Tuesday, February 28, 2006

Cool cartoon of the double slit expt

I wish Google Video was around when i was at school...

Biofuel R&D in NZ

Genesis is starting their biofuels and polymer precursor trials in Taupo. I like the fact that the plant doesn't need to be replanted and regrows from the root which remains after harvest. I'm big on biofuels, but I still think it needs to emerge from the culture of farmer subsidies. I hope they get some good results, it's the perfect opportunity for an agri based country like NZ.

Monday, February 27, 2006

Animated engine GIF's

How cool are these?

Friday, February 24, 2006

More on Religo-doctors at UoG

They have a website.
They even have a prepared answers crib sheet for evangelising their god 9and of course denouncing all others, consistency has never been part of the Only Way).
We scientists should probably do the same thing for the 7 deadly half-truths of creationists. Only problem is, defending this crap takes energy that i'd rather spend doing real thinking. For them it comes under evangalism and is an inherantly Good Thing and thus much energy and wide-eyed enthusiasm must be expended on the Good Thing.
I do wonder at the hypocrisy of doctors using 300 years of medicine and science while disavowing any guilt as to why it got kickstarted at all in spite of the religious intolerence that existed at the time.... can you spell 'hypocrite'? (NZ cultural joke there).

Bah, begone, you've ruined my day.

Science vs Religion at UoGlasgow

The Wolfson Medical School hosted a 'Religion vs Science' seminar today with a talk by Mr Hugh Thomson. Apparantly it's been running all week and you'd think i'd have noticed since I walk past the front door every day for a coffee.
I really, really didn't want to go but then thought how could I say I was anti-creationism if I couldn't be bothered to walk 50 m and attend a seminar?
About 12 people were there, all 1-3rd year med students (a scary concept in and of itself). I was the only scientist (I asked for a show of hands) and proceeded to hound the speaker on every single point he raised during the talk (I've been burned before on having to listen to utter codswallop for 20 mins and then only having 1 min during question time. If the question is relevent, almost all scientific talks welcome questions/clarifications during the talk - the whole point is to communicate!).
It was all so depressingly cliche. I've paraphrased the speech quote and listed it under a standard talk.origins type heading:
  1. Performance Control - "Leave questions till the end"
  2. Entropy - "Physics tells us that things get disordered with time yet here we are"
  3. A watch implies a watchmaker - "If you find a beautiful rose garden in the middle of the jungle, you would assume something intelligent made it"
  4. Evolution is a belief system - "Naturalism is as much a belief as theism. The debate is between naturalism and theism"
  5. Morality - "If we are just random collections of atoms, there is no reason to behave morally" and atheism/naturalism is therefore immoral.
  6. Teach the Controversy - "Lot's of scientists can't question naturalism because they aren't allowed to"
  7. Pronouncement from authority - "I am an abdominal surgeon"
  8. Quotes out of context - Stephen Dawkins, Huxley, H G Wells. As well as atheists that converted on their death bed (nothing about atheists that didn't...).
  9. Irreducible Complexity - "Blood coagulation takes several steps, without any single step, there is no coagulation - how could this have evolved by chance?"
  10. Argument from Improbability - "The chances of people evolving by random chance is squillions to one"
  11. Debating Techniques 101 - Create false dichotomies, use good definitions of evolution and then proceed to ignore them, appeal to 'common sense', appeal to personal vanity, refuse to engage in a falsifiable statement (I hammered on about evolution requiring millions of years and all they needed to do was prove a young earth)
  12. It's only a theory - "Scientists make and break theories so it's not Truth they're looking for"
Very depressing. I'm sure it was just another random Xtian group on campus preaching to the converted and my efforts were completely wasted. I have to admit, it feels really surreal talking to these people: as Bacon said "you can't reason people out of something they didn't reason themselves into".
I'd like to think I fought the good fight and let 12 odd people know about talk.origins and how these arguments are completely specious and how real scientists are asking real questions every day and this apparant clash of ideals is such a non-event.
I won't hold my breath and for the record I'm with Dawkins: "Religion is Evil"

Big Squid

Now how cool is that?? from Pharangula

Thursday, February 23, 2006

What's a synchrotron?

