Saturday, June 30, 2012

Yet more catching up with the 2000's

I wonder if readers understand why I am talking lately about movies I've only just seen on DVD.

Well, you see, my son was born in 2000, and a daughter a couple of years later, and that pretty much put a halt on seeing many movies at the cinema that you wouldn't take kids to.  This hasn't been that big a problem, as family friendly animation is so good now, it's been a pleasure seeing these films almost exclusively for the last decade.  But now with a 12 year old, he's more interested in a wider range of movies, so I can branch out a bit with DVD choices at home.  And besides which, with LCD TV and DVD players that have a modest sound system attached, watching DVD's now is a quality experience that it wasn't a decade ago.

Last night and today, we watched the following:

Napoleon Dynamite (2004):   America has quite this thing about eccentric middle America living in middle America, doesn't it?  The lead character is played in a way that is always bordering on being too cringeworthy, but I did get plenty of laughs and ultimately liked the way that it had the grace to let every oddball character have a happy ending.   Australian movies have often (too often) been built around oddball characters too, but I usually can't stand them:  there is frequently no generosity of spirit in the way the stories treat them.   (It was suggested to me today that The Castle is probably an exception, and I think that may be right, but believe it or not, my general allergy to Australian films means I still haven't seen it.)     

Anyway, the character I found most amusing in the film was Pedro:  why is it that I find depressed sounding Hispanics funny?

My son kept complaining after about 30 minutes that there was no real story:  "there is no problem to be overcome".  (I am pretty sure they must have been speaking about narrative structure at school lately.)   This is true; it has the slimmest of plots.   Yet it's memorable.

Oh Brother, Where Art Thou:   gosh, it came out in 2000?   I would have guess about 2005, but there you go.

What a brilliant and pleasing film.   The deep, deep well of Coen brothers' eccentricity has its best outing here since (I suspect) their first half dozen films.   Where do they get ideas like having a lead character with an obsession for a particular brand of pomade for his hair, or the staging of a Ku Klux Klan rally as a singing and mass choreography show?   It looks and sounds great too.

As for the acting:  Clooney has made a speciality out of playing characters who aren't as smart as they think they are, and even though I get the feeling from some interviews that he may be a tad annoying in real life, his willingness to repeat this on screen persona (which plays on his own good looks and smooth voice) makes me think he can't be all bad.

But the actor who really impressed in this film was Tim Blake Nelson, the guy who played the dim witted but kind Delmar.  I just thought he was absolutely convincing in every second on screen.  

I'll probably buy this one if I see it soon at Big W.

Rough landings

Here's some video of the recently completed Chinese space mission. 

A few comments: 

*  that landing looks very rough
*  I understand now that the woman astronaut could get a little privacy by going back to the capsule
*  that's a very casual looking summer dress being worn by a woman on national television, isn't it?

The point of philosophy

‘America the Philosophical,’ by Carlin Romano -

There are a few paragraphs that I wanted to keep from the above review of a book that argues that American does  "philosophy" well:

...Romano seems to think that there is, and that America’s distinctive winning formula is mainly a down-to-earth approach to life, though the place’s diversity also plays a role. This brings us to his refashioning of the concept of philosophy, a stratagem that yields the curious result (among others) that Americans are by nature splendid ­“philosophers.” 

Socrates, Plato and Aristotle are not the founders and titans of philosophy, according to Romano; rather, they hijacked it. The notion of philosophia was fluid in Plato’s time, and Romano wishes that the usage and practice of the less famous Isocrates, a rhetorician and educationalist, had caught on instead of that of his slightly younger contemporary. Isocrates (“A Man, Not a Typo,” as Romano headlines him) wrote that “it is far superior to have decent judgments about useful matters than to have precise knowledge about useless things.” For him, philosophy was the imprecise art of public deliberation about important matters, not a logic-­chopping attempt to excavate objective truths. Isocrates, Romano says, “incarnates the contradictions, pragmatism, ambition, bent for problem solving and getting things done that mark Americans,” and his conception of philosophy “jibes with American pragmatism and philosophical practice far more than Socrates’ view.” Romano writes sorely of “the triumph of Plato and Aristotle in excluding Isocrates from the philosophical tradition” and announces that “Isocrates should be as famous as Socrates.” 

