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!


Wednesday, 14 July 2010

Links for those of an enquiring mind (or with 30 minutes at work)

I admit this isn't a proper post but my excuse is that in the past 36 hours I've worked for 23 and only slept for 7.

Anyway here are few interesting links that I've found today:

First up with 'the wire' being my primary source of entertainment for the last few weeks this piece from the BMJ on "An alternative to the war on drugs" rings very true and seems to talk a lot of sense: in essence no matter what a government does people will still take illegal drugs, in turn this will stress the system as a) there is no tax on drugs money and b) police investigations in to drug dealing cost a lot more than treating the drug users. No matter whether you agree with the piece or not it's well worth a read as a very pragmatic view on the continuing "war on drugs".

Second up is a wonderful list of science policy blogs in the UK. If you're not a scientist this will probably be of limited interest but as I'm fairly sure this is mainly read by my friends and you're all of a sciencey-bent I figure that you'll find something of interest in there.

Finally is my latest favourite comic: scenes from a multiverse a series of daily 4 panel comics from various facets of our multiverse.

Anyway I'm off to finish watching 'the wire' which is my penultimate recommendation (yes a piece of old media) if you haven't watched it get a copy and watch it: it is one of the most thought provoking bits of TV I've seen in a while. Excellent depth and "ohhh that's what that was about" moments.  Maybe not the happiest series in the world and certainly doesn't pull any punches on the realism but well worth a watch.

Before I scoot this is my final recommendation: "Accelerando" by Charles Stross (another bit of old media I know but available as an e-book) if any of my mentions of 'transhumanism' or 'the singularity' confuse you: read this it will at least help explain what they mean. An excellent book about the near future and the possible affect of AI.

Tuesday, 6 July 2010

Quick update

I've uploaded some more photos of my most recent weekend's excursions: Kyoto and Kobe as well as some of the Van De Graff generator at Osaka U.

Here's the link.

Script for Bio film

- DNA specific
- glanding
- designer food/pets/prosthetics
- designer drugs



 SFX: knocks followed by sounds of hasty cleaning


just what are you doing young man?

Nothing, mum, just a bit of writing.

writing eh? what's this, a sampler? what do you need one of these for?

It's for a project at school, mum, honest: we're writing our own morphers

I don't care what you're doing you know what I think about these ... things... it's un-natural, look what happened to your father

I know mum but I need to know this to..

To what? to get a good programming job? like your father! I forbid it. You've seen him, kept in that quarantine; everything they try gets chewed up and spat back out. You are not following him down that path.

But mum it's much safer, those genomes are restricted. Hell, most samplers/writers can barely write a virus that has an effect longer than 3 hours, they're struggling: the body is smart. It's difficult to write something that works anywhere near as well as dad's...

Don't lie to me I know the truth it's difficult to write it well and make it safe.

M snatches a device from the table.

no more, if I catch you with one of these again you'll be grounded, I'll just go and explain to your teacher what the situation is.

Mum... I need it, how else will I be able....

M [interupts]
Not another word from you - finish your maths and then go to bed, I'm sorry I ever let you even look at that subject....

M leaves


S loitering looks up as a person, A, approaches then relaxes as he's recognised

how'd it go?

perfect, they're all tripping balls and none the wiser....

excellent, keep it that way or otherwise we're both dead: you when they find out and me if my mum finds out.

I still don't know how you did it, especially after your mum nabbed your sampler..

Well by that point it was pretty stable and the models are good now... that and my dad's notes are awesome

A [worried now]
They're not going to end up like him are they?

As if you care

I do if it means the cops or bios are brought in

it's fine Dad left some detailed notes and I spotted the error he made.. just wish I knew how to fix it


Just to check I can't pick up that virus can I, I mean I was careful but I'd rather not spend the next day seeing pixies all over the place if it's the same to you..

Don't worry I made sure that both your's and mine genomes were well exempt and if you're truly worried use this

S hands A a vial

it's an antidote will clean you nice and clear, that being said you might enjoy the expierence: either way enjoy and don't get dyed blue again!

Exit S

A is in the garden and B is in the kitchen

B, did you remember to introduce that virus into the circulation like the engineer said we should, I need to empty the bin?

[exasperated] Yes, dear, I did it last night. It should be mostly converted now so we can restart the composter.



a couple sit watching the TV

....Police are still looking for the murder and advise the public to be on the lookout for someone using a fast type genome modified pet.

A brushes his hand against a gel-like surface [maybe glue,  jelly] and the TV mutes

I can't believe the cops allow those FT genomes, they seem to cause more trouble than their worth.

I don't know, they make my job easier. I have two goos to monitoring the inbounds and sorting them and a symb that deals with trouble makers.

Yes but you work in a hospital, it's a pretty controlled environment, you have to get clearance for every retro-viral you put into those FT's. You can't exactly set them to


A & B stand over C who is on the floor obviously in pain

A: did you try any of the goo he had?
B: hell no, I hate that stuff at the best of times, even just letting the machine do the scan makes my skin crawl
A: so you've tried it?
B: only a few times, and never with something as shady as this set up.

C convulses letting out a louder moan, as he does he rolls over revealing goo covering part of his face

A: What do you think he was doing then?
B: well it looks like a cheap narco-unit, read in the 'NA [SAID 'neigh'] spit out the perfect meal
A: sounds fun.. what do you think went wrong
B: Well looks like he was using illegal codes for it

C groans again, a stronger convulsion

A: Anything we can do for him or should we just let it run it's course
B: It looks like it's getting worse lets do a quick clean up run

B pulls out a device similar to the one beside C but better looking, detaches a pipe that runs to a large store of goo and plugs in his own device. he then runs the device over C letting some of the goo touch C's hand [device could be phone or something similar in largish box or possibly out of shot only the pipe showing - vacuum cleaner?]

B: there that should stabilise him until the ambo gets here.
A: think he'll make it?
B: of course, the guy was only making dinner, looks like some git pranked him more than anything.
A: so you never use those?
B: I do but only the one at home, it already has my genome so it doesn't need to scan me, why don't you?
A: I don't see the point, I tend to eat out anyway so I just grab something from a corner stop

Wednesday, 30 June 2010

Unraveling the Bayesian knot: the magic of probability

There is a wonderful maths problem called "the two children problem" invented by Martin Gardner and it runs like this:
you meet a friend in the street, you know he has two children but not their sexes. As you are talking a boy runs up who is introduced as your friend's son: what is the probability that the other child is also boy?
Intuition would say 50%, in this case intuition is wrong; I will now try to explain why before giving the answer.

