Maths is Cool

Game On!

Dominant Species?

Viruses are the most abundant lifeform on Earth. If you laid all the viruses on the planet end to end, they would form a line 200 million light years long.



Hungry White Blood Cell

Kinda makes you feel sorry for the wee bacteria!

The Business of Understanding

Richard Feynman's comment about the kind of people who say they don't understand his lectures:

"and then there's a kind... saying that you don't understand it - meaning 'I don't believe it, it's too crazy, it's the kind of thing I'm just not going to accept'.

I hope you'll come along with me, and you'll have to accept it, because it's the way nature works. If you wanna know the way nature works, we looked at it carefully. ...that's the way nature works. You don't like it?.. go somewhere else. To another universe, where the rules are simpler, philosophically more pleasing, more psychologically easy. I can't help it, ok? If I'm going to tell you honestly what the world looks like to ... human beings who have struggled as hard as they can to understand it, I can only tell you what it looks like, and I cannot make it any simpler. ... I'm not going to fake it. I'm not going to tell you it's something like a ball bearing on a spring - it isn't. I'm going to tell you what it really is like, and if you don't like it?.. that's too bad."

1979 Lecture from New Zealand

Stick THAT in yer pipe and smoke it!

The Scale of Things

I meant to post this back in December and forgot, and then a friend sent it to me again now, reminding me how freaking amazing it is.  It makes me ask so many questions as I watch it...  awesome (in the true sense of the word) and inspiring.  Dammit... where is a pocket cosmologist when I need one?!

The Red Pill or the Blue Pill?

What HE Said!

Sometimes you find someone else can put what you want to say in words SO much better than you can (well... a lot of the time actually...that's why people get published and I write a blog - snort!) Anyway - I saw this video and thought it was pretty sweet. Never having been a theist, I didn't have an epiphany from the fog of religion into the wide open skies of knowledge, but still, I feel like my new-found love of science is summed up perfectly. If I had been shown these things, with this kind of awe and wonder and enthusiasm as a young person... the direction my life took may have been very different.   Still... doesn't stop the joy now!

Tickle Yer Funny Bone

This guy is a chuckle... and the Irish accent definitely helps!

And a Good Time Was Had by All

I wish we'd been in Melbourne the last few days for the 2010 Global Atheists Convention.  Sounds like it was really good.

When Couch Potato is Not a Dirty Word

A while ago I posted about how I might feel if I wasn't working anymore. Well..  elementary forces conspire to create change and here I am... no longer able to work. It's rather odd, but I try not to think about it as much as possible and focus on the weirdly liberating aspects instead.  Now I have time to concentrate on science in all its glory... even though I am starting from the beginning.

So.. whadya do when you can't work?  You crowdsource!

For instance.... how about searching for a particles of interstellar dust captured on aerogel on a satellite?  Over 27,000 people are searching using a virtual microscope on slides at 50 microns magnification for the tracks left by particles that are too small themselves to be seen. It's been going since at least 2007 and they *think* they may have found ... wait for it....   two!

Or... from the very small to the giant.  What about classifying galaxies?  Looking at images of 100's of galaxies and describing their features - spirals, rings, bars, disturbed etc.

A little closer to home you can map solar storms with live data coming in every hour from a stereo camera that allows you to track the beginning and peak of the storm billowing out from the surface of the sun.  It estimates how soon it will reach and affect the earth.

Or you can help to classify thousands of stars using their observed absorption spectrum, which are unique almost like DNA. By comparing against other stars spectra and picking the closest match, the scientists can use that data to identify how hot or cold the star is, and if it is a supergiant, giant or dwarf (indicating the luminosity). The power of a prism and a telescope!

