Telstra + “hologram” = BS

On the front page of my morning paper I find a big shiny article touting Telstras use of a “hologram” at a conference held here.  Here is part of what the article says:

In an Australian first, Dr Bradlow’s life-sized, real-time hologram walked, talked and interacted with business executives at an Adelaide conference while he stood in front of cameras in Telstra’s Melbourne office.

A 2D "hologram"

This is pure bullshit. Telstra was not demonstrating a video hologram, or even a static hologram. A quick check on numerous  websites or in many  books explains what a hologram really is  and the most obvious attribute is that it appears to be a 3D object. Not a 2D image on a screen. In their defense, Telstra and the media are only parroting what the company that supplies this technology is saying.

What Telstra demonstrated was projecting a video onto a screen. Some of my old magic books show how this is done, the concept is way over 100 years old and is explained on the companies website here. What they have made is a translucent foil which is an improvement over the old perspex and glass setup and allows for larger displays without some of the inherent hazards of large partial mirrors. However, a hologram it isn’t. In the right most section of the image above you can see the base of the foil just above the suits feet, yes he’s standing behind it and yes, those are marks on the ground showing him where to stand to give the best image to the viewers.

From the supplying companies web site we have this:

All the images used on an Eyeliner™ system appear as three-dimensional images, but are projected as two-dimensional images (2D/3D) into a 3D stage set. The mind of the audience created the 3D illusion. This means that production costs are minimal, needing only the single camera lens for filming and a single projector for the playback.

The point of this blog is that by using the word hologram, when people see this they come away with a poor impression of the beauty and true awesomeness of a real hologram. So in future when someone talks about hologram people will be thinking of this old stage trick and not the real thing. This is dumbing down science for no good reason apart from marketing hype. And with decreasing levels of basic science understanding and an increasing amount of technology this is the last thing we need.


Phoenix Mars Mission – Astounding..

Phoenix Mars Mission –

Above is a photograph that to some people people seems a bit familiar. In some ways it is similar to the shots from 40 years ago of Apollo craft returning to earth after completing a successful trip to the moon . (Yes, I know they had three chutes.)
However the same concept now has a new dimension. The above image is the Phoenix spacecraft descending to the surface of Mars , supported by its chute. The beginning of a very new mission. This incredible photograph was taken by the Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter. Think about that for a moment. One spacecraft is taking a photo of another spacecraft as it lands near the north pole of an alien world. The ability for that to happen hundreds of millions of kilometers away from earth is very, very impressive. I’d rate it as one of the most impressive photos ever as it neatly summarizes the level of technology our civilization has achieved.
Over the next few weeks and months this craft will be examining the Martian surface to determine if it has supported life and could support life. Here’s a link to the relevant page on the Phoenix site. My bet is that it will be able to support and still does, only bacteria but hey, that’s pretty good. The big question will then be what came first, life on Earth or life on Mars? Or, unlikely as this may be, did they develop independently? If the latter occurs then the Fermi Paradox will have just become a lot more paradoxical and we’ll all need to have a sit down and a good think about what that means.

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Woo in the doctors waiting room, an example…

I’m sure we have all come across it, brochures and and newsletters in a doctors waiting room. Many of the time they are pretty harmless although woo is making a more frequent appearance these days. A friend dropped on my desk a little ripper however, titled “Hydrate for Health”. The article is in the Patient Information for the Munno Para Medical Centre, a practice with 5 doctors, all with at least an MB and an MS. Unfortunately the article does not state who put it in there or where the information came from, we’ll get to that soon enough. So what we have is am official patient health brochure, something your average person is most likely going to trust and believe. And I must point out, the rest of the information in the brochure is about healthy eating, being sun smart, controlling your cholesterol and getting immunisations. So lets look at what it says in the article about water.

When you drink dead water, the body will convert that water to the activated form.

