Archive | January 2012

How big is the universe?

About 93,000,000,000 light years, according to this animation of the scale of the universe.

From that page: a computer pixel is 0.3mm wide. A water molecule (or a Mickey Mouse head!) is 280pm wide. Alpha Centauri A is 1.5 Gm (1.5 billion metres) in diameter. The Crab Nebula, which has a pulsar I’m examining on my project, is 70 Pm or approximately 70 light years across.

Now, how are we going to colonise it all?


Journalism Warning Labels

We need some of these! Surprisingly enough, the Daily Fail Maul Mail is on that list, given their excellent standards in informing the public on what “causes” or “cures” cancer. Have they added themselves to that list, by any chance?

Catholic bishop in Spain: The children are to blame

Just when I thought any official of the Catholic Church couldn’t get any lower, the Bishop of Tenerife has blamed the children for child abuse. I shit you not.

His comments were that there are youngsters who want to be abused, and he compared that abuse to homosexuality, describing them both as prejudicial to society. He said that on occasions the abuse happened because the there are children who consent to it.
‘There are 13 year old adolescents who are under age and who are perfectly in agreement with, and what’s more wanting it, and if you are careless they will even provoke you’, he said.

We have a very clear case of “foot-in-mouth” disease here, but the worst part is that “legally”, he’s right: the age of consent in Spain is 13, under Article 182(1) of the Spanish Penal Code. It might be “legal”, but it’s wrong and just plain backward!

It would seem enough people have called him out on that:

A later statement from the Bishop’s residence on Tenerife explained that the Bishop did not intend to imply that ‘an event as condemnable as the abuse of youngsters’ could be justified.

The only thing it’s done, if you ask me, is to make him look like he’s trying to dodge responsibility. Now, if the church sacks him for this, then it will (for once) have done the right thing. But I don’t expect that to happen any time soon.

Antivaccine tactics

Orac of Respectful Insolence has a list of the antivaccination nutters’ tactics and tropes. If you want to argue with that lot, that’s all you need. I’m going to quote just one example here:

“I’m not antivaccine; I’m pro-safe vaccines.” Yes, indeed. This one is the biggest, baddest, most irritating trope of all, repeated by everyone from Jenny McCarthy to J.B. Handley to Barbara Loe Fisher. A variant of this is to liken vaccines to cars and say that “I’m not ‘anti-car,’ I just want safer cars.” Not a good analogy. A better equivalent would be if they demanded absolute safety of cars and refused to use them unless GM, Ford, Chrysler, Toyota, Honda, et al swear that they’ll never be injured in a car crash.

Well said, Orac. I really wish they’d shut up about it – they have zero evidence to support their position, except for one study that couldn’t independently verified, was riddled with fraudulent data and was retracted. Only the real nutters – oh sorry, the elite true believers – are left in that camp, and I hope it doesn’t last much longer.

Beer for €1

This is from an email my mum sent me: it’s brilliant!

“Spare a thought for Michael O’Leary, Chief Executive of ‘Ryanair’…

Arriving in a hotel in Dublin, he went to the bar and asked for a pint of draught Guinness. The barman nodded and said, “That will be one Euro please, Mr. O’Leary.”
Somewhat taken aback, O’Leary replied, That’s very cheap,” and handed over his money.
“Well, we try to stay ahead of the competition”, said the barman. “And we are serving free pints every Wednesday evening from 6 until 8. We have the cheapest beer in Ireland.”
“That is remarkable value.” Michael comments.
“I see you don’t seem to have a glass, so you’ll probably need one of ours. That will be 3 euro please.”
O’Leary scowled, but paid up. He took his drink and walked towards a seat.
“Ah, you want to sit down?” said the barman. “That’ll be an extra 2 euro. You could have pre-booked the seat, and it would have only cost you a Euro.”

“I think you may to be too big for the seat sir, can I ask you to sit in this frame please”
Michael attempts to sit down but the frame is too small and when he can’t squeeze in he complains “Nobody would fit in that little frame”.

“I’m afraid if you can’t fit in the frame you’ll have to pay an extra surcharge of EUR4.00 for your seat Sir.”
O’Leary swore to himself, but paid up. “I see that you have brought your laptop with you” added the barman. “And since that wasn’t pre-booked either, that will be another 3 euro.”

O’Leary was so annoyed that he walked back to the bar, slammed his drink on the counter, and yelled, “This is ridiculous, I want to speak to the manager”.
“Ah, I see you want to use the counter,” says the barman, “that will be 2 euro please.” O’Leary’s face was red with rage.
“Do you know who I am?”
“Of course I do, Mr. O’Leary.”

“I’ve had enough, What sort of Hotel is this? I come in for a quiet drink and you treat me like this. I insist on speaking to a manager!”

“Here is his E mail address, or if you wish, you can contact him between 9 and 9.10 every morning, Monday to Tuesday at this free phone number. Calls are free, until they are answered, then there is a talking charge of only 10 cent per second”

“I will never use this bar again.”

“OK sir, but remember, we are the only hotel in Ireland selling pints for one Euro”.

Take that, Ryanair. There’s a reason I avoid them.

SOPA and PIPA postponed!

Woah…the Internet campaign against SOPA and PIPA worked! Debate has been postponed.

If you can’t figure out why they were bad pieces of legislation, then read this article on how it would resemble the Chinese government’s censorship of the Web.
Even some Hollywood insiders whom these laws would benefit are against it

It ain’t over yet, though. So don’t get complacent, anyone!

UPDATE: If you’re resident in Ireland, then go here and sign the petition. Thanks to Olwen for passing this on!

I’m actually getting somewhere with the project

An update on the FYP.

For the last few days, I was trying to get the software compiled and installed, and having a massive bunch of problems with that; the main one was that it rejected any version of the Perl programming language apart from 5.00(1-9), and I had 5.12.4 at the time. A quick email to the helpdesk at NASA alerting them to this problem yielded the potential reason I was having such a hard time: the version of Ubuntu I’m using (11.10) isn’t supported yet, so they recommended a pre-compiled binary instead.

Once I got that downloaded, it installed quite easily in a matter of about an hour instead of three fruitless days. The next problem was that ds9, the programme I’m using to display the images, wouldn’t install because of an error:
error while loading shared libraries: cannot open shared object file: No such file or directory

The best way to solve a problem in Linux is to type it into a web search engine (I don’t use Google, but I can’t think of a better word), and the chances are that somebody will have found an answer already. In my case, all I needed was install the libXss package, which took all of five minutes. So far, I’ve been looking at images of the Crab nebula, and these also show the Geminga neutron star – they’re close enough to each other that if you create a data query for within 15° of the target, they overlap.

Once I have the data downloaded, I use NASA’s gtselect programme to select my data, choosing the coordinates to centre upon, the energy and time ranges, an angle around the object, and the zenith angle (how high it is in the sky).
The next step is to use gtmktime to account for the South Atlantic Anomaly, which is a region over the south Atlantic where the Earth’s van Allen belts come closest to the Earth’s surface, exposing satellites to higher than usual levels of radiation and possibly causing interference that I don’t need.
Finally, I use gtbin to create the maps, selecting the type of map, the size of the axes in pixels, the image scale (in pixels/degree), the rotation angle (usually 0°), and the projection method (I just take the default one, because I don’t know what the others do).
After this, I display them using ds9 (available from Harvard). I haven’t got the deconvolution software installed yet, but I’m getting use to creating and viewing the maps, which is quite relieving after getting stuck for three days in a row on the same problem!