Saturday, 28 February 2015

only one remains

A poignant juxtaposition:

(via BoingBoing)

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Friday, 27 February 2015

Leonard Nimoy, 1931-2015

Live long, and prosper.

From the sublime...
... to the ridiculous.

Saturday, 21 February 2015

wandering stars

The moon, Venus and Mars are in quite different positions from yesterday’s conjunction.  The moon has moved significantly, and the Venus–Mars separation has approximately halved.

Yes, of course that’s a spaceship in our garden.

The photo was taken with a Canon EOS20D; the moon, Venus and Mars (above and to the right of Venus) are real, the other little dots are post-processing artefacts.  Next time, we know to use a tripod!

Friday, 20 February 2015

Moon, Venus, Mars conjunction

There was a great sight in the sky tonight just after sunset: a sliver of a moon, a brilliant Venus, and, knowing where to look, a faint Mars.

Seen through the clouds, just the moon and Venus show up.

A little later (just gone 7pm BST), the sky is clearer, and Mars becomes visible, a faint red dot just about a moon diameter above the brilliant Venus.

These photos were taken with a Canon EOS20D, not with my phone!  They have been post processed; if you zoom in on the lower picture, you will see lots of little dots: these are artefacts, not stars.  However, the unzoomed picture captures close to reality, although not quite the effect of the brilliance of Venus, or the earthshine palely lighting the whole disc of the moon.


Sunday, 15 February 2015

sequestering carbon, several books at a time XXXIX

The latest batch.

Him indoors has expanded from archeology to archeological fiction, which explains a couple in the pile.

Thursday, 12 February 2015


Tsundoku: leaving a book unread after buying it, typically piled up together with other unread books.

The story of my life.

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Wednesday, 11 February 2015


Anthony Hopkins,
Is it better to read 100 books once, or one book 100 times?  See Stephen Marche’s Guardian piece: Centireading force: why reading a book 100 times is a great idea.
The main effect of reading Hamlet a 100 times was, counter-intuitively, that it lost its sense of cliche. “To be or not to be” is the Stairway to Heaven of theatre; it settles over the crowd like a slightly funky blanket knitted by a favorite aunt. Eventually, if you read Hamlet often enough, every soliloquy takes on that same familiarity. And so “To be or not to be” resumes its natural place in the play, as just another speech. Which renders its power and its beauty of a piece with the rest of the work.

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Tuesday, 10 February 2015

book review: Mistakes Were Made

Carol Tavris, Elliot Aronson.
Mistakes Were Made (But Not By Me): why we justify foolish beliefs, bad decisions and hurtful acts.
Pinter & Martin. 2007

No-one is a monster in their own view, yet people do monstrous things. At a less extreme level, people do petty and mean things too. Why?

The thesis of this book is that we rewrite our memories to overcome cognitive dissonance. How can we have done a bad thing, if we are good people? So we re-remember what we did to cast it in a better light, often by blaming the victim of our bad deed. This makes the deed less bad, because the recipient was not an innocent victim, but fully deserving of their treatment. And this leads to a potential vicious cycle: the more we mistreat someone or some group, the worse they must be, and hence the more we are justified in mistreating them.

This rather simple, and rather horrifying, idea is backed up with many examples and case studies: initiation ceremonies (I put myself through that pain, so it must be worth it), venting anger (anger is bad, so I must be justified in venting it, so you must be bad), false memory syndrome therapists and miscarriages of justice (if I was wrong, I have destroyed these people’s lives, so I must be right), bitter divorces (this person must be deserving of the terrible way I am treating them), killing civilians in war (killing innocent civilians is terrible, so they can’t have been innocent), historical feuds (I’m hurting you, because you hurt me, because I hurt you earlier, because … back into the mists of time) and more.

There is a two step solution to the problem. The first is recognising it is happening, which is hard, because of the way our brains work to protect us from the pain of cognitive dissonance, but can be helped by studying all the many examples. The second it doing something to prevent the escalation, which is even harder, as it involves owning up to what we have done, facing up to the fact that we might not be the hero of the story, and figuring out a way to move forward. The book includes examples and case studies here, too, showing that it is indeed possible to overcome the potential damage.

Fascinating and uncomfortable reading: a must for anyone who wonders how good people can do bad things.

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Monday, 9 February 2015

CoSMoS special issue Editorial

New publication:

Susan Stepney and Paul Andrews.
CoSMoS special issue Editorial
Natural Computing, 2015
doi: 10.1007/s11047-015-9482-9

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Sunday, 8 February 2015

delighted shepherds, with Venus

There was a deep red sunset tonight.

17:32 GMT
The horizon clouds were a rich deep red, much redder than the photo shows; I need a better camera than my phone!

I didn’t notice Venus when I was admiring the sunset, although it is just visible in the photo above (click to embiggen).

However, a few minutes later, once the overwhelming redness had diminished, Venus was brilliantly visible, so much so that it’s easily visible even in a grainy photo:

17:51 GMT