Numbers


While Violet Towne and I were out on our bikes yesterday, our conversation turned to philosophy and politics, as it sometimes does. Specifically, I was defending the Mars Lab/Curiosity program against her assertion that it was a waste of money when there were so many much more important issues on the political plate. Well, I agree that there are numerous pressing matters that need our attention (and money) but I was most vehement that there are a lot of other things that could lose a few pounds (metaphorically speaking) before we should start carving up great and inspiring science projects.

“For instance,” I said, “Do you realise that the 2012 Olympics cost more than twice as much as Curiosity? And that the US bank bailout was more than ten times the budget of the Mars Science Lab mission?”

I don’t think she believed me.

“Show me the numbers!” she said, defiantly.

Well, Acowlytes, you all know it’s best not to challenge the Reverend when he’s on his soapbox, even if you’re the Reverend’s wife.1 When we had pedalled homewards, I went straight to Captain Google, and plugged in my questions. You might understand, dear Cowpokes, my utter amazement when I found my figures were wrong. Wrong by an order of magnitude. But not in the direction VT had hoped. It’s FAR worse than I had even imagined. Here ya go. I made a graph:

As you can plainly see, the budget for the Curiosity/Science Lab project is not even one pixel high on this comparison scale.

So, in order to get some perspective on how much that little rover trundling around on the surface of Mars costs, let’s examine some of those figures and related issues. First of all, it’s obvious that the military budget for the US for one year (2012) and the amount of money spent on the bank bailout are each in a completely different league to the kind of expense put aside for Curiosity. It isn’t hard to see that even NASA’s entire budget for 2012 is hardly a blip on the radar for the government accountants when compared to sums like that. What’s even more gobsmacking is that each of these figures (that is, ONE SINGLE YEAR of US military spending, or the humoungous pile of money forked out to save the US economy from the destruction wrought by the excesses of greedy and morally reprehensible assholes) exceeds the budget of NASA’s entire 50 year existence.2 The yearly outlay for military air-conditioning alone exceeds NASA’s annual budget by 4 billion dollars.3

The London Olympics cost, in fact, nearly 6 times more than Curiosity – not merely double as I’d thought – and we’re only talking about the money spent to stage the games.4 It’s plain that large amounts are poured into the Olympics from elsewhere as well, including every participating nation’s competition expenses, and not insubstantial amounts from all the bids made by countries attempting to secure the Games every four years. That’s a frikkin’ ginormous pile of cash for a sporting event. Even if you amortize the London expense over 4 years, the yearly figure still exceeds that of the Mars Science Lab mission. Of course if we permit that, it should be fair to amortize Curiosity’s cost over the Mars Science Lab program’s lifetime (9 years), making the contrast even greater and returning an expense to the US taxpayers of $277m per year (or, less than a dollar per person per year). For 2012/13 the Australian government has budgeted over 10 times that figure for sport.5

To put that per-person/per-dollar/per-year expense into perspective, Americans6 spent 4 times the cost of the Curiosity mission at the cinema in 20107, and are spending something like $137 billion dollars a year on alcohol8 and somewhere in excess of 30 billion dollars a year on cigarettes. In 2011, the US government spent 313 billion dollars9 on ameliorating the problems caused by the abuse of all that alcohol & tobacco. And, while we’re on the subject of substance abuse, coming in at a staggering 30 billion dollars,10 America’s so-called ‘War on Drugs’ costs the nation over 10 times the budget of Curiosity (or, nearly twice the annual NASA budget) every year and that is widely argued to be a complete waste of money.11

I could, of course keep going with this – I haven’t touched on gambling, or government inefficiency, or tax breaks for religion or a half dozen other areas where large amounts of money seem to slush around without a proper degree of scrutiny. But what does all this mean, in the end?

For me, it’s simple. As humans we can, of course, choose to put our resources wherever we like. So far, I believe that choice has always leaned far too heavily towards the things at which animals are good – being the fittest, the strongest, the fastest. Or being the greediest, the most aggressive, the most dominant. It has not served us well. The result is that we have become powerful animals facing an existential crisis, and the traits that we carry as animals – the aggression, the greed, the power-mongering – are the exact opposite of what we need to get us out of this crisis. We are starting to encounter problems that we will not conquer by being fast, or strong or fit.12 Being better at animal things was once enough. Now it isn’t.

