Friday, 9 December 2011

History of English

In June the Open University released The History of English in 10 Minutes, an excellent animated sequence covering 1600 years of linguistic history. It is also available on iTunes.

Thursday, 8 December 2011

What can you do with 1,000 bicycles?

Forever Bicycles by the activist Chinese artist Ai Weiwei is made of 1,000 bicycles installed in a 10-meter high space in a moving, abstract shape to symbolize the way in which the social environment in China is changing. This installation opened at the Taipei Fine Arts Museum at the end of October and—although I visited Taiwan then—I missed it!

Graham Residence and Great Architecture Blog

The Seattle-based E. Cobb Architects designed the Graham Residence, located in Mercer Island, Washington, and featured in the June 2011 issue of Architectural Digest.

While searching for this house I came upon an excellent Australian architecture site: The Cool Hunter.

Tuesday, 6 December 2011

Golden Goolies

I was recently crowned as the 2011 Golden Goolies champion at the C.C.Coglioni Red Carpet Windup. Full report here.

Saturday, 3 December 2011

Now + When: Australian Urbanism

On Friday I visited the Australian Urban Design Research Centre (AUDRC) to see Now + When: Australian Urbanism exhibition.

The 3D stereoscopic aerial views of Australian urban landscapes lets you experience a future world of floating cities, submerged metropolises, and new desert tracts in which much of Australia has become uninhabitable due to climate change.

Truly excellent.

Friday, 25 November 2011


It is most interesting to compare the focus (bias?) of the top 10 hits in a search for IPCC in The Australian:  
  1. Climate forecasts 'exaggerated': journal Latest

    Professor Schmittner said taking his results literally, the IPCC's average or "expected" value of a 3C…
    1 hour ago | The Australian > News > Health And Science | Article | Find related

  2. IPCC's 'folly' writ large: Howard

    the IPCC's scientific reports were compromised by entrenched bias and poor oversight. The report… McKitrick said the IPCC's standards of peer review fell far short of those imposed by scientific…
    1 day ago | The Australian > National Affairs > Carbon Plan | Article | Find related

  3. Politics muddies the debate Latest

    the emails - the release of which appears to have been timed to undermine the IPCC's Durban conference next… This includes the internal politics of making sure "friendly" scientists were appointed to the IPCC
    1 hour ago | The Australian > News > Opinion | Article | Find related
  4. Scientists say IPCC should be overhauled or scrapped

    or even turning the whole climate science assessment process into a moderated "living" Wikipedia-IPCC. Writing… or lead IPCC report authors - agreed a mechanism for assessing the facts and impacts of climate change…
    11 Feb 2010 | The Australian > News > The Nation | Article | Find related
  5. UN panel to review climate body

    of the IPCC's procedures. The evaluation of the IPCC comes amid growing scepticism about humanity's role… to a binding agreement on emission reduction targets. Among issues to be examined is the IPCC's use of non…
    12 Mar 2010 | The Australian > Politics | Article | Find related
  6. UN climate head under pressure to quit

    Rajendra Pachauri, chairman of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), has insisted… theIPCC on the eve of the Copenhagen climate summit. A journalist working for Science magazine had told…
    4 Feb 2010 | The Australian > News > The World | Article | Find related

  7. Greenpeace's role in UN climate study

    A headline briefing on the IPCC's special report on the potential of renewable energy, released… years and was the most optimistic of the 164 investigated by the IPCC. Reduced demand for electricity…
    18 Jun 2011 | The Australian > National Affairs | Article | Find related
  8. The IPCC has been wrong for 15 years

    Who Was Mistaken for the World's Top Climate Expert, has destroyed the last shreds of credibility the IPCC… possessed. It is, of course, the case that the recent introduction of a carbon tax was predicated on IPCC
    2 days ago | The Australian > News > Opinion | Article | Find related

  9. The Australian and the IPCC: Correction

    The Sunday Times and the IPCC: Correction The article "UN climate panel shamed by bogus rainforest… claim" (News, Jan 31) stated that the 2007 Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) report…
    24 Jun 2010 | The Australian > National Affairs > Climate | Article | Find related
  10. IPCC 'must investigate report bias'

    on Climate Change (IPCC) resulted in overstatements of the severity of the problem. Professor Watson… by up to 50 per cent by 2020. A senior IPCC contributor has since admitted that there is no evidence…
    15 Feb 2010 | The Australian > National Affairs > Climate | Article | Find related

to the latest News & Analysis section in Science on Humans Are Driving Extreme Weather; Time to Prepare.

Monday, 21 November 2011

Why I drink coffee?

I drink coffee for its antimicrobial properties. According to Matheson et al. (2011), people who drank hot tea or coffee were half as likely to carry in their nose the bacterium methicillin-resistant staphylococcus aureus (MRSA) than those who never drank these beverages. Of course, that is not the real reason ...

