So, you may have noticed it snowing a bit over the last couple of days.

And unless you've been both housebound and had your internet connection cut off, you're probably also heard some idiot smugly asking "whatever happened to 'global warming', then?" (Or, as the Daily Mash delicately puts it, "Britain Trapped Under Two Feet of Global Warming Bullshit".)

Snow in GorgieNow I'm seeing a lot of responses to this argument along the lines of "we shouldn't call it global warming, it's more properly known as climate change. The temperature might go down, or up, it might get wetter, or drier, but it's all connected to the same cause".

I do not like this argument.

I do not like it because it sounds suspiciously like an ad hoc justification; that is to say, it is not properly falsifiable*. Flood, drought or blizzard, no matter what odd events happen, it could be viewed under this line of reasoning as evidence of climate change — in fact, the only thing that would falsify this would be for the weather to remain uniformly dull and predictable — and in the UK, that in and of itself would be viewed as unusual.

Now I know how climate change denialists think, because I was a little slow to accept the evidence myself — and indeed, I retain a small mental devil's advocate about the issue to this day. To the denialists, climate change is unscientific, a matter of religious conviction rather than evidential reasoning, and arguments like the above will only bolster their sense of smug, self-satisfied cynicism.

Instead, stick to the basics. Whether it's the Gulf Stream, solar flares, weather nymphs, or just random fluctuation, Britain's having some cold winters. So what? Global temperatures have been steadily rising for the last half century, and in the face of that, local yearly fluctuations just aren't relevant.

* If you have not read that essay, please do, it's a very influential one in the history of the philosophy of science, and yet fairly easy to follow!

How did I miss this story?

Jimi Heselden, recent owner of Segway, has died after driving his Segway off a cliff — supposedly while reversing to get out of the way of a hiker.

Not good news for sales, I would imagine.

I seem to be stumbling across quite a few odd links recently — most due to the Cheezburger network. Recent discoveries include:

  • Ignobel prize winner Chonosuke Okamura, who made the startling discovery that every species of life on the planet was already around 425 million years ago — albeit in microscopic form. Or he may just have had an incredibly overactive imagination. Your call.
  • Götz von Berlichingen, an absolutely bonkers German knight who got his arm blown off by a cannon, invented one of the earliest examples of a functional prosthetic hand, was twice made an outlaw, and has been attributed as inventor of the phrase "kiss my ass". In spite of his incredibly violent life, he lived to a ripe old age of around 80.
  • The "Door to Hell" in Derweze, Turkmenistan — an underground cavern filled with natural gas which, after being accidentally punctured in 1971, was set on fire in order to prevent poisonous gas discharge — and has continued burning to this day.
We tend to think of colour photography as being a postwar sort of invention — no doubt due to its association with Kodacolor photographic film, invented in 1942.

But in fact colour photography is much older than this. Early versions used three or more separate exposures, with different colour filters, which were combined into a final version at development time.

One of the most stunning collections of this sort of photography is Sergei Mikhailovich Prokudin-Gorskii's photos of pre-Soviet Russia from 1909–1912. The quality of photography and richness of colour make it almost impossible to believe that they were from an entire century ago. The three-hued appearance of flowing water (and the occasional unwary background subject) shows how it was put together from separate Cyan/Magenta/Yellow exposures.

But even older forms of colour photography can be found. Examples from 1906 and 1890 show the "Photocrom" method of pseudo-colour photography. James Clark Maxwell produced a test image as far back as 1855, and Levi Hill's 1851 "Hillotypes" even show some basic colouration — although he fraudulently added extra colours after development!

Edit: Calvin's Dad, as usual, has a different story.

Via Charlie's Diary

Two hundred years ago, Ascension Island was a barren volcanic edifice.

Today, its peaks are covered by lush tropical "cloud forest".

What happened in the interim is the amazing story of how the architect of evolution, Kew Gardens and the Royal Navy conspired to build a fully functioning, but totally artificial ecosystem.

– "Charles Darwin's ecological experiment on Ascension isle", Howard Falcon-Lang, BBC News, 1 Sep 2010

spudtater: (Default)
( Jul. 30th, 2010 07:39 pm)
Awesome MRI pictures of various fruits and vegetables. The watermelon is the best — more fractaltastic than I would have imagined! Broccoli's also good.

Am having way too much fun with this entry on Charlie's blog about the Fermi paradox, Simulation hypothesis, and Boltzmann brains. All excellent concepts, admirably explored in the article and comments.

Kittens are fuzzy, and have big eyes. Spiders are fuzzy, and have big eyes. So is it really so strange for me to find spiders cute? OMNOMNOMBUGZ!

According to my desk calendar, audio recording is 150 years old today.

