Wednesday, 5 January 2011

"Extreme porn" laws tested (This post will make you a criminal)


Viewing this post may make you a criminal!


This will probably not pop up much but it is worth noting that a person is now on trial for possession of so called "Extreme porn". No mention of what the porn is other than that they showed "injury to a person's breast" and "an act which threatens a person's life". Given that this could cover image of a nipple piercing:

By Jess Cruz from San Francisco (The Pain) [CC-BY-2.0 (], via Wikimedia Commons

and strangulation:

both of which I'm sure appear in films, TV and now this webpage it's kind of a stupid thing to prosecute over, especially as the making of these images is not illegal: just their viewing (sorry you are now a criminal).

Anyway stupid law is stupid and hopefully this won't go through

Wednesday, 17 November 2010

I am spartacus

Very quick post; two things of note happening online at the moment. The first thing is the ruling that the following text:
"Crap! Robin Hood airport is closed. You’ve got a week and a bit to get your shit together, otherwise I’m blowing the airport sky high!"
sent via twitter constitutes a menacing and dangerous message to send (Paul Chambers lost his appeal), here's Index on Censorship's post on it and my thoughts at the start of all this. This lead to a lot of people retweeting Paul's original message with the tag "#IamSpartacus' in a show of solidarity and to point out the stupidity of the ruling (BBC coverage here). In essence this ruling could be interpreted as the outlawing of humour in public forums, well certainly the sort of humour that some could misinterpret. In fact there was a second case of this on the same day when Councillor Gareth Compton was arrested under section 128 of the 2003 communications act (I think) for making an ill conceived attempt at humour when asking:
"Can someone please stone Yasmin Alibhai-Brown to death? I shan't tell Amnesty if you don't. It would be a blessing, really"
to put this in context Yasmin Alibhai-Brown had just just complained that politicians (other than the likes of Nelson Mandela) weren't morally allowed to comment on human rights issues. While neither of these jokes are very good it's pretty obvious that they're not serious incitements or threats so quite why they're treated (and apparently tried) as such is beyond me (and worrying me).

Second item is shorter (for my part at least) the Met Police apparently have the "authority" to take down websites, without a court order, or any judgement, if they are found in "contempt of court" (well if they Met think they're in contempt of court at least). Here's there second Spartacus moment: Fitwatch is removed at the request of the Met, so they get reposted everywhere what were they posting? how not to pulled up by the police if you've been in a demo. There's a very good analysis of why this whole story is wrong at Heresy Corner and here's the offending blog post from FitWatch (I don't condone violence etc but posting this is not illegal):
"If you fear you may be arrested as a result of identification by CCTV, FIT or press photography;

DON'T panic. Press photos are not necessarily conclusive evidence, and just because the police have a photo of you doesn't mean they know who you are.

DON'T hand yourself in. The police often use the psychological pressure of knowing they have your picture to persuade you to 'come forward'. Unless you have a very pressing reason to do otherwise, let them come and find you, if they know who you are.

DO get rid of your clothes. There is no chance of suggesting the bloke in the video is not you if the clothes he is wearing have been found in your wardrobe. Get rid of ALL clothes you were wearing at the demo, including YOUR SHOES, your bag, and any distinctive jewellery you were wearing at the time. Yes, this is difficult, especially if it is your only warm coat or decent pair of boots. But it will be harder still if finding these clothes in your flat gets you convicted of violent disorder.

DON'T assume that because you can identify yourself in a video, a judge will be able to as well. "That isn't me" has got many a person off before now.

DO keep away from other demos for a while. The police will be on the look-out at other demos, especially student ones, for people they have put on their 'wanted' list. Keep a low profile.

DO think about changing your appearance. Perhaps now is a good time for a make-over. Get a haircut and colour, grow a beard, wear glasses. It isn't a guarantee, but may help throw them off the scent.

DO keep your house clean. Get rid of spray cans, demo related stuff, and dodgy texts / photos on your phone. Don't make life easy for them by having drugs, weapons or anything illegal in the house.

DO get the name and number of a good lawyer you can call if things go badly. The support group has the names of recommended lawyers on their site. Take a bit of time to read up on your rights in custody, especially the benefits of not commenting in interview.

