Wednesday, September 16, 2009

Poem: Moonlight Sonata

'Moonlight Sonata'
by Iain McMahon


floating, bobbing, tumbling
down rivers of time

a chime,
a call,
a heartbeat

crystal raindrops dancing
fat tears of joy mingling

a lullaby
laying us to rest

a new dawn
welcoming a new day


*Written for Beethoven's 'Moonlight Sonata', Part I.
(Beethoven's Piano Sonata No. 14, Opus 27 No. 2 in C sharp minor, Part I, Adagio sostenuto - attaca

Monday, September 14, 2009

Haiku: On Bob Wright

Haiku: On Bob Wright

I opened your book

but stopped at the sentence that

you started with “And...”

Sunday, September 13, 2009

Bearing false witness

In most everyday life, people tend to imagine that a person showing high confidence in a testimony is predictive of high accuracy.

The average juror will believe that high confidence entails high accuracy in a witness' claim.

Research shows us, however that this is not correct. In their journal article, Cognitive Science and the Law, Geoff Loftus and Thomas Busey write that “contrary to common sense, a confident witness need not be an accurate witness.”
In fact, rather than being unsure about an older, correct memory, a person might be more confident of making the wrong claim by constructing a new and FALSE memory out of bits and pieces of other memories or new sense data. How far this can go depends on false memory aids (like photoshopped pictures), biases towards wanting the false memory to be true, and any incorrect 'suggestions' offered by others towards the veracity of the false memory.
I guess the take home message is that just because your friend sounds really passionate and convincing about something that they remember, it doesn't automatically make it true.

How might this affect witness claims in courts of law?

How might this affect memories of childhood (the good or the bad)?

If those don't tickle your fancy, how might this affect claims by witnesses of supernatural events?

Saturday, September 12, 2009

Disease has never been more fun!

Disease has never been more fun!

An ingenious artist, Luke Jerram, has been making glass sculptures of microbiology for his Glass Microbiology project.

[Pictured: A glass sculpture of HIV.]

There is a whole range of diseases, such as smallpox, HIV, swine flu, and more. They're well worth checking out!

The glass sculptures raise one interesting issue: colour. As Jerram points out, pseudocolouring is very common in biomedicine. I watched a TED Talks episode this morning about the same topic. Medical illustrator/animator David Bolinsky takes his audience on a graphically rendered journey into a human cell.

[Picture: Bolinsky's amazing pictures show our cell to
be like a thriving metropolis of molecular machinery.]

Bolinsky's job is to not just make astounding pictures but also animations of the inner workings of our biology.

[Picture: A Kinesin - the FedEx delivery guys of our cells - literally
walking a sack full of fresh, new proteins along a microtubule cable.]

(Hat tip to Carl Zimmer at Loom for the glass microbiology)

Friday, September 11, 2009

Meme: Courage Wolf

Here's a wicked internet meme called "Courage Wolf."

It's basically an insanely peppy meme, totally positive (essentially), and is a spin-off from the Advice Dog.

While the Advice Dog provides sometimes bad advice, Courage Wolf exhorts the reader to grab life by the cahones and pretty much go hard. You can't read a page of Courage Wolf without feeling pretty freakin' awesome.

Here are some of my own attempts:

Feeling like a Courage Wolf yet?

Thursday, September 10, 2009

Humour: Solving the Mind-Body Problem

New book: The Greatest Show on Earth

Sorry Franky, it looks like Richard is taking pride of place on my bedside book table for now.

I was perusing the University bookshop and, lo, what did I see? Just as I was leaving, I happened to look up and to my right while passing the nature section and my eyes beheld the glory of Richard Dawkins' The Greatest Show on Earth - the evidence for evolution.


I have be eagerly awaiting this book since I first heard about it through the intert00bz. Also, I knew that it was out in the U.K. and had been lamenting the chances of getting my hands on it any time soon for any reasonable price. Yet there it was!

And now it is miiiine.

[Edit:] the following is a video with Richard explaining his new book:

Saturday, September 05, 2009

Graduating: the rare exception?

I found a government site that provided education statistics on those who have studied and graduated from a tertiary institution over a particular 5 year period.

The site provided a breakdown of the total number of graduates each year as well as the graph below which is a breakdown by % of those who completed their qualification in those 5 years.

I excluded statistics on Certifications of levels 1 through 6 because I was mostly concerned with Bachelors and higher.

I don't know about you, but I find the low rates of graduation slightly shocking. Only Honours and Masters students have a total chance of graduation greater than 50%. Scary. I guess I fail to truly consider the number of students who either burn out or don't manage their course. I spent some time as a computer science drop out so I entirely sympathise.

I should point out that apparently the ungraduated Doctoral students (70% - eep!) were the group most likely to still carry on beyond the 5 year period measured to complete their qualification.

If the site at the top doesn't tickle your fancy with its namby-pamby easy to understand graphs, you can always see the data in harder-to-read raw numbers here.

Tuesday, September 01, 2009

Expelled: Christ in the Classroom?

I've watched the beginning of Ben Stein's movie, Expelled: No Intelligence Allowed.
I plan to finish the rest very soon and I'll give you my thoughts on it then.

Here's an interesting little quote from an interview with Bruce Chapman of the Discovery Institute.

Ben Stein: "When you go around and raise funds, your people are not saying to them, 'By the way we're gonna get all these scientists out of the classroom and put Christ back in the classroom.'"

Bruce Chapman: "Well, I don't know that Christ has ever been in the science classroom. This is not a religious argument, this is something that people- ... we have fellows who are Jewish or Agnostic or various other things. There are Moslem (sic) scientists, there are people of all kinds of backgrounds who agree that Darwin's theory has failed and so why would you bring religion into it? You don't need religion. This is a red herring, Ben. People who don't have an argument are reduced to throwing sand in your eyes."

I question his assertion that it isn't a religious issue. I would be very surprised if (1) the financial supporters of the Discovery Institute weren't religious themselves, and (2) if any freethinker scientists were active members of the Institute and their policies. In his attempt to demonstrate the diversity of their constituents, he reinforced that it was mostly people of religion who are involved (and yes, I notice he mentioned agnostics).

Secondly, I'm not sure what part of Darwin's theory is supposed to have failed. Surely he doesn't mean evolution, when Darwin's contribution was towards the mechanism of evolution, namely evolution by natural selection.
I would be quite surprised if they could provide much of a list of top scientists in relevant fields such as evolutionary molecular biology or zoology who felt that "Darwin's theory has failed". The debates that exist in scientific literature today are about fine details within the theory, not broad facts that the Discovery Institute would hope for.

Beat poem: 'Storm' by Tim Minchin

Tim Minchin is brilliant. I highly recommend you check out his songs. He's a rock n' roll nerd comic pianist. He's VERY talented on the piano, as well as being a darkly humourous songwriter, lyricist, and poet.

The above video isn't taken from Tim's official YouTube channel, but I did that because this version has subtitles.