Category Archives: Science

Discussions about science based topics

Fortune teller

Fortune telling app

Click to open it*, click to enter then type your question. I guarantee an answer.

It’s an experiment in consciousness that you can do.

Admittedly I may have shot myself in the foot by putting anyone who wanted to try it in a state of fear. (I used the Trojan records link below in the type of embarrassingly faux-smart headline that this blog used to rely on, when it was careless enough of the potential side-effects of having opinions.)

So it’s also an experiment in trust, I suppose.

* (I can’t work out how to embed the bugger without it having a clickthrough. In any case, I made it in 2005. I can’t change it to make it look prettier, I can’t even work out how to get into it. It’s in some ancient version of flash but it does still play)

History lesson – WMD

This is an object lesson in how to get WMD. Don’t worry, you won’t get in trouble or anything. Well, this chap didn’t.
Public records, released under FOI for a 2006 BBC TV Newsnight programme and discussed in a New Statesman article, showed how the ~1960 Israeli government managed to get its hands on nuclear weapons materials.
The BBC reported that the programme has shown “Secret sale of UK plutonium to Israel “ Secret indeed. Even secret from government ministers and quite probably the sitting Prime Ministers, and over the objections of Defence Intelligence, the MOD and – sometimes – the Foreign Office.
The New Statesman has the fullest account. Read it.

Kelly and his colleagues .. (i.e. the Defence Intelligence staff who mounted a pretty spirited attempt to uncover what was going on and try to block it) .. however, found their views were being challenged. Chief of the challengers was Michael Israel Michaels .. who was a senior official at the science ministry under Lord Hailsham during the Macmillan government, and went on to serve at the technology ministry under Benn. He was also Britain’s representative at the IAEA.(my emphasis) quotation is from New Statesman

Mr Michaels was in fact so keen on the idea of supplying Israel with bomb-making materials that he just carried on doing it, even after Tony Benn became Energy Secretary. Michaels just didn’t think to bother ministers with the knowledge.

Mr Benn told the programme that civil servants in his department kept the deals secret from him and his predecessor, Frank Cousins.
He had always suspected that civil servants were doing deals behind his back, but he never thought they would sell plutonium to Israel. He told Newsnight: “I’m not only surprised, I’m shocked. It never occurred to me they would authorise something so totally against the policy of the government. (From the BBC)

“Michaels lied to me, I learned by bitter experience that the nuclear industry lied to me again and again.” He thought Wilson may not have known that Britain was helping Israel to get the bomb. (From the Guardian)

Astonishingly, Michaels had the effrontery to complain to the BBC Trust about the programme, rather than to give disbelieving thanks that he hadn’t been arrested for treason.
From the Trusts’s ruling on his complaint about Newsnight

Summary of the finding
The complaints concerned an investigation carried out by Newsnight, and presented by Michael Crick, that looked into the British government’s involvement in assisting Israel with its development of nuclear weapons in the 1950s and 1960s. The item was based on recently released government papers suggesting that Michael Michaels, a senior civil servant and the British government’s representative at the International Atomic Energy Agency, had acted with dual loyalties when he had ensured the supply of plutonium and other radioactive materials to Israel without the knowledge of the Minister responsible, and possibly without the Prime Minister’s knowledge.
Both complainants felt that the inclusion and repetition of Mr Michaels’ middle name (Israel) was unnecessary and, therefore, anti-Semitic.
They also objected to the suggestion that he had dual loyalties, which they felt implied disloyalty……..
The Committee concluded as follows:
The use of Mr Michaels’ middle name did not breach the guidelines on harm and offence.
It was satisfied that there was no intention to endorse a stereotype, and it was not anti-Semitic. In general, the use of the name had been as a form of shorthand to highlight Mr Michaels’ association with Israel.
With regard to “dual loyalties”, the Committee was satisfied that there was sufficient evidence put forward to suggest that Mr Michaels might indeed have had dual loyalties in his dealings with Israel. However, the Committee concluded that this was not the same as suggesting that Mr Michaels had been disloyal.
The Committee also felt that the report had raised the possibility that the Prime Minister, Harold Wilson, might have known about the shipment to Israel. The item therefore did not breach guidelines on impartiality…
The Committee did not uphold the complaints.

Qualified win

“Free” Schools won’t get public money to teach creationism. A rare bit of good news in UK politics, which seems determined to outdo its own Worst News record on a daily basis.

“Free” schools are a rubbish idea for so many reasons that adding creationism into the mix was almost superfluous. But, nevertheless, it was in there:

Several creationist groups have expressed an interest in opening schools in towns and cities across England, including Bedford, Barnsley, Sheffield and Nottingham. Critics say they seek to promote creationism, or the doctrine of “intelligent design”, as a scientific theory rather than as a myth or metaphor.(from the Guardian)

I’m not too sure about the wording of the exclusion, though:

Under the new agreement, funding will be withdrawn for any free school that teaches what it claims are “evidence-based views or theories” that run “contrary to established scientific and/or historical evidence and explanations”.

This seems to spread the banned-ideas disturbingly wider than stopping science lessons becoming an outpost of bible study. It implies that “non-evidence-based” religious nonsense is fine – but, as “non-evidence-based” pretty well defines creationism, surely it will be allowed.

Maybe I’m being too bloody literal, assuming that words are supposed to have a meaning. Charitably, maybe it’s just that officials at the DofE aren’t allowed to release any document that doesn’t have the words “evidence-based” in it, even if they have only the vaguest idea what it means.

