Been a while between drinks, I know, but here I am! Just a quick update this time: today I went to Melbourne Museum to see the dissection of a giant squid. If I'd been more on the ball, I may have been able to organise a camera and a press pass, but as it was I only found out about it late yesterday afternoon. It was pretty packed - anyone watching the live webcast would have had a better view than me! Since a couple of weeks ago I got to scratch a giant tortoise at the Western Plains Zoo in Dubbo, I'm feeling like I've fulfilled my giant animals quota for the year. Not that I wouldn't mind meeting a few more - especially if they're alive!

Speaking of giant animals, I'm picking up the dice again to run a Dungeons and Dragons campaign. Not owning any of the core books for previous editions, I decided to give the new fourth edition a go. If you're curious, feel free to ask me about it my verdict so far is it's a lot of fun and easier for new players to pick up (lots of people say it has much in common with modern online RPGs, and they're not wrong), but the actual roleplaying aspect suffers a little because it's a little harder to separate the mechanics from the game world.

Anyway, I run my first session next week. The group is a nice mix of new and old roleplayers, most of whom I haven't played with before, and yes, my girlfriend is playing. Should be a blast!

In career related news: I'm now artistic director of The Crew, and I have been trying to provide direction to our art for a month or so now. We've moved to a new venue - the Bella Union at Trades Hall, and it's awesome. No Al Swearengen Cy Tolliver though. (Thanks Leah.) If you want to know about our gigs, you can get on our mailing list (see the web site) or become a fan on Facebook (it's what all the cool groups are doing now). I also have some other shows: the Anarchist Guild Social Committee (no web site yet) is a monthly live sketch show, also at the Bella Union. The second one is this Sunday, July 20. It'll be a corker. I also have a couple of projects for Fringe Festival, a new solo science show for Science Week, and I'll be doing Not the Nobel Prize at the Museum again this year, if all goes well. More details on these soon.
This is likely a stupid question, but does anyone know where I might lay my hands on an Erlenmeyer flask by Friday, preferably in the CBD? I'm happy to buy one, two even, but I've no idea where to go.
New UK science minister Malcolm Wicks reckons that "Doctor Who can help save science". So far I'm with him, obviously. There's a whole section of my latest show devoted to saying more or less just that. But the minister loses me with the very first sentence of the article: "Schools should use episodes from Doctor Who to teach children about science rather than technical and "boring" textbooks."

Well, they'd have to put some actual science in it first. The new series has even less than the old; it's wonderful and magical and still espouses the benefits of brain power over just blowing things up (though if I'm honest I have to say a lot of the time the Doctor (particularly Eccleston) uses said brain power to blow things up), but it's a fantasy with science fiction trappings. There's no science involved.

Unless, of course, he knows more about the third series than we do...
Right, so: two shows left for Evolutionary. One tonight. One tomorrow night. Then there's some partying, followed by sleeping, then some organisation and relaxation and then straight into hardcore efforts to a) find work and b) get myself to Adelaide in February.

Other Fringe shows you should have gone to see include Mr. Al & Mr. Nick: A Fistful of Regret (finishes tomorrow), The Human Layer (finishes tomorrow; two shows tonight), Courtney Hocking's Foolish Ideas and Crackpot Inventions Show (finishes tomorrow), and possibly Art Murder: Pictures of Dorian Gray (last show tomorrow) and Death's Variety Hour (last show tonight), though I've not seen those last two, they're full of people I know. Good luck to everyone in Fringe this year; I hope you at least break even, and that if you do make a profit you don't spend it all on a cast party.

I'd like to apologise for publicly belittling the efforts of Barry J. Marshall and Robin Warren, the Australian scientists who won this year's Nobel Prize for Physiology or Medicine. Their discovery of Heliobacter pylori and its role in gastritis and peptic ulcers will of course mean much comfort for countless sufferers around the world, and has undone a great misunderstanding of one of the more common medical conditions. Why they win in 2005 when the original paper was published in 1982 and the link between the bacteria and the conditions officially recognised internationally in 1994 I'm still unsure; it may be that the simple test which now exists was only invented in the last year, and if so then they certainly are worthy of a prize intended for those "who, during the preceding year, shall have conferred the greatest benefit on mankind".
It's not often you see someone win a Nobel Prize for something that recently touched your own life, but this year, two Australians (Barry J. Marshall and Robin Warren) scored the Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine "for their discovery of the bacterium Helicobacter pylori and its role in gastritis and peptic ulcer disease". Luckily for me, I didn't have said bacterium in my guts, but there's now a simple test and treatment if you do. Of course, I can only imagine that nothing particularly noteworthy occured this year in cancer, infectious disease or immuno-deficiency research, since while their work will lead to a lot less discomfort for millions of people, those people will primarily be from first-world nations and not in much danger of dying.

