Monday 31 October 2005

Having Friends for Dinner?

If so, check out these recipes.

Of course, you could always substitute for one of the ingredients with a healthy, vegetarian alternative.

From the HufuTM FAQ :
What does HufuTM taste like? Does it taste like human flesh?
HufuTM is designed to resemble, as humanly possible, the taste and texture of human flesh. If you've never had human flesh before, think of the taste and texture of beef, except a little sweeter in taste and a little softer in texture. Contrary to popular belief, people do not taste like pork or chicken.
Somehow, after reading that, and even though it's vegan-friendly and contains no animal products... I've lost my apetite. Even for Fava Beans and Chianti.

Sunday 30 October 2005

I Own Part of the M6

Seen over at Tim Blair's, an article in the UK Telegraph :
Which country will have no government debt within a year, contributed the most to help those in need after the tsunami, and was described by the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development as a "model for other countries", America or Australia? You've guessed it. Australia. For so long simply seen as an adventure playground for gap year students or a breeding ground for sportsmen, Australia has now graduated into the world of big players.

Proof? Well, I won't rely on the fact that Australian troops are in Iraq and Afghanistan. I won't brag about our free trade agreements with the US, New Zealand, Thailand and Singapore. Nor even our progress on negotiating a free trade agreement with China - already a market for many Australian products.

Instead, look to business not just government. I cite as an example Macquarie, a bank that owns chunks of Britain's water industry, telecoms, gas, not to mention the M6 toll road, a ferry company, an airport or two - oh, and is reported to have its eyes on the London Stock Exchange.
As a shareholder in Macquarie Bank, I think I'll take.... this bit. Through Lancashire.

International Multiculturalism Personified

Over at Normblog.

Fun With Musca Domestica

From Yobbo, MIT's Fly Powered Aeroplane.

Though considering the size of the flies round here, it would have to be a twin only, not a four-engined job.

Saturday 29 October 2005

Venus Envy

Today's interesting URL, an online comic strip that actually had be alternately laughing and crying. Venus Envy.

The original is available here. Please go visit, and support a struggling artist of no small talent. The first collection "From A to Z" is only $5 within the US and $6.50 outside. I've already ordered mine.

After that, go visit the SF Spin-Off Venus Ascending

Friday 28 October 2005

Right Wing Death Bitch

That's how I describe myself these days, though yesterday, Morgan didn't seem to think I really qualified. As Right-Wing I mean.

Maybe this might change his mind.

I know I'm right-wing, but the National Party as the party that "has the policy outlook that is most aligned with your views."? That's scary. I'm not *that* right-wing.

On the other hand, my results also said:
Because your highest score is less than 66.6%, it suggests you have significant areas of disagreement with each of the parties.

Identifying the party that best aligns with your views is not an exact science. You have more than one party within an error margin of 10 percentage points of the highest score. The higher scored parties are highlighted above. Any of these parties may be an acceptable alternative. Your political preferences may swing between these higher scored parties.

Note: People choose to vote for a political party for many reasons, not just because their ideas and ideals align with those of their chosen party. In addition to a party’s philosophical position, many voters are also interested in the experience of the candidates, and the party’s leadership style and management capability. This tool did not test such factors.

If the Democrats were less influenced by the Pro-Fascist Anti-War brigade and Moonbats generally... if the Liberals got back to being Liberal in the 19th century sense of the word... if the Nationals had an ounce of compassion in addition to just wanting everyone to be wealthy.. yes, I can see me supporting any of them. I call myself a Liberal, and usually vote that way. But in Australia, bathwater drains clockwise, and the Liberals are right-of-centre.

Thursday 27 October 2005

Passed My Blood Test

I've just gotten back from yet another gruelling trip to Sydney, to see Prof Steinbeck, my endocrinologist.

Anyway, the results of my last blood tests came through, and I passed. Liver functions are normal, I'm tolerating the Hormone Replacement Therapy without a problem, and as regards Hormone levels, they are typical of a pre-menopausal women my age.

It's strangely affirming to have the female reference values printed alongside the results, rather than the male ones. Another small step on the journey.

I managed to fit in a 20 minute raid of the Galaxy Bookshop before I saw the Prof, another $130 off my bank balance...

After seeing the Prof, getting yet more tests afterwards, I made my way back to the Bus station. While waiting for the bus, and as planned, I managed to meet up with Morgan of Morgspace. We shared Endocrine stories (sorry, Morgan, for talking your ear off), had some nice cups of tea, and generally had a pleasant chat.

It ended far too soon, he's a charmer. One of a kind, in more ways than one, and that's a pity, the world could do with more people as genuine as him.

Wednesday 26 October 2005

PhD Research Proposal

I've been a bit too busy to blog recently. Working on condensing a PhD research proposal down to the required one page summary will do that.

But that gave me an idea : re-use it as a Software Topic. So here it is - version 1.0.

PhD Research Proposal

Zoe Brain BSc MInfoTech(Dist)
* Many application domains, notable spaceflight, have tight restrictions on the number of different processor cards available as replaceable spares, and a strict requirement for redundancy.
* It would be very useful to have the capability of using programmable General Purpose (GP) processors to do the job of special-purpose graphics (SPG) processors, thereby allowing greater redundancy with fewer cards.
* Space-qualified (SQ) hardware is also rare. There are few SQ GP processors, and fewer still SQ SPG processors.
* Recent work at the University of NSW in the field of Pure Mathematics has opened the possibility of providing graphics capabilities with far fewer computational resources. The candidate's unpublished work under Don Herbison-Evans in 1980 also showed the possibility of doing real-time bitmap manipulation using 8 bit processors and low processor speeds.
* The FedSat satellite, for which the candidate led the On Board Computer development team, recently space-qualified some Field Programmable Gate Arrays (FPGA) and demonstrated re-programming in flight.
* The candidate has exceptional skills in the Ada-83, and Ada-95 languages, and experience with SQ systems and software development.

* To investigate the feasibility of providing software to provide graphics capabilities using existing SQ GP cards, using the Ada-95 or -0x languages, appropriate for spaceflight avionics software development.
* To investigate the possibility of formal proof of correctness of those algorithms implemented above, using the RAVENSCAR or SPARK-95 profiles of Ada-95.
* To investigate trade-offs in the use of SQ FPGA processors. The hardware design language proposed to be used is VHDL, also a dialect of Ada. Instead of an SQ GP processor with reloadable software, the hardware itself would be re-programmable in flight to provide needed capabilities.
* To investigate application of the work to other problem-domains, such as aircraft avionics and other safety-critical applications involving heavy human-computer interaction.
* To investigate novel algorithms as well as translation of existing Open Source standard graphics libraries.

* To produce a report recommending best ways forward for the development of SQ systems using the investigated techniques, the trade-offs, advantages and disadvantages of either.
* To produce a Non-Flight-Hardware "proof of principle" system of each type : programmable GP and FPGA.
* To produce software and VHDL suitable for a SQ board that may be flown on a future space mission.
* To produce reports on application of the work to other problem domains.

Approximate Plan
1. Produce a more detailed plan
2. Investigate the literature, in particular the Open Graphics project (using FPGA) based in Europe. Investigate current developments in similar areas at the ANU with Mr Hugh Fisher, and the University of Adelaide's Space FPGA research
3. To acquire a suitable development system. For the initial steps, an ERC-32 SQ GP processor would be used, and shareware development tools as used in FedSat (Gnat 3.15p replacing Gnat 3.12p)
4. Carry out research and analyse results. Publish interim results.
5. Based on results, re-scope upwards or downwards as neccessary
6. Repeat previous steps fopr next phase.
7. Collate results, analyse, and author thesis.

Well, I think it would be worthwhile, and there's certainly enough work there to keep me occupied usefully for at least 3 years.

Might even be useful in reducing inventories on non-safety-critical stuff too : when there's only one type of card needed, instead of 12, you can keep far fewer in the inventory at local levels and provide even better service. Cheaper overall, even if the individual cards cost a little more. Might save someone a few hundred million.

Might even save a life too, if the secondary visual display in a cockpit can be re-configured to take over the fuel system management functions, that will keep the engines going in case of failure.

Even if I show that this can't be done at present, it will be a useful work that others can build on when better processors become available.

Tuesday 25 October 2005

The FedSat Team

Well, it's been almost 3 years since FedSat was launched. It's nearing the end of its design life, and has performed admirably (even if I do say so myself). If decommissioned, it will be because the money to keep monitoring it has run out, not because it has failed.

Here's who the FedSat team consisted of, way back in 2001

Mirek Vesely
Occupation: systems engineer
Work area: FedSat bus design
I'm the project manager for FedSat. It's been a trial transitioning from the UK to Australia, but the benefits mean that Australia has a good set of skills for future turnkey projects.

Mike Petkovic
Occupation: engineer
Work area: AIT manager
I am responsible for the assembly, integration and testing of the spacecraft and systems. But I'm also looking at taking on the mechanical structural testing and thermal testing associated with the harness, and supervising the [radio] systems.

