin, the United States attorney in Nashville, where the tainted lollipops were advertised at $50 for overnight delivery, issued a warning last week that sending infected items “through the flow of commerce” was a federal crime, punishable by up to 20 years in jail.

Magnets and brains (again)

‘Magnets’ help stroke patients speak (Science Alert)

Research at the University of Queensland seems pretty advanced on the topic of magnetic brain stimulation:

Dr Caroline Barwood, who recently completed her PhD at UQ's School of Health and Rehabilitation Sciences, conducted the research and found significant improvement in the language skills of stroke patients after they underwent Transcranial Magnetic Stimulation (TMS).

TMS is a non-invasive method that seeks to target brain activity, with the intention to facilitate the reorganisation of brain regions with the purpose to alter language behaviours.

The treatment involves placing a coil on the head of the participant which uses electromagnetic induction to induce weak electric currents through a changing magnetic field.

Twelve patients who experienced strokes between one and six years prior to the study were recruited for participation and treated at the UQ Centre for Neurogenic Communication Disorders Research.

“Eighty percent of patients who were treated with TMS showed improvements in language skills, most notably in expressive language, which includes naming, repetition, and discourse. No language improvements were seen for those patients treated with placebo TMS,” Dr Barwood said.
This sounds consistent with a story from Italy I posted about last year concerning similar research from Italy, but with Alzheimers

There was also a story I am sure I blogged about on some research about (what I think was) similar stimulation for general learning improvement, but I am having trouble tracking that one down. I'll look again later.

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Start waving goodbye to Dennis Moore

With Herman Cain staggering towards the exit door for wannabe Presidents (honestly, it gives me pleasure to read each morning of the latest stumbles of a Tea Party favourite,) the only downside I see is that no one will get to call him "America's own Dennis Moore" due to his pretty spectacularly regressive tax plan.

So let me take the opportunity to do so by posting the entire Dennis Moore saga from Youtube.  It's been a long, long time since I have seen this, and I had forgotten how good it was.  (About the only thing I had remembered was the Cain appropriate line which occurs at the 8.15 mark.)

Sunday, November 13, 2011

Friday, November 11, 2011

Old LA

LILEKS (James) :: The Bleat

James Lileks has been in Los Angeles and has an interesting post full of photos of the impressive looking, but now unused, grand cinemas of the past in the old centre of town. It is still a seedy sort of area, apparently, but at least the ornate, if slowly decaying, architecture is of interest.

Probably just too many drugs

Philip K. Dick's Exegesis: An Excerpt on Losing Touch With Reality

I'm not the world's biggest Philip K Dick fan: I have enjoyed maybe 5 novels, but started one or two others and found them un-engaging. I don't think he was that great at the short story, either.

I did like the VALIS trilogy, though, with its teasing sense of something important about the universe that might be being revealed if only all these threads could be pulled together. (They never were, really, from what I recall.) I also had read before that Dick had keep lots of notes about his quasi mystical experience that inspired the novels, and called it his Exegesis.

It seems someone has collected all this stuff together and published it, and there is a short extract in the Slate article linked above.

While it would be nice to think that Dick did genuinely have a strange, mystical experience with an other worldly intelligence, and perhaps was getting messages from the dead bishop, the extract still indicates what I decided long ago: no, it's almost certainly just a case of too many drugs.

Dangerous librarianship

Marie Curie: Why her papers are still radioactive -

Many library collections use special equipment, such as special gloves and climate-controlled rooms, to protect the archival materials from the visitor. For the Pierre and Marie Curie collection at France's Bibliotheque National, it's the other way around.

That's because after more than 100 years, much of Marie Curie's stuff – her papers, her furniture, even her cookbooks – are still radioactive. Those who wish to open the lead-lined boxes containing her manuscripts must do so in protective clothing, and only after signing a waiver of liability.


Thursday, November 10, 2011

Good news re fuel efficiency

BBC News - Plane makers switch to cleaner engines

Airbus and Boeing are in a dogfight (ha ha) over whose new engines are more efficient.

