Ronald Brak

Because not everyone can be normal.

Friday, October 28, 2005

I and the Bird - And Poison!

I should have mentioned this earlier but there is a new edition of I and the Bird at Girl Scientist. It has one of my posts, which if I dare say so myself, exceeds or perhaps even meets my own standards for quality.
I'm a little slow informing you because yesterday my friend and I were both laid out with terrible food poisoning, and the only thing we had to eat in common was the product of a big international food company. I have since called this company and as a result of my savvy negotiating skills they have agreed to confiscate the remaining evidence and pay me three dollars. I considered asking for the thirteen dollars I spent on sports drinks to rehydrate myself, but the three dollars up front was just too tempting. I suppose I have grounds for a civil suit, but I think I'm perhaps just a bit too honest to go to court:

DEFENSE LAWYER: Do you seriously expect the jury to believe that you deserve fifty thousand dollars for a single bout of food poisoning?

ME: No, but I was hoping you wouldn't ask that question.

DEFENSE LAWYER: You have stated that you lost four kilos of bodily fluids over a 24-hour period. In your opinion would you say that's a lot?

ME: Um, yeah.

DEFENSE LAWYER: So you admit that you lost a lot of weight over a very short period of time? From your appearance I can see that you are coated with a somewhat excessive layer of blubber. Don't you think you should be grateful that my client helped you lose weight by accidentally including a miracle, bacteria based, weight loss formula in your food, you walking tub of lard?

ME: Well, the whole experience was quite painful.

DEFENSE LAWYER: Painful? Ha! Your honour, I'd like to call a leper to the witness stand.

LEPER: Due to a degenerative nerve disease I am unable to feel pain. I would give anything to feel pain again and quite frankly I am disgusted that anyone would talk about feeling pain as a bad thing. And by the way, we prefer to be called Hanson disease sufferers nowadays, not lepers.

DEFENSE LAWYER: Yeah, whatever. Your honour, I rest my case.

ME: Is it too late to take the three dollars?

Wednesday, October 26, 2005

Attention all decks!

Attention all crew! As you are all fully aware, this is your Captain, Jean-Luc Picard of the Starship Enterprise. By forces unknown we have been propelled beyond space and time into a region where our very thoughts can become reality. For this reason it is vitally important that none of you think about the Enterprise being destroyed. Got that? Nobody think about the Enterprise being destroyed, all right? And whatever you do, don’t think about writhing in pain as your eyeballs are sucked out by a giant tentacled monstrosity from your foulest nightmare. That is all. Carry on.

Tuesday, October 25, 2005

Is there life on Venus?

Venus is not a very hospitable place by our standards. The atmospheric pressure is ninety times that on earth, the surface temerature is hot enough to melt lead, there is no pizza delivery, etc. However, it has been suggested that there could be bacterial life floating in the atmosphere about 50 kilometres off the ground where the pressure is roughly equal to sea level on earth, the temperature is about 50 degrees Celsius and there are tiny drops of floating water. Hydrogen sulphide and sulphur dioxide have also been found which are unlikely to result from natural processes that we are aware of and so could be the by products of bacterial metabolism.

In addition, patches in the atmosphere of Venus have been detected that absorb ultraviolet light. It is possible this is caused by bacteria using it to photosynthesise. Although there is no life we know of on earth that uses ultraviolet light to photosynthesise, the fluorescent tube in my living room converts ultraviolet light into visible light everyday without difficulty. It may be possible for bacteria to do something similar.

So, how can we find out if there is life there? There are three ways. One is to send a probe that would skim through the atmosphere and capture a sample and return it to earth. Another way would be to send a floating laboratory that would suspend itself from a balloon and analyse the atmosphere in place. Or a probe could simply capture a sample of atmosphere at the appropriate height and analyse it after it had landed. However, it might have to analyse quickly as the temperature and pressure on the surface aren’t very good for the survival of probes or of any life it may have collected.

Actually, there are more than three ways to discover if there is life on Venus, but all the other ways I can think of are kind of silly.

Monday, October 24, 2005

How to Improve the U.S. Political System – Preference Voting

I feel sorry for people in the United States. They can’t vote for the Uber Fascist Party without throwing their votes away. The first-past-the-post voting system used in the U.S. means that minor parties have almost no chance of obtaining power and anyone who votes for them pretty much wastes their vote. If a hypothetical Uber Fascist Party voter didn’t want to waste his vote he’d probably have to support an even more extreme party and vote for the Republicans.

In Australia we don’t have this problem. We have preference voting where we rank our preferred candidates so I can vote for the Monster Raving Looney Party secure in the knowledge that if they fail to win a majority, I can still help my second choice, The Moderately Silly Party come to power.

As an example of how it would work in the U.S, if the 2000 Presidential elections had used preference voting then Al Gore would have won, thanks to support from Ralph Nader voters. As most Nader supporters would have put the Democrats before the Republicans on their list of preferences most of their votes would have gone to the Democrats instead of being blown on old Ralph.

Preference voting would not get rid of the two party domination of government and probably would not be a good thing if it did. But it would make it possible for minor parties and independents to exist, make their voices heard and have some effect upon government for good or for ill. It would certainly be an improvement upon the current two sizes fit all system.

Sunday, October 23, 2005

Phosphorous and Carbon Sinks – And no, Carbon Sinks don’t make for dirty dishes

I’m planning to live for quite a bit longer, so one of the things I’m concerned about is global warming caused by increasing amounts of Carbon Dioxide in the air. I mean, it is going to be very difficult to enjoy my retirement inside a hermetically sealed bubble if the only thing they show on the news at night is pictures of people dying from environmental disasters in less fashionable nations. After seeing images of people dying of heatstroke in Amazon desert, the only thing that would probably make me feel better is to crank up my air conditioning and sip iced pina colada.

As a result, I’ve gotten to thinking about if it would be possible to increase the amount of carbon taken up from the atmosphere by scattering phosphorous rich gravel over certain parts of Australia to encourage plant growth. Since the vast majority of Australian soils are phosphorous poor, a lack of phosphorous is often a limiting factor in the growth of plants. Once the gravel had been scattered it would slowly weather away, gradually releasing phosphorous over many years. However, spreading this gravel could be quite expensive. To add an average of one gram of phosphorous rich rock per square meter to an area the size of Tasmania (that little island just below the right half of mainland Australia) would require about 70,000 tons of rock. That’s equal to a cubic chunk of rock about 12 stories high. Finding that much rock isn’t going to be a problem, but grinding it up and scattering it is. Normally adding phosphorous to land for agricultural purposes doesn’t involve flinging gravel. Perhaps some sort of catapult could be used?

Besides absorbing carbon and reducing the effect of global warming, there could be other benefits, including improved soil and water quality, and increased plant growth could help moderate the extremes of Australian climate.

If this idea is practical at all then it is only likely to work in areas with local sources of phosphorous and access to cheap catapults. However, if property owners could receive payments for increasing the amount of carbon their land holds, then they could try whatever method they think is best for their location.

Friday, October 21, 2005

Thank You, Science.

I went to Subway today, which is a chain of sandwich shops from America. The sandwiches don't taste bad but for the life of me I can't work out why they decided to name their shops after a long, dank, underground tube that smells of urine. For some reason, I'm not sure why, but I think it has something to do with their current administration's voodoo economics affecting all Americans, at the moment it is cheaper for me to buy a sandwich with a drink than it is to buy one without a drink. This is a minor problem, as I don't actually like any of the drinks they have. The ones with sugar in them have too much sugar in them for me and the one that doesn't have sugar has too much caffeine. I've tried drinking a whole enormous cup of one of their sugary soft drinks, but it made me feel as though I had taken a horse tranquilliser and I could feel my I.Q. dropping by about sixty points as I drifted off into a pre-diabetic coma.