First I want to explain some fundamentals of statistics. First and foremost is the concept of probability, this is intuitively easy to describe: "the likelihood of an event occurring" the actual calculation is also deceptively simple:
\[ \frac{\text{desired outcome}}{\text{all outcomes}} \]
where  desired outcome is all the ways of achieving the outcome you're interested in (for example a boy in the above problem) and all outcomes are all the possible outcomes (eg boy or girl) so for the sex of a child the result, as you would expect, is:
\[\frac{\text{boy}}{\text{boy}+\text{girl}} = \frac{1}{2} = 50\%\]

The above of calculation is very simple but problems arise when you start looking at adding probabilities. For example the probability of having 2 sons is $\frac{1}{4}$ there are 4 possible combinations of 2 children (2 sons, 2 girls, 1 (eldest) son 1 daughter, 1 (eldest) daughter 1 son) while  the probability of having a son or a daughter remains $\frac{1}{2}$ the probability of a particular number of sons or daughters changes. While this may not make immediate sense it is easier to understand by going to an extreme: instead of 2 sons what are the odds of 200 sons? (answer below, it's very unlikely; even without considering the physical problems). A series of trials like this is where the 'Gambler's fallacy' comes from, each trial is independent, it has no effect on the outcome of any of the other trials, but any particular combination has a different chance: having 199 sons then a daughter is as likely as 199 sons then another son. The chance of having just 199 sons and daughter is more likely as the order of birth doesn't matter. There is only one way to have 199 sons then a daughter but there are 200 ways to have 199 sons and a daughter.

This is the one of the big pit-falls of probability (hence the fallacy) at each trial (in this case birth) the probability is the same, any one of those 200 children has a 50-50 chance of being a son or a daughter but any particular combination of children will have its own probability. At this point the essence of the 2 children problem should start to become apparent.

So what the answer to the 'two children problem'? It's not actually $\frac{1}{2}$ or  $\frac{1}{4}$ , it's $\frac{1}{3}$. To understand this think back to the definition of probability, we know that for 2 trials with each trial having one of two outcomes we have 4 possible outcomes:
2 sons, 2 daughters, 1 son 1 daughter and 1 daughter 1 son
Now we know that one of those options, 2 daughters, is impossible because we already have already met one son so that leaves us 3 options: 2 sons, a daughter or a different daughter (say, an older or younger daughter). The two options for a daughter may seem needless but it is vital: we know that there were 4 states and only one of those states is removed (2 daughters). We know at least one child is a boy but nothing more, if we knew the eldest child was a son the probability of the other child being a son would be $\frac{1}{2}$  but unless we know that this is a similar case to having 199 sons and a daughter: more likely because there are more possible 'desired' outcomes.

This sort of calculations relies on a branch of probability known as Bayesian statistics which concerns itself with the combination of different probabilities. This example is among the simplest and already it clashes against classical intuition, the most impressive part is that the probabilities are exactly what we see when we go and test these systems (you can do it yourself with two coins instead of children).

Of course one other reason the two children problem causes such confusion is the utterly artificial way in which it is presented but real world examples do exist, for example: given the probability of a disease test giving the correct result and the probability of having that disease how likely are you to have the disease if you test positive? Just so you know the answer is not $\frac{1}{4}, it is different as each outcome is not equally likely (for example you might have a 0.2% chance of having the disease and a 1% chance of a the wrong result from the test). For those that want an even more mind-bending problem I direct you to the Monte-hall problem, or the inspiration for this post: the Tuesday two children problem (if you know the son you meet was born on a Tuesday how likely is it your friend has another son).

200 heads from 200 flips? its:
\[ \left( \frac{1}{2}\right)^{200} = \frac{1}{1606938044258990275541962092341162602522202993782792835301376}\]

Monday, 28 June 2010

Science: the other bit

I've been working in Japan for 2 weeks now and I've spent most of that time working on an experiment. Of that time about 1 day was spent taking data, the rest was spent working on analysis. Analysis is the bit of science that most people forget. People look at the LHC and expect it to run for a while and then spit out an answer. Does the Higgs exist? yes or no. Are there extra-spatial dimensions, how many? Can lepton flavour be violated? maximally or only in rare cases?

These are all questions that the LHC may answer, but not immediately, not even quickly in anything other than a scientific time frame and the reason for this is analysis. Analysis probably accounts for most of the time spent on an experiment. Before the LHC was even finished being built people had been running analysis for years and will run it for many more years once it shuts down. The reason for this is that every last bit of data has to be accounted for.

The experiment I have been working on for the last 2 weeks has been the calibration of a scintillation detector, to do this a radioactive source is placed near the detector and the detectors response is measured. This measurement then produces a plot that looks a little like this:
The big peak on the right is caused by Cesium 137. This peak lies at 662keV,  and is used to calibrate devices because the position of this spectral line can be calculated from what we know about the nuclear make up of cesium.

In this case it would seem to be a fairly simple analysis but it isn't a complete analysis, what about the two smaller peaks to the left of the big 662KeV peak, what is the huge peak near zero? The smaller two are called the backscatter peak and the Compton edge respectively, both are caused by scattering processes that the gamma ray (the source of the big peak) can undergo and ultimately mean not all the energy is accounted for hence the lower energy peaks. This leaves only the big left hand peak, caused by hard x-rays emitted when electrons move in their orbits (de-excite), gamma rays are caused by entire nuclei de-exciting hence their higher energy.

The above paragraph is a reasonable, qualitative analysis of the above graph but by no means is a full, rigorous analysis. For that the position of each peak would have to be calculated (for several other sources as well as cesium), carefully modelled using the expected curve which is then fitted to the data, the parameters produced can then be inspected and checked against the initial assumptions to see that there were no obvious differences from the expected.

The process above is what I did over the last two weeks. Two weeks of analysis for less than 2 days of data taking.

The LHC has orders of magnitude more complexity and a nearly unimaginably large amount of data taken every second (at the raw data rate it produces several thousand times more data than can be written to hard drive using current technology). The analysis of its data has been planned meticulously for the last decade, in fact the entire LHC has been modelled and simulated many times for various different possible physics scenarios (even black holes) over the last decade just so we'll have an idea of how it would look. These simulations have produced analysis procedures that can be applied to the data as soon as it exists. 

Once the initial data analysis is done it may be revisited several times: there are people in my lab working on data taken at the Zeus experiment (an smaller version of the LHC based in Hamburg, Germany). Zeus stopped taking data in 2007, 3 years later it is still being looked at and depending on what gets discovered at the LHC another round of analysis may begin: signals that were too weak to be noticed may be looked for with different techniques or better initial parameters.

