Narrowing Horizons Thursday, Jul 21 2016 

“We’re going to see if the Yanks can get this bucket of junk into space again”

In the Eighties my science class was herded into the school’s lecture theatre. The rest of the year were probably there- I seem to recall the whole year did the same subject at the same time. By coincidence I was in Science at the time the space shuttle was relaunched. We were going to watch the 2nd launch of the space shuttle.

Why the 2nd launch?

NASA was about to do something that had never been attempted before. They were going to relaunch a spacecraft.

As I grow older, I think, that despite his ‘bucket of junk’ comment, my science teacher was actually impressed.

In the 80s anything was possible. When did humans become so introspective?

Devrions-nous être Charlie? Tuesday, Jan 20 2015 

George Galloway has described Charlie Hebdo as “a racist, Islamophobic, hypocritical rag.  Typical of Gorgeous George he ignores everything that he can’t get angry about, that doesn’t prove or argue with what he believes.  He ignores the magazine’s continued and long standing criticism of the Catholic Church, for instance.  Like the Pope he blames the victim.

To stand with Charlie Hebdo isn’t flowers on a celebrity’s grave, an act of condolence of a stranger.  It is to make a stand against those who say “You may not say anything about my religion, because I will be offended.”  That attitude would be unacceptable with any other notion: caricatures of politicians aren’t stopped because those who believe in their policies profoundly are upset.    Criticising someone’s home town may be downright rude, but isn’t something that can never be said.  Yet religeon demands this pass – despite not only the followers of Abraham splinting into three sects that not only disagree vehemently with each other, they can’t even agree among themselves what they believe, yet attack anyone who questions their world view as intolerant.  Einstein may not have liked Niels Bohr’s sub-atomic theories, but he did admit their correctness when proof was shown.  He didn’t feel the need to set off a bomb.

This is the response I put on HuffPo UK


Why count in decimal? Sunday, Oct 26 2014 

I’ve long wondered why we don’t count in base 11 or base 6. People will say ‘We have 10 fingers’, but that is rather my point: You don’t need a “10s” column until you reach ”11”. Imagine an early farmer counting sheep- he gets to 10, then on 11 puts a stone in the ‘hands full’ pile.

Likewise, you can count to 5 on your one hand, then use the other to record 6.”1,2,3,4,5, Onehand, Onehand-1, onehandy-2 etc” This would allow you to count to 35 on just 10 fingers (Fivehand-five), then ‘Stone’ (say) for Sixhand.

Of course over time these would be slurred and contracted (like four-ten is 40): twoston threehandy four is nine-tens four.

Feel free to steal this for alien cultures in your RPGs!

Ebola and context Saturday, Oct 11 2014 

As of October, there have been approximately 4,000 worldwide Ebola deaths. Im not saying we should ignore this, but…

In the UK alone flu kills 2,500 people per year. Road accidents 2013 killed 1700.

A third of British adults are obese, and as far back as 2001, a report by the National Audit Office (NAO) ‘Tackling obesity in Britain’ estimated that approximately 6% of all deaths in England in 1998 were caused by obesity – a total of 30,000 excess deaths in that year, but when the Government looks at ways to help people reduce calorie intake there are screams of “Nanny State”, even though modern food processing, if left unregulated, makes it difficult to control your diet.


Just a thought.

Improving phone speaker sound Tuesday, Jun 14 2011 

Some of you may have already seen this on the O2 adverts: I am passing it on with recommendations as to the best way todo it, having experimented.

If, like me, you play music through your phone speaker (as opposed to earphones) you will note that the sound is rather tinny, especially as it lack bass.  To improve this O2 say put your phone in a glass.

I have tried this and it does work.  After a bit of experimenting I can say the following seems to work best

  • Use a glass that tapers – wider at the top than at the bottom.  This seemed to work better than a straight sided glass.
  • Put the phone in speaker first, so the sound comes from the bottom of the glass – you may have to put the phone in upside-down.
  • The phone will probably lean at an angle – this is fine.  In fact put it in so the speaker is facing downwards, so the sound comes off the bottom of the glass.