However, as I stood in line, I did consider turning to the young lady behind me and asking politely in my best Australian accent, "Wood'ja like a drink?" It is my belief that Australians use their accents out of politeness. When everybody has to spend a few seconds working out what everyone else has just said, it makes conversation a lot more intellectual and less combative. But I suddenly realized that I couldn't ask the lady this. What if she misinterpreted me and thought I was asking her to partake of an alcoholic beverage down at the local watering hole? I couldn't bear the thought of bitterly disappointing her when she found out that I was just talking about a small tub of subway soft drink.

So I acquired my sandwich and walked out of the place with an enormous Subway soft drink container in my hand. It wasn't very difficult to carry despite its large size, thanks to the immense slabs of hard muscle my body possesses under a thin layer of blubber. I maintain the layer of blubber out of consideration for others. I don't want them to be hurt if they happen to run into me.

I thought about how unfortunate it is that you never seen to come across anyone who is on fire when you just happen to be walking through town carrying a large drink in your hand that you don't particularly want. I briefly speculated upon the possibility that if my drink was sweet enough and a burning person's flames intense enough, would pouring my soft drink on them cause them to explode into a fireball as the sugar ignited? I decided that it was unlikely.

Anyway, as I was walking home, I got hit by hamburger rain. We often have this in Australia. That is, large fat drops that look like hamburger buns as they flatten on the bottom while they fall through the air. Of course you can't actually see that they look like hamburger buns. You have to muck around with a camera that has a very short shutter speed indeed to see that. And if you have a camera that good you shouldn't take it out in the rain in the first place. But nonetheless I took it as read that the raindrops were hamburger shaped.

Then I heard the thunder and I remembered how a dog we used to have, a big German Shepard, was terrified of it. I thought how lucky I was that I knew what thunder was and that it couldn't harm me. (Although admittedly lightning could make a bit of a mess of things.) I tried to explain to our dog that he had nothing to be afraid of, but he just didn't understand. And I wondered how many of my ancestors would have been in a similar position, terrified of the thunder and unable to understand it? For how many generations did they carry their fear with them? So I'd just like to thank all the people, both alive and dead, who have contributed to our understanding of the world. I'd like to thank science for freeing me from superstition and for the fact that I don't cower under the table when I hear thunder.

Thursday, October 20, 2005

Oh God, Now Even This Blog is Posting on Avian Flu!

A lot of people have been writing about the threat that the world faces from bird flu. Personally I’m not so worried. Currently I’m afraid to go outside due to the intense ultra violet radiation that is beating down. Also, I live next to a busy road, so I think that about half the air I breathe has been purified by being passed through an internal combustion engine. In addition I’m sure we will soon have many days where the temperature will be over 35 degrees Celsius. These are all conditions that make unlife hard for a virus. When you add in the fact that I prefer to bow than to shake hands and that many of my friends are imaginary, I consider myself pretty safe.

One estimate says if the bird flu mutates into a highly contagious form then about 5% of the worlds population could become infected, with nearly half of them dying. Well, when I say “estimate,” I actually mean “rumour,” because no one really knows for sure what might happen. But lets assume there is a 5% chance of such an event coming to pass that will kill on average 150 million people. Let’s also assume that because I live in a first world country with a fairly effective health care systems we will we will suffer only 10% as many deaths per person as less developed countries. Let’s further assume that the fact I live in a geographically remote location in an environment that’s harsh on viruses reduces the chance of infection by a further 50%. Finally I’ll rate my introverted lifestyle as further reducing my chances of infection by another 50%. This gives me a grand total of a 0.000025 chance of dying from bird flu. I like those odds.

But what if I’m an extroverted Australian who lives in Sydney, you may ask? Well don’t worry. According to the figures I pulled out of my butt, you probably only have a 0.0001% chance of dying, or one chance in ten thousand, which is less than your chance of being murdered in your lifetime. (Unless of course you are a particularly annoying extrovert.)

Of course some people think that even a tiny chance of dying is too high. (How wimpy.) So what could the government do to reduce the risk of people dying from bird flu or other epidemics? Well it could increase the number of sick days available to people who work in positions where they are likely to spread diseases. This reduces the chance of someone coming to work with a sniffle that could turn out to be bird flu. However, to help prevent them being abused, we might have to call them Contagion Prevention days.

As for spending money on drugs that might protect against bird flu, it makes sense as long as the money wouldn’t save more lives on average if it were spent somewhere else. For example, many people die of run of the mill flu every year, so if more years of human life would be saved by spending the money on conventional flu vaccine then that would be the sensible course to take. Of course governments don’t get kicked out of office if the average number of people who die from ordinary flu each year die from ordinary flu in a year. They will get kicked out of office if a bird flu epidemic occurs and people don’t think the government was adequately prepared. This consideration may affect the cost benefit analysis somewhat.

What can you do personally to protect yourself and loved ones against avian flu? Well, buying a game consol and some addictive games might be best. That way if an epidemic hits you might be able to persuade your kids to stay indoors and away from friends who might infect them. Frequent hand washing is important and wearing a mask helps. A handyperson’s dust mask works well at stopping virus filled particles of phlegm people may have coughed out, but you may want to carry an electric drill or something around with you so you won’t feel self conscious about wearing one. Masks can always be improvised if you find yourself caught short. Warm water, soap, detergent and sunshine are all good for killing virus particles that may be on clothes or other surfaces. Ultraviolet lights are available if you’re really paranoid. One of the most important things to do is to eat healthily. Failing that, get into the habit of taking a multivitamin.

Intelligent Designers: “God not supernatural”

I’ve found a Chicago Tribune article that contains an earth shattering idea. The concept is a little hard to assimilate, but the ramifications are astounding:

HARRISBURG, Pa. - (KRT) - A Pennsylvania biochemist testified in federal court here Monday that intelligent design, a view critical of Charles Darwin's theory of evolution, is a scientific theory that doesn't require involvement of a supernatural agent, although he said he believes the intelligent designer is God.

So he’s saying that God is not necessarily supernatural? That’s exactly the sort of intelligent idea I’ve come to expect from the Intelligent Design crowd. It’s an incredible concept and it explains so much. You see I’ve met this God. He was a crazy, smelly, old man I met under a bridge one night who revealed his divinity to me. The fact that he’s not supernatural would explain why he slept in a cardboard box. It would also explain why he alternated between talking to dirt and stomping on it. “What? No flagella?” he’d cry. “Why you worthless excuse for a procaryote! I’ll show you what I think of bacteria that can’t be bothered to develop intricate molecular machinery!”

He’s obviously been wandering the earth for billions of years and since he doesn’t have any supernatural abilities he’s must have been Intelligently Designing life with the only tool available to him, a club. It wouldn’t take much for a man with unlimited time, a sturdy length of wood and a mean streak a light year long to affect the evolutionary course of a great many species.

"We infer design when parts appear to be arranged for a purpose," Behe said, noting that the more parts involved, in a process such as blood clotting, for example, the more confidence there is in a design component.

Yep, with a knife made of a shard of stone, in a few million years a non-supernatural god could provide a fair amount of selection pressure for the development of efficient blood clotting just by slashing any animals that had the misfortune to get in his way. He could also foster the development of human intelligence by snapping the necks of ape-like creatures that weren’t smart enough to run like hell when they saw him.

You know, I like the intelligent designer’s idea of a non-supernatural god who is obviously completely insane and bloodthirsty. He’s not a distant God with incredible powers, but just a man who walks the earth like us. And kills those who don’t fit his design.

