Archive | September 2011

Secular “Blasphemy”

In one of the Discworld books – I forget which one exactly, shame on me – there’s a footnote to the effect that it takes a very special atheist to yell “Agh, random fluctuations in the space-time continuum!”.

So, here’s a partial list of further “blasphemous” terms:

By Hippocrates!
Oh, special relativity!
What in critical thought’s name does that mean?
For continental drift’s sake!

Best. Potential. Game. Mod. Ever.

Super Mario Bros gets a Portal gun

(Sorry about the title change – it’s not actually a mod, but I think it should be)

Experiment for the next three weeks

For the next three weeks, I’ll be running an experiment in the labs. What I have to do is to use Kater’s pendulum to measure the local acceleration due to gravity in Galway, which is estimated to be 9.81797 m/s^2 (according to Wolfram Alpha, which cites the official Earth Gravitational Model in 2008).

The advantage of Kater’s pendulum over the simple pendulum is that you don’t need to find the centre of gravity or the centre of oscillation of the pendulum, which makes it a lot easier to calculate the length of the pendulum itself. The reason you want to do that is because of this formula which also applies to the simple pendulum:

g = L*(T/2pi)^2

where T is the period of the pendulum and L is the length. Kater’s pendulum is accurate to about 4 or 5 decimal places, which is pretty damn good.

In short, I’ll be measuring the local acceleration due to gravity, and unofficially defining it! Here’s hoping I don’t screw up somewhere.

“Atheist Noir”

Browsing around on, I found this short piece of noir with Bible snorters. Well worth a read, and somebody has already said it might have inspired a sub-genre of noir.

So, Saudi women will be entitled to vote?

It appears that Saudi Arabia will be allowing women to vote and even run in municipal elections. At first, it looks like a promising step, but then my jaded side comes up.

For starters, most of the REAL decisions in the country are taken by the royal family, and opposition parties are forbidden – in fact, the Economist ranked the country as the seventh most authoritarian country in the world in 2010. There is still no mention of women being allowed to drive a car on public roads (to clarify, there is no written law against it, but they’re not allowed get licenses for it), or overturning the laws on “guardianship”. And don’t forget the whole issue of religious freedom, or rather the utter lack of it. Apostasy (leaving a religion, Islam in this case) is punishable by death.

Imagine if that was the case here in Ireland: my dad would have been executed 35 years ago for deciding to not go ahead with his confirmation at 16. My mum and sister wouldn’t be allowed to leave the house without my dad, or possibly myself or my brother once I became old enough – brilliant idea if it were me! (What’s the colour of sarcasm?)

Come on, Saudi – you’ve moved about an inch closer to the 21st Century, why don’t you move a bit closer by, for example, allowing opposition parties?

Neutrinos travelling faster than light?!

Scientists at CERN have performed an experiment which suggests that neutrinos might have been travelling FASTER than the speed of light in a vacumn. You might remember that the speed of light in a vacumn, or approximately 3*10^8 m/s, is a constant and that nothing can go faster than it. So what the hell is going on here?

Well, the scientist themselves suspect an experimental error of some sort – I haven’t run the maths yet, but some of the comments I’ve seen on the web are that they might have slightly miscalculated the distance between Gran Paradiso (in Italy) and CERN, as they are talking about a billionth of a second’s difference. So it was probably a measuring error, but part of me wants this to be in fact true. If Einstein’s postulate that nothing* can exceed the speed of light isn’t true, then we’re in for some interesting times.

*This is purely hypothetical, but there are supposedly particles that are already travelling faster than the speed of light, known as tachyons. But wait! I just said that nothing can go faster than the speed of light! Well, what physicists mean is that as you approach 3*10^8 m/s, you start to get heavier and require more energy to accelerate. Eventually, you’ll require infinite energy to do so because you will be infinitely heavy. However, the same applies hypothetically if you’re already going faster than c, i.e. you would require more energy to slow down to c. At least, if I’ve understood this correctly.

UPDATE 25/09/2011: Brian Cox talking about this on BBC 6 radio

I didn’t know Saruman was a troll…

I haven’t really had time to blog lately, so here’s a little something to keep people happy in the meantime.

Saruman tries to weasel his way out of Orthanc