"An Italian urologist and self-professed lover of the sexy shoe set out to prove that high heels were not as bad for women's health as some suggest." Emphasis mine. Ben Goldacre must be rubbing his hands with glee.
Strangely, so far it's mildly disappointing. I've read the first six chapters - including the central fourth chapter, and so far, there's nothing really new to me. It's beautifully written, and the arguments are very well set out - I'd now be able to explain what I mean by God being complex in this discussion rather better than I did, for example - but having read rather a lot of Dawkins, Pinker and Ridley's work in the past, I'm familiar with just about everything that's been covered so far already. I found myself wanting to skip ahead, looking for new material.
Still well worth a read, though. The writing is superb, and if you've not read a lot of the authors I've mentioned above, there's a huge amount to think about here. I'll be buying at least three copies for Christmas.
I wonder if many theists will read it? Somehow, I doubt it. :-(
(Not my title, I'm afraid, but I don't remember where I heard it. It would make a good tee shirt, don't you think?)
Remember The Enlightenment!
The Foundation's introductory video:
See also Why There Almost Certainly Is No God.
My views are pretty much summed in this post, but I'll never be as eloquent as His Richardness, the Saint Dawkins.
Just how bad would you your hiccups need to be before you'd consider "digital rectal massage"? And where did they get the idea from? The mind boggles.
I go to a lot of the public talks at The Royal Society, but this one promises to be something special - Why creationism is wrong and evolution is right (via Dave). According to The Guardian, "the award-winning geneticist and author Steve Jones will deliver the lecture and challenge creationists, Christian and Islamic, to argue their case rationally at the society's event in April". Should get pretty lively!
(Not, I must point out, that I'm a huge fan of Steve Jones. I'm very much with Richard Dawkins and Stephen Pinker rather than Dr. Jones and Stephen Jay Gould on the sociobiology issue. But when it comes to putting the boot into the superstitious, we are all on the same side.)
At least I hope Mark's coming.
It's usually worth a visit, the odd theist nutcase notwithstanding. Be there early, if you fancy a seat. RS virgin - but an old friend of mine - Paul M will be along, and we are thinking of popping along to Ed's for old time's sake afterwards.
My blog seems to have turned into a game today - think of an obscure web app tool, and pretend to be indignant that I've not explicitly invited its users to London 2.0.
Anyway, that's enough of that - I'm off to the Einstein vs. Newton debate. Better get there early - it's going to be a busy one.
'Men cleverer than women' claim. Sounds preposterous, doesn't it?
Well, actually, if you read the article rather than the headline, you find that the claim is that men have higher IQs than women do. That, I can believe. After all, I don't think that IQ tests really measure anything meaningful, and I wouldn't be at all surprised if there was a sex bias in there to go along with cultural and educational-background biases. That is; men aren't cleverer than women (except, that is, for recognising that you don't need to own more than half a dozen pairs of shoes, or indeed any cushions at all) but IQ tests might give more weight to the sort of tasks that men tend to be good at.
In fact, not only do I believe that IQ tests are not a good way to measure general intelligence, but having read The Mismeasure of Man, I don't even believe that there is such a thing as general intelligence to be measured. Have you ever noticed that even the stupidest people are good at some things, and even the cleverest have their mental blind spots?
Hmmm. A hunter-gatherer lifestlye may well have been better off in terms of food and health, but it's not able to progress much technologically speaking. So, the hunter-gatherer lifestyle may be better in the short, medium and long terms, but in the long long term, natural climate change would inevitably have wiped humanity out eventually. As it is, there is some chance that we'll manage to get off planet before we destroy the ecosystem for once and for all.
Besides, without technology, the invention of the Wonderbra would have been impossible.
Scientists find a gene that leads to male baldness, and you get it from your Mum. So thanks, Mum, cos we all know that women find it very attractive.
Hmmm. Funny thing is, I'm sure I've know this for years. Is this really new?
Fusion would be better, but that's jam tomorrow. Renewable would be better, but there's no way we can build enough of that in time. Cutting down on the energy that we use would be better, but people love their cars, TVs and refrigerators too much. We don't have to like it, but it seems to me that nuclear power is the only way to save the world at the moment.