It not the greatest – you have a tiny speaker on the phone without the physical depth to propagate sound properly- ideally you want a decent pair of headphones or a connection to a decent stereo (via the Aux in).  However the glass definately makes it far more listenable, and increases the volume, which is what I want when washing up, as I have no stereo in the kitchen, and headphone wires get in the way.

Schrödinger’s Coffin Tuesday, Apr 5 2011 

Are we sure he is in it?

Coin flipping game Tuesday, Oct 12 2010 

A little experiment.  Please don’t analyse the statistics, and if you know the stats go with what you would have put. 

Read the rules of the game, then make an instant decision on which seems best/gut instinct. Don’t try and outguess what I want please.

This is the game. It is played over 32 rounds, who wins the most rounds wins .

 We each toss some coins (assume they are perfectly fair 50/50 coins). Who ever flips the most heads wins the round. Draws draw the round – it still counts as a round.

Your choice is toss 3, and reflip 1 (UPDATE -if you wish to, you only have to reflip a tail),


 toss 4.

What ever you choose must be used for all 32 flips.

What ever you pick, I have to flip the opposite.

Which do you pick?

Carnival of The Elitist Bastards Sails Again Friday, Jan 8 2010 

“Arrrrgh, you be late.”  The Admiral had obviously had a good Christmas, waving a brand new cutlass in one hand, and a half empty bottle of rum in the other. “We should have been set sail these 8 days hence, you scurvy dog”.

“A number of points there, Admiral”  Hussar said. “One- I had to get a new uniform made.  I refuse to captain the ship looking anything other than absolutely spiffing. Two- there are other battles to be fought, by land as well as sea.  I have just been part of a lengthy campaign as part of a multi-national force giving unreason a good kicking”

And Three- you decided to sail just before Christmas.  Like many other northern Europeans I was engaged in rituals to remind the sun to stop going to bed early.  That, and I had some fine wines in.”

“Ye cur, that bain’t be no way to talk to an Admiral.”

“And that’s another thing.  For this voyage at least we are not going to be having with all this pirate nonsense.” The admiral spat a mouthful of rum out. “Instead I have a letter of Marque signed by a servant of the Crown, instructing us to fight ignorance and pigheadishness where ever we find it.”

“And this Servant of the Crown, would he be standin’ before me in a brand new, and rather foppish, uniform?”

“Might be”

“And could we infer that neither Her Majesty, nor her government know anything about said letter?”

“Ah, but at least it’s officially unofficial!”

At that point the discussion was interrupted by Decrepit Old Fool waving from the gangplank.  “Have I missed the sailing?”

“Well as you seem to be standing on the gangplank, it is safe to assume we are still moored.  You seem anxious to get aboard.”

“Save me from Liberals.”

“We are Liberals.”

“But you don’t put ideology ahead of rational thought like this lot

Ropes were hauled, cutlasses were placed in scabbards with satisfying ‘snick’ noises, and meaningful looks were exchanged as the wind filled the sails, and “HMS Elitist Bastard” pulled away from the quay. Winter clouds scudded across the sky as the ship pushed its way through leaden seas.

“Make a signal Bo’sun – ‘England Expects Every Man Shall Stand His Round.'”

Suddenly from the Crows Nest the lookout ***Dave gave a cry.  He passed a link down, how the Global Warming deniers had accused a childrens website of politicising the debate

“Run out the Carronades, I intend to give them a shot across the bows ” barked Captain Hussar

“I think the The International Conspiracy of Mad Scientists are going to want more that that Captain.”

 The Captain looked at ICMS. “What you got in mind?”  ICMS indicated the fully loaded cannons.  The Captain smiled “Make Ready for Action. Drummer-boy; Beat To Quarters.  Run out the cannons.  Mr ICMS, fire your broadside.”

 “Oh Huzzar!”

 “Cap’n.  They’re making a signal”.

 “Pass me your spy-glass, let me read it – ‘Ha. Ha. Did. Not. Hurt. Us. In. Fact. You. Like. Us. More. Now. Than. You. Used. To.’  What in the name of all that is provable under reasonable controlled conditions are they talking about?  Every one can see the anti-science stand of the American Right is in tatters!”

“Sir, If may have a word” said the maths-geek standing by the ship’s biggest gun, nicknamed ‘Correct Methodology’.

 “Speak up Mr Ecstathy.”

