Archives for: "November 2006"

Life in orbit around Saturn

A couple of months back the Cassini spacecraft took the following spectacular image of Saturn. This image is actually composed of 165 individual images in total all stitched together and taken over several hours, the reason it looks so weird compared to other images of Saturn you have seen in the past is this was taken during an artificial solar eclipse, the team positioned Cassini on the opposite side of Saturn to the Sun.

The planet Saturn and its rings


Not only can you see Saturn, some of its moons and the rings lit up by the sunlight passing through them you can also make out our tiny planetary home the Earth and its satellite the Moon, which can be seen as a pale blue dot just above the outer most bright ring (the A ring) on the left hand side of Saturn.

Cassini took this picture of the southern hemisphere of Enceladus and found warm patches on the ice (the greenish tinge on the image), we know the surface of Enceladus is quite young because of the lack of impact craters, however from this information we could deduce that Enceladus is still geologically active and like Jupiter’s satellite Europa may have a liquid ocean beneath the ice covered surface. The real killer piece of evidence came for this later on in the mission; Cassini actually photographed an eruption taking place on Enceladus’ surface. This makes it only the 3rd known body in the solar system to be geologically active.

Cracks on Enceladus' surface Enceladus blowing water off into space


Water is actually being blown off the world and out into space and these eruptions are emanating from the cracks in the surface. This material is actually responsible for forming Saturn’s E ring, the large outmost ring in the above image. Due to the energy required to do this Enceladus probably has a body of liquid water beneath the surface. That gives us the two main ingredients we need for life, water and heat. Could there be life under Enceladus’ surface? We have similar conditions here on the bottom of our oceans, you can go for miles and miles across the baron seabed until you come across an undersea thermal vent and find it positively teeming with life, they extract all the energy they need from the vent. Astro-biologists consider these sorts of environments the most likely places for life to exist out in the solar system.

If Enceladus does have life on it, some of that life is surely being blown off into the E ring, what a wondrous thought that is; Saturn’s rings are actually partially composed of frozen microbes.

What's new in Windows Vista

I get asked what's new in Vista, or why is it better than Windows XP quite a bit, the trouble is, there's just so many new or improved features that make it better than Windows XP. So from now on I'll be recommending this:

Windows Vista Product Guide

If you want to know what's new in Windows Vista, there's nothing more in-depth than the Windows Vista Product Guide. Available as a 61MB Word file or 25MB XPS document.

For those using Word 2000-2003 make sure to download the Office Compatibility Pack to enable them to open the new Office 2007 XML file formats.

God doesn't hide behind the Big Bang

It always struck me as being weird for people to claim god created the universe, it just strikes me as arguing from ignorance and throwing Occam's razor in the bin.

We've either got an enormously complicated arrangement of matter and energy popping into existence out of nothing.

Or we've got simple arrangements of matter and energy popping into existence out of nothing.

What's more likely?

The universe through natural laws has taken 13.7 billion years to develop something as complex as us, let alone something as complex as god. To argue that god just sprung up and then created the universe defies basic reason.

It also shows how inconsistent many of the believers are, they're willing to accept a supreme being popped into existence out of nothing, but when it comes to an atomic particle popping into existence, or life slowly evolving their brains somehow can't handle it.

Of course some believers answer that god has always existed, which is nothing less than moving the goal posts, they have no evidence that god has always existed. I can claim the universe has always existed in one form or another and remove god from the equation that way, at least that doesn't defy logic.

After all we know that although time is likely finite, it isn't bound. Just like the Earth is finite in surface area it isn't bound and like time doesn't have a beginning or an end.

Personally I think it would be cruel for the believers to claim god has existed forever, can you imagine spending an infinity twiddling your thumbs before creating the universe? That's one supreme being who would of been bored for a very long time.

Rise of creationism in UK schools

From the Guardian:

Dozens of schools are using creationist teaching materials condemned by the government as "not appropriate to support the science curriculum", the Guardian has learned.

The packs promote the creationist alternative to Darwinian evolution called intelligent design and the group behind them said 59 schools are using the information as "a useful classroom resource".

