* Posts by Paul Kinsler

691 posts • joined 9 Aug 2007


We spent billions building atom smashers – and now boffins think nature's doing the same thing for free?

Paul Kinsler

Re: The universe is weird, we want a refund

It's unlikely to be any consolation, but knowing something of how general relativity works can only make things even weirder; e.g.



(I particularly recommend Fig. 3.1 in the latter :-))

Paul Kinsler

Re: whether it might even be possible

The phrase "speed of light" is often used in a way that is context dependent. Here, it means an intrinsic property of the spacetime, which cannot be exceeded, since that would make no sense whatsoever. Since light in vacuum travels at this maximum speed, the two are often conflated. Generally, unless you are doing optics, "speed of light" always means this maximum.

In other contexts, it might mean that speed that electromagnetic signals (light) happen to be travelling in a particular medium (in glass, e.g., light travels more slowly than the spacetime-maximum "speed of light"). If you slow the propagation of light down enough, by coupling it strongly to something (e.g. a cleverly prepared gas of atoms matched closely to the frequency of your light), then you could possibly make the speed of those light signals in your medium slower than the speed of sound in that medium. Pedants may then annoy you by noting that with the (strong) light-matter coupling required for this, your signals are no longer just electromagnetic, and as such are not longer really just "light".

A real loch mess: Navy larks sunk by a truculent torpedo

Paul Kinsler

Re: There was once a single tree.

Perhaps there used to be more trees once, but the drivers gradually got them all. Once upon a time, whilst in a car full of graduate students heading to Adelaide, but most certainly not one being so careless as to travel faster than the speed limit, a moment's distraction followed by a slight steering error nearly led to a clump of trees on a gradual bend getting countably smaller. Fortunately the corrective swerve only led to a 360+ degree spin in a large cloud of dust, and a knackered suspension; followed by a very much slooooower drive the rest of the way.

ObShout: Hi Steve! Do you by chance read the Register? And would you like an apple? :-)

Paul Kinsler

Re: Pure 'Carry on ' gold.

Well either that, or "The Navy Lark", as per sub heading and picture;




No, I'm not really that old. I just happened to catch it by accident while trying to record re-run episodes of "I'm Sorry I'll Read that Again" at 3am on NZ radio in the 80's. This was an instructive process, because some times I also got to listen to the NZ shipping forecast.

Russia admits, yup, the Americans are right: One of our rocket's tanks just disintegrated in Earth's orbit

Paul Kinsler

Re: Telescopes should be in space and not below 100km of atmosphere.

Telescope should be put where the cost/performance tradeoffs work out best - and space is an incredibly expensive and difficult place to put things. It's instructive to compare the history of the James Webb with the current slew of ground based adaptive optics giant telescopes (see e.g. https://physicstoday.scitation.org/doi/full/10.1063/PT.3.2875). As with many things, there is no simple answer to space-vs-ground telescopes.

'A' is for ad money oddly gone missing: Probe finds middlemen siphon off half of online advertising spend

Paul Kinsler

Re: Have you thought through the consequences?

I recall (to a degree) a ye olde times SF story involving a government agent travelling around the US to ensure that businesses spent money on advertising and shiny product add-ons, ostensibly to ensure that the many extra jobs created kept the economy on track. The twist was that they were in fact a Soviet agent, since the USSR knew they had no hope of keeping up if the USA *actually* started becoming more efficient.

What do you call megabucks Microsoft? No really, it's not a joke. El Reg needs you

Paul Kinsler


They are pushing this thing called "Edge", so maybe Edge Lords --> Edge Borgs?

Started from the bottom, now we're near: 16 years on, open-source vector graphics editor Inkscape draws close to v1.0

Paul Kinsler

Re: Xfig, for all its clunkiness, gets this right.

I still use Xfig quite a lot, largely because I'm very used to it. The results invariably are somewhat brutalist, but at least you can get things done quite easily. Sometime I even convert postscript graphs from e.g. scilab/python/R into fig format and re-do the labels in xfig; despite the many advantages they have over xfig, it is too much of a pain to get the axis furniture (ticks, labels, numbering) in a publishable state, and it's easier to edit or replace it. Also you can fix line widths and the like after the export.

Mind you, imo the best graphs are done using pgplot, so I may not be the most up-to-date judge :-)

I'm doing this to stop humans ripping off brilliant ideas by computers and aliens, says guy unsuccessfully filing patents 'invented' by his AI

Paul Kinsler

Re: Plus ca change

Perhaps Thaler should enter into an agreement with DABUS, where he agrees to file in place of DABUS, and to hand over the rights and earnings (less expenses) when the legal system finally catches up :-)

I presume that currently such an agreement would gain little legal recognition, but I'm sure that Thaler would do the right thing and abide by its intent anyway (or else why try to file on DABUS's behalf?)

