Brian Micklethwait's Blog
In which I continue to seek part time employment as the ruler of the world.Home
Michael Jennings on My week in Brittany 2: A crane holding a bridge at Canning Town!
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Most recent entries
- God was overheating and now needs radical transplant surgery (and Dawkins now has to do my email)
- A swimming pool in a skyscraper
- God is dead
- PID at the Times
- My week in Brittany 2: A crane holding a bridge at Canning Town!
- ASI Boat Trip 9: The man driving the boat
- Back from France (plus cat photos)
- Big Things through a gasometer
- The view from Stave Hill
- Confirming my String prejudices
- Cat photo and cat news
- Man 3D-prints Thing in his back garden
- Oxo Tower with bus advertising The Expendables III
- Something at Samizdata
- 5G Boris
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6000 Miles from Civilisation
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Alex Ross: The Rest Is Noise
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Category archive: Science
Overheard in a TV advert for sweeties:
You can’t trust atoms. They make up everything.
Talking of which, I am now reading Lee Smolin’s book about String Theory. Basic message: It’s a cult. I haven’t yet read him using that actual word, but that’s what he is saying.
I am, of course, not qualified to judge if Smolin is right, but you don’t have to be qualified to express a judgement, and I judge that Smolin is right. And the way I like to learn about new stuff is by reading arguments about it, starting with the argument that says I am right about it. Smolin is basically telling me that my ignorant prejudice that String Theory is one of the current world’s epicentres of the Higher Bollocks is right, although he is careful not to express himself as crudely as I just did, for fear of upsetting his physicist friends, and because, unlike me, he sees some merit in String Theory.
I have known that String Theory was in trouble for some time, because Big Bang Theory’s resident String Theorist, Dr Sheldon Cooper, has been having doubts about it. He wanted to switch to something else, but they said: We hired you as a String Theorist and a String Theorist you will remain.
The above link is to a blog I had not heard of before, entitled Not Even Wrong. Not Even Wrong is the title of another book I have recently obtained with has a go at String Theory. I have not yet started reading this.
It’s true. You can’t trust atoms. And grabbing both ends of one and stretching it out into a string doesn’t change that. It makes it worse.
From Stuff Matters by Mark Miodownik (pp. 80-81):
Given that literally half of the world’s structures are made from concrete, the upkeep of concrete structures represents a huge and growing effort. To make matters more difficult, many of these structures are in environments that we don’t want to have to revisit on a regular basis, such as the Oresund bridge connecting Sweden and Denmark, or the inner core of a nuclear power station. In these situations it would be ideal to find a way to allow concrete to look after itself, to engineer concrete to be self-healing. Such a concrete does now exist, and although it is in its infancy it has already been shown to work.
The story of these self-healing concretes started when scientists began to investigate the types of life forms that can survive extreme conditions. They found a type of bacterium that lives in the bottom of highly alkaline lakes formed by volcanic activity. These lakes have pH values of 9-11, which will cause burns to human skin. Previously it had been thought, not unreasonably, that no life could exist in these sulphurous ponds. But careful study revealed life to be much more tenacious than we thought. Alkaliphilic bacteria were found to be able to survive in these conditions. And it was discovered that one particular type called B. Pasteurii could excrete the mineral calcite, a constituent of concrete. These bacteria were also found to be extremely tough and able to survive dormant, encased in rock, for decades.
Self-healing concrete has these bacteria embedded inside it along with a form of starch, which acts as food for the bacteria. Under normal circumstances these bacteria remain dormant, encased by the calcium silicate hydrate fibrils. But if a crack forms, the bacteria are released from their bonds, and in the presence of water they wake up and start to look around for food. They find the starch that has been added to the concrete, and this allows them to grow and replicate. In the process they excrete the mineral calcite, a form of calcium carbonate. This calcite bonds to the concrete and starts to build up a mineral structure that spans the crack, stopping further growth of the crack and sealing it up.