Analysis is where the real science happens: experiments just make something to analyse. Already people are analysing the LHC: checking its calibration, looking for early signs of the Higgs. But the data taken now may be revisited a hundred times before it's fully understood, the meaning of ever last wrinkle, dimple and bump fully understood by which time the next set of experiments will be firing, fusing and flickering towards the next data set.

The weekend that was (very wet and misty)

As the title says: the weekend was blurry misty. Saturday it rained, a lot, Sunday was sunny, a lot. That's my obligation as British national disposed of I can now actually talk about what I did. Which to be fair wasn't much either.

Friday night I managed to sort myself out so that I could go out with some of the guys from the lab. Unlike typical trip to the local pub (certainly for my department anyway) here it meant we went to a bar which served good food as well, frankly this was a double wammy of win that was improved by the fact it was pretty cheap. About 5 rounds of drinks as well as about 15 different dishes worked out as about ¥3,000 each (about £25) given that in London 5 drinks alone will set you back most of that I consider it a good evening.

The food was really good, mainly small bits but it mounted up and by the end I was full(ish). Some interesting things I tried included: chicken cartilage (chewy but nice when deep fried in batter) octopus and squid in various forms (all of them dead) as well as something that was a called 'mountain potatoe' and when cooked had something close to the consistency of mucus, that being said it still tasted awesome as it absorbed pretty much any flavour put in it.

Saturday was a lot wetter than I was hoping for but I'd planned to be inside so no real loss: I went to the Osaka Aquarium (Kaiyuken) which like the biggest aquarium in any country instantly makes it something not to miss (according to the guidebooks and most likely the money given to the guidebook's authors). In this case it was reasonably justified as I doubt it'll be many years before I see sunfish, finless porpose or whalesharks in the same place (or at all given their survival chances).

From Osaka Aquarium

From Osaka Aquarium

I felt a little bad as a lot of the tanks there seemed small (especially for things like dolphins, sea lions and the whale sharks) but nothing seemed actively insane so hopefully they're ok. Obviously I saw more than those listed but a lot of what I saw were fishes: interesting to me but I'm not going to list them here (although I have to say the Jellyfish were awesome... but maybe that's just me).

After my pseudo-aquatic adventure (and negotiating all those children and people without GBH was something of a trial) I tried to take in the sights of Osaka through the medium of Ferris wheel (apparently the Tempozan was the largest wheel until 1997 when it lost to a rival within Japan, which lost to the London eye before several others successively claimed the title). Unsurprisingly this ended as mainly an exercise in watching the mist, and the clouds, and the rain but was nice and on a good day must be stunning (or terrifying depending on your love for heights).

After my trip I returned to the bar I'd eaten at the week before in Shinsaibashi and had more octopus (I really like it, ok?) and it's at this point the mist really rolls in. Japan is pretty easy to drink in for less than I'm used to in London and the people are very friendly: I made an friend at the bar and several hours were spent trying to understand each-other (phrase book = most useful thing ever). The excitement left me a little stranded at the end of the night when I managed to get the last subway home but missed the connection to the last monorail (pretty much all public transport bar taxis shut down at about 12:30, which is when I arrived in Senri-chou for the connection).

According to some of the people in the hostel it's traditional, upon getting stranded, to find an internet café where you can get all you can drink drinks and 'net time for a fixed fee that will cover several hours kip, unfortunately I was stranded away from a café so had the pleasure of walking home in the rain. It was actually quiet nice: my umbrella kept me dry enough (lesson the second as well as a phrase book carry an umbrella) and it was interesting (in a torrential kind of way) although any longer and I may have enjoyed it less (2 hours was more than enough time to sober up).

Home safe I slept it off on Sunday and have a coffee and reading day back in Senri-chou in the sun shine.

and now it's back to another week of poking circuits and science!

I think the heat has gotten to me .... this is a disturbingly chipper upbeat post... ah well maybe its tiredness.

Friday, 25 June 2010

Stuff wot I found....

It's raining and I've not got up properly so before I go and enjoy the aquarium I thought I'd leave some links to some of the odder things I've found online in the last while:

Country hip-hop dancing (stampa med leyroy has competition)

And zombie pirates in love


Friday, 18 June 2010

first visit to MUSIC

Well I finally got to see what I'm working on today: MUSIC. Housed in the RCNP (Research Centre for Nuclear Physics) at Osaka University it is a FFAG (Fixed Field Alternating Gradient) that will be used to accelerate muons (a heavier version of the electron) these will then be studied and used to probe matter as well as generally make people go 'oooooh' (and then hopefully give us money to make us go away).

Like any good student while I was there I maintained complete decorum, for about 2 minutes. The whole facility was intensely cool, very much like something out of Half-life. As a building it is not made for humans, it's made for machines, humans just occasionally have to move around it: you're constantly ducking under piping stepping over cables, there are rooms full of boxes each controlling enough power to keep the average home going for month, the corridors are half shared with massive (utterly massive) bundles of high voltage cabling and most of the doors have fail safes on (and are generally about 50cm thick iron).

One of the strangest things about the whole site is that it's old, the first cyclotron was finished in 1973, so the whole place is well established and worryingly organic in feel at times this feeling strongest when comparing the equipment: on one hand is MUSIC, built less than a year ago consisting of finely polished metal shaped to incredible precision; on the other hand are the sections of proton beam pipe, lengths of well used metal held aloft by metal segments, controlled with magnets that are chipped and bruised.

Anyway, rather than ramble further I will leave you this link to my picasa album, it has several pictures of the experiment hall and control room - hopefully the captions will give some idea of what's going on feel free to leave questions in the comments though. 

PS feel free to look at the other albums with photos from my trip so far

Thursday, 17 June 2010

Email death?

This is an interesting blog post on the BBC's dot.maggie discussing the recent proclamation from Chief Operating Officer at Facebook, Sheryl Sandberg, that the humble '@' is doomed. Her logic seems reasonable: that if you look at teenagers few of them use email compared to facebook and similar.

She may be right on that count but I think she's over looked one fatal flaw. Ubiquity, everyone has email (well everyone online) fewer have facebook, you need an email account to set up facebook, and buy things, and sign on to many websites. While the good 'ole boys at facebook would love to replace email it's not imminent and frankly I think their track record isn't good enough to convince enough people to use them such that they become all encompassing enough to remove email, I certainly hope they don't.

I think we'll have email for a while yet if for no other reason than it's a standard not controlled by any one group, it's by no means perfect but equally if you dislike your provider you can switch and lose very little, you don't need to convince all your friends to jump ship with you, or set up ghost accounts (like I'm thinking of doing with FB), or fake things you can simply change you email: gmail boring you? try hotmail, or yahoo, or just use a gorilla mail account that goes after 1 hour.