Something that uses magnets, don't ask for anything else from the NZ Herald.
This gem:
A synchrotron is a machine about the size of a football field that accelerates electrons to almost the speed of light and is used for research in fields ranging from cancer radiation to engineering.
should be taken out and shot. Let's do a Feynman word switch and see if the sentence still makes sense...
A wobbldegokken is a machine about the size of a football field that accelerates electrons to almost the speed of light and is used for research in fields ranging from cancer radiation to engineering.
Hmmm, sounds suspiciously like this paragraph is the journalism equivalent of 'use this word in a sentence'. If i had to choose between the two, i'd choose the wobbldegokken, purely cause it sounds cool as it rolls of your tongue. In fact, you could replace the word synchrotron with pencil (and football field with... pen, and 'records thoughts') and the sentence would still be coherant adn true, if not just as equally vacuous.
Does it tell us anything about how these really fast electrons contribute to engineering and cancer radiation (not even sure about cancer radiation, i think they've screwed up there)? Why do we need a $200 million dollar piece of kit? What science is NZ going to do on it? What's the payoff (for those who demand instant gratification)?
If you want to learn anything more than how to spell synchrotron, as always, wiki has a good albeit brief entry here and here. Be careful, synchrotrons are the chemist/physicist's toy of choice so you are likely to find heavily technical stuff if you're not careful.

AWB scandal opens up

in The Age editorial.
Children overboard lies, kickbacks to Saddam Hussein... what does it take to make govt feel shame??


Rapidly becoming one of my favorite daily jokes (here).

Tuesday, February 21, 2006

People or spambots?

Ok, this is it, i'm ready to get kicked in the balls. That's a clustrmap of the visitors to this site since the beginning of the year: almost a couple hundred and representing every single continent (that's pretty cool). Let's ignore Scotland since that's me checking every now and again, and i know who the people are in Melbourne, my question is this "are those little red dots real people skim reading this or are they zombie blogspam machines scattered randomly around the globe and Google is doing a good job at filtering their dribble?"
Go on, if you've never left a comment:
  • say hi.
  • Tell me you only read this to remind yourself of how one-sided us scientists are about complimentary therapies.
  • I accidently made this my homepage and can't be arsed changing it.
  • I randomly click on your blog to annoy the hell out of you.
Go nuts, i'm bored and my research is depressingly slow at the moment.

Monday, February 20, 2006

The Simpsomaker

heheh here

Petrol Rationing

Expat NZ PhD student thinks that world wide petrol rationing is the only way to handle the oil crisis going forward.
Ye Gods, where do these people come from? Have trade imbargoes every worked? Even OPEC can only influence the prices and they're essentially capped by the cartel members themselves doing off-book sales.
No other alternative exists apparantly. Must be nice to know all the answers at 25.

Units - warning, tecchy ahead

One thing that really bugs me in sci-tech reporting is units.
Units are what distinguishes hard science from stamp collecting. Is it 127 metres away or 0.127 kilometres away? what's the difference, is that the same distance and who cares anyway? Well, in the real world, bridges collapse, cars explode and airplanes fall out of the sky so yes, its extremely important.
When the information overload is kicking in, credibility is established or destroyed based on an incredibly fine margin, units quickly mark an amateur from a possible expert. Take this story on the Snowy scheme in The Australian, how can i take this reporter seriously when they think electricity is traded in MW/h ? If they can't get the unit of electricity correct, what credibility do they bring to other multiple facets of the discussion? Environment, economics, tradgedy of the commons, water rights, farming, tourism, electricity market operations, future eating etc etc are all part of the problem and these guys can't even dig around and find the correct units for electricity consumption? Good grief.

BTW the standard unit for energy is the Joule (J). A kilojoule is 1000 Joules. A Watt (W) is a rate of energy delivery/consumption of 1 J per second. A unit of electricity you purchase at your house is 1 kWh (NB 1 kW for 1 hour is = 1000 J/s x 3600 s = 3600, 000 J or 3.6 MJ). It's a far more user-friendly unit for day to day use, but remember, it's just joules at the end of the day.
Electricity is traded in the market in chunks of 1000 kWh = 1 MWh. This collapses down to 3, 600,000,000 J or 3.6 GJ so you can see that they are trading units of energy - as they have to.
Purchasing the right to pull off the grid 3.5 MW is a different question because it is a rate of extraction (think of your water supply: quantity vs delivery rate) and is a problem for your distribution network. A unit of MW/h is ludicrous, it says that you are accelerating the rate at which you are pulling energy off the grid...

Yes, i understand this may seem pedantic, but science and engineering hinge on precisely defining the terms and units that are at work. If the newspaper can't hire people with the smarts/training to write these stories, maybe it should contract them out to people that can.

Update 23/2/06: *ahem*, i dropped a factor of 1000 from the calculation for 1 kWh. A little embarrassing during a rant on units and inaccuracies in newspapers...

