Posts filed under 'Science'

Farewell, Sir Arthur

There are few authors who have had more influence on my life than Sir Arthur C Clarke, from his eminently readable hard sci-fi novels to more esoteric fare like his Mysterious World. I try, at least once a year, to read a couple of my favourite books, Rendezvous with Rama, and The Songs of Distant Earth; each as intelligent and well-rounded as they are different from each other.

I still have vivid memories from my childhood having this shit scared out of my by a picture of Loy’s Ape on an episode of Mysterious World, when I was probably far too young to actually be watching it. My childhood interest in the paranormal almost certainly was fermented then, and although as an adult I’m an arch-sceptic, I’m still fascinated by that world and the (mostly bonkers) people who inhabit it.

So tonight I shall start re-reading Rama one more time – I’m probably overdue in any case – and I can think of potential future worlds and remember a remarkable story teller.

Ninety orbits on this pale blue dot is more than most achieve, but you’ll be remembered for many, many more.


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March 19th, 2008

Perseids Pictures

During the recent Perseid meteor shower, on a whim I decided to try man hand at Astro Photography for the very first time during which I learned three very important things:

Firstly, it really helps if you take fully charged batteries.

Secondly, where I live it is pretty much impossible to get away from light pollution.

And thirdly, in meteor pictures, size is everything.

Unfortunately, I somewhat failed in the latter by using a relatively wide angle lens.

So, here are three of the pictures taken on the night, somewhat messed about with to hide as much of the light pollution as possible. It seems that green is the in-colour for meteors this year.





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August 19th, 2007

Physics teaching is going to hell in a handbasket

When I was a lad in school, back in the days of yore (ie, the late 1980s) I wasn’t really enamoured with many of the subjects I was taking at ‘O’ level (the precursor of GCSEs) and then ‘A’ level.

However, I absolutely loved physics. I loved the precision, its predictive powers and how, well, sciencey it was. With the right equations you could work out everything from the path of a cannon ball to the energy produced when matter falls into a black hole.

In short, it rocked my physical world.

I didn’t realise this at the time, naturally, but although I wouldn’t go into a career that requires me to use physics every day, it did finely tune my bullshit meter and give me the apparatus to see through nonsense and woo quickly. For example, someone told me that using a mobile phone would literally cook their brain, as if it was in a microwave oven. My bullshit meter immediately went off and after a quick scribble on a piece of paper to work out the wavelengths involved, it was apparent that the human head is simply too small to even interact on any meaningful level with the radio signals involved.

So you can imagine how disheartened I was when a physics teacher called Wellington Grey announced that the new GCSE physics curriculum is basically dumbed down to the point of insanity.

Already universities here in the UK are having to give new students remedial maths lessons, now they’re going to have to teach remedial physics for those poor souls who want to take a hard science in further education.

This is why more people than ever are taking ridiculous ‘soft’ subjects like Media Studies instead of the old, tough subjects like Maths, Physics, Chemistry et al – why do all that hard work when you can sit around for four years watching TV and still get a degree at the end?

Now the UK government, through its education policies, is determined to produce several years worth of physics-ignorant kids who don’t know F=MA but do know that global warming is a really bad thing, m’kay.

But, what the hell, if you make the exams easier more pupils will get a higher grade and then the government can crow about its achievements in education!

I really wish I was just being cynical.

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1 comment June 9th, 2007

Prediction: Global warming not as bad as they’re telling you

The whole global warming panic has just never felt right to me. It is a matter of historic fact the Earth has been both much warmer and much cooler than it is now – in the past 1,000 years alone we’ve had both the little ice age and the medieval warm period. I’m not wholly convinced by the more extreme climate theories that claim that there could be a catastrophic 4 – 5 degree Celsius temperature increase in the next 100 years, causing the ice-caps to melt and a whole barrel of horrors to be unleashed. In fact, I’m far more inclined to believe there will be a 1 – 1.5 degree Celsius temperature increase, largely caused by wholly natural events; no meltdown, no catastrophes, no need to panic. However, we will have been forced to pay billions in so-called ‘green’ taxes to offset our carbon usage.

But, since guessing the temperature 100 years hence isn’t much of a testable prediction, I’ll make one now: the 2007 hurricane season will not be noticeably worse than preceding years. I’m not entirely on new ground here, since the predicted 2006 hurricanes failed to materialise, even after post-Katrina warnings of doom.

