If we need to “wean ourselves off oil”, government should lead the way

Chris Huhne, the Energy and Climate Change Secretary reckons: “getting off the oil hook is made all the more urgent by the crisis in the Middle East.” My response is simple: if it’s so important to stop our dependency on oil, YOU go first. Please show us how it’s done. And you can start by getting rid of the current tax on fuel.

Tax on fuel in the UK is the highest it has ever been. For every litre of petrol (unleaded average at present is 131.38p), 58.95p is tax. And 20% of the final price includes VAT (also a record high of 20%). There are those who vilify the oil companies when they see the exorbitant profits they are enjoying. Let’s think about this for a moment: the oil companies are the ones who scan the earth for oil (drilling locations are heavily restricted due to “green” regulations), construct oil platforms, drill for the oil, refine it, ship it around the world, and deliver it to your local petrol station overnight, and require all the overheads of any business, versus: a government of powerful vote-whoring politicians who are practically answerable to no-one, with a track record of breaking promises, lying to your face, taxing you at every single possible opportunity, more than doubling the price of petrol itself, and invading your privacy. If we are going to point fingers, let’s be honest over who the real villains are.

Another obvious (and pretty silly) myth being perpetuated here is that oil is an addiction we can just get over. No, we can’t. And we shouldn’t. The quality of life we enjoy in the West is dependent on our demand for power. This isn’t something to be guilty about, but proud. It’s what separates us from savages in other parts of this world. There is no viable efficient practical alternative to oil as a power source at this moment in time. If and when the circumstances necessitate a shift, you can be sure that private companies (the ones who meet our demands now) will find the answer. That is how it always works. That is the only way it can work. (Even if somehow it doesn’t work out, the government does not hold the keys to a golden room where all our necessities are stored for emergencies. The power to tax is not the power to create.)

Incidentally, having a job title with the words “energy and climate change” seems like a contradiction to me. It’s like being a pro-Semitic Nazi or an anti-abortion individualist. The cult of climate change is fundamentally opposed to human well-being and industry. All this meddling in the economy simply wastes taxpayers’ money by pushing impractical “green” alternatives that can’t meet our demands. Why don’t these politicians realise that you can’t force a shift in the market, and if you do, the laws of economics will only come back to bite you? You can say we need to get away from oil all you want. For that matter, you can say we need to get away from our reliance on oxygen – but wishes aren’t horses. (Interestingly, other governments in the past like Soviet Russia and North Korean have had a desire to “wean” their citizens off another commodity they were heavily reliant on: food. It sort of worked; they ended up running out of food anyway, but had several million less mouths to feed.)

The current fuel costs are crippling businesses and draining investment capital – the very thing that would be used to fund any change in the energy industry in the future. This is the unconscionable irony for governments and ecologists alike: if you care about the future, leave private companies free to exploit the present.

Pope blesses “Confessions” iPhone app

I think it’s so great that the Catholic Church is keeping with the times and embracing technology! As if making confession in person for the sin of enjoying your life to a man who’s never lived one wasn’t enough, you can now do it with a Pope-endorsed iPhone app!

I can’t help but wonder if this first for the Church would’ve been less appealing if it already had a stranglehold on the minds and bodies of everyone. I mean, if the iPhone existed several centuries ago, would the Pope endorse the beauty of new technology to reach those in need of confession, or would it send thousands of men on a Holy Crusade to invade a foreign land? I’m just saying…

Where was this harmony of Church and science 500 years ago? I think I hear Galileo spinning in his grave.

And I can’t help but wonder if this adoption of the modern might be a glimpse of things to come? Might the Church also repeal its superstitious protection of a particular type of human cells? Might it also accept the technological wonder of contraception and all the benefits it brings? In the developing world where birth control and AIDS are real problems, I’m sure a condom is more use than the Confessions app on an iPhone.

And are priests allowed to own iPhones? I propose that all Catholic priests be given iPhones with the Confessions app! I wonder what that might look like…

The perfect solution to anyone who dislikes Apple’s monopoly

As most people know, there is a class action lawsuit against Apple for locking its phones to one service provider in the US: AT&T. It did the same in the UK when the iPhone was released, choosing O2 over competitors. Apple has also been criticised, and looks to have legal action being taken against it for “its absolute control over what applications iPhone owners can and cannot install on the gadgets.”