The oldest known audio recording was made not by Thomas Edison (as was once thought), but by one Édouard-Léon Scott de Martinville, using his phonoautograph.

Unfortunately there wasn't any way to play back the audio, which was a bit of a shortcoming. But thanks to physicists at Berkeley in 2008, we can now listen to what he recorded. Awesome.

Edit: alternative link

[personal profile] galaxy_girlThey're discussing moving the UK to european time.
[personal profile] spudtater*Splutter* Ridiculous! They should be moving to our time!


But seriously, the Prime Meridian is defined by the fact that the sun will be at its apex at 12:00. Sunrise and sunset, consequently, will be equal times before and after 12:00 at Greenwich. There's, like, maths and stuff. That goes out the window if we decide that we're going to start shifting the time forwards just to get people out of bed earlier (even if it is for their own good).

And I intentionally say start shifting the time forwards. Because what happens after we shift? One company and then the other will start thinking: "Hmm... our employees are very tired in the mornings and it's hitting productivity. Perhaps we should start at 9:00 rather than 8:30." (Or 9:30 instead of 9:00, or whatever). Eventually everybody will have shifted their effective working day an hour ahead, at which point some journalist or politician will say: "Hey, guys, I've just had an idea..."

So, yes, looking at the map, it appears that not only should we stay at GMT, but Spain for one should join us there. Arguments could be made for France, The Netherlands, Belgium, and Luxembourg too.

Well, I can dream of date lines based on rational principles, can't I?   8^P
(I mean, Kiribati, Tonga: UTC+13? UTC+14? You're doing it wrong!)

Light looks white, but if we split it with a prism, we see a rainbow of colours, composed of a mixture of red, blue and green photons. — Professor Brian Cox, "Wonders of the Solar System", BBC Two

WTF? He's a particle physicist; surely he should know better?
spudtater: (Default)
( Feb. 20th, 2010 08:15 pm)
First science linky is this very interesting article about ozone depletion denialists. It points out how the exact same tactics being used by climate change denialists today were being used by politicians and industry groups in the 70s/80s, before the discovery of the ozone hole forced a massive backpedal. Particularly interesting is... no, just read the article.   8^)

Second linky is to Ben Goldacre's Bad Science blog, about the Ying Wu chinese herbal medicine case (a woman was given pills for acne, got cancer, and ended up having to have both kidneys and urinary tract removed).

Upon telling [personal profile] galaxy_girl that the industry was entirely unregulated, she responded that "they could be selling rat poison for all we know". I then proceeded to discover via this, this and this:

Aristolochic acid is a rodent carcinogen found in Aristolochia and Asarum, both in the Aristolochiaceae family of plants.

Well, then.
spudtater: (Default)
( Nov. 26th, 2009 12:59 pm)
BBC Breakfast was amusing today. They had as a guest Michel Odent, who believes that husbands should be banned from delivery rooms, citing what he calls the "masculinisation of the birth environment".

I am more than a little sceptical. The reasoning seems to be that the increase in Caesareans over the last half-century or so coincides with the increase in numbers of births attended by husbands. Maybe so, but it also coincides with an enormous range of other factors too, both medical and cultural.

Also in today's news was the 200th anniversary of the opening of the first curry restaurant in the UK, which makes quite an interesting read.
spudtater: (Default)
( Feb. 9th, 2009 08:25 pm)
Those of you who know anything about polygraph lie detector tests will know that they are considered pseudo-science by most academics — they tend to show the results that the examiner expects to see, and largely work on the principle of intimidation. They're basically a stress test, and stress is not a good indicator of when somebody is lying.

If a test that includes measures of breathing, blood pressure, pulse and skin conductivity is inaccurate, how much more so will mere telephone-based lie detection be? And yet our very own Department of Work and Pensions is currently running trials of one such system; already hundreds of thousands of pounds have been denied to claimants based on the results of these tests.

And the details of this system? It turns out that it consists of just 500 lines of Visual Basic code — that's less than most A-Level computing projects — written by a single person with no qualifications whatsoever, either in computing or psychology.


(For those not entirely familiar with it, the "Many-worlds interpretation" is a view where every random event causes a new universe to split off — see the "parallel universes" so beloved by cheesy sci-fi.)

"One good example of this is the Quantum Suicide "experiment" that some proponents of the Many-Worlds Interpretation claim (I think jokingly) could actually be used to test the MWI. The way it works is, you basically run the Schrödinger's Cat thought experiment on yourself– you set up an apparatus whereby an atom has a 50% chance of decaying each second, and there's a detector which waits for the atom to decay. When the detector goes off, it triggers a gun, which shoots you in the head and kills you. So all you have to do is set up this experiment, and sit in front of it for awhile. If after sixty seconds you find you are still alive, then the many-worlds interpretation is true, because there is only about a one in 1018 chance of surviving in front of the Quantum Suicide machine for a full minute, so the only plausible explanation for your survival is that the MWI is true and you just happen to be the one universe where the atom's 50% chance of decay turned up "no" sixty times in a row."