Friday, February 17, 2006

Bored on friday...

work safe Gvideo -
amusing animation polar bear vs running machine
cool soccer moments
cat herding - the ultimate software/project metaphor - an old favourite ;-)
the russion urban gymnast... guy - feeble title, awesome vid
football dribbler busker
MacGyver Mastercard ad
Terry Tate Office Linebacker - Adidas theme commercial, i think there's a bunch of 'em
Brokeback to the Future - parody

Australia does solar

only as an additional to coal and natural gas.
It really kind of misses the point. Third best solar resources in the world and the best you can come up with is 'raise steam to react with coal and natural gas'. Yes, it makes coal a little more economic but as we've all heard here before: there aint no such thing as clean coal, only less crappy coal.
A true solar thermal system would vaporise water and jet the f**ker through a turbine, hang on, doesn't nuclear energy work like that? (and geothermal, and coal, and natgas-maybe not turbines in natgas's case)...
Only aiming to reduce heat loads by using solar is a cop out and a lack of imagination.
CCSD Chief Executive Frank van Schagen says: “In the polarized public debate Australia’s energy challenge is often depicted as fossil-versus-renewables. In reality, the answer lies in an intelligent combination of the best technologies and resources to produce cost-effective energy with next to zero greenhouse and pollution emissions.
uummm, that pretty much sums up fossil fuels vs sustainable - and while you're at it, just how does coal fit into zero greenhouse emmissions (the article mentions it might help with sequestration but really, no-one knows if that's gonna work)

Urban sprawl in Australia...

... is a good thing.
According to the guy who represents housing interests. Environmental impacts? Increased use of cars (and roads/petrol etc) ? and urban design for enjoyable public spaces?
None of these is true.
Wow, i wish i could do that in my field, us scientists are always so anally retentive when it comes to supporting evidence.
Anyone doubting this man's sanity should have all the evidence they need when he gushes over Houston as his model city.
Don't get me wrong, entry level house affordability is a big issue, repeating the mistakes of the 20th century however is not the answer.
Repeat after me: Australia is an extremely fragile environment. It will not support dumbass growth policies in the long term. Fragile systems may take 50 years to ruin and 500 years to reassert themselves. This is not doommongering, it is a fairly obvious conclusion drawn by anyone with rudimentary arithmetic skills.

Thursday, February 16, 2006

NZ has a carbon tax - oops, no it doesn't

started this post with the subject up to the hyphen and then got confused when i was googling for more info.
Turns out we were getting a carbon tax until late 2005, and now we're not as of 21/12/2005... and reported in The Age in late Dec 2005.
Do you think anyone is going to notice the flip-flopping? Exhibit 1: The Guardian Unlimited in the UK, you just have to love the prescience of this quote (my emphasis):
New Zealand, which produces about 29% of its electricity from gas- or coal-fired power stations, has a record of introducing the idea of green taxes but then not implementing them. In 2003 the government planned to impose a methane tax on farmers because flatulence of cows and sheep was responsible for more than half of New Zealand's total greenhouse gas emissions. But that was abandoned after criticism from farmers, who labelled it a "fart tax"
If you google for 'carbon tax nz', the first hit is the Climate Change Office saying that we are having one, the second is The Guardian article saying we're getting one, the third is a speech in mid-2005 announcing we're getting one and then waaaaay dooown there at number 4: 'Carbon tax will not go ahead' straight out of the beehive.govt.nz It makes you cringe all the way down to the bone.

The NZ Herald mentions it here, and an op-ed by Gary Taylor didn't seem to think it was a good idea (hidden behind the P-wall, probably why i missed it, i hope the Herald burns in digital hell for that decision - China doesn't let any information in, the Herald doesn't let any out...). Business groups look like Cheshire cats here, spin by the govt here.

I'm glad we're all taking this global warming thing seriously. Now let's not try to feel like hypocrites when we take money from tourists for our pristine environment while we export our environmental impact to China by wearing their clothing and using their whiteware.

OMFG, doesn't anyone else think that making half your money from tourism and not showing that we're serious about the environment is like punching your own bollocks with a hammer? Fisheries, forests, water... how many things have to be eliminated before our glorious leaders start to think about the country as a whole and the shit state we're gonna leave it in for our kids?? huh? anyone?


starting on 1 April 2007 - a heck of an April's Fool joke.
It's set at $15/tonne and capped at $25 if this proves out of line with intl trends and needs to be adjusted.
The aim is revenue neutral and the cash is to be 'recycled' via a number of routes:

The revenue from the carbon tax will fund part of the cost of a range of tax measures.

The tax measures include:

  • Short-lived assets will be depreciated faster. The threshold under which the cost of low value assets can be immediately deducted will rise from $200 to $500, reducing compliance costs.
  • Investments through financial intermediaries, such as managed funds, will be taxed relative to direct investments.
  • A tax barrier to investment in research and development will be removed.
  • Various changes will reduce costs associated with Fringe Benefit Tax.
  • There will be a temporary tax exemption for various types of foreign income of new migrants and New Zealanders returning after more than 10 years.
  • There will be a subsidy to assist small firms using a PAYE intermediary.
  • Provisional tax payment dates will be aligned to GST periods and estimation of income based on turnover.
  • Personal tax rate thresholds will increase by 6.121% every three years from 2008
As listed in the FAQ.
I must admit i would much prefer to see the carbon tax recycled in a more transparent energy-type way i.e. subsidised insulation for homes, R&D in GHG emmissions and energy production/deployment/use, bio-fuels etc. If there is one thing R&D does, it's recycle cash!!
I suspect that this carbon tax is going to dissapear into the govt ether and we'll all just shrug our shoulders at a couple extra dollars for filling up the tank and then its Business As Usual till 2012.