 My first thought about this claim was that it is simply nuts, which is also my considered view. Romano offers no explanation of how Plato and Aristotle managed to achieve the nefarious feat of obliterating the wonderful Isocrates. The only demonstrable sense in which they excluded him from the philosophical tradition is that their work eclipsed his, just as the music of Johann Sebastian Bach eclipsed that of his older brother Johann Jacob. Puzzled by Romano’s high estimation of the relevance of Isocrates, even to the broadest conception of philosophy, I reread some of his discourses and emerged none the wiser, though I did remember why I had so quickly forgotten him the first time around. Where are Isocrates’ penetrating treatments of the soul, virtue, justice, knowledge, truth, art, perception, psychology, logic, mathematics, action, space or time? And if philosophy would be better off not trying to talk about such things, what exactly should it be talking about? Romano endorses the aims of Richard Rorty, a maverick American thinker who died in 2007. Rorty had urged philosophers to abandon their intellectual hubris and instead content themselves with interminably swapping enlightening tales from diverse perspectives. It was never quite clear why anyone would want to listen to such stories without endings. 

What of the idea that Americans are inherently practical? Many of the country’s best-known intellectuals have certainly liked to think of themselves that way. America’s principal homegrown school of philosophy is, after all, the pragmatism of C. S. Peirce, William James and John Dewey, which was born at Harvard in the 1870s. According to pragmatism, our theories should be judged by their practical value rather than by their accuracy in representing the world. The ultimate fate of this idea was neatly put by a great American philosophical wit, Sidney Morgenbes­ser, who said it was all very well in theory, but didn’t work in practice. He meant that pragmatism sounds like a good ruse, but it emerges as either trivial or incoherent when you try to flesh it out. There are weaker strains of philosophical pragmatism, which investigate the meaning of our concepts by looking at how we use them. But this idea is mainly the property of Wittgenstein, who may have been gay but was certainly not ­American.

Thursday, June 28, 2012

Stupid politicians

It's very, very easy to dislike all politicians over the asylum seeker issue.

The basic problem, as always, is that on shore processing of boat arrivals, and a relativity easy passage to Australian residence, has the unintended consequence of encouraging more dangerous boats setting off and sinking with large loss of life.

Of course Labor's softening of the process has led to the present situation.  But right wing numbskulls forget the bad publicity that Nauru and desert processing centres had generated under the last term of the Howard government:  I think it fair to say the public was happy to see what would happen under Rudd without them.

OK, so that didn't pan out.  Yes, yes, right wing numbskulls, you said so at the time.  Yes, yes, Labor has for a long time been making excuses about push/pull factors that were more about political bottom covering than anything else.   But the question is: what will work again now.

Enter Andrew Metcalfe, the immigration head honcho who used to work for Howard and knows a thing or two about the topic.  It would seem the Malaysian solution is his idea, and he strongly supports it and says Nauru will not work again (or at least not as well) as it did the first time around.   The UNHRC is happy to supervise the result, and hopes it leads to Malaysia treating all asylum seekers better.  It is ready to go.

Then the High Court intervenes.

In terms of political stupidity after yesterday's debate, this is how I rate it:

1.    The Greens:   in complete denial about the unintended consequence of their idealism.   Utterly useless and impractical.    Have no solution that will start working in anything less than 12 months, possibly longer.   Should be made to travel on a Navy ship that has to recover dead bodies.

2.   The Coalition:   refuses to accept advice of their former public servant Metcalfe;  insults Malaysia by saying they don't trust them to live up to a bilateral agreement even when it works strongly in their favour; does not trust UNHRC which is relatively confident about the Malaysian deal; wants to try an old solution despite the fact that it would take a minimum of several months to get Nauru up and able to take anyone at all again;  has big Joe Hockey cracking up when the government had already indicated that it would not send unaccompanied minor to Malaysia (and no one from the Government, or media, has been fast enough to point this out to him, or to say "hey, Joe, have a tissue, but if you go with the deal that involved opening both Malaysia and Nauru, we promise to only send them to Nauru.)   The Coalition wants its way and is not compromising.

