Saturday, March 31, 2012

To be used how?

LG unveils flexible e-paper display
 LG has announced it has started mass production of its electronic paper display (EPD) product, with a planned launch in Europe next month.
What exactly do they intend doing by way of a different product with flexible e-paper, I wonder.   

A minor but amusing Bleat

For some reason, I particularly enjoyed James Lilek's most recent bleat, looking at a couple of old American advertising characters. (It's a bit surprising that these figures continue to exist in any format on modern packaging - I can't really think of any Australian equivalent. Well, except for Louie the Fly, I guess, but even he only appears on TV.)

For those with young daughters

Puberty Before Age 10 - A New ‘Normal’? -

I didn't care for the start of this long article (telling of a mother trying out a quake alternative medicine guy to see why her daughter is undergoing very early puberty,) but apart from that, it's a good explanation of the phenomena.

I didn't realise this:
Now most researchers seem to agree on one thing: Breast budding in girls is starting earlier. The debate has shifted to what this means. Puberty, in girls, involves three events: the growth of breasts, the growth of pubic hair and a first period. Typically the changes unfold in that order, and the proc­ess takes about two years. But the data show a confounding pattern. While studies have shown that the average age of breast budding has fallen significantly since the 1970s, the average age of first period, or menarche, has remained fairly constant, dropping to only 12.5 from 12.8 years. Why would puberty be starting earlier yet ending more or less at the same time? 

I also didn't know that the differences between racial groups was so distinct:
Then in August 2010, the conflict seemed to resolve. Well-respected researchers at three big institutions — Cincinnati Children’s Hospital, Kaiser Permanente of Northern California and Mount Sinai School of Medicine in New York — published another study in Pediatrics, finding that by age 7, 10 percent of white girls, 23 percent of black girls, 15 percent of Hispanic girls and 2 percent of Asian girls had started developing breasts.

Pretty remarkable, and it also seems very difficult to work out exactly what is going on.

Anyway, its good of the NYT to put such lengthy magazine articles up. It remains, to my mind, one of the most generous media sites around.

Thursday, March 29, 2012

The red knit cap explained

James Cameron’s deep-sea dive: What’s it feel like to go so deep underwater? - Slate Magazine

Director James Cameron successfully completed a 6.8-mile-deep dive to the most remote region of the ocean Sunday and was shown emerging from his submarine in a small knit cap. Jacques Cousteau’s red knit cap was a signature part of his look, which was aped by Bill Murray and his crew in the movie The Life Aquatic With Steve Zissou. Why do underwater explorers wear skullcaps?

Because it’s practically freezing down there. The water temperature at the bottom of the ocean usually hovers around 37 degrees Fahrenheit, and most deep-sea exploration vehicles don’t have climate control. Explorers tend to bring hats, gloves, long johns, and other warm layers, which they pull on as they descend and the temperature drops. Socks and caps are particularly important, as it’s coldest on the floor and ceiling of the submersible. Because of concerns over electrical fires, deep-sea explorers wear natural fibers like cotton and especially wool, which is fire retardant, instead of synthetic fabrics.

Deep-sea divers have been wearing skullcaps, also known as watch caps or seaman’s caps, since long before the adventures of Jacques Cousteau. He may have picked up the style from hard-hat divers—those 19th-century explorers who wore big copper helmets—who favored red knit caps for decades. The character of Steve Zissou in The Life Aquatic wore an identical cap in homage to Cousteau.

Taking apart the shuttles

Decommissioning the Space Shuttles - In Focus - The Atlantic

There are some eye-catching photos here of the process of decommissioning the space shuttles (and their facilities at NASA) in preparation for their future as museum exhibits.

Tuesday, March 27, 2012

Burning for attention

Self-immolation in India: Frighteningly common | The Economist

This talks about the increasing cases of self-immolation to make a political protest in India and Tibet.  A bit of a worry.  

Monday, March 26, 2012

News of note

* there was an election on Saturday in Queensland. Labor lost.

* some physicists have been working on what it would feel like on Earth if a primordial black hole passed through it. (There would be a bit of shaking, but the planet would go on.)

* I'm a bit busy...

Sunday, March 25, 2012

All possum

The friendly possum under the deck has been coming back a lot lately. He (or she) likes to be fed, and this photo came out looking like I was being threatened if I didn't hand over a grape:

And he or she is now a movie star:

Some more noisy eating can be seen here (and note how it seems to be left handed):

As usual, very cute.

Thursday, March 22, 2012

The last unconquered lands

Madagascar mystery of how small group of Indonesian women colonised island

So it seems Madagascar has an odd anthropological history, with DNA research indicating this:
If the samples are right, around 30 Indonesian women founded the Malagasy population ''with a much smaller, but just as important, biological contribution from Africa'', it says.
The study focused on mitrochondrial DNA, which is transmitted only through the mother, so it does not exclude the possibility that Indonesian men also arrived with the first women.
Computer simulations suggest the settlement began around AD830, around the time Indonesian trading networks expanded under the Srivijaya Empire of Sumatra.
This gives me an excellent opportunity to note that the Revolver Maps gadget that you can see on the right hand side of my blog (the pretty rotating global showing the sources of hits to this website) has been here for quite a while now, and has shown hits from virtually all corners of the planet except Madagascar.

