Adrian's Writing Blog

news, articles and reviews

Star Wars: The Force Awakens review

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I went to see Star Wars: The Force Awakens and here’s my review. Warning, there are plot spoilers.

I loved the first three Star Wars movies. I've mentioned this before and although I've written critical articles about ‘What on Earth is an underwater monster doing in a trash compacter on a metal space station?' and 'Why is Star Wars an allegory for conception?', I still love those first three films to bits. There are so many good aspects to them. In fact, here's my extensive list of all the things I liked about the first three Star Wars movies:

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A Star Destroyer looming over the camera. (Awesome!)
A tall guy in black who’s powerful in the Dark Side of the Force, wears a mask and striding around corridors with stormtroopers. (Boo!)
A plucky Rebel putting vital data crucial to the Cause into a chirpy, loyal droid. (Drama!)
A plucky rebel who’s captured by Imperial Forces but resists torture designed to extract reveal information. (Laugh in their faces, dude!)
Rebels escaping from a Star Destroyer (Ha ha! Outsmarted those evil goons!)
Rebel fugitives crash-landing on a desert planet. (Dramatic and desolate…)
A vulnerable droid finding a down-at-heel desert town filled with exotic but unfriendly aliens. (it's a Western with Fantasy Characters! Neat…)
That same droid making friends with a young hero who’s a ‘diamond in the rough’; poor but strong in the force. (Yay!)
The young hero zooms around in a Land-speeder (Two-stroke anti-gravity!)
The heroes escaping the Imperial Forces in the Millennium Falcon using their brilliant dog-fight skills.
A young, inexperienced hero fighting off tie-fighters in the Millennium Falcon gun-copula.
Harrison Ford as Han Solo charming the audience by making fun, wise-ass remarks.
Harrison Ford suddenly realising he’s in big trouble and switching to ‘fire-fight’ mode.
Lots of running around darkened corridors.
The heroes hanging out in a bar with lots of ugly or strange aliens while a band plays cool music.
A small but very wise alien explaining the Force to the heroes. (Philosophy!)
A hero experiencing a scary vision as part of understanding the Force. (Creepy…)
A bad character turning out to be actually a good character’s offspring, or vice-versa. (Shock!)
C3PO talking too much when he should really shut up. (What an endearing dork!)
The Rebel Forces preparing for battle on a forested planet, which looks a lot like a World War 2 fighter airfield in Norfolk, England. (Goodness Gracious!)
The Imperial Forces preparing for battle and looking a lot like Nazis. (Double Boo!)
Carrie Fisher bantering acerbically with Harrison Ford. (Isn’t she a peach?)
Carrie Fisher and Harrison Ford embracing. (Ahh, it was inevitable..)
The Death Star threatening the forested Rebel planet. (Those poor trees!)
The young heroes avoiding StormTroopers on the Death Star, using their wits and acrobatic skills. (Go Team!)
Han and Chewie walking across on an ice planet and moaning about it being cold. (it’s a Buddy movie too!)
The Dark Side Knight of Blackness suffering conflicting thoughts about being on the Dark Side (Well, who wouldn’t?)
The young heroes fighting stormtroopers in a forest (White really shows up on dark green).
A confrontation on a high gantry. (The Bridge of Kazadhum meets Cloud City)
A hero falling off a high gantry. (Is he a tumbler or a diver?)
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An Emperor of the Dark Side who shows what prolonged malevolence does to one’s skin complexion. (evil destroys collagen).
A light-sabre fight, especially one where the scenery gets chopped up.
The young hero growing strong in the force, surprising the bad guy. (Ha ha! Gotcha!)
The Rebel base command room pointing out a weak spot in the Death Star. (It’s Bletchley Park all over again!)
X-Wing Fighters attacking the Death Star.
An X-Wing Fighter pilot shouting ‘I’ve got one on my tail!’
Rebel fighters flying through the guts of the Death Star.
X-Wing Fighters fly along a trench on the Death Star.
X-Wing Fighters blowing up the Death Star.
X-Wing Fighter pilots saying; ‘let’s go home’ after they blow up the Death Star.
And finally, most importantly of all, a wise, old, bearded Jedi Master in loose clothing (monks can kick ass!).

It’s a long list, isn’t it? There are so many things to love about the first three movies, with the exception of the Ewoks, who were daft. So, if you like the above list too, you'll be doubly pleased because… the new movie IS THAT LIST!! I’m not joking. You can take a print-out with you into the cinema if you like and tick the items off as you go. They all happen, roughly in that order.

Such a situation sounds brilliant, doesn't it? Unfortunately, it isn’t, because a few things have changed since 1977. For example, in 1977, Harrison Ford and Carrie Fisher were young, sparky and fresh with a point to prove in the first movie and now they’re… not. They do a valiant job in the new film’s scenes but they look like they need a lie down half-way through each one. There’s also the niggly problem that if you bung in all the above elements into a two-and-a-bit-hour movie, there’s no room for a coherent script, or believable changes in characters’ behaviour, or, well, basically anything. In the new film, characters appear out of nowhere for no reason, characters suddenly have skills with no explanation. Characters change allegiance for the briefest of reasons, and then back again, and back again like some sort of moral ping-pong. The new film is basically a cobbled-together derivative fan-movie smorgasbord that's bereft of inspiration, but does have a very big budget.

To be fair, there are some new elements in the film that haven’t been seen before. For example, we now know that good stormtroopers bleed but bad stormtroopers don’t. Also, Death Stars have got bigger, but they’re still stupidly designed. In addition, that red-crayfish-alien rebel general from ‘Return of the Jedi’ hasn’t changed at all, indicating that he’s either immortal or that he’s very old and wrinkly but it’s just very hard to tell when someone’s a crayfish. Oh, and there’s a new stormtrooper outfit that looks like it’s a medieval suit of armour, which I can only guess is there for merchandising reasons, as the character who was wearing it was completely superfluous to the story and seemed to have gatecrashed the set.

That’s pretty much it. I’m a big fan of J.J. Abrams; I think his reboot of Star Trek was inspired but his foray into Star Trek seems to have been shoved through the Disney corporate product mincer and turned into Jedi sausages. Ketchup, anyone?

Excellent short video about exponential population growth

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Here's an excellent video explaining the perils of exponential population growth:




It might be tempting to think that human population growth isn't as extreme as the one described in the video. Unfortunately, it is. Here's a graph of human population levels in the last ten thousand years, courtesy of Wikipedia:

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Dreams and non-violence

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As a change from writing about climate change (which can get pretty depressing pretty quickly), I thought I'd report on something on a completely different tack; my recent strange dream adventures and the effect they've had on my mind. For readers who are now super-excited that I'm now going to talk about my experiences of hallucinating goblins, I'm sorry, it's not as fun as that but it is still very interesting. Here goes…

One benefit of writing full-time at home in the last few years is that I've been living a healthier life. For example, I haven't been going to the pub several times a week and I've been sleeping a lot better, which has enabled me to pay more attention to my dreams. I’ve noticed in recent years that they are not random, surreal events as many people seem to think dreams should be. Instead, I seem to have two types of dream events. The first type is where I converse with various people. In these type of dreams, I’m literally just hanging out, chatting with one or more people. These people can include people I currently know, people I’ve known in the past or people who I once knew but who are now dead. It’s a relaxing and fun experience.

The second type of dream I've been having is where I am in a contrived scenario. What's more, these scenarios seem to have been created as challenges for me, as situations in which my negative traits are highlighted and exposed. In other words, events will unfold in the dream scenario that cause my negative behaviour (e.g. indignation, anger) to come to the fore. For example, in the dream I’m in a deserted village and I’m armed. I know that someone's told me that the ‘enemy’ is in the village and they’ll kill me if they get a chance. I haven’t actually seen this enemy, never mind seen them armed, but I know that someone on my side has said they are armed and dangerous. I skulk around and see figures moving through the buildings. One of them pops his head up and looks at me. The cross-hairs of my gun settle on his forehead. I have a moment to decide and I shoot him. Read More...

Climate change Paris agreement published

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Just a quick note to say that the Paris climate change summit has published its agreed text. Here's a copy if you'd like to read it.

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I've had a read through it and unfortunately all I've spotted so far is a lot of good sounding sentiments (as in 'we've all got to try hard to keep the temperature down' and 'we'll keep checking how we're getting on every five years' and 'developing countries need help') but precious little in the way of actual numbers. The only hard numbers I saw in the document were an agreement to club together to provide a $100 billion global annual pot to finance environmental improvements. Unfortunately, the U.K.'s own Trident nuclear replacement programme will cost this much and it was also the cost of recently bailing out one small U.K. bank (Northern Rock), so as a global pot to end climate change, it's a ridiculously small figure.

Jim Hansen, the famous American climate change scientist, is highly critical of the Paris agreement. He said in a recent Guardian newspaper interview:

“It’s a fraud really, a fake,” he says, rubbing his head. “It’s just bullshit for them to say: ‘We’ll have a 2C warming target and then try to do a little better every five years.’ It’s just worthless words. There is no action, just promises. As long as fossil fuels appear to be the cheapest fuels out there, they will be continued to be burned.”


It's worth noting that the earlier commitment in the draft agreement to phase out fossil use between 2050 and 2100 was abandoned. In other words, even an agreement to stop burning fossil fuels long after the major negative feedback mechanisms will have kicked in was abandoned. This is in the face of concerted requests by major business figures to phase out fossil fuels by 2050.

In some ways, the naive and wishful reactions to the final agreement by major charities in the last hour is worrying in itself. To quote the live feed from half-an-hour ago:

Avaaz: “a turning point in history, paving the way for the shift to 100% clean energy that the world wants and the planet needs”

WWF UK: “We have a clear vision in the strong long term goal; mechanisms to address the gap between that aspiration and the countries’ current commitments; and the foundations for financing the transition to a low-carbon future.”

Greenpeace: “The wheel of climate action turns slowly, but in Paris it has turned. This deal puts the fossil fuel industry on the wrong side of history. There’s much in the text that has been diluted and polluted by the people who despoil our planet, but it contains a new imperative to limit temperature rises to 1.5C.”

Fortunately, some of the charities are a little less dewy-eyed and a little more practical:

ActionAid: “what we have been presented with doesn’t go far enough to improve the fragile existence of millions around the world”

350.org Co-founder Bill McKibben, said: “Every government seems now to recognize that the fossil fuel era must end and soon. But the power of the fossil fuel industry is reflected in the text, which drags out the transition so far that endless climate damage will be done. Since pace is the crucial question now, activists must redouble our efforts to weaken that industry. This didn’t save the planet but it may have saved the chance of saving the planet.”

But again, it's only the words of politicians. As I said in my earlier blog article, we can all make an effort ourselves to work towards a better planet. We can treat climate change as a personal challenge and do what we can to reduce the collective effect. It's not important how significant what we do is globally but how significant our effort is to us, so that we can be proud of ourselves, knowing we all made our own personal effort. The importance of this came home to me again this morning when I watched a short video on the BBC by the British astronaut Tim Peake, talking about the special perspective on Earth that he gained by going into orbit. I found it both emotional and meaningful. Enjoy.