I think there is a secondary element she has forgetten as well which is that the Internet is no longer just about the up-and-coming teens its about everyone; email may be old but it's known,  it's used a by professionals, O.A.Ps, primary school kids and teenagers. Yes, lots of people chat on facebook but I doubt many people use it or twitter to distribute minutes for a meeting or arrange how a problem is going to be tackled, and even if they did what happens if they need to leaise with someone on bebo?

I'm sure she's right, that in the long run email will die, but I expect that will only happen when something completely replaces it. Google tried with wave but failed at the same fatal flaw she missed - everyone has to use it and not realise they are using it, it has to be ubiquitous. What ever replaces email needs to be the next phone number, the next email - most likely a universal id you can pick up and put down but will always find you be it email, phone call, video call or what ever; this is not an advocacy for ID card style thing, I'm talking of a phone number (or email address or what ever) that everything is routed through. We're nearly there as this already happens on most smart phones but using a variety of different addresses (your email, your twitter, your facebook your phone all have separate accounts) the next big thing will be a combination account for at least phone, email, and probably video calls. The problem with this is that it will probably require a big chance: tele companies giving up and becoming purely supply of data while people move themselves around separately to their distributor within the Internet (I won't call it the cloud because I don't think that's what it'll be, maybe cloud 2).

Monday, 14 June 2010

The day the work began

Today was my first day working in at the Osaka University physics dept. it was a bit messy. After running late (combination of late start and missing the bus) we managed to meet our supervisor out here at about 10, we then got a tour and proceeded to wow him with our lack of knowledge (seriously he looked shocked). The up shot is that I now have about 100 pages of a book to read and a 2nd year undergrad experiment, calibrate a scintillator, to do by tomorrow afternoon (can't use the lab tomorrow afternoon so some analysis can be done but we also have to give a presentation at the weekly group meeting at 6). In short it's a bit stressful, especially as the experiment doesn't seem to be working as expected.

That was pretty much my day, the weather has been clearer today (at least no rain) and hot again.

Hopefully tomorrow will be better and I can get on with some proper work, until then I leave you with an explanation for the platypus...

UPDATE: In addition to platypus I think people should read this essay on the Burqa. It explains concisely and clearly why banning the burqa is pants-on-head stupid.

Sunday, 13 June 2010

Travelling in Japan (or why staying up till 6 isn't clever)

Well I'm now in my base of operations for the next two months: Osaka. I started off in Tsukuba where the KEK centre in and travelled down this afternoon, and what have I learnt? That despite the assurances of my Australian flat mate travelling hungover is not a good thing.

Last night was our collaboration dinner in which our hosts took us all out for a traditional Japanese meal. It was excellent, we had our own small room and as much beer and food as we could eat in 2 hours for ¥5,000 (about £35). The food was delicious and much more than sushi: there was lots of tempura, meat and veg cooked on table top hot plates (each person had their own little burner upon which they could cook their food) lots of sashimi and all sorts of other odds and ends (giant Japanese radish for example). After this we had 3 hours of Kareoke which once you're drunk enough is a lot of fun (and after all that free beer we certainly were), a very sore throat and several bleeding ears (I can't sing) we moved to the other end of town to watch the England - USA game. By the time we finished it was 6am and the sun was up.

Four hours of 'sleep' later is was time to get up again to get down here. I have no idea how I managed this. I was supposed to be travelling with a fellow PhD student but he'd got up, checked out and then gone to sleep in his supervisor's room for the afternoon as of writing he's still not here and in an hour and a half they close reception so he's cutting it fine (I've heard he left at 6 - its a 5 hour journey). The journey itself was several parts: first a train from Tsukuba to Ahkibara (I nearly forgot my rucksack with my laptop in it luckily someone got it to me this was the same person who woke me up at the station as well people are lovely!) After this first train was a second to get me to the main Tokyo station (Akhibara is a suburb) then 2 hours on the bullet train to Osaka then another train and a monorail to where I'm staying (which is right on the outskirts).

I passed some amazing scenery on the journey and I have one photo to prove it, unfortunately for most of the time I was passed out with only intermittent bouts of paranoia induced wakefulness when my brain remembered that I may actually need to get off the train at some point.

One thing this journey taught me is how amazingly useful it is that most people know at least a little English without it I would have been stuffed, the second super useful thing is that most signs here have an English translation, that being said I'm certainly going to have to try and learn Japanese.

Anyway this will probably be revised soon once I'm actually feeling better (still a little hungover and very tired) also I'm getting kicked off the public PC I'm using (the wifi here is bricked).

Thursday, 10 June 2010

First Missive from Japan

Right this is an attempt at a travel log.

I've now been in Japan a day and a half having arrived late afternoon on Wednesday and it is now early morning (ie 6am) Friday.

I've not done too much so far: after arriving the four of us travelling (all of us from my group @ uni) had the joy of a further 1.75 hour bus ride to top off our 10 hour flight before we arrived at Tsukuba. A huge meal and a lot of beer later I think (I think we ordered pretty much everything off the menu) it was time for a restless night. Thursday (the first full day here) consisted of the workshop I'm attending so another bus ride followed by 10 hours of conference in a sweltering lecture theatre.  We finished the day with a traditional (or so I'm told) Japanese meal which had a minimal amount of sushi but was lovely none-the-less: several small courses and a bowl of fish and vegetables on a burner.

Anyway I'm now running late if I want to get some photos taken before breakfast and another 10 hours of conference so I'm off

Wednesday, 26 May 2010


Well once more it has been a while since I posted and as usual there were lots of things around the net that  that I could have commented on but didn't (mainly due to laziness). There are a few things of interest about at the moment but I'm not going to talk about them as this has to be a quick post and you can find them for yourselves.

The main thing I'm going to talk about today is the fact that I'm off to Japan in a little over a weeks time and I'll be there for 2 months. All being well I will use this time well and hopefully keep this blog up to date with interesting ramblings (or at least ramblings) and maybe some photos.

Either way if I'm more silent than usual that's the most probable reason

Monday, 10 May 2010

Twitter bomb hoax

You may have noticed I use twitter. Here is something interesting about twitter: posting something to it that could be considered menacing (say a poor joke about blowing up an airport) can now get you a £1,000 fine and a criminal conviction.

