Friday, December 31, 2010

2010 in retrospect

2010 is gone. Another year over, a new one just begun (who said that again? :-P )Well, tomorrow :)

What happened this past year? Here are just a few things that stood out to me:


The iPad underwhelmed us.....but still went on to sell like hotcakes.

Google Buzz became a fizzle, leaving the way open for Facebook and Twitter. Twitter took off and is soaring. Facebook's Like button is everywhere now. Oauth is everywhere, and you can now sign on to a multitude of services with it, linking them to Facebook and Twitter with just a couple of clicks.


Wikileaks blew the whistle on a helicopter gunship crew taking out what appear to be unarmed civilians in Iraq. Assange is accused of rape. That quietens down until wikileaks unveil a huge amount of diplomatic cables between Washington and its embassies around the world. The rape accusations come screaming back. Not saying there's any connection, but it sure is strange timing. I don't know what to make of it all.....


Ireland's economy implodes, bank debt is transferred to the taxpayer, and Ireland is now owned, more or less, by the EU and the IMF. Unemployment is through the roof. But Brian Cowen doesn't accept that it's his fault.

Korea heats up: First a South Korean naval ship explodes mysteriously last March. Artillery exchanges in December with more and more belligerent language from both sides. Scary times.

Times Square attempted bombing: luckily the would-be bomber didn't know what he was doing.

Eyjafjallajökull gently reminded us that we're just tenants here on earth, and that nature can shake us off like fleas at any time.

Roman Polanski was arrested in Switzerland and threatened with extradition: the "intellectual" artsy crowd throw a collective hissy fit. Sorry, if you admit to committing this kind of crime, you do the time. It doesn't matter if you cure cancer, bring world peace, end poverty, make great movies, and save the earth from a giant comet all at once: justice is blind, and Roman the movie maker should be treated in exactly the same way as, for example, Mick the bricklayer. And if Mick were on the lam, he wouldn't even have had time to get off the plane before being sent back.

Catholic Church child abuse scandal explodes, Pope is sorry :/ He visits Britain in September, and Godwins himself within minutes of opening his mouth.

Simon Singh off the hook in Chiropractor Libel case and the BCA are on the back foot but English Libel reform has not yet been implemented.

Space exploration:

A new spaceflight strategy was announced by the Obama administration to mixed reviews. Return to the moon is out, asteroid mission & Mars orbit in 20 years, with humans on the ground in about 30. Constellation is cancelled, no US heavy lift capability before 2015, meaning NASA will rely on Russian goodwill to get its astronauts into space in the interim.

The WISE mission released its first images back in February:

There was a lunar eclipse during the Winter Solstice, a rare event that won't happen again until 2094. The last such occurence was almost 400 years ago.

The Martian lander Phoenix was finally declared dead in May. The Odyssey orbiter had been listening for communication from the lander for months to no avail, so the decision was taken to officially end the mission.

SDO First light images released in April.

Messenger images of Mercury released. Messenger timeline:

Cassini continues to enthrall us, in a mission that launched in 1997. Details here: and here:

LHC goes online and Twitter is briefly taken over by Science. Science was cool for a while there...a joy to behold!

STS-131 & 132 missions added further ISS components.

STS-133 Discovery kept us waiting for a week, and then decided that she didn't want to make her last flight just yet....launch on hold, tentatively scheduled for February 3 at the time of writing, but who knows! Having said that, the tweetup was incredible! I wasn't there, but followed it via twitter and justinTV\hatcam....what a blast!


Spain won the FIFA World Cup tournament, beating The Netherlands 1-0 in the final. In the meantime, the French team collapsed into a fiasco of infighting, backstabbing, and general unpleasantness that appears to be unprecedented. It was like watching a bunch of spoiled children throwing a tantrum, and management wasn't any better.

The French rugby team however, fared better. They won the 6 Nations Rugby Tournament, Ireland second. Still showing good form, they'll be a formidable presence in next year's rugby world cup in New Zealand.

The feelgood story of the year: 33 Chilean miners were rescued safe and sound after being trapped underground for 69 days following an explosion. An estimated 1 billion people watched the rescue operation live.

Notable deaths this year:

Alexander Haig, US Secretary of State under Reagan; Viktor Chernomyrdin, Russian prime minister under Boris Yeltsin; US diplomat Richard Holbrooke; Former Hussein regime official Ali "Chemical Ali" Hassan al-Majid; mathematician Benoit Mandelbrot; neutron bomb inventor Samuel Cohen; Legendary Apollo Program launchpad boss Guenter Wendt; author J. D. Salinger; singer and civil rights activist Lena Horne; Sex Pistols manager Malcolm McLaren; Popular British comedian Norman Wisdom; Double Tour de France winner Laurent Fignon; Irvin Kershner movie director (The Empire Strikes Back); director Blake Edwards, (Pink Panther, Breakfast at Tiffany's); actors Corey Haim (The Lost Boys), Tony Curtis (Some Like It Hot), Dennis Hopper (too many to list), Gary Coleman (Different Strokes), Peter Graves (mission impossible), Simon McCorkindale (Manimal);


And on that note.....

Happy New Year!!!