If God had a game what would it be?
And if he wasn’t supernatural
Would it be Intelligent Design with his bare hands
And would you fear those hands so steeped in blood

Yeah yeah God is cruel
Yeah yeah God wants blood
Yeah yeah yeah yeah

What if God was one of us,
With a rock chasing after us,
Throwing the poorly designed under a bus,
Trying to make us stronger bones

If God made a race
What would it look like?
And would you want to flee,
If fleeing meant you wouldn’t have to believe,
In nuts like Behe and Intelligent Design
And all that bullshit

Yeah yeah God is nuts
Yeah yeah God is psycho
Yeah yeah yeah yeah

What if God was one of us
And designing was his lust,
He would kill us without a fuss
Trying to create a blood cascade
Killing failures along the way
Not caring how many have to pay
Supernatural is not what he is
As just a man he must exist
And so he Intelligently Designs with a fist

Tuesday, October 18, 2005

The Great Space Con: Part I

So how can you convince your citizens that your ego-tripping space missions aren’t a waste of money when hundreds of millions of them live in rural poverty? Simple! You tell them that as a direct result of the space program they can grow giant space cucumbers! The following quote is from the China Daily article – Space-age technology seeps into everyday life:

Space breeding: Under the influence of space rays, the genes of crop seeds carried by spacecraft were changed. As a result, some new crops with high yields will be bred.
Incomplete statistics show that more than 800 kinds of seeds have undergone in-space breeding experiments by retrievable satellites since 1987 in China.
Experiments show that these crops have made remarkable progress in producing bigger fruit containing more nutrients and with a higher ability to resist pests.

Now this is just bizarre. They believe space rays have some sort of beneficial effect, on seeds as opposed to say, exposing them to radiation on earth? (Well it worked for the Fantastic Four, didn’t it?) This is comic book stuff. Not that there is anything wrong with comic books… No, wait; there are lots of things wrong with comic books. They treat the laws of physics as if they were a sort of bureaucratic red tape that can be safely ignored when convenient. Let me restate myself. There is nothing wrong with enjoying comic books as fantasy, but when you start thinking they are accurate reflections of real life, and start shooting seeds into space, then you are wasting your time and your country's money. There is no reason I’m aware of to think that exposing seeds to space rays will cause more beneficial mutations than exposing them to radiation on earth. Now I have to admit that I have no evidence that it won’t, but then I have no evidence that exposing my car to space rays won’t improve its fuel economy. Perhaps we should shoot it into space as well? Perhaps exposing lemon juice to space rays will convert it into a magic potion! Perhaps if I pat my head while rubbing my nose and spinning my chair counter clockwise my laptop will turn into an alligator? Hmmm… apparently not. Perhaps the Chinese space program and I would waste less time if we tried to do things that evidence suggests will work.

If I am wrong about this I will expect the Chinese space seed agricultural business to boom and make huge sums of money selling seeds all over the world and start putting Monsanto and others who don’t use space rays to develop crops out of business. Then I will stand corrected. Let me know when that happens.

In the same article we have a paragraph that says:

New materials: The special conditions of living in outer space, characterized by microgravity, a need for cleanliness and being in a vacuum, provide an ideal place for producing new materials.

Name one. Name one new material that has been developed in space. We have been shooting probes and people into space for nearly fifty years now. Earth is now onto its eighth space station. You would think that by now that someone would have come up with a new material made in space by now if it was easy, wouldn’t you? While large crystals have been gown in zero gee, large crystals aren’t exactly new or very helpful. My watch wouldn’t operate any better if its quartz crystal were larger.

Outlook Weekly quoted Professor Han Liyan of the Beijing University of Aeronautics and Astronautics as saying that every 10 yuan (US$1.23) invested in the aerospace industry has generated 80-140 yuan (US$9.87-17.30) worth of benefits.

Investing in scientific research can pay great dividends to all humanity. Even non-human life often benefits. But what I disagree with is the suggestion that spending money on sending humans into space will somehow magically have benefits that investing money in other areas of research won’t. If you want to develop cleaner energy, or a cure for malaria, then you’d probably be better off spending your money on research that specifically deals with those problems rather than hope that by some chance you’ll find a malaria cure as a by product of your crewed moon expedition program.

Now on one hand it may not seem fair to pick on Chinese space propaganda when American space propaganda has said much the same thing, but the average Chinese citizen is a lot poorer than the average American and so the waste is less excusable. I would also hate to think they can’t learn from other people’s mistakes. As the old saying goes, “Fool me once, shame on you. Fool me twice… We can’t get fooled again!”

Monday, October 17, 2005

"The Iraq regime continues to possess and conceal some of the most lethal weapons ever devised."

I have recently been mulling over a number of incidents that have occured over the past five or so years and have come to a somewhat disturbing conclusion. I think that George Bush may not always be completely honest. Now I realize that my evidence is kind of flimsy. All I have to back it up are fictional weapons of mass destruction, fictional Iraq ties with criminal organizations and perhaps only three or four hundred more dishonesty related incidents. Now some people go as far as to say that George Bush is the greatest liar in American Presidential history, but I think that's just crazy talk. Remember Richard Nixon? And remember the old joke, "How do you tell if Nixon is lying? His lips are moving!" Well there is no way Bush could be a greater liar than Nixon, because when George Bush moves his lips what comes out of his mouth often can't be described as communication.

The Ronald Brak Astrology Institute

The Hubble telescope, the Chandra X-ray observatory, the Voyager space probes. These are all names that don’t mean a damn thing to astrologers. I’m here today at the Ronald Brak Astrology institute, interviewing myself about how the stars affect our day to day lives. So Mr Brak, can you tell me just what it is you do here?

Ronald Brak: Please, call me Ronald. I feel as though I’ve known you all my life.

Interviewer: Whatever.

Ronald Brak: Here at the Ronald Brak Astrology institute we have the latest scientific equipment that can be used to observe the heavens. And this equipment is put to good use. You’d be amazed at the number of crushed beer cans you can cram in an eight-inch reflector.

Interviewer: So astrologers use eight-inch reflectors? Do you often use your eight inch?

Ronald Brak: Of course, that’s what Astrology is all about. You grab however many inches you have and then you reflect upon the virtues of some beautiful heavenly bodies and then after making a series of fevered arcane movements with your hands you cast your horoscope all over a piece of paper and charge someone money for it.

Interviewer: And that’s all there is to it?

Ronald Brak: Well there are certain other factors you have to keep in mind, such as the position of Uranus. I happen to know that the position of Uranus has a major effect upon my happiness. If Uranus is in your house then that will have a profound disturbance upon the course of your life.

Interviewer: Well, if Uranus was in your house and you weren’t, that would be profoundly disturbing. But tell me, just how do the stars and planets affect our lives?

Ronald Brak: Well, it’s simple to see how gravity affects the tides.

Interviewer: Yes, but how does the gravity of a planet such as say mars affect us? Wouldn’t any effects be swamped by the vastly greater gravity of the earth? Don’t nearby objects such as cars and buildings have greater gravitational effects upon us than the incredibly distant planet mars? Wasn’t it Carl Sagan, or more likely someone who is going to be incredibly pissed off that I can’t remember his name, who said that the Doctor who delivered you is going to have more gravitational influence on you than the planet Jupiter?

Ronald Brak: Well there are other forces at work besides gravity.

Interviewer: Like what?

Ronald Brak: Well, there are electromagnetic effects and quantum fluctuations, but mostly we rely upon the power of imagination. The most powerful force there is. Basically we make crap up.

Interviewer: So it’s all a con then?

Ronald Brak: Bingo!

Interviewer: Aren’t you afraid that admitting this will ruin your little scam.

Ronald Brak: It’s not a little scam. We rake in millions. And no, I’m not afraid of losing money. I’ve told people right to their faces, like I’m doing now, that it’s all a con and on the way out they still shell out $45 in the gift shop for a printout of their own “personalized” horoscope. On the whole our customers are what we astrologers call, very, very stupid. For example I’ve had a brain surgeon pay me thousands of dollars for a horoscope that I pulled out of my butt. It takes a special kind of stupidity for someone so intelligent to be so dumb. And women are the best! They are our best customers! They might think they’re liberated, but we still have so many of them trapped in chains of superstition!