Carl Todd
Occupation: engineer
Work areas: power & software
I am coordinating the power subsystems, the onboard software, and the flight computer. It's all going very well. Most people have already gone through their learning curves, and now we're in a strong position.

Roger Wilson
Occupation: software engineer
Work area: operations and control centre
The operator console is what users of the ground station use to visually perform commands to send to the satellite. At this stage, it requires a bit of work. The software's been developed in an ad hoc manner, but eventually it will do the job.

Damon Ward
Occupation: electronic engineer
Work area: power conditioning system
The power conditioning system grabs power from the solar cells or the batteries and provides it to all different power systems on the satellite. At this stage we are testing the engineering model, not the one that's going to fly. I found a couple of problems but it's looking quite promising. Because I'm now in Canberra I get to hear what's going on and it's more exciting."

Kirill Kousoubov
Occupation: undergraduate student, computer systems engineering
Work area: operations and control centre
I am doing the software enabling the ground station commands to reach the satellite. We develop module by module. I have finished some of them and now it's time for testing them and integrating them. That will take a while. It'll be a major milestone.

Robert Purvinskis
Occupation: PhD student, comms engineering
Work area: comms system
I work on the main communications link between the ground control station, the OCC, and the satellite itself. So all the onboard housekeeping data from the satellite will downlink via our microwave link to the ground station in Adelaide. I'll be involved with the transmitter receiving systems that we received, checking them and testing them before they're installed on the satellite. We are quite happy with the way the system is going.

Alan Zoe Brain
Occupation: software engineer
Work area: data handling system
I am leading the programming on the computer that's going to fly on the satellite. The interesting thing is it's got to be space qualified, which means able to tolerate a lot of environmental hazards that normal chips don't have to. Very few computers could tolerate being in a microwave oven and zapped for ten minutes. Similarly, for a lot of chips, the vacuum would boil away all the liquids inside them, and the chip would die quite dramatically. Our's mustn't do that, it must survive for years. We also have to store everything in memory three times for redundancy in orbit. So we need some fairly paranoid programming. I'm just really glad that I'm on this project here in Australia which makes use of my skills. It's great and wonderful and fun and they're even paying me to do it.

Ross Frazer
Occupation: software engineer
Work area: flight software
Basically I'm working on the flight software, which is the actual software on board the satellite. I'm sort of getting into it. I am basically straight out of university, and I've done a little bit of stuff like operating systems before. I'm dealing with the hardware and things like that.

Ben Boyle
Occupation: undergraduate student, engineering
Work area: attitude control centre
I have been working on the ACC since December. I have worked in system design and implementation since then. It's going fantastic. We have a lot of fun. The ACC is really escalating at the moment. It's a top experience. Finishing university with a year's work experience and a very worthy project at the end makes me quite happy.

Sven Jahke
Occupation: engineer
Work area: GPS payload
This is my first day, so I have to find out what's going on first. I am interested in doing software, something software based. I know the GPS side best, since that's what I've been doing for the last 6 months.

Troy Spencer
Occupation: undergraduate student, engineering
Work area: structural mechanics
I'll be helping Mike with the payloads, like the GPS payload; when it comes in we are going to assemble it and put it in the satellite. I had to test the electronic equipment coming in, like breakup boxes, and make sure they work properly and stuff like that. I had to do a bit of rewiring for the power conditioning subsystem. It's been a bit intense, pretty full-on. I reckon this is pretty good, you don't get to work on a satellite every day.

Andrew Bish
Occupation: engineer
Work area: attitude control system
This attitude control system board has a noise problem, which is difficult to remove in a flight-ready board, so we're looking to replace it with a new one from Dynacon in Canada. The whole satellite has a power problem and if we get another board we can lower the power consumption by a few watts, which is quite significant. Incorporating the Dynacon software into our system would cost as much as buying the new board. Apart from that, it's going all right.

Jimmy Nyman
Occupation: undergraduate student, space engineering
Work area: star camera
I am working on the star camera, writing the communication program so we can test it when we get it. Later on, I'll try to calibrate the star camera and test it in all sorts of ways for working in space. I've never done anything like this before, and it's been a good learning experience.

Ahmad Bahrami
Occupation: mechanical design engineer
Work area: mechanical design
I am doing the mechanical design on FedSat. If they want to change some specification on one part, I can do that for them. I can fix problems and make changes in the big design. There are many factors to consider. I am very excited that I am part of this project. It is very good because I can get lots of experience out of it. And it is a good experience for Australia.

James Moody
Occupation: systems engineer
Work area: OCC software
I'm one of the members of the system team. I was lucky enough to be in it when we first started working with SIL. At the moment we're lucky that it's becoming an Australian project. We've got a great mix of experienced engineers and university students.

But the team of experienced engineers and students was dissolved years ago. So ends Australia's second space programme - the first was 30 years ago.

Oh well, we've created a Space Programme from a standing start twice now. We can do it again. Maybe 3rd time lucky - but hopefully not in 30 years, sometime sooner.

Monday 24 October 2005

Depression and Sex

Of course too little of the second can lead to the first, but that's not what I'm writing about.

This one's a Brain link. From the BBC :
Scientists say they have proof that the sex of the brain makes men and women more prone to different diseases.

Doctors know that women are more likely than men to have depression, anxiety or an eating disorder, while men are at higher risk of Parkinson's disease.

Post-mortem and brain imaging studies show that male and female brains are physically different.

Now scientists say they can to link the two together and suggest future disease cures may be "gender-specific".

The sex of a brain is decided in the mother's womb and depends, among other factors, on hormone levels.

Higher levels of testosterone makes a male brain and oestrogen a female one.

Professor Dick Swaab from The Netherlands Institute for Brain Research in Amsterdam, said the proof for this comes from studies of transsexuals - people who know, often from a very early age, that they are born in the wrong gender body.

"The theory is that the sex difference in the sex organs develops early in pregnancy - in the first few months while in utero - while sexual differentiation of the brain occurs later in the second half of pregnancy and postnatally."

That would mean certain factors could interfere with the sexual differentiation of the sex organs and brain in an independent way because there is a time lapse between the two.

"If that was true you would expect to see female structures in male brains. That is indeed what people have found - a reversed sex difference in the brain of transsexuals."
Tell me about it....
He said that because men and women's brains are different "we should be looking at diseases as male and female".

"There is a different sex ratio for neurological and psychiatric diseases.

"In depression, it is very clear that sex hormones are directly interfering with the stress axis in the brain.

"We have shown that sensitive proteins [receptors] for sex hormones are present in the cells that form the stress axis. In women there are more oestrogen receptors and in men more androgen receptors present.

"That results in higher prevalence of depression in women compared to men because the stress axis is more sensitive.

"The oestrogens are directly affecting the production of the stress peptides.

"So for the same amount of stress in the environment, women are more prone to develop depression than men."
This would also explain what is an almost universal feature of Male-to-Female transsexuals : Clinical, and often totally debilitating, Depression. Looks like we're set up that way. Plus a lifelong stressor of enormous effect, wrong type brain for the body. How Depressing. :-)

So how come Transsexuals exist? I mean, it's a fairly awful thing to have to deal with (trust me on this...). Here's one hypothesis, one I came to independantly, before I read the article.
Imagine our human species from a high, utterly cold, and godlike perspective, watching it only as an animal upon the earth, and consider that which might benefit it. In primates, such as the Bonobo chimpanzee, homosexuality helps to bond both males and females with members of their own troop, reducing inter-group competition and aggression. I suggest that transsexuality serves a useful purpose in the scheme of things as well.

Consider the benefit to the animal human, to possess the capacity to produce the occasional individual that, while perhaps not contributing to the gene pool commonly, instead contributes socially, just like homosexuality does in primates. The value of a human with generally superior intellect and creative abilities, curiosity and drive to match, a brain capable of intersexed functioning - and thus an unusual viewpoint - with the additional benefit of being a reproductive dead end...and thus expendable biologically... cannot be underestimated.

Since we have learned that transsexuality can be caused by - among other things - stress affecting pregnancy, it is tempting to consider that there is survival benefit in transsexuality.

A population of highly stressed and struggling paleolithic humans, perhaps at some great impasse, might well be saved by the cross-hormonally induced birth of transsexual members. A hyper intelligent and creative disposable personage would be the most likely to try new things, even highly dangerous things, things that no ordinary individual would think to try. The tormented transsexual would have less to lose, and be less of a loss to the gene pool if the new idea had fatal results. Ultimately, the transsexual would be very likely to find a solution, a way, that would otherwise be missed.

I suggest that transsexuality is a natural function, a way for human animals to produce a subset of their population effectively suited to discovering new and useful survival options, with minimal loss to the genetic pool overall.

