Friday, February 29


Netscape Navigator is, it seems, about to bite the dust.

The venerable old browser (in internet terms, anyway) will no longer be supported by its now parent company, AOL, as of tomorrow. They have recommended Firefox or Flock instead.

(nostalgic music) Oh, I remember the first graphical browsers. Mosaic came out while I was a masters student at Warwick, with Netscape Navigator following shortly on - fortunately, Warwick's all night computer room had both unix and PC rooms - I didn't like the way the PC monitors rapidly became adjusted to hide what you had on the screen, so I made sure that I used a well visible computer at all times - at least it meant I didn't have an urge to wash my hands when using the keyboard if I wanted to browse this new web thingy for an hour or two (poor student, no TV, couldn't afford to start drinking at 5...)

Wednesday, February 27

Did the earth move for me?

Surprised to be woken up on my birthday (as in, about one hour in) by the distinct impression that the bed was shaking. Since I haven't had anything to drink, this makes me suspect it might be an earthquake.

Except I'm in Nottingham, England, which doesn't normally produce earthquakes you can feel. So if it was one, it would be quite a strong one by English standards. Wonder if it was real, or did I imagine it? Guess I'll find out later today. After some sleep.

Addendum: looks like it was, as I've noticed although the BBC has nothing on it yet, the two most read stories appear to be old ones about earthquakes in England. So it looks like people have been woken up, turned on their computers, and searched for something.

Tuesday, February 26

There's that number again...

Quite often in the history of physics, and science in general, a scientist has pointed out some strange coincidence and noted that this may indicate something. Sometimes other scientists later come up with an idea of how this could be the case, and a way to measure it, and thus we get another peek into how the universe works.

Reading in Nature News, astronomers have noted that the very large number 10^122 appears to show up rather more often than you'd expect. The author of the recent papers, Scott Funkhouser, suggests that an equation that explains this number's presence comes out if you have a universe of ten dimensions, seven of which have shrunk away leaving the other three observable.

Apparently, this isn't numerology, as there are only a limited number of ways you can put together the basic parameters of the universe and get just numbers. Interesting to see if this cosmic coincidence number can lead us to new insights.

Monday, February 25

US political cartoonist is too patriotic. Oh, what a suprise.

The web is a good thing for enabling you to read foreign newspapers - you don't have to be in the US to read the NY Times, for example. I do have a tendency to go for the political cartoon section in newspapers, as it gives a quick visual snapshot of the way at least one person (the cartoonist) is thinking. Most US cartoons are, it has to be said, utter dross. Even the ones who I normally think of as quite good can get it spectacularly wrong sometimes (in my opinion, anyway).

Take Pat Oliphant's recent effort in the NY Times . In a patriotic tivvy about the spouse of a candidate not saying she's been proud forever of the US, he has the political giant of the past (portrayed as a giant) lecturing this miniscule minnow of today about how far the US has come.

Mr Oliphant is utterly wrong. "How completely this country has turned itself around"? Rubbish. It's like saying you should be proud of a man the moment he stops beating his wife. He doesn't have to just stop beating his wife, he has to respect her fully. So saying that African-Americans are in theory legally equivalent to whites isn't enough, this has to clearly be the case in practice as well. And my outside view of that is that I'm hardly surprised that someone from the African American community could fully believe the US is in general over its wife-beating equivalent stage when it seems possible that an African American could be elected president. Perhaps part of the reason it took the US so long is that too many Americans are too patriotic - they love their country so much that they won't criticise it, or tolerate criticism from others. But sometimes it's your true friend who warns you your breath smells.

Friday, February 22

Science journal reviewer anonymity at risk

Reading the latest issue of Science, I was annoyed to see that the anonymity of reviewers for academic journals could be at risk. I suppose it's fairly inevitable that this is a US legal case that's causing this.

In this case, Pfizer are engaging in a fishing exploration to try to find some more evidence to support them in a case that claims some of its products cause cardiovascular and other injuries. The case uses a number of papers published in the scientific press. So Pfizer want to look through the confidential files of the New England Journal of Medicine to see if they can get any other hooks to hang their defence on.

In the aim of winning the case, they'd be quite happy to sacrifice the anonymity of reviewers. Most infuriatingly, they claim "The public has no interest in protecting the editorial process of a scientific journal". The impartial process of science journals is very much in the public interest - and indeed, as Science points out, Pfizer are regularly quite eager to submit papers to science journals when they make their products look good.