While this may seem reasonable in some light think about it for a second, a private post to a website jokingly wanting to blow up a building because of frustration has just cost a man his career. Paul Chambers tweeted:
"Crap! Robin Hood Airport is closed. You’ve got a week… otherwise I’m blowing the airport sky high!"
 and (because he wanted to be an accountant for which you require a clean slate) has lost his job,  £1,000 and a lot of time. All because of one stupid message. Now if he'd said:
"I'm going to blow up Robin Hood airport"
and then phoned the police with this message he would have made a hoax bomb threat and be liable for conviction because shutting down an airport for a bomb threat is no laughing matter. Whining about being stuck in the UK for a little longer and wanting to take out your frustration is another, especially when the airport clearly could see that it was a joke, in fact so could the police and the CPS. Which is why he wasn't convicted for making a bomb threat, but for mis-use of telephonic communication which is based upon a law designed to stop cold callers and stalkers.

Anyway Jack of kent has a much better summary and more detailed (and correct) legal information, I highly recommend you read what he has to say because you never know when an innocent message like:
"I want to put thermite (rust, aluminium ground and mixed then set alight with magnesium) through the engine block of the car parked near where I live who's alarm goes off every 2 hours"
spoken in frustration and anger before being sent out into the world may get you convicted for making menacing noises.

Thursday, 6 May 2010

Who seizes what?

There have been a couple of interesting internet developments recently: firstly facebook has continued it's slide from useful social website to (which is why I have deleted my account on it) and secondly there is a further excitement about cloud computing (new about 5 years ago so new for business today). Google Enterprise is getting ever bigger; next week Microsoft launch their latest iteration of Office (with shiny online connectivity) and Ubuntu have released their latest offering complete with Ubuntu one: a 2Gb online file server (basically Dropbox).

This made me realise something: what happens when the police want to seize your computer to check it for evidence and you don't have a hard drive? I've been using Dropbox and Google Docs for about the last 2~3 years to keep a lot of my most important work backed up, but what if I was using them to keep less savoury things stored outside of my home? While at some point obviously these files would be present on my local system there are ways of making sure they never really leave any trace and so the police storming my house at 3am in the morning to take away my hard drive and decrypt it won't really do anything: the data just isn't there any more, they have to chase it to some far flung server farm.

Now while the obvious case in an individuals situation would be that the police would write to the server company and ask them to release the data and no doubt they would get emailed a nice data stream of the contents of that area. What happens, though, when it's a company they're investigating? If an entire company's data was hosted on the cloud then that's a lot of information to work through. You may only want one persons but it's no longer a case of separating out a few physical hard drives: you will have to stream however many hundreds of Gbytes of data that they could have accessed. This, of course, all assumes that you can trust the hosts and the other people in the company: if you need to get the info before anything can happen to it you may need to be a bit faster. Otherwise the hard drives you want will might not exist. The information  won't be on one or two single drives either, it is likely part of a huge array somewhere in a warehouse that may not even be in the same country as the company, you or anyone else who may help. That data may also mixed in with all sorts of other information from companies you're not interested in.

My point is that if the government thought it had problems with the music industry and copyright fighting technology it hasn't seen anything. When people start leaving their important incriminating files on computers that don't even exist in any physical way run on servers in other countries that may be closely guarded by people not friendly to your cause. 

Anyway as I hope I have demonstrated there should be lots of fun technology debates coming soon to a governing body near you!

Tuesday, 27 April 2010

Homeopathic poisoning and other rubbish

This (should) be a short blog about a few things that have amused me today: firstly there is a wonderful story online at the moment about a homeopathic bomb. Although I think they missed a trick: surely making a homeopathic bomb is as easy as holding a few drops of what ever it is you want to explode above the sea and threatening to drop it (near instant dilution to an insane quantity plus sufficient shaking from waves should work wonders).

The other wonderful homeopathic rubbish I came up with is DIY homeopathic treatments: why bother spending money on diluted belladonna? By swallowing a smallish doss yourself you can let it dilute in your stomach: all you have to do is jump up and down a bit then fall over as you die and the world will be a smarter place. It's all a conspiracy by big Homie to stop people realising they can make their own placebos at home.

In other 'news' if you haven't I suggest you go and check out blag hag where as a wonderfully skeptical responce to certain stupid Iranians Jen has instigated (and analysed) boobquake. Go read it. Now.

Anyway as I said this would be a short post so it shall be. There may be something longer cropping up soon as I try my hand at some fiction - you have been warned.

In the interim I must return to poking a Clock and Control board with a probe and code. I may write about it later (you lucky devils) until then: adios!

Monday, 19 April 2010

You may not be able to fly but at least it's for a pretty reason

This is an amazing picture of the Eyjafjallajökull volcano in Iceland, with its ash plume lit by lightening

It's just damn cool so I thought I would share.

Thursday, 15 April 2010

Does the end justify the means: are 'Libel Tourists' a real problem?

This post was prompted by something that has been annoying me for a while (since I read this excellent blog it goes into a lot of detail but is well worth the time) and in light of Simon Singh driving off the BCA (see my update earlier today) it seemed a good time to raise it. I fully support the libel reform campaign but I object to their 4th argument:
"4. London has become an international libel tribunal
We recommend: No case should be heard in this jurisdiction unless at least 10 per cent of copies of the relevant publication have been circulated here"
There is nothing inherently wrong with people coming here to settle libel cases; it is a sympton that are libel laws are in someway very attractive to other people but per say there is nothing wrong with them coming here to use them. It is the attractiveness of our libel laws that encourage people to come here to sue others nothing more. As campaign we do ourselves a disservice by falling into the trap of using people's inate xenophobia to promote our cause.

I doubt this is intentional on the part of those who lead the campaign but it does worry me the number of people who will happily repeat it without thinking about how it looks or even if its actually the problem they say it is. Who cares if people want to come here to sue each other

The only logical argument that I can see to reduce the number of people who come from overseas to sue here is if they were preventing residents from having access to the courts by clogging them up but as the number of libel cases in 2008 was 8 the made it to court from 259 that were brought this is obviously not the problem (although the apparent chilling is, even if some of these cases the defendant was obviously wrong I doubt they all were).

If anything all these people coming here with money can only be a good thing, so can we please drop the "libel tourism" and focus on what's important: that our libel laws cost 140 times that of equivalent cases in Europe, that even a successful libel defence will cost you money (to the tune of several thousand) and that more and more publishers are scared to publish here for fear of being sued or just don't publish at all.

Our libel laws are stiffling good journalism, stopping vital scientific debate and ultimately stopping the UK progressing as an educated nation; libel tourism is only a symptom of this and like homeopathy only treating the symptom does stop the problem.

Singh update

It's been a while and this will only be a short post until I figure out what else I want to write about but today the BCA (British Chiropractic Association) withdrew their libel case against Simon Singh, after 2 years of hard work and the fairly heavy duty thrashing of their reputation they have realised that they were onto a non-starter.

Anyway the BBC have a piece about it here and I highly recommend you read it.

