A pair of cows

Image result for io and europa

On January 7th, 1610 Gallileo Galilei made his fateful observation of the moons of Jupiter, giving them the names Ganymede, Callisto, Io and Europa; collectively known as the Galilean Moons.  Previously observed by Copernicus, who did not flag the implications, it was Gallileo who pointed out that not everything was in orbit around the Earth.  The Roman Inquisition forced him to recant publicly but that’s a funny thing about science:  You may say it’s not true but…. it just is.

So who are the cows?

Io was a mortal lover who beguiled Zeus (the Greek equivalent of Jupiter) with her beauty.  The consort of Zeus, Hera, transformed Io into a pretty white heifer.  This did not disuade Zeus from his trysts with her.  But then Zeus loved animals… in all the wrong ways.  So Hera set a gadfly to sting Io and drive her out of Greece.  She crossed the bosphorus into Asia and made her way down to Egypt.  She had many children of Zeus and was an ancestor of Heracles.

Europa was a Phonecian princess who was whisked away by Zeus when he turned himself into a white bull and asked her to take a ride on his back.  He hopped over to Crete where they founded the Minoan dynasty, where Bull Worship was a central myth of the civilization.  In Greek Mythology Europa is a descendent of Io, and therefore of Zeus himself.

Callisto was also raped by Zeus and Hera transformed her into a bear.  Ganymede was a Trojan prince abducted by Zeus to be his cupbearer; so I’m guessing there was rape there too.  How many ancient civilizations were founded by stealing Cattle and Women?

 

Fountain of youth

OLAY

About 80% of the cosmetics industry is based on selling a version of the fountain of youth.

María Rosalía Rita de Castro, the Galician poet, was born on this day in 1837.  Writing in Galego, the Galician language, whe was one of the leading lights of the highly nostalgic Galician romantic movement.

The theme of the poem below is the need to dream of eternal life because the despair of inevitable age, death and the void are too stark to face.  We know we delude ourselves, but we are happy to do so.

The concept of a fountain of youth is very old.  Herododus, the father of history, wrote about it, and every time mankind has explored a new land we have hoped to find there some secret to eternal youth.  Eternal life is not something you want, without eternal youth.  Someone who made that mistake was poor Tithonus, the better looking brother of king Priam of Troy.  He was so good looking he attracted the attention of Eos, Goddess of dawn.  Eos begged Zeus to make Tithonus immortal and Zeus did so.  But the youth aged and then became and old feeble man.  Eventually Eos shut him away in his room, and there he made scratching sounds until Eos turned him into a cicada.

The cosmetics industry sells 2 basic concepts.  For brevity we can call them “Eternal Youth” and “Up for it”.  The latter is focused on the market for women who want to find partners.  When women are at the most fertile part of their monthly cycle, most likely to get pregnant, the body naturally displays this with visible cues for potential mates.  Lips plump up.  The skin clears up and glows.  Breasts become fuller.  Pupils of eyes expand.   All these cues are replicated by the cosmetics industry to make you look your best for your big night out.

This is not to say there are no cosmetics for men, but lets face it, the big money is in the female market.

So “Up for it” dominates the market for 20 something females.  “Eternal youth” dominates the market for females, and for males, as soon as you spot that first grey hair, that first wrinkle or crows foot, that first laugh line that no longer leaves the face when you cease to smile.  The big money in cosmetics is in “eternal youth”.  And when it comes to selling this proposition there is a whole lot of snake oil out there masquerading as science.  There is an entire industry out there known by the term of cosmeceuticals.  According to de Castro below we know the dreams are just dreams, but we are happy to fool ourselves.

Dicen que no hablan las plantas; de Rosalía de Castro

The plants don’t speak they say, nor springs, nor birds,
not the rumour mongering wave, nor the twinkling stars,
so they say, but it’s not true, for always as I pass
they mutter and call out:
There goes that mad dreamer
believing in a fountain of youth, a land eternal,
but soon, very soon, her hair will grey,
and she will tremble, stiffen, a frigid winter meadow.

-Here are grey hairs on my head, there are frost meadows,
but I continue dreaming, poor deluded sleepwalker,
the eternal spring of my life dries up
perennial rebirth of fields and souls,
ages or burns away.

