Friday, November 26, 2004

The Dutch love Carbon Dioxide!

Amsterdam opened a new runway at their airport about a year ago - it's called 18R/36L. Aircraft operating between there and London generally use it either for departure or arrival.

It is several kilometres to the West of the central terminal area, and it takes about an extra ten minutes to get to or from that runway, compared to the central runways.

Doubtless the runway is keeping the noise lobby happy, as you don't have so many aircraft taking off or landing in the central area. But for every aircraft "movement" that could have used one of the central runways (and given the abundance of runways there, this is basically all of them), aircraft are burning an extra 100-200 kg of fuel to get to or from the runway. This equates to about half a tonne of carbon dioxide.

Runway 24 is one of the most central runways used for departure there. It takes literally five minutes to taxy there from the main European gates. However, even when the wind suits 24, western departures will have to taxy out to 36R, whilst eastern and southern departures depart from 24. So a departure to Prague goes from runway 24 - and has to make a 150 degree turn once it takes off to head east. And a departure to London goes from runway 36L - with the extra taxy fuel - and has to make a 150 degree turn once it takes off to head southwest. So yet more unnecessary carbon dioxide production.

I realise that this will mean nothing to most readers. Sorry. As with many of my posts, it has the air of a rant, which there is a small chance will be picked up by somebody interested in the subject looking on Google, or something.

Here, have a look at another website.

Thursday, November 25, 2004

Steve Jones, Daily Telegraph, 24/11

Steve Jones argues that arrogance is the problem of creationists: "they cannot bear the idea that they share ancestors with simpler creatures." One can just as reasonably argue that arrogance is the problem of evolutionists: they cannot bear the idea that there is a being to whom they might have to give an account.

It was an interesting article - it said that, rather than evolving lots of times, vision evolved once - and as evidence makes reference to the fact that there is a certain organism that has lived unchanged on the seabed since (reading between the lines) before the Cambrian explosion, which has a protein in its brain that is found in the human optic nerve. The same protein is found in the vision systems of all sorts of other organisms. Cool!

A couple of points, though. Firstly, Jones remarks that the human version of this protein is actually less far removed (5% rather than 16%) than the version in the invertebrate line. He comments that this shows that homo sapiens is naturally conservative. However, although this was a non-technical article, if he is talking about molecular homology then I comment: nonsense. Molecular homology is used as a means of demonstrating relatedness, to show how evolution by common descent is plausible - textbooks have diagrams comparing cytochrome-C from different organisms. If you start saying that in this case, the molecular homology in humans is different, then you have to start asking whether the whole molecular homology thing is flawed in the first place. NB - it is not a technical article; Jones never mentions molecular homology; I am reading between the lines here.

Secondly, the "interesting" bit of evolution occurred somewhere else. The "lord of the flies, the worms and the human race" had "a heart, brain, legs and more". Now forgive me, but this doesn't sound like a primitive organism, but quite a complex one. It's a lot easier to envisage how a new organism might modify existing structures to adapt to new environments than it is to envisage how this precursor organism might have had these in the first place - especially before so much of the cellular differentiation that characterised the Cambrian explosion came about - conventional evolutionist wisdom was that life before this point had developed quite slowly.

However, assuming it hadn't, this scenario still leaves unanswered the question as to where all these proteins and structures might have come about in the first place, to be available for subsequent evolution. This relates to the question of probability that is discussed a couple of posts below. Unless a realistic mechanism for producing these proteins and structures can be proposed, evolution doesn't work.

Monday, November 22, 2004

Problems with evolution

Creationist: "Evolution simply doesn't work. Take a fairly typical protein, 200 amino acids long. There are 20 different amino acids, so the probability of this single protein arising at random is 1 in 20200 - that is, 1 in 1.6*10260. Since the number of protons in the universe is less than 1080, if every proton was a universe containing the same number of protons, and if every one of those protons were also a universe also containing the same number of protons, there is a chance that in one of these universes, this protein might appear at random if all the protons were involved in sequencing amino acids (rather than basically being fuel in stars). The short way for describing this level of improbability is 'impossible'. And that's just one protein."

