Tea or Coffee

I realise its a foolish question when the obvious answer is coffee.

I want to say I respect those of you who choose to drink tea, but I can’t. Unless it’s the post apocalypse and you weren’t adequately prepared. You are searching the rubble and in that last ration box before you go into terminal caffeine shutdown you just have to drink tea. In which case shame on you.
Unless its one of those fruity caffeine free herbal teas in the box. There is just no reason to drink those, ever! even in the post apocalyptic wasteland or Earl Grey – Captain Picard be damned.

Why? for when Earl Grey tea is too much for you?

While there is much waffle written about the way tea is prepared, waxing rhapsodic about its origins, history blah, blah.

“the budda discovered tea when he found it picked him up after spending the day mediating….”

what a powerhouse of a drink, being able to revive someone after a hard days thinking. Given the simplicity of the the process it is easy to see why tea was invented early in our history. Its so easy hippies can do it.

Lets consider the process of making tea.

its not like boiling it in the old days
  1. Grow plant,
  2. Dry leaves,
  3. Dump in hot water.
  4. Drink.

Over the years tea swillers have tried to make the process more interesting. Bizarre rituals – see the milk in first controversypickling it, having to wear uncomfortable pants while you make it such as in Japanese Tea Ceremony and I don’t want to know what goes into those black malteser sized tapioca pearls in bubble tea drinks. shudder. Attempts to add some engineering goodness to the process of tea have at best resulted in Samovars which are just about making hot water. The 3000 year old version of one of these. 

Praise the earth for it has given us TEA.

But trying to dress it up as much as you can its still dried leaves in boiling water. This is why when I think of tea all I can picture is  Hippies.

I’m not saying if you drink tea you are a hippy, it’s just that’s the image that is called to my mind whenever someone offers me a cup of tea. Plus the smell.

COFFEE on the other hand, calls to mind images of industry, steam engineering and madness.

Such as the great Victorian engineer Isambard Kingdom Brunel calling for coffee as he carries a temporarily overwhelmed Ada Lovelace through the vice and verse ridden poet’s corner of London. For more of the thrilling adventures of Lovelace and Babbage go here.

A big shout out to Melina Sydney Padua the author of the above panel
Real coffee, and by real coffee I mean espresso, is made through a much more exciting process of drying, roasting and in special cases the beans being eaten and shat out by the Asian Palm Civet (Paradoxurus hemaphrodutis), then pushing water heated to around 96 centigrade through a sieve of the ground roasted coffee beans at around 9 bars of pressure.
and perhaps the finest expression of this symphony of engineering and madness with coffee in the real world, is a mystic brew called Black Blood of the Earth. It’s produced by a company by a chap at Funranium  Labs who after sampling a cup produced by a Viennese Triple Cold Extraction Coffee set up in Japan
Either that or Walter White’s work bench
described the experience as
“I could see colours that weren’t in the visible spectrum, and could vibrate through walls”
and with access to a decent supply of glassware and a passable knowledge of chemical engineering Voila, he built his own machine and with continual tinkering  produced Black Blood of the Earth -a beverage which concentrates the caffeine but extracts much of the bitterness inherent with the beverage. The caffeine content per cup is a touch excessive and I tend to like my coffee dark and bitter, like my heart, so my search  for the perfect coffee continues.

The  pinnacle of beverages, the ULTIMATE coffee will result in such experiences as described below from the comic Girl Genius, click here for the full tale


Isn’t this always what you hoped the first time you tasted coffee?


So in summary when I think of tea, I see hippies. When I ask for coffee I want it to be prepared using this


so what’s your beverage of choice? and why isn’t it coffee?

Beauty pageants and science

The Miss USA contest and science are two phases you tend not to see together. Some Miss USA contestants have claimed science cred, but when the finalists to the 2011 Miss USA contest were asked “Should evolution be taught in school?” the results were both encouraging and depressing
Yay Science
On the plus side the eventual winner Ms Alyssa Campanella came out and said that it should be taught and later claimed
“I was taught evolution in high school. I do believe in it. I’m a huge science geek….I like to believe in the big bang theory and, you know, the evolution of human beings throughout time”.
 But she was only one of two who came out unequivocally in favor of teaching evolution in school.
The many other responses where either political weasel words about choice, or openly against such teaching.
Perhaps if the question was rephrased to teaching mathematics in school.

If you want to see the actual responses click here but I think the video above sums it up.

>An early start to a Thursday morning


“Way to ruin my night vision Dad”

At 4:20AM on Thursday Morning, I and the_weapon like the rest of the world bundled ourselves up in our warmest gear and left our toasty beds and sat in the back yard to watch the longest total lunar eclipse I have seen in my lifetime.

