Thursday, October 02, 2014

Puzzling excitement

I am honestly not getting the geek boy (and girl) excitement about the final trailer for Nolan's "Interstellar" movie.

In terms of science fiction trailers which look awesome, it has nothing, nothing, on those for Gravity.

Depp spotting ahead

Fifth Pirates of the Caribbean film to be shot in Queensland | Film | theguardian.com

My family spends an inordinate amount of time re-watching the Pirate movies on DVD (even the much derided No 3), so it's pleasing in a way to see one will be made near by.

Mind you, the third Narnia film (the fake ship for which we were able to visit) was not so good, so here's hoping  for a better script for Depp.

Update:  I just heard that Depp is not yet "committed" to the movie.  Hard to imagine it without him...

The leaping dentures of France

Literary Review - John Brewer on the French Smile Revolution

Also from Literary Review, here's a piece about the change in smiling and dentistry in 18th century France.

I liked this paragraph, with its particularly amusing final image:
 The 18th-century cult of sensibility, spread through performances on the
Parisian stage and nurtured by novels of deep emotional intensity by
the likes of Samuel Richardson and Rousseau, loosened the grip of the
costive, courtly smile. Charming and tender smiles - transparent
expressions of feeling intended to be shared by all men and women,
though, in practice, chiefly enjoyed by the Parisian cultural and social
elite - became fashionable. Teeth and smiles were chic - and so were
dentists. Practitioners like Pierre Fauchard made dental care a
profession: they abandoned the street (where teeth had been brutally
pulled by colourful showmen like 'Le Grand Thomas', who operated on the
Pont Neuf and was known as the 'Pearl of the Charlatans' and 'Terror of
the Human Jaw') and set up offices (upstairs so the patients' screams
could not be heard in the street below) in fashionable spots like the
Rue Saint-Honoré. They encouraged tooth conservation, not brutal
extraction, wrote treatises that established dentistry as a science, and
emphasised the importance of patient self-care, which helped them
peddle a succession of cleaners, whiteners, gargles, toothpicks and
breath sweeteners. Fauchard invented spring-loaded denture sets, which,
as Jones reminds us, 'had the unfortunate habit of leaping dramatically
out of the owner's mouth at unguarded moments'.

The highly eccentric English

Literary Review - Alexander Waugh on a truly uncommon family

Well, it's all rather trivial in a way, but this review of a biography, which covers some of the circles that Evelyn Waugh moved in, certainly paints a picture of an England with more than its fair share of highly strung, eccentric, sexually diverse, characters.  

2 degrees of confusion

Of course, Graham Lloyd, or whoever writes his headlines, has twisted the (admittedly rather confusingly argued) commentary that appeared in Nature about the 2 degree limit favoured by the IPCC to make it sound as if the limit is nothing to worry about.

Then the coal miners' economist of choice, Sinclair Davidson, goes on a self serving ramble about how this is climate scientists admitting the 2 degree target is a "failure", and (it would seem) reading the article to mean that because scientists now think that it is not going to be hit, or not going to be hit as soon as previously thought, they have to add other "fudge factors".

As I have already indicated, the Nature commentary piece is confusingly constructed, but one would have thought that even a libertarian could see that the part where they say the 2 degree limit is "unachievable" means that they are concerned that the world will easily surpass it.

But of course, in the multi headed beast that is climate change skepticism, anything is clutched at as reason not to do anything.  It's any or all of the following (amongst dozens of other reasons):  "the scientists are fraudulently fiddling the temperature record", "it's warming but who knows if it will be harmful?", "hey, maybe it's cooling!"  "the cost of doing anything would be worse than adapting" or "it's too late, the world will overshoot 2 degrees and we should only worry about adaptation."

There is no logical consistency - only ideology driven positions against governments taking serious action against planet changing, possibly very disastrous for huge numbers of our descendants, greenhouse gas emissions.

So - actual good articles on the 2 degree matter are at Stoat and Real Climate.

Read them if you want to make some sense of the situation.

As Real Climate notes, if anything, the worry amongst scientists has increasingly been that the 2 degree limit is set too high - but (I would add) this is no reason for defeatism: if (say) 1.8 degrees is more damagingly planet changing that first feared, then overshooting it by another .5 to 1 degree is also way worse than originally thought and still worthy of avoidance.

And as I understand it, even on the lowest estimates of climate sensitivity, if you keep burning carbon the way libertarians think we should, the planet will still exceed 2 degrees in a matter of decades, not centuries.

That's my take on it anyway...

Wednesday, October 01, 2014

A very bad year

Jacqueline Kennedy’s Struggle After J.F.K.’s Assassination: The Nightmares, Drinking, and Suicidal Thoughts | Vanity Fair

Anyone with even a passing interest in the Kennedy story should be interested in this lengthy article about how badly Jackie Kennedy suffered from what we would now call PTSD in the first year after his assassination.

Announcement of the death of black holes almost certainly premature

Backreaction: Black holes declared non-existent again.

Bee knows a fair bit about this stuff, and she thinks the recent paper arguing that black holes cannot form are mistaken.   