The Revolver globe can, incidentally, be enlarged by clicking on it so you can see that all continents have been conquered by this blog. But Madagascar has been sticking out like a sore thumb for me lately. It's big, I'm pretty sure it has more than cartoon characters living on it, and no one there has apparently ever ended up here despite my having mentioned the place at least 8 times since 2006.

What's a blogger supposed to do to get attention from an enormous island? Speaking of which, looking at Revolver again, I see that no one from Greenland has ever come here.

Surely that other big island has got a mention here? Yes, it looks like at least 17 times.

What is wrong with the people of Greenland and Madagascar? Do I have to mention them every second post to finally get a hit from them? Do I have to insult them, or praise them, to finally get someone to drop by?

I see that Greenlandic has become the official language of the icy island, but maybe I can get by with a Danish message:
Hilsner folk Grønland! Jeg ser frem til at dele en banket hvalspæk med dig, i hvert fald i cyberspace, men jeg vil hellere lade gæret fisk ud af menuen. Spiser du gæret fisk?

Af den måde, er det skandaløst, at Google translate endnu ikke dækker grønlandsk.*
As for Madagascar, I see it's Wikipedia entry is rather interesting, and it once had a king with an awesome name:
Upon its emergence in the early 17th century, the highland kingdom of Imerina was initially a minor power relative to the larger coastal kingdoms[52] and grew even weaker in the early 18th century when King Andriamasinavalona divided it among his four sons. Following a century of warring and famine, Imerina was reunited in 1793 by King Andrianampoinimerina (1787–1810)
He was an unusual looking dude too:
Sort of looks like the ancestor of Weird Al Yankovic, actually.

Right: I've probably now committed an insult to a revered figure of Madagascar and teams of assassins are being despatched from the country right now. Please report this to Bob Carr if this blog suddenly goes silent.

* Greetings people of Greenland! I look forward to sharing a banquet of whale blubber with you, at least in cyberspace, but I would rather leave the fermented fish off the menu. Do you eat fermented fish?

By the way, it is outrageous that Google translate does not yet cover Greenlandic.

Wednesday, March 21, 2012

French mythology?

Wine and kids: Is it OK to let them try it? - Slate Magazine

This article notes that the French method of a gradual introduction to alcohol to kids at the family table did not actually lead to responsible adult drinking:
NPR recently aired a story looking at the rising incidence of binge drinking among French youths and growing doubts in France about the wisdom of giving children an early introduction to alcohol. What accounts for the upsurge in hell-raising? One possibility is that French parents have become more like us: They aren’t drinking nearly as much wine as they used to, and fewer children are being introduced to alcohol in the home. But here’s the thing: Early exposure has historically not encouraged moderation in France. Alcoholism has long been a major public health problem there. (In fact, the incidence of alcohol-related road fatalities got so bad that in the mid-1990s the government enacted some of Europe’s toughest drunk-driving laws.) The bottom line is that the seemingly more enlightened French approach hasn’t actually produced healthier drinking habits.

Oh. It was a French myth? Should I stop serving my kids sparkling apple juice in champagne glasses?

Going down

James Cameron’s Rocket Plunge to the Planet’s Deepest Recess -

I don't care for James Cameron or his films, but I suppose I have to admit that he has the kind of rich man eccentric hobby that is at least interesting.  That is, he gets his own personal deep sea submersible built and ride it to the bottom of the deepest trench in the world.

This article shows the unique vertical axis design of the submersible, which has been built in Australia.  (Who knew we were good at that?  Pity we can't seem to do it quite so well with Navy submarine.)

He obviously does not suffer from claustrophobia:
Mr. Cameron plans to plummet 6.8 miles. The Challenger Deep is the most remote area of the Mariana Trench, the deepest of the seabed recesses that crisscross the globe. He is to cram his 6-foot-2 frame into a personnel sphere just 43 inches wide, forcing him to keep his knees bent and his body largely immobile. The dive plan calls for him to remain in that position for up to nine hours.
Better him than me.

Of course, if he disappears in the attempt to do this, it would form a great premise for a future Cameron-esque director to build on. Not that I wish him harm;  rich people who push technological limits are doing something better than making expensive but so-so movies.

The road to Mandalay

Mandalay is one of the nicest sounding city names, isn't it? Not sure why; it just is.

This is mentioned because Foreign Correspondent last night was from Burma, and what an interesting country it looked. Dirt poor, and as I missed the start I'm not sure if they ever explained what the stuff on the face is about, but the vistas of old temples from balloons looked almost other worldly.

Video should be available here.

Sunday, March 18, 2012

Thomas, the Australian, and the "avoidable flood" that was unavoidable

Hedley Thomas is, predictably, crowing about the finding of the Queensland Flood Inquiry that the Wivenhoe Dam was not operated in accordance with the manual. It's true, his articles did mean the commission had to examine how the SEQWater report came to be written because (it would appear) lawyers missed the importance of some evidence relating to what dam release strategy the engineers thought they were operating on during the weekend of 8 - 9 January.

I haven't read all of the Inquiry's report on the engineer's evidence; but certainly, the way the SEQWater report was written was (as I indicted in a previous post), not a good look.

Whether the 3 engineers in question deserve any condemnation for it from a Crimes and Misconduct Commission enquiry is another question. The Inquiry found that the the Manual was pretty hopeless anyway, and I suspect that the fundamental problem with any such manual is that, by its very nature, flood management via dam releases must leave a wide scope of discretion in the engineers, at least until you get to a level where it's a case of "do anything to protect the dam."

