Wednesday, July 31, 2013

How to cyber defeat an enemy?

Don't touch that flash drive—you have no idea where it's been.

This Slate article starts:
If you found a pretty little USB stick on the ground, would you plug it in to see what’s there? No? OK, what do you think your parents, neighbors, and co-workers would do?
When the U.S. Department of Homeland Security ran a similar test in 2011, they discovered that 60 percent of those who found flash drives planted outside of government and contractor buildings plugged them right into their networked computers. Even worse, when the drives were outfitted with an official logo, the number jumped to 90 percent.

Well, maybe those people weren’t properly trained in cyber security, you might say. (Insert joke about incompetent government workers.) Alas, a recent study divulged that 78 percent of IT security professionals confessed to experimenting with unidentified flash drives. Of those surveyed, more than 68 percent had been personally responsible for a security breach at work or home, often as a result of the orphaned drives.
Gee.  Sounds like all you need to do to cyber defeat an enemy is to have agents with sacks full of virus infected USB drives discretely dropping them around government buildings.   And just around the neighbourhood generally, perhaps.

Or maybe you could use a drone to disperse them from the air....

Infrastructure confusion

Infrastructure: No longer a no-brainer | Club Troppo

Yesterday I was quoting Tim Colebatch saying Australia's level of infrastructure spending had long been too low; now someone is arguing our spending is now too high.

No wonder I find this topic confusing.

All I know is that, given the amount of money on tents both sides of politics seem to be intent on spending, my idea of a yurt led recovery no longer seems implausible.

Life in the bridge

I've always wanted to see what the residences inside the Indooroopilly Bridge looked like, and now it seems I will have a chance....

Tuesday, July 30, 2013

Germs recommended

I seem to have missed a 2011 story about this: Social amoebae travel with a posse, have amazingly complicated social lives

More detail: 
...scientists had discovered a single-celled organism that is a primitive farmer. The organism, a social amoeba called Dictyostelium discoideum, picks up edible bacteria, carries them to new locations and harvests them like crops.

And last night on SBS, the documentary "Pain, Pus and Poison" about how a treatment for syphilis was found, as well as the interesting story of how penicillin was rushed into production in World War II was great, if often gory, viewing.

Slate must be trolling for comments

Kids and dogs: If you’re having a baby, do not get a puppy. - Slate Magazine

Last week, it was inviting a flame war between Apple and Android users (that was kinda fun to read, actually.)  This week, it's an odd column by a women who says you shouldn't get a dog if you want kids, because you'll completely ignore the former when you have the latter.  Actually, both she, and her dog, sound a tad neurotic.

Never mind that billions of Earthlings find dogs and little kids make for a happy household. (Probably a healthier one too.)

Trolling for comments is the only explanation.

Infrastructure talk

Build it, and a stronger economy will follow

Well, that's interesting.  Tim Colebatch talks up infrastructure, and says that spending on it has been too low for about 30 years now.   He also notes that although the Coalition claims that they will make cost benefit analysis of projects a priority, they are already announcing funding for things which probably wouldn't pass that criteria.

But the column also makes mention of things which raise my doubts about how valid cost benefit analysis can sometimes be.  For example, cities used to be very keen on building urban railway lines well before there were people living along them.  Sure, everyone benefits from that maybe 80 years later, but you can't model that well at the time you're building it, can you?

Funnily enough, I see that Henry Ergas is said to have expertise at infrastructure economics.  I wouldn't trust him to have a valid opinion on things like my plan for a yurt led recovery for the Australian economy.*

*  A joke, Joyce.  Yurts aren't "infrastructure".

Monday, July 29, 2013

Just back from Rio, I guess

Sorry, the latest app on the tablet continues to amuse me with its easy method of mild ridicule.  
Update: A message across the innerwebs: IT: she seems very resistant to the charms of this blog. How far do I have to go in photoshopping type stuff to get her to visit?

A fan speaks...

An awful lot of claims without explanation

Henry Ergas' latest column in The Australian seems especially full of figures and claims (all about how disastrous Labor policies are) with no explanation or justification.

Maybe he thinks his Right wing fan club follows him enough to remember previous columns where he did explain figures?  In any event, this is a terrible way to write a column.  

Jason Soon, I think, used to hold him in high regard.  I wonder if he still does...

Global warming and floods, continued

Atmospheric Rivers Grow, Causing Worse Floods Ahead | Climate Central

For some parts of the world, "atmospheric rivers" carrying large amounts of water within narrow bands, are likely to get worse under AGW. 


How odd

Harvard scientists say coffee ‘could halve risk of suicide’ - Science - News - The Independent

Don't overdo it, though:
Coffee has in the past been shown to reduce the risk of depression in women, and it also stimulates the central nervous system.

This was the first effort to observe the link between caffeine and incidents of suicide, of which there were 277 among the participants.

Despite the results, researchers advised against people drastically changing their drinking habits in order to self-medicate.

They observed throughout that most people naturally adapt their use of coffee to levels that feel right for them, and added that while the sample size of those who drank large quantities (six cups of more) was too small to make for significant findings, a major Finnish study showed a higher risk of suicide among people drinking eight or nine cups per day.

“Overall, our results suggest that there is little further benefit for consumption above 2-3 cups/day or 400 mg of caffeine/day,” the authors wrote.

Monday physics and philosophy

Bee at Backreaction has a couple of good posts up recently, one about theorising about how stable the photon may be (the short answer - very, very stable), and another lengthier one about free will and not worrying about not having it.

I haven't had time to go through the free will one in detail (and the long list of comments, which will no doubt contain some interesting material) but hope to soon.

Sunday, July 28, 2013

Amazing re-writes of history

I have been utterly gobsmacked to read a couple of the "regulars" in comments at Catallaxy in the last few weeks promoting the idea that the Rudd government's ending of the "Pacific Solution" following its election in 2007 was not an election policy.

This highly creative (by which I mean, imagined) meme then gets the occasional comment of support "well, someone should be calling out Rudd as a liar then, when he now says his changes in 2008 were simply putting an elective mandate into effect."

I have seen exactly one person challenge it with anything resembling a reference to evidence - someone saying that they remembered a Kerry O'Brien interview where Rudd said he would close down Nauru.

That is correct.   Here is the section of the interview in question, held only a couple of days before the election:
KERRY O'BRIEN: On refugee policy, Mr Rudd, there are 82 Sri Lankans and seven Burmese being held on Nauru as we speak, part of Mr Howard's Pacific Solution. If you win on Saturday, how quickly will you move to shut down the Nauru and Manus Island options and where would the detainees go?

KEVIN RUDD: We haven't taken advice on that. What we have said that for us, we have an appropriate offshore detention facility, though it's part of Australia on Christmas Island. Christmas Island, I understand, has the capacity of some 800 beds. The so-called Pacific Solution has cost the taxpayer hundreds of millions of dollars. Why not use Christmas Island instead? It strikes me as pretty well self-evident.

KERRY O'BRIEN: But how quickly would you move to close down the Manus Island and Nauru option?

KEVIN RUDD: Not privy to the specific contractual and administrative arrangements which were associated with each of those deals...

KERRY O'BRIEN: But I think it's policy. I think Mr Burke your shadow Minister says you will.

