Saturday, February 25, 2006

Grammatically challenged

If you're going to send me a virus, and you expect me to open it, do try to learn to spell.

I had this one recently:

PayPal accounts review department: Your account temporally limited.

Temporally limited? Temporally limited?

Well, I suppose it is, in as much as I am temporally limited myself. When my time's up, the account will be unnecessary and therefore void.

Sending three at once, to three of my Email addresses, is just taking stupidity to a new level. Two of those addresses aren't even on my PayPal account.

The contents were the same as usual: threats of loss of account followed by 'open the attachment for details'. Come on. The attachment ends in '.exe'. Does anyone out there fall for this crap?

I've noted before that there are some internet users with pitiful IQ's and no common sense at all, but surely not that many? Presented with something that claims to be from your bank, yet looks as though it's been translated into Greek, then Mandarin, then Icelandic and back into English by someone who speaks only Polish, would you open it?

Some people would, it seems. That's why these cretins who write these viruses succeed.

Because of human gullibility.

Sunday, February 12, 2006

Chemistry, smells and bangs.

There is a growing shortage of chemists, and of students wanting to be chemists. I think I know why.

It’s not a boring subject, it’s a fascinating one – and I speak as a non-chemist. When I was a child, I had a chemistry set made by, if I remember correctly, Thomas Salter. I think their motto at the time was “If you haven’t maimed yourself, you haven’t lived.”

My set included potassium nitrate and sulphur. Charcoal was easy to come by, so I had the basic ingredients for gunpowder. Naturally, I used them, to great effect. I had magnesium ribbon, which burns with an intense flame when ignited. The set included instructions on how to do this. I had cobalt chloride, a wonderful purple compound. I don’t think I ever worked out what it was for. I had a methylated spirit burner. I had racks, glass test tubes, the means and instructions to make Pasteur pipettes by heating glass tube to melting point and then stretching it. I had things that generated smells, and I had lots of ways to make things go bang.

In school, we were treated to demonstrations of what happens when you drop pure sodium or potassium in water. Yes, they go bang, with wonderful coloured flames. We had demonstrations of what happens when you mix one part oxygen with two parts hydrogen, and light it. That was a big bang indeed. We were allowed to heat ethanol with a flame – we were in fact instructed to do this. Cyclohexane, too. So many more deadly and fascinating things, too numerous to mention. Do you know what happens when you spill concentrated sodium hydroxide on your sports kit? Do you know how to fill a room with sulphur dioxide? How to produce nitrogen triiodide, a compound so unstable it will explode if you give it a funny look?

I know all these things, and from experience. I enjoyed every minute of it.

Look at a modern chemistry set. You get plastic test tubes, plastic safety goggles (something I never possessed, or would have used), and enough chemicals to make a variety of salty waters. Nothing goes bang. Nothing stinks.

The jump-at-shadows safety-conscious have done the same to schools. Gone are the days of poking mercury around with your fingers. No playing with explosive chemicals, or high pressure gases. No dropping your friend’s pencil into the nitric acid to see what happens to it. I suppose they can still fill Bunsen burner tubes with water, then reattach them to the gas taps, but that was never really part of the curriculum anyway.

All the fun has gone. Children with modern chemistry sets and modern chemistry lessons find it dull and sanitised. They’re right. It is. There is no danger of damaging yourself or anyone else. No danger at all.

What’s that? Did you say that was a good thing? Is it, really?

Children grow up and some go to university. They take a look at the chemistry option and think “Oh, no, that’s really boring.”

The reason they think that is because their experience of it so far has been boring. We’re running out of chemists because of over-protective sheep who run scared at the slightest risk of Little Johnny getting so much as a bruise. Stop mollycoddling children. Let them hurt themselves. That’s how they learn what’s dangerous and what’s not. That’s how they learn to cope with life.

Without that experience, they grow up as dull and lifeless as the subjects they are forced to endure at school. With no experience of being hurt, they believe themselves invulnerable to harm and immune to retaliation for their behaviour towards others.

And they don't become chemists. They become thugs.

Sunday, February 05, 2006

Time bandits

Sometimes science worries me.

Tachyons are theoretical particles that travel faster than light, and therefore travel backwards in time. Nobody has ever seen one - which isn't all that surprising since the ones we might be able to see haven't yet been formed, and when they are they'll instantly disappear into the past. Our only chance is to catch one from the future in the instant it crosses our time line, before it passes into the past.

It's possible that a tachyon formed now will shoot backwards, interact with something in the past and change history. It's possible this has already happened.

Consider a stockbroker in Leeds who wakes up one morning to find he's a goat farmer in Orkney. Is he going to be surprised? Well, no.

If a tachyon changed his past, then it changed all of it. He never was a stockbroker in Leeds. He was a goat farmer, all his life. He won't notice the change. Neither will anyone else.

If a tachyon formed in the future comes back and stops me writing this, you won't notice it vanish because in your memory, it was never there.

What worries me about this is that scientists are actively looking for tachyons. What if they find them?

What if they work out how to aim them?

Wednesday, February 01, 2006

More corporate stupidity

The north polar ice is receding.

That's a fact. Whether you believe in global warming or not is irrelevant. The ice is receding anyway.

So, what are our wonderful oil companies going to do? Are they going to say "Oh dear, perhaps there is something in this greenhouse gas thing after all"? Are they going to look into alternative energy sources?


The oil companies are delighted the ice is receding. They're clapping their hands and grinning all over their faces.

Under the ice, where they couldn't get at it until now, is a lot of oil.

I'm buying shares in sunscreen.