DO be careful who you speak about this to. Admit your involvement in criminal damage / disorder ONLY to people you really trust.

DO try and control the nerves and panic. Waiting for a knock on the door is stressful in the extreme, but you need to find a way to get on with business as normal. Otherwise you'll be serving the sentence before you are even arrested."

Monday, 18 October 2010

Creator but not a God

I've been asked from time to time how I can study physics and yet not believe in god (or gods). My reason is simple: I don't see any evidence for a god so why should I believe in one? What I will allow, as a possibility, is a creator. This is where most people get confused so I'm going to attempt to explain exactly what I mean.
As it stands science (precisely cosmology and quantum physics) cannot state what happened before the big bang; it's a singularity which means that the mathematics of describing the universe stops working. The upshot is that there is nothing that we observe that can tell us what happened 'before the big bang' even such a question is meaningless as we don't even know if time existed. The obvious assumption made by my theist friends is that this is where god (the creator) sits and makes the universe; therefore there is god; therefore that god is god X (normally the Christian God but change as appropriate). It's the last two assumptions that I have a problem with; there is no reason that the creator is still here and certainly no reason to believe (s)he is god X.

So I believe a creator is possible: although I don't believe there is one, I just acknowledge that there is no way to make a definitive statement either way. If there was a creator (s)he doesn't seem interested in making her/himself known to us even if (s)he is still there.

The final point I think I've made before but I hope to put it more elegantly: in all odds any creator is a computer programmer. Our society has made virtual worlds and there is no reason to assume that you would be able to tell that you were in a simulation over the real thing (no, if you squint hard enough you don't get to see the world as green lines of text you just get a headache) so there are pretty good odds that a more advanced civilisation has just simulated our world.

In summary: there is no god, there might be a creator but if there is he's most likely using this world for porn (don't believe me? how much of the 'net is porn... there you go).

Monday, 20 September 2010

mmm hyper fast trading...

I was going to write a post about how chaotic and unstable systems work in maths and how you see this in stock markets, also commenting on why the idea of "no more boom and bust" is rubbish.

But I should instead be writing my first year report so I'll leave the link to the post that inspired this all and maybe come back to it later

So: the weird patterns left through stock markets: bots stuck in loops, random noise from algorithmic cross chatter, market sabotage or strong AI's lurking online messing with us? you decide!

Friday, 27 August 2010

Ground zero mosque

This will be a short post a) because I should be doing something else and b) because it's mainly a vehicle to post this link to newsbiscuit's take on the whole incident.

That being said I will say this about the debate: "why are we having it?" it's utterly stupid. Yes it may not be the most sensitive thing to build there but it's not actually a full mosque (more a community centre with a prayer room) but that being said they still have every right to build it there and that should be it.

It seems that people seem to forget that freedoms apply to everyone: I may not like organised religion but if you really want to do it I'm not going to stop you unless you start trying to impinge upon my freedoms...

ah well, hopefully the news biscuit article will help some people perform self rescue from the predicament of having a rectal-breach-head.... we can but hope

Tuesday, 24 August 2010

Changing seasons: why do the radioactive isotopes slow down in summer?

There is a very interesting (and possibly very significant) story [1] doing the rounds of various [2] science [3] sites [4] at the moment (New Scientist, [4], got to it last year before the paper was published). The story relates to a simple finding from Purdue University: that radioactive decay rates may not be truly constant; they seem to vary (almost imperceptibly) according to the season, solar flare activity and with the rotation of the Sun's core (apparently one rotation every 33 days).  The article can be found on arXiv[5] (or in your trusty copy of the proceedings of "the Fifth Meeting on CPT and Lorentz Symmetry") but I will try to analyse it myself, here.

 The basic premise is this: radioactive atoms decay randomly, a single atom of Uranium could decay the second you look at it or in 5,000 years time and there is no way of knowing which it will be. Given a large enough group of Uranium atoms and they will undergo a predictable average number of decays within a given  amount of time (for example 500±5 decays every second) so while you can't say that there will be 50 decays you know that there will almost certainly be between 45 and 55.  To predict the expected number of decays per second (as well as the range into which it falls) a constant called the 'decay rate' [6] is used. Previously it was thought that is was a pretty solid constant (a fact that atomic clocks are built around) and that while the exact number may change it did so according to some well understood statistics.