Of course, I would like to see superconducting electric engines some day.

Wednesday, November 09, 2011

Taking on Curry

The Real Problem with the Global Warming “Debate” | Open Mind

Tamino is really annoyed with Judith Curry's inaccurate claims which she then refuses to retract or justify.

She is not to be trusted.

I also see that there is something fairly bizarre going on at Curry's blog at the moment.  She gave a "guest post" to the authors of a couple of skeptic papers that appear (if my quick scan is right) to argue all 20th century warming is really just a natural fluctuation.   Richard Tol has ripped into Curry, saying these are bad papers and she is spreading "disinformation".   Curry has a long post arguing about what is "disinformation" and "pseudo critical thinking" and then gives Tol a guest post in which he shows why the papers are bad.  She seems to be claiming that she just put the papers up for discussion, and people shouldn't assume that she thinks they are good papers.

Her credibility would take a hit over this, if it weren't for the fact that it's long only been the slightly less rabid escapees from Watts Up With That who think she makes sense in her rambling attempt to cast herself as some sort of "middle man" of reasonable skepticism. 

Tuesday, November 08, 2011

You say hello, and I say goodbye...

As few people seem to visit the sister site for advanced immaturity, I'll replicate it's visual commentary on Herman Cain:

Yes, how sad.  A man with no actual political experience who had a tax plan that benefited the rich at this time of increasing concern about wealth and income disparity in his country, made really ignorant sounding and simplistic statements about how to conduct foreign policy, was denying the significance of the biggest long term environmental issue ever, and made very ostentatious displays of the significance of his faith, has come to grief over women (and men) saying he has a history of conducting himself inappropriately around women. 

Yes, everyone knows Democrats have got away with much worse in their private lives, but everyone should also know that if you're going to run with being a really seriously religious guy, and sing Gospel spirituals at the drop of a hat, a pattern of sleazy conduct in the past is likely to bite you hard.   Unless, I guess, you're going to play the role of the repentant sinner; but Herman is not having any of that.

The fact that he thought these would not come back to hurt him just shows his poor judgement.  But as I say, it's not as if that wasn't already obvious from his actual policy positions.   That Tea Partiers were smitten with him just shows what a hopeless bunch they are.

Drying out

Food dehydrators for home kitchens. - Slate Magazine

Wow. Slate has a whole article about adventures you can have dehydrating food.

For some reason, having a food dehydrator has always appealed to me. But then, there was an episode of Friends in which a weird young man who was staying with one of the characters and had a food drying obsession.  Do Hollywood scriptwriters know that it is a sing of potential mental instability?  

More importantly, my wife cannot imagine why anyone would be interested in doing this.  (It could partly be from my reading a bit about survivalists in the 1980's and how making beef jerky is a good idea if you expect the world to end soon.  Which I don't, but if the government told us that an asteroid was only a week away from hitting, I might be happy to have a bag of beef jerky in the cupboard.)  Maybe I need a man shed in the backyard, where I can secretly spend my time processing food.   (shh)
Anyway, maybe it is how I will spend my retirement. 

Monday, November 07, 2011

A welcome return

Bryan Appleyard - Thought Experiments

I'm happy to note that Bryan Appleyard seems to have finished a new book and returned to blogging. Yay. Now stick around, Bryan. Don't go wandering off again.

The mess remains

Cleaning up Japan’s nuclear mess: The twilight zone | The Economist

The Economist publicises the dubious ways that TEPCO, the Japanese utility company, is going about cleaning up its Fukushima reactors.

It notes that 89,000 people have been displaced. I am not sure if some proportion of those are from towns that are capable of cleaning, or not.

Featuring hardly any swearing at all

Martin Scorsese’s Magical ‘Hugo’ -

It's hard to imagine, but Scorsese has made a kid's 3D fantasy film.

Bring back Rex

BBC News - Aardman threatens overseas move

Wallace and Gromit maker Aardman's head of TV has said the company may have to halt UK production of its famed stop-frame animations because it has become too expensive.
According to the report, Shaun the Sheep is the big international hit for Aardman.

