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Saturday, December 24, 2005

Merry Christmas

I am away from home visiting family and as such my net connections are infrequent.
I want to take this opportunity to wish my readers a very merry christmas, or a happy winterval or whatever. if you have a holidayof any sort, enjoy it; if you don't, well tough.
I raise a glass to all my friends from Spinsanity, Cabal and other e-places. I am grateful for your continued friendship and I count myself lucky to have discovered you all through t'internet.

Friday, December 16, 2005

Wet Horses

An argument that I heard from a few Republican voters/sympathisers/pundits during last year's Presidential Election in the US went along the following lines:

the country is at war and as such we should not switch horses midstream

This bounced around the echo chambers of the media and it seems to be quite a strong sentiment in various walks of life. But what does it really mean when we are talking about a war-president, a term that Mr. Bush has used to describe himself?

The US is still heavily involved in a war in Iraq and beyond that the War on Terror continues. It will continue for a very long time, if not for ever. In fact it is possible that the war in Iraq will still be ongoing by the next presidential election.

Now I wonder, what do those who ascribe to the horses in streams argument think about that? Indeed what if the last election had been at the end of Bush's second term? Would we have heard that argument as a reason for allowing more than two terms for a sitting president?

So what's wrong with Typepad

Timewarp for Typepad?

I cruised over To Hubris' blog today and was surprised to see that the comments on his latest post had been culled from around 13 to 3. I thought it peculiar that Hub might have deleted so many innoccuous comments but shrugged and carried on my blog perusing.

A short while later I stopped by the Dilbert Blog. Strangely this had reverted to a post from several days ago, December the 10th in fact. Now as much as I liked hearing about Scott Adam's tiny goat, I was looking for new things.

I next decided to do a little investigation. I checked out the Typepad front page and what did I find? I found that none of the blogs in their 'Recently Updated' list were newer than 11 December. In fact the only thing on that website that was newer was the 'News' section which had an update on the 14th. No mention of problems though.

All in all looks like Typepad is having problems. Glad I am on blogger (never thought I'd say that), though I notice that it is having problems of its own. When I look at my blog, I see only the posts from last week or earlier until I do a refresh. Anyone else (who has made it to the new posts) having that problem?

Oh by the way is anyone else having problems accessing Ryan's site, Ideonexus? I can't get through.

Okay so my problem with Blogspot is fixed - whatever the hell it was.
Similarly, I note that Typepad blogs have recovered upto the 12th December. This is interesting - is this effecting just my viewing or is everyone else having this problem?

No news here, lots of news in Fuddland

Still working hard here, but am gearing up for a burst of posts.

In the meantime, my friend David has recently arrived back in the UK after a trip to Argentina. He has been blogging about his experience over on his weblog including some cracking photography.

In addition, today he passed his viva voce (or Defence for my American readers) and has earned his Ph.D. Of course it is only in mathematics, which we all know is just a tool and not a proper science, but regardless, please pay him a call and offer hearty congratulations.

Congratulations david.

Oh and if that wasn't good enough he is volunteering for charity work over the Christmas period. This guy really is one of the good ones.

Friday, December 09, 2005

Can you f**king believe it

Just a couple of days ago I said this:

The blog needs a bit of an overhaul since some of the blurb no longer fits; I am no longer being forced to teach, the course that I was going to be contributing to has been cancelled. As a consequence I am back to full-time research, and the timing could not have been better.

What do they say about being careful before opening your big mouth? Suddenly, due to the desires of one bloody student, the course has had to be reinstated for this year. What does this mean? It means that a module has to be written and then I may well have to teach some material.

Just when I thought I had been saved for the rest of the academic year!!!!


Thursday, December 08, 2005

Say what?

Okay so when I read this head line from a BBC article I completely misunderstood the context.
I had this vision of Condi visiting a prison in which she went cell to cell along a row of cells and, well, I am sure you can all imagine the rest.

Isn't English a funny language?

Search roundup

A question for my American readers:

Have you recently been sullied by the arrival of the Crazy Frog on your shores?

I only ask because I have noticed a much increased number of searches for crazy-frog originating from the US which led them to this post. In fact, since the 2nd December 10% of my hits have come through searched for the crazy-frog.

At the same time, 'female circumcism' continues to lead searchers my way to this post (or this one). 7% since 2nd December came looking for imformation on that hideous practice.

Strangely, I continue to get searches leading to this post. These tend to be the result of searching for images on google. I don't know why Java Sparrows are so fascinating, but I note that they are predominantly coming from China and Japan (with one from the US, searching for images related to 'monday morning').

Anyway that is enough filler for now. I am off to bed :-)

The Nuclear Solution

Note: I started writing this two weeks ago and as such it is somewhat outdated.

Tony Blair is throwing his weight behind plans to increase the UK's dependence on nuclear power.

With some of the issues to do with climate change, and you can see it with the debate about nuclear power, there are going to be difficult and controversial decisions government has got to take. And in the end it has got to do what it believes to be right in the long-term interests of the country.

I agree with him on the immediate need for increased nuclear power. My mother is currently spinning in her grave since she was vehemently anti-nuclear power. I do worry about the somewhat dictatorial tone he has been adopting about this issue, but then why should this be different to any other topic for Tony.

I am a great advocate for forms of energy such as wind and wave power and solar power, but at this time I am far from sure that they will provide for all of our energy needs unless some breakthroughs in efficiency are found. Of course more can be done on the savings side: many of us waste water, better insulation can be employed in many buildings and electricity is often over-used.

A major problem with nuclear fuel over here is that it is one campaign that the Greens have been very effective at. Pressure, brought to bear over the years, has put the UK in the state of closing virtually all nuclear power stations within the next couple of decades. This was of course helped by accidents such as Chernobyl; how could anyone advocate for nuclear power in the face of irradiated crops and livestock? And what about the length of time that the waste remains dangerous; what do we do with it? We are coming up with better methods of reprocessing spent fuel, so that it can be reuses - enhancing the efficiency. Plus new techniques for improving the thermal efficiency of the nuclear fuel pellest could lead to much less waste in the future.

The author James Lovelock is also an advocate for nuclear power:

I find it sad and ironic that the UK, which leads the world in the quality of its Earth and climate scientists, rejects their warnings and advice, and prefers to listen to the Greens. But I am a Green and I entreat my friends in the movement to drop their wrongheaded objection to nuclear energy.