Sunday, 20 November 2011

Ideology not cause of debt

Last weekend The Australian ran an article by the Oliver Marc Hartwich entitled Europe's social failure. Reading this article my first reaction was one of amazement; Hartwich had concluded that the cause of the failure was "the grand European experiment of social democracy" with no mention of rampant free-market capitalism or the global financial crisis. Hartwich is, of course, entitled to his view, but I do not understand why the editor of The Australian would permit such an unbalanced and poorly argued article to waste so many column inches. Fortunately, Mike Skeketee's balanced and well-argued response, Ideology not cause of debt, subtitled "Blaming social democratic governments for the European crisis makes no sense", clearly articulates my feelings. Two points from Skeketee's article, dismiss Hartwich's nonsense:
A strange idea has taken hold about the crisis in Europe: that it is the fault of social democracy. This may be a convenient argument for those who want smaller government. But it overlooks a problem that occurred a few years ago called the global financial crisis. It was triggered by the collapse of a US housing bubble that had been fuelled by the reckless lending practices of banks and other financial institutions.
This recent history is curiously absent from the recent debate, including in the article by the Centre for Independent Studies' Oliver Marc Hartwich in these pages last weekend. Blaming social democratic governments for the global financial crisis is like saying Britain started World War II.
There are very few writers in The Australian that write well and argue clearly and logically. The regular publication of articles from right-wing think-tanks, and columnists such as Janet Albrechtson, Angela Shanahan, and Brendan O’Neill, editor of Spiked and libertarian gadfly, are usually illogical and unbalanced; I imagine that Mike Skeketee must sometimes feel very lonely ...

Saturday, 19 November 2011

Egalitarianism and Climate Justice

A most interesting advert for a Climate Justice Research Fellow at the University of Melbourne was featured in the Weekend Australian Professional Education section. The aim of the project is to
...provide a new framework for how to fairly distribute the costs of responding to climate change and to contribute to the understanding of a range of moral issues associated with climate change. Topics covered by the project include: models of how to distribute the burdens of climate change between and within nations, egalitarian discussions of climate change, understanding climate skepticism and the harms caused by climate change.
An essential criterion for the position is "a PhD or substantial progress towards one in Philosophy or related discipline". This is unclear: related to Philosophy, or to the topic of the research? Reading the project aim, I would have thought that a degree in Science, say in Psychology, with strong Physics (to understand the science) and Mathematics (to do the modelling), along with with a minor in Philosophy or Ethics, would be better suited to answering questions such as "how to fairly distribute the costs", "modelling how to distribute the burdens of climate change between and within nations". A desirable criterion is the "ability to work on applied or interdisciplinary problems"; a background solely in Philosophy would be, I think, too narrow for this.

Let's bring classrooms into the 21st century

I agreed with much of Rupert Murdoch's Keynote Address to the Foundation for Excellence in Education Summit. It reminded me of Conrad Wolfram's TED talk, which highlighted that there is far too much emphasis on hand computation in traditional teaching of mathematics. As Sir Ken Robinson says, schools kill creativity. Listening to Robinson's 2006 led me to his excellent 2010 talk and made me think more about how I should teach, and what I should teach.

Friday, 18 November 2011

Best Perth small bars

In Spirit of Change, John Lethlean makes the case that the Perth bar scene comes of age, featuring the following bars:

I've enjoyed Greenhouse and Who's Your Mumma. Now to try out the rest.

Cycling through Provence

I plan to return to Aix en Provence in mid-2012, so I was interested to read the wheels thing about how Cadel Evans discovered Provence is a paradise for the amateur cyclist, with its quiet, winding roads and its villages perched on rocky outcrops where you can stop for a break. Looking forward to trying out his suggested route.

Stay Cool: NYC Hotels

In Stay Cool, Edwin Heathcote of the Financial Times featured three new hotels for design-lovers:

Looking forward to my next vist...

Kew House 3

Kew House 3 by vibe design group, mentioned in my post on Australian contemporary architecture, was featured in The Age and the Weekend Property section of The Australian. It is to be auctioned this Saturday with an expected price of $3M+. I wish that I had some spare cash...

Wednesday, 19 October 2011

Coffee on the go...

When travelling it can sometimes be hard to find decent coffee.

It is no surprise to find excellent coffee in Melbourne. However Seven Seeds is definitely worth a visit.

Last month I travelled to the US and Taiwan via Hong Kong. My double shot latte at Fuel Espresso, a chain from Wellington NZ whose first international outlet is in Hong Kong, was fantastic. Later the same day I discovered Agnès b. Délices; the coffee was astounding and accompanying French chocolates were divine.

Good coffee in the USA is more problematic. One should, of course, avoid Starbucks but sometimes desperation takes over. Fortunately, I just happened to be walking past Intelligentsia Coffee on Jackson on my way to Union Station in Chicago. Excellent coffee, nice attitude, and a neat iPhone app

Unfortunately, no good coffee stories to report from Taiwan.

