Friday, December 21, 2012

Required reading.

Got a few minutes to spare? Read this piece from Brian Cox and Robin Ince.



Just that. Carry on.

Wednesday, December 19, 2012

An optimistic view

One that, I imagine, Steven Pinker would approve of. Whilst civilization is not exactly crumbling, it does seem, sometimes, that things are at least a little bit grim. And if I'm talking specifically about what I want to be doing with my life in the next 5-10 years, then yeah, things aren't the best. Which tends to bring the mood down.

It's all relative though. I start off from a very lucky place. Very. Lucky. All the doom and gloom that I read about every day is only doom and gloom compared to the bright and shiny places that I want life to go. When you raise your eyes from your own life to the rest of the world though, things aren't necessarily so bad.   There's even a reasonable chance that things are pretty good. Which is not to say that things are perfect. The Spectator's editorial notes that world wide, poverty is decreasing, but it was at a fairly horrific starting point, so there's still a long way to go.

There's some pretty serious diseases that we're making inroads against, malaria for one. Death rates for some fairly serious cancers are down. The number of deaths attributed to war over the last decade has been the lowest for quite some time. The world is far from a perfect place and we have a lot of work to do. there's a case to made for saying we're making some progress though.

Monday, December 17, 2012

Still small. Very small.

It's nice to be reminded that we're quite small in scheme of things, even when we're talking on the relatively small scale of our planet.

The Hurricane Research Division of the US National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (their version of our NIWA)  actually has a dedicated page spelling out why exploding a nuclear bomb in the eye of hurricane so as to stop it wouldn't work. Though I'm having a hard enough time entertaining the notion that this is a sufficiently frequently asked question so as to warrant a dedicated page. The short of it being that we don't have a nuke anywhere where capable of even disturbing a hurricane - the total mechanical energy generated by the human race might have a shot at disturbing a single hurricane if it wasn't to big.  In other words, compared to nature, we are still, very, very small.

Apart from it not working it ignores the whole it being a terrible idea in the first place thing - large amounts of radioactive waste anyone?

One of the lines that is often trotted out with regards to climate change is that we're killing the planet. This I think, is a reminder that we're not killing the planet, the planet will tick along quite nicely without us. We're just stacking the deck against ourselves.

Wednesday, December 12, 2012

A balancing act.

There's been a series of posts about housing, employment and liveability the Auckland Transport Blog recently that have made interesting reading. If for no other reason than that it demonstrates the problems that the much maligned planners of Auckland City are trying to deal with.

The intensification of employment in certain areas in other cities appears to be a key driver of economic growth - a good argument is made for this. In our case, intensification is happening in several places, most notably the CBD. We're going to have problems getting everyone to work pretty soon if we want to grow it though. So transport has to be incorporated into the equation. There's two ends of any journey which brings housing into the equation. The council gets bagged regularly - often it deserves it, but I do think it's an incredibly hard job, balancing just those three facets of the community.

And I have to say that it's thoroughly refreshing to see commentators not treating Aucklanders (and New Zealanders as one amorphous mass - note the warnings against generalizations in the housing posts where it is noted that not all  New Zealanders want to buy a house.

Wednesday, December 5, 2012

A bright and shiny place.

Sure, an actual colony on Mars is still many years away, but quite frankly, I love the fact that someone is thinking about it. Elon Musk of the Tesla Motors and Space X appears to be seriously thinking about how we go about landing a sizable, permanent colony on mars and how much it going to cost.

And it is going to cost a lot. Once everything is establish and the initial costs have been taken care of, he reckons it'll get down to about half a million dollars per person. Still, it's something that I don't think we've had, as a species for a while now - something to look forward to or aspire to. It's a bright and shiny future in the making. I think the last time we had that was probably when the space race was at it's height, when massive efforts were being made to send people to the moon.

The one criticism I've heard of this was that we should shouldn't be spending so much money on something like this when there are so many problems here at the moment. I don't hold with this for a number of reasons. Fixing the problems here on Earth or going to Mars is not an either/or proposition. And if you think we shouldn't go anywhere until everything is fixed on earth, then we'll never go anywhere. There's always going to be another set of problems somewhere.
And to top it off, the benefits that will accrue from what we learn and the investments that will have to be made will, I think, outweigh the cost and provide benefits for everyone.

Either way, it's part of a bright and shiny future that I want to happen. So it makes me happy to know someone is getting on with it.

Monday, December 3, 2012

Tired but optimistic.

It's been a hellish couple of weeks. By which I mean very, very busy. Long days at work, extra shifts at the 2nd job, a party to organize, tomorrows nerdnite to organize (it's all about beer), a new flatmate to find, a landlord to coral, shipping my RNA samples to Korea for sequencing, that sort of thing. Mostly self inflicted I'll admit, but hellish nonetheless.

So it was nice to walk into the office this morning, glance over the news feed and almost immediately spot three pieces that made me feel all relaxed and optimistic about the world. It won't last and they're all quite different so I'm going to drag them out over the week.

I had an English flatmate once, odd girl. She was doing biology at university, which is a fairly diverse school. We found out sometime after she moved in that she really couldn't stand "all those asians taking the good marks". In other words, racist. Very, very racist. I find racism an odd thing at the best of times. Most of the time, apart from it being unbelievably stupid in the first place, I just don't see how people who are racist operate in the world today. Even more so, given it's very international nature, scientists.
I continue to hope that with the drive that I believe most scientists share (finding shit out is awesome, in the original sense of the word, i.e. awe inspiring) that differences in race or gender and the like wouldn't actually matter - only the finding stuff out would matter. It's not always the case, science is done by human beings and as I'm sure you're aware, much has been said on the nature of human beings being perfect.

Sometimes however, humans are good. Sesame is a project that is being put together in Jordan in the middle east. It has scientists from all over the region, from Turkey, Pakistan, Bahrain, Egypt, Iran and Israel. There's a whole bunch of countries of countries in there that have a fairly significant history of hating the crap out of each other. And here's a bunch of them sitting in the same room, not worrying about where they all came from and getting busy finding stuff out.

Provisional warm fuzzies for the day everyone.