Cogitatione aliquid percipere

Food for thought

Saturday, August 19, 2006

Interplanetary whiskey on the rocks

Unfortunately very short on whiskey (some god or alien or something must have drunk it all a long time ago (Might explain a few things)), but there is absolutely no shortage on ice planets out there. At least if the suggestion put forth to the International Astronomical Union (Not an astronomical large union, just a group of astronomers deciding how big a piece of rock needs to be to be called a planet, and what the before mentioned planet is supposed to be called.) But first: How does the solar system look like today:


Well, smack in the middle you have a rather big yellow thingy, called the Sun. (You can see it during the day. It's the big yellow bright spot that appear to play hide and seek among the clouds up there... On occasion more hide than seek unfortunately.) (The Sun weighs 332950 times more than the Earth, for those that like numbers). Everything else that exist in the solar system orbits around this big yellow thingy. (With the exception of those rocks that orbit the rocks that orbit the Sun. Or the rocks that obit the rocks that orbit the rocks that orbits the Sun. Or the rocks that orbit the rocks that orbit the rocks that orbit the rocks that orbit the Sun. Or the... You get the idea). Now, the biggest of these rocks that orbit the Sun is called planets. (They are not made purely of rock though. Also ice and gasses of differing type can be found, sometimes in much larger quantities that rocks.) The planets in our solar system is divided into three types. Type one is made of stone and metals, and orbit rather close to the Sun. The names of these are Mercury (Freakishly warm), Venus (Even warmer), Earth (We live here) and Mars (Red sandy place, with a lot of small human-made metal boxes in orbit). Type two is the humongous gas giants. They too are made of stone and metals, but as their name suggests, the main ingredient in these are gas. The end result is that the surface of these planets are somewhat unsurfacey, or to but it bluntly: They have a significant lack of one. The names of these planets are: Jupiter (The biggest planet in the solar system, some 318 times more massive than the Earth), Saturn (the nice one with the rings), Uranus (Cold place, orbiting on its back), and Neptune (Even colder). Now, the third type of planets, a type I honestly think should not be called planets at all, is Pluto. (Not named after Mickey Mouse's dog.) The ninth planet in the solar system is called Pluto, and is made of ice (and some rocks thrown in for good measure).


Ok, that's all the planets. There are however other things in the solar system. A few hundred moons (That are the rocks that orbit the rocks that orbit the sun), asteroids (A bunch of small rocks that orbit mostly between Mars and Jupiter. Usually seen together with big headlines in the newspapers like: “This rock might hit us in 2235”, and then a blurry picture of something that look like a peanut , pea or some other consumable) and blocks of ice to name a few. These blocks of ice (Pluto is one of them), orbit the sun very far out, and are divided into Kuyper belt objects and Oort cloud objects. (Depending on how far out they are.) When these lumps of ice come close to the sun, we see them as comets. (There happens to be at least a few millions of these Oort cloud and Kuyper belt objects).


For those that have gotten this far, congratulations. Just remember that next week you might have to learn all this over again. You see, that is when The International Astronomical Union is going to discuss what a planet really is. The problem is simple: They found some lumps of ice that are bigger than Pluto. Should these new lumps of ice be called planets? Or should we do the simple thing and remove the planet status of Pluto? (I know where my vote goes...)


The way it looks now, they are going to decide that Pluto is a planet. Also the fabulously named ice cube 2003 UB313 (The name is going to change), which is around the same size as Pluto, is also going to be called a planet. So 10 planets then? No.. Charon, Pluto's moon is also going to be called a planet from now on. As is Ceres, the biggest of the asteroids in the asteroid belt. (Ceres is about 950 km across. The trip to my grandparents and back is longer...) So, 12 planets then? Yes, sort of. At least for a couple of months. The thing is, there is a lot of lumps of ice out there. As it is now, astronomers have a list with lumps of ice they think are bigger than the lower limit for planets (about 800 km if the Astronomical Union do what it looks they are going to do). So, 20 planets then? 30? Maybe.. At least for now.


However, as telescopes get better and better, we will probably find more and more lumps of ice that satisfy the demands. So if some grandchild of yours should happen to go to school in 2104 or thereabouts, I sure hope he will not have to learn all the names of all the planets. It's probably going to be a few thousand of them, if not more...


Anyway, more on this madness can be found here. Enjoy. (There are also something about the nice cuddly Plutons on that page...)


(Oh, and for those that wondered: Summer holiday is nice. Also, please excuse any lame jokes you might have read during the last few minutes.)

Wednesday, June 28, 2006

Melancholy in the morning

I just watched “The Weather Man”. I'm not sure what I expected when I started, but what I did get was a movie about absolutely nothing. And also about everything. Perhaps not a very clear way of saying it, though a correct one. It has some of the same qualities as “Sideways” (an excellent movie), if that makes it any clearer. In both there is close to no real action per se. Instead they are driven forward by personal development. And it leaves you with a rather strange feeling inside. A cosy one at that.


So what does these films tell us? Well, stop fighting life might be one thing. Don't try to paddle against the current. Instead flow with the stream and use the paddle to steer towards safety. We really don't live that long, and what little time we do have shouldn't be spent fighting. In fact, it shouldn't be spent doing anything we dislike at all. Perhaps not the easiest task to accomplish, though a worthy goal. And we shouldn't spend our time making others feel miserable either. Our short term joys might have long term effects. Long term effects that might be unpleasant to both us and others. Long term effects that we might not be able to foresee.


So where do we end up? Be nice to yourself and others? Well, if people could be...

Sunday, June 11, 2006

Retasking my muse

It's over. Done. Finished. Completed. Gone. Delivered. An era has passed. Well, this is not entirely accurate, considering the 30 minute presentation I have to give in a couple of weeks (not to mention the one hour exam), but the document itself has been has been handed over to the correct people. For those that have no idea what I am talking about: I delivered my masters degree a week ago. 90 some pages of scribbles, equations and graphs. Add in the occasional digression, a trace of philosophy (a big pile might be more accurate) and sprinkle some humour on top of everything. And voilà, you know what my muse have been occupied with for the last few months.