Interviewer: Well I’ve heard quite enough! I can find my own way out, thank you very much. And I assure you, I won’t be stopping to purchase any horoscopes in the gift shop as I leave.

Ronald Brak: Please, wait for just one minute! Since we both have the same birthday, I’d like to read you your horoscope that I prepared for you before you leave: You are very intelligent and reasonable but like everyone, capable of making mistakes. You are also kind and forgiving, although there are times when your patience is tested. You enjoy physical activities and also more relaxed pursuits. You enjoy being with people except when you prefer to be alone. You have a natural talent for leadership but are wise enough to let people make their own mistakes. You enjoy life for the moment but are always prepared to plan and make sacrifices for the future. You have a special insight into the world around you that other people lack.

Interviewer: Oh my god, that’s me exactly!

Ronald Brak: Ha! Sucker! I read you Hitler’s horoscope instead! Or perhaps it’s Ghandi’s. Who gives a crap? Besides Uranus, that is? Man, everybody falls for that one! Like who doesn’t that describe? I bet you read your horoscope in the newspaper everyday but act like you’re reading the comics. Man, you are too much of a tool to even be called a fool! And that’s $45. Fork it over.

Elephant time

Q. Why is a white elephant something that is considered useless?

A. Because they cost a fortune in sunscreen.

Saturday, October 15, 2005

The state of American education

I sometimes wonder about the state of education in America. Just how good, or how bad, is it? On one hand I know that high school kids study some really advanced stuff in many classes. On the other hand, the worst textbook I’ve ever seen was American. A geography text that taught nothing about why the world was the way it was, but was merely lists of points to memorise arranged into chapters. Also, I’ve never understood this whole ligament is to string, as earwax is to shoe polish business. What is that all about? They spend hours on these bizarre comparisons. It’s as if they are preparing their children to major in gibberish.

But the most damning thing about the state of American education I’ve ever seen was in Disneyworld, Florida. In the room where you waited prior to going on a dinosaur ride, there were labelled pictures of a variety of animals. One of them was of a centipede. Dust had worked its way between the persplex and picture, indicating that it had been there for quite a while. The picture of the centipede was labelled, “Insect.” I can’t imagine that mistake of that magnitude lasting for any length of time in any of the countries I’ve live in. Some kid, or a schoolteacher, or my grandmother would point out that if it has more than six legs and it’s not a caterpillar, it’s not an insect. It seems so strange to me that hundreds of thousands of people must have walked past it and it never pointed it out to the management, or if they had, the management felt no need to worry about it.

I’m too nice to blog!

I’m having trouble blogging today. I’m starting to think that maybe I’m just too nice to blog. You see, I started off writing a post on Christmas and I ended up insulting finance companies, which wasn’t a very nice thing to do. I mean, just think about how many people finance companies save from having their thumbs broken by amateur loan sharks. So then I started writing a post about China’s space program and I ended up insulting both China and the United States. I chastised myself quite severely for that, because even though robotic exploration of space is much safer and cheaper, I’m sure that many Chinese and Americans think that putting astronauts lives at risk for no practical purpose is well worth the risk. Then I started writing about George Bush, while being determined not to insult anyone, but strangely enough I ended up insulting him anyway, even though all I had done was write a factual account of what he had done. Gee this blogging is tricky.

Friday, October 14, 2005

Come one! Come all! The Skeptic's Circle is in town!

The Skeptic's Circle is up and running at Time to Lean and I'm in it! Yah-hoo! Personally I think it's fascinating, but don't take my word for it, check it out for yourself. It's important to maintain a skeptical attitude, you know.

Crop Circles and Human Hoaxers

It has been brought to my attention that many sensible people believe that crop circles are created by much less sensible people using a length of rope, a wooden board and copious amounts of free time. While I explained below how shifting winds can produce crop circles and crop blobs, this can’t explain the many incidences of fields being flattened into much fancier designs. If we consider these cases carefully and apply Occam’s Razor, then the only logical conclusion we can reach is that most ordinary crop circles are created by shifting winds, but the more intricate designs that you can see displayed in many web sites dedicated to the paranormal are obviously created by UFOs piloted by Bigfoot, possibly as part of his continuing struggle against animated Japanese women in skin tight costumes.

Thursday, October 13, 2005

I’ve been told that I have to write about politics if I want my blog to be popular.

I guess there may be some people who don’t think I’m entitled to write about U.S. politics as I am not an American myself, but I think that perhaps my position as an outsider may allow me to make some valuable observations that may not be readily apparent to American citizens.

For instance, to an outsider, it does appear that United States does have a bit of a problem with its deficit, which certain foreign investors think may result in a bit of a complete financial disaster. Also, we’re a little worried that the current heavy American presence in the Middle East may not be in the best long-term interests of all parties involved. And we’re a little concerned with the complete lack of leadership shown by the United States in many situations involving international cooperation. If at the end of the twentieth century the United States had wanted to lead the world, then all it had to do was lead. But now that opportunity appears to have been pissed away.

But I’m optimistic about the future. I look forward to the day when the United States can overcome the damage caused by shortsighted policies, live up to its ideals and once again become a guiding beacon to the people of the world.

Personally, I’ll just be glad when the expression, “I’m bushed,” goes back to meaning, “I’m really tired,” rather than, “I’m bleeding from my anus in a prison in Iraq.”

Jesus’ location found via logic.

I was sitting in my friend's car today when we passed a church. A church is a meeting place for members of the Christian religion, which originated in the Middle East. It first came to Australia about two hundred years ago, along with cricket, football and many other devotions. Despite differing in several respects from more traditional Australian beliefs, Christianity still remains fairly popular among those who are obsessed with the supernatural and almost all towns have at least one church.

In front of the church we passed was a sign that said, "TURN TO FACE THE SON AND THE SHADOWS WILL FALL BEHIND YOU.” Now this sentence becomes very interesting if you happen to know that the word "son" refers to Jesus, the son of God, who is a magician with many amazing powers. It is interesting because we can use this sentence to determine Jesus’ location. Now if everyone on earth who is currently in daylight turns so that the shadows fall behind them, there is only one place that Jesus can be, somewhere in space along a line drawn between the centre of the earth and the sun, extending from the equator to a maximum of about a sixth of a light year away.

Now some might say that Jesus could be located on the ground at the equator, but this is very unlikely as he would have to travel at approximately 1,670 kilometres per hour in order to keep pace with the noon sun. The shockwave caused by Jesus’ passage would destroy all structures in his path and cause the earth to become banded by a zone of destruction extending from the tropic of Capricorn to the Tropic of Cancer. Jesus is also unlikely to be found within the atmosphere, as he would be quite noticeable, careening through the air at supersonic speed. Nor is he likely to be near the earth as we haven’t been able to detect Jesus with telescopes. We know that Jesus must be within a sixth of a light year of our planet; otherwise in order to maintain his position he would have to travel faster than light and would therefore be a tachyon. It is also unlikely that Jesus is travelling at high relativistic speeds, as the radiation he would release when colliding with space dust would be detectable. Also, he would have to expend a phenomenal amount of reaction mass to maintain his position.

So logically, Jesus is most likely to be in the position that would require the least energy to maintain, but far enough from the earth so we wouldn’t have detected him yet. This would be in Earth’s orbit on the far side of the sun. This position could be easily maintained for over 2,000 years with no expenditure of energy whatsoever.

I propose the immediate start of a program to deploy space-based telescopes far enough away from the earth that they can detect Jesus in his orbit. Just how sensitive these telescopes would have to be in order to detect him is open to debate, as there is much disagreement over Jesus’ albedo, or how much light he reflects. Despite many representations of Jesus showing him to have a very high albedo indeed, historical data suggests his albedo is actually likely to be mid to low.

