Month: October 2011

The history of technology #3215

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The price of progress

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A special Rationalbrain report

In this disturbing recent study by the Australian Association of Finger, Wrist, Elbow and Shoulder Surgeons, evidence is provided that the now all-pervading wrist-finger flick method of updating portable computer displays, popularised by Apple, is responsible for a rising number of orthopedic injuries.

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Book Review – The Hidden Reality by Brian Greene

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Rationalbrain comes to you from sunny Budapest today.

The first real sci-fi book I remember reading as a kid was called ‘The Universe Between‘, by Alan E. Nourse, and it blew my mind. It was my first exposure to hidden realities – places you could go by slipping through rips in the fabric of space, or falling through a wormhole, or indeed, even stepping through the back of the wardrobe. The adventures which ensued really tested the imagination, with Nourse describing what it was like in the other universe, invoking disconnected limbs, colours we don’t normally see, and so forth. There have since been countless such stories published, and I’m sure I’ve seen or read most of them.

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A motto to live by

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Rationalbrain comes to you today from our new digs near Bad Reichenhall, a small town north of Salzburg.

One of the features of the local town is the art of  ‘Luftlmalerei’, a Bavarian speciality which means ‘open air painting’. The result of this is that many of the older houses have external murals for passers-by to admire. Some are religious messages, some are a description of the business of the owners, as in the case of the shingle maker shown below:

Cute. Blow it up and you’ll see the terrific detail describing the process of making shingles. By the way, there was a shed full of shingles to the left, awaiting orders.

But as if in response to my previous heavy post on the human cost of grand monuments, I subsequently spotted this mural painted on one of the houses, bearing an uplifting message:


The message is: “Enjoy life – it’s later than you think”.

What a terrific antidote to the religious mumbo jumbo which bombards the senses throughout Europe.

Religion, monuments and the common man

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This post was inspired by visits to some impressive monuments to religion, both on large and small scales, and the all-pervasive religiosity of the area in which we are staying. I have had difficulty however in writing it. The problem is I started out being super-impressed by the bigger monuments, and still am. However, I have had second thoughts, as you will see below.

On the larger side, the Duomo in Milan is probably the most impressive church I have seen. The vastness of the internals are reminiscent of an Escher painting as shown here:

On the smaller side, the little streets and alleys in our little town of Menaggio are dotted with small grottos (or is it grotti?) which bear religious artifacts such as madonnas, and which provide a place of worship for local gatherings of neighbours:

What strikes me about the Duomo, for example, apart from the obvious reverence in which it is held by followers, is the magnificent human achievement to construct it in the first place. 

An inevitable conclusion is that without the impetus of religion, such beautiful structures may not have arisen. It required a vision, and a need produce grandeur which presumably would appeal to a god. Without the desire to approximate heaven, would the grand flying buttresses, essential to holding up the ceiling, have been designed? Maybe, but perhaps religion formed the ‘perfect storm’ which allowed the necessary elements to combine to produce something which harnesses the scientific, engineering and artistic disciplines so impressively.

However, while admiring the Duomo in particular, I trod on one of the many tombs embedded in the floor and was struck by something – these magnificent monuments were more for the powerful and wealthy than for the ordinary townsfolk. Those remains buried under the huge slabs and in ossuaries in the Duomo and other similar places were no ordinary townspeople.

Clearly, there has been a cost for that ‘human achievement’.  The local communities have paid this cost for hundreds of years, while all the time all they really needed was to worship at their local grotto.

Yes, we later generations have ended up with magnificent examples of architecture, art, and engineering at which to marvel, but we should ponder that for every noble buried within, there will be thousands more who paid heaven-tolls all their short lives, and who probably ended up buried in the local fields covered in pig shit.

Good work pharmacists of Australia

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You may have gathered that of late I’ve been wandering around various parts of Europe, and the last couple of weeks in Italy. As we wander the streets, it’s clear that in Europe, at least in Switzerland and Italy, ‘alternative medicine’ is alive and well, and being sold right next to the medicine that actually has been proven to work. In Italy in particular, many ‘Farmacia’ stores have and equally large shingle touting ‘Omeopatia’, also known as homeopathy, also known as completely and utter bullshit. Read the rest of this entry »

Book Review – Demon Haunted World, Carl Sagan

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Carl Sagan will be well known to those who are already in the skeptic movement, and in fact is somewhat of a figurehead, much like Richard Dawkins is to atheism.

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