Month: January 2012

God is a town planner

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It seems that god is now taking on the role of VCAT (the Victorian Civil and Administrative Tribunal), the body which has final word on a range of disputes and government rulings, including town planning. In this article, we see this in action:

A mother and daughter told a court only God had the authority to order them to pull down an illegal extension to their property, but the magistrate took a different view.

In a hearing at Mullumbimby Local Court in northern NSW, Byron Shire Council argued that the downstairs area of the South Golden Beach property was not approved to live in as part of the original development consent and that it should be demolished.

The council’s governance manager, Ralph James, said the property owner had not taken any reasonable steps to get the downstairs development approved or cease use of the area despite several requests over the past two years.

When the matter was heard, the women made a written submission stating they did not have to submit to the jurisdiction of the court or the council because only God had the authority to order them to remove the extension.

The magistrate found against the mother and daughter, fining them a total $6000 and ordering them to pay the council’s professional costs of $3000.

Is there no end to the abilities of this being? And talk about ability to focus on detail!

Sadly, this seems to be another symptom of the nuttiness pervading this part of the country, which also has the honour of being the epicenter of the anti-vaccination movement in this country. I wonder if god was involved in the rejection of vaccinations too?

Quantum for dummies – Part 2 – Interpretation

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Back to Introduction

Back to Part 1 – The Basics

The nature of reality

In this week’s installment, I want to discuss what those two key attributes (wave-particle duality and the uncertainty principle) mean in the real world. There’s some really cool and exotic mathematics to describe the quantum world, but the physical interpretation is open to conjecture. Read the rest of this entry »

Film Review: Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, ZZZzzzzzz….

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I haven’t got into film reviews here at rationalbrain, but after seeing this gem earlier this week, I need to get it off my chest.

I’m certainly not a fan of spy thriller novels, and admittedly have rather narrow tastes in literature. But I don’t mind a good spy movie, which is why this movie seemed appealing enough at the outset.

I’m not going to spoil the ending for you, in case you still want to see the movie after reading this. God knows you need some reward for sitting through it. But the plot is that one of the operatives in the team at the British secret service is a double agent, and the movie is about one of the team (Smiley) methodically working to uncover the rat.

And, oh boy is he methodical.

The movie grinds through the various conversations between Smiley and the operatives, dissecting recent events for clues.

I say ‘grinds’ because that’s what it was. A grind.

I’ve really never seen a movie that is so slooowwwwww. I’m told that the intention was that the silences, and atmosphere, and pauses, and looks between the protagonists would tell as much of a story as the dialogue. Really? I was there, and those parts of the film told me nothing, other than the director tried to hard to make this an ‘arty’ film. He may be Scandinavian, but Ibsen he aint. And here was I thinking that the ‘talkie’ was here to stay.

Anyway, a fortnight later, we arrive at the limp exposition, which wasn’t really worth the wait. I guess that is a spoiler, of sorts, sorry.

Two hours I’ll never get back.

Perusing a range of critics’ reviews was also interesting. Predictably, there are the rave reviews, especially about Gary Oldman’s performance. A sample from the gushing supporters includes:

Le Carré is a master of the genre and under Alfredson’s dense direction, the revitalisation of this classic is elevated to new heights as well as a new audience

The story, skillfully mined from Mr. le Carré’s labyrinthine book and set in 1973, is a pleasurably sly and involving puzzler – a mystery about mysteries within mysteries.

“Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy” looks, sounds and feels exactly right.

If you enjoy an intelligent, realistic spy thriller, Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy is not to be missed.

Actually, when you re-read these reviews, they don’t actually say whether they enjoyed the movie or not. Hmmm.

On the other hand, the following quotes exactly reflect my observations:

A nearly affectless espionage tale, a Cold War spy thriller that’s chilly and boasts few thrills.

Some great performances, style to spare, a sense of moody menace … Sad to say, then, that it’s virtually impenetrable, and possibly downright boring.