It’s the sort of idea that might sound good in theory but never work in practice. But it does work. Research now shows that cracked concrete that has been prepared in this way can recover 90 per cent of its strength thanks to these bacteria. This self-healing concrete is now being developed for use in real engineering structures.
Maybe Miodownik is very good at explaining things, or maybe I am just ready to be learning this stuff. Probably both. I chose that excerpt because my average reader may not know about such things as bacteria which automatically repair concrete. But the truth is that I am almost embarrassed by how much I am reading that is new to me, or only vaguely known, as a sort of historical rumour.
I had no idea, to take just one example, who invented/discovered stainless steel, or where, or how. Now, I have a much better idea. The story is told on page 29 of this book, which I heartily recommend to all technological illiterates who would like not to be technological illiterates.
Every once in a while I hear or read about someone who sees sound, as colour, different sorts of sounds as different colours. (As you can tell from the links at the bottom of this, I just did this again, on purpose.) What the hell are these people talking about? You don’t see sound, you hear it.
But, I have learned enough of the contrasting natures and nervous systems of different people to know that claims of this sort are probably true, in the sense that this is indeed what it feels like to those making such claims, even if the claims made no sense whatever to me. (Here is another piece by me, about how different people differ, this time with respect to the notion that you (i.e. they) can decide what you (they) believe. To me, what you believe is what you actually do believe, and you can no more change it with a mere decision than you can decide to grow another foot. But other people clearly can change what they believe, in just this cavalier fashion. What they actually, deep down, think is true doesn’t seem to matter to them. To me: bewildering and bizarre. To them: obvious and commonplace.)
So anyway, back to those bizarre and bewildering people who see sounds, different sounds as different colours.
I now understand these people much better.
Because, yesterday morning, for a fleeting instant, it happened to me.
Immediately after it happened, I hastily bashed some notes into a computer file describing what I had just experienced, and that is the file that I am now typing further and more considered thoughts into now.
What happened was that I awoke, to the sound of my alarm clock. This alarm clock makes a high pitched beeping noise: beep, pause, beep, pause, beep, pause ...
And, I experienced this sound as ... white.
That is correct. I saw the sound. And the sound was just as white as the background colour of the file into which I am now typing, or the background colour of this blog posting as you are now looking at it.
I never experience sounds a colours when fully conscious. But it makes perfect sense to me that experiences I may only have during the weird moment when I am neither entirely awake nor entirely asleep, but am moving from the latter state to the former state, might be experiences that others may have much more frequently, even when fully awake. Or, fully awake by their standards.
Yesterday morning, for that fleeting, bleeping instant, some sort of weird connection was being made between my ears and the bit of brain where colours get processed and reflected upon, a place where all incoming messages are interpreted as colours no matter what they were originally, a connection that doesn’t normally occur, or perhaps which continues to occur when I am fully awake, but so weakly compared to the connections made between my ears and and the sound processing part of my brain as to be undetectable.
All I have to believe, about those strange people who see sounds as colours all the time, is that they experience what I very briefly experienced yesterday morning, but much more strongly than I did and do. This is not now hard for me to imagine, not hard at all.
A very quick skim-read of this wikipedia article about chromesthesia (which is the particular sort of synesthesia that turns sound into colour, as opposed to just something into something else) did to tell me that chromosthesia can happen particularly when you are waking up, but that could be wrong.
However, I did spot (at the other end of the chromesthesia link above) this:
However, all studies to date have reported that synesthetes and non-synesthetes alike match high pitched sounds to lighter or brighter colors and low pitched sounds to darker tones, indicating that there may be some common mechanism that underlies the associations present in normal adult brains.
So, I am not alone in associating a high pitched bleep with a very light colour, in my case the lightest colour of the lot.
A commenter on one of the climate skeptic blogs, I think at Bishop Hill, provided a link to this fascinating posting, at Coyote Blog.