The things that humans alone are good at – the things that our brains enable us to do such as imagining the possibilities of the future, pondering the poetry of our existence, turning our curious gaze onto the mechanics of the very universe itself – occupy the very tiniest parts of the minds of most people (and therefore most governments). This ability that humans have to plan for the future by creating a mental vision of it is more-or-less nonexistant in all other animals.13 So what do we do to the people who are very good at this kind of inspirational far-thinking? We vilify and undervalue them. When they tell us ‘There is a big problem with the climate and we should do something about it!’ the powerful apes get up on their boxes and beat their chests, so that they might remain popular and powerful, and the greedy apes use all the cunning that their superior brain has given them to make arguments that everything is OK and we should all just kick back and consume, and the fit and fast apes run around entertaining everyone. If we cannot use the leverage that nature has given us to come to terms with the world-destroying problems we now face, we are truly doomed. We have squandered the one advantage that we have over other animals. Our difference will have enabled us to wipe ourselves out, rather than allowed us to achieve that future which we alone can imagine.

So what has all this to do with a little vehicle pottering around in the dust of a cold world some 225 million kilometers from our home? Well, in my opinion, projects like Curiosity help us turn our gaze outward – out of ourselves and away from our tiny little human preocupations. Indeed, I think that this curiosity to know stuff that has no direct consequence to our animal existence is a marker that says that we may, perhaps, have a chance after all.

There are, of course, many areas where we might have directed the 2.5 billion dollars that went to Curiosity. Violet Towne considered that it would have been better spent going towards helping solve the climate change problem, for example. Well, I agree that climate change research is an area that could really use that kind of money. And there are numerous pressing compassionate issues that are desperately in need of money also. I hope my argument has convinced you (and her), though, that stealing the funds from visionary human endeavours like the Mars Science Lab is entirely the wrong tactic if you want to help address these probems. I want to make it quite clear that I’m not advocating doing away with sport, or stopping everyone from imbibing reality-altering substances, or even saying that we could conveniently curtail all our military spending, but to me it seems that all these pursuits – these profoundly ‘ape-like’ pursuits – are where we should look first for money that could be better off spent elsewhere. I’m pretty sure they could spare a little of the quite exorbitant amounts of cash that are currently rained down on them.

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Violet Towne fears that I have portrayed her as a Luddite here, and as somewhat anti-science. I want to assure you that she is not, and that I respect her views, and her willingness to challenge me on my own, very much. You all know that it’s unlikely I would last long with a partner who didn’t have a vibrant and informed worldview. But I think I am right in saying that, like many people, she had formed an opinion – almost entirely concocted by irresponsible and ignorant media reporting, in my view – that NASA spends excessive amounts of money on things no-one really cares about. My intent with this post is simply to demonstrate that, in the grand scheme of things, NASA’s budget is relatively well spent. It seems to me that robbing Peter to pay Paul by redistributing NASA’s budget to areas of more pressing need is a kind of madness fanned by a perplexing and distressing anti-science sentiment creeping across the world.

  1. You’d’ve thought she would have figured this one out by now… []
  2. Here. Do the sums. []
  3. The Pentagon rejects this figure, which was calculated by Brigadier General Steven Anderson, a military logician for operations in Iraq. They have, however, not put forward an alternative anywhere I could find. I’m open to correction on this. []
  4. Arguably, some of that expense is recouped in benefits of one kind of another by the British taxpayers, but not the majority of it by any means. Equally as arguably, the Mars Science Lab program has benefits of one kind or another for the human race. []
  5. I had trouble finding out how much the US government spends on sport. It’s either a well kept secret, or they don’t care to support the same ridiculous level of sports fantaticism as ours does. []
  6. Canadians are also included in this figure, but even cutting it by, say, a generous third, that’s still a shitload of money. []
  7. I couldn’t find anything more recent, but I think it’s safe to say that 2011 & 2011 will track that figure. []
  8. 2002 figures, but I think we can probably assume that has trended upwards rather than down. []
  9. This is probably a conservative estimate – it’s hard to get an exact figure due to the nature of defining the field, but I’m quoting on the conservative side. Stats here and here. []
  10. Depending who you ask. It’s variously quoted at somewhere between 20 and 40 billion. It’s certainly not less than 20, but it may be more than 40. In any case, I’ve erred on the probable side of conservatism and just taken the median. []
  11. Here, here, and here, for just three examples of hundreds you can find. []
  12. Or religious. []
  13. To all intents and purposes it is completely non-existant as far as we know, but that’s an area of research that is still contentious. []

This diagram relates to this post (just in case you came here randomly).