And now? Well, now some creative storage tanks are being refilled. In fact, this is what I have been doing for the last week or so. (That, and some large amounts of computer playing and other activities best described by the term doing nothing (Read: Relaxing). Which is how I usually fill my creative storage tanks.)


In any case: Enough talk of my muse. A thought occurred to be the other day. Outside it is 25 degrees Celsius (more or less), and everything is coming to life. (In fact, they have been for the last couple of months.) Now, if you look around, you see colours everywhere. Green leaves on the threes, flowers with every colour there is, and the grass has become a vibrant green instead of that dry yellow it was earlier. But there is more than just colours; there is smells as well. And now I need to ask you a question: Have you gone over to a nice little red flower, or perhaps a big yellow one, and smelled it recently? Just stopped on your way to work or when you are going to visit a friend, and simply smelled a flower? Or looked at a bird? Or a butterfly? I don't think people do that enough. They rush around, living their busy lives, and for some reason they don't have 10 seconds to smell a flower. Instead they are occupied doing their very important things that most likely are going to be forgotten next year, and die of a heart attack at the age of 52. So tomorrow, or whenever you are going out the next time: Stop smell a flower. It's remarkably soothing.


Have a nice summer. See you in a few days.

Thursday, March 16, 2006

Death by shrimping?

There has been a serious lack of updates here lately, as some might have noticed. There do exist reasons for this lack of updates. Several in fact, though I don't intend to bore you with those. Instead, I intend to bore you with two other topics. Lawsuits (A particular lawsuit in fact) and political movies. So lean back, and read! (Or go watch some reality shows, if that is more your thing. Just let the world slide by. You know you want to)


Still here? Good. We start with the lawsuit: The case started some five years ago, in a restaurant, and ended about a month ago, in a Long Island courtroom. Thankfully, the jury tossed the case out after two hours of deliberation. (Not entirely sure what they needed two hours for...) What is the case, you might ask. Well. It's the flying shrimp case. For background material: Here and here


Apparently, Jerry Colaitis had ordered shrimp at a restaurant while celebrating his birthday in January 2001. And, due to a Jackie Chan move from the late 1990s, it had become common for chefs to throw shrimp and other food items at customers (Strange custom, but....). And this is in fact what happened to Jerry Colaitis. And, as every man would do, when you see a flying shrimp heading right for you, you try to dodge it. (Most people would in fact try to dodge most things flying right at them, surprisingly enough.)


So, why did they sue the restaurant? Having to dodge a shrimp is, by far, not worth 10 million dollars. Unless of course Jerry died. Something he did. Not right there, mind you. 10 months later. So, here is what baffles me:


  1. A man, who, according to his wife, was healthy as a rock, died because he had to dodge a shrimp. Well, for starters, I fail to see how he could be healthy as a rock.

  2. When the husband underwent surgery to relieve numbness in his arm, something which happened 5 months after the flying attack at the restaurant. And when he again went to the hospital 5 months after that, due to a serious fever , something he in fact died from, the wife made the connection to the flying shrimp. That's called healthy imagination where I come from. Or daydreaming.

  3. The serious fever was apparently due to an infection from the surgery 5 months earlier. The wife did however choose to sue the restaurant with the flying shrimps, and not the hospital.

  4. By the wife's, Jacqueline Colaitis, own words: “I thought we had a very good case. He was a healthy man who got injured that night and everything developed from there.” If this is a good example of a very good case in the American justice system, something has gone seriously wrong over there.

  5. “Everything developed from there”. So why sue the restaurant? Why not sue Jackie Chan, for starting the shrimp-throwing tradition? Or perhaps the shrimp boat crew, for catching the shrimp. Or why not sue the whale hunters from 50 years ago. If there were more whales in the sea, perhaps one of them had eaten the shrimp before it started on it's death-flight. Or you could sue the universe for its invention of shrimps in the first place.

My suggestion: Mourn your husband, and get on with your life. It's too short to waste on idiotic lawsuits like this one. In fact, the jury should consider suing the wife for wasting their time.


OK, on to the political movies. They're popular again, something I at least applaud for. I got to say, I've seen a few of the latest. “Syriana” and “Good night, and good luck” this evening in fact. Both excellent. Though if you are watching these, expecting a lulling, happy feeling when leaving the cinema, you're not seeing the right movie. “The Constant Gardener” is also a movie to check out, and the same can be said for “Lord of War”. The last is perhaps the least serious of the four, but I believe they all should be seen. Unfortunately for us, the themes of all these movies, are themes that we probably will see again in 50 years. And a 100. Most likely even in a 1000 years, if we're still around...


Anyway, in the words of David Strathairn: Good night, and good luck.

Monday, February 27, 2006

The genetic superhuman. A logical next step? A horrible nightmare? A necessity?

Two themes still remain on the list shown in the last entry. And today the time has come for one of these: The genetically engineered superhuman. A logical next step? A horrible nightmare? A necessity? Let's take a little look, shall we.


First of all, we have to clear up a couple of common misunderstandings.


  • Genetic engineering is NOT the same as cloning. Both topics will be discussed, but the difference between these two fields of science is big. Both scientifically and morally.


  • Cyborgs are not big killing machines. They can be, but so can humans. A cyborg is in all simplicity a person that has one or several machines implanted into his body. (From dictionary.com: cyborg: A human who has certain physiological processes aided or controlled by mechanical or electronic devices). In short: A person with a pacemaker is a cyborg.


Now, looking at Hollywood movies, you rather quickly discover one thing. In almost all the films were cloning, genetic engineering or cyborgs play a part, it is portrayed as something bad. Either the person doing it is evil, or the result of the cloning/engineering/implant is evil. (Often both.) Why is this? The answer is most likely the human fright of everything new and different. Combined of course with the fact that “messing with Gods creation” is not something that you are supposed to do. Let God be God, etc...