Tuesday, 16 March 2010

Westminster Skeptics

Went along to my second Westminster Skeptics meeting last night to listen to Prof. Brian Cox, Evan Harris (MP and Lib-Dem science minister) and Nick Dusic (CaSE - Campaign for Science and Engineering) all talk about science policy as an election issues (Lord Drayson and Adam Afriyie, the Labour and Conservative science minsters respectivly were invited but didn't come).

Most of the evenings talk was preaching to the choir: it seemed to be pretty well aknowledged that science produces a overall rise in GDP (ie it you get a positive return on investment); that our economy is heavily supported by "knowledge intensive services and hight-tech manufacturing" (40% gross value added,GVA, according to the Royal Society publication on the issue that was the main basis for most of what was said - found here); that science should be publicly funded and allowed to pursue 'blue sky' as well as applied research.

There was  a lot of discussion as to how difficult it is to fund science with the aim of making direct profit (ie no one in the 1980's would argue to fund CERN and expect it to produce the web) and on strategies to increase or maximise enteurpenurship within science. This centered mainly around whether the maxim that the UK "is good on science but bad on moneterisation" is true. My main thoughts are that in all areas this is tricky: firstly where obvious advancements can be made there is a lot of tough competition (for example medicine, how many people are looking to cure cancer) making it entirely possible (if not likely) that your prize research will be scooped by someone else while the bigger 'jackpots' (eg CERN and the net) are nearly impossible to predict so making investing directly for them infeasible. This means that the whole system relies on scientists spotting the implications for moneterisation themselves then being interested enough, able enough and lucky enough to get funding and support for it. I have no solutions other than better support and as much dialogue and funding as possible (and yes it's always more funding).

There was also an interesting (to me at least as they fund me) discussion on the future of the STFC.

I'm not going to weigh in on the politics of the STFC situation here, mainly because I don't know all the details and know enough people that do that I stand a good chance of being shot down very rapidly.  The biggest problem as I see it is not so much the loss of specific projects (which admittedly for those involved is devestating: imagine being told that your passion for the last 3 years isn't funded so go do something else) but the long lasting damage to our credibility as a scientific nation.

I'm not a big fan of patriotism and its ilk, I consider it a useless if not damaging passion, but I will say that when it comes to large scale projects (some of these projects are huge for example X-fel has 71 universities and institutes listed for authors of its Technical Design Report*) you need to maintain national credibility. It is this national credibility that the UK risks losing by letting down the partners of the 26 projects that we are withdrawing from. Countries won't collaborate with us if they think that we'll cut funding 3 years down the line and that means fewer projects that UK physicists will be able to work on. Ultimately if there is less world-class work for UK physicists they will move to where there is work, either the US (which openly has said they want to import 'the best minds'), within Europe (the support for science in Germany and France is pretty huge) or even further abroad (Japan spends nearly 3% of its GDP on science). Currently the UK has an amazing position scientifically within the global community but we can lose it and then to regain it is a huge cost that I doubt we'll be able to afford, especially when 40% of our GVA follows.

*Incidently x-fel is the project that my PhD work is for and is one of the projects whose central, STFC, funding was cut, luckily this didn't involve the removal of my PhD funding as my university is directly involved with x-fel rather than via the STFC

Tuesday, 9 March 2010

Romanticism 2.0

This post was inspired by an advert, I tend to try and ignore adverts as they have a habit of making me angry this one was exceptional only in the amount of anger produced. The new diesel advertising campaign (seen here on or here for the ads themselves on million looks) is simple "Smart does X stupid does Y. Be stupid" (eg "Smart critiques, stupid creates") this annoys me no end. Partly it is because I consider myself smart and like to think of myself as creative but mainly because of the message: "being smart doesn't achieve anything so don't bother, just act on impulse and you'll be wonderful". This is the romantic philosophy writ large and in neon: reject rationalism, thought and technology in order to embrace spontaneity, passion and living as a "noble savage".

There are many things wrong with this not least in that by being smart you don't have to stop being spontaneous or passionate (just think about the typical mad-scientist: there are people like this). While the romantic movement has been gone for a long time it's children are apparently making a huge effort to come back. If it's not Prince Charles saying something stupid (“I was accused once of being the enemy of the Enlightenment, I felt proud of that” via The Times), Diesel adverts (, its the Government sacking  people for doing their job (ie being a scientist, via the BBC) or even more simply the rise and rise of woo (homeopathy, or chiropractic for your headache, they're ancient traditions and natural you know!).

There seems to be a growing feeling in the public that intellectuals live in ivory towers and don't connect with 'real' people or their concerns, leaving aside the fact that we are 'real' people with 'real' concerns, we need to combat this. This is not even about bringing science to the masses (itself a concept that is likely to reinforce the ivory tower idea). It's about removing the idea of the geek, the expert and the specialist. In this age of information anyone can be an expert or a specialist (google 'health care' and look at all the so-called "experts"). Just as with all other industries why should academia expect to not have to change its business model with the new age we live in?

We need to move from being repositories of knowledge to gatherers, disseminators and educators on evidence. This is a very important distinction: we need to help lobby, educate and aid people in understanding the evidence that we supply, that they can now access, not just tell them that we have it and that it tells us X. This isn't just limited to science, it needs to encompass everything. People need to be reminded that the geeks, experts, specialists and techies are real people too; that we share their concerns and that we are not people to be feared (or looked down on for having no 'expierence', 'connection to reality' or 'common sense') we are people. People with jobs and hobbies and lives.  We just also happen to be the people who gather and interpret evidence for a job: just like everyone does all the time.

This is the only way we can stop the rising strength of 'Romanticism 2.0': by bringing ourselves back into the fold; by being human again. The alternative is that "intuition", or as it should be known "belief and superstition", will win and we'll all be worse off for it.

Tuesday, 2 March 2010

Today's game: don't annoy CPS; why the twitter-bomb-hoax means I can't say much

Well some of you may be pleased to know I can't really talk about much any more. The reason? well, as explained in this excellent article from JackOfKent in his new bad law column the trial (BBC summary) of Paul Chambers is set to close soon. He's being convicted for posting the following on twitter:
"Crap! Robin Hood Airport is closed. You've got a week... otherwise I'm blowing the airport sky high!"
Now the important part of this is that CPS is not prosecuting him for making a false bomb threat (they admit that there isn't enough evidence that he intended to cause a panic by this) so instead they pressing charges of
"Improper use of public electronic communications network"
Which is an offence for anyone who:
sends by means of a public electronic communications network a message or other matter that is grossly offensive or of an indecent, obscene or menacing character; 
As the Bad Law column points  out this law was intended to stop nuisance callers and their ilk; not to mop up people that have mentioned the word bomb but aren't making a threat.

