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2011 Science book per month challenge

Inspired by Ian Sales idea, I’ve decided to read a popular science book each month in 2011. The list of the 12 books (which is changing as the year goes on!):

  1. The Greatest Show on Earth: The Evidence for Evolution – Finished
  2. Why Evolution is True
  3. Divine Wind: The History and Science of Hurricanes – Currently Reading
  4. Four Laws That Drive The Universe – Finished
  5. Lonely Planets: The Natural Philosophy of Alien Life
  6. Why Beauty is Truth
  7. The Rough Guide To The Future
  8. Future Files: A Brief History Of The Next 50 Years
  9. An Optimist’s Tour of the Future – Finished
  10. The Magic of Reality: How We Know What’s Really True
  11. How It Ends: From You to the Universe
  12. The Fabric of the Cosmos – Partially Read

I’ve added a 13th book. Coincidently this book comprises 12 essays so I could read 1 per month alongside the other 12 books. The 13th (or zeroth as I’ll call it) is:


Pimping God to sell your book

You may have noticed that Stephen Hawking has a new book out. He has been poking the beehive by declaring that science does not need to make reference to God to explain the Universe.

I have no problem with this. It’s a simple fact. The more we discover about the Universe the less there is room for the Abrahamic God as depicted in the 3 major religions that came out of the Near East. In fact it’s been decades since the claims to said deity have been falsified.

What I do have a small problem with is the way that scientists revert to the God device when addressing certain cosmological concepts. Examples like ‘The God Particle’ for the Higgs Boson, and Hawking’s last line in his eponymous book ‘A Brief History Of Time’. It’s annoying. More importantly it’s a poor use of language. It gives the impression that scientists such as Hawking and Higgs buy into the deity fallacy. Which they patently don’t.

I wish that science communicators would refrain from using this term when explaining current theories and hypotheses. Even if they do want publicity in he week their book hits the shelves and eStores!

Not doing a Math degree

Have decided not to do a mathematics degree via the OU as I mulled about in a previous post. I’m going to do self study for a few years using the books in the picture. Click on the picture for a larger view. I already have these books. So in addition it’s free entertainment and fits into my larger plan to pay off everything I owe and get to a debt free state as soon as possible (including paying of my mortgage).

Thinking of doing an OU physics & maths degree

Debating the idea of taking 6 years to do a part time physics and maths degree via The Open University. Just to give me a framework to teach myself maths. I really have a bee in my bonnet about learning maths. It’s like my own Mount Everest. The modules leading to the degree would be:

MU123 – Discovering mathematics
MST121 – Using mathematics
MS221 – Exploring mathematics
MST209 – Mathematical models and methods

S207 – The physical world
S282 – Astronomy

S382 – Astrophysics
S383 – The relativistic universe
SM358 – The quantum world
SXP390 – Science project course: radiation and matter

Then again I might just do it self study via books I’ve got and not get the degree. I’ve got one already 🙂 Could do a Masters in something else to get more paper!

President Obama on science

More change 🙂

If anyone doubted that change has come, and come to science, they need to watch this video. We’ve been waiting a long, long time for a president to take this kind of interest in furthering the cause of science in our country. His budget calls for a doubling of our nation’s investment in basic research in the coming years: “No one can predict what new applications will be born of basic research: new treatments in our hospitals; new sources of efficient energy; new building materials; new kinds of crops more resistant to heat and drought.” “It was basic research in the photoelectric effect that would one day lead to solar panels. It was basic research in physics that would eventually produce the CAT scan. The calculations of today’s GPS satellites are based on the equations that Einstein put to paper more than a century ago….”

You can watch the video at the Cosmic Variance site linked below.

Read more & watch video: Obama on Science | Cosmic Variance | Discover Magazine

Bill Maher Mocks Texas Gov. Perry Over Evolution and Swine Flu

Mocking the stone age science at the Texas State Board of Education has now gone viral — late-night comedians have the rest of the country laughing at us. Bill Maher de-pantsed the governor on last Friday’s episode of his HBO series Real Time with Bill Maher: “He [Perry] appointed a creationist to head the Texas State Board of Education, which is shocking. Texas has a board of education?!?”

More at: ‘ Bill Maher Mocks Texas Gov. Perry Over Evolution and Swine Flu’ by Texas Freedom Network –

Shaving: A technical solution?

I hate shaving. I’ve Twittered about it a few times. Beard hair, especially just under my jaw line and on my neck, grows very quickly and mostly dark. If I shave in the morning then by lunchtime there will be significant regrowth of the hair. A 12 o’clock shadow! Not only that the hair is like stiff wire and rubbing a finger over it is actually painful to the face skin. The shaving bumps and razor burn I get are quite painful as well. It’s not quite as bad as the Pseudofolliculitis barbae that some people get, but still a pain in the neck (pun intended!) I think that the hair composition changed a bit after I had surgery for testicular cancer. Maybe my hormone levels went a bit haywire for a bit. I don’t know. I wasn’t tested for testosterone levels at the time.

I’ve been a long advocate of the mantra there is a technical solution for everything. It’s a bit of a glib phrase I know. But it suits my view of the world. If you define it widely enough then the phrase can take in braces for teeth straightening, surgery, lots of things.

So, is there a technical solution for the shaving problem? Research shows that there is. Laser hair removal. In particular a technique that uses a laser with a certain wavelength of laser light that is meant to work really well on coarse, dark male beard hair. It’s known as the Lightsheer Diode Laser System. There are lots of sites on the Internet where people outline their successes (or not – mostly successes though) with beard removal using with the Lightsheer machine. Apparently it works due to the melanin pigment in dark hair follicles absorbing the energy in the laser light. This heats the follicle and destroys or impedes its ability to produce new hair. It seems it doesn’t work on light coloured hair or hair that has gone grey or white as there is not enough melanin to absorb the energy.The science behind it is interesting stuff. Not sure why I didn’t think of this before. I lost the hair on my chest and abdomen during my radiotherapy. That grew back after a while. With Lightsheer it takes several sessions spread out over about a year to provide a complete zapping.

Do I hate shaving and the associated razor irritation enough to try getting it lasered? I don’t know. My beard now grows with colours like a Persian carpet. Not all the hairs are as black as they were 20 years ago. The laser might not work on the light coloured hairs, and definitely won’t work on the white/grey hairs. But then again maybe removing the majority of the hair, which is dark and susceptible to the laser, would be enough. It’s also meant to be painful. Do I have the balls for it? I don’t like pain! There is also the societal aspect. Is it socially acceptable for blokes to get their beard hair permanently removed? I don’t see why not. What’s the difference between a few laser removal sessions and shaving everyday?

Anyway. I’ll have to have a think. It’s meant to be quite expensive as well.

An enzyme behind cancer spread found

This is interesting. If blocking this single enzyme does stop cancer metastasis then it’ll be a real breakthrough. AS long as the cancer is found early before it can spread of course. Which is why you need to get anything suspicious checked out as early as possible. False alarms and wasted trips to the doctor are better than the alternative.

Institute of Cancer Research scientists have found that an enzyme called LOX is crucial in promoting metastasis, Cancer Cell journal reports.
Drugs to block this enzyme’s action could keep cancer at bay, they hope.

More info at: BBC NEWS | Health | Enzyme behind cancer spread found

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