KEVIN RUDD: It's policy. We will but your question was how soon.

KERRY O'BRIEN: I think his statement is that you would do it immediately.

KEVIN RUDD: That's true.

KERRY O'BRIEN: And I am asking in terms of your immediate priorities in government, your immediate priorities, will you move as an immediate priority to deal with that?

KEVIN RUDD: At a very early stage. The Pacific Solution is just wrong. It's a waste of taxpayers' money. It's not the right way to in fact handle asylum seekers or others and therefore we think the best way ahead is to use Christmas Island instead. It's a facility which is part of the Commonwealth of Australia. The other thing is this. You think I'm somehow quibbling about this. If you're a responsible alternative government you need to actually look at the advice entirely in its detail on whatever contractual arrangements now exist with those...
 For a broader context, there is this:
On 24 November 2007, the Australian Labor Party (ALP) won the federal election, defeating the Coalition Government which had been in power for nearly twelve years. Kevin Rudd was sworn in as Australia’s 26th Prime Minister on 3 December 2007. The ALP National Platform, which was formally adopted in April 2007, represented the party’s ‘long-term aspirations for Australia’.[2] In relation to immigration, the ALP ambitiously resolved to implement significant changes for asylum seekers and refugees if elected. Most notably, to end the so-called ‘Pacific Solution’; to give permanent, not temporary, protection to all refugees; to limit the detention of asylum seekers for the purposes of conducting initial health, identity and security checks; to subject the length and conditions of detention to review; to vest management of detention centres with the public sector; to retain the excision of Christmas Island, Cocos Islands and Ashmore Reef; and to create a new Refugee Determination Tribunal.[3] In the area of refugee policy the key themes of the platform were ‘humanity, fairness, integrity and public confidence’.[4] 

Reflecting on the Government’s first year in power, the then Minister for Immigration and Citizenship, Chris Evans, noted ‘Labor was elected on a platform of change’.[5] One of the first things the newly elected Labor Government did upon taking office was to stop processing asylum claims in the small Pacific Island State of Nauru—which the then Minister described as a ‘shameful and wasteful chapter in Australia’s immigration history’.[6] However, in retaining the former Coalition Government’s excision policy (which removes the right of asylum seekers to apply for a visa) and use of its purpose built immigration reception and processing centre on Christmas Island, the Government attracted criticism from refugee advocacy groups and academics alike—Adjunct Professor Michael White being  of the view that Labor’s new approach ‘did not fundamentally alter Australia’s previous immigration policy and many features of the Pacific Solution remained’.[7]
I find it inconceivable that adults with an alleged interest in politics such that they spend hours every week commenting at a political blog could have convinced themselves that this history from all of, oh, 6 years ago does not exist.

And, as I say, that so few readers at the blog would actually try to correct them.

But then, it is a blog full of AGW conspiracists and deniers. 

At least I give credit to a handful there who see the parallels between the last US presidential election and what is happening now.   Because it is shaping up that way:   a large slab of the Right here is viewing many issues as part of a cultural war of their own desiring.   They have positioned themselves as the darlings of the older end of the electorate, and are making little connection with anyone under about 35.

There's still time for Rudd to blow his credibility out of the water, and a lot will depend on revised Treasury figures as to the budget position; but at the moment, I think a Labor win is looking quite on the cards.

Update:  I forgot to mention last night that even Tim Blair, who one imagines Catallaxy readers visit regularly, was talking only 4 days ago about how Tony Burke was writing before the 2007 election about how Labor would close down the Pacific island off shore processing centres.  

And besides which, when they were closed, there was absolutely no media outrage that it was unexpected.

It was completely expected.  

Saturday, July 27, 2013

Get your act together, ABC

I feel like a general bleat, even though I have said it before:  the ABC News website is just awful design for a news site, with its minimal number of "headline" stories and the need to "drill down" to find a more extensive list of stories.

This is rubbish for a well funded news organisation.

As far as I am concerned, a news website should maximise on the front page the number of direct links to stories:   the layout of The Guardian runs rings around the ABC site, with its multiple links to further detail on major stories, as do the Fairfax sites.  I would even say that The Australian (God forbid) is substantially better than the ABC layout (if you ignore the paywalling, at least.)

BBC News has a touch of the ABC's about it, but is still more information heavy on its front page than the latter.

I can't be the only person who finds this ABC News web design crappy, surely?  

Friday, July 26, 2013

Yet another article on bloated Hollywood

Steven Spielberg Hollywood imploding: How he predicted a disastrous summer at the box office. - Slate Magazine

A balance article here that puts a bit of perspective on the current failed big budget movies of this American summer:
In an interview with New York magazine critic David Edelstein, producer Lynda Obst also pins the current trend toward gigantism on the increased importance of the foreign market, coupled with a collapse in DVD sales, which once provided a safety net for midrange pictures that didn't pan out. Obst's new book Sleepless in Hollywood features a list of movies she's certain wouldn't get made today, including such Oscar winners as Moonstruck and Forrest Gump.

‪It’s not the first time Hollywood has succumbed to the allure of bloat. Film historian David Bordwell points to the expensive musicals that followed in the wake of The Sound of Music. “The industry had pinned its hopes on films like Dr. Dolittle, Thoroughly Modern Millie, Star!, and Darling Lili,” Bordwell emails. “They were the ‘tent-poles’ of their time, and they mostly failed. There were also the super-sized comedy spoofs like It’s a Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World, The Great Race, and A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum, all of which remind me a bit of The Lone Ranger’s elephantiasis.” Still, Bordwell adds, “the flopolas here weren’t happening in such a compressed time span, as we’re finding this summer.”
 Update:  by the way, both Moonstruck and Forrest Gump were fantastically over-rated films, in my opinion. It's unfortunate that they are given as examples of films not being made now.

Lose weight, become a jerk

The post heading is inspired by, and describes, the recent history of Joe Hockey.  Here he is quoted today:
But shadow treasurer Joe Hockey told The Australian Financial Review the process was becoming a sham and the Coalition would no longer respect the figures in either the economic ­statement or PEFO.

Previously, he promised to release detailed costings of Coalition policies only when PEFO was released. Now, he said, that pledge may no longer hold.

“We’re not going to cop the Treasury being bullied by the government into producing PEFO numbers that are closely aligned to the government’s,” he said.

“If PEFO looms the same as the economic statement, then PEFO won’t be worth the paper its written on.”
The problem, as I understand it, is to do with revenue.  The Coalition will promise to "fix" it by big spending cuts.    In fact, the lower dollar will soon start to help the economy anyway.  

Hockey seems to believe that Treasury wants to bend over backwards to accommodate just one side of politics; so much so that they will fudge figures for Labor.   That is, surely, an enormous slur on public servants, and if Hockey (if Treasurer) oversees a clean out of Treasury, is it going to be staffed with Right wing twits who support this "Treasury is too politicised" guff?   Why not put Judith Sloan in and be done with?

Hopefully, it was a good false memory...

False memory planted in mouse's brain | Science | The Guardian

No, reading the article, it was a fear memory.

(By the way, I associated "engram" with Scientology, but apparently it has a legitimate science use too.)