Geoboffins reckon extreme rainfall might help some volcanoes pop off

Paul Kinsler

Re: is there an approved Reg unit for pressure?

The "Queen", i.e. the pressure exerted by our very own ER-II standing on top of a "greatest hits" CD? :-)

How's your night sky looking? The Reg chats to astroboffin Mark McCaughrean about Starlink and leaving a mark

Paul Kinsler

Re: But Venus in the western sky

The nice thing about Venus, is that even with a really crap telescope [1], and even from London, you can see its phases (about now is a good time, btw [2]).

[1] E.g a ~ £15 department store xmas prezzie quality.

[2] No, not *now* now, it's midday, and that would be silly. Try in the evening :-)

Star's rosette orbit around our supermassive black hole proves Einstein's Theory of General Relativity correct

Paul Kinsler

Re: hunting for a footnote

For myself, I just wonder why it's the complex conjugate of Sagittarius A.

And no doubt there are theorists working on quantum black holes who attempt to describe Sagittarius A^{\dagger}.

Oh Hell. Remember the glory days of Demon Internet? Well, now would be a good time to pick a new email address

Paul Kinsler

Re: but I haven't the time to manually update

I find that slpkg solves most of that; but I do have a couple of laptops with (also) a debian partition for convenience (notably, because of weird wifi issues with some providers means a slackware install won't connect).

Paul Kinsler

I was using Slackware linux.

But only in the past tense? Shocking! :-)

NASA dons red and blue cardboard 3D glasses to drive Curiosity rover because its GPUs are stuck in the office

Paul Kinsler


...and also this solution is cheap to implement, and even makes good PR (would any one have reported "NASA buys some hi-spec graphics cards to help with virtual rover-driving"?). Win-win, it seems to me.

Taiwan to develop military exoskeleton because it's not like these things are open-sourced or one-size-fits-all

Paul Kinsler

Re: The exoskeleton just adjusts your size to fit it.

I think there may have been an ancient Greek prototype that implemented that particular feature ...

Cloudflare family-friendly DNS service flubs first filtering foray: Vital LGBTQ, sex-ed sites blocked 'by mistake'

Paul Kinsler

99.999% of humans are XX or XY.

Wikipedia states that rates of Klinefelter syndrome (i.e. XXY) are at about 2/1000 male births, which is 1/1000 of all humans; therefore even *if* that were the only chromosomal exoticism, I suppose your statement should be ammended to read "99.9%" of humans.

Do you want to be an astronaut when you grow up? Yeah, you and 12,000 others: NASA flooded with folks hoping to visit Moon, Mars

Paul Kinsler

Re: Merit & Selection

Well, there's always this sort of thing:

Entrofy Your Cohort: A Data Science Approach to Candidate Selection

Daniela Huppenkothen; Brian McFee; Laura Noren


Want to see through walls? Electroboffins build tiny chip in the lab that vibrates at just the right frequency to do it

Paul Kinsler

Re: "productization"

Indeed, "productization" is an inexcusably hideous construction. But I think it is intended to mean "implemented and put to use in a product" or "turned from this into a saleable product", or this like, so not quite the same as a bare "production", which does not necessarily have the same implications.

Still, several words to cover the intended meaning would have been better than the single jargonoid one used here.

Remember that blurry first-ever photo of a black hole? Turns out snaps like that can tell us a lot about these matter-gobbling voids

Paul Kinsler

Re: gravity has a relatively short range

Note that gravity is 1/r^2 in the Newtonian limit ... so not short range in the sense a physicist would use (i.e. not a faster fall off such as e.g. a decaying exponential). It is *weak*, though.

Paul Kinsler

Re: Nothing propagates across the event horizon.

The statement "Nothing propagates across the event horizon" is not true; although it is true that for a distant observer nothing is seen to cross the event horizon, ... things just approach ever closer and become more and more red-shifted. But from the perspective of an in-falling object (photon, rock, whatever), crossing the event horizon is easy enough.

Perhaps it is more-or-less implicit from your description that you mean "propagate *outwards* across the event horizon", but I think it worth the clarification.