Even if they were right about its dangers, and they are not, its worldwide use as our main source of energy would pose an insignificant threat compared with the dangers of intolerable and lethal heat waves and sea levels rising to drown every coastal city of the world. We have no time to experiment with visionary energy sources; civilisation is in imminent danger and has to use nuclear - the one safe, available, energy source - now or suffer the pain soon to be inflicted by our outraged planet.

Opposition to nuclear energy is based on irrational fear fed by Hollywood-style fiction, the Green lobbies and the media. These fears are unjustified, and nuclear energy from its start in 1952 has proved to be the safest of all energy sources. We must stop fretting over the minute statistical risks of cancer from chemicals or radiation. Nearly one third of us will die of cancer anyway, mainly because we breathe air laden with that all pervasive carcinogen, oxygen.
It comes down to Lovelock's view that the dangers inherent to nuclear power are much smaller than those associated with carrying on as we are. This is just one view, one side in an ongoing debate. Is nuclear power the only solution? Well if we insist on a centralised power generation and distribution network, then it probably is. I think that we need a massive paradigm shift in order to make the option of solar, wind, wave and tide power viable, I just don't think we are capable of making it in time.

So I am a tentative supporter of the nuclear power option, but I am in a position to be swayed either way with persuasive arguments or numbers.

Excuses, excuses...

J.D. 's chiding leads me to explain my absence.

The blog needs a bit of an overhaul since some of the blurb no longer fits; I am no longer being forced to teach, the course that I was going to be contributing to has been cancelled. As a consequence I am back to full-time research, and the timing could not have been better.

If you recall I was in Norway a couple of months ago. My reason for being there was to run some experiments on the ionospheric radar we have up there. One of these was an 'active' experiment whereby we modify the temperature profile of the ionosphere and use it as a laboratory. This has major advantages over using a plasma chamber or
tokomak: we have no boundary effects (chamber walls) and a whole source of natural plasma on large scale sizes. This is not something I am particularly interested in, I am more interested in natural processes; however my boss wanted to see whether we could monitor temperature increases in the lower ionosphere using the radar and another instrument.

Now it could be that we managed to do what we set out to do, I don't know at the moment as that analysis has been left at the roadside. Why? Well, when we were running we saw another effect, one that has never been seen before making it hot stuff - my colleague calls it my 'fame and glory' data. I don't know about that but I do know it is a really unique result. Unfortunately it is something I know very, very little about. So for the past few weeks I have been doing some intensive reading in an effort to get up to speed. I am also hastily writing a paper. Why the rush? Well it just so happens that there is a rival group of experimenters who are looking for this exact phenomenon. I have offered to share my data with them after I publish the first paper, but in the meantime I need to get it written and out before they manage to do the same thing that I did.
Hence I have had very little time to blog. I hope the situation eases very soon.

Very, very soon!

Tuesday, November 29, 2005

Still busy

I'm really making a hash of keeping this thing up to date!

Lots to talk about, such as the future of British nuclear power and protests which fail to get the point of free speech.

How a government had been brought down, partly by blogger activity, in the strange position where the scandal of corruption had nothing to do with the sitting Prime Minister.

And Vatican statements about gay priests: strange language choices and the weird notions of detractors of Catholocism.

So who knows maybe I'll be able to bang some posts out very soon...

Wednesday, November 23, 2005


Busy at the moment, lots to blog on but probably irrelevant by the time I get time to do so :-)

My wife's birthday tomorrow, she is too busy to think about it though.

cheers for now

Friday, November 18, 2005

Children in Need charity drive

Tonight, here in the UK, there is the 'Children in Need' appeal. Children in Need is the BBC sponsored charity. It is a worthy cause and I encourage you to donate.

However, I am not going to be pushing you for money here. Oh, no. Here it is me that will be handing over the cash. In a mirror of David's valiant efforts for Comic Relief, for the whole of today I pledge to donate £1 per comment to this post. So drop in and throw me some comments. Tell your friends and you can impoverish me in a communal spirit.

There is an undisclosed upper-limit since I am not made of money and I will ignore obviously crap multiple postings (i.e. same post twice, single word posts that form a sentence, that sort of thing).

Update: First comment, already I owe £1! Oh and Ade, I'm not that generous ;-)

Update2: I have changed the time on this so that it will stay on top for the day in case I publish anything else. Speaking of which.

Final Update: Thank you to those of you who supported this. In the end I got 10 comments from about 7 people. That translates to £10. Since this wasn't that much in the great scheme of things I decided to up the amount per comment to £10 and I have donated it already.


I used to pride myself on my spelling and grammar. I am still happy with my punctuation skills, I even know when to use a semi-colon; however, I am less happy with my spelling skills nowadays. Things started going downhill a couple of years ago and have not improved.

There are two key features to my spelling problems. The first is the use of a keyboard. Simple spelling errors come from bad keystrokes and a peculiar effect that seems to be based on the difference in speed between my left and right hands. When I type words such as 'the' I tend to follow this pattern:

t: right hand
h: right hand

e: left hand

except that my left hand responds quicker to the command to depress the 'e' key than my right does to get to, and press, the 'h'. I am aware of this now and so often check my work for 'teh', though many still creep in (irony check - are there any in this post?). Additionally, I find it very hard to proof-read my own work, especially on a screen; I tend to read across the words as I know what I was trying to say and that is what I 'see' when I proof-read. For some reason this problem is exacerbated (I wanted to start that with 'ass') on a monitor.

The other problem is much more simple and yet complex at the same time: I cannot bloody spell anymore! Misspelled words just look wrong but I cannot for the life of me think how to correct them. This is linked to other problems that I seem to have: a drop off in my vocabulary; this was quite extensive when I was younger but now, not so much. This applies mostly to my speech. I often become highly frustrated searching for very simple words in ordinary conversation - this manifested a few years ago in my PhD viva voce when I struggled to think of the words 'perpendicular' ("not parallel!!!", I finally screamed) and 'gravity' ("you know, thingie!").
I do not understand what it is that has caused this fritz in my speech abilities but it appears to be persistent. I often find myself trying to say one thing and complete nonsense, made-up words, come spilling from my lips. I dread this happening in a conference talk. No one has said anything yet, but I fear it is just a matter of time.

Anyway, my wife told me off yesterday for the terrible spelling in my weblog. So from now on I am going to expend a little more effort to get things write.


Update: Oh great and now my use of paragraphs is taken from me by blogger. That should fix it.