I’ll err on the side of optimism and assume that it won’t mean that schools can’t debate ideas that challenge “established” ideas about history and science, as, surely, that process would define a real education….

Some sort of tribute

Benoit Mandelbrot died on 14th October.

(Non-breaking news from me. i.e. Probably 4 days after everyone else knows it. A good tribute on the BBC by the way but the images are poor.)

He was the main man for making maths beautiful, even to mathematically challenged people like me.. Fractal mathematics is the mathematics of life. In fact, for atheists, fractal maths is pretty much a direct route to what simpler people call looking at the face of “god” .

Here’s a beginner’s guide to what fractals are with links to some image galleries.

In the mid-nineties there were any number of graphics packages that let you play around with creating fractals, from a standing start, on a 486…. Especially the venerable and respected fractint.

I found a version that’s still online. version 20. It’s been updated to work on Windows 3.0…. Hmmm, even my PC isn’t quite that elderly.
(Wahay. I found a 2008 ftp site. Must try it out again.)

Here are a few fractal image links from tinterwebs.

* The classic Mandelbrot set.From a site that explains why it isn't evidence of Intelligent Design

I like the source that I got this image from. It points out that someone might see a visual representation of a Mandelbrot set as evidence for “Intelligent Design” and answers

But in fact, the Mandelbrot set is the product of a relatively simple mathematical equation.

That’s the non-divinely miraculous nature of fractal images. A few simple changes in start conditions and/or a slightly different equation and another infinite set of magical things appears.

* A fractal vegetable.

from wikipedia- image of a romanesco broccoli
Romanesco broccoli

Ok that’s cheating. Pretty much any living thing is “fractal.” The difference is that romanesco broccoli LOOKS like a generated fractal.

* The coastline of Norway
Space view of the coast of Norway

The coast of Norway looks like a generated fractal too. But, then, any coast is fractal. Zoom in and it breaks up into infinitely recursive self-similar patterns.

In fact, everything is pretty much fractal. Incredibly simple and endlessly complex. And we can see this mainly thanks to teh work of Mandelbrot.


Facing the dole because of the cuts that have made the IMF so pleased with the Condem government?

(Who knew the IMF had a UK vote? To be honest, I prefer IKEA’s furniture.)

Well, you can now retrain for an easy and rewarding new career as a science journalist, thanks to Martin Robbins in the Guardian who has provided a template for any and every science article you’ll ever write.
This is a news website article about a scientific paper

It’s brilliant.

Eztra: I forgot to mention the links which are pretty funny too.

Product stop press

This blog having temporarily started acting like Which Magazine’s Provisional Wing, I have to draw your attention to another amazing wonder-product….:-) It costs more in a their real-world shops, but you can apparently make a saving if you buy Boots Hot Weather Cooling Spray online. Only £3.89 for 125ml (plus £2.90 delivery charge for delivery in 4 days, though free if you pick it up from your local shop.)

£31.11 per litre. (Not counting delivery costs.)

What’s the magic cooling ingredient?

Hmm, water. Well , “Aqua.” Not even bloody drinking water. Just water in a spray can.

As a random comparison of the cost of fluids, you can buy a 70cl bottle of 10 year-old Isle of Jura single malt whisky from Waitrose for £27.59.

OK, it wouldn’t cool you down much (indeed, it could make you smell pretty rough if you sprayed it on your face on a hot day) but it would be the product of centuries of brewing and distilling skills. It would have had to sit round using up caskspace for a decade. It’s lavishly bottled and packaged. And it manages to pay a huge cut to the revenue and still appear on Waitrose’s online shop for less than the cost of a litre of spray-on water.

Quite apart from the bottles of Evian and Highland Spring, Boots sells expensive water in many more forms. In the homeopathic department, anyway.

Water converted into pill form even. Or “pillules”, “pills” and “tablets.” (The distinction may be technical.)

Their homeopathic remedies actually contain water so expensive that it makes the cooling spray seem relatively cheap. Because they are pills (sorry, pillules) so they are dry, containing only the memory of the water that was used in making them. But that water itself only contains the memory of the active ingredient that was used to make it, many dilutions in its past

But, as the the water’s magical healing powers get stronger with each dilution, doesn’t it follow that you could increase its potency by another order of magnitude by dropping one of these dry pillules in a bath full of water.

The bathwater would then be imbued with the memory of the memory of the memories of the first water, but made even more memorable after conversion into and out of dry water-memory states in the middle stage. And so, these remedies could be strong enough to wipe out all disease on the planet….

New business plan – to take homeopathic remedies and sneakily intensify them by this method, then sell them as being EVEN more effective than the ones you can buy from a high street chemist, if that were indeed possible.

Genius, huh?

Simon Singh gets result

Simon Singh has won his libel appeal against a case brought by the British Chiropractic Association.

Take pleasure in the instance of the right thing being done but the case cost the defence £200,000.

So just to be on the safe side, not having £200k to spend on legal protection, I want it on record that this blog will never “question claims made by companies or organisations “……..

That leaves us with loads to blog about. Erm.

To start with, all alternative medicine works. Oh yes, the Rapture is imminent. ID cards are a brilliant idea that the UK population is crying out for, except of course the bad people who have something to hide. Political correctness has indeed gone mad. etc

Well, that should guarantee our future.