In effect, the transsexual is Nature's Little Wild Card. The disposable enhanced Survival Scout, who tends to be generated in proportion to the overall stress the population endures, and which serves a valuable function in the scheme of basic animal survival. Transsexuals are the Hyper-Homosexuals, the guardian angels of the primate world. They not only function as homosexuals do for social bonding, but go a great step further...finding new ways that no others are constructed to find.

Admittedly, it is a cold and mechanical value, but then I asked the reader to consider it from the Blind Watchmaker's position, the dispassionate and living machinery of Nature.

I submit, that from the position of pure survival, of cold hard reality, that gender dysphoria may well be a useful evolutionary development...a "deliberate" (as though Nature had the faculty of choice!) mistake that can serve a vital function for the survival of the Whole, with no concern whatsoever for the agony of the individual.

There can be found a gentle nobility in being an Evolutionary Angel, an emergency Wild Card. Who know how many catastrophes the paleolithic transsexual may have averted?

Perhaps it is no random thing that all early societies revered the transsexual, and made place for and wonder of them. The closer to the struggle for survival, the more aware of what is valuable and what is least for those who are consistent survivors.

So Why Me? Perhaps it is not just bad luck. I suggest the existence of transsexuality serves a real value to any social species.

If this theory has value, it would help to explain the existence of transsexualism in non-primate species, such as rats, dogs, wolves, and the like.
Or of course, this could be a way of fooling ourselves. We're different, outsiders, and extremely lonely and marginalised at school. Fitting in neither with male nor female society, finding refuge in books, (lately) computers, exploring alone, and mechanisms of all sorts. Sort of a Geek Redux. This hypothesis may be just be compensation for endemic feelings of Inferiority.

On the other hand, it is as good an explanation as any as to why many Transsexuals are in IT, Academe, or the military.

I taught Computer Science at ADFA.....

And darnit, objectively there is a ridiculously high proportion of us with high IQs, and creativity likewise (though that's more difficult to measure - I aggregated military planners, systems architects, engineering/construction architects and artists to get the estimate). Lower bound estimate of prevalence is 1:2500, upper bound 1:500.

So the hypothesis is that there are basically 3 genders: Hunters, Gatherers, and a salting of, what, Neuters? Soldiers? Protectors? Brain bugs? Expendables? Mechanicians? Scouts? Shamen? Viziers?

All of the above, I guess.

The proportion of the latter increasing with societal stress.

May I say how thoroughly uncomfortable it is to look at the situation logically, objectively, and rationally, and realise that I was probably born to be expendable? And that a really uncomfortably large part of my personality is hard-wired? And in common with many women, a maternal instinct a mile wide? Some so-called Secondary TS women marry and have kids, even though we're really not wired up for a male role, and are often infertile. Can't be a Mum, but Dad is about as good, and desperately desired.

As I said, I'd come to exactly the same conclusion based on the available evidence, before I was aware of the article's existence.

I suspect Larry Niven had too.

Sunday 23 October 2005

Double Standards

From the ABC :
Video footage of alleged abuse by US soldiers in Afghanistan, burning the bodies of Taliban militants, has angered a country increasingly wary about the four-year American presence.

Some religious leaders called for "jihad" or holy war in retaliation for an act deeply offensive to Islam and ordinary Afghans voiced disgust despite their loathing of the insurgents responsible for unrelenting attacks.

"I think the people and the Muslims should not stay quiet - if they do, the Americans will become more impudent," said Ghulam Farooq, a mullah at one of the main mosques in the western city of Herat.

"Jihad, we should do jihad against the Americans," he said.

Aware of the inflammatory nature of the alleged incident revealed in an SBS television report on Wednesday, the US military was swift to condemn the incident as "unacceptable" and promise a thorough criminal investigation.
"If those responsible are not punished, I think the Muslim nation of Afghanistan will rise against the Americans - no Muslim can tolerate such a crime," said Shamsuddin, another mullah in the southern city of Kandahar.

The report on SBS's Dateline program quoted US soldiers saying they had to burn the bodies because they had been left out in the open for more than 24 hours.
And in 90F heat. They'd asked local villagers to come and take them away for burial, but because the bodies were those of non-locals, Pakistani Jihadis, they wouldn't. The bodies were also right in the middle of a combat position the US soldiers were occupying. Moving them became out of the question, they didn't have body bags to pour the liquified remains in. From MSNBC :
U.S. military officials confirm at least part of the story. They tell NBC News that two Taliban had been killed in a firefight and that U.S. soldiers had asked people in the village to retrieve the bodies, but no one had come forward for at least 24 hours. They say they are not sure what what happened next.
Back to the ABC again, and more Islamic seething :
"It is good to kill Taliban, but it is very bad to burn their bodies," said Ghulam Farooq, a taxi driver in Kabul.

"We Muslims never burn our bodies. We bury them with respect," he said.
Never? Because also from the ABC :
Four US contractors for the US military were killed in Iraq last month, the military says, confirming an attack that a British newspaper said saw two of the men murdered in front of a jeering crowd.
At least two of the men were dragged alive from their vehicle, which had been badly shot up, and forced to kneel in the road before being killed, it said.

"Killing one of the men with a rifle round fired into the back of his head, they doused the other with petrol and set him alight," the newspaper report said.
What, Never? Well, Hardly Ever

And only infidels, perhaps they don't count. And besides which, he was alive, not dead.

I anxiously await Muslim religious leaders calling for a Jihad against the perpetrators of this atrocity. Or even one. But I'm not holding my breath.

Saturday 22 October 2005

Which 'Serenity' Character Are You?

You scored as Kaylee Frye. The Mechanic. You are a natural mechanic, and you are far too sweet and cheerful to live out here. How you can see the good in everyone around you boggles the mind occationally. Still you don't seem to be any crazier than that, and it is a nice kinda crazy.

Kaylee Frye


The Operative


Zoe Alleyne Washburne


Hoban 'Wash' Washburne


Capt. Mal Reynolds


Simon Tam


Shepherd Derrial Book


Inara Serra


River Tam


Jayne Cobb


Which Serenity character are you?
created with
Well, the quiz got me pegged... :)

Friday 21 October 2005

Computer Greeks

From the ABC :
A reconstructed version of the world's oldest computer has been unveiled in Greece.

The 2,000-year-old device was found by chance on the ocean floor more than a century ago.

Michael Wright, a former senior curator at London's Science Museum, unveiled the complex collection of gears and dials at a conference on ancient Greek inventions.

Experts attending the symposium praised the model as the best yet of a device that is believed to have calculated the motions of the sun, moon and planets.

Mr Wright said the shoe-sized box object not only illustrated the ancient Greeks' love for gadgets but how advanced they were technologically.
And from the June 1959 Scientific American :
Among the treasures of the Greek National Archaeological Museum in Athens are the remains of the most complex scientific object that has been preserved from antiquity. Corroded and crumbling from 2,000 years under the sea, its dials, gear wheels and inscribed plates present the historian with a tantalizing problem. Because of them we may have to revise many of our estimates of Greek science. By studying them we may find vital clues to the true origins of that high scientific technology which hitherto has seemed peculiar to our modern civilization, setting it apart from all cultures of the past.
From the evidence of the fragments one can get a good idea of the appearance of the original object [see illustration on page 62]. Consisting of a box with dials on the outside and a very complex assembly of gear wheels mounted within, it must have resembled a well- made 18ih-century clock. Doors hinged to the box served to protect the dials, and on all available surfaces of box, doors and dials there were long Greek inscriptions describing the operation and construction of the instrument. At least 20 gear wheels of the mechanism have been preserved, including a very sophisticated assembly of gears that were mounted eccentrically on a turntable and probably functioned as a sort of epicyclic or differential, gear-system.
Nothing like this instrument is preserved elsewhere. Nothing comparable to it is known. from any ancient scientific text or literary allusion. On the contrary, from all that we know of science and technology in the Hellenistic Age we should have felt that such a device could not exist. Some historians have suggested that the Greeks were not interested in experiment because of a contempt-perhaps induced by the existence of the institution of slavery-for manual labor. On the other hand it has long been recognized that in abstract mathematics and in mathematical astronomy they were no beginners but rather "fellows of another college" who reached great heights of sophistication. Many of the Greek scientific devices known to us from written descriptions show much mathematical ingenuity, but in all cases the purely mechanical part of the design seems relatively crude. Gearing was clearly known to the Greeks, but it was used only in relatively simple applications. They employed pairs of gears to change angular speed or mechanical ad- vantage, or to apply power through a right angle, as in the water-driven mill.
Even the most complex mechanical devices described by the ancient writers Hero of Alexandria and Vitruvius contained only simple gearing. For example, the taximeter used by the Greeks to measure the distance travelled by the wheels of a carriage employed only pairs of gears (or gears and worms) to achieve the necessary ratio of movement. It could be argued that if the Greeks knew the principle of gearing, they should have had no difficulty in constructing mechanisms as complex as epicyclic gears. We now know from the fragments in the National Museum that the Greeks did make such mechanisms, but the knowledge is so unexpected that some scholars at first thought that the fragments must belong to some more modern device.
The Antikythera mechanism must therefore be an arithmetical counterpart of the much more familiar geometrical models of the solar system which were known to Plato and Archimedes and evolved into the orrery and the planetarium. The mechanism is like. a great astronomical clock without an escapement, or like a modern analogue computer which uses mechanical parts to save tedious calculation. It is a pity that we have no way of knowing whether the device was turned automatically or by hand. It might have been held in the hand and turned by a wheel at the side so that it would operate as a computer, possibly for astrological use. I feel it is more likely that it was permanently mounted, perhaps set in a statue, and displayed as an exhibition piece. In that case it might well have been turned by the power from a water clock or some other device. Perhaps it is just such a wondrous device that was mounted inside the famous Tower of Winds in Athens. It is certainly very similar to the great astronomical cathedral clocks that were built all over Europe during the Renaissance.
It is a bit frightening to know that just before the fall of their great civilization the ancient Greeks had come so close to our age, not only in their thought, but also in their scientific technology.