Privatising the Snowy Hydro Scheme

The Age editorial at least rasies some concerns.
Should we believe that anything will happen? $2.5 billion dollar privatisation float and it took 10 weeks to push through? ye gods, this is robber-baron capitalism at its best. If you're near Kosciosko national park in the next week or two, grab a photo of the river, it's likely to be gone, silted or diverted in the near future: i'm sure the dividends will be an adequate replacement.

Getting around censorship

This is a good thing.
Any self respecting human should be appalled at someone else deciding what you should or shouldn't read/see/hear.

Space Elevator - 1 mile and counting

This is really cool.
A space elevator would totally change the economics of space - an analogy is the cost of ferrying goods via horse and cart vs an aquaduct. Sure 1 mile doesn't sound very much but just imagine a Moore's Law equivalent for Space Elevators. If the length could double every 2 years it would only take about 30 years to get there.
Sound crazy? have a look at your computer specs and remember the first transistor was only built around 1950 or so...

Science Brief to the Incoming Minister

Not too sure what the point is here. We've probably churned these things out every year or two. I particularly like the section "It's not broken but...".
Blunt fact of the matter is that you value what you pay for and the only conclusion any reasonable person can make in NZ is that science is not valued. If the govt wants to show it's value, it needs to start paying for it and lead the change, not wring it's hands wishing it wasn't the way it is.

Wednesday, February 15, 2006

Brazil substitutes ethanol for oil

for transport purposes.
An excellent article about an oil free transport fuel. Of course you have to look at the entire lifecycle and make sure you're not burning loads of oil/coal to make the ethanol but it amply proves the concept of replacing petrol with ethanol.
Is it as cheap? Don't know and difficult to tell with govt subsidies and such but the question isn't so much "can we make a petrol substitute as cheap as petrol?", it is "can we make a petrol substitute that is zero emmission and ball park affordable?".
I think the answer is clearly yes.

Bush slides on SoU energy

in case you haven't read any of the backsliding commentary yet, and lets face it, getting shot by the VP is virtual gold for news networks...

Peak oil doomsayer


Can't say i'm too keen on the doomsayer angle - it's all a bit too.... fire-and-brimstone for me.
I read somewhere that global warming is a bit like the petrol light in your car: no big deal when it goes on, you just can't ignore it indefinitely without consequences. I liked it but running out of petrol in your car and running out in your planet are differences in kind, not degree....

Alternative wind power options

kites, blimps...
plenty of room up above.


Cylon liberation front...
hattip to NZ Pundit

Science riot

here via Reddit.

Tuesday, February 14, 2006

NZ 2005 R&D spending compared

NZ's pathetic R&D spend highlighted in the NZ Herald.

More on CSIRO


CSIRO in The Age


Structured Procrastination

I had no idea my work style had a name....

Richard Hamming - You and your Research

excellent (but long).

Table top fusion expt duplicated

Still more (only!!) of a tabletop neutron generator than an energy source.

Monday, February 13, 2006

High voltage switch arc video

Cool... and scary.

Why digitzing books is an inherently good idea


Crichton awarded a prize by American geologists

Good grief, how desperate is your cause when you give a fiction writer your journalism prize?
I tried reading 'State of Fear' but gave up after a hundred or two pages. If you think The Divinci code is an excellent expose on the Catholic church, you'll love SoF.
Thankfully, not everyone agrees with MC, including some obviously dissident geologists (here) although lots of those same geologists love him.
As for the ending of SoF: “Everybody has an agenda. Except me.”, may i humbly offer the agenda "i want to sell loads of story books to gullible readers and make a stonkingly large amount of cash". All a credible response to science in today's US of A.

Could even Chricton have made this crap up?

Libertarian and CS majors

interesting post here. Maybe i'm a libertarian?
His reasoning applies to other sciences as well of course. Understanding energy for instance means you have to jump between levels of abstraction between technology (electrons/engineering), markets and policy. Ignoring any one of them (or getting one wrong - say policy) means you are never going to arrive at an elegant solution.

Eisenhower's farewell speech

still inspirational 50 odd years later.
Sounds weird reading a president's speech that has actual sentences and paragraph structure. I'm so used to the bullet point style of dubya that i've given up hope of reading/hearing a speech that requires a 5 min attention span.