It was wonderful, from 4:20 when we saw the edge of the shadow begin to cross from the top right corner and fall across the moon’s face. It fell with the slow majesty you’d expect from an event orchestrated across a million kilometers of void.

Damn it was cold, but we were held spellbound, for as the darkness fell more stars came out and we each tried to name the star as it appeared. And I maintain that IRK is not a star we can see, no matter how dark it gets.

By 5:30 the moon was biblical – I mean literally like in the King James ” …and the moon into blood”.

No moon for you

And when I say the rest of the world I do of course exclude North America. As you see from the chart the Moon largely gave a big ‘FRAK YOU’ to the United States on this one. That’s okay, you were probably all busy anyway.

The cold and early rise was worth it because during the totality (the bit when the moon passes deepest into the shadow on this pass) the moon was in the Earth’s umbra for the longest time.

Which means at the height (depth, maximium) lets go with the ‘totality’ if you hadn’t been watching where the moon was the whole time then you couldn’t see it, as no sunlight was falling on it, not even the filtered red light that gives the moon its eerie red colour during the eclipse. For why the moon turns red during an eclipse I turn to the explainantion given by the_weapon, my 11 year old son.

“only the sunlight that goes through the earths air is hitting the moon, the air’s pulled out all the blue light so only the red light is left”

That’s not too shabby and explanation of what happens. He has seen sunlight split into colours by a prism and knows that the sky is blue because that’s the part of the white sunlight that is most scattered by the particles in the air, and he figured this out

White – Blue = red.

For my US friends here is the eclipse someone filmed, my video wouldn’t have recorded for the whole hour and 20 minutes. They have sped it up for those you are busy.

But US you will get your chance with the second total eclipse of the year will be in December 2011.

and I leave you with this science article about an insect called the lesser water boatman, Micronecta scholti. Which on a kilo for kilo basis makes the loudest noise in nature at 105 dbs by

“… rubbing its ribbed penis against ridges on its belly, playing its genitals like a miniature fiddler”

which shows to me why reality will always be more remarkable than what we can imagine.

and when pubmed is full those undead theorems shall walk the earth

My internet alert for Zombies turned up this over on P Z Myers website.The journal Diabities Care Vol 17, Issue 2, 152-154 has an article in the December 2010 issue by M.M. Tai called

A mathematical model for the determination of total area under glucose tolerance and other metabolic curves’.

Which is all well and good however from the abstract:

OBJECTIVE–To develop a mathematical model for the determination of total areas under curves from various metabolic studies. RESEARCH DESIGN AND METHODS–In Tai’s Model, the total area under a curve is computed by dividing the area under the curve between two designated values on the X-axis (abscissas) into small segments (rectangles and triangles) whose areas can be accurately calculated from their respective geometrical formulas.

This sounds a lot like high school calculus to me. If you replace Metabolic curves with just curves then Dr Tai has stated the Trapezoidal rule one of the first techniques taught to calculate the integral (area under the curve). Which as we can see has many uses, not just total glucose tolerance. What is cheeky is the author has called it Tai’s method, not the Leibniz or Newton method. Whats also impressive is that on google scholar the article has been cited 135 times. Which for published articles reproducing known mathematics is a lot. Scientist in some universities live and die professionally by the citations their articles garner. I am hoping this article is being cited as an example as why interdisciplinary studies are important.

It was Murray Gell-Mann who used the ‘eight-fold way’ (hippy) to explain the spectrum of hadrons (fancy word for subatomic particles like protons & neutrons). It was only after mixing with mathematicians, promptly pulled out ‘Introduction to first group theory’ that allowed Gell-Mann to open up symmetry and group theory to become one of the fundamental tools of particle physics. In his defense group theory wasn’t taught in high school in the 1960s.

I don’t mean to be snarky on Dr Tai, actually I do, but its probably because I am feeling a bit snarky about the whole ‘science in society’ thing at the moment. Especially after hearing the conversation of customer in front of me in the Australian geographic shop:

“excuse me why is this clock reading GMT what is that?”

“thats the Greenwich standard time to which we adjust our clocks”

“So thats the time in London is it?

“No, thats the time in Greenwich”

“Why whats so special about Greenwich”

of course I had no alternative but to beat them to death with a copy of Dava Sobel’s Longitude.

Happy Sagan Day

In respect of the birthday of one of the best advocates of science, atheism and skepticism (like those three aren’t inexorably bound) I have ever heard, the centre for Inquiry, Florida Atheists and Secular Huminanists, the James Randi Educational Foundation and a bunch of other folk are promoting Carl Sagan Day.

