Posts Tagged ‘science’

300th post. Who’d have thought it would last this long eh?

I think I deserve an introspective piece as a result. A bit of self indulgent navel gazing.

There’s a piece in the Indy regarding the destruction of historically significant artifacts by religious extremists. Most recently the libraries containing ancient manuscripts in Timbuktu by Malian Islamisists, but they are just following a long and proud tradition of destroying knowledge. The Taliban were famously responsible for blowing up giant statues of Buddha, but if we go back further even Henry VIII had a good go at erasing monastic seats of knowledge.

As a person of a more scientific than religious slant it occurs to me that as a species we are just following scientific principles.

Physics and the laws of thermodynamics state that all systems tend towards an entropy maximum, where entropy represents disorder in a system. It takes work to resist entropy.

It appears that humans are hell bent on reversing the gains we have made and dragging ourselves back to an archaic level of ignorance, a maximum level of chaos and disorder. The technology we congratulate ourselves for inventing merely acting as a catalyst in a chemical reaction speeding the process of change within the system. From the AK wielding shouty nutters of sand blown disaster zones to the creationist hobbled science classes that are supposed to educate our children we are losing ground on every front.

Ultimately one of the possible end states of the universe is called the heat death of the universe. A flat uniform sea of entropy, not of any specific level, but a minimum of activity in a bland featureless void.

Perhaps we hurtle headlong into the heat death of civilisation. Sped along by hyperbole and hypocrisy, riding the back of the silicon age. Our ability to advance gradually slowing to a retreat into a moribund state of ignorance and intolerance. Forever to stagnate until nature finally takes pity and through famine, disease or the sun going nova finally puts us out of our misery.

Hopefully we can do it with the minimum of fuss and leave the cockroaches to their turn in peace.

Not to fall into the national stereotype or anything at this time of national crisis (well, minor snowfall I’ll grant you), but I quite like weather stuff. I find it interesting, just as well really as I have worked as a weatherman. (An awesome one naturally)

So in a break from the traditional moaning, I though I would share some stuff on the net that may interest you

First up. Weather charts. Not the stuff you get on the TV but proper ones, The UK Met Office charts are best, but curiously the best place to see them is not on their site! MetBrief has a full set, regularly updated.

If you fancy watching an animation of the current precipitation then the last couple of hours of radar imagery can be viewed here

Mucking about on the water? Then the inshore waters FX (forecast!) is here

Fantastic satellite imagery is available via Dundee Uni receiving station (needs free registration) – hint: you want the latest images from the Meteosat SEVIRI Also worth looking at the gallery of spectacular images

Want to know what it’s going to do and when? Probably the most accurate FX are the terminal airfield forecasts (TAFs) for aviation. You can look up your local one here and then once you’ve confused yourself, figure out the codes here

Some good detailed forecasts can be found at the Met Office and BBC as expected, but another good source is here at the weather underground

Or maybe we should bring back the Live TV version…

Whatever you end up doing, have fun and stay safe!

Ah, the age old question of free speech, freedom of belief and so on.

Today I saw a post on a buddies timeline

Being an atheist is okay. Being an atheist and shaming religions and spirituality as silly and not real is not okay. Being a Christian is okay. Being homophobic, misogynistic, racist or an otherwise hateful person and blaming it on your religion is not okay. Being a reindeer is okay. Bullying and excluding another reindeer because he has a shiny red nose is not okay

To which I replied…

if they didn’t want to be described as silly and not real, then they need to stop pretending silly and unreal stuff isn’t. But like the sentiment of lets have a beer regardless!

I was quickly slapped back into place by one of his friends…

…Ah, so you’re talking about superstrings, particle/wave duality, quantum tunneling, time dilation, quantum superposition etc. Silly and unreal things that I don’t understand but am happy to accept as helpful ways of explaining things. I have the same approach to God, and hoped that more than 3 minutes would pass from *** posting the picture I like, to a comment that actually misses the point of the picture entirely.

Okay… not fair to barge in on a friends timeline and start an argument. But this is my blog so I’m free to vent here

First up the assumption that I was talking about those things. Wrong. I was talking about religious claptrap being peddled as true. As the t-shirt slogan say. I will convert for evidence. If you peddle or defend ridiculous ideas that are plain silly, then do not be surprised or offended when someone calls it such.