The Coyote man combines three tendencies that he sees in global temperatures. First, there is a warming process that has been going on since the Little Ice Age. Second, there is a slight kink upwards in this graph, very slight, associated with recent CO2 increase. Third, there is an oscillating wave, for some reason involving a couple of acronyms. And the result is a graph that seems to fit the recent facts better than any other graph I’ve seen. Certainly better than that idiot hockey stick.
If Coyote is right about all this, and he is in fact only semi-serious about it, then the global temperature will soon be seen to be inching downwards, until about 2030, at which point it will then turn back towards relatively rapid heating, again, along the lines of what happened from circa 1970 to circa 2000. So, a few We Will Freeze years, followed by some more We Will Fry decades.
However, we’re talking tiny numbers here. None of this is remotely describable as a catastrophe, even in the long run.
Coyote says he developed this stuff six years ago. But I could find no link back to him actually saying this six years ago. Pity.
Not for the first time, I find myself wishing that I could live another two hundred years rather than for about another twenty or probably less. What will happen to global temperatures for the next century or so? How will the politics of it all play out? I’d love to live long enough to find out. But, I won’t.
This started out as a jokey posting about climate science. It ended up as yet another rumination on the process of getting old. When you are young you are going to live indefinitely. You will die, eventually. But too long into the future for this event to be distinguishable for practical purposes from never. Then, rather suddenly, that all changes.
I recently did another climate science posting at Samizdata.
I still can’t get used to the internet. I never really will. You can find all kinds of stuff out in a few seconds. You know that, and so do I know it. But, unlike (probably) you, I will never get truly used to this.
Last night, for instance, there was a TV show on about Fossils, fronted by this old Fossil Professor, and mention was made of – and a little sliver of film was shown of – a building (with lots of fossils in it) called the Royal Ontario Museum. I said, that looks like that Daniel Libeskind museum in Berlin, in the saw cuts in big blocks style. So let’s see about that Royal Ontario Museum shall we? Sure enough, that is Libeskind also.
I had imagined that the saw cut style was specifically used only for that Berlin museum, to make you wince when you look at the building, same as you do when you find out the grizzly details of what happened to all those Berlin Jews.
However, it now seems (to me) that Libeskind just likes doing saw cuts. Am I getting this wrong?
Maybe I could google that question also, and find out if anyone else agrees with the above. But that’s enough answers for one posting.
… in among all the stuff that does not.
Foster’s flaccid Gherkin used to advertise erectile dysfunction treatment. Personally, I don’t think the Gherkin looks like a penis, more like a vibrator. Certainly not a gherkin.
And: Synthetic creature could “save nature” says Alexandra Daisy Ginsberg. Has this woman never seen any horror movies?
Related: Will Jellyfish Take Over the World?
Does this photo tell us the direction the Great Climate Debate is going? I took it in Foyles, underneath the Royal Festival Hall, London, on September 2nd:
I put this up to entertain you, and also so that I can send a short email to Bishop Hill about it, rather than a long and annoying one. Because I’m guessing it might interest him.
The Bishop’s (as of now) latest posting concerns an article written by some academic CAGWers (CAGW = Catastrophic Anthropogenic Global Warming), about how they can defeat their ever more annoying and persuasive “denier” enemies?
The answer to this conundrum is - you will never believe it - to be found in the realms of communication. Although Garud and his colleagues note that some observers think that communication is not enough, and point to such initiatives as the Climate Science Rapid Response Team (seriously!) that are already in place, they suggest that something called a ‘narrative approach’ might also be a part of the solution.
But that, as the Bishop well knows but Garud et al do not, is no solution to the problem the CAGWers have. The “narrative approach” is their problem. What the CAGWers have been doing is spinning a narrative and calling it science for the last quarter of a century and more, and now this narrative is unravelling, thanks to the efforts of people like Bishop Hill. This latest plan is for them to stop pretending that they aren’t doing this. That can’t work.
If the anti-CAGWers had relied on books like Michael Crichton’s State of Fear, which is one of the books in the above photo, to carry the main weight of their arguments, they’d have been utterly crushed.