You’ll probably come across a few references in the bloggosphere, news stories etc. The weapon and I will put up the telescope if the weather holds and revel in the majesty of the night sky,

The size and age of the Cosmos are beyond ordinary human understanding. Lost somewhere between immensity and eternity is our tiny planetary home. In a cosmic perspective, most human concerns seem insignificant, even petty. And yet our species is young and curious and brave and shows much promise. In the last few millennia we have made the most astonishing and unexpected discoveries about the Cosmos and our place within it, explorations that are exhilarating to consider. They remind us that humans have evolved to wonder, that understanding is a joy, that knowledge is prerequisite to survival. I believe our future depends powerfully on how well we understand this Cosmos in which we float like a mote of dust in the morning sky.

Then perhaps for desert an apple pie since as Carl Sagan said once

In order to make an apple pie from scratch, you must first create the universe. 

and of course watch some of the myriad footage that exists and remember how passionately and eloquently he spoke disproving that canard that the best scientist must be cold and emotionless. One of our favorite pieces at the moment is from Pale Blue Dot, his follow up to the awe inspiring series COSMOS


I realise at 9 mins its too long for most, but it is one of the most cogent arguments why I can’t believe in any religion. I know in video I have embedded you see only half the screen but listen to the words.

The conclusion which begins at 7:52 minutes Sagan raises us all to the sublime. It gives the_weapon and I chills everytime we hear it.

What did you do on Sagan Day?

Big week in Science

The big discussions in the house the week.

The Nobel Prize prize for physics was awarded to Andrew Geim and Konstantin Novoselov for their ‘groundbreaking experiments regarding the two dimensional material graphene‘.  

A very small, weird net

This rocks as Andrew Geim is a CHEMIST, yeah that’s right A CHEMIST won a Nobel for PHYSICS. Obviously this has put some physicists noses out of joint. As reported by Bob O’Hare over on his joint blog This Scientific Life 

“Graphene is incredibly strong and light, which makes it ideal material to make hammocks for cats. Despite the merit of this work, the award has been roundly criticised by the physics community.

“I’m outraged” said Prof. Jon Nibus of the Clapham institute of Middle-Energy Physics. “This is a physics prize -we shouldn’t give it to a bloody chemist. They’ll only get it wet”.

We’ve been big fans of Dr Geim ever since he won his Ig Noble back in 2001, interestingly enough that was for physics as well. His paper was ‘of flying frogs and levitation‘, part of his everything is magnetic series. 

The_weapon in particular impressed and now wants to try and get a paper published so that he can win an Ig Nobel. Dr Geim also co-authored a paper in PhyisicaB with his cat Trisha titled ‘Detection of Earth Rotation with a diamagneticly levitating gyroscope‘.   
The other BIG news in science – We have exterminated another disease from the face of the world. Rinderpest has joined Smallpox as only existing in secure laboratories for scientists to walk past and taunt. “Na Na we wiped you out..” 
Rinderpest, German for ‘Cattle Plague’ doesn’t affect humans, but kills water buffleo, yaks and other animals relied on throughout Asia and Africa. The disease is related to measles and has an 80% mortality rate. A program to eliminate Rinderpest was announced in 1994 and the last case identified in Kenya in 2001. Official celebrations will be held in 2012 but I can’t wait.
But its not all champagne and fast cars for scientists this week.

“Puny HUMAN”

The ever vigilant Flinthart has alerted me to this case of species treachery.  Borut Povse at the University of Ljubljana (they even have a University was news to me) 
 has persuaded six male colleagues to let a powerful industrial robot repeatedly strike them on the arm, to assess human-robot pain thresholds. Each volunteer was struck 18 times at different impact energies, the arm fitted with either a blunt and a sharper tool. Povse claims “Even robots designed to Asimov’s laws can collide with people. We are trying to make sure that when they do, the collision is not too powerful,” Povše says. “We are taking the first steps to defining the limits of the speed and acceleration of robots, and the ideal size and shape of the tools they use, so they can safely interact with humans.” …


The boys over at Topless Robot summed this up best for me

“You want to keep robots from colliding with humans? Put a fucking sensor on them that tells them when something is close so they don’t run into it. It’s not hard; we have them on fucking cars now so people don’t back up onto children. All you’re doing is making a robot designed to inflict pain on humans. I love forward to these assholes’ next experiment, which is to teach a robot not to murder humans by building a robot that does nothing but murder humans all day.”