GM crops and herbicides - again

A report at Wired recently points out that there are quite a few science types who are saying that GM crops for increasing tolerance for herbicides is only going to lead to a continuation of the resistance wars which glyphosate has already (pretty much) won.

This view seems to involve much common sense, and (I assume) it is short term economic imperatives that are against it.   A bit like climate change really:  it'll come to bite the short sighted in the backside soon enough.

Open carry nut

What Happens When a White Man Parades Around Outside a School in a Bullet-Proof Vest With an AK-47? - Little Green Footballs

Nietzsche on Love

Nietzsche on Love | Issue 104 | Philosophy Now

I'm not sure that I would trust Nietzsche on anything to do with love and eros and stuff, apart from the wisdom of wearing a condom (oh, he didn't advise that?), but I guess this paragraph made some sense for his time:
In aphorism 71, ‘On female chastity’, Nietzsche comments on the lack of
sexual education particularily of upper-class women, and the adverse
psychological impact this has on them. These women are made shameful and
ignorant of all sexual matters as part of their feminine honour for the
securing of their husband. However, once they are married, they are
faced with the expectations of a sexual life without any preparation;
and the man they respect and love most now asks of them precisely what
they were previously taught to consider vulgar and unacceptable.
Nietzsche empathises with this paradoxical situation for women when he
writes, “to catch love and shame in a contradiction and to be forced to
experience at the same time delight, surrender, duty, pity, terror, and
who knows what else, in the face of the unexpected neighbourliness of
god and beast… Thus a psychic knot has been tied that may have no equal”
(71). In other words, the gender roles that are part of the formula of
courtship and love, in many instances have an adverse psychological
affect on women.

Looks pretty, but...


Useful in off-grid areas <i>(Image: Airlight Energy)</i>  

Sunflower solar harvester provides power and water - tech - 30 September 2014 - New Scientist

Did you see this design for pretty efficient solar power and lots of hot water?:

It looks pretty, but I really wonder how it stands up to hail and wind.  (The mirrors are metallic foil, not glass.) 

It's either a warming catastrophe or complete rubbish

Is it some sort of rule at The Australian that it can only run a story about projections for a hot summer in Australia if at the same time they run a column by an aging ignoramus of a business man that warming is all a weather bureau conspiracy?  

Don't train lizards

If morphic resonance is true, this is dangerous research:
Scientists from the University of Lincoln set out to investigate whether the bearded dragon (Pogona vitticeps) was capable of imitating another lizard.
They created a wire door and placed a tempting mealworm behind it. The team found that the lizards could be taught to open the door, and then pass on that information to other creatures.
Because we don't want to see more stories like this.

All about Japanese prefab

20 shades of beige: lessons from Japanese prefab housing

The author is a bit of an architectural snob, I reckon, but I must admit I didn't know the prefab house industry in Japan was so big.

Tuesday, September 30, 2014

Sounds unwell

I was wondering why he hadn't commented here for a while, but I see that Homer Paxton was/is unwell.   Sounds very unpleasant: get well soon...

Bad news for reefs

Ocean acidification could lead to collapse of coral reefs: To better understand the effect of acidification on coral growth decline, Hebrew University scientists led by Prof. Jonathan Erez and Prof. Boaz Lazar at the Fredy and Nadine Herrmann Institute of Earth Sciences, together with Carnegie Institute colleagues Dr. J. Silverman and Dr. K. Caldeira, carried out a community metabolism study in Lizard Island at the Great Barrier Reef in Australia.
The researchers compared calcification rates documented in 2008 and 2009 to those measured using similar techniques in 1975-6. Despite the fact that the coral cover remained similar, the researchers found that the recent calcification rates had decreased by between 27% and 49%. These lower rates are consistent with predictions that took into account the increase in CO2 between the two periods, suggesting that ocean acidification is the main cause for the lower calcification rate at Lizard Island.
While previous studies on individual reef building corals have shown that they lower their calcification rates in response to ocean acidification, in the present study this was demonstrated for the whole community. These findings suggest that coral reefs are now making skeletons that are less dense and more fragile. While they still look the same, these coral reefs are less able to resist physical and biological erosion.
According to Erez and Silverman, "The results of this study show a dramatic decrease in the calcification of the reef, and that it was likely caused by ocean acidification. When the rate of calcification becomes lower than the rate of dissolution and erosion, the entire coral ecosystem could collapse and eventually be reduced to piles of rubble. The collapse of this habitat would ultimately lead to the loss of its magnificent and highly diverse flora and fauna."
This strikes me as a pretty significant study, as I would expect that Lizard Island is a bit less affected by river run off issues than reefs further south. 

More depressing Islam news

Iran executes man for heresy | World news | theguardian.com

Well, in the story itself, it appears that the Iranian judiciary is denying it was because of heresy - instead it was more to do with "illicit sex" with his followers;  although it is also said that there was no evidence of the sexual activities.  What's more, there are several long term prisoners for religious reasons:
Iranian authorities are sensitive towards those practising Islam in
ways not conforming to the official line. In recent years, several
members of Iran’s Gonabadi dervishes religious minority have been
arrested and are currently serving lengthy prison terms.

