The level of technical ignorance in the UK is staggering.Two examples that want to make you cry.I always liked the TV show QI, hosted by Stephen Fry, and assumed it was, at least reasonably, accurate in its myth busting. But today’s ‘Fact of the day’ on their website, is one of the dumbest things I’ve read in a long time. From their website:It's not just that, as surely everyone knows, nothing travels faster than the speed of light, but it would be ridiculous to suggest it goes the speed of sound, let alone the speed of light.Are QI playing some game? Some test to see how many viewers / readers (idiots like me) can be cajoled into writing and pointing out their ignorance. (Perhaps the show should be called Quite Ignorant). Perhaps this is some type of reader intelligence test perhaps? ‘Just how stupid a fact can we publish to provoke our readers to react?’The calculation to work out the speed of travel of the crossing point of a pair scissors is so simple a 10 year old should be able to do it. The answer is about 16 miles per hour. So much for ‘faster than light’, it’s not even faster than a bicycle!Like an idiot, I wrote to QI to tell them they were idiots also. So I got an answer back from the QI elves, as they call the researchers, (credit where it’s due - I didn’t expect an answer) and they clarified that they was talking about a pair of scissors one light year long - which by my calculation is about a 6 trillion miles long.Oh good. So that’s fine then. Silly me, I should have known their scissors were 6 trillion miles long.They even point at an article about it: http://math.ucr.edu/home/baez/physics/Relativity/SR/scissors.htmlThe trouble is everyone goes around believing rubbish like that 'scissors go faster than light’, because they forgot to qualify they meant a pair slightly larger than you could fit in your pocket. And then, as the above article explains, even with a pair of scissors 6 trillion miles long it would not close faster than light! Arrrarrarrahgg.QI (Quite Ignorant) example number 2In the Telegraph a few days ago (now I’m not so stupid as to believe much if anything written in this paper), someone has written in saying that we should all be driving steam powered cars because they do not pollute as much as petrol cars. And it’s been printed as if the guy is serious.So again, it’s not just that the idiot writing is ignorant, but the editor is so dumb he can’t work out for himself this is just absurd.Consider how does a steam engine works - you burn fuel (usually coal) to heat the water to create steam to drive a piston. You can use any combustant of course, even petrol (which would be a lot more efficient than coal). Even this record breaking steam powered car uses LPG to boil the water. And it got to a rather measly 140 mph.Anyway, to the point. How can anyone think that burning petrol (or worse, coal) to heat water to create steam to push a cylinder is going to be more efficient than just burning the petrol in the cylinder directly? The guy’s an idiot and the editor’s an idiot for printing it. This doesn’t require you to be a scientist, it probably requires you passed an O-Level science. (So that would be an A-level nowadays).So even using the most efficient steam turbine, instead of cylinders, (which this record breaking car does) it’s still really, really not going to be likely heating water to produce steam to drive anything is going to be very efficient, or green. And think of all the water that would be required! We'd have to fill up not just with petrol (or coal) but also stop every few miles a fill up with water to generate the steam. Just a like a steam train does.Double aarrrarrragg.The level of technical ignorance in this country is truly staggering. Depressing.An optical illusionCreating this website and messing with various colour backgrounds I just discovered a great optical illusion. Below are two rounded rectangle panels, but on different backgrounds. One of them is a slighter lighter or brighter colour. Which is it?If you’re familiar with optical illusions, you’ll probably guess that in fact both panels above are exactly the same colour. For some reason the grey background under the right example makes the left one look more grey. Weird.You owe everything you have to Science & EngineeringIt annoys the hell out of me when I see anti-capitalist demonstrations, more so when I see criticism that ‘science is bad’ or somehow evil. Science gets a bad rap, more so as time goes by. It should not.The diminishing importance of science and engineering, the increase of pseudo-science, religions increasingly dominated by extremist views and increased technical illiteracy are portents for a much poorer future for western economies. Luckily for the human race some countries (China, ironically) understand the importance of science & engineering and have a strong capitalist or entrepreneurial spirit. (Having travelled in China 4 or 5 times, I can say they are the most capitalist nation on earth right now. They also have far less state control and interference in their daily lives than any modern western economy. By many criteria, they are more free in China than we are in the West). The result is that we’ll all become more reliant on China, and Asia generally.China really will be the greatest, most powerful, nation on earth within a generation. While the Western economies produce more lawyers than engineers, this is inevitable and unavoidable.People should never forget that almost every positive aspect of modern society, of your life, is a direct result of science. I'm taking about the absolute basics here (admittedly from a very western society point of view);•Being able to feed yourself•Access to fresh water, for free•To live in comfort in an uncomfortable (often worse) climate•Access to almost miraculous medical and dental care•An education (so you can read this)•Books•Music•Incredible communication capabilities•To live to an average age of 70 years or more•To be able to travel the world.•Your HealthNot forgetting the more superficial benefits of a civilised world such such as TV, Internet, Cinema, and more. (OK, I know that the Internet should not be called trivial, and I agree it has as great a potential as any technology before it.)ALL the above is a result of science, and more specifically a combination of science and capitalist competition. Almost every aspect of a modern, civilised society, even so called ‘primitive’ societies is based on science.It is the natural state of the human being to want to improve his lot, by whatever means he can. It is the natural state of human beings to be curious, to want to learn, to explore. That is basically what drives science and capitalism and drives the advance of all mankind’s lot.Sure, science has been responsible for some evils, but the benefits outweigh, I mean majorly outweigh, the negatives. We live in a utopia compared with previous generations (I'm thinking over a period of centuries). It wasn't long ago, that none of the above benefits were available to the general population. Now most westerners take these things for granted. Many don’t even give them a second thought.And those who think that somehow science is bad, that capitalism is bad, that perhaps we'd be better off in a simpler world, a more old-fashioned world haven't got a clue. They don’t get it. They're hypocrites, benefiting from everything that science and capitalism has given them, and then criticising the foundations upon which their lives are built and lived.
21st Aug 2009
A web log, a test of my web design software, stories about the absurd, the dumb & interesting stuff.
My spell checker tells me there is no such word as combustant, which is weird. Even Dictionary.com says it’s not a word. That’s even more weird. It is a word surely? You know what I mean anyway, ‘something that burns’.
How fast does the crossover point on a pair of scissors travel? Simple. You take the length of your scissors (say 3 inches) and the time it takes to close the scissors fast - say 1/100th of the second (you couldn't do it that fast), and you work it out for yourself. The crossover will travel the 3 inches in 1/100th of a second = 300 inches per second = 18,000 inches per minute = 1,080,000 inches per hour. So that's as near as million inches-per-hour. Sounds fast. How many miles is a million inches? Use the little known Google calculating feature. Type “1000000 inches in miles” into your Google search (no need to press enter even) and it immediately tells you the answer 15.7So the real speed of a the cross-over point is about 16 miles per hour.