Sunday, December 24, 2006

"Surely You're Joking Mr Feynman"

Just finished this book. Read it very quickly even though it's a relatively long read - think it was just because it was very interesting.

Richard Feynman was considered one of the top minds of the last century. Reading this book, you'll get an idea why. Obviously, as an autobiography it does bring to the fore how great he thought he was. He never really goes into detail about his achievements, so it's tough to know details about what exactly it was that he achieved.

This book really blows stuff like Freakonomics out of the water in terms of thinking differently. I think the fundamental reason Feynman stood out was a combination of the persistence he asked the question 'Why?' and his ability to obtain answers.

'Why' is a fundamental word that should really be used more often. Ben Goldacre's wonderful 'Bad Science' column in the Guardian fulfils the modern day version of Feynman - asking awkward questions of what Feynman calls 'Cargo Cult Scientists.'

Asking the right questions of quacks and trash peddlers should smoke them out pretty quickly.

I often get frustrated at work when people give presentations that aren't necessarily backed up by facts. I too often put up charts without properly sourcing them. I think this is a problem that needs to be addressed in society in general.

Too often newspaper report only the findings of a study. It's amazing how often they won't actually tell you which journal the research is appearing in. They often won't even include who the authors are. I often moan about the number of headlines revolving around 'cancer risk' in newspaper stories. The old method of ignoring stories with quotation marks in the headlines needs to be followed more rigorously.

In summary, I remembered the Feynman lectures from my physics course and it's refreshing to find out that there was a genuinely interesting (if sometimes tipping towards the insane side of eccentric) person behind them. Well worth a read if you're looking for some popular science stuff.


For anyone who doesn't like the Daily Mail nor the Evening Standard, here's a great little thing.

Managed to get it to say "Londoners fear Ken fiasco." Wonder if that's what the headline writers actually use - will have to see if I can see a similar machine at the Sun.

Saturday, December 23, 2006

Heat - George Monbiot's New Book

I do hate George Monbiot on many levels. He has a very strong 'holier than thou' attitude to almost all of his campaigning issues. He very rarely gives people credit for trying. "You may have saved one million dolphins, but you still don't pay your migrant workers a living wage".

This book is a vision of how to deliver an almost Carbon Neutral Britain (and world) by 2050. It's very ambitious and very interesting. Once you get past his first two chapters, it's quite a good read. It should be used as a model for people wishing to make a point about anything campaigny. Everything he refers to is sourced, he talks through his calculations and he is good at actually using decent numbers.

Overall, there were some interesting ideas which I'm going to have to check out:

  • DC Power Lines (a new, more efficient way of moving large amounts of electricity around)
  • Passive Houses (extremely well insulated houses which don't need heat)
  • Peer to Peer National Grid

The Peer to Peer National Grid sounds the most promising. The majority of energy inefficiency in electricity generation is due to heat escaping. This could be harnessed by putting small scale generators in each home. THe power transmission lines would then allow energy exchanges between households.

My main problems with his book is that the assumptions used to postulate that we need to reduce a carbon emissions by 90% seem slightly ropey. He goes out of his way to criticise a group of people for not being fully trained in science, but then talks about a wonderful paper by someone who wasn't trained in science (one page later!?).

To be fair though, this is a good effort and worth a read or two.


Wednesday, December 20, 2006


The original special effects guru. Impressive what could be achieved with a stop motion camera, a projection screen and large amounts of plasticene.

Thursday, December 07, 2006

Learning - Crip on a Trip

Title of the programme seems to have been done by a Sun subeditor...

Sounds like an interesting show.

What's next?

Tourettes on Tour?

Spastic spend with plastic?

Midgets play with Widgets?

Possibilities are endless