Thursday, November 17, 2005


There is a long debate going on over at Cabal on the issue of torture.
It has somewhat strayed from the original thread of conversation and instead has turned to the State of the Union and possibly an argument over the meaning of imminent.

I want to go back into the depths of that discussion and pick up a point that Averroes made:

And, as someone suggested, the utilitarian arguments are tangential to the moral arguments. That being said, it always intereting to find those making moral arguments latch on to utilitarian arguments that suit their moral stance. A moral stance, of course, is held despite any utilitarian argument.

In fact, using utilitarian artguments to help the moral cause is in itself, and example of low moral values.

I understand where Averroes is coming from here, it is partly a sentiment held by many: it's wrong, end of story (e.g. Mr Drum). I do think that the last sentence above is an opinion, pure and simple and I would argue that it is an unsubstantiated sweeping insult for those who would make the utilitarian argument. Of course I am about to include myself in that list.

Via Kevin Drum, Matt Yglesias makes the case for the utilitarian argument. Go check it out, personally, once again I can see where he is coming from but I think the case is much simpler than that.

First of all I am not arguing that if torture worked it would be okay to use it. From my own moral standpoint it is never permissable in the cold light of rational thought or discourse. I can understand why someone might use torture in a state of heightened emotions; say they believed the life of their children depended on it. However, I would not excuse them or condone them even though I might understand them.

Now the disclaimer is out of the way I will get to the meat of my point. Simply put, if you are arguing with someone who thinks that torture is okay (with whatever qualifications) you are already arguing with someone who clearly follows a different moral code to yourself. Unless you can think up some fantastic words that I can't I find it difficult to believe that you can convince someone that something is wrong based on a discussion of your morals. In fact I seem to recall Averroes stating that it is wrong for government to impose a moral code on anyone - it is not its function; I could be wrong. In that case, you are immediately on the backfoot. Remember that this is state-sponsored torture that we are talking about here. The moral argument, in that frame of reference, should not be allowed.

So if you cannot convince someone that torture is wrong based on the moral argument should you give up and admit defeat, perhaps saying 'oh well, I tried and I did not compromise my values'? No you have to get inside your opponent's head and work out why they think torture is worth pursuing so that you can counter that view. One clear point is the argument that for the majority of cases torture just doesn't work. To not use this argument when it is clear that simply appealing to the moral argument is not going to work could be construed as an example of one's 'low moral values'. if one truly believes that torture is morally wrong, is not one obliged to use every trick possible (within the bounds of your moral code) to put an end to it?

Wednesday, November 16, 2005

Carlson starts lucid, ends in strange conclusions

I don't make a habit of reading Tucker Carlson. In fact I did not know he had a blog or column on the MSNBC website. However today his was one of the links on the MSNBC front page under the title 'NBC News Highlights' and so I took a look.

Seems he had a guest on to discuss a theory that the events on 9/11 were an inside job caused by bombs not planes. This is hardly a new accusation but it is still clearly doing the rounds. It seems the interview did not go well.

I was first drawn to this quote:
When one of my producers first told me about him, my first thought was: Stephen Jones is insane. And he may be. On the other hand, he does have a legitimate job and a responsible-sounding title. He's not living in the park, or writing me letters in crayon. How crazy could he really be? In the interest of open-mindedness, we booked him.
Now this just shows off Carlson's elitism. Look pal, just because you have a job and good sounding job title it does not mean that you can not be a crazy person. Give the privileged the opportunity to be maddies as well!

Anyway, I digress. Apparently an overwhelming majority of viewers who bothered to write in thought this guy had some credibility:

But the overwhelming majority wrote to thank me for my "courage" in putting him on, and to complain that we didn't give him more time to explain the conspiracy.

In other words, a lot of people seem to think it's possible that the U.S. government had a hand in bringing down the World Trade Center buildings.

Now of course Tucker knows exactly what those emailed said and I suspect that his interpretation is correct but what he says in the second paragraph does not necessarily follow from the first. From the information that Carlson passes to us it could be that a lot of the 'overwhelming majority' were simply praising the courage in putting a 'nut' on TV and/or drawing attention to the fact that these conspiracy theorists are out there peddling their wares. We are left to fill in the blanks that those people that wrote in actually believe in the possibility of the US government involvement. I just mention this as an example of sloppy journalism - making a broad accusation based upon information that is only partially offered to the reader so that we fill in the gaps.

Tucker then goes on to say:
If you really thought this - or even considered it a possibility - how could you continue to live here? You couldn't. You'd leave the United States on the next available flight and not come back. You'd have no choice. Continuing to pay taxes to a government capable of something so evil would make you complicit in the crime.
Whoa!! Slow down there boy. He starts with a simple and legitimate question and then immediately leaps into an answer that fits his worldview. He thinks that way so it must be the way it is. I can understand this but it is a little unfair. What follows this is even worse:

So of course most of the people who wrote to say they think the government might have been behind 9-11 don't really think the government might have been behind 9-11. For whatever reason, they just like to say so. Which as far as I'm concerned makes them phony and irresponsible.

Holy crap! What a fantastic conclusion based upon no evidence other than his own beliefs. He has just branded these people liars on the basis of his own opinion of how one should react to a certain thing. He has not considered other possibilities such as these people might be wanting to change the government and punish them and as such this could only be done from within the country. Nope, his view trumps all others.

I would like to point out that I do not believe the conspiracy theory, I just wanted to point out a piece of sloppy analysis which is touted as a 'NBC News Highlight' not as a 'NBC News Opinion'.

Bias in the media/BBC

This old canard pops its head up every week. Earlier today whilst pro-actively performing some work-avoidance I came across this article from March. I think it is generally very interesting and hits some of the marks head on. Generally an honest analysis of bias in the BBC in the ongoing 'bash-the-lefty-BBC' battle (my opinion there). To summarise: yes there is bias, no it is not institutionalised, yes they try to combat it as much as possible.

Do we sometimes get overstep the mark? Undoubtedly.

Do some reporters approach stories with particularly defined values or prejudices? Almost certainly.

But is the bulk of BBC output motivated by a desire to campaign and persuade? No, most certainly not.