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Climate change books review

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At the moment, the COP21 climate change summit is taking place in Paris. The conference is into its second week and the news reports say that the negotiators are working through the night to try and sort out a binding agreement amongst the countries taking part. As it's going on, I thought it would be a good moment to review two climate change books; ‘Storms of my Grandchildren’ by James Hansen and ‘Six Degrees’ by Mark Lynas.

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James Hanson is possibly the most well-known climate scientist in the world today. He has been conducting research and campaigning to tell people how serious is the threat of climate change to the entire planet. In his book, Hansen thoroughly and extensively explains how he and other climate scientists have gathered the evidence that shows what the huge emission of carbon dioxide is doing to our planet and the likely outcome of this act. Hansen focuses particularly on evidence from Earth’s past. By studying what happened in historic episodes of global warming (particularly the Paleocene/Eocene Thermal Maximum or PETM), Hansen shows how easily and quickly the Earth’s climate can shift to a very different state. He also draws on evidence on what’s been happening to our planet in recent, recorded history and how this matches the pattern of change from previous-era events.

Hansen’s book is excellent for anyone who wants to be convinced of the depth of research that supports the climate change reports and predictions. Unfortunately, it isn’t the easiest read and I found it sluggish at times. Hansen also, I think, makes the mistake of apportioning blame to different groups. There seems little benefit to this strategy, as one of the biggest problems of the 'humanity and climate change' situation is one shared by nearly everyone; the vast majority of people on Earth who can burn fossil fuels do burn them, and in large amounts. Also, the ecological catastrophe that is approaching will punish everyone. We’re effectively all in this together.
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Comments enabled and future projects

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Just a quick note to say that I've enabled comments on many of the pages on this website. I haven't put them in blog entries (I don't have a way at the moment of doing that with this web software) but they are present at the bottom of most of the Anomalies articles. They're also present on The Great Secret page and Chloë's Quantum Quest. This gives interested parties the opportunity to leave some feedback that's hopefully friendly and positive.

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While I wait for feedback to roll in from the graphic novel (digital version), I'll be working on an animation project. I'm keen to do an animation in the style of the videos made for BBC 4's philosophy season which are also available on YouTube. I'm a big fan of these videos (created by the team at Cognitive in Folkestone) and I'm keen to do one in a similar style that explains and promotes one of the theories present in the Great Secret graphic novel. Unfortunately, as this will take quite a few weeks, the science fiction comedy material and Chloë's Quantum Quest will have to sit on the shelf for a while. Juggle juggle juggle…

The Great Secret graphic novel is now available to buy

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The Great Secret graphic novel (190 pages of visual story adventure) is now available as a digital download for Kindle and for the iPad. I’ve asked a few friends to check out the digital version and it all looks good so far, but I’m keen to get as much (helpful) feedback as possible. If you do buy a digital copy (currently £4.99) and you like it, I’d be most grateful if you put in a review on the vendor’s site. If you have any problems with your copy of the graphic novel, do please let me know via the contact form or in the comments field on ‘the great secret’ page (currently under construction) which also contains more info on the book. Read More...

Giza Pyramids & Baalbek documentary

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While I'm finalising the digital editions of 'The Great Secret' graphic novel, I thought readers might enjoy this excellent U.S. documentary on the whole topic of the Giza Pyramids. The documentary explains, with lots of examples, why it's clear from an engineering point of view that the Giza Pyramids couldn't have been built with copper tools. The programme mentions Christopher Dunn's excellent research and his book 'The Giza Power Plant', which I heartily recommend to anyone keen to find out how the Giza Pyramids were actually constructed. Dunn's conclusions in the book are astonishing, but they are grounded in science and extensive evidence.



I also really enjoyed the style and pace of the documentary. I do enjoy watching 'Ancient Aliens' now and then, but this earlier documentary's measured pace and calm reflection is a breath of fresh air compared to the 'whizz-bang-flash!' of many modern documentaries. It was aired in 1999 but it seems like it's from the early 80's! Love the beard…

Processed red meat - WHO report

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This week, the World Health Organisation (WHO) released a report in which they stated a link between preserved red meats and cancer. The report got a lot of media coverage, including articles in most of the popular UK newspapers. I thought I'd mentioned it here as it links to a few articles I've written in the past about this subject and it might be worth talking about them again.

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Firstly, I do recommend anyone who's interested in this issue to watch the Forks over Knives documentary. It is engaging, thorough, accessible and clear and it shows the strong epidemiological and scientific links between a diet high in animal proteins (such as meat and dairy) and serious health problems. Many people nowadays think that they must consume milk for calcium and meat for protein. In fact, both these key nutritional elements can be found in vegetables. Also, as far as I know, an adult only needs about a golf-ball-sized amount of protein per day to keep him or her healthy, far less than the servings many people see as the minimum to eat. The Forks over Knives documentary (as far as I can remember) talks intelligently about these matters. I reviewed the film in this older blog entry and I heartily recommend it.

Secondly, the problems with preserved meats, discussed in the WHO report, aren't just about the meat itself, or the fat and salt added to it. As the WHO report states, certain organic molecules are created during the high temperature cooking process. In particular, aromatic amines are created. This doesn't sound too scary but I found out, several years ago, that the amines present in preserved meats, such as histamine, cadaverine and putrescence (you can guess why they're called that) can actually alter the mood of a person eating them if that person's digestive system is low on certain key enzymes known as Mono-amine Oxidase Inhibitors or MAO's. If a person is low on these MAO's, the amines in the preserved meats can make that person moody, aggressive, tearful and generally a mess if they eat such meats on a regular basis. To read the full description, check out this earlier blog entry.

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I've also found that animal proteins, meat, dairy and preserved meats are connected to a large range of health issues. For example, a meat-free diet can make your cells younger, a diet heavy in meat changes the bacteria populations in your gut, potentially leading to bowel cancer and a study warning of the health dangers of a diet high in milk.

There's another problem with foods cooked to a high temperature. They often end up containing significant levels of acrylamides (chemically related to the amines discussed above). Many years ago, a research team in Scandinavia investigated the strange problem of a herd of cows that were showing signs of mental injury. The researchers eventually tracked down the cause of the cows' distress. The cows were drinking from water contaminated by acrylamides leaking from a nearby factory. The researchers followed up on this discovery and discovered that acrylamides can be toxic to the body and brain. Unfortunately, the danger from acrylamides for us doesn't come from living next to a factory. Any food that is browned or turned golden by heating will contain acrylamides. At the high temperates created by roasting and toasting, organic molecules in the food are chemically transformed into acrylamides. Their negative effect on our bodies is multifaceted. As this cancer.gov report states, acrylamides are linked to higher incidents of breast cancer, ovarian cancer and possibly renal cell cancer. In other words, our chips and toast are toxic.

All in all, there's no sense in religiously avoiding everything that might produce acrylamides; a fish and chip supper once a month isn't a death sentence, but the negative effects will accumulate. It's probably a lot like sugar and diabetes. We have to keep the consumption down and make these unhealthy foods a small minority of our diet, or we will eventually suffer the consequences. Greens for breakfast, anyone?

'We are not alone' book review and Martian thoughts

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This week, I've been reading 'We are not alone' by Dirk Schulze-Makuch and David Darling, a popular science book that reports on and explains the evidence for life in other parts of our solar system and what form that life might take.

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The book's first half focusses on Mars and the evidence for life on that planet. That particular topic has been in the news this week. There's been lots of media discussion and NASA press conferences about the significance of tell-tale trails on the martian surface, particularly running down from certain cliffs and mountains. As 'We are not alone' points out, this evidence has been known for ten years or more, and so it's surprising that it's being reported as such a big deal now. The cynic in me would wonder if it's something to do with the release of Matt Damon's latest movie 'The Martian', but that's probably just a coincidence.

As Darling Schulze-Makuch's book explains, the story of evidence for life on Mars kicked off with Percival Lovell and his claims for Martian 'canals'. In truth, Lovell was simply re-iterating an Italian astronomer's observations of 'canali' on Mars, which is Italian for 'channel', but Lovell's embellishments and conclusion that Mars was inhabited by a civilisation struck a popular chord.

Later on, probably the most important episode of 'life on Mars' evidence came from the Viking lander expedition. Devices on the Viking lander found evidence of life in the Martian soil. This evidence should, at least if NASA had followed its own rules, have been enough for scientists to declare that life does exist on Mars, but certain scientists on the NASA panel had their way and the evidence was eventually dismissed as inconclusive. Read More...

Recreating the solar system in the Nevada Desert

Two film makers recreate an accurate scale model of the solar system in Nevada’s sandy Black Rock Desert. It's a wonderful way to show how tiny the Earth is, even in its own solar system. Heartily recommended.


Michael Faraday and self-deception

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This week, the excellent website Brainpickings has published an article about the eminent British scientist Michael Faraday. On May 6, 1854, Faraday delivered a lecture at the Royal Institution on the subject of “mental discipline,” later included in his volume Experimental Researches In Chemistry And Physics. Here's what he said:
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Among those points of self-education which take up the form of mental discipline, there is one of great importance, and, moreover, difficult to deal with, because it involves an internal conflict, and equally touches our vanity and our ease. It consists in the tendency to deceive ourselves regarding all we wish for, and the necessity of resistance to these desires. It is impossible for any one who has not been constrained, by the course of his occupation and thoughts, to a habit of continual self-correction, to be aware of the amount of error in relation to judgment arising from this tendency. The force of the temptation which urges us to seek for such evidence and appearances as are in favour of our desires, and to disregard those which oppose them, is wonderfully great. In this respect we are all, more or less, active promoters of error. In place of practising wholesome self-abnegation, we ever make the wish the father to the thought: we receive as friendly that which agrees with, we resist with dislike that which opposes us; whereas the very reverse is required by every dictate of common sense.

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Why do we move forward in time?

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This week, the New Scientist magazine gave me a big compliment by making my latest letter to them their Editor’s letter of the week. Here it is:

Your article 'Why do we move forward in time?" (Issue 3037, 5th Sept 2015, pg34) makes it clear that physics has no clear answer as to why time passes. The article reminded me of an ancient Zen Koan. Two monks were watching a flag flapping in the wind. One said to the other, "The flag is moving." The other replied, "The wind is moving." A Zen master, walking nearby, overheard them. He said, "It is not the flag nor the wind that is moving but your minds." The idea that our minds experience the four-dimensional 'landscape' of physical reality in a chosen time direction would explain the phenomenon of time passing without violating any physics. Perhaps the Zen master was right philosophically and scientifically?


The article concerned was one of a series of articles in the New Scientist that week (issue 3037) about aspects of physics that non one had yet solved. The tricky nature of time is definitely one of these big conundrums. We all experience time flowing; we do things, one after the other, day after day. Around us clocks tick and cars drive and birds fly etc. We can't seem to stop or alter this flow of time. We can't make time stand still. It can certainly sometimes seem as if time is flowing more slowly than at other times. For example, waiting to go into an exam can seem to last forever, but while you're doing the exam, time can seem to scream by. I remember once starting a strategy board game, then becoming completely engrossed and then looking up and finding out that two hours had gone by, as if in a flash. Read More...

