davegodfrey: Coelacanth (Science)
Readers may have noticed that I have a bit of a thing for science communication. When its done well its beautiful to watch. Some scientists have a real flair for presentation (admittedly some don't- being an educator is hard.) But I haven't met a scientist yet who hasn't enjoyed talking to people about the research they do and why they do it.

Its one of the reasons I love UCL's "Lunch Hour Lectures" series (available on YouTube), the NHM's "Nature Live" programme of short talks,(which sadly aren't made available on the web these days), and the RI Christmas Lectures for the younger viewers.

The Vega Science Trust has put a whole load of science videos up on the web. There's lectures from the RI by Jocelyn Bell-Burnell, about how weird pulsars are (complete with the sort of demonstrations I recall from the RI Christmas Lectures of my youth), Richard Feynmann giving the Douglas Robb Lectures at the University of Auckland, and interviews with all sorts of Nobel Laureates and other scientists.

TV? Who needs one.
davegodfrey: Marvin: ...and me with a terrible pain in all the diodes down my left hand side... (Marvin)
Heartily sick of that sidebar with all those sponsored ads that even AdBlock won't get rid of? I think I've found a solution.

A Greasemonkey script called "Remove Facebook Right Column". Which does exactly what it says on the tin. Gets rid of the "people you might know" section, which, frankly I never used as it cluttered up the screen with people I didn't actually know at all.

And at the same time I found "Facebook Fixed Header" and "Older posts bar always on bottom" which together do something you'd have though FB would have put in from the start wouldn't you? After all if you're at the bottom of the timeline chances are you might want to extend it, rather than hovering about trying to get the thing to pop up. And why have a header with a search bar, and all the other tools disappear off the top that can be so far up?

LJ does this too. Why? Surely we've moved past the days when frames in websites were loathed so universally?
davegodfrey: Cyberman: The Future is Shiny (Shiny)
Given that there's a new one, and the price of the old one has dropped a bit on the second hand market I've decided to get a used Canon EOS 5D. Its a full-frame camera, so all my lenses do what they did on the old EOS-1 film body I have, rather than having a 1.6 crop as on the cheaper bodies. Also it won't be killed by the voltages from the flash kit I own too. It'll only work manually, but given the instant feedback that digital gives you that's not something I'm too unhappy about. I'll probably look out for a dedicated flashgun eventually, (and it looks like some of the modern flashguns will still work on a T90, which is a real bonus) but for now its all good, as they say.

I also finally found a hotshoe adaptor so I can use the long flash cable I have. Which is very useful, as you can see...

Now the only thing I need to look out for is one of these, an EOS to FD adaptor, without glass, so I can use bellows and fancy close-up lenses. Knowing there and then if the lighting or focussing are right is really helpful. Much as I'd love one, I just can't afford the MP-E65.

So am I abandoning film? Hell no. I'll still use it for lots of things- especially situations where I know what I'm doing with regards to lighting, etc. Plus I love the feel of the old cameras. I think the F-1 might see rather more use compared to the T90 now. With digital I shoot more, but think less. Which doesn't necessarily make for better photographs. With film I pay much more attention to what I'm seeing in the viewfinder.

But when it comes to experimentation? Digital is much more convenient.
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davegodfrey: South Park Me. (Default)
Steam Trek - The Moving Picture

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davegodfrey: South Park Me. (Default)
Day 23 - A YouTube Video

Egosofts X-Series games are probably my favourite games out there right now. They're the closest anyone's come to Elite with modern graphics. And best of all, while it isn't open source by any means there is a very active mod community- fan-made scripts are regularly incorporated into offical bonus packs, and after one game got a particularly detailed and expansive mod they hired some of the people who produced one mod to work on the next game they made. A little while ago there was a competition to make videos using the game.

Yep. Space trading games that cost £20 can now be used to make films that look better (and are often better plotted, written and acted) than things in Doctor Who, Babylon 5, and plenty of other SciFi. My god this truly is The Future.