Amnesty said last week that a group of nine Gonabadi dervishes were
on hunger strike in protest at their treatment in prison. They were
Mostafa Abdi, Reza Entesari, Hamidreza Moradi and Kasra Nouri, as well
as the five lawyers representing them who have also been jailed: Amir
Eslami, Farshid Yadollahi, Mostafa Daneshjoo, Afshin Karampour and Omid
Behrouzi.

“The men were mostly detained in September 2011, during a wave of
arrests of Gonabadi dervishes. They were all held in prolonged solitary
confinement, without access to their lawyers and families, and were
sentenced, after two years and following grossly unfair trials, to jail
on various trumped-up charges,” Amnesty said. “The men are prisoners of
conscience, imprisoned solely for practising their faith and defending
the human rights of dervishes through their legitimate activities as
journalists and lawyers.”
All of this from a country that could be useful in the fight against IS!

Drink and violence in the NT

Protecting the right to drink trumps the safety of Indigenous women in the NT | Nova Peris | Comment is free | theguardian.com: In Darwin alone domestic violence-related assaults have jumped 35% in the last two years. It is even worse outside the capital city. The rates of domestic violence in Tennant Creek are 12 times higher than in Darwin. In Tennant Creek police statistics show that only 10% of domestic violence assaults don’t involve alcohol.

In the NT, the right to drink trumps the rights of victims, who are continually bashed in alcohol fuelled violence. I am extremely concerned that the Abbott government has decided to sign up to this approach.

A domestic violence strategy that does not even mention alcohol is not worth the paper it is written on. A domestic violence strategy that continues to allow people who commit alcohol related domestic violence to keep drinking as much as they like will not work.
You would have to suspect she's right.   Also, as someone in comments notes, this is a much more important practical issue than Aboriginal recognition in the constitution.

I put it down as yet another case of bad Abbott government priorities.

Monday, September 29, 2014

Did you hear? - the Minerals Council has made a film as part of its PR campaign...


[Apologies to Laika, which seems a very progressive company and probably won't mind righteous ridicule.  I will review their film shortly...]

Don't tell Rupert Sheldrake...

Stone Age groups made similar toolmaking breakthroughs
Different palaeolithic populations around the world might have developed
a crucial toolmaking skill independently. This conclusion, based on the
analysis of hundreds of artefacts from a recently excavated
archaeological site in Armenia, weakens a long-held theory that Stone
Age people in Eurasia learnt sophisticated techniques from migrating
African tribes. The work is published in Science1.

A case of morphic resonance, no doubt.  (Heh).

The intellectual quality of Barnaby on climate change

I enjoyed Jane Cadzow's retrospective on the years she has spent writing profiles of well know personalities for the Fairfax Weekend Magazine.   (Her paragraphs about Warwick Capper are especially amusing.)

But her description of what it was like talking to Barnaby Joyce in 2011 about climate change show the dire lack of intellectual rigour we see in so much of this Abbott government:
Joyce, now the federal agriculture minister, talked non-stop, though not always in complete sentences. As we sped along a south-east Queensland highway one morning, he laid out his case against evidence that global warming was caused by carbon-dioxide emissions from human activity. "I'm going to just pour bullshit on that," he told me, "and just say, well, I just, you know, I, and okay now I'll go beyond that ..."

I waited until he paused for breath, then suggested that even if there weren't conclusive proof of man-made climate change, it might be sensible to reduce our emissions. Why not err on the side of caution?

"Erring on the side of caution means we should drop a bomb on Tehran," he replied.

"Does it?" I asked doubtfully. "Well, you know," he said, "because there's a possibility that they're developing a nuclear weapon."
Now, I think everyone finds Barnaby likeable at a personal level (very down to earth and self deprecating much of the time) and, surprisingly, he has been actively telling some other Right wingers around the place to stop with the "Australia can be the food bowl of Asia" overblown rhetoric.  But seriously, it's clear he takes his climate science from Professor Andrew Bolt, as so many in this government do.


He's getting old...

It's as if The Australian is written by Rupert personally.  Here he is, tweeting like he's Alan Moran (maybe he is):


That first word, being used by him, is causing much hilarity (and wishes for his early earthly departure) in many of the tweets that follow.

Hey, I had that weird thought first

In only the second paragraph of his Guardian column about the (rather unimportant) issue of who pays for the first date, David Mitchell, who is making a welcome appearance back at the paper, wonders whether in the future drones will carry embryos across the sky, such that the stork story will turn out to have been a premonition of the future.

I would like to point out that I had odd thought 9 months ago.

That's OK, maybe someone else had written about it before me.   But if he writes soon about my proposed TV series of time travelling, fecal transplanting doctors who change the course of history, I'll expect an acknowledgement.

Sunday, September 28, 2014

The ever reliable tobacco industry speaks

BBC News - France to introduce plain cigarette packaging

Hey, interesting to note that France is going the "plain packaging" route for cigarettes.  Apparently, youthful smoking has been on the increase, despite the EU already requiring that packets be plastered with health warnings.

Most amusing, though, is a claim from a tobacco aligned company (although the article does not say what it actually does):
Celine Audibert, a spokeswoman for French firm Seita, which is a
subsidiary of Imperial Tobacco, described the move as "completely
incomprehensible".