And at the end of the day, what should matter is the degree to which, if any, dam operations actually caused any harm.

This is where Hedley Thomas and the Australian deserve no praise at all; quite the opposite in fact. The paper as a whole has followed a sensationalist line in its reporting, virtually since the flood occurred.

For example: this is what the Inquiry writes at Chapter 16, page 527:

It is unfortunate that there has been a conflation in some media reporting of two separate issues: whether there was non-compliance with the manual strategies and whether it caused unnecessary flooding. The Commission has found the first (see 16.11 Conclusions: the dam operations strategies.) As to the second, Mr Babister’s perception was that the flood engineers managed Wivenhoe Dam so that its flood mitigation effect was ‘very close’ to the maximum achievable within the constraints of the manual. That may well be right. The problem is that the possibility exists that because the engineers failed to consider the releases open to them within the parameters of the correct W strategy, an opportunity may have been lost for earlier releases.

The evidence was uniformly to the effect that the pattern of releases adopted on Saturday 8 January was appropriate: the lake level was only just over 68.5 metres and showed every sign of dropping; higher releases would have been risky and unwarranted. The picture is not so clear for Sunday 9 January, when the rainfall returned.
Was that opening line directed to Hedley Thomas? I think it pretty likely, given that this is what we get from Hedley Thomas (and Jamie Walker):
The Floods Commission of Inquiry's finding that the engineers who operated Australia's largest dam failed to adopt the correct strategy to protect Brisbane from inundation for about 36 hours from Saturday, January 8, last year, has given a major boost to the hopes of thousands of victims.
See the difference?

The Inquiry notes that, even though the dam manual was not followed from 8 am Saturday, no one thought the actual dam releases were at inappropriate levels during Saturday. The following paragraphs (at page 527 of the inquiry report) indicate that it was probably during the afternoon of Sunday 9 January that the change to faster releases could have happened:

Mr Babister initially said that ‘the more practical or realistic options if you were going to have higher releases, is to start some time after midday or somewhere between midday and 1600 hours. That’s when it would be realistic on the 9th to increase flows above what was released’; although he subsequently modified that view to say that the ‘only area’ that there was ‘some argument they probably could have released slightly higher flows’ was after 4.00 pm that afternoon. The scenario of higher releases on the afternoon of 9 January, Mr Babister said, was most closely reflected in scenario 9 of Figure 16.1; but it was ‘an adventurous risk-taking approach’ because it relied on confidence in the rainfall forecast.

Mr Shannon’s view was that given the ‘frightening’ inflow by 2.00 pm on 9 January and the predicted lake level it would be ‘extraordinary’ not to have put the closure of the bridges in train by then, in accordance with the intention of W3. And Mr Tibaldi volunteered in evidence that ‘decid[ing] to ramp up earlier for this event... would have reduced flood damage’. Mr Ayre agreed.
The chapter concludes:
That night [9 January], though, at about 7.00 pm, it was recognised that the release rate from Wivenhoe would have to be elevated. No actual strategy change was documented; at best, it can be said that the actions taken were consistent with strategy W3.

It follows that Wivenhoe Dam was operated in breach of the manual from 8.00 am on 8 January 2011 until the evening of 9 January 2011.
It therefore seems accurate to say that the Inquiry has only raised doubt about the actual rates of water releases for only 7 hours (from midday to 7 pm on 9 January) or even less.

Does anyone really think that 7 hours of faster release would have made a huge difference?

Does anyone reading the Australian or Hedley Thomas get any sense of that?

The Inquiry finds:
There is, it is obvious, plenty of scope for argument about whether adherence to the manual strategies would have made a difference to the way in which the flood engineers actually operated the dam; but the possibility certainly exists that they would have responded more quickly to the developing conditions of 9 January had their mindset been one of applying strategy W3. Ascertaining the practical result of acting more quickly also is subject to the uncertainties inherent in the modelling; but again, the possibility exists of at least some improvement in the flooding outcome for Brisbane and Ipswich.
Here's how Thomas interprets this:
Supreme Court of Appeal judge Catherine Holmes SC found that "the possibility exists of at least some improvement in the flooding outcome for Brisbane and Ipswich" if the dam had not been mismanaged. This is a departure from earlier findings made by the inquiry's expert witness, hydrologist Mark Babister, that the flood engineers had achieved close to the best possible result in mitigating the flood.
I don't see how it is a departure at all. As I understand it, Babister did not change his advice to the Inquiry between his two appearance - his modelling on different scenarios indicates that, for large parts of Brisbane, the flood might have been capable of being reduced by 30cm to a 90 cm (see page 526 of the report). The Inquiry notes the modelling has considerable uncertainties, and the scenarios they asked Mr Babister to model are not even all "realistic".

Of crucial importance is this paragraph - talking about what would have happened even if you started with the dam at 75% capacity:
It is important to note that even at these lower river heights, major flooding would still have been experienced in Brisbane. The Bureau of Meteorology defines a major flood as one which peaks above 15.5 metres at Moggill and 3.5 metres at Brisbane city1028 (the Port Office gauge). Scenario 4, which involved an initial lake level of 75 per cent of full supply level and W strategy trigger levels reduced by 25 per cent, resulted in a modelled height of 16.3 metres at Moggill and 4.0 metres at the Port Office.
To remind you,the measured height of this flood at the Port Office was 4.46m (although another gauge indicated only 4.27 m - see page 522 of the inquiry report).

