Tuesday, March 30, 2010

Science Briefly Takes Over Twitter

Today I saw something wonderful. Yes, the biggest scientific experiment in history kicked off, but that's not what I'm talking about. Not directly anyway.

Nope. Today science became cool. At least for a short while.

A lot of us already know that. But for CERN and LHC to be trending on Twitter, that's outreach. A lot of people out there like science, but for some reason the general consensus is that it's boring. But science can be exciting. All you had to do is watch the reactions of people on Twitter as the beams ramped up, the excitement was palpable. And when it reach 3.5 TeV, and collisions started, it just exploded

Let's face it. Science is popular. There appears to be a significant geek vote worldwide.

I just hope that those with clout will sit up and take notice.


Posted via web from John's posterous

Monday, March 29, 2010

Miscellaneous Monday

Hubble Dark Matter Map

This is really cool!  Although you can't see dark matter, you can see its effects on the universe around it. Check out this link for the map and some great info on how it was created: http://news.discovery.com/space/hubble-3d-map-universe-dark-matter.html

Scientology google ads:

"you are not your fears, your past or your failures...so who are you?" followed by a link to their site which I will not utter here (gratuitous Gandalf quote notwithstanding).

I know Google ads are sometimes incongruous with the content of the page they find themselves on, but this takes the biscuit: scientology ads on Google Reader, mixed in with my science and skepticism feeds: WTF, Google?! This is like crack for many people who're feeling a little down, lost or confused. Manipulative bastards.

And speaking of cults and manipulative bastards....it seems the current pope tried to get the last one to do something about the rampant sexual abuse in the worldwide church. Easy enough to blame the dead guy, isn't it? "It was like that when I got here, guv, honest". Not sure what to make of this, but it sounds to me like propoganda to muddy the waters.


India Knight nails it in this piece on her disgust with catholicism: http://www.timesonline.co.uk/tol/comment/columnists/india_knight/article70788...

Korean "war" II :

Not yet.....

It seems the South Korean Navy's ship was probably sunk by a naval mine, not a torpedo. But there are questions to be answered here: Whose mine was it? Was the mine in South Korean or international waters? A tragedy for the families of the dead, but at least it's not imminent war.


My light cone: Coming up on Delta Trianguli (4 weeks away)

Delta Trianguli is 35.4 light years away and only 4 weeks from the outer surface of your light cone - your ever-growing sphere of potential causality - which began its expansion from Earth on December 21 1974.

See ya next week for #MM!

Posted via web from John's posterous

Monday, March 22, 2010

As Well As Being Offensive, Pope's Letter to Irish Catholics is Emotional Blackmail

I am extremely annoyed by this. No, I'm pissed. Very much so. Not only does the Pope not admit any Vatican responsibility, impose any real punishment or propose any kind of assistance to the victims and their families aside from prayer (?!), but in a few lines he manages to push all the right buttons in the Irish psyche for a spiritual call to arms for those who might, even after all of this, have any lingering respect for the church.

Let me explain. Irish people are sensitive to criticism of catholicism for historical reasons - being a catholic in Ireland before Catholic Emancipation around 1829 was in effect being a slave. Look up the Penal Laws if you're interested, it's not pretty reading. In Northern Ireland, until relatively recently, if you were a catholic you had a hard time getting a decent job or good housing: your address gave you away and you were quietly filtered you out. This wasn't official British Government policy, but that's the way it happened on the ground in a protestant dominated society, and appears to have been tolerated by the establishment. Most people with whom I grew up aren't religious, but non-catholics criticising catholicism raises hackles. Even for myself, a recovering catholic and atheist, there's still a small voice in the back of my head (I ignore it, of course) that raises its hand timidly when the church is criticised. I hope to shut it up one day. I believe this comes from my childhood, when the only criticism of catholicism we knew of came from Northern Ireland, where certain extremists wanted the pope hung, and catholics kicked out. Of course, given that most of my generation have grandparents that were involved in the war of independence in the early twentieth century, the linking of catholicism to being Irish was inevitable. A good Irish person went to mass every Sunday and knew about Irish independence. Even today, baptism, first communion, and confirmation are practiced by people who wouldn't go near a Church otherwise. Why? It's part of the culture. Even for many of those who aren't true believers, the church is so deeply intertwined with daily life that many people accept these practices on autopilot, even if they haven't been to a mass in decades. What it essentially boils down to is this: Attacking catholicism was, and maybe still is for some, akin to attacking Ireland and Irishness.

