Wednesday, 19 October 2011

I have a phone.

My phone is small, cheap, and works well -- as a phone. For instance; I can use it to make and receive phone calls.

It has a camera in it.

This was unavoidable at the time -- it's not a very good camera as these things go. It does not, for example, have hardware zoom, or the ability to adjust exposure time, take time-lapse images, or any of those things. To me, that's kinda like pointing out that it doesn't do the ironing. It is a camera in my phone. It takes OK photographs.

I also have a camera.

Occasionally I like to take photos that are not just OK. Not often but it happens. My camera has these hardware things that my phone lacks due to being, you know, not a camera. This, in no way, reflects negatively on my phone.

I do not feel the need to take really good photos, so my camera is about middling as these things go. Someone may point out that my camera cannot send the photo to another phone or to my email account. That's all right - it has a USB port and I can use that to send the picture to my mini tablet - which is what I use for mobile computery things like image processing and networking. I can do this with any computer. If I am not carrying my USB cable, the camera has large storage which is removable and almost everyone has a card reader. Besides, if I have to wait a bit before sharing my latest cute-kitten pic I find I annoy fewer people.

If I really really need this functionality, I can actually buy a camera that has a phone (or some other network device) in it. The phone in these things is not at all useful for making phone calls: that's OK, nobody cares, because the camera is awesome and you can send your photos where you like right away.

Between them my camera and phone cost less than, say, picking a device completely at random, an iPhone.

I occasionally see people discussing (to push a definition of the word "discuss" somewhat) the various comparative merits of different cameras that are in those phones that come with cameras. These multiuse appliances all seem to their owners, or the owners of a competing brand appliance, (or wannabes - it's hard to keep track) to these people to be somehow deficient in one or some or all of their functions. If by some miracle the sweet perfect appliance has been manufactured, it mysteriously failed to sell and has been discontinued.

This message is for you.

Here lies the path to happiness:

You want to take a photo, use a camera.
You want to make a phone-call, use a phone.

Monday, 10 October 2011

G+ Work and WOF

In reverse order:

WOF woes continue - my car has a fluid leak - power steering. I have to keep topping it up but this means I don't have a WOF. I need a new cooling tube. Maybe we can build one but right now looking for an authorized part.

I've bitten the bullet and presented myself to the local service station - pump-hand here I come. The thing is, though I have a lot of applications out for teaching positions, nothing is going to show up before March. I want something on the Island that will be enjoyable and the service station is just down the road and it's relaxed. I'm hugely overqualified and the boss there looks enthusiastic.

Still active with google plus. If you want to see what sort of thing I get up to over there, have a look at this formatted summary.

Wednesday, 5 October 2011


It's all about the sunshine today - and a bit of maintain the car.

WoF: Failed - but only on one tyre. It seems that directional mags are going out of fashion or something so I have to order-in the replacement. Ho hum - pass wof tomorrow.

But since I'm out and about and it's such a gloriously sunny day, I took the top off and went for a cruise. It's an expensive passtime these days, and I'll count the cost tomorrow. Today I went the length of the Island, visited Man of War bay, which was at high tide so it was nice. Enjoyed the breeze and the scenery and read a bit of my SF novel (Greg Bear - Legacy: it's OK). Headed back.

Snapper and chips at Onetangi Beach - a bit windy - wash the car - and back home. Sun still on the deck so drag a chair from the lounge-suite outside for coffee and tim-tams and more reading. Decadence. Smeagol joined me - he's changed color: his head and shoulders are still black but the rest of him has gone rusty. He'll probably go black again towards midsummer.

He's been off his food last few days, and he's lost a lot of weight. I gave him some beef mince - which he nommed up (but only if it has a bit of dirt on it). He does not normally get red meat - after he finished, he whipped his tail, leaped vertical off all four feet, spun around and tore off into the bush.

I've changed the music (see sidebar). Also sampled Gin Wigmore's single "Black Rose", online.

There's a stack of mail wating for me ... tomorrow. By carefully ignoring things that actually need to be done I get to call today a win. Bananas and ice-cream time, then a bath.


