Friday 29 July 2011

The Weekly Round-up w/e 29/7/11

Would you look at us, another weekly round-up only a week after the last one, we're getting good at this.  We've got various things on offer to you this week for your reading pleasure.  Before we move on, just a quick reminder that Mark Stevenson's 'An Optimist's Tour of the Future' talk fast approaching so make sure you've made a note in your diary, second Wednesday of the month as always.  Have a look over there to the right of the page for further details.  Here's what you've been waiting for:

Tuesday 26 July 2011

Particle Physics: Brilliant!

A Blog post by Patrick Redmond

One of the problems with doing a podcast is that you get to hear your own voice a lot. Each episode takes a surprisingly long time to edit and it can be tortuous if, like me, you’re not keen on hearing yourself speak. One of the things that I’ve noticed about myself is a tendency to enthuse, to pronounce things frequently to be “Fantastic” or “Brilliant” like that Paul Whitehouse character from the Fast Show.

This is partly inevitable given that I tend to pick subjects and people about which I am genuinely interested and excited. So it comes out in my attitude. The problem comes when you tackle a subject like the Atlas Experiment. How can you talk about the biggest and coolest experiment in the world without slipping into superlatives?

I had the privilege to talk to physicist Steve Goldfarb who works at the Atlas Experiment. The excitement of those working on this is almost palpable as they push at the frontiers of what we know. There is a real sense of a continuum of knowledge as they build on the legacy of earlier physicists and scientists adding to our understanding of the origins and workings of the universe.

The Atlas Experiment is the largest particle detector at the Large Hadron Collider. As billions of protons clash within the detector they gather the data from the most likely suspects and piece together the evidence searching for what might or might not be there to answer some of the most fundamental questions about matter and the universe.

Everything about this project is astounding. From the magnificent physical scale of the mechanical equipment to the the subatomic stature of the objects observed and the breathtaking scope of the possibilities within its reach, it is amazing. Not everyone feels the same about particle physics I know. Have a look at these comments from the Fox News website, brought to my attention by @kashfarooq.

Thankfully though the human race will continue to progress thanks to science and scanner101 and flowerpot will be able to reap the benefits regardless.

The other great thing that you get from talking to Steve isn’t just the passion for the project but the insight of what it's like to be one of the the community. They’re people that work hard but they also play hard. It’s a working, living group of people. For instance one of the things that Steve does in his spare time is to play in a blues band called the Cannettes. They play traditional blues but they’ve managed to combine their love of physics and music in some of their songs.  I’ve included a copy of The Atlas Boogie at the end of the podcast, but it’s well worth having a look at the video. Listen to the podcast and enjoy the video embedded below.

Patrick Redmond - Born in Stoke and moved the vast distance to live in Birmingham. He is one of the organisers of Birmingham Skeptics in the Pub

Friday 15 July 2011

The Weekly Round-up w/e 17th July 2011

A very warm welcome to the second weekly round-up that has appeared in a row, a trend we hope to be continuing. Included is a load of stuff that we've unearthed from the web this week for your perusal and delectation. Some of it's fun, some of it's funny, some will make you cheer. Oh, by the way, some may make you a little bit stabby (sorry about that).

First up we have a survey or two, almost identical, but with startlingly different expected results:-

The first, posted by persons unknown poses a series of leading questions about the

Saturday 9 July 2011

The Weekly Round Up - 9/7/11

Image Credit: NASA TV
Hello everybody and welcome to the return of the Birmingham Skeptics’ rather inaccurately named Weekly Round-Up where we scour the web for interesting stories and sites for your delectation. Well, it’s accurate in that the stories and links are ones that we’ve come across in the last week but inaccurate in that the last one of these was over a month ago. Still, some things are worth the wait and we’ll do our best to get back on track with regular updates from now on.

There can be only one place to start and unless you’ve been participating in sensory deprivation tests in some remote lab over the last week you’ve probably come across Elevatorgate. It began with one woman, Rebecca Watson, based on her experience at a conference (and undoubtedly at other points of her life) politely requesting that men think about their thoughts and actions towards women and to not be creepy. Then it got a whole lot bigger! At all stages of this there has been a lot of debate with some surprise interventions and Rebecca provides a great round up and explanation on her blog.

PZ Myers brought some brilliant work by Biologist Phil Senter to our attention. Creation scientists (Oxymoron Alert!) use methods and publishing practices that make what they do look like science. Rather than dismissing them, Senter treats them seriously and goes on to hoist them by their own petard.

The next one isn’t a blog but is a lovely lovely site. The representation of data doesn’t have to be linear and boring and with a bit of imagination and talent stunning effects can be created. That’s how they work over at Information is Beautiful. Have a look at their visualisation called Snake Oil? You may disagree with some of the conclusions, but that’s fine, read down to the bottom and you’ll see it’s a wonderfully fluid diagram that can adapt to change as new evidence presents itself.  This one requires flash to view but there’s a link on the page to other wonderful visualisations.

This post comes courtesy of the excellent PodBlack. It’s a tragic tale involving a psychic that makes you want to scream at the sheer stupidity of the situation and at the same time renders you speechless. The post is suitably understated leaving you lots of room for reflection.

It’s more than a week old but that’s not going to stop us including Jourdemayne’s hugely entertaining and interesting post on the Vampires of Rhode Island. I think we’re going to have to try and tempt this talented person to Birmingham Skeptics in the Pub very soon.

If you’re one of our regulars at Birmingham Skeptics in the Pub you’ll have noticed how popular we’re becoming. Last month’s talk by Ash Pryce was pretty full and there’s a good chance this month’s by Jon Ronson will be even more so. We’ve given a bit of thought as to how best manage this so if you’re planning on coming take a look here.

The space shuttle is on its last mission and we bid it a sad and fond farewell. It’s been a long road and you can look back over the history of the shuttle and follow the last days of the current mission over at the NASA website.

Thursday 7 July 2011

Jon Ronson - Time to get Organised

These have been exciting times for us here at Birmingham Skeptics.  We’ve had some brilliant talks over the last few months, word is getting around the midlands and as a result our talks have been getting more and more popular.  Those who were at Ash Pryce’s excellent ‘How to be a Psychic Conman’ show will have noticed how popular it’s become.

On top of this, we’ve got the amazing Jon Ronson doing his talk ‘The Psychopath Test’ for us next week (13th July) at The Victoria.  We’re really looking forward to it, and, looking at the numbers that have responded on Facebook, lots of other people from around the area are too.

As a result of this, we’ve decided that we need to be a little more organised