Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Can you hear me now?

More simple bite size tat for you.

Have you ever been in a situation where, when on the phone, you can't hear the other person because of a room full of cunts who won't shut up or other such annoying background noise? You probably do what everyone else does and put one finger in your free ear to block out the noise. This never really works and the reason for that is that most cell phones and just about all land lines are "full duplex".

This means that the signal you hear in the ear piece is mixed with your own voice from the mouth piece - and by extension all the background noise too.

Phones were designed like this because the engineers of the time believed that if they mixed in the sound of the callers own voice into a conversation said conversation would sound more "realistic".

So, if you want to hear someone better on the phone, cover the mouth piece. This stops the above from happening and creates what is called the "cocktail party effect".
Yes, you'll still hear the cunts speaking inane nonsense in one ear but your brain can now block that out. Like when you're at a party and the room's full of separate conversations but you can focus on the one you're involved in.

A simple sketch of this is...

Voice - left ear - BRAIN - right ear - room noise.

And when on a phone with an uncovered mouth piece it goes like this...

Voice with distored room noise - left ear - BRAIN - right ear - room noise.

That's harder for your brain to unmix.

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Planets make awesome ambient music

Well, hello there! It's been a while, for lots of reasons, all of which I shall not go into.

So, as I've said before, Space is fucking awesome, here's another reason why...

Below is a video of the planet Jupiter making some truly awesome ambient music. As they explain in the video, even though space is a vacuum, these sounds are electromagnetic vibrations that Voyager et al are designed to pick up.

What follows is someone explaining it a lot better then I can...

Fascinating recording of Jupiter sounds (electromagnetic "voices") by NASA-Voyager. The complex interactions of charged electromagnetic particles from the solar wind , planetary magnetosphere etc. create vibration "soundscapes".

Jupiter is mostly composed of hydrogen and helium. The entire planet is made of gas, with no solid surface under the atmosphere. The pressures and temperatures deep in Jupiter are so high that gases form a gradual transition into liquids which are gradually compressed into a metallic "plasma" in which the molecules have been stripped of their outer electrons. The winds of Jupiter are a thousand metres per second relative to the rotating interior. Jupiter's magnetic field is four thousand times stronger than Earth's, and is tipped by 11° degrees of axis spin. This causes the magnetic field to wobble, which has a profound effect on trapped electronically charged particles. This plasma of charged particles is accelerated beyond the magnetosphere of Jupiter to speeds of tens of thousands of kilometres per second. It is these magnetic particle vibrations which generate some of the sound you hear on this recording.
Visit for more sounds.

And here's a sort sonic representation of Huygens descent onto Titan.

Sounds from a left speaker trace Huygens' motion, with tones changing with rotational speed and the tilt of the parachute. There also are clicks that clock the rotational counter, as well as sounds for the probe's heat shield hitting Titan's atmosphere, parachute deployments, heat shield release, jettison of the camera cover and touchdown.

Sounds from a right speaker go with the Descent Imager/Spectral Radiometer activity. There's a continuous tone that represents the strength of Huygens' signal to Cassini. Then there are 13 different chimes - one for each of instrument's 13 different science parts - that keep time with flashing-white-dot exposure counters. During its descent, the Descent Imager/Spectral Radiometer took 3,500 exposures.

Amazing stuff.

There, I hope you liked that. I'll try and go back to this again at some stage. For now I have to read about fucking psycho-analysis. I fucking hate psycho-analysis.

Wednesday, September 9, 2009

Derren Brown is a witch

So tonight sees Derren Brown predict the national lotto numbers live on tv. As far as I know he plans to then revel on he did so on Friday.

Derren, who I am a fan of, has for a long time been doing a fantastic job doing what he does. He dresses his tricks up as amazing feats psychological manipulation when in fact they are no more then “simple” street and stage magic. When he starts his shows saying he uses a mixture of "magic, suggestion, psychology, misdirection and showmanship", he's setting you up. He's being honest in the techniques he uses but the ones he wants you to pay attention to our in bold. From there on out, he disguises nearly all his tricks as those of a psychological \ suggestion kind.

One of the best examples of this I can recall off hand would be from his last televised live show. He gets several audience members to join him on stage. He asks them all to think of an object. What then takes place is a series of “twenty questions” but in Derren's style. So more like three.
He puts the same questions to all audience members. What he does as he asks these questions is look the audience member up and down, making it look like he's getting a read on them. In one instance he asks to see a one guy's hands. He looks at the back and front, and proclaims he's thinking rugby ball.
Of course Derren's right and you think, “wow, how did he do that?”. Was it the size of the lad, his clothes and maybe his hands, when Derren inspected them, looked like that of a rugby players. Add them all up and you think that Derren has made a educated guess based on information gleamed from his mad skills at reading people. Or maybe he somehow “forced” the rugby ball idea into the lad's head through some mad suggestion skills.