“activated form”??? WFT! My BS meter, which had been twitching for the first paragraphs, now hits the red zone. I’m sorry but water is water. The whole concept behind this woo is that there is some undetectable, unmeasurable and totally unwarranted ‘energy’ that can or can’t be in water. Or that water has some structure that is stable over time involving clusters of water molecules. If you have time to burn and enjoy futile tasks go looking for the peer reviewed research that supports these wild claims.

When we say Hydrate for Health, we mean drink water, and drink the right kind of water.

If we’re talking your standard concept of hydration then this is bullshit. Unless the water is frozen or is in its gaseous state then the cells in your body will happily grab the H20 molecules out of whatever form you supply them in. It doesn’t need to be of a particular kind.

The moment water is bottled it is suffocated… unable to breath

More BS, sorry but there is no test that supports the idea that water needs to “breath”. This dredged up hack of an idea I imagine goes back to the dark ages and the concerns over stagnant or still water. Yes there can be an issue over stagnant water, but that’s more to do with what organisms lives in oxygen depleted water.

You can easily know when you are buying a premium bottled water. No self-respecting bottler will use plastic. The really good bottled water is always bottled in glass because the crystal structure of the glass actually helps preserve the natural properties of water.

Oh dear, the “crystal structure” influences the properties of water? Please! Good luck finding any scientific support for that one. More woo. Here’s a small fact , IT DOESN’T.

And then to top this list BS of we have this gem.

The one thing we need to remember is that water is fragile. The mere presence of a microwave or an electromagnetic wave from the electrical system in the home can destroy these very subtle properties.

I’m sorry but crystalline solids are “fragile”. Water is sloppy and has no structure because it is a liquid. It is constantly making and breaking bonds between molecules. If it wasn’t it would be a solid or gel. It’s amazing that these so called properties, which are so important, are so subtle as to be undetectable by modern science. And these days we know how to measure stuff, we can measure single atoms, we can detect photons created billions of years ago that have traveled across the entire universe and we can measure time in the most minuscule detail. And yet all these so called properties of water never seem to show up when we perform experiments. The reason is quite simple, these stupid ideas only exist in the stupid minds of stupid people. It’s the 21st friggin century, being ignorant is no excuse anymore.

Now returning to the source of this bullshit about water. The internet is an amazing thing and one amazing thing you can do is find interesting patterns of words and who has used them. So something like “Brain cells are highly diamagnetic (activated)” (groan…) lends itself to a Google search. And here’s the one and only place this term is used. The article in the practices newsletter has been lifted via cut and paste from this site, without even the politeness of adding a link. This site is a mix of mostly woo and a few good links but how to tell the difference? For a sample of the complete crap on this site read here, or if your enjoy your current IQ, perhaps don’t.

Why this crap is available from a doctors surgery in Munno Para is totally beyond me, maybe someone is suffering from this.


One thing Australia sucks at..

Every morning when I walk into work, I walk up a staircase above a strange looking cone about a meter and half high. Inside are bundles of wire, small windows for sensors and a whole pile of very old looking electronics.  I have stopped and looked at this a few times and read the interesting notes on the wall behind it. It is a prototype of Australia’s first satellite, WRESAT. Around it in this mini-museum are other examples of rockets and various weapons that fly. There’s even a Long Tom missile that reaches from the ground up and past the 1st floor landing. There are early models of research programs that took over 20 years to flesh out. However nice it is to see these items, there is a sad fact behind them. WRESAT was put into orbit over 40 years ago. It only took us 11 month to design, build and put this into space, that’s pretty impressive. However , today, in 2008, Australia does not have much of presence in space. Even though we are one of the leading counties in the world when it comes to standard of living, wealth and technical capability we simply don’t have any space program. We *used* to be one of those countries. That SUCKS.

Andy Thomas, one of Australia’s few people it has put into space, mentioned our myopic view of space a couple of days ago in this article. Even when he was in space it wasn’t officially as an Australian. And then today I hear of Indonesia’s space program and a recent rocket launch. And India’s, China’s and Japan’s and the list goes on, except Australia is never on that list.