What does an atom look like?

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Here’s the standard picture of an atom. Stylish, isn't it? It's elegant, distinctive and memorable. But there's a problem, because this image of ball-like electrons circling a gobstopper-like nucleus in specific, single, elliptical paths is scientifically wrong.
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But don't take it from me. Here’s what Richard Feynmann (who won a Nobel Prize for physics for co-developing Quantum Electro-Dynamics) said about such an image in his book ‘Q.E.D. The strange theory of light and matter’ (page 84):

“Shortly after electrons were discovered, it was thought that atoms were like little solar systems, made up of a central, heavy part (called the nucleus) and electrons, which went around in orbits, much like the planets do when they go around the sun. If you think that’s the way atoms are, then you’re back in 1910.”

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Two decades of great science-fiction movies

I think it was so much better in the olden days… No! That's not true! I do not want to be an old, boring moaner with rose-tinted spectacles! (At least not all the time) That being said, I do want to say that there really was a brilliant twenty-year period in U.K. and North American science-fiction cinema that started in 1962 and ended in 1982. For various cultural and historical reasons, it just seemed to be a time when film-makers had the freedom, opportunity, motivation and inspiration to create a lot of clever, inventive, disturbing and memorable science-fiction ideas and scenarios. It really was a golden age. I was going to waffle about each film, but that would take a lot of time, so I thought I'd just show the posters in rough date order, one for every year. Here goes:
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Superficial intelligence - the limits of A.I.

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Last weekend, I listed all the letters I sent to the New Scientist magazine for the past three months. Although they weren't printed, I thought it would be nice for people to read the letters anyway, rather than leave them to sit, forgotten on a shelf (sort of). They aren't very long and I think they make some interesting points - one of them even includes a joke! - so it seemed worthwhile to blog them.
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This weekend (5th Sept), out of the blue, the New Scientist have actually printed one of those letters, the 4th August letter entitled 'Superficial Intelligence'. This is what I wrote on the 4th August:

Dear New Scientist. In your Opinion page (issue 3032, 1st August 2015, pg22), Martin Rees states that biological brains will eventually be superseded by far superior, machine intelligences. This follows on from recent comments in the media by Stephen Hawking and others, warning of the dangers of runaway A.I. These are all surprising assertions, as digital computers, fundamentally, are no different from punch-card clocks. Also, A.I. and quantum computing have so far failed to live up to their initial hype; they're currently more Superficial Intelligence than Artificial Intelligence. How do Hawking and Rees think these automated sorters and calculators will reach such lofty goals? 

I'm pleased that the New Scientist magazine published it. They didn't publish the full letter; they removed the middle sentence, but it's still good to see it in the magazine. Thinking again on the topic, I would like to add a few more points. I did write a blog article in March, explaining the fundamental limitations of computers, and that does cover a lot, but here's three new points: Read More...

Oliver Sacks - Three wonderful books

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Oliver Sacks sadly passed away a few days ago. He was a fascinating, brilliant and warm man and he contributed immeasurably to both clinical neuropsychology and public knowledge and interest in that field. Here's three of his books that I can heartily recommend.
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'The man who mistook his wife for a hat' is the book that began my love for Oliver Sacks' writing. In it, he describes several patients that he worked with that had suffered some form of injury to the right hemisphere of their brain. The fact that it was a right hemisphere injury was of critical importance. A left hemisphere injury can cause serious problems to a person's ability to operate in society, but they are of an understandable nature. When the right hemisphere is damaged, the effects are very strange indeed. Read More...

New Scientist rejected letters

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So far this year, I've been writing regular letters to the New Scientist magazine. Up until May, they printed quite a few of them, on the subjects of alien contact, alien signals, VR headsets transforming public performances, killer robots, the accuracy of internet facts, home servers to create bitcoins and one or two others, which was great.
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But since late May, they haven't printed any of my letters, which is odd, but there you go. Rather than leave the letters to moulder on a shelf, I thought I'd publish my last three months' worth of new scientist letters on my blog. Here they are, in chronological order:

'Fast food hit' (13th May)

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Dear New Scientist. In your recent '60 seconds' column (issue 3020, 9th May 2015, pg7), you report that recent research shows that 'fructose appears to make our brains more responsive to images of food than glucose, and people who drink fructose-rich drinks are more likely to choose high-calorie foods over money prizes'. Since fructose, particularly in the form of high fructose corn syrup or HFCS, is a mainstay ingredient in fast food drinks, does this mean that fast food should be declared officially addictive? 
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'The Day After Roswell' - book review Part II

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After writing my recent review of 'The Day After Roswell' by Philip J. Corso, I remembered two more interesting things in the book that I didn't cover in my first review. Neither of them are actually about U.F.O.'s or aliens, which, I think, shows how much stuff is present in Corso's book; it really is a treasure trove of thought-provoking material.
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First off, in between the hard-to-believe alien stuff in Corso's book, Corso also touches on an oddity in America's space exploration programme; why haven't the United States put a base on the moon? I wrote an article on this subject a while back. In the article, I described some of the military benefits of having a base on the moon and why it is a major mystery why the United States or Russia still don't have a base on our moon.

In his book, Corso discusses, at length, the U.S. military's interest and plans in setting up a moon base, a plan hatched in the late fifties and designed to be completed by the mid-sixties. Corso makes it clear that General Trudeau, his commanding officer, was involved in a plan to land on the moon and then establish a base there, with the moon landing being simply one step in a larger process. The reasoning laid out in Corso's book is more extensive than my comments in my article, which not surprisingly for a major U.S. military project, but the essential premise is the same. The moon is the high ground and anyone who establishes a base on it will have a huge military advantage. Corso dedicates an entire chapter to the project and adds an appendix with photocopied briefing documents, detailing what became known as Project Horizon. But, as we all know, there is no moon base. Corso explains why; his answer is logical but it involves UFO's, so its veracity is a matter for debate. Read More...

'The Day After Roswell' by Philip J. Corso - book review

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A few months ago, I began a fresh look into the U.F.O. topic, as a result of aimless youtube wandering. It was a very interesting experience. After watching several of the Sirius Disclosure testimonies, I was amazed at the number of testimonies from respected professional, educated, senior people, including a Rear Admiral, stating that U.F.O.’s do exist but that the secret services and military sections of the major governments of the world have been hiding the facts from the general population for the last seventy years (or more).
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Following on from that surprising claim, I sought out and read ‘The Day After Roswell’ by Colonel Philip J. Corso. This book is about the United States' military’s encounters with U.F.O.’s since the Second World War and, in particular, Corso’s own involvement. By his own, account, Corso was very much in the thick of it. He received artefacts from crashed alien spacecraft and passed them on to private defence contractors so that they could examine the advanced technology and replicate it, thereby developing valuable new technologies. All of this was done in secret and, according to Corso, was responsible for huge advances in key technologies on Earth. It’s astonishing stuff and I can imagine many people would simply reject it as a lie. But is it?

Let's be logical

Corso' book is certainly official 'kook' territory but, before judging and sentencing it, let’s think rationally about the likelihood of its key assertions. Firstly, it's become clear to all of us in recent years that the intelligence agencies and militaries of the world are definitely hiding things from their citizens. After Edward Snowden’s recent revelations about the N.S.A. and G.C.H.Q.’s email and phone snooping, along with a whole host of recent scandals in which the western military and spy establishments ignored laws, due process, peoples’ lives and other rather important things, it’s pretty much a ‘given’ that our spooks are hiding stuff from us.
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'Command and Control' by Eric Schlosser - book review

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This week, I've been reading Eric Schlosser's 'Command and Control', an extensive and comprehensive non-fiction book that looks into the history of nuclear weapon safety in the U.S.A. since the Second World War. Schlosser wrote the excellent 'Fast Food Nation' and this book is just as thorough and just as alarming. Schlosser's book makes it clear, using an exhaustive list of events, that it's pretty much a miracle that a nuclear weapon didn't accidentally explode in the United States in the last sixty years.
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I'm a supporter of CND, the Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament, and so I was keen to read this book to be as knowledgeable as possible on such an important subject. I came to the decision, several years ago, that I would rather be killed by a nuclear weapon than be even partly responsible for dropping one on millions of other people. There are many visceral examples of what such a nuclear strike would do in books and television, from an excellent passage in the book 'Doomsday Men', that I recently reviewed, as well as the harrowing and brilliant series 'Threads', made by the BBC (when the Beeb was being brave). I heartily recommend both items, but be aware, the Threads programme pulls no punches at all.

'Command and Control' is a thick wedge of a book. Schlosser exhaustively reports on the history of nukes in the U.S. and the cold war. To be honest, there were sections that I skipped, as page after page of descriptions of missiles and strategies can get dull. Fortunately, the book switches between this history and the recounting of a particular event; a disastrous accident that occurred at a Titan II missile silo. Schlosser's account of the accident is riveting. His writing reminded me a lot of Stephen King's 'The Stand', with the same approach of giving each character's back story, before narrating what happened to them during the accident. I wouldn't be surprised if Schlosser starts writing fiction soon, he's certainly prepared the ground.
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We're in a holo-deck reality

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Yes, I know the title of this article sounds nuts, or at least pointlessly nerdy, but actually, it might be true (or at least, sort of true). In this article, I'm going to show scientifically how the idea that 'our reality is a holo-deck construction' is a strong, scientific and logical theory for our existence. My explanation will be comprehensive, in-depth and not at all bonkers.
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Clearly, such an outlandish idea does need a lot of evidence to back it up, so I'll pose a series of sensible questions and answer each in turn. If I can answer all the questions with a 'yes', then I hope that'll show the validity of the theory. Here goes…
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Heisenberg: Physics and Philosophy - book review

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This week, I've been reading 'Physics and Philosophy' by Werner Heisenberg. Heisenberg was one of the leading lights of the Quantum Physics generation in the early twentieth century. He was the prime discoverer of the Uncertainty Principle; that it is impossible to know both the velocity and position of a subatomic particle at the same time.

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I'll say, straight away, that 'Physics and Philosophy' is a dry read; the book is never going to succeed as a mainstream popular science book. Heisenberg writes like a physics professor giving a church sermon, but he also writes with an air of calm authority. He isn't polemicist or a demagogue. There's no sign that he has an axe to grind. As a result, the book reads as a benchmark of sober thought on the philosophical implications of what physicists discovered in the early twentieth century.

During his book, Heisenberg stays very much in the middle ground of the philosophical interpretations of quantum physics. He never concludes that the mind is required for matter to appear out of the quantum realm, unlike Wigner and Von Neumann, but neither does he follow the lead of Einstein and doggedly advocate the Classical Physics viewpoint of an external reality that is present and real all the time, whether we observe it or not. Instead, he talks calmly about what he thinks we can reliably conclude from the experimental evidence and the mathematics, and how that is elegant and beautiful and sufficient just by itself. Read More...