Tuesday, 4 October 2011

The Solar System in Perspective

If the diameter of the sun is our unit for length, the orbits come out something like this (someone check my math):
9560.086 (0.179)Saturn (rings)

This means, if you wanted to build a scale model of the Solar System with Sun as a 1m diameter beach ball in the middle of your lounge, Mercury would be a 4mm speck 39m away! Jupiter would look good as a 10cm striped ball half a click away while the Oort cloud, at the outer reaches, is at 5000km... which would put the final touches of your model about an eighth (45deg) of the way around the Earth from your lounge.

I'm bringing this up because of a movie circulating the internets that appears to show a planet-sized comet impacting the Sun and spraying the solar system with gobs of Sun-stuff. Hopefully these figures will give a wee bit of perspective. Space is big, really big!

Wikipedia on CMEs

Sunday, 2 October 2011

Radioactive Drinking Water - erk!

(Texas, USA)
People talking about radiation contamination need to be more careful - misuse of the terms makes it difficult to reality check the stories. I saw this with Fukushima reporting and it is in a lot of news and blog reports on the Texas water scare too.

Lets be clear: the water is contaminated with radium, which is a metal, probably in the form of radium-chloride, which is radioactive in the sense that it emits ionizing radiation. It is not "contaminated by radiation". The water there has always been contaminated like this.

Not all radiation is a problem and radium is not one of the worst - though it is very radioactive. It is a 5-6MeV alpha emmitter. Alpha particles have a large mass and charge so they don't go fast and don't penetrate all that much - seldom getting through your skin. 1g of radium has an activity of 1Cu (1 Curie)- the tanks and pipes test to 15-20pCu/l (1 picoCurie is 1x10-12 or 0.000000000001 Curies). Doesn't sound like a lot? It's 3-4 times the Federal EPA safety limit... but is that a lot? We'll see.

Pipes become radioactive because of radium in calcium deposits that build up over time... y'know: lime buildup and that sort of thing? The water does not become radioactive from passing through radioactive pipes but by dissolving some of the radium and carrying it along.

The big probem is when you get it in your body. There it replaces calcium (weakening bones and teeth) and accumulates. Radium decay products are also poisonous, and radioactive. On top of which, you have the radiation damage. Alphas are very damaging inside the body - outside they don't much get through you skin. This is why the presence of dissolved radium salts in drinking water is very serious.

The regions effected have been radioactive basically for ever. The radium comes from Uranium-rich rocks and dirt deposited there when the Earth was younger. It got picked up when the EPA standard changed and officials decided to do a re-check: it seems it got tougher. So how are we supposed to figure out what this means?

In 1944 the, the Manhatten Project set the human tolerance dose at one 1μg (total) ingested... or 1μCu of activity. After that you had to stop working with radioactive stuff. That's smaller than a speck of dust so if you walked into a cloud of radium dust and breathed in you are basically dead meat, but the Texans are drinking it, not inhaling it. In much much smaller doses. So it will take a bit longer to build up in their bodies. How long?

To ingest that much in Texas, you need to drink 50,000l of water from the most contaminated sites. If you drink the popular 2l a day it would take around 70 years to get this high (assuming steady consumption and 100% of the radium is retained.)

Of course, things have changed a bit since the Manhatten Project. We understand more about radiation now. It's more dangerous than they thought. From the above you can see why the EPA safe doses are what they are: there is no way, at those levels, of getting a health-threatening dose in your lifetime. Even if we halve the tolerance level, you still have 35 years to build it up. You can also see why the EPA and State people have not exactly been clamoring to tell everyone.

Has anyone done a review of health effects from such long exposure?  I can't tell. The few papers I've read (see the links on this page) haven't told me. But it's been like this for generations. The lime buildup could be more recent, but we are still talking geological time! This translates to at least decades of exposure at best. So you'd expect the leukemia and cancer rates in the area to be high, and the overall health to be low. May even have been going on long enough for insurance companies to notice.

My impression is that, bloggers screaming "cover-up" notwithstanding, the various US health-folk are in the process of checking. Wat with the general background of paranoia in the US, I imagine Texans will be buying a lot more bottled water from now on.