Jun. 25th, 2010 04:46 pm
davegodfrey: Hello Cthulhu! (Cthulhu!)
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DC appear to have given up on making films about their big name characters, and just going for things that look fun. And why not, I can't work out what not to like about Helen Mirren with a big gun.
davegodfrey: Cyberman: The Future is Shiny (Shiny)
I am perhaps something of a luddite when it comes to technology. I still shoot film. With cameras 20 years old. My phone is a Nokia 3310. I listen to a Discman on the way in to work. (It plays MP3 CDs I'm not that far behind the times).

So I am, as you might expect, not excited by the iPad. And the first things I read confirmed my suspicions. It probably isn't for me. And I couldn't really see why anyone else would want one. You can't make calls, so its not as useful as a phone. No videoconferencing, no quick snapshots. So you won't leave the iPhone at home anyway. And virtually everything a laptop does, it does worse. You need an adapter to give you a USB port. And then it describes itself as being a "camera connector kit" Does that mean I can print from it? Or connect a scanner? I doubt it. Nothing other than proprietory software sounds bad to me. I've never used iPhoto. How does it compare with Photoshop CS2? Even if iits good, for anything other than basic tweaking I'd want to be able to use an external mouse or graphics tablet- its got bluetooth, so hopefully that's doable- but by the time you start adding these peripherals you're getting back into laptop territory.

There's certainly no support for Flash, so the only way to view embedded content would be with a trillion and one applicatons. Which seems crazy. I care nothing for a camera in something like that, but clearly several people do. It does however have support for all the iPhone/iPod apps. Which is very nice and gives you a massive ready-made suite of programs, like light-sabres, virtual beer glasses, and things that are actually useful like a word-processor. Tablets as a whole might have a wonderful variety of industrial applications, but I don't think the iPad will be exploiting them just yet. (Its only 2010 after all).

But then I read a bit more. And I can see how even I might get a use out of it. I do not own a laptop. I honestly haven't seen the point. Most of my computer use is either surfing the net, listening to music, watching videos (I recently sent the TV back home as I haven't turned it on in months), and playing music. All of this the iPad will do perfectly well. With one small exception. It does not multitask, other than, presumably allowing you to play music and do one other thing. I think I might be spoiled by Firefox here, as I've lost count of the add-ons I could install to control other software, check websites and suchlike without even switching tabs.

However the other thing I use my computer for that the iPad is photo manipulation. There is no way an iPad will replace my set up (extra monitor, scanners, graphics tablet, printer, card readers, etc). Once I've plugged all that in there is absolutely no value in me having a laptop, either, as I'm tied to the desk anyway. Better to have something with a big screen and a keyboard I can actually write on than something small and cramped. But as I say. This isn't what I do most of the time. I can see it being extremely useful to be able to throw something nice and light in the suitcase, and keep myself entertained in the evenings. No more working out which books to take with me- its an ebook reader, I'll have a small library thank-you. I can have a variety of films, and most of my music collection. That should keep me occupied through a wet weekend in Wales when the rain's horizontal, and you really don't want to leave the caravan (Yes I've been on holidays like that).

Except the memory is tiny. The cheap one is 16GB. The expensive ones are 64GB Most people with digital SLRs have 4-8GB sitting in their cameras, and another two or three to spare. This is not the relatively portable storage for anyone moderately snap-happy that even a cheap laptop would be. Anyone serious would use a notebook- Still a market for the Airbook then.

However, as I've said most of what I do most of the time could very easily be done on the iPad. The portability would be quite nice- though I'm not sure how ubiquitous free wifi is in the UK compared with the states. My inbuilt pessimism tells me I'd need the 3G version if I took it out of the house. And the keyboard looks horrible to use. I have tried using the one on an iPhone briefly. I didn't like it much. Then again, I like the tactile feel I get from typing.

So for me it would be a toy. For the people who find computers strange and bewildering beasts it will be very nice. Until they want to do two things at once, or print a document, or... And then there's all the fans who'd buy a turd if you polished it and stuck the Apple logo on it. So I'm sure it will sell well enough, and then maybe when you get to the 3rd or 4th generation we'll have a product I'd actually be interested in.