The Teddington Interpretation

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I went to Teddington last week to have coffee with a friend who works at the National Physical Laboratory. While I was in Teddington's Broad Street, I bought a copy of Werner Heisenberg’s book ‘Physics and Philosophy’ from the local charity shop. It’s a dry but interesting read. I haven't finished it yet but as I read through its first chapter, while sitting in a Teddington cafe, it got me thinking about the Copenhagen Interpretation in quantum physics. After my second biscuit, I thought of a really interesting idea…

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The Copenhagen Interpretation was developed in the 1920’s by a Danish quantum physicist, Neils Bohr, and his colleagues at Bohr’s Institute for physics in Copenhagen, Denmark. It has become the standard, modern way to view the behaviour of reality at its most fundamental levels; the world of atoms, protons, electrons et al.

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At the time of its creation, the Copenhagen Interpretation was seen as a bizarre idea. Albert Einstein hated it and refused to accept it during his entire life. For Einstein, the Interpretation's most annoying feature was that it made it clear that there was no possible way to know what was happening in between scientific observations. In other words, the Copenhagen Interpretation made it clear that a scientist might measure the location of an electron at a certain point, but outside of that measurement, the electron wasn’t actually anywhere in particular between measurements. All that could be said about the electron's location was that there was a probability of it being in any particular place. The only time when it was definitely somewhere was when a measurement was made. Einstein hated this idea and it prompted him to make his famous comment ‘God does not play dice’. He also famously complained to his biographer, ‘do you really think the moon ceases to exist if we don’t look at it?’ Read More...

UFOs: Lord Admiral speaks

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Here's another post on the subject of UFO's, following on from my earlier post about the evidence for aliens on Earth (or at least aliens popping over and saying 'hello'). The UFO phenomenon is a fascinating area, but it's a tricky one to study, as it's a swamp of information of varying credibility.

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To avoid as much baloney as possible, I've been looking for witnesses and/or commentators with impeccable backgrounds. My earlier post examined comments from a former Chief of Staff to the Clintons and from a former cabinet minister in the Canadian government. This post is all about an interview with a British Lord Admiral, NATO committee chairman and British Defence minister. His name is Lord Peter Hill-Norton, and I'd say he's about as impeccable a witness as you could possibly get.

In the interview, Hill-Norton talks about the Bentwater incident, in which a UFO supposedly landed at a UK airbase in 1956 (an incident similar to the later Rendlesham forest incident. Hill-Norton discusses the matter in a logical, matter-of-fact way, using clear and straightforward arguments and his thought-provoking conclusions are sound. The interview isn't too long, and it's interesting all the way through. I heartily recommend it.


Military physics and Paul Czysz

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While trawling through youtube recently in the search for some solid UFO material (something I discussed in this earlier blog), I stumbled upon some fascinating interviews with several U.S. military engineers and physicists. This article is about one of them, Paul Czysz.

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Paul Czysz was a Saint Louis University professor emeritus and alumnus who taught in the department of aerospace and mechanical engineering at Parks College of Engineering, Aviation and Technology for more than 10 years. He died on Aug. 18th 2013. He was 79. He spent much of his career working for the McDonnell Douglas Corporation and in the U.S. Air Force at Wright Patterson Air Force Base. In 1986, Czysz was named a McDonnell Douglas Fellow for his work in hypersonic aircraft concepts. As far as I can tell, he gave the interview below shortly before his death.

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More material added to 'Ancient Astral Secrets' article

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Just a quick note to say I've added more material to the 'The Greek Myths, Method of Loci and stars' article, which I'm now calling 'Ancient Astral Secrets'. The new material continues the quest to understand what the Greek Myths were really about and begins to investigate the connections between the Greek Myths and the earlier Sumerian/Babylonian/Egyptian zodiacs that seemed to inspire and precede them. The new material includes a section on the Dendera Zodiac and finishes with a chat about the Wow! signal. Yes, it's true, those two things are somehow, in a strange way, connected. It begins like this…

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Our ancient past is weird. There are monuments and myths that don't seem to make sense. In the last few years, I've been conducting research to find an explanation for these buildings and odd stories. The article on this website about a laser transmission from Sirius has come from this research (based on the Sirius Red Controversy) along with an article on the Great Pyramid and 2787BC. If both articles are correct, then we're faced with a strange but fascinating fact; that there is intelligent life on other stars in our part of the galaxy. Not only that, but the intelligent creatures living around those stars have taken an interest in Earth during our ancient past.

'Lovelace and Babbage' - graphic novel-ish review

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A graphic novel-ish has come out recently that is fun, well-researched and beautifully drawn. It's called:

The Thrilling Adventures of Lovelace and Babbage


It's by Sydney Padua and it's based on her web comic that ran for several years. Padua worked in Hollywood as animator for years before writing the webcomic and it shows; her illustrations are effortless, consistent, accurate and full of expression and life, which (take it from me) takes absolutely donkeys years and a bazillion hours to master. I must note that the book isn't a graphic novel; instead, it is a series of short stories about Ada Lovelace (seen by many as the first computer programmer) and Charles Babbage (seen by many as the inventor of the first computer) in an alternative universe created by Padua in which Lovelace doesn't die young and they both get to make the Difference Engine and the Analytical Engine. Along with each page of these stories are a big pile of footnotes, showing how much research Padua has done on the subject.

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Learning from the past

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In this week's New Scientist magazine, there's a section in the Letters page discussing the recent article on Mankind's exploration of Mars. One of the letters is from me:

In your article on colonising Mars (Issue 3021, 16th May 2015, pg39), the writer Rhawn Joseph states that 'our cosmic biological destiny is to go forth and multiply'. This isn't a scientific idea but a religious one, originating in the Bible (Genesis 9:7) as part of God's covenant with Noah. It's also woefully short-sighted. The destiny of a dominant, tool-using species that multiplies unchecked in its environment is ecological collapse, something we're now seeing here on Earth. We need a new cosmic destiny for the next four thousand years, one where we don't run away from our problems. How about 'stay, stabilise and save'?



I wrote the letter because I was unhappy that a 'ultimate fact' was being placed in the article that was not only non-scientific but non-sensical. 'Go forth and multiply' makes sense if you've just had your population decimated by a cataclysm and you need to restore healthy numbers, but it doesn't make any sense once your numbers start to overwhelm your environment. Strangely enough, the story of the origins of 'go forth and multiply' includes both problems… Read More...

SpaceShipOne - it's a nail-biter

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Here's another good documentary from YouTube. This one's about Burt Rutan, a famous airplane designer, and his efforts to win the X-prize, the competition set up in the U.S. to reward the first private company to take passengers into space on two separate trips, less than a fortnight apart. In other words, a competition to encourage the development of a privately designed, constructed and tested commercial spaceship.

I only knew a little about the SpaceShipOne project before I watched the video, and I had no idea how they had got on with their craft, so I found the documentary both exciting, intriguing and a complete nail-biter. I really didn't know what was going to happen at any point in the documentary and because they were doing a lot of the project work on a shoe-string, with an entirely new design of craft, without wind-tunnel testing or advanced simulations or an exhaustive series of tests to cover every possible potential problem, it really felt as if there could be a disaster at any point in the story. Gripping stuff (Note: it's not 1080p and it's actually only an hour-and-a-half long).

UFOs: Something strange is going on

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Unidentified Flying Objects are fascinating. I can't imagine anyone who's interested in science-fiction not being interested in flying saucers; they're mysterious, alien, advanced and a little bit scary. What's more, the possibility of aliens visiting Earth, using advanced technology, is perfectly feasible too. From a statistical point of view, the chance that we're entirely alone in the galaxy is virtually nil and the chance that a sentient species on a nearby star has reached a level of technology that enables them to visit us is extremely high.

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I used to be sceptical of UFO's being real, because I thought that interstellar travel was physically impossible because of the Laws of Relativity, but after reading a recent paper on manipulating space-time to travel at faster-than-light speeds, I'm now happy to accept that superluminal travel is feasible. If the physics of superluminal travel are fine, then it would be very strange indeed if no aliens had visited us in the past or were visiting us now. Therefore, according to logic and probability, there should be aliens visiting our planet right now and it's highly likely they've been visiting our planet for a long time.

But if that's true, then either those aliens are keeping a very low profile or the powers-that-be leading our countries on Earth know about them and they're keeping the fact a secret. This second possibility shouldn't really come as a shock to anyone. 'Knowledge is Power' goes the old adage and powerful people like to be as powerful as possible. We're therefore left with two possibilities; there are no aliens visiting Earth (which is statistically highly unlikely) or there are aliens visiting Earth and our governments are keeping it secret (which is statistically highly likely, but hard to prove). Which is it? Read More...

Travel to the stars by exploding atomic bombs

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I discovered this fascinating programme on youtube yesterday. It's an old BBC4 documentary about Freeman Dyson and his project to design a spaceship that travels into space, propelled by detonating a series of nuclear explosions.


I found the documentary both engrossing and bizarre. Throughout the program, the people involved in the project were convinced that it was a viable and brilliant way to send humans into space and the other planets in our solar system. They pointed out, sensibly, that rocket motors did not produce enough power to effectively fling humans to the edges of our solar system, or our nearby astral neighbours. Chemical rockets were good enough to go to the moon, but that's about it.

This all made sense, but at no point in the documentary did anyone say 'wait a second, how on Earth are you going to accurately steer this craft as you explode nuclear weapons under its 'spring plate'? Also, how are you going to safely detonate a whole series of nuclear bombs under this 'spring plate' without them frying the crew with radiation or running the risk of one of them blowing up while it's still inside the bomb bay? The practical problems seem endless, and yet they carried on with idealistic zeal. Fascinating stuff.

Fever: a magical cancer cure

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This week, I've been reading 'Farmer Buckley's Exploding Trousers and other odd events on the way to scientific discovery'. It's a popular science book from the people at New Scientist magazine and is a series of short stories (each a few pages long) about weird and wonderful and often very important scientific and technological inventions and discoveries. I'm enjoying the book, although reading a long string of disconnected stories can feel a bit laborious sometimes, but there some absolute gems amongst the collection.

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One story really jumped out. On page 21 of the book, the author describes the fascinating story of Dr William Coley, an American doctor living and working in New York in the 1870's. During his work, Dr Coley stumbled upon a fascinating pattern. He treated many patients with tumours. The standard medical treatment for these tumours was to cut them out, but they invariably grew back. Coley found that patients who had tumours, but then suffered an infection that sent them into a high fever, very often were entirely cured of their tumours. For example:

The man's medical records were quite clear. His case was hopeless. In the space of three years, he had had five operations to remove a tumour from his neck. The last was a failure: it was impossible to remove the whole tumour. He would die soon. As if that wasn't bad enough, the poor man then suffered two attacks of erysipelas, a skin infection that produced a lurid red rash and a high fever. But when the fever broke and the man recovered, his tumour had vanished. Seven years later, he was still alive and well. There could be only one explanation: whatever had caused the fever had also destroyed the cancer.

