Wednesday 1st April 2020 Briefly ...

TSB's error

I note TSB has had some problems with their website, but the bit that interested me was that users were met with an Unexpected Error and I have to wonder if there's any other sort of error. Would you release software that's full of expected errors? I could just imagine an error along the lines of: Expected error, we just couldn't be arsed to fix it.

It reminds me of a bit of mainframe software I used to work on called JES2. It used to have an error that simply said Something Wrong, which is hardly a great start when it comes to debugging the error.

Error messages should at least point the user to a potential cause. It doesn't necessarily mean the user can fix it but it might hint at something they could try.

The jury is still out about the sterile neutrino being a dark matter candidate

Comments by me and a link to the article cited.

The universe has short-changed us. Less than 5% of it is made up of the stuff we know, the stuff that makes up planets, coffee tables, cars, otters and people. 95% of it is something else entirely and nobody's really sure what that is. About 70% of the universe is postulated to be dark energy and 25% of it is dark matter and it's the latter I'm interested in today.

We know dark matter exists because galaxies and clusters of galaxies simply wouldn't behave the way they do if it didn't. Galaxies would just fly apart is there wasn't something else contributing to their gravity and holding them together. The thing is, gravity is the only force dark matter seems to interact with and that makes it difficult to study. Gravity makes it obvious it's there but it offers up little about what its constituent properties might be.

Leptons, highlighted on the diagram of fundamental particles.
Wikipedia Commons/MissMJ/PBS NOVA/Fermilab/Particle Data Group

There is a class of particles called leptons and if those particles were on social media, the electron would have the most followers. It's the only lepton most people have heard of but there are actually six of them. There are two more electron-like particles called the muon and tau and each of these has a corresponding neutrino.

Neutrinos wouldn't be on social media at all because they really don't like to interact with anything. Millions of the things pass through you each day and you just don't notice it. So neutrinos are something that are definitely there but they're hard to spot. That sounds a bit like dark matter and it is logical that scientists might think neutrinos are a good candidate for dark matter.

Some experiments have hinted there might be a fourth neutrino and it has been dubbed the sterile neutrino. Other experiments — observations, really — have detected x-rays coming from distant galaxies and nobody could explain the source of these. Scientists, using no imagination whatsoever, just called this the unidentified x-ray line. Other scientists put two and two together, worked out a way the sterile neutrino might produce the unidentified x-ray line and pitched it as a dark matter candidate.

It all sounds plausible so far but there's a problem. If dark matter is made up of sterile neutrinos and sterile neutrinos produce the unidentified x-ray line, then we should see such a line in our own galaxy. Alas, a recent experiment suggests it's not there. However, some scientists have said this recent experiment is a load of old tosh. Staplers were hurled across rooms in frustration, striking equation-riddled whiteboards. It has caused a bit of a furore.

More observations of this unidentified x-ray line are needed and a satellite launching in 2022 should provide them. Until then, all bets are off and the sterile neutrino may or may not be a candidate for dark matter.

44 vaccines being developed and tested for coronavirus

Comments by me and a link to the article cited.

44 vaccines are currently being developed and tested to see if they will work against coronavirus and Wired gives us a nice summary of them.

Perhaps the most sobering part of it is:

The Covid-19 pandemic is accelerating the slow, safe vaccine development process, but even the most aggressive predictions don't see us getting protective jabs until next year at the earliest.

The WHO are running global trials of four of these potential vaccines and some people think Remdesivir is the most promising candidate. Remdesivir introduces errors into the virus's replication process and it was originally developed as a treatment for Ebola.

Rather depressingly, we probably shouldn't pin our hopes on any sort of speedy solution.

Friday 27th March 2020 Briefly ...

Chickens and eggs

In 2011, there were about 6 billion egg-laying chickens in the world and they laid about 1.2 trillion eggs, which is about 3.2 billion eggs a day. That's roughly one egg every other day for everyone in the world.

Let's assume that has all scaled up proportionately to the present day.

Some people don't eat eggs and I wouldn't be surprised if the ratio works out at an egg a day for everyone who's interested in consuming the things (and two a day for me of course).

So why have we got an egg shortage at the moment?

Apparently a chicken will only lay an egg on two out of every three days on average, which is just lazy. How hard can it be? I'm sure with the right encouragement — a stick, perhaps — chickens can lay an egg a day.

So there's really no excuse for an egg shortage is there?

HP OfficeJet 6950 printer review

Printers are hardly thrilling items but I decided to review my HP OfficeJet 6950 colour inkjet printer. The bottom line is it's okay as far as these things go.

Coverage issues in Google Search Console

The coverage menu option in Search Console.

If you use Google Search Console you might encounter coverage problems from time-to-time. Such problems might stop your site from being indexed properly. In this article I explain how you might correct some of those problems.

Monday 16th March 2020 Briefly ...

Toilet paper

Who knew toilet paper would become the dystopian unit of currency? I'd venture to suggest a man with 24+ rolls is now an upper-class elite and his kids would be a shoe-in for Eton. Strange really because, as far as I'm aware, coronavirus doesn't give you the shits.

Instead of pounds, shillings and pence we now have loo rolls, hand sanitiser and pot noodles. The useless gold in the Bank of England has been thrown away and the vault is now full of Andrex wet wipes.

The bulk panic buying (to the detriment of others) is, I fear, an accurate portrayal of much of humanity.

How much space do you need for a home gym?

I'm going to try and help people determine how much space is needed for a home gym. It's not as straightforward as measuring the dimensions of the rack because there are a few other considerations you need to take into account.

