Wednesday, 30 May 2007

Charity for the religious

New Zealand Association of Rationalists and Humanists put out a press release in the last week (Thanks to Des of the New Zealand Brights Local Constituency for alerting me to it) disucssing the recent budget's removal of the tax rebate cap for charitable donations.

The issue is not one of charitable donations are bad as of course they are not but rather that the standards for what makes a charity are somewhat interesting. Here is what Elizabeth McKenzie, President of the New Zealand Association of Rationalists and Humanists had to say:

[W]e support any measure that sees more money being passed into the hands of genuine charitable organisations that provide a tangible benefit for society. However we are concerned that an archaic definition in New Zealand’s charity legislation means that the promotion of religion alone is regarded as a charitable activity.
So the issue is what makes something charitable. It turns out that in New Zealand being a church is enough. All you need to do is ave the intent of spreading your religion.

However there is an ugly side to that in that Des reports that an attempt to create a Humanist trust, he was not allowed to have part of the trusts mission being to promote humanism.

Hmmm that smacks of a double standard, but I will be looking further into this as I find the time.

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Thursday, 24 May 2007

A household of three

I heard on the an ad for the current affairs program Close Up last night, that they were interviewing the "Lion Man" who has been charged with assaulting his partner (and yes she is a woman) who he found in a ménage et trois [sic]. Now if you have any knowledge of french you will know that the phrase is ménage à trois, but the presenter clearly pronounced it with a short "e" sound rather than the short "a" sound that it is supposed to be. (OK here feel free to have a go at me for not using the correct phonetic letters to describe the sounds - but that is just not my thing, at least I have better things to do today than teach my self them.)

This of course like most good mispronunciations, totally changes the meaning of the phrase. So instead of the intended "household of three" (literally) it became "household and three" which a child can see is quite meaningless.

How can someone who is supposed to be one of the countries best TV presenters be so clueless or careless about pronunciation. Especially since this sets an example to people for how they are supposed to talk, or at least say words and phrases that are not natural to them

So what should be done about this? Maybe we should institute lessons in elocution and the "Queen's English" for all TV and radio presenters. Though I doubt that will really prevent the slide into laziness that the English language is currently taking.

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Friday, 18 May 2007

Friday's Physical Law - Mexican Wave

Last time we mentioned that one simple harmonic oscillator (SHO) couple to another SHO can have interesting effects. In fact when you have one SHO coupled to another SHO coupled to another SHO... you get a oscillation that varies not only in time but also in space and what we have is a wave.

Yes you can think of it just like the Mexican wave at you favourite sporting event (ok now that is an interesting thought - can anyone tell me where that name comes from?) first one person stands up and then the next and so on. The main difference between coupled SHO and drunk sports fans is that with sports fans you get a single pulse travelling around the ground (or very occasionally two pulses), but with the coupled SHOs each one continues to oscillate so you get a series of pulses following (often quite rapidly) one after the other.

So what exactly is meant when I say the oscillations varies in time and space. We know from last time how the SHOs vary with time, and that is carried through to the behavior of waves. We see each individual point oscillating with the same equations for position and velocity and acceleration. The variation in space can be described in a very similar way, as a cos or sin function varying with respect to position rather than time. Obviously the angular frequency term of the time variation is also replaced by a term that is related to how the wave repeats in distance, this is sometimes know as the wave vector (k). Remember:

  • ω = 2π/T
well similarly

  • k = 2π/λ
where λ is the wavelength of the wave and is the distance over which the oscillation repeats, much like T is time in which the oscillation repeats.

But what exactly are the oscillators that we are talking about, well these can be almost anything, ok not anything but waves happen in lots of different materials. The obvious examples of waves is those on water, but almost all musical instruments make sounds with waves and then there are earthquakes and electromagnetic radiation and ...

Stay tuned for more exciting developments next time

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Monday, 7 May 2007

The Phoenix rises

I think we have a winner for the most appropriate (and quite cool) name for a professional sports franchise.

And no it isn't the Dallas Mavericks rotflmao.

The new New Zealand side in the Australian soccer competition, which will be the third attempt at having a team in the competition.

Of course being such a small country the resources, particularly for what is a minor sport here, are scarce and so this effort at entering a team very nearly didn't get airborne either.

But the Wellington Phoenix rises.

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Friday, 4 May 2007


Wow you know what this has taken me so long to get around to finish off but finally I have it here for your viewing pleasure.

The three main early breakthroughs in the history of mankind have to be the domestication of crops, of cattle, and of fire. All of these can be thought of as major scientific sdvances (and in some cases we are still trying to work out how to improve on what we did at this stage of history) even if the scientific method was not really used.

There is evidence that Homo erectus was controlling fire up to a million years ago. Fire is important as it will have helped with lessening cases of food poisoning and improved the taste particularly of meat, both achieved by cooking the food. It also provided a means for defense, enabling the users to see in the dark and also as a scare for predators (most animals are afraid of fire). Later on as agriculture developed fire was an important tool in clearing land for growing crops.