Friday, 14 October 2011

Reinventing Discovery

Michael Nielsen's book, Reinventing Discovery: The New Era of Networked Science, has just been released. From his blog I expect that this will make excellent reading.

Thursday, 13 October 2011

Tracking Real Estate prices: part 3

Following on from part 2, page 71 of the latest issue of the Subiaco Post carries the following story: 
Ouch! That hurt ... 
Perth’s declining property market has produced its fair share of losses, but the owner of 40 Wright Avenue, in Swanbourne, was hit particularly hard. The property was bought at the peak of the market in 2007 for $2.7 million. The two-storey, four-bedroom home is just metres from Lake Claremont and the Scotch College playing fields, but it wasn’t enough to tempt the market this time around. After a long period on the market, the property finally sold for $1.74 million, a loss in value of just over 35%. Selling agent Jamie Loh, of Jamie Loh Real Estate, said the loss could be chalked up to market factors. “It’s just a sign of what the market’s been doing recently,” he said. “More buyers are starting to come in, so hopefully it’s about to stabilise.”

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Wednesday, 5 October 2011

Tracking Real Estate prices: part 2

Following on from part 1, I viewed 66A Excelsior Street, Shenton Park in November 2010. A very nice place; West-facing and located opposite Lake Jualbup. However, it only has 2 (overly large) bedrooms and, although well-designed, the quality of some of the finishes is disappointing.

The asking price then was $1 950 000 (sale by set date, all offers presented 23rd November 2010; page 11 of Residential West Magazine #140 November 9 2010) — which is a lot for a 2 bedroom townhouse.

A Google search shows the history of how the asking price of this has reduced with time:
  • $1 850 000
  • $1 850 000 Sale by Negotiation
  • $1 750 000—$1 850 000
  • $1 650 000
Today the price is $1 595 000, an asking price reduction of $355 000 in 11 months ...

Monday, 26 September 2011

Humphrey B. Bear: intellectual property for sale

I was amused to see an advertisement in The Australian by the insolvency firm BRI Ferrier, who are attempting to sell the intellectual property behind Humphrey B. Bear for $500,000. Interestingly, I can find no mention of this asset on the BRI Ferrier website.

Thursday, 22 September 2011

Complexity Graphics

Jake Ross pointed me to Complexity Graphics—a really amazing site with beautiful images and videos. In some ways it reminded me of the Processing Exhibition, though with a more scientific focus.

Wednesday, 14 September 2011

How algorithms shape our world

Interesting TED talk by Kevin Slavin, which mentions the role of Physicists writing Black Box trading algorithms for Wall Street:
 Slavin warns that
we are writing code we can't understand, with implications we can't control
but, as Wolfram has argues with The Principle of Computational Equivalence, this is trivially true even for fundamentally simple systems.

Somewhat related, is Eric Berlow's TED talk on How complexity leads to simplicity, especially the dramatic simplification of an overly complicated network diagram to its essence.

Tuesday, 13 September 2011

The evolution of scientific fame

The evolution of scientific fame suprised me somewhat by the late emergence of Einstein (he first appears in 1930), and the number of people that I had never heard of. I also like the word portrait of Charles Darwin.

Monday, 12 September 2011


From news aggregator site comes the following:

Economist David Harrington (spotted via Tyler Cowan's Marginal Revolution) charges anti-plagiarism service Turnitin with "playing both sides of the fence, helping instructors identify plagiarists while helping plagiarists avoid detection." Turnitin analyzes student papers for suspicious elements in order to spot the plagiarism, scanning for things like lifted quotations or clever rephrasing. However, the same company offers a counterpart — a scanning service called WriteCheck which essentially lets the writer of a submitted paper know whether that paper would pass muster at Turnitin, and thus provides a way to skirt it (by tweaking and resubmitting). Harrington gave these two systems an interesting test, involving several New York Times articles and a book he suspected of having lifted content from those articles.

QS university rankings

Some nice quotes from David Blanchflower on the QS university rankings:
It is unclear whether having more foreign students and faculty should even have a positive rank; less is probably better.
Another way to improve the rankings of UK universities would be to replace the 20 per cent for citations with a 20 per cent weight to any university whose name started with the letters CAM or OXF; the ranking is that absurd.
and, most amusingly,
Or they could weight by the proportion of buildings on the campuses built before 1500.
In response, QS says its product is
among the most trusted world university rankings available
and that
...its rankings "intelligence unit" is "committed to the key values of rigorous integrity, undeniable value and charismatic presentation.
which really says it all.