Paul Kinsler

Re: how fast does gravity propagate

Gravity propagates at what we call "the speed of light", which is really the fastest possible speed allowed by the spacetime metric (i.e. 1, in dimensionless units)

All such questions can of course be referred to the authoritative text "Gravitation", by Misner, Thorne, and Wheeler; but it's a bit of a tricky read for the layperson. Still, if you happen for some reason to be stuck at home with too much time on your hands ... :-) [1]

[1] Or should I say "stuck at home with too much spacetime on your hands"? [2]

[2] In practice, I suspect it will be "too much time, not enough space".

If you're looking for a textbook example of an IT hype cycle, let spin be your guide

Paul Kinsler

Re: Optical metamaterials are just rescaled RF antenna theory

Superficially you may have a point; but no-one in RF antenna theory ever bothered to use such ideas to implement specific concepts and applications as the metamaterials research community has.

Dolin, in 1961, proposed a scheme to implement a radial invisibility cloak; but somehow all the RF antenna theorists in the world never proposed a scheme to implement it. Veselago, in 1968, noted some weird properties for materials with simultaneous negative permittivity and permeability, but somehow the RF antenna community failed to explore the implications. And looking at the scale of the early split-ring resonator metamaterial elements from the 2000's, it is more than plausible that they could have, had they wanted to.

Instead, it took John Pendry and co-workers' rediscovery to get the ball rolling and actually start trying to get interesting things done, and devices (from the exotic to the less so) implemented using what we now call "metamaterial" ideas.

You might also, for example, note that all the "entanglement" language that quantum theory guys use is just a new badge pasted over the old "superposition" label. But the change of name came along with a mindset change where the effect was now considered an exploitable resource, rather than a passive property. That change in mindset, which is on the face of it even more ephemeral than the case for RF-to-metamaterials, is an absolutely key feature of modern thought in quantum mechanics.

Sometimes it's not the building on past work that counts, it's the complete reimagining of the potential for use that does. And sometimes it is the reimagining that counts, not the past work that is (now) easily replicated.

Quantum compute boffins called up to get national UK centre organised for some NISQy business

Paul Kinsler

Re: "The UK has long been a world leader in quantum computing science"

It's not so much some single great achievement, but an accumulated expertise and significant level and quality of research output.

Google product boss cuffed on suspicion of murder after his Microsoft manager wife goes missing, woman's body found, during Hawaii trip

Paul Kinsler

Verbal signals?

BBC4/ Word of Mouth/ "Real Talk"


Microsoft to bravely defend US democracy for a slack handful of voters in Fulton, Wisconsin

Paul Kinsler

Re: tracing back to YOU

Once the card is in a giant pile of largely unsorted pile of other cards, the tracing is hard. You know what Joe's number is, but finding his card is slow and time consuming. On the other hand, you can easily pull a card out of the pile, but then matching it up with a name is likewise hard.

It's not impossible. But then if someone is prepared to spend that much time and effort on you, which way you might (or might not) have voted is likely merely a fig-leaf for one of the many problems they will shortly be - or already are - visiting on you.

Billionaire pulls out of reality telly show that was supposed to find him a date to take aboard Musk's space loveboat

Paul Kinsler

there can be no Buck and Becky Rogers.

Well, of course not - it should rather be Buck Rogers and Wilma Deering

Boris celebrates taking back control of Brexit Britain's immigration – with unlimited immigration program

Paul Kinsler

Re: [experts] ... other places that they would rather be.

Broadly, experts will probably want to go where they can get employment/funding and/or support to pursue their interests. Making it easy to get into the UK is a minor issue in comparison.

World-record-breaking boffins reveal the fastest spinning thing on Earth – and it's not George Orwell in his grave

Paul Kinsler

Re: "fastest spinning thing on Earth"

Just as the comparison of this nanoparticle against a pulsar is a dubious one, given the different scales of the two objects; so is your comparison of the comparison against a Cl_2 molecule, albeit in the opposite direction (although admittedly not quite so extreme a difference). Further, a diatomic chlorine molecule, as reported on in your second link, is not something that would normally be considered a "made object" in the same sense as the dumbbell nanoparticle is.

It might also be worth noting that the title is "Ultrasensitive torque detection with an optically levitated nanorotor", rather than "New nanoparticle rotation speed record!", and that their interest seems mostly in being able to use it as a sensor.

More generally, if you have a problem with "scientific hyperbole", then it is only sensible to pay rather less attention to the press release, and news articles based on them. Unfortunately, since it usually seems that science *not* dressed up in hyperbole rarely makes it into the media, interesting results are routinely hyperbolised rather more than is perhaps desirable.

If you have any interest in the science, you need to read the scientific article. Since the published article is behind a paywall, it looks like there is a preprint version here:


I await with interest your informed commentary.