That's what the Pope is trying to exploit

He speaks of Irish Catholics as having been persecuted in the past, and rising up after emancipation to spread the faith worldwide. These are historical facts, but bringing up these emotional subjects is for some Irish people like having your patriotism questioned. If you're not a good catholic, then you're not a good Irish citizen. It's not explicit, and in fact most people would probably deny it outright, but it's there, in the murky depths of our collective cultural subconciousness. In effect, the Pope is reminding us of how the church was there for Ireland during the bad times, now it's our turn to stand by the church in its time of need. To me, this smacks of emotional blackmail, trying to call out anyone who has a hint of respect for catholicism to come back to the church. The Irish are catholics, so if you're Irish, well.....follow the logic. Basically this letter says two things:

1) Yes, we fucked up, but if you pray lots more it'll be alright;

2) Remember your heritage: If you're REALLY Irish, you'll come back to the church.

Hardcore catholics will forgive anything and are probably hopeless cases, but my hope is that the majority of Irish people will see this for what it is: a cynical attempt to browbeat people back to the church using a call to patriotism.

And is the Pope really asking all catholics in Ireland to pray for the church? That's his fix? Do penance for the sins of a few wayward priests (no penance for the priests, mind you, just the congregation) and all will be well? This is the twenty first century, isn't it?

This medieval nonsense MUST stop.

Instead, how about this for starters, Mr. Pope:

* Sell off a few buildings and set up worldwide secular psychological counselling services for the victims of this horrific, systematic violence perpetrated against the most vulnerable in society.
* Appoint an independent, secular commitee to investigate the role of the church in covering for pedophile priests. And then let the law of the land judge those found responsible.

That would be a start. Words are easy: it's actions that count.

Friday, March 19, 2010

Carl Sagan on talk show hosted by John Denver

Someone posted this on Facebook recently, and I just had to share it. Carl Sagan is one of my all-time heroes and this is a real joy, as Denver says in the interview. It seems to take place shortly after the Voyager missions launched and a little while after the Viking mission to Mars.They also discuss the "recent" launch of the space shuttle Enterprise so that would put it around early 1978ish, methinks. This is Carl Sagan at his best. Eloquent, authoritative, but never condescending.

Who is there today that even approaches his enthusiasm for communicating science, as well as his ability to convey complex ideas to a non-scientific general audience? I can only think of one person, maybe two, who give me that same thrill. The first is Dr. Caroline Porco. When you hear her speak, she conveys that same delight and awe in exploring the universe as Dr. Sagan did. Check out her TED talks on the Cassini mission to see what I'm talking about. The second, although this is based solely on the trailer to "Wonders Of the Solar System", is Professor Brian Cox of the University of Manchester. My first reaction to the trailer: this is Cosmos 2010! It really got my geeky juices flowing, and I just can't wait to see it! You can follow Dr. Porco and Professor Cox on Twitter: @carolineporco @ProfBrianCox I highly recommend them.

Carl Sagan was a prolific writer, but two of his books in particular stand out. Cosmos, and The Demon Haunted World.

The Demon Haunted World is a classic in critical thinking. It tackles everything woo-related from alien abductions to ghosts to the afterlife, all the while pointing out that while an open mind is a good thing to have, extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence. It was the first book of its type I had ever read, and it's safe to say it profoundly changed the way I view the world.

Cosmos is simply amazing. And the television series is an absolute jewel. If you haven't seen it yet, what are you waiting for? Even 30 years later, it still holds up. And for rewatch vallue, you just can't beat it.

There is a photograph of Earth taken by Voyager 1 as seen from 4 billion miles away (can't you just hear that explosive Sagan "B"!)  that has become iconic. Here is Carl himself reading the passage he wrote describing it, taken from his book "The Pale Blue Dot":

Now tell me science has no soul! 

Carl Sagan died in 1996 following a long struggle with myelodysplasia at the relatively young age of 62. Such a loss to humanity, but he left us such a legacy. I wonder what he would have accomplished were he still with us?

One thing is for sure: he would never have bored us.


Posted via web from John's posterous

Saturday, March 6, 2010

How Rogue Waves Form - Wired

There was a news story during the week about a cruise ship off the coast of Spain getting damaged by an unusually powerful wave, killing two passengers and injuring another. Great piece from Wired about how these waves can form.


Posted via web from John's posterous

Thursday, March 4, 2010

Primitive Stars discovered

Stars from the early universe, formed shortly after the big bang, have been discovered in a "nearby" dwarf galaxy.


A related recent post:



Posted via web from John's posterous