Should Apple not have absolute control over its own property? Does anyone think that a company as massive and successful as Apple would take any major business decision unless it thought it was in its own self-interest as a company? So, these attempts to bring legal actions against Apple actually represent a demand to make Apple act NOT in its best interest. But why? Why should a company not act in its own best interest? The same interest, by the way, that produced the iPhone and other such inventions in the first place.

Communication companies that did not receive exclusivity agreements with Apple, and developers whose apps won’t work on the iPhone bemoan the fact they’re being “locked out” of the party. Well, they are right. They are. But there is a simple solution to their problem that has been there from day one, a solution that doesn’t violate anyone’s Rights, doesn’t stifle innovation, doesn’t punish success simply for being success, and doesn’t offer yet another innovative company up on the altar of anti-trust altruism:

MAKE YOUR OWN DAMN iPHONE!!

Oh, what’s that? You can’t? So Apple must produce, so that you can dispose? Apple must create, so that you can use? Apple must sacrifice, so that you can benefit?  There is only one real practice resulting from this sentiment; a practice has been supposedly outlawed against individuals in the entire civilised world: SLAVERY.

(If you really don’t like Apple and want their smartphone “monopoly” broken, vote with your wallet; do what I did and buy an Android phone.  I’d recommend the HTC Desire.  Same features as the iPhone 4; hundreds of pounds cheaper.  And it probably won’t blow up on you either.)

Right to Broadband introduced

Finland makes broadband a ‘legal right’

http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/technology/10461048.stm

Truly and utterly despicable.  And the British government has made similar promises.

The word “Right” gets bandied about so much by vacuous collectivists that it has lost all its true meaning today.

There is no “right” to broadband anymore than there is a right to a washing machine or mobile phone.  In fact I’d bet good money that no bureaucrat or “intellectual” or tax-dodger could even define the word “Right”.  If I had to guess, I’d imagine they’d say something like “I need it, therefore I have a Right to it”, which of course is totally evil, but it explains a lot.

Having a right to the property of others means that others have no right to their own property.  Either all rights exist or none of them do.  Introducing a legal right to the property of others is basically saying that NO ONE has any rights, unless the government decides they do.  It can mean nothing else.

And if you want to know why our governments are allowed to get away with such evil statist anti-human control, here’s the answer:

“A poll conducted for the BBC World Service earlier this year found that almost four in five people around the world believed that access to the internet is a fundamental right.”

People are much easier to control when they deliver themselves in chains to the jail.

Planetarium for your PC

I came across a piece of software this morning that is a must, if you like astronomy or planetariums!

It allows you to scan the heavens in 360 degrees, external to earth. It’s also in real time so you can see the earth as it would look in space right now, and where day and night are.

Here’s the link: http://celestia.sourceforge.net/ (opens in new tab)

And here’s a screenshot from my computer of the earth in space at this moment in time, 12.42 pm GMT:

celestia

The Light of the World

I’ve talked about science a lot lately on here and with friends, discussing the pros and cons. I don’t want to overkill the points here but there are things that need to be said. So I’ll just share with you my musings and we’ll see where we go:

I’d like to explain briefly what science is and isn’t and what it does and doesn’t do, but this list will not be exhaustive.

First, despite what New Agers, pseudoscientists, or Joe Philosophy with his own metaphysical worldview might think, science doesn’t dismiss anything a priori. Science does not have a list of rights and wrongs and check off new ideas against them. Science doesn’t assume it knows everything and that its theories can’t be changed.

Science tries to understand everything in the world around us. It doesn’t pretend that it can know everything. It doesn’t say that the supernatural doesn’t exist. It doesn’t say that god doesn’t exist. It doesn’t say that chi doesn’t exist. It doesn’t say that metaphysics or spirituality is rubbish.

Science uses natural explanations of the natural world. It tests claims. It tries to disprove claims. This is important, because if one tries to confirm something, one can look for things that confirm an idea and ignore things that don’t. In other words, if it’s true or false, it might always appear true. But, if you start out with an explanation and try to disprove it, if it’s true you will still prove it and if it’s false you will disprove it, but what you can never do is prove it if it’s false! That’s the difference.

Despite science’s great track record, some people don’t like science because they don’t like playing by the rules. It’s as simple as that. If you make a claim and want others to believe it, you should test it. If it fails a fair controlled test then maybe it’s just wrong!

