(no) life? (2) anchors (1) astro (7) cars (1) comp (3) English oddities (1) hockey (1) ireland (3) misc (3) music (1) new jersey (3) time (1) to the editor (2) travel (4) whacks (1)

Thursday, December 1, 2011

Not everyone is a doctor at some point in their life, but at some point in all lives everyone is a patient...

I swear to fulfill, to the best of my ability and judgment, this covenant:

I will respect the hard-won scientific gains of those physicians in whose steps I walk, and gladly share such knowledge as is mine with those who are to follow.

I will apply, for the benefit of the sick, all measures [that] are required, avoiding those twin traps of overtreatment and therapeutic nihilism.

I will remember that there is art to medicine as well as science, and that warmth, sympathy, and understanding may outweigh the surgeon's knife or the chemist's drug.

I will not be ashamed to say "I know not", nor will I fail to call in my colleagues when the skills of another are needed for a patient's recovery.

I will respect the privacy of my patients, for their problems are not disclosed to me that the world may know. Most especially must I tread with care in matters of life and death. If it is given to me to save a life, all thanks. But it may also be within my power to take a life; this awesome responsibility must be faced with great humbleness and awareness of my own frailty. Above all, I must not play at God.

I will remember that I do not treat a fever chart, a cancerous growth, but a sick human being, whose illness may affect the person's family and economic stability. My responsibility includes these related problems, if I am to care adequately for the sick.

I will prevent disease whenever I can, for prevention is preferable to cure.

I will remember that I remain a member of society with special obligations to all my fellow human beings, those sound of mind and body as well as the infirm.

If I do not violate this oath, may I enjoy life and art, respected while I live and remembered with affection thereafter. May I always act so as to preserve the finest traditions of my calling and may I long experience the joy of healing those who seek my help.

Thursday, September 15, 2011

The Cosmic Coincidence

Cosmologists tend not to get all that excited about the universe being 74% dark energy and 26% conventional energy and matter (albeit most of the matter is dark and mysterious as well). Instead they get excited about the fact that the density of dark energy is of the same order of magnitude as that more conventional remainder. (Image adapted from Lineweaver and Egan. The Cosmic Coincidence as a Temporal Selection Effect Produced by the Age Distribution of Terrestrial Planets in the Universe (subsequently published in Astrophysical Journal 2007, Vol 671, 853.)

Source: Cosmic coincidence (

Sunday, August 21, 2011

Ugliness Described with Beauty

No pleasing intricacies intervene,
No artful wildness to perplex the scene;
Grove nods at grove, each alley has a brother,
And half the platform just reflects the other.
The suff'ring eye inverted Nature sees,
Trees cut to statues, statues thick as trees;

- Alexander Pope, Epistle to Burlington (1731)

The Epistle to Burlington (also known as the fouth of the Moral Essays), was written on the subject of architecture, ridiculing the bad taste of the aristocracy. This passage (lines 115-120) is on a specific topic, which with the help of other works, Pope killed as a fashion single-handedly. (Arguably his greatest contribution to society.) What is this topic? Give up? Click the picture for an account of its death.

Thursday, July 21, 2011

Triple Eclipsing Variable Star System - But Stranger Than That!

Normally, a binary eclipsing variable star system is characterized by a change of aggregate brightness as one star eclipses the other from the vantage point of Earth. Described in the report below however is a triple system with the weird feature that when both of the smaller stars are in front of the larger star, the brightness barely changes. This is due to the fact that despite vastly different sizes, the stars have almost the same surface brightness, and as described below, "just as a white rabbit cannot be seen in snow-fall, the red dwarfs in front of the red giant are also almost invisible"!

From Physorg:

The object, catalogued as HD 181068 and nicknamed `Trinity' by the research team, and is a seventh magnitude star that is almost visible to the naked eye. University of Sydney astronomer Daniel Huber from the School of Physics says: "We found what was a seemingly single star is in reality a complex triple system in which three stars reside in a very special geometry.

The observations we have show mutual eclipses as each of the stars gets behind or in front of the others. The most luminous object is a red around which a close pair of two red dwarfs orbits with a period of 45.5 days." Lead author on the paper Aliz Derekas from the Eotvos University and Konkoly observatory, Budapest, Hungary says: "Thanks to the fortunate viewing angle from Earth, the combined light from the three stars change very characteristically. There are sharp brightness decreases with a period of 0.9 days produced by the mutual eclipses of the close pair of dwarfs, while it takes two days for the close pair to pass in front of or behind the red giant.