Seeing, touching and smelling the extraordinarily Earth-like world of Titan. The cool stuff is appearing sooner than I dared hope...
Last night's lecture at the RS was fascinating. Collapse: how societies choose to fail or survive was very popular, too - a little too popular. Tulna and I arrived twenty minutes early, but the main hall was full, so we ended up in the first overflow room, where we met Katherine. (Welcome to the blogsphere, Katherine!)
Michael was a bit later still, and ended up in the 2nd overflow room downstairs! This was by far the most popular lecture I've been to there - usually, everyone fits into the main hall.
Mark, Katherine's SO, wasn't able to make it at all. He went back to his jujutsu class after a bit of a break, and got his head kicked in. He's been off work for a week. :-(
Anyway, it was a fascinating talk, as I said. Some civilisations fail, while others succeed in the face of seemingly similar problems. Why is this?
Jared Diamond has found a number of factors that make the difference between surceases and failures. Some of these are external - the success of your neighbour civilisations, friendly or otherwise, is one, natural climate change another. But many of the factors are internal - things like willingness to challenge and change dearly held beliefs, willingness to see problems, the extent to which elites are remote from the problems of the wider population, for example.
The example of Easter Island was startlingly pertinent. You can almost see the world as Easter Island writ large just right now, with us cheerfully ruining out environment. The inhabitants of Easter Island ended up totally deforesting the entire island. I wonder what went through the man who cut down to last tree? (I'm willing to bet that it was a man.) With no trees, fishing and building became impossible, and soil quality plummeted. The natives turned to cannibalism towards the end - apparently, a popular insult was "your mother's meat sticks between my teeth."
Things aren't looking too hot for us, I must say. :-( But it's still not too late.
For the full story, you'll need to read Dr. Diamond's new book. That's what he was there for, anyway - to sell his new book. And if it's as interesting as the lecture, and as interesting as his last book, I'd recommend it. I'll be buying it - though I might wait for the paperback. Civilisation should last at least that long, hopefully.
His last book, Guns, Germs and Steel, was fantastic. It's basically about the rise of Western European as the dominant civilisation in the world, and the reasons for that rise. After all, a thousand years ago, Western European civilisation was looking pretty shabby. The title gives away the most proximate reasons, but the reasons for Europe's technological dominance are more complex, going back through The Enlightenment and the reasons for that, including the population thinning caused by The Black Death, and a cultural willingness to experiment (in a pre-scientific sense) and to think freely. A fascinating read - also highly recommended. I was going to bring it in to lend to Tulna, but I don't seem to have it. It's probably at my ex's - which is scary in itself, 'cos it means that I've not read it for a looooong time.
Friday night's TV coverage of Huygens was a real disappointment, partly because there was, at the time, really much nothing to add to the initial images, but mostly because it was presented by Adam Hart-Davis. I mean, I'm sure that he's a nice bloke really, but he makes me want to pluck my eyeballs out and stuff them into my ears.
Frankly, even today the pictures aren't much to look at. Massively significant and informative scientifically speaking, I'm sure, but if you mixed them up with a bunch of Mars pictures, I'd be hard pressed to tell which was which.
The audio wasn't any more exciting. I suspect that it'll be a while before the good stuff starts to come out, when the scientists have had a chance to do some interpretation.
Update: I take it all back - these are lovley.
Huygens will hit Titan's atmosphere at 0907 GMT tomorrow. According to the timeline, though, no one will get to see any of the actual data until it's all over, in the late afternoon. I wonder how quickly we outside of JPL will get to see some pictures?
Well I'm excited. ;-)
Update Friday, 11 a.m.: So far, so good.
Update Friday, 12:30 p.m.: The Live announcement (mp3).
I must have read dozens of books by Sir Martin Rees, who is delivering Einstein’s legacy as a scientist and icon. His most recent, Our Final Hour is rather a scary read. It's a rational, well informed book about the end of the world.
I'll be at both sessions. If the world hasn't ended by then, of course.
No music today. :-(
The bad new is that my earphones have died. The good news is that the iPod is still happy. :-)
Still, I can't live without music for long, so I'll have to get some new earphones this evening. Anyone got any recommendations as to good in-ear 'phones at a fairly reasonable price? I'm not an audiophile, but I do need something fairly decent.