Evan Davis, BBC Economics Editor

Vanity Publishing

This from a report by the BBC's Torin Douglas:

To sceptics, the blog is simply vanity publishing on a vast scale, allowing the world and his wife to witter on about their mundane lives without the benefit of a good editor

Is this true?
The article goes into details about the BBC response to blogging and is generally positive about the concept, but when you get right down to it, the vast majority of blogs are little more than vanity publishing, it is true. Why do we blog? Well we want to share our thoughts, our opinions or some gossip or news that we have heard. There may be more to it than that but I think that for the majority of bloggers it is that simple. We think that someone out there will find what we write interesting; someone will want to know what we have to say and we might influence them to say something as well. We might even think that we can influence the way that some people think. It is quite clear from some blogs that the writers think that their opinions are massively more important than others - these tend to be political blogs. :-) Overall it is pure vanity on our part. It is a wish to spread the word to the masses, but it is our word that we want to spread, or at least the word that we think is worth spreading. Yet, here is the rub: is that such a bad thing? If a blog has an audience it means that our vain perception that someone is interested in what we say is correct. In that case the fact that it is a project in personal vanity becomes secondary to the fact that we can reach out and communicate with other people. We are at least entertaining some people on some level. Of course we then have to worry about the main issue for blog-sceptics:

More dangerously, with none of the traditional journalistic checks, it spawns errors, hoaxes and downright lies which can be right round the world before the truth has its boots on.

This is also true. Though of course, I suspect it speaks mostly to political blogging, which makes up a very small fraction of all of the blogs out there, but could be argued to have the largest impact on journalists. We must rely on the integrity of the bloggers and their fact checking abilities when reading what they say. Of course is this any different to relying on the integrity of journalists and editors? At least with them we have systems like the Press Complaints Commission and public opinion to keep them honest, with bloggers there is little or no official watchdog beyond the threat of legal action. Feedback can be given in comments or email and this can be an effective tool for arguing with a blogger if you don't like what they say. However, since the bloggers control comments it is a simple matter to delete or block complaints, or even not to have comments at all, so this may not be the most effective method with bloggers who are already displaying dishonest tendencies.

It all comes down to trust. Perhaps the same thing that makes us bloggers will keep us honest: few people like to be thought of as dishonest, it offends us by appealing to our vanity.

Blogroll update

Time to update the Blogroll.

So, who is in and who is out?

Who is hip and who is old hat?

Well, basically, continuing my theme of being a sycophantic Hubris fan-boy, I have added INDC Journal to my blogroll since Hubris is now posting there.

Sadly, I have decided to remove Ilyka Damen and A Small Victory. Both sites have shut up shop; Michelle has moved onto pastures new and varied as you will see from her old page and Ilyka Damen is possibly somewhere out there, posing as a man writing a blog. Personally I hope she comes back soon as I can't be arsed whether a blogger is a man or woman, I just want to read the blog.

There is another blog on the list that has become largely moribund and is under close watch. No activity in the near future and the plug is pulled - you know who you are!

Now, a questions to my readers (in the hopes I might get some comments):

What blogs that I do not blogroll should I be reading and why?

If you offer suggestions I will gladly respond to each and everyone.

US retains control of t'internet

story here

I am shocked and outraged that the US has once again used its position as the world's only superpower to foist its own arrogant views on the rest of the world. I am in favour of national pride as much as the next man but the jongoistic attitude of the States in everything it does is an affront to the rest of the world. The internet is a resource for everyone and for the US to claim ownership and try to control our freedom of information is yet another example of its empire-building mind set. Lest face it, they want control of everything since they clearly cleave to the 'might-makes-right' philosophy. And another thing....

Oh, really, who cares who 'owns' the internet. Seriously, if it isn't broken, don't fix it.

I never really understood what the other countries and blocs such as the EU were worried about (with the exception of Iran - I got their problem alright). Perhaps things might change in the future and it may become necessary to rethink the status quo, but as things stand there is no problem.

Let it be.

The BBC article does highlight that this whole non-issue has overshadowed the more critical discussions on how developing nations can make use of 'the digital revolution' to benefit their growth and development.

Friday, November 11, 2005


I was going to post on the 'Tony Blair loses vote' fiasco, but you know what? It's Friday, I have friends coming over tonight and more coming tomorrow and it promises to be a cracking weekend. So on that bombshell I leave you with these thoughts:

  • I hate Blair, but even I don't think that losing a parliamentary vote is reason to resign. In fact I think it should be more common place as all whips should be withdrawn. That would be representation!
  • Blair should grow up and apologise for the hideous and offensive rhetoric he peddled before the vote. It smacked of the whole 'If you are not with us you are with them' argument. Try treating the British public with some respect, arse-wipe, most of us may be morons but we put you in power.
  • The contenders for the leadership of the conservative party are in danger of seeming like decent human beings!
  • This is a good thing. I think. Well, as good as it gets when messing with the tax code further. There will be more on this next week...

Today was the day to remember. Seems we still do.

See you next week.

Subversion of our youth.

I watched the Mr. Men as a child. I collected the books as well. But now I am disgusting disgusted (Freudian Slip?) to find out that all this time I was being subverted by a fringe part of society. Forget the Teletubbies, this is worse! Ten times worse.

Right under our noses, the Mr. Men have been promoting a so-called alternative lifestyle. They have been quietly pushing the concept of cross-dressing on our impressionable children. Who knows how many they have already corrupted.

I offer exhibit A:

Need I say anymore? For God's sake! they aren't even trying to hide it!!!!


I used to love to sketch. When I was a kid I was always happy when I had a pencil in my hand and I was scribbling away drawing the crzy pictures in my head. I remember one that consisted of the various Mr. Men working in a submarine. I digress.

I carried my love of drawing on through school and even learned how to paint a bit, though I was never as good with a paintbrush as I could be with pencil, charcoal or pen. I was actually very good (no false modesty here). I worked in graphic design offices for work experiences and took A-Level art with the complete intention of going on to do art at college. Why didn't I? I visited a couple of art colleges and had a look at what was on display.

I turned my back on it then and I have to admit that since the end of my A-levels I have done very little in the way of drawing. A bit, here and there, during my university days but often it got pushed to the back of priorities.

Now I work very hard. When I am not working I am blogging (not much I know), writing or playing Halo. Oh yes and spending quality time with my wife ;-)

Ihe other day, on a whim, I picked up an A5 sketch pad and a box of black pens. I started to draw again. I drew a vase of flowers from the couch and some rough sketches of my wife who was asleep next to me. I enjoyed doing it immensely. I hope that this will give me the impetus to keep going and to do some more.

Everybody needs a hobby.