Now, I'm not a very religious person. In fact, I like to attack problems from a scientific point of view. (Something that might explain my current occupation) So let's look at genetic engineering, cloning and implants from a little more objective point of view than most people use today. First out:


Cloning


If I say “Dolly, the sheep”, most people know what I am talking about (I hope). And this is the prime example of cloning. The principle behind cloning is surprisingly simple. Take the nucleus of one cell, and put this into an egg taken from a females ovary. (The nucleus of the egg has been removed before the new nucleus is inserted.) Now all you need to do, is to put the egg back into a female of the given species, and wait until the clone is born. This clone is then genetically identical to the specimen the original cell was taken from. Assuming this clone is a person, it is like having a 40 year younger twin. Society will of course have it's effects, so the two persons won't be exactly the same, but fingerprints, retinal scans and DNA tests will not be able to separate them. There is no manipulation of the genes involved, only a transfer from one cell to another.


Going back to the movies, one of the main reasons a person clones him/herself is to be able to transfer his/hers current memories from one body to another. And often a body already fully grown. However, this is not straight forward cloning. Here you have to manipulate the genes to make the body grow faster and you need a way of transferring the memories. Both difficult problems, but the result might be very convenient. As they said on “Battlestar Galactica” here the other day: “Death is only a learning experience”. Of course, to make room for all these clones in addition to normal population growth, we would need a couple of more planets. And with the help of the next two subject, we might just get some...


Genetic Engineering


Now this is a very interesting subject. Low scale genetic engineering has been used for millennia, though a very crude form of such engineering. I am of course talking about cross-breeding plants and animal to refine desirable qualities. There wouldn't be any chihuahuas or seedless grapes if we hadn't used this type of genetic engineering. Of course, this is not the type people think about when they here the words “genetic engineering”. They think of people in white lab coats in a lab. This type of genetic engineering is much newer, but also this type is in use. For example, the possibility to make plants that are resistant to certain deceases is incredibly useful. The same are plants that can grow in very salty ground, fruit and vegetables that doesn't rot or even plants that produce medicines. Instead of sticking a hole in yourself every time you need your insulin, you eat an apple... There are dangers here though. The way we spilt out the desirable genes in one cell before we transfer it to another cell, and merge it with the genes already there, is not 100% foolproof. Our scissors are not 100% accurate, and we thus get some junk DNA that travels along in the the transfer. When these genes combine with the genes already in the new cell, we can get unforeseen effects. Bad ones. In other words: We got to be careful.


Genetic engineering can also be used on humans. A lot of our deceases are genetic in origin. (Haemophilia for instance). Using genetic engineering, we can go in and fix this faulty gene, thus removing the decease. Of course, as with plants, we can add things as well. Add the genes needed for gills, and your kids can breathe under water. And with some more knowledge of the human DNA, parents can start designing their babies. Looks, strength, IQ, all decided before birth. (“Gattaca” is very good example...) The moral problems here are rather staggering, but is this really technology we can ignore? We do after all live by the principle: “Survival of the fittest”. And if we can make ourselves more “fit”, is this a bad thing? For instance, taking some genes from a cockroach, making us resistant to radiation, would make it significantly easier to send people to other planets. Get the genes that control hibernations in frogs, making us able to lay as dead for a century, before waking up in a brand new solar system. As they say: “helping nature on it's way.” We might not like it, but it might also be necessary. Maybe...


Cyborgs


Now, as stated before in this entry, there already exist cyborgs. You got yourself a pacemaker? A mechanical leg? An electronic ear? They are all mechanical or electronic aids. And without them, a lot of people would be dead or severely incapacitated. Of course, the number of conceivable aids is staggering. You have a problem of combining faces with names? Install a small hard drive in your brain, to store just this information. Link it to the optical nerve, and it will tell you the name of a person every time you meet someone. You're an engineer? Install a module that makes you able to walk among digital projections of whatever you are designing. You're a soldier? Add strength enhancing machines in your arms and legs, and a target acquisition module connected to your optical nerve. And perhaps hardened flame resistant skin, to be able to stop bullets and survive bombs. (The flame resistant skin would also be useful for a fireman...)


Now, all three of these techniques are controversial at best, and a society were we can do whatever we want to do with out genes, is a society most of us can't imagine. Nevertheless, we are moving towards such a society. But is this really a bad thing? A lot of good can come of it, if used correctly. We might have to use some of these techniques to survive in the future. And we must not forget that our species are changing every day, new mutations emerging at a constant rate. We, as a species, are changing. Always have, always will. So is it really so bad to help these changes along. To ease humanity's entry into the future. I don't think so. We have the technology. It will be used. The human civilization might go through a staggering change. But what have the last century been, if not a staggering change? And we have to change. We can't stay planet bound forever. That at least, is a 100% death sentence. I'm not saying we shouldn't be careful. I'm saying, with the danger of sounding overly pompous, that this is a technology with so many applications, that to throw it away would be treason to life itself.

Sunday, February 19, 2006

Choices

I've been meaning to write something for over a week now. I actually have a small list of things I want to say something about. Unfortunately for both me and my studies, I have been attacked by a serious problem known as uninspiredness. I appear to have lost my muse, or at least temporarily mislaid it. Still, life moves on and all those other clichés, so I better find it again, and soon. (The fact that I am writing this, might suggest that it is slowly getting back... I hope.)


Anyway, the list. Today's choices are:

  • Blasphemous cartoons or freedom of speech? Or perhaps both?

  • Death by shrimping.

  • The genetic superhuman. A logical next step? A horrible nightmare? A necessity?


A coin toss later (Actually three, to give the choices an equal probability):


Blasphemous cartoons or freedom of speech? Or perhaps both?


Apparently, for reasons later explained, writing this jeopardises my life. Nevertheless, it will be written (Though with no pictures. If you want to see those, try google). (Luckily for me, I'm kind of anonymous here, though the number of people at the ITA working with the anthropic principle is... somewhat limited) If you still have no idea what I'm talking about, you really should check the news more often. Though, to help you this time, I am of course talking about the famous Muhammed cartoons.


