Sunday, November 13, 2011

Are you people nuts?

Obviously not you people who read this, I was referring to these people. For those that don't do links the story is about a group who having decided that they don't trust the very effective and safe chicken pox vaccine and instead not satisfied with organizing a get together at a public venue like McDonalds so their and other children get exposed to a child who currently has has chicken pox.  Did the last fifty years of public health and science just pass these people by, did somehow the 20th century not happen for these people?

Whats worse is instead of hooking up on the new social media ie Facebook to arrange these parties,

I am trying to put together a chicken pox party and am looking for someone to donate their chicken pox to the event. i was thinking of having it at McDonsals or some place with toys to play on. if you know of anyone who would like to contribute or would like more information on a time and place let me know...."

now we even have these folk you don't trust them modern doctor types who,  on a request from a parent will send lollipops that have been licked by children currently suffering chicken pox through the GODDAM POSTAL SERVICE! 

"after a woman in Nashville, Tenn., advertised lollipops contaminated with the varicella virus on Facebook. The tainted pops were intended for parents who want to expose their children to the disease. A Nashville TV station spotted the woman's posts, in which she also offered to ship spit and cotton swabs, all for a mere $50, payable through PayPal. The woman, Wendy Werkit told WSMV reporter Kimberly Curth that she had shipped lollipops that had been sucked on by her children, "so that other peoples' kids can get chickenpox."

I have been unable to link to a facebook site promoting chicken pox parties, only a link to an interest site that warns about the danger, and one that links to a online game starring a cartoon chicken called Pox,  so I am hoping this is all some kind of twisted hoax but there is no mention of it on the scopes urban myth website.

So these folk don't trust the varicella vaccine developed in 1995 and shown to be safe and effective, however they will trust some one so clueless as to send a biologically invective sample unsecured through the mail. As others have pointed out, including a US prosecutor, this is effectively what we all feared bioterrorists would do.

Dr Rafael Harpaz, epidemiologist for the Centres of Disease Control was much more restrained than I would be when he said 'Its an incredibly bad idea for a variety of reasons.... Before the vaccine was licenced, there were on the order of 100 kids (in the US) who died of chicken pox every year. Now there are very few among vaccinated children...Its like playing Russian roulette with your child'.

I was going to post about the family fun Friday movie the_weapon, my_reason_for_living and I went to see  Contagion. But I will leave that for another day.

Sunday, October 16, 2011

Why I liked OUTCASTS more than I am enjoying TERRA NOVA

As others have noted, thanks Orin, next year will be the first time since 1974 that there are no live action space based science fiction shows on Television. This of course is unacceptable. While science fiction on TV thrives the future looking science based tomorrow seems to have disappeared and instead we are stuck with inward looking, supernaturals and superpowers. For comparison look at the fate of BBCs short run series OUTCASTS and compare with the finally on air TERRA NOVA.

In Summary
Terra Nova is about a colony sent from a future earth that has a destroyed biosphere due to environmental collapse. The colony is settled in series sent through a time fracture to a prehistoric earth. The trip is one way and they can not contact the future and rely on the information carried back by settlers.The sixth wave of settlers had a dispute and leave to set up an alternative colony elsewhere on planet. The character selection process is meant to bring the best and the brightest but there are obviously flaws and some people have go through that shouldn't.There is a whiny, annoying teen whose sole task seems to be a plot device to drive the story when he does something stupid.  There is a big mystery hinted at by some cryptic markings. Not everything is what it seems.

Outcasts is about a colony sent from a future earth that has a destroyed biosphere due to environmental collapse. This is a alien world reached over a number of years by a series of colonizing ships, News from earth can only be provided by the people on the ships as they arrive. Engineered humans called Advanced Cultivars were part of the first settlement teams but where blamed for a disease which wiped out most of the colonies children, they left to found another colony elsewhere on the planet. There is a whiny annoying teen who only function seems to screw with the emotions one of the competent officers in the colony. There is a big mystery hinted at when some hominid fossils that turn up. Not everything is what it seems.

See Spaceships therefore cool
For a start at least OUTCASTs had spaceships, big honking planet settling spaceships. It had a colony that looks like it had been build from cannabilized spaceships ' The houses on Terra Nova look like they could double as an Apple Store. And while TN has dinosaurs and that is a plus they aren't anything that wasn't perfected by the Walking With Dinosaurs crew.

Also given a disease that wiped out most of the children mean they aren't up to their shoulders in annoying teen angst every week unlike Terra Nova. So a plus to OUTCASTS there.