Thursday 20 October 2005

SF Covered

Today's Interesting URL : A pastiche of a few thousand science fiction covers, anotated with artist, date and publication.
Doesn't work in Opera, but is fine on Firefox.

Seen originally over at Prof Hall's Spacecraft.

Wednesday 19 October 2005

Operatic Golf

Today's interesting URL : Go to Venables, Bell and Partners, and click on "work" for Operatic Golf, and other amusing adverts.

Site courtesy of Ninme, whose blogging output is so prolific I couldn't find out where I'd seen the original link.

Tuesday 18 October 2005

Keep Off On The Grass

A Brain Link from the ABC :
Canadian researchers have discovered that smoking marijuana could improve a person's memory and mood.

A team at the University of Saskatchewan headed by Xia Zhang found that injections of a potent HU210 synthetic substance that mimics the active ingredients in cannabis increases the production of neurones in the hippocampus area of the brain in rats.

The region is associated with learning and memory, as well as anxiety and depression.

Mr Zhang and his colleagues believe that these negative emotions are caused by a lack of cell growth in this region of the brain.

Other recent studies showed growth in brain cells in the hippocampus lessened anxiety and depression.

In contrast, other recreational drugs such as alcohol, nicotine, cocaine and heroine suppress growth of new brain cells.

"The implication is that smoking marijuana is a good thing," Mr Zhang told AFP.

The discovery may eventually lead to the next blockbuster anti-depressant drug treatment, he says.

"It is possible this might overtake Prozac," he said.

Of course, it has only been proven in rats so far. And, HU210 is a purified substance 100 times stronger than the active ingredient tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) in marijuana.

The study will be published in the Journal of Clinical Investigation in November.
Before everyone leaves no turn unstoned, it's worth looking at the details: To get a therapeutic dose of THC large enough might take really significant quantities of hash oil. And refined THC is difficult to get, what's available "on the street" is stuff of unknown purity and strength, and of course isn't purified THC, but a concoction of lots of chemical compounds, including carcinogens. Smoking the stuff is hazardous to your health, even if it does have the benefits stated.

Oh yes, it also makes you dysfunctional, "stoned". There's evidence to show that if you don't use a lot, the neurotransmitters get "fatigued", and you get semi-permanent depression and memory loss. The other neuroactive chemicals also may produce some really bad effects.

I have far too much respect for my own neuroanatomy to take anything too powerful without medical supervision, be it a MAO inhibitor, selective Serotonin Uptake inhibitor, or more than small amounts of alcohol. I don't overclock my computer CPU for safety reasons, and I'll be darned if I'm more careful with my computer than with my cerebral cortex.

There's also the matter of my security clearance... recreational drug use is right out. Apart from Chocolate, which when combined with high levels of oestrogen and low levels of testosterone in the system has a most intriguing effect....

Finally, I'm allergic to the plant, Cannabis Sattiva (Indian Hemp). I used to go fishing woth my father when young, and we mixed hemp seeds (it grew wild on the river banks) with the bread we used as burley to attract the fish. Made them much easier to catch. But I must have gotten a seed under my nails, or some husk in my skin when I accidentally pierced myself with a fishhook. Anyway, I'm sensitised. Not to THC, just the rest of the chemical mix. I reckon I must be one of the few students of the 70's never to have tried it in any form. I had to leave the room if someone lit up, and not enter again for days.

Maybe it's just a case of Sour Grapes, but I don't believe that the Grass is Greener.
HU210 on the other hand might be useful pharmacologically. And with 100 times the effect of THC, might give a buzz that's astronomical.

Monday 17 October 2005

Welcome Home

From the ABC :
China's second manned spacecraft, Shenzhou VI, has touched down successfully in Inner Mongolia after orbiting the Earth for five days.

Xinhua news agency reports the two astronauts are in good health after the space capsule touched down in the remote steppes of the northern Inner Mongolia region.

The astronauts have completed 76 orbits of the Earth and travelled millions of kilometres since Wednesday morning's launch of the mission.

"Our journey in space was very smooth," Mr Fei said. "The living and working conditions inside the cabin were very good. Our health is okay."

A member of one of the recovery teams reports the capsule landed upright after touching down just one kilometre from the intended landing site.

Emerging from the module, television pictures showed the two take a few seconds to adjust to the Earth's gravity.
Now that's significant. At a similar stage in the US and Soviet space programmes, they were lucky to hit the right ocean/continent, let alone make a lnding so close. And that it was close is evidenced by the TV pictures of them emerging, there wouldn't be time to relocate the TV crews quick enough if it had been far away.
Not that I'm suspicious of anything the Xinhua news agency says, of course.

Also significant is that they were in a "shirtsleeves" environment for much of the flight, not strapped in like the proverbial Spam-in-a-Can in the cramped Voskhods and decidedly snug Geminis.

Worth watching.

Sunday 16 October 2005

The Heyday of Islamic Science

Appears to have ended in the 13th Century.

Personally, I blame the Ottoman Turks.

Shopping with Wittgenstein

Todays's interesting URL is from the UK Telegraph :
1.17 Which is the right chocolate spread and which is the wrong chocolate spread?

1.18 In the world constituted as it is, there is no right chocolate spread or wrong chocolate spread. In a manner of speaking, all chocolate spreads are the same.

1.19 Try telling that to the children when you arrive back with the wrong one.
2.1 But another choice now confronts you. At the check-out area, there are nine ordinary queues (9q), and one for six-items-or-less (6i]q). (6i]q) is three times (3X) as long as each of (9q), but the number of items in the (9q) trolleys (NiT) may be infinite (~). A swift calculation is necessary in order to determine the relative time to be spent in each queue.
3.1 The logic of the car park is transcendental. The place the car is parked exists beyond memory. It is always possible to forget where the car is parked, as it looks like just like other cars.
More on Wittgenstein and the Tractatus Logico-Philosophicus over at Wikipedia.

Saturday 15 October 2005

Rockets, Radiation, Reliability and Recycling

From Science@NASA :
Research is underway into a new generation of liquid-fueled rocket designs that could double performance over today's designs while also improving reliability.
You might assume that, by now, every conceivable refinement in liquid-fueled rocket designs must have been made. You'd be wrong. It turns out there's room for improvement.

Integrated Powerhead DemonstratorLed by the US Air Force, a group consisting of NASA, the Department of Defense, and several industry partners are working on better engine designs. Their program is called Integrated High Payoff Rocket Propulsion Technologies, and they are looking at many possible improvements. One of the most promising so far is a new scheme for fuel flow:

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The basic idea behind a liquid-fueled rocket is rather simple. A fuel and an oxidizer, both in liquid form, are fed into a combustion chamber and ignited. For example, the shuttle uses liquid hydrogen as its fuel and liquid oxygen as the oxidizer. The hot gases produced by the combustion escape rapidly through the cone-shaped nozzle, thus producing thrust.

The details, of course, are much more complicated. For one, both the liquid fuel and the oxidizer must be fed into the chamber very rapidly and under great pressure. The shuttle's main engines would drain a swimming pool full of fuel in only 25 seconds!

This gushing torrent of fuel is driven by a turbopump. To power the turbopump, a small amount of fuel is "preburned", thus generating hot gases that drive the turbopump, which in turn pumps the rest of the fuel into the main combustion chamber. A similar process is used to pump the oxidizer.

Today's liquid-fueled rockets send only a small amount of fuel and oxidizer through the preburners. The bulk flows directly to the main combustion chamber, skipping the preburners entirely.

One of many innovations being tested by the Air Force and NASA is to send all of the fuel and oxidizer through their respective preburners. Only a small amount is consumed there--just enough to run the turbos; the rest flows through to the combustion chamber.

This "full-flow staged cycle" design has an important advantage: with more mass passing through the turbine that drives the turbopump, the turbopump is driven harder, thus reaching higher pressures. Higher pressures equal greater performance from the rocket.

Such a design has never been used in a liquid-fueled rocket in the U.S. before, according to Gary Genge at NASA's Marshall Space Flight Center. Genge is the Deputy Project Manager for the Integrated Powerhead Demonstrator (IPD)--a test-engine for these concepts.

Right: A rendering of the Integrated Powerhead Demonstrator, showing its innovative plumbing for routing fuel and oxidizer to the combustion chamber.

"These designs we're exploring could boost performance in many ways," says Genge. "We're hoping for better fuel efficiency, higher thrust-to-weight ratio, improved reliability--all at a lower cost."

"At this phase of the project, however, we're just trying to get this alternate flow pattern working correctly," he notes.
Breath-holding contra-indicated then. But it's just a matter of time before someone gets the idea working.

Also from Science@NASA :
Most household trash bags are made of a polymer called polyethylene. Variants of that molecule turn out to be excellent at shielding the most dangerous forms of space radiation. Scientists have long known this. The trouble has been trying to build a spaceship out of the flimsy stuff.

But now NASA scientists have invented a groundbreaking, polyethylene-based material called RXF1 that's even stronger and lighter than aluminum. "This new material is a first in the sense that it combines superior structural properties with superior shielding properties," says Nasser Barghouty, Project Scientist for NASA's Space Radiation Shielding Project at the Marshall Space Flight Center.
Barghouty is one of the skeptics: "Going to Mars now with an aluminum spaceship is undoable," he believes.

Plastic is an appealing alternative: Compared to aluminum, polyethylene is 50% better at shielding solar flares and 15% better for cosmic rays.

Left: Cosmic rays crash into matter, producing secondary particles. [More]

The advantage of plastic-like materials is that they produce far less "secondary radiation" than heavier materials like aluminum or lead. Secondary radiation comes from the shielding material itself. When particles of space radiation smash into atoms within the shield, they trigger tiny nuclear reactions. Those reactions produce a shower of nuclear byproducts -- neutrons and other particles -- that enter the spacecraft. It's a bit like trying to protect yourself from a flying bowling ball by erecting a wall of pins. You avoid the ball but get pelted by pins. "Secondaries" can be worse for astronauts' health than the original space radiation!

Ironically, heavier elements like lead, which people often assume to be the best radiation shielding, produce much more secondary radiation than lighter elements like carbon and hydrogen. That's why polyethylene makes good shielding: it is composed entirely of lightweight carbon and hydrogen atoms, which minimizes secondaries.
Parenthetically, Water is an excellent radiation shield.. but heavy, and structurally not so wonderful. On the other hand, raw sewage is mainly water. Have a cylinder composed of independant cells of drinking water, fill them with liquid waste when empty, and you have a decent storm shelter should a solar flare erupt. Cosmic rays are another matter.
Despite their shielding power, ordinary trash bags obviously won't do for building a spaceship. So Barghouty and his colleagues have been trying to beef-up polyethylene for aerospace work.

That's how Shielding Project researcher Raj Kaul, working together with Barghouty, came to invent RXF1. RXF1 is remarkably strong and light: it has 3 times the tensile strength of aluminum, yet is 2.6 times lighter -- impressive even by aerospace standards.

"Since it is a ballistic shield, it also deflects micrometeorites," says Kaul, who had previously worked with similar materials in developing helicopter armor. "Since it's a fabric, it can be draped around molds and shaped into specific spacecraft components." And because it's derived from polyethylene, it's an excellent radiation shield as well.
Some "galactic cosmic rays are so energetic that no reasonable amount of shielding can stop them," cautions Frank Cucinotta, NASA's Chief Radiation Health Officer. "All materials have this problem, including polyethylene."

Cucinotta and colleagues have done computer simulations to compare the cancer risk of going to Mars in an aluminum ship vs. a polyethylene ship. Surprisingly, "there was no significant difference," he says. This conclusion depends on a biological model which estimates how human tissue is affected by space radiation--and therein lies the rub. After decades of spaceflight, scientists still don't fully understand how the human body reacts to cosmic rays. If their model is correct, however, there could be little practical benefit to the extra shielding polyethylene provides. This is a matter of ongoing research.

Because of the many uncertainties, dose limits for astronauts on a Mars mission have not been set, notes Barghouty. But assuming that those dose limits are similar to limits set for Shuttle and Space Station flights, he believes RXF1 could hypothetically provide adequate shielding for a 30 month mission to Mars.
There's still a lot we need to find out before going to Mars. The more I see of it, the more I think the Chinese have got the right idea. First, set up a space construction facility for assembling interplanetary craft of arbitrary size. Then go about colonising the Moon, with research applicable to deeper space missions. Then onwards and outwards.

From Space Daily :
China's achievement in sending taikonauts Cols. Fei Junlong and Nie Haisheng into orbit on the manned Shenzhou-6 space craft for a four or five day mission is the second step in a long campaign of amazing vision mapped out by the genius founder of its space program half a century ago.

Within the next 10 to 15 years, China is determined to become the dominant space power and build first its own massive, permanent, orbiting space station as a stepping stone into the Solar System and then even build and man a long-term base on the Moon.

Can they do it? Yes.

The first thing to recognize about the Chinese vision is that it is serious and backed by a profound political commitment. Former President Jiang Zemin was the first Chinese leader determined to make his nation a major space power, and eventually the dominant one. And his successor, current President Hu Jintao, shares that commitment. But the program they have backed had been created decades earlier by a U.S.-educated genius called Tsien Hsue-Shen.

Tsien was a member of the first heroic generation of U.S. rocket scientists and space visionaries. He was a founder of the Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, Calif. He was even included on the team of U.S. scientists who went to investigate Nazi Germany's groundbreaking V-2 rocket program after World War II. Researcher Mark Wade, writing about China's space program on the Web site described him as "one of the senior scientists advising the U.S. military on postwar development of rocket technology."

But in 1950 Tsien, according to Wade, was accused of being a Communist Party member and his security clearance was revoked. He was then held under virtual house arrest for five years before being allowed to return to China in 1955. He then led China's space program for decades.
Of course, there's many a slip, and all may not be "nominal" on Shenzhou 6 at the moment. I wish the Taikonauts good luck, a safe return, and happy landings. No doubt, as with the near-disasters and minor glitches that both the US and USSR had in the 60's and 70's, we'll hear the complete story sooner or later. Maybe in 25 years.

Monthly Mugshot Update

One of the problems with having a rapidly changing appearance is that I no sooner update my pic on the blog before I really should start thinking about getting a more recnt, and accurate, one put there instead.

This one was taken on 12th October, a month and 2 days after the previous one.

Old :

New :

Friday 14 October 2005

This will put a Cat amongst the Pigeons...

From Opinion Journal :
Evolutionary biologists have some theories that feed into an explanation for the disparity. In primitive societies, men did the hunting, which often took them far from home. Males with the ability to recognize landscapes from different orientations and thereby find their way back had a survival advantage. Men who could process trajectories in three dimensions--the trajectory, say, of a spear thrown at an edible mammal--also had a survival advantage. Women did the gathering. Those who could distinguish among complex arrays of vegetation, remembering which were the poisonous plants and which the nourishing ones, also had a survival advantage. Thus the logic for explaining why men should have developed elevated three-dimensional visuospatial skills and women an elevated ability to remember objects and their relative locations--differences that show up in specialized tests today.

Perhaps this is a just-so story. Why not instead attribute the results of these tests to socialization? Enter the neuroscientists. It has been known for years that even after adjusting for body size, men have larger brains than women. Yet most psychometricians conclude that men and women have the same mean IQ (although debate on this issue is growing). One hypothesis for explaining this paradox is that three-dimensional processing absorbs the extra male capacity. In the past few years, magnetic-resonance imaging has refined the evidence for this hypothesis, revealing that parts of the brain's parietal cortex associated with space perception are proportionally bigger in men than in women.
Women have their own cognitive advantages over men, many of them involving verbal fluency and interpersonal skills. If this were a comprehensive survey, detailing those advantages would take up as much space as I have devoted to a particular male advantage. But, sticking with my restricted topic, I will move to another aspect of male-female differences that bears on accomplishment at the highest levels of the arts and sciences: motherhood.

Regarding women, men and babies, the technical literature is as unambiguous as everyday experience would lead one to suppose. As a rule, the experience of parenthood is more profoundly life-altering for women than for men. Nor is there anything unique about humans in this regard. Mammalian reproduction generally involves much higher levels of maternal than paternal investment in the raising of children. Among humans, extensive empirical study has demonstrated that women are more attracted to children than are men, respond to them more intensely on an emotional level, and get more and different kinds of satisfactions from nurturing them. Many of these behavioral differences have been linked with biochemical differences between men and women.

Thus, for reasons embedded in the biochemistry and neurophysiology of being female, many women with the cognitive skills for achievement at the highest level also have something else they want to do in life: have a baby. In the arts and sciences, 40 is the mean age at which peak accomplishment occurs, preceded by years of intense effort mastering the discipline in question. These are precisely the years during which most women must bear children if they are to bear them at all.

Among women who have become mothers, the possibilities for high-level accomplishment in the arts and sciences shrink because, for innate reasons, the distractions of parenthood are greater.
I have omitted perhaps the most obvious reason why men and women differ at the highest levels of accomplishment: Men take more risks, are more competitive and are more aggressive than women. The word testosterone may come to mind, and appropriately. Much technical literature documents the hormonal basis of personality differences that bear on sex differences in extreme and venturesome effort, and hence in extremes of accomplishment--and that bear as well on the male propensity to produce an overwhelming proportion of the world's crime and approximately 100% of its wars.

But this is just one more of the ways in which science is demonstrating that men and women are really and truly different, a fact so obvious that only intellectuals could ever have thought otherwise.
Now that the Radical Feminists are going ballistic, I'll quote another part of the article, and this one is the key:
Here are three crucial points to keep in mind as we go along:

1. The differences I discuss involve means and distributions. In all cases, the variation within groups is greater than the variation between groups. On psychological and cognitive dimensions, some members of both sexes and all races fall everywhere along the range. One implication of this is that genius does not come in one color or sex, and neither does any other human ability. Another is that a few minutes of conversation with individuals you meet will tell you much more about them than their group membership does.

2. Covering both sex differences and race differences in a single nontechnical article, I have had to leave out much. I urge that readers with questions consult the fully annotated version of this essay, which includes extensive supplementary material; it is available here at Commentary's Web site.

3. The concepts of "inferiority" and "superiority" are inappropriate to group comparisons. On most specific human attributes, it is possible to specify a continuum running from "low" to "high," but the results cannot be combined into a score running from "bad" to "good." What is the best score on a continuum measuring aggressiveness? What is the relative importance of verbal skills versus, say, compassion? Of spatial skills versus industriousness? The aggregate excellences and shortcomings of human groups do not lend themselves to simple comparisons. That is why the members of just about every group can so easily conclude that they are God's chosen people. All of us use the weighting system that favors our group's strengths.
Obvious, yes, but how many people will ignore that and call for the author's public execution?

Especially since the author then goes on to say this :
Turning to race, we must begin with the fraught question of whether it even exists, or whether it is instead a social construct. The Harvard geneticist Richard Lewontin originated the idea of race as a social construct in 1972, arguing that the genetic differences across races were so trivial that no scientist working exclusively with genetic data would sort people into blacks, whites or Asians. In his words, "racial classification is now seen to be of virtually no genetic or taxonomic significance."

Mr. Lewontin's position, which quickly became a tenet of political correctness, carried with it a potential means of being falsified. If he was correct, then a statistical analysis of genetic markers would not produce clusters corresponding to common racial labels.

In the past few years, that test has become feasible, and now we know that Mr. Lewontin was wrong. Several analyses have confirmed the genetic reality of group identities going under the label of race or ethnicity. In the most recent, published this year, all but five of the 3,636 subjects fell into the cluster of genetic markers corresponding to their self-identified ethnic group. When a statistical procedure, blind to physical characteristics and working exclusively with genetic information, classifies 99.9% of the individuals in a large sample in the same way they classify themselves, it is hard to argue that race is imaginary.

Homo sapiens actually falls into many more interesting groups than the bulky ones known as "races." As new findings appear almost weekly, it seems increasingly likely that we are just at the beginning of a process that will identify all sorts of genetic differences among groups, whether the groups being compared are Nigerian blacks and Kenyan blacks, lawyers and engineers, or Episcopalians and Baptists. At the moment, the differences that are obviously genetic involve diseases (Ashkenazi Jews and Tay-Sachs disease, black Africans and sickle-cell anemia, Swedes and hemochromatosis). As time goes on, we may yet come to understand better why, say, Italians are more vivacious than Scots.
Here we have a vexatious problem. Junk Pseudo-Science has been used as a justification for all sorts of atrocities and injustices. So what happenes when, being as objective as we possibly can, we come across some results that we don't like, that can and will be misconstrued by the ignorant and bigotted to justify great Evil? Do we stay silent and "Politically Correct", judging that we have a responsibility to actively prevent such happenings? Or do we abdicate our social responsibility in favour of telling the Truth as it has been revealed to us by experiment and objective measurement?

I'm torn between the two. But on balance, monster of arrogance and ego that I am, I don't feel confident enough in my own righteousness to do anything other than to call em how I sees em. If I have a duty of care, a responsibility, it is to be as objective as possible, and ignore whether the results I get are in accordance with what I think they should be, or otherwise. They are what they are. By all means cross-check and try to eliminate my own cultural bias and prejudice, and state many disclaimers as to why I may be in error. But publish the results, and be damned. As I'm sure the author, Charles Murray, will be.

Mmmmm... Brains...

Lots of Yummy Brain links over at the Carnival of Tomorrow, hosted by The Speculist.

  • a new molecular brain cancer treatment
  • the not-so-inevitable failure of our brains
  • The Mind Molester, a fiendish device that does all it claims to do in the way of interrupting pretty much everything
  • Dolphin Brains and Batman Dolls. Batman Dolls? Yes, Batman Dolls.
...and much, much more.

Like this : The Brain Pattern Test. I couldn't decide which of a pair of the examples was my favourite, so here they both are.

Your Brain's Pattern

Your brain is always looking for the connections in life.
You always amaze your friends by figuring out things first.
You're also good at connecting people - and often play match maker.
You see the world in fluid, flexible terms. Nothing is black or white.
Your Brain's Pattern

Structured and organized, you have a knack for thinking clearly.
You are very logical - and you don't let your thoughts get polluted with emotions.
And while your thoughts are pretty serious, they're anything from boring.
It's minds like yours that have built the great cities of the world!

Thursday 13 October 2005

Unflagging Interest

Updating a previous post, the Right Wing Death Bogan is having a fascinating mail conversation with Chris Doyle over what he said. It's worth reading in full, soundbytes and selected quotes in papers hardly ever tell the complete story :
As for all the other atrocities, in Bali and the like, these people are extremist Jihadis, One cannot hold the entirety of over 1 billion Muslims responsible for all their actions. Just because these things happen does not mean that we should not be maintaining our values. One of the main aims of these groups is to drag us into the gutter with them, to abandon legal and human rights standards, to abandon our democratic systems. Our greatest strength must be to remain countries where justice and fairness prevails.

Many changes are desirable in the Arab/Islamic world and other areas and indeed here. But we should not hold off changes on the basis that they are not happening elsewhere. We should lead by example, showing respect and understanding. Then we can take the moral high ground...

Of course there are far more serious examples of this than this story which is relatively insignificant in the scheme of things.
Chris Doyle

CAABU (Council for Arab-British Understanding)
I'm not saying I agree with him, in fact, I have some serious differences of opinion. But I am saying that the story isn't as simple and clear-cut as it sounded.

One of the best things about blogs and blogging is that even a fulltime mother in Australia can do the deep research on a matter in England. And engage in "constructive dialogue" that for once isn't just a cliche, it really is constructive, and a true dialogue. This one's worth more attention than it's getting.

Forget Norway

We're going to see Kenya.

From Lighter Fluid Makes You Go Boom. Whose subtitle is:
We're Australian, we're women, we're better than you.

Wednesday 12 October 2005

Right On Time

Or even a day early. From Space Daily :
China launched its second manned space mission Wednesday, sending two astronauts into orbit as it opened a new chapter in its ambitious drive to become a global space power.

Shenzhou VI, based on Soviet Soyuz technology, lifted off on a Long March 2F carrier rocket from Jiuquan Satellite Launch Center at 9 am (0100 GMT) for a five-day mission carrying air force pilots Fei Junlong and Nie Haisheng.

It entered a fixed orbit 21 minutes later.

Having two crew on board is a departure from October 2003, when Yang Liwei spent 21 hours on a solo odyssey -- a mission that made China only the third country after the United States and former Soviet Union to achieve the feat.
Fei, 40, and Nie, 41, were seen off by Premier Wen Jiabao, who was at the launch pad to drum up nationalistic sentiment, saying he believed "the astronauts will accomplish the glorious and sacred mission".

"You will once again show that the Chinese people have the will, confidence and capability to mount scientific peaks ceaselessly," Wen said, adding that the whole country expects "their victorious return from the mission."
Maybe it loses something in the translation...
The fact that Wednesday's mission carried two astronauts reflects the twin purposes of China's space program, which aims for both scientific gains and kudos at home and abroad.

"Part of it is technical. If you are two people, you can do more complicated and more sophisticated types of work and experimentation," said Joan Johnson-Freese, an expert on China's space program at the US Naval War College.