Deanlets and Deanlings

In the The Fall of the Faculty, Dan Berrett interviews Benjamin Ginsberg on his book about the rise of the all-administrative university. In answer to the question "what ails higher education?", Ginsberg finds a single, unifying cause: the growth of administration. Although writing about US universities, his comments apply equally well to Australia. Some selected quotes:
Ginsberg bemoans the expansion over the past 30 years of what he calls "administrative blight" as personified by what he characterizes as an army of "deanlets" and "deanlings."
...the growth in the ranks of administrators (85 percent) and associated professional staff (240 percent) has far outstripped the increase in faculty (51 percent) between 1975 and 2005.
...a million-dollar president could be kidnapped by space aliens and it would be weeks or even months before his or her absence from campus was noticed.
On "strategic planning" and "public consultation" he says:
I look at strategic planning that takes enormous energy for no reason. Many of these could just be copied; the end result would be the same. The process of putting these plans together is designed rather like elections in the Soviet Union: the process is designed to give people the impression that people care what they think.
Academics have been outwitted, divided and conquered, by administrators. Which reminds me of the popular quote, spuriously attributed to Gaius Petronius Arbiter:
We trained hard ... but it seemed that every time we were beginning to form up into teams we would be reorganised. I was to learn later in life that we tend to meet any new situation by reorganising; and a wonderful method it can be for creating the illusion of progress while producing confusion, inefficiency and demoralisation.

Sunday, 11 September 2011

Dear Lord Monckton...

A letter to Viscount Monckton of Brenchley from the Clerk of the Parliaments makes interesting reading. This letter follows a recent testy interview of Monckton by ABC Sydney's Adam Spencer in which Monckton repeated his long-stated belief that he is a member of the House of Lords. Following this thread led me to Climate Smackdown and to the slides of Abraham's lecture. Both these links are definitely worth a read.

Tracking Real Estate prices

Google's ability to search within a date range, along with WebArchive, adds an extra dimension to tracking real estate prices. In September 2009 I noticed an advert for 92 Amethyst Crescent in Mount Richon. Although it looked like a very nice house, $1,995k for a house just outside Armadale seemed completely over the top.

It's now late 2011 and this house has still not sold. It's on the market, with the same agent, for $1,195k. There is no mention of this $800k "fire sale" price reduction in the advert. And I'm surprised that the owners stuck with the original agents; how is possible to get the price wrong by so much? Don't say market forces or GFC; this price was clearly wrong back in 2009.

Wednesday, 7 September 2011

Practicing atheism

Let me begin by declaring I am a practicing atheist (whatever practicing that means?) and a strong advocate of the secularity of public schools—and Universities, Governments, and Defence Services.

The School Chaplaincy Program (the original weblink no longer works—it appears that have no idea of preserving historical information—so this is a link via WayBackMachine) was a Howard government initiative, which commenced in 2007. The Rudd government expanded the program to include secular counsellors, but only if a suitable religious chaplain could not be found by the schools.

The extension and expansion to the National School Chaplaincy and Student Welfare Program begins in 2012. The program provides funding to schools to access the services of a school chaplain or secular student welfare worker. Some relevant quotes from Peter Garrett's press release of 7 September 2011, entitled Schools given greater choice under expanded chaplains program:
But we also want to give schools greater choice. This means schools won’t miss out on applying for the program if the school community would prefer to have a secular welfare worker instead of a chaplain.
We had strong feedback for the program to be extended to qualified secular welfare workers, which will empower principals and school communities to choose the right person for the needs and circumstances of their school. This will also provide even more help and support to kids across the country. 
The scheme will be re-named the National School Chaplaincy and Student Welfare Program to reflect its broader scope.
Chaplains are not meant to preach or to push their religious point of view (yeah, right!) but act as alternative advocates for children in need of help. However, the National School Chaplaincy Association (NSCA), a network of Christian chaplaincy organisations in Australia is, I suspect, one of the driving forces behind this initiative.

Some parents argue that this program is not about Christianity or religion, but to provide an avenue for children who are being bullied or abused to talk to someone. This was then (and still is) a nonsense—school psychologists are perfectly qualified to deal with such issues.

It is unlikely that a person of any specific religion would be all-encompassing of other points of view or remain secular as would be required. If this were true, it leads to an inescapable conclusion; that schools should support appointing a mufti or rabbi to fulfil this role. Try proposing this at your neighbourhood school and check out the reaction! The response will make it clear what the real agenda is, that indoctrination would inevitably be a consequence, and that most people aren't about to risk Islam or Judaism being presented in this way.

Personally if a choice has to be made, I would recommend Bahai, which is very encompassing and has no dogma. However, the religious "climate" at (some) schools can make children feel like "outsiders" if they do not take part in the "majority" (read Christian) Special Religious Education (SRE) classes. And don't tell me that young children don't keenly feel such peer pressure.

As for programs in ethics, most primary school children learn about ethics in the home, and experientially in school and life environments. In the cases of comparative religions and philosophy, young children get caught up in the "stories" and dogma much more than understand the philosophical differences and issues.

The Stop the National Schools Chaplaincy Program! website, which started up in 2007, clearly argues the case for terminating this program. To conclude, here is a nice quote from Voltaire in Philosophical Dictionary, 1746:
Nothing can be more contrary to religion and the clergy than reason and common sense
Acknowledgement: The origin of this post was an essay by Nick Spadaccini, a good friend and colleague, which I edited and extended.

Snapshot of a nation under stress

In snapshot of a nation under stress, Natasha Bita—in Australia's favourite tabloid—devotes one paragraph to the nation's poorest households before spending half the article reporting on the real issue; a well-off family suffering "financial stress". Stephen Parker, with an annual income of about $150,000, is quoted as saying
We're all hooked up to the internet. It used to be a couple of hundred dollars per month for a family, now it's $1000 for telecommunications
WTF! Apart from pissing off 85% of the Australian population, winging about how hard it is to live on $150,000, Mr Parker needs to have a serious look at his internet plan. Even Telstra can offer something better: we have 3 mobile phones + 50 GB cable internet + 1GB mobile data for $115/month.

Natasha should read her fellow columnist Tim Soutphommasane's much more sensible article well-off nation cries poor, and demands that its government help, which was also published this week. As Tim says
It beggars belief, for example, that some newspapers could seriously suggest that times are tough even for households with an annual income of $150,000 (as happened during the coverage of this year's federal budget). To give some sense of the absurdity, even offensiveness, of this claim, consider that the median household income in Australia for 2007-08 was $67,000, less than half of $150,000.
Well Tim, it's happened again—and in your newspaper. Please go and have a quiet chat to Natasha. Tim goes on to say
It isn't a good idea for the state to protect or subsidise lifestyles that are attained by living beyond one's means. To do so would corrupt the proper role of the state, which is to guarantee equal opportunity, provide certain public goods, and offer assistance in time of genuine hardship. Governments shouldn't be beholden to the demands of the profligate.
Hear, hear

Plain packaging

The latest full-page advertisement by the tobacco lobby states that
International concern has already been raised about the legality of removing branding from a legal product.
The correct response to this claim is to make tobacco illegal ...

Defence Chaplains Needed...

A recent job ad for Defence Chaplains in the Weekend Australian made me think: I had naïvely thought that such positions were paid for by the church. The nexus between religion and war is ever present, but still no less disturbing. The focus of these positions seems to be wholly christian. However, as Wikipedia notes:
While most military chaplains represent a religion or faith group, some countries, like the Netherlands, also employ humanist chaplains who offer a non-religious approach to chaplain support. Some groups such as the Military Association of Atheists and Freethinkers, support the idea of such humanist chaplains in the military, and also work to make all chaplains more sensitive to the needs and rights of those who profess no belief in a god. Others advocate for secular chaplains who have no faith identification but who do have the professional qualifications for the counseling and advisory responsibilities of chaplains.

Have your say...

The latest newsletter posted to my household (it is not clear who pays for the distribution of this) from Julie Bishop, the Federal Member for Curtin, includes a community survey, which is available as a PDF here (but not as an online form). The statements are provocative, the questions are structured (skewed) so as to elicit the desired responses, and the tone of the survey is selfish; how can Julie make things better for the electorate of Curtin? Well, the people in Curtin are already very well off, certainly better than most other Australian electorates.

Although it was probably a waste of my time, I decided to have my say.
  • The issues: With the rising cost of living putting so much pressure on families, please number (from 1 to 4) the four issues that concern you the most:
    • Reducing Australia’s debt—already very low by world standards.
    • Tackling local crime in our community—this really is not a problem.
    • Securing Australia’s borders—they are secure
    • Fixing our local hospitals—QEII is among the best in Australia. 
    • Creating local jobs—is this really a problem in Curtin?
    • Stopping the carbon tax—why? Why not ask about reducing CO2 emissions?
    • A new tax on the mining sector—This is the most important issue and a good idea!
    • Improving local roads and infrastructure—they are already excellent. However, encouraging public transport and cycling, instead of improving roads, would be preferable.
    • Backing small business—is Julie implying that she does not already do this?
    • Reducing cost of living pressures—how does Julie propose to do this?
    • Securing our water supplies—WA is well off here.
    • Protecting the local environment—our local environment is well protected.
  • What would you fix? Our local area is incredibly well off. The focus should be on improving things for those less fortunate that us.
  • In the Parliament: I would like to see politicians to work together co-operatively, in particular to address fundamental issues such as climate change. And stop focussing on issues raised by minorities, or special interest groups.
I am then asked about my politics and which, if any, party I support. Now, I don’t support any political party, but my feeling is that this question should not be asked. Are my views discounted if I don't vote Liberal? Julie Bishop represents all people in her electorate and a significant number of them get annoyed at paid party political announcements (from any party), such as this newsletter.

Saturday, 3 September 2011

Perth: houses for sale

I plan to list some interesting local houses for sale here:

Wednesday, 31 August 2011

The AlloSphere

Jake Ross, a student in my electromagnetism course, alerted me to visualization in the AlloSphere. As I have an interest in quantum dots and the visualization of quantum mechanical systems, such as atomic orbitals, two of the demonstrations, described in more detail here, were of particular interest:
  • Multimodal Representation of Quantum Mechanics: The Hydrogen Atom
  • Generating Audible Tones from Coherent Electron Spin Precession in a Quantum Dot

Friday, 26 August 2011

Trinity Remembered

I watched Dr. Strangelove again last weekend, part of the Stanley Kubrick: Limited Edition Collection, and a timeless classic. It reminded me to:
A search for videos of nuclear explosions led me to a low-resolution but highly compelling rendering of the time and place of every nuclear detonation from 1945 to 1998 by Isao Hashimoto:

Pearson's eloquence

I find Noel Pearson's columns in The Weekend Australian to be an indispensable part of my weekend. On Pearson's eloquence Malcolm Dow writes:
His arguments are compelling but it's his skill as a writer that I wish to especially comment upon, as far as one may distinguish style from content.
The eloquence of Pearson's columns ... are timeless examples of the writer's art: matching language to ideas and sentiment in order to better illuminate all three.
Hear, hear!

Monday, 22 August 2011

Books in the age of the iPad

Craig Mod makes a number of very interesting points about Books in the age of the iPad. I will have to think how to translate his ideas to CDF documents.

I have a copy of Envisioning Information; I will have to have a look at his other recommended texts, especially A Dictionary Story.

Wednesday, 17 August 2011

The Processing Exhibition

The Processing Exhibition, curated by Filip Visnjic of, is impressive, elegant, and interesting, including some fantastically cool stuff, such as:


For a nice example of typography see prototyp-0 by Yannick Mathey (byte-foundry), an experimental application designed for the drawing of typographical characters:

Font generator / processing : prototyp-0 from yannick mathey on Vimeo.

Monday, 15 August 2011

Under the tourist radar

An update to Steeples and StaplesUnder the tourist radar features more of London's best kept secrets:
  1. Disappearing Dining Club
  2. Sir John Soane's Museum
  3. Aubin Cinema
  4. Spitalfields and Brick Lane markets
  5. Inamo Restaurant
  6. Gordon's Wine Bar
  7. Harwood Arms
  8. Richmond Park
  9. Daunt Books
  10. King's Cross arts precinct: visit the Gagosian and Pangolin London.

Diagnostic Imaging Pathways

The Centre for Software Practice has developed a Diagnostic Imaging Pathways app for the iPad. I'll have to have a look at this ...

Erwin Schrödinger

Schrödinger is best known to physicists for his work on quantum mechanics—my PhD research was on solutions to the few-body Schrödinger equation—but his book What is Life?, based on a set of lectures he gave in Dublin in 1944, has been equally influential in biology. In a preface to a 1992 edition of the book, Paul Davies described Schrödinger as an
iconoclastic physicist [who] stood at the pivotal point of history when physics was the midwife to the new science of molecular biology. In this book he set down most of the great conceptual issues that confront the scientist who would attempt to unravel the mysteries of life.

π versus τ

Dump π, says maths circle pushing for the teaching of τ. According to Kevin Houston, of the School of Mathematics at the University of Leeds, ‘The proper number is 2π or τ’. According to the article,
A shift to τ, Dr Houston added, would make A-level maths considerably easier, and help to make mathematical concepts such as calculus more intelligible to many more people.
What complete and utter nonsense! Various combinations of π appear in many formulas (such as the surface area and volume of the sphere), and other expressions, such as Γ(1/2) would become more complicated. Replacing one constant by an integer multiple of itself will make no significant difference—and I am certain that such a change would not have any impact on making A-level maths easier. Indeed it would likely make things more confusing!

I hope that this was an April Fool's day joke by Houston.

Australian contemporary architecture

I'm a fan of contemporary architecture, so I enjoyed the Weekend Property article on modern marvels of design. Four houses were featured:
  1. The Kew House by Vibe Design Group certainly appeals to me.
  2. Passing a curve back through itself embodies the mathematical concept of the Klein Bottle. McBride Charles Ryan's Klein Bottle house in Rye attempts to realise this as an architectural form.
  3. The Stonehawke House located in Brisbane, designed by Base Architecture is both striking and elegant.
  4. Finally, Brian Meyerson Architects designed the impressive and interesting Bondi Beach house.
And locally, the recently completed Florida Beach House by iredale pedersen hook has been attracting international attention; some very nice photos by Peter Bennett can be found here. I walked past this house a couple of months ago when I was staying at nearby Melros Beach.

Thursday, 4 August 2011

Inside North Korea

Some excellent photos from Inside North Korea. My favourite is the first one, with beautiful pastel colours. Immediately striking is the complete lack of advertising hoardings.

Wednesday, 3 August 2011

The vice-chancellor with wings

From the vice-chancellor with wings
A radiographer by training, Bowman had the equivalent of a TAFE diploma and was teaching in a medical education centre in Britain when it merged with a university. Suddenly, he was officially an academic.