"It's based on the Australian experience which, more than a failure, was a complete fiasco," added Ms Audibert.
She should work for the IPA; she makes about as much sense.  

Saturday, September 27, 2014

Well known skeptic has some doubts

Anomalous Events That Can Shake One’s Skepticism to the Core - Scientific American

This is a rare story - a widely known skeptic getting a bit spooked by a remarkably meaningful co-incidence (or more?)

It would be great if this sort of thing happened more often.  Skeptics should doubt their skepticism a bit more often than they do, I think. 

(I also trust that this isn't some sort of playing with his readership on Shermer's part.)

Significant movie news

At last!   Some confirmation that Spielberg is about to start shooting his next movie:
The Steven Spielberg-directed Cold War era movie is currently taking over the DUMBO section of Brooklyn. Signs for the previously untitled project, now going by St. James Place, began popping up around the area surrounding the Manhattan Bridge this week, and this morning about two blocks have been taken over by the production.
The film will star Tom Hanks, Amy Ryan, Eve Hewson, Alan Alda, and others. According to a Variety report from June:
"DreamWorks and Disney have dated the Cold War spy thriller for Oct. 16, 2015. Joel and Ethan Coen came on board last month to write the script, which Marc Platt and Kristie Macosko Krieger will produce with Spielberg. The Coen Brothers, who won screenwriting Oscars for Fargo and No Country for Old Men, are revising Matt Charman’s script."
The movie is based on the true story of attorney James Donovan (Hanks), who was "enlisted by the CIA during the Cold War to surreptitiously negotiate the 1962 release of Francis Gary Powers, the U-2 spy plane pilot who was shot down over Russia two years earlier." During his lifetime, Donovan also negotiated deals with Fidel Castro during the Bay of Pigs invasion,
counseled during the Nuremberg Trials, and in 1962 was backed by Kennedy for as the Democratic candidate for a New York Senate seat (which he lost to Jacob Javits). In the late 1960s, he was the President of Pratt Institute.
 Sounds quite interesting, no?

In non Spielberg related news, I also noticed this week that the new James Bond will be directed again by Sam Mendes, who I thought did a very classy (and distinctive looking) job with Skyfall.  Shooting starts in December, for release in November 2015.  

Then, in December, will be the release of the new Star Wars film.  I don't hold any particularly high hopes for that, as I think JJ Abrams is a poor director.    Possibly better than George Lucas, though.  At least, it would appear, he is limiting the amount of CGI, which is a good thing.

The end of 2015 is going to be pretty full of highly anticipated movies....    

Friday, September 26, 2014

Some awesome photos...

...are to to found in this series of Europe by drone at The Guardian.  (All by one photographer - Amos Chapple.)   Perhaps he won't mind if I paste one of them:

Backyard nature news

The family noticed yesterday some new birds visiting the backyard, and after a perusal of the bird book, it would appear it was a family of apostlebirds.  They look like this:


Not exactly colourful, but their behaviour was interesting:  hoping around the ground in a group of 5 or 6.

And I see from Wikipedia that they indeed seem to be a very co-operative species:
The apostlebird was named after the Biblical apostles, the twelve followers of Jesus Christ.[5][6] In fact, the species travel in family groups of between 6 and 20, which may coalesce with other family groups into large feeding flocks of over 40. ...
Apostlebirds are a socially living, cooperative breeding species with each breeding group generally containing only one breeding pair, the rest being either their helper offspring, kin or unrelated adult birds. Most group members help construct a mud nest, share in incubation of the eggs, and defense of the nest. Once the eggs are hatched, all members of the group help feed the chicks and keep the nest clean.
Positively socialist!

I take it from one other site, where someone posted a photo of them from Brisbane in 2013, that they are not so common here.  (They generally come from a bit further inland, it seems.)

We seem to be privileged to be seeing them.  Hope they hang around.

Physics and life chemistry considered

Force of nature gave life its asymmetry : Nature News & Comment

Thursday, September 25, 2014

Disturbing in its own way

OK, it's not disturbing in a "Nutjob IS followers beheading innocent victims and attempting the local eradication of people of other faiths - including those with the wrong brand of Islam" sort of way, but I still can't watch this without feeling very uneasy about the mix of pretty simplistic religiosity and the US Marines.  (And besides, it looks like worship more suited to a primary school camp than for adult men.)

 

Interesting details on the potential for cheap, flexible solar cells

Cheap solar cells tempt businesses

I know:  it seems that a flexible and cheap version of solar cells has been just around the corner for a long time now, but this article goes into details that does indeed make them sound likely to be commercially available soon.  (Or soon-ish.)

These perovskite ones sound different to what the CSIRO hopes to commercialise.

Sounds like quite a race may be on to get some form of cheap, flexible cell on the market. 

Needed next:  a breakthrough in cheaper storage batteries.


I take this very seriously...

Is Exercise Bad for Your Teeth? - NYTimes.com

Yay!  An unexpected harm from exercise - maybe.  If you're an athlete who does heavy training.


I don't care - any anti-exercise news is welcome in this neck of the woods.   

Yet another reason not to trust them...

The grim story of the Snowy Mountains' cannibal horses. 