I'll pick them up on the way to Genes, worms and the new genetics. Anyone else going?
I'm on a client site tomorrow, in Orpington, but I hope to be able to back in London in time for Magnetic brain stimulation: what can it tell us about brain function?
[Insert comment from El Presidente about my productivity here.]
Last night's Quantum Non-locality lecture was excellent. The hour passed by in what seemed like minutes - and I'm not quite nerdy enough that this would have happened if is wasn't a good talk.
Professor Popescu started out with a history of the subject. Einstein, assuming that non-locality could not exist, used it as Reductio ad absurdum proof that quantum mechanics could not actually be non-deterministic, and that the apparent non-determinism was actually caused by "hidden variables". But some three decades later John Bell showed that non-locality was in fact real - which also demonstrated that the hidden variables assumption was false.
This does not violate Relativity. Though the entangled particles may be said to have communicated faster than light, this correlation cannot be used to transmit information. Each of the individual particles continues to behave non-deterministically - it's only when their behaviours are correlated that you can demonstrate entanglement. So, it's the very non-determinism which allow non-locality to occur without violating Relativity.
This far, I'd managed to keep up, but the Professor then explained how non-locality could be measured - at which point, he shook me off entirely. So much for no mathematics!
I picked up his trail again soon, though.
Professor Popescu then explained some of the practical application that quantum non-locality might someday have. He went into some (though thankfully not too much) detail on teleportation. This won't, sadly, be too much like Star Trek teleportation, but the idea is that if you have entangled particles at some distance from on another, plus a normal, 'classical' communication channel, you can transfer another particle's entire quantum state from one place to another. This would not be possible by other means, since you cannot measure this state due to the uncertainly principal. The key is that you can transmit the state without ever measuring it.
Lastly Professor Popescu told us about what he's currently working on. It's to do with a perceived problem with Quantum Physics' axioms.
Relativity is dependent upon only two, elegantly simple axioms - that the laws of nature are the same for all observers that move with constant speed relative to each other; and the other was that the speed of light is finite and the same for every observer.
Quantum Mechanics' axioms are not quite the same. For example the first axiom is utterly incomprehensible to most, and complex even to the experts. Professor Popescu is hoping that, just as non-determinism allows non-locality to occur without violating Relativity, perhaps one can take Relativity and non-determinism as starting points, and derive Quantum Mechanics. Beautiful!
Next week, Not just about numbers.
I really enjoyed my last jaunt to the Royal Society, as suggested by Jez, and there are a couple of cool looking events coming up there in the next couple of weeks: What is quantum non-locality? on Wednesday the 13th, and Not just about numbers on Tuesday the 19th. I'll be going to both, hopefully with a few friends. If anyone fancies tagging along, give me a shout.
I'm particularly looking forward to the John Barrow, since I've read a number of his books; The Book of Nothing, Pi in the Sky, Impossibility, The Universe That Discovered Itself and Theories of Everything.
Is it time for me to teleport down the pub yet? Sigh. No, not for a couple of hours yet. :-(
My brother works in a hospital - I wonder if he can get me a drip?
Before going to yesterday's talk, I had to have stern words with my father. The Dave Spart in him is a bit partial to conspiracy theories - including the ridiculous the Moon landings were faked theory. I pointed out that to raise these with Dr Scott would be tantamount to calling him a liar. Anyway, this theory is comprehensivly debunked by Bad Astronomy and Did We Land on the Moon?.
(Hmmm, on the other hand, perhaps there is something fishy going on...)
Update May 6th: Thanks to Jez for organising that - it was very interesting.
It wasn't anything like as technical as I thought it would be. I got the impression that the talk that Dr Scott gave was one that he's given many times before to a number af different audiences. Think the Rotary Club - it was perfectly suitable any audience. It wasn't modified for the RS's rather scientifically literate audience.
What really came across is that it's really socialogical factors that are preventing Man from reaching Mars. The technical problems, serious though they are, are probably all soluble, but sustaining a seriously expensive project over thirty odd years may not be possible - at least, not without serious motivation, which seems to be lacking.
As things stand, there are very few things that women really need men for these days; they need us to have children, they need us to blame for everything, and they need us to remove spiders from the bath. That's it, I think.