H0LiCOW: Cosmoboffins still have no idea why universe seems to be expanding more rapidly than expected

Paul Kinsler

The important thing the cosmologists have overlooked ...

I very much doubt it; they think about that sort of thing for a living.


Mind you, their misconceptions of how DevOps works are hilarious :-)

Smart speaker maker Sonos takes heat for deliberately bricking older kit with 'Trade Up' plan

Paul Kinsler

Re: nuanced

This gives an interesting survey:

"Climate change impacts: The growth of understanding"

In this peculiar history, the main actors are committees and no seminal papers or scientific giants emerge. Seat-of-the-pants guesses made in the 1960s proved to be roughly correct, and the details are still being fleshed out today.

Spencer Weart


And now for this evening's space weather report. We've got a hotspot of satellite-wrecking 'killer electrons' in the outer Van Allen belt...

Paul Kinsler

Re: the energy you put in begins increasing the target object's mass more than it's speed.

Just to be clear, this is one of those heavily simplified statements that is very much only "sort of true". It might be better to say that you keep increasing the momentum of the object, but that at relativistic velocities you don't get to increase the velocity by a comparable amount: p=mv only holds at v<<c.

The full E=mc^2 formula is, where m is the rest-mass,

E^2 = m^2 c^4 + p^2 c^2

You cannae break the laws of physics, cap'n... Boffins call BS on 'impossible' black hole, fear readings were botched

Paul Kinsler

Re: Honest mistake? That's the sort of thing the peer reviewers are there for!

Hmm, well, yes, to a degree.

But have you ever done any scientific peer reviewing? It is very demanding to do, and only rarely do any "obvious errors" stand out. Indeed, any putative errors sufficiently obvious to be *easily* picked up during a few hours of a peer reviewer's time would be more likely to have been spotted by the authors' during the months of actual manuscript writing. So what you mostly are left with is errors or misconceptions - if there are any - that are plausible enough to seem true, within the context established; and as a result they can be remarkably hard to spot.

IMO, in many ways scientific peer-review is more of a plausibility check, rather than a badge of guaranteed correctness. Any sort of aura of "guaranteed correctness" only follows after the work is repeated in various ways by various other researchers, who all get the same - or similar enough - answers. And naturally, any published paper that fails an expert reader's plausibility check by a sufficiently large amount will result in disputes like the one here.

Space Force is go, go, go! Because we have a child as President of the United States

Paul Kinsler

a monumentally stupid idea

On the effects of which, I read this recently...


Cipolla' s game: playing under the laws of human stupidity

Joel Kuperman, Donny R. Bárcenas, Marcelo N. Kupermana

In this work we present an evolutionary game inspired by the work of Carlo Cipolla entitled The basic laws of human stupidity. The game expands the classical scheme of two archetypical strategies, collaborators and defectors, by including two additional strategies. One of these strategies is associated to a stupid player that according to Cipolla is the most dangerous one as it undermines the global wealth of the population. By considering a spatial evolutionary game and imitation dynamics that go beyond the paradigm of a rational player we explore the impact of Cipolla' s ideas and analyze the extent of the damage that the stupid players inflict on the population

Scientists use machine-learning algorithms to map out 10 billion cells from human bodies in fight against cancer

Paul Kinsler

Re: Thanks, your ...

Well, I've listened to all those lectures, done some of the problems, and tried a few little projects. I found the process quite instructive, and while not any sort of expert, didn't think "glorified statistical analysis" really does the techniques justice. But you are, of course, welcome to disagree; clearly you're a great intellect who knows more about it.

Paul Kinsler

Re: All machine learning is glorified statistical analysis

If by "glorified" statistical analysis you mean "nonlinear, cascaded, iterated, and optimized" statistical analysis then you may perhaps not be entirely wrong:


Found on Mars: Alien insects... or whatever the hell this smudge is supposed to be, anyway

Paul Kinsler

Re: It's an insect...It fell off the rover

If it fell off a Rover, I guess it must be some sort of flea...

Paul Kinsler

Re: If this professor emeritus had spent the last 50 years studying mosses

As it happens, I agree: I've spent a few decades working in fields related to electromagnetism and optics, and I can conclusively say that these Mars photos indicate, nay *prove*, that there are photons on Mars. :-)

Questions hang over Gatwick Airport after low level drone near-miss report

Paul Kinsler

Does that ever result in confusion?

I imagine it's to avoid confusion: the units tell exactly you the meaning of the distance that you've just heard. E.g. if you hear "1 km", then you are not going to mistakenly think that's how high you are off the ground.