Gee.   Jonathan Green (whose twitter feed indicates when he's not in the studio, he's on a horse*) needs to watch his back...

*  quite possibly, he's tried training his horse to operate the panel

Wednesday, September 24, 2014

Spy stuff

A Private Tour of the CIA's Incredible Museum | History | Smithsonian

Quite a lengthy article here showing more than a dozen, rather interesting, items held in the CIA museum.

About Julia

I only saw about the last 15 minutes of the Julia Gillard interview last night with Ray Martin.

A few observations:

* it seemed to be lit in a strange, harsh looking way.  It certainly highlighted a bit of bagginess under the eyes of Gillard, but it did no favours for a well wrinkled Martin as well.  I wonder why it was done that way?

*  Gillard herself remains a cool, calm and very likeable character.  She readily admits to mistakes, but regrets little and (to use that pop psychology term that has fallen out of favour) just seems a very "centred" person.   Despite half of the public's nutty obsession with attacking her for carbon pricing, her general reliability for sound policy approaches runs rings around the ever flaky, unreliable, current PM we have.

*  I was particularly impressed by her encouragement of women to enter into politics despite the troubles she had been through herself.   (And her dismissal of the idea that anyone should get into politics because they like the attention it will bring them.)

*  There is no doubt that Labor made a disastrous decision to go with Rudd - and as I have said before, the only good thing that a Coalition win has achieved so far is ridding the political scene of that menace.

Perhaps they can build a toilet on Mars?

BBC News - Mangalyaan: Will India's Mars mission reach the orbit?

Look, I'm not one who would argue that you never have a space program until you eliminate your own country's (or the world's) poverty.  (I heard a lot of that type of talk at the time of the Apollo program - but I think that virtually all idealists of the 60's have since realised that solving poverty is not simply a matter of the rich West sending its  money overseas.)

However, India, a country where the WHO says  more than 600 million people are without access to adequate sanitation (read - toilets of any variety) perhaps does deserve a bit of a re-organisation of priorities.

Senators having a lend

The fact that there are almost certainly some seriously disturbed nutters in some Australian cities who are thinking that videoing beheadings is a good Islamic State PR move is leading to some very silly claims by the Senators who got into Parliament by accident.

First, Senator Lambie claiming on Insiders on the weekend that she didn't post a photo of a (now deceased, rather heroic) burka clad policewoman with the intention of showing burka clad people as being a danger for carrying concealed weapons.   We can safely assume that there would be no one in this wide brown land, short of a Tasmanian meth head with formication issues, who would believe her.

Secondly, because the United States is so chock full of examples of how gun carrying citizens have thwarted terrorist attacks [/extreme sarc], the gun loving libertarians of both Catallaxy and Senator "I liked to pat my guns" Leyonhjelm are both now talking about how it's such a shame our gun laws have left the good, beheading fearing, citizens of Australia defenceless.*  Here is Senator L in the Daily Tele, making some very odd claims in the process:
Australia’s prohibition on practical self-defence is relatively recent, emanating from the 1996 changes in firearms laws that followed the Port Arthur massacre. Not only were many types of firearm prohibited, but Australia embraced an international push to prohibit civilian ownership of firearms for self-defence.

This was driven by several factors. One was a desire to avoid America’s so-called ‘gun culture’. However, this seems to have broadened to include all means of self-defence. Another was a type of religious pacifism, of ‘turning the other cheek’. There was also a type of precautionary approach — average citizens may one day be struck with murderous tendencies. And then there were the perennial claims that resistance is futile and weapons will inevitably be turned against those using them.
A few points:

a.  there is nothing "so-called" about American gun culture.

b.  who has ever heard of the claim that "religious pacificism" or "turning the other cheek" was even a partial motivation behind the Howard led  revamp of gun laws?   The fact that there had been a series of armed nutters shooting up random strangers for the previous decade did not, from my recollection, lead to anyone, anywhere, suggesting that there was a need for a "turn the other cheek" approach to gun laws.  Let us recall:
In the decade up to and including Port Arthur, Australia experienced 11 mass shootings. In these 11 events alone, 100 people were shot dead and another 52 wounded.
 Leyonhjelm is prone to creative fantasy when it comes to guns** - I can see no other explanation.

c. [Engage /extreme sarc again]:  who has ever heard of "average citizens" one day being "struck with murderous tendancies?"  I mean, a grandfather shooting his daughter and six grandchildren (after apparently accidentally shooting his son a decade ago?)  As if that could happen.  OK, maybe Dads in Australia are different.   Yeah, sure.


*  I certainly hope we don't soon have an example of a random beheading here any time soon, but even if we did, as this post goes on to show, there would have to be about 100 of them to match the danger that nutters with guns on rampages represented to the public before the gun laws here were tightened. 

