Thursday, 27 September 2012

Time off in Looe

A break was needed, so me and the lads spent a few days in a caravan in Looe.  Good times were had, mead and scrumpy were drank, scones were eaten, the usual Cornwall kinda stuff.  I know my audience, however, so when I went wandering I was sure to take in plenty of fauna and interesting stones.  In many of the photos I've included my inhaler for scale.  It's about 4 inches in length by an inch and a half in diameter (metric to follow, when I can find my ruler).

This is Polperro harbour, where the first lot of snaps were taken.  The local beer and cider were well worth the trip.  If you're ever in that part of Cornwall, try the Rattler.

Caloplaca marina, an orange lichen.

Patella depressa - the Black-Footed Limpet.

The next set of snaps are from a natural bay, roughly two miles west of Looe Harbour.  Here's the bay, with some oddly balanced stones, such that I can't quite tell if they were stacked by natural forces or drunken students.

The rocks here were clearly stratified, as though they'd been a loose sediment of mud once, but the strata are stuck together tightly, so that they don't come off in sheets like slate does.  Many of them were streaked with veins of what appeared to be quartz.  In most, the veins of quartz ran parallel to the main stone strata.  Some defied this trend, and were more interesting for it.

And these two were gnarled up by forces I have not the wit to begin measuring, but they look cool.

We also found an awesome waterfall.

This unidentified arthropod had missing feet and claws, it's shell had turned entirely to firm jelly whilst (presumably) retaining most of it's shape and colour, and the thing had a stone stuck fast enough to it's bum that I didn't dare prise it off for fear of tearing the entire corpse in half.  
Dorsal view:

Ventral view:

Lastly, I realise that I've been off the topic of gardening these past couple posts, so here's Mike.  I've given Mike a taller pot - taller, but not wider - to encourage downward root growth, pruned him and given him a bamboo stake to grow against.  

I've also finally given the arbour a much needed functional upgrade - discreetly placed, of course - which should make it equal to the needs of a working garden...

Until next time :)

Thursday, 20 September 2012

On Science, Journalism and Stupidity

So over thirty years, a hundred scientific studies, each one done on a thousand pineapples, have each said that pineapples are green.  A hundred thousand green pineapples over three decades lead us to the reasonable conclusion that pineapples are green.  Fair enough?

One guy comes along and publishes a poorly-designed article about the study of a dozen pineapples, done over a weekend in his flat, which claims pineapples are actually red.  It is possible that this lone maverick is a voice of truth in the wilderness, but chances are that it's a fuck-up.  Chances are that this lone maverick is a nob who just wants five minutes of fame, or some money, or to cause a controversy, or is simply too incompetent to realise s/he is incompetent (and let's all be thankful that s/he does not work in demolitions!)  The Theory of Green Pineapples, established over a hundred thousand pineapples, should ideally need a controlled lab study, leading to a peer-reviewed article, to overturn as bunk.  This standard is not grievously high if you have truth on your side.  This standard is not met, not even close, but the headlines start cranking out.  I'll post the real headline (within the context of this hypothetical example) in bold, and then how the headline should read in italics:




Let's take it further: the basis of the red pineapple story, the case study, was based neither on the scientific study of pineapples, nor even on the emergence of a red pineapple.  The study says, in a bunch of longer words than this, "Dave down the pub says pineapples are red, thus pineapples are red".  For a researcher, this is as close as you can get to lying without actually lying, and even then you can scarcely fit a Rizla between the two.  For a journalist who uses this study as a basis for scaring mothers with tales of evil red pineapples harming children, this is actually lying, and it is perhaps the most reprehensible lie that a journalist can tell.

Ladies, gents, and various points between, I give you the MMR Autism scare, based upon the red pineapples of Andrew Wakefield and his "mate Dave" (or twelve frightened and litigious mothers with no basis in science between them).  Whether the cause is genetic or to do with diseases or toxins your mother was exposed to pre-natally, autism is congenital.  It first shows symptoms at a year old, but you might just as well give your kid a jab at 12 months then blame it because the same kid was born with no ears.