More Wikipedia vs Brittanica

Brittanica has made a right royal botch-up of the internet and doesn't seem to be changing as the years grind by.
As for anyone that believes everything on the web, you deserve a kick in the head. Use it as a first pit-stop, learn some lingo or jargon, complement it with a dozen other websites, compare and contrast and then move to the reviewed literature if you need more depth. It is the most basic research skill that you must acquire and when you have access to all the world's information, and experts on both sides of every issue, it is the most crucial skill you can develop.
I believe that books (maybe downloaded but generically expert/peer reviewed) will become deep and brain band-width intensive while easily edited wiki's etc will be shallow and easy to get the gist of. - i.e. not surprisingly they are complementary.
I wouldn't reccomend you subsitute wiki for your chemistry degree but i've found the chemistry topics i've needed to remind myself on are covered quite well, especially the 2005 Nobel prize entry.
The key skill is recognizing something obviously not-false but not jumping to the conclusion that not-false = true.

NZ's oil rush

I would like to see more oil quotes as per day consumption with the current country and the US as a yardstick. This quote:
Pohokura, which is largely gas, is estimated to contain 42 million barrels of oil.
sounds like an awful lot but the US uses about 18 million barrels a day (i'm unsure of NZ but a back of the envelope calc is on the order of 0.1 million bpd - anyone know?) and so we can say:
Poholura has found 2.3 days worth of oil for the US and maybe 420 days of oil for NZ. That doesn't sound nearly as impressive and we're not finding a Pohokura every year, so what are our options??

Snowy scheme gets the go ahead

Pretty sad. NZ actually has a very good river management systems for hydro, it would be nice to see a comparison of the two by a knowledgable insider with maybe Norway as a counter example.

My initial thoughts are that the Murray river hasn't made it to the ocean in 20 odd years (remember, this is the major Australian waterway, imagine if the Waikato didn't make it to the ocean or the Waitaki stopped flowing completely - it's unbelievable that nobody cares).
I don't believe anything's gonna change now that the company has been privatised.

AWB goes quietly into the night...

as lamented here.
There are a number of scary quotes in this reasonable op-ed piece. Take this one for instance:
This across-the-board media enthusiasm is a rare occurrence. In the 10 years since the Government was first elected, it has been unusual for all the broadsheet papers to sustain simultaneous interest in a single, complex issue for more than a week.
Isn't that sad? Less than a week for your average issue in the Aussie press. Watergate took several months and even i could handle a week of tough Today Tonight questioning while waiting for the next pay-per-interview 'i got lost in wallabrumbibrush' story.
Non-accountability is a piss poor excuse for failure on your watch. I remember a quote from the last company i worked at "the CEO gets paid more because he's responsible even when he's gardening". A more reasonable definition of accountability would be hard to find.

I do find the parallels between the US, Britain and Aussie very disturbing. The MO is identical: pick your US issue, London police execute Brazilian and then botch the cover up, Aussie AWB or children overboard. All are using plausible deniability and timing obfuscation when the only issue that counts is that the person at the top takes the blame for everything; that's the deal. Copping out of that makes the job easy!
You can't blame them too much though, if the electorate doesn't give a rat's, why go to all that effort?

Islam cartoon apologists

like the Indonesian President here, just don't seem to 'get' democracy and free speech. Take this heartfelt plea:
Reprinting the cartoons to make a point about free speech is an act of senseless brinkmanship. It is also a disservice to democracy. It sends a conflicting message to the Muslim community: that in a democracy, it is permissible to offend Islam.
Umm, yeah, that's exactly what it says. You're also free to insult evolutionists or scientists, free-marketeers or protectionists, rednecks or bleeding heart liberals. Your choice... the only constraints are slander type offences and the way to air your displeasure is to sue their ass.

I have to admit, as an atheist, watching people get killed and burn embassies because someone that doesn't believe in their imaginary friend did something that their imaginary friend doesn't like seems to be lunacy gone mad (can you go one up from lunacy or madness??).
I prefer and congratulate them on their consumer boycott though: effective, peaceful and entirely democratic.

Friday, February 10, 2006

Converting Audio Files

Tutorial here.

Channel 4 - The IT Crowd

Hilarious new comedy on Channel 4 - now on Google Video! Excellent.

First use of blog as primary reference in NZ Herald?

This story (the NASAgate incident going around at the moment) in the herald today is interesting. As far as i can tell, this is the first time a blog has been mentioned as a reference source in a wider story;
The Times and the scientificactivist.blogspot.com website reported that Deutsch, who worked on President George W. Bush's 2004 re-election campaign, lied about his college degree.
Now, i like blogs as much as the next guy (and i quite like the one mentioned since i was in Oxford during an animal rights march that he was discussing at the time), but the juxtaposition of The Times and [insert random blog here] implies to non-webbies that this blog thing must be like a newspaper.

