Friday, August 8, 2008

Ed, please stop - you are making a fool of yourself

Ed Mitchell - astronaut, woo-merchant and grey alien lover. I guess by now everyone and their dog has heard of Ed and his amazing stories of the aliens at Roswell, New Mexico. But this is not new - he's been saying this for some time, and it was only thanks to his interview on Birmingham-based Kerrang radio where he said "that we have been visited on this planet and the UFO phenomenon is real - though it's been covered up by governments for the last 60 years or so". This has lead to some typical hysteria in the news from journo's willing to sensationalise anything to move a paper or get more visits. But I was extremely surprised when I saw John Campbell dip into this murky well of bullshit reporting last week, and interviewed Ed on his show.

Ok, I'll give it that John Campbell is not the fount of excellent journalism, and he does stray into the News of the World territory on occasion, but he's from Palmerston North (Represent! P. Nth 4 Life!) so I'll cut him a break for now. My main problem is that he is giving airtime to someone who has a hypothesis about what actually happened at Roswell, when he wasn't involved at all. He plainly says in the interview that he was a teenager at the time living in Roswell, and he doesn't really remember a whole lot about it, except some stuff in the local papers. That's not surprising in the slightest - my nephew is in the teen years and its impossible to get him interested in anything going on in the world outside his circle of friends, his job or the Playstation. Everything else is comprehensively labelled as "lame", "dumb" or the derisive "that's so gay".

But even though he was not involved, he is using his Argument from Authority and Anecdotal Evidence to try and convince the world that aliens crashed at Roswell. He says "the old timers" from Roswell who apparently were involved have passed on the vital information about 10 years ago about what they saw and heard, and this is what he bases his opinion on alien visitation. He has no evidence to prove the veracity of these claims except the word of other people that they are telling the truth which, I'm sorry Ed, doesn't count for squat. Now to give Ed his dues, he has been fooled in the past.

It was Mitchell who “discovered” spoon-bender Uri Geller when Geller was only a cabaret performer doing his run-of-the-mill “psychic” tricks for teeny-boppers in Israel, assisted by Hannah Shtrang – who later became his wife – and Shipi Shtrang, her brother, who still works as his assistant. Mitchell actually travelled to Israel and arranged for Geller to come to the USA and be studied at the Stanford Research Institute – later to be re-named SRI International. Two physicists there, apparently awed by meeting a genuine Lunar Astronaut, chose to believe that such a hero couldn’t be wrong, that Geller was therefore the real thing, and Geller’s career took off. It’s safe to say that without Edgar Mitchell’s naivety, we’d have been spared the advent of the Geller Delusion.
James Randi - Swift 31/07/2008

After retiring from the Navy in 1972, Dr. Mitchell founded the Institute of Noetic Sciences to sponsor research into the nature of consciousness as it relates to cosmology and causality. In 1984, he was a co-founder of the Association of Space Explorers, an international organization of those who have experienced space travel.

He is the author of "Psychic Exploration," 1974, "The Way of the Explorer," 1996, (Third edition, 2006) as well as dozens of articles in both professional and popular periodicals. He has devoted the last 35 years to studying human consciousness and psychic and paranormal phenomena in the search for a common ground between science and spirit.

Ed Mitchell Bio

Ok, that does run close to an Ad Hominem attack, but I think its relevant. He has shown a propensity in the past to be fooled by charlatans like Uri Geller, so who is to say that some group of people who believe what they say happened in Roswell so many years ago couldn't do the same? Fool me once, shame on me, fool me twice, shame on me again.

As for the Psychic Investigations, Phil Plait over at Bad Astronomy says that he is fully in support of people doing science based investigations of this sort of stuff, but I'm not too sure that's what he would be doing. If you back someone like Uri Geller without any evidence apart from watching a few parlour tricks, how credible will any scientific conclusions on similar topics be?

I guess we can only hope that the news agencies publish less of this and focus more on what Ed actually achieved - its a lot to hope for I know, but hey - a Palmy boy can dream cant he?