These, by now infamous cartoons, were first printed, as I'm sure you know, in Denmark in September. At the time, most people didn't care that much about them, with the exception of some Danish Islamic organizations. And all they did, was to request a meeting between the Danish prime minister and a few ambassadors to discuss the printing of these cartoons. He refused. A decision that turned out to be both stupid and very expensive.


Now, on the 8th of December, the OIC (Organisation of the Islamic Conference) had a meeting in Mekka. And suddenly the cartoons were high politics. And that's were things stayed for another month. Then, 10 of January, Magazinet (A Christian Norwegian newspaper, which most Norwegians didn't even know existed) printed the cartoons. And from here on out, things went downhill. Rapidly. Within the next few weeks, the cartoons were printed in newspapers across the world, several embassies started smoking and died, and a quite few people got killed.


We now return to the title of this little discussion: Blasphemous cartoons or freedom of speech? Let's take a little look at the arguments.


Yes, by law, we do have freedom of speech in what we like to call the West. And one can claim that because of this, we can't blame those that have printed the cartoons for anything that have happened because of this. We can't hold them responsible. However, I do not agree to this. For starters, the paper that printed the cartoons, turned down some similar cartoons of Jesus a couple of years back, on the basis that these might upset Christians around the world. The paper is also, politically speaking, rather far on the right side. So the question is: Did they print the cartoons to uphold the freedom of speech, or any other such thing? Or did they print them to provoke? I know what I think. I'm not going to tell you though. You should form your own opinions.


However whatever their reasons, there is one more thing that should be clear: There are limitations to this freedom of speech thing. You are (at least most of the time) held responsible for things you say. So even if they should be able to print cartoons of whatever they might like, you should take responsibility for the following fallout. And of course, there are other limitations to the freedom here in the West. We have the freedom to say or print anything we want, as long as it passes through the censorship. Age limits on movies and games, dress codes even on the beaches to avoid upsetting people, severe restrictions on pornography etc. If we are so proud of our freedom of speech laws, why do we still have these limitations? I'm not necessarily against these laws, it's just that it seems a little hypocritical to defend our right to say and print what we want whatever the consequences, and then, a couple of days later, defend the limitations on this same right.


Now, let's move to the other side of the conflict. Are the cartoons blasphemous? The obvious answer is of course yes. Apparently there is a slight disagreement among Muslims, whether or not it is allowed to make pictures of Muhammed. There is support for both sides in the Koran. But regardless of which side you're on in this discussion, the cartoons that were printed are blasphemous. However, this is no excuse to burn down buildings or kill people. Do it the correct way: Complain through words or other non-violent means. And there are so many more important things to get angry over. Stop raging over some stupid pictures, and start looking at the real problems. People dying. People starving. People with no homes. People being oppressed. Stop complaining about a wounded pride, while elsewhere pride is the only thing people have left. (This goes to all living things on this rock)


Unfortunately for everybody involved, politics have entered the situation. What started as an argument about some cartoons, have nothing to do with these cartoons any more. The argument have progressed, and gotten a life of its own. And it is still alive. And it is still being fed. Just a couple of days ago, an Italian minister printed the cartoons on some t-shirts (How stupid can you get). In the last week alone, more than 20 people have been killed because of this argument.


Anyway, to round things off: A little quote from Monty Python:


So remember when you're feeling very small and insecure,
How amazingly unlikely is your birth
And pray that there's intelligent life somewhere up in space,
'Cause there's bugger all down here on Earth!

So get your ass out there, and prove that you deserved the privilege of being born. And perhaps one day, we can start calling us selves intelligent. One day... Perhaps.

Thursday, February 09, 2006

The Kenya Connection

It does sound like a book by Robert Ludlum, though it is far more real than that. They usually contact you by e-mail, with semi-plausible stories with a significant lack of detail. The last one I got, was from a Mr. Bob. Apparently this Mr. Bob worked in a well known bank in London, England, though the bank's name, he did not say. And, as is usual in this type of mails, there is a promise of money. In this case, 15 million pounds, supposedly left behind by a person that died in a plane crash in 2002. Both the plane crash, and the person are real, though I will be very surprised if any other part of the story told in the mail is even remotely true. Anyway, what you, the receiver of this mail, is supposed to do, is to take on the role of one of the deceased relatives, and claim the money. Apparently this is totally risk free, since the money is not related to drugs, terrorism or any other illegal activity. (Not that surprising, since the money does not exist...). Of course, last time I checked, impersonating another person is not exactly legal.


I'm sure you too have gotten similar mails, and not only from Mr. Bob. The senders range from bank staff to the son of some important public figure to the secretary to some minister in a third world country. (A few years back, this country was often Kenya, thus the name: Kenya letters) However, the story is usually very similar. You give them monetary aid, or even give them your account number, while they deal with the legal problems of getting the money released. Once they have been released, you will of course get your expenses back, in addition to a certain percentage of the money in the given account. Of course, the money will never be released, since they do not exist.


When reading one of these mails, you rather quickly detect that something is a little fishy. (At least you should.) So what baffles me even more than the fact that someone bothers to send these mails, is that people are actually buying into these things. Some have even been known to travel to the country in question, to help with the transaction (which can't take place since there is nothing to transfer). I can understand people that respond to spam mails. These are usually advertising something. These Kenya letters on the other hand, are just simple scams. Very easily recognisable scams at that. So once again we have proved, that greed trumps common sense. No shocker there.

Wednesday, February 08, 2006

Headwipe

This post will be on a more personal level than the last couple of posts. It's not like I have stopped with the gargantuan, hopefully thought provoking thought chains. It's just that there are other things in life than these immensely long term thoughts. (Nobody can argue with me when I say colonizing the galaxy might take some time...).