Early man was a hunter-gatherer, this meant that he had to spend much of his time chasing animals and/or looking for edible plants/leaves/berries. Gradually the hunt became easier to follow the herds of prey animals and from there it was a simple step to instead of trying to follow, to lead the animals (at this point it is probable that man also began the domestication of the dog to help in this herding – although this may have been already started as part of the hunting – certainly this was something that dogs would have been selected for cf modern huntaways and such). And once you have control over the herd, it follows that you will ensure that the feeding and breeding of the herd is to your satisfaction. Selective breeding begins to create differences between the wild herds and the controlled herds. which we can see and indeed continue today with our domestic cattle.

So with the herding of “cattle” we loose the hunt part of hunter-gatherer but still we must maintain a nomadic lifestyle since we still need the gathering and now also we must find grasses for the cattle. This leads to the idea of growing your own. But the largest problem to that is that the feed for the cattle is different to the feed for humans, and indeed most often are found to be in different locations in nature.

The start of agriculture is a big step as it requires not only the finding/cross-breeding of the right types of plants to provide sustenance but also the growing of these said plants in a location where you can also get easy access to stock feed. So we have the domestication of crops leads to permanent settlements forming where access to the new crops and the stock feed is available.

And the permanent settlements leads to the domestication of humans.

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America's deadliest terrorists strike again

A doctor's clinic in Texas where abortions where performed has had a close shave when police found a bomb in a duffel bag outside.

This is an all to common situation at abortion clinics in the US where christian fundamentalists are conducting a reign of terror.

Yet does this even raise the eyebrows of homeland security? I think not... after all good christian Americans are not the problem are they?

The Bush administration's War on Liberty continues unabated as does terrorism!

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Friday's Physical Law - Simple Harmonic Motion

Like we saw last week simple harmonic motion (SHM) is a periodic (repetitive) motion that is descried by sine/cosine functions. There is one other requisite in the definition of SHM and that is a restoring force. What do I mean by a restoring force, well it is mostly what is sounds like, it is a force which acts to restores the system to its original or equilibrium position.

So a restoring force is at its simplest a force that acts counter to the position of the object within the system. Think of a mass on a spring - when the spring is extended it pulls the mass back, conversely if you compress the spring it pushes the mass out. So this force can be described by:

  • F = -kx
where x is the displacement and k is the spring constant, and the negative sign shows that the force counteracts the displacement.

Another example of this is a pendulum where gravity provides the force and is always trying to force the bob (the mass at the end of the pendulum) to its lowest point.

But wait if there is a force that is always pushing it back to equilibrium then how does it keep repeating its motion. Well to explain this lets look at the case of the mass on a spring (the pendulum is the same but its motion tends to be 2d and so slightly harder to explain).

If you have a mass attached to a spring and it is sitting at equilibrium and you pull it down a certain distance, then when you release it the spring pulls the mass back towards the equilibrium point, accelerating it as it goes, now as the mass gets closer to the equilibrium the force and acceleration get smaller, but the velocity gets bigger (since it is being accelerated). So when it gets back to the equilibrium x=0, so F = 0 and a = 0, however v ≠ 0 so the motion continues past the equilibrium where the acceleration now acts to slow the mass down, until it stops at the opposite point the where it started, and then accelerate it back again.

So as long as friction is small (or as well like to think for our examples non existent) then this motion will go on and on and on. This gives us our simple harmonic motion:

  • x = Acos(ωt)
  • v = sin(ωt)
  • a = -2cos(ωt)
Now so you don't look at me and ask where there heck did they come from, the first one is found in last time's discussion about circles is just the position of the mass relative toe the equilibrium, and the second two come from the definitions of velocity and acceleration, so are the change of position and velocity with respect to time. Strictly speaking these last two are the derivatives of position and velocity with respect to time which relies on calculus and gives us the instantaneous values for velocity and acceleration.

Now we saw last time that ω is related to the period of motion T. And so combining the restoring force equation and Newton's second law and the above expressions for x and a we can get:
  • F = -kx = ma
  • ω = √(k/m)
  • T = 2π √(m/k)
Now since we talk about how long it takes for things to happen with T, one other factor that is related to this is how often things happen, the frequency, f.
  • f = 1/T = ω/
The frequency of an event is the amount of occurrences in 1 second (usually measure in Hertz, Hz), it is inversely related to the period, of is something takes o.1 second to occur then it has a frequency of 10 Hz etc. OK this is only true for repetitive (oscillatory) motion other wise the frequency does not make sense.

So we can see that a mass that oscillates back and forth about an equilibrium is SHM, however circular motion does not really fit the bill since it does not have that restoring force.

Of course like the name suggests SHM is simple, but harmonic motion in general can be a lot more complicated, such things as friction can damp the motion, or something can drive the motion. Even the presence of other oscillators coupled to the first causes interesting phenomena but that is for next week.

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