So by my count that’s two wins and a giant leap backwards towards the inevitable Robot uprising.

I don’t wanna have to do with out antibiotics

Early notice is a key strategy to surviving the zombie apocalypse.

If you want to get clear of the cities in time, and by this I mean before the paths turn into a super rush hour deadlock, with extra emphasis on the DEAD. After all one man’s traffic jam is another zombies’ buffet.  So I want to be well clear of the city, holed up in my alpha site and chowing down on my breakfast of  Tactical Bacon & Eggs while the newspaper and radio is still at the ‘reporting a mild outbreak of a new type of rabies’ stage.

This is why I try to keep up with whats going on in the world of infection & disease.  In the last few weeks there has been reports of a new type of antibiotic resistance found in bacteria with a man dying in Belgium (not of boredom). We’ve seen antibiotic resistant bacteria before MRSA and VRE are two I can think of that I don’t have to try and spell, but this new one isn’t specific to a bacteria. This resistance is due to a gene that can make an enzyme called NDM-1 and whats scary is that this gene is in the form of a plasmid. Those of us who have spent hours playing BIOSHOCK know plasmids can be incorporated into other organisms to provide traits. In this case allowing bacteria to resist antibiotics.

It was first mentioned in a British Journal in November 2009 and then in June 2010 the Centres for Disease Control in its Weekly Morbidity and Mortality report put out an alert on NDM-1.

I like reading the stuff CDC puts out.

I like to imagine there is a super competent agency well resourced with trained experts who spend all day running scenarios that prepare them for emergencies. I desperately want to believe that.

But I work for a government agency, so I know how these things work.

I don’t know if anyone around remembers what it was like before antibiotics, but it sucked. The was no internet porn and TV didn’t have the sci-fi channel and people would more likely than not DIE if they got an infection in hospital.

But that why science rocks. Medical science has know this pharmageddon was coming and has been working to developed new ways to deal with bacteria. One discovery is a paint that when applied to a surface will continues to kill bacteria that come into contact.

So I won’t be bugging out to the alpha site just yet, but world you are on notice. Just remember if can always get worse.

This week we rescue a world from mysticism and tyranny, and helped usher in a future brighter than anything we could imagine.

1st WIN
The BBC has reported UK General Medical Council (GMC) has found that Dr Andrew Wakefield acted “dishonestly and irresponsibly” when doing the research that led him to conclude that MMR vaccinations were linked with autism.

Dr Wakefield published a paper in the peer reviewed medical journal the Lancet 351 (9103): 637–41 in Feburary 1998 titled ‘Ileal-lymphoid-nodular hyperplasia, non-specific colitis, and pervasive developmental disorder in children.’

What did he do wrong?

The panel found that his research (involving spinal taps of children) was against the children’s clinical interest, that he was unqualified to perform the test, and that he had no ethical approval to do them.

Since then 10 of the 13 authors have retracted the conclusions. Alsoevidence has come to light that that Dr Wakefield may have faked the results of the study. Also he failed at the time he was conducting his research to declare his conflict of interests that he was being paid to develop his own commercial rival to the MMR vaccine.

This paper launched the Vaccines cause Autism scare, which has and is still leading to people to not get their children vaccinated, which has lead to a reduction in herd immunity which has meant that children too young to yet be vaccinated are exposed to diseases which had, at least in western countries, almost disappeared as cause of death. If you think that parents who don’t get their children vaccinated only endanger their own kids read this letter and if your heart doesn’t break then you are not human. And I know the plural of anaecdote is not fact so here is the report from the Age last year showing in Australia the rise in reported cases of measles (measles for Frak sake) is on the rise.

2nd win
No doubt in an attempt to put this whole thing to bed The Lancet has formally retracted the paper published by Andrew Wakefield back in 1998 that linked vaccines with autism. From the Lancet..

Following the judgment of the UK General Medical Council’s Fitness to Practise Panel on Jan 28, 2010, it has become clear that several elements of the 1998 paper by Wakefield et al. are incorrect, contrary to the findings of an earlier investigation. In particular, the claims in the original paper that children were “consecutively referred” and that investigations were “approved” by the local ethics committee have been proven to be false. Therefore we fully retract this paper from the published record.

3rd win

Perhaps the sweetest is this tit bit of news posted by the young Skeptics. Meryl Dorey the anti-science nutter who was best described by the Australian skeptics as “the truth-impaired mouthpiece of the Australian Vaccination Network, a group of antivaccination conspiracy-mongers who couldn’t find reality with both hands, a compass, and detailed instructions” has said

“..After almost 17 years of running the AVN, it is my bittersweet duty to inform you that within the next 3–4 weeks I will tendering my resignation as President of this great organisation and moving on to the next stage of my own personal development as mother, wife, activist and researcher”.

