Saturday, 26 March 2016

Captured by the Camera - Portrait of an Owl-Man

This picture was recently submitted to the Tring Camera Club competition for black and white prints. It was not selected as one of the top pictures - possibly it is not the kind of picture you would hang on your wall. Several people liked it and the only specific comment I got was that there was not enough contrast in the "face".

From my point of view its chief interest is that the picture says a lot about how the eye/brain combination works.

Tuesday, 22 March 2016

Environmental Limerick: Tasmanian Wilderness areas saved

The Threat!
From Tasmania I like the news
For its wildness has such great views
And will not now be felled
For the plans have been shelved
As the wild life they cannot abuse.

The Tasmanian Wilderness covers about a fifth of the island and is one of the world's last big temperate forests. The BBC news has reported that owing to protests from Unesco the plans to open the area up to logging have been abandoned,
My interest is that in 1991 I was working on a short term contract with CSIRO in Sydney and was asked to help set up a data base on a small area of the Tasmanian forest to demonstrate to Australian Heritage the advantage of digitising their records. Unfortunately it was considered unnecessary for me to actually visit the area I was documenting as I was "only a computer  expert." However in my own time I visited the Tasmanian section of the Botanical Gardens at Canberra and stopped off for a short time on the edge of the Great Otway National Park in Victoria, which is about the biggest bit of surviving temperate rain forest in mainland Australia. Should I ever have the chance to visit Australia again I would love to visit parts of the Tasmanian wilderness.

Are Artificial Intelligence programmes really so clever?

Lee Se-dol lost three games in a row
When he played against slick Alpha-Go
Well he won number four
But the program won more,
'Cause mere humans are really too slow.

Draughts was the first of the classic board games to succumb to the power of computers, then Chess, and now Go. So congratulations to all the people who have worked on the design of the Alpha-Go software and the computer on which it runs.

Sunday, 20 March 2016

Environmental Limerick: The Warmest Febuary worldwide ever

Source ecosmart
Firm action should not be delayed.
We are warming too much centigrade.
With so much CO2
There's a lot we must do
Or in future the price must be paid.

Following a NASA report the papers world wide have been full of the news that February was a real shocker - see for example The Guardian (UK), New Zealand Herald, USA Today, The Indian Express, etc.

So have you made sure your political representative knows your views and is actually doing something positive about it?

Why Dartington was Different - No need for Sexting ....

Some people may think it was lewd
That as children we bathed in the nude
But at Dartington Hall
No one worried at all
About fashions we choose to exclude

An article recently appeared on the Dartington Hall School pages which had been written in French 'Life in the Sun' by a young English woman attached to UNESCO and a member of the 'Sun Club'. She recalls her life in a progressive school in England, where there is no equivalent in France.

Thursday, 17 March 2016

Captured by the Camera: Ripples on a Duck Pond

When you get an interesting idea for a picture the  result may be as a resulty of some careful planning - or just a bit of luck. The challenge here was a competition where the subject was "Light and Lines" and I decided I would try and get a picture with "natural" lines. On the day this was taken there was a strong wind blowing causing rows of parallel ripples in the water reflecting the sky - giving rows of dark and light ripple lines if you got the angle right.

Friday, 11 March 2016

Do Chimps have a religion?
A Chimp stone pile
There's a Chimp by a tree with a stone
And he thinks that it ought to be thrown.
Does he think it's a shrine?
Is it action benign?
Or perhaps a behaviour unknown?

The "Pan-Af Project: The Cultured Chimpanzee" aims to gather information about chimpanzee tool use and other advanced chimpanzee behaviours, and understanding ape cultures is relevant to my own work on investigating the evolution of human intelligence.

Tuesday, 8 March 2016

Neanderthal man may have used a special fire lighter!

When Neanderthal man wanted fire
His methods will surely inspire,
For he used, if you please,
Some oxide (manganese),
And he then cooked his meat on the pyre.

How clever were our Neanderthal cousins? The more we discover about them the more intelligent they seem. The EvoAnth blog has reported on some research relating to the discovery of lumps of manganese oxide associated with Neanderthal sites. It had been thought that they used it as a black pigment - but in some cases the lumps were found more thane 250 km from where it could be found naturally.  But if all they wanted was a black pigment they could have used the far more easy to obtain charcoal.
However if you grind up manganese and sprinkle it over wood it is far easier to get a fire going, and the wood ignites at a lower temperature.

Environmental Limerick: Methane Gas in Siberia

In the permafrost ground is a crater,
Methane gas is the sole excavator.
As the temperature rises
There'll be more surprises
As threats to the climate gets greater.

Permafrost is found widely within on high latitudes in places like Siberia - the term indication that the ground is permanently frozen. In many areas the ground contains large quantities of methane, in the form a solid methane hydrate. If the climate warms the ground starts to thaw and the methane hydrate breaks up, releasing methane gas in the process. As methane is a much more powerful greenhouse gas than carbon dioxide the effect could be to accelerate global warming and the fact that temperatures are rising in the arctic is a cause for concern.

The above picture shows a crater, photographed shortly after it formed in 2014, situated on the Yamal Peninsula of Northern Siberia. Subsequently more craters have been discovered. What is happening is that as the ground warms (but is still frozen) the methane hydrate decomposes and releases methane gas which cannot immediately escape. The pressure increases until it reaches a point where it causes an explosive outburst - producing a large crater.