Thursday, February 21

England retain the Ashes

No, I'm not in lala-land, I'm talking about women's cricket. Where, unlike their male counterparts, the England team are capable of going to Australia and winning. Perhaps the England men could learn a little about not making excuses and just scoring more runs than the opposition...

Also on the women's cricket front, I noticed the BBC news report that South Africa's women won their latest match, against Bermuda, quite easily. Easily being 'knocking off the runs in under an over'. Although, one has to say, given that the two sides between them scored only 28 runs, that 20 of them were extras suggests perhaps both could do with a bit of line and length practice.

Wednesday, February 20

Targeted advertising

Sometimes I wish all these fears about companies knowing so much about you could be a little more accurate, then perhaps they wouldn't be annoying me with repeated, inaccurate adverts.

As someone who is currently single, I haven't particularly appreciated the inundation of Valentines Day related spam from the supermarket I happen to buy my food from (Sainsburys).

Now they're inundating me with Mothers Day spam. Annoying enough if your mother is still alive.

Friday, February 15

No wonder no-one round here knows what I do

According to a report on the BBC News, less than a third of all state schools allow pupils to study the three separate sciences at GCSE.

What rot this is. Is there a "combined humanities" course? No, you have them all separate. But apparently the powers that be decided a long time ago that combined sciences was a good thing. Even if you wanted to do separate science. I did, back when GCSEs first started, and didn't get the choice. Nothing has changed since.

In Nottingham, a mere 2% of children take Physics GCSE.

It is indefensible to refuse to offer a proper GCSE course to children. Combined science is a good course for children who wouldn't otherwise study any science, but if it is the only option then it all too often becomes the last science children do.

Tuesday, February 12

Big shoes to fill

Oxford University now has its adverts out for one of their academic posts following the announcement that the incumbent is retiring in September. As the post is the Charles Simonyi Professorship in the Public Understanding of Science and the current prof is Richard Dawkins (who could not be described as retiring in any other sense), this is an important post in science - after all, the public purse pays for much of it.

Interesting to see who will succeed Prof. Dawkins. He has no say whatsoever in the matter - Oxford have a cast iron rule that no-one has a say in their successor.

The original manifesto by Charles Simonyi is reproduced at Richard Dawkins' webpages.

Monday, February 11

Thought crime?

According to the Grauniad, a woman is being questioned by police in Scotland today, and it appears all she may have done is had a bad dream. And then be overheard by an idiot.

A union official is quoted as saying

"It was complete madness. This girl had a dream about a bomb being on board and she was a bit shaken. The next thing anyone knew workers were being evacuated."

Oil rigs have long been feared as a target, and the Piper Alpha disaster shows that it can be a dangerous place to be. So such a dream is both plausible and stressful. That she can't then talk to a friend about the dream without setting off a major alert would appear to be just plain silly, but that's what the news coming out of the incident so far seems to indicate.

Wednesday, February 6

England Lions - which spinner?

So, the England Lions are touring, Monty Panesar with them for the moment, but I suspect a lot of people will be comparing how Monty does to how Adil Rashid does - Rashid being the latest prayed for all-rounder.

After the first warm up match (one of those more than XI a side things), in which Monty (who bowled in the first innings) took the honours with five wickets, Rashid appears (looking at the scorecard) to have done well in the first proper match against the Central Zone. Rashid scored 40 and 24no with the bat, and took 3 wickets for 20 runs. Monty got 0 and did not bat, and took 2 for 88...

I should add I rather suspect that Monty had to face more of the top order, while Rashid may well have only bowled against the tailenders in the second innings - although it always helps your figures if you then promptly polish them off, as he did.

Tuesday, February 5

Conspiracy to sap and impurify all of our precious bodily fluids?

Yes, I admit it, whenever I see articles such as this one on the BBC website about fluoridation of the water supply, I always immediately think of General Jack D Ripper's complaints about how a foreign substance is introduced into our precious bodily fluids without the knowledge of the individual...

I should really discuss this rationally and sensibly, considering the rights of people not to be medicated against their will against the effect on society of not providing this medication (at least it's not like measles vaccine, where those deciding not to be treated produce an epidemic of measles which kills people). But instead I'll go on the web and look up quotes from the film.