Stars and springs and flowers, don’t mock my dreams,
not needing them, how can you appreciate what is is to live without them?

The Theory of Everything

science

I keep hearing a formula of words emanating from those who deny.

“It’s only one theory” they say.
Creationists who deny evolution state that evolution is only a theory.
Anti -climate change people hopped on the bandwagon and say that the measured rise in global temperatures being driven by human actions is “only a theory”.
Anti-vaxxeers followed suit dismissing decades of medical research as just another theory.

Well they are right; because that is how science works.
Science never proves a single thing.  Science holds up the current best case theory.
Other scientists come along and try to knock it down.  When one succeeds something else becomes the best case theory.

Science has no sacred cows.  All theories, and even lemmas and theorems, are open to attack.  If you can prove science is wrong the scientists will not wail and moan.
They will drop the disproven theory and move on.  There is no science career in flogging a dead horse.

But here is the thing; you have to come up with proof.

Our creationist friends, those who deny climate change and the anti-vaxxers love to quote science as a theory.  Ask them to disprove current scientific theory with actual studies and they avoid the question.  Truth is they don’t even know what the null hypothesis is.  Or rather their null hypothesis is “God wills it”.

So here is Religious Right Science 101.
If science provides data that undermines your position label it as “just another theory”.
Support your claim with multiple incidences of non-specific ‘anecdotal evidence’.
Carry enough of these to fill any TV or radio interview.
Then fall back on positions of faith.

-o0o-
Science; by Robert Kelly

Science explains nothing
but holds all together as
many things as it can count

science is a basket
not a religion he said
a cat as big as a cat

the moon the size of the moon
science is the same as poetry
only it uses the wrong words

The power of press: why Islam lost to the West

printed_quran

It is seldom that you can take an invention and say categorically that it is directly responsible for given outcomes.  But we can do this with Printing.  The invention of the moveable type printing press in Europe set the west on a fast track to development of thinking, education, technology, representative government, free market economies and a rights based legal system.  The rejection of printing by the Ottoman Empire had the effect of stagnating the Islamic world.

In the mid 15th century the Ottoman Empire was the dominant power in world politics.  A rising star.  In 1453 the Ottomans conquered Constantinople.  The centers of learning in the world were Arabic; Baghdad, Damascus, Granada, Cairo.  People living in the Islamic world had better health, education, cleanliness, rule of law etc than those in the west.  In England at this time, for instance, the Wars of the Roses began, plunging the country into decades of turmoil.

Several things then happened that changed the dynamics of East and West.

Firstly Gutenberg perfected the printing press.  This technological breakthrough was rapidly copied all over Europe.  With widespread availability of bibles there was a rise in literacy and scholarship.  With access to the text of the Bible came a focus on the differences between church Dogma and the word of the Gospels.  This led directly to the reformation of the church in the West and the rise of Humanism.

Questioning the authority of the Church set in motion a rise in free thinking.  If the Pope can be questioned then why not the King?  Across Europe we see the rise of the third estate.

The Reconquista was completed in Spain in the latter half of the 15th century, defeating the Emirate of Granada.  With the fall of Islam in Spain a great wealth of knowledge was unlocked from the Arabic libraries.  Scholars found ancient Greek texts on philosophy and science.  The philosophical works by authors such as Plato, Aristotle, Sophocles etc, pre-dated Christian writings.  They approached religious matters through reason rather than faith.  The rediscovery of these works plunged the Christian world into a crisis which was exacerbated by the new literacy and widespread availability of the bible.

At the same time the scholars unlocked scientific texts by the Greeks such as Archimedes and Pythagoras, and mathematical developments by Arabic scholars such as Mohammed ibn-Musa al-Khwarizmi as well as learnings from the Kerala school of mathematics in India.

In the 13th and 14th centuries access to these texts was highly restricted.  A university could proudly boast a library numbering books in the dozens.  Monasteries restricted access to their hand copied texts.

With the invention of printing these works became available to a far wider audience.  Europe experienced the Renaissance.

At the same time, in 1483 to be precise, Sultan Bayezid II instituted a ban on printing in the Arabic Language.