Thursday, November 10, 2005

Oh. My. God! - The irony, the blessed irony.

According to the BBC Tony Blair has said there is a:

"worrying gap between parts of Parliament and the reality of the terrorist threat and public opinion"

Does the man even listen to himself???
It is gratifying to know that he is suddenly so interested in public opinion; something he has consistently ignored since deciding that we needed to go to war in Iraq.

What a Moron.

Blair defeated

As you are all probably well aware by now, Tony Blair suffered his first defeat in the Commons yesterday. Other votes have come close but this was the first time that the Labour rebels have scored a hit on the PM.

I am glad that the 90 day detention plan was defeated. I agree that our police force needs more time to deal with potential terrorist detainees but the 90 days suggested by Blair was ridiculous. For starters it is a number that was apparently plucked by Blair and the police from out of their arses. As far as I am aware (I could be wrong) there was no in-depth study of the actual time necessary to detain to complete an investigation, or even to get enough information to warrant a legal extension. The measure was badly thought out and badly presented.

Put it into context. Ninety days is a long time for someone without a conviction to be detained. That is about three months or a quarter of a year. A big chunk of life whichever way you slice it.

I think that Blair is guilty of hubris; I don't think he can envisage a time when his party is not in control and following the ideals he himself sees as self-evident. This is dangerous in a leader. Massively so. Any introduction of a law with the potential for draconian abuse must be considered long and hard by any democracy. We might not see any harm now, since we know that 'we' would never abuse that law. But what about a government in 10 years time, or twenty years time? It's a dangerous step.

Anyway I am hardly confident that powers would not be abused now. Lets face it, if a pensionable aged heckler at the Labour party conference can be detained under terrorism laws... well, it doesn't bear thinking about does it?

Wednesday, November 02, 2005

How does it work?

So how does the ecosystem work?

For the past week of so I have been a 'crawly amphibian', now today I am back down at 'Flippery fish'. But the 'crawley amphibian' came on the back of a period of low posting and even lower hits. Now my hits have gone up again as i have been posting more. So is it all just about the links? In which case is it just because people who link to me have not updated recently?

UPDATE: So now I am back up to crawly amphibian. Confused...

Monday, October 31, 2005

No action tomorrow

I know that I don't post everyday anyway but I definitely will not be posting tomorrow. A colleage and I are off to London for what promises to be a dull meeting. This entails me dragging my sorry arse out of bed at 05:30 GMT to get the train an hour later so that I can get to the meeting for 10:30. Admittedly a 3hour+ train ride is actually pretty good considering the distance from where I live to London.

Also I reckon that posting will be light to non-existent come Wedneday since we have an important set of visitors getting underfoot around here.

Oh yeah, my boss was in Dehli on the day that the bombs went off. She was also in London on the day of the bombing in July. She is now half worried that MI5 are going to come a calling.

Speak to you all soon.


Nothing much to blog about today, its been a quiet one really.

On the politics front, I note that David Blunkett is in trouble again. Jolly good.
He is selling the shares he has in the DNA testing company he became a director of in the brief few weeks that he was out of the cabinet. No. 10 is backing him all the way; before they know whether he was in breach of teh rules, of course.

Does anyone else find it funny that it was a DNA testing company? Surely he has a major vested interest? If anyone would know when there was going to be an upsurge in DNA testing it would be him?

I see that in America President George Bush has picked a new candidate for the Supreme Court. How quick was that? Anyway, by all accounts this one is a good choice guaranteed to keep everybody happy...

Saturday, October 29, 2005

Aurora Blogging....again

I thought that I might inflict a few more of my pictures on you. On the night of the 8th of October we actually had some clear skies in amongst all the rain. In addition we had a couple of substorms kick off as well, leading to some fantastic auroral displays that went on and on and on. A red arc was reported but due to work commitments I failed to see it, let alone get a photo of it. However there was a cracking arc, almost overhead. You can see some ray structure pointing down the field line towards us at the bottom left corner of the picture. The magnetic field at the radar site is inclined at 12 degrees to the south.

A little later there was a fantastic curled arc that held a special treat. You can see that this one had a nice reddy edge to the bottom of it. This indicates that there were more energetic particles present. The green light that you see comes from emission that is primarily in the ionosphere at ~120 km altitude. The red border is below that. The more traditional red emission that is seen at lower latitudes is from softer (less energetic) particles in the higher ionosphere.

In addition I managed to take advantage of the very bright emission to catch some good ray structure. One problem with photographing the aurora with a standard quality camera is that you cannot get the detail you might like on short timescales. As I might have said before, the aurora is often exceptionally dynamic with small scale changes rapidly fluctuating across the arcs and waves shooting from horizon to horizon. When you are limited to 10-15 second exposures it is too easy to miss all this. This picture shows that the rays in the arc taken at 5 second exposure.

And if you are sick of the aurora pictures then I offer this one. Taken in the fading light of the evening it shows Mars sitting bright in the sky alongside the radar dish. The ambient light looks brighter than it was since I used a 10-second exposure. This was taken looking north and if you look closely you can see a faint auroral arc in the background, below Mars and to the right of the dish. I resisted the urge to enhance it.

Googling oddities

Okay, so why would someone enter the whole URL for this blog into Google in order to come visit the site? This baffles me. It baffles me more that someone else would also do it. Though I guess that could be a case of trying to investigate what the former might have been doing.

More important though, I am still the google number 1 for 'pompous arse'. Hey Shinobi, was that you checking it out or is there someone else in Chicago who is interested in 'pompous arse'?

UPDATE: Woohoo! Another seeker of truth searching for information on female cirumcism (spelling deliberate). This one came from WAL-MART connect.

I wonder what would happen if I posted some articles with titles like 'big-bouncy-boobs' or 'hot nude cheerleaders'?

Friday, October 28, 2005

Now that's what I call...

... a meeting! Wednesday, Thursday and today we had the external examiners meeting for our MSc courses. Since I was lecturing last academic year I was requested to attend. I had already been to the undergraduate examiners meeting; it took all afternoon - I thought it would never end.

The MSc meetings were fantastic! I attended the Thursday and Friday meetings that covered the subjects I taught and the projects I supervised. Both meetings lasted less than 30 minutes. The one today was 20 minutes long! In addition 4 of the students that I supervised or co-supervised got distinctions. Everybody passed. Seems that though I hate it, I'm a pretty decent teacher.

