Saturday, 28 September 2013

Line of the Week

Phil Plait, writer of the Bad Astronomy blog, is one of the greats of the skeptical blogosphere.  But I must confess, I don't tend to read him on a regular basis; nothing against him, it's just a personal choice based on limited time.  So I wasn't aware of just how awesome he is at dealing with the climate change denialist industry.  Earlier this month, there was this wonderful piece dealing with an article from the Mail on Sunday (which I noted because parts of the original article was read to me by relatives I was visiting at the time).

Then this week we've had this summary piece, and finally the article that prompted this post: a rebuttal to an article in the Daily Telegraph.  Which brings the following: (initial quote is from the Telegraph article)
This is why the latest Assessment Report is proving such a headache to the IPCC. It’s the first in its history to admit what its critics have said for years: global warming did “pause” unexpectedly in 1998 and shows no sign of resuming. And, other than an ad hoc new theory about the missing heat having been absorbed by the deep ocean, it cannot come up with a convincing explanation why. 
 Well, actually, no. That’s like seeing a corpse with a bullet wound to the head and saying “Except for the bullet wound to the head you cannot come up with a convincing explanation why this person is dead.”
I applaud you, sir.

Wednesday, 25 September 2013

Fucking Hell

At this point, I think Tony Abbot's party is full of stereotypical movie villains twirling their mustaches.
The Coalition is considering reintroducing a cap on university places despite emphatically ruling it out last year while in opposition.
The minister for education, Christopher Pyne, has confirmed he is considering reintroducing the cap on university places as well as abolishing the compulsory fee paid by students to fund campus services and scrapping the targets that were introduced by Labor to allow more disadvantaged students to enter university.
Anti-education: check.  Anti-poor: check.  Add the anti-science policies I've already discussed, and it reminds me of the line from Pratchett: the only thing that depressed him more than his own cynicism, was that sometimes he wasn't cynical enough.

Climate Body Reopens

Tony Abbot made clear his position after winning the election two and a half years ago by scrapping the position of science minister, funds to stimulate green industries and scrapping the Climate Commission, a body tasked with analysing the science of climate change.  In a small piece of good news, the Commission has reopened:
An Australian climate change body scrapped by the new government has been relaunched as a non-profit organisation reliant on public donations. 
But the group resurrected itself as the Climate Council, saying it hoped "Obama-style" public donations raised online would keep it open
Australia is the developed world's worst polluter per head of population.

Monday, 23 September 2013

Axion Dark Matter in Tabletop Experiments

A paper from last week offered a very interesting suggestion for a new type of search for axion dark matter, as well as the possibility that it may already have been seen.

I've talked about dark matter a few times on this blog, but I don't think I've yet mentioned axions.  Part of the reason for this is that axions are somewhat outside my area of expertise.  Still, the main points that are needed here are that axions are very light, very weakly interacting particles.  By light, we are talking at least a billion times lighter than the electron.  Like WIMPs, axions are introduced for unrelated reasons yet can serve as natural dark matter candidates.

Friday, 13 September 2013


Once again, a news story:
The Voyager-1 spacecraft has become the first manmade object to leave the Solar System.
brings to mind an old XKCD comic (from earlier this year):

Tuesday, 10 September 2013

Election Records

2008, November 4th: US election.  I was in the US, in my primary residence.  Result: Obama wins White House, Democrats take both houses.  The best possible result at that time.

2010, May 6th: UK general election.  I was not in the UK at the time.  Tories win, and proceed to prove how little they care for the poor.

2011, May 2nd: Canadian Federal election.  I was travelling to a conference, and thus missed the actual election date.  Despite having been held in contempt of parliament for lying, conservative government not only is reelected, but with an increased margin of victory.

2013, September 7th: Australian Federal election.  Despite Australia having enjoyed economic growth during the world recession, the government is voted out in place of an anti-science, homophobic conservative.

I need to stop travelling during elections.

Friday, 6 September 2013

Wired, PAX and alternatives

My attention was drawn to an article at Wired on PAX, dickwolves and the related controversy:
Whether or not the strip was offensive in itself isn’t really relevant at this point: More than the comic itself, what made the most impact was how Penny Arcade responded to the readers — including rape survivors — who said it upset them.
I'm not going to say much on this beyond "go read the article", as I don't read Penny Arcade and only heard about all this post facto.  However, I will draw your attention to the links over on the right, several of which are webcomics worthy of reading.  Most particularly, it was Jeph Jacques's Twitter feed that alerted me to the above article.  While Questionable Content is one of the older, best-known webcomics and hardly needs a no-name blogger like myself to raise its profile, it serves as a nice counter-example.  I feel inspired to go buy some merchandise.

The Hedgehog

Back when I was an undergrad, I joined the University Diplomacy Society, originally drawn by the club's motto: Make New Friends, then Stab them in the Back!  I've since fallen out of playing the game, as the negotiating mechanic doesn't really appeal to me and I can get better tactical games elsewhere.  I still remember a lot of stuff from then, including several of the openings.  One famous opening for Austria-Hungary is the Hedgehog, invented by one of the early writers, Richard Sharp.  This features Austria moving its Fleet (that starts in Trieste) to Italian Venice, as a defensive measure against a possible Italian attack.  The move usually fails, which in Diplomacy is called bouncing.

The reason I bring all this up is that it was very much in my mind last Sunday, when I travelled from Trieste to Venice for a day trip.  Obviously, I could hardly pass up visiting Venice, having never gone before.  But the fact that I wouldn't even stay for one night—that I would bounce—made me smile in memory.

Looking back at SUSY 2013

It's been a busy few days, but I want to take the time to look at SUSY 2013 as a whole.  I'll start by saying that I enjoyed it.  The selection of speakers was excellent, even by the standards you'd expect of such a major conference.  I particularly enjoyed some of the more surprising choices in the first couple of days.  The organisation of the conference was generally good, the food enjoyable and even the coffee above average.  (Though we were in Italy, so perhaps that should have been anticipated.)