But frankly the real kicker for me is this quote: "Closed devices are the future of computing." It is probably true. And that is something I am truly afraid of.
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Sep. 28th, 2009 07:47 pm
davegodfrey: South Park Me. (Default)
You may have heard of "Brew Dog". They've run into problems with the Portman Group, several times (they had a beer called "Speedball", and described "Punk IPA" as "anti-social".) Their website gives you the idea of the kind of company they are. They like to market themselves as being a bit edgy, and then say something that makes you think they're just idiots.

They're a Scottish brewery who were recently condemned for making Tokyo*, at 18.2% one of the strongest beers around. Made with champagne yeast to get the percentage that high it is sold in 330ml bottles, and each of those contains 6 units of alcohol. This is I admit rather a lot for one bottle. They've hit back by making "Nanny State" a 1.1% beer. Alcohol Focus Scotland are not amused that Brew Dog are taking the piss somewhat. When Tokyo* came out they said-

"It is utterly irresponsible to bring out a beer which is so strong at a time when Scotland is facing unprecedented levels of alcohol-related health and social harm.

"Just one bottle of this beer contains six units of alcohol - twice the recommended daily limit."

Brew Dog were marketing this as being a "cure for binge drinking" which does sound stupid, but as they say, any publicity is good publicity.

However this beer costs £9.99 per 330ml bottle. And was produced in a run of 3000. There are much cheaper ways of getting drunk. Vodka for instance. Good vodka even. This beer is about £20 a pint, which is about my budget for a night out, including club entry. Not a beer that lends itself to the "lets get as drunk as we can as quickly and cheaply as possible" market. AFS really are barking up the wrong tree with this one. This is not a beer that will be drunk in quantity, it'll be shared around a group of people in a "look what I've found" session, along with random fruity things from Belgium. Brew Dog are not trying to muscle in on the Special Brew Market. Really they're not. Its a gimmick to get the name out there and people interested in the other beers they make.

Now I don't know much about the binge drinking culture- although if three pints is a binge I "binge" nearly every time I go out for a drink with my friends, and I'm sure most of you do too, so maybe I do know more than I thought? Anyway I digress. This is an expensive, limited edition luxury product. It is not something you would drink in quantity. Hell beer above 8% is not something you can drink in quantity. For one thing the taste and strength is usually somewhat overpowering. Until it ceased production in 1999 Thomas Hardy's Ale was the strongest I knew of at 12%, and I'm sure there were others. Most were marketed as nightcaps, or beers to lay down for a special occasion.

Jeffo's Beer Blog
has some interesting things to say on the whole saga- and on their other beers, of which he seems to be a fan, but he does point out that the "strongest beer possible" market is not a large one, and the whole thing is something of a gimmick. He doesn't have much sympathy for the "Beer Geek" style beers, preferring beers you can actually drink more than one of in an evening. This is a view with which I am in general agreement. As for Tokyo* I am not likely to try it, I suspect they've sold out by now. And I'm not spending £10 on less than half a pint- even if its guaranteed to get me blotto just by sniffing it.

I have however tried a couple of their other beers, I didn't particularly like Dogma (7.8%), a heather honey infused ale, that also contains gaurana, kola nut and poppy seeds. I suspect the guarana and kola, coupled withthe strength is why I didn't like it, as I'm rather fond of honey ales, and Fraoch is lovely. (Note to self. Hunt down some mead for the winter). Punk IPA (6%) was nicer, but I prefer its weaker brethren. Sainsbury's still have some left, and it may reward a second visit. I would like to try Paradox (an ale conditioned in whisky casks, like the delectable Innis and Gunn), though at 10% I'm a bit leery of it. If I see it I will try "Trashy Blonde" which sounds much more interesting- its 4.1% so I'd actually want to drink more than one in an evening. I like these guys attempt to be as far from the conventional image of brewing as they can be, but in the end I can't help but agree with Jeffo when he says that "There's little point in pandering to the beer geek market: it's far too small and fickle". I don't drink 8%-9% beers regularly, and I don't know anyone else who does either.

davegodfrey: Coelacanth (Science)
From XKCD- Break-ups are better with junior synonyms.