Gravity 2

I put up the first Gravity trailer, and now the second one is also making a big splash around the Web.  It looks fantastic, especially if you watch it full screen:

The only thing I don't get:  if the movie is about two astronauts who get marooned in space in the first act, how does it make their plight interesting for the next two acts?

Thursday, July 25, 2013

A place unknown

No Man's Land an Abandoned Sea Fort, Soon Accepting Bookings

I don't recall hearing about this place, which looks entirely suited to be a Bond movie setting, before.   

No inflation woes, still

St George.

Inflation figures expose carbon scare campaign

Tim Colebatch feels vindicated:
Some wrecking ball that was! Australia's first year with a carbon tax has ended with inflation so low that it was only the carbon tax that kept inflation from falling out of the Reserve Bank's target range.

The Bureau of Statistics reports that in the year to June, consumer prices rose 2.4 per cent on the raw data, 2.3 per cent after seasonal adjustment, and 2.2 per cent on the trimmed mean measure, which strips out the biggest price rises and falls to define underlying inflation.

If you take out the September quarter - as the next set of inflation figures will - then inflation over the nine months to June was running at an annualised rate of just 1.3 per cent. Underlying inflation is tracking at 2 per cent.

And while the dollar has fallen in the past three months and petrol prices have jumped, it's odds-on that the next measure of inflation will start with a 1.

That is low inflation by any measure. It shows the Coalition's scare campaign against the carbon tax was just a scare campaign.
What were other right wing figures saying about the carbon "tax" and inflation?

Well, a retiring RBA board member and businessman at the start of 2012 was worried, and told The Australian (who else):
... Mr Kraehe said the introduction of the carbon tax, rising wages in the resource sector and a weaker Australian dollar could all combine to put upward pressure on inflation in the year ahead. While interest rates were currently "ideally positioned" at 4.25 per cent, Mr Kraehe said inflation was set to become "more of an issue".
And look, guess which paper (hint:  after "The", it starts with an "A") ran this opinion piece from the anonymous (but leading independent economist, apparently) "Henry Thornton":
A tax of $23 a tonne for the CO2 emissions of Australia's 500 greatest polluters will severely handicap Australia's most productive industries. Production, jobs and emissions will be shifted offshore to countries and competitor producers less concerned than the Australian government about the supposed costs of greenhouse gas emissions.

This is action guaranteed to reduce the productivity of Australian industry, increasing the strength of the stagflationary forces already evident.
 Stagflation!  Well who does that remind me of?   Yes, he was having a gripe in October last year:
 Government (and Treasury?) would like us to believe that the carbon tax is on track, the modelling all fine, and concerns about utility prices overblown.
 And here he is, complaining that the ABS was not going to try to differentiate the contribution of the carbon price to inflation.

When overall inflation is so well in the range, what would be the point?

Wednesday, July 24, 2013

Something you are unlikely to see anywhere else on the Internet

After just reading again about the way biographers have spent much effort psychoanalysing CS Lewis from afar, it amuses me greatly to think how much could be imagined into blog posts in the age of the internet, especially when apps let something like this be easily made:

Yet more CS Lewis biography

Mere C. S. Lewis | TLS

There are still biographies being written about CS Lewis, and this review of two of them is not a bad read, but it didn't contain much in the way of information that I hadn't read elsewhere.  Except, perhaps, for this minor anecdote:
In his biography, McGrath is candid about the eccentric and less edifying side of his subject’s life. Lewis was personally shabby and unkempt, and he let his house get into an unhealthily filthy state. He refused to learn to type or drive a car. He smoked and drank heavily: Tolkien was amused to hear a reference to “the ascetic Mr Lewis” on a day when he had seen him down three pints of beer at lunchtime.


Hunt for alien spacecraft begins, as planet-spotting scientist Geoff Marcy gets funding

So, the Templeton Foundation, much criticised by some prominent atheist scientist figures (well, Sean Carroll comes to mind at least) for promoting "woo", has given some funding for a search to look for signs of alien civilisations (spaceships, Dyson spheres, or lasers).

It's not clear what should be looked for yet, but that's part of the fun:
Marcy hopes that hiding within it will be hints about intelligent life abroad. What if, say, the dimming of a star that Kepler observes is caused by something even more fanciful than the passage of extrasolar planets? Something synthetic, perhaps? Marcy admits that even he's not certain what he's looking for.

"I do know that if I saw a star that winked out, then at some point it winked back on again, then winked out for a long, long time and then blinked on again, that that would be so weird," he says. "Obviously that wouldn't constitute the detection of an advanced civilisation yet, but it would at least alert us that follow-up observations are warranted."

Such an irregular pattern might signal the leisurely and unpredictable passage of massive spacecraft in front of the star. But, perhaps more likely, it might indicate the presence of a Dyson sphere, a mainstay of science fiction first proposed by physicist Freeman Dyson in 1960.
As for the laser search:
The rest of the $200,000 grant is buying Marcy time on the Keck Observatory in Hawaii, the largest telescope in the world, to search for - what else? - a galactic laser internet.

While the movie Contact, based on Carl Sagan's book of the same name, popularised the idea of aliens dozens of light-years away picking up an old telecast of the 1936 Berlin Olympics that was unintentionally transmitted into space, our civilisation has become quieter to any outside observers in recent decades. As our civilisation makes the jump from analog to digital, communication is increasingly carried by fibre-optic cables and relatively weak mobile phone repeaters rather than powerful broadcast transmitters. Rather than spilling out messy radio transmissions, Marcy posits that alien civilisations would use something much more precise and efficient than radio waves to stay connected, and lasers fit the bill. At the Keck Observatory, he hopes to spy an errant beam flashing from a distant star system, an observation that would be strikingly obvious on a spectrum.
Research well worth doing, I reckon.

Say something stupid, get endorsed on Catallaxy

Bernard Keane from Crikey made this statement about plain packaging cigarettes:
One of the highest profile public health industry lobbyists, Professor Mike Daube, yesterday claimed “the primary focus for plain packaging was always to reduce smoking among children, but it is a real bonus that it has clearly had an impact on smokers”. That’s rather different to what Daube said when plain packaging was first announced, when he claimed “we know from research that it will have a significant impact on children and adults”. Is Daube readying for when we see that plain packaging hasn’t affected tobacco sales?
Actually, Bernard, it is not "rather different" at all.   You can say that something will have a significant impact on both A & B, while believing that the primary effect will be on A.  To say that the impact on B is "a bonus" is hardly controversial rhetoric.

Anyone who had read anything about the plain packaging argument knows that the effect of getting less children to start smoking was always believed by many to be the main way it would work.  Here's Harry Clarke in 2012:
Well, I think the main target is youth.  Young people, it's claimed, are seduced by the attractive packaging and the brand names that are associated with cigarettes.  I guess for confirmed smokers it won't make so much difference, but certainly for youth, it's well recognised that branding does have an impact on purchasing choices.  We've currently done pretty well in Australia in reducing smoking rates among young people, but this is really trying to clinch the deal and to reduce the initiation of smoking among young people as much as possible.
Anyone with any common sense would also then assume that this effect would take time to show.

But all of that is not good enough for Sinclair Davidson, who thinks evidence should be in by now and that the lack of evidence on the number of smokers means he can already declare the "policy is a dog."  The policy has been fully in effect for about 7 months. 