Anyway, I was out sledging the other day. We (me and some friends down at the institute) went to this sledging hill on the outskirts of the city. Stayed there for some 4+ hours, going up and down this hill. 7 minutes down, 15 minutes with the subway to get up again.. It was fun. You sit down on this wooden thing (We rented some), no steering wheel, just some ropes to hang on to. Not to say that you can steer, it just takes some time getting good at it. Pull the left rope, lean right, and the sledge goes to you left. (Sometimes). In any case, you kick of, lean back, and the wind start to rush past. And with the wind, all the thoughts in your head just vanishes. Poof, gone. You are just having fun, trying not to crash into the trees or the other people sledging or any thing that might be in you way. And then, on occasion you hit a bump, your foot hits the snow, you face suddenly gets very cold, and you can't see where you're going. Always nice in a turn... And all the time the wind is rushing past, the sun i shining, and you are having fun. It's really a good way to clear your head, if, by any chance, it should need clearing. And honestly, most heads to need a regular wipe, though some might be best left without one. People might notice that there really aren't anything in there...


Speaking of which, “Big Brother” has started up again here in Norway. It's one of the few programs on television I think would be branded “cruel and unusual punishment” by the Human Rights Commission. And if someone tried to show “Big Brother” to the prisoners at Guantanamo Bay, every human rights organization would scream torture within 24 hours. Of course, by then every prisoner with some sense in their head would either have lost all shred of this, or would have killed themselves. Of course, there are other programs in the same group as “Big Brother”. “Survivor”, “Fear Factor”, “Top Model”, that job thing with the “You're fired” guy, some kind of program where they split up some couples, put them on separate islands, and test if they could be faithful for a month or so, a one man 15 women dating show, a one woman 15 men dating show, etcetcetc. Those of you who payed attention while reading this, might have noticed that I'm not a big fan of reality shows... It's cheap, bad, boring, stupefying entertainment. That is, if it is even remotely possible to call something so far from entertaining, entertainment. However, there is one reality show that could have been interesting. Interesting to see if people would sign up for it, mind you. I'm not about to start watching reality shows... The show in question, is the show the original maker of Big Brother called the “ultimate reality show”. The concept was very simple: One space station, 7 people, one revolver, 6 bullets, one escape module, and enough air for 30 days. Could have been interesting...


One more thing before I leave: Audio books are an excellent invention. All you need is an mp3 player, an audio book, and suddenly you can take a walk outside, and read a book at the same time. Currently reading (listening to) “Only you can save Mankind”, by Terry Pratchett. And if anyone hasn't read anything by this guy, now is a good time to start. “Hogfather” for instance, is a very good starting point. Death, who rides a big white horse and speaks in large letters, is, due to the kidnapping of Hogfather, riding around in a sledge giving out presents. And aside from the fact that some people think he is a little thinner than usual (He is after all a skeleton), and his laughter is a bit deeper than normal. (Sort of an abyssal tint to it), everything goes more or less as it should. Of course, then the pink, sock eating elephant appears in a sock drawer at the magic university.

Thursday, February 02, 2006

Transition zone

Word of warning: This entry portraits events that would kill billions of people. There are also information that might kick you out of the apathy most parts of the human race have their whole life. (Or at the very least force you to file certain information under: Will not think about. Might cause sleep deprivation.)



We're in a transition zone. Both evolutionary and technologically. I know, nothing revolutionary about this thought, but that doesn't mean you shouldn't think it, or take five minutes and actually consider the consequences of us being in this transition zone. And while you might (or even probably) have heard some of the things I'm going to say before, have you ever really thought about them?


A certain species here on earth, technical term Homo Sapiens, more commonly known as humans, have never been so close to extinction as they are today. However, they have never been so close to avoiding their own extinction either. How come? Well, to answer that, let's take a trip a few hundred years back in time. Back to 1346, to be precise. It was around this year, the black plague first started it's trip westward, killing millions on it's way. But there never was a danger that the whole human race should die because of this decease. There will always exist people that are resistant to a decease, but more importantly in this case, was the slowness of the transportation system. It just didn't go fast enough. If all the people on a ship dies before reaching their destination, the ship will sink, and whatever decease might exist on this ship, will never get ashore, thus never infecting anyone. Island for instance, never experienced the black plague because of this. And there where other places that were completely safe from the black plague: North and South America, and Australia for instance. Even if the plague had swept the whole Eurasian continent, and Africa as well, these places would have been safe, ensuring the survival of the humans as a race. Today however, you can get anywhere on the planet within 24 hours. So if one of these nice killer viruses emerge tomorrow, we could have serious problems containing it. Of course, it wouldn't kill off the whole human population, but it could kill off a significant part. Maybe even most of it, leaving what is left in serious trouble.


There are however other ways for the whole human population to die. One of these is rather recent: The atomic bomb. If we set off all the atomic bombs in the world right now, we would pretty much be dead. A couple of billions in the blasts themselves (Those that live in cities of a significant size), another couple of billions due to radiation poisoning, and the rest because of the nuclear winter that would follow. (No sun due to large dust clouds, radioactive rain and snow etc.) But of course, no sane person would ever do this, right? Probably true. The problem is that we humans are not sane. Oh, we might appear so on occasion, but we are in a lot of ways ruled by our instincts and irrational fears, feelings that belong in the most ancient part of our brain. The fear of insects and snakes, jealousy, greed, rage, hate, the fear to appear as a coward, or just plain stupid. We simply aren't evolved enough to be trusted all the time. Because when these feelings take over, and we know they do on certain occasions (Murder of passion for instance), there are really no limits to what people can do. The cognitive centrers of the brain shuts down, and the reptilian brain takes over. Survival instincts and the like. And this might be the greatest threat to our survival. Not because of the instincts themselves, but because of what they can cause, when combined with the technology we have today. As the Nox once said on the show Stargate: “ The very young do not always do what they are told.”