Now why this concerns me is that while the tweet concerned is threatening, it is still obviously a joke (which is why Paul is not being prosecuted for making bomb threats), so at what point does something stop being a joke and start being threatening (or 'menacing' as the law states)? The following statements are all the latter but are here as examples:
"It would be so easy to inject heavy metals into the air conditioning units at Heathrow poisoning everyone"
"Anthrax is a terrorist's dream substance, it looks just like talcum powder"
Now using the CPS's logic if I now go to an airport (or other public place such as the university I'm currently sitting in) this constitutes a threat. These two statements could just as easily be from a security discussion as threats and while they would have to be taken out of their current context to constitute threats I think it is fairly obvious that this is what has already happened Paul's case.

In fact this could have happened to me recently: I had a trip to Hamburg for a meeting, running late in I put on the first t-shirt to hand before leaving, this t-shirt in fact:

for most of the day I had a coat and hoody but during the inevitable security check I had take them both off which of course revealed my horribly inflammatory t-shirt to a security guard who promptly told me off and that I could get in trouble if I wasn't careful. I didn't realise how close to real trouble I had come, given how the CPS have treated this case I doubt they'd struggle to find some law that made my t-shirt wearing chargeable.

This is a sad case, its set to make a criminal of someone who was understandably frustrated and said something stupid. It shouldn't have escalated at all, let alone to the point where they may set new precedent that anything said electronically while near a possible bomb target (ie anywhere public) no matter what the intention behind it can be treated and charged as a threat.

Wednesday, 3 February 2010

Food for thought

In the current world climate is Islamophibia the new anti-Semitism?

This is an article that everyone should read. It's safe for work and very interesting, if a little uncomfortable.

Back to revision for me I have a wad of posts waiting to be written up once I finish on Friday

Thursday, 28 January 2010

Standard model notes

This will be a VERY short.

for those that are interested this is a link to some notes I typed up for my standard model course.

Monday, 25 January 2010

Seismic Shock

go read this article on the police being brought in to warn people off blogging

Will talk about this properly later


Sunday, 24 January 2010


For anyone who's been wondering where my blog has gone its currently on hiatus due to me having exams soon, for this I have been trying to type up 60+ hours of standard model notes into LaTeX. I've currently produced about 120 pages and I still have many more to go.

Normal service will resume in about 2 weeks time when I will spam out the (currently) 6 blog posts that I have noted that I want to write.

If people are interested and I get the OK from the lecturer I will also post up the notes for anyone that might be interested but as they're his notes that I'm writing up I will get the OK first

Friday, 15 January 2010


Hey reader (who ever you are)

Sorry there haven't been any updates for a while, I've been keeping stuff going on twitter but at the moment I'm in exam season so not really able to post anything worth reading so I'm sitting on it until it goes stale or I can commit some time to writing


There should be something up with in a few weeks (hopefully before)

Monday, 11 January 2010

Thought/rant for the day: "Isn't that odd" or when your just not thinking

I have acquired a new pet peeve: the rhetorical question "isn't that odd?". My peeve is not with the question: things that are odd should be remarked upon and investigated. It is the latter part of this that causes me the annoyance: that thing's aren't investigated.

Things that people remark "isn't that odd" to will be of one of two catagories: either something of at least passing interest (eg sun dogs or ice formations) or that is out of place ("I'm sure I put my keys here"), the cause of my irritation is that situations of the former do not provoke investigation. Often they won't even illicit 5 seconds of thought as to the possible origin of the subtle strangeness that triggered the observation. Why is this?

Why are we so blasé and jaded that upon being presented with something we don't understand or is strange we are more likely to dismiss it that give it even a moments thought? While this point has any number of reasonable answers I think it highlights something that is deeply wrong about how we approach the world we live in: we apparently don't think.

In one of my favourite books (Hitch-Hiker's Guide to the Galaxy) there is a point where Ford Prefect hypothesises that humans talk to exercise their jaws, he then adjusts this to the theory that by talking we stop our brains working. This should not be something we find funny.

I am not advocating full scientific investigation just a little more thought when using the the expression, if only as a form of mental exercise. I find that I feel much better when I walk home from university than when I get the bus. The reason for this is that on the bus I will read whilst when I walk I will think (in fact this post was born on the walk home today). Letting my mind wander as I walk presents me with many little puzzles that I love to work out eg. why is that when I bus I people watch while on my walk I am not offered this luxury? Because on the bus I pass people but when I walk I don't. I could list many other realisations that I have experienced but most of them, like this one are utterly boring. Why then do I encourage it?

It may seem a daft point but firstly because its relaxing, the act of walking is relaxing but so is the act of finding small problems and solving them: teasing apart the situation based on what you know and what you've observed gives an amazing feeling of accomplishment (this is especially nice when the day has yielded few results). The second reason why I would encourage you all to pause after uttering or hearing uttered the phrase "isn't that odd?" that occasionally you will discover something profound.

NB. While writing this I had to work hard not to get distracted by sun dogs or ice formations, these are subjects that I have read about before and even then the lure of re-reading and investigating them was strong (yes there is also an ironic confirmation bias in my selection of topics that interest me as examples here).

Anyway I'm done with my thought for the day, to those of you who made it this far: well done! 

Thursday, 7 January 2010

Ten23: campaigning to get homoeopathy out of boots

Ten23 is a new campaign in the UK working to raise awareness of homoeopathic products, firstly that they don't work and secondly how they waste time, money and can prevent people seeking genuine medical advice when they should.

I won't go through the reasons that homoeopathy doesn't work, there's a wonderful explanation here so go read it. Simply put it's water. You spend a lot of money for a bottle of water.

Ten23 work to raise public awareness that it doesn't work and is a waste of money, they have an open letter to boots asking them to remove homoeopathic "treatments" from their shelves as they are a trusted pharmacist that many will go to as a first line of treatment, using homoeopathic remedies can put these people at risk and they will likely assume that boots, being a trusted party, will have their best interests at heart: stocking only treatments that work.

Talking of worthwhile campaigns this is another: Libel reform which is working to revise the libel laws in the UK. To reduce their cost and make them less plaintiff friendly (which is so bad that the UK experiences "libel tourism": people visiting the UK to sue others). The state of UK libel laws is so bad that they are putting journalists at risk of being sued for investigative journalism (see trifigua or Simon Singh).

Please sign both these petitions, they are important and without acting on them we put health and freedoms at risk.

Wednesday, 6 January 2010

Religion: why is it privileged?

There is a recent news piece on the BHA about the Department for Communities and Local Government's (CLG) recent creation of "faith advisors" this really annoys me.