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Weird facts create great fiction

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A couple of weeks ago, I wrote a prediction about what would happen to us in the next thousand years. It wasn't exactly heart-warming or utopian but with climate change gathering pace, I find it hard not to be pessimistic. I could poo-poo global warming or predict that we would use our amazing technological skills to find a way to reverse the effects of climate change, but that would be bollocks, since we're currently, every year, producing billions of tonnes of CO2, along with methane (fifty times more warming than CO2) and Flourine-based chemicals (ten thousand times more warming than CO2).

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Also, the average westerner burns up 200,000 calories of energy a day (not in his or her food, but the energy he or she burns). No human machine can undo this scale of heat and chemical pollution. This human-created chemical output isn't even going down. For example, India has made it clear it plans to ramp up its coal burning in the next few decades as part of a programme to increase its GDP. Oh dear.

But rather than looking at our future from an emotional and ethical point of view and get depressed, why not look at our near future as a great opportunity for a science fiction story? We don't even need to create any weird aliens, sinister secret government groups and hidden, powerful cults for our story, we can simply make use of the aliens, sinister government groups and hidden, powerful cults that many people say already exist on Earth. If you want useful sources on these topics, try the writings of Peter Levenda, Jim Marrs, Richard Dolan and Mark McCandlish. We can even throw in some 'super-powers'. For example, in an earlier blog post, I described my experiences when I tried remote viewing. A lot of people don't believe this ability is possible, but I certainly experienced an information gathering ability that was way above chance, and RV has a highly developed history, so I'm comfortable with it. Also, scientifically, RV is fine, at least if you accept the consequences of the Influence Idea. Read More...

The Centrifuge Brain Project

The ‘science fiction future’ event at the BFI on the South Bank in London last weekend included a wide variety of short films. It was a very mixed collection but there were some gems. Here's one of them. It starts out looking like a serious documentary about a scientist studying the effects of G forces on people, and then you begin to realise that it isn't… :-)


Mindsets and the Pauli Effect

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On Saturday, I went to the ‘science fiction future’ event at the BFI on the South Bank in London. The afternoon was a mixed affair but one of the speakers, Lydia Nicholas, made a very interesting comment during her entertaining talk on biology. She quoted a biologist who said:

"Cell work is so sensitive. Some times I wonder if the success of my experiment is down to whether I'm feeling happy or sad that day."



The quote generated laughter in the room but I wondered, surely a scientist would be intrigued by this experience? He or she might say to themselves; this is an interesting phenomenon. I'm noticing a pattern of behaviour. Is this phenomenon repeatable? If it is repeatable, I'd know it is a reliable, measurable phenomenon. If it is, then I've extended my knowledge of the world around me. I can then write up my experiments and distribute the information to others. That way, others can be made aware of what I've found. Ideally, one or more of them will conduct the experiments too and they can report whether or not they found the same effect. I can perform a set of experiments and in each one, record my own state of mind, giving my level of happiness a scale of one to ten, then carry out the cell work and record the results. It would be a relatively inexpensive task and if the phenomenon is real, it would be a big step forward in understanding how reality works. If the phenomenon isn't reliable, then I can conclude that it was purely a concoction on my part. Read More...

In praise of 'Galaxy Quest'

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I spotted a little nugget of news this week that's reporting that the 1999 science fiction comedy film 'Galaxy Quest' may be made into a T.V. series some time soon. It got me thinking and I've come to a strange and surprising conclusion:

'Galaxy Quest' is the best-written science fiction movie ever made.

I know, it sounds barmy. 'Galaxy Quest' is a fun, tongue-in-cheek sci-fi romp that came and went in the annals of sci-fi moviedom. Why am I choosing it over '2001: A space odyssey'? Or 'Star Wars', or 'Battle beyond the stars'? (okay, maybe not 'battle beyond the stars') Or 'Solaris'? The list is long. The thing is, 'Solaris' and '2001' and 'Star Wars' are wonderful movies. 'Solaris' and '2001' have brilliant ideas. 'Star Wars' has brilliant acting, top-notch production values and cutting edge special effects that haven't actually been bettered in terms of immersive involvement. But I won't be swayed, 'Galaxy Quest' is the best-written science-fiction movie I've ever watched. Read More...

Our science fiction future

As promised in the previous blog entry earlier this week, here's my prediction of our science fiction future

1) We're all going to die.

This isn't much of a prediction, as no one lives forever. I'll try and be a bit more specific.

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2) Climate change is going to wreck the environment of our planet and the global population will be reduced from seven thousand bazillion people to a bus queue by the end of 2200 AD

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Science Fiction Future at the BFI in London

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At the end of this month (Sunday May 30th), Simon Ings from the New Scientist magazine is hosting an afternoon of talks and short films on the subject of our ‘science fiction future’ and ‘why stories, games and falsehoods may be our best guide to tomorrow'. This event is part of the 'Sci-Fi-London' festival. The highly successful science fiction writer Alastair Reynolds will be giving the keynote talk and that’ll be followed by short films and panel discussions. The event is taking place on the South Bank in London at the British Film Institute.

The title and strap-line for the event has got me thinking; what is our science-fiction future? More broadly, since a lot of people think science-fiction is about the future, with special emphasis on techie stuff, the question really becomes: What is our future? (note: remember to talk about techie stuff).

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Warp drive isn't science fiction!

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Since I've been knee-high to a grasshopper, I've been a huge fan of Star Trek, both the original series, the Next Generation series and the recent J.J.Abrams movies. Quality stuff. But recently, since I've becoming a budding science fiction writer, I've felt duty bound to write science fiction that is based on solid science. In other words, if the technology in a story is not evidently scientifically sound or no attempt is made to explain how it is scientifically sound, then I can't write about it as it's not science-fiction, it's fantasy fiction.

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This is where Star Trek has become a big problem to me, because Einstein, in his famous Theory of General Relativity, makes it clear that no material object can go faster that the speed of light. Knowing this, it becomes obvious that travelling between the stars is an impossible task. You either go so fast that you're rapidly smeared all over your pilots chair like a coating of gravy, or if you go slow enough to stay in one piece and end up dying of old age or being turned into a biological colander by endless cosmic ray bombardment, or both, or all three. We all may be used to the crew of Star Trek zooming between the stars in a few hours, enough time to develop a slow-burning romance, or play an odd version of chess, or play an instrument that neatly doubles up as a kitchen implement, but that doesn't mean it's scientifically okay. Read More...

Remote Viewing introduction

As promised in my earlier blog, here's an introduction to the technique of remote viewing; the ability to perceive remote places or events by conjuring up information about them in one’s mind.

As I mentioned in the last blog, if the Influence Idea is correct, then the physical universe around us is a collaborative construction by minds, an idea that many famous quantum physicists almost a century ago also concluded was true. This idea is also supported by a large number of experiments that have been carried out using rigorous scientific techniques since then, a body of research that is reported on, for example, by Dean Radin in his recent book 'Supernormal', a book I recently reviewed.

There are many fascinating consequences to this idea. One key consequence is that since our minds originate from outside the space-time fabric of the physical universe, we potentially can perceive any moment in time and space. Clearly, this is would not be an easy thing to do, even if it was possible. Normally, we perceive events or places only with the eyes and ears of the bodies we inhabit, at least during our waking hours, but it would seem to be theoretically possible.

Fortunately, according to a whole pile of evidence, there are a lot of people who didn't just think about it being a possibility, but actively pursued it as a skill. Read More...

Galileo and Remote Viewing

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A week-or-so ago, I wrote a review of Dean Radin's book 'Supernormal', in which Radin describes a huge body of research by qualified scientists that show that what we often refer to as 'ESP' effects are real and quantifiable. The research in the book leaves the reader with an unavoidable conclusion; that the idea that the universe is a physical, solid place that is unaffected by mental influence and can exist independently of observation is not just scientifically incorrect, it's plain wrong. In other words, 'materialism' is bunk.

Interestingly, the book's logical conclusions can also be deduced from the Influence Idea. The Influence Idea is relatively simple and can be summed up in one sentence: the only way that Life can exist and flourish in a universe governed by Entropy is for there to be an external, non-physical organising influence acting upon physical reality. Read More...

Climate Change and Killer Robots

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This week's New Scientist magazine includes a letter of mine on the subject of Killer Robots. It was triggered by an article in a recent New Scientist magazine issue in which international bodies agreed that we shouldn't make fully autonomous, lethally armed robots. Instead, any robot that could kill should be controlled in some way by a human. Here's my letter:

"In your article on the moral dangers of autonomous, lethally armed robots, Peter Asaro says "most people now feel that it is unacceptable for robots to kill people without human intervention." (18th April, p7). The moral reasoning behind this view is intriguing. How is sending a programmed, armed robot into an area designated as 'enemy occupied' any worse than, say, bombing the area from ten thousand feet? In fact, the level of precision and the amount of human judgement involved in target selection with the robot would be arguably greater."


"There is an even stranger moral angle. Someone who is ordered to go and kill strangers in a war can suffer severe emotional trauma and other mental distress as a result. In the future, there may be societies that decide, on moral grounds, to delegate all killing of the enemy in their wars to fully autonomous robots so as to protect their citizens from such emotional trauma. In that unnerving scenario, the robots wouldn't be seen by those citizens as devils, but heroic guardians."


The second paragraph connects with another topic; how climate change will change our world, both environmentally and politically, in the next century. Read More...

'Supernormal' book review and Influence Idea thoughts

The purpose of this article is to review a book, but I thought I’d chat some more about the Influence Idea and 'Reality is Light' before the review, as they are connected. Just a quick note: The links in the following paragraphs connect to the larger articles I’ve written about these ideas, available elsewhere on this website, so feel free to switch to them if you'd like a fuller explanation.

To start off with, I'll explain the Influence Idea again, briefly. It's surprisingly simple. The Second Law of Thermodynamics states that everything in our physical universe becomes more disordered over time; this is called Entropy, but something strange is going on because Life becomes more ordered over time. Life grows, develops and reproduces, constantly increasing order in the universe. Since Life exists in the universe, and is clearly acting entirely against Entropy, and Entropy governs all physical things in the universe then, logically, Life must be being created and maintained by a non-physical, positive, organising influence originating from outside physical reality.
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Star Wars XVCXIIIVXCVX trailer 2

The second teaser trailer for the new Star Wars film has appeared and it's good! (I still have a hang up or two about the original film, but I love it all the same) Check out the wrecked Star Destroyer! Check out Harrison Ford! and Carrie Fisher's hand! (possibly) and Mark Hammil's mechanical replacement hand! (possibly) and a-stormtrooper-that's-not-a-cardboard-bad-guy! I'm not excited, I'm very excited…

'The New North - the world in 2050' book review

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Climate Change is gathering pace and causing major changes to our planet, heating it up, year after year. This warming isn't uniform - some areas aren't warming at all - but the Arctic is warming the most of all. This change is not only affecting the wildlife and lives of the indigenous people of that area, it is also opening up brand new oil and gas fields that can now be economically exploited. As its permafrost melts - an effect that could release apocalyptic amounts of methane and CO2 as microbes digest the defrosted plant matter - governments, corporations and indigenous communities are frantically making plans to manage the new resources now opening up to access in this remote and relatively inaccessible region of the world.

