24 June, 2008

A New Look For WND

What do you think? I haven't personalised it much yet but I like the look. The columns are a little wider than the old layout, all the navigation and fun stuff is now on the left (the jukebox is still at the bottom though) and I've rearranged the order of things. You will also notice the absence of ads. What the heck. They were making more money for Google than for me and only cluttered up the place.

(Anyone who has had any experience with Adsense (Google's ad placement service) will also know what fun it is trying to keep scumbag advertisers off your pages. Every time I mention 'evolution' or 'god' in a blog, the ads are taken over by loony religious organisations with more money than they should have, trying to sell their insane ideas to a readership I'm sure would only find their rantings embarrassing. To stop them you have to create lists of advertisers that you want to block. Very tedious. It's far better that they just have no opportunity at all.)

I'd like to replace the background graphic (one day when I feel up to working out how to do it) with something a bit more meaningful but it will do for now, I think.

For those among my regular readers who hate change and can't stand surprises (you know who you are) I can only offer my sincerest apologies and hope that you will take this opportunity to flame me in the Comments section.

19 June, 2008

Magical Thinking

An uncharacteristically brief posting from me today I'm afraid, but I wanted to tell everyone about a great article I just read. It is called Magical Thinking and it is by Matthew Hutson. (Actually, the wrap-up on the last page is a bit lame but the rest is excellent.)

One of the pleasing things about modern psychology is that it seems to have taken on board the task of explaining superstitious and religious thinking. It's about time! Hutson's article does an excellent job of summarising current thinking on the subject.

Sadly, he offers no cure :-(

14 June, 2008

As Cute As Three Roos

Getting a new puppy is not unlike having a baby. Our new puppy (pictured below) arrived on Thursday, age: 8 weeks, weight: almost nothing, sex: male, breed: Airedale, name: to be decided - but probably 'Bertie'. It was a difficult labour.

We set off on the Wednesday and drove to Brisbane, stopping first at Warwick and then Toowong to buy a bed, cushion, bowls, chews, toys, food, harness, lead, etc., etc., etc.. We stayed overnight with Daughter at her new house. Since we'd left our Brisbane street map at home and were too cheap to fork out $25 for a new one, we wandered around the northern Brisbane suburbs, lost, for the first part of the evening. Then, in desperation, we used our 3G phone to call up maps and directions over the Internet. These were tiny to the point of farce but they were all we had and, I confess, they got us there in the end.

On Thursday morning we headed off to Chermside Shopping World (or somesuch name) to see what folks in the big city can buy these days and to wait for puppy's plane to get in. It's a mall about the size of a small town but our 3G maps led us off into strange and unwanted places where we spent the morning wandering and cursing. Finally, when the cursing had clearly failed, we decided we'd buy a map and hang the expense. Fortunately, when Wifie told The Nice Man In The Garage our predicament, he pointed out that we were just a couple of kilometers away from our goal on the road we'd just turned off.

It was at the mall that we got a call from Melbourne to say that the people dispatching the puppy by air freight had missed the planned flight and had booked him onto a later one. This was a catastrophe since the delay meant we would be picking up the dog in the north of Brisbane in the late afternoon and would have to cross the whole city in the rush-hour to get onto our southbound road home. And so it was. Puppy arrived on time in a gigantic, lime-green box and we cooed and fussed the dazed-looking creature for a while and then set off. (I'll skip the part about driving around the airport for the un-signposted freight depot and Wifie having to run into the domestic terminal to ask someone.)

It took us over two hours to cross Brisbane and get onto our homeward-bound motorway and then another three to get home from there (including a wayside stop to eat a Macdonald's cardboardburger as quickly as we could.) During this time, puppy sat on Wifie's lap. And that's not all he did. We had a large blanket with us and a towel and Puppy managed to drench both of them and Wifie's skirt. And I mean drench. I've never seen any animal urinate so much since I saw an elephant let rip once in a zoo when I was a child. I've also never eaten a cardboardburger in a Macdonald's with a woman whose skirt was quite so urine-soaked as Wifie's was that night.