Personally, I would much prefer the return of the surreal adventures of Rex the Runt. Speaking of which when you follow the first Google link for a search "rex the runt Aardman" you get to this error page, which is somewhat amusing it's own right. Then follow the link to "Aardman characters" and (apart from Rex), I see there is one for "The Adventures of Jeffrey, the Aussie with no cossie" (!) It does indeed go to some very adult oriented cartoons of a nude Australian character doing strange things in the bush. A somewhat surprising find under the umbrella of the company.

Sunday, November 06, 2011

A hopping education

The relatively recent surge in popularity of boutique beers has meant I have had to pay a bit more attention to what I like and don’t like in that beverage.    Previously, this didn’t seem important, if it was just a matter of choosing between one of the major brands on sale at the local liquor barn.

One brand I have never liked is XXXX Bitter.   At first, you could put this down to the common tendency of a youthful palette towards sweeter drinks.   I hardly drank any beer in my first alcohol drinking days, but if I tried any, I found I particularly disliked XXXX Bitter.

Later, I found some of the Toohey’s range more to my taste.    Speaking of which, it’s hard not to be impressed with the apparent effort put into the Extra Dry commercial:

I see there is a video out about how they made it.  Interesting:

Anyway, back to beers generally.

A bar which I’ve been going to at West End lately has a huge range of boutique beers available, and recently for some reason they have been pushing Indian Pale Ales.  I find these undrinkably bitter, and they reminded me that it was an unusual degree of bitter aftertaste that used to put me off XXXX Bitter.  Although I had a vague idea that it was hops that were used as a bittering agent, I’ve had a look around on the internet to confirm this is indeed true.

Good old wikipedia notes that hops have been used in beer since the 11th century.  Before that:

…..brewers used a wide variety of bitter herbs and flowers, including dandelion, burdock root, marigold, horehound (the German name for horehound means "mountain hops"), ground ivy, and heather.

People in the old days experimented an awful lot with dubious sounding plants and weed, didn’t they?  Interestingly, hops came to be favoured as they helped beer keep better:
Hops are used extensively in brewing for their many purported benefits, including balancing the sweetness of the malt with bitterness, contributing a variety of desirable flavors and aromas, and having an antibiotic effect that favors the activity of brewer's yeast over less desirable microorganisms. Historically, it is believed that traditional herb combinations for ales were abandoned when it was noticed that ales made with hops were less prone to spoilage.

Well, that’s a clever feature.

Anyway, intense hoppiness puts me off beer, and I’ve decided I’m particularly fond of the lightly hopped white ales, especially those with the added spice and orange peel flavours.

White Rabbit White Ale is very good, and is on tap at Archives (the West End bar I referred to above.)    (White Rabbit Dark Ale is also very nice.)   But the ridiculously knowable bar staff  last week ago recommended Holgate White Ale (in the bottle) and it was excellent too.    This week, they had a (very expensive)  white ale from Japan, of all places, and although it wasn’t bad,  it wasn’t worth the price.    I also tried Whale Ale from Port Stephens, a wheat beer but none of the added spice or citrus, so it was nothing to write home about.  Nice label, though, from a brewery that seems to specialise in novelty labels.

The first white or wheat beer I tried (some years ago now) was Hoegarrden at the Belgium Beer Cafe in Brisbane.  It’s delicious, but now these Australian small breweries are doing this in equal quality.  I really the Belgium Beer Cafe, but I am pretty rarely in the city to partake of its pleasures.

Beer with spice and citrus flavours  seems more medieval and interesting than your regular lager or other stuff. 

But amongst your more routine beers, I have taken to Rogers Beer.  A very easy drink.

It’s always good to have a new interest….

Saturday, November 05, 2011

Tintinitis may be incurable…

Unbelievably, The Guardian has a 7th bit of commentary on the Tintin movie, this time in an Arts blog by someone who hasn’t seen the film, and who won’t after “those reviews”.  (Actually, all  he means is “the Guardian’s reviews.)