Higher education trades on status, reputation and old school tie networks. Where you studied and with whom you researched are the currency on which careers are forged. On Bowman's CV there is no prestigious sandstone. His masters in politics and government is from City Polytechnic, later known as London Guildhall University, his PhD comes from the British online education broker, Open Universities, and his MBA is from the University of the Sunshine Coast.
I would have thought that the quality of the work you do is always more important that where you studied and with whom you worked. Bowman's approach sounds like the ideal way to become a VC.

Monday, 1 August 2011

Einstein Rocks

It was a nice surprise to win Elsevier's EINSTEIN Quiz - Stage II. Only shame was that the prize was an iPad, not an iPad2 ...

Saturday, 30 July 2011

A Virtual Tour of the Anne Frank House

I have visited the Anne Frank House twice, the first time in 1991, the second in late 1995 when I was living in Amsterdam. It is well worth taking a virtual tour of the Anne Frank House.

The Secret Annex Online allows visitors to explore the front of the house and the secret annex as it was then, and hear stories that explain in greater depth what happened there.

Thursday, 28 July 2011

Atlas of Living Australia

The Atlas of Living Australia makes biodiversity information more accessible and useable online. You can explore your area and then click on share to contribute your own observations or photos.

Mobile learning kits are being developed for the Victorian school syllabus by Museum Victoria for incorporation into school assignments. Observations collected are uploaded into a central database where they can be analysed as a classroom exercise or sent on to be used by researchers as part of the ClimateWatch program.

It would be excellent to extend this initiative to all Australian schools.

Related to this is Leafsnap, which can identify (NE USA) trees from a photograph of a leaf. The idea of creating DNA ‘barcodes’ to allow researchers to quickly identify species and to find new species, which can also provide information on evolutionary pathways and biodiversity, is very interesting.

Wednesday, 27 July 2011

Paralysed by fear and embracing uncertainty

This afternoon I attended Professor Sergio Starkstein's talk entitled Paralysed by fear and embracing uncertainty. The talk was somewhat interesting, with nice quotes and readings such as Carpe Diem.

In question time it came up that Starkstein rejected the theory of Evolution. There was insufficient time to probe further, and he was vague in answering questions about this, but I was left wondering about the reasons for his rejection.

Apart from Dawkin's powerful and coherent defence of Darwin, it reminded me to record a link to 15 Answers to Creationist Nonsense by John Rennie (Editor, Scientific American). Perhaps Darwin's "theory" should be re-named Darwin's Law of Evolution, which would avoid some of the silly objections raised by creationists.

de Broglie-Bohm interpretation of quantum theory

I am currently reading more about the de Broglie-Bohm interpretation of quantum theory. Robert A.J. Matthews in Facts versus Factions: The use and abuse of subjectivity in scientific research, writes:
During the 1950s, Pauli together with the charismatic and influential theorist Robert Oppenheimer succeeded in stifling discussion of the de Broglie-Bohm interpretation of quantum theory by a combination of spurious arguments and subjective criticism. After being told that supposedly knock-out arguments against the de Broglie-Bohm interpretation were invalid, Oppenheimer is alleged to have remarked that “Well...we’ll just have to ignore it” (quoted in Matthews 1992 p 146); ironically, Oppenheimer went on to write a book whose central thesis was the need for an open mind in science (Oppenheimer 1955).
The recent paper by Kocsis, et al. (2011) on Observing the Average Trajectories of Single Photons in a Two-Slit Interferometer—highlighted as the secret life of photons revealed in Physics World (see also Catching sight of the elusive wave function)—is most interesting (and not to be confused with Abstruse Goose's The Secret Lives of Photons).

The correspondence between the single-particle two-slit trajectories to those in Philippidis et al. (1979) and Holland and Philippidis (2003) appear to be striking confirmation of the de Broglie-Bohm interpretation of quantum mechanics (even though they are dismissed by Mohrhoff). See also the bio of Basil Hiley in wikipedia.