Anyway, all meetings should be this good. Hell, in the Thursday meeting we even got cake!

I LOVE digital TV

... not only did they provide me with a much needed dose of the best 80s show ever, Magnum P.I. (come back soon!), but shortly they will give me a dose of the best 60's show ever:

Hurrah! BBC4 is showing reruns in the near future. I cannot wait. It was highly weird but entertaining.

Oh and please don't spoil this by mentioning the incredibly lame film. For starters, if you think that Uma Thurman was better than this:

Then you are a mad, mad fool.

I'm sorry that I missed the 1960s, not because of freelove and drugs. No, I'm sorry because of Diana Rigg.


Of course my wife is going to kill me when she sees this...

Plame case results so far...

A followup up to this post

Well there you have it. Scooter Libby has been indicted for one count of obstruction of justice, two counts of making false statements and two counts of perjury.

At last the waiting is finally over. Now we just have the joy-oh-joy of the post-indictment analysis and the countdown to a trial. This story will not die and I imagine that lots of people from both sides of the ailse are going to say fatuous things that make them look stupid before it is over. Speculation will be rife. Pundits have wet dreams over stories like this. I bet Pat Buchanon could have an extension built on his house from the money he will claw in for numerous appearances as more discussion of the second-term blues are held on the airwaves. Now what will Robert Novak tell us...

Will this lead to a major investigation into the decisions leading up to the Iraq war; a massive expose of facts previously unknown? Well, we shall see, but don't hold your breath.


I have been filled with a tremendous sense of pride. You wonder what it could be that has filled me such. What is the great accomplishment that I am so proud of? Nothing really. Just that this humble blog appears to be currently number one for anyone googling pompous arse.

Someone wandered to my site in search of pompous arses and was greeted by my award post to Professor Reynolds. Who knows how long I will remain at number one for pompous arses? Perhaps this post will supplant the other just for the sheer number of times that I say pompous arse. And who would google for pompous arse anyway?

Anyway, how cool is that?

OK, so its been a slow day for excitement, so sue me...

Spoiling for a fight?

The sentiment was not surprising but the vehemence and the timimg was incredible. Does Iran really want to fight the rest of the western world? With the single act of uttering his repugnant views, the Iranian President has brought condemnation down from all quarters, at a time when one might think he would be trying to cultivate 'allies' in his efforts to progress with a nuclear programme.

Europe has been turning blind eye, after blind eye to Iran and has carefully overlooked heinous opinions (policies really), such as the refusal to recognise Israel, all in the name of politics and diplomacy. But now, even what some call 'old Europe' have been pushed into condeming Iran for the inciteful words of its president.

In yet another case I feel obliged to agree with the malignant TB:

"Can you imagine a state like that with an attitude like that having a nuclear weapon?" he asked rhetorically.

So why now?

Perhaps it is because it sees the US overcommitted to Iraq. Iran feels somewhat confident that the US cannot impose any martial policy due to being bogged down with Iran's old enemy. Perhaps they draw comfort from the view that America can be contained in this manner. Are they right? I don't know, but they seem to feel confident. Britain is in no place to react in any way but across diplomatic channels since the current government (and its predecessor) has gutted our armed forces.

We know that Russia and China would not back military action anyway. They are too reliant on Iranian energy - the driving force for most political alliances in the middle east.

So, will there be war? No. Lots more talk and Iran probably knows this and it is why its President will continue to make statements such as it does. Until the day before it gets the bomb and Tel Aviv nukes Tehran.

Thursday, October 27, 2005

Surprise? I think not.

So Ms. Miers has withdrawn her candidacy for position of supreme court justice. I won't speculate over much about the timing, I'll leave that to others but I will post this from the BBC that I thought was interesting:

Mr Bush praised Ms Miers for her decision, which he said was motivated by a desire not to allow Senators access to confidential White House documents.

"Harriet Miers' decision demonstrates her deep respect for this essential aspect of the constitutional separation of powers - and confirms my deep respect and admiration for her," Mr Bush said.

First of all, huh? Considering all of her recent work has been in the Whitehouse did Bush really think that she would get confirmed without senators wishing to see some sort of paper trail that covered her work?
Second of all, did it not have anything to do with mounting opposition from all sides and a complete lack of credibility when it came to constitutional law?

Wednesday, October 26, 2005

Tales of the quasi-bizarre

from the BBC

A man accused of raping a student in Midlothian has lodged a special defence of alibi and has told the court he has an identical twin brother.

This is quite bizarre. Basically this guy is alleging that the rape was committed by his twin brother. As far as I am aware this does rule out the DNA evidence as a clincher. The police will really have to find air-tight witnesses that can place him without a doubt and other forensic evidence. Of course, assuming that he is telling the truth, his brother isn't going to be best pleased with him. Unless it is a cunning trick to push for reasonable doubt.

MSNBC headline:

File this one under 'no shit, sherlock'.

“Anybody who recognizes Israel will burn in the fire of the Islamic nation’s fury"
Repeat after me: complete nutcase and dangerously moronic to boot.

This was said at a conference called "The World without Zionism". Nice.

I myself support a world without zionism. That's because I want a world where the Israelis do not have to constantly fight for the right to have their own country because they have their own country and no bugger is trying to take it away from them!

The Iranian president is living in a fantasy world and is blissfully unaware that if God does exist then el presidente is very likely to burn in hell for this attitude. Somewhat ironic, eh?

Stupid University Policy #1

In its august wisdom the university has banned smoking in all buildings. That is great as far as I am concerned. I have no problem with people who want to kill themselves with fags, but I do object when they abuse my right not to work in a smoky atmosphere and get dragged down with them.

Anyway, this was a policy enacted a long time ago. I support it wholeheartedly. However, some pillock had the idea:

"Since the smokers can no longer smoke in the building they need somewhere else to smoke."

Fair enough.

"Well, it needs to be close to where they work."

Fair enough.

"I know, let's put the smoking area right outside the entrance to the building".

Fair en..wha?

You have to be joking, surely? So now everytime we want to go in and out of the various building on campus we have to pass through a miasma of death. In addition there is a tendency for the lobbies to fill with smoke, since in the winter it gets so cold that the smokers leave the doors open and huddle close to the warm insides. Also, the way this university is arranged you have to walk along right past many main entrances to get where you are going.


What if nothing happens?

I'm just asking?

Speculation is rife that today is the day that indictments will be handed down in the 'Plamegate' affair. A perverse part of my brain is gleefully hoping that nothing happens; that Fitzgerald just shuts up shop and heads home with nothng to report.