I starting to think the paper is deliberately trying to provoke outcries of exasperation about this apparent obsession, because they are wittier and more interesting than the movie commentary itself.   Some examples from this latest piece:

I am getting a bit annoyed at the lack of coverage of the new Tintin film.


It's a new mandate, every writer at the paper must write, and negatively, about the film. This will lead all the way up to Christmas, as a sort of advent calendar. We have fifty more of these to go, and on Christmas Day we'll get a positive review from Santa.


So, the publicist of Tintin REALLY pissed off the Guardian didn't he/she? They must have had a shit in the office coffee or something to warrant all the Tintin hatred.


Is Tintin, like, the Guardian's Muhammad?


After how many articles do we class this as officially taking the piss?

Friday, November 04, 2011

Work for peanuts, too

BBC NEWS | Special Reports | Monkeys work in Japanese restaurant

You really ought to see the video at the link, and then imagine the reaction such innovative business practices would get from health inspectors in Australia (or, to be fair, virtually any other country apart from Japan.)

Well, that's inconvenient..

The Easy Fix That Isn't: White Roofs May Increase Global Warming | Climate Central

Thursday, November 03, 2011

Get a grip

Look, I know that Julian Assange likes playing the martyr almost as much as Andrew Bolt, but I really don’t get the media attention around him.  His group has already fractured and has run out of money and is doing nothing new any time soon.   Foreign Correspondent a month ago had 30 minutes of damaging material about him and how he was rapidly becoming irrelevant.   Any new leaker of secrets isn’t going to pick him to do the job any time soon, even if he has a new way to deliver material.

So why does the media give so much coverage to the guy?  Last night on Lateline there seemed to be a tedious 15 minutes devoted to his extradition via an interview with another media tart Geoffrey Robertson.  Move on, fellas.

Wednesday, November 02, 2011

Mixed emotions, with added Tintinitis

The Season of Spielberg -

Akk! My favourite director is posing with my least favourite animal in the lead photo in the above generous article on Steven Spielberg's sudden burst of activity. (He has Tintin and War Horse both out this year, and is finally shooting his long-in-development Lincoln.)

As for War Horse, which was apparently a successful play in England (featuring horses?), an Australian horse trainer featured in an episode of Australian Story recently, and talked about working with Spielberg:
Steven Spielberg was a very difficult director to work for.
Cut! Cut! Wait a minute right there. This is the first time ever that I, a person who reads everything that ever crosses his path about Spielberg, has read something like this. In all honesty, he seems to one Hollywood juggernaut who has barely had a friendship go cool, let alone make an enemy. (The New York Times article notes that he is still working with the same editor since Close Encounters; John Williams is still scoring his films at age 79, and heaps of times he has worked with producers Kathleen Kennedy and Frank Marshall.) But this woman does work with horses, so I'll put it down to that. Anyway, it turns out not to be as bad as it might sound:

He has so much in his head, surely, at any one moment but he is a man of few words. One day, Steven took me aside and he briefed me, he said "You know this is a really important sequence in the movie, if this doesn’t come out just right, it’s make or break for the movie" And I was thinking "Could you put any more pressure on me?!" He said, "I want this horse excited. It’s got to be so excited!" To me an excited horse is a horse showing a lot of movement. So I bring the horse in, bring him in hard and fast and stop the horse and make him excited. Throw his head around, get him crazy. "Cut, cut, cut, cut!" OK. Let’s try that again. We must have tried it three or four times, I suppose, before Steven starts getting visually distressed. Steven yells out "Cut cut! It’s a disaster! It’s a complete disaster! " And I just sunk, died a thousand deaths and I thought 'This is the lowest point in my whole career.' Steven called me into his tent "Bring her here, bring her here". And he said "The horse must be happy, the horse must be happy". And I said "Do you mean affectionate? Do you want him to nuzzle? Do you want him to be gentle and warm?" And "Of course that’s what I want!" He said, "Yes, that’s what I want! Now go and do it!" And poor old Abraham had to go from this crazy excited behaviour that I thought Steven was asking for to this beautiful, gentle, soft, loving acting stuff - and he did really, really well and I was very proud of him. And it was a very scary day for Abraham and I....

