Friday, July 31, 2009

Oscar's Holiday Garbage Island

The Great Pacific Garbage Patch -

Unknown to many, hiding in north pacific ocean and estimated to be up to twice the size of Texas, is a vast gyre ("any manner of particularly large-scale wind, swirling vortex and ocean currents." - wikipedia ) of marine litter. Containing exceptionally high levels of suspended plastic as well as other debris, though not visible through satellite technology (so not on google earth, I tried) the polluted patch of ocean is one of 5 major collecting points.

Forming gradually over time from marine pollution (estimated to be 80% from inland sources and 20% from ships - Capt. Charles Moore) and drawn into a fairly still area of ocean by the rotational pattern created by the major oceanic gyres, the garbage is wind driven into the inner parts of the area, trapping it.

“The original idea that people had was that it was an island of plastic garbage that you could almost walk on. It is not quite like that. It is almost like a plastic soup. It is endless for an area that is maybe twice the size as continental United States.” - Marcus Eriksen, a research director of the US-based Algalita Marine Research Foundation

Some stats about the patch
- The size of the affected region is unknown, but estimates range from 700,000 km² to more than 15 million km², (0.41% to 8.1% of the size of the Pacific Ocean). The area may contain over 100 million tons of debris. - Charles Moore
- The Eastern Garbage Patch has one of the highest levels of plastic particulate suspended in the upper water column.
- Unlike debris which biodegrades, the photodegraded plastic disintegrates into ever smaller pieces while remaining a polymer. This process continues down to the molecular level.


Wednesday, July 29, 2009

Some Planets Never Die

After reading a copy of the New Scientist magazine today I found out that Pluto is actually still a planet... in Illinois.

Defying the rest of the astronomical community who, earlier in 2006, was demoted to the status to Dwarf Planet; down to the level of Eris.

"If Pluto is reinstated, it will probably be thanks to discovery rather than debate. Mark Sykes of the Planetary Science Institute in Tucson, Arizona, believes that revelations within and beyond our solar system over the coming years will make the IAU's controversial definition of a planet untenable. "We are in the midst of a conceptual revolution," he says. "We are shaking off the last vestiges of the mythological view of planets as special objects in the sky - and the idea that there has to be a small number of them because they're special."" Reports The New Scientist.
"Sykes is among those who prefer a simple and inclusive definition of planet status: if an object is big enough for its own gravity to squeeze it into a rounded shape, then call it a planet."

Firstly I'd like to point out that if a 18 year old student, with no science education past a year 10 level, can find an obvious problem with a claim like that it's probably not the best of claims. According to that vaguely scientific statement many new things would find themselves being named planets. For instance, the sun is a near perfect sphere if you see where I'm going with that one.

"It is also the sticking point. "It is a horrible mistake," says Alan Stern of the Southwest Research Institute in Boulder, Colorado, who leads NASA's New Horizons mission to Pluto. "Any definition that allows a planet in one location but not another is unworkable. Take Earth. Move it to Pluto's orbit, and it will be instantly disqualified as a planet."

While Earth's gravity is easily strong enough to have cleared the debris from our relatively small neighbourhood, two factors mean that it would fail to do the job if placed at Pluto's distance: the outer solar system is vast, and everything moves much more slowly out there. According to Sykes, 4.5 billion years would not be nearly long enough for a small and sluggish Earth to sweep those great expanses clean."

Remembering what I just said, 2 main points.
  1. Location is often key. A sun is a star in the center of a solar system. Take it out of the solar system and it is just a star. No ones crying on that one. So by his logic, as a planet must also be orbiting a sun, if you take earth out of orbit it isn't a planet and therefor every old bit of rock you can swap a planet with is a planet, just because you can swap a planet with it? Have a trophy everyone, you all win because you participated. Celestial Parking Failure (CPF) should not be encouraged, especially not by man.
  2. 4.5Billion years wouldn't be enough, and earth wouldn't be a planet. Get over it. We also most likely wouldn't exist, if we did we wouldn't care, in fact we'd probably consider ourselves more special. It was unclear, but it seemed that the earth would eventually clear the debris and become a planet, just like every other planet.
To conclude, Illinois sucks and New Scientist needs to try and maintain their usual standard a little more consistently. However for links to the article go here and for the new scientist homepage click this.

Tuesday, July 28, 2009


As a short blog today as I should be studying. I quite enjoy writing here (regardless of no fan base) and also want to keep up the habit, I thought I'd post some of the videos i'd seen on youtube that I really liked. I reccomend trying to watch them all eventually, though the musical ones are more up to your taste

Amazing or Arty
Amazing maths, kid using imaginary abicus at the end
Whiteboard Animation
Sonia Bravia ads
Slow Motion Videos

Musical -
Lateralus (full version) - Tool Cover, piano/vocal
Avishai Cohen Trio - Eleven Wives
Fazil -Summer Time (cover)
Cymatics - Bringing Matter To Life With Sound (part 1/3, other parts are up there)
Yuja Wang - Flight of the Bumble-Bee (Cziffra's arrangement for piano)
Mashup - Ghost Busters v. Kelis
Karnivool - Dead Man (live at the metro, [I was there {It was good}])
Jordan Rudess Keyboard Solo (Dreamtheatre Concert)
Bugge Wesseltoft - Yellow is the colour
Kapustin etude op.40 n.3 "Toccatina"

Flip Book Animations -

Octopus -
Invisible Octopus
Shark vs Octopus
Giant Octopus

Humour -
Macbook Air Parody
Mad TV - IRack Allegory
Ricky Jervais on creationists