Even the title TERRA NOVA sh*ts me. That translates as Earth New. Not a very imaginative title requiring no great geek knowledge. The planet in Outcasts is called Carpathia which is never explained, no block of  talking exposition but as everyone knows Carpathia was the name of the ship that rescued the survivors of the Titanic. See clever. So of course it only got eight episodes and ended on a cliff hanger that will never be resolved.
Oh great now the moons going to crash into us

Even in the first episode of TERRA NOVA they screwed up the maths on how big the moon should be, hint it shouldn't be THAT BIG.

So the little girl asks her big sister, "Is it always so big?"

Big sis: "Not always. It moves about a half a centimeter away from the Earth every year, so it’s much closer than it was yesterday."

The moon does move around 4cm/year, it was moving away a bit slower millions of years ago but lets assume 4cm/year close enough for government work. Therefore how much closer 85million years ago thats 425 kilometres. Given that it currently orbits at around on average 400,000kms thats a tiny variation about 0.1%. Since the moon travels an ellipitcal orbit over a two week period is varies by about 50,000kms every fortnight there is NO WAY that the could percieve a difference. So once again SCIENCE FAIL.

Terra Nova has only had a couple of episodes so far but its not looking good.  

Sunday, October 9, 2011

Breaking the laws of physics

Recently I have had to question my understanding of one of the fundamentals of the universe.

No I don't mean the experimental result which suggests they detected superluminal neutrinos. Although that result did generate much discussion around the dinner table, yes its that sort of household. That report is just the sort of investigation which is what science is all about. Randall Munroe of xkcd has a good take on how we should deal when such scientific results are reported in the news.


No my discovery involved a recent visit from My_reason_for_living when I thought she had violated one of the fundamental laws of thermodynamics. It was one evening, we had been in our centrally heated home for a few hours. Sufficient time for all internal bodies to reach thermodynamic equilibrium and then she placed her feet on my bare skin.


I have a scientific mind, and I had no idea how this can happen. By all the rules of physics her feet should be the same temperature as everything else, including me. It wasn't until I watched ABCs science program Catalyst that I worked out what was happening.

Obviously  My_reason_for_living's feet are made of some highly thermal conductive material. Diamond has one of the highest conductivity know to science. Q.E.D her feet are made of diamonds.  

Makes as much logical sense as the argument made HERE in the New York Times by Robert Bryce. 

Sunday, August 14, 2011

In crappy news for Zombie fans

American Movie Channel just made my list.

Last year the big standout hit for the network was their TV series THE WALKING DEAD, based on the awesome ongoing comix book series by Robert Kirkman. The series which premiered on Halloween last year attracted 5.3 million viewers, its season finale drew more than 6 million. Its one of the most successful television series ever produced by the network. In the coveted 18-49 demo is is the biggest numbers of any drama ever shown on basic cable. So what does a success like this breed.

The director Frank Darabount was sacked three days after the company used him to promote season 2 at comic con. They slash the per episode budget available from $3.4 to $2.75 and come up with a series of bone headed suggestions to the save cash.

"The show shoots for eight days per episode, and the network suggested that half should be indoors" and insider points out "this is not a show that takes place around a dinner table". Another suggestion "couldn't the audience hear the zombies and not see them saving on make up?"

needless to say I am no longer looking forward to the see what this has wrought for season two.

And next in the kick to the head in stupid ideas 

A synopsis was released by for the movie

"The story revolves around United Nations employee Gerry Lane (Pitt), who traverses the world in a race against time to stop the Zombie pandemic that is toppling armies and governments and threatening to decimate humanity itself.  Enos plays Gerry’s wife Karen Lane; Kertesz is his comrade in arms, Segen.”

serious WTFage????? Have they not read Max Brooke's book? Here is how the book is described

Brooks plays the role of an agent of the U.N Postwar Commission who published the report a decade after the Zombie War. The United Nations left out much of his work from the official report, choosing to focus on facts and figures from the war rather than the individual stories that form the bulk of Brooks' novel. The interviews chart a decade-long war against zombies from the view point of many different people of various nationalities. The personal accounts also describe the changing religious, geo-political, and environmental aftermath of the Zombie War.

AFTER THE ZOMBIE WAR NOT DURING and it is not just me who noticed they have fundamentally changed the story.

Topless Robot "And speaking of crushingly disappointing zombie news"

Io9 "WWZ movie synopsis is nothing like the book, internet melts down

Peter Hall over at sums up the problem best. "I Hate you Mac Foster. "

Me too. 

Sunday, August 7, 2011

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.