A teacher at one of the schools said it intended to use the DVDs to present intelligent design as an alternative to Darwinism. Nick Cowan, head of chemistry at Bluecoat school, in Liverpool, said: "Just because it takes a negative look at Darwinism doesn't mean it is not science. I think to critique Darwinism is quite appropriate."

OK well Nick Cowan should be sacked and banned from teaching. He's either pushing a religious agenda on to his students or he is deeply ignorant about intelligent design and shouldn't be in a position to teach his ignorance.

The fact the founders of ID started with a conclusion and then worked backwards to try and throw something together to try and support their beliefs means it should be treated very suspiciously even if it was a science.

Using arguments disproved a hundred years ago, isn't science and finally by definition alone, it is not science.

I'll quote US District Judge John E. Jones III who dealt with those on the Dover School board who tried to push it:

In making this determination, we have addressed the seminal question of whether ID is science. We have concluded that it is not, and moreover that ID cannot uncouple itself from its creationist, and thus religious, antecedents. [...] The citizens of the Dover area were poorly served by the members of the Board who voted for the ID Policy. It is ironic that several of these individuals, who so staunchly and proudly touted their religious convictions in public, would time and again lie to cover their tracks and disguise the real purpose behind the ID Policy.

The government here has also made its position clear on the matter. However we have no legal framework to defend ourselves from religious encroachment like our comrades do in the United States.

But the government has made it clear that "neither intelligent design nor creationism are recognised scientific theories". The chairman of the parliamentary science and technology select committee, the Lib Dem MP Phil Willis, said he was horrified that the packs were being used in schools.

"I am flabbergasted that any head of science would give credence to this creationist theory and be prepared to put it alongside Darwinism," he said. "Treating it as an alternative centralist theory alongside Darwinism in science lessons is deeply worrying."

The organisation that sent these materials out to every secondary school in the country is called Truth in Science, from looking over their website it is obvious they're just a religious organisation with an agenda to rubbish evolution.

From their website:

This has considerable social, spiritual, moral and ethical implications.

It is not the task of science to deal with spiritual or moral issues. Science is the search for truth and it will not change the truth just to try and make people feel better by putting them into a delusional stupor.

Keeping your system free of bloated media players

Ask any geek and he'll tell you that QuickTime and RealPlayer are less than desirable to have installed on your PC, they do a few things that geeks hate.

Ask them why and they'll tell you because they both insist on running applications on start up, that means every time you start your PC, they'll have their own little programs running all the time, even when you're not using them. Even if you use the registry or msconfig to remove them, the next time you start them up you'll probably find they have changed the registry back.

Next up they're extremely aggressive and want to take over your system and all your media playback, this is a great burden for normal users who don't understand exactly what is happening, they suddenly find a new media player starting when they want to playback some music. They get a bitter taste in their mouths, often because these two players are worse than what they were using before.

They both try and sell you things too, QuickTime tries to sell you the commercial version (which you need if you want to watch video in full screen), and worse still it often comes bundled with iTunes which is even worse and in many cases can make a right mess of your existing media library. RealPlayer also tries to push things on you, their music download service called Rhapsody. This also drives users up the wall, they not only make it hard to find the applications on their own by bundling other applications you don't want with them or by tricking you into downloading a trial version rather than the basic free version.

I often have to sort out people's computers after they've got half a dozen media players installed usually which they don't need, yet often all of which are fighting each other for control of the system, constantly asking if they want to be the default player and taking over file associations. This sort of nonsense has to come to an end. Apple and Real have to learn that users need to feel in control of their computers or they'll just avoid using them.

So what do I recommend instead? Well if you really need support for QuickTime and RealMedia use QuickTime Alternative and Real Alternative instead. Both allow playback of QuickTime and RealMedia in a simple and under control fashion, without all the extra bloat you don't want.

So long Mars Global Surveyor

After being launched some ten years ago and after returning 240 000 images of Mars, it appears the spacecraft come to an end of its career.

The spacecraft hasn't made contact with the Earth since the 2nd of November, attempts to contact it have failed.

The spacecraft being assembled:

Mars Global Surveyor

"Realistically, we have run through the most likely possibilities for re-establishing communication, and we are facing the likelihood that the amazing flow of scientific observations from Mars Global Surveyor is over," said Fuk Li, Mars Exploration Program manager at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory, Pasadena, Calif. "We are not giving up hope, though."

Efforts to regain contact with the spacecraft and determine what has happened to it will continue. NASA's newest Mars spacecraft, the Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter, pointed its cameras toward Mars Global Surveyor on Monday. "We have looked for Mars Global Surveyor with the star tracker, the context camera and the high-resolution camera on Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter," said Doug McCuistion, Mars Exploration Program director at NASA Headquarters. "Preliminary analysis of the images did not show any definitive sightings of a spacecraft."

The next possibility for learning more about Mars Global Surveyor's status is a plan to send it a command to use a transmitter that could be heard by one of NASA's Mars Exploration Rovers later this week.

An example of one of the spacecraft's images it returned to the Earth, the Mars Global Surveyor proved conclusively that Mars once had liquid freely flowing over its surface:

An example of just one of the pictures the spacecraft sent back to Earth

"It is an extraordinary machine that has done things the designers never envisioned despite a broken wing, a failed gyro and a worn-out reaction wheel. The builders and operating staff can be proud of their legacy of scientific discoveries and key support for subsequent missions," said Tom Thorpe, project manager for Mars Global Surveyor at JPL.

The Mars Global Surveyor is just one of those spacecraft that just seems to keep on going, despite being succeeded by better spacecraft it kept on returning data. It’s always sad to see a spacecraft come to the end, like the MGS appears to have done. Especially one that smacked Hoagland in the mouth so hard.

The face on Mars:

The "Face" on Mars

Windows Vista RTM - solid as a rock

So I've been using the final version of Windows Vista for 6 days now, there's one trend that really strikes me using this version.

Check out the Reliability and Performance Monitor:

Windows Vista Reliability and Performance Monitor

Straight 10s, with previous builds on this computer this would often dip down somewhat as various applications crashed. So it's a good indication that the system is indeed solid as a rock. Before there would always be one application that would sometimes fail, usually COM Surrogate which appeared to have issues with an XviD codec I was using. Not anymore.

The Flood idea is dead wrong

I'll quote one of the Daily Creationism's recent posts about the Flood (not Halo):

The Bible says that about four thousand years ago water covered the entire earth! There would of also been many volcanic eruptions because the Bible speaks about the mountains of the great deep breaking up. What a catastrophic event!

If Noah's flood were true then you would expect to find some evidence for it. You would expect to find something like billions of dead things buried in rock layers laid down by water all over the earth. And what do we find? We find billions of dead things buried in rock layers laid down by water all over the earth.

Well ignoring the fact we don't find any evidence for a global flood, ignoring the fact that there isn't enough water to flood the whole planet, and ignoring the problem of where did all the water go, ignoring the fact that most water going species that have existed also apparently died in the flood (may be they forgot how to swim), ignoring the fact that the civilisations around at the time; Egypt and so on, aren't affected by this world wide flood and don't record it. Ignoring all that I'll just deal with one little problem I see.

How do creationists explain the fact that we find older species deeper in the earth and newer species buried closer to the surface? I would of thought a flood that wiped out virtually all life on Earth (you worship a god that did that?) would result in everything being pretty much randomly distributed.

We would find humans with dinosaurs, and so on. Yet we don't see this, we always see the same species together, but not separate species. We can see a distinct historical timeline, with some groups of species together, yet higher up in the strata we see completely different species and no more traces of older species.

What's your working solution to this inconsistency?

Halo 3 public beta coming early next year

Microsoft have announced that Halo 3 will have a public multiplayer beta in the spring. Feedback will be used to improve multiplayer for the games release later in 2007.

Awesome! Hopefully they'll time it so its released right around the PlayStation 3 launch.

Those loony creationists

They'll try and say anything to rubbish evolution, come on at least get some intellectual standards. Roger Oakland, speaking in the creationist "documentary" The Evolution Conspiracy:

When the communists took over China the entire child population was forced to attend propaganda classes, where they were taught not some words of wisdom from Lenin or Stalin, but a fundamental course in Darwinian evolution.

You mean school? Yeah when the Maoists took over children went to school instead of having to work 16 hours a day just to try and feed themselves. They went to school and were taught evolution, the very same thing you're taught in school in America the UK and any other developed society. Those Maoists are so evil forcing those children to go to school and learn about science!

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