As the audience members were approaching the stage they were asks to write what they were thinking down on a white board. The white board in question is on of those electronic wi-fi bad boys that can be hooked up to a computer. One of Derren's lackeys will then feed the information to Derren via his ear piece.

What happens when Derren dresses his tricks up as “psychological” is he separates himself from normal magicians. We see him as highly skilled practitioner of a science. We look at what he does and believe that he is one of a few that can pull these tricks off – unlike a standard magician, whose tricks we know are simple tricks, ones that can be bought in a box, ones we believe, if we knew how they are done, we could do them ourselves. When in fact he is no different to a Paul Dainels (who is an absolute legend anyway).

Even his feats of memory are not beyond us mere mortals. He does not have a photographic memory, no such thing exists. He says as much in his book...

“There is very little evidence to suggest that the popular idea of a photographic memory really holds. While there are a few savants who are able to hold in their minds very complex, highly detailed after-images of a scene ('eidetic memory'), it typically does not hold for long, and tends to be prone to subjective distortions rather than being photographically perfect. Moreover, most of the studies on extraordinary memories seem to show that these gifted individuals use rich mnemonic strategies...”
- Derren Brown, Tricks of the Mind p62

These mnemonic approaches to memory are something I wish to write about in a latter post.

It's also worth pointing out that when, on T.v., he shows how a trick is done, don't always believe him. This, sometimes, is just more dressing up. Giving you a “plausible” solution that revolves around suggestion or psychology when in fact it was “mere” slight of hand or something we might consider a little less exceptional...

"I am often dishonest in my techniques ... I happily admit to cheating, it's all part of the game. I hope some of the fun for the viewer comes from not knowing what's real and what isn't" - Derren Brown, Tricks of the Mind p341

So, back to the show tonight. How is he going to “predict” the lotto numbers?

He might do the thing where he'll write them down as they're announced, and then write them behind each time. eg the first one is blank, then before the second he writes the first, before the third is read out he writes the second.

It could also be done where the lottery was played behind him, but it was delayed ten seconds, and he'll have an ear piece telling him what each number was just before it came out. (I've been told this was in an episode of Jonathan Creek.

Well, there's a few other ways he could do it but either way I'm sure it'll be entertaining.

Friday, July 31, 2009

Eat shit and live

Dysentery is, in short, when you shit yourself to death...

...if you don't get it treated.

So when you can't get to a hospital you can try this...

Furthermore, Lewin (2001) reports that "... consumption of fresh, warm camel feces has been recommended by Bedouins as a remedy for bacterial dysentery; its efficacy (probably attributable to the antibiotic subtilisin from Bacillus subtilis) was confirmed by German soldiers in Africa during World War II." In addition, sheep feces contain the same antibiotic as camel feces. There are numerous reports from German soldiers of the effectiveness of sheep and camel feces being effective cures for dysentery.

I think that's hilarious. You're shitting too much? Eat some shit.

Friday, July 24, 2009

You are small

I've, for a second time, failed to update this place for over a month. I've had a pretty horrible fucking time during said month and I'll blame that for my poor effort.

So, during this month off I haven't even considered a subject for a new post. With that in mind I'm just going to waffle on about stars and space for a bit and throw in some videos and gifs.

Space is fucking huge. It's pretty ridiculous and just next to impossible to comprehend and it's this that makes it so amazing to me. When you think about the scale of certain celestial bodies and the vast, vast empty space around them it can really put you in your place. It also gets my curiosity going something special.

You tell anyone this they'll more then likely tell you they already knew this. And they probably do. What they probably don't know is how small our planet really is. Even next to something we're all very familiar with. The Sun.

Think about how big, relative to us, the face of our planet is. It's fucking huge. It's diameter is just under 8000 miles.

Our Sun, which looks kind of small to us, is quite a bit bigger then the little rock we live on. In fact it's so much bigger that Earth can fit inside it a million times. Earth, 8000 miles around, can fit into the Sun one million times. That is, in the truest sense of the word, awesome.

In fact, the Sun accounts for over 99.9% of all the matter of our whole solar system.

Our Sun, a Star, is of course one of many. And it is no where near one of the biggest.

The largest known star is VY Canis Majoris, in the constellation Canis Major, located about 5,000 light-years from Earth. It's around 2,100 times bigger then our sun. Light takes more than 8 hours to cross its circumference!

Now, below is a ace little video that puts everything into perspective a lot better then a bunch of numbers. It doesn't include the VY Canis Majoris but does have some other massive stars that. while smaller then VY, our still bigger then anything you've ever known.