Why does this annoy me? because there is a persistent rumour that we should give a damn what various religious leaders think.  Having a religion does not give you special insight into anything. Being a priest to a religion does not give you extra useful knowledge. In fact what little insight it gives you will most likely be through a haze of out-dated rules and laws set down in a completely different time.

There are many community leaders, priests are just one example. If we're giving priests a special position within government (as advisers) why not scout masters? The argument that many people base a large portion of their life around their religion is normally trotted out at this point and I would like to take that trotting target and shoot it down now.

Apparently 66% of the population of the UK have no connection at all with a Church and I would be surprised if the number who genuinely shape their life by it is anywhere near that. People base their morals and tastes on those around them. This is part of what's called "social contract" essentially it is "I won't kill you because you might kill me first".

The religious already have a voice, it's called a vote. In a democratic society that is the only voice they or anyone else deserves. Other experts advise within a narrow realm that is defined specifically by their expertise. These "faith advisers" are going to advice on "economy, parenting, achieving social justice and tackling climate change" or the "big issues". Of all the groups in existence those that follow a religion are rarely the same that I would want to tell me how we can solve the complex problem of reducing green houses gasses against everyone's desire to produce them. They may have a "unique insight" but I don't consider praying for salvation a useful input.

If these people have genuine contributions to make from a standpoint of actual knowledge fair enough but some empty headed assumption that they connect with the people (that minority of 34% or less) and that this connection is somehow special beyond that of just grabbing someone from the street is bollocks.

This is not a post advocating the insertion of a humanist or atheist onto this panel it is advocating the removal of this panel, if you want the advice of community leaders ask them with reference to a specific situation. 13 advisers is too few to cover even a fraction of the many, many, many facets of life in the UK that they will need to in order to garner useful opinions on the topics they want. Will there be a Scientologist? how about a 18 year old street preacher from Brixton? or an anarchist Humanist? Faith may be a major point in a lot of people's life but given the department concerned I think they would be better served looking for representatives of specific socio-economic groups. not faiths.

NB the 66% figure is from this page here:

Fun stuff

This sort of post will turn up from time to time - mainly when I should be doing something else and as I have a problem paper due it seemed like a good time to start it.

Some of you may have noticed the new little toy to the right - its the Transport Chaos-o-meter, using TFL, National Rail and traffic reports it guesses how much chaos is being caused to public transport at the moment. Today with snow its in pandemonium mode. The full info on it can be found here. 

Next up are two faux news papers newsBiscuit and The Daily Mash.

So there's a bit of fun I should get back to work....

Tuesday, 5 January 2010

Firefox woes...

This is will be a pretty brief post. I have recently been having trouble with certain websites not fully loading, mainly webpages with dynamic content (eg facebook or twitter) it turns out this was because I was running an older version of JAVA,  having now updated to 6.17 it seems to have fixed the problem

SO if you find that certain webpages in firefox will not load or never finish loading try going to and check that you have the latest version installed.

I hope that helps someone

Monday, 4 January 2010

What to expect: Blogs I read and stuff that has made me laugh

As this is a new blog I thought it would be useful to post up a list of some blogs and news feeds I read and like, as there are quite a lot this will be a brief list but it should give you some idea of what it is I will be mainly be writing about.

Here goes, first up the non-standard news (ie not the bbc): - Geek news basically - useful stuff of all types (Gadget reviews to how to find north with a watch)
BHA - The British Humanist Association - I am a humanist, skeptic, and atheist I will try not to rant too much about religion (especially those of a dogmatic bent) but I promise nothing
Singularity hub - A website about cutting edge technology that is likely to aid the singularity or to do with transhumanism etc.

Actual Blogs:
Pharyngula - 'Militant' Atheist blogger PZ Myer's home, apparently one of the most read blogs on the net
Blag Hag - a US girl who posts on Athiesm, University life and general life.
Charlie's Diary - Charles Stross's blog - if you haven't read any of his Sci-Fi then go out, buy some and read it now (favourites of mine are 'Accelerando' and 'Halting State')
Jack of Kent - A UK Blogger who covers legal matters very well and is a key figure in the Simon Singh Libel movement
Spoonblog - Blog of artist Paul Duffield who draws Freak Angels as well as drawing an awesome (free) comic he posts up many interesting titbits
Bad Science - Blog of Ben Goldacre, awesome skeptical blog that dissembles various bits of bad science from around the net
Respectful Insolence - Blog of a US cancer researcher and surgeon who goes by the name of Orac - another anti quackary blog

Interestingly enough I don't read many physics blogs, mainly because I've yet to find one: I tend to find blogs via other blogs - if I searched for them I would have far too many too quickly. Also working in physics its something I am not as likely to blog about - tech and science in general but less physics.

Anyway that is a sample of things that I am likely to link to or post from or comment about so enjoy.

it also doubles as a reminder of who I'm following should I lose my feeds...

Beginning of the end; or how the election campaign was started

Right first actual post. I've had a fun morning, suffering from jet lag means I'm actually inhabiting a normal sleep pattern for the moment so I was up early enough to see the un-official start of this years UK government election campaigns.

It would appear that Labour spent their Christmas trying to figure out how much the Torys want to spend, while the Torys spent it coming up with ways of changing the NHS. I'm not sure which route will score them the most points in the end but I think Labour will edge ahead on this one.

I think this for several reasons: reporting that there is a £34bn hole in the Tory's plan will be a hard idea to budge, a lot of what the Torys are saying about the NHS will be old hat to most voters and Labour have cunningly left the Torys little to attack in return.

Hole's in their accounts seem to be a running theme for the Torys: all parties use it as a standard cheap stab "how are you going to pay for X" but it seems to often cause the Torys the most problems. In addition ringfencing the NHS will be hard to achieve, even without spending more on it above inflation it accounts for a huge proportion of the yearly budget.

The points the Torys have made about the NHS will sound good but I think a lot of the will suffer from being a secondary worry to the economy and cuts in general. When Labour took power they did so by highlighting what were major problems in the NHS of the time, trying the same trick when Labour have managed to deal with a lot of the problems facing the NHS will be a hard to pull (there are problems but saying that league tables are a poor measure isn't like saying that people wait up to 10 hours in A&E which was the case when the Torys lost).

As for leaving the Torys little to attack I hope Labour will hold off publishing a manifesto for a while. If nothing else it will damage politics in the UK to have a 5 month election campaign as it will be boring and kill debate.

Of course if the Torys are cunning they may be able to turn this about and use the early attack by Labour to unfoot them and then set the pace with their manifesto, drafts of which they are cunningly publishing over the next few months.

Anyway that was pretty boring but engaged me for the morning so enjoy!