Of ‘God particles’ and (wilful) ignorance

Filed under: — Bravus @ 1:06 pm

Saw this story in the Courier Mail (our local Brisbane tabloid rag… and we don’t actually have a decent paper here at all) this morning: Atom smasher hits record energy levels in pursuit of Big Bang.

The article, annoyingly, was also titled ‘Atom smasher a bit closer to God’ for a while, until the paper saw the error of its ways. Calling the Higgs boson the ‘God particle’ is just journalistic laziness (possibly facilitated by some scientists’ hyperbole), and ends up baiting nutters for no good reason. The Higgs boson is fascinating in itself, for reasons I’ve talked about here before, but has nothing at all to do with the existence or otherwise of God, or any matters theological.

Anyway, I seem to have gone off into a rant. My point was more in relation to the comments thread. The very wonderful Jack Womack recently said: “Reading newspaper comment threads will cause your view of humanity to approximate Swift’s in a matter of seconds.”

He’s generally very right – for me, particularly when the topic is education. But I was actually quite buoyed by this particular thread. I mean, it started weak:

Mike of Brisbane Posted at 11:46 PM March 30, 2010
And the point of it all is? What will it do for the man on the street? NOTHING!

My own response was as follows:

Bravus of Brisbane Posted at 7:22 AM Today
What an incredibly short-sighted view, Mike. The same question could have been asked of Bohr and Einstein in the 1920s as they worked on quantum physics… but if they hadn’t, you wouldn’t have had your computer on which to type your comment, since quantum physics underlies the operation of computer chips. It’s impossible to directly predict what technological advances for everyone will arise from this kind of pure science, but if the history of science and technology over the centuries is any guide, there will be some, and they’ll revolutionise our lives. (As one random possibility – the Higgs boson is the particle that explains gravity. How much would space travel – and access to the almost infinite resources of the solar system – be revolutionised if we learned to manipulate gravity?)

But if you go up to that first link above and read all the comments (you may need to click to open them out), you’ll see that I had to wait my turn (I think my comments was 17th) to have a go at Mike: lots of people defended the importance of basic science.

Happy-making. 😉


People are Strange

Filed under: — Bravus @ 7:43 am

…and that’s a good thing, IMO.

‘Cleverest man in the world’ decides whether to accept a million dollars



Filed under: — Bravus @ 9:21 am

Just coming back to my room on the 17th floor, from a conference event on the 5th. When I got in at the 5th, a guy got out with his suitcase (there are no guest rooms on the 5th, only conference rooms, but I didn’t think too much about it). When I got into the lift I noticed that the 16 button was lighted up, and deduced that that guy had been headed for 16 but had absent-mindedly got off at the 5th because the lift stopped. Had a little bit of a rueful chuckle at his expense, continued up in the lift, got off, started heading for my room… and discovered I was on the 16th floor. I’d done exactly the same thing.


Travel Tales

Filed under: — Bravus @ 2:01 pm

So, flew out from Brisbane this morning (Saturday the 20th, not sure what time zone the blog software thinks it’s in) at 11 am, and it just now hit midnight and become the 21st… but with a 14 hour timezone difference, that’s been one loooong day.

We (my colleague Michelle Mukherjee who works on one of my research projects travelled with me) went direct Brisbane-LA, and arrived at about 6:30 am in LA, four and a half hours before we left, after a 14 hour flight. That one was good, because we’d agreed that we’d rather sit next to each other than some random, and Michelle is about 5’2″ and petite, so a good complement to my shoulders that tend to take up every inch of the allotted space, maybe plus a bit… The lady at check-in put us at the back where there were only 2 seats in a row so we didn’t have to deal with anyone else climbing over us.

The movie/entertainment system was dodgy, and it turned out that we got no movies in our seats. I was fine because I’d brought 3 books (and am a few pages from the end of the last one – it was a close-run thing), but Michelle had kinda planned on watching movies as entertainment, and although it was dark it was the middle of the day for us, so she had to try to sleep anyway. QANTAS did, however, give us our choice of $100 worth from the onboard Duty Free catalogue in compensation…

LAX was a complete nightmare – checked in and got our boarding passes OK, after figuring out the automated system, checked Michelle’s bag through (I didn’t check anything, travelling light), then joined the, I kind you not, 600 metre or so queue for security check. It snaked 150 metres down the sidewalk outside the building, back up the other side of the same path, up the stairs and then along one side of a balcony and back down the other. We were called out of the line after our flight’s boarding had already started, and they were literally starting to withdraw the boarding ramp and shut the door right behind me by the time I made it on to the LA-Dallas flight. But I did make it.

No loo break in the 2 hours in the airport, though, and I ended up with a window seat beside a very lovely but (particularly the husband) quite frail and elderly Texan couple. They were very friendly, but I didn’t feel able to make them get up again, after making them get up when I arrived late (not my fault), to go to the loo, so that was another 3.5 hours… great flight otherwise, but I may have done bladder damage.

By contrast, the Dallas-Fort Worth airport was huge and excellent and kinda sparsely populated, with the terminals spread out and served by a monorail, and no need to go through security at all this time, so we got to relax a bit more, though the turnaround was too short to get any food, and for domestic US flights the food all costs and there are a limited amount of payment options. I ended up picking up a $10 cold turkey sandwich on the flight to Philadelphia, and hoping for room service at the hotel.

Got to Philly airport fine, waited half an hour in the wrong place, found the right place and waited another 40 minutes or so… so by the time I got here, set up, showered and dressed it was midnight.