Super Slo-mo Lightning

Here is a video of lightning in super slow motion. It is pretty amazing. I don't have any details about where this is or who took it but it looks great.
It will no doubt turn out to be computer generated and we will all look like the fools we are. Anyway, enjoy it while we still think its real. Do the Jump.

This is your brain. This is your brain on a computer.

Wondering what someone's brain would look like if you could view thoughts through a kaleidoscope? Well wonder no more - here are some awesome images from a new piece of software developed by neuroscientists at Massachusetts General Hospital in Boston. It takes MRI scan data and renders it in full-colour 3D, with each visible strand representing several tens of thousands of the too-small-to-image neural pathways. It called diffusion spectrum imaging - it takes current data from MRI scans and analyses it for the passage of water molecules along the individual neuron connections in the brain. It then processes it to spit out the 3D maps. See after the jump for more pici's.

Thursday, August 7, 2008

When is it too much haka?

The last commonwealth games were not massively successful by past standards for New Zealand, considering we only pulled in 32 medals in total, compared to the previous 30 or so years. But it was still an awesome achievement for our athletes from a small nation of 4 million, who compete on a world stage and bring back medals - bloody good show I say. Screw all the naysayers who whinge about the number of medals - I don't see any of the local sports journo's getting off their fat butts to applaud the effort, let alone running a marathon for their country. And with the Olympics on the cusp of starting, I can only smile in anticipation of our plucky teams taking on the world, and bringing home the glory. In saying that, I must admit I do have a small, ah, not a complaint but maybe a suggestion - less haka this time round eh?

The haka is a national icon for our country - nothing stirs the blood of a kiwi more than seeing the All Blacks before the next clash with the Boks, the Frogs or the Criminal Element and putting the fear of our mana into them.

Its origins lie in our Maori history, and it has always been used in conjunction with ceremony of some form. The earliest forms are attributed to formal proceedings between tribes before tribal councils were held. The most common form of haka Ka Mate! is said to have been introduced by a particularly fierce and successful Maori chief by the name of Te Rauparaha in the early nineteenth century. It is a short tale of his escape from pursuers from another tribe, and the exhilaration of his ultimate survival (see It has been used by the All Blacks since 1888, and performed before nearly every single match since 1922 - its one of the best parts of a home rugby test match.

These days however, we see it being used not only in rugby, but in every other sporting code as well. Not so much by the women's teams, which is ironic because the first haka's were apparently performed by Maori women, but its not really their scene I suppose. Although it would put the shits up the Aussies if the Silver Ferns Netball team came out onto centre court before a match and did Kapa a Pango. It turns up all over the place, and its for this reason that I wonder if its losing a bit of its uniqueness. Is it possible to have too much haka? Is it possible that it could lose its special place in our nations heart, and fail to cast a smidgen of fear in the oppositions if we do it all the time?

Case in point was the 2006 Commonwealth games in Melbourne. When you win a medal in the pool, its tradition that the medal winners, after being awarded their bits of metal on a string, wander down the ranks of their team mates and fans waving and soaking up the applause. Normally this is a reasonably quick process as it doesn't really take that long to walk, except if you are a Kiwi who has won a medal. Every single time one of our athletes made their way down the line, they had to stop and wait while the entire swim team did a haka. I know it doesn't take long, but after the 3rd or 4th time you could see the officials, other competitors and spectators beginning to roll their eyes and get a bit frustrated. Is it really necessary to haka someone who came third? And how do you think that makes the person who got the gold feel - I won but I'm being shoved aside so some yahoos can celebrate their mates bronze?

Dallas Seymour, ex sevens legend and Olympic Official for the NZ Team says otherwise. He concedes that people may have had the impression that it was trotted out for anything and everything, but he also points out that its not just a challenge or a call to the fight - its used as part of ceremony and a uniquely NZ way of welcoming people. "In Maori culture it's one of those everyday things done in a whole lot of different settings. It's one of those things that people get a real kick out of." He also said that a well timed haka can be more special that anything from the official ceremony of the Olympics or Commonwealth games. "Sarah [Ulmer] said in Athens to be acknowledged in a uniquely New Zealand way was more emotional than anything else she went through. It was the only time she cried in terms of getting the gold as well."