3.  Labor:  has not played this as well as it should.   Here are the key points it should have emphasised:

a.   If you want a solution that is instant and can be put into effect from tomorrow, the Malaysian deal is the only option.  No one is going to Nauru for at least 3 to 6 months; do you want a rush of boat people to try to get here before then?;

b.   Stop pretending that you're now the big caring party for refugees, as if Nauru wasn't sending people nuts and had awful conditions.    And stop misleading the public about how the Malaysia deal works.  It's a "virtual towback" that will be done with maximum publicity to Indonesia and Sri Lanka, and if it works at all it will work quickly by people smugglers not being able to find 600 or so people willing to be the sacrificial lambs for those that come after them.  You may only get a few hundred to Malaysia anyway.  Those that go there are living in the community within 45 days, have the right to work and get their kids educated.   There is a strong case that this is a more humane outcome than leaving them sitting on a hot rock in the Pacific for a year in crap conditions before letting them come to Australia anyway.

c.   Stop ignoring the advice of the same public servant who you used to trust as to why Nauru, even when it is up and running again, won't work as well.   As for "towback" - don't be ridiculous, you're just pandering to people who can't remember why we stopped doing that before.  And TPV's:  there was also good reason why everyone went cool on them.   Admit you got things wrong too, and stop playing politics.
I have run out of time.  More later.


Here's what I have written elsewhere this morning:

Gillard has gambled on being able to win the public by appearing to be the one who was not seeking to claim political victory on this. As a result, she was not willing to make some key and obvious points about this, and I think this has backfired.

David Koch on Sunrise took the line with her this morning that she was the one who was not compromising, as she knew her policy would not get through the senate. When it does fail in the senate today, I think there is a fair chance that the public will have that view.

And they would be wrong, because Labor did not come out fighting on why the Malaysian deal should go ahead with one key fact:

Nauru is not ready to take anyone. It will take months before it can. There is a flurry of boats right now.
The only response on the table that is ready to go is Malaysia. If the Parliament wants an instant response to this immediate problem, this was the only choice.

Of course, all of the other arguments about how the Coalition is being hugely hypocritical and ignoring advice of Metcalfe and insulting Malaysia and still pretending that “tow back” is an option should be made as well.

But it seems to me the key point about the immediacy of the Malaysian deal got overlooked yesterday.

Wednesday, June 27, 2012

While we're talking physics...

Putting a new twist on optical communications -

Here's a more detailed physics explanation of the story I noted last night about how extremely high data transmission speeds over optical systems are possible in the future.

Detective work

CERN calls press conference for 4 July... (Blog) -

Sort of amusing to read the way the author of the above post has worked out that the 4 July press conference must be for a discovery of the Higgs announcement.

I wonder if that is all the LHC will ever come up with....

Tuesday, June 26, 2012

Science news of note

* New Toilet Turns Human Waste Into Electricity and Fertilizer 
Dubbed the No-Mix Vacuum Toilet, it has two chambers that separate the liquid and solid wastes. Using vacuum suction technology, such as those used in aircraft lavatories, flushing liquids would now take only 0.2 litres of water while flushing solids require just one litre.
The sound of it will probably frighten small children, and it will require cleaning 4 times more often that a normal toilet, would be my guess.   I'll pass on this one, even though it is from Singapore.

* Twisted light could let you download 70 DVDs per second 

Well, that's just ridiculous.   I wonder how many DVDs worth of information you have to transmit to reproduce a reasonable facsimile of me?   I can see transmitting people can't be that far off.

* Don’t want to catch the flu? Don’t breathe in the car
If you travel in a car with someone infected with the flu, your chance of getting sick is up to 99.9%, according to researchers.
The study compared 1989 and 2005 models of passenger cars and estimated the risk ranged from 59% to 99.9% for a 90-minute car trip when air was recirculated in newer, more air-tight vehicles.
The risk of getting sick travelling in a car is higher than travelling on a Boeing 747 for 17 hours with an infected person.
 Actually, it has occurred to me lately that shared use of tablet computers in households is going to increase flu transmission internationally.   Everyone in a household needs to own their own as a health measure.