One of the big topics in the skeptical community at the moment (like everywhere else I guess) is the climate change issue. It’s a subject that is as fraught with debate as that of Evolution vs Creationism, and indeed, has many of the hallmarks of that particular tussle. What makes it particularly volatile in this setting, though, is that many of the people who claim that there is no need to worry about global warming paint themselves as climate change skeptics, and take the position that they offer a rational approach to the debate. What they are in fact doing is voicing opinions that are in contradiction to MOST of the world’s knowledgeable climate scientists. Though they like to think of themselves as skeptics, this stubborn entrenchment in a belief system has earnt them, instead, the badge of climate change deniers.

I pretty much stay out of the climate change argument, just as I stay out of the Creationism debate. It’s not that I don’t have a strong view on global warming. I think the scientific evidence is conclusive that we have a looming disaster on our hands, and that it’s a disaster of our own making. Bothering to argue with the deniers though is the mental equivalent of jabbing a sharp pencil repeatedly into the back of your hand – a sensible person stops doing it pretty quickly.

The main problem is that, as with evolution, climate science deals with concepts that don’t come easily to the natural human way of thinking. With evolution it has to do with vast amounts of time (which we’re not good at comprehending) and the complexity of the vectors that come to bear on natural selection. With climate science, it’s all in the maths. I’m going to attempt in this post to show you why, even if you haven’t kept up with all the marginalia of the climate discussion, you should be afraid of what we’re doing to the planet.

At the outset I will state that my essay takes one idea as a given: that global warming is a human-instigated phenomenon. You should understand that a cornerstone of the denier’s ‘argument’ is that it isn’t, but I will stand behind the overwhelming scientific viewpoint on this matter.1

OK. We’re going to talk about math in this, but you don’t need to understand numbers. And I promise you, it won’t be dull. This is a very scary story. I’m going to divide it into three chapters.

Chapter 1: Boiling the Frog

There is an old fable – it’s probably apocryphal but for our purposes it doesn’t matter – that says that if you take a frog and put it in a bowl of water over a burner and slowly raise the heat, the frog, unable to feel the very slow rise in temperature will make no effort to leave the water and happily sit there until it is boiled to death. In other words, it either doesn’t realise there is a problem, or, by the time it does, it’s too late.

The story illustrates a psychological phenomenon called ‘creeping normalcy’ (or in science, the ‘shifting baseline’ problem). Put simply, it says that if you have changing reference points, you can only judge what is ‘normal’ by what you’re familiar with at any given time. In this way, familiarity changes the baseline of ‘normal’ to whatever you get used to, and if things change slowly enough, ‘normal’ can wander an awfully long way from ‘acceptable’.

The first step towards understanding why the climate issue is so deadly is to understand that humans think like this as a default. Our brains don’t work well on timescales in excess of a few years. Our horizons are small. I’m not the first to mention the Boiling Frog concept in relation to the climate change situation, so its appearance here is no big revelation. But you need to keep it in mind as we head off to chapters 2 & 3:

Chapter 2: The Big Clock

I recently saw a comment on an article in The Conversation from one John Dodds, a ‘retired engineer':

First a philosophical point: Climate Change is claimed to be complex. I claim it is NOT. It is simple physics – add more energy and the world warms up.

Mr Dodds’ opinion typifies the way in which most people believe that the planet’s climate system behaves – something like a Big Clock. A wheel here, a cog there, a spring yonder – all ticking away in a simple predictable manner that can be completely described if you do the right calculations. Most people think, therefore, that if we’ve caused some kind of problem with the climate, then all we need to do is to ‘oil the gears’ on the clock and everything will go back to the way it was. They believe that the problem is proportionate to the actions we take to correct it.

