Death by black hole

There is a guy named Neil deGrasse Tyson. He writes a column in a magazhine, and „Death by black hole“ is the titel of the collection of those. They should be mandatory reading for anybody who „engages in public debate“, e.a. dares to open his/her mouth anywhere I can hear them.

What are the lessons to be learned from this journey of the mind? That humans are emotionally fragile, perennially gullible, hopelessly ignorant masters of an insignificantly small speck in the cosmos. Have a nice day.

On the rotation of the earth, and the prof of its circle around the sun.

Not only does this experiment demonstrate that it’s Earth, not the Sun, that moves, but with the help of a little trigonometry you can also turn the question around and use the time needed for one rotation of the pendulum’s plane to determine your geographic latitude on our planet. The first person to do this was Jean-Bernard-Léon Foucault, a French physicist who surely conducted the last of the truly cheap laboratory experiments.


During our everyday lives we don’t often stop to think about the journey of a ray of light from the core of the Sun, where it’s made, all the way to Earth’s surface, where it might slam into somebody’s buttocks on a sandy beach.

On the properties of our sister planet:

Venus, named after the goddess of beauty and love, turns out to have a thick, almost opaque atmosphere, made up mostly of carbon dioxide, bearing down at nearly 100 times the sea level pressure on Earth. Worse yet, the surface air temperature nears 900 degrees Fahrenheit. On Venus you could cook a 16-inch pepperoni pizza in seven seconds, just by holding it out to the air. (Yes, I did the math.)In 1584, in his book On the Infinite Universe and Worlds, the Italian monk and philosopher Giordano Bruno proposed the existence of “innumerable suns” and “innumerable Earths [that] revolve about these suns.” Moreover, he claimed, working from the premise of a Creator both glorious and omnipotent, that each of those Earths has living inhabitants. For these and related blasphemous transgressions, the Catholic Church had Bruno burned at the stake.

On the colour of light:

And I don’t care what else anyone has ever told you, the Sun is white, not yellow. Human color perception is a complicated business, but if the Sun were yellow, like a yellow lightbulb, then white stuff such as snow would reflect this light and appear yellow—a snow condition confirmed to happen only near fire hydrants. What could lead people to say that the Sun is yellow?

Cool stars are red. Tepid stars are white. Hot stars are blue. Very hot stars are still blue. How about very, very hot places, like the 15-million-degree center of the Sun? Blue. To an astrophysicist, red-hot foods and red-hot lovers both leave room for improvement. It’s just that simple.

When Cole Porter composed “Too Darn Hot” for his 1948 Broadway musical Kiss Me Kate, the temperature he was bemoaning was surely no higher than the mid-nineties. No harm in taking Porter’s lyrics as an authoritative source on the upper temperature limit for comfortable lovemaking. Combine that with what a cold shower does to most people’s erotic urges, and you now have a pretty good estimate of how narrow the comfort zone is for the unclothed human body: a range of about 30 degrees Fahrenheit, with room temperature just about in the middle. The universe is a whole other story. How does a temperature of 100,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000 degrees grab you?

On the validity of religion.

The argument is simple. I have yet to see a successful prediction about the physical world that was inferred or extrapolated from the content of any religious document. Indeed, I can make an even stronger statement. Whenever people have tried to make accurate predictions about the physical world using religious documents they have been famously wrong. By a prediction, I mean a precise statement about the untested behavior of objects or phenomena in the natural world, logged before the event takes place. When your model predicts something only after it has happened then you have instead made a “postdiction.” Postdictions are the backbone of most creation myths and, of course, of the Just So Stories of Rudyard Kipling, where explanations of everyday phenomena explain what is already known.

Let there be no doubt that as they are currently practiced, there is no common ground between science and religion. As was thoroughly documented in the nineteenth-century tome A History of the Warfare of Science with Theology in Christendom, by the historian and onetime president of Cornell University Andrew D. White, history reveals a long and combative relationship between religion and science, depending on who was in control of society at the time. The claims of science rely on experimental verification, while the claims of religions rely on faith. These are irreconcilable approaches to knowing, which ensures an eternity of debate wherever and whenever the two camps meet. Although just as in hostage negotiations, it’s probably best to keep both sides talking to each other.