So let's get this clear - the modelling of the independent hydrologist, based on starting at a dam 75% and with lower "trigger points" for releases would have resulted in a flood in Brisbane city of about 50 centimetres less.

Contrast this to what Hedley Thomas was writing on Feb 14 2011:
THE clearest official acknowledgment that the devastating flood in the Brisbane River was avoidable has been the decision yesterday to let go 25 per cent of the water stored in the Wivenhoe Dam.
Sorry, Hedley, Inquiry says "no".

Or what about the headlines given to his continual promoting of the idea that the dam management caused the flood:

  • The great avoidable flood: an inquiry's challenge [22 Jan 2011]
  • Engineer bores a hole in dam untruths [19 March 2011 - a piece promoting the engineer Michael O'Brien's figurings given the title "Brisbane Flooding January 2011: An Avoidable Disaster".]
And now:
  • Damages to flow from Wivenhoe Dam breach [17 March 2012] even though the body of the report contains the caution from Maurice Blackburn lawyers: "If the action proceeds, it is likely to be the largest class action Australia has ever seen."
Thomas claims yesterday in a separate article:
The inquiry's expert witness had previously asserted that close to the best possible result was achieved; however, independent engineers consulted by The Australian have calculated that almost all of the flooding could have been avoided.

The detailed modelling necessary to determine this will be conducted by overseas experts engaged by law firms Maurice Blackburn and Slater & Gordon, which yesterday described the finding of the breach and the cover-up as "crystal-clear".
Well those "independent engineers" obviously aren't good enough for the Australian based litigation lawyers. In fact, if you look at Michael O'Brien's report, which Thomas was promoting in the report note above, O'Brien's work experience has been in building gas and oil pipelines, but he has had "to assess the impact of various rainfall events and to interpret and rely on flood mapping for the design and location of process facilities." Colour me unimpressed. His entire paper appears to be a mere series of "what ifs" in terms of when water might have been released if you had perfect knowledge of the rainfall that would arrive in the next few days, and is not (as far as I can tell) based on hydrological modelling at all.

Here's the thing: Hedley Thomas decided early to go hard with the story that this was a "preventable flood" that was the fault of dam operations. This was based on some hunches of a couple of engineers, and Thomas and the Australian has, in a long series of headlines and articles continued to foster this belief.

In reality, the Inquiry and the independent modelling it used has shown it was not an "avoidable flood" at all. Different timing of water releases may have made a relatively small difference to flood levels to most areas, but it still would have been a major flood even if you started at a 75% dam level and had lower triggers.

Given this scenario, my hunch is that it is rather unlikely that overseas modelling is going to be certain enough to allow for liability to be legally established for anyone. Certainly, the inquiry modelling would indicate that no one (in most of Brisbane, anyway) with more than about .5 m of water through their house is going to have any hope of blaming their damage on dam management.

The Australian, and Hedley Thomas, have been largely uninterested in reporting this level of detail of the Inquiry and its modelling, and have been more interested in campaigning for a interpretation of the event that actually isn't holding up to scrutiny. Personally, I think the the misunderstanding in large parts of the community that they have fostered for a year about the nature of the flood easily outweighs any benefit of having successfully made a few engineer's lives a further misery.

Finally, it's interesting too to note the connection between climate change skepticism (for which The Australian is well for promoting) and the "avoidable flood" meme. On both subjects, people like Andrew Bolt have been happy to promote the Thomas line without actually looking at the detail of the Inquiry. Same as his ignoring the fact that more intense droughts and floods have been predicted by CSIRO for years, Andrew Bolt has shown no sign of informing himself of the Inquiry's detailed findings as illustrated in this post.

Increasingly, I have been noticing how "pop" climate change skepticism thrives on laziness, and not looking into matters in enough detail. These "fake skeptics", as some call them, are easily conned in all sorts of ways, and The Australian is always there to help.

Saturday, March 17, 2012

They never saw it coming...

It's not a volcano, it's a limnic eruption, with lots of dead animals below the carbon dioxide emitting crater lake in Africa.

(Year 6 "natural disaster" science project. It looks better in real life as the mist flows down over the huts. Dry ice is fun.)

Actually, I never knew that those cases of deadly lake out-gassing in Africa in the 1980's were called "limnic eruptions". My son found out about them on the net, and it's a more interesting thing to make than a plain volcano. I suspect he'll be the only limnic eruption in class.

Friday, March 16, 2012

Catalyst returns

In previous years, when Getaway used to be on Channel 9 on Thursday nights, watching attractive people have good holidays in beautiful parts of the world used to win out over watching Catalyst on the ABC. Now that Getaway has skulked away (I thought it had finished altogether, but it seems to be a half hour show on Saturdays now?) I should be able to catch Catalyst every week this year. Wait a minute - there's normally a child to pick up from Scouts on Thursday nights at 8.30. Dang.

Anyway - last night's Catalyst was really interesting.

The first story was about psychopathy and its childhood signs, and research projects aimed at whether it is possible to "re-wire" callous and unemotional children by the way their parents interact with them. That involves lots of getting the kid to look into their eyes, and telling them they love them. Apparently there was a paper published about this last year. Sounds kind of simple, and I would expect you would have to start really early, but it's an interesting idea.