 “I believe they are using an old ploy known as ‘selective statistics’.  Permission to blow a hole in it sir?”

Fire away“.

“Mr Cujo, do you have some shot and shell to add to this little fracas?”

“No Captain, but I know a man who has some tactics worth listening to

Suddenly Captain Hussar fell to the deck, grasping his chest.  “Kiss me Hunter” He gasped.

“Nice try sunshine.  That one isn’t going to sail.  Faking your death isn’t going to get me to kiss you, or disguise the fact you’ve written yourself into a corner.  Do you know how we are going to end this?”

Hussar stood up.  “We could offer them Tim Minchin’s wife.” 

“Don’t seem to be able to rise to that challenge Captain” confirmed a lookout.  “They are retreating while they argue about it”

“The problem is they are like zombie ships. No matter how often you fill them full of holes, and sink the arguments, they keep coming back, having learnt nothing.  What we need is some entertainment.  Lud In The Mist- see if you can get together some kind of Guitar Group.  Something that pisses off the “War, War” crowd.  Tonight we party!”

Global Warming- Right Wing Press mischief Tuesday, Jan 5 2010 

For those NOT in the UK… you may or may not know we received early snow, just before Christmas (If it snows it usually happens January/February).  This was immedeiately jumped on by at least some of the right wing press – the Express and the Star at least – as proof that there was no such thing as global warming- the Express ranting how Gordon Brown wanted to damage the economy by pointless low carbon regulations that would ‘cost billions’

Frankly anybody who buys these rags should have a competence test before being allowed to vote, in case they think this is in anyway proof against global warming.

Global Warming doesn’t mean the UK will slowly turn into the south of France. Unseasonally cold weather may well be CAUSED by the planet overheating.

The UK has a temperate climate- indeed we are famous for our rain.  This is because of the Gulf stream, a flow of warm currents fromoff the coast of south America.  The Oceans cool slower than the land, and it is this influx of warm waters that means we are warmer than other places on a similar latitude- Central Europe and New York (which is also costal) spring to mind.

However, as the ice cap melts, cold freshwater flows into the North Atlantic, weakening the Stream, and pushing it southwards. Result- colder Britain.

So Global Overheating may well mean Colder UK winters.

Update 8 Jan 2010- Boing Boing has an article about no Gulf Stream

“The Greatest Show on Earth” Review of Dawkins’ latest book. Wednesday, Sep 23 2009 

Prof. Richard Dawkins, one of the worlds most famous atheists, has published a new book- “The Greatest Show on Earth” subtitled “The evidence for evolution”. (UK 1st edition Bantam Press, £20, 467 pages plus 32 pages full colour photos, as well as line drawn illustrations, bibiography and full index)

“Another Dawkins book? What can he add?” you may ask.  He has his sights set firmly on the evidence, and delivers broadside after broadside into forces of what he calls “history deniers”- in a way a title more satisfying than calling them ‘science deniers’ or ‘Creationists’.  That gives an indication of his target.  He isn’t ‘going after God’ as such, though he makes it clear where his thoughts on the subject lie, but rather those who deny evolution to be true.

He starts this assault with the first chapter title- ‘Only a theory’, one of the Creationist mantras.  Similarly Chapter 6 is “Missing Link? What do you mean missing.

The text as a whole is written in an easy to read style, suitable for the layman, and he assumes no prior knowledge.  Indeed at a couple of points he warns that the following explanation is complicated, and if the reader is tired they may wish to stop at that point until they are more awake.  Although this is a book of biology, he takes time for a ‘beginners guide to carbon dating’ as well as dendrochronology (using trees to date events), to show how we are able to sort fossils into ages.

He explains a number of different experiments showing how we can see evolution happening- from man forced evolution in dogs, to how certain dog like traits emerge in foxes when selected for breeding only on the basis of freindliness- you get dog ears and tail, even though the researchers never selected for this.  He also shows how labatory experimentation has been confirmed and repeated in the wild.  Plus he describes an expriment where E.coli have evolved an ‘irreducably complex’ trait, thus nailing that particular lie from the ‘Designers’.