Talk about taking glib and pathetically poorly informed criticism to new heights.

Guess where...


It's been warm up north - like 32 degree warm, and this very pleasant looking beach on a body of fresh water is:    Loch Morlich in Scotland.

Not your typical Scottish image, hey?

Tuesday, July 23, 2013

$40 a tonne?

Origin Energy chief says low carbon price will encourage future investment in coal-powered plants 

I saw this interview with Grant King on Sunday, talking about how you would actually need a carbon price of about $40 a tonne to make developing new coal fired power stations unattractive.

This sort of figure has been bandied about before, and given the state of the European ETS price, it makes you wonder why economists like John Quiggin seem so relatively relaxed about Australia joining up to that scheme.

I really don't understand. 

But, on the other hand, I still am yet to hear any economist in the land argue that the Coalition direct action plan is an efficient way to do what it claims to want to achieve.  

Monday, July 22, 2013

Big movie failures

‘Turbo’ and ‘R.I.P.D.’ Open to Disappointing Results -

From the report:
With extremely weak domestic ticket sales over the weekend for “R.I.P.D.” and “Turbo,” Hollywood has now sustained six big-budget duds since May 1, the start of the film industry’s high-stakes summer season. The other failing movies have been “After Earth,” “White House Down,” “Pacific Rim” and “The Lone Ranger.” 
The main thing disappointing about that list is that there are no Marvel superhero movies included.   I'm desperately sick of all the money being sunk into them.

I actually want to see The Lone Ranger - some reviewers have liked it, and I am very fond of the Pirates of the Carribean movies.  Even the third one has grown on me by re-watching it on DVD.

What you have to do is what the whole  series in quick succession - say, over a week.  The entire arc of the story makes much more sense that way, and you actually notice jokes in the last movie (for example) that depend on remembering incidents and characters from the first movie.

On a sailing related note, I also finally caught up with Master and Commander on DVD.  As with Pirates of the Caribbean, I am continually impressed with how utterly realistic modern movie technology can make sailing ship battles and storms appear.   But the movie itself seemed more interested in just being an earnest portrayal of life at sea in the British Navy in 1805, rather than having a really compelling story or characters.  Maybe the books are better, but the movie felt a little hollow at heart.  I don't really see that it was worth 10 Oscar nominations.

Arthur noted

I've only caught the last 20 minutes of Q&A tonight, but I have to say again that Arthur Sinodinos is one of the few on the Coalition side of politics at the moment who appears to be a decent, relatively straight talking politician.  He and Malcolm Turnbull are about the only two who don't set my teeth on edge.

As for the rest:  Abbott needs to chuck it in for being promoted above competency; Julie Bishop is, I am sure, actually a robot; Christopher Pyne can't "handle" the truth (or rather, he can't deliver it);  Joe Hockey looks means and cranky since he lost weight and has to puff himself up with indignation and hyperbole for the cameras regularly; Andrew Robb does not look quite engaged, despite his medication; Scott Morrison is an arrogant motor mouth; Greg Hunt has to sell his principles and learning and endorse a rubbish climate change plan; Sophie Mirabella has a reputation for appalling bitchiness in Parliament; Bronwyn Bishop is still floating around and endorsing anti-science; Eric Abetz has a touch of the "not quite human" like Julie B; George Brandis is (I believe) well hated by many Liberal Party members for being annoying and arrogant.

It's a great line up....

Free will on the brain

Is free will a scientific problem?

The article refers to a book by Peter Tse, which argues that the brain's ability to re-wire itself quickly actually means that free will is real.  From another link:
Tse draws on exciting recent neuroscientific data concerning how informational causation is realized in physical causation at the level of NMDA receptors, synapses, dendrites, neurons, and neuronal circuits. He argues that a particular kind of strong free will and “downward” mental causation are realized in rapid synaptic plasticity. Recent neurophysiological breakthroughs reveal that neurons function as criterial assessors of their inputs, which then change the criteria that will make other neurons fire in the future. Such informational causation cannot change the physical basis of information realized in the present, but it can change the physical basis of information that may be realized in the immediate future. This gets around the standard argument against free will centered on the impossibility of self-causation. Tse explores the ways that mental causation and qualia might be realized in this kind of neuronal and associated information-processing architecture, and considers the psychological and philosophical implications of having such an architecture realized in our brains.
My brain is not sure what to think of this yet.  Rewiring is currently in progress....

Wandering black holes

A Captured Runaway Black Hole in NGC 1277?

Here's the abstract from the above paper at arXiv:
Recent results indicate that the compact lenticular galaxy NGC 1277 in the Perseus Cluster contains a black hole of approximately 10 billion solar masses. This far exceeds the expected mass of the central black hole in a galaxy of the modest dimensions of NGC 1277. We suggest that this giant black hole was ejected from the nearby giant galaxy NGC 1275 and subsequently captured by NGC 1277. The ejection was the result of gravitational radiation recoil when two large black holes merged following the merger of two giant ellipticals that helped to form NGC 1275. The black hole wandered in the cluster core until it was captured in a close encounter with NGC 1277. The migration of black holes in clusters may be a common occurrence. 
You wouldn't want a cluster of black holes passing near your solar system, I assume.

Sunday, July 21, 2013

Be very appalled

It took me quite a bit of Googling to track down this story which was recently in the Sydney Morning Herald Good Weekend magazine "2 of Us" section.   But here it is, an almost comically appalling story of one woman and the professional biker thug she loves. 

It features the opening line:
I was a nurse before I met Caesar. If I hadn't been, I wouldn't have been able to get the bullets out of his back years later.
and goes on to explain how she is still with amazingly unattractive (both morally and physically:  have a look at the photo) outlaw biker she met in 1978.

The best line from "Caesar's" section (where he gets to tell his side of the story):
I sat there one day and was thinking about her and everything she did for me and I thought, "She really is like the ultimate woman." So I started calling her "Woman", and that's what I've done for 34 years. If I say "Donna", she comes in with her head down looking like she's in trouble.
I see that she has written a couple of books about their time in "outlaw culture", and this piece is probably really just a bit of self promotion.  That means I probably shouldn't be mentioning them either - I hate it when the media gives de facto celebrity status to criminals who write a book along the lines of "look at me - look at how bad I've been.  Contribute to my retirement fund by buying this."

Still, this example of the genre really was noteworthy.  Just don't buy their books!

Sepia dog

This was taken by my daughter in the car today, with the tablet camera which I had accidentally left on "sepia"setting.  It turned out surprisingly pleasing:

She's 14 years old now.  Health is not too bad, but she sleeps a lot and doesn't seem to hear us arriving home.

An inappropriate remembrance...

For the one or two people in Australia* who might be vaguely amused:   who can forget the sadly departed Mel Smith and the famous "Gerard the Gorilla"sketch?:

(This started as a mere name pun, but then I realised, on watching the original sketch, that the gorilla actually does talk and behave in a Henderson-esque manner.**)

*  This may well be the first post on the blog in its 8 year history that Phillip Adams would like.

**Watch the always cheery Gerard here from the 1min 50 mark, if you don't believe me.  He is, quite possibly, the least likely man in the known galaxy to ever appear in a gorilla suit.)