The second story was about the difficulty in getting reliable communications with Antarctica, particularly the inland bases. I have wondered about this, because last year I unsuccessfully searched to see whether any researcher from that continent kept a regular blog. The reason is, it seems, that communications are currently via some rather old satellites in less than ideal orbits, and bandwidth to the place is therefore limited and not always reliable.

Australia is building a couple of microsatellites to fix this. They are really small (20 cm square!) but apparently will greatly improve communication to the place.

There is also this extended interview on the website in which the guy building the satellites is asked "how come these as so cheap, and the NBN satellites will be so expensive?)

And the final story was on a new, very cool, flight and motion simulator at Deakin university that looks like incredible fun to try out.

What a great show.

Thursday, March 15, 2012

You could see this coming

Controversial study promoting psychic ability debunked

I'm sure I have posted here about the precognition study that has now failed to be replicated.    My lousy search function is failing me, though.  I'll look for it later.

Wednesday, March 14, 2012

Space news times three

* Weightlessness may not be so good for the eyes and brain.

* Jupiter is good protection for Earth against some comets, but new simulations suggest it is not all that benevolent:
Jupiter’s role seems confused. It definitely sends asteroids and comets our way and, in any given year, more than 90 percent of all objects crossing Earth’s orbit are asteroids, so the protection Jupiter provides us from long period comets, or by eventually removing short period comets, is of lesser importance. Hence Jupiter is not the friend that it has been perceived to be. However, things could be far worse: were Jupiter to have a mere 20 percent of its mass, the impact rate would skyrocket. Obviously for any denizens on a planet in the target zone this is bad news, but in the grand scheme of things are impacts a positive or negative factor on the overall evolution of life on a planet across billions of years?
* Some scientists still have grand plans for a maglev rail track to space. The report sounds half plausible when it is talking about a cargo system (the track can run up the side of a mountain and cost about $20 billion - which is only a few years of NASA budget), but it sounds a bit loopy when it comes to the human rated system:
According to their plans, the Generation 2 magnetically levitated track would run about 1,609 km (1,000 miles) long, heading upward to an altitude of about 20 km (12 miles). While the track would be securely tethered to the ground, it would be held in mid-air completely by . The entire track would be enveloped in a vented vacuum tunnel to avoid sonic that result from the spacecraft's hypersonic speeds of up to 9 km/sec (5.6 miles/sec). Once it exits this track, the would be in position to reach LEO.
Sounds a tad implausible, no? But the guys talking about this (see the Startram website) are not nutters. Just wildly optimistic, by the sounds.

More smart rat news...

Rats match humans in decision-making that involves combining different sensory cues: study

Here at the Dominion of Opinion, we* like to note news showing about the intelligence of rats:
A Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory (CSHL) study that compared the ability of humans and rodents to make perceptual decisions based on combining different modes of sensory stimuli—visual and auditory cues, for instance—has found that just like humans, rodents also combine multisensory and exploit it in a "statistically optimal" way -- or the most efficient and unbiased way possible.
Apparently, this is significant for further studies of autism, in which people combine sensory information in a not normal sort of way.  Unfortunately for rats, this sounds rather like their brains going under the microscope more often than before.   If they were really smart, they would start to act dumb during some of these tests.

* me and my crack team of contributors includes myself and I

Tuesday, March 13, 2012

Nuclear pessimism

Nuclear power: The dream that failed | The Economist
In any country independent regulation is harder when the industry being regulated exists largely by government fiat. Yet, as our special report this week explains, without governments private companies would simply not choose to build nuclear-power plants. This is in part because of the risks they face from local opposition and changes in government policy (seeing Germany’s nuclear-power stations, which the government had until then seen as safe, shut down after Fukushima sent a chilling message to the industry). But it is mostly because reactors are very expensive indeed. Lower capital costs once claimed for modern post-Chernobyl designs have not materialised. The few new reactors being built in Europe are far over their already big budgets. And in America, home to the world’s largest nuclear fleet, shale gas has slashed the costs of one of the alternatives; new nuclear plants are likely only in still-regulated electricity markets such as those of the south-east.

They do go on to mention that small, modular nuclear might make a difference, but there is not a market for it yet.

Right wing ghosts, and more

I don't read Ace of Spades, although a lot of right wingnut types seem to.

But I do check in on Michael Prescott, and he noted this entry at Spades in February about how the blogger is convinced the house he has just left was haunted by an obnoxious ghost.


This also reminds me, I was talking to a friend on the weekend about the conflict between Freud and Jung, and how the former saw his task as one involving a crucial cultural fight against "the black tide of mud" - occultism. Jung couldn't accept this: he was always interested in paranormal stuff. One of his early studies was to do with a spiritualist medium. He went on to be too interested in too many esoteric things, though, for my taste, and his thinking about it always seemed to be too woolly. Still, I have much more sympathy for his approach than that of Freud.

What I forgot to mention in my Saturday night conversation was that the current version of the purely scientific materialist view of the universe that most people hold is actually pretty fragile when you think about it. I mean, if you have just one personally convincing paranormal experience, this "black swan" of an event should really shake up your idea that only white swans exist.

Of course, people could always dismiss the event as a trick of the mind, and some are no doubt easily dealt with that way. (Sounds in the night are easily mis-interpretted, as are fleeing glimpses of movement and light.) But living in a house that seems persistently haunted, particularly with things involving physical movement, like lights being turned on when it was clearly impossible for a person to have done it (which Ace of Spades seems to be saying happened) - wouldn't that be a "black swan" for most diehard materialists?