Cynical on occasion, aren't I? Well, that's what you get. I've had an interesting week, with some great houses and performances for Evolutionary. Overbudgeting was a genius stroke, and one I'm very happy about at this end of the production. Plus, I've decided to take the show to Adelaide for their Fringe in February, though this will mean being away for the first week or two of uni (assuming I do get back in). Mind you, having been through it all before and intending to start out with some first and second year subjects, that shouldn't pose much of a problem. I'll just get in touch with the subject co-ordinators ahead of time.

I also received in the mail today a missive from our local federal member, Labor Shadow Minister for Public Accountability Kelvin Thomson, MP (who incidentally can't even get his URL correct - http://home.vicnet.net.au/~thomson is dead space, my friend - and thinks it's cool to set up a Howard watchdog email address at Hotmail, whistleblowersonhoward@hotmail.com). This wouldn't be of much note except that he "exposes" the Howard government's waste of $70,000 to pay for a CSIRO conference for 70 of their Science Communicators at a resort in Queensland. That's a fairly expensive conference, I'll grant you, but rather than discuss the state of science communication in Australia, he mentions briefly (in one sentence) the "recent" changes to their communication policy and then spends the rest of the time making jokes based on the fact they flew a magician from Canberra to entertain the delegates at the conference. (My guess is said magician has links to the CSIRO Science Circus, and perhaps his act was related to the conference, but it's only a guess.)

It should come as no surprise that "public accountability" means taking cheap shots, I suppose, but still... Sure, here's $70,000 that may have been a little too much (though assuming the conference was successful, that's not a huge amount to pay for greatly improving the skills and contacts available to Australian science communicators), and I can see his agenda is clearly stated by his office, but come on. There's bugger all actual information in this leaflet, though I did find the list of increases in household expenditures interesting (apparently mobile phone bills have gone up 183% in the period 98/99 to 03/04, though whether this is because of increased charges or increased usage I've no idea). But my distrust of what he has to say only reminds me of a (perhaps spurious, I admit) survey someone quoted to me recently, which suggested a large percentage of Americans automatically believe anything told to them by a politician, journalist or other authoritative speaker is a lie. (I don't think church representatives were included, but by the sound of it scientists would go in the same category... I think Evolutionary might have to tour the USA.)
For those of you who had their doubts, this photo is the evidence that I grew that moustache to be Einstein. Check it out (checkitout checkitout checkitout checkitout checkitout checkitout...):

From The Onion, who I haven't found all that amusing for some time, comes this: Evangelical Scientists Refute Gravity With New 'Intelligent Falling' Theory.

Now, this isn't exactly splitting my sides either, but it does give me an excuse to talk about why Intelligent Design, Creationism and general anti-evolutionism are widerife and yet other scientific theories which are incompatible with literal interpretations of the Bible (etc.) remain largely unchallenged. While it's certainly true that in Darwin's time natural selection flew in the face of established philosophy (particular the idea of essences, that all things had a type which was eternal, unchanging and, in most religious frameworks, specially created), really it all comes down to ego and fear... )
I thought about springing this on you all as I met you, but frankly, it's too awesome to leave until then. And remember, it's all Albert's fault - I'm portraying the 26-year-old Einstein for the Melbourne Physics Forum, thanks to the Einstein International Year of Physics.

Behold:

the Moustache


PS - I read Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince. I don't see what the critics are supposedly up in arms about, the writing's at the same mediocre standard as always, but the plotting and characterisation...well, I got the same kick out of it as I did before, even if it's a bit backstory exposition heavy. But Rowling'd better write the last one soon or people will start crying for her blood... (Please keep any comments spoiler-free.)
By now you should have somehow realised what I've got to do, i.e. communicate science to the world (or at least small parts of it). Today I realised I'd better get my skates on, because this Crikey article, "Is the CSIRO Gagging Scientists?", suggests that scientists working for the CSIRO might not be able to communicate it themselves.