Now, it’s been said that there are some things that science can’t explain. Ok fair point, there might be. Anyone care to give an example? You will find that the things science ‘can’t explain’ are things designed to be so mysterious, intangible, and ethereal that they are by definition unknowable! (e.g.: the supernatural). Science isn’t some special rigid limited way of getting knowledge that we can use in some situations and not others. We all use science in some way every day. Does something work? Test it, re-test it. Try and disprove it. Explain how it works. Make predictions with it. Surely that’s just common sense? That’s what we should do to test any claim.

When someone asks to remove their beliefs from the study of science, they’re basically asking for the easy way out; for special treatment. What they want is to believe comfortably, or make others believe by making science out to be the bad guy! Oh well there are some things that science can’t explain! Really? It’s funny that, because people have been saying that for thousands of years, and every time there has been a mystery it’s been solved by empirical evidence, natural explanation, tests, re-tests, and logical natural theories. Nothing in human history has ever been solved by supernatural explanations. Ever. EVER. That doesn’t mean that the supernatural doesn’t exist. But come on, how many times does this have to happen before we admit that ok, science just might be pretty good at discovering stuff; more so than anything else we’ve got.

What I’m saying is that people of a more metaphysical disposition, that is, more likely to believe in gods, spirits, chi, karma, spirituality, ghosts, vitalism, TM, synchronicity, Freud etc, recoil at the label ‘science’ as if it were an enemy, but embrace it if it seems to support them. But science is just another way of saying “testing claims in controlled conditions, objectively, using evidence and rationality, and explaining what happens naturally.” I can’t see what the problem is! What other way is there of finding out if something works or not than this?! If someone says they can cure your brain tumour with a crystal, wouldn’t your very first question be “how do you know it works?” Well that’s all science does. But it is ruthless and has no preference, sentiment, or favourites. And if you can’t demonstrate your claim repeatedly under controlled conditions, that’s not science’s fault! No one in their right mind would accept anything less than this, but when you put the label ‘science’ on it, all of a sudden these types of people think they’re being badly done to.

I know many would like to believe that there is another world beyond the scope of science, and as long as they believe this their beliefs can last a little longer, (before science shines a light in these regions and maybe blows their beliefs out the water too). This way of hiding beliefs in the recesses of the unknown is called the God of the Gaps fallacy. It basically works by saying “we can’t explain X, so [insert your belief here] did it”. That could be God, aliens, chi, etc.

However, history has shown that science eventually figures most things out. That’s not to say that it always will. But, if science can’t do it, why the hell should anything else be able to?!

Science can be wrong. Science has been wrong in the past. E.g.: the theory of plate tectonics. But when science was proved wrong; when the existing scientific theory was disproved, it was disproved by other scientists! It was disproved by a better scientific theory! Science has never been proven wrong by religion or faith. No scientific theory has ever been defeated by a supernatural one. Ever. It has never happened.

In fact, what tends to happen is that we start out not knowing something. Religion, faith, superstition, and the supernatural have a go at explaining it. We gain knowledge, we study it, we test it, and we come up with a testable natural explanation that clears everything up. Why does it rain? Why is the sky blue? What causes thunder? What is the sun? What happens after death? Where do we come from?

One by one, what appear to be questions beyond the scope of science and firmly in the realm of pseudoscience, metaphysics, religion, and faith, actually get answered by science. So perhaps they were answerable all along! Maybe, just maybe, these questions aren’t beyond science. Maybe, just maybe, certain parties with a vested interest in having it their way don’t like what science has to say so just reject it! E.g.: evolution. I know if evolution is fact it blows apart most monotheistic beliefs. Well guess what, evolution is a fact. So what? I don’t feel sorry for you. Get over it. It’s called accepting the facts. If creationism was true you’d want everyone else to accept it! So now it’s your turn.

Unfortunately, for those who side against science, they’ve picked a rather one-sided war. A war with no victories for them and only defeats. Note: not accepting a defeat doesn’t stop it from being one. You’d think these people would have learned by now! But because they don’t like to play by the rules it’s easy to paint science as the evil atheistic sledgehammer with an agenda. (Science is equally viable for theists and atheists.) But the rules are fair and objective, so when someone says their belief is beyond science, what they’re saying is that it can’t be proved fairly or objectively. Now, if you’re happy with that kind of basis for belief that’s your choice, but I’m not!

And this is why, and it’s so simple!: if you have the truth on your side, what have you got to hide?! The ones who shy away from tests, analysis, scrutiny, facts, and evidence, have probably got something that isn’t worth testing, analysing, scrutinising, and has no facts or evidence to support it. In other words, if you don’t want to live in the dark you’ve got nothing to fear from the light.