I guess I agree with Dallas that it is a very important part of our culture, and its not about other countries, and more about our national identity. I just wish it was used a little more judiciously, and perhaps not in the middle of other peoples ceremonies - show a little more respect and perhaps some of the haka-haters will chill out.

In saying that, most of the haka-haters I have heard from a Poms or Aussies, and really they are just jealous of not having something of their own to perform before a big game. Waltzing Matilda sung by some big fat hairy beardy weirdy or Swing Low Sweet Chariot sound slow and lame - the complete antithesis of what is required to rev you up for the big game ahead. So screw them.

Go the Kiwi's at the olympics - you'll do us proud I'm sure. And go the AB's next Saturday against the Boks in Capetown. Give them the good news boys!

Wednesday, August 6, 2008

Guns don’t kill people...

I was always fascinated by that saying and how simple it seems. “Guns don’t kill people, people kill people”. In essence, it is compelling because it is true. Guns do not kill people of their own volition, they require a motive force such as a finger pulling the trigger, a hand to aim it and a person to decide what to aim at. But is it oversimplifying things? Do guns in a larger sense actually kill people through actually existing, or am I just talking out my butt?

Recently I had my house broken into, and although nothing much was taken luckily, and no one was home, the sense of some scumbag rifling through my personal effects pissed me off something chronic. I went through the classic stages we experience to cope with things.

“What? Someone broke in? Don’t be ridiculous! They can’t break in when we’ve got things like, doors and windows covering the openings. Well of course they could have just smashed a window, but who in their right mind would do that? That’s crazy talk!”

“Fucking pricks! How dare they break into my house! I’m going to....well...I...I’m going to get pretty upset is what I’m going to do!”

“Please please please please please please let my new xbox still be there”

“This sucks. How can someone do this to me and my family. What sort of nihilistic a-hole would invade my house and rifle through my shit?”

“What? Are you joking? Acceptance? Fuck. That. The next time I see someone snooping round the neighbourhood I’m gonna get the rake outta the shed and beat seven kinds of snot out of them!”

It was the last statement (which I actually did think to myself) that I have come back to ponder in the light of a few recent events in New Zealand. In early June an owner of a liquor outlet Navtej Singh in South Auckland was shot dead, even though he had complied totally with the offenders demands. Since then there have been a spate of shootings and assaults (not entirely related to shop owners) that have been highlighted in the media. A majority of these we all shake our heads, do the old “tut tut” thing and continue on with our lives because we are not shocked by this sort of thing – we have been desensitised to it. It is remote. Its happening to someone else we have nothing to do with, so we feel comfortable dismissing it from the worry centre of our brain and concentrating on more personal matters. Which is all perfectly normal – you can’t expect people to live in total fear because of the worry and stress caused by events which have no immediate impact on their lives. Unless you live in the US of course, and then the Government and media make damn sure you worry about every perceived terrorist threat there could possibly be.

But I digress. On Monday night, two machete wielding offenders charged into a Christchurch dairy and attacked the owner and his wife without provocation. The owner Nike said "Usually in the movies they say 'Give me the money' but they tried to kill us from the very start. It happened really fast. They ran in holding the knife out and started trying to chop me." At this point, Nike whipped out his air pistol that was stashed behind the counter, and shot the knife wielding maniacs, wounding one of them in the face. He saved his life, his wife’s life and didn’t kill anyone in the process. Bravo Nike – well done.

This has raised the obvious question however – should people have the right to arm themselves for protection? I saw on the news tonight, several people calling for the ability of shop owners to defend themselves. What would have happened in any of these situations where a small business owner is confronted by an armed nutter, demanding they “gimme the casshhhhh” is armed with a .357 magnum, or a small .22 pistol? It’s obvious really – the outcome would be much worse. As soon as you arm everyone for “personal protection” you increase the death toll at every robbery. The more guns there are, the more people will get shot and it wont be for reasons of “personal protection” either. You then put a gun in the hands of every husband who has an argument with his wife, of every disgruntled employee who has forgotten the TPS reports, and every bored teenager who feels like taking their frustrations with the world out on someone.