** and economics, I should add...

Tuesday, September 23, 2014

Two bits of writing that cheered me up, a bit

In the New Yorker: 
A climate-change march that organizers claim was the largest on record is nevertheless unlikely to change the minds of idiots, a survey of America’s idiots reveals.
Charlie Brooker in The Guardian, writing about Apple:
As part of the iPhone 6 publicity blitz, Tim Cook also announced every iTunes user in the world would be getting U2’s new album free of charge. It was downloaded automatically on to millions of users’ phones, like a sinister virus. Music is meant to be catchy – but not until you’ve heard it. The album, which I haven’t listened to yet, is terrible: even worse than their last one, which I didn’t listen to either. I don’t want to listen to any U2 albums in case I discover I like them, and have to violently reassess my own self-image. For the past five years, it’s been delightfully easy to ignore U2. Then Apple comes along and slings them under your nose like a bowl of bum soup you didn’t order. What do we have to do? Start lobbying Google for U2’s right to be forgotten?

Disconcerting times

Looking globally, there are such a huge number of things to be intensely irritated about, interspersed with the occasional grounds for optimism on that little thing called the liveability of the planet in 100 years time, that my head is spinning and I don't know where to start.  What's more, I think I have an eyeball that is starting to fall apart, which is a condition I was previously unaware of.   Retina is still attached, though, so that's something.

More posts later...

This is an outrage

A letter from Ms Credlin to Mr Pyne's office approving the trip also notes that the attendance of Mrs Pyne was expected to cost the Commonwealth no more than a business class airfare for the minister. As a minister, Mr Pyne is entitled to fly business class on official overseas travel.

Mr Pyne flew business class from Adelaide to Sydney but switched to economy for the rest of the journey to London.

That's from the Fairfax story this morning, explaining how Pyne, who (by the way) has done the completely un-Catholic thing of using IVF to have kids yet wanted to be at the canonisation of one of the most conservative Popes, managed to take his wife along for the ride.

All good people of Australia, like me, who only ever fly economy, should be outraged that in doing so there is a risk that they may have to sit for 20 hours beside the whiniest voiced, biggest pillock of a lying Minister this country has seen in 50 years just so his wife can hold his hand.

I'm thinking of contacting GetUp about this....

Monday, September 22, 2014

More about the recent optimism on de-carbonising the world

John Quiggin � From derp to denialism

JQ has always been an optimist on this topic, but here he is, looking the recent burst of reports I was noting last week, all suggesting that decarbonising the world is indeed do-able, and won't kill the globe economically in the process.


Sunday, September 21, 2014

Douthat sounding surprisingly sensible about the Middle East

Grand Illusion in Syria - NYTimes.com

Sunday drugs education

A few days back, I mentioned the delusion that there are bugs under the skin, which is commonly noted as one of the mental problems ice addicts can develop.

Just thought I would look up more about it, and learned that it has a specific name "formication".  

This article from Psychology Today gives a good summary.   I'm surprised to see that it can occur with drugs with a lot less of an image problem than meth:
Drugs that have been reported to cause formication are Adderall, cocaine, crystal meth, methamphetamine, Ecstacy, MDMA, Keppra, Lunesta, Ritalin, Tridyl, Wellbutrin, and Zyban.
You may now resume your normal Sunday activities.

Friday, September 19, 2014

More reason to be optimistic?

Within 10 years, every SolarCity system will come with batteries from Tesla's Gigafactory : TreeHugger

It would appear that the Musk family is confident that, once they get a mega battery plant going, in 10 years, home solar power systems will come with storage and the electricity will be cheap.

As I wrote earlier in the week, there seems to be a sudden wave of optimism around that the world might be able to move to lower CO2 quicker than previously felt possible.

Squeezy spacesuits still under investigation

Spacesuits of the future may resemble a streamlined second skin

Interesting report here on MIT research still ongoing as to how to make a practical, skin tight spacesuit.  (Jerry Pournelle used to feature these in his science fiction from decades ago, so the idea has been around a long time, but a practical version seems yet to be realised.)

More depressing Islam news

Blasphemy row professor killed in Pakistan | GulfNews.com: Unidentified gunmen on Thursday shot dead a professor of Islamic studies in Pakistan who had faced accusations of blasphemy and threats from colleagues over his moderate views, police said.

Blasphemy is a crime carrying death sentence in the mainly Sunni Muslim nation of 180 million people.

The south Asian country is experiencing a spike in the number of cases of blasphemy, which activists attribute to its growing use as a tactic to settle grudges or extort money.

Dr Mohammad Shakil Auj, the dean of the faculty of Islamic Studies at the university in the southern port city of Karachi, had received threats following complaints that his teaching was too liberal, a colleague said.
How liberal, you might wonder?:
Among the articles the 54-year-old had written was one arguing that Muslim women should be allowed to marry non-Muslim men, the colleague said.
Even worse is this description of how blasphemy works there:
The crime is not defined by law, so anyone can file a case saying their religious feelings have been hurt. Frequently, those accused of the crime who are not lynched on the spot can find themselves jailed indefinitely.
Judges and lawyers are often too afraid to show up in court to try the cases, as mere description of the offense can itself often be viewed as a fresh offence.

Where we're heading?

World population unlikely to stop growing this century : Nature News & Comment: The authors calculate an 80% probability that the world population in 2100 will be between 9.6 billion and 12.3 billion, and a 95% probability that it will be between 9 billion and 13.2 billion (see chart above). They also predict that the odds are 70% that the population will keep growing throughout the century.
I wonder if climate change will be having an effect on African fertility (which is where the study says growth will be coming) by the second half of the century?  I mean, this sounds incredible:

Raftery and his colleagues project that Africa’s population will at
least triple by 2100, reaching 3.1 billion and possibly as high as 5.7
billion (see chart below). The population of Nigeria, currently 160
million people, could rise to 1.5 billion and overtake China as the
world’s most populous nation, says Raftery.