* Belief in hell, according to international data, is associated with reduced crime  

But if that were true, crime rates in Catholic countries should have soared over the last 40 years. It would be at least that long since I've heard a good threat of fire and brimstone sermon from a Catholic pulpit. Catholics just don't worry that much about hell anymore.

Fukushima worries

7:30 last night ran a story on the possible next big problem at Fukushima:  one of the  fuel rod cooling pools appears to have been damaged, and if another large earthquake causes it to lose its water (sitting as it is high in a building), the exposed fuel rods would heat which may lead to a fire which may spread radioactive material far and wide.   The claim is that there is enough radioactivity there to cause the evacuation of Tokyo, if the wind was blowing the wrong way.

I haven't heard of the men making this claim, but they didn't exactly sound like Helen Caldicott types.  (Although there are her type around, including the Japanese Ambassador who featured on the story last night, even though his apparent over-the-top sounding claim that it has the potential to “destroy the world, the environment, and our civilization" didn't get a mention.)

Of course, one can go to some pro nuclear industry sites to read people who dismiss the danger.  This guy, for example, says (to paraphrase) "nah, Tepco says the pool is safe, and why wouldn't we trust them?  And besides which, the exposed fuel rods wouldn't cause a fire anyway."  Yet further down in comments someone says:

The risk of zircaloy fire in exposed fuel has been well documented for decades. Suggesting that it can't happen or that it's even unlikely is way out of bounds. This is especially true given your admission that the fuel in the unit 4 pool is relatively fresh. There's more than enough decay heat in the newer assemblies to melt them if they're exposed. Once that fuel goes molten the situation could easily spread to the other spent assemblies and result in a serious fire and release or even an excursion. You can't just wave this off. It's a real possibility if the pool is breached. I agree that it wouldn't be the planet killer that the doomsayers are calling it, but it would still be a level 7 incident in it's own right.
To which the response is:
 I think you've misinterpreted my position, here. I actually do think a failure in the structure of SP4 would be a very bad thing indeed, precisely for the reasons you indicate. I maintain my doubts about the zirc fire contingency, namely because outside of the freshest fuel, none of the fuel in the pool has sufficient heat to get anywhere close to this. Meanwhile, the "freshest" fuel is now a over year old - meaning the source term on the decay heat has decreased substantially. Again, I have provided my data for this, and you are free to check my assumptions.
 Suddenly his confidence about there being no possibility of a dangerous fire seems more equivocal.

 The most amazing thing about the story is this:   how silly is it to put a vital cooling pool 30 m in the air in a building in an earthquake zone?    I know Fukushima is old, and all, but really - what were the engineers who designed this thinking?

And yet when a disaster strikes, it's all "trust us - we're engineers".

Monday, June 25, 2012

Comparing two papers

Phillip Coorey in the Sydney Morning Herald calmly puts the case for holding Tony Abbott responsible for the failure to find a solution to an issue Labor did exacerbate (but with the agreement of the electorate which really was tiring of the Nauru off shore processing of asylum seekers at the time Rudd was elected):

Abbott wants people to believe that what worked last time will work again. Detention and processing on Nauru, temporary protection visas, and turning boats around when safe to do so.

Thursday's tragedy hangs a lantern once more on the issue.

There is little dispute that Rudd's abolition of Howard government policies has led to the situation now whereby the boats arrive regularly, filling detention centres to the point community detention is now required.

This system of onshore processing is the very situation for which the Greens and refugee groups have argued and the numbers arriving are even higher than the experts warned.

When the inevitable tragedy strikes, the Greens and others have nothing to offer, other than some utopian vision of a regional solution, something Gillard tried to start - and was burnt.
Last year, the High Court ruled Labor's Malaysia plan illegal and the government needs the opposition's help to legislate around that decision.

Abbott received the same briefing from the then secretary of the Immigration Department Andrew Metcalfe, as did the media. Metcalfe told Abbott his policies - of which Metcalfe was a principal architect - would not work again. Nauru would be no more a deterrent than Christmas Island because people now knew that once processed they would most likely be sent to Australia.