Well, sex is like a velociraptor: despite your movie-fueled lifelong neurotic obsession, unlikely to be found in your house.

Brontosaurus excelsus was named in 1879, two years after Apatosaurus ajax. in 1903 Elmer Riggs decided that the two species were close enough to belong to the same genus, and by the laws governing zoological nomenclature Brontosaurus had to be sunk. The "mistaken combination" comes not from work done re-evaluating bones mistakenly assigned to A. excelsus, but the mount at the Peabody Museum that used skull material from the more distantly related Camarasaurus to restore the missing pieces. Later it was realised that Apatosaurus would have had a lower, more delicate skull, similar to that of its relative Diplodocus. But even then the name carried on, although given textbooks (especially children's textbooks) habit of copying from one another, they were still copying Knight's restorations, long after they should have known better.

By this time everyone not involved in actual science was using the name "Brontosaurus". Wikipedia blames the Peabody mount, I can see why, even now it still takes a while to update labels to reflect changes in taxonomy to pick a recent example close to home, Bob Bakker named the plesiosaur genus Attenborosaurus in 1993, but it took several years for the display at the NHM to be updated. I can see the same thing happenning at Yale, and by the time they did change the name on the label, everyone who people listen to (so not the scientists) is calling it "Brontosaurus".
davegodfrey: South Park Me. (Default)
Happy Birthday Elite. 25 years old, and still arguably one of the best games I ever played. 22k of immersive space-based roleplay. I used to love puttering about on the "Leesti-Diso" run until I'd saved up enough credits for the military lasers, and then go off looking for a Fer-De-Lance to waste, hoping I'd pick up a few extra credits here, or some illicit cargo there. Happy days.

OK so the sound and graphics have got better since then, and the rise of MMORPGs has changed the scene somewhat, but it is still true that games that allow this much free rein, where your success is defined by what you want it to be, where your "character"'s story is created by your actions, rather than the developer's idea for a plot, are few and far between. In fact the modern MMORPG, with its free-form personal storytelling ideas would be nothing without Braben and Bell's little wire frame models.

So I shall raise a toast to the two of them, and hope that Braben gets Elite 4 out in time for the 50th anniversary. See you in Witchspace.


Jun. 29th, 2009 05:15 pm
davegodfrey: South Park Me. (Liff)
I'd quite like to see Transformers Revenge of the Fallen, because a film about giant robots smashing the crap out of each other sounds like it should be an awful lot of fun. I don't have to worry about complex plot twists, I don't have to worry about following the dialogue minutely, it should be a perfect summer movie. Don't get me wrong I love cerebral films with character depth, and plot-twists galore, just not when its too hot to think. Sometimes its nice to just switch my brain off and enjoy the explosions for a couple of hours.

And then I read reviews like this, this and this. And I wonder if I should bother. I should, of course, have expected this. The first one had problems with objectification of women and racial stereotypes, so I'm not sure why I thought the new one would be any different.

Its sad really, this is 2009, not 1959. I can excuse this kind of thing in the 50's B-movies I love, because they're a product of their time, made before the Civil Rights movement, Women's Lib, and Stonewall. I should feel guilty for wanting to see it because its big, brash, and dumb. Not because its an example of some of the worst aspects of Hollywood's continuing attitudes to race.
davegodfrey: Coelacanth (Science)
Further from my last post I mentioned a fossil whale most of you may never have heard of until this morning. Maiacetus inuus "Inuus' Mother Whale", named for the Roman god of fecundity, and important features of the holotype, which I will come to.

The whale comes from Pakistan, known for some time now as an important place for whale evolution, the earliest whales (placed in a family called the Protcetidae) are known from here- previous finds include Ambulocetus natans the "Swimming walking whale", Pakicetus, originally known only from a skull, and now known to be a rather wolf-like animal, (rather than the seal-like creature it was previously reconstructed as), in total 15 genera and 16 species are known ranging from South Asia and Africa into North America.