I've never had a black swan experience myself, and it's kind of a sad thing that a person like me who would love to have one seems to repulse any hint of the paranormal. But who knows, it could happen yet.

Monday, March 12, 2012

Aldi thoughts

There's a recurring thought I have most times I go into my local Aldi - "if only they had a modest range of clothes and foodwear, I might never need to shop anywhere else." I mean, it has all the basics, and the triumph of the good value Crystal Bay prawns bought for Christmas lunch has sealed my affection for the place for some time.

Anyway, I don't think I have ever posted about my run-down of what is good (and not so good) about Aldi supermarkets, so here goes:

The Good:

* toothbrushes. Dentex, I think the brand is, made in Germany, and excellent and long lasting quality.

* European biscuits, particularly the ones with dark chocolate on one side. I forget the name. Nearly all biscuits sold at Aldi are nice, anyway.

* Bathroom mould killer: a fair bit cheaper than Coles brand.

* canned smoked mussels: I like smoked mussels from a can, but for a long time, even John West ones came from somewhere in China (I think.) This has put me off eating them for years. But today I see they see "Danish" smoked mussels canned in Germany. This sounds a safer bet.

* Cheese. Your basic blocks of tasty cheese from Australia are pretty cheap.

The Bad:

* razors. An awful brand from somewhere in Asia if I recall correctly. But that was some years ago. Maybe the supplier has changed.

* bathroom cleaner: I'm pretty sure it was an Aldi brand that made literally breathtaking mist that required holding your breath and escaping from the shower ASAP. Avoid.

Not much else to complain about. Well, apart from the awful cheap turntable I bought on a whim.

One other thought I had today while in the shop: I noticed cans of champignon mushrooms for sale. People still buy these? What on earth for. I mean, go back 40 years, and there probably weren't even all that many mushrooms for sale in the average supermarket, and a can of champignons had some element of foreign flare about them for the pizza you made at home. But now? They are the most useless canned vegetable on the market, no doubt about it.

In fact, seeing this is already a boring post, I may as well compound that to give a run down of the worthiness of canned vegetables:

In descending order of worthiness:

Italian tomatoes: Essential to have 5 cans in the house at all times.

Chick peas: Another essential. Good for the now popular Moroccan
recipes, as well as making hummus at home.

Assorted beans: Quick and easy to use; saves lots of energy of cooking them

Water chestnuts: Lovely texture for asian dishes. Nice.

Corn kernels: They still resemble the taste of corn. Useful to have around.

Baby corn: Not much taste, but interesting texture.

Beetroot: Useful for one thing only - a slice on your hamburger.

Asparagus: Sometimes acceptable if only fresh asparagus is from
Peru and you feel guilty about the CO2 expended in
shipping it here.

Peas: Starting to scrap the bottom of taste and utility.
Barely ressembles the taste of the vegetable

Mixed carrot and peas : Carrots are forever available and always
cheap. Why would you bother?

Champignons: Rubbery bits of no flavour or utility whatsoever.

I'm sure you all feel much better informed for having read this...

CGI'd to death

‘Ishtar’ Lands on Mars -

The title for this story seems a bit harsh - John Carter got a 50% rating on Rotten Tomatoes, which isn't all that bad - but it seems the movie is doomed to financial failure, and the background of its problems in production makes for interesting reading. Premiere magazine, in the heady days of 1980's blockbusters following Spielberg's and Lucas' rise to power, used to do articles like this. I think the magazine is now defunct.

But back to John Carter: I know for one that as soon as I saw the trailers, the CGI reminded me of those in (I think) Star Wars 2. (It is a sign of the lack of permanent impact of the Star Wars prequels that I just had to check on line to remember it's actual title - Attack of the Clones.)

As I have noted many times, I also did not care a bit for the Lord of the Rings movies, and apart from my cynicism about the value of the story, I just couldn't find myself being impressed by the huge battle vistas which were all clearly made inside a computer.

Of course, I suppose people could cite Avatar in response. I haven't even bothered watching that all the way through no DVD.

Still, I suspect my theory of a public decline in interest in too much CGI, especially in protracted battle movies, might have something going for it.

Sunday, March 11, 2012

Remembering Japan

ABC TV remembered the anniversary of the Japanese earthquake by showing Children of the Tsunami. You can watch it online at the moment.

I didn't watch all of it, but the parts I saw were terribly sad, as I expected.

I looked around on the net for other material on the anniversary. The Telegraph seemed to have a series of videos, and I watched two of them by witnesses to the tsunami. (Links are here and here.) Both made the interesting comment that watching it happen had a complete feeling of unreality; both indicating it was so like watching a disaster movie that it was confusing knowing whether what they were watching was real.

Sad and amazing stuff, and for those who pray, doing so for the people affected is well warranted.

Stinks and fixes

Changing Climates, Changing Minds: The Great Stink of London

Skeptical Science branches out a bit with this post by comparing how the politics and practicalities of the sewerage pollution problems of London of old compare to the problems of CO2 pollution today.   

Friday, March 09, 2012

Basically right

Media, pollies play 'the game'. Public loses out - The Drum (Australian Broadcasting Corporation)

I have a lot of time for Barrie Cassidy and his analysis of politics and media. I think his take (and that of Gawenda, who he's basically quoting and expanding on) on the current situation with Australian journalism and politicians is very good, with two reservations. First, he praises Paul Kelly, whose political opinions strike me as being a case of wordy, meandering, blather trumping clear analysis. Insiders has been considerably improved by his not coming on and boring us all for 5 minutes every Sunday.