Saturday, July 20, 2013

Formulaic screenwriting examined

Hollywood and Blake Snyder’s screenwriting book, Save the Cat! - Slate Magazine

I knew of Syd Field's and Robert McKee's promotion of "3 act structure"for movies, but did not know of Snyder's book which sets out a much more detailed formula for movies.  This article argues that his book is being followed by most blockbuster movies these days, which makes for a tiresome sameness.

Friday, July 19, 2013

Tony contemplates the future

Don't worry, Tony.  At least the fan base at Catallaxy will always back you up. 


Meanwhile, back in the Arctic

The annual drop off is about to head outside the 2 standard deviations range, again.

Three parent cellular fiddling a bad idea

A slippery slope to human germline modification

I've been meaning to post about the amazing lack of detailed media attention on the strange decision of the UK government to move ahead with trial of "three parent babies", by which parents who can tell they may well have babies with serious mitochondrial disease could create (with any luck) a healthy baby by completely mucking around with the insides of human egg cells.

This immediately struck me as absurd.  

Here's a simple solution, folks:   if you stand an extremely high risk of passing on serious and crippling diseases to your own genetic children - don't make your own genetic children!

Furthermore, there has been ongoing controversy for years as to the effects on IQ of test tube babies made using sperm injection.  Here's a 2005 story saying it has no effect.  Here's a 2013 story saying it does.  As well as a greater risk of autism.

OK, then.  Let's go on to not just inject a sperm cell, but rip out the nucleus of one woman's egg and insert DNA from another woman and see how that goes!

Isn't it pretty bleeding obvious that if the very mechanics of merely helping a sperm cell get into an egg increases risks significantly, it's extremely likely that the "three parent baby" process could only be worse in comparison?

Anyway, finally I see a article in a science journal (linked at the top, and in Nature, no less) in which someone makes the case against it.   After explaining this is to help a small number of women who have the problem, the article goes on to explain that even the process used to encourage approval for further trials is dubious:
Although proof of safety is, by definition, impossible in this situation, the evidence submitted up to now on mitochondrial replacement is far from reassuring. Most of the work has been on early-stage embryos; basic research on epigenetic and other interactions among nuclear and mitochondrial genes is lacking; animal studies are preliminary. The HFEA, which had originally asked that the mitochondrial-replacement technique being developed in the United Kingdom, called pro-nuclear transfer, be tested in non-human primates, later dropped that requirement — after US researchers found the technique to be unsuccessful in macaques.

Those opposed to green-lighting mitochondrial replacement have been described in some quarters as religious objectors, against all types of IVF. In fact, many secular and actively pro-choice scientists, bioethicists and women’s-health advocates have voiced grave and detailed concerns about the safety and utility of mitochondrial replacement, and about authorizing the intentional genetic modification of children and their descendants.

The HFEA, for its part, has made questionable claims of favourable public opinion about mitochondrial replacement. In 2012, the agency carried out a public consultation, which it said found “broad support” for the technique. Yet the consultation report shows something quite different. Of more than 1,800 respondents to the largest and only publicly open portion of the exercise (the element that in past consultations has been presented as the most significant), a majority opposed mitochondrial replacement.

The HFEA points out that the consultation included other “strands”: workshops of 30 people each; a public-opinion survey; two meetings with preselected speakers; and a six-person patient focus group. The sentiment in these strands tended to be more favourable, but this sentiment was encouraged in various ways. When a reference to a study caused uncertainty and concern, for example, it was dropped from subsequent discussions on the grounds that it was not relevant. The report noted that “some participants’ trust in the safety of these techniques is relatively fragile, and easily disrupted by new information”.
I feel entirely vindicated in my initial gut reaction.

Thursday, July 18, 2013

Pointless article recommended

Farhad Manjoo, apart from possibility having the hardest journalist name in the world to remember how to spell without looking at it, sometimes writes entertainingly on technology at Slate.

And then, at other times, he's spectacularly trivial.  (No one could forget his jihad against double spacing after periods.)

His latest article, criticising Android phones because they usually include software you don't actually want (oh, and the excruciatingly long time - actually, it sounds like about 10 minutes - it takes to set up a new Android phone) is a good example of one of his poor excuses for a column.

Such pathetic justification for calling a phone "crap" (as compared to an iPhone) has, as you might expect, puzzled some people in comments following:
 This column appears to be a complaint in search of a problem. First, there's nothing remotely unusual, as stated in the first paragraph, about Google making an OS and leaving it up to manufacturers to design devices for it. Microsoft has dominated the PC industry since the 1980's by taking the exact same approach. Likewise, there's nothing inherently better about a device that's "exactly how Apple wants it" as opposed to how some other company wants it. Either way, the device isn't exactly how the user wants it -- and in the case of Apple, there isn't any other way the user can get it either.
I'm an Apple user for a number of reasons, but the "crapware" argument doesn't hold much water for me, given that Apple loads the iPhone with "GameCenter," "NewsStand," "Passbook," "Stocks," not to mention the execrable "Maps," which, while not exactly ads, certainly are crap that I definitely don't need, and that I CAN'T DELETE AT ALL, unless I void the warranty and hack the phone.
The sarcasm is starting to build when you reach this comment: 
Yeah, I hate powerful, inexpensive phones that can easily move proprietary carrier software to the background or root to a base version of the OS. The universal charging port, free apps, open source coding and competitive hardware market just make it worse.
Give me an overpriced phone from a price-fixing bully of a company that's outdated on its release and designed for hipsters and the technologically illiterate. How else will I map my drive from an island that doesn't exist to a national park that's in the wrong state?
And gets a bit personal further down:
Farhad's objections aside, I would rather live in the universe of Samsung than the hideous dead world of Apple, with its fetid and rank odor of pancreatic cancer and denial and "All phones must be small" and everything else that I find offensive with that bizarro corporate worldview. Thank god for Samsung, hey? Tomorrow, maybe I'll root again, but seriously I find myself unhampered by what I'm living in now.
I don't have a smartphone of any description, although the cheapie one my wife uses seems perfectly adequate to me.  In the matter of comparing iPads to Android tablets I have firmer views, which I should one day express is a post.  Well I would, except for the fact that my firm view is that neither  one knocks the other out of the ballpark. 

What to think of the Ruddy climate?

John Quiggin � The return of the ETS

The whole issue of carbon pricing via emissions trading schemes and/or carbon taxes has always been very complicated, and I generally used to tend to doubt the wisdom of the former.

And given that the European scheme is a bit of a mess that may or may not be capable of being fixed,  the Kevin Rudd policy of moving to a floating price ETS a year ahead of schedule seemed something very hard to judge.

I therefore had to outsource opinion on this to John Quiggin, and as he does not seem particularly perturbed, perhaps I should not be either.  

The age cohort of Catallaxy participants speaks....

(I noticed today a large number of people at Catallaxy self identifying as being well over the half century.  Older, but not wiser.   Amongst other great highlights there lately, a bunch of men,  over 60 mostly I suspect, puzzling about why, oh why, do skeptic associations tend to believe in AGW, you know, as if it is real.   Clueless.)

Monday, July 15, 2013

Back soon....

Things to be done, and fun using Pixlr (for on line image editting, and then Superlame to add voice ballons, as well as Irfanview to do a resize for my blog width) is too distracting.

