Archive for January, 2010

……a very, very, short movie I made today

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Full Moon

Tonight is the brightest full moon of the year (because this is when it’s closest to Earth).
I decided to record the event by taking a photo.
Have you ever tried to take a photo of the moon? On my usual “auto” function the moon just comes out as a big bright white light. So, I did two things – changed the metering to spot metering, put the camera into programme mode, and dropped the exposure one and half stops.
Here’s the result

brightest moon

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BBC Radio 4’s Start the Week this week included Professor Steve Jones, the geneticist. He had something very interesting to say. (You can listen here, or download the podcast from itunes)

He was bemoaning the tendency of the media to run headlines like “Scientists discover the gene for……” and then fill in the blank with whatever physical or behavioural characteristic known to Man. He said very, very clearly that this was pretty much always hype. Even where there was a definite gene, say, for example, for bowel cancer in familial bowel cancer, it was only of relevance to members of families who had the familial pattern of bowel cancer, and meant nothing to everyone else who had bowel cancer. He pointed out that scientists have been unable to “find the gene” which determines height, despite the fact that adult height is strongly related to parental height.

Life, it turns out, is just not so simple. We cannot say, “there’s a gene for that…..” We can say “genetic factors influence……” but that’s really not the same thing at all.

John Cleese put the same point across – in my opinion more effectively, and had me laughing out loud – though I do think the way Steve Jones communicates is also strong, clear and enjoyable. Listen to the programme, and take two minutes to watch this video…..

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The pavilion in Kings Park caught my eye as I walked to work before dawn. I took a couple of photos. One zoomed in on the pavilion itself, the other just from where I stood. I like them both. What do you think? Which do you prefer?



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Scientific progress

The BBC recently broadcast a fabulous programme, “The Secret Life of Chaos”, presented by Prof Jim Al-Khalili. You can find it up on youtube just now, divided into 6 approximately 10 minute parts (I guess, in terms of copyright, it shouldn’t be there, so maybe it’ll disappear).
As well as being a great, crystal clear communication, it’s visually stunning, but the essence of the programme is how scientific discoveries have shown us that the old Newtonian model of “laws” which can be used to accurately predict the future and a universe which works like a giant clockwork really is not a good fit with reality. Over the course of the last hundred years scientists have begun to understand how a better model of the universe is the complex one. There are a couple of particular findings which have changed our view significantly. One is how in a complex system, a small change at the beginning can produce huge changes in the over all system (“the butterfly effect”) and the other is the amazing capacity of complex systems to self-organise.

Both of those findings have shown us that it isn’t possible to accurately know causes, and it isn’t possible to accurately predict outcomes.

Scientists who claim certainty, who with conviction of their own rightness, dismiss anyone who voices doubt or an alternative view, really aren’t up to speed. I like humble scientists who are enthralled by the complexity of reality. I don’t have much time for those who arrogantly claim they know all they need to know about something.

Take a look at this one clip from the programme – it’s the section where he discusses Belousov‘s findings. There are two elements to that story – the amazing, wonderful discovery he made, and the way he was totally dismissed by the ruling orthodoxy because his findings were “against the laws of physics”.


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sometimes you see something and it’s just beautiful…..


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One of the greatest skills we have as human beings is the ability to spot patterns. My eye was drawn to this fungus growing on a tree stump, but later, once I’d uploaded the photo onto my mac, I was amazed to see the echoes, similarities, even symmetries between the patterns in the fungus, the cut slice of the tree, the bark around the tree, and even the shell lying on the ground.

Beautiful. Amazing.


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