Temporary protection visas were not considered a deterrent and as for turning the boats back, the Indonesians would not permit it. Last time it was tried, it proved the most effective measure of all until the people smugglers started scuttling the boats when intercepted, endangering everybody.

As for the proposed policy of refusing refugee status to those who destroy their identification, to just where would you return them?

Abbott has been told not just by Metcalfe, but the Liberals' godfather of border protection, Philip Ruddock, that he should provide the numbers to allow Labor to adopt the Malaysia solution. Metcalfe called it ''virtual tow back''. Return 800 people to Malaysia and it would be like towing the boats back.

Labor has offered to use Nauru as well but Abbott refuses point blank to bend.

Some claim it will split the Coalition, yet Gillard had the guts to push it past the Labor Left. For Abbott, it is his way or nothing, but he should reconsider.

If he consents and the policy fails, it will be the government's failure.

If it works, it will be one less problem for him if he is elected.

And fewer people might drown.
Over at The Australian, meanwhile, we get former Liberal Party staffer  Chris Kenny writing, under the heading "The onus is now on Labor to deliver :
Predictably, the press gallery and the ABC have swung behind the government's argument that the chaos is Abbott's fault for not facilitating Malaysia. The public won't accept this. They know that once, thanks to tough, confronting and controversial measures, this problem was fixed. The government must concede its mistakes and show a genuine willingness to look at previous strategies.

The people-smuggling trade will be harder to stop a second time, partly because some of the bluff of the Pacific Solution has been deliberately exposed by Labor. But all previous measures, including temporary protection visas, must be on the table. Political pride seems to be the only obstacle to sensible action.
Note the disregard for advice and detail as to why the government has rejected TPV's, and a mere re-introduction of Nauru, as solutions?   What's important to Kenny is "what the public will accept".

Not content with that, The Oz also gives a column to Scott Morrison, Opposition spokeman on immigration, so that he can continue to blame the government, and again ignore the issue of the advice the government got from the most experienced public servant, which the Coalition used to trust.
The Australian's bias against Labor is extraordinarily clear, and its disingenuous editorial policies  (whereby, for example, it "believes" in AGW but gives a huge unfettered run to climate change skeptics in column after column) must be obvious to Rupert Murdoch and have his implicit approval.

Fairfax is needed more than ever, and if Gina Rinehart wants to turn it into Fox News, I'll be very upset.

Sunday, June 24, 2012

Local ghosts

I was talking to someone last week who works in a building in Brisbane which she feels certain is haunted.   I don't want to identify the building, just in case the story gets around, but let's just say it has a Catholic heritage.  Her office is at the quiet side of the building (in fact, near a part which is unoccupied now) and soon after taking up the job there, early in the evening while fully engaged in work at her desk, she heard a clear voice say "excuse me!" to which she responded.  The problem was, there was no one else in the room, or anywhere near it.  I think it was on another occasion, she felt something flick or brush against her ear, again while alone in her office.   She also hears sounds from the empty floor above her, as well as footstep-like sounds in the corridor, with (as you guessed) no one there when she checks.

Now, when it is night time and people are open to suggestion, innocent animal sounds can be mistaken for something else.   (She mentioned herself, though I don't think she believes it as the explanation, that maybe loud rats have something to do with the upstairs sound.)   But a clear voice that sounds close to you in your otherwise empty office - that is a little different and would, no doubt, be a tad disturbing.  She does not work in her office of an evening anymore. 

She indicated briefly some other stories of ghostly happenings in the building, but I don't have enough detail to pass them on.  I suspect that, if I wanted to, I could walk through the unoccupied part of the building, but she said her husband had done it and he came back pale and reporting it creeped him out.  I don't think I should bother...

Anyway, this led to me Googling around for stories of Catholic related ghosts of Brisbane, and I turned up this odd letter written by a nun in a pamphlet about Mary MacKillop:

This isn't, by the way, the same place I am talking about, but it still is an odd letter, I thought.  The first thing that occurred to me was "I hope these nuns were familiar with possum noises in the night"; but I think there were all Australian nuns being discussed, so one would hope the explanation was not so mundane.