Back in a few days, I think....

Saturday, July 13, 2013

Quite a gap

BBC News - Class divide in boys' reading skills seen in Pisa scores

The brightest boys from poor homes in England and Scotland are at least two-and-a-half years behind in reading compared with those from the richest homes, a study suggests.

Research for the Sutton Trust educational charity says Scotland's gap is the highest in the developed world, while England's is the second highest.

In Finland, Denmark, Germany and Canada, the gap is equal to 15 months.
The government in England says its reforms will improve reading standards.

Friday, July 12, 2013

Clever Brian

I'm not the biggest fan of physicist Brian Cox as a media personality - he looks just a little too happy all the time.  But last night, the first time I saw an episode of his Wonders of Life series (which is sort of a David Attenborough meets physics show), I was quite impressed by this sequence:

Not exactly looking like something da Vinci had in mind

Canadian Team Claims $250,000 Prize for Human-Powered Helicopter | Autopia |

At the link, there's a video of a human powered "helicopter", of odd design.  It sort of looks fake at first, but it isn't.  Still,  they won a prize, so congratulations are due.

Tony takes up the fight


I had an earlier version up for a while, but have made some further changes.   I trust that my Friend from Perth reports to a certain blog that I finally found a way to post an image of a nude Abbott.  

My one man Jihad against Tony continues...

Pleasing movie news

James Bond: Sam Mendes directs Skyfall follow up

I wonder if they will allow James to be a little bit happier this time around.  

Bad news Friday, Part 2

Energy production causes big US earthquakes : Nature News 
Natural-gas extraction, geothermal-energy production and other activities that inject fluid underground have caused numerous earthquakes in the United States, scientists report today in a trio of papers in Science1–3.

Most of these quakes have been small, but some have exceeded magnitude 5.0. They include a magnitude-5.6 event that hit Oklahoma on 6 November 2011, damaging 14 homes and injuring two people, says William Ellsworth, a seismologist at the US Geological Survey in Menlo Park, California, and the author of one of the papers1.

He says that the annual number of earthquakes record at magnitude 3.0 or higher in the central and eastern United States has increased almost tenfold in the past decade — from an average of 21 per year between 1967 and 2000 to a maximum of 188 in 2011. A second study2, led by Nicholas van der Elst, a seismologist at Columbia University's Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory in Palisades, New York, finds that at least half of the magnitude-4.5 or larger earthquakes that have struck the interior United States in the past decade have occurred near injection-well sites.

Bad news Friday

A blog at the Guardian notes that there is a new James Hansen led paper out soon that argues that burning all our fossil fuels could effectively ruin the planet for humans (too hot to grow food grains, for example).  The concern is about poorly understood feedbacks that may lead to a mini runaway increase in temperatures.

That's a worry, of course, but I was more interested to read a summary of other recent papers arguing that there are grounds to question whether a 2 degree increase in global temperatures is really a "safe" level.   I've always thought that there was probably a lot of guesswork in that nominal figure, and it is important if it is too "conservative", especially as there has been much publicity lately that the sensitivity to doubling CO2 is closer to 2 degrees than to 3 or 4.   If the sense of complacency that some are encouraging as a result of that is ill founded, we should know. 

Anyway, here's the summary:
The new paper by James Hansen is just the latest confirming that we are on the verge of crossing a tipping point into catastrophic climate change. Other recent scientific studies show that the current global emissions trajectory could within three years guarantee a 2C rise in global temperatures, in turn triggering irreversible and dangerous amplifying feedbacks.

According to a scientific paper given at the Geological Society of London last month, climate records from Siberian caves show that temperatures of just 1.5C generate "a tipping point for continuous permafrost to start thawing", according to lead author Prof Anton Vaks from Oxford University's Department of Earth Sciences. Conventional climate models suggest that 1.5C is just 10-30 years away.

Permafrost thawing releases sub-ice undersea methane into the atmosphere - a greenhouse gas twenty times more potent that carbon dioxide. In June, NASA's new five-year programme to study the Arctic carbon cycle, Carbon in Arctic Reservoirs Vulnerability Experiment (CARVE), declared:
"If just one percent of the permafrost carbon released over a short time period is methane, it will have the same greenhouse impact as the 99 percent that is released as carbon dioxide."
Another paper suggests that conventional climate modelling is too conservative due to not accounting for complex risks and feedbacks within and between ecosystems. The paper published in Nature last Wednesday finds that models used to justify the 2C target as a 'safe' limit focus only on temperature rise and fail to account for impacts on the wider climate system such as sea level rise, ocean acidification, and loss of carbon from soils. It concludes that the 2C target is insufficient to avoid dangerous climate change.

Thursday, July 11, 2013

Abbott's anxiety rise continues...

I've just been watching Kevin Rudd's Press Club address on the economy.

He sounds confident, across a lot of details, consultative and smart.   Less "Ruddisms" in expression too.

There is no doubt he has been improved greatly by being dumped.

He makes, more than ever, Tony Abbott sound like a mere shallow sloganeer.  

(And I'll make another call out across the interwebs:  cry Catallaxians, cry...)

More "you don't say...."

Combination of smoking and heavy drinking 'speeds up cognitive decline'

Mind you, seems to me the effect is not exactly all that pronounced:
The research team found that in current smokers who were also heavy drinkers, cognitive decline was 36% faster than in non-smoking moderate drinkers. This was equivalent to an age effect of 12 years – an additional two years over the 10-year follow up period. 
Is it that easy to tell the difference between, say, a 67 year old brain and a 65 year old one?


You don't say....

Men and Women Often Expect Different Things When They Move In Together - W. Bradford Wilcox - The Atlantic

A study confirms what common sense and observation should have already made clear:
 According to a new paper from RAND by sociologists Michael Pollard and Kathleen Mullan Harris, cohabiting young adults have significantly lower levels of commitment than their married peers. This aversion to commitment is particularly prevalent among young men who live with their partners.
I wonder how many fathers point this out to their daughters?   I mean, they understand the likely psychology of men better than the mother.   

Brisbane colonial history noted

I was in the State Library bookshop last Sunday, killing a bit of time before heading off to see War Horse, and briefly noted a book (a novel, I think) which revolved around the Brisbane Bread Riot of 1866.

That's an event I didn't recall having heard about before, so I Googled it up.

I can't seem to link to it directly, but the first on the list should be the link to a good article by Paul Wilson explaining what it was about (basically, not enough work or food for immigrants arriving on boats expecting same, and the government being blamed for poor organisation.)

It has a couple of good, old photos of Brisbane in the period too.

Cities sure changed a lot in the century ranging from 1866 to 1966, didn't they?

Probably not a good idea to eat asparagus before using

Device can sniff out bladder cancer |

Fighter pilot redundancy coming soon

US Navy drone lands on aircraft carrier deck in robotic flight breakthrough - ABC News

Something to look forward to?

The Joy of Old Age. (No Kidding.) -

Oliver Sacks writes a short essay on how he is not at all depressed about reaching 80.  

We would all hope we can feel the same way.

This seems very unfair...