The freedom of a blog to throw any old opinion out there vs a newspaper that has editorial and reputation protecting issues (hah!, if only they thought about that more often) is like giving evolutionists and creationists even space in a story to maintain 'balance'. Blogs need to be viewed with a healthy dose of skepticism, roughly 5x as much as your average newspaper story oops- article, they have agendas to push: it's their raison d'etre.

Note to NZ Herald: You're playing with fire here, i hope you understand whats going on and you haven't just hired a wet behind the ears BSc graduate to do this scienc-y reporting thing.

The Colbert Report

The Word is: Eureka
Colbert does science in the US.

Epidemiology of teaspoon attrition

Only an Aussie could possibly do this... absolutely brilliant.

90's arcade classic

Lemmings nearly ruined my Master's degree....
Great to see it back on the web ;-)

Wednesday, February 08, 2006

Aussie R&D

discussed here.

Patent absurdities are starting to show

The abyss of the patenting system (17th century system, 21st century application) is starting to worry everyone when this starts happening. A text-book patent troll strong arms a budding industry (the Blackberry thingy, although why anyone would want to be chained to their email 24/7 is beyond me).
Patents are supposed to spur innovation, not stifle it.

US defence spending

from Slate. Crazy...

Tuesday, February 07, 2006

Fuel cell demos in NZ

with CFCL/IRL here and US DoD/Antarctic Centre here.

I still think the home market is too ambitous for a market entry product but at least they're out there giving it a go.
If liquid fuel was the desirable aspect of a DoD project, i'd be inclined to use ammonia, just as toxic as methanol but with the benefit of a CO free reformate. Makes for reaaallly easy and robust reactor designs, and since you're obviously not worried about emmission free fuel synthesis, it's a widely traded commodity chemical.

GNS is hiring

I've noticed a few ads for GNS in Nature over the last couple of weeks (GNS recruitment here) so if you're interested in volcanoes or digging stuff out of the ground, have a look. It's the only CRI i know that's hiring...

Lysenko = Bush

In case you've been under the blog-rock lately, science blogs are aflutter about this.
The creationists start to harras the physicists and demand that the big bang be explicitly noted as a theory that doesn't presume that intelligent design can't be involved.
In case my position has been at all unclear in this blog - religios freaks; GO F**K YOURSELVES
Please read other blogs for more apologetic and articulate responses (that boil down to the same thing anyway).
Is it possible for chemistry to creationised?
  • No unpaired spin states - god doesn't allow unwedded electrons in the same orbitals
  • god would know if Schrodinger's cat was alive
  • no box could hold god's electrons
  • 'god may have made the world, but the devil lives on surfaces' - Fermi adopted as literal truth
ouch, too easy....

Transpower credit rating might be downgraded...

as if anyone should care...
You'd think a state-owned monopoly which has a legislated cost+ charging scheme might not give a fig about S&P rating but apparently not. What on earth an S&P rating has to do with a monopoly is beyond me, isn't this just a form of extortion on helpless consumers?? I wonder if the downgrade is at all related to the fact that Transpower has grossly exceeded its cost+ income over the last couple of years to the tune of $120 million.
Bring on the downgrade, and consumer watchdogs aren't evil, in fact, i'd argue that some teeth and a little tenacity on their part would do wonders for our little country.

'Clean' coal technology

This really is nibbling at the edges people...

Smart meters in Aus

discussed here.
I still think you're pushing the proverbial uphill if you expect individual consumers to watch the spot price of electricity every hour of every day and plan accordingly. Campaigns to have people start their dishwashers at 3am are likely to have the same effect.
The most exciting part is the ability of these meters to cut electricity by acting as a switch that can be controlled remotely.
One option might be to start collating a couple hundred households as a single unit (with their smart meters). Given enough real time data, a middleman could earn enough to sit between you and the power company saving money and generation capacity, a nice wee earner for those ageing baby boomers sitting around on the coast playing with this interwebby thing.
I think an issue that isn't often mentioned is that public companies that have since gone private have inherited a large asset base of mechanical meters with lifetimes of 30+ years. Everyone pays rent for having one of these sitting in their house and i suspect losing a nice free income stream comes pretty low on most metering company To Do lists.

2006 US SotU address dissected by Colbert

Bush's State of the Union /energy address last week is analysed pretty well by The Colbert Report. It's all you really need to know about US energy policy...

Monday, February 06, 2006

Aussie failed attempt at 6% of river flow

The Snowy river has been blocked for hydro dams to an absolute trickle. Even the modest attempt to increase the flow to 6% of historical levels has failed as the state govt tries to flog off the hydro scheme as a going concern for a $billion... a going concern is easy when you get to count environmental costs as $0.00 ....
Australia is a desert, when are the state/federal govts (or shock horror, the average battla) going to start realising this?