I’m not a scientist, nor do I play one on TV, but I am a fan of science and feel that it is being used increasingly as a political bludgeon instead of a tool to learn the truth of things.

So, if there is a lack of major hurricanes this year, try to remember not all the claims of upcoming climate doom are going to be correct and, sometimes, they’re going to be wrong. Not just about hurricanes, but about other things as well.

Of course if Florida is flattened by several category six’s, then it serves you right to listen to some non-scientist’s blog.

[I’m not in the pay of petrochemical corporations, though if Shell would like to give me a few hundred litres of V-Power, I’d be grateful]


April 8th, 2007

Happy 50th, The Sky At Night

The Sky at Night is celebrating its 50th year on television, in all but one case presented by Sir Patrick Moore (caused by food poisoning by a rogue duck egg).

This low-budget monthly programme has introduced millions of people to the wonders of astronomy, the only ‘big’ science in which amateurs still play a major role, and I’m a huge fan.

Back as a callow youth, I basically thought I had three career paths in front of me, electronics, computers or astronomy; in the end computing won but I’m still hugely interested in astronomy (and all science in general). I don’t, however, own a telescope for the simple reason I live in a severely light-polluted town and I’d be lucky to see the moon let alone anything fainter. However I still try to see as many episodes as I can, even given the frequently-absurd times they are shown (they have been edging closer to 2am recently).

I cannot understate the importance Sir Patrick plays in both the show and my continued interest in it, although he decries that it’s the interesting material that keeps people viewing – in part he’s perfectly correct – but I also admire the man personally. He’s one of the few remaining great British eccentrics but he is also knowledgeable, witty, self-effacing and curmudgeonly, and, let’s face it, he’s presented a monthly show for 50 years that has covered every astronomical subject imaginable, and still has far more to cover.

He is no longer a young man, but his mind is as quick as ever, and I’m proud to come out and say he’s one of my personal heroes, and although their numbers are dwindling, their influence will survive them for decades (and more!) to come.

So, happy 50th year, Sir Patrick and The Sky At Night.

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April 2nd, 2007

No, I don’t recycle, thank you

It’s true, I really don’t recycle. It isn’t because I want the Earth to be turned into a wasteland for future generations, it is simply because it’s not economically viable.

Think about it for a second, it if really made economic sense to recycle, people would be paid to do so and big industry would be falling over themselves to do it without being forced to by governments.

This is already true for aluminium, which is significantly cheaper to recycle than digging out bauxite and producing from ore, it’s twenty times more efficient in fact. Which is why there has been an aluminium recycling system for decades.

Paper, on the other hand, is certainly less efficient. The waste paper has to be pulped, treated with chemicals to remove the ink (producing waste), not to mention being transported to the recycling plant in the first place. So what about saving trees? The majority of paper is produced from trees grown specifically for paper production, in sustainable forests, and the demand for paper increases the amount of trees planted in the first place. So by recycling paper you’re actually discouraging forests.

Add to this the requirements for more man-power to collect and sift through the waste (you don’t really think that they believe what people put in the specific recycling bins do you? Of course not, it all ends up being largely sorted by hand) plus the additional collections and it soon starts to look less and less compelling as a means to save the Earth.

Naturally, if I was a gardener I’d be composting organic waste for the garden, but again, the benefits of this have been widely known for decades so it’s hardly a new thing.

I view the current recycling fad being forced onto people by governments as a means of making people feel good about ‘helping the environment’, while in actuality it’s the large subsidies being offered for recycling schemes that’s pushing it. Ultimately, we’re all paying for this, either directly through our taxes or indirectly by giving our time to go through the efforts to put waste into the designated containers in the first place.

The green lobby will no-doubt excoriate me for my opinion, but, frankly, they should be concentrating their energies on areas that make more sense economically, as they will, in the long term, improve our lot much more.


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December 9th, 2006

When one probe photographs another

The Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter has taken a picture of the Opportunity Rover, which, frankly, I think is an amazing picture. The more we learn about Mars and other planets in our solar system, the more we will learn about the Earth’s history.

No doubt some moron like Greg Hoaxland will deny it ever happened, or that it’s some artifact from a long-dead Martian civilisation, but the day I pay attention to him is the day I will pour my brain out of my ear.

October 8th, 2006


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