As for “superstrings, particle/wave duality, quantum tunneling, time dilation, quantum superposition etc. Silly and unreal things that I don’t understand”. The fact you do not understand fully something does not make it silly and unreal. It merely shows you do not understand something. The scientific theories you mention are just that. Theories. Conclusions based on the best knowledge to hand that will be improved upon as we gain in scientific, experimental and theoretical knowledge. It’s called progress, and as I’ve stated before I’ll take a conclusion over a belief every time.

As for equating an intolerance of religious nonsense with homophobia, misogyny and racism. You mistake my intolerance of pandering to religion with an intolerance of religion. You are perfectly free to believe what delusion you choose. You may even hold beliefs the rest of civilisation find objection such as homophobia, misogyny and racism. But you are not exempt from having those beliefs criticised or ridiculed, and if you wish to inflict your beliefs on others or act in accordance with you beliefs then be expected to be asked for evidence or to justify your behaviour.

I think the point I “missed” is that I am not supposed to have the temerity to criticise an idea if it is labelled a “belief”. Well you’ve shit out there mate… As for “shaming religions”? They can only be shamed if they have done something shameful. Why on earth would an organisation guilty of a shameful act be deserving of special protection?

Finally, of course being a reindeer is okay. Reindeer have learnt from Santa that bullying is wrong and are never nasty to other reindeer now. To suggest otherwise is just plain stupid.

On a more cheerful note, if you want to see reindeer in action you can track Santa’s progress here

This time it’s the Mayans lack of foresight in extending their calendar that is causing consternation. It has been nearly two years since the last end of the world after all…

Russian government ministers have issued re-assuring messages, Bugarach in France has banned travellers to the UFO garage that could save the faithful.

Meanwhile in Oz, when they’re not calling up the NHS…

I am of course certain it is yet more religious ignorance writ large. The only end of the world we are witnessing is the gradual slide into a new dark ages as religion, extremism, ignorance and over population condemn the planet to a slow painful extinction.

So certain in fact, that if the sky pixie peddlars are right and it’s the second coming/end of calender/Ragnarök (delete as applicable) and I’m wrong and the world does in fact end I will buy every reader a pint at the winchester tavern

Last orders please…

Just so you know how long you have…

Apologies for lack of blogging recently, but a SQL server update meant loads of database and wordpress fun… Only hindered a little bit by the fact I know very little about SQL databases!

Anyway, I’m back! Normal service to be resumed. In the meantime something to make you smile, unless you’re a nutbag creationist type.. in which case this is more your level. Disturbing, but more your thing I’m guessing.

I'm out of here

I am gutted

I try not to be too personal on my blog. Not everyone who reads even knows who I am, I like it that way.

But to understand this post you need to know a couple of things.

I love Hawkwind, by far my favourite band. Dawkins knows how many albums I have by them; they also hold great sentimental value to me as I was introduced by a great old friend, my best man, who is no longer with us.

I also love the sea. I am a sailor. I do not mean a wind assisted idiot who ventures out on a plastic drinks cabinet twice a year. I have made the sea my professional life as a hydrographer (a cartographer for you lubbers). I’ve sailed to Antarctica a few times, lost count of how many miles sailed and the only sea I have yet to visit is the Arctic.

I am also deeply moved by the environment. Not the rose tinted, saccharine, Disney version of cute big eyed cuddliness. But the natural world red in tooth and claw. I was a member of save the whale; I am studying for an MSc in marine environmental science stuff…

So when I found Hawkwind were playing a local theatre I was somewhat excited. Not unnaturally I visited their website to check dates and prices and found a link to support the Sea Shepherd

The Sea Shepherd describe their mission:

Sea Shepherd uses innovative direct-action tactics to investigate, document, and take action when necessary to expose and confront illegal activities on the high seas. By safeguarding the biodiversity of our delicately-balanced ocean ecosystems, Sea Shepherd works to ensure their survival for future generations.

Tactics have included ramming vessels and throwing toxic or noxious substances at the whalers. You may think that as an ardent supporter of preventing whaling I would be in favour of their more direct tactics. I am not.

I have several issues with them.

The whalers on the vessels are not the problem. It is the people that own the vessels, the companies that profit from selling scientific research catch as food stuff, even the people that buy and eat whale meat. Working on a vessel at sea, especially fishing vessel is not pleasant. People do not do it for fun. These men (it is overwhelmingly male) do it to earn a living, to feed their children, to support their families. Sea Shepherd would achieve more tackling the cultural shift needed in Far East countries to get whale meat removed from the dinner table, however it is more exciting and gung-ho to become pirates. They seek to impose their cultural values on others by threat of violence.