In 'The New North - the world in 2050', Laurence C. Smith reports on this topic with a wealth of solid evidence and researched information, but in a strangely unfocused way. In places, he approaches the topic from a personal perspective, making it the book a little less dry, but he seems less concerned about the environmental effects of the burst of new mining and oil drilling and more about the economic opportunities. Read More...

Greek myths, stars and the Method of Loci

Just a quick note to say I've added an article exploring a fascinating possibility; that several of the Greek myths were actually Method of Loci stories designed to memorise facts about star systems. Fun! Here's the start of the article:

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Greek myths are fascinating. They’re also very popular. Lots of movies and books are still being created, based on Greek myths. These modern celebrations have kept those myths alive for new generations, which is great, but have you ever read the original text of a Greek myth? They’re terrible to read! Here’s Apollodorus’s version of part of Hercules’ Labours:

“As a tenth labour Hercules was ordered to fetch the kine (cattle) of Geryon from Erythia. Now Erythia was an island near the ocean; it is now called Gadira. This island was inhabited by Geryon, son of Chrysaor by Callirhoe, daughter of Ocean. He had the body of three men grown together and joined in one at the waist, but parted in three from the flanks and thighs. He owned red kine, of which Eurytion was the herdsman and Orthus, the two-headed hound, begotten by Typhon on Echidna, was the watch-dog. So journeying through Europe to fetch the kine of Geryon Hercules destroyed many wild beasts and set foot in Libya, and proceeding to Tartessus he erected as tokens of his journey two pillars over against each other at the boundaries of Europe and Libya.


The above section is actually the interesting bit. The full text of this Labour goes on after this, and on, and on. Hercules pursues errant cattle and defeats various foes, creating an entire second half to the story that is thick with odd names, places and actions. Why was this story written in such a dull way? It’s tempting to say that the Ancient Greeks were dull writers but they weren’t. Many of their writings are fascinating and engaging, so what’s going on here? Read more

My hang-ups with Star Wars: Part 2

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What is Star Wars about? A lot of people would say it's about courage and action and ability and the Force, but maybe that's being a bit too idealistic. I think, in truth, it's about much more basic stuff. I think Star Wars is about cool technology and sex. On that level, its story is as follows:

Sexy woman's in danger. Robots tell young, frustrated man that sexy woman's in danger. Young man travels in cool machine to tell old bloke the news. Old bloke gives young man an impressive weapon and tells him to go for it. Both men then travel to a spaceport and meet an even cooler man who uses his weapon, then they all escape in a really cool spaceship. They reach a super-impressive space station and find the sexy woman. They fire their weapons, rescue the sexy woman, hug her repeatedly, then escape on their cool spaceship from the super-impressive space station. Afterwards, they chat about which of them fancies her.

But it's the finale of the film which is really, really about sex. This might be hard to spot at first glance. The attack on the Death Star by the Rebel Alliance X-Wings seems, on the face of it, to be about a bunch of fighters attacking a space station and destroying it, but in fact, it's a vast, detailed allegory about conception. Here's that climactic scene described in symbolic terms: Read More...

My hang-ups with Star Wars: Part 1

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Yesterday evening, I watched the original Star Wars movie again. It's still brilliant. But this time when I watched it, something happened that had never happened before. I was watching the film and I suddenly thought:

‘What on Earth is an underwater monster doing in a trash compacter on a metal space station??’

I don’t know why I hadn’t thought of this before; I’ve seen the film probably fifty times. But what on Earth is it doing there? Not only that but that space station is pristine. Totally pristine! There aren't even any wastebaskets on it! Where did all that rubbish come from? Also, why is the trash compacter two-foot deep in water? How does that help compacting trash? Read More...

VR primed for the next stage

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The development of VR has been an up-and-down story over the last few decades, but it took an important step forward recently with the creation of the Oculus Rift headset. According to the reports, when a person wears the Oculus Rift headset, they can comfortably 'look around' with the headset without their virtual view becoming a spinning mess of nausea. A lot of commentators are suggesting that this new product heralds the long-awaited era of mainstream use of VR headsets by much of the population for entertainment, education and other related activities.

The New Scientist magazine ran an article last week on this subject entitled 'Virtual reality film revolution puts you in the scene'. The article reports on how several major companies involved in technology and film, such as Sony, are exploring how to use VR to make a new generation of movies and documentaries. The article discusses the benefits, but also the obstacles for VR film-making. I wrote a letter to the New Scientist magazine, suggesting a different use for this new technology, which they've published: Read More...

Clockwork minds

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There’s been a lot of talk in recent months about the potential threat of A.I.; the danger that robots and artificial intelligences could become sentient, accelerate in intelligence and destroy humanity. Elon Musk, Bill Gates and Stephen Hawking have all warned of this threat. Musk is even pledging millions of dollars to study and plan against this outcome. It seems pretty weird that these guys are talking about the threat of A.I. rather than climate change, whose existence is very, very well supported with evidence and which will become highly dangerous to humanity, but there you go.

How real is the threat of rogue A.I.'s? Can one really become sentient, accelerate in intelligence, form its own agenda and take over the world, destroying humanity in the process? Read More...

Light Years book review

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Light is utterly fascinating. Recently, I've developed the sneaking suspicion that reality is just light. Although physicists talk extensively about subatomic particles such as neutrons, protons, neutrinos, muons, electrons etc, as far as I can tell, none of these subatomic particles can be directly detected or observed. All we ever see are light patterns. Although subatomic particles could still exist, their existence is actually only inferred from light phenomena; it is hypothetical. According to the strict rules of science, the existence of subatomic particles should therefore only regarded as an idea, not as a fact, which is a fascinating idea in itself.

Brian Clegg doesn't mention this idea in his book. Instead, he takes the reader on a historical journey, tracking the development of our understanding of light from Ancient Greece all the way to the latest manipulations of light in the laboratory. Read More...

Doomsday Men and Dr Strangelove

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Here's a quick book review of a book I've just finished called 'Doomsday Men' by P.D.Smith. The book is all about the history of atomic research, from Madame Curie onwards, and how it became used to build the ultimate military weapon, the hydrogen bomb and its fictional but apocalyptic dark sibling, the radioactive 'cobalt bomb'.

I enjoyed the book. It was pretty clear from early on (in fact, P.D.Smith admitted as much himself) that the author had been writing a biography of Leo Szilard, an admirable and brilliant Hungarian physicist who had to leave his home in Budapest when Nazism and anti-Semitism emerged in central Europe. He ditched up in London and finally emigrated to the United States. Unlike other brilliant Hungarian physicists who ended up playing a major role in the development of atomic power and the atomic bomb (such as Von Neumann and Edward Teller), Szilard was a compassionate and ethical man. Read More...

Google and Max Planck

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In last week's New Scientist magazine, Hal Hodson wrote an interesting article reporting on Google's project to try and weed out what New Scientist magazine often refers to as 'fruitloopery'. Google's plan is to assess websites' statements for accuracy by comparing them to its own store of knowledge. If that website's 'facts' don't match Google's own official facts, then Google will lower that website's ranking accordingly, so that viewers won't be exposed to spurious information. This sounds great, but there is a problem. Here's the letter I wrote in response:

Hal Hodson reports that Google's software for ranking pages on their trustworthiness will make its judgement by drawing on a store of facts gathered from the internet. Isn't this circular logic? How would the Google system handle a statement such as "glass is a liquid"? On the internet, the notion that glass is a slow-moving liquid, resulting in medieval windows that are thicker at the bottom, seems far more prevalent than the truth – that glass is a solid and medieval glaziers placed the thicker end of blown glass sheets at the bottom. Since nothing on the internet is unanimously agreed, Google's software would have to take the majority consensus. If this happened, there is a good chance that any site dispelling a popular misconception would appear far down the list of search results, making it harder, not easier, for people to learn the truth. Popular fiction would dominate because the software would add it to the Knowledge Vault and use that reference point to downgrade the truth. Intelligent people can make clever software, but no one makes intelligent software.


This project also reminded of the physicist Max Planck's comment about new ideas. He said:

A new scientific truth does not triumph by convincing its opponents and making them see the light, but rather because its opponents eventually die, and a new generation grows up that is familiar with it.

Read More...

SETI and sci-fi expectations

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The New Scientist magazine's letters page this week includes some more discussions about SETI and alien contact. This topic was discussed a while back and I wrote in about it, but there's always something new to add. This week's discussion includes my response to an earlier letter on the subject of the Search for Extra-Terrestrial Intelligences:

In your letters page (21st Feb 2015) John Bailey concludes that since we haven’t been bombarded with self-replicating alien robots or seen huge heat signatures in space, there probably aren’t any advanced civilisations in our galaxy. He seems to think that advanced races will have a ‘more is better’ philosophy, but climate change is showing us that a ‘less is better’ philosophy is the only intelligent long-term strategy. If this is correct, then the more advanced a race is in the galaxy, the less visible they’ll be. It’s the quiet ones that are clever, not the shouters.


John Bailey's expectation that advanced alien civilisations will be huge, star-spanning confederations with big, powerful ships and zillions of self-replicating robots is, I think, because of how they're currently depicted in mainstream fiction. We pick whatever seems cutting-edge and exciting at the moment - nano-technology, robotics, ion-drives - and multiply them by a thousand or a thousand million and, voila, that's your advanced alien civilisation. A century-or-so ago, H.G.Wells came up with the idea of Cavorite, a substance that could negate gravity. Using this discovery, two Englishmen travelled to the moon. From a scientific point of view, Cavorite is just as believable as a warp drive or a hyperdrive but it's now seen as quaint, silly and unscientific. I'd bet that self-replicating robots will be seen as just as daft in a century's time.
Read More...

Wind power is flying high

This week, my post about the Climate Change march on the 7th March started positive and then fell apart into a morass of despairing futility. Sorry! To make amends, here's a really positive article about the progress of renewable power generation.

For a long time now, wind power has been criticised as being an eyesore and an inefficient and hopeless method of power generation, but these criticisms are fast looking ridiculous. For example, wind power is Denmark is so successful that it is meeting their entire energy needs during periods of the year! They constantly monitor and display the output in the country and the net difference between energy produced and energy consumed (source: energinet.dk):

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Read More...

Climate Change March - London 7th March

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Next Sunday on the 7th March, there will be another climate change march in London. I really enjoyed going to the last Climate Change march in London. It took place in September 2014 and it was attended by 40,000 people. That sounds a lot but then again, more people go to watch Arsenal play every weekend, so it's not that amazing. To be honest, it's a minuscule number when the subject of the march was stopping something that is going to transform our entire planet for the next thousand years or more into a state of existence that will support only a small fraction of our current population. If we don't do something major soon, children being born today will spend the latter part of their lives on a planet that is a cauldron of extreme weather, famine, war and pestilence. The four horseman often ride together and they will definitely be riding around our globe before the century is out if nothing major is done to halt climate change.
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If anyone is interested in a careful thorough study of what climate is going to do to our planet in the next century-or-so, both politically, geographically and environmentally, I recommend the book 'Climate Wars' by Gwynne Dyer. The book is readable, thorough and quite scary.