You should read

Josefina_2011_12_30_090Motorworld, by Jeremy Clarkson. And whilst one can discuss his validity,
some (not all) of his arguments are acutally thinkworthy, and he can write extremely well.

Examples? Here’s one on shooting a traveling-show, including underwater-scenes…

And then the real fun and games began. Keith, the cameraman, has the buoyancy of balsawood and even when he wore a weightbelt that would have sunk a killer whale he was still having trouble getting below the surface, especially as he was burdened with an underwater camera which floated. I had problems of my own though. My buoyancy vest leaked like a sieve so that it was a jetpropulsion pack. The torrent of escaping air rushed me around the reef like Marine Boy and frightened away all the fish too. It was a pathetic spectacle. The world’s most revered broadcasting organisation and we had a cameraman who wouldn’t sink, a presenter who was doing Mach 2 and a director who couldn’t dive and was forced to hang around on the surface with a snorkel.

And on flying a jetfighter (as passenger, not as pilot, for chrissake. The pilot is called Captain Gris Grimwald

And finally, there had been some ejectorseat training. If I heard the pilot say ‘bail out, bail out, bail out’ I was to brace myself and pull a big lever by my thigh, a lever that I was not to touch otherwise. Especially in a high-G manoeuvre when I needed something to hold on to. But would I have to wait for Captain Gris Grimwald to say ‘bail out’ three times, or could I go after one? Yes I could, but I warned him not to start any commands with the letter B, or he’d be flying solo in a convertible.


Once in a blue moon I need some horror / vampire / monster-novels. Far from sorting that as „guilty pleasure“, which is a bullshit-term if I ever heard one.
„Guilty“ should be reserved for things that you can actually be guilty about, 
like rape, pillage, becoming a politician and placing shopping-trolleys just around the corner of the shelves. Nevetheless, vampire-novels have recently gotten some sort of bad reputation – mainly because the „most prominent books“ are on the level of third-class-housewife-fanfiction. But there are good monster books out there, and here are a few quotes from the exellent Asher/Ysidro-Series by Barbara Hambly.

She kept her eyes on his, positive she resembled nothing so much as a myopic rabbit attempting to stare down a dragon.

(This pretty much describes any glasses-wearing person.)

Over the years, Asher had picked up a fine selection of curses in twelve living and four dead languages, including Basque and Finno-Ugric. He repeated them all as he slid the ulster from his shoulders, left it draped like a corpse over the hay, and slipped through the close, dark warmth of the stable and into Blaydon’s back garden.

Beneath the barred window was only an ornamental ledge, and he exercised a number of plain Anglo-Saxon monosyllables as he disengaged his broken hand from its sling and hooked the tips of his swollen fingers over the grimy brickwork to edge himself along. At least, he thought wryly, this was one place where he knew the vampire couldn’t sneak up on him from behind. It was small comfort.

Back Story

There are very few worthwhile autobiographies. One that is actually quite fun ist „Back Story“ by the columnist/ gameshow-host and -guest/ comedian David Mitchell. Here a few quotes that should test, if your sense of humor is along his lines. Afterwards a video of his „Soapbox“, which I also highly recommend.

On his mothers interior behaviour:

My mother often leaves unattended scented candles on top of the television which has, in my view, nearly caused a fire on dozens of occasions. My use of the word ‘nearly’ is open to criticism here because it has never actually caused a fire and I’ve never had to visit my parents at the I Told You So Burns and Smoke Inhalation Clinic.

Everyone’s still going to church every week apart from my mother, who’s a Christian Scientist and goes somewhere different (Why does our family always have to do something weird, I used to grumble. It was the same when they bought me that odd brand of disc drive for my BBC Micro which my dad said was better, but I just wanted the one everyone else was getting), and my dad, whose religion is ‘Ask your mother’.