Study confirms link between omega-3 fatty acids and increased prostate cancer risk

Published July 11 in the online edition of the Journal of the National Cancer Institute, the latest findings indicate that high concentrations of EPA, DPA and DHA – the three anti-inflammatory and metabolically related derived from and fish-oil supplements – are associated with a 71 percent increased risk of high-grade prostate cancer. The study also found a 44 percent increase in the risk of low-grade prostate cancer and an overall 43 percent increase in risk for all prostate cancers.....
  "We've shown once again that use of nutritional supplements may be harmful," said Alan Kristal, Dr.P.H., the paper's senior author and member of the Fred Hutch Public Health Sciences Division. Kristal also noted a recent analysis published in the Journal of the American Medical Association that questioned the benefit of omega-3 supplementation for cardiovascular diseases. The analysis, which combined the data from 20 studies, found no reduction in all-cause mortality, heart attacks or strokes.

Wednesday, July 10, 2013

Tony has an idea

Kevin Rudd, tweets this morning:

Tony Abbott, at 10 am staff meeting:

Go Lenore

Some direct questions on the Coalition's Direct Action plan | World news |

Some quality journalism in The Guardian on the Coalition's CO2 reduction policy, which I have yet to see endorsed as making sense by any economist in the land.

Panic on the Right

That 7.30 interview Tony Abbott gave the other night (which I still haven't watched) must have been crook - there's a full blown panic attack underway at the Tea Party lite blog Catallaxy.   My favourite comment amongst a tough field is perhaps the one showing the true Tea Party alignment:
My family have suffered so much during these Labor years. We have lost so much that we had built over our life-times it almost brings me to tears.
My children have literally been impoverished as these corrupt bastards have enriched themselves to the detriment of the Country.
I tell you, were there a groundswell, I would seriously consider taking up arms against them, I detest them with such an enraged passion.
And this coming from a gentle man, an artist, a believer in God Almighty, but also a former infantryman.
How long must we bear this terrible burden?
Of course, given that the blog is now headed by a painting featuring lots of naked Spartans (libertarian types have a fetish for that "300" story) it has become even more incongruous that one of the regulars will use a homophobic slap in the face to everyone else:
And this quavering and quivering over Abbott’s ability is strangely familiar. Deja vu, in fact.
Harden up, fags.
And how does this self regulating place deal with this counsel?   Lizzie, a woman who likes talking about her love life so much I feel sure that at her funeral someone will have to tell her to shut up about it, deals with it via a verbal group hug and a big "thanks, Abu, for using an old fashioned homophobic insult":
It was so wonderful to read your thoughts this morning. Others have been touched by them too. I have been coming here since 2010 (at least) and it has always felt like a second home, a place of refuge, to someone who spent a fair bit of her early youth essentially homeless and has only recently begun to feel secure in herself. I have always been accepted here on my own terms – no easy task – but that is the way it has been and I am grateful for it. It is a fine place and I will not give up on it, nor on the powerful individual and life-affirming things it stands for. Thank you.
And thank you, too, Abu, for slapping us hard.  

Update:  Cry, Catallaxians, cry!  The Wall Street Journal, the only paper you trust internationally because it runs (almost) as many AGW denying articles as The Australian,  notes the Rudd momentum, so it must be true.

Also - they (Catallaxians) are already contemplating whether Turnbull might be a better counter to Rudd after all.   Most of them are appalled at the suggestion.  He believes in climate change, after all...

Future krill kill?

Risk maps for Antarctic krill under projected Southern Ocean acidification : Nature Climate Change : Nature Publishing Group

Hey, this blog must one of the few in the world that is always interested in krill stories.   If you search at the sidebar, you'll find at least six posts in the past.

And today, another article in Nature Climate Change (above) with concerns that ocean acidification will eventually kill them off in Antarctica, with dire consequences for the whole food chain.  I'll cut and paste the whole summary, because it has interesting bits about the entire krill life cycle (who knew their eggs hatched so deep?):
Marine ecosystems of the Southern Ocean are particularly vulnerable to ocean acidification1. Antarctic krill (Euphausia superba; hereafter krill) is the key pelagic species of the region and its largest fishery resource2. There is therefore concern about the combined effects of climate change, ocean acidification and an expanding fishery on krill and ultimately, their dependent predators—whales, seals and penguins3, 4. However, little is known about the sensitivity of krill to ocean acidification. Juvenile and adult krill are already exposed to variable seawater carbonate chemistry because they occupy a range of habitats and migrate both vertically and horizontally on a daily and seasonal basis5. Moreover, krill eggs sink from the surface to hatch at 700–1,000m (ref. 6), where the carbon dioxide partial pressure (pCO2) in sea water is already greater than it is in the atmosphere7. Krill eggs sink passively and so cannot avoid these conditions. Here we describe the sensitivity of krill egg hatch rates to increased CO2, and present a circumpolar risk map of krill hatching success under projected pCO2 levels. We find that important krill habitats of the Weddell Sea and the Haakon VII Sea to the east are likely to become high-risk areas for krill recruitment within a century. Furthermore, unless CO2 emissions are mitigated, the Southern Ocean krill population could collapse by 2300 with dire consequences for the entire ecosystem.

Tuesday, July 09, 2013

Tony reflects

A minor incident, perhaps, but the photo was screaming out for enhancement.

People watching in central Greenland

My blog seems yet to have ever had a hit from Greenland, and I also spend much of this time of year looking at the Arctic sea ice melting around it.

So I was just now inspired to look for webcams from there, and found this one for Summit Station, a research station on the top of the central ice cap.  It looks very lonely there:

It also does indeed seem to be live and updating every few minutes. I spotted someone on the ice a few minutes ago, and he (or she) is not there now.  Oh - I just saw two people walking past.

I see that is summer and still - 12 degrees C.  Winter must be brisk!

Update:  the website I got the webcam from has a "users guide" for any researcher staying there.  Amongst other interesting things to learn are:

*  the cook has Sundays off, so everyone has to cook for themselves that day, or eat leftovers;
*  it has internet and phone service, but bandwidth is limited. (It seems their phone numbers are listed here, if anyone wants to Skype them.  I wonder if this is about the remotest place in the world one can ring and annoy with telemarketing?);
*  anyone abusing drugs or alcohol are on the next flight out;
* it's at an elevation of 10,500 feet:  altitude sickness can be a real problem for some.

By the way, it's now 2.30 am and the sun is out:

A good question

Are testicles external for cooling, galloping, display, or something else? - Slate Magazine

So there you go:  the reason most people believe - that it's for cooling - is actually much disputed from an evolutionary point of view, and has been for some time.

It's actually a well written,  fascinating story.

Anxiety rising in Abbott's office

I haven't seen it yet, but I take it that Tony Abbott got an aggressive interview with Chris Uhlmann last night.  I should watch it later today to see what I make of both of their performances.

Meantime, didn't I say last week that "new, improved Rudd", who I still say has taken lessons in apology from Peter Beattie, would be causing anxiety in Abbott's office?   With Newspoll showing it now 50/50, there is no doubt at all that I was right.

And all I can do from afar is laugh at people who comment and post at Catallaxy, who are stressing out about the Labor resurgence.  I share their puzzlement over Rudd's personal popularity (although, as I say, he is clearly performing cleverly at the moment and has learnt at least some political lessons over the last 3 years), but it's highly amusing when people from a site whose main unifying theme is "climate change is crap" start calling the Australian public idiots. 

