A notebook of useful things

Category: Uncategorized (Page 2 of 4)

First cosmological results from Planck

I don’t usually post stuff that’s already all over the news media, but the publication of the first results from Planck requires some clarification.

Big, expensive observation missions are put in place with one final aim: to test our model of the Universe. That’s what science is all about.

The results from Planck confirm Lambda CDM (the Condordance Model). Excellent. This increases our confidence in our model. Karl Popper’s “falsifiability” process is a trifle more difficult than good old confidence (used with huge success, and no hang-ups at all, by stock market modellers, but  I digress).

Upshot: we can trust our model.

There is another question though. Can we rule out other models? Now this is what keeps scientists in employment. If our current model were the final word, it would be the end of science (predicted countless times).

The short answer is no. Planck does not rule out models with an evolving dark energy equation of state. Huge sigh of relief all round. We’re not on the dole yet.

It also shows (sorry – “does not rule out the absence of”) stuff that shouldn’t be there with the current model of inflation. So some tweaking required there. The good news in that particular market is that inflation is so poorly understood anyway. So tweaking it won’t cause cataclysmic paradigm shifts.

Bottom line: a splendid job, with excellent results, and a good return on investment.

Planck will probably not give us any teflon-coated frying pans but at €700 million, it’s an absolute bargain, and well worth it.






The new privateers

It was bound to happen sooner or later. The rising number of pirate attacks on merchant and private vessels in the Indian Ocean has driven the already lucrative private security business seaward. A British company has set up a maritime security company to deter pirate attacks and, it is presumed, to engage in offensive action if extreme circumstances. In other words, a privateering venture.

Continue reading

The clock is ticking

The Economist has just published an interesting – and frightening – interactive map showing public debt across the world. It calls it the Global Debt Clock.

It makes for uncomfortable viewing. Here’s what it looks like on 4 September 2012 at 2143 GMT.





Visualising debt

Demonocracy is an interesting little site which provides graphics for visualising all those hard-to-visualise economic data. Here for instance are the trillions of dollars of debt owned by eleven of the world’s top debtor nations, stacked in 100-dollar bills.



On 7th March, US Secretary of Defence Leon Panetta, testifying before a Senate committee, declared that “it is not clear what constitutes the Syrian armed opposition – there has been no single unifying military alternative that can be recognized, appointed, or contacted”. He was right. Continue reading

The first drunken commentator

“The Fleet’s Lit Up!”

In 1937, the BBC were to cover the Illumination of the Fleet at the Spithead Royal Naval review with live commentary by Lt Cdr Thomas ‘Tommy’ Woodroffe. Pre-transmission naval hospitality had been lavish, and Woodroffe was already listing heavily to port, awash in pink gins.

What followed was a masterpiece. The full eloquence of his commentary is a monument to radio broadcasting, full of long gaps, repetition, vagueness, and sudden changes of tone from obsequious to aggressive, against the whistling crackle of vintage radio.

There’s nothing between us and heaven. Nothing at all.

At this point Woodroffe was faded out and replaced by music. He later denied being “lit up” himself, claiming to have been affected by the emotion of the occasion – possibly the first recorded example of broadcaster euphemism.


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