By the time this ban was lifted, and widespread printing was made available to the Arabic world, the West had left the Arabic world behind.  By the 19th Century the Ottoman Empire was “The sick man of Europe”.

Spain, Portugal, Holland, England and France ruled empires that spanned the globe.

The Arabic world continues to suffer from the after effects of this 300 year ban on printing.  In the West we need to be patient with developments in the Islamic nations.  Europe did not grasp the concept of democracy in a few short decades.  The grip of blind dogma on religion was not an overnight change.  It took centuries of scholarship to resolve.  It is amusing how many westerners expect the Arab Spring revolutions to deliver Western Style economies in a couple of years.

Class or Crass? : The science of semiotics

beth-leopard

When people look at your product what does it say to them?  Semiotics is the science of signs and sign meaning.

When I teach Semiotics to marketing students I usually draw a tree on the blackboard and ask them what it is.  Someone always says “it is a tree”.  I then invite them to come to the board and break off a leaf or a twig.  Then someone says “it is a drawing of a tree”.  I point out that it is actually just chalk on a blackboard.  But I encoded the image “tree” and it is correctly interpreted.  So it is in effect a sign.  It is a cheap version of Magritte’s pipe.

MagrittePipe

Everything about your product is a sign, the product itself, the package, the place where it is sold, the price, the bag it is placed into, the aftersales service, the person selling it and the performance that is given by the seller and the buyer.

Are you a discrete luxury brand, a popular family brand, an old-fashioned granny brand or a crass and vulgar display?  Do you know?  Are you a designer brand in New York and a grunge brand in Tokyo?  Can you reconcile your image in the digital world where all information settles in the end to a single image?

Ignore semiotics at your peril – know the code.

Every product group has a “code” and it is vital you know what it is for your category.  Do plain biscuits sell in red or blue packs?  Does a red bag mean “natural chips” or “Cheese & Onion flavour”?  What colour is the strongest detergent?  If you are selling beer what does “Lite” mean, is it a light flavour, a light colour, low calorie, low alcohol?

Codes vary by market, country and region.  So you can’t just take your blue bag of cheese & onion flavour crisps from the UK and put them on a shelf in Ireland, because everyone thinks they are salt & vinegar flavour.  First know the code.  Break it if you choose, and are aware of the risk, but don’t break codes from ignorance.

Look at your product

The very first step for a new product manager should be to lay the product out beside the competition.  Take a really hard look at it.  What makes your product different to the others.  Are you higher or lower quality?  Really look at the detail.  What % cocoa is your chocolate?  Does it melt at lower temperatures?  Does your Pizza have more ingredients?  Is your beer fizzier?  Does your holiday insurance cover scuba lessons?

Go through all five senses.  How does it taste?  And yes, you too Mr Banker, lick your return envelope!

How does it look?  On the shelf, on the counter, in the bag, out of the box, in use.

What does it sound like?  Does your watch tick, does your car purr or hum?  Does your packaging rattle or crackle?  Shake the box and what do you hear?

How does it smell?  Before you open it, before you use it (eg tobacco), during use, after using it (eg perfume/aftershave), the next morning, on your breath etc.

How does it feel? – in the fingers, on the skin, in your mouth, wherever you are supposed to put it.

Look at your package.

Do you fill the box or leave large gaps?  What is your packaging code?  Do you show or hide the product?  Is the packaging clean, like an iPhone box or is it busy like a Cereal box?  Does it come with instructions, guarantees, certificates?  Is it disposable or something you would keep?  What is core to the product and what is an extension?

Think 4 P’s

You have looked at the product, now think about what your Price says, and the Place where it is sold and how you are Promoting your product.

Think 7 P’s

For services think about the delivery Process, the People who deliver and the Physical Evidence, the delivery van, the uniform, the tablecloths in your restaurant, the security measures in your bank, the weight of your wheelie bin!

Think Ritual

Nothing binds customers like a good ritual.  What is the ritual for the consumption of your product?  If there is none can you create one?  If there is one can you own it?

