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The 2015 prices for all photography courses remain the same as for 2014 :)

Whether it is DSLR photography (macro, micro, high-speed, Nature or specialist) or deep-sky imaging – the Scientific Artist has a custom made course for you.

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The February 2015 issue of Astronomy Now has a 4-page article on the mini-WASP parallel imaging refractor array at the New Forest Observatory :)


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Today’s EPOD is my recent image of a Lunar Halo over the observatories.

Thank you Jim at EPOD for continuing to publish my work :)

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Sorry – another non-scientific post – if you don’t like seeing this stuff please stop here.

But I have reached an age where I don’t have to suffer crap anymore because for the first time in my life I answer to no one – and let me tell you it’s like being reborn.  Retirement – bring it on!!

I have had to keep the vomit bowl within easy reach these past few days as the Conservative and Labour dements spout their crap, trying their hardest to keep a straight face and look as if they actually mean what they say.  I swear they amaze themselves at how they don’t break down in tears of laughter during one of their moronic diatribes.

And if I feel like that I KNOW that millions feel exactly the same way too.  So what can the “hard working British people” (give me strength) actually do to teach these morons a lesson they have never been dealt before?  Now on this one I do not agree with Russel Brand that not voting is a good idea.  That is a passive response to the insulting and provocative behaviour of our politicians.  No – what I would like everyone to do is vote for UKIP.  This has NOTHING to do with agreeing with UKIP’s policies (whatever they are) or philosophy (whatever that is) – but it has EVERYTHING to do with sending a message to Labour and Conservatives alike, in a language that even these morons can understand.  I have not mentioned the Liberal Democrats at all as they completely lost all credibility the moment they backed down on the Student Fees issue – shame on you, you lily-livered plebs!!

O.K. everybody – this is YOUR chance to show “those in charge” that you haven’t just got off the boat.  Are you going to just sit there and do nothing – or are you going to upset their whole year?

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O.K. so there appears to be some more Idiocracy-based garbage that needs to be put to bed.

Killer planet Nibiru – it ain’t there people, sorry but your quick life cop-out isn’t just around the corner – not with non-existent Nibiru anyway.

However – if you are dead keen (pun intended) on killer scenarios, how about dealing with some straight facts rather than pure fiction.

Remember that massive Russian meteor/meteorite that came crashing in unannounced around a year or so ago?  That would have ruined your day if it had arrived more intact in your location. And around a year or so before that we got a near Earth asteroid the size of an Olympic swimming pool (to put it on scale that the Idiocracy can appreciate) that shot past us at a distance that put it inside the orbit of some Earth-orbiting satellites – so that was REALLY close – and I got a picture of that one too :)  And again if that had come down near you, you would have noticed it.

And do you have any idea why you are actually still here to read this stuff I’m writing, at all?  No of course you don’t.  You can actually thank a Russian submarine commander who disobeyed orders and didn’t set his nukes off as he suspected the order was a false alarm.  Thank you my man for engaging your brain and not ending our world in such a pointless fashion.

Then of course we have the possibility of a nearby (in galactic terms) Gamma Ray Burst that would instantaneously sterilise everything for cubic light years around – no life whatsoever remaining – except perhaps for the odd Deinococcus radiodurans or two.

So why get yourself all upset and agitated about the fictions of an over active imagination (nutter if you prefer)  – when there’s so much more really mundane stuff out there ready, willing and waiting to snuff you out, before you even saw it. And let’s go back to our Russian mate just for a moment and remember – it is pure good luck, and an unexpected act of bravery from a virtually unknown man – that you’re still around today.

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My 63rd EPOD today with “Web Strength of Garden Cross Spider”.

Thank you Jim at EPOD for continuing to publish my work :)

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I had the misfortune to read something on Facebook that sent me off on a rant.  Here is that rant.