However, once Jesus is detected, it could be used as an argument against sending humans to mars. Putting people where shadows would not fall behind them if they faced Jesus could cause the son of God to pass through some sort of Roche limit of the faith and break into a circular cloud of debris. Personally however, I think he is much more likely to be forced to plunge into the sun and burn. Ouch! Poor Jesus!

Wednesday, October 12, 2005

Movies and Crop Circles (Warning! Contains spoilers for the well filmed but badly thought out movie, Signs.)

Since I wrote about how crop circles are formed, I've had some thoughts about a Mel Gibson movie I saw in which aliens used crop circles to help their invasion fleet navigate, on account of how latitude and longitude are so 17th century. At the end of this movie we discovered that the aliens' weakness was that water was a deadly acid to them. This is a very interesting weakness, because previously in the movie the aliens were running around in cornfields stark naked. I guess they were running so fast in an attempt to escape the dew point. I mean really, if you were going to visit a planet in which it rained acid, had oceans of acid, and you wanted to abduct life forms that sweat, spit and pee acid, would you do it naked? This would surely have to be one of the all time badly planned alien invasions in the history of the galaxy. "I'm sorry boys, but we forgot acid proof suits and the kill-o-zap ray guns, so you'll have no defence against humans peeing on you or cutting off your fingers with kitchen knives, but on the bright side, our pee is poison gas to them."

The movie ends with Mel Gibson's character having his belief in a kind and benevolent God restored. Which is a bit odd, because you'd think having seven foot tall, green, demonic creatures that emit poison gas attempt to abduct your family members would be more likely to reinforce your belief in Satan. Oh well. Perhaps in the sequel the aliens will have better luck when they return with advanced technology they stole off us, such as clothes.

How Crop Circles Are Formed

One of the neat things about Japan is the insistence on avoiding a false dichotomy between city and country. Many towns, cities and suburbs are peppered with small rice fields. From a height it's like looking down at a sliding tile puzzle in which someone has mixed together all the country and city pieces. One advantage of this is that it's easy to look down at a rice paddy from a high-rise apartment building and watch crop circles forming.

Now I’m sorry to disappoint some people but no flying saucers were involved. Nor did Bigfoot make an appearance and dance in a circle. And I have to regretfully inform fans of anime that no giant robot mechs piloted by young women in skin tight costumes took part in their formation either.

All that was required was a constantly shifting wind. Normally rice plants will bend in the wind but not break, for not only are the stalks springy, but they are closely packed and give each other mutual support. However, once one stalk is damaged and loses its springiness, it can become the straw that breaks other straws backs. Rather than springing up and blowing in another direction when the wind changes it will push against the backs of other straws and the extra weight can cause their stalks to become damaged and lose their springiness. Once a small patch of damaged plants has formed, the changing wind will cause the destruction to spread in a circle as plants are damaged from other plants leaning on them and also from not having undamaged plants next to them to help give support.

Sometimes the shape that results is a crop blob rather than a crop circle, but other times it is a very neat circle with the damaged stalks spiralling out from the centre, all woven together by the shifting wind. When I first saw crop circles being formed I assumed that all sensible people realized that was how they were made, but a quick Google search on crop circles has since convinced me that there aren't many sensible people out there.

Internal organization of blog note.

I'm moving a couple of slightly older posts up closer to the top of the blog for egocentric purposes. If you've already read them, try singing them this time so they'll seem fresh and new. If you haven't read them, there is no need to concern yourselves with this. You can go about your business. This is not the blog post you are looking for.

So bad

Q. Why do elephants have big ears?

A. Because Noddy won't pay the ransom.

The Sinister Moon - Or Possibly The Dextrous Moon, I'm not sure.

Several months ago I met a South Australian and sat in his kitchen and discussed astronomy. It wasn’t a very deep discussion. He told me that his cousin, who had gone to England, said that the moon was the opposite of what it was in Australia. I asked him to describe what he meant but unfortunately he didn’t have a clear idea of what his cousin meant and his description made no sense to me. I asked him to draw a picture and his pictures made no sense to me. Now I have travelled a fair deal and never noticed any difference in the moon that depended upon which hemisphere my eyeballs happened to be in. I was certain that there was no difference, but even after drawing my own diagrams and giving a lecture on the phases of the moon and setting up a flashlight and using an orange impaled on a pen and tied to a string so it would orbit his head, I couldn’t convince him that his cousin must be mistaken. Eventually I gave up and regarded him, despite his many other fine qualities, as being astronomically stupid.

But today I was reading an astronomy book and I realized what he was talking about, and what’s more it was a difference that I personally am not capable of perceiving. You see, he was a South Australian rather than a tropical Australian and his cousin had gone to England, which is also quite far from the tropics. Because the earth is curved the moon will usually appear quite low in the sky to South Australians and the English. But if the left side of the moon appears illuminated to the English, then the right side of the moon will appear illuminated to the South Australians as they will be facing the other way. This is something I never realized in my travels, because of a certain lack I have. You see, I can’t tell left from right.

For someone in the tropics the moon can appear quite high in the sky. If you were to watch the moon all night there while it is waxing, that is when the illuminated part is getting larger, then the lit part of the moon will appear to be on your left until it passes over your head and then you’ll turn to face it and the lit part will appear to be on your right. And when the moon is waning, that is the illuminated part is getting smaller, it will be vice versa. Or possibly I have this mixed up and it’s the other way around? It’s very hard for me to tell. Could someone who knows left from right please leave me a comment and confirm this for me?

Tuesday, October 11, 2005

Stupid Meme!

Here is a stupid meme I contracted off P.Z Myers and which was apparently coughed onto him by someone else. It consists of typing your first name followed by the word needs into Google and then putting the whole lot in inverted commas and then hitting search to find out what you need. According to Google I need the following:

Ronald needs to market his new beverage product...Petro-Fuel - Well that's true. I can't imagine anyone drinking it unless there was some really severe marketing going on.

Ronald needs a home where he gets a lot of attention, not a family that will place him in day-care. - Hear that, Mum? And no locking Mister Fluffy in the cupboard with me and saying that counts as attention.

Ronald needs his gun back - Yes, I have to go shoot space elevator ribbon so I can estimate how many days it might take to be destroyed.

Ronald needs a Passport - I already have one. When I applied for it, for some reason the mayor of my town hand delivered it to me on the same day, wished me luck and said he hoped I would be leaving the country soon. Talk about service.

Ronald needs to figure out how to get children more gym time - Simple. Just replace video game controllers with gearboxes from excessively large cars from the 70's and they'll get a good workout.

Ronald needs to work harder - Ha!

Ronald needs corporeal agents as badly as any other Demon Prince - Yeah, like I need corporeal agents as badly as Beelzebub does. I mean the guy is totally made of compressed flies. He can't even get a thick shake without working through an agent.

Ronald needs a minimum of 9 x 9 ft. for these appearances. - I'm not that fat!

Ronald needs 'ome beautys 'n grog to get the party started - Not with my radiant charisma, I don't.

Ronald needs to earn his wings to get into heaven. - And here I was thinking that rewiring the house while standing in a bucket of water would do it.

Ronald needs someone to search for hotels and caterers - I have a healthy appetite, all right? But I'm not so greedy I need someone to supply me with a constant stream of caterers on tap.

Ronald needs a blog - What do you think this is? The UNICEF home page?

Ronald needs it so he won't have to wear Bozo hand-me-downs anymore - But how could I afford to look this flash otherwise? But then I might be able to make some friends who aren't colour blind.

Ronald needs some information from you - Just your bank account details so I can get my father's money out of Nigeria.

Ronald needs to start blogging - Hello? Open your eyes! I ain't training kittens to play ping-pong here.

Ronald needs to show off and do it all by himself. - That's why I knocked back Joss Wheldon when he said he wanted to help me with my blog.

Ronald needs to borrow 32000 - 3000 - 200 = $28800 - Yeah, right. Do think I would be wasting my time doing this if I needed money?

