Douglas inspires


Often the delete key is my friend. A thou­sand word post has dis­ap­peared. I was going to post a response to someone else’s post, and use this video of Douglas Adams as an example of pos­it­ive athe­ism. I’m tired of yet another post from someone who says “I’m an athe­ist, but you mustn’t talk about athe­ism or offend the reli­gious because athe­ists are nasty.”

Then I thought if that’s the case why bother? The people who tend to write such posts don’t have any­thing inter­est­ing or pos­it­ive to say apart from scowl­ing at other people who do. Religious people can pro­duce great works, like Handel’s Messiah which has a reli­gious mes­sage in it some­where. Then you get books like Dawkins’ Unweaving the Rainbow, that show the sense of won­der you can have in the work­ings of the uni­verse. Yet I can­not think of any­thing remotely inspir­a­tional writ­ten in the heart­felt belief that com­prom­ise is by its nature the goal. No one looks at a beau­ti­ful land­scape, sighs, and says, “It’d be so much bet­ter if there was a small indus­trial estate in the way. Y’know to bal­ance the envir­on­mental and eco­nomic needs of society.”

So instead I’ll just put up the video that TED made pick of the week. If you’re intent on some Sunday athe­ism it’s around 1h 10m in, I think. It’s only a short bit about God. That’s fair enough because it’s a big uni­verse with lots fas­cin­at­ing stuff in it includ­ing his Last Chance to See project.

Red Letter Day: Danish Alphologists Discover the 27th Letter of the Alphabet


DENMARK: Alphologists at the University of Billund, Denmark have announced the dis­cov­ery of the 27th let­ter of the English Alphabet. The let­ter, which has yet to be named, was uncovered dur­ing lib­rary renov­a­tions over the Easter Break. Professor Olaf Proil who iden­ti­fied the let­ter said the dis­cov­ery was a com­plete sur­prise:

Alphologists think there are plenty of let­ters wait­ing to be dis­covered, but that most of these lie out in the far reaches of the alpha­bet, far bey­ond the punc­tu­ation marks and the sym­bols you get on cell­phones. What is so sur­pris­ing is that this let­ter is near the middle of the alpha­bet, between Q and R. It is an extremely small let­ter, which may explain why no-one had noticed it before. We think it may have been hid­den behind the tail, or pesce which comes out of the Q.”

The site of the pro­posed miss­ing let­ter.
© Olaf Proil, Pål Foilor, University of Billund

The find is set to be con­tro­ver­sial when it is presen­ted at the International Alphological Union next month. One pro­fessor has already dis­missed the new let­ter.

We get this kind of head­line every few years and each time it’s proven to be non­sense. It’s almost cer­tainly a vari­ant of another let­ter, just like there are two vari­ants of writ­ing a lower-case A. This was settled a couple of years ago when the IAU elec­ted to des­ig­nate such things as dwarf letters.”

History will prove me right

Proil nev­er­the­less claims there is his­tor­ical proof this is indeed a miss­ing let­ter.

There’s clear evid­ence that this let­ter dates back to the Dark Ages. A close exam­in­a­tion of A History of England by the Venerable Bede shows there are ele­ments miss­ing from the page. Previously his­tor­i­ans have argued these were spaces, or pos­sibly that he’d for­got­ten to dip his quill in the ink. Documented Viking raids on Lindisfarne, the mon­as­tery where the Vulnerable Bede wrote his his­tory, could well have taken the let­ter back to Denmark as booty along with the gold and jewels.”

Proil spec­u­lates that the let­ter could be even older:

We have ref­er­ences to Celtic texts in Roman his­tor­ies, but so far all Celtic mater­ial seems to use the Roman Alphabet which was imposed on them when the emperor Maximus invaded their ter­rit­ory. It is pos­sible some Celtic let­ters were smuggled to Britain dur­ing the Roman inva­sion and hid­den from the con­quer­ors. We need to carbon-date it, but we may have the first pre­his­toric letter.”

Media Controversy

Dr. Pål Foilor who has assisted Prof. Proil in his work admits that there have been prob­lems in announ­cing the let­ter to the pub­lic.

My first reac­tion was email all my friends with the excit­ing news. That’s when I real­ised I couldn’t, because the let­ter wasn’t on my keyboard!”

Foilor has been work­ing with Compaq to pro­duce a down­load­able ver­sion of the let­ter which users will be able to type by press­ing Q and R similtan­eously.

“Compaq are the obvi­ous choice for any com­put­ing work requir­ing heavy-duty lex­ico­graphy. They’ve been safely using a ‘q’ without a ‘u’ buf­fer on their products for years. The sav­ing by using Compaq makes it 14% more eco-friendly than Compaqu. That’s the kind of expert­ise we need in repro­du­cing the new letter.”

Rude WordsNot every­one has been so pos­it­ive. Major cell­phone man­u­fac­tur­ers are skep­tical about the new letter’s use. Avril Poisson of the American Cellphone Federation said:

While new let­ters might seem like fun, we shouldn’t for­get there’s a cost too. The num­ber 7 on cell­phones already hosts P,Q, R and S. Adding a new let­ter between Q and R could over­load the key and mean we lose the use of 7, which is the world’s luck­i­est number.”