Tracing your identity during file sharing

with an alternative MUTE offering.

SawStop and the land of the free

Imagine having a brilliant, obvious invention stifled by the incumbent players hell bent on denying that there's a problem in case they get sued... welcome to America.

The SawStop is a great invention that whips away a table saw blade if it comes into contact with your finger (see here for an awesome video demonstration). Now it turns out that none of the manufacturers want in on it!

Thursday, February 02, 2006

More from the Royal Society Alert 408 - Bioethics Council

Item #7: Xenotransplantation
The Bioethics Council carried out an examination of the cultural, ethical
and spiritual aspects of animal-to-human transplantation. In their report,
they described what they heard from New Zealanders about the subject and
also presented their own conclusions based on what they heard and made a
series of recommendations to Government. See

Xeno. is where you mix 'human' genes with 'other' genes for medical purposes. For those of us without spiritual baggage the quote marks are entirely appropriate. Lets start with some easy ones:

3) Consistent with the framework chosen, decision-making bodies be guided
by national standards and have access to expertise. Both must be adequate
to deal with the special challenges of xenotransplantation - including its
cultural, ethical and spiritual dimensions.
So you're assuming a priori that there are cultural and spiritual dimensions to xenotransplantations? What are the spiritual dimensions of shampoo synthesis or IC chip manufacturing?

6) (a) The Minister for the Environment enables, including through the
provision of funding, an intra-cultural dialogue process (wananga) for
Maori to examine their knowledge base from which to engage with
xenotransplantation and other forms of biotechnology. This would address
tikanga and spiritual, ethical and cultural issues within te ao Maori,
including whakapapa, karakia etc
Why? Nobody asked me how the internet was going to impact my life when they were squirelling away in the CS dept at Auckland Uni. The words are different but it sounds like a nod to the religious aspects of Maori culture. If they wish to interpret it within their own paradigm, knock yourself out - it's not my job to do it for you.

Who are these people? From the introduction:
It is not our role to say whether or not xenotransplantation is safe or effective. This will be determined by the Government on the basis of advice from the Ministry of Health, reflecting the best available scientific evidence about the safety and effectiveness of xenotransplantation.

Safety is itself an ethical issue that requires people to question some of their most deeply held values. Is it wrong to do things that may carry a certain element of risk? To what extent does the presence of risk justify a curtailment of individual freedoms? As human beings, do we have a fundamental duty to respond to the suffering of others?

Moreover, there are other considerations beyond safety and its ethical aspects. As one participant in our online discussion forum said: ‘Even if science can demonstrate a good safety record, plus highly effective therapeutic outcomes, that in itself does not necessarily make xenotransplantation socially acceptable.’ (my emphasis)

One of the Bioethics Council’s key tasks is to engage with Māori and with Māori cultural, ethical and spiritual views, consistent with the Government’s commitment to the Treaty of Waitangi.
Hhhmmm, so based on a quick skim reading, it looks like this body of 'experts' exists to show appreciation for the Treaty of Waitangi wrt Xenotransplantation and discuss the wider aspects of what constitutes risk wrt the individual vs society (dialogue as a concept is so important it gets its own appendix).
Can't say i'm fussed about the ToW angle, so long as it constitutes consideration and not declaration. As for them telling me what risks should be allowed by an individual in advance, this clangs my liberty bell - who are they to tell me what constitutes risk? I would be much happier allowing things to exist and then let all of society choose what it decides, banning things in advance is always a slippery slope.

So who are these experts?
Jill White, Palmerston North, former MP
Dr Helen Bichan, Wellington, a medical practitioner with specialist qualifications in psychological medicine and public health
Eamon Daly, Christchurch, an independent researcher and PHD candidate in information technology ethics, and information privacy issues
Anne Dickinson, Wellington, Executive Officer of the New Zealand Catholic Bishops Conference and final chair of the disestablished Independent Biotechnology Advisory Council (IBAC).
Waiora Port, (Te Aupouri [Ngāti Pinaki], Te Rarawa [Ngāti Maroki]), Auckland, a respected Kuia with long-standing community knowledge of Māori health issues and a PhD candidate investigating the cultural and spiritual issues around DNA testing for Māori with a genetic predisposition to cancer.
Graham Robertson, Ashburton, a self-employed farmer and a former member of the Independent Biotechnology Advisory Council (IBAC).
Dr Martin Wilkinson, Auckland, a senior lecturer in Community Health and Philosophy at the Auckland School of Medicine.
Piri Sciascia has great depth and knowedge in Māori arts and culture as well as experience in high-level government process. Piri is Pro Vice-Chancellor Māori at Victoria University, Wellington.
Professor Christopher Cunningham has a doctorate in quantum chemistry. Chris is a Professor of Maori Health and Director of the Research Centre for Maori Health and Development at Massey University

A couple of doctors, a couple of PhD students, a professional religious person, and a guy with a great depth of experience of Maori art. I don't know what to make of Prof Cunningham, our resident quantum chemist but i'd love to hear how he ended up where he did! I can't say i'm inspired. Considering our census puts some 45% of the population as 'No Religion', i'd like to see some more transparency on where our bio-ethicists sit in relation to an absene of religion, are my (and approx. 2 million other Kiwis) viewpoint being considered?