At the end of the job and Steven threw his arms out for a big hug and he said "All of the love that you put into your animals has come out on screen, on my screen, and it will be there forever." It meant a lot to me, and to Craig too.
See: it all comes good in the end.

But still, this means I have to see a horse movie. I will if it gets good reviews.

As for Tintin, I meant to post last week about the highly amusing, if extremely strange, obsession The Guardian has had with publishing derogatory, high brow complaints about the film, which has garnered good reviews in England and America.  I thought it was probably old news by now, but instead, I find that The Guardian was at it again yesterday.

I do believe there have now been 6 (yes, count them, 6) different people dissing the film one way or another featured over the last fortnight on their website. The criticism has not just been in their Film section, but also  in Books and (I think) Culture sections, as if  the upset over what appears destined to be a big hit for a young-ish audience simply could not be contained. 

This obsession with being the one outlet determined to keep telling the public that the film is some kind of aesthetic outrage has not gone unnoticed by the site's readership, and the comments about the articles have become increasingly funny. For example, following an article yesterday which broadened the attack on Tintin to one on Spielberg generally:
A seriously bizarre vendetta against an enjoyable romp of a kid's flick.
Every day I think the Guardian must have got tired of attacking the Tintin film, only to find yet another article exploring just why it's so rubbish from a slightly different angle.
The film currently has an 85% approval rating on Rotten Tomatoes, so it's not really true that critics are hating it.
I've got no desire to see this film myself, but I've got to add to the chorus of confused voices: What IS the Guardian's problem with this film?

But I did like this one, perhaps after Anti-Tintin (movie version) rant Number 4, or was it 5?:

This is the second Grauniad article about Tintin I've read in the space of a week that disappears entirely up its own arsehole within the first three paragraphs. Is it possible, perhaps, to get someone who's actually going to talk about the content of the film rather than making thoroughly pretentious remarks about the aesthetical qualities of Herge's art? I mean seriously. I know this is in the books section, but Jesus H. Christ.
Or, to put it more simply:
The Guardian has a very weird vendetta against this movie.
But the true explanation for this is possibly here:

Nice middle-class children were always given TinTin to read by their parents as this made them feel they were doing somthing vaguely continental and therefore "sophisticated" ( This is the Seventies we're talking about, after all).
The Guardian is largely populated by those children who now feel Nasty Commercialism is besmirching their childhood dreams.
You'd get the same reaction at the Mail if George Lucas did a Famous Five movie.

Good landing

Plane carrying 230 people from US makes crash landing in Poland |

Good photo at the article of a big plane landing on its belly. Was it on the news this morning? I didn't see...

Lots of science

There seem to be an unusually large number of interesting science stories on today.

*  the most important one is buried as a one liner near the bottom.   The paper which I am sure I have noted before about  observational evidence for the laws of the universe not being the same across the universe has been published.  I see this is given more prominence at a Physics World blog, where it is noted that peer review having taken a year is an indication of how controversial the work is.

* urine for electricity?   Yes, make up your own “pee” jokes as you read about Microbial Fuel Cells which work well with the addition of fresh urine.  It would be nice if they would explain what size these MFCs are to produce useful electricity, but you have to admire the optimism:

Lead researcher Ioannis Ieropoulos said: "With an annual global production rate of trillions of litres, this is a technology that could help change the world. The impact from this could be enormous, not only for the wastewater treatment industry, but also for people as a paradigm shift in the way of thinking about waste."

* We'll be hearing more soon about a IPCC paper saying more extreme weather is on the way due to AGW.  Attribution of weather events being what it is, though, you get things like claims that the unusual snowstorm in the US is not climate change related; wait a few months and you will probably get another scientist who says it is.    This seems to have happened with the Russian heat wave, if I understand a new paper that is discussed at Real Climate recently.

There’s more, including sonic shock therapy to help with impotence, but I have run out of time.