We were given RULES not guidelines about the exams we set as Lecturers at the University. And these rules stated that the mean of the class HAD to be at the 50% level, and if your results deviated significantly from this you had to explain how you managed to screw up, and what you would do next time to make sure this didn’t happen again. I kid you not. This was a Russell Group University, and it was (and is) common practice amongst other top U.K. Universities too. Is this the way to teach at the University level, or is this just a way of maximising the numbers of bums on seats for 3 or 4 years given a lackluster and mediocre student intake? I certainly did not have the luxury of this Idiocracy approach to education when I was an Undergraduate. I entered Sussex University with a Higher National Certificate in Applied Physics from Oxford Polytechnic and I had Distinctions in all subjects – so I thought I was pretty shit hot. At the end of my First Year at the University of Sussex I got a 2:2 mark. I was completely devastated, but it showed me the level that was expected of me. So what did I do? I worked my butt off for the next two years and nearly blew my brain and ended up with a First Class Honours Degree that actually meant something. What would have happened if Sussex had taken the Idiocracy approach to setting exams? Well I probably would have still ended up with a First – but I would have understood about a 1/10th of what I ended up knowing, and I would have been about a 1/10th as useful in all the jobs I had following graduation. End of a Grumpy Old Man’s rant.

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Unfortunately it appears that it is physically impossible for there to be a quantum computational aspect to the brain.

For a while I thought that perhaps the “conscious” (i.e. classical computer) part of the brain could act as the “observer” and by an “entangled Quantum Zeno effect” it could make the decoherence time of a brain quantum computer sufficiently long to be physically possible.  The Quantum Computer part of the brain would correspond to the “sub-conscious”.  Sadly, a discussion with perhaps the greatest theoretical Quantum Physicist on the planet shows that this is not viable :(  It therefore appears that there is NOT a quantum computational aspect to the brain.

And just today the bloody obvious hit me like a hammer.  If there WAS a quantum computational aspect to the brain – then why would we be stymied by the 2-slit experiment?  And more importantly why would Feynman have been able to say that “nobody understands Quantum Mechanics”?

Looks like the brain is a massively parallel classical computer, still it gives very impressive results!!

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A while back I was driven to write about the nonsense regarding our particle accelerators creating a Black Hole, or some other exotic particle that will destroy the Earth.

And now it seems I have to do the same thing all over again regarding this Singularity business, now that Stephen Hawking has decided to comment on the subject.

We really do seem to be living in the Golden Age of the Idiocracy.  Because some retard, or possibly a 10-year old with zero science understanding, writes about Mars appearing the size of the full Moon on some Internet blog – there are actually a huge number of negative IQ people out there that take such complete and utter garbage at face value.  Why am I so affronted by such stupidity?  Because even Stone Age man knew better than that dammit!!  Where computers are involved people seem very keen to turn off their brains i.e. common sense.  I guess this is why the Singularity gets any air time at all.

I feel a little less offended by idiots proclaiming that particle accelerators will destroy the Earth because to understand the nonsense behind that statement you at least need to have GCSE standard maths and physics.

The Singularity issue is in yet another category of innate Homo Sapiens gullibility, it is closely related to the “Computer says no” reflex, where people happily relegate responsibility for thinking to a computer program where someone else has kindly done the thinking for them.  After all, thinking and learning hurt don’t they?  And we don’t want that do we??

I find it difficult to know where to begin dissing the “Singularity is near” concept.  But I think I can give an example that puts the whole Singularity business into context, and that is nuclear fusion.  Nuclear fusion is our attempt at creating the powerhouse behind the stars here on Earth.  “The energy source that is always 10 years in the future”, as often stated by those working on the problem.  And that’s where I saw the link with the Singularity and the hard A.I. problem, except the hard A.I. problem is INFINITELY more complex by comparison.  The reason being we don’t know what we’re talking about when it comes to trying to define and therefore to replicate consciousness.  At least when it comes to nuclear fusion we have Maxwell’s equations, we know the mathematics behind creating complex dynamical magnetic confinement fields, behind the behaviour of plasmas, and behind the actual fusion reactions themselves – and still we can’t make the damn thing work!  We started fusion research way back in the 1950s and back then the early researchers thought they had got fusion going (almost first time of trying) due to the production of a few neutrons – unfortunately they were not neutrons resulting from fusion reactions.  Never mind, small issue, in 10-years time we’ll easily have this sorted.  And then 60 years comes and goes and we still don’t have it sorted.  And this is for a technological problem where we know all the basic physics and have all the basic equations to hand!!

