An image of a green fedora hat, which serves as the logo for this site.Gordy's Discourse

TSB's error message

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 External link icon.

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.
Credit: 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.

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?

44 vaccines being developed and tested for coronavirus External link icon.

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.

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.

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.

iPad shutdown screenshots

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?

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.
Credit: 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

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Universal Credit's problems

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.