Australia does not have a presence in space because our short sighted governments don’t seem to think this is important. Most likely in the same way that they don’t think basic science or a skilled workforce or even people who can think is important. My theory is this, if you’re really friggin stupid then it’s difficult to understand the benefits of being smart and doing clever things. If you haven’t any first hand experience of doing clever things, you’re too busy dealing with the here and now to think about long term planning or difficult issues. Like long range research. It’s just sooooooooooo much simpler to go with bread and circus politics and keeping the masses happy. And that’s what we’ve had for as long as I can remember.

What I can remember is seeing Neil Armstrong walk on the moon in 1969. It was cool, we got half a day off school and I can clearly remember seeing the black and white fuzzy broadcast at home. Throughout school I had an interest in space and decided to make a career in it. In 1980 I was accepted into aeronautical engineering over in NSW. However I didn’t take up the offer, I simply couldn’t afford to live in Sydney and student support funding was means tested and my middle class dad earned too much, which at the time really wasn’t much compared to the average wage. However I went on with an engineering career for 20 years and with hindsight it was the right decision because the space industry died in the arse around that time. Ironically Andy Thomas went to the same University as me, even the same department with the same lecturers, but a few years earlier and he escaped to the USA to have a career in space. He simply couldn’t have that career and stay in Australia.

This inaction over a space program isn’t all that limited. The inaction over the River Murray, the long term (un) sustainability of our crops and stock and the total lack of any population plan whilst mindlessly supporting economic rationalism and the bat-shit crazy idea that we can have growth forever is just typical of people who have no clue nor idea about the future and further supports the idea we are led by morons. We are so lucky we are rich in natural resources which means we can let our manufacturing industry squander, our smart people drift overseas and we can live by our ‘she’ll be right’ attitude. However when some country like Indonesia is putting up rockets and has an active space program we really need to have a long hard look at ourselves.

As a country we really need to see an eye doctor about our myopia, it’s starting to make us look stupid as well as blind.


Female Australian scientist, want money?

The L’Oréal Australia For Women in Science Fellowships are intended to support Australian female post-doctoral scientists no more than five years past their PhD.

Three Fellowships worth $20,000 each are awarded annually to women who have shown scientific excellence in their career to date and who have an appropriate research plan that will be assisted by the one-year Fellowship.

Applications for the 2008 Fellowships open on 19 May 2008 and close on 20 June 2008.

See this site.


2008 Budget bits on science and education

Ok, time to find some good news?

Here’s the budget.

Support for research

“To strengthen the link between research and innovation, the Government will boost Australia’s research capacity by providing:

  • $326 million over four years to fund four year Future Fellowships valued at up to $140,000 a year for 1,000 of Australia’s top mid‑career researchers
  • $209 million over four years to double the number of Australian Postgraduate Awards for PhD or Masters by Research students.”
My estimate is that this affects 1500 people. I’m not sure if that is a lot, it sure doesn’t sound a lot. Lets say that’s 150 in SA, evenly across 3 main campuses so that’s 50 per campus and then across 10 faculties so that gives 5 more people per faculty, say 3 researchers and 2 post grads per faculty.
Nope, that’s not a lot…and see below for the overall HE funding, which is going down.

Higher education

To help universities upgrade and maintain teaching, research and other

student facilities, the Government will provide $500 million by 30 June 2008.

The Government will also spend $626 million to reduce the cost of studying maths and science at university and to reduce HECS‑HELP repayments for science and maths graduates who undertake work in a related field.”

However the government is still going ahead with $1Bn is spending on unproven computers etc. for high schools. Also note above the funny line about $500 million, yep that’s right, spending before “June 30 2008” so that is actually not part of next years budget but stuff in this budget. That’d be called weasel words in my book.

And overall the the budget goes down this year for higher education with the promise it will go back up again in the following year. From $6.3Bn down to $6.0Bn in 2008-2009. And yet they say it is going up. I guess that reflects the lack of math education in society these days. Note that early childhood education is up, vocational education is up, school education is up, transitions and youth is up. Looks like the government isn’t too interested in people with a higher education.