Now let’s consider the Singularity.  You can see why I used nuclear fusion as a comparison, it’s because a machine that passes the Turing test is likewise always 10-years in the future.  But the Singularity is a bit more than simply passing the Turing test, here we are talking hard A.I. we are talking a sentient machine, machine consciousness – and yet we don’t know squat about consciousness, so don’t you think it might be a little difficult (slightly more difficult than getting fusion to work) to get consciousness into a machine, given we don’t even know what it is?  No of course it isn’t!!  Haven’t you seen Terminator?  It’s dead easy.  You create a Skynet (Internet) and it grows and grows until quite suddenly, right out of the blue, it becomes self-aware!!  How cool is that?  Hello – hello out there – Terminator is a film, it is not real life (unlike the Idiocracy).  But from where I am sitting, the proponents of the “Singularity is near” are doing just that – they are treating what was an entertaining sci-film as our future reality.  Not a very scientific approach, more like a religious belief, a religious sect (and that’s just about as insulting as I can get).  It must also be pretty insulting to all those Philosophers and other great thinkers that spent a lifetime working on, and writing about the subject of human consciousness.  Not to mention those computer scientists that have spent their whole career working on the hard A.I. problem.  These people, if any, should be the ones to have any clue about how to create consciousness in a machine – and of course they do not have a clue.  They are completely clueless.

So where does that leave us?  Well – THE SINGULARITY IS NOWHERE BLOODY NEAR and it will remain that way for quite a few generations to come.  I am not writing off the possibility of machine consciousness – far from it, but for a race of “intelligent” beings that haven’t even gone back to the Moon yet, something we did way back in 1969, don’t you think you are being a little over ambitious in your expectations of what is, and what is not, currently feasible.

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You will have seen the headlines about the possibility of destroying the Earth now that we are able to provide such extremely high energies in our super-colliders.  Grief – the Large Hadron Collider at CERN is to be upgraded to give a collision energy of 14TeV (14 x 10^12 electron volts) what unbelievable destruction could such energy release upon us tiny humans?  Time to get things into perspective.

There is a beautiful line in “The Forbidden Planet” where they have just been attacked by a monster from the Id and it withstood a blast of a Billion electron volts – WOW!!  A billion electron volts (American Billion) is a thousand million electron volts.  An electron volt is equivalent to 1.6 x 10^-19 Joules, so a Billion electron volts is around 1.6 x 10^-09 Joules, or a nano joule.  How much energy is a nano joule?  Well if it takes 4.2 Joules to raise the temperature of 1 gramme of water 1C, then I guess you can work out for yourself that a nano joule ain’t gonna do much.

Let’s go back to the LHC as that is providing a LOT more energy – here we’re talking 14 x 10^12 electron volts!  So that is 2.26 x 10^-6 Joules or 2.26 micro joules.  Still not exactly knocking your socks off is it?  But hey, in electron volts it sounds pretty good doesn’t it!!  We are playing with energies we shouldn’t be playing with – surely?  Well not quite.  Nature as you might expect makes our greatest efforts look pretty puny.

Cosmic Rays – those high energy particles coming in to us from every direction in space.  What sort of energies have they been accelerated to?  Well the high energy Cosmic Rays come into the upper atmosphere carrying a very respectable Joule’s worth of energy, that’s 6.25 x 10^18 electron volts in Forbidden Planet money, or half a million times the energy the LHC might be giving out in 2015.  Our efforts are pretty pathetic.  Does it end there?  Of course it doesn’t.  On Tuesday 15th October 1991 the “Oh My God” particle entered our upper atmosphere carrying?  How much?  50 Joules!!  Yes that’s 50 Joules of energy in a single particle.  Now if that ain’t gonna create Black-Holes, rifts in space time or God knows what else – then what will?  It is estimated that several particles carrying this amount of energy hit our atmosphere EVERY DAY.  Oh and another thing – they have been doing this for the last 4 Billion Years.

So – can we please – give up this crap of destroying the Earth with our piddling inconsequential particle accelerator experiments and perhaps consider much more likely Earth destroying scenarios that have been around since the end of World War 2??

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