Posted via email from John's posterous

Wednesday, December 29, 2010

A Bit of Fun Speculation: Why A Zombie Uprising Wouldn't Be An Apocalypse

Yep. I’ve been watching AMC’s The Walking Dead. Creeps you out at all the right places, and makes you think when you’re not jumping.  I like it. 

But honestly: a zombie apocalypse?  

Biological improbabilities aside*, it's simply not plausible to me. But  it is interesting to think that we’re so screwed up as humans that we couldn’t handle a zombie uprising. Sure there are lots of them, but they are dumb (in most incarnations - for now we'll stick with the Romero-type zombie). They don't plan, hide, adapt, co-operate or even use tools. The only weapon they have is numbers. And they’re mortal. On the other hand, you can't get them to surrender or break their morale. But still, any sizeable number of humans with weapons, armoured vehicles, construction equipment and basic engineering skills should have no problem. People would die, certainly, but I don’t think civilisation would crumble if action were taken quickly**

So the dead have risen and are becoming a bit of a problem. Now what? Well, as previously mentioned, they’re pretty stupid. They don’t have a capacity to plan or reason. They can’t climb over significant barricades, and their idea of siege warfare is to stand around moaning at the obstruction. So here's what I think, and it's something we rarely see in the movies - although Max Brook did something vaguely similar in his novel "World War Z".

First secure safe areas behind high walls. Then draw the undead en masse into an ambush zone, for example, chopper in a few guys in APCs, have them step out like cheese in a mouse trap, and when the Zs come to chow down, batten down the hatches and wait for the next phase: a modern version of the chariot charge. Line up a few tank platoons, and then just run the fuckers over. Squish ‘em to mulch, then follow up with armoured infantry to take out what’s left. Lather, rinse, repeat. Same story in cities: APCs up and down the streets to take out the large numbers, then infantry sweep and clear. It’d be much simpler than clearing out, say, Hue or Fallujah. The bad guys aren’t sneaking around taking potshots at you from concealed positions. They’ll come right up to you and let you pop 'em. Piece of piss. 

Military forces the world over ambush and defeat other smart, well-armed humans on a regular basis. Hannibal killed 70,000 Romans at Cannae in a few hours with nothing more than horses, swords and bows***. Beats me why a modern, fictional military can never do anything effective against the mindless hordes of the undead. 

In Brook's story, the military eventually mothballed their hi-tech weapons & went back to basics: phalanx-type infantry units with bite proof body armor. In large engagements, soldiers fired volleys of single headshots from long range in what seems almost Napoleonic-era warfare but with accurate weapons. Once they figured that out, they took back the world. But again, it got out of hand in the first place because of human stupidity. 

So much for the apocalypse. 

And what's with the popularity of zombies? They’re biologically implausible and easily defeated (unless everyone -government, military, all the way down to Joe Soap- consistently makes the wrong decision in no brainer situations, like they do in the movies). I think it’s several things:
  • The thought that our civilization is so fragile that an enemy the Romans could have defeated could bring it down;
  • That human egos and emotions could overcome our intellect and allow sheer brute force destroy us;
  • The sheer terror of relentless, mindless ghouls coming to devour us and our families alive;
Yet zombies are fun. There's no need to feel guilty about killing them, and the movies are generally a commentary on how screwed up we humans are in letting our emotions and egos run the show instead of being rational and doing the obvious.

Personally, I’m more worried about a pandemic taking out 20-30% of us, a bad winter wiping out even more, leaving the survivors in a more or less preindustrial society. 

But having said that, I really enjoyed season 1 of The Walking Dead.

* Dead is dead. Once the heart stops, none of the body's cells get oxygen and begin to die. That includes motor neurons and muscles. So no more movement of any description. And how do their teeth stay intact? Zombies of this kind are clearly impossible. Now, the "28 days later" "I am Legend" type? Not so clear cut. They're not undead, but infected with some kind of "rage" virus. Could this happen? Who knows? :)

**A study on the mathematics of a zombie uprising: by Philip Munz, Ioan Hudea, Joe Imad and Robert J, Smith?. In Infectious Disease Modelling Research Progress, eds. J.M. Tchuenche and C. Chiyaka, Nova Science Publishers, Inc. pp. 133-150, 2009. ISBN 978-1-60741-347-9.

***The Romans seem to have panicked when they realized they were surrounded and trapped, making it easier for Hannibal's forces to wipe them out. Zombies, of course, wouldn't panic, but this would make them even more predictable. And as Sun Tsu said, if you know yourself and your enemy, you won't lose in a hundred battles. 

Posted via email from John's posterous

Monday, December 20, 2010

The Winter Solstice - 21/12/2010 23:38 UTC

So Winter Solstice is upon us again and the usual argument is brewing. Begining, middle or end of winter? As a kid, I was taught that the winter months were November, December and January. As an astronomy buff that makes sense to me. The sun reaches its lowest annual noontime point in the sky, sometime around December 21st, before begining its climb back up again towards the summer solstice. This year's exact solstice will be on December 21, at 23:38 UTC. The noticeable effect of this is that the days begin to gradually get longer again, although this isn't obvious immediately afterwards. Traditionally, December 21st was described as midwinter, June 21st being midsummer.

Some good info here:

.....and as it happens, on this auspicious occasion, I turn 36.

Posted via email from John's posterous