Ronald needs help with selling the patent to his invention, the Oops! Cloth - Maybe Ronald needs to rethink the potential market for a cloth, that when pressed in the hand, causes incontinence.

Ronald needs to be careful not to overlook the value of Nancy's heritage - I'm planning to sell her off to highest bidder at the soonest opportunity.

Ronald needs us to have faith - Oh definitely. Remember how good things were back in the middle ages when everyone had faith?

Ronald needs to give em the damn storyline - They can have my storyline when they pry it from my cold, stiff, cerebral cortex.

Ronald needs another hand - If I had one growing out of my lap there would be so many practical jokes I could play.

Ronald needs to sue Micky D's for making him obese - Yeah, but Micky D's family are suing me for cannibalism.

Ronald needs a pancho - Yes, that's right on my list, right after getting stung by a platypus while dirty dancing with a box jellyfish on top of a bull ants' nest.

Ronald needs prayer for protection - Not when evil things just bounce off my charisma, I don't.

Ronald needs to keep Sony out there for as long as possible. - Yeah, that'll make my Walkman feel sorry unravelling my tape, "1984: The Hot Ones."

Ronald needs no oath to bind it - A piece of string will do.

Ronald needs moderation here - Yeah, I'm a little too extreme. Like the time I demanded extreme moderation in government extremism.

Ronald Needs A Friend - No I don't. I have one in the cupboard.

Ronald needs a transplant - Is this about transplanting a hand to my lap?

Ronald needs you to get naked, and get in the trunk. - Why on earth would I need you to do that? Unless of course you are a very small veterinarian and I want you to treat a very large elephant's nasal polyps. In that case, some Vaseline may be in order.

Ronald needs to grow up before he can win Hermione over - Oh great! Now the whole internet knows about me and Hermione.

Ronald Needs Help To Battle For Britain - Bounce for Britain, yes. Battle for Britain, no thank you.

Ronald needs a new look. Greasy Burgers - You want me to look like greasy burgers?

Ronald needs to be the smartest bear so people can tell him apart from his gluttonous twin brother Oliver. - My brother isn't called Oliver. He's called Chinboy.

Ronald needs another attorney if there is any hope for him to survive - Is this about the friend I have in the cupboard?

Ronald needs my money - But there are children in the developing world who need it more.

All Ronald needs is a girl, who's a clown and likes to eat at McDonalds - My gods, you're right. This is what's been missing in my life! If I had my own personal clown, no one would ever laugh at me again! And I could pay her in burgers.

Ronald needs to be edited, I think - Anyone want to help edit me, now that I've alienated Joss Wheldon?

Ronald needs time - Hello, I'm on the internet! This isn't exactly the behaviour of someone who's pressed for time.

Ronald needs to address his addiction and PTSD and possibly anger management - Anger? I don't have any problems with anger and I'll topologically invert anyone who says I do! Now shut up and pass me the horse tranquillisers! I need them because I'm having flashbacks to the time a guy murdered Micky D in front of me using an axe held in his lap hand.

Monday, October 10, 2005

The surface area of a bird - A trick question.

If my uncle told you that when he had been out walking he had spotted a bird that had a surface area of over fifty square meters, how much do you think that bird would weigh?

Now this is an interesting question, because if you had a box with a surface area of fifty square meters then that box would be over four meters across, four meters deep and four meters high and would have a volume of over sixty-four square meters. Now birds aren’t very dense creatures, but if but if you stuffed that box full of small birds so there was no space left over and then sat on the lid, that box would weigh over forty tons, or about as much as six and a half African elephants. But I’m not suggesting that this is something you should ever try to do on account of how stuffing all those birds in a box would be cruel. (And just for the record I’d like to say that I don’t think you should cut elephants in half either.)

Now generally, birds aren’t boxed shaped, and if anyone out there has bred a box shaped bird I would say you have a sick, sick, mind. (But still, do drop me an e-mail sometime and we’ll discuss making a fortune breeding square pigs.) But even if we make generous allowances for the fact that a bird will have a different surface area from a cube on account of having wings and legs and so on, we are still stuck with my uncle apparently seeing a bird that must have weighed at least as much as a small elephant.

Now does this mean my uncle has been picking and eating the wrong sort of mushrooms while out walking? Quite possibly, but you don’t know how annoying my uncle can be. The bird that he saw with a surface area of over fifty square meters could have been about the size of a chicken or perhaps a goose. You see, he’s crazy enough to include the feathers in his calculation of surface area.

A typical bird will usually have thousands of feathers. A Canadian goose can apparently have 33,000 in winter, which seems rather excessive to me. A feather used for fight is a shaft with two rows opposite each other of what resemble stiff hairs growing off it, making up the blades or vanes of the feather. The stiff, hair-like structures are called barbs and each barb has two rows of tiny extensions that they use to hook onto each other like the teeth on a zipper and hold the feather in shape. In fluffy feathers, or down, the barbs aren’t as stiff and they don’t hook onto each other as they are for keeping the bird warm rather than for flying. Feathers, with all their barbs and tiny extensions, can give the average bird an enormous surface area, if like my uncle, you are annoying enough to include them in your calculations and want to ask a trick question.

Sunday, October 09, 2005

Advice I received in high school

When I was in high school we had a subject called English that we all had to take. I'm not sure why, as everyone in the entire school was actually already capable of speaking English. When I pointed this out to the English teacher and asked why we were wasting our time with him, he said that we had to study English in order to be able to communicate. Personally, I thought that the conversation we were having was evidence enough that I already knew how to communicate and asked if I could go and finish my science homework instead of attending his class. He said that I had to stay and learn to communicate instead, because even if someone became the greatest scientist in the world, it wouldn't do him any good if he couldn't communicate his findings to other people.

I have spent a great deal of time pondering the words of my English teacher and have always wondered, how could anyone become the greatest scientist in the world if they couldn't communicate with other people? Did he think someone could turn up at a research laboratory and say, "Nerrrhhh! Urrrhhh! Murrhhhh! Dahhurrrhhhhhh!" And the laboratory technicians there would say, "Well I can't understand what he's saying, but he could be the greatest scientist in the world, so we'd better let him in to play with the expensive scientific equipment."

Intelligent Designers are losers, I mean losing!

One of the lovely people who left comments on this blog, Anonymous, has pointed out something very interesting. But before I tell you what it is, I’d just like to say what a beautiful name Anonymous is. It sounds like it should be the name of a Greek hero or something. Anyway, my hero, Anonymous, says that the term irreducibly complex means, “it won’t work without all its parts,” and that it is used more on proteins and enzymes than body parts.

I have noticed creationists, generally ones who call themselves Intelligent Design proponents, talking a lot about little itty bitty things like proteins and enzymes and bacteria flagella and the blood clotting cascade and so on lately. I think there is a good reason for this. I think it’s because the creationists are losing. They are losing big time. Nowadays people are getting pretty educated and even children can point out plenty of holes in the creationist’s arguments. And these days creationists aren’t allowed to slap a ten year old who points out that dinosaurs lived over 64 million years ago, not six thousand.

So creationists had to find something new with which to confuse and bamboozle people and they found it in the internal processes of cells. Plenty of people know that dinosaurs and people didn’t coexist, but how many people know how a bacterium’s flagellum could have evolved from a structure used to cut holes in cell membranes? Not many, so convincing the average Joe and the average Eileen that the structures must have been designed and couldn’t have evolved isn’t that hard. Of course biologists know there is no reason why cellular structures couldn’t have evolved and indeed you can go to P.Z. Myers site and enjoy him energetically debunk Intelligent Design until he’s frothing at the keyboard. Due to the efforts of people like P.Z. and ten year olds who aren’t afraid to ask questions, Intelligent Design creationism will eventually go the way of geocentrism. When you think about it, any god that feels the need to hide behind a bacterium’s flagellum isn’t a very impressive entity at all.