Beardy biologist's withering takedown of creationism fetches $564,500 at auction

Paul Kinsler

Re: Escherichia coli is just at the top of its own pinnacle as is man.

See also, assuming ones nose is not so large as to be in the way, fig. 2 of



I cannae do it, captain, I'm giving it all she's got, but she just cannae take another dose of bullsh!t

Paul Kinsler

Re: Anybody else got a clue?

I think it was missing at least a concluding paragraph; if not the entire second half of the article.

Chemists bitten by Python scripts: How different OSes produced different results during test number-crunching

Paul Kinsler

Re: The culprit turned out to be the random number generator.

I had a case once, where some stochastic simulations depended on their evolution on the square root of a field. Occasionally, during convergence checks, trajectories would diverge violently from each other, and sometimes therefore show up as suspicious differences in the averages or variances (particularly because during convergence checks I wasn't using large ensemble sizes).

Turned out that sometimes tiny differences between the integrations in the two cases put the next values on opposite sides of the square root's branch cut, meaning that the next random kicks went in opposite directions. That one took quite a while to track down, especially since it was both rare and intermittent.

Lies, damn lies, and KPIs: Let's not fix the formula until we have someone else to blame

Paul Kinsler

Re: Isn't the axiom that when a metric becomes a target it ceases to have any value?

I find that targeting the correct metric is absolutely vital when building wormholes and other Einstein-Rosen themed constructions. :-)

That lithium-ion battery in your phone or car? It has just won three chemists the Nobel Prize

Paul Kinsler

Re: Chemistry and Physics are still different sciences? T

There's plenty of research going on at the boundaries between the two, sometimes the chemistry starts turning into physics, and sometimes the physics into chemistry....

Hey, I wrote this neat little program for you guys called the IMAC User Notification Tool

Paul Kinsler

Re: What was Owen doing to the customers kit to make it Owened?

You'll have to wait til Friday, for the regular "Owen Call" column.

Watch out! Andromeda, the giant spiral galaxy colliding with our own Milky Way, has devoured several galaxies before

Paul Kinsler

Re: Simulations are never detailed enough

I too have had to hack the source code for the "galaxy" module to xlock, and increase the star count dramatically :-)

When the satellite network has literally gone glacial, it's vital you snow your enemy

Paul Kinsler

Re: Wind and rain...

Not IT or even UK related, but once upon I time I was out with a university club for what had been the worlds dullest, calmest possible day of sailing on any Brisbane reservoir known to man. Except later in the afternoon, a cloud appeared and the breeze picked up a bit. Hurrah! thought the more gung-ho sailors, who immediately commandeer all the boats they could and got back out on the water for a bit of speed over the water.

Well, I say "cloud", and there was indeed only the one of them.

Except it was not just any cloud, but a terrifyingly impressive cumulonumbus that had been marching eastwards from from the horizon, and so soon thereafter the storm driven horizontal driving rain kicked off, with an attendant lightshow. Apparently it was quite exciting out there on (and in) the water, until the sails, masts, and hulls left for pastures new. Pastures, as in no longer necessarily still anywhere near the actual reservoir, but visiting nearby livestock.

I'd taken shelter under a boat up on blocks by the lakeside - I was probably rather lucky it wasn't one of the ones blown over, else I might have undergone an inadvertent kinetic slimming programme.

Fortunately the club was insured, and I'm sure the claim laid out quite clearly how suddenly the storm had appeared. Out of nowhere, I imagine.

Paul Kinsler

Re: One of our antennas here is VERY attractive to the feathered gits,

Famously (well, famously if you're a physicist) the antenna that was used to discover the cosmic background radiation was inhabited by birds, who had added a quantity of an interesting "dielectric substance" to the interior. However, along with a variety of other maintenance actions, cleaning the unwanted dielectric off still didn't make the weird noise go away, and the rest is history....

This won't end well. Microsoft's AI boffins unleash a bot that can generate fake comments for news articles

Paul Kinsler

I thought this had been done and deployed ...


But I wonder if you could use it as a filter; i.e. test user-generated posts against outputs from the bot, and if the match is too good ask the user to improved their post ...

"Your proposed content is equivalent to something generated by a low-quality machine-learning network. Please improve your post and try again"


The mod firing squad: Stack Exchange embroiled in 'he said, she said, they said' row

Paul Kinsler

Re: The Académie française is not happy/ Are they ever ?

To be fair, "the Académie française is quite pleased with how 201X turned out" is not the sort of thing ever likely to be chosen as a high profile news story.



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