It was research into the randomness of radioactive decays (for random number generators or dice as they are known) that brought the anomaly to light: when measuring the decay rate of Manganese-54 [7] dips in the count rate (actual number of decays) were noticed that strongly correlated with peaks of solar flare activity seen in December 2006 (Fig 1 [8]). According to the statistical analysis [8] the probability of such a coincidence between decay rates and a solar flare of that strength (S2 which occur ~25 times in each 11 year solar cycle) seen on 12th Dec is roughly ~$10^{-13}$ so the probability of two such events seems very small indeed.

Fig 1. "Normalized December 2006 54Mn decay data along with GOES-11 x- ray data on a logarithmic scale. For 54Mn, each point represents the number of counts in the subsequent four hour period normalized to the average decay rate
(see text), and has a fractional    $\sqrt{N}$    statistical uncertainty of ~2x10$^4$. For the GOES-11 x-ray data, each point is the solar flux in W/m2 summed over the same real-time intervals. The 12 December peak in the x-ray flux occurred at ~21:37 EST." [8]

As well as manganese similar evidence has been seen over month long periods as the sun's core rotates. The analysis [5] shows uses a Joint Power Statistic [9] (JPS) to measure the correlation between the decay rate and the inner core activity of the Sun. Again this analysis claims a remarkable accuracy (the likelihood of such a result is claimed to be 1 in $10^{12}$) but the technique used (JPS) is not one I am familiar with so I can't (yet) comment on it; once I have read the article [9] I will try to.

The final piece of evidence[10] for solar effects on decay rates comes annually: by looking at the count rates of various other radioactive isotopes (Silicon-32 [11] and Radium-226 [12]) over the course of a year these show strong but small affect (1 part in 500).

One hypothesis is that this is caused by changes in the neutrino flux. This seems strange as none of the isotopes undergo neutrino induced decay (as far as I can tell). It may be that the Weak nuclear force field that the neutrinos interact via is needed to trigger decay (although as I have not seen the relevant data on whether there is an excess or dearth of neutrinos it's hard to guess). Either way it will be giving a lot of theorists something to puzzle over and may give us a useful way of inspecting the internal working of the Sun, if it is correct it suggests that the core of the sun rotates more slowwly than the rest of it and may offer other methods of probing regions that are not easily inspected.

Assuming that there is a real effect on display here there are two things that we can do: firstly study in depth any data that emerges from the recent[13] solar activity which may show some disturbances depending on the make-up of the flare, the 4th August was a Coronal Mass Ejection (CME) rather than a radiation storm. Secondly see what emerges from other solar radiation storms which will, no doubt, be well documented.

UPDATE [27-08-1020]: a pretty good refutation of this is on the discovery magazine's "80 Beats" here

[1] Stanford University News, 23 August 2010,

[2] slashdot, 24 August 2010,

[3] io9, 23 August 2010,

[4] New Scientist, June 2009,

[5] arXiv, 20 July 2010, arXiv:1007.3318v1 [hep-ph],

[6] wikipedia, 24 August 2010,

[7] wikipedia, 5 May 2010,

[8] arXiv, 22 August 2008, arXiv:0808.3156v1 [astro-ph],

[9] arXiv, 2 Feburary 2005, arXiv:astro-ph/0502050v1,

[10] arXiv, 25 August 2008, arXiv:0808.3283v1,

[11] wikipedia, 15 March 2010,

[12] wikipedia, 6 August 2010,

[13] NASA,  4 August 2010,

Sunday, 18 July 2010

Quick note

Hey guys,

Just a quick note: some of you may have noticed a huge increase in the number of posts here, that's because I've imported all my old posts from 'folklore of pitong' because I realised that this blog was pretty much the same as the old one so there was no point in trying to keep them separate.

So if you never looked at the old blog (shame on you!) you can skim back through all my previous writing which I suspect is even worse than the drivel that I've already posted here.

In other news I've been working late a lot this week so hopefully work will be done soon as I have a couple of blog posts that I want to put up here, until then enjoy!