East London Line

•April 23, 2010 • Leave a Comment

When will the East London Line ever start?

First one week, then another, slipping delays even though it is a month earlier than anticipated. I spent an hour reading a book by Spitalfield’s farm the other day. 16 trains went past in an hour, it is good to iron out all the teething problems, and there have been enough premature openings when everything collapsed a day or two in.

Alarmingly Shoreditch High Street is a Zone 1 station. This means getting to anywhere is going to cost a lot more for passing through pricey central London, it does make sense being so close to the City, but people won’t be able to skirt Central London.

I also wonder about the line’s capacity, they say there is untapped demand, and with other services so cramped surely four carriages will be stuffed full of commuters. Traffic is good, but  how could they increase capacity.


Farringdon Station

•April 23, 2010 • Leave a Comment

So much money is going into public transport in London, one thing that others haven’t picked up on is that Farrigdon Station could be the new centre of London.

Historically the main line train stations stopped short of central London, the several main line stations are all at the edge of early Victorian London. Thameslink has been running for years, and now Crossrail has started construction, these both run train lines under central London. The thing is both of them cross with a station at Farringdon. My recent experience with interviews is people like to place their offices where people can easily commute to them, and indeed one of the things about Oxford Street is that it is so easily accessible, more people generally equals more trade.

I haven’t seen anyone get too excited about the prospects of Farringdon though. It has the prospects to be as big as London Bridge, Liverpool Street, Paddington, and Kings Cross combined.

Things you see on farms

•April 21, 2010 • 1 Comment


Originally uploaded by zeristor

Wondering about a local farm, I saw an old tin bath on a trolly. On odd scene which I thought was quite amusing.

There is something interesting about distressed materials, and the trolly’s flat tyres only add to the pathos.

Interesting science ideas, useful metaphors

•April 15, 2010 • Leave a Comment

In reading about the black art of creativity I have been struck that one of the big sources is taking an idea from one branch of knowledge, abstracting it as a metaphor and then applying it to another branch of knowledge to come up with surprisingly novel new ideas. The ideas might not even work, but they may spark new thoughts which would otherwise have been totally inaccessible.

I studied Chemistry to A-level, it went along with my aspirations to study Physics at University. Ever the Physics acolyte I was quite taken by physical chemistry, moreso than Organic, or Inorganic chemistry which to me seemed as interesting as learning French verb declensions.

I had a handle on volumes of gases before and after reactions, but what was new to me, and fascinating was the concept Rates of Reaction. School chemistry isn’t that complex, things usually go pop, or flare up. But the more sophisticated chemistry considers reactions leading to other reactions. What amazed me that the concentration of a chemical can have such a dramatic effect on the speed of a reaction. First, second, and third order reactions are sensitive to the concentration, its square, or cube respectively.

This whole idea I thought was amazing, and I imagine there are similarities with it elsewhere in the world. To some extent the usability of a web site depends on how fast the page can be got to the user and so is of great importance, but there is a lot of food for thought to think about things in terms of rates of reaction.

Facebook lesson: Groups vs Pages

•April 15, 2010 • Leave a Comment

A while ago I wrote about setting up a Facebook Group for the Loughton Astronomical Society. I was quite chuffed with what I had done, and had put a fair amount of work into the content of the site. Over the months people found the site and added themselves as fans, which was the general idea.

As ever I like to see what others have done, maybe I can learn a few good lessons, see if theirs is dramatically better, or perhaps laud myself for being so much better. There was no such lauding, as I realised I had made an error. Even though I was aware there were Facebook Pages in addition to Facebook Groups I hadn’t looked into it too deeply.

Groups are OK they are light weight and low key, but if you need to use use Facebook  to any great degree Facebook Pages offer a lot more, and so I started up the Loughton Astronomical Society Facebook Page. They can collect stats, not much generated for four people but give it time to grow, and more importantly it is supposed to be more findable via Google. [Google does seem to  be very reminiscent of the cargo cult of old, delivering potential members if its machinations can be properly divined].

People however aren’t too fussed, they went to the trouble of joining a Group, and they don’t care too much if a Page is better. Having to uproot a nascent group isn’t pleasant even though its for the best. The idea behind Facebook is that quite a few people around who would be interested in our talks if only they new about them, or perhaps they know about them but want to find out more, to blunt the unknown.

We have a hugely impressive list of speakers in the coming months, to this I add the odd link to some speck of space news. It is a bit tricky to spark a community if most people are wallflowers just consuming, but hopefully in time others will want to participate.

The Centre of Humanity

•April 14, 2010 • Leave a Comment

This seems a pretty obvious idea, I bet someone else has thought of it, but then at the moment there probably hasn’t been that much call.

Humanity at the moment is restricted to the surface of the Earth. Six billion people within a km or two of sea level, there are a few people beyond that, but only a few. I like to think of a point, call it the Centre of Humanity [CoH], a point which is mid way to all the denizens of humanity. One could estimate that it is close to the Earth’s core at the moment, I have a suspicion that it would be somewhere deep under the Himalayas to account for so many people in India, and China. Like some sort of mathematical puzzle for moment of inertia one could take the population of each country, and that country’s mid-point and work out the midpoint for all the nations; perhaps with enough information go down to the district level.

This isn’t really that amazing, people would know this if they stopped to think about it. My interesting take on it is when people start to go into space, and I really mean go in a big way how much will the CoH shift? Sub-orbital flights aren’t really going to change things that much, the odd hop to the Moon is barely going to make this CoH budge much.

Send 10 people to Mars, and they will, in time be on a planet on the other side of the solar system, and even further out, and would things change much? I thought they might, but my calculations say no. Its still a billion to one to Earth, there are just so many people. You could have billions in space, or perhaps a few hundred careening off to a nearby star, but this won’t happen for a while.

It is an interesting concept though, when will this Centre of Humanity move beyond the surface of Earth, if ever; and what would it take for it to do so?

The Extended Organism

•April 14, 2010 • Leave a Comment

One of the reasons I started this blog was to write about books I think are amazing, but others haven’t quite latched on to.

One of these is JM Scott-Turner’s The Extended Organism. I found the book quite by random, wandering around the shelves of Foyle’s in London looking for a book to explain how termites built their amazing nests. This book explains termites, as well as other wonders of nature, although it is quite scientifically demanding.

The main idea of the book is to take Richard Dawkin’s The Extended Phenotype one step further. Whereas genes improved the survivability of an organism in that book this look at how various invertebrates make use of their surrounding environment in amazing ways. The organism extends making using of the environmental physiology. A lot of this is to do with concentrations of chemicals, one of the main energetic demands of these organisms. Those that have evolved to to harness the environment, rather than just fight against it have a distinct advantage.

The book is a very rich read. I come from a Physics background, and have read about Biology and Chemistry in passing. I have managed to read the book, albeit slowly but it is amazing since I have learnt so much. Such simple things as mudworms which sit on the border between the reducing muds of an estuary, and the air. They are the bridge enabling allowing them to harness the chemical potential of oxygen in a reducing environment to power their lives.

An earlier post I made extolled the wonders of Homeostasis of how an organism can keep itself alive by making sure nothing goes out of whack. This book takes that one step further and one can see that organisms that fit so well into their surroundings also change it to accommodate their needs, and so gradually over time the whole world.

In all honesty I have only read two thirds of the book, I have yet to get upto the section on termites, which is why I bought the book in the first place. After this I have The Tinkerer’s Accomplice, J Scott-Turner’s next book, to look forward to.