Saturday, June 25, 2011

Its not always about the Zombieapocalypse

Back off man, I'm a Zombiehunter
Though as a card carrying member of zombie squad (motto We make dead things deader) admittedly 97% of my free time is spent with rehearsals, drills, checkinga and re-evaluating my go-bag and every day carry, checking literature, consulting health records, watching for Patient Zero, recharging torches seemingly endlessly recharging torchs, restocking food and medical supplies, watching training films and reading manuals like DEADLINE by Mira Grant.

Occasionally I feel the need to widen my horizons, albeit only slightly. Such as this week when this arrived in the mail.

Don't think me being in a hardcopy will save you
Its Dr Daniel H Wilsons's ROBOPOCALYPSE. I've lauded his work ever since first his lament to the 21st Century  'Where's my Jetpack? A guide to the amazing science fiction that never arrived. He has go one to write a series of how to texts on

How to survive a robot uprising

How to build a robot army:Tips on defending Earth against Alien invaders, Ninjas and Zombies.

The book even before it became available was Steven Spielberg was committed to direct the movie.

In case you were wondering why I bought it in hard copy and not e-text. Manly because I haven't chosen my e-reader yet though when this becomes available I will be sorely tempted. The reason is if it on an electronic device that will make it far to easy for Archos to locate me.

Here is the winning fan made trailer for the book.

Saturday, June 18, 2011

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.

Saturday, June 11, 2011

Hug me I'm Vaccinated

"Look its Patient Zero, TAKE' HER DOWN!"
Are you noticing lots of people coughing, spluttering, complaining of sniffles and worse SNEEZING? Everyday on the train into the city a half a dozen people in my carriage release a mighty, droplet-riddled - ACHOO, and I think

 'is this it? is this Patient Zero of the next great pandemic?' 

What is the correct etiquette in this situation? pass them a hanky, douse them in disinfectant, yell at them "way to to doom the planet sneezy."

This week saw 4197 cases of Whooping Cough (Pertussis) since the start of the year in Victoria. This is twice the numbers for the same period in 2010. The Chief Health Officer of Victoria provided these figures

In 2008 there were 1673 cases
2009 there were 3736
2010 a total of 6736

anyone else spotting a trend here?

My reason_for_living, a mild mannered academic at a major metropolitan university, (that's a fib she's never been mild mannered) was notified of a case of diphtheria in the university. That's right


The New South Wales health department describes this disease as

As a contagious and potentially life threatening bacterial  infection, a common cause of death in children up   until the 1940s but has now almost  disappeared in Australia due to immunization     

I expect Tetanus to start rearing its ugly jaw locking head any day. 

If only there was some effective regime we as a society could adopt to prevent these terrible disease from ravaging across our civilization? There is its called VACCINATION.  Perhaps a schedule like the one listed here given to all children. Its called the National Immunization Program Schedule. So why isn't it working? I tell you why its because ....

Immunization is a victim of its own success, we don't see children suffering from these diseases anymore so we have become complacent. Which allows the efforts of the deliberately miss-titled Australian Vaccination network to spread lies and fears of the risk of immunization. This organisation headed by the appalling Meryl Dorey whose rants against immunization are so bizarre, on one occasion likening a vaccination of a child to rape, leads me to suspect she may suffer from some form of twisted Piquerism. Then there is the work of ex Doctor Andrew Wakefield whose fraudulent study proposing a link between the UK MMR vaccine and Autism lead to a boom in cases of measles. Plus the Tree-change, we live in a fairy tale mind state in rural New South Wales and don't believe in Western Medicine type. 

When I took the_weapon in to get this years flu shot I discovered the booster for tetanus I got after my motorbike accident only covered me for Tetanus and Diphtheria. So I paid the $40 for the booster and received the most painless vaccination ever. At the moment the health department is offering the booster free to new parents in an effort to get this outbreak under control and reduce the risk to new borns.

I'd like to think in some office in the Health Department there is a big transparent plasma screen like the one you see in all the high tech movies, with a outline of the state, highlighting the reported infections. Down one side a series of numbers recording the tally and plotting against previously calculated intervention points which automatically trip increasing levels of free immunizations.

At this level the standard childhood immunizations,  at this level parents of newborns, now people working with children, the vulnerable and finally in a desperate attempt to stop the spread free to everyone. 

Of course its not like that, and I worry that our health services are desperately under funded and people don't realize the risk or appreciate how long it took us to reign in these terrible scourges and how this brief respite in the history of civilization could end and we could return to tiny babies gasping for breath due to whooping cough.  