Its relatively hard in New Zealand to get a gun, and although we are seeing an increase of crimes linked with guns, I wouldn’t want to change that. If you see someone with a gun, it stands out – they look out of place and you can identify them as a possible offender because they are armed. If you arm everyone, they blend into the crowd and make them impossible to find. Increasing the number of weapons owned legitimately will make it harder to trace the ones that are not, making it incredibly hard to capture and prosecute successfully people who commit armed offences.

“Guns don’t kill people, people kill people, but if you give everyone a gun, more people will be killed” – proliferation of weapons has never helped solve anything. All it does is give people who are pissed off, down on their luck or just bored something to play with.

Britain from Above

We all know what the countries of the World look like from space. Italy is a boot, America has a pan handle and Australia is a big smudge. Ever wondered what a countries infrastructure would look like from space? No, well I’m sure some people have. The BBC have a new documentary called ‘Britain from Above’ which uses state of the art computer graphics combined with GPS information from Taxis, planes, ferries and other vehicles to show how the country functions. After the cut you will find some facts and a link to the video on the BBC website.

Hosted by Andrew Marr the show will present imagery of Britain and the daily heartbeat that is the countries commute and communications network. Also included in this series is a look at how the cities have changed and how technologies keep us moving.

Video link

Facts from the show.

• The English Channel is the busiest shipping lane in the world: on a typical day 400 plus vessels travel through the Dover Straits, the biggest of which weigh up to 150,000 tonnes and take 3.5 miles to come to a stop.
• East London's Beckton Sewage Plant - all 280 football pitches worth of tanks, troughs and waterways - is one of the largest in Europe.
• On an average day, Britain's water pipes carry 16 billion litres of water - enough to fill 18 million bathtubs.
• In less than a week the waste sent to sewage plants is clean enough to be able to be pumped back into our taps.
• At the peak of the working day Britons send more than 5,000 text messages per second.
• 109 square miles of British countryside is just used for landfill.
• Between 7 and 10am, 36 million Britons are on the move commuting to the office or school.
• The average road user will spend more than 6 months of their life stuck in traffic jams.
• Every day more than 7,500 civilian aircraft crowd Britain's airspace, carrying more that half a million passengers.
• Over three quarters of a billion pounds in hard cash is transported around the roads of Britain every day. Driving one of the secured vans is one of the most dangerous jobs in the country with sometimes 15 attacks a week.
• Every day the nation's rubbish trucks collect more than 82,000 tonnes of refuse.

Tuesday, August 5, 2008

What has NASA ever done for us…….

Many people don’t believe that space travel is worth the massive amounts of money that we spend, or the Americans spend should I say. Here in New Zealand we do not have a space program so our tax money does not feature in the final frontier. Needless to say that we are fortunate that everyone reaps the benefits of the space programs provided by other countries.

Rob Sharp over at The Independent has chronicled some of the top 50 developments that the Worlds space programs have given us. Things such as the hand held vacuum cleaner, safer runways, freeze dried meals and Heart Surgery have all come about due to the research and development that goes on at NASA and other agencies.

Check out the link to see the top 50 inventions given to us by space exploration.

Sunday, August 3, 2008

Solar Eclipse from 27000 feet.

One of the items on my list of things to do before I die is to see a full solar eclipse. We dont get many down here in NZ, in fact someone recently mentioned that we will get one in about 30 years or so, so that means I will have a bit of a wait. Anyway here is some footage of the latest solar eclipse as seen from an aircraft flying at 27,000 feet over the Canadian Arctic. It is pretty cool footage as you can actually see the shadow moving over the position of the plane. The people on board are obviously quite happy about what they have just witnessed. Have a look after the cut.