Super Mario World vs. the Many-Worlds Interpretation of Quantum Physics, Mechanically Separated Meat, 3 Feb 2008

(The Super Mario World video is quite good, as well.)

spudtater: (Default)
( Nov. 18th, 2008 09:07 pm)

Recording a narrative verdict, Portsmouth and south-east Hampshire coroner David Horsley said: 'At no stage following the injury to his foot did Russell Jenkins or anyone else on his behalf seek or obtain conventional medical advice or treatment for his condition. In consequence, Russell Jenkins's condition was inappropriately and ineffectively treated by himself and by others and led to his death.'

Healer dies after failing to treat a foot wound, The News, Portsmouth, 17 Nov 2008

spudtater: (Default)
( Aug. 3rd, 2008 09:46 am)
I've been playing with Phun recently. Great stuff! I've never seen such a full-featured physics simulation — especially in a free product. Plus it is just genuinely fun to tinker around with. Download it. Play with it.

Plus: Random stuff connected to conversations last night:
spudtater: (Default)
( Jun. 6th, 2008 11:51 pm)
Have been celebrating my newfound spare time by watching TED talks. They're pretty good. Try this one about generating 3D images from Flickr. Or this one about the intelligence of crows[1]... or... well, try sorting the whole thing by "rated most jaw-dropping", and just dip in to your liking. It's all great stuff.

[1] The good bit is about 3 minutes in.
spudtater: (Default)
( Mar. 8th, 2008 08:13 am)
The following thought experiment followed a conversation I had with a co-worker, who was expressing doubt that a mexican wave could keep up with an F1 car as it went round the track. In a way, of course, she is correct, since it would not be a "true" mexican wave, as it is prompted by an external source (the F1 car) rather than being self-propagating. This caveat aside, in trying to explore how fast I could get a mexican wave to move, I reasoned as follows:

Stand in the middle of a large arena — packed with a cooperative crowd — wielding a spotlight. The spotlight is the signal for the crowd to stand up and wave. Swing the spotlight around, and watch the mexican wave that results.

Now scale the whole thing up. Say it takes five seconds to swing the spotlight around. Scale up the arena so that it is five light seconds in diameter. (Approximately 1.5 million km — thanks, Google.) You might need to up the wattage of the spotlight as well. Now swing it around. The spot made by the spotlight will move at    ( 5 × c × π ) / 5 = π × c,    or ~3.14 times the speed of light.

Congratulations, you've created a mexican wave moving at faster than the speed of light.   8^)

Well... I don't think that "fucked up" adequately describes that film...   8^)

Unrelated... )
spudtater: (Default)
( Jul. 11th, 2006 02:11 pm)
Went walking yesterday, along the Union Canal from Viewforth. Saw the aquaduct over the Water of Leith, which is gorgeous, and noticed that you can now walk all the way from there to Leith. (In fact, IIRC you can walk all the way from Balerno)1. Am planning to do Viewforth -> Slateford -> Leith on Saturday. This time, however, I just continued on along the canal. It is a rather pretty path, and has benefited from some TLC as part of the Millenium conservation thingummy projects. Walked to Wester Hailes, and should be more careful in future as I was in serious danger of falling off The Edge Of The World. Because as any Edinburger knows, beyond the Edinburgh bypass there is only void.   8^)

Managed to jog a substantial part of the way back. Exercise is good.

On an interesting note, was reading an article today about solitons, which I don't by any stretch of the imagination understand, but I did discover that they were first observed... where? The Union Canal! Must walk to the Scott Russell aqueduct next time I walk the canal...

[1] Ooh look, the path's even got its own wiki page!
spudtater: (Default)
( Jun. 21st, 2006 10:26 pm)

Stephen Colbert, who very frequently rocks, in an interview with Congressman Lynn Westmoreland, on the subject of displaying the ten commandments in courthouses etc. Laugh track added post-interview.

(Even those of you who are religious want to watch this one. It's brilliant.)

Stephen Hawking says pope told him not to study beginning of universe

'Hawking, who didn't say when the meeting was held, quoted the pope as saying, "It's OK to study the universe and where it began. But we should not enquire into the beginning itelf because that was the moment of creation and the work of God."'

— AP, 15/06/2006

And this doesn't really fit the topic of religion, but I have recently discovered that some people apparently still believe in the theory of phrenology. (That's the one about reading people's personalities by examining the bumps in their heads.) Oh dear.



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