"A mind-boggling feature of the variations is that when the red dwarfs are in front of the red giant, their short-period eclipses disappear. This is because the surface brightness of the three stars are actually very similar, and just as a white rabbit cannot be seen in snow-fall, the red dwarfs in front of the red giant are also almost invisible, hence no light is lost when they eclipse each other." 

Thursday, June 16, 2011

Little Egg Harbor - Defining New Jersey

The Quintipartite Deed of Revision, Between E. and W Jersey of July 1st, 1676 defined the boundary between East Jersey and West Jersey. It stated: "... from the said north partition point extending southward by a strait and direct line, drawn from the north partition southward, thro' the said tract of land, unto the most southwardly point of the east side of Little Egg Harbour aforesaid; which said most southwardly point of the east side of Little Egg Harbour is now by the consent and agreement of the said parties to these presents, called and agreed to be from henceforth called, the south partition point...". This is shown on the following map.

The first operative line was run by George Keith, the Surveyor-General of East Jersey, in 1687. Remnants of the Keith line can still be seen on today's maps in the County boundaries between Burlington and Ocean, and between Hunterdon and Somerset. Keith's line favored East Jersey by running considerably west of the line described in the Quintipartite Deed. It ran NNW from the point on Little Egg Harbor mentioned in the 1676 deed, passing just north of where Tuckerton is today, and then proceeding up toward a  point on the Delaware River just north of the Water Gap.

Saturday, June 11, 2011

Blackbeard's Anchor Found!

Archaeologists recovered the first anchor from what is believed to be the wreck of the pirate Blackbeard's flagship off the North Carolina coast, a move that might change plans about how to save the rest of the almost 300 year old artifacts from the ship. The anchor is 11 feet, 4 inches long with arms that are 7 feet, 7 inches across. It was covered with concretion - a mixture of shells, sand and other debris attracted by the leaching wrought iron - and a few sea squirts. Its weight was estimated at 2,500 to 3,000 pounds

From: physorg

Thursday, June 2, 2011

Rage Against The Machine - Madrid - 2.6.11

After arriving at the airport, we came up from the metro to find this:

Madrid, June 2, 2011 

Tuesday, May 17, 2011

Gods and Afterlife

A two million pound sterling, three year long Oxford University study has concluded that humans are 'predisposed' to believe in gods and an afterlife. 

The project involved 57 researchers who conducted over 40 separate studies in 20 countries representing a diverse range of cultures. The studies (both analytical and empirical) conclude that humans are predisposed to believe in gods and an afterlife, and that both theology and atheism are reasoned responses to what is a basic impulse of the human mind. The researchers point out that the project was not setting out to prove the existence of god or otherwise, but sought to find out whether concepts such as gods and an afterlife appear to be entirely taught or basic expressions of human nature.

‘The Cognition, Religion and Theology Project’ led by Dr Justin Barrett, from the Centre for Anthropology and Mind at Oxford University, drew on research from a range of disciplines, including anthropology, psychology, philosophy, and theology. They directed an international body of researchers conducting studies in 20 different countries that represented both traditionally religious and atheist societies.

The findings are due to be published in two separate books by psychologist Dr Barrett in Cognitive Science, Religion and Theology and Born Believers: The Science of Childhood Religion. Project Co-director Professor Roger Trigg, from the Ian Ramsey Centre in the Theology Faculty at Oxford University, has also written a forthcoming book, applying the wider implications of the research to issues about freedom of religion in Equality, Freedom and Religion (OUP).

Main findings of the Cognition, Religion and Theology Project:
  • Children below the age of five find it easier to believe in some superhuman properties than to understand similar human limitations. Children aged three believed that their mother and God were all-knowing but by the age of four, children start to understand that their mothers are not all-seeing and all-knowing. However, children may continue to believe in all-seeing, all-knowing supernatural agents, such as a god or gods.
  • Both children and adults imbue the natural world with ‘purpose’. The researchers conclude that immediate, instinctive responses to simple questions are over-ridden by a scientific, reasoned response if participants have time to reflect. 
  • Experiments involving adults, conducted suggest that people across many different cultures instinctively believe that some part of their mind, soul or spirit lives on after-death. The studies demonstrate that people are natural 'dualists' finding it easy to conceive of the separation of the mind and the body.
Project Director Dr Justin Barrett, from the University of Oxford’s Centre for Anthropology and Mind, said: ‘This project does not set out to prove god or gods exist. Just because we find it easier to think in a particular way does not mean that it is true in fact. If we look at why religious beliefs and practices persist in societies across the world, we conclude that individuals bound by religious ties might be more likely to cooperate as societies. Interestingly, we found that religion is less likely to thrive in populations living in cities in developed nations where there is already a strong social support network.’