Now there's the prospect that they won't need us for the first of these in the future - two mothers, no father. So, let's hope that science doesn't come up with replacements for us on the other two fronts, eh?
Kangaroo genes could boost milk. Insert your own milk-shake joke here.
It's only a shame that this story wasn't released last Thursday, really.
26,500 miles? That's closer than most of my estimates!
Via Off on a Tangent.
Windows 'fatal trap for UK birds'. Insert your own Microsoft joke here.
Cure baldness? Why would you want to cure baldness? Women find it very attractive.
And if I repeat that often enough, someone might actually start to believe it.
Jokes aside, this is important research. Curing baldness is utterly unimportant, but this might lead the way towards skin regeneration treatments for, for example, the badly burned.
Ohhh, nice! The USB Swiss Army Knife.
Via Erik's Linkblog.
Sigh. As if commuting by tube isn't hellish enough already.
Ah well. As a single man, it's all pretty academic to me anyway. Just as it is for married men, so I gather. ;-)
Well, I like to think it doesn't, but one day it might...
OK, OK, perhaps it does. :-(
If your blog had a smell, what would it smell of?
The MMR danger myth - it just won't die. And this despite what the science is clearly telling us. Not only was the Wakefield study flawed, but now it seems that Dr Wakefield had a vested interest in stirring it up.
It's becoming rather difficult not to see Andrew Wakefield as a villain in this. To begin with, I thought that he was just wrong - well intentioned, but wrong. But now it looks as though there was more to it that that... If there is a measles epidemic in this country, there will be blood on his hands.
Update: Oh no - no one will believe it's safe now. :-(
My theory is that somewhere between ten and twenty years from now, the US will recognise a link between the increasing severity of their tornadoes, hurricanes, floods and forest fires; global warming; and greenhouse gas emissions. At this point, they will classify greenhouse gas emission as a terrorist act, and bomb the fuck out of any nation foolish enough to keep up with the practice.
Whether this will happen in time to save us from total ecological collapse is another question.
Well, three score years and 17.6 for me, according to the BBC's Life Expectancy Calculator. Everyone else in the office will last until over eighty, though - it's just not fair!
I have a BMI of 26.1 - well, I suppose that the six-pack turned into a party-seven some years ago. :-(
I find Manna scarily plausible.
Except for the Australia Project, that is. That's just like me, that is - believe the pessimism, not the optimism. ;-)
The world's smallest flying robot, controlled wirelessly via Bluetooth. How much fun could you have with this?
Update: BBC coverage - Mini-copter stars at robot show. It's got a camera, too!
Hmmm. I like to feel that I'm pretty cutting edge, pretty state of the art. So, it's pretty embarrassing for me to admit it, but I've been caught well behind the curve when it comes to LOAF. Until this morning, I didn't even really understand what LOAF was for. Can you imagine that!
Perhaps, though, it's understandable. A paradigm shift of this magnitude doesn't come along every day. The 'net will never be the same again. Empowerment through standards.
Well, anyway, you'll be pleased to know that Small Values is now fully LOAF compliant.
Any chance, Boss?
No, thought not.
Following procedures and doing the documentation is dull, but you had better do it anyway.
Via the effbot.
Now, of course, people are thankfully moving away from documentation and procedure heavy methodologies these days. But if you feel that a procedure or document is unnecessary, get it removed from the procedures that you are using. Don't just not follow them.
Once, fifteen years ago or so, when I was an operator (and a young know-nothing), I didn't bother to fill in a form when printing cheques. The batch of cheques got lost by someone, and the company didn't know which range of cheque numbers to cancel. I nearly lost my job over it.
Try this online Autism Spectrum Quotent test. I scored 18 - just above average. Funny - I'd have thought I'd score higher. Perhaps I'm not as nerdy as I think I am.
Via Ned Batchelder.
Well, we always used to say that a pint at lunchtime counted double, didn't we, Steve? Seems we were right.
33% of NASA's results for 2% of its budget. Hubble:
- Improved the accuracy of estimates of the ang of the universe
- Prooved the existance of black holes
- Confirmed that quasars are galactic nuclei powered by black holes
- Showed that the expansion of the Universe is accelerating
Start with The Universe within 12.5 Light Years, and just keep zooming out. Wow.
