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Francis Anderson
Some people are so poor, all they have is money
Some people are so poor, all they have is money

Francis's posts

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Seven Earth-sized exoplanets discovered! #GoogleDoodle

Love the doodle +Google​

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So NASA finally made the anticipated announcement yesterday, and sure enough it was indeed worthy of a rather special congress.

To cut through the media spin, pretty artistic impressions and talk about "earth like" planets and Alien life, lets explain what has actually been found and why it's significant.

Firstly, while the artistic impressions make the mind wonder what is exactly there, we should be careful not to be too drawn in by them, what we are dealing with here are statistically significant dips in light of the parent star, indicative of 7 distinct planets of or around earths size.

From the period and extent of dimming we can tell a fair bit about their size and orbit, enough to be confident that we have 7 individual objects.

Nobody has seen these objects directly, only the effect as they pass between us and their star, so pretty pictures are just that, artist impressions born of speculation with little to no evidence beyond size, distance and some informed speculation about if they are or aren't tidally locked to their star (meaning, the planets spin at the same speed as they orbit, so one side of the planet is perpetually day, and the other night).

We can speculate on the appearance of the host star from each planet, as a dim red dwarf it will almost certainly appear more star like and with a strong red hue.

The nature of each individual planet is not known, a planet even in the orbit which could potentially see it having liquid water may be shrouded in carbon dioxide as Venus is, and would be a hell like 300-400'c with crushing pressure, so calling any of them "Earth like" is not a good idea, Earth sized however they may be.

So what's special about this find ?

Seven !!

7 earth sized planets circling one of the most common kinds of stars in our galaxy, 3 of which are within the habitable zone, the system itself is intriguing and informs us that earth sized planets in orbits where given the right conditions could hold liquid water are much more common than we imagined.

Even if we haven't found another earth or alien life, the statistical chances of those two things existing has just increased dramatically.

More to the point, we have a target of high value, something future astronomers and in the future engineers can shoot for. It's distance at 39 light years puts it very close compared to other stars, but still, completely beyond our current technical abilities to reach, even with a probe it would probably take an entire life time to reach, and half a life time to return any data, if it was able to make the journey unscathed that is.

More likely is that our ability to build better telescopes and create new ways of gaining little bits of information from earth based observation will slowly help fill in more and more of the unknowns.

One such ability will be to look at changes in chemical signatures of light as transits occur, with a hope to trying to puzzle what each's atmosphere may hold. Detection of Oxygen, Nitrogen, Water vapour all could potentially be possible in the coming years, and that may start to build a picture of what each of these 7 planets hold.

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Where do the county names of England get their names.
A very interesting story by a geography, history and railway geek. 

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It's certainly probable

Science is under attack, from legions of trolls all claiming science to be fake news. What was at first a political game to confuse the enemy, is now being used to not only undermine our trust in politicians and journalists, but scientists too, and for political purposes.

Part of the problem is certainty, a principle most within scientific circles will be very aware of, but that doesn't translate so well to the non-scientific community, to the media or politicians alike.

Certainty is the measure of how sure we are of things, and is born out of the fact that very often in science we are measuring things we cannot directly observe or are using imperfect machines to measure them.

If you go for a blood test and a result of 35 is derived for a particular test, you probably would be forgiven for believing the result was absolutely correct. Truth is, it isn't correct, it almost certainly wasn't 35, it could have been 35.0003, but the mechanism to measure it wasn't that accurate, and nor was the 4th decimal place statistically significant, so it was rounded down.

Additionally, the chemicals used to cause the reaction that produced the 35 may not be evenly distributed in the solution, so maybe a retest gives 34.8 or 35.2.

If the acceptable reference range is 20-50, then who cares ? but if the acceptable reference range 34.95 - 35.04 then maybe that matters a lot.

This is where understanding what your level of certainty is about the result is important, because it's not perfect, but it's perfect enough to draw conclusions from.

The same goes for detecting planets around stars, we can't see them directly, we observe a slight dimming occasionally, or a wobble in the star that indicate something is there, understanding the level of certainty for that data is important, because we need to know if the data could just look like it was producing those outcomes when in fact nothing was, how certain are we that the dimming was actual dimming, and not just a variance in the technology.

Welcome to the world of science where nothing is black and white, but where theory and postulation are placed on the back of data sets where certainty isn't 100% guaranteed, but is rather given a certainty value for others to improve upon with additional observation and evidence.

This isn't fake science, this is meticulous observation, being honest and open about the data set and source and limitations, but is far too often reported as certain, which can then be confusing to the none scientific community.

Did scientists find the Higgs boson ? If you recall the story you probably will say yes, but you'll be wrong, the real answer is, probably ! The detection reached the level of certainty that amongst scientists was enough to suggest it wasn't random noise or some other thing, but it wasn't directly observed like you may see the moon in the sky, or the water coming from a tap.

This is the same for all statistical analysis, it's based on a limited data set, there are levels of error and little in the way of certainty, which is why we measure it.


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For anybody interested in Astronomy, these are exciting times, but far too often reporting on such events can lead some journalists into speculation fever, especially if Astronomy isn't their field.

So to pre-empt the hype, I'll set out what this conference won't be announcing.

Life outside of our solar system ! We can hardly detect life on planets in our own solar system (Europa and Mars have some indications, but nothing as yet confirmed), so while it could be that oxygen has been detected on an earth sized planet, which may indicate the potential of plant life, it will all be assumption and guess work.