Evolutionist: "Ah, but you are making unnecessarily restrictive assumptions. Yes, the appearance of that specific protein at random might be very improbable, but firstly you wouldn't need to specify that precise sequence of amino acids to get a protein with the same functionality. Also, there is no reason to think that there aren't lots of different possible proteins, derived from lots of different routes, that would have the required functionality. Finally, once the protein is partly specified, natural selection can work on it to improve its functionality."

Me: "OK, but how specified does a protein have to be to have limited functionality? Let's say that in a 200 amino acid protein, only half the amino acid sites are required to specify the protein. Also, that as long as one of four possible amino acids is specified at each of these sites, the protein will have its required functionality. The probability of this protein arising at random is then reduced to approximately 1 in 5100 - that is 1 in 7.9*1069. So we have gone from the impossible to the astronomically unlikely - we are still talking about an improbability of a similar order of magnitude to one in the number of protons in the universe. And we are still only talking about one protein. Don't like these figures? Suggest some different ones, based on empirical data. And remember that before a protein has some functionality, natural selection won't work on it to improve it. If you can't suggest plausible figures, given the amount we know about proteins and so on today, then you don't have a theory."

Am I embarrassing you?

I went to buy a newspaper at W.H.Smiths in Terminal 2 at Heathrow on Saturday. Although I didn’t spend a significant time studying it, I noticed that the “Saturday Sport” publication (newspaper is not an appropriate noun) was being prominently displayed. Most of the front cover was a photo of a woman wearing a bikini bottom, facing away from the camera, bending over, with her right leg lifted up to the side.

Are you embarrassed reading that? Would you be embarrassed if somebody stood in front of you doing that? Would you expect any woman you know to behave like that? If not, why is it considered acceptable or appropriate for this publication to be displayed in a public place in that way?

When I paid for my newspaper, I asked the checkout assistant (a young Asian girl) if she was offended by the newspaper being displayed. She didn’t really understand what I was asking; her supervisor took over the conversation, but also didn’t really understand; she assumed that I was saying that the papers had been left open, and apologised for that (rather than the fact that the cover was offensive). By this time, I was too self-conscious, and aware of the queue behind me, to try and push it any further. Of course, if you draw attention to something like that, does it The newspapers were still there when I went home about 10 hours later.

What I should have done was asked one of them to come with me, taken them to look at the magazines, and asked them if they thought it was appropriate for it to be displayed in a public place. Next time ....

The next day, I happened to notice that, in a section of “The Observer”, there was a headline asking the question whether Tescos were guilty of censorship. What is happening is that, being the second largest magazine retailer in the country, they have some clout, and they are returning some “lad mags” to publishers saying that they are not prepared to display them unless the covers are less explicit.

Is this censorship? Is this restriction of freedom of speech? I don’t think so. Tescos aren’t saying that if there is a demand for these magazines, they should not be available (though why soft pornography with a touch of irony should be more socially acceptable than soft pornography I don’t know). They are saying that if these magazines are to be sold by them, they can’t offend their customers. Obviously Smiths don’t have such sensitive customers. Perhaps anybody reading this could do something about it, if they ever go into shops and are shocked by the covers of magazines on display. Remember this isn’t about censorship, it’s about appropriate behaviour and not causing offence to people.

Incidentally, this isn’t something that’s restricted to “lad mags” and the trashy end of the daily newspaper market. Have a look at the number of women’s magazines which have explicit headlines on the front relating to sexual activity. Would you be happy about explaining what they mean to a primary school child?

Saturday, November 06, 2004

Fireworks night

Anybody who has any doubt about the Anglo-Saxon ability to have a "festival" should have seen the South of England from the air on Friday night. The visibility was exceptional - except for the odd cloud patch - and there were fireworks everywhere. Some were bursting up to several hundred feet high. Now if I were a really switched on blogger, I'd be able to show a photo - but I'm so not good at this, I didn't even have a camera. Tch!