Unlike later archaeocetes like Basilosaurus and Dorudon, Maiacetus and its relatives had strong back legs fused to the vertebral column. While strongly adapted to water they would have been able to move around on land, probably quite comfortably. Looking at the skeletal reconstructions I'm most strongly reminded of a cross between an otter and a crocodile. The limbs are strong, the snout long and narrow. The tail and limbs are strong, indicating that the animal probably swam rather like a modern otter. A 2.6m otter with a face full of teeth. Not as cute as the ones at the zoo then.

The animal shows some degree of sexual dimorphism. The second specimen is 12% bigger than the other, and has notably larger canine teeth. This specimen is also one of the most complete protocetes known, and clearly shows the "double-pulley" ankle that shows whales are actually artiodactyls (the "Even-Hoofed Ungulates", like cows, pigs and sheep). Molecular data shows their closest living relatives are the hippos.

But I've been skirting round the main reason why this species is so fascinating, and why the bloggers have been picking up on it- The holotype is a pregnant female. This is important for several reasons- its the first time a fossil whale has been found with a preserved fetus, and more importantly the fetus is lying head first in the birth canal.

We know that this is indeed a fetus and not the remains of her last meal because as the Phil Gingerich points out:

"Protocetids had shearing molars used to slice and chew their prey. The skull of the fetal skeleton could not have survived such mastication and be as well preserved as it is.

Because of their strong hind legs protocetes have been suggested as having given birth on land, but this fossil conclusively proves it. If Maiacetus had tried to give birth underwater junior would have drowned immediately. Later whales like Dorudon and Basilosaurus had to give birth to their young tail-first. Their legs are tiny and could never support their weight on land.

Another "missing link" found.

And if this wasn't awesome enough Gingerich PD, et al. (2009) New Protocetid Whale from the Middle Eocene of Pakistan: Birth on Land, Precocial Development, and Sexual Dimorphism. PLoS ONE 4(2): e4366 is freely available online at PLoS One

ETA: New Scientist has a nice gallery showing the various stages of whale evolution, including Pakicetus, Ambulocetus and co.
davegodfrey: Coelacanth (Science)
The following is adapted from a dissertation I wrote several years ago.

Fossils have been recognised as the remains of living organisms since the time of Leonardo da Vinci and before. At the close of the 18th century the French anatomist George Cuvier developed the idea of extinction, demonstrating that many fossils are not those of modern species. Erasmus Darwin and Jean Baptiste Lamarck formulated some of the first ideas suggesting that species were not immutable. At the same time James Hutton was formulating his theory of the earth, and demonstrated that the earth was much older than the ages biblical chronologies allowed (Bowler 1989). These three ideas were to become important questions and discussed much through the following century.

A (very) brief history of collecting )

Agassiz (1835) described osteostracean remains in his works on fossil fishes, creating the genus Cephalaspis for four species, C. lyelli, C. lewisii, C. lloydii, and C. rostrata. These species were not initially recognised as jawless. Of these four, Thomas Henry Huxley restricted Cephalaspis to C. lyelli, and created the genus Pteraspis for Agassiz’s other species in the genus (Huxley 1858). E. Ray Lankester separated heterostraceans and osteostraceans into separate groups in his 1868 monograph.

Ostracoderms. Some of the best fish ever... )

Revolutions in science are not instantaneous. New theories and ways of thinking take time to spread and gain respectability. The paradigms influencing the work of the second period, the work of Cope, William Patten, and others are the result of the publication of Charles Darwin’s Origin of Species in 1859, thirty years before, and the successful spread of evolutionary thinking in the latter half of the 19th century. Similarly, while Løvtrup produced one of the first cladograms of modern vertebrates in 1977, the cladistic method began with the entomologist Willi Hennig’s influential 1969 book Insect Phylogenetics where the principles of cladistics were first established.

References. )


Nov. 9th, 2008 08:03 pm
davegodfrey: South Park Me. (Default)
No! Just no. You can take some liberties. Just. Not. That. One.

Congratulations, you've just broken Arthurian legend.



davegodfrey: South Park Me. (Default)
The Evil Atheist Your Mother Warned You About

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