All I need now is for beer to be healthy, especially in megadose quantities, and I'll probably live forever.
What I want to know is, which human?
We all have a different genome, yes? And they certainly haven't sequenced me. So, what have they done - sequenced one person? Would this be useful? Probably not - the useful information must surely lie in the differences between people's individual genomes.
So surely they must have sequenced a number of people.
The Fujitsu P2000 has got to be the sexiest mini-notebook around.
Including on-board DVD/CD-RW Combo drive, 30GB hard drive, and Wireless LAN.
I can't find one for sale in the UK, but that's OK - I couldn't afford one anyway!
The 2002 Ig Nobels have been announced.
£249, including VAT! No monitor, but then most of us have spare monitors lying around...
VIA C3 processor and the VIA Apollo PLE133 integrated chipset, 40Gb Hard disk, 256MB DRAM, CD drive, modem and mouse. Don't know how fast this is, but for the money, it sounds a decent spec.
There is something poetic about this to me.
I suspect, though, that we won't find out one way or the other in my lifetime, given our current rate of exploration.
Blondes 'to die out in 200 years', according to the BBC.
Apparently, dyed-blondes are more attractive to men who choose them as partners over true blondes. Then they use Ann Widdecombe as an example of a bottle blonde! Are they taking the piss?
Ah well - I'm more partial to redheads myself, even if they are all psychopaths.
Update 2nd October: Ah. It's a hoax. I really should have guessed that. The BBC is usually so reliable, though...
I really don't know which category to put these physics applets under.
Science and Technology 'cos they are for science education, Toys 'cos they are fun, or Java 'cos that's what they are written in? Bah, who cares, just enjoy!
Looks like Jan Hendrik Schön was cooking the books. Expensive fallout, both in money and careers.
RNAi looks very exciting. Whole new areas of genetic medicine could be opening up.
This is why I disapprove of tee-total women.
Hmmm. I have just realized that I can't think of a single culture that doesn't either:
- Arrange marriages, or...
- Permit women to drink alcohol.
Coincidence? I think not. Any culture which forbade women from drinking but didn't arrange marriages would die out due to lack of childbirth.
Via Off on a Tangent.
Roll-up, flexible televisions, akin to the melting watches of Salvador Dali's surreal landscapes, have become possible thanks to a glowing plastic compound perfected in the laboratories of Britain's Cambridge Display Technology.
I wonder which foreign nation we'll allow to get the jump on us in this technology of our invention?
(Via The Shifted Librarian.)
No, not a new Microsoft OS. It's not that big a disaster. It's an Earth threatening asteroid.
0.06 on the Palermo technical scale, out of 10. What does that mean?
I'm in two minds about this one. On the one hand, the 2nd law was only ever a statistical law - Entropy can decrease, it is just that it is vanishingly unlikely to happen. So unlikely, in fact, that in practice it never does. But there is no reason why a special set of circumstances, like the one set up by the researchers, shouldn't work in a different way.
On the other hand, Holy Shit!
Update July 24th: BBC coverage. The idea here is that at molecular scales and over extremely short periods of time, the 2nd law doesn't necessarily hold - this is the Fluctuation Theorem. The Australian team has now demonstrated this experimentally. There is no implication for large scale physics, but nanotech might have to take account of this effect.
Apparently, the hurricanes which hit the U.S. start in the Sahara.
Introducing the GRD-267DTU, the fridge of the future.
Quite, quite mad.
So far as I can make out, this guy put some ink in water, and the carbon didn't defuse. So Evolution is impossible. Evolution Is Biologically Impossible. Sheesh.
Nah, it'll never happen. I've yet to meet a computer programmer with common sense.
Worth a read.
They can only teleport light at the moment. Not as useless as it sounds - if they can teleport some light from Kylie's bedroom, say...
K5 has an interesting story about the discovery of what might be 120 million year old stone maps, with links.
Fascinating stuff, but I'm not even going to begin to believe it until I hear about it from some more reliable sources. Anywhere but the Internet, for a start!
Tools for skeptical thinking about new ideas.
(Via the Python Daily URL.)