It's tempting to say that the worsening of the climate in recent decades has been less than expected and this indicates that perhaps the predictions are excessive and hysterical. Unfortunately, there's a very simply reason why they've been relatively mild; our oceans have been soaking up a lot of the CO2 we've been producing. According to recent measurements, they can't soak up much more, so in the next few decades, warming effects will be far worse than we've experienced up to now. If we collectively make a big effort only when we experience those effects, it will be too late. Tipping points will have already been passed (sea ice melt decreasing reflective albedo of arctic, permafrost melting causing methane release) that will produce more warming in a vicious cycle that we will not be able to stop.

In all honesty, I think climate change cannot be stopped. Fossil fuels have become the backbone of global civilisation, we have thirty-five time as many people as were living at the time of Christ and the majority of people on this planet are not change their lifestyles one iota to reduce their carbon footprint. Perhaps the best way to approach this tragic scenario is as individuals. If we individually decide to cut back our carbon footprint, by avoiding cruises and flights around the world (if possible), by having less children (a major carbon footprint decision!), buying gadgets second-hand, lowering the heating of our homes, cycling and walking more, living closer to work (if possible), sharing houses with others (if possible), repairing our clothes rather than buying new ones, then at least we'll feel at the end of our days that we personally made an effort and have nothing about which to feel ashamed. That's my hope.

Computing power and bitcoins

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It's March! Hooray! The British winter is coming to an end. This week, I have another letter in the New Scientist Magazine. This week's letter refers to a New Scientist article about a business venture that hopes to persuade home-owners to buy computer processing servers to both heat their homes and make money as freelance number crunchers, as described in this article.

"The plan to sell home data centres to customers as heat sources sounds innovative, but seems to be missing some key financial points (7th February, pg20). Each customer will need to seek the extra computing power online. The cost of a high-bandwidth connection to the internet and an intermediary to handle the processing tasks is not mentioned. More importantly, the article doesn't mention Moore's law, which states that computing power doubles every two years [Although this law isn't as straightforward nowadays with processor speed limits, it is still roughly true]. This means that the expensive kit a Project Exergy customer buys will roughly halve in value every two years. Also, companies buying the processing power will invariably switch to newer users with newer and faster kit. Early Exergy adopters will be abandoned, leaving them with nothing more than [wildly] expensive electric heaters."


As can be seen from my letter, I wasn't impressed with the strategy of Project Exergy described in the article, but I think their sentiment is positive. As the article states, 'it takes the energy from 34 coal power plants to sustain all digital activities in the US every year'. That's an awful lot of CO2 and innovative ways to reduce this consumption are most welcome, but I think their current strategy isn't the answer.

How about this for an alternative approach? Instead of each household installing servers that remote companies can use for processing tasks, why not set up the servers to mine bitcoins?
Bitcoins are created by running an algorithm to solve a mathematical equation for certain values. In other words, processing time is converted into units of digital currency. If households set up their Exergy servers to do this work, they would not need to encourage remote clients to use their machines and they would therefore not need an intermediary. They would also not need to transmit lots of data and would therefore not need a fat pipe to the internet. In addition, their servers would still be able to grind out bitcoins as the years went by, just at a relatively slower rate. These households would therefore not get 'dumped' by processor clients switching to new customers.

It's still not ideal, but it's hard to think of any currency accumulation that isn't energy intensive. Gold is inert and non-toxic, but it takes a lot of effort and power to get it out of the ground and refine it. Also, its mining processes are hideously bad on the environment. Much of the wealth of the modern world is effectively petroleum turned into money, which isn't much good either. By comparison, generating bitcoins while heating your home doesn't seem too irresponsible. If I can, I'll suggest the idea to the Project Exergy people.

Apart from all that, I'm still immersed in writing a science-fiction comedy novel. I'll try and knock out an article on something interesting soon, when there's a natural gap in the writing. Until then, if you're in the Northern Hemisphere, I hope you're enjoying the longer, sunnier days! :-)


SETI, the 'Wow' signal and the film 'Contact'

Just a quick note to say that another of my letters has appeared in the New Scientist magazine. This one is all about the 'Wow!' signal; the interstellar signal picked up by a U.S. radio telescope in the 1970's. The 'Wow!' signal is probably the most important result so far in the Search for Extra-Terrestrial Intelligence (SETI). Here's my letter:

In your article on a new strategy for those involved in the search for extra-terrestrial intelligence (SETI), David Messerschmitt says that alien civilisations would logically choose to send short, wide-band radio signals rather than prolonged narrow-band ones, to improve both energy efficiency and bandwidth (31st January, p17). Yet probably the most important signal so far detected by SETI is the narrow-band 'Wow!' signal, picked up in 1977. It came from the direction of Sagittarius and was almost exactly on the hydrogen line, a frequency many thought would be ideal for interstellar transmission. Should we tell the alien civilisation in Sagittarius that they're being a bit primitive?


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Reading the letter again, it reminds me of the film 'Contact', starring Jodie Foster, based on the book by Carl Sagan. 'Contact' is a great movie, not only as a story but as a scientifically valid idea. In the film, Foster's character is an astronomer obsessed with finding evidence of transmissions from alien civilisations. She has to fight tooth and nail for funding. She is on the point of giving up when she is given a grant by a mysterious billionaire. She continues her work. One day, her team picks up a signal. It is a narrow-band signal, just like the 'Wow!' signal and it contains detailed information on how to build a device with which to make contact with the aliens who sent the message.

The U.S. government builds the machine described in the blueprints. Eventually, Jodie Foster's character gets to travel in the machine. I won't reveal any more to avoid spoiling it for anyone who hasn't seen it, but the way the story unfolds and is finally resolved is both clever and intelligent.

There is a terrible irony if we compare 'Contact' with the 'Wow!' signal. If we had received the 'Wow!' signal today, rather than in 1977, we'd have the technology to record it in detail and analyse it, just as Foster's team did with the signal they received in the film. It's perfectly possible that the 'Wow!' signal was an extremely detailed signal, just like the film. Unfortunately, the technology available at the time could only record a few alphanumeric values, so we'll never know. Argh! How frustrating!

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There is also a funny side to the story of the 'Wow' signal. To quote the Wikipedia article:

In 2012, on the 35th anniversary of the Wow! signal, Arecibo Observatory beamed a response from humanity, containing 10,000 Twitter messages, in the direction from which the signal originated.


To think, we might have had better kit and found the 'Wow!' message to be full of data. We'd have decoded it, delirious with excitement at the prospect of receiving messages from an interstellar civilisation, and read ten thousand alien social networking messages! CHECK OUT HER TENTACLES! OMG! LOL! :-)

Compare and contrast

It's back to the graphic novel work today. I'm redrawing a few pages before I submit the first sample chapter of 'the great secret' to a publisher. Here's today's re-drawn page. I'm pleased how fast I can produce the work nowadays. It's exciting to find that it isn't just the quality of the work that improves when you put in the practice but also the speed at which you can produce the work.

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This might a good moment to compare and contrast the new version with the old one. Here's my original version of the page, drawn in 2013:

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I remember being very pleased with it. I felt I'd gone up a level. Now, eighteen months later, I'm trying to work why I honestly thought it was good. I seem to have drawn a child's toy tugboat and tried to pass it off as an ocean-going passenger liner. Also, the buildings on the right seem to be made out of Lego and half the passengers have clothing made from plasticene. The logo and the left-hand crate aren't bad, but that's about it. Ow!

There's definitely an embarrassing side to making progress as a writer or illustrator. In the early stages, you think you're doing great work and you can't understand why you're not being picked up for publication. 'What's wrong with those publishers, why aren't they interested!?' A year-or-so later, after several hundred more hours of practice, you look at the same work again and the reason is painfully clear. D'oh!

Reality is Light

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I've popped a new article in the 'Strange Science' section called 'Reality is Light'. This article puts forward the interesting idea that reality is nothing more than a changing pattern of electromagnetic radiation. If this is true, then subatomic particles and their accompanying forces are not real, but are simply useful ideas for predicting how this pattern of light changes.

The article then discusses another interesting possibility, that gravity is not a force as such, but instead is a hidden property of light that causes all light paths to reduce in scale over time. I've talked about bats in caves to help communicate this idea, but I haven't drawn any illustrations, so it is a bit dry.

The last part of the article puts forward another idea, that if gravity is the scalar reduction over time of the light pattern that is reality, then the assumption that gravitational mass and inertial mass (known as the Equivalence Principle) may not true for stars, due to their role as massive light creators.

There's a very good chance that my article is tosh, but it's still fun to speculate! ;-)

The Great Pyramid and 2787 BC

For the last few years, I've been working on an ancient mystery story. Its first incarnation was a non-fiction book called 'The Golden Web' but after some feedback, I realised that early version was too dense and convoluted to appeal to many readers. Instead, I've been creating a graphic novel about the same subject using the same researched material, evidence and ideas. This graphic novel is currently entitled 'The Great Secret'. It isn't yet complete. When I do complete it, I'll be looking for a publisher. I'll post any news of that progress when it occurs.

As part of spreading awareness of the graphic novel and the ideas contained within it, I've posted an article on this website about a key piece of evidence that I unearthed while researching the story. As the title of this blog entry indicates, the key piece of evidence concerns the Great Pyramid and the year 2787 BC, when a crucial celestial event occurred. For a full explanation, do please read the article.


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Evolution and tailored alien viruses

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Just a quick note to say that my article 'Evolution and tailored alien viruses' is now available on the website here. This article is in the first issue of Visiting Alien magazine but as that magazine is now on hold, I thought I'd put it on the website for easy access.

The article puts forward a strange but perfectly possible idea; that evolution on Earth has not entirely been guided by random mutation, as Charles Darwin explained in his theory of evolution by natural selection. Recent studies in microbiology and genetics indicate that our genome, our DNA library, is chock-full of old virus code. Viruses work by infiltrating the DNA machinery of cells and they can insert their instructions into cell's DNA. There is scientific evidence now that the very basic features of multicellular life have come about not by random mutation but through the action of foreign viruses.

My article puts forward the possibility that evolution on Earth may have been guided and accelerated by tailored viruses sent here from planets orbiting other stars. For more info, check out the article.

Chloë's Quantum Quest

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Greetings! It's cold here in Blighty but it's beautiful in the sunshine.

The beginning of February is only a week away. I was planning to bring out the second issue of 'Visiting Alien' magazine. Unfortunately, there haven't been enough downloads to justify putting out another issue at the moment; but that's okay, as putting the magazine together and working on its contents has already reaped creative dividends.

