Walking with monsters

March 16, 2010

I’ve just finished rewatching (via youtube) the immensely enjoyable Walking with Monsters and Walking with Beasts. Evolution has thrown up extraordinary creatures that could barely be imagined.

Thoroughly recommend them for anyone curious about natural history.


The Singularity Institute

September 19, 2007

Mitch Porter recently sent me this link to The Singularity Institute. In amongst the concerns of daily life and areas of immediate interest (e.g. politics), it’s very interesting to consider more long-term issues, such as how humanity might deal with an artificial intelligence that is more powerful than the mind of a human being. To quote from The Singularity Institute’s website:

In the coming decades, humanity will likely create a powerful artificial intelligence. The Singularity Institute for Artificial Intelligence (SIAI) exists to confront this urgent challenge, both the opportunity and the risk.

Long-term “out of the box thinking” is always needed.


“The great global warming swindle”: Comments by the Australian Academy of Science

July 13, 2007

I received this e-mail from the Australian Academy of Science and thought that readers might be interested in reading it. (I’ve copied the text from this page.)

‘The great global warming swindle’ television program: Comments by the Academy’s
National Committee for Earth System Science

12 July 2007

It is both exasperating and unfortunate when the media either exaggerate stories, sometimes to idiotic degrees, or air poorly-vetted and inaccurate presentations that are purported to provide journalistic balance. It has been so for global warming ever since the topic burst into the media in the late 1980s with images of floods, droughted crops, storms, lightning bolts, cracked clay pans, carcasses in deserts, and people in deck-chairs on the beach up to their necks in sea water. This has created vividly false impressions. Now the TV program ‘The great global warming swindle’ (aired on Australian Broadcasting Corporation television on 12 July 2007) presents a counter story with even greater, but opposite, exaggeration and inaccuracy. What can the man in the street make of this? How can the publics’ right to be well informed be addressed by such polarizing and incompatible presentations in the media? Is human-induced climate change the biggest threat to the world this century, or is it just a fraudulent claim by climate scientists trying to drum up research dollars? Read the rest of this entry »


Terence Tao – the cosmic distance ladder

June 3, 2007

Terence Tao has put up a nice post about calculating astronomical distances – the cosmic distance ladder. Download his presentation and enjoy.


Movies on hyperbolic spaces and three-manifolds

April 22, 2007

I just came across a very interesting movie (in two parts) on mathematical hyperbolic spaces! (FYI they’re youtube files.) This movie should give some idea of what three-manifolds and hyperbolic spaces are – conveying the idea of a closed, connected, orientable three-manifold to a non-mathematical audience can be difficult (I always use two-dimensional analogues to illustrate the idea) but these kinds of movies should be able to help.

It’s kind-of mind blowing if you havn’t come across it before.


Evidence of the earliest plate tectonics in Greenland

March 24, 2007

A very interesting story is on the BBC web-site:
Sea floor records ancient Earth. I love the para: “You can actually recognise features that formed in a couple of minutes, 3.8 billion years ago – a quarter of all time – and you can actually go and touch them with your hand,” said Professor Rosing.

Imagine that, touching something that is 3.8 billion years old! Of course, we are all made of atoms many of which resulted from a supernova about 4.55 billion years ago, not to mention matter that appeared about 13 billion years ago. All of us, 13 billion years old! Extraordinary! Read the rest of this entry »


Paper submitted to J. Knot Theory and Its Ramifications

February 27, 2007

Tonight I submitted the following paper: paper.pdf to the Journal of Knot Theory and Its Ramifications – the paper hasn’t been refereed yet so I’m merely offering it here for the reader’s enjoyment.

ON THE UNCOLOURED QUANTUM LINK INVARIANTS
ARISING FROM Uq(osp(1|2n)) AND U−q(so(2n + 1)) Read the rest of this entry »


Is Our Universe Decaying at an Astronomical Rate?

February 22, 2007

This post is just a copy of a thread over at Cosmic Variance. I’m copying it here because it’s an example of some of the mind-bending things that you come across in physics and mathematics, and one of the reasons that people do physics (and math). I’ve only read the post, so reading the thread should be interesting. Apparently Lee Smolin has written some comments on the thread, so it should be interesting. Lee, of course, is at the Perimeter Institute and is one of the high profile people looking at loop quantum gravity.

The thread starts here.

OO’s and BB’s
John at 3:02 am, February 21st, 2007
One nice thing about being a scientist, or at least an academic one, is that occaisionally you get your mind blown without any drugs or anything. Someone comes along and just pulls the rug completely out from under you – a total Denial of Reality Attack – and then you are left on your own to pick up the pieces.

Today at UC Davis we had a seminar from Don Page of the University of Alberta. The title and abstract of this talk sounded like science fiction, so I reproduce it here:

Don Page, University of Alberta

Title: Is Our Universe Decaying at an Astronomical Rate?

Abstract: Unless our universe is decaying at an astronomical rate (i.e., on the present cosmological timescale of Gigayears, rather than on the quantum recurrence timescale of googolplexes), it would apparently produce an infinite number of observers per comoving volume by thermal or vacuum fluctuations (Boltzmann brains). If the number of ordinary observers per comoving volume is finite, this scenario seems to imply zero likelihood for us to be ordinary observers and minuscule likelihoods for our actual observations. Hence, our observations suggest that this scenario is incorrect and that perhaps our universe is decaying at an astronomical rate.

Boltzmann brains? WTF? Intrigued, I went. This is a well-respected, highly-cited cosmologist after all. A former student of Stephen Hawking, no less. The jargon in the abstract, though bizarre, had a certain je ne sais quoi… Read the rest of this entry »


Richard Branson’s $32 million competition for work on climate change

February 11, 2007

Great news that Richard Branson launched a competition to come up with an innovation to remove carbon from the atmosphere with $32 million prize money.

AM – Saturday, 10 February , 2007  08:11:00

Reporter: Jane Hutcheon

ELIZABETH JACKSON: Billionaire businessman Sir Richard Branson and former US vice president Al Gore have launched a $32 million competition to come up with an innovation which removes carbon from the atmosphere.

While the so-called Earth Challenge is funded by the flamboyant entrepreneur, he’s gathered a panel of eminent experts, including Australian of the Year Tim Flannery, to judge the entries.

The prize was unveiled in London, and our Europe Correspondent, Jane Hutcheon, was there. Read the rest of this entry »


Senior politicians who are scientists – evidence driven public policy

February 11, 2007

The current (January) on-stand issue of Seed magazine in Australia features an article on Angela Merkel, the Chancellor of Germany who is also a theoretical chemist.

As a mathematician interested in public policy and politics, I am interested in evidence-based public policy as opposed to ideologically-based or slogan-based public policy.

I am pleased when scientists become involved in politics and public policy, as the scientific approach of considered keen inquiry and analysis based on data is a good way to develop public policy. The outcomes of well-considered policy development are in general better than if policy development is not well-considered.

Of course, the fact that a particular politician is a scientist does not in and of itself mean that they are a better politician than politicians who are non-scientists, but it does mean that they are probably more likely to have a very analytical mindset, which can greatly help.