Posts by K. J. Aldous

  • Southerly: Interview with Rodney Hide,

    " ... a tax rate that's an irrational number ..."

    Not only irrational, but transcendental. That should bring stars to the eyes of not only Actors but even that bumptious grinning twerp ... erm ... what's his name again?

    Christchurch • Since Apr 2007 • 6 posts Report Reply

  • Southerly: South by North,

    " ... the surface of a catenoid has a mean curvature of zero ... " Are you sure? A catenary's curvature does not change sign - the second derivative of the function is the function itself, which is everwhere >= 0. Incidentally, "cosy catenaries" would be more poetically rendered as "coshy catenaries" particularly regarding the whisky-soaked hills of Southland.

    Christchurch • Since Apr 2007 • 6 posts Report Reply

  • Southerly: South by North,

    "... hills humped in cosy catenaries" It's not immediately clear why hills would assume this form. Do you have any references on the topic?

    Christchurch • Since Apr 2007 • 6 posts Report Reply

  • Southerly: Energy Special, Part 6: The…,

    "How did you manage to get my gravatar attached to your comment?"

    1. What is a gravatar?

    2. How are they attached to comments?

    Christchurch • Since Apr 2007 • 6 posts Report Reply

  • Southerly: Energy Special, Part 6: The…,

    You need, of course, to be a little pizzicato to enjoy the last night. It is, after all, the British taking, well, the pizzi.

    There is some debate about Blake's image of England's dark satanic mills. Some suggest it represented Blake's opinion of mechanical engineers, or the universities that housed them, or perhaps the churches where they, as hungry sheep, looked up and were not fed (Blake was a fan of Milton).

    Others suggest the image was inspired from the remains of the Albion flour mill in Blackfriars, near what is now Tait Modern, which was destroyed by fire in 1791 (perhaps by rival millers who had trouble competing), although this happened some time before Blake wrote his famous poem.

    Losing something as useful as a flour mill is a great tragedy. On the other hand, if a similar fate were to befall its neighbour, full of inky blots, unschooled and oily daubs and childish fancies, then the history of twentieth century art would be greatly enriched. (Sorry, that's a bit off-message.)

    Christchurch • Since Apr 2007 • 6 posts Report Reply

  • The Screwtape-FRST Letters,


    Your stuff continues to be entertaining and quite cutting.

    Poor FRST. Some years ago, a FRST staffer won a journos' gobbledygook award for one of her efforts. I don't think I had the foresight to keep a copy of it. From memory, every sentence contained the word "strategy" or one of its derivations, and/or the word "focus".

    Foresight brings to mind MoRST, which named one of its efforts "Foresight". One wag referred to it as the "Foresight Saga", which attributed rather more to it than it warranted.

    MoRST is rather more difficult to pillory than FRST, since it has minimalist function. Originally it was supposed to provide riding instructions to the Minister of Research, Science and Technology -- a task once carried out by the directors general of DSIR and Agriculture, with piccolo obbligato variously interposed by that of Forestry, perhaps at rather boozy Friday afternoon meetings, and punctuated by the odd panic when something the Minister didn't understand arose in Parliament. Given that this provides little grist to the mill of a ministry of 70 energetic and creative members, MoRST must invent its own list of "things to do". This appears to comprise a bunch of largely unexceptional ideas, all of which are launched with cymbals and gongs, and which are then left to sink quietly into oblivion when it is time to get the next thing going.

    Foresight was one such idea. It spawned endless meetings, "MidSight" and "Outcomes" conferences, and "target outcomes", described in a document titled "Making a Difference", and in March 1998 a document appeared titled "Building Tomorrow's Success Guidelines for Thinking Beyond Today" in which Maurice Williamson asserted that "We are on the brink of a period of profound change for our society". Whether this period has started yet, is in progress, or has finished, is hard to say. Perhaps it has been displaced by a new period of even more profound change.

    Before this, there was "Wow! it's science", with the quite praiseworthy aim of promoting science among the public. At its roadshows, binders of glossies were distributed. One rather skeptical attendee mentioned to the presenter that she had on her bookshelf a similar binder from a previous, now forgotten effort. She asked "Would this new project silently vanish like the last?", and was enthusiastically assured that it most certainly would not.

    But within the year or two, "Wow!" had vanished. Like the microwave background radiation, there remain minute traces, such as the following from an ineffably boring document published by the UN (in French -- the English version must have died of ennui):

    '668. Le Ministère de la recherche, de la science et de la technologie finance divers projets visant à favoriser les valeurs et attitudes favorables à la science et à la technologie, parce qu'elles sont indispensables pour la prospérité future et que la science représente par elle -même une valeur culturelle. A titre d'exemple, on peut citer les bourses accordées à des chercheurs qui sont des personnalités reconnues dans leur domaine, les programmes visant à améliorer l'enseignement scientifique et technologique et les conseils d'orientation, les conférences et les débats publics sur des thèmes scientifiques et technologiques, les services d'information sur l'astronomie, l'entretien et la présentation du matériel astronomique ancien, la mise en place et le fonctionnement du site web interactif "Wow it's science" et la création d'un réseau de vulgarisateurs scientifiques travaillant dans des organismes néo-zélandais de recherche, publics et privés.'

    A rough translation of bits of it is: 'MoRST funds many projects intended to promote the value and respect of S&T, since these are necessary for future prosperity, and because science itself is culturally valuable. Examples are grants to leading scientists, . . . the Web site "Wow! it's science" and forming a network of science commentators (what a marvellous word is "vulgarisateur") working in public and private research institutions in NZ.'

    Remnants also recorded by the Internet Archive WaybackMachine, include this announcement in the Ministry's Newsletter Sci-Tech of June 1998, in which the Minister is reported to have launched "Wow! It's Science!", admirably directed to "Helping New Zealanders understand the value of research, science and technology to our future prosperity and well being, and encouraging them to get involved". After one further mention of the project in Sci-Tech of April 1999, and a few dead links on derelict web pages, the trail goes cold.

    Then there was the "i3 Challenge", "Picking up the pace", "Transformational RS&T" and more recently "Oxygen Group", and an expanding collection of "Roadmaps for Science". One of the last titled "energy research" which was regarded as an important issue for MoRST to discuss "because of the identified need to more closely link and coordinate diverse policy objectives with the work of an energy research community ...". Policy objectives are all or any of a great list of possibilities, including such gems as a "Secure and reliable energy supply". Wow! Maybe the lights won't go out.

    And it goes on. After the election the new minister will ignore it all and the bureaucrats will begin from the beginning with a new set of pertly named endeavours, not all of which will be agonisingly puerile...

    Christchurch • Since Apr 2007 • 6 posts Report Reply