I wanted to find a copy of said Policy, but I couldn't find it on the CSIRO's web site. I mean, I can see two sides to this - obviously an organisation like the CSIRO wants some control over the information presented as coming from it - but these guys are scientists. Respected ones, you'd hope, if they're working with the CSIRO. It's not as if they can make any old outlandish claim they like, they're talking about science, they have to be at least a bit rigorous about it, even in an informal context. Honestly, if you ask an actual scientist for an explanation of something or other, you'll probably hear a phrase like "Well, the evidence suggests" or "The current theory is" or what have you, and if they're talking about their own field then they can probably cite you at least a few references. If the CSIRO has dissention in its ranks, I'm not convinced this is the way to sort it out.

I could only access "CSIRO Communications in Turmoil - Again" from Australasian Science Magazine via Google's "view PDF as HTML" option, so it's probably been removed (because it's old - from March - rather than for a cover up, I'm sure). But it suggests the original Policy on Public Comment document from November (Crikey above refers to a new version from last week) was created by Director of Communications Donna Staunton in response to "a few bold scientists" who "made mild comments on the environment and global climate change in the lead-up to the Federal election in October". Norman Abjørensen, hired in August last year as her Manager of Communications, resigned after twenty weeks and many "attacks on the competence, experience and style" of both Staunton (his boss) and CSIRO Chief Executive Dr Geoff Garrett. He went so far (probably too far) as to confront her at a Christmas party in front of many other CSIRO employees, but his resignation letter holds only contempt for the way CSIRO communication is being handled, rather than personal vitriol.

I hope something changes, but I know one thing for sure: I can't remember the last time I heard the CSIRO mentioned in the news media before today, and my eyes and ears pick up science-related news pretty handily. Just as well I have a venue for Evolutionary (Glitch Bar, for those of you playing at home.)
[livejournal.com profile] sclerotic_rings turned me on to this short mockumentary which reminded me of David McGhan's World, created by the genius that is Shaun Micallef, the principle difference between the two being that Dinosaurs: They Certainly Were Big is connected to reality.

High praise indeed, I hear you say...but while it's certainly funny and well written, I found the guy's terrible beard very distracting and his delivery sometimes too fast and in need of direction. Plus the research seems mostly pretty good, even if he does say Brontosaurus at the end.

...Okay, so it was great and I'm just jealous that he had this idea first. He even has fighting toy dinosaurs... I had fighting toy dinosaurs, dammit! This guy even kinda looks like me, but with a shit beard and much straighter hair and, having seen how I must look in a suit with a ponytail, I'm inclined to get that haircut I've been planning immediately.
I have a theory which posits a new fundamental force in the Universe, that of temporal gravitation. It's pretty simple; massive objects (i.e. ones with appreciable mass, not just really large ones) attract each other with a force proportional to the masses involved and inversely proportional to the square of the distance between them.

But you knew that.

Temporal gravitation, however, applies to events. I theorise that events are attracted to each other through time with a force proportional to the importance and mutual exclusivity of those events. So if, say, one of your good friends is having a birthday party and you were all excited about it, then you'd probably end up realising that you were already excited about the same night because it was your first chance in years to see one of your favourite bands in concert, and you'd already bought the tickets.

From your expression, I can see that you've encountered my theory in action. Isn't science grand?

Pity it makes life difficult.
Have you read Flatland? No? Well, you should. It'll give you a kick in the brain. The reason I mention it is because the idea of extra-dimensional beings keeps cropping up in the books I'm reading.

How many are there? Four? Five? Eleven? And if there are more, do we exist in those dimensions or not? Flatland asks these questions within a framework we can understand, since it deals with the inhabitants of Flatland and, specifically, a Square who meets a Sphere from Solidland. He sees the Sphere as a circle, since the part of the Sphere which exists in Flatland is a circular cross-section. The Square, enlightened by his journey with the Sphere into the third dimension, suggests there might be four dimensional beings whom the Sphere cannot perceive, but the Sphere is unable to grasp this concept despite his own lecturing to the Square.

So...what if there were creatures who existed in more than three spatial dimensions, and who could insert themselves into our world such that their extrusions looked like human beings? Well, that's one of the ideas in the book I'm reading. It's weird. And interesting.
Maybe we exist in dimensions that we also cannot perceive? It seems likely to me that all things exist in all dimensions; after all, even a circle drawn on a page has three dimensions, though one of them (depth) is exceedingly small. One- and two-dimensional objects are entirely theoretical, just like a fourth-dimensional one (like a tesseract, or hypercube, which has equal width in all fourth dimensions). So we might just be very "short" in the fourth spatial dimension, so short we can't see it...

Anyway. It made my mind work for a minute or two.

February 2012

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