If you are interested in learning more about the fascinating world of Semiotics then here is a good starting point:  http://dominicpetrillo.com/ed/Semiotics_for_Beginners.pdf

When Health & Safety goes mad!

health-and-safety-logo

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My eldest son was describing his school science class to me.  He told me how frustrated his science teacher is, because Health & Safety guidelines have resulted in the removal of many substances from the school.  Teachers cannot demonstrate many of the bread and butter experiments any more because they are too dangerous.  Bunsen Burners are being removed and replaced with hot plates.  Sodium and Potassium have been taken off the experiments list – way too dangerous.  And forget phosphorous.

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For many years in Ireland the study of science was in decline.  The government of Ireland made science education a priority.  We want kids to study science.  We want them to experiment and to have fun and to get excited about the subject. At the same time the Health & Safety gremlins want to make sure that our kids are not boiled in acid, blinded by explosions, scorched by naked gas flames, gassed by toxic fumes or knocked out with chloroform. The problem here is that the H&S gremlins always win the argument.  There is no reasoned debate.  If you ask “how many kids were actually harmed in school experiments in the last 12 months” they will not answer.  They work on the basis of risk assessment, not risk fact, or risk history, or reported incidents. This is a problem for the teaching of science in schools,and in universities.

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Science involves pushing the boundaries of what is now possible.  Science is about doing risky things.  If we let H&S take over the world then we can say bye bye to any new breakthrough discoveries. The minute I start to talk like this the H&S gremlins roll out their big guns.

Insurance.  If you don’t listen to the gremlins, they warn that the Insurance costs will skyrocket.  Even worse, they warn, we will be open to claims of liability.

The very fact that H&S have raised a risk means that we automatically become liable to that risk in a way we never were before. Just imagine, little Johnny is in class carrying out a titration experiment.  The teacher warns the class not to boil the alcohol.  Johnny thinks this is funny and turns up the heat.  The alcohol boils and ignites.  There is a relatively harmless flash which removes Johnnies eyebrows, much to the amusement of the class.

Mommy is not laughing.  He was scheduled for a set of head-shots for a modelling job. She sues the school.  Her bottom feeding pond sucking scum lawyer knows exactly what to look for.  He unearths the minutes of a school meeting where the Health and Safety officer expressed concern that bunsen burners in the hands of children were a danger.  The school did not remove them.  QED, the school is at fault.  Case closed.  Now, if H&S had never reported the risk, the liability of the school would have been lessened.

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My own take on all this is simple.  I want my kids to learn science properly.  I want them to engage in experimentation.  I am prepared to sign a liability waiver as a condition of my child taking part in potentially dangerous experiments.  If little Johnnies Mommy is not prepared to sign the waiver I am quite happy to see little Johnny study something less dangerous instead.

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Art?  No, chisels are too dangerous. Technical drawing?  No, compasses are pointy. Music?  No, drumsticks, violin bows, breaking strings, risk of deafness from Cymbal crashing. Home economics?  Sewing needles, knives, scissors, hot cooking plates, no way. Religion.  That should be OK.  Nobody dies because of religion.  Do they? Problem is, how is Mommy going to protect little Johnny from himself, and from getting his heart broken by a girl, and from his personal failures, and his nasty boss, and from the random vagaries of the world?

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Chemistry Experiment; by Bart Edelman

We listened intently to the professor,

Followed each one of her instructions,

Read through the textbook twice,

Wore lab coats and safety goggles,

Mixed the perfect chemical combinations

In the proper amount and order.

We thought we were a complete success.

And then the flash of light,

The loud, perplexing explosion,

The black rope of smoke,

Rising freely above our singed hair.

Someone in another lab down the hallway

Phoned the local fire department

Which arrived lickety-split

With the hazardous waste crew,

And they assessed the accident,

Deciding we were out of danger.

It was the talk of the campus,

For many weeks afterwords.

We, However, became so disillusioned

That we immediately dropped the course

And slowly retreated from each other.

The very idea we could have done

More damage than we actually did–

Blown ourselves up and the building

From the base of its foundation–

Shook us, like nothing had before.

And even now, years later,

When anyone still asks about you,

I get this sick feeling in my stomach

And wonder what really happened

To all the elementary matter.