On the way through he is not afraid to take a swipe at scientists, and how they can add to the confusion, giving hostages to fortune for those who wish to mislead the public. Taxonomy is one of his favoured targets, pointing out if we did have a complete fossil record at what point would we be able to say Austrolopithicus became Homo? Each child must have been close enough to the parent to be the same, but at some point the difference between long dead  ancestor and newly born baby must be big enough to warrant a new name!

The photos, like the text is full of ‘WOW!” factor, and many are beautiful in their own right as pictures.

The whole book is an easy read, Dawkins moving it along with a pace that a number of best selling fiction writers could learn from.  It assumes no prior knowledge, but for those already familiar with evolution is not basic.  Indeed, I found it was clarifying things that I ‘knew’, and may even have been ‘obvious’  but could not have articulated as well.  He also pays credit to other books, such as Coyne’s “Why Evolution is True”, not covering subjects too deeply where it has already been done well, and letting you know what to read.

This is very much an ‘everyone’ book- not just for those who already know evolution to be true.  It will cover those gaps left by the time pressured teaching of biology in schools, and any literate teen could read it.  In addition it would be a great book to lend to freinds who are open-minded enough to explore evolution, even if they never understood it beyond the soundbite culture of how it is presented in the modern media.

Go on, give your money to RD, not Dan Brown!

Star Trekking (across the Universe): Intech Planetarium Tuesday, Aug 25 2009 

Holiday: Day 1, Monday.
Last week we spent a few days in Hampshire. As is our usual practice we started the visiting on the day of travel before arriving at the place we stay (in this case a cheap family room in a Travel-lodge). This time it was the Intech Science Centre just outside Winchester. 
Lady Hussar had got money off vouchers from the ‘web, and I think it cost about £20 for a family ticket, plus another £2 per person ( four people) for the addition of the planetarium. (fold put in, as it is a long post- but my experience was amazing)


Moon Landing Conspiracy idiot sees stars Tuesday, Jul 21 2009 

40 years ago two men walked on the moon, the culmination of a feat embodying all that is best about the human spirit.

However in the modern fucked up world there are those who see Government conspiracy, who must undermine others.  This is what happened two years ago when one – 37 year old Bart Sibrel- calls Buzz Aldrin- at the time of this video 72 years old- a liar  to his face.

Hero of the Human Race – WIN

Dear Ireland Monday, Jul 13 2009 

From Ireland’s new ‘blasphemy law’

Section 36

(1) A person who publishes or utters blasphemous matter shall be guilty of an offence and shall be liable upon conviction on indictment to a fine not exceeding €100,000. [Amended to €25,000]

(2) For the purposes of this section, a person publishes or utters blasphemous matter if (a) he or she publishes or utters matter that is grossly abusive or insulting in relation to matters held sacred by any religion, thereby causing outrage among a substantial number of the adherents of that religion, and (b) he or she intends, by the publication or utterance of the matter concerned, to cause such outrage.

As Les notes at, this part of the bill makes it illegal to criticize any religion either verbally or in writing.

SO. Here goes.

There is no evidence of any god, Abrahmic or otherwise.

There is no evidence that anything in Genesis is true.

There is no evidence, indeed no reference outside of the Bible, of Jesus Son of god.  There may have well been a wandering rabbi/heretic called Jesus, but the Romans never mention him.  Don’t quote Pliny and Josephus, they talk about ChristIANS- it’s like says seeing Tom Cruise in a movie proves Scientology is correct.

You may be interested to know I have seen it argued that ‘Jesus’ was a name of a number of Jews, and had no special connotation- this is why Pilate is so careful with asking the crowd who to release, maybe Barabbas’ name was also Jesus (Bar Abbas=son of Abbas).

Whatever the truth of 2000 years ago, that cracker and wine certainly doesn’t turn into his flesh and blood.

Denying contraception on the basis of religious texts from thousands of years ago is evil,  using them isn’t.

Ditto “Teh gays”.

While I’m about it.

There almost certainly is no god (see above re lack of evidence), not even Allah.  Ergo Muhammed was not his prophet. (Cos there is no prophet Atheism; boom-boom. I’m here all week).

And Wiccans- No, you are not a Witch of any sort, black, white or spangly (A “Do what?” possibly, but not a witch). There is no Earth spirit.


It is wrong to hate someone because of a belief in something that isn’t your belief. 