Science is a spotlight. Nothing more, nothing less.

To say there is something beyond science is really to say there is something beyond the world we can detect. I cannot strictly say this isn’t true, but I will say that it is so capricious and whimsical as to be meaningless. Yes, I suppose there could be something beyond this world, and a fish with a trunk could be an elephant. But if there is something we can’t detect in any measurable way, then how can it have any measurable effect on us? In other words, what is the point talking about it, as it would be meaningless in the world we live in anyway? One might as well talk about alternative universes or parallel dimensions.

So if this world is all there is, and science is the best way to study this world, how can anyone have a problem with it? To paraphrase Richard Dawkins: if science can’t figure it out, then sure as hell nothing else can!

Your Eyes – Wed 13th Jun 07

You’ve just tossed a perfectly fair coin for the 6th time. The five previous times it came up heads. What are the odds of it coming up heads again?

Think about it. I’ll just gaze at my Avril Lavigne wallpaper for a few minutes.

Ok, my patronising encouragement aside, most people (but not you my intelligent insightful reader) will probably estimate that it’s unlikely that the coin will yield another head on the 6th successive flip. Not 6 times in a row surely? The answer is of course 50/50, each time, every time. Unlike humans, the coin has no memory, but it is human magical thinking that clouds our judgement of probability and suggests likely/unlikely things that are pretty ordinary.

For instance, did you know that 0.999… equals 1.0?

Another puzzle: let’s assume there are three boxes (Derren Brown presents this game with a ring in one of the boxes. We however will use a far more valuable gift: a lunch date with me). In one of these boxes is a free security pass through my many levels of groupies, cling-ons, bodyguards, escorts, and hired friends. The holder of the pass may spend a lovely lunch hour with me.

You don’t know which box the pass is in. I ask you to select one at random which will be your box, box A. I’ll now get rid of another box, let’s say C, leaving two boxes. I then give you a choice, do you want to stick with your box, or swap it for B, the one I’m holding?

What are the odds that the ring is A or B? 50/50?

What do you do?

You should always switch. You double your chances of winning if you switch to the other box, and thereby avoid having to eat out of a dustbin whilst reading Hello magazine.

Here’s why: there are three boxes. You have a one-in-three chance of guessing correctly at your first try (assuming your intent is of course to win the lunch-date with me, but then only a fool wouldn’t want to win). Which means you have two-thirds chance of being wrong. Assuming you don’t guess the correct box on your first try, one of the other boxes must contain the pass. I know which box the ring isn’t in, so I will remove it from play, leaving two boxes: one with the pass and one without. In other words, assuming you don’t pick the right box on your first attempt (1/3 chance), it will always be in the other box (2/3 chance). So the odds of winning if you switch double.

This is more famously known as the Monty Hall Problem, but I’ve phrased it far more eloquently than Wikipedia ever could.

How many dimensions are there? Length, breadth, and height we all know. There are of course four dimensions though; the fourth being time. It boggles the brain to think of space in four directions, in the same way that it’s very hard to conceptualise huge objects of mass, like planets and stars, bending the fabric of space-time itself, the way a heavy object on a 2D elastic surface will stretch the elastic and create a dent – but this is how space is, in 4 dimensions!

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Image:Spacetime_curvature.png

Can you image life before you existed? Do you find it difficult to comprehend a world before you were born? How about after your death? Can you imagine a universe before time?? Well really there was nothing before time. But think about going back in time now. 1 billion years. 2 billion. Let’s go back about 14 billion years to the Big Bang when it all began. Where did it come from? What was before time?? Can you wrap your brain around that?

Think of something small compared to you. (Now now, stop that!) How many times bigger than an ant are you? Millions. In fact, you’re larger to an ant, than the sun is to the earth. But even ants are quite considerably large than say a human hair, at least in width. Can you imagine holding a human hair in your hand now (where you got it isn’t important). Do this now: stretch it out in front of you and hold it tight at both ends, preferably against a light background. Notice how incredibly thin it is! Try and imagine splitting that hair, widthways, a million times! Impossible? Incomprehensible?

A human hair is 6 million atoms wide!

Just to reduce our brains to quivering jelly even more: imagine a single human cell, which in itself is far too small to be seen with the naked eye. The average human cell contains about 100 trillion atoms!