Tried room service a few times and didn’t get an answer, but finally got through just a minute ago. In 45 minutes I’ll have ribs and beer – if I can stay awake. Then sleeeeppp…


It’s Complicated

Filed under: — Bravus @ 12:34 pm

You have a few options to pick when describing your relationship status on Facebook, from ‘single’ to ‘in a relationship with’. One of the options is ‘it’s complicated’… and of course it’s kinda scary if someone you’re ‘in a relationship’ with switches their status to that.

Have to say that for me right now, that would be the one I’d pick in relation to God, Jesus, religion, all of that stuff. Not single, not really in a relationship… it’s complicated.


What if it’s all a big hoax…?

Filed under: — Bravus @ 8:25 am


Government, Welfare, Healthcare Reform and the Incoherence of the ‘Tea Partiers’

Filed under: — Bravus @ 9:05 am

Check it out (from Esquire):



Religion Needs Atheism

Filed under: — Bravus @ 5:58 am

Very excellent article at the Huffington Post from Samir Selmanovic on how religion and atheism can find ways to mutually enhance human life rather than get stuck in destructive attempts at mutally assured destruction:



Would the Rapture make the world a better place?

Filed under: — Bravus @ 9:21 pm

Many Christians believe in the doctrine of the Secret Rapture – a time prior to the Second Coming when Christians suddenly vanish from wherever they are and whatever they’re doing and go to heaven. They’ve written the over-wrought series of ‘Left Behind’ novels about the hellish earth that ensues for those who aren’t raptured…

But I have to wonder: do you really think that, if all the Christians on earth suddenly vanished, the planet as a whole would be on balance a better or a worse place to live?

(Now, I think many of the Rapture doctrines include the removal of some kind of Divine protection at the same time – I’m not talking about that, just about a world suddenly devoid of Christians.)

Everyone will have their own response, of course. It partly depends on how involved you are in issues like gay rights, and on whether you focus on Christian humanitarian efforts around the world or on attempts to curtail the rights of others. It’s too easy to focus only on our pet issues and not make any sort of balanced judgement.

I have to say that for me, at least the way I feel today, I’d be happier in a post-Rapture than a pre-Rapture world (of course, if it’s all true, I guess I might be happier still if I got Raptured to heaven… though then, of course, I’d be in a world composed entirely of Christians!)

But from another perspective, I know a lot of people who read this blog are Christians (or ex-Christians or post-Christians or just plain confused!): can you turn that lens on yourself? Do you make the world a better or a worse place for others day-to-day? And do you do that because of, or despite, your faith?


Creationists and Denialists join forces

Filed under: — Bravus @ 9:06 am

I’ve been thinking about it for a while. If your religious faith (or the subsection of it dealing with origins) actively requires you to be not just ascientific but antiscientific, that seems to immediately open you up to pretty much any crazy theory or antiscientific nonsense from 9/11 conspiracy theories to vaccine avoidance to wild speculations about the earth’s axis being vertical a few thousand years ago. And to being a climate change ‘sceptic’.

Via Bruce Sterling: http://www.nytimes.com/2010/03/04/science/earth/04climate.html


A Film about how we have all become Richard Nixon

Filed under: — Bravus @ 3:45 pm


It outlines our current societal malaise perfectly… but doesn’t really provide a solution.

Here’s mine: reject the fear. Understand the evidence.

God doesn’t really hate poor people

Filed under: — Bravus @ 2:27 pm

I’d been wondering a bit, after Haiti and Chile. I mean, some of his self-proclaimed servants seemed to think so… But this article does a nice job of explaining why a significantly smaller quake than the one in Chile killed a lot more people in Haiti:



Can you stop playing with it?

Filed under: — Bravus @ 8:15 am



What if Jesus meant all that stuff?

Filed under: — Bravus @ 12:58 pm


Solving the ‘apps won’t open’ issue on iPhone

Filed under: — Bravus @ 12:28 pm

(a few keywords to make it more searchable: apps applications not won’t work working open opening crash crashing maximize)

Thought I’d share this here because I know enough people with iPhones who might run into it, plus if it’s blogged it will eventually be Google-able, and a bit more reliable than old forum posts from 2007…

I have an iPhone 3 GS 16 GB with software version 3.1.3. Suddenly a couple of days ago most of my third-party apps (i.e. the ones added through App Store rather than the ones that come with the phone) started misbehaving. If I touched them they would maximise to full screen for a fraction of a second and then disappear.

I deleted the Facebook and Tweetdeck apps (both free) and reinstalled them, and that fixed the problem. Didn’t want to uninstall and reinstall the ones I’d paid for, though, so that wasn’t really a solution. Hit the web but most of the offered solutions were from a couple of years ago, and many involved basically formatting and reinstalling everything on the phone.

I checked that this computer was ‘authorised’ in iTunes, and it was – some people mentioned that that can be an issue. Syncing apps wasn’t really a solution, since it removes all the third party apps and they need to be installed again.

Then I found the key: transferring purchases from the iPhone to iTunes on the local computer. You do this by right-clicking (CTRL-click on Mac) on the iPhone in the iTunes left pane and selecting ‘Transfer Purchases’.

Let that happen, then go to the ‘Applications’ tab for the phone in iTunes and check the boxes next to each of the apps you want on your phone (presumably all of them). Now Sync apps and voila, they should all be present, correct and working. You may need to put account info and passwords and so on back into some apps, but they’ll work… and you won’t need to buy them again.

Hope that’s helpful.