Gears of awe

A pointless gadget that impresses me much.

Thursday 27th February 2020 Briefly ...

Ducks and locusts

The most astonishing thing about the BBC’s ducks and locusts article is that a duck can eat 200 locusts a day. I never would have thought them such greedy guzzlers.

China is going to send 100,000 ducks to counter the plagues of locusts in Pakistan. The ducks may be successful in their task but what will Pakistan do about the plague of ducks they’re then left with? Will China have to send 100,000 cats to cure Pakistan of its plague of ducks?

It puts me in mind of the old lady who swallowed a fly.

Apple AirTags — what do we know?

Apple AirTag icon.

What do we know about Apple AirTags? Not much is the answer, although it seems iOS is being positioned to cope with such things. I repeat many of the rumours about AirTags in this article.

Wescot Credit Services — spammers (01482 590502)

No spam icon image.

I was motivated to write this review because I’m fed up of being spammed by Wescot Credit Services Ltd. I don’t owe them or anyone they represent a penny. In fact I’ve never heard of the person they claim to be after, yet they continue to spam call me.

Why you should not use your ISP's email

I was motivated to post this following a recent report about the excessive charges some ISPs levy if you move away from them but want to retain your email address.

Friday 21st February 2020 Briefly ...

iPad shutdown

Why did Apple make the iPad shutdown button combination the same as the screenshot button combination? Both use the volume up + power buttons, it's just a slightly longer press to shut an iPad down rather than take a screenshot. I've just deleted more than a dozen unwanted screenshots of my home screen, taken whilst attempting to shut it down over the past few weeks.

Why does the universe have a cold spot?

Comments by me and a link to the article cited.

The universe is cold at 2.73 kelvin, which is -270.42 C (-454.76 F), but the small temperature it does have is very useful indeed. This radiation is called the Cosmic Microwave Background (CMB) and it was emitted only a few hundred thousand years after the Big Bang. In a universe that’s 13.8 billion years old, that’s extremely early. Over the eons the wavelength of this radiation has been stretched to the microwave end of the spectrum by the expansion of space.

CMB map picturing the cold spot.
Cold spot, circled bottom right.ESA/Planck Collaboration.
The CMB tells us many things about the universe and we’ve used lots of high-tech instruments to analyse it. The radiation is homogeneous, meaning it’s largely the same in every direction we look, with only tiny fluctuations amounting to no more than about 20 microkelvins either way (and a microkelvin is 1 millionth of a degree).

That is, except for one particular cold spot, which is on average 70 microkelvins colder than the rest of the CMB and up to 150 microkelvins colder in some parts. This makes cosmologists rub their chins, mutter things like “hmm” and then they start penning theories as to why this might be.

Did we collide with a parallel universe at some point? Is it just a void of nothingness? Or did someone leave the window open when the early universe was forming?

Read the external article.:
The enduring enigma of the cosmic cold spot by Syed Faisal ur Rahman on Physics World

Friday 7th February 2020 Briefly ...

Universal Credit

The BBC website has published a number of articles about Universal Credit lately and a lot of them profile people who got into trouble after taking an advance on their payments. People take these advances because it’s not until five weeks after applying that a payment is made to the claimant.

The good news is that I’ve solved this problem for the government. It’s a two-step process.

Step 1. Apparently it takes seven days for a bank to transfer the government’s money to the claimant. This is ludicrous. I can transfer money between two accounts in less than two hours and I’m sure the government has more oomph with banks than me. Is the additional six days and 22 hours it takes the government to transfer their money because they route it through the remnants of Pablo Escobar’s drug cartel in Mexico in order to ‘clean’ it? The government should simply demand a modern bank account.

Step 2. Universal Credit is paid monthly, which is fine for the long-term I suppose. However, it’s clear it’s the initial wait for the first payment that’s causing a lot of people problems, so how about making the first two payments on a fortnightly schedule?

And there we are — problem solved. I’ve slashed the wait from five weeks to two by applying nothing more than common sense and I’ve assured myself a knighthood in the process.

Wednesday 5th February 2020 Briefly ...

BBC licence fee decriminalisation

So, the BBC are having a consultation to decide whether not paying a TV licence fee should be decriminalised. For the love of God, of course it should. It’s a television, not an Uzi 9mm. Not paying something like that should be a civil offence, similar to not paying council tax, not a criminal offence.

The whole issue of whether we should pay a TV licence at all is another matter. As it stands it’s simply a tax because you have to pay it whether or not you watch the BBC. I think it should get with the times and become subscription-based. You shouldn’t have to have a licence just because you own a telly. They may as well start licensing underpants.

I’d probably still subscribe. The BBC has gone downhill in recent decades, as its Saturday evening dross demonstrates. It just seems to be emulating the commercial channels with many of its programmes and chasing ratings, and a lot of it is complete pap. That said, it does produce the best factual programmes (about things like science and nature) and many of its dramas (The Bodyguard, Killing Eve etc.) are top quality.

So, yes, throw in Radio 2 and the BBC website and I’d subscribe. And I’d give them an extra tenner if they finally do away with the formulaic dancing and singing shows, which always have three normal judges, one nasty judge, a public vote and an unerring ability to depress me. The sheer amount of televisual time Strictly commands is staggering.

Tracy Brabin MP

Great reply from an MP to some trolls. I, for one, am glad MPs aren’t routinely banged over a wheelie bin before parliamentary sessions.

Tracy Brabin Twitter reply.
Tracy Brabin