Family groups have also urged cau­tion, not­ing that the new let­ter might be used to pro­mote drugs, por­no­graphy and women’s rights. Bill Donohue, of the Catholic League, is said to be angry — though exper­i­enced Donahologists are as yet uncer­tain if this is about the letter.

Nonetheless Prof Proil says that he is look­ing for­ward to the unveil­ing of the let­ter at noon. “While the let­ter is tiny, the pos­sib­il­it­ies are huge, I think its small size could make it par­tic­u­larly use­ful when describ­ing sub-atomic particles.”

The Discovery Channel will be cov­er­ing the event live in their pro­gram “The Lost Letter”.

Other pro­grams cov­er­ing the let­ter in the fol­low­ing week will be a BBC Horizon Special and the History Channel’s “The Secret Letter of the Third Reich.”

[Compiled from a press release by the University of Billund and stor­ies around the web]

A chilling example of the dangers of theorising in the Pub


I’ve been reminded that I should link to this paper from Spring 2006 today. I’ve no idea what this author had been drink­ing, but it must have been pretty tasty, because the author clearly drunk a lot of it. Neanderthals explained with the aid of Tom Cruise.

Some people are simply bey­ond help. ;)

Don’t tweak the geeks


Clarkson pub­lished details of his Barclays account in the Sun news­pa­per, includ­ing his account num­ber and sort code. He even told people how to find out his address.

All you’ll be able to do with them is put money into my account. Not take it out. Honestly, I’ve never known such a palaver about noth­ing,” he told readers.

Scroll down the page…

I opened my bank state­ment this morn­ing to find out that someone has set up a dir­ect debit which auto­mat­ic­ally takes £500 from my account,” he said.

The bank can­not find out who did this because of the Data Protection Act and they can­not stop it from hap­pen­ing again.

Read the whole thing at BBC News.

Mo’ loot, mo’ troubles


Archaeoporn has an entry illus­trat­ing one of the prob­lems with buy­ing illi­cit antiquit­ies. It turns out that not all crim­in­als are trust­worthy people. Take for instance the Seal of Yzbl, it’s a seal of Queen Jezebel as men­tioned in the Bible™. At least it is if you don’t look at it too closely. If you do, then all sorts of oddit­ies appear — that’s not a prob­lem it was found at… umm… oh dear.

Archaeoporn also men­tions the Guennol Lion, which I haven’t because I know noth­ing about it. David Gill in con­trast knows as much about its find spot as any­one else.

David Gill has also talked about the Bolton Princess recently. If you don’t know this story, Bolton Council had the oppor­tun­ity to buy a statue of the Amarna Princess, a 3000+ year old statue from Egypt. There was no check on the proven­ance and the sellers wish to remain anonym­ous. This is par for the course in antiquit­ies sales so far. Nothing more would have been heard were it not for the fact that the same sellers tried to sell some wall reliefs to the British Museum and some spelling mis­takes were spot­ted. An invest­ig­a­tion fol­lowed and a search revealed three more Amarna Princesses which had been knocked up over a few weeks by a bloke in a shed.

It’s pos­sible the Bolton Armana Princess is a fake.

David Gill has a sens­ible and grown-up reac­tion to the news. Me, I’m reminded of the K Foundation and want to applaud. The case sug­gests that the sting was about art rather than money. The per­pet­rat­ors were described as liv­ing in “abject poverty.” If there were a scheme to ensure the proven­ance of arte­facts for sale then maybe this wouldn’t hap­pen. I’m sur­prised that reput­able col­lect­ors and auc­tion houses aren’t clam­our­ing for such a scheme.

— and an update before this post goes live —

I write quite a few posts in advance, and this is one of them, so I can include another Greenhalgh for­gery thanks to the Cranky Professor. The Art Institute of Chicago has a Greenhalgh Gaugin. These things could become col­lect­ible. If you can fake proven­ances, then how many unproven­anced antiquit­ies on dis­play are fake?

Friday Cat Bloggin


Original photo by Eviljohnius.

I’ll be hon­est I don’t under­stand Lolcats, but I thought I’d try and get into the spirit of the thing. You’ve prob­ably seen sim­ilar around the web, sorry teh web, and now you can make your own, sorry sorry, ur own with a tool from Big Huge Labs.

At a time when much writ­ing was (a) pictorial and (b) carved in stone, it could be argued that the ancient Egyptians were the ori­ginal cat bloggers.

Creationism comes to Flickr


After a request by Pappa Cambria, there’s now a Creationism group on Flickr.

Duane Gish
Duane Gish card cre­ated by Pappa Cambria.

Membership is open to every­one, so you can add your own cards. Sometime before next Darwin Day I plan to write up the rules for Creationism: The Card Game (or CreationismTCG if I get car­ried away). I’ve got a fairly well fleshed-out idea of how it would work, and it won’t be a Magic rip-off. There’s a nod to Netrunner though.

Briefly the game will be Creationist versus Scientist. The Scientist’s goal will be to gain 30 cred­ib­il­ity points, which ends the game. The Creationist’s aim will be to gain as many cred­ib­il­ity points as pos­sible before the Scientist wins.

The full match will be two games, with the play­ers play­ing once as Scientist and once as Creationist with the win­ner being the player with the highest aggreg­ate cred­ib­il­ity. The Scientist player will gain points by pub­lish­ing papers and books. The Creationist player will gain cred­ib­il­ity by get­ting reli­gion into schools or inter­fer­ing with the Scientist’s cards.