Saturday, October 08, 2005

Acoelomorph Flatworms – The Cinematic Extravaganza

I’ve just finished reading Richard Dawkins, The Ancestor’s Tale. It was a very interesting book, but it did take me a while to get to the end. As I worked my way through it, I experimented with several different ways of reading. First I tried sub-vocalisation, and heard the words in my imagination as though I was listening to a lecture in my head. But this was too slow. Although I could sub-vocalise faster than normal talking speed, I couldn’t go very much faster, probably because I was using parts of my brain that are involved with producing and understanding spoken words and they insisted that speech simply does not occur at very high rates, although imagining the lecture was given in a high pitched and squeaky voice helped somewhat.

Next I tried bypassing speech and letting the words tumble into my brain as concepts rather than sounds. This went a lot faster, although I had to be careful not to start daydreaming. Then I gave up on not day dreaming and concentrated on picking out ideas from the text and day dreaming about them. Then I developed the cinematic technique, which involves turning what I read into a blockbuster movie inside my brain, complete with computer generated special effects and talking bacteria. And so now, for your cinematic pleasure, I present to you:

Chapter 27: Acoelomorph Flatworms- the movie!

Tezza the Tapeworm, president of the Platyhelminthes Society, stared in horror with his nonexistent eyes at the acoelomorph flatworm before him. “What do you mean the Platyhelminthes aren’t a true group, let alone a phylum! You can’t break us up like this and put us in different groups! I need the acoelomorph flatworms! How am I supposed to defeat my nemesis, Phylum Porifera Man without them?"

“Oh shut up, you gutless wonder who lives in a gut,” said the flatworm as it stormed out of the room very, very slowly. “We’re better off without you. And besides, Acolelomorh Flatworms is a much better name for a band than Tezza the Tapeworm and the Paltyhelminthes. Goddammit, Tapeworm! What happened to you? You used to be something! You used to have an anus! But you gave it all away to live inside other people’s anuses.”

Meanwhile, 630 million years ago, the world was turned upside down. Terra Australis was in the Northern Hemisphere and suffering an acute identity crisis on account of its name meaning, “Southern land.” Enormous ice sheets groaned and covered the sorts of things enormous ice sheets generaly do. In the warm tropical sea that covers most of Antarctica, a progressive flatworm is having a conversation with a conservative flatworm.

PROGRESSIVE: It’s six hundred and thirty million years in the past! It’s time for us to evolve into something interesting! First of all, I’d like to develop an anus, and after that, Freudian psychology.

CONSERVATIVE: We don’t have anuses? No wonder I’ve been feeling constipated. So what do we do when we need to excrete?

PROGRESSIVE: I don’t know about you, but I use my mouth.

CONSERVATIVE: Well no wonder you talk crap. Personally, I’m just going to laze around in the sea for few hundred million years, ride out the Permian extinction, and then basically give evolving a miss until the sun turns into a red giant and the oceans boil. Oh sure, I’ll change my body chemistry to deal with environmental changes, but I’m not planning any real deviation from my basic body plan.

PROGRESSIVE: Loser! I’m going to develop the ability to parasitise livers right now! (Sound of a flatworm mutating.) There! I did it! Talk about lucky!

CONSERVATIVE: Yeah, you are a bit of a fluke. Now all you have to do is wait around for someone to evolve a liver.

PROGRESSIVE: Bugger! I should have known macro mutation never works!

Friday, October 07, 2005

Koalas: Cute Scourge of Nippon!

My sea monkey friend, or rather, my friend who has sea monkeys, (as I have not yet befriended any of the brine shrimp that may be our future, aquatic, alien masters) has mentioned to me that she doesn’t think that koalas are a feral scourge upon the face of Japan as I alluded to in my previous post. She has even gone as far as to support this contention with, “facts,” and, “evidence.” Such as the, "fact," that, to a first approximation, there are no eucalypt trees in Japan that are necessary for the survival of the koala species. But this rather naïve viewpoint ignores the existence of Japan’s huge pharmaceutical manufacturing base that could easily be subverted to produce the aromatic chemicals required for their survival by an organized cable of koalas. But leaving such speculation aside, I prefer to believe the evidence of my own eyes.

At one point while in Japan I was standing before a set of elevator doors in a shopping centre, waiting for them to open so I could go upstairs to play the Village People’s Y.M.C.A on the electronic taiko drums, as was my habit. I was caught completely unawares when the elevator doors opened to reveal a young girl wearing a koala t-shirt and a koala backpack, with koala ribbons in her hair and carrying a koala purse in her suspiciously doubled thumbed hand. The waves of cuteness emanating from her body lifted me off the ground and hurled me twenty feet through the air until I smashed into a taco-yaki, or octopus ball, stand. So forgive me if I’m not as complacent as certain sea monkey owning people are about the koala threat Japan faces.

I also had to pay for the octopus balls that were damaged, but fortunately they weren’t too expensive when you consider the fact that at best each octopus only has two.

Worst ethnic joke ever.

Q. Why didn't the Japanese business man go bobbing for french fries?

A. He didn't want to lose face.

Thursday, October 06, 2005

Prince Charles and the Gaia Hypothesis

Now some people are very much against the idea of royalty and disapprove of the fact that Prince Charles will some day be the soverign of a significant portion of the world's landmass. Some people think he's not fit to be king, but I think he is very well suited because we can show Prince Charles to school children and say, "This is why we vote," and the value of democracy will immediantly become clear. In the United States it's a little more difficult. There they show George Bush to the children and say, "This is why we vote," and the whole issue becomes extremely confusing.

One of things Prince Charles apparently likes to do is talk to trees, and this is all fine and well and a bit of a royal tradition. However, confusion can sometimes arise when he talks to people. I haven't paid a great deal of attention to his public announcments on account of how I'm easily bored, however I think that he, or perhaps just some of his friends, are supporters of the Gaia hypothesis.

The Gaia hypothesis is the idea that all the different forms of life in the world cooperate together to form communities and ecosystems, and each organism is actually just part of a greater whole. Now someone with a degree in zoology, or possibly a five year old, may point out that lions and antelope don't really cooperate, in fact the antelope tend to run like hell away from the lions, and sometimes put out a lion's eye with a hoof when they get caught. But a supporter of the Gaia hypothesis might say they are cooperating in a greater sense in that if the lions didn't hunt the antelopes, the antelope's population would explode and soon there would be no grass left and they would be worse off than they were with the lions, and so they are actually cooperating together in much the same way as different parts of my body cooperate together to create me. Personally I don't find this idea very convincing on account of how when my liver gets hungry for nutrients, it never leaps up through my neck and eats my brain.

Intelligent Design, Eyeballs and Mad Scientists with Scalpels!

A post I wrote on Intelligent Design is now in the Tangled Bank! How cool is that? I’ve really arrived as a blogger now. The total number of comments my blog has received has more than doubled today. In the comments the subject of eyeballs were brought up. Now personally I like eyeballs and happen to have two of them myself. I’m very attached to them. (Mainly via the optic nerve.) I happen to know a lot about their internal structure on account of a cheap pair of glasses I used to have that under the right conditions would reflect the inside of my eyeball for my visual delight. Often when I was riding my bike in the rain at night a ghostly image of my own retina would be laid on top of everything. It was like cycling through my own aqueous humour.

Intelligent Designers, or as I tend to think of them - creationists, are also fond of eyeballs. In discussion they love to pull out eyeballs (ouch!) and say that they are an example of irreducible complexity. I’m not sure just what irreducibly complex means, but from the way they use it I think its meaning is, “I’m right, you’re wrong, so there, nyah-nyah-nyah!” They then might go on to say that eyeballs are comprised of a multitude of specialized parts, each of which is dependant upon the others to function and so the eye could never have evolved by any step by step process, because half an eyeball is useless.