Now, in the start of this entry, I also said that we have never been so close to avoiding our own extinction either. And the reason for this is also technology. If the same thing should happen now, as happened some 65 million years ago (The meteor hitting the Yucatan peninsula, killing off the dinosaurs etc.), we could probably stop it. With sufficient warning of course. It's not like we can get Bruce Willis and a couple of his buddies, put them in a space shuttle with a big drill, and send them up to the big rock. Not only because it wouldn't work, but also because Bruce Willis would refuse (He died in the movie, so how would the real thing go...), and the space shuttle wouldn't get them up there there. (It barely gets us to the international space station). But with sufficient warning, we could divert the asteroid's path, and thus survive.


All right, asteroids and comets we can take care of. However, there are other things in the universe that can kill us. Things we can do nothing about. If a supernova or a hypernova goes off to close, we would be killed by the radiation from the blast. If another star comes to close to the solar system, they could divert the orbits of some of the millions upon millions of comets in the Oort cloud, thus sending perhaps thousands of comets toward the centre of the solar system. And while we probably could divert one asteroid or comet, 5000 at once might be a tad to many. But there are ways of surviving even this. Colonization. If the human race would spread outwards into the galaxy, not only would we ensure that some would survive a close supernova, we would also ensure that some would survive every deadly decease, for the same reason the Black Plague didn't get to Island: Lengthy transportation. And if someone would set off a nuclear war on one planet, there would be other planets with humans on them, again ensuring our survival. It's the strength of numbers. The more humans exist, the more difficult they are to eliminate.


So colonization is the solution to all the problems then? Nah. The universe is vast. There are things out there we have no clue about. Things we have yet to encounter. But colonization might be a good start.


And in the end: One nice little thought: We humans live on a small rock, orbiting a fairly average star in one of the arms of a rather average galaxy containing a hundred billion stars, or thereabouts. This galaxy is one among around a hundred billion galaxies in the visible universe, a sphere close to 30 billion light years across. (Depending on the way you measure it) And the whole universe is believed to be infinitely big. So if the human species would die, it wouldn't matter one little bit. It would be like a fly died in your window. Less actually.

Sunday, January 29, 2006

Friends, movies and chainletters


Hey!


You!


Yes, I'm talking to you. Found a link somewhere, under recently published blogs, did you? And then perhaps you thought: Why not. Why not be a little bold. And then you just clicked it.

And then you ended up here. And perhaps you thought: This looks boring. I'll check another.


Well, though luck pal. This might look boring, but is it? Well, you should read a little to find out. Perhaps even add a small comment, if you like what you read. Or you could just stay another dot in the statistics. Another human just passing by, leaving no signs that you ever were here, forgotten as soon as you are out of sight. One among the masses. It's your choice. And whatever you choose, I have to get on with what this entry is really all about. You didn't think the world would wait for you, did you? Keep up.


And for the regulars, those that leave their footprints: I am sorry I don't update this as often as I should. Bear with me.


Now, on to the real entry. Me and some friends had a little.. Well, guess you could call i a gathering. Most of them I hadn't seen in almost a year, so it was actually rather nice being there. We ate some food (Scones, with cheese and jam. Compliments to the cook, you know who you are.) and a bunch of fruit. And then we watched a movie. One of those movies you watch cause you know it is bad, but you just have to see if it is as bad as you have heard. “Crossroads” was its name, and I honestly have to say, it was..... rather bad. (<= This is me being nice...) But since we all agreed that it was bad, and kept making fun of it for the better part of its length, it was fun. Not to mention the lovely sing-along after the movie. (Britney Spear's “I'm not a girl, not yet a woman”, or as some suggested singing: “I'm not a boy, not yet a woman...”) In any case, it was a nice evening.


Interestingly enough, this was actually not the worst movie I have seen this week. I watched “Doom” a couple of days ago. If you ever consider watching it, be warned. It's like a alien movie, without the parts that make the alien movies good. It has a couple of silly aliens (which turns out not to be aliens at all), a serious lack of anything resembling good humour, no thrill or logic whatsoever and no shred of a story. The first half consist mainly of big men walking around with big guns, and nothing to shoot at. (This is the part where we get introduced to what they claim is the story of the film). The second part consist almost entirely of big men walking around with big guns, shooting at anything that moves, eventually at each other. The only bright spot is Rosamund Pike. Mainly because she walks around in a white lab coat, and not black combat gear. Oh, and the fps scene everybody talked about, is dull, short and really not made that well. So if you ever consider spending money on this big pile of dung, go strap yourself to something, and call for help. When you have been lead back to the correct path, go spend them on Stargate. (Excellent series.)


On another note entirely: Have you ever wondered why all the chain letters that pops up in your mailbox, always have entries like:


A postman from Berlin broke the chain. Two days later he was hit by a bus, breaking his neck.

A doctor in Arizona sent this letter to all his friends. A week later, he won the lottery.

A lawyer in Tokyo broke the chain. Five days later his house was destroyed by an earthquake.


Why are there no entries like:

A postman from Berlin broke the chain. Two days later he was stung by a mosquito.

A doctor in Arizona sent this letter to all his friends. Two years later he found a quarter in the street.

A lawyer in Tokyo broke the chain. Five months later he dropped a cucumber on the floor.


It would be a lot more fun. And a lot more believable.


Anyway, you need to go now if you are going to have the slightest chance to catch up with the world. Can't keep you here too long...

Sunday, January 15, 2006

The return

I have returned from a strange land indeed. A land filled with utter crazies. Everything is red or sparkly, and sometimes both. Figures of men with white beards are everywhere, on occasion accompanied by gnomes and reindeer. And the humans of this land carry big green things into their living rooms. Green things that sting you when you touch them. And then they put lights and red balls and long sparkly glittering things on them. And if you ask them why they do it, you get a lot of different answers. Some say that it is tradition (Though according to my research, it is just 150 years old). Others say that they think it is nice. And yet others that they celebrate a boy that was born some 2000 years ago in Bethlehem. (Though there is a distinct lack of these green things down there, and the red cloak the white bearded man is wearing, would probably make him die of heat...)


Where might this be, you ask? It is the land of Christmas. Perhaps the strangest place around. Then again, probably not...