LATER: Bishop Hill has linked to this, and there are comments there too.
So, could this also work for cats?
And for all the cat lovers out there, don’t accuse Polimeno of being biased toward pooches. Finding Kitty is in the works.
A lot of the cat stuff I stick up here on Fridays is things I find by googling for “cat” news. But this I learned about by getting regular google emails that come to me about face recognition.
Face recognition software is, I predict (as do many others I’m sure), going to have all kinds of weird unintended consequences. This is only the start of it.
For instance, scientists: Which animals have faces that face recognition software can distinguish between, and which not? What does those answers mean?
What about face recognition errors, joining you up with relatives or long lost twins you never knew you had?
What will face recognition do to the lookalike trade? “How much like Brad Pitt do I look? Face recognition couldn’t tell the difference, that’s how much!”
Will face recognition answer the question: Which celebrity do I most look like?
Any more stuff like that that anyone can think of?
Why I admire short term weather forecasts but why cricket people don’t
Views from Kings College
BMdotCOM mixed metaphor of the day
Feynman Diagrams on the Feynman van
Wedding photography (1): The superbness of the weather
Me and the Six Nations under the weather
The Qur’an is not science – science cannot be ignored
Steven Pinker’s description of The Enlightenment
Why I do not share Johnathan Pearce’s admiration for Bjorn Lomborg
What’s up with that?
BMdotCOM Headline of the week
University of California chickens coming home to roost?
Hockey Stick art
Matt Ridley’s demolition of CAGW
Science can relax about the harm done to it by Climategate
“Things appear almost impossible to escape from …”
Animals that like the smell of humans dying
Climate science as make-work for former Cold Warriors
Cats only seem smart and dogs only seem dumb
Cats know more about fluid mechanics than dogs
Funny feline ephemeron
A blog posting linking to a science article
Cool cat that obeys Allen’s Rule
A serious disappointment
Lucky we didn’t go to Lords
Nasa and Gordon Brown both have their uses
Talking about The Hockey Stick Illusion with Bishop Hill
Towers under the weather - and a steam engine steams to the rescue
Stepping forward into the abyss!
Yet more ramblings about Guesswhatgate
Unravelling the puzzle – and making it into a movie
Picture purrfection and a rather good Clive James piece
Old-school media versus (or becoming) new-school media (again)
ClimateGate roars on and Man(n)-made warming is taking on a whole new meaning
What’s up with this?
Link to a list of peer-reviewed papers supporting skepticism of “man-made” global warming
Shadows on rings
Green cats - feral cats - cats murdered in Wales - more than 113 cats in Livingston NJ
Why I vote against AGW
A little archaeology
Friday baby marmoset
Truth is true
Nothing from me here today but something on Samizdata about cannabis
Link to Samizdata piece about arguments from incredulity
The impossibility of God but the possibility of Michael Flatley’s cure and of super-super-flees
How patent lawyers destroyed a mathematician
John Carey on Shakespeare and the high-art/ popular-art distinction
On the nature of the evolution argument
Star and stripe
Man regrows finger
More horizontal thinness
Tatiana the normal tiger
Has global warming stopped?
Better safe than sorry
The cat genome is cool
She’s alive I tell you! Alive!
Big Solar System things
Short picture of a long distance
Don’t be a physics teacher
Not actually a photo of Saturn’s rings
Back lit Billion Monkey lady and back lit Saturn!
The idea that mental illness does not exist
Plastic that conducts heat better
So that’s how you pronounce Csikszentmihalyi
Thomas Edison - from cheat to creator
Alessandro Volta feels electricity on his tongue
The Great Global Warming Swindle debate now begins
Svensmark – for and against
A basic part of the domestic cat’s heritage
On the ideology of the “climate change” debate
New York Times links - owned genes
I am about to become a published photographer
Geek girl I like your thinkings - are nice - I want have sex with it
Something to bore everyone
Blogging takes longer than doing things - a picture - and why does a hot bath make me colder?
Was that you or a tree?
What is a squarry?