Funding to ARC goes up from $15.25 million to $15.85 million, however this doesn’t appear to cover the cuts in other areas.

Investment in schools includes:

  • $1.2 billion over five years for the Digital Education Revolution to deliver computers and communications technologies to all Year 9‑12 students”

and the rest of the education budget items are:

  • $2.5 billion over ten years for Trade Training Centres in Schools
  • $577 million to improve literacy and numeracy outcomes for students
  • $62 million over three years for the National Asian Languages and Studies in Schools Program
  • $20 million to establish a National Curriculum Board.

These initiatives will assist in lifting the Year 12 or equivalent attainment rate to 90 per cent by 2020.

However, when it comes to the skills shortages of math and science teachers we have the following bad generalization buried in the main papers.

“Australian Bureau of Statistics data indicate that there are around 450,000 people aged between 15 and 64
who are trained as teachers, with only around 280,000 working as teachers….To the extent that there are reported shortages in these areas, this does not reflect an absolute shortfall in suitably
qualified people, but rather, a choice by many of them not to work in these fields.
Given the competing demands for labour, solving skills shortages within schools
clearly involves more than simply boosting the number of people qualified as
teachers.”

I’m sorry, but the government is being very misguided in such a generalisation. It is irrelevant how many teachers not working as teachers if none of those ‘not working teachers’ are science and math teachers.

I have talked to people in DECS about this and the simple fact is, people are not training to be math and science teachers. The CSIRO is currently running a program called Scientists in Education to get working scientists to help out teachers because of the dire situation they are in. I’m not sure this budget does anything to address this critical issue. In fact I’m pretty sure it doesn’t.

Hopefully some of that $577M mentioned above actually goes towards getting more teachers who are willing work, especially math and science teachers.

Anyway that’s enough for now, the educators can read it through in detail and report. The more I wade through it’s hundreds of pages the more bad news I find.

At least we’re not as bad as Geoscience Australia who took a big cut, $144M to $139M. However ANSTO went up by about $20M so that’s some good news, although $10M is cleaning up nuclear waste.

Overall I’d give it an E.

It did not address the real issues in schools and low uptake of math and science, it gives no incentive for industry to do any more R&D. It’s doesn’t address the declining intake into Universities and the declining results in math and science that came out of the Pirsa report a few months ago. And it has real cuts to many of the areas. At a time when we have the excess to invest in long term strategy.

It’s like a big shiny red apple sitting on the lecturers desk, except it’s rotten inside.

Rudd, Swan you suck.


A note about long term trends..

As mentioned on Deltoid, there is still the erroneous belief going around that there has been some sort of global cooling over the past few years and hence climate change isn’t happening. A brief mention of the fact that those whose hold this belief use dodgy or simply wrong data could be made and discussed but there is something I’d like to show regardless of this.

A currently accepted value for global warming is something like 3C per 100 years. This long term trend is meant to be on top of the annual variation of about 1C. To get some idea of what this looks like here is a graph made in Excel. The data on this graph is the the last 20 “years” of temperature with the annual variation superimposed on top of the long term trend.

As can be seen the temperature goes up and down each year and no long term trend is apparent. Now if this was real temperature it would be difficult to say anything. In fact it sort of looks flat and we could say the temperature has gone down after about the 20th year for a period of 5 years. And this is the problem of looking at this sort of data when the noise, the annual variability of 1C, totally swamps the long term trend of 0.03C. Now we’ll look at the 100 year graph this small graph was taken from.

Looking over the long term, in this case 100 years, the trend can clearly be seen. The right hand end of the graph shows the small section from the top graph.

Now if this was the real data one could see that an argument could be made that after about the 90th year the trend had ended because there is 5 years of lower temperature averages. However this would be wrong as another year later the temperature jumps up again.

This took about 5 minutes with Excel to show. It is not a complex argument. Yet we have people who are claiming that global warming has finished because of a run of lower temperatures. There is three things wrong with this argument, the data does not support it ,even if the data did show a few cooler it means SFA and thirdly what is happening to the climate is change, not just global warming.