The most challenging one I've found to this point, is a protein folding game. The leap of difficulty from the tutorials to the science puzzles and beyond is so great that I haven't yet figured out how to do it. Right now I feel like I've shown up at a Theoretical Physics conference with an abacus and a protractor. I am hoping for a revelation ;)

There are many more projects out there. Running simulations of merging galaxies, analysing light curves of a star, and some that involve actual data collection in the field.  Making use of a large group of people to crunch your data makes a lot of sense. There is increasingly less money for science, and huge amounts of information to be processed. Computers are great at some things, and lousy at others. Our brains have evolved making us really good at certain things - looking for similarities between images, and making choices based on those similarities, so renting out my brain's idle time for such noble pursuits seems pretty freaking cool to me. I may not be employable at the moment... but I can at least contribute. That feels like a bit of ok, and I'll take it!

Oil and Lube Job

So there was lots of news about .. shock horror.. *design* flaws with the LHC, and the terrible prospect of them shutting it down at the end of next year for an entire year to fix it.  Well, it's just shoddy journalism, and as Brian Cox repeatedly pointed out... it's just routine maintenance - engineering, people!  Anyway...  I saw this online and thought it was a good rebuttal.

Universe to shut down for a year to address ‘design flaws’

User groups have today criticised God’s plans to close the Universe next year to carry out essential maintenance work.
The decision follows reports that there are serious design flaws in the cosmos that are preventing it from achieving its full potential. ‘The Universe is perfectly safe,’ insisted God, ‘but people need to remember that it is a prototype and, at this early stage, there will be some teething problems.’ Stephen Hawking disagreed however, and described God’s creation as ‘riddled with black holes.’
The closure is just the latest in a long line of problems to dog the Universe ever since it began operating 13.7 billion years ago, most notably the controversial recall of millions of galaxies found to have faulty gravity.
Engineering work begins in late 2011 during which time a replacement bus service will be running.

Thanks to Newsbiscuit for the laugh... 

Sum of All Things

It isn't very often that you can realise just how lucky you are to be alive in this moment of time.  Regardless of the rubbish going on in our lives right now, Gagan and I are full of excitement knowing that the world is on the brink of 'Something Big'.  I'm not sure if there has been a moment like it before - where humans have actually known that they were about to discover something remarkable *before* they discovered it...  so in a way, this feels to me like the pinnacle of our big brain evolution. What am I talking about?  Oh... the Large Hadron Collider of course!

The most fundamental questions of physics - of space time... of how the universe came into being - may be answered in that wonderous exciting tunnel under the farms near the border of France and Switzerland. So many countries - even places like Iran and India have been involved. It's such a meeting of the minds and seems to me to be what the human experience is all about.  Although they have some idea what might be discovered, what is really mind blowing is what they *don't* know. Their original standard model could be blown apart and they have to start again - new questions instead of answers, totally unexpected things could be discovered... and of course the concept of finding other dimensions.  I'm on the edge of my seat.

There are lots of excellent documentaries we've been watching, both from when it was being built and now as it's working.  I love to peek in at the LHC Portal to check if a beam is present in the tunnel... it's all greek to me, but the most poetic greek I can imagine!  The CERN podcasts with one of my favourite scientists Brian Cox (perhaps more on him another time) are mouth watering to listen to... so what do you have to do to visit this place I wonder?! Ah in my dreams....

As I mused about it all... I began to wonder at the scale of the project. No one person could have all that science in his head. No matter how evolved we are as a species, we can't hold all that in one brain.  So really,  all these physicists and engineers and specialists from around the world who have gathered in this one place - are like a Very Large Array... hooking their brains together, the whole is greater than the sum of its parts.

Civilization has moved through so many stages, (some having forward momentum and some not so much!)...  the Stone and Iron Ages... Dark Ages, Renaissance...  and some would say that we are in the Silicon Age.   Now it feels as if we are on the brink of something remarkable... could it be the Particle Age?  I'm ready....   are you?

Lifted Up

I have been dancing to the demons of hormones and bewitched neurons for a while.  Weirdly, I saw this clip was posted to several Facebook friends and blogs,  but I just hadn't been paying much attention. I only just watched it... talk about joyous!  It's lifting, soaring, wonderous and hopeful... what more can we possibly need in life.


The Out Campaign: Scarlet Letter of Atheism