Now as an atheist I don’t care what you do in the privacy of your own home or place of worship.  However

  1. Don’t expect me to fund it through taxation.
  2. Don’t expect me to agree with you, and if I spot a flaw in your religeous arguement dont expect me to gloss over it if you rely on that flaw.
  3. Don’t assume that you get extra rights because of your belief. (well ok- in Ireland you do, but don’t expect me to agree with that).
  4. Don’t expect me to be quiet if you want it taught as ‘Scientific Fact’ in schools.
  5. or indeed want your private beliefs to be considered more protected than my private beliefs

See, depite what you may think there is no such thing as a Militant Atheist- Not even Richard Dawkins.  We don’t go around pushing newspapers through doors asking “Have you heard the Good News about Science?”.  We don’t stand in town squares reading bits out of ‘Origin of Species’, or complaining when science shows that something we believe in isn’t true.

I’ll admit I was put out when Pluto was declared ‘not a planet’, but that is emotional attachment to a world view that proved to be wrong.  Einstein felt the same way when Nils Bohr showed some of Einstein’s theories to be wrong. But it is just that- emotional attachment to a childhood. I’m never going to go there, and classification is an artificial Human construct. I am certainly not going to support a crusade or jihad demanding it be re-instated as a planet.

Now Ireland; I’ll admit the fact the Irish Sea is between you and me has made me a bit braver in posting this: I’m assuming you won’t go for the whole extradited thing via the EU (though I must say that is actually worrying me a little).  But what are you going to do if the University of Dublin comes up with a bit of research that proves something that offends your Catholic mindset?  Declare Science blasphemous and demand your fine?

Elitest Bastard (aka Hussar goes off on one) Tuesday, Mar 10 2009 

See that blue button with Richard Dawkins on it?  Click on it (not yet- I haven’t finished ranting at you) and you will go to the Carnival of the Elitist Bastards.  Who?  A bunch of bloggers generally pissed off with everything being so damn stupid.

Why am I proud to be an elitist?  The question should be why are you so unconcerned not to be?

We are people who are just annoyed that there is a movement against intellectualism.  I am sick and tired of being clever being seen as somehow a bad thing.  Someone who can kick, throw or hit a ball gets paid millions of pounds, while those who actually work worry about the recession.

People revel in not being good at maths.It’s seen as something funny.  I know I’m good at day to day maths, but I am amazed how many people don’t understand basic principles.

“How does this affect you?”  you say “why should you care?” Because a dumbed down population affects the economy and the planet.

People who don’t understand basic maths GET TO VOTE, often based on what they think will be best for the economy.  They can’t do percentages, for FSM’s sake, how are they supposed to weigh up the advantages and disadvantages of a Keynsian solution?

It is a fact that people, all of us, even Stephen Hawkins, are stupid to one degree or another.   We are very good at ignoring evidence that doesn’t back up our personal beliefs.  Jeremy Clarkson doesn’t like the fact that cars are contributing to destroying the planet. Solution? Insult environmentalists.  Republicans don’t like the fact that Neo-Con ideas have screwed up the market. Call Obama a socialist. The Religious Right don’t like the fact that science shows the Bible isn’t literally true. Solution? Attack anyone who relies on evidence rather than 4000 year old fairy-stories.

And where does it leave us? Click on the break, and I’ll tell you. Forcefully. (more…)

Hard drives- WOW. Thursday, Nov 27 2008 

Found over at ***Dave’s place- why you shouldn’t thump your computer to fix it.

Hard drives, by analogy

 We are so blasé about hard drives and how they work. But the precision involved is astonishing:


The dimensions of the head are impressive. With a width of less than a hundred nanometers and a thickness of about ten, it flies above the platter at a speed of up to 15,000 RPM, at a height that’s the equivalent of 40 atoms. If you start multiplying these infinitesimally small numbers, you begin to get an idea of their significance.
 Or, to give an amazing analogy:


Consider this little comparison: if the read/write head were a Boeing 747, and the hard-disk platter were the surface of the Earth:

  • The head would fly at Mach 800
  • At less than one centimeter from the ground
  • And count every blade of grass
  • Making fewer than 10 unrecoverable counting errors in an area equivalent to all of Ireland.


(via kottke)

Wow indeed- do you really want to jog something floating at 40 atoms height?

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