I'm writing this grumble because I stumbled upon somebody today holding up MMR as a reason why science can't get it's story straight.  It pissed me off.  What pissed me off further was that, when I challenged this study, I was told "mothers know their kids.  Think how many babies were sent home from hospital, the mother being told the baby has flu and that she's being hysterical, only for the baby to die of meningitis when it could've been saved if the doctor had listened to the mother.  You can't just dismiss it when a mother knows something's wrong with her child."  Fair enough, there are enough doctors out there with a cavalier attitude to mothers, but this is not the same.  If a mother is in A&E with a sick baby, running a quick blood test to check for anything nasty is not likely to kill anyone; and to brush her off with paternalistic swagger without taking this basic step is taking a risk just for the sake of getting the mother out of your face, which is wrong.  BUT, that is not the same as using the word of twelve frightened mothers as the sole base of evidence for an academic study on the link between MMR and autism.  Even after I said this, I was told "But you're dismissing mothers, just like those doctors in A&E."  WHAT?!  Demanding that a study which will undoubtedly be used to establish causality contain at least some scientific basis for establishing causality is not "cavalierly dismissing the concerns of mothers", it is demanding a standard of evidence which can help prove or disprove the basis of those fears.

I'm on the autistic spectrum, somewhere.  As it's a spectrum, I'm hoping that I'm in the purple bit because I like purple.  I have many of the traits of Asperger's syndrome with a few of the traits of classic autism.  To clarify: I'm of the Inattentive And Ridiculously Inappropriate Bastard Who Flaps When They're Amused form of autism, rather than the Sitting In A Corner Banging Themself In The Head variety.  I say this not because it's particularly relevant to my argument, but for two reasons: 1) to defuse any complaint that I'm "picking on the disabled", 2) because on those occasions where I need to declare - such as when signing on or going through occupational health at a job - I absolutely hate it when the eejit taking the details asks "oh dear, were you vaccinated?"

The world of autism is getting bloody stupid.  We have, on the one side, doctors and mothers of kids with Banging Themself In The Head autism crying "we want a cure"; and on the other side we have young adults with my flavour of autism saying "we don't want a cure, it'd be nice for that lot, but don't force it on us, look to the social model instead".  This is all well and good, but when doctors then talk of detecting and aborting foetuses it gets really touchy.  Some want it, others don't.  Me, I like being alive!  I have a decent quality of life, I'm no strain on my family.  I see the world differently to you, I study and learn differently to you, and this makes me a more difficult student to teach within a system that is set up to teach neurotypical students, but that's about it.  All this makes me want to sit in my room with some music and some cake and just ignore the world.

But I guess we'll see where science takes us.  I'm off on holiday until Monday, so here's hoping Mike gets watered on the right days...

Sunday, 16 September 2012

Saturday, 8 September 2012

On Sexism in Gaming

I game.  Mainly RPG and RTS, the odd driver, the odd shooter.  Sexism and rape culture don't bother creeping through Gamer Space, they stomp about in hobnailed boots.  Any argument with a woman can be resolved with a threat of rape.  A lad's bruised pride at being fragged by a woman can be readily bandaged with a threat of rape.  That isn't to say that all guys in Gamer Space are like this - they aren't - but a significant number of dickheads are ruining the culture.  It's fubar.

So I encountered this article today.

He's blunt about privilege in saying that society sets men above women. It does. Denying this serves nothing. The article is aimed in large part at forum mods, game mods, sysops and the like. Thus, a little paternalism is not incongruous with the audience, as it would be their job to tell others what to do anyway.

Meanwhile, the language (though well-intentioned) is clunky and occasionally problematic because he's not a hardcore feminist theorist. Most guys aren't. The thing is, in order for men everywhere to experience a paradigm shift in their intergender relations, the few guys who get things like privilege, rape culture and the like are the ones who'll have to explain it to their fellows. This is a given, as the eejits who've got their heads stuck firmly up their privilege just won't hear it from a woman. Some men will only be reached by other men, and so the responsibility to educate these individuals must rest with those who are able to do so.

