Showing posts from August, 2016

Stoic Hat

Stoicism is the new black. Or maybe only in the circles I frequent.

I have a friend, who I have known for years now, who extols the virtues of Stoicism to me. My partner, who has been with me for four years now, enjoins me to stoically endure whenever we're out for a long walk and my feet start to tire (personally, I'm a fan of finding the easiest solution). And of course, I used to study Latin. It's pretty much impossible to study Golden and Silver Age texts without coming across Stoicism.

Despite all this, I'm still not completely sold on it. Partly it's because I've got a physicist's brain; I'm just too lazy to endure hardships. I will if I have to, but my mind's set on finding ways around them. This is basically the entire reason I enjoy coding - I'm not enough of a Stoic to do something by hand when I could automate it in the most elegant way possible. (And coding and Stoicism don't mix, I find - at least, not without plenty of cursing.…

3 Questions: Anna Frebel on searching for the oldest stars

3 Questions: Anna Frebel on searching for the oldest stars: New book details astronomers’ hunt for clues to the early universe.

...ok, so it's an older book now, but it's still really good - Frebel has a real gift for analogies.


I'm putting this here because I don't feel like I have anywhere much to put them and I need to put something somewhere.

There are two strands to my thoughts:

I need to say no more often
I waste too much of my life trying to appease people, so very much of it. I can't keep doing that. It upsets me and makes me anxious, and it makes me resent people. I need to stop worrying so much about getting the blessing of others and start worrying more about what my emotions are telling me I can and can't handle.

I know this sounds very selfish. It is very selfish. But trying not to be selfish is wearing me very thin.

I want to go to a place where I can't be found
This is very close to saying no. As an introvert, feeling like I constantly have to meet people's expectations all of the time is overwhelming. Social media - which used to be my escape - is making it worse, because it comes with the expectation that anyone can contact you all of the time.

I am so very, very tired …

The Hills are Alive with the Sound of...

...Gravitational waves?!

Yes, you read that right. The universe is alive - or should be - with the sound of gravitational waves.

I'm very late to the party, but the LIGO Scientific Collaboration have released a video of the "chirp" black holes make as they spiral in towards each other and merge. A low rumbling quickens and quickens until it becomes a high whoop, the sound of two black holes crashing into each other (this crashing is technically known as a merger). For a brief moment the black holes are bright enough to outshine all the stars in the universe.

It's a beautiful moment. It's beautiful to be living in an age where we can hear these things. It's beautiful to be able to detect these events within months of each other.

The universe is alive with sound and light in ways we are privileged to see today.

Q&A: Rainer Weiss on LIGO’s origins

Q&A: Rainer Weiss on LIGO’s origins: MIT physicist developed the concept for LIGO as a teaching exercise.

Not been updating because I have a 2700-word article to write and I'm trying to be on a break, but this is fascinating!

Everyone's a Snowflake

Yes, that means you too.

In recent years, it has become common to accuse your opponent (or some arbitrary group of people) of being a special snowflake, that is, of being invested in the idea that they're special without having to prove it to anyone. This usually goes along with a diatribe about how special snowflakes are easily offended, and about how this is a bad thing, proof of their spiritual weakness, and so on for another poorly typed Facebook comment, or supposedly witty thinkpiece (much like this one - hurrah for self-deprecation!), or something of the sort.

I happen to think these comments make about as much sense as doing this:
But why? After all, aren't young people very easily offended these days?

Let me speak. As an entitled, whiny millennial, I'm below the median age for most developed countries. To put this in plainer English: most people are older than me.

The stereotype of the whiny millennial is often conflated with the stereotype of the social justice w…

Numbers Matter

We live in a dark age.

It is an age where truth doesn't matter and where learning is dismissed as elitism, a world where people latch onto the words of demagogues who promise them authenticity in a world which has none. It is an age - yet another age - where we persecute groups for political power and prestige.

We are on the edge of something terrible and unspoken.

I am an optimist. I believe we can pull ourselves back from this edge, if we have radical political overhaul and evidence-based policy. For the latter part at least, we will need numbers.

In the age where people have had enough of experts, it's going to be difficult to get people to trust numbers. In many ways, mathematical manipulation represents everything popularly presented as elitism: mathematics is abstruse and frequently inscrutable to those who haven't spent several years studying its ways. Arguments made from mathematics are dry and emotionally unavailable. Economics (and crashing the economy) is based …

Let's Defend Popular Science

I happen to think pop science gets a bad rap. It's regarded as dumbed-down science at best, or unreadable if not dumbed down (but seriously, how is Scientific American considered unreadably technical?).

I can see how this bad reputation comes about; it's difficult to balance the deep technicality of science with the ability to entertain and inform a public largely unfamiliar with these technicalities. This isn't to say that the average person is stupid - in fact, patronising your audience makes for terrible science communication and angry reactions - but to say that science is heavily specialised. Writing about specialist concepts for a general audience is hard, and it takes time. So most of the people doing it aren't the people who have been working in these fields. In fact, they're unlikely to have any scientific training whatsoever.

In an age where most people won't go a day without using some kind of scientific achievement, good popular science is more than…

Colour and Vision: Some Thoughts

On Saturday, after much squeeing from me, my partner and I went to the Colour and Vision exhibition at the Natural History Museum. I had wanted to go for a while, mostly because I'm a sucker for colour and shiny. It was all that I expected - and a little more besides.

As you'd expect for an exhibition which is all about seeing colour, it's visually very attractive - which is why I came in the first place! The first thing you see as you walk in is an installation - Our Spectral Vision - by artist Liz West, who primarily works with colour. Despite basically being a room filled with prisms which change colour with angle, it's surprisingly serene and contrasts sharply with the hustle and bustle of the Natural History Museum on a Saturday during school holidays. As you walk through, be sure to look at the floor - it asks questions about colour and how we perceive it. Some of them stick.
The first part of the exhibit is all but monochromatic, which might seem strange in an …

The Arrogance of the Philistine

I'm a philistine. I'm not necessarily proud of this, but I'm a philistine all the same.

I simply find it difficult to connect to, say, the visual arts or poetry in the same way that I connect to prose or music - especially music.

My wonderful boyfriend is planning on entering the National Poetry Competition, which is a really huge fucking deal, and asked me for critiques on the poems (I think this is a bad idea because I don't consider myself a particularly great judge of poetry; more on this later). I browsed about fifty poems, from first prize winners to commendations. I pored through fifty poems by some of the most promising poets worldwide.

Precisely one touched me. Out of fifty poems by the cream of our literary crop, I would have come back to only one of them - Hill Speak by Zaffar Kunial, if you must know. This is because for all that I'm coarse and unappreciative of the fine art of poetry, wrought by pointed hand, I really love all the little details of a la…

On Getting Attached

Growing up is tough to do. You find a sense of self, almost immediately quash it to avoid relentless bullying, and your hormones start flowing all over the place. You have to learn to navigate among your peers, who are all as confused as you but never show it, and have to plan your future.

(Take heart; actual adults can't do this. We're all just faking.)

In light of this, it's no wonder that we all tell each other to stop getting attached. There's some good points in that; everything is temporary, people are fickle and the world is cruel. Assuming people and things will stay in your life is a good way to make yourself deeply unhappy.

At the same time, some of the aspects of not getting attached are utterly shitty. Relationships between people are built on trusting someone else to see your vulnerabilities and not immediately exploit them. Throwing yourself into something enthusiastically, even knowing it won't last, is a good way to find something to actually live f…