Ms Dorey was the one on national television said “no one dies from pertussis anymore” even when the parents of the four-week-old Dana McCaffrey who died of that very disease were in the audience.

So after all of this you would hope the Anti Vaccine movement would be on its last legs.

Pigs arse

The GMC panel chairman was heckled by supporters of Dr Andrew Wakefield during his delivery of the verdicts.

People, children are dying and it’s because of bad thinking.
We must stop this, and the first step is to be aware of the problem. Knowledge is half the battle. If we can’t eliminate childhood diseases like this then how do we hope to prevent to spread of Zombie virus across the planet when it occurs?

Its better with Monkeys

As you may have guessed I am a massive fan of science, maths, engineering and technology.

In my fiction I’ll take rayguns over wizard staffs; in my NEWS I’ll twitter the Large Hadron Collider before I follow our prime ministers; and at cub scouts I’ll demonstrate how to make carbon dioxide volcanoes over Christmas wreaths. My geek-fu is strong and science is so cool right now. Any one else notice in the US president Obama’s speech on the ‘Educate to Innovate Campaign’ not only did he have Adam and Jamie from Mythbusters there but he put those sentient machines on notice –

“As President, I believe that robotics can inspire young people to pursue science and engineering. And I also want to keep an eye on those robots, in case they try anything“. Full speech here.

So for my family movies I’ll take ‘Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs’ over a misbehaving Max in a wolf suit.

The film is based (very loosely) on the Judi and Ron Barrett 1978 book. Instead the movie is an origin story, (SPOILER ALERT) with an unappreciated inventor type called Flynn who hummed his own action soundtrack when he moves through to his lab. This was so cool I now do this whenever I enter the office at work. He invents a number of things which become (in one case literally) running gags through out the rest of the movie.

This movie demonstrated to me the corrollary to my axiom that ‘every story can be improved with zombies’. Every kids movie can be improved with monkeys.

They have chosen to go with The Incredibles style CGI for the characters thus avoiding the whole uncanny valley problem with animated people.

I found the story bright, colourful, fun and science can do great things as long as evil mayors are not involved. The_weapon is reading about the AZETCS at the moment or at least the horrible history bits of the AZTECS so he (SPOLIER ALERT AGAIN) went wild when Steve ripped the heart out of a person sized gummy bear and ate it.

I walked out thinking it was a great big great thumbs up for my Science is AWESOME philosophy. My_reason_for_living wondered if I missed that it was science that causes all the problems in the first place. I considered and replied – but it fixed it! The_weapon laughed through out much of the film but when we left he seemed quiet. When asked he replied he was thinking about ‘the sad bit’.

I have no idea which was ‘the sad bit’ and he said he didn’t want to talk about it. But he then said he really liked the movie. This has left me with the question.

What was the sad bit?

and does this mean my almost ten year old son is more emotionally developed than me.



The bestest week of the year

Down in Australia it’s national science week. To get on board with the activities check out the web site here. We kicked it off last night at the cub pack sleep over participating in the Big Aussie Star Hunt.

But of the many benefits offered by Science this one caught my eye. By mathematicians at the Carlton University & University of Ottowa have completed research on

Here is a link to the chapter.
It examines three possible stratigies
  • quarantine (could lead to eradication, but unlikely to happen)
  • treatment (some humans survive, but they still must coexist with zombies),

but shows that there is REALLY only one strategy likely to succeed:

“impulsive eradication.”

I love it –

“impulsive eradication.”
Probably like the impulsive eradication demonstrated in the new trailer for the upcoming survival training video with Woody Harrelson ‘ZOMBIELAND’
The study goes on to record “Only sufficiently frequent attacks, with increasing force, will result in eradication, assuming the available resources can be mustered in time,” they concluded.
And if we don’t act fast enough?
“If the timescale of the outbreak increases, then the result is the doomsday scenario: an outbreak of zombies will result in the collapse of civilization, with every human infected, or dead,” they wrote. “This is because human births and deaths will provide the undead with a limitless supply of new bodies to infect, resurrect and convert.”
How fast do we need to deal with the outbreak?
Here’s the equation they used, where S = susceptibles, Z = zombies and R = removed. If an infection breaks out in a city of 500,000 people, the zombies will outnumber the susceptibles in about three hours.
So there it is -Aim for the head and shoot fast.
This is an example where the world of academia is providing useful advice to deal with real world situations.
I love science.