Project Co-Director Professor Roger Trigg, from the University of Oxford’s Ian Ramsey Centre, said: ‘This project suggests that religion is not just something for a peculiar few to do on Sundays instead of playing golf. We have gathered a body of evidence that suggests that religion is a common fact of human nature across different societies. This suggests that attempts to suppress religion are likely to be short-lived as human thought seems to be rooted to religious concepts, such as the existence of supernatural agents or gods, and the possibility of an afterlife or pre-life.’

Tuesday, April 26, 2011

To the Editor #2 - Kevin Myers

Another letter to the editor found on the old machine. The Irish Independent article is here, which was in response to the column by Kevin Myers here. Maybe Kevin and this guy should get together...

Friday, April 1, 2011


I just came across some data from when I was studying physics... This is a light curve of the eclipsing binary system Y-Leonis published and validated by the American Association of Variable Star Observers. The data was collected with a 0.41m (16") telescope with f/8 Ritchey-Chretien optics on an open fork equatorial mount. There is a Santa Barbara Instrument Group (SBIG) ST-1001E large format, megapixel CCD camera mounted to the telescope via a custom filter wheel. The camera head is thermoelectrically cooled and regulated to operate at a temperature of -40C. I have another lightcurve at the AAVSO. You can generate this curve by entering the Julian date range 2452723.559 - 2452723.875. My observer code is BBD.

Tuesday, March 29, 2011

NGC 4921

This very deep image taken with the NASA/ESA Hubble Space Telescope shows the spiral galaxy NGC 4921 along with a spectacular backdrop of more distant galaxies. It was created from a total of 80 separate pictures through yellow and near-infrared filters.

NASA, ESA and K. Cook (Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory, USA)

Thursday, March 24, 2011

Friday, February 18, 2011

Whack Attack

I somewhat inadvertently came across my second googlewhack tonight. I was lost on wikipedia and came across a word that is a strange form of the word "symptom". I thought it might make a good crack at a whack. I thought of another rather rare word, put them together, and bang - there it was - hole in one.

My first googlewhack was about a year ago and contains the word "zabernism", even though a google of that word alone results in about 1,340,000 hits. That took about 2 hours of effort.

Sunday, January 23, 2011

No Extraterrestrial Life...? Try Getting a Life!

According to him, since it has been determined that 500 exoplanets are too inhospitable to support life as we know it there must be no extraterrestrial life in the universe. WHAT?

Let's do come quick quick back-of-the-envelope calculations:
There are approximately 100 × 1022 stars in the observable universe. Let's be sceptical and say, i don't know,  that one in 500 (Professor Smith's magic number) stars have one planet. That leaves 20 × 1020 planets. That is 2,000,000,000,000,000,000,000 planets.  We just searched 500 of them, and came to an amazing conclustion that there is no other life in the universe. If we are stupid enough to subtract 500 from that number that leaves 1,999,999,999,999,999,999,500 planets. Let's say that we discover a new exoplanet per second. (Yeah right). It will take 63,419,583,967,529 years to search them all. That is 4,530 times longer than the universe has been in existence just to check them all. I think that perhaps Professor Smith was just a bit too early off the mark with this one.

Just to make you feel more sane, here's a new solar system to play with. And if that got boring, here's five more planets.

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

To the Editor #1 - Jeremy Clarkson

On my old machine I found a bunch of screenshots of letters to the editor I have written. I will post them in time...

This particular piece was written after an activist threw a pie in Jeremy Clarkson's face while receiving an honorary degree in protest for his involvement in promoting the motor industry.*

* This post is not a necessarily a declaration of the authors views, but a statement of fact.

More details are at this link.

For posterity, the letter is also at:

The Sunday Times is the biggest selling English Sunday paper, with sales equaling the combined sales of The Sunday Telegraph, The Observer and The Independent on Sunday combined.
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