Neither will it be what the media embarrassingly refer to as "Earth 2.0". Again, it may be that findings have shown a few more steps towards a planet in the right zone around it's star, maybe even with Oxygen and Nitrogen as a component in its atmosphere, but that in no way means the planet is an Earth ! Yes, we may have found something that ticks a few more boxes, but lets not jump on the new earth assumptions quite yet, particularly as the evidence will almost certainly be based on indications with a large variance for being explained as something else.

Of course, the uneducated trolls out there will try to label such measures of uncertainty as lies, I've already seen posts that play the game of suggesting that it's all fake news because Nasa doesn't really know for sure. This is partly because the Media tend to report science as being black and white, and then later when it's shown it wasn't what they initially thought, they are accused of lies.

I don't know what the data is that will be presented tomorrow, but I can tell you this, it will be based on statistical significance, it isn't black and white, it won't be definitive and won't prove life exists or another earth exists, it may however give us additional findings which indicate something worthy of further investigation, new techniques is out there, it will drive us forward.

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A fairly meaty article setting out how current regulation is failing and how it could be adapted to capture more. The key point made here is as follows :-

"All of the efficiency gains since the steam age, as a result of new technologies, innovation and globalisation have recently been captured by those who run the industry and not shared with consumers"

It's time for technological gain to start being shared out, your business ultimately isn't going to benefit from an oligarchy based society, especially when that society turns on it's government and votes Brexit and far worse if things don't change.It is possible for both to win, for the business owners and investors to get reward for their investment and for those who enrich you (the workers) to gain too, if only you the owners have the foresight to stop looking at your business system in isolation of the greater economic need.

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A bad workman always blames his tools

In this case however, it's more of a case that the cheating guy is trying to blame his tool (Uber) on being caught.

Technically of course, he's got a point, the security on Uber was pants, but, Uber were responsible for the security not the man's affairs, and it's the affairs that landed him in hot water, not Uber.

Is technology ever to blame for an immoral act gone wrong because the tool failed ? Can a burgler take black and decker to court if his power tools fail half way through breaking into a house ?
Would Uber be responsible if a rapist used its services to take them to the scene of crime ?

This is all very familiar territory, coming on the back of litigation against Waze and some more recent ones against Pokemon Go's creators Niantic for being responsible for interfering with drivers but generally being thrown out of courts because ultimately the driver is responsible for the decisions they make, and not the companies.

You can't take Loreal to court because a Women driver claims she's not responsible because she was distracted by their product and needed to apply it while driving, and I've seen far more of that than any technology product getting in the way, yet .. hysteria from some quarters against computer games in general and technology seems relentless, maybe they just remember the good old days when people drank and drove legally, nobody needed to wear protective seat belts and health and safety didn't prosecute companies for gross negligence, rather the injured person was told to accept their loss and get on with life.

Yeh, they were the good old days.

Technology is a tool, no different to a hammer, a screw driver or your own fist. You're responsible for it, you have a choice what you do with it, and ethically trying to separate that responsibility out and blame it on the provider is to suggest that no man is ever responsible for anything, but everybody else is somehow implicated in their crime.

It would seem, Uber did his wife a favour, but hey .. I don't know the background of their life, I just know it's not Ubers fault. 

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When I say "Japanese", you should automatically conjure up an image of what that means in your mind. No doubt saying Indian or Chinese, German, Russian do too.

What about Brazilian ?

Maybe a famous Brazilian jumps to mind, or maybe suddenly like me, you're not entirely sure what a Brazilian should look like.

Here, go and look :-

check out google images, and tell me if any of the faces don't match your expectation quite like the other groups would ?

Brazil is the most ethnically diverse nation on earth, a beautiful mix of a variety of differing ethnicities from Portuguese, a whole variety of African ethnicities and of course those indigenous people who had lived in Brazil for millennia before the Portuguese came along.

In many ways Brazil is the future of mankind, a future where long passed on features from tribal and isolated areas slowly mixes with those of others, each one no less human, no less full of dreams, hopes. They cry as you do, they hurt as you do, they laugh and dream and share amusing jokes as you do, as the Japanese do, and all the other ethnic groupings we have categorised ourselves as, we are all human beings.

Whilst walking the streets of Japan I started to see less of my vision of the stereotype, and more of the individual beauty of each person, each distinct and different. A couple holding hands, a young man playing video games, a guy not to dissimilar in age from me walking past playing Pokemon Go and trying to catch the very same Pokemon as me. An elderly lady rushing on her bike who dropped her coat on the road and was so grateful that I dashed up the hill to return it to her (as I would be if somebody did this for me), "Have a nice day" she shouted in English .. A common tongue we even shared.

What we share as humans goes far beyond the superficial differences. They are only able to be grouped into distinct ethnicities by the product of social evolution which has isolated us in groups since our species first set out on populating this earth.

The future of course may return to isolation, and distinct features may return as the norm, but before this occurs the mixing will continue. Today country to country the numbers vary, but as time goes by it will keep on rising, until like Brazil we all stop imagining in our heads what people should look like, and start looking for the more important things that separate us, like morality and manners, decency and empathy. All things I have experienced in abundance here in Japan, as I do in England, and have in India and the US.

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I love Japanese buildings, they're not afraid of a bit of colour, especially here in Akihabara where animé is the thing.
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