The only other religious place in Brisbane which I have heard people claim is haunted is  All Saints at Wickham Terrace (which I see is Anglican Church, but one of the Anglo-Catholic type.)  I don't have any details to hand, though.  

There are some websites around talking about ghost stories of Brisbane, but to be honest, you couldn't exactly claim that it has much of a reputation for hauntings generally speaking.  In reading around, I was surprised to see a story in Brisbane Times a couple of years ago claiming the current Supreme Court building has had its share of odd experiences.  The building (or one part of it) is not very old, yet it is being replaced soon by a new court building.   These parts of the article sounded appropriately spooky:

Speaking to, a female security guard at the court complex said she was certain ghosts roamed the building.  During night shift she often sees the chair in Court 21 slowly spinning as if someone was sitting in it.  "There's no draught in there, no way that any breeze is causing that," she said....

One guard tells how two years ago two painters were in a sealed-off room in the building's basement doing maintenance work when, they claimed, a gust of icy cold wind "whooshed" past them.
"They were quick out of there and never came back," said a court source.

"They were convinced there was something freaky going on down there."

One night as one security officer manned the front desk, he heard a nearby elevator 'ding' and then the doors open as if someone was about to get out on to the ground floor.

No one was in the lift, but moments later heard the hand dryer go off in the nearby public bathroom. Again, no one there.

"Then about a minute after that the exit doors just started to rattle rattle rattle, as if someone had grabbed the handles and was desperately trying to get out," he said.

"It got me worked up all right. It was the strangest thing I've ever seen."
The security guards are perhaps very happy to be moving into a new building soon.

I guess it shows you don't have to have an old building for it to have a certain reputation.  It would seem that the intensity of feelings experienced in a place are enough.  Yet if that were a reliable guide to hauntings, wouldn't nearly all hospitals have ghosts? 

Anyway, a bit of mystery adds spice to life.

Saturday night recipe

As red capsicum are unusually cheap in Brisbane at the moment, I was inspired to try roast capsicum and tomato soup last night.

The recipe at the link is really pretty simple, and it tasted pretty good, but I thought it needed a bit of creaminess.  Not having any cream on hand, I added a bit of evaporated milk.  Maybe only 100 ml or so.  It worked well.

Also, I sliced a chorizo sausage, fried it, and added a half dozen crispy sliced to the soup when serving.  Nice.

Lemons overload

Collected from the tree in our yard today (there are a couple of limes in there too):

Lemon curd, lemon and lime marmalade, and a lemon tart are being made as I type, but I think mainly from lemons picked before this bunch.

I should try making preserved lemon again, I suppose, and see if I can avoid the mould this time.

More movie reviews you don't need

I  watched an odd combination of DVD last night:

Clash of the Titans (2010):   this movie copped a lot of bad review when it came out, and I recall some of them were about about how bad the 3-D was during the rapid action sequences.   (Eyes and brain need more time to construct the 3-D, apparently).   But hey, as a 2-D experience at home, I can't really see what was wrong with it.  Oddly, the somewhat campy and out-of-date stop motion animation of the 1981 version seems to have more fans than this one, which makes little sense.

What did I actually like about this version?  Well, who can dislike a movie featuring a giant scorpion caravan ride across the desert?  But seriously, for such an over the top fantasy story, I thought the acting and script was fine.  In fact, I'm so used to Liam Neeson in God roles that I now find any movie in which he is just a husband has plausibility issues.   And on the other side of the coin, Ralph Fiennes seems to be the go-to man for evil supernatural roles; but you know, he does them well.  (I particularly liked his entrances in this movie.)  The special effects are fine and somehow didn't bother me for their computer generated fakery in the way they do in many movies now.   (In fact, I have a bit of trouble working out why this happens - why in some movies I resent how they are being used, and in others I don't.)    

Anyway, I thought it was all rather fun.

This morning I was curious to check just how many liberties the movie took with Greek mythology, and found this rather funny post which gives the answer as "heaps".  Ah well, real Greek myths are (in many cases) too grotesque for modern tastes, surely.   (As a child, I always felt sorry for the guy - Prometheus - who had his liver constantly eaten out by a bird.  And there's far too much sex with Gods disguised as animals - erk.)

