Saturday, December 29, 2007

Movies we've seen. 'NatTreasure2' and 'Golden Compass'.

We went and saw 2 movies either side of Christmas. 'National Treasure (2) - Book of Secrets', and 'The Golden Compass'.

I didn't find Nat Treasure 2 anywhere near as good as the first 'National Treasure'. Probably because it falls into the same trap as many sequels do - of following the same formula with little new to add. Not bad, entertaining, but 2nd banana to the original (very good) movie. 6 1/2 out of 10.

'Golden Compass' I found to be an excellent movie. Well crafted and recommended. I had heard it had a very anti-religious message, but I didn't find that to be so, at least overtly so anyway. 9 out of 10.

Funny how movies go in trends. There were bunches of westerns, then war movies, the disaster movies, musicals. These days there seem to be lots of Harry Potter, Lord of the Rings, Terabithia etc etc. 'Compass is to a similar formula, but manages to rise above being another clone to that formula.


Saturday, December 22, 2007

Ancient Astronomy - Fascinating!

We are so fortunate these days in the information available to us and the technology that delivers it. (In this case, I mean pay TV - cable to some, in our household's case delivered by satellite).

I was watching (I think) 'Discovery' channel earlier and the show was about Stonehenge, which there is little doubt was an ancient astronomical calculator. Knowing when the winter solstice happens, accurately, is a huge aid in knowing when to prepare ground and plant crops, for example.

The show also fleetingly covered what are described as 'the Golden Hats', which themselves appear to be astronomical calculators. One interesting thing (of many) was that several of these items were found in various places in Europe, suggesting Bronze age Europe was quite homogeneous. (There are even earlier 'calculators').

But the REAL lesson is that our ancestors of 3-4,000 years ago were very much more advanced, and accomplished in the sciences than most people these days give them credit for. The could determine summer and winter solstice, track the moon phases. They also knew about Metonic cycles as well it seems. Fascinating stuff.

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Aussie train experiences.

Peter mentioned in a reply to an earlier post;
"...I will add the Australian Road trains. I will be on retirement in less then a year and have many plans of things to do. Among them, take the famous train stretch between East and West Australia were the train goes for some 500 km without a curve..."
The train he refers to is the Indian-Pacific which goes coast to coast, east-west across the bottom end of Australia. The straight stretch he refers to is near Cook, South Australia and it is 478 km. More Specific information here and here.
(BTW I have heard that while you can just get seats, a room is very advisable. The journey takes ~3days and the creature comforts afforded by your own room make the difference between it being a chore and a good experience).
Those interested in the Indian-Pacific might also be interested in 'the Ghan' (so named after the Afghan camel drivers who helped open up 'the outback' desert areas - camels being the only workable transport option back in the 1800s - the 'Overland Telegraph' line couldn't have been built otherwise). More info on the train here.
The rail journey that appeals to me would have to be Canada. (If for no other reason that the Canadian countryside is such a stark contrast to the Australian countryside).

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Wednesday, December 19, 2007

Australian Road Trains.

For something a little bit different, and perhaps interesting to those who visit us from outside Australia or North America.

Australia is a large country, with a smallish population (80% or so desert in fact - the continent most like us in terrain is probably Africa). There are railways, but they are only economical for high traffic routes.

What we do use in the sparsely populated interior is road trains (and even near the main cities you'll see plenty of B-doubles). The smallest rig which will pay it's way doing 'interstate' is a semi usually consisting of a bogie drive prime mover and tri-axle trailer - 22 wheels in all. The US standard is an 18-wheeler.

We call the drivers 'Truckies' (as opposed to the US 'Trucker') and they have a thriving industry - you could probably more term it a subculture actually.

More here, here, and here.

New blog listing - 'Labor Watch!'.

You will see listed on the 'Blog Roll', a new site; 'Labor Watch', which has as it's aim;
"The Federal Election held on 24th November, 2007 was won by the Rudd led Australian Labor Party(ALP). This gave Australia wall to wall governments where the only Liberal in a position of power, is the Lord Mayor of Brisbane which is stacked by the ALP. The role of "Labor Watch!" is to monitor the wall to wall Labor Government to hold them responsible for their mismanagement.".
Whatever your political leanings, I believe that scrutiny and questioning of politicians and parties is a healthy thing.

A pity we don't have more of the tools of Direct Democracy to 'keep the bastards honest'. Specifically Initiative and Recall (we have Referendum). (And a better 4th estate - the media - to aid transparency in the political process whilst we are at it).

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Tuesday, December 18, 2007

And so, this is Christmas....