This idea is has been dismantled by plenty of clever people, including my nighttime companion, Richard Dawkins. However I’d like to add my own macabre take on this.

If I were to take a scalpel to your eyeball and cut the muscles that control the focusing of the lens, then you wouldn’t suddenly go blind as this system was removed. Instead, you’d just lose the ability to focus on close objects, which is something almost everyone experiences, as they grow older. Your vision wouldn’t be as good, but you’d still have vision. If I were then to use my scalpel to disable your iris, again you wouldn’t go blind, you’d just find it hard to adapt to different light levels. If I removed your lens completely, everything would be out of focus, but you’d still be better off than with no eye at all. If I were to go as far as cutting your eye in half and sealing it off with glad wrap, then you’d have very little vision, but still perhaps enough to avoid walking into walls. If I were to continue to slice away and leave you with just a fragment of your retina, then you really wouldn’t be able to see, but you could still tell the difference between night and day, which is better than nothing.

So next time someone says the eye proves Intelligent Design because half an eyeball is useless, just tell them the above story and perhaps you’ll convince them of the error of their ways. Or more likely you’ll just gross them out. But that’s fun too.

Wednesday, October 05, 2005

Photocopying lobsters with Richard Dawkins

Last night I dreamt I was with Richard Dawkins the famous biologist and author of The Selfish Gene. We were in the conference room of a fancy hotel when Richard found a dead lobster in a pot plant. He then explained to me that he wanted me to hide the dead lobster in my mouth so we could get to a photocopying machine and use it to record evidence of how badly the hotel treats phylum arthropoda. Well, I wasn't too thrilled about putting the lobster in my mouth, as it had been dead for a few days, but it seemed a fair enough suggestion on account of how Richard couldn't put it in his mouth as he didn't eat meat. So we travelled about three feet to a photocopier while I had the lobster stuffed in my mouth. Richard photocopied it and then held it aloft proclaiming, "Finally the world shall know how badly this hotel treats lobsters!" and then threw it aside. I ran off to the bathroom to wash my mouth out.

Man, I gotta stop reading biology books before I go to bed.

Monday, October 03, 2005

Spring is here!

The mould colony on the bread in my kitchen is growing at over a centimetre a day.

Scary Mail on God

I just went for a walk. I went past the RSL with the sign saying that Vietnam vets meet there on Mondays. Past the sex shop and past Freewheeling, which is a place where you can buy all sorts of items used to smoke dried plant material. The opening hours of Freewheeling are written very neatly on the shop window in large letters: Tuesday to Saturday, 10:00amish to 6:00pm. Once when I was walking past the sex shop I felt like going in and looking at the merchandise on display, but it was raining at the time and there was something about wearing a raincoat and going into a sex shop at the same time that set off my depravity alarm and prevented me from going in.

The reason why I went for a walk was to get some bread, which I totally forgot to do. Forgetfulness like this is why I should never be allowed to perform heart transplant surgery. I would probably cut someone open, remove their diseased heart, stitch them back up again and wonder why they don’t work no more.

When I returned home from my walk I found a very scary pamphlet in my letterbox with some rather frightening pictures on the front. The first three pictures were of the September eleventh mass murder in New York, a bombed out street with a man holding an AK-47 or some other type of lead spitty device, and a perfectly ordinary looking oil refinery, which I guess could be scary if you had a pipe phobia.

The pamphlet said that strife, turmoil and tragedy where were increasing in their magnitude and effects upon the world. This was news to me. Personally I thought that rates of child beating and spouse beating and so on had gone way down since I was a kid, but I guess I could be mistaken. It also said that the answers to the world’s problems were in the bible and that God’s purpose was to fill the earth with his glory. I found this statement to be very interesting because the fourth scary picture on the pamphlet was of a church in New Orleans engulfed by floodwaters. What are they trying to say here? That God’s glory involves drowning his worshippers? It’s not a very good photo if you are trying to promote the bible. It might make you think that some other holy book other might be better at giving answers. Personally it just makes me think that the people who made this pamphlet aren’t very clear thinkers.

Serenity and Politics - Part 2

I've had three comments from people who aren't spambots so far and while three may not sound like many, the average quality has been pretty darn high. I even got one from P.Z. Myers! (Arr!) In response to my short post on the movie Serenity and politics I received the following comment that is so good I feel the need to reproduce it in full. (The Joss referred to is Joss Wheldon, the creator of Serenity):

Tully said...

Certainly any 'text' can be interpreted in any way. With evidence. And the ability to use that evidence. (That last one is probably the difficult bit for most (by which I mean for Republicans)). Look at religion. The Bible is probably the best example of a source text that can be interpreted in a multitude of ways (interesting, then, that postmodernism took so long to be "invented" haha) Anyway!

But even Joss said Mal is libertarian if not quite Republican. There are reasons why he doesn't want the government on his doorstep (or at his hatch). Perhaps if the Browncoats had won the war he would feel differently about the government.

And, I'm just ruminating here, would anyone call Orwell right-wing? Winston Smith doesn't want the government's nose in his business, but that doesn't mean he's anti-government in general, only against the current, extreme, administration.

Isn't that a cool comment? It's a lot better than the actual post I wrote. I think I'm starting to really enjoy this blogging stuff. Please keep the comments coming everyone.

Sunday, October 02, 2005

Why did Vincent Van Gogh Cut off his left ear?

He was right handed.

Serenity and Politics

A lot of people have been writing about politics and the Serenity movie, and that's fine. But perhaps some people are getting a little carried away. I'd just like to point out that the play's the thing. Ain't nobody's going to make a western in which the hero's a barbed wire salesman.

I think we may rapidly be approaching a situation similar to when the movie Team America came out and a variety of people were proudly proclaiming that their own favourite political flavour was supported by a puppet show.

Saturday, October 01, 2005

Serenity Movie - How to tell if you are a Reaver.

Well I just went to the movies and I could jump on the bandwagon and go on and on about how good Serenity is, but instead I think I would perform more of a public service by answering the following letter from an imaginary person:

Dear Doctor Brak,

I'm not sure what's wrong with me. My emotions are raging out of control, I'm suffering from uncontrolable lust and I've defiled my body with a variety of sharp metal objects. Am I becoming a Reaver?

Yours sincerely,

Homocidally confused

Dear Homocidally confused,

Yes you are becoming a Reaver. Or possibly just a teenager. It's hard to tell. If you chew your own lips off, you're probably a Reaver, or perhaps just very hungry. Either way, take two aspirin and call me in the morning. If, when you call, I tell you to stop mumbling, then you've chewed your lips off in the night and you are a Reaver. Now just because you're a Reaver doesn't mean it's the end of your life. It's more likely to be the end of a lot of other people's lives instead. There are organizations that can help you recover, although admittedly most of their facilites have been razed to the ground as a result of over enthusiastic group therapy sessions; at least they try. Social support is vital for a recovering Reaver. If you fear you may have become a Reaver, try asking your friends to support you in your attempt to overcome this condition. If you've killed all your friends, try improving your social skills so you can make new friends. You'll find this is easier if you haven't chewed your lips off.

Yours in good health,

Doctor Brak

This isn't the post you're looking for.

There used to be a post here but I erased it. I should have left it at that and gone on with my life, but no, I couldn't leave it alone. You see, although the post is gone, the phantom post still exists. I can feel it as if it were still part of the body of my blog. I can still feel its erased links tingling. Creepy, huh? So now I feel the need to ease the psychic pain by typing soothing letters of a fluff blog post in the empty space... Oh yeah, that feels good... Okay, I'll stop soon... Any minute now I'll stop... getting ready to stop right now... Almost there... Yep, I'm definitely on the verge of stopping... Okay, I'm done.

Coming events

Tomorrow I will explain the mystery of why Vincent Van Gogh cut off his left ear.