Match Point (2005):   Supposedly a return to form by Woody Allen (at least for his skills with serious subject matter), but I just couldn't see it myself.

I hold Crimes and Misdeamours in high regard, but the basic theme of this movie is very similar, while being much duller and plodding.

Let's face it, you could see that the lead dude was going to do something bad, and one had an expectation of suspence, especially given the initial tennis club background which would have reminded many people of Strangers on a Train.   So it's rather a pity that you have to wait about 3/4 of the way through the story before there is any real tension and the deed is done.    I found it hard to see why so many people liked the main character before then, anyway.

And I have to say that I agreed with some of the English reviews:  Allen just doesn't seem to have an ear for real life conversation as it is spoken by anyone in England.  Everyone sounds stilted and scripted.

So, count me as unimpressed.

Friday, June 22, 2012

A handy summary

Christy Exaggerates the Model-Data Discrepancy

Nothing much new here; just a handy summary post from Skeptical Science about the modal/observation discrepancies in AGW.

Thursday, June 21, 2012

Fork tales

The history of the fork: When we started using forks and how their design changed over time. - Slate Magazine

A rather interesting short history of the fork here, telling me lots of things I never knew before.

(There were seen as very disgustingly feminine and unmanly for some time, apparently.)

Ancient yoghurt

Pottery shards put a date on Africa’s dairying
Yoghurt may have made it on to the menu for North Africans around 7,000 years ago, according to an analysis of pottery shards published today in Nature1.  The fermented dairy product left tell-tale traces of fat on the ceramic fragments, suggesting a way that the region’s inhabitants may have evolved to tolerate milk as adults.

As expected...

Back in 2009 alone (go on, search "carbon capture" in the search bar over on the right), I had six posts about why CO2 sequestration seemed very, very unlikely to work.  One of them ended:
That CCS is being promoted so heavily seems simply to be a triumph of an industry's self preservation instinct over common sense.
Proving again that my sound judgement deserves reward with, I don't know, the leadership of a small principality if not the entire country, we had this story last weekend about how government money put into the idea by former PM Rudd has pretty much led to nothing. 

And now an article in PNAS that (naturally) Andrew Bolt highlights, argues that it's unlikely to be a long term solution anyway:

We argue here that there is a high probability that earthquakes will be triggered by injection of large volumes of CO2 into the brittle rocks commonly found in continental interiors. Because even small- to moderate-sized earthquakes threaten the seal integrity of CO2 repositories, in this context, large-scale CCS is a risky, and likely unsuccessful, strategy for significantly reducing greenhouse gas emissions.
Mind you, there had been an article also in PNAS earlier in the year estimated that sequestration could work for the US.   Clearly, this is an area of some disagreement, but are you going to spend billions of dollars on an idea when no one really knows if it's a proper solution? 

I don't think so.   My advice is to drop it.   Put all this money into other clean energy research.   Let me organise an international conference about that and get a scientific and engineering consensus as to which forms of nuclear or other energy to best pursue for both fast deployment now, and future development.   I'd probably do a better job than what's being done internationally now anyway.

Wednesday, June 20, 2012

Crossing over

Neutrons escaping to a parallel world?

From the link:
Theoretical physicists Zurab Berezhiani and Fabrizio Nesti from the University of l'Aquila, Italy, reanalysed the experimental data obtained by the research group of Anatoly Serebrov at the Institut Laue-Langevin, France. It showed that the loss rate of very slow free neutrons appeared to depend on the direction and strength of the magnetic field applied. This anomaly could not be explained by known physics.

Berezhiani believes it could be interpreted in the light of a hypothetical parallel world consisting of mirror particles. Each would have the ability to transition into its invisible mirror twin, and back, oscillating from one world to the other. The probability of such a transition happening was predicted to be sensitive to the presence of magnetic fields, and could therefore be detected experimentally.
I have a soft spot for any physics talking about particles having a mirror particle in a parallel universe.  Seems a good way to get heaven, no?

The full paper is available for free here for some reason, although it's only worth it for the opening and end paragraphs.  Here's the last paragraph: