Archive for the ‘Uncategorized’ Category


CSIRO takes axe to education and children’s outreach work to meet cuts

1 August 2014

CSIRO has had to make hard choices following government funding cuts.

Who needs to inspire Australian kids to love science? Who needs astronomy?

I’d write to the Minister for Science if the government hadn’t cut that too.



The Solar System – Our home in space

25 August 2013

I really like this video. It uses simple infographic-type visuals to describe the layout and components of our solar system.


Coursera: Introduction to Mathematical Philosophy

14 August 2013

This week I started my second Coursera course: Introduction to Mathematical Philosophy.

It actually started a couple of weeks ago so I need to catch up. I’ve only done the first week but am already finding it both mentally stimulating and sort of funny.

Here’s what I’ll learn:

  1. Infinity (Zeno’s Paradox, Galileo’s Paradox, very basic set theory, infinite sets)

  2. Truth (Tarski’s theory of truth, recursive definitions, complete induction over sentences, Liar Paradox)

  3. Rational Belief (propositions as sets of possible worlds, rational all-or-nothing belief, rational degrees of belief, bets, Lottery Paradox)

  4. If-then (indicative vs subjunctive conditionals, conditionals in mathematics, conditional rational degrees of belief, beliefs in conditionals vs conditional beliefs)

  5. Confirmation (the underdetermination thesis, the Monty Hall Problem, Bayesian confirmation theory)

  6. Decision (decision making under risk, maximizing expected utility, von Neumann Morgenstern axioms and representation theorem, Allais Paradox, Ellsberg Paradox)

  7. Voting (Condorcet Paradox, Arrows Theorem, Condorcet Jury Theorem, Judgment Aggregation)

  8. Quantum Logic (orthocomplemented lattices, projections, Gleason’s Theorem, probability and logic)



Foals – My Number

15 February 2013

This video is a puzzle.

Man, I am loving all the new Foals songs.


First Aid Kit cover Patti Smith’s “Dancing Barefoot”

26 May 2012

I’ve blogged before about Swedish sister country-folk duo First Aid Kit, because they’re amazingly fantastical. In addition to their own great music they’ve done some great cover tunes, like this autoharp-filled version of “It Hurts Me Too”.

We’ve now got a full version of a cover First Aid Kit did for French radio some time ago, of Patti Smith’s eerie, iconic “Dancing Barefoot”. Listen to the harmonies.


Great Big Sea at The Basement

6 April 2012

Great Big Sea are a pretty popular party-time band from Newfoundland, Canada. For 20 years they’ve blended East Coast folk music (strongly Irish-influenced) with pop-rock melodies and sensibilities. I saw them a couple of times when I lived in Canada, and once in London in 2007 (read the comments thread on that blog post; I attracted a nutter). They’re high energy. Their music is neither elaborate nor delicately crafted, but it’s delivered with punk-rock dedication.

Great Big Sea are on their first Australian mini-tour (a night in Melbourne and a night in Sydney, before heading up the coast to the Byron Bay Bluesfest this weekend). Like any good Canadian – and the Basement was packed with them last night – I went to see them play. I managed to drag along some friends, most of whom didn’t know GBS, but who had a pretty good time.

I was pleased to find out that the opening act was Katoomba one-man DIY blues band Claude Hay, whom I caught a couple of times earlier this year. It was a short set, but Claude won over the room with his smiling demeanour, soulful voice, and fiery fingerpicking.

Great Big Sea did what they’ve always done: ripped through Celtic-rock singalongs of just about all the hits I remember, including “Donkey Riding”, “Mari-Mac”, “Lukey”, “The Night Pat Murphy Died”, “Up”, “Run Runaway”, “Excursion Around the Bay” and so on and so on. The Canuck crowd knew when to sing, when to clap, and when to belt out a “Hey!”

The boys oozed enthusiasm and Newfie charm as they went. This was the first time for some of them in Australia, and there were oft-repeated jibes of Sean McCann falling for warnings about drop-bears. Sean also found it bewildering that this used to be a penal colony: if people were sent here for punishment, he wondered aloud, how bad must his ancestors – banished to Newfoundland – have been?

It was a feel-good kitchen party in a little basement club on the other side of the world, but I don’t think it felt much different from Corner Brook for Great Big Sea.


Canberra to be NASA’s eyes for Mars landing

4 April 2012

From the SMH, when the latest Mars rover touches down on the red planet’s surface on August 6th, it will be Australia telescopes that will be in position to watch. Read more here.


CSIRO’s national challenges for Australian science

31 October 2009

Alright, I’m here in Sydney, and getting close to normal again. What better way to regain normality than regular blogging again?

The Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organisation (CSIRO) is Australia’s national science agency. They manage national R&D facilities and focus on several areas of interest to the country. Their current “national challenges” include focusing on:


Fish can count. Honeybees, too

22 June 2009

Researchers at a university in Italy have demonstrated that small guppy-like fish named Mosquito Fish can count; if they spot different groups of their comrades they can estimate which group is bigger.

That’s a useful skill to have, the researchers say. Larger groups, or shoals, offer a more effective shield against bigger fish with empty bellies.