This is the kind of movie you’d want to watch with a rewind button handy. Actually, at 127 painfully paced minutes, a fast-forward button might help too.

Hitchcock once said ‘What is drama but life with the dull bits cut out? Tinker Tailor is hellbent on creating drama out of only the dull bits – and as interesting as the movie is to look at, it’s not very suspenseful at all.

If the best thing about a spy movie is the wallpaper, perhaps you’ve miscalculated.

Does the identity of the mole even matter?

You get the idea.

I found it not very suspenseful at all, and can’t agree with the description of ‘impenetrable’. If I were to provide a quote  in the idiom of a movie reviewer it would be:

This moody piece is engaging for the eyeballs, but the brain runs away screaming. A triumph of style over substance, without even a decent punchline to salvage the lost time or persuade the viewer into thinking it was two hours well spent – rationalbrain.

Fortunately, it was a balmy summer evening, we’d had a lovely meal and glass of wine in Lygon St. with good friends prior to the movie, and gelati afterwards, so the evening wasn’t a complete loss. But I could have done without the $9 anaesthetic in between.

I give it maybe a half out of five, for the music and atmospherics, and ’cause I’m a nice guy.

Speaking of quantum…

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Just by coincidence, I came across this video in this article on PZ Myers’ Pharyngula site. It’s Richard Dawkins interviewing Deepak Chopra on quantum physics.

I have mentioned Deepak Chopra as a serial offender in the misappropriation of the word quantum – applying it to all manner of mumbo-jumbo. In this video, he backs off, claiming it’s use is just a metaphor. PZ makes the point that, in the same breath, Chopra then accuses science of misappropriating the word. What a cheek, Deep.

The thing about this video is Chopra’s straight face as he mangles some basic concepts to suit his magical thinking.

And Richard Dawkins can barely contain himself – it’s amusing to watch Dawkins squirm, as he resists the urge to have a crack at Chopra. Enjoy.

Quantum for dummies – Part 1 – The Basics

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Link to Introduction

In Part 1, we visit the basic concepts, starting with what quantum actually represents, and then discussing the major attributes of quantum, including its lumpiness, its behaviour as both particle and wave, the uncertainty principle and entanglement.

I must admit, covering these topics in few short paragraphs, and without any maths, is challenging, but here goes. Read the rest of this entry »

Coming attractions – Quantum stuff for dummies

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Well it had to come didn’t it?

I’ve had a whinge over the mis-use of the word ‘quantum’ so many times now, that I feel obliged to say a few words about it myself. I’ve prepared a primer on quantum stuff in the ‘for dummies’ tradition – written for dummies, by a dummy, some might say.

Quantum physics is a wonderful human achievement, but because of its complexity and difficult interpretation, the concept is open to abuse, both intentional and unintentional – it sounds ‘sciencey’, and who’s going to challenge you?

Those who choose to misuse it intentionally are generally those who have some belief that has no basis, and so appropriate the quantum’s explanatory power – the classic example is homeopathy, but it has been used for countless other forms of magical thinking, and often by unscrupulous con-men.

In fact, to demonstrate how easy it is to do this, I wrote my own tongue-in-cheek piece called  Quantum Religion and R-Theory.

So, this is my attempt to demystify it a bit, and at the very least, enable you to better assess the piles of quantum-crap generated by the new-age mystics, homeopaths, and other charlatans.

Let’s see how we go.

I’ve broken the article up into several small parts, which I’ll publish weekly, and I’ll link them together for ease of navigation. At the moment the structure is as follows, but may change from time to time:

  1. The Basics
  2. Interpretation
  3. Applications
  4. Origins of the Universe

I’ve also tried to keep it as non-technical as possible and to describe things in simple terms. As much as I would like to display my staggeringly good grasp of this subject, I’ve resisted the urge.

As always, if you have any feedback on the above, please don’t hesitate to send it in.