Thursday, September 18, 2014

Those gut bugs messing with our plans, again

Sugar substitutes linked to obesity
A team led by Eran Elinav of the Weizmann Institute of Science in
Rehovot, Israel, fed mice various sweeteners — saccharin, sucralose and
aspartame — and found that after 11 weeks, the animals displayed glucose
intolerance, a marker of propensity for metabolic disorders.

To simulate the real-world situation of people with varying risks of these
diseases, the team fed some mice a normal diet, and some a high-fat
diet, and spiked their water either with glucose alone, or with glucose
and one of the sweeteners, saccharin. The mice fed saccharin developed a
marked glucose intolerance compared to those fed only glucose. But when
the animals were given antibiotics to kill their gut bacteria, glucose
intolerance was prevented. And when the researchers transplanted faeces
from the glucose-intolerant saccharin-fed mice into the guts of mice
bred to have sterile intestines, those mice also became glucose
intolerant, indicating that saccharin was causing the microbiome to
become unhealthy.

Wages of sin, continued

Yet more talk about the increasing rate of STD's in Australia, with syphilis in particular increasing, apparently largely in gay men.  The SMH even has an interactive map for looking at each State's rate over the last decade or so.  (One of more unusual uses of an interactive map you're likely to see.)

I am also surprised at the apparent popularity of ice amongst the gay community.   The Age had an article the other day:
Gay men are openly trading ice on dating apps such as Grindr as soaring use of the drug raises fears it is fuelling a 20-year high in Australia's HIV diagnoses.

Grindr, which has more than 63,000 active monthly users in Melbourne, connects men for casual  sex but is increasingly becoming an online playground for ice dealers.

The drug is popular with some gay men during sex as it causes a surge of the "happy" chemical dopamine, boosts libido and strips  away inhibitions.
Another article I linked to before said that ice was, in England, seen as only a rich, urban gay drug.

Like I say, I find it rather hard to credit that any people use the drug at all, when there is a very real risk of addiction and long lasting psychosis.  I also find it a little hard to credit that some gay men, living in an environment where free casual sex has become easier than ever to arrange, don't remain satisfied with the mere availability of sex, but want to actually artificially enhance the feeling of orgasm more and more.  (I suppose you could say that is part of what is behind ecstasy and cocaine use for straight rich people - although I see from some sites the latter can impair orgasm.  It at least won't end with making you feel you've got bugs permanently under your skin.  Bizarrely, I also see at a Reddit site that someone claims LSD can be great for sex.   I would be very surprised if that were consistently the case; I would have thought there is a fair chance it could involve your partner turning into a giant spider at an inconvenient time.)

I don't know - I just keep getting the feeling that being non judgemental about these things isn't working out great.   Isn't it time some people in drug and STD education started saying something obvious like:  "look guys, sex and orgasms are fantastic, but if you're doing it right, you don't need drugs to make it feel better.  Seriously.   We've got thousands of years of collective human experience to back that up.   Oh, and a chancre sore on your penis or mouth is a really bad look, and you kinda deserve to feel bad if you've spread it around to some stranger you met on Grindr."

Modern university

Harry Clarke's post on what it's like at a modern university teaching economics is pretty interesting.  I am a bit puzzled about the ability to skip tutorials, though.  Can't attendance at them at least be made more compulsory?  (Not that I recall them being particularly useful, though, to be honest.  I just don't like the idea of attendance at the university being more or less optional unless you actually are doing an on line course.)

Wednesday, September 17, 2014

Audience shrugged

In news to quicken the heart of, oh, about 6 Australians who post or comment at Catallaxy, I see that the third instalment of Atlas Shrugged has opened in America.  The reviews are not positive. Here's Variety:
That must be the fault of those damn freedom-hating socialists, or perhaps it’s due to the fact that so few of the Tea Party types the series’ producers once hoped would queue up are, er, the literate sort. Or maybe it’s just that the prior installments weren’t very good movies, and it should surprise few that this last one is the worst of the lot.
Amusingly, I see it features a couple of cameos:
(Prominent conservative pundit types including Grover Norquist and Sean Hannity duly make cameo appearances as themselves here to further the cause.)
 And someone gives us a synopsis of the story:
For the blessedly uninitiated, Rand’s 1,168-page novel is the favorite book of many young sociopaths you meet in business schools. Published in 1957, Atlas Shrugged posits a hysterically overwrought nightmare dystopia in which government regulation has crippled the economy. Shadowy politicians conspire with corrupt union leaders to bleed corporations of their precious profits, with “parasites,” “looters,” and “moochers” living off the hard-earned wealth of the noble 1%. In this time of crisis, America’s captains of industry have had it up to here with poisonous concepts like “charity” and “altruism.” Inspired by a mysterious figure named John Galt, they sabotage their companies, trashing the country’s infrastructure before disappearing altogether. Basically, it’s all about a bunch of rich crybabies who don’t want to share their toys so they break them and go home.