Secondly, he praises Laurie Oakes for being fearlessly independent. Yet it was via Oakes during the last election campaign that harmful leaks from the Rudd camp were fed. I commented at the time that Oakes seemingly felt no shame at being used as the mouthpiece for such dirty politics: in other words, he was a very big part of the "game" that Cassidy complains about.

Apart from those two issue, it's a good analysis. And he is correct to note that some Fairfax journalists have not exactly covered themselves in glory lately either; not just News Ltd journos.

Thursday, March 08, 2012

Immoral or not

Morals: Our great moral decline | The Economist

An interesting Economist blog entry on the question of whether American morals really are in decline. 

Tuesday, March 06, 2012

The Australian campaigns

On Insiders on the weekend, Courier Mail journalist Denis Atkins (a relatively balanced and reasonable commentator) noted that the Gillard government is suffering from a poisonous relationship with The Australian newspaper.

He's not half wrong. It's been quite a while since we've seen the paper go so full on attack, and have such an obvious disproportionate number of articles against, a Labor government.

Looking at today's material on the web, for example:

* economist Judith Sloan attacks the carbon tax. What she fails to mention explicitly is that at Catallaxy blog, she is blithely dismissive of climate science predictions, commenting recently (for example) "they expect us to believe that?" She shows no sign of having read up on the topic in any depth at all: for all I know she may find co-blogger Rafe Champion's gullible swallowing of everything climate change denying blogger Jonova convincing. (I feel fairly certain he finds her convincing because of her photo on her blog.)

* Niki Savva - former Liberal staffer who primarily spends her time telling us how much trouble Gillard is in.

* David Kemp (Liberal identity) complaining about the Finkelstein enquiry about media regulation.

* Peter van Onselsen: with Liberal ties, although he does cop a lot of criticism from the Right for being too "middle of the road".

And the editorial is an attack on Wayne Swan, and the Finkelstein inquiry.

This is all, of course, completely fair and balanced.

Meanwhile, in the struggling Fairfax press, you have Tim Colebatch doing economic commentary in his usual clear, calm and dispassionate way.

Fairfax can't be allowed to die.

The mystery of the universe and Wagga Wagga

The role of quantum expansion in cosmic evolution:

Here's an arXiv paper which seems to suggest that relatively 'normal' quantum effects are behind the expansion of the universe.

Of course, I don't really understand the detail, and why something like this would have been overlooked before, but it is of interest.

As is the fact that the paper is from someone at Charles Sturt University at Wagga Wagga (currently about to go under water in a massive flood as it happens.)

Somehow, I was never expecting the mysteries of the universe to be solved from Wagga Wagga...

Sunday, March 04, 2012

Things to note from the last week

The Gillard/Rudd fight
: The right person won, of course, but there were many, many words wasted on this in the press. The best articles were those articulating again my early judgement that Rudd has two faces - one for the public, and one for the workplace - and that he is temperamentally ill suited to leadership. I like the article by his former speech writer in that regard, as well as yesterday's article by Peter Hartcher pointing out how much Rudd had unnecessarily insulted the union movement.

Judith Curry and snowy winters: Isn't it odd that Judith Curry is on the team who have written a paper supporting the idea that loss of Arctic ice is behind the recent snowy northern winters, yet she still hasn't raised it on her blog?

It wouldn't be because this idea - that cold and snowy winters in parts of the world are indirectly caused by AGW - is one that her fan base of climate skeptics have ridiculed as being "convenient" for "warmenists"? I see that Anthony Watts has posted on the paper and expressed his skepticism - all while avoiding in his commentary the participation of Curry.

He's then got a long rambling post by D'Aleo that tries to argue it must be something else - anything else - it just can't be this explanation. The comments thread following is very short. No one wants to go hard on dear Judith, it seems.

Nordhaus smites the 16: lots of people have noted the excellent article by economist William Nordhaus in response to the recent climate change skeptics letter to the Wall Street Journal. He is particularly perturbed by their wrong-headed reading of his work on when to take action, and his explanation is worth noting here:
My research shows that there are indeed substantial net benefits from acting now rather than waiting fifty years. A look at Table 5-1 in my study A Question of Balance (2008) shows that the cost of waiting fifty years to begin reducing CO2 emissions is $2.3 trillion in 2005 prices. If we bring that number to today’s economy and prices, the loss from waiting is $4.1 trillion. Wars have been started over smaller sums.10

My study is just one of many economic studies showing that economic efficiency would point to the need to reduce CO2 and other greenhouse gas emissions right now, and not to wait for a half-century. Waiting is not only economically costly, but will also make the transition much more costly when it eventually takes place. Current economic studies also suggest that the most efficient policy is to raise the cost of CO2 emissions substantially, either through cap-and-trade or carbon taxes, to provide appropriate incentives for businesses and households to move to low-carbon activities.

One might argue that there are many uncertainties here, and we should wait until the uncertainties are resolved. Yes, there are many uncertainties. That does not imply that action should be delayed. Indeed, my experience in studying this subject for many years is that we have discovered more puzzles and greater uncertainties as researchers dig deeper into the field. There are continuing major questions about the future of the great ice sheets of Greenland and West Antarctica; the thawing of vast deposits of frozen methane; changes in the circulation patterns of the North Atlantic; the potential for runaway warming; and the impacts of ocean carbonization and acidification. Moreover, our economic models have great difficulties incorporating these major geophysical changes and their impacts in a reliable manner. Policies implemented today serve as a hedge against unsuspected future dangers that suddenly emerge to threaten our economies or environment. So, if anything, the uncertainties would point to a more rather than less forceful policy—and one starting sooner rather than later—to slow climate change.