On lobsters

I am not saying lobsters are evil. The fact that they are hard, cold, spiny and viciously armed, rather than large-eyed and soft-furred, is not, I realise, a moral failing. It is arbitrary, maybe even prejudiced, that humans tend to lavish affection on fellow warm-blooded mammals and quite right that those who choose to keep spiders, snakes and scorpions as pets should not be run out of town as twisted perverts but respected as animal-lovers.

On his brother and abortion:

Unlike most best men, I can take the story of the groom right back to the beginning. Well, almost. I’m not going to start discussing my parents’ love life of the early ’80s. That never goes well on occasions such as these. But I do remember when I was told, at the age of seven, that I was soon going to have a little brother or sister.

I think my parents were concerned about what my reaction would be because they presented the news as if it was an event entirely designed to please me. ‘You know how you like having friends round to play? And you get annoyed that that can’t happen more often?’ they said. ‘Well, soon there’ll be someone for you to play with all the time!’

I was good at maths. I did a quick calculation. This sibling, I reasoned, was still some months away and I was getting older all the time. So, when this new person was nought, I would be seven and a half. When I was nine, he would be one and a half. ‘Someone for me to play with?!’ I exclaimed to my parents. ‘I don’t play with people who are six! People who are eight don’t play with me! How long will it be before he can talk?’ ‘A year and a half,’ ventured my mother. A year and a half?! That was more time than I could imagine. And presumably, even then, my one-and-a-half-year-old brother wouldn’t exactly be a sophisticated conversationalist. It appeared that my parents’ well-meaning ‘get David a friend to play with’ scheme was hopelessly ill thought-through. ‘Is there any way it can be stopped?’ I asked. I must be one of the few best men ever to have toasted the marriage of a man he initially advocated aborting.

And, on a more abstract level, about slapstick

Slapstick on its own is never more than fleetingly amusing. To really get the belly laughs, it has to be surrounded by character. This is why Peter Sellers is a genius and Norman Wisdom is not. Wisdom falls beautifully, with acrobatic comic skill, but his characters always look like they’re going to fall. They are ready and willing to slip, tumble and crack their skulls to get laughs. Sellers, particularly as Clouseau, has dignity. He comes across as someone who would be mortified to be involved in even the most low-key of pratfalls. Despite his long history of accidents and clumsiness, his expectation is still, inexplicably, that he will meet every new situation with unruffled savoir-faire. It is making that unlikely attitude so plausible and likeable that is the mark of a brilliant comic actor. So when Clouseau falls face first into his hostess’s tits, or puts his hand into a wedding cake to steady himself or has his trousers blown off by a bomb, we believe that he is mortified. It’s not the physical but the emotional pain that really makes us laugh. It’s not about how Sellers falls, it’s about how he gets up.

The Carnival

Whatever carnival performers do (which is whinge about hamstring injuries and touch their parents for cash, I imagine; we may be a country that can cope with fancy dress, but the concept of ‘carnival’ is beyond us and I suspect that British carnival acts are the preserve of those intellectually sloppy but counter-culturally inclined children of the middle classes too lazy to train as homeopaths and too prudish for burlesque).

And finally, he is spot on about grooming.

It annoys me to be living in an era where one of the few traditional male attributes that I naturally possess – an aversion to grooming, pampering and perfume – is no longer valued.

Indeed, for transparent marketing reasons, it’s positively discouraged. My attitude that hair should be neatly cut, washed in shampoo but not conditioned or gunked up with ‘product’ is almost frowned upon now, as if displaying a want of personal hygiene. Answering the question ‘How would you like to smell?’ by saying ‘I’d rather I didn’t’ is also no longer acceptable.

It’s not playing the game. Men are expected to put some cash into the cosmetic pot too – it’s seen as almost un-feminist not to. What a uniquely capitalist response to that gender inequality: women have been forced by convention for generations – millennia – to spend money on expensive clothes and agonising shoes, to daub themselves with reality-concealing slap, to smell expensively inhuman, to self-mutilate in pursuit of eternal youth; and this, quite rightly, has come to be deemed unfair. But how do we end this hell? We make men do it too. Well done everyone.