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… and back again

First case today was to do a hearing test on a three-week-old baby. Second case of the day was fitting hearing aids to a one-hundred-and-two-year old woman. Third case was starting the hearing aid fitting process for a six week old baby. One of the things I love about this job is the variety of people I see


Shock! Horror! Thought for the Day presenter inadvertently tells the truth! And somewhat paradoxically he was talking about the truth. Though his definition of truth differs somewhat from the rest of reality. Some Theomancer – The Rev Dr Dr Prof David Wilkinson – says he would prefer to remain ignorant, that he doesn’t want to know if there’s horsemeat in his beefburger, or if an asteroid is going to make a close approach tonight. He’d rather stick with his unfounded and irrational belief system rather than understand the world around him.

That’s religion in a nutshell. It’s all about the ignorance, it’s about making up stuff and calling it “truth”, even though it’s just so much fictional bullshit. Religion relies on people remaining ignorant. Only through ignorance will people be willing to swallow the “GodDidIt” argument. Once people start to understand and study the universe in a scientific method then there is no longer any need for a “god of the gaps”. There will always be gaps in our knowledge, and priests and theologians will continue in their attempts to shoehorn their particular god into these gaps, but the gaps will eventually be filled in.

Sure we are currently ignorant about how life first arose, but a hundred years ago we were ignorant of Quantum Mechanics. A hundred and fifty years ago we were ignorant of Einsteinian Relativity. A hundred and seventy years ago, no laws of electro-magnetism. Two hundred years we knew nothing of Evolution.

Science proceeds gradually, building upon the work of earlier giants. It’s hard work. There’s no Invisible Magic Friend suddenly revealing all scientific knowledge to us. Only in theology is there sudden revelation. For the rest of us we can’t go around making up stuff, so there’s just hard work. Science gets there in the end, whilst religion goes on making up nonsense.

That apart, I’ve never heard such incomprehensible gobbledegook on Thought for the Day.

After yesterday’s heavy snow fall I went out for a long walk today. One of the most noticeable changes (apart from my camera underexposing every shot because of the whiteness) was the way the acoustic environment had changed.

Everything sounds different, everything is dulled and deadened

Why does snow have such an effect on sound? Snow – at least new fallen snow – is a matrix of ice crystals, with lots of air held within it. It acts like a damper, like a silencer on a car. Once sound waves get inside the matrix they get absorbed, bouncing around within the air spaces. Snow has a high reverberation absorption coefficient, particularly in the high frequencies. It’s even higher than the acoustic wool which is used in the soundproofing of acoustically treated rooms.

Sound is normally bouncing off all the surfaces around us. Walls of buildings, fences and trees, all are reflecting sound back at us. This might be sounds we produce ourselves, voice or footsteps, or sounds produced artificially. The surfaces around us are normally reflective. As soon as we have a layer of snow all that reflection is gone. No more echo, no more reverberation – at least until the snow has been hard-packed.

On Radio 4 this morning, discussion of Astronomy in childhood as a gateway to a career in science. In the course of which Paul Nurse and Brian Cox discussed two comets expected in 2013. One for March, expected to be bright and spectacular comet. The second for November which is promised to be as bright as the full moon.

Excuse my cynicism, but I’ll believe it when I see it.

I remember 1973.

After Apollo – not yet into my teens – I was hooked on Astronomy. The big excitement was the discovery of a new comet. A long period comet, it had last reached perihelion 150,000 years previous. Predicted to be the Comet of the Century.

Comet Kohoutek.

I searched the skies, but I never saw it. It was a naked eye object, though not from the light-polluted site where I was then living. No one saw all that much, and all round, it was considered a spectacular dud.

That apart, I have to agree with Paul Nurse and Brian Cox. It was the same for me. That early love for astronomy born from my father’s constant explanation of the night sky, kindled by Apollo, that started my love of science. That’s a love that continues to this day.

Another trip to Derby mid month for the Eclipse Users Group meeting, this time staying in a decent hotel near the railway station.

Couple of issues to bring up. First is Peer Review and alternatives to using online file-sharing services to exchange data; second is ASSR dBnHL-to-dBeHL corrections, specifically the difference between the values built into the Eclipse and the values provided by the eSP website.

Out for a walk on Sunday afternoon, up through Hampstead to the heath. Came across the Hampstead Scientific Society’s observatory, and a couple of folk showing visitors around. They had their main big scope set up to do eyepiece projection of the sun, and a couple of big sunspot groups were visible. Outside, they had a Coronado 60mm solarscope set up and I had my first ever direct view of the sun in H\alpha – a truly amazing sight. A huge prominence at around 7 o’clock on the Solar disk, with some smaller prominences at 2 and 3 o’clock. Stunning, stunning view. Now I want a solar scope (though they cost about £1300 so will give it a miss this year…)

Apparently an American lawyer named Marc Stephens has never heard of the Streisand Effect.

Rhys Morgan blogged about the futile hope offered by the Burzynski Clinic.

Following this Marc Stephens wrote on behalf of the Burzynski Clinic, threatening all sorts of legal intervention, in an attempt to suppress scientific comment. Go read, for a good description of how the complementary / alternative business (what I refer to as So-Called Alternative Medicine for a nice acronym) resort to legal bullying since they cannot defend themselves through evidence based science. Science thrives on criticism, it’s how we progress. Research groups make hypotheses and provide evidence. Critics try and replicate, they look at the evidence and -where appropriate- make criticism of experiment design or methods.

They don’t call in the lawyers.

If scientists call in the lawyers to defend their work that’s a sure sign there’s something wrong with the evidence

All the extra work I’ve had thrust at me over the last year, all the crap that’s been dumped on me, all the extra hours I’ve had to put in, all the stress I’ve had.

All worth it, just to see the look on a mother’s face when she realises that her severely deaf baby has just heard her voice for the first time

I love my job.

Well, I had planned to do loads of blogging from Conference. Didn’t happen. Far too busy attending all the talks, and had to concentrate hard on everything. Intense, and just couldn’t let my attention slip.

Big pile of notes to go through and write up presentations for cascade down to the rest of the department, so as I write up my notes I shall blog what was covered.

But for now there’s just that sudden deflation as I realise that it has all finished, and my brain now starts to try and process everything I did

Just left Euston on my way to the BAA Conference in Llandudno. Two days of annual leave for some R&R before the conference begins. Seriously needed after the mentally exhausting day I had on Friday

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