The researchers allowed individual mosquitofish in a tank to see groups of other fish, but barricades prevented them from seeing an entire group at once. When viewing fish one at a time in each of two groups, mosquito fish spent much more time near larger groups, Dadda and his colleagues report. The fish preferred groups of three over two fish and groups with eight fish over four fish.

The article mentions that other animals, including rats and dolphons, have previously been shown to be able to count. They also mention that honeybees can also count, but only up to 3. This is something I learned growing up on the farm: when you place bee hives near crops you want them to pollinate you never put more than five or six in a row. That’s because bees know directionality and so will approach their home hive from the right side, but when counting to get the right hive they can’t go past three. If you had more hives than six in a row all the bees, on returning, would eventually cluster in the outer three hives on each side.

"And a-one, and a-two..."

"And a-one, and a-two..."

h1 goes mental for a minute

10 June 2009

I use It’s a nifty web service that searches out playable music on the net, lets you listen to it, create playlists with it, tweet it with messages and tags, comment on what other people play, and give “props” to people when they play kickass tunes.

This props, or credits, feature is like a bit of karma. If I give you a credit for playing a tune I like, then you get a credit to give to someone. The more people give me props, the more props I have to give. I usually burn through all the credits I get as soon as I get them: positive reinforcement of the DJs I like is a good thing, I think. If I play 15 or 20 tunes I’ll tend to get on the order of 5 or 10 props.

The other day I was blipping some songs and giving folks some props when suddenly I noticed my credit counter – which should have been around 3 or 4 credits remaining – changed to a slightly different number. Here’s a screenshot of the moment: props

The rush of unlimited power ran through my body. Limitless nods of approval at my disposal: every music snob’s dream. I started giving away props like mad. But to be honest 18 quintillion credits is more than I’m liable to burn through even if everyone had good taste. I let Blip’s support team know and they’ve corrected the bug.


Single-molecule nano-vehicles synthesized

27 April 2009

May’s Scientific American has an article describing some amazing advances in nanotechnology. Researchers from Penn State and Rice Universities have taken a big step towards making Fantastic Voyage a reality:

In recent years chemists have created an array of remarkable molecular-scale structures that could become parts of minute machines. James Tour and his co-workers at Rice University, for instance, have synthesized a molecular-scale car that features as wheels four buckyballs (carbon molecules shaped like soccer balls), 5,000 times as small as a human cell.

From ScienceDaily: James Tour and coworkers at Rice University synthesized a molecular car with four carbon-based wheels that roll on axles made from linked carbon atoms. The nano-car's molecular wheels are 5,000 times smaller than a human cell. A powerful technique that allows viewing objects at the atomic level called scanning tunneling microscopy reveals the wheels roll perpendicular to the axles, rather than sliding about like a car on ice as the car moves back and forth on a surface. (Credit: Y. Shirai/Rice University)

From ScienceDaily: James Tour and coworkers at Rice University synthesized a molecular car with four carbon-based wheels that roll on axles made from linked carbon atoms. The nano-car's molecular wheels are 5,000 times smaller than a human cell. A powerful technique that allows viewing objects at the atomic level called scanning tunneling microscopy reveals the wheels roll perpendicular to the axles, rather than sliding about like a car on ice as the car moves back and forth on a surface. (Credit: Y. Shirai/Rice University)


World Maths Day

4 March 2009

March 4th is World Maths Day.

Celebrate with some real-life math problems!


Back to reality

17 August 2008

Remember when I used to blog about my life and stuff I found interesting? Before I decided I was going to blog about science and music?

Well, I decided I missed blogging about that stuff. So I’m going to do it again, but separately. Over here, on Timinator: The Blog.


Just back from holiday

5 August 2008

Blogging to resume tomorrow.


Black Watch at the Barbican

22 July 2008

Wow. I caught Black Watch – a touring production of a National Theatre of Scotland play – at London’s Barbican Theatre last night. It was one of the best plays I’ve ever seen.

Black Watch focuses on the Scottish regiment of that name. It tells the story of some young Scots who’ve recently been in Iraq and, in doing so, explains the history of the regiment, its proud traditions, and the impact on it of the most recent conflict. It also tells a story we’ve seen many times before in film and book – what it means to be a young soldier – but in a way that’s not too heavy-handed. It was mainly dramatic but also had song, dance, video, and structures: a lot was packed into a small space. It was as foul-mouthed as young Scottish men in a warzone are likely to be. It was tense and funny and historical and human.

Black Watch has received enormous critical acclaim in its tour around the world (Australia, the US, Canada, and other places). It’s been hugely anticipated here, and tickets for the entire run sold out really quickly. There was a large line of people hoping for returns last night.

Black Watch at the Barbican

Black Watch at the Barbican


The Ealing Saturday Blues

20 July 2008

As I mentioned the other day, the Ealing Summer festival has a lot of music events going on right now. I attended bits and pieces of the Blues festival yesterday. No top-tier acts, but it was a lot of fun (and when entry is only a quid you can’t really moan).