Monday, July 27, 2009

On Homeopathy

I figured I had better write about it soon or at least give some kind of explanation or reason for the 'homeopathetic' in the URL.
Homeopathy, is known to many as just an alternative medicine with no real explanation at all. The understandably good reason for this is that the explanation of homeopathy seems like something out of a poorly researched science fiction novel. I had first properly heard the rough definition of it in the Tim Minchin song 'If You Open Your Mind Too Much Your Brain Will Fall Out (Take My Wife), and dismissed it as surely some alternative medicine with little popularity. I have always myself been a skeptic, but as I began to get more into the Skeptic movement, listening to the many Skeptical podcasts and reading Blogs etc, I began to hear more and more of Homeopathy and soon realised that it was quite a mainstream alternative.
For those who haven't heard, wikipedia describes homeopathy as
"a form of alternative medicine, first expounded by German physician Samuel Hahnemann in 1796, that treats patients with heavily diluted preparations which are thought to cause effects similar to the symptoms presented. Homeopathic remedies are prepared by serial dilution with shaking by forceful striking, which homeopaths term "succession," after each dilution under the assumption that this increases the effect of the treatment.
Apart from the symptoms of the disease, homeopaths use aspects of the patient's physical and psychological state in recommending remedies. Homeopathic reference books known as repertories are then consulted, and a remedy is selected based on the index of symptoms. Homeopathic remedies are considered safe, with rare exceptions. However, some homeopaths have been criticized for putting patients at risk with advice to avoid conventional medicine such as vaccinations, anti-malarial drugs, and antibiotics. In many countries, the laws that govern the regulation and testing of conventional drugs do not apply to homeopathic remedies."

As you can see it has no basis in actual science. In the days where many other treatments where dangerous to the person's health, (purging, bleeding, unnecessary amputation etc) avoiding treatment would have ostensibly better then the more conventional treatments. However, conventional medicine has come a long way, homeopathy has not.

One of the idiocies that homeopathy is based on is what they call the "Law of Similar" (or Similarities). Hahnemann claimed that he observed from his experiments from chinchona bark, that was used to treat malaria, that the effects he experienced from ingesting the bark were similar to the symptoms of malaria. Sigh, to quote directly from wikipedia now to avoid having to think too much about this "He therefore reasoned that cure proceeds through similarity, and that treatments must be able to produce symptoms in healthy individuals similar to those of the disease being treated".

How many F's in 'Fail'? Just the one? I thought so.

So in other words things like insomnia could be treated with coffee, diluted in water, to as infinitely diluted as they could make it; i.e, that effectively pure water could cure pretty much whatever they felt like as long as they could find a pure substance that could simulate the very symptoms of the ailment you were trying to remove.

Firstly, why would anyone assume that some unrelated substance that gave you the symptoms that you didn't want would help you diluted or not? Secondly, isn't an immunization essentially giving you a dead (better then diluted) actually related substance (the antigen) that replicates symptoms minorly (the fortification of the immune system). Why then would anyone choose homeopathic treatment over immunization. This is an excerpt from a pubmed article;

"The homoeopaths were asked whether they used or recommended orthodox immunization for children and whether they only used and recommended homoeopathic immunization. Seven of the 10 homoeopaths who were medically qualified recommended orthodox immunization but none of the 13 non-medically qualified homoeopaths did. One non-medically qualified homoeopath only used and recommended homoeopathic immunization."

I conclude this first part of the many rants to come in saying that the majority of these 'alternative medicine treatments' should be re classed as 'alternative to medicine treatments' as alternative medicine implies that the treatments actually do anything. Maybe they should just be classed as 'High Level Cost Placebos' or HLCP for short.


The Tim Minchin clip can be found here,
the pubmed article here,
and the wikipedia homeopathy article here

Sunday, July 26, 2009

Save Simon Singh

For those who haven't been following this is a libel lawsuit in the UK where Simon Singh, MBE and author specialising in writing about mathematical and scientific topics in an accessible manner (#1), is being sued over an article he wrote in the gaurdian where he wrote:
"You might think that modern chiropractors restrict themselves to treating back problems, but in fact they still possess some quite wacky ideas. The fundamentalists argue that they can cure anything. And even the more moderate chiropractors have ideas above their station. The British Chiropractic Association claims that their members can help treat children with colic, sleeping and feeding problems, frequent ear infections, asthma and prolonged crying, even though there is not a jot of evidence. This organisation is the respectable face of the chiropractic profession and yet it happily promotes bogus treatments."

It is this use of the word bogus here that seems to be the main problem. The judge, as for a better proceeding in the trial, chose to give a definition for the word bogus. However, the judges given definition seemingly ignores context as well as Singh's statements over his use of the word.

A facebook group in support for Singh can be found here:
and his wikipedia page with numerous links and references can be found here:

Starting Post, a granular of sand on the infite beach of the interweb

Just writing here to commence the blog. I'll see what happens here, hopefully this will just be another space to escape for me. There is sure to be a lot of links to follow to the various worlds I involve myself in. I plan to advocate skepticism, not to be confused with cynicism (which is to not be further confused with the ancient school of Cynicism, see
I often use Wikipedia, I tend to check the references buy if I link to anything or am myself incorrect or ambigous I look forward to your corrections (for further contact details, see

To put a better purpose for the post I'd like to link to a podcast I look most forward to, The Skeptics Guide to the Universe. The website can be found here (, it's a weekly podcast hosted by Steven Novella, a clinical neurologist, assistant professor and Director of General Neurology at Yale University School of Medicine (reference -
The podcast archive can be found here - -, or search for it in the itunes store or subscribe through the link of their RSS feed on their website.