Rugby mates a bit too matey

Rugby players risk infectious skin condition by swapping bacteria on shared razors and towels 

In England, an investigation into how 4 men at a rugby club got a serious skin infection resulted in this:
 Almost 20 per cent of players said that they regularly share towels,
while 10 per cent said they share razors and five per cent swap clothes.
Really?  Razor and smelly towel sharing?  Sport needs to be banned, I say, as a public health measure. 

GM not so great in one respect, at least

Cross-bred crops get fit faster 


As reported in Nature:
Old-fashioned breeding techniques seem to be leading genetic modification in a race to develop crops that can withstand drought and poor soils.

As the climate warms and rainfall becomes more erratic, farmers worldwide will increasingly need crops that can thrive in drought conditions. And the high costs of fertilizers — along with the environmental damage they can cause — are also pushing farmers to look for crop varieties that can do more with less.

The need for tougher crops is especially acute in Africa, where drought can reduce maize (corn) yields by up to 25%. The Drought Tolerant Maize for Africa project, which launched in 2006 with US$33 million, has developed 153 new varieties to improve yields in 13 countries. In field trials, these varieties match or exceed the yields from commercial seeds under good rainfall conditions, and yield up to 30% more under drought conditions.

An analysis published earlier this year reported that by the project’s end in 2016, the extra yields fromdrought-tolerant maize could help to reduce the number of people living
in poverty in the 13 countries by up to 9% (R. La Rovere et al. J. Dev. Areas 48(1), 199–225; 2014). In Zimbabwe alone, that effect would reach more than half a million people.

And here's the bit about GM:

Drought tolerance is a complex trait that involves multiple genes.Transgenic techniques, which target one gene at a time, have not been as quick to manipulate it. But CIMMYT and six other research organizations are also developing genetically modified (GM) varieties of
drought-resistant maize, in collaboration with agricultural biotechnology giant Monsanto in St Louis, Missouri. Coordinated by the African Agricultural Technology Foundation in Nairobi, the Water Efficient Maize for Africa project aims to have a transgenic variety ready for African farmers by 2016 at the earliest.

A look at economic optimism

New Scientist reports this:
Is it too good to be true? Top economists this week lay out an audacious argument for transforming the world's economy into a low-carbon one. Even if you forget climate change, they say, it is worth doing on its own. That's because a low-carbon economy is an efficient economy that will deliver faster economic growth, better lives and a greener environment. Forget the costs, feel the benefits.

The report is published today, a week before world leaders gather at the United Nations in New York City for the UN Climate Summit 2014, which will discuss how to share out the cost of fighting climate change. But its optimistic message is that there is no cost to share. Nations should be cutting their carbon emissions out of self-interest.

The study – authored by the World Resources Institute, a think tank in Washington DC, the Stockholm Environment Institute and others – is published by the Global Commission on the Economy and Climate, an independent body chaired by Felipe Calderón, former president of Mexico, and Nicholas Stern of the London School of Economics. (The Stern Report in 2006 first opened up a global debate about the economics of tackling climate change). A copy of the latest report, Better Growth, Better Climate: The New Climate Economy Report, is available here.

"We can combine economic growth and climate responsibility," Stern said at a pre-publication press briefing. "The key is fostering the right investment, making it profitable to the private sector."
 They also link to another (pretty wildly) optimistic sounding report:
"You can go green and continue to prosper and develop," said Ed Davey, the UK secretary for energy and climate, yesterday. And the evidence is on his side. Economists say that, despite the expense, drastic cuts in the UK's carbon dioxide emissions will boost the country's economy.

The finding should encourage action to reduce CO2 levels, which reached a new high in 2013, according to a report by the World Meteorological Organization. The growth from 2012 was the biggest jump since 1984, and may be partly down to plants and other organisms taking in less CO2.

If climate change isn't incentive enough to cut emissions, try this: if the UK cut its carbon emissions by 60 per cent from 1990 levels by 2030, as it has promised, its GDP would be 1.1 per cent bigger than if it stuck with fossil fuels, says a study by consultants at Cambridge Econometrics.

About half the gain would come from cheap running costs for fuel-efficient cars, with 190,000 new green jobs and higher wages also helping. The average household would be £565 a year better off.
Maybe it's just me, but I do feel that even things like China deciding to be pickier about what coal it burns, and the Abbott government discovering that the Australian public actually loves renewable energy does make it seem that what Greenies have been saying for a long time may turn out right - the world is going to go cleaner and it's stupid to not take steps to encourage that in Australia too.

A look back at economic pessimism

In comments in a post here yesterday, I was arguing that those economists who are optimistic on the cost of taking serious action on CO2 emissions probably have history on their side, in that there are clear examples of where government mandated changes for environmental reasons did not have the terrible economic costs that the industry initially claimed.   The examples I gave were the introduction of unleaded petrol, removing CFCs, and catalytic converters in cars.

Now, I was  really just going by memory on these, but I've looked up what was said about catalytic converters in the 1970's, and it's very interesting to read in retrospect.  These extracts are from a Thomas Friedman book: