April 19, 2011

As a person with a logical, scientific bent (a degree in engineering, schooled in scientific method and just being an all over analytical type) I know that there is no reason to believe that the the motions of the planets and their alignment with the stars can reliably predict events – the whole astrological schtick, you know?

So, the last week and on into this one has been part of a “Mercury retrograde” period where the motion of said innermost planet of our solar system appears, from the vantage point of observers on the Earth, to be in the opposite direction to its normal orbital motion; in astrological terms this signals a time of upheaval, difficult communications and technology going wonky.

And my logical left-brain says “hogwash, there’s no reason that a visible peculiarity of planetary orbital mechanics can produce widespread effects at such astronomical (pun intended) distances.”

But despite holding that belief, it’s been a week of truly disproportionate wonkiness, especially with various bits of technology in my life but certainly not limited to that.  In the words William Shakespeare put into Hamlet’s mouth:

There are more things in heaven and earth, Horatio,
Than are dreamt of in your philosophy.

I am eagerly looking forward to Mercury going direct again.  Er, not that I believe it could possibly have any effect.  Really.  But what could it hurt? 🙂

And before I forget, this post is part of the A-Z Blogging Challenge – with today’s letter being “P”.  Of course, if I had forgotten to mention it, Mercury retrograde would have had nothing to do with it… right?



April 16, 2011

Yes, I know it’s pronounced “new-klee-ar” but as Katherine Barber, The Word Lady, says “Don’t have a meltdown” when someone pronounces it like this post’s title.

So the letter of the day for the A-Z Blogging Challenge is “N” and the recent events at the Fukushima Dai-ichi nuclear power station in Japan, triggered by the damage caused by a massive earthquake and the ensuing tsunami, led me to think of using nuclear as the topic of today’s post – although I’m not going to say anything more about that particular incident, as there’s been plenty said about it already.

Rather, coming as I do from the first generation to grow up with nuclear energy – and the spectre of imminent nuclear war – I have seen the ups and downs, the positives and the negatives,  of the nuclear age.

I was born in the latter half of the 1950s and during my childhood the news was filled with stories both ominous and, for a propellerhead like the young me (OK, so I’m still pretty much a propellerhead…), full of promise for a bright future.  That was a time when nuclear brinksmanship between the USA and the USSR brought the doomsday clock perilously close – within 2 minutes – to chiming the eternal midnight signalling the end of mankind.  Cheerful stuff, that.

But it was also a time when civilian uses of nuclear power became a symbol for a fantastic future – the path to better living through technology.  And while the nuclear genie has certainly helped meet our increasingly voracious appetite for more power, we need to remember that once released from its bottle it may be impossible to get back in, so we’d better think very carefully about what we ask it to do for us.

In the end, I am neither a nuclear apologist nor an anti-nuclear activist – like most technologies, I find that the most dangerous aspects come from blindly taking an extreme position at either end without fully acknowledging or understanding both the risks and benefits that can result from the use of that technology.

Assorted headlines that caught my eye this morning

October 10, 2009

I was perusing the BBC News website this morning and these headlines caught my eye:

  1. What happened to global warming?
  2. Marge gracing Playboy mag cover
  3. ‘Scary’ climate message from past
  4. McDo: A love-‘ate relationship?
  1. Empirical evidence indicates global temperature is currently trending down, not up as predicted by climate models.  Personally, I think that just indicates the unreliability of the models, not that human activities don’t affect the climate.  In my opinion, there are still plenty of reasons, global warming debate aside, for reducing CO2 output and other forms of pollution.
  2. What can I say… sort of makes sense in an age of virtual reality, I suppose.  Not that centrefold models have ever been that connected to reality.
  3. In a similar vein to 1. there appears to be new evidence that connects atmospheric CO2 levels in the distant past that are similar to the levels we are rapidly attaining to increased global temperatures and melting of polar icecaps followed by a consequent rise in the sea-level (with disastrous consequences for populations living in low lying coastal areas or on islands).  I am still cautious about the cause-and-effect conclusion that’s implied — I have to wonder if the events are correlated but not necessarily causal, or at least not in the simplistic manner alluded to.  Again, though, I still believe there are plenty of good reasons for doing a much better job of looking after our environment, regardless of whether the science here is bang-on or not.
  4. Ah, La Belle France.  If you’ve been reading my bons mots for a while, you will know that I spent some time living in France — I was seconded, by the Canadian subsidiary I was working for at the time, to their head office in Lyon, France as the project manager of a global IT implementation project involving a project team with members from the company’s sites in France, Canada and the US.  In the end, K and I lived there for four years, spanning the turn of the millennium — in fact, we arrived in France just a few months after José Bové lead a protest (referred to in the BBC News article) against globalization of the food industry and its impact on French food, culture and farmers.  During our stay in France, we did eat in McDo (pronounced “Mack-Doh” by the French) from time to time, particularly when travelling within France (we ended up seeing more of France than many French people ever do, we were told by the people we got to know there) — the food, if uninspired, was at least a known and predictable source of reasonably priced nourishment, accompanied by (most of the time, anyway) a decent set of toilets and air-conditioning, items which were probably more valuable than the food to us on a hot, humid summer day of touring around an unfamiliar city or town we were visiting.  So during that time we saw a lot of this shift in the attitude of the French that the BBC News article describes, and I can completely believe that the opening of a McDo in the underground shopping concourse linked to the Louvre was a non-event for the French media and population in general.  We did eventually stop eating at McDo, although not for reasons of globalization of the food industry — one of the perks of working in France was the “Comité d’Entreprise” or CE (here’s a Google translation of the French text for non-Francophones), which among other things often organizes subsidized events for the company’s employees, including trips scheduled during holiday periods.  The CE had planned a trip to Egypt in 2003 and we were all signed up for it, looking forward to the trip with great anticipation (we had previously gone to Tunisia on a CE arranged trip and had a wonderful time) as visiting Egypt from Canada was something we would not likely be able to afford later on.  And then… Dubbya decides to invade Iraq.  Due to concerns for the security of employees, travel to the area at the time was prohibited by the company and the CE duly cancelled the trip… merde.  We have not (to the best of my recollection) set foot in a McDo, anywhere, since then.

Of course, YMMV — read the articles and form your own opinion, dear readers.

Headlines that show just how little we have evolved

April 7, 2009

From the BBC News website, this report in the Science & Environment section about research by the Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology (part of the Max Planck Society, named for German Physicist Max Planck) was headlined:

Chimpanzees exchange meat for sex

In the article, researcher Dr Cristina Gomes is quoted as saying:

Dr Gomes thinks that her findings could even provide clues about human evolution.

She suggests this study could lay the foundations for human studies exploring the link between “good hunting skills and reproductive success”.

“This has got me really interested in humans,” she said. “I’m thinking of moving on to working with hunter-gatherers.”

Methinks she needs to get out more often…

Whoa! This is either the luckiest or unluckiest dude ever

March 25, 2009

The BBC News web site had this headline today:

Man survived both atomic bombings

I just can’t decide whether Tsutomu Yamaguchi is incredibly lucky for having survived being in both Hiroshima and Nagasaki on those fateful dates (and still being alive at 93!), or incredibly unlucky just to have been in both Hiroshima and Nagasaki on those fateful dates…  or maybe he’s both the luckiest and unluckiest dude ever.

And speaking of luck, which I suppose is in some way a form of probability, the BBC News web site also had an article under their Magazine rubric today titled:

What do you get if you divide science by God?

The article starts by mentioning a French physicist, Bernard d’Espagnat, has been awarded the Templeton Prize for contributions to “affirming life’s spiritual dimension”.  He has worked on quantum physics, which is a field dependent on probability (which is how I segued into this from the piece on Mr. Yamaguchi).

The author then goes on to interview 5 notable physicists on “the meaning of physics”, and assigning each a spiritual category corresponding to their view on the overlap between science and spirituality, ranging from the “Atheist” to a new-agey “Pantheist” at either end of the spectrum with various flavours in between: “Sceptic”, “Platonist” and “Believer” (the latter being a quantum physicist turned Anglican priest).

As for me, if I were a betting man (hmm, there’s that probability thing again…) I don’t think I’d bet against there being some kind of “meaning” to Life, The Universe And Everything — after all, if there isn’t then there’s nothing much to lose in betting for it being there, but on the other hand I’d feel a right prat coming face to face with, well, whatever it was I’d bet against.

Of course, YMMV.

If beaked whales had email…

December 16, 2008

…would they get teeth enlargement spam?

BBC News reports that “Whales’ teeth are aid to mating“.

It’s an interesting article, despite my slightly flippant comment about spam — although I felt sorry for the beaked whale when Scott Baker, associate director of the Marine Mammal Institute at Oregon State University in the US, was quoted in the article as saying “Beaked whales are among the least known, least understood and, frankly, most bizarre whales in the ocean.”

Bizarre?  Compared to a species that creates the internet and then uses it to send enlargement spam?  Sort of the kettle calling the pot black, no?

Headlines that make you wonder how do you get a job writing headlines like this?

December 8, 2008

Haven’t posted a “headlines that make you…” entry in a bit, but this one on the BBC News website was just too good to pass up:

Daily nuts may help boost health

I mean, seriously, I would kill (well, metaphorically speaking…) for a job where I got paid to write stuff like that 🙂