It would just be interesting to register that brief moment of silence as the breathlessly waiting media are stunned that their predictions are all wrong before the massive free-for all of opinions and attacks on 'what went wrong' and 'how we are all vindicated'.

It could be funny.

best news of the day

As a non-American citizen I find the news that the US has dropped its desire to create a 'bunker-buster' nuclear device as incredibly uplifiting. I am sure there are plenty of American citizens out there who feel the same.

Some see more than a touch of hypocrisy in the US demands that Iran abandon a nuclear programme. An argument I have heard is that why should America dictate who can and who cannot have nuclear weapons considering that they have a huge arsenal of them already? My views is that we have plenty in the world already and I don't see the need for any country to develop additional weapons. I can accept that hypocrisy as I am not blind to the realities in the world - nuclear weapons are here to stay and as much as I might like to see them all gone I can readily understand the rationale for the US, the UK, France, etc. to retain those weapons that they have.

However, I ahve always thought that it was somewhat of a 'bridge too far' for America to demand that other countries respect non-proliferation of nuclear weapons whilst stating a desire to develop new, smaller nuclear weapons that some argue could blur the line between nuclear and conventional war making. It is patently absurd.

Therefore I applaud those in congress who have fought this and I applaud the administration for backing down from what could have been the worst mistake they would make.

Tuesday, October 25, 2005

Get it right this time

When George Galloway last appeared before the US senate he ran rings around them. He made them look like unprepared idiots spouting unproven (and in some cases debunked) allegations against him.

Now they say that they have evidence that he is
guilty as charged and also lied under oath when questioned by the senate. They had better be right. George is already demanding that they charge him and and take him to court. Basically he wants them to put up or shut up. Is he bluffing? He might be; he might be relying on the fact that he made them look like fools before and he can do so again.

If the senate has the good then I hope they nail him. If they don't have the evidence then I hope they learn from last time and stop making over reaching accusations. It just hands Galloway ammunition and that is the last thing he needs. If they cannot convict him then they should let him sink into anonymity where he is a threat to no one.

On a side issue I was pleased to see that Jane Fonda took my advice. She claims that she was unwell, but other observations would suggest otherwise. :-)

Wednesday, October 19, 2005

Cheney Resignation Rumours

Hat tip to NTodd.

Apparently there are some rumours that Cheney might resign. I am not one hundred percent sure that I believe them except that I was actually expecting his resignation/retirement sometime within this 4 year term.


Well, I think we can all be reasonably certain that Cheney has no desires on the top job. I would be very surprised if he ran for preseident on the coat-tails of George W. Bush. My take is that he has no interest in that. However, I think that Condi Rice does have an interest.

Here is what a Bush insider had to say:

"And if that should happen, there will undoubtedly be those who believe the whole thing was orchestrated – another brilliant Machiavellian move by the VP."

Hardly machiavellian. Look at it from the point of view whereby we strip away overtones (or undertones) of malicious intent:
  • The current VP does not want to run for President.
  • At the moment there is no number 1 candidate for the GOP at the next election.
  • One name that has been floated as a potential candidate is Rice.
  • Bush, for all his faults, is loyal to his people and will want to help those he thinks would do well. I would place Condi in this group.
  • A significant step in helping Condi would be elevating her to VP, a role that many in the past would certainly have imagined her as competent in.

Condi would have an increased profile with some experience in governance. Plus any administration would want to see someone in power who they think will continue their legacy and uphold their views. Therefore from that point of view, placing Condi in the VP slot makes perfect sense.

I had originally expected it to occur later than this if at all, simply so that Condi could make up her mind whether she wanted the top-job or not. Additionally, this whole speculation might be jumping the gun significantly, anyway.

New Intake

Whilst I was away, term began back at university.

I have arrived back to falling leaves and a fresh, new intake of students. Eager minds desperate to learn and understand. Young minds, filled with potential and excitement. Inquiring minds, looking for new life experiences and a foothold on the path to their future. For many this is their first time away from home for such an extended period; they may struggle to make ends meet and to find their independence. Others will blaze a trail, never more setting foot in the family home as anything but a guest.

All around me there are bright eyes and uncertain smiles, mingled with the more confident gaits of their returning contempories. Those for whom their first year now seems lost in the haze of the distant past stride around their campus, just as their forebears have done for decades. Already one can see the young pushing to become the old; the immature to become the mature; the ignorant to become enlightened

Overall, I can't help but think: they really make the place look untidy.

Tuesday, October 18, 2005

Ken is out...

And so is the Conservatives chances of forming a government in the next election. Not that I care that much. I do actually quite like Ken Clarke and his more centrist position appeals to me (though his support of tobacco firms does not). Recent polls of the actual electorate have indicated that of the prospective leaders Ken had most chance of beating Labour in the next general election through actually appealing to the people.

Of course the Tory MPs have once more shown how they are completely out of touch with the current electorate. But, who knows? Perhaps whoever is chosen will do some good for the party. Though I cannot imagine David Davies (right of Howard) appealing to the British people. Though 4 years is a long time to wait and see.

I wonder which way Clarke's supporters will jump? The gap between Davis and David Cameron is only 6 votes and Clarke held 38. Liam Fox had 42 and so could leapfrog Cameron, though I suspect that most of Clarkes supporters will throw behind Cameron who is the most ideologically similar to Clarke. If that is the case, I expect Liam Fox to drop out in the next round and the two Davids will be put to the party member vote.

Of course, there could be some interesting politics in play here. Assuming that all of Ken's supporters prefer Cameron and believe that he can carry the grass roots against Liam Fox then they might decide to scupper David Davis' chances, especially if they think he could carry wait with the more traditional (right-wing) party base. In that instance they might split their support between Fox and Cameron so as to sideline Davis. I doubt that will happen though. If the grassroots once again swings to the right then it does not matter who Cameron faces, he is out; both Fox and Davis are considered right-wing.

Back from Norway

A quasi-successful trip. Lots of rain which scuppered our optical observations on all but one night, and broken equipment scuppered some of the observations on that night.

My experiments went very well, along with some bonus results. very quick paper coming up soon.

In the meantime, I am mad busy trying to do many, many things this week. It just never stops...

Saturday, October 08, 2005

It's Saturday morning at 7 am local time and I have been up for over an hour. I feel knackered.