If you were the size of an atom, travelling at the fastest speeds humans can achieve (comparable to your size), it would take you millions and millions of years to travel across the human body. And yet look at the human body compared to a house, or a country, or the earth itself! What if I told you that like an atom is to our planet, so our planet is to the universe!

Look at the sun on a clear day. Well don’t really as if you get blinded you won’t be able to read any more of my website. But even if you tried, you wouldn’t be able to. It’s so bright. Our eyes can barely look anywhere near the sun on a bright day. Can you imagine if it were twice as bright? What about ten times as bright? That doesn’t even make sense does it? How can something be ten times brighter than the brightest possible thing? But a star called Canopus is 14,000 more luminous than the sun! Impressed? The stars Betelgeuse and Rigel are both over 60,000 times more luminous!

Returning again to size: remember how infinitesimally small the atom is compared to a human hair? And how many hairs are there on a human head? And how many humans on the earth? Now let’s say that over 1.3 million earths could fit inside our sun, does that tell you how massive the sun is? Imagine how big that burning son-of-a-bitch ball of plasma is out there, 93 million miles away. For arguments sake, let’s say god exists, and it’s you. You’re holding the sun in your hands now. It’s the size of a tennis ball. Picture that for me. Good. Next to the tennis ball is another ball, which has the diameter of a row of houses, let’s say 700 tennis balls across. Try and pick that up. Go on! That’s the equivalent of the star Betelgeuse compared to our sun!

One last exercise: imagine that Betelgeuse itself was now the size of a tennis ball and you’re holding it in your hand. The star VV Cephei is now about the size of a football!

Scientists suggest that Betelgeuse will go supernova perhaps as soon as in the next few thousand years. When this happens it will brighten by another 10,000 times. Fortunately for earth, the star is over 400 light-years away. But here’s something: we will see its death from earth! Despite being millions of times further away than the sun, it will appear as bright in the sky as the moon!

We’ve looked at just two stars. There are over 200 billion stars in our galaxy. The nearest galaxy is 2.5 million light years away. And there are billions of galaxies. Daylight Atheism wrote a fantastic article recently putting things in perspective when certain people believe that the universe was created especially for man.

My point is something far more ‘everyday’-ish:

As Richard Dawkins has said: the human race evolved to survive in Africa hundreds of thousands of years ago. We have evolved to see medium-sized things on a medium-scale with medium-sized senses. Given the ranges we have looked at briefly, from an atom to the universe, what a human being can actually see, hear, and feel, is so small on the spectrum of existence that it’s barely worth mentioning. And yet, it’s the sum of our existence. Our entire life is filtered through this average equipment that nature has given us.

It’s why we think magically. It’s why we don’t always think rationally. It’s why logical thinking has to be taught to us. It’s why we believe in fairy tales so easily when we’re children but take so long to walk, speak, learn, and analyse facts. It’s why our brains are not naturally good at logic puzzles and at understanding probability like in the examples above.

There are things humans can do, like love, and enjoy music, that I wouldn’t swap for all the understanding of the universe itself and so in that way, we haven’t exactly been dealt a rough hand by Mother Nature!

Fortunately, we’ve been given another gift too: sapience; self-awareness! Although the Turing and Mirror tests might not be conclusive, I think it’s safe to say we’re the only conscious life-forms on the planet. This really is the greatest evolutionary invention of all; you only have to look at the dominance of man on the earth to see it. Putting aside arguments that we may eventually kill ourselves, it is undoubtedly our intelligence more than anything else that has aided our species. It’s our intelligence that allows us to learn and develop more than any other life-form. We can overcome our animal instincts and primitive superstitious thinking with logic and education.

There is no better example of this than science. Everything we’ve looked at here from atoms to galaxies, we know because of science. Despite our narrow window to the external world, science gives us extra hands, bigger eyes, better ears, and longer legs, to examine the world around us. It is the technological extension of our own senses allowing us into a grander world we were never “meant” to understand or see! But because of it we can tunnel with microscopes and see individual atoms of gold, or push aside the heavens with telescopes and look back through time, at galaxies almost as old as the universe itself.

We live in exciting times. You can know more about yourself, your planet, and the universe than humans could at any other time in history! In the here and now we’re at the cutting edge of understanding. You can understand the world in a way never previously done; you can look at the world with the brain of a critical-thinker and the eyes of a scientist; you don’t always have to be the latter, but you should always strive to be the former.

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