"Part of its also too is prestige. Two people is harder than one person," she said.
Unlike Yang Liwei two years ago, the two astronauts will leave their capsule for lengthy experiments in the orbital module at the nose of the spacecraft, observers said.

"They'll do quite a lot of medical tests, they'll take blood tests, urine tests, and they will also work out what kind of space food works for them" said Brian Harvey, the Dublin-based author of a book on China's space ambitions.

"Because ultimately what they are planning is a space station... and to do that they will need to learn how do they survive on longer missions."

The flight of Shenzhou VI will also be a thorough and comprehensive test of China's tracking network, which includes tracking stations as far away as Namibia and four tracking ships placed around the oceans of the world.

In Jiuquan city, several hours' drive away from the satellite launch center, a sense of local pride was clearly visible.

"Wishing a successful launch of Shenzhou VI," said a large red poster in front of one of the city's hotels, while billboards advertised special "Shenzhou Rice Wine."

"We're very happy about all this," said Ma Li, a teenage resident of Jiuquan city. "It's amazing that we Chinese gradually have the know-how to pull this kind of thing off," she said.
Not so amazing. The Chinese space programme has been remarkably well-managed, and their capsule design is very good indeed.

The Russians launched Gagarin in 12 April, 1961. It wasn't until 12 August 1964, over 3 years later, that they launched a multi-crew spacecraft, Voskhod 1.

The USA launched Glenn into orbit on 20 February, 1962. It wasn't until 23 March 1965, 3 years later, that they launched Gemini 3.

China launched Shenzhou 5 on 15th October, 2003. Shenzhou 6, their first multi-crew mission, is only 2 years later, with no intervening flights. The first one was a "proof of concept". This one is a test of the systems that will be used in future flights, rather than doing much useful scientific work other than learning by doing what works and what doesn't.

The Chinese aren't in any tearing hurry. They're not in a "Space Race". But they are slowly, surely, and methodically engaging in a crewed space programme, and that's something that no other country is doing at the moment. The USA has dreams, and money, but also it has Congress. And Con is to Pro as Congress is to Progress. The Russians have old but good hardware, but are strapped for cash.

I would not be at all surprised if the next person to step on the moon is Chinese.

ReGeneration X

From the Sunday Times :
SCIENTISTS have created a “miracle mouse” that can regenerate amputated limbs or badly damaged organs, making it able to recover from injuries that would kill or permanently disable normal animals.

The experimental animal is unique among mammals in its ability to regrow its heart, toes, joints and tail.

The researchers have also found that when cells from the test mouse are injected into ordinary mice, they too acquire the ability to regenerate.

The discoveries raise the prospect that humans could one day be given the ability to regenerate lost or damaged organs, opening up a new era in medicine.

Details of the research will be presented next week at a scientific conference on ageing, Strategies for Engineered Negligible Senescence, at Cambridge University. Ellen Heber-Katz, professor of immunology at the Wistar Institute, an American biomedical research centre, says that the ability of mice at her laboratory to regenerate appears to be controlled by about a dozen genes.

She is still researching their exact functions, but it seems almost certain that humans have comparable genes.
The researchers suspect that the same genes could confer greater longevity and are measuring the animals’ survival rate. The mice are, however, only 18 months old and the normal lifespan is two years so it is too early to reach conclusions.
There's still so much we just don't know about the way our bodies work. But if, as seems likely, all mammals have the potential capability to revert specialised cells back to stem cells, then have the stem cells multiply and then re-specialise into whatever is needed, then that has enormous (I won't say enormouse) implications for the treatment of many illnesses. And if somehow we can repair the telomeres of the stem cells so they don't degrade as they multiply, then the accumulated damage caused by aging can be prevented, and reversed.
Immortality? Nope. But if you can hold out for another 50 years, it's just possible you may be able to gain a few centuries after that. Not certain, but not impossible either.

Tuesday 11 October 2005

Robotic Race

From CNN :
Four robotic vehicles finished a Pentagon-sponsored race across the Mojave desert Saturday and achieved a technological milestone by conquering steep drop-offs, obstacles and tunnels over a rugged 132-mile course without a single human command.

The vehicles, guided by sophisticated software, gave scientists hope that robots could one day wage battles without endangering soldiers.
Thron says the technology developed for the race will help the Pentagon reach its goal of having one-third of its vehicles be driverless within ten years, but will mean safer cars within a few years.
The so-called Grand Challenge race is part of the Pentagon's effort to cut the risk of casualties by fulfilling a congressional mandate to have a third of all military ground vehicles unmanned by 2015.

Last year's much-hyped inaugural robot race ended without a winner when all the self-navigating vehicles broke down shortly after leaving the starting gate. Carnegie Mellon's Sandstorm chugged the farthest at 7 1/2 miles.

Of the 23 robots that competed Saturday, 18 vehicles failed to navigate the entire 132-mile course, but most still managed to beat Sandstorm's mileage last year.

The unmanned vehicles must use their computer brains and sensing devices to follow a programmed route and avoid hitting obstacles that may doom their chances.

Vehicles have to drive on rough, winding desert roads and dry lake beds filled with overhanging brush and man-made obstacles. The machines also must traverse a narrow 1.3-mile mountain pass with a steep drop-off and go through three tunnels designed to knock out their GPS signals.
The military currently has a small fleet of autonomous ground vehicles stationed in Iraq and Afghanistan, but the machines are remotely controlled by a soldier who usually rides in the same convoy. The Pentagon wants to eliminate the human factor and use self-thinking robotic vehicles to ferry supplies in war zones.
Coming Soon, probably sooner than 2085 too.

Sunday 9 October 2005

Risk Factors : A Full House

For some odd reason, I've always been interested in how the brain works. The name was part of it of course, but I always knew mine was wired up rather differently from most. Hence one of the subjects of this blog.

The traditional "Female Brain trapped in a Male Body" is more common than I thought - latest good data indicates at least 1 in 500 women have that problem, and rather less, but still substantial, evidence exists that 1 in 500 men have a similar one. It's also well correlated with other incomplete or abnormal brain differentiation syndromes such as dyslexia, ambidexterity, and Asperger's.

Fortunately you do get a 2 standard deviation IQ increase on average compared to the normal population. It also correlates well with aptitude for Computer Science, Teaching, creativity, military planning, and mechanical ability. Hence the number of Computer or Electrical Engineer academics (like Lynn Conway), electronic music pioneers (like Wendy Carlos), computer game designers (Danielle Berry, Catherine Mataga, Jennifer Reitz...) , model or actual railroad fans (Jessica Brisbane), Rocket Scientists (Zoe Brain)...

From Game Designers Just Wanna Be Girls :
Could the physical cause of transsexualism be directly related to high intelligence?

The physical causes are not well understood. The prevailing theory has neurological changes being triggered by prenatal hormonal events. Supposedly transsexual babies don't get masculinizing hormones and then develop "female brains." It is also believed that much of the neurological development in the later stages is subtractive. Maybe transsexuals grew better hardware to start with, but I suspect the nerd factor is more important.

When did you first notice that the percentages seemed higher than among, say, auto mechanics?

We have a support group here in Silicon Valley and one night several of us just showed up. It was something like three out of twelve people there. That's when I started keeping a list.

This higher percentage has been observed in other populations. For example: railroad fans. Supposedly many of the engineers that worked for NASA were also transgender. Of course, during those days, you were more likely to hide it.

Looking back on it, being a mildly dyslectic, ambidextrous gamer and model railway fan with mild Aspergers, who was into game design, and who taught Computer Science at the Australian Defence Force Academy and was involved in a space programme, should have sent a pretty strong hint about my condition - had I known any of this stuff before it hit me.

Friday 7 October 2005

Damn the Torpedos!

Seen over at Against a Dark Background :
New Scientist : "The US navy wants to protect its warships with a system that will destroy incoming torpedoes by firing massive underwater shock waves at them.

The ships would be equipped with arrays of 360 transducers each 1 metre square - effectively big flat-panel loudspeakers - running along either side of the hull below the waterline. When the ship's sonar detects an incoming torpedo, the transducers simultaneously fire an acoustic shock wave of such intensity that the torpedo either detonates early or is disabled by the pulse's crushing force, according to the Defence Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA), which is funding the project."
Active Sonars - very expensive machines that go PING! - can put out significant amounts of energy. One of the major problems of some High Frequency sonars is stopping them from flash-boiling several tonnes of seawater every time they operate. They make one heck of a noise.

But "crushing" a torpedo? Nope. Disabling it by effectively "blinding" it, yes. Because torpedos have got their own small sonars in their guidance system, sometimes passive (listen only), but often active (they go *ping* too). And to avoid having these sensitive devices deafened by nearby explosions - such as when the first of a salvo of torpedos hits its target - there are "cut-out" circuits that prevent damage to the relatively fragile sensors. I say "relatively fragile", because the output energy of thses relatively tiny torpedo sonars often exceeds not just a Jet engine at takeoff, but a Black Sabbath concert.