While assembling chapter 2 of 'Chloë solves the Universe', I delved a little deeper into the history of the Neumann-Wigner hypothesis. This is the idea, put forward by two brilliant scientists, that our minds must be outside of the physical system and influencing it, in order for ghostly quantum superpositions to turn into real objects like photons and electrons. I discovered that this viewpoint wasn't just the view of two mavericks. It was actually fully or partly supported by a host of famous quantum physicists, astrophysicists and mathematicians. Wolfgang Pauli, John Von Neumann, Max Planck, Arthur Eddington, Erwin Schrödinger, Eugene Wigner and Werner Heisenberg were all of the view that materialism was no longer valid. Quantum physics had effectively killed that belief. Instead, they concluded that reality had to be dependent on the mind, either being a creation of the mind or a separate construction to the mind that the mind actively influenced. They debated about this matter for decades. Like any long-running debate, the views of those involved shifted but for many of them, the mind-first idea became more valid over time, rather than less.

I think it's very surprising that this important debate has never been written about in a popular science book (as far as I know). That may be because popular science books are usually written by senior scientists who are still active in science. The problem with this approach is that it may lend weight to the scientist's views but nowadays, any scientist who espouses a view that isn't materialist is endangering his or her scientific career, whether or not the evidence supports such a view. In recent decades, many senior scientists, doctors, biochemists and neurologists have produced evidence strongly indicating that the materialist view is wrong but in most instances, they've been careful not to make any statements but simply present the evidence. This is a shame, and it's not scientific, but there you go. Eugene Wigner, who won a Nobel Prize in 1963, wrote of this problem in his article 'remarks on the mind-body question':

"In the words of Neils Bohr, 'the word consciousness, applied to ourselves as well as others, is indispensable when dealing with the human situation'. In view of all this, one may well wonder how materialism, the doctrine that 'life could only be explained by sophisticated combinations of physical and chemical laws' could so long be accepted by the majority of scientists. The reason is probably that it is an emotional necessity to exalt the problem to which one wants to devote a lifetime. If one admitted anything like the statement that the laws we study in physics and chemistry are limiting laws, similar to the laws of mechanics which exclude the consideration of electrical phenomena, or the laws of macroscopic physics which exclude the consideration of 'atoms', we could not devote ourselves to our study as wholeheartedly as we have in order to recognise any new regularity in nature. The regularity which we are trying to track down must appear the all-important regularity, if we are to pursue it with sufficient devotion to be successful."


I'm therefore rewriting 'Chloë solves the Universe' as 'Chloë's Quantum Quest'. Its central focus will be this historical debate between these Nobel Prize-winning physicists. Chloë will find out about quantum physics and then hear of the Big Argument between the physicists about the nature of reality. When she hears that the mind-first view has been abandoned by modern physicists, she is indignant and decides to do something about it.

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That'll be my job for the next couple of months. Roll on Spring!

SLS, mouth ulcers and the scientific method

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Science isn't just something done by clever people in lab coats. The wonderful thing about the scientific method is that it can be done anywhere and by doing it, you can find out if something is really true. You don't have to believe hearsay or nod dumbly when the Big Wig tells you and everyone else what is true and what isn't true because That's What's Been Written. Instead, you can go away and find it out for yourself.

Another great thing about the scientific method is that it is relatively straightforward. Someone starts by having an idea about how an aspect of the world works. This is a person's possible theory or hypothesis (which literally means 'scene running beneath'). It is often the case that this hypothesis will fly in the face of the accepted theory. The person's hypothesis will often include assumptions about how the world works, which are its axioms. To find out if the hypothesis is true, a person will conduct several experiments. He or she designs these experiments to show, through physical events, whether or not the hypothesis is correct. Depending on the results, the person may conduct further experiments to make sure that the physical evidence he or she has gathered is proof that the hypothesis is correct and that there wasn't just a lucky coincidence, which would indicate a possible false correlation. Once false correlations are ruled out by isolating key elements, the hypothesis can be regarded as fact.

I carried out this process recently with a very mundane problem. I kept getting mouth ulcers. Mouth ulcers aren't fun. They're not life-threatening but they can be a real pain. On a regular basis, I'd been getting them since I was eight, or possibly earlier. About ten years ago, after a particularly bad infestation, I chatted about the problem to a colleague. He said with assured confidence that it was because I was eating acidic foods like tomatoes. I nodded in appreciation at this insight but later on, I thought 'my mouth should be perfectly able to eat tomatoes. Evolution would have weeded out such a simple problem'. But without any anything else to go on, I couldn't come up with a different hypothesis.

That is until last year, when I was chatting to friend. She remarked that she bought SLS-free soap for her young son because he'd had eczema problems since he was a baby. That got me thinking. 'My mouth ulcers are a skin problem of a kind. Could they be the result of my mouth being sensitive to SLS?' That idea became my hypothesis.

My next step was to investigate SLS. Sodium Lauryl Sulphate (or Laureth Sulphate or SLES if it's the 'ethyl' version) is a foaming agent. If you add a small amount of SLS to a product it makes the product foam up in an attractive manner as soon as you add water. Because of this, SLS is added to soaps, washing-up liquids and toothpaste, among others. It's in a lot of products. I noticed that it was in toothpaste. I checked my popular brand toothpaste; yep, it was an ingredient. My hypothesis that SLS was giving me mouth ulcers was still possible.

My next step was to perform an experiment; I stopped using my SLS toothpaste. I looked for an alternative brand, free of that ingredient. After a bit of effort, I found one in the local health food shop. I began using that toothpaste exclusively. After several weeks, I realised that I had not had a single mouth ulcer. It looked as if I had proved my hypothesis.

But then I thought: 'perhaps there is another ingredient in the toothpaste I was using previously that is really the cause of my mouth ulcers?' If that was true, then I would have had a false correlation. To test this possibility, I put some soap, containing SLS, on my fingers and then rubbed my fingers around the inside of my mouth. This way, I was isolating SLS from the other toothpaste ingredients. Twenty-four hours later, I had two painful, sensitive mouth ulcers. This experiment gave me the confidence to decide that SLS was the culprit. [There was still the possibility that some other ingredient was the actual culprit but I wasn't going to buy a hundred products and deliberately give myself mouth ulcers for two months. No way!]

Flushed with success (but not inflamed), I wondered about another skin problem I've had most of my life; clammy hands. Did SLS cause that too? That was a trickier challenge because we generally touch more chemical products with our hands than we put inside our mouths. To test this hypothesis, I had to get rid of SLS soaps (which includes pretty much all liquid soaps) and SLS washing up liquids, since I hand-washed my dishes. Eventually, I found an SLS free washing-up liquid made by 'earth friendly products'. Three weeks after switching to those products, I found that in my home at least, my hands were dry as a bone with almost no outbreaks of clamminess.

One day soon after, I popped around to chat to a neighbour. He handed me a mug for my tea, fresh from his kitchen draining-board and as I grasped it, my right hand broke out in a sweat. It was that fast! Not only that, but there couldn't have been much more than a tiny residue of SLS on the mug. Such a large reaction to such a small residue seems to indicate that my hands are hyper-sensitive to the chemical in a similar way to someone with an acute allergy. It was a fascinating reminder of how fast my hands would become clammy again if I let cheaper, SLS-based products back into my daily life.

Since that time, my mouth has been completely ulcer-free and my hands have been almost entirely bone-dry at home. Success!

p.s. If you've found this article interesting, you might want to read my article about Mono-Amine Oxidase, Preserved Meat and a child's Problem Behaviour.

Winter popular science books

Up here in the upper part of the Northern Hemisphere, we're into the depths of January where it gets dark and cold and Christmas has become a vague memory. To help everyone get through the long evenings before Spring, here's a review of some popular science books I've read recently.

waking-the-giant-book
First up is Waking the Giant by Bill McGuire. Bill is a very experienced scientist working in the field of geophysics, vulcanism and other related stuff. In the book, he explains that when our planet's climate changes, it generally doesn't do it in a smooth manner. It is far more likely, almost inevitable, that the changing conditions will trigger a major event which will then trigger other related major events. For example, if a glacier warms and melts, a large lake can form in the middle of the glacier. Eventually, this huge body of water is being held back by a wall of ice. When this wall breaks, the vast amount of water can catastrophically flood an area. This, for example, occurred towards the end of the last ice age forming the Minnesota Scablands. As McGuire points out in his book, this huge shift in weight on the Earth can cause the crust to rise up. This can cause major earthquakes, which in turn give rise to eruptions, as the pressure on subterranean magma chambers is lessened by the shifts in water and cracks are created by the earthquakes, giving the magma access to the surface. These subsequent eruptions release ash and gases into the atmosphere, which alter the climate, triggering other climactic events. McGuire makes it clear that Earth's recent physical history is not a steady change but instead, is one of calm periods punctuated by episodes of mayhem. McGuire ends the book with a warning; that climate change we're experiencing will have a similar affect and we need to prepare for what it will bring.

secret-anarchy-book
I really enjoyed Michael Brooks' '13 Things that don't make sense'. It's still one of my favourite popular science books. Brooks follows that success with this new book about what goes on behind the scenes in science; what the scientists really get up to and how they behave with each other. The world of scientific research is often depicted as one populated by shy, low key, grey-haired men working away diligently and carefully discussing and analysing each other's work and I have personally met scientists in that mould but, to be honest, they're in a minority. In my experience, scientists nowadays are invariably bright, alert, pragmatic, borderline-obsessive men and women who love what they do and put their heart and soul into it. They're also a very emotional bunch with strong opinions, friends and in many instances, bitter enemies (which makes them pretty much like any other workplace). Brooks' book entertainingly tells stories that reinforce this view, stories of heroes and heroines, of sexism, lying, fabrication, courage, idealism, ego and luck. It's lots of fun and I heartily recommend it.

experiment-11-book
In a similar vein to Brooks' 'The Secret Anarchy of Science' is Peter Pringle's 'Experiment Eleven'. This is the story of the discovery of Streptomycin, an extremely important antibiotic that brought fame, wealth, high scientific standing and a Nobel Prize to one man. Unfortunately, as the book explains, he wasn't the one who discovered Streptomycin. The man who discovered it gained only pain, heartbreak, betrayal and penury as a result of his find. 'Experiment Eleven' is a story of how the lure of money and scientific fame propelled a man to lie about his role in an important discovery and conduct a base feud against the man who did discover the crucial agent that saved so many lives in the latter half of the twentieth century. As it says on the cover, the New Scientist magazine thought it was a 'riveting and heartbreaking book'. It is an engrossing and heart-rending story and I'm glad I read it.

why-does-e=mc2-book
Last up in my winter list is 'Why does E=Mc2' by Brian Cox and Jeff Forshaw. I'm a bit confused as to why there's two authors to this book. It seemed when I read it that the whole text was written by one man. Then again, I didn't notice much of a change of style when I read 'Good Omens' by Neil Gaiman and Terry Pratchett, so perhaps I'm just rubbish at spotting who writes what. Anyway, 'Why does E=Mc2' is a good book. It's the most technical of all the books reviewed here and it does require a good understanding of physics and mathematics. That approach does make the book a drier read than, say, Michael Brooks' books, but that's not a criticism as it means the reader is introduced to some fascinating concepts relating to Relativity. For readers who prefer fun science, I'd say choose something else. For a reader who wants to learn a bit more about Relativity than is usually found in popular science books, I'd say definitely give it a go.