However, my radar experiment appears to be working and I have only another 7 or so hours of staring at a couple of computer monitors to go.

THIS is dedication to one's work. COME ON!

Now has anyone seen where the caffeine is...?

Thursday, October 06, 2005

Pompous Arse of the Night Award Goes to...

Professor Reynolds, our scholarly but loveable web-watcher.

The award is for this post on the attempts of the EU and UN to remove ultimate control of the internet from US hands. My personal view is that if it isn't broke, do not fix it. Reynolds and readers are seeing a terrible future ahead, I'm not so sure; but again why bother changing something that clearly works. I think the fear is that the other countries will impose their political wills on the internet and so stifle free speech or set monitoring standards. One argument seems to be that any UN oversight council won't be able to deal with human rights issues (i.e. silencing online voices); I wasn't aware that the US was actively pursuing this with any success. I could be very wrong. I am somewhat sympathetic to those other countries concerns, after all the web is a powerful thing. Plus not being American means that I may have a different viewpoint when it comes to watching the players on the world stage. Additionally chances are that you are using protocols in your web browsing that were invented and designed by a Brit working at CERN in Europe. The internet may be American, but the world-wide-web was born and raised in Europe (in fact the internet was based on work done by Louis Pouzin in France - Freedom Internet anyone?).

Anyway, Glenn wins the award for this self-righteous and pompous line:

Indeed. The U.N. and E.U.'s moral high ground is usually spurious, in my experience.

And the USA is always standing atop mount virtue? Anyway, all heil to that international crime buster, jet setter and all round superhero and righter of wrongs Professor Reynolds. Congratulations.

Tuesday, October 04, 2005

Ronnie Barker RIP

Ronnie Barker is dead. He was a large part of my childhood, a regular feature of weekend evening TV with his comedy partner, Ronnie Corbett. The popularity of the Two Ronnies was massive in the eighties, and in fact the affection that the Great British public had for their comedy sketches endured. It endured so well that it encouraged Barker to emerge from retirement to do introductions with Corbett for a four week run of the Two Ronnies Sketchbook earlier this year. It was a fantastic Friday night treat and did very well in the ratings.

Ronnie Barker was not just a comedian, he was a talented sketch writer, playwrite and film writer. He was an unparralled comedy actor involved in two of the best British sitcoms ever: Porridge and Open All Hours. Comedy Gold! Above all, though, he was a fine actor, first and foremost. He started as an actor and carried that into everything he did. He was apparently very shy and much preferred taking to the stage as someone else rather than as himself.

His influence on British comedy spanned the years and is evidenced by the warm and glowing tributes that have appeared from contempories, so-called alternative comedians and upto modern comics. Our only consolation is that he left a huge body of work behind for us to enjoy. 76 years old was too soon for him to leave.

Rest in peace, Ronnie.

Monday, October 03, 2005


This post will remain at the top of the page for the next week. See below for new posts from the Norway adventure

There have been an awful lot of human tragedies recently. In fact there always are, it is an on-going problem that we always face wars, natural disasters and brutal dictators. Sad but true.
It seems that there is always one more charity to donate to help elleviate yet another terrible situation.

I say this because when I first started to write this post Hurricane Katrina battered Louisiana and surrounding states. I decided to put off this post until later, even though it was inspired by this story that came out at that time.

The great apes are disappearing. Some species could be gone within our lifetime. Current guesses place the total number of Sumatran Orangutan at 7300 in the wild. Now consider the population of the UK: ~60.5 million. The number of Sumatran Orangutans equals about 0.01% of the population of the UK; that is ~10% of the population of the Isle of Man.

Thankfully the Borneo Orangutan is doing much better at 45000. Well, comparatively better anyway; the number is still 1000 less than the town of Salina, Kansas. Plus that figure has been estimated to have declined 10-fold since the middle of the last century.

The other apes aren't faring too well either. Gorillas in Congo, Nigeria and Camaroon number less than 1000. They are falling prey to hunters after bush meat and have now started to succumb to the ebola virus, as too have Chimpanzees and Bonobos. All in all the future is very, very bleak.

The Diana Fossey Gorrila Fund International
Great Apes Survival Project

My wife and I donate to the International Orangutan foundation and we encourage you to think about donating something to help preserve the great apes.

We foster a young Orangutan called Yoris.

Sunday, October 02, 2005

Hi folks, I am still up in Norway and will be for some days yet. I have been busy with my other blog (work stuff) and so have not posted much here for a few days. It feels as if I have been cheating on you and since I'm not splashing out on flowers and chocolates just to have them rightfully thrown back in my face by you all I bring you something better:

The Return of Aurora Blogging

For the past couple of days it has been very grey and wet but a few nights ago it was pretty clear. It had started off cloudy but my colleague and I were surprised to see incredibly bright aurora behind the clouds,really lighting the sky up. Mercifully it then cleared and we saw a great display, though nowhere near as bright as the previous must have been. The photos I shot come nowhere near capturing the magnificance of the slowly dancing and undulating northern lights. Once again, it made me wish for a more powerful camera. However my little Canon S45 did not do too bad on the maximum 15 second exposure. Enjoy!

Thursday, September 29, 2005

Norwegian Star Field

Tonight has been very clear but with little aurora. It has given me the chance to take some snaps of the stars. I need to improve my shots and spend a little more time getting the correct camera angle but this is not bad for a first attempt. It was taken with a 15 second exposure and an aperture of f2.8 using a Canon PowerShot S45. I have photoshopped it a little by enhancing the contrast and reducing the brightness, compensating for some contamination from the radar site down the road. Overall I am quite pleased with it.

However, whilst I was saying hello to the brass monkeys, I heard some rustling in the undergrowth. I immediately took a shot at short exposure and with the flash in the direction of the noise. At first I didn't see anything, but then I noticed the two light to the top, left of centre. Eyes perhaps? But of what?

Wednesday, September 28, 2005

Learning Lessons

It is great to see that Tony and his pals have learned a few lessons from George and his mates.

Actually it is not so much the removal of the man that bugs me (though that is bad enough) rather it is this snippet from the BBC story:

Police later used powers under the Terrorism Act to prevent Mr Wolfgang's re-entry, but he was not arrested.

Excuse me??? Was this man a terrorist, then how did those 'powers' apply to him? As someone who has recently supported Blair's new measures I feel great unease at this. As I mentioned before, I wonder if we can really trust anyone to use these powers wisely enough.