The sea is a dangerous enough place as it is. The sea does not care why you are there, it is indifferent to your sentiments or your pleading. It will happily kill a good man as a bad one. Anyone who intentionally sets out to make it more dangerous for others loses my sympathy immediately.

There is no need to adopt these tactics at sea. They could chose to attack company offices, fishing ports, research labs where the meat is processed. They do it at sea to attempt to avoid national laws. They put avoiding arrest above risking others lives, something I cannot condone.

So am I saying Whales should not be protected? Of course not. But not by giving into self aggrandising ego trips. Far more is achieved by patient work, monitoring and publicising illegal activities than resorting to piracy in far flung places. More is accomplished by careful planning and research to change attitudes than by giving into a base desire to lash out at what we perceive as wrong.

It’s far tougher that way. It’s not as sexy to lobby and educate than to physically attack someone. But it’s more effective, more grown up and more civilised. If we can’t behave like that why should others?

There are alternatives. They work. Greenpeace continue to do good work. And they do it without attacking some poor sod just trying to feed his kids in a dangerous remote cold place…

As for me and my Hawkwind gig? Not sure yet. Yet another hero seems slightly smaller today.

Some other links you may be interested in.
Sea Watch Foundation
International fund for Animal Welfare
Save the Whales
Whale and Dolphin Conservation Society

Is it
a) the priest, an adult, educated, experienced and cosseted in an organisation with billions to spend on a secure environment, protected by states and secrecy.
b) a vulnerable child, often from broken or dysfunctional backgrounds lacking security, education, or experience.

Got it yet? Need some help? Well that’s ok the Bishop of Tenerife can help you there (I say help, I suspect in much the same way the church helped tens of thousands of vulnerable young people)

As he says…

His comments were that there are youngsters who want to be abused, and he compared that abuse to homosexuality, describing them both as prejudicial to society. He said that on occasions the abuse happened because the there are children who consent to it.

He goes onto to equate the widespread priest abuse at the hands of malicious young children with homosexuality

The Bishop claimed that both abuse of children and homosexuality would lead to future problems in society ‘as has occurred in other civilisations’.

That’s right. It’s not the innocent priests faults at all, it’s all down the gays and malicious minors corrupting society.

Where to begin?

To start with, this hateful bastard should be hounded until the day he dies in penniless obscurity. Then the assets of the church, secured by threats of eternal damnation and lies, bolstered by tax avoidance and political machinations should be forcibly removed and used for good, not hoarded to pay for golden churches, pensions and legal advice for paedophiles.

We should turn every religious building into a school or library. Tear down and sell their golden trinkets and spend it educating young people. It would be a start at putting right the damage this superstitious rubbish has wrought. Turn their legacy of threats, lies, secrecy and division at last into the force for good they always claimed to be.

hat tip to Old Holborns tweets for highlighting

Not all teenagers are feral cenotaph swinging arses!

Came across an article in the Grauniad regarding a 17 year old skeptic putting his reasoning and blogging skills to good use fighting quackery.

Most impressed, well worth a read and hope he keeps up the good fight.

Bravo Zulu

I accidently caught PM on radio 4 tonight. It featured the tragic case of a man known only as “Martin” who is seeking to ensure anyone that helps him end his life is not prosecuted. There is about 10 minutes of interview with him and his partner who admits she does not want him to go, and cannot bring herself to help him do it through her love for him, but will not stand in his way.

Do not misunderstand, this man is not just in a wheelchair, or missing a limb

Martin lies in a bed. He can just about move his head, has slight movement in his arms, toes and throat but he cannot speak. He makes some grunting noises and communicates through a computer.

He stares at letters on the screen and a computerised voice talks for him.

He used to be a keen rugby player and cyclist. In 2008, he suffered a brain stem stroke. He now has to rely on full-time carers who help him with every aspect of his life.

Within months of the stroke, he decided he no longer wanted to continue living. When asked in an interview with BBC Radio 4’s PM Programme, he spells it out – via the computer – “d-e-a-t-h”.

He is a rational, articulate, intelligent man, locked in a body unable to move, eat, clean or even speak for himself. It is heart-rending stuff, and I defy anyone not to be moved by it. If you can make time, then listen to it. Then try to convince yourself you’ve had a bad week.

The piece then moves to an interview with Richard Hawkswell, Chief Exec of Scope. Obviously there to offer an alternate point of view. (Skip to about 15:00 on the iPlayer to get to this bit) Scopes “vision” is

To drive the changes that will make our society the first in which disabled people are able to realise their full civil liberties and human rights

Except the right to decide for themselves. This man thinks disabled people are not able to choose how they die and it should be decided for them. he refused point blank to answer whether “Martin” should be allowed to choose how he lives and dies. He prefers to waffle on about protection for disabled people. And this I find to be the supreme hypocrisy.