The first act we caught was the Dani Wilde Band. Only 21 (and her band looked younger than that), Dani’s a singer and guitar player. She plays an unpolished blues, though her singing style is more soul. Her original songs were predictable but delivered with guts. Her voice was powerful enough to be engaging. Her band laid down the requisite groove (in fact, her brother’s harmonica was a highlight). A couple of the covers were safe bets but classics – Muddy Waters’s “Hoochie Coochie Man” and John Lee Hooker’s “In the Mood”. Shemekia Copeland’s “Ghetto Child” was different, and quite good.

We watched the Soul Britannia Band (a spinoff from the BBC TV series of the same name, I’m told) for a while. Their musicianship was a step up and it was great just listening to them groove. The singing wasn’t as spectacular and it was sometimes hard to tell which blues standard they were funking through. Great head-bopping tunes, though.

After leaving the festival park for a meal we returned to catch the last few songs of Ray Stubbs & His Amazing One Man Blues Band. And Ray was amazing. Wailing harmonica, great guitar, unshakable kick-drum beat, and whatever else he could fit in (I don’t think I’ve ever seen a kazoosaphone before). Ray was feeling it, and so were we. He was sweating a river by the end. Check out Ray on YouTube. I’ve got to catch him again: the real deal.

The last ones we caught were Downliners Sect. I’d never heard of these guys before. This is surprising because they’ve been together since 1963, and started out as R&B bands just like the Rolling Stones and the Yardbirds. Maybe it’s not surprising, though, because – unlike those bands – they never had a UK hit. And despite some forays into rock and country they pretty much ended up back at good-time singalong rhythm and blues. It certainly looked like all the originals still in the band. They were fun for a few songs but then it stayed pretty same-y.


Found day

22 June 2008

I’ve found myself with a free couple of days this weekend: I mistakenly thought we had plans, but they’re all next weekend. It’s been quite liberating to be freed at the last minute.

Yesterday I did some of the miscellaneous things that needed doing – exchanged my excess US currency, bought a small folding umbrella. I also bought a new pair of sneakers: Simple Shoes’ Sno Tire Hemp ecoSNEAKS. Check ‘em out: made from hemp and organic cotton (no leather whatsoever), polyethyleneterephthalate (recycled plastic bottles), post-consumer pulp paper, and old car tires. Yes, the sole is a piece of tire, and even has zig-zag tread on it! They’re quite comfy, surprisingly supported in the arch.They’re available in the UK at Schuh shops or online.

After all that we got together with PC for a couple of drinks and an awesome new tapas place near Hammersmith. It was seriously good food and drink, and good to catch up with them.


Waiting for the iPhone

9 June 2008

I didn’t get a first-generation iPhone because I believe in someone else being the guinea pig for brand new tech. Plus I wanted 3G and a lower price. It looks like much of Europe wanted the same, and will hopefully get it when the new iPhone version is (almost certainly) announced today.


Do the maths

6 June 2008

There seems to have been a flurry of maths*-related articles in the news recently.

  • From the Telegraph comes a story that claims that the UK population is woefully underskilled in maths and is wasting earning and development potential. About 10% of the population (6.8m) don’t have the skills to do simple things like pay bills or understand train timetables. A government scheme to address literacy and numeracy in adults has been taken up by only 2% of those they judge needed it.
  • The BBC covers the same story. They make it a little clearer that an education watchdog body says that despite this, numeracy plans for 2010 are on target (though their 2020 targets are at risk).
  • A couple of days ago the BBC did a piece claiming – and my experience supports this, as does this column from the Times – that Brits seem quite happy to admit that they’re bad at maths.
  • The day before that the BBC wrote a story claiming that fewer than half of England’s secondary school maths teachers have a degree in the subject.
  • On the same day the BBC reported on the watchdog claiming that maths exams are easier than they used to be (it looks like news agencies are using bits of the report each day, rather than blowing it all at once).

I don’t think the problem is that people don’t recall how to solve a quadratic equation or can’t do integration by parts. Only those in maths- and science-heavy jobs need to do those things regularly. Of course, if trends continue we might not have enough of these advanced mathematicians either. And I think that a lot of people would be better off with some of the basics (percentages, statistics) plus being better able to do sums in their heads.

*And thus my transformation to Britishness is complete.



5 June 2008

Those of you who know me in real life may know that I’m lactose introlerant. My gut stopped producing lactase, the enzyme that breaks down lactose (the sugar found in dairy products) years ago, and it makes me sick if I eat cheese or ice cream or milk.

I’ve gotten used to it, either by avoiding dairy or by taking lactase supplements. I’ve never liked the “milk” and “ice cream” soy replacement products available.

Through a recent London blogger meetup I got in touch with someone who’s involved with a product called Lactofree. It’s real milk that’s had most of the lactose filtered out and a little bit of lactase added. I was able to sample a couple of pints of it and I’m pleasantly surprised: it tastes, looks, and smells just like regular semi-skimmed milk.

While taking supplements means I haven’t gone without dairy much I’d never take one just to have some milk. And I have to admit: it’s been kinda nice to just drink a glass of milk once in a while, and to have a bowl of cereal. Those are things I’ve not done in a decade and a half.

If you’re lactose intolerant in the UK and don’t care for soy products you might want to give it a try.


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