Thursday, December 08, 2005

Freedom of speech or something

Maya Evans, age 25, a cook from Hastings, was today found guilty after a three hour trial in a court in London. The court ruled that she had broken section 132 of the Serious Organised Crime and Police Act 2005. Now you might ask, what did she do? Sounds rather serious, right? Well, she stood outside Downing Street 10, reading some names. Yes, you heard me, she read some names. The names of 97 British soldiers, who had died in Iraq. She didn't read them very load, but she did read them. Still don't believe me? Well, check here...


Now here is a question for you, my dear reader: What happened to freedom of speech? Isn't this something we western democratic countries are so proud about. Something we enforce upon other, not so freedom loving countries? And still you can't read out names on a street in London... Do we only love freedom of speech, as long as those speaking don't speak against us? It would appear so...


Well, well, have a nice evening. And remember: Think before you say anything out load. You never know what you can get arrested for... loud


Oh, and if some British government official ever read this, could you please take a minute and look at yourself. And then ask yourself the question: Is this really the society I want? I hope for the sake of humanity that the answer is no.

The joys of dish washing

As mentioned on a previous occasion, I had an exam on Monday. And exams being what they are, certain housely duties kind of got slightly postponed, while I was studying for the exam in question. The end result of this is a rather considerable pile of dirty dishes, cutlery, glasses, bowls, frying pans and casseroles. And this pile is then the point of this blogg entry. “Why”, do you ask? Because, while I have to do the dishes rather soon, writing this gives me a legitimate reason to postpone it another few minutes. And if I'm lucky, perhaps all the dirt on the dishes suddenly decides to just jump of the plates and down in the trash bin. Or just do some quantum mechanical tunnelling to Mars or Jupiter or something... It could happen. It is slightly improbable, but it could happen... Please? Tunnel away now?.. Nah... Doesn't look good. It's still there...


Anyway, while waiting for the quantum theory to affect my dishes, let's talk about something important... Like... TV? While it does exist some good tv-series out there, like Stargate, Battlestar Galactica, Surface, Lost, Veronica Mars, West Wing, Bones, etc., way to much of the time on the various TV-channels are taken by series that should go under the cruel and unusual punishment act. Both for the people involved and for the viewers. Why someone would voluntarily join one of these programs, is beyond me, but then again, humanity has proven yet and again that they are not just a little crazy. And for those that haven't understood this yet, I'm talking about shows like Big Brother, Survivor, Fear Factor, The Bachelor. In general, reality shows. I just hope those who join one of these shows, don't represent the average human. Cause if they do, humanity will die. Soon. And it would be a mercy to the Universe.


The reason I bring this up, is a Norwegian tv-channel, named tv3. They have been pesking the mailing lists on both the physics and astrophysics departments here at the University. They are looking for nerds, to participate in a reality show, where you, the viewers, are going to see what happens when some nerds meets some babes... They actually had the audacity to turn up at the local board game club, to give out flyers and try to recruit some participants. If this sounds even remotely interesting, and you are actually considering to send in an application, go hit your head in the wall a couple of times. If that doesn't help, you need to go see a shrink. Immediately.


Anyway, back to the trenches. It's man against dirty dishes. It's going to be a hard fight.

Tuesday, December 06, 2005

Holiday!!!

Yep, you heard me. I have now had Christmas holiday for almost 36 hours (Good to be finished with those pesky exams). That is, Christmas “sort of” holiday. I still have an article to complete and deliver within 48 hours. (Luckily for me, it's almost finished.) And then there is this little thing called a Master thesis.... But compared to the same time last week, this is holiday. And me likey! :D


Anyway, that was the “oh so exciting life situation” update. Now: The apology: Yes, I haven't written anything in a month. Been kind of busy (For reference, see the before mentioned update). So for those that have checked this page now and then, hoping for anything new: I'm sorry. And for those that have actually asked if there will be anything new soon: I'm even more sorry. But I come bearing good tidings: Here is something new. (I know, kind of lame...)


Anyway: More new things (Popularly known as news.)

1: Apparently CIA have flown threw German airspace, or landed in Germany 283 time during 2002 and 2003. (What happened after this, I don't know) This have led to rumours that CIA have secret prisons somewhere in Germany. And this again have led to a cool down in the relationship between the USA and Germany. (And it has to be said: It wasn't exactly Caribbean temperatures there before this). Anyway, the explanation is of course very simple: They were going on holiday.. (Either that, or they were just on their way to Iraq, and kind of missed.... Hey, it's a big world. Just check here.)


2: A certain Norwegian artist, who was warming up the crowd in Oslo Spectrum before the concert with The Fugees on Sunday, kind of had a minor accident. She was trying a stage jump. Unfortunately, the crowd was a little bit thinner than she hoped for, the result being that the stage jump became more of stage crash in the ground. Apart from the humiliation, one of her knee caps broke, something I believe is somewhat painful.. In any case: Get well.


3: “Serenity” has arrived in Norway. For those of you that have no idea what “Serenity” is, go here. (It's a movie.) I can say that it is based on a tv-series, named “Firefly”, and made by Buffy-director Josh Wheadon. (That should either make you run for the hills, or run for the nearest cinema.) For more info, check out the homepage. (The page I linked to a couple of lines up.) And in the words of Captain Reynolds: “I aim to misbehave”. That or: “This is the captain. We have a little problem with our entry sequence, so we may experience some slight... turbulence and then explode “ Go watch it!


4: Xbox 360 is here. (And that's all I'm going to say on that subject. If you don't know what it is, you won't go out and buy it anyway)


And in the end, a small question: A Christmas sausage, that is best before 21. of December. Is it just me, or is something wrong there?...

(Oh, and one more thing. Something to keep you occupied for a while... And if someone discover the point of that thing.....)

Monday, November 07, 2005

The three TLAs

Come for another story, have you? Well, this one is called: “The three TLAs”


Once upon a time there were three TLAs, QED, SAP and WAP. SAP and WAP where brothers, QED just a friend. SAP were really strong, and very protective of his brother WAP, who was very weak. By the time of this story, the third brother, UAP, who nobody really liked cause he was all ultimate about everything, had moved away from home.