Make a loud enough noise, often enough, and the cut-out circuits will operate continuously, and the torpedo won't be able to home in. Unless the designer is sneaky, and adds a second homing circuit, one that when the first one fails for predetermined time, homes in on the noise...

One thing such a noisemaker will do though: often a submarine's torpedos are "wire guided", they are steered close to the target by the firing submarine before the torpedo's own homing system takes over, and the wire gets cut. (A submarine guiding such a torpedo has to move slowly, they prefer to cut the weapon loose as soon as they can). Anyway, with a setup like the one above, the target ship can make a very good imitation of a torpedo hitting its target - which will screw up the damage assessment by the firing sub, so they don't re-attack in case they miss. And such a system would make a really loud PING that could be used for detecting submarines in the first place.

But "crushing" a torpedo that's designed to withstand tonnes per square cm pressure (when fired at a deep depth)....I'm sceptical in the extreme. Even if the transducers are fired "in sequence" so that they constructively interefere in a massive pulse at a particular point. Because you would get a greater effect, cheaper and easier, just by putting a dirty great big mortar that fires a depth charge to that place, and get a far more powerful shock than any transucer system could produce.

It Ain't Neccessarily So (Reprised)

From the Times :
The hierarchy of the Roman Catholic Church has published a teaching document instructing the faithful that some parts of the Bible are not actually true.

The Catholic bishops of England, Wales and Scotland are warning their five million worshippers, as well as any others drawn to the study of scripture, that they should not expect “total accuracy” from the Bible.

“We should not expect to find in Scripture full scientific accuracy or complete historical precision,” they say in The Gift of Scripture.
In the document, the bishops acknowledge their debt to biblical scholars. They say the Bible must be approached in the knowledge that it is “God’s word expressed in human language” and that proper acknowledgement should be given both to the word of God and its human dimensions.

They say the Church must offer the gospel in ways “appropriate to changing times, intelligible and attractive to our contemporaries”.

The Bible is true in passages relating to human salvation, they say, but continue: “We should not expect total accuracy from the Bible in other, secular matters.”

Genesis ii, 21-22

So the Lord God caused a deep sleep to fall upon the man, and while he slept he took one of his ribs and closed up its place with flesh; and the rib which the Lord God had taken from the man he made into a woman and brought her to the man

Genesis iii, 16

God said to the woman [after she was beguiled by the serpent]: “I will greatly multiply your pain in childbearing; in pain you shall bring forth children, yet your desire shall be for your husband, and he shall rule over you.”

Luke i

The Virgin Birth

John xx,28

Proof of bodily resurrection
Oh well, it's progress of sorts, I guess. More like a (partial and halting) recognition of the Enlightenment after a few centuries to mull it over.

Thursday 6 October 2005

Simply the best

.. article on Global Warming I've ever read.

I'll have to crunch the numbers, and I'm not sure about his conclusions regarding the effect of solar insolation, but that trivial cavil aside, Lloyd has covered all the important issues, and with great insight.

A must read.

Croc 0, Aussie Kids 1

From the Australian :
A Teenage boy punched a 3m crocodile while his father wrestled his 10-year-old sister from its jaws in Western Australia's remote Kimberley region, a family spokeswoman said today.

Chantal Burnup was swimming in the Sale River with her father Richard and brother Simon, 14, about 1pm (3pm (AEST) yesterday when a crocodile grabbed her by the torso and began pulling her underwater.

She suffered bruises, puncture wounds and lacerations in the attack but was today considered to be in a satisfactory condition.
"When the crocodile hit, Simon's first instinct was to get up and out of the water and his dad grabbed hold of the crocodile and yelled for Simon to come and help," Ms Bussell said from their home in West Busselton, 230km south of Perth.

"He did, and I can't believe he did it because he's not a big 14-year-old.

"He swims well and he is quite fit and ... he wouldn't have hesitated to do something like that for his sister.

"Gabby said last night when she spoke to him that he had punched it."
Chantal suffered bruises, puncture wounds and lacerations in the attack, and after a helicopter was diverted to pick her and Simon up, she was treated by a doctor at Mt Hart Wilderness Lodge.

She was airlifted today to Derby hospital, 2400km north of Perth, where a spokeswoman said she was in satisfactory condition, with her mother by her side.

Ms Bussell said Chantal was in shock last night but was "bossing Simon around so she seemed to be getting back to her old self".

Onya, Simon. You've upheld the finest tradition of big brothers. And Chantal, make sure it doesn't go to his head. The reputation of little sisters everywhere depends on it.

Wednesday 5 October 2005

A New Player?

From the BBC :
The European Space Agency (ESA) is proposing joining forces with Russia to develop a new vehicle for human spaceflight, the Clipper.

The six-person spaceplane would give European astronauts autonomous access to the space station and the Moon.

ESA will ask its member states to fund a 30-40m-euro preparatory study at its next ministerial meeting.
"The objective is to have a vehicle which is more comfortable than the Soyuz capsule which will be used with pilots and four passengers," Alain Fournier-Sicre, head of the ESA permanent mission in the Russian Federation, told the BBC News website.

"It's meant to service the space station and to go between Earth and an orbit around the Moon with six crew members."

The Clipper is essentially a "people carrier" designed to transport astronauts, said Alan Thirkettle, head of the ESA's Human Spaceflight Development Department.

By joining forces with Russia, Europe would have access to a fixed number of seats on the vehicle, perhaps one or two per flight, for use by its own astronauts.

"At the moment we have to ask the Russians or ask the Americans to fly an astronaut," said Mr Thirkettle. "Through participation in the Clipper, we would have the right to seats when we want them."

European industry would benefit, too, from Russia's years of experience in human spaceflight, he said. Russia, in return, would have access to certain technologies that are more sophisticated in Europe.

"It potentially is a fairly happy marriage," said Mr Thirkettle.
Given the less-than-stellar history of multinational co-operation in space (why do you think the multi-national ESA is in the state it's in), I wish them the Best of British (and French and German and....) Luck.

Deus Veult!

From CNN :
Chris Doyle, director of the Council for the Advancement of Arab-British Understanding, said Tuesday the red cross was an insensitive reminder of the Crusades.

"A lot of Muslims and Arabs view the Crusades as a bloody episode in our history," he told CNN. "They see those campaigns as Christendom launching a brutal holy war against Islam.

"Muslim or Arab prisoners could take umbrage if staff wore a red cross badge. It's also got associations with the far-right. Prison officers should be seen to be neutral."

Doyle added that it was now time for England to find a new flag and a patron saint who is "not associated with our bloody past and one we can all identify with."
I suspect this one would be more to his liking :

No associations with violence there, and the writing "There is no god apart from Allah, and Muhammad is the Messenger of Allah.", well, that's quite neutral, isn't it?

Just listen to the words of Abu Bakar Bashir :
Scott Atran: What can the West, especially the US, do to make the world more peaceful?
Abu Bakar Bashir: They have to stop fighting Islam. That's impossible because t is sunnatullah [destiny, a law of nature], as Allah has said in the Koran. If they want to have peace, they have to accept to be governed by Islam.
SA: What if they persist?
ABB: We'll keep fighting them and they'll lose. The batil [falsehood] will lose sooner or later. I sent a letter to Bush. I said that you'll lose and there is no point for you [to fight us]. This [concept] is found in the Koran.
SA: So this fight will never end?
ABB: Never. This fight is compulsory. Muslims who don't hate America sin. What I mean by America is George Bush's regime. There is no iman [belief] if one doesn't hate America.
SA: How can the American regime and its policies change?
ABB: We'll see. As long as there is no intention to fight us and Islam continues to grow there can be peace. This is the doctrine of Islam. Islam can't be ruled by others. Allah's law must stand above human law. There is no [example] of Islam and infidels, the right and the wrong, living together in peace.
Well, they've said it themselves, co-existence between the Islamofascists and anyone else - such as Shi'ites or Moderate Muslims - is impossible. It takes two to make a war, but only one to make a massacre, and those are the only options. There can be no peace. Time to stop pussyfooting around and counter-attack, and if the Muslim World doesn't like that, well, as the Islamofascists said, God Wills It. Deus Veult. The only problem is target discrimination - only hitting the guilty, and not the innocent.

The Black Flag indicating no quarter opposite is the only alternate to St George's cross: if they push too far with Jihad, they will provoke a Crusade. I know that's what the want, in order to get the rest of Islam on their side, but I suspect that they underestimate our capacity for viciousness when defending ourselves. I hope I'm not overestimating our ability to distinguish the guilty from the innocent.

If that means the Islamofascists have won, then I'll concede. As long as they're extinct, the point is moot. I hope the rest of Islam isn't rendered extinct along with them. We've committed enough sin. But if it come to a choice between 1.2 Billion Muslims or 4.8 Billion non-Muslims surviving.... I hope that Islam gets its house in order soon, for its own sake. And for the sake of our souls.