But we made it home and that, as any parent knows, is when the real labour starts. It was soon obvious that puppy was completely feral. He may never have seen the inside of a house before and possibly not another human being apart from the one who lifted him out of his pen with a pair of tongs and dropped him into that lime-green box he arrived in. He has no conception of bladder or bowel control. His only mode of interaction is to bite whatever comes within reach. His metabolism turns the shoes, rugs, magazines and fingers he chews into urine and faeces at a rate that defies the laws of thermodynamics.

After our two-day, mapless trip to collect him, we were exhausted but after sleeping with a puppy lying on our heads (he likes to sleep that way) for two days, after running up and down the garden with him, cleaning up his endless torrent of excreta, letting him in and out and in and out, feeding him, pulling shoes and feet and furniture out of his jaws, retrieving his toys from underneath things (one fist-sized rubber blobby thing called a 'Kong' has disappeared completely - which is impossible) and looking around anxiously to check on what he's up to, like a pair of meerkats performing for a wildlife documentary, we're just beginning to realise what exhausted really is.

When I think of all the preparation and planning - thinking about names, wondering how we'll raise him, whether we'd be good 'parents', whether he'd like us, gazing misty-eyed at the pet sections in supermarkets, imagining the patter of tiny little paws, scanning the Web for guidance on how to raise a happy, fulfilled puppy - you'd think we'd have been ready. But, just like having a baby, the reality is a thousand times more overwhelming than you think it will be.

In those far-off days when we were contemplating 'starting a family', I remarked to Wifie and Daughter that having a dog on the property would probably mean that the local wildlife would start avoiding the place. This was a major 'con' as far as I could see because I like waking up to find a family of wallabies or kangaroos grazing in the garden, or seeing them come bounding over the bluff in the evening. The roos often come in threes - a male, female and youngster - and they are so cute you could just run out and hug them. It seemed to me, therefore, that to be worth having around, a dog would need to be at least as cute as three roos. A pretty tall order.

Yet, despite all the trouble he's been, despite the exhaustion and the sleeping with a creature that farts in your face all night, he is. Our puppy is definitely as cute as three roos.

So that's alright then.

01 June, 2008

Focus Fusion: Will It Save Us?

I've been reading a bit lately about focus fusion – a radically new approach to producing power from fusion reactions. The research is spearheaded by Eric J. Lerner and his company Lawrenceville Plasma Physics Inc. (LPP) and has been financed mostly by Government organisations like NASA and the Chilean Nuclear Energy Commission .

The basic principle is to use Dense Plasma Focus (DPF) to confine a proton-Boron mix (pB11) at extreme temperatures (a couple of million degrees) so that a fusion reaction can take place. The DPF technology has existed for decades but the theoretical work needed to enable a controlled fusion reaction has not existed until very recently. Now, LPP has received a USD600,000 grant from Swedish firm CMEF (the first part of ten million dollars if all goes well) to develop a proof-of-concept reactor.

Focus fusion has none of the major drawbacks the Tokomak programme has laboured under. It doesn't suffer the plasma stability problems Tokomaks do, it does not generate 'hard' radiation like Tokomaks, and it can feed electrons directly into the grid without the need to generate heat to drive turbines. It could potentially generate electricity at a hundredth of the cost of existing power generation techniques. It is also suitable for small-scale, distributed power production (a 5MWatt reactor could fit inside a garage). That means focus fusion reactors could power railway locomotives, lorries, ships and aircraft. What's more, electric cars would vastly outperform petrol (economically). If focus fusion works, we could easily be looking at a completely petrol and coal free world in just a few decades!

Obviously this would be a disaster for the Middle East and for the big petrol and coal companies (and, hopefully, the governments they prop up). It would probably also be a disaster for the major coal-exporting countries like Australia – which is a bit unfortunate since that's where I live. It would also mean the end of renewable energy technologies (I don't suppose anyone will be sad to see the end of wind farms!) and it would, at last, kill off nuclear power as a viable commercial concern.

All-in-all, it would be a miraculous technical breakthrough that would save us from global warming and make electricity virtually free for the whole world. It is estimated that there is enough boron in the world to keep us in power for a billion years and the only wast emission you get from focus fusion is Helium – an inert gas with no greenhouse effect.

Too good to be true? In a world already beset by food riots and the first petrol riots, a world that is just a few decades from a catastrophic climate change tipping point, where the first resource wars have already been fought, for all our sakes, let's hope not.

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