In any case, this was the night of Halloween, and QED, SAP and WAP were out trick or treating. QED had as usual dressed up as the Quantum man, this year with his new toy, the electro dynamics gun. If he pushed the trigger, some nice Feynman diagrams started glowing on the sides of the gun, and in front you could see the effects of Moeller and Bhabha scattering. It was a very nice toy, and both SAP and WAP were a little envious. But they knew that without them, there would be no gun. In fact, without them, there would be no one to go trick or treating to at all... They were Anthropic Principle, one of the most important families in town. And though WAP didn't like his brothers design arguments, they both agreed that they were important. More important than a mere gun. So they went on, trick and treating, all across the three letter abbreviation neighbourhood.


But now I think it is time for some food. See you another day. Good night.

Sunday, November 06, 2005

The towel and the cake

Hello... Come for a story have you? Well, come over here then, and I will tell one. One that I witnessed myself. It's called “The towel and the cake”.


Once upon a time, there were some friends. And the birthday of one of these friends, were getting closer and closer... So one of the friends thought: “Why don't we have a surprise party for our friend.” And so they did.


Upon the day of the party, the preparations were almost complete. People were invited, a cake was being baked (After some trouble with some butter), and the friend whose surprise party this was going to be, still had no idea, that a party there was soon to be. The birthday boy, cause a boy it was, was lured out of the house, so the final stages of the preparations could commence. And the guests started arriving, some a little late. And then the boy, whose party this was, got lured back to the house. And everything was as it was supposed to be, with music, wine and cake. The music was as the music should be on an occasion like this: Pleasantly in the background. The wine was good, and the cake was made of chocolate and custard. And it too was good.


And then they arrived. The party people.


The cake was still good. The wine the same. But the music were louder, and the good atmosphere slowly went elsewhere... And then the towel happened. And I left.


What happened to the friends is unknown. Hopefully they did the same the year after, though this time without the party people.


But now I need to go. Perhaps I will see you again tomorrow. Good night.

Wednesday, November 02, 2005

Blame it on QED

Yes, I've been away. Or, well.. Technically not away. I've just not written anything in a while. Close to a month in fact. And I blame it on QED. SAP and WAP also played a role of course, but QED is the main reason. But, while not finished with QED (and definitely not with WAP and SAP) I got a little less to do, and thus have enough time to say hello. So... Hello...

Oh, and for all those who are wondering what QED, SAP and WAP are, I'll explain later. I can however say one thing: They are all TLAs

Friday, October 07, 2005

God and the fire alarm

For those that haven't noticed this: Fire alarms are an excellent alarm clock. That is, it is difficult to know when it goes off, but when it does, you are sure to wake up. The problem, which in fact was my problem today, is that you might not want to get up. But up and out, into the foggy morning air I had to go, along with a few dozen other people living in the same building as me. The question of course is: Who is making food on the stove this early? American breakfast? Cheese gratinated potatoes? (The reason for the firearms a couple of weeks back) I just hope they will stick to normal bread or cereal for breakfast tomorrow...

Over to foreign policy:

God told Bush to invade Afghanistan and Iraq. That should end all arguments about the validity of the invasions...

Wednesday, October 05, 2005

Asteroids and bicycles

Good evening, folks. This will only be a short stop. Have some pressing business to attend to. (Some relativistic quantum field theory.... Don't ask)


First, some information: There are nine million bicycles in Beijing


Those of you who have seen the Star Wars movies, or any other sci fi movie where they are fighting in space, have most likely seen an asteroid belt. Fighters dodging the big rocks, sometimes crashing into one of them. Big battle cruisers firing into the belt to clear a path. You know what I am talking about. (If you don't, go see Star Wars) If I now ask the question: “What is the average distance between two asteroids in the asteroid belt in this solar system”, what would you answer? 200 metres? 10 km? 100 km? 1000 km? Before I give the answer, here is something to compare it to:



A Boeing 747 (Commonly known as the jumbo jet) is 70.7 metres long

Diameter of your average Death star: 160 km

Distance from London to New York: 5585 km

Diameter of the Earth: 12746 km

9 million bicycles end to end: (Average length 1.7 metres): 15300 km

Diameter of Jupiter: 142984 km

Diameter of the Sun: 1392000 km

Size of the average ego of a Hollywood movie star: Infinite.


And now, the answer:

Average distance between two asteroids in the asteroid belt: 10 million km. To give this a more down to earth feel:


A row 5.55 billion George Bushes, head to tow, 7 Suns, side by side, or a row of 62500 Death stars would all fit in the asteroid belt without having to push any asteroids aside. It's empty! Just as the average human head.


Have a nice evening.


Monday, September 26, 2005

Sunspots, dolphins and silly questions

The research days here in Oslo are over. Around 50 tents had been put up outside the universiy's main downtown building, and were filled with everything from vegetables and balloons to hydrogen cars, a small planetarium and information about black holes. And in the middle of this, you could find me. Wearing a very red sweather (Like everybody else actually doing something down there) I was telling people about sunspots, solar eclipses, planets, general relativity, the size of the universe (Yes, it's huge) and everything else people were wondering about. (Some good questions, some less good...) And after 15+ hours over two days, standing on my feet, they hurt. Still, it was nice (Not the hurting part, but the rest). But it has to be said: There are a lot of misunderstadings about astronomy out there. (Yes, astroNOMY, not astroLOGY. Astronomy is a science, astrology is most definitely not. NEVER forget that.)

Well, we have covered the sunspots and silly questions part of the title; on to the dolphins. They are armed. Yes, you read correctly. After Katrina, a group of dolphins escaped from a military training facility in the USA. They might be armed, and are definitely dangerous. Trained to shoot (with a stun dart) underwater spies and terrorist, they might be hazardeous to divers. For more on this rather strange story, click here. For the story in norwegain, click here.

"So long, and thanks for all the fish"
Douglas Adams, HGttG