We shouldn't have to go backwards, we shouldn't have to learn this stuff all over again.

Sunday, February 13, 2011

Valentines day

A lot has been written and sung about love, but as a skeptic this song appeals on such a day.

So I trust it would go without saying
That I would feel really very sad
If tomorrow you were to fall off something high
Or catch something bad
But I'm just saying
I don't think you're special
I-I mean, I think your special
But you fall within a bell curve

Happy Valentines day

Saturday, February 5, 2011

Homeopathy - There's Nothing In It.

That's the slogan of the annual 10:23 challenge which began in January 2010 to convince a chain of pharmacies in the U.K  to stop selling homeopathic products and thereby lending legitimacy to this unproven woo. On the 30th of January 2010 at 10:23 AM 400 people swallowed an entire bottle of homeopathic pills, to highlight the fact these 'remedies' have no active ingredients. As chemist I like that they chose 10:23 in reference to the concept of Avagado's number 6.022x1023.

In the TV show The Big Bang Theory Dr Shedlon Lee Cooper drawing on the experiments of Bertram Forer in 1948 called Astrology "nothing but pseudoscientific hokum". I would like to draw upon the work J Maddox, J Randi and W. W Stewart who proved conclusively through meticulously designed experiments that Homeopathy is nothing but pseudoscientific hokum.

Homeopathy according to the Australian Homeopathic Association (they have courses and degrees and everything) is based on "the Law of likes" for example coffee can wake you up so if you are suffering from insomnia a diluted quantity of coffee can help you sleep. No seriously they even sell a product called 'coffee cruda', sorry prescribe a treatment to alleviate this problem. It gets sillier from there. Homeopathy also believes in the 'Law of Infinitesimals'  the more dilute the remedy the more potent. No I am not making this up.  Of course not just any dilution, special dilutions called 'centesimals'.

As described on the 10:23 website 
Taking a single drop of caffeine and diluting in ninety-nine drops of water creates what is known to homeopaths as one 'centesimal'. One drop of this centesimal added to another ninety-nine drops of water produces a two-centesimal, written as 2C. This 2C caffeine potion is 99.99% water and just 0.01% caffeine. At 3C the dilution is 0.0001% caffeine, at 4C it's 0.000001% caffeine, and so on. Homeopathic remedies are commonly sold at 6C (0.000 000 000 1%) and even 30C (0.000 000 000 000 000 000 000 000 000 000 000 000 000 000 000 000 000 000 000 1%) dilutions, which homeopaths will often drip onto little balls of sugar to sell.
When these numbers are written out, it's easy to see how absurd they are. At 12C you pass what is known as the Avogadro Limit, the point at which there is likely nothing of your original substance left.
By the time you reach 30C, you have more chance of winning the lottery five weeks running than you have of finding a single caffeine molecule in your homeopathic sleeping draft. It's just ordinary water, dripped onto ordinary sugar.
Finally they throw in the Law of Succussion which means shaking the solutions so the water can retain the memory of the molecule that is no longer there. Honestly according to homeopaths shaking stuff makes it hold the pattern better?
Darryl Cunningham has put together a magnificent cartoon of the whole homeopathy mess over on his blog Darryl Cunningham Investigates. Below is the front page. He also did one for the MMR vaccine and autism.homeopathy 1
Some of the ways folk are highlighting the foolishness of homeopathy - folk in the UK have bought homeopathic medicines and plan to overdose, which is difficult when all you are effectively consuming is sugar water, others have taken a drop of nitroglycerin and diluted homeopathically which should by their system making a much more potent explosive, but according to the system called science just makes it wetter.   
I also like to think humor is an effective weapon against such woolly thinking, for those who are big fans of the late great Dr Carl Sagan like me and the_weapon this piece by the folk at Ninjerksu made me smile for a while.
Astrology... Your future looks............. Gloomy 
Some will ask why the fuss, if people want to spend their money on what is effectively expensive water where's the harm. Simon Singh provides a cogent argument here. Also the website What's the harm, provides examples of some of the 400 people harmed because of homeopathy, including Ms J Alderslade who when told by a homeopath to give up here asthma medication, died of an asthma attack and Isabella Denley a 13month old who died because her parents refused to treat her epilepsy with medication and instead relied on 'alternatives like homeopathy.'  
realize that western medicine can cause side effects, some of which in the cases of diseases like cancer can be horrific and painful. However they have been shown to provide the best chance for long term survival and I would choose western or science/evidence based medicine over any amount woo or quack voodoo.
So remember when it comes to alternatives like homeopathy.