More Australian floods an indication of climate change? Queensland has been spared a repeat of last year's catastrophically widespread floods, but the extent of the flooding in New South Wales and Victoria this year seems to be unusually extensive, just as was the area of Queensland under water in 2011. There is some talk of the floods breaking 80 year records, but I suspect that there may be numbers yet to be crunched before working out whether it is record breaking in sufficient area before its true historical nature is understood.

Going nuts in Israel. I liked this article on the Jerusalem Syndrome (whereby visitors sometimes start having religiously themed psychotic episodes.)

Respecting the Monkees. There was not a bad word to be said anywhere about Davy Jones upon his premature death: he appears to have been genuinely liked by everyone who met him. I think it is also fair to say that the critical rehabilitation of the group, which has been underway for many a year now, is truly complete. Everyone acknowledges that they had albums just full of great pop songs.

I do have one quibble, though. Daydream Believer is surely only half a song. I mean, it's just crying out for another verse for it to actually make sense. I see it was written by John Stewart of the Kingston Trio, and a few people at this site share my confusion as to what the song is about.

By the way, I am particularly fond of Mike Newsmith's post Monkees career, and will be more upset when he dies.

The Trouble with Warp Drives. Seems that a warp drive might fry the aliens you're going to visit. That's inconvenient. (I wonder if this has anything to do with gamma ray bursts which haven't been explained astronomically yet.)

Using GM crops designed to be Roundup resistant wouldn't have anything to do with this? Hmm? :
Overuse of the herbicide glyphosate (Roundup) has caused US crops to become infested with glyphosate-resistant weeds - and a world-leading researcher at The University of Western Australia is fighting to prevent similar outcomes here.

Winthrop Professor Stephen Powles, who has just returned from a three-week US tour, said a widening epidemic of glyphosate-resistant weeds was causing increasing difficulties for US cotton, soybean and corn growers.
LinkThe short article does not mention GM crops at all, but as many have been designed to be Roundup resistant, I expect it is likely part of the story.

Ocean acidification rate is very fast, geologically speaking.
In order to learn about the future, the researchers looked to the past, reviewing climate events over the past 300 million years that showed evidence of elevated atmospheric CO2, global warming and ocean acidification....

"The geological record suggests that the current acidification is potentially unparalleled in at least the last 300 million years of Earth history, and raises the possibility that we are entering an unknown territory of marine ecosystem change.

"Although similarities exist, nothing in the last 300 million years parallels rates of future projections in terms of the disrupting of ocean carbonate chemistry – a consequence of the unprecedented rapidity of CO2 release currently taking place."

The Descent into Dumb

The Rush Limbaugh misogynistic (and double and tripled down) attack on a woman advocating for the Obama contraception mandate to apply to her Catholic university's health insurance was a disgrace that was cut from whole cloth, as the saying goes. (The woman said nothing at all about her own sex life; or even directly on the subject of her using contraception personally. Yet the fact that she thinks it should be available on her insurance cover just obviously makes her a slut.)

That he has had many, many defenders, even after his (likely advertising boycott inspired) half baked apology was made, is appalling.

But possibly the absolute worst thing is that many in the commentariate are following the Limbaugh lead in characterising it as being about the government paying for contraception to be provided.

Read any thread on the more rabid right wing blogs, and you'll see it come up very soon. You can even read it at Jerry Pournelle of all places!

This shows they don't even understand the issue - insurers covering contraception (as they already do in the half of the states that have such a mandate enacted already) does not mean the government is paying for it.

What hope is there for the Right in the US at the moment? Very little, as far as I can see.

Update: this article, noting that figures including George Will and David Frum are both warning that the Republicans have to get away from Limbaugh influence, was interesting.

Update 2: here's the blog that called out Ed Morrissey of Hot Air for claiming Fluke was making her sex life a national issue:

Yesterday, Ed Morrissey blatantly lied about Sandra Fluke, claiming the following: “However, let’s keep in mind that it was Fluke who made her sexual activity a matter of national political debate…”

This is a lie, and there is no other way to put it. Nowhere in her testimony did she mention her sex life or her sexual activities. She just didn’t. Read the transcript for yourself, and then tell me whether she is gay or straight, celibate, a virgin, in a current relationship, or even the most basic details of her sexual life and activities. You can’t, because she didn’t discuss that at all. Ed Morrissey is simply lying.

In Australia, the stupid and misogynistic participants of Catallaxy, of course, follow the Morrissey line, including thoroughly conservative Catholic CL who tried to make a joke about Fluke seeing more se(a)men that a battleship. Hilarious! No - a real disgrace from a man who's an embarrassment of an advertisement for his religion. As for the rest of those who share his right wing views at the site who fail to call him out - cowards.

Foreign Minister Carr's first day at the office...

For those who don't understand:

His great favourite is the second century Roman Emperor and Stoic Marcus Aurelius. I think you’d agree that stoicism is a great attribute for a premier, especially one in New South Wales.

Bob has said that the meditations of Marcus Aurelius are as good a guide to practical politics as he’s come across.