It's pretty mad. These huge, huge things exist in this massive, massive universe that's mainly empty space. So, these giant masses that are so much bigger then our Sun which is in turn a million times bigger then our planet, make up - when all put together – a very small percentage of our universe. I think it's around 4% but I'm not sure, I've drank a lot of red wine and I'm not bothered to do any research.

Here's that gif I mentioned before...

(edit - I couldn't get that gif to work, here's another video, it has VY in it.)

Even with pictures trying to gauge the scale breaks your Brain halfway through.

Now, with all this delicious wine in me I best stop for now. Really, this post was just so I could get the blog going again. I'll go back to this again sometime.

Tuesday, June 23, 2009


I had quite a horrible mental breakdown over the weekend, a proper mental breakdown and not some blog hyperbole, and as a result I've decided to keep myself a bit more busy over the coming weeks. This should hopefully extend to this blog too.

With all that said, off to yet another post of inane pedantic drivel...

In a somewhat similar vein to my last post, the subject of movie physics, I plan to talk about bullet sparks.

Simply put, they're a load of bullshit. Bullets don't spark like what you see in some films and most TV shows. The reason for this is very simple, they're made out of copper-clad lead or lead alloys and not steel.

It's why some hammers, used in chemical industry or other places where a spark could be very fatal, are made out of lead (or copper alloys) and not steel.

Bullets do get hot when they strike solid objects. The worst case would be if all of a bullet's kinetic energy were instantly converted to thermal energy when a bullet struck its target and all the thermal energy remained inside the bullet. This is highly unlikely but easy to calculate. I say easy...

A .45 cal handgun bullet (it's a big enough bullet, in between (ish) a standard 9mm and Dirty Harry's
.44 mag), has a mass of 0.015 kg and a muzzle velocity of around 288 m/s. Kinetic energy is calculated from the mass and the magnitude of the velocity of an object using the following equation...

KE = ½mv2

KE = kinetic energy m = mass v = velocity

Using the above equation and the values I supplied we find that such a bullet has a kinetic energy of 619 J. And if all that kinetic energy is converted into thermal energy the temperature rise is calculated as 324° Celsius.

If the bullet starts at room temperature (24° C) it will end up at 348° C. The melting point of lead is 328° C.

So, in this highly unlikely event that all the kinetic energy turns to heat, in a hope to generate a spark, the lead would melt. And molten lead looks like silver. In fact molten lead is used in films as a substitute for molten silver.

All worked out on the basis that the shot was at point blank range.

Of course bullets don't get that hot and most of the kinetic energy is lost on it's short travel.

Unlike last weeks post, where I made the point that lasers in films work how they do because otherwise they'd be boring, sparking bullets are just shit.

Subtlety can be far more dramatic­

Wednesday, June 17, 2009


Lasers in most people's minds probably look and act like those found in such films like Star Wars. Multi coloured fun beams of death. Of course, real lasers don't work like that, especially in space.

First, imagine you're in a big space dog fight with all the homo-erotic undertones of Top Gun. You spot a boggy in the distance and line up your shot. You fire but - SHIT - you missed because you didn't aim far enough in front of the enemy and by the time your laser gets to it's target it's behind them.

You see this happen all the time in films. It's pretty stupid though seeing as lasers are made of light (light amplification by stimulated emission of radiation, to be exact) which is pretty damn fast. Really fucking fast in fact - Around 300 million meters a second.

So, when you take into account that in these space battles ships are usually only a couple of kilometers away it would only take a millionth of a second or less to reach it's destination.

It's been proven that the human mind cannot precive two events that happen within around 3 thousandths of a second of each other as separate events . So you'd never have to wait for your laser to hit, it'll all look like it happened at once, in your mind.

Now, let's say your enemy has super amazingly quick reactions and can hit some gay hyper drive system once he spots your lasers. WRONG. He won't be able to see the laser until some light from the firing gun has reached his eyes and by that time he'll have died a horrible death.

Add to all that the fact that all lasers in space would be invisible because, seeing as space is a vacuum, there is nothing for them to bounce off of and become visible.
Lasers you see at gigs and other such events have a load of smoke, dry ice and other such particles in the air to react with. This creates the long colourful laser beams you see at your discotheques.

The thing I think is the funniest though, when you cast this hyper analytical no fun geek logic to cinematic space epics, is that with all their amazing technological insights and breakthroughs that are but the fevered dreams of a mad man to us, they haven't developed a space ship with a perfectly mirrored hull, that would simply reflect the lasers and hence make them invulnerable to such attacks.

This isn't a post criticising these types of films for not being realistic, god forbid. If these films applied the laws of physics with such a stringent attitude, they'd be fucking shit and boring. They're unrealistic on purpose and with good reason. I just think the idea of laser combat in space, when broken down, kinda funny and redundant.

Looks shit hot though.

- Thanks to Steven Poole and his awesome book Trigger happy for the 'inspiration' for the above post -