During the course of this translation of feminism into the language of egotesticle, some language may go slightly awry, some words might be misplaced, some things may become simplified, or may not be explained to the standard of someone with an MA in Women's Studies. If however, the overall effect is to raise the consciousness of others, even slightly, then such hiccups are best excused rather than jumped upon.

I've encountered guys like this in Gamer Space, guys taking this sort of stand. I won't mention gamertags, but a few of those I've gotten to know are guys who know someone who has been raped, have seen the mess left behind, and don't like people making light of it. They don't have the grounding in activism or any sort of training in challenging this shit, they just do it cos it seems like the right thing to do.

Empowering women is half the battle. Don't get me wrong, it's crucial. Women need to be empowered to challenge this shit on their own turf and on their own terms, no argument from me. Just as true is that those men who recognise rape culture for what it is and see it as problematic need to be empowered to challenge it, to take aside another guy and say "this is no way to treat a human being". Men can often be raised in environments where taking a woman's side on matters of sexism is seen as compromising his own masculinity, or causing unnecessary divisions within a group, and these notions must be challenged before an ally can feel empowered to challenge the sexist behaviour of others. This is especially true in Gamer Space. When a guy tells another guy that he doesn't compromise his own masculinity in challenging sexism, this is a validating and empowering thing, and increases the likelihood that future behaviours will not go unchallenged.

I'll be moderating comments on this post.  Reasonable debate is fine but I shan't be hosting a flame war.


Monday, 3 September 2012

Corner Arbour part 3 (finishing)

So we've built our skeleton around the cornerpiece.  Now to finish up.

The seat should be made of 2x4 like the uprights, for solidity.  Cut the ends to 45° (converging) and lay upon and between the horizontal beams of the back skeleton, as to be parallel to the hypotenuse of the cornerpiece.  In this case, I've also encroached the seat onto the front-left part of the skeleton so as to create a wider sitting space.
Corner arbour

corner arbour

corner arbour

The roof is the only part of this structure that could be considered flimsy, being built of palletwood.  I've built up the corners of the roof in layers, so that there's no vertical gap through which rain can fall, but plenty of spaces for vines to creep through.  

The blank spaces can be filled in with ready-built trellis, or you can make angular shapes with 2x2 as I've done here.
corner arbour

And here it's best to customise it to your garden.  The front-right side is facing into the shady side of a tree, so instead of putting in framework for all the climbers that won't be going there, I've put in a shelf.  The brackets for the shelf are just the 45° offcuts from making the seat.  

While the front-left side is where I'll be growing some kind of flowering vines (maybe clematis, maybe jasmine), so here I've put in the highest density of framework.

At the foot of the front-left side I've put in a box.  It's open-bottomed to allow free access to the soil.  It's pretty much just there to protect my vines against the mower and/or strimmer.  

And now it's all stained and squared away in situ.  I had to get a neighbour to help lift it, as it weighs ten stone and it's the approximate cubic volume of two adjacent phone boxes.  
corner arbour
corner arbour

24m of 2x4 and 12m of 2x2.  Total cost of the wood was about £80.  Total cost of the whole build was about £100.  Buying one of these in the shops would be £300-£400 easily.  
Job done, I could do with a good cuppa.  

Anybody know anything about chicken husbandry?

Corner Arbour part 2 (the skeleton)

Okay, so we've built our cornerpiece.  Now for the skeleton.

There's four uprights to be built; two will be comprised of a 180cm piece flanked by two 60cm pieces so as to form an L-shaped base with a long stem, while two will be comprised of a 180cm piece and just one 60cm piece to form an L-shaped base with a short stem.
In each pair of uprights, the two must not be exactly identical but must instead mirror each other.  I know I've got a fair number of scientists who read this blog, so think in terms of enantiomers wherein the 180cm piece is the chiral plank.

You then join the 60cm pieces of two uprights with a horizontal beam, and one of the same length rests between the tops of the 180cm pieces.  The bottom beam is secured a lot more tightly than the top beam, as it's the bottom one on which the seat rests.  The ones in the rear of the skeleton need to be longer than those in the front, as the vacant space in the front forms the entrance.  I used 100cm across the back two sides and 40cm across the front two sides.

The garden tends to get a little messy during a build, but I've tidied it since.