A week to Christmas. And a special day for my wife Tracey and I. Our Anniversary. We have been married 19 years. (And I'd do it again. She's a good egg is my Trace).
"Come, grow old with me,
The best is yet to be"
(Attributed to Robert Browning).
Peter (Worldman), one of nature's true gentlemen made a lovely post here and said some very nice things to each of his network of friends in the blogosphere. So Thank You Peter and I wish you the Best for the Season.

Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year to All :-)

Sunday, December 16, 2007

Global Warming and the Stefan-Boltzmann equation.

Following on from this post, I ran across a pointer here to this article from these folk.

The article is titled; Dishonest Political Tampering with the Science on Global Warming [Christopher Monckton].

"As a contributor to the IPCC's 2007 report, I share the Nobel Peace Prize with Al Gore. Yet I and many of my peers in the British House of Lords - through our hereditary element the most independent-minded of lawmakers - profoundly disagree on fundamental scientific grounds with both the IPCC and my co-laureate's alarmist movie An Inconvenient Truth..."

"...At the very heart of the IPCC's calculations lurks an error more serious than any of these. The IPCC says: "The CO2 radiative forcing increased by 20 percent during the last 10 years (1995-2005)." Radiative forcing quantifies increases in radiant energy in the atmosphere, and hence in temperature. The atmospheric concentration of CO2 in 1995 was 360 parts per million. In 2005 it was just 5percent higher, at 378 ppm. But each additional molecule of CO2 in the air causes a smaller radiant-energy increase than its predecessor. So the true increase in radiative forcing was 1 percent, not 20 percent. The IPCC has exaggerated the CO2 effect 20-fold.

Why so large and crucial an exaggeration? Answer: the IPCC has repealed the fundamental physical the Stefan-Boltzmann equation - that converts radiant energy to temperature. Without this equation, no meaningful calculation of the effect of radiance on temperature can be done. Yet the 1,600 pages of the IPCC's 2007 report do not mention it once.

The IPCC knows of the equation, of course. But it is inconvenient. It imposes a strict (and very low) limit on how much greenhouse gases can increase temperature. At the Earth's surface, you can add as much greenhouse gas as you like (the "surface forcing"), and the temperature will scarcely respond.

That is why all of the IPCC's computer models predict that 10km above Bali, in the tropical upper troposphere, temperature should be rising two or three times as fast as it does at the surface. Without that tropical upper-troposphere "hot-spot", the Stefan-Boltzmann law ensures that surface temperature cannot change much.

For half a century we have been measuring the temperature in the upper atmosphere - and it has been changing no faster than at the surface. The IPCC knows this, too. So it merely declares that its computer predictions are right and the real-world measurements are wrong. Next time you hear some scientifically-illiterate bureaucrat say, "The science is settled", remember this vital failure of real-world observations to confirm the IPCC's computer predictions. The IPCC's entire case is built on a guess that the absent hot-spot might exist...".

"...The international community has galloped lemming-like over the cliff twice before. Twenty years ago the UN decided not to regard AIDS as a fatal infection. Carriers of the disease were not identified and isolated. Result: 25 million deaths in poor countries.

Thirty-five years ago the world decided to ban DDT, the only effective agent against malaria. Result: 40 million deaths in poor countries. The World Health Organization lifted the DDT ban on Sept. 15 last year. It now recommends the use of DDT to control malaria. Dr. Arata Kochi of the WHO said that politics could no longer be allowed to stand in the way of the science and the data. Amen to that...".
We should subject that view to every bit as much critical rigour as we do the global warmenistas of course. So the first thing I did was to try and find out about this "Stefan-Boltzmann equation". I found some information here, here, and some further information on the very debate we are interested in here.

This site gives a very good precis (and links) for the counter argument.

Another thing which makes me wonder is I well remember an interview (or two) where Tim Flannery predicted a continuing and worsening drought due to climate change. Instead, we are currently experiencing substantial rainfall due to the
La Nina effect. Things like that serve to increase my cynicism.

So what is the conclusion? I'm still to be convinced one way or the other I'm afraid. One thing is for sure though, when some say; "the science is settled" well clearly, it isn't!

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Tuesday, December 04, 2007

Movies I've seen - Beowulf.

Went and saw Beowulf on the weekend just gone. Good, worth seeing, but I'm not going to rave over it.

The story itself is one of the most significant epic poems/sagas in early English literature. Well over a thousand years old it predates the English being 'English', in that it's Scandinavian roots are very clear.

Trouble is, the movie is not true to the original story. Even 'adapted' to modern media, it fails to stir the imagination in the same way as, say 'Lord of the Rings' does.

The story is more at home in a Norse or Anglo-Saxon feasting and drinking hall. It doesn't translate to the big screen in the same way.