He runs a charity that campaigns for disabled rights, the right to be treated as a person,  To quote their website again

Every disabled person has the right to live their life and work towards their goals without being limited by other people’s expectations or prejudices

Except he then seeks to enforce his prejudices about what a disabled person is able to decide for themselves. He limits their choice by his expectation that they are feeble and unable to choose. He seeks to take away their right to live their life and be treated as a free thinking individual.

In short he seeks to force “Martin” to live out his days in unimaginable torture. He refuses to allow the only person qualified to judge whether “Martin”s life is worth living or not make that decision, and that is “Martin”

He constantly parades his do-gooding credentials about respect, empowerment and rights of the individual, providing that those disabled people agree with his agenda. As soon as they don’t they are to be treated as unfit to decide, somehow less than a person, someone to be dictated to. Less than an animal in fact. We wouldn’t even treat a dog the way he seeks to treat “Martin”

I don’t know what’s right for a person in “Martin”s position. I fervently hope I never have to. I am also certain know no-one else does either. Perhaps Scope should read their own rhetoric and ask the one person in a position to advise them and take his views into account. If Richard Hawkswell is still unsure, he only needs to read his own website again…

Freedom to choose

Every disabled person should have the right to exercise choice and control over all decisions that shape their future including the products, services and support programmes they use.

The world is paying tribute to the 50th anniversary of Yuro Gagarins epic voyage into the unknown. His flight on the 12 April, 1961 began with his shout “Poyekhali! (Let’s go!)”. This video beautifully combines archive footage, radio communcations and video shot from the International Space Station to relive the view he would have had, in real time, of his pioneering flight.

What struck me is what an exciting time the 50’s and 60’s were. We had leapt from the first flights in 1903 to landing on the moon 65 years later. By comparison what have we acheived since? I know that many of these developments were driven by wars both hot and cold, and manned exploration is expotentially more difficult as we reach further into the universe. But take a look at a few of these significant firsts…

First successful heavier-than-air machine flight.

First cross-Channel flight

First transatlantic flight.

First piloted supersonic flight in an airplane

1957 A busy year!
First round-the-world nonstop jet plane flight.

Soviet Union launches Sputnik I.

Sputnik II launches, with ill-fated Laika the dog on board.

Cosmonaut Yuri Gagarin becomes the first human to enter space and return safely.

Astronauts Edwin “Buzz” Aldrin and Neil Armstrong become the first men to walk on the moon.

1972 Launch of unmanned Pioneer 10: Earth’s first space probe to an outer planet, Pioneer 10 sent its last communication back to Earth on January 22, 2003, while 7.6 billion miles from home

1973 United States launches the first experimental space station, the Skylab.

First regularly scheduled commercial supersonic transport (SST) flights begin.

Aboard the space shuttle Columbia, Robert L. Crippen and John W. Young make the first mission in NASA’s space shuttle program.

Mir space station launches.

The crew of Expedition One, astronaut Bill Shepherd and cosmonauts Yuri Gidzenko and Sergei Krikalev, dock at the International Space Station. They are the first people to take up residence at the ISS, staying there for several months.

Spirit and Opportunity arrive on the Martian surface. They continue to explore the Red Planet today.

SpaceShipOne becomes the first privately built craft to reach outer space.

What is striking is the slow down in exploration. What achievements have been made in the last 5 years for instance? We are still riveted by the Mars explorers which are still producing new data despite being designed for a 3 month mission. NASA is retiring the shuttles and the workhorses of Russia and the ESA seem dedicated to servicing the ISS, which although a magnificent acheiviement is still in a low earth orbit that we bettered decades ago.

I want to be excited about exploration. But as a species we seem to only have resources for parochial political gambits and as a population we seem more interested in whatever phone vote is on Saturday night.

Perhaps Yuri was better off not seeing what we became. His thirst for knowledge and experience was summed up in a note he left to be sent in the event of his death (which was estimated as 50/50 at best!)

“I trust the hardware completely. It will not fail. But it can happen that a man trips at ground level and breaks his neck. Some accident may happen. If it does, do not waste yourself with grief. Life is life, and nobody is safe from being run over by a car.”

Bravo Zulu Yuri Alekseyevich Gagarin, 9 March 1934 – 27 March 1968