A brief literature search led me to Dipole Moment Noise in the Hydrogen Atom in the Bohm Quantum-Mechanical Theory by Redington, Widom and Srivastava who write:
In the Bohm theory of quantum mechanics, particles move in well-defined paths. The probability distribution (at a single time) is exactly what would be computed from the Schrödinger equation. Here we consider two-time probabilities in the Bohm theory, and compute dipole moment fluctuation spectra for the hydrogen atom. The resulting dipole fluctuations differ from those which can be obtained from conventional quantum mechanics.
My view of de Broglie-Bohm was that it was “equivalent” to the Schrödinger equation. However, my thinking changed after reading the following section of On the Interpretation of Quantum Mechanics, Fock (1957) (my emphasis added):
What are the features of quantum mechanics that do not allow us to interpret them in a classical spirit and consider the wave function as a distributed field similar to the classical one? Discarding for a while some more deep epistemological arguments one can indicate some formal reasons contradicting this interpretation. First, in the case of a complex system consisting of several particles the wave function depends not only on three coordinates, but on all degrees of freedom of the system. It is a function of a point of a multidimensional configuration space and not of a real physical space. Second, in quantum mechanics the canonical transformations analogous to the Fourier transformation are allowed and all transformed functions obtained in this way describe the same state and are equivalent to the original wave function expressed in terms of the coordinates. And it is not only the absolute value squared of the original function that has a physical meaning, but the squared absolute values of the transformed functions as well. Third, the many body problem (in particular the problem of several identical particles) has in quantum mechanics some features that do not allow us to reduce this problem either to the problem of several disjoint particles or to formulate it as a field problem in the ordinary three-dimensional space. Hence if a complex system possesses a wave function then it is impossible to assign wave functions to single particles. Moreover, in the case of identical particles satisfying the Pauli principle there exists a quantum interaction of a special kind irreducible to a force interaction in the ordinary three-dimensional space. Another kind of interaction that is also irreducible to the classical one exists between particles described by symmetric wave functions. Finally, not only for the case of identical particles but for a single particle as well the wave function does not always exist and does not always change according to the Schrödinger equation; under certain conditions it simply disappears or gets replaced by another one (the so-called reduction of a wavelet, see §11). It is obvious that such “momentary change” does not agree with the notion of a field. 
The described features of quantum mechanics make in advance inconsistent all attempts to interpret the wave function in the classical spirit.
Clearly I will have to do some more reading and analysis...


On Fact and Fraud

Millikan was awarded the Nobel Prize in Physics 1923 for his work on the elementary charge of electricity and on the photoelectric effect. The book On Fact and Fraud: Cautionary Tales from the Front Lines of Science by David Goodstein includes a Chapter titled In the Matter of Robert Andrews Millikan, which makes interesting reading.

It is worth quoting Robert A.J. Matthews from Facts versus Factions: The use and abuse of subjectivity in scientific research, in Rethinking Risk and the Precautionary Principle (Ed: Morris, J.) (Oxford : Butterworth) 247-282 (2000). On Millikan:
In a now-famous study, the physicist and historian Gerald Holton examined the log-books for Millikan’s experiments with the electron, and revealed that he repeatedly rejected data that he deemed “unacceptable” (Holton 1978).
However, it is also clear that Millikan had another powerful motivation for using all means to obtain a convincing determination of the electronic charge: he was in a race against another researcher, Felix Ehrenhaft at the University of Vienna. Ehrenhaft had obtained similar results to those of Millikan, but they were interspersed with much lower values that suggested that the electron was not, in fact, the fundamental unit of charge. Millikan had no such doubts, published his results, and went on to win the Nobel Prize.
Millikan’s “remarkable ability” to scent out the correct answer was clearly not as great as his apologists would have us believe. Rather more remarkable is Millikan’s ability, almost half a century after his death, to evade recognition as an insouciant scientific fraudster who won the Nobel Prize by deception [Millikan’s cavalier attitude towards scientific research is further evidenced by his dealings with his young assistant Harvey Fletcher over authorship of the key papers on the properties of the electron (Fletcher 1982) and his role in early cosmic ray studies (Crease & Mann 1996, p 150-155)]
The dangers of the injudicious use of subjective criteria is further highlighted by the aftermath of Millikan’s experiments. In the decades following his work and Nobel Prize, other investigators made determinations of the electronic charge. The values they obtained show a curious trend, creeping further and further away from Millikan’s ‘canonical’ value, until finally settling down at the modern figure with which, as we have seen, it is wholly incompatible. Why was this figure not reached sooner? The Nobel Prize-winning physicist Richard Feynman has given the answer in his own inimitable style (Feynman 1988, p 382):
It’s apparent that people did things like this: when they got a number that was too high above Millikan’s, they thought something was wrong – and they would look for and find a reason why something might be wrong. When they got a number closer to Millikan’s value they didn’t look so hard. And so they eliminated the numbers that were too far off.
On Pauli:
Experimental science is not alone in being vulnerable to abuses of subjective criteria; theoretical advances can and have been gravely affected as well. Some of the most egregious examples centre on the influence of the brilliant but notoriously arrogant theorist Wolfgang Pauli, whose dismissive opinions of the work of a number of theoreticians led to their being denied credit for major scientific discoveries in elementary particle physics. For example, the discovery of the key quantum-theoretic concept of spin is widely ascribed to Uhlenbeck and Goudsmit. However, it was first put forward by the young American theorist Ralph Kronig, who was persuaded not to publish after being ridiculed by Pauli and informed that while “very clever”, the concept of spin “Of course has nothing to do with reality” (quoted in Pais 1991 p 244). Caustic ad hominem remarks by Pauli similarly led to the Swiss theorist Ernst Stueckelberg failing to publish his exchange model of the strong nuclear force; Yukawa subsequently published essentially identical ideas, and won the 1949 Nobel Prize for Physics. (Stueckelberg’s work on renormalisation of quantum electrodynamics met a similar fate, being later duplicated by three other theorists who went on to win the 1965 Nobel Prize for physics (Crease & Mann 1996, p 142-3)).