Pre-holiday miscellany

July 23, 2010

In a few hours I will be in an internetless Cornish cottage. Assorted thoughts are buzzing about the front of my head that might otherwise have turned into blog posts.

Astro2010: the Hour Approacheth. The US Decadal Survey of Astrophysics has had its final committee meeting (see picture ) and they are beavering away writing the report. I hear the report will emerge during early to mid August. I think somebody even told me the date, but I’ve forgotten. Who wins, LSST or GSMT ? Which version of GSMT gets favoured ? The one ELT can interbreed with or the other one ?

CSR : are we dead or what ? The results of the Comprehensive Spending Review won’t be know for some time, but STFC are gearing up for the bad news, and asking for input to spending review plans. Possibly this news item isn’t blunt enough. So much of STFC’s money is tied up in subscriptions, operating major facilities like Diamond, and committed big projects, that a fairly spread 25% cut is basically impossible. Please choose between astronomy and particle physics.

Women in Science. There ain’t enough women in science, especially in the upper reaches. Its been puzzling many of us for years.This article in the Huffington Post describes some interesting new ideas that smell right. Its not that they ain’t smart enough. Its not that they get squeezed out by sexism. Its that they get put off by science being too ego driven and aggressive. Smells right to me. If we can fix that, the science workplace will be better for all of us.

Buttons. Buttons puzzle me. Not the sort that do coats up. The sort you press to take action. They seem so natural, but there ain’t none in nature. How can we have evolved to instinctively know to press buttons ? We love buttons. Desmond pushes the button every two hours to save the earth . We can’t resist pushing buttons even if we are told not to. People push placebo buttons. I found an interesting discussion at an anarchist philosophy forum which I shall quote from :

If you put a bird in a cage with a button that he has to peck in order to be fed, he’s gonna try pecking it and he’s gonna be fed. Birds don’t stumble on such buttons in nature: this is not hard-coded. But make the correlation more vague and the bird will develop superstitions, just like human beings do. They were not taught to be superstitious. There is no bird parent out there going “well, sometimes when I swirl around to the left five times, food magically appears.

There’s another PhD thesis for somebody. Well anyhoo. Time to do nothing for a week or so.