Technological optimism

Once a Joke, Battery-Powered Airplanes Are Nearing Reality | MIT Technology Review

Electric hybrid planes, even of substantial size, may be in our future:
Several major corporations envision a future in which airplanes rely at least in part on electric propulsion. Although the technology will be applied to small planes at first, eventually it could help reduce noise and emissions from airliners.

“Within this decade, we will certainly see hybrid electric aircraft entering the market,” says Frank Anton, who heads the hybrid aircraft efforts at Siemens. Four-seat hybrid aircraft are likely within that time frame, he says, but even 19 seaters are possible before the decade is out. Anton predicts that eventually we will see 100-passenger hybrid aircraft that use half as much fuel as today’s airplanes.

Boeing is taking this a step further with a concept for hybrid airplanes the size of 737s, which can seat more than 150 passengers, although it’s unlikely these will come into service before 2030. EADS, the parent company of Airbus, has also developed a conceptual design for passenger airplanes that fly exclusively on electricity, although the range of these aircraft would be limited.

Monday, July 08, 2013

Slippery Tony

Abbott repaid cost of 2009 book trips

So, Tony repaid monies for what was a private, book promoting trip back in 2009.

One gets the impression that such repayments are not all that uncommon amongst politicians, but it's still amusing to read:
Freedom of Information documents show Mr Abbott repaid the expenses in 2010, despite initially describing the allegations through a spokesman as ''a blatant attempt by Labor to smear and mislead''.
Mr Abbott made the trips in July and August 2009 - before he became Opposition Leader in November 2009 - to promote his book....

According to the documents released, Mr Abbott's chief of staff, Peta Credlin, wrote in October 2010 that the flights ''were inadvertently booked as official travel, rather than private''. ''I enclose a full repayment of all outstand- ing costs … amount $6255.49.''
In January 2011, Mr Gray wrote to Mr Abbott's office noting $3141.93 m
As it happens, I've been arguing at Club Troppo that while I agree that there is an element of dishonesty "baked into" politics, a Leader has less scope to get away with it than any other MP, and if they have a history of particular dishonesty, it's not unreasonable for this to reflect poorly on their suitability as leader.

There are pretty classic examples of spontaneous dishonesty in Abbott's past:  denying meeting George Pell, a Medicare promise made in circumstances it seems he knew it couldn't be kept, denial of the real circumstances of his involvement in funding of the Hanson case, and now this (which, I suppose, we cannot directly pin on him, but it's a bad look, especially in light of the Coalition licking its lips over former Abbott mate Peter Slipper facing charges over travel rorts.)

I'll keep saying it:  Abbott's not suited to the leadership.

Sunday, July 07, 2013

Unusual art

The photo does not really do it justice, but I was a bit surprised to find this bit of sculpture (I suppose you call it) inside the Queensland Art Gallery today:

I am always impressed with the arts precinct at South Brisbane; every visitor to the city should allow a full day there.

Caramel and cancer

Drinking Cola will not give you Cancer

Ian Musgrave looks like he might easily have a second career in Tolkien movies, but he writes really well about issues to do with toxic chemicals and food and the misleading way studies about same are often reported.

In the link above, he talks about caramel in cola drinks, and gives me reassurance that my modest consumption of diet cola is not likely to kill me, at least from that substance.

He also wrote interestingly about coffee recently, and I had probably read before but forgotten this: fact studies consistently show that coffee consumption actually reduces your risk of diabetes (see here, here and here for systematic reviews). In at least one study, the risk was reduced by around 35%, which is quite good.
 Yes, it is.  But only if it works with freeze dried coffee, too...

Horsing around

It seemed time for my once a decade or so trip to the theatre, and what more popular show could I pick than War Horse?

I liked the Spielberg movie a lot, as did my son, and so I also took him to the stage play (the first real professional show he has seen.)

This might have been a bit of a mistake.  The normal progress is to see a stage show and then the film, and the added realism of the latter does not jar in any sense.  But I think, especially for a younger person, seeing the film first adds to the awareness of the "staginess" of a stage production.  He still liked it, more or less, but did comment that the some of the actors seemed to be being too dramatic.  I said that it's something you have to get used to in live theatre - it doesn't allow for whispers and the same subtlety of acting as does the audio and close ups of cinema.

But as for my reaction:  I assume it has been said before, but I kept thinking while watching it "this is like a masterclass of the very best in stagecraft and what can be achieved in theatre."  The lighting design, the sets which work with suggestion more than materials, the back projection, the music, the use of songs as linking device, and, of course, the puppetry.   I mean, it is kind of ridiculous triumph of theatre that the reunion of a man and his (artificial) horse makes a substantial  number in the audience cry.

I saw part of a documentary of how the show was made in Britain a few months ago - it took an extraordinarily long time, with a huge number of people involved.   They really deserve their success.

I was going to end this by noting that I would not go so far as to say that it has cured me of a preference for the additional realism of cinema; but really, they both deserve admiration whenever they work and win over an audience.

Saturday, July 06, 2013

Saturday night fish recipes

A few weeks ago, I tried this salmon recipe from the Coles website: ginger and soy glazed salmon with buk choy.  The glaze and the salmon worked a treat, but the coconut rice (which I had never tried cooking before) burnt thoroughly on the bottom of the saucepan despite my attempt to use as low a gas flame as I could, and was unusable.   Maybe a heavier based pan next time?  I didn't realise coconut rice could be tricky.

Tonight, it was an old favourite, from an old recipe book I've had for maybe 20 years - The Macquarie Dictionary of Cookery.

This book, which I see was reprinted in 1991, is truly remarkable for the terrible quality of the illustrations.  There are no photos at all, just the occasional bad black and white line drawing.  For example, the entry on Spanish cooking  is illustrated thus:

Yet, despite the terrible look of the internal pages, it has proved to be a pretty reliable resource for your basic household recipes.  If you want a straight forward recipe for scones, stews, or (as in tonight's case) trout with almonds, it's very reliable, even if you have no idea at all what the final result should look like.

I've made the trout with almond recipe before and always liked it.  Strangely, given her general love of all seafood, my wife eats trout but without great enthusiasm.  I've always liked it, and I just can't work out why she downplays its qualities.  So I get to cook it only once a year or so.

Tonight, the kids ate this too and had no complaints.  Farmed trout is always available and (I see with pleasure) a reliably cheap-ish fish too. (About $16 a kilo today for filleted trout at Coles, and one big fillet each is plenty for this dish with lots of butter.  I cringe at buying fillet fish which is more than $30 a kilo, as many are these days.)

Anyhow, for each of my future reference, in case my crappy Macquarie cook book ever falls apart, here it is:

I don't worry about whether it's fresh parsley or not I use with the almond sauce; tonight I used oregano (which grows permanently and reliably in our garden, unlike parsley) in its place, although I also had a bit of thyme and its flavour works well in a butter sauce I think. As I indicated earlier, I just buy rainbow trout fillets if I can, and don't worry about extracting the bones.  They are so fine they are not going to chock anyone, and even my kids didn't bother pulling them out as they ate.

Maybe I can work up to having it once every 6 months, or 4, if I am lucky!