From the FAQ:

How will the Council influence Government policy and decision-making?

By establishing confidence and trust in the way the Council operates and being seen to have moral authority based on the support of the New Zealand public for the role that it performs.

Shudder.... 'moral authority' is a term that should never by uttered let alone written down as a reason for your existence.
You have to love this as a media release:

Biotechnology decisions too important to leave to experts - Sir Paul Reeves

the rest of the speech didn't add much.


Good grief, it's sad to believe taxes pay for these people to sit around all day doing this....

Royal Society of NZ Alert - 408

I somehow found this mailing list and subscribed. With a couple of gig of free email archive at Google, who cares if i ever actually read the stuff...

This nugget appealed to me from this weeks missive:

Royal Society Alert - Issue 408
Latest Alert can be read by Royal Society New Zealand members on the web:
Excerpts from Biosecurity, Issue 64
New Zealand as a nation depends on the quality of its science. We are
probably the only developed nation in the world with an economy that is so
heavily dependent on the production of primary industry-based products. We
earn over 50% of our entire foreign exchange income from what we grow and
sell to overseas markets. Yet New Zealand is struggling to get young people
into scientific fields at a time when there is a wide range of stimulating
and valuable work to be done and the nation's exporting future needs to be
developed and protected.

Let me suggest that young people aren't stupid and (despite the obvious need going into the future) can see that NZ doesn't invest in science/scientists and that the overwhelming evidence is that you have more career security being a lawyer/accountant/electrician/chef than you will ever have investing >10 years of your life into becoming a scientist. Even the current crop of scientists aren't recommending anyone get into it, as this comment from the President of the NZ Association of Scientists indicates.
Until the govt/industry start pulling the demand for science graduates, i think the number choosing it as a career is about right. I think the culture of selling education without even a nod as to the career path you're signing up for is part of the problem and was emminently foreseeable when they started rolling out the policy in the late 80's.


You have to read this piece of satire. It's mostly cheap laughs about Americans not knowing anything about the rest of the world and hence not worth linking to until you get to the end. The editors note at the bottom is priceless, but i'm not going to spoil it for you, invest the 30 secs you need to read it for yourself. Trust me.

Esquire - Idiot Amercia source

Possibly the finest piece of journalism i've seen come out of America in, well, a decade. which is scary enough.
And it's not because the guy echoes my own thoughts, it's because it seems lucid, well written, heartfelt and tries to show cause & effect.
Journalism is doomed to failure on showing C&E in realtime, but hell, it doesn't mean they should stop trying.
And he's bang on with at least one statemant;
The rest of the world looks on in cockeyed wonder. The America of Franklin and Edison, of Fulton and Ford, of the Manhattan project and the Apollo program, the America of which Einstein wanted to be a part, seems to be enveloping itself in a curious fog behind which it's tying itself in knots over evolution, for pity's sake, and over the relative humanity of blastocysts versus the victims of Parkinson's disease.

There's plenty of room at the bottom

a classic Feynman speech. Amazing how many throwaway lines in this speech are still the cutting edge today, from biology to chemistry to physics. the guy was amazing!

Wednesday, February 01, 2006

Peak generator in SA for $25M

this diesel generator was sold for $25M with financial caps sold to finance it.
Caps are financial products where you purchase the right to not pay more than $x for something, i.e. you are insuring yourself against upward volatility in prices. Floors are the reverse where you buy the security of not having the price of something drop below a certain level. A collar is a floor+cap, where the floor is raised to the point where it subsidises the price of the cap - this gives you a great deal of certainty on your price but you are less able to take advantage of the swings - but of course, that's the whole point...

Now imagine replacing a dirty crappy diesel genset with a hundred or so distributed fuel cell systems - clean, quiet and modular... ahhh bliss.

Aussie wheat board scandal grows...

commented on by Michelle Graton in The Age.
I'm impressed that the children overboard scandal has been remembered, same MO of crap story about plausible denial and then let the facts dribble out later. JH should be skewered on this and if Kim Beazley can't get some mileage out of this he deserves to get kicked out of the party. He should be aiming to get the commission scope widened and then ride the wave of accountability right into Canberra.