This is a massive and perilous failure of understanding. It’s a mechanical Newtonian notion of the way things work that is fine for pipes and balls and clocks, but breaks down catastrophically when applied to something like climate behaviour. To grasp why, we have to venture into the frightening, mind-bending and completely unintuitive world of complex systems.

clock

First, let’s consider the pendulum in our Big Clock. As physical systems go, this is about as unadorned as you can get. A swinging pendulum exhibits what is known as simple harmonic motion2 and it is a very reliable behaviour that allows us to build a clock that will behave predictably and dependably. A simple pendulum is mathematically very straightforward. Its properties can be described completely in terms of the length of the ‘rod’ of the pendulum, gravity, the mass of the ‘bob’ on the end of the pendulum and the angle of swing. If you know these things, you can predict exactly how this pendulum will behave. This uncomplicated mechanism works great for a clock, and it’s fairly tolerant of perturbations in the system: if you push the pendulum a little hard, it will dampen down to its normal swing pretty quickly. You need to be pretty violent to cause the clock to have problems big enough to effect its function.

This is the kind of path we could expect the bob on the simple pendulum in our clock to trace. Every time:

Unfortunately for us, the climate system isn’t driven by a simple pendulum.

Let’s consider a physical system only a tiny step away from our Big Clock’s single pendulum: the double pendulum. A double pendulum makes one small alteration to the simple pendulum model – instead of a simple bob at the end of the pendulum, you add another pendulum. This very unassuming variation has sudden and profound effects.

Here’s a computer simulation of the path traced by the tip of a double pendulum:

If that looks weird and science fictiony to you, let me assure you that double pendulums behave exactly like that in reality. There are dozens of YouTube videos that show them in action.

You can see how this one small change to our pendulum quickly throws a simple harmonic oscillation into a volatile and complex motion. The double pendulum system can be very easily described,3 but its ultimate behaviour cannot. Each time you set it swinging its bob will trace a completely different path in space because, crucially, a double pendulum is very sensitive to initial conditions. Unlike our clock’s pendulum, we can’t accidentally give it a bit too much of a shove and have it simply settle back into its predictable ol’ groove.

Imagine, now, that you have a pendulum with n arms, each with a bob with a mass that is a variable coefficient ofn, n points of articulation on each arm, and variable gravity. It doesn’t take much of a leap of imagination to understand how wildly such a device will behave. In fact (and this is where most people fall off the bike), for surprisingly small values of n, no amount of computing power in the universe can ever predict the path of motion it will describe!

Well, the Earth’s climate is exactly such a system.

Unfortunately one thing that tends to be a little confusing with this is that climate scientists often speak of ‘climate modelling’ and to many people this sounds again like they’re talking about some kind of Big Clock: you stick in all the variables into your computer and ‘ping’ – out comes the behaviour that the Big Clock will exhibit. If it were only that easy.

When you look up a weather report on your i-Device of choice, you’re seeing climate modelling at work. One thing I probably don’t have to tell you, is that you shouldn’t rely on the information more than a few days ahead. That’s the state of the art in climate modelling. We’re just not very good at predicting the behaviour of complex systems (like weather) even a few days in advance. Here’s the kicker: it’s not our fault! These systems are inherently unpredictable. Even if we had super-super-super computers, we couldn’t do it. Even if we had a computer that could take ALL the variables – and that’s a HUGE amount of variables – and then run the simulation in real time to see what it did, it would do us no good – we would get a different outcome every time we ran the program. Just like its very simple distant relative, the double pendulum, a complete detailed model of a complex system like the climate is critically dependent on initial conditions. (We actually do have such a computer – it’s called ‘Reality’. The only accurate simulation of what the climate will do is the climate itself).

So, when you hear scientists talk about modelling the climate, you should not understand that to mean they are trying different kinds of wood for the clock case, or a new type of oil to make the gears run smoother. They mean they are making their best educated guess at the Big Picture of what might happen if they picked enough of the right factors to plug into their equations. Just like you understand the weather man to be doing when he tells you that in a week’s time it looks like rain (are you starting to get nervous yet? No? Then you’re not following me).

So what’s the problem, right? We don’t know what the weather will do – why is that different from any other period in our history? Why are we suddenly worrying now? Well, one of the things that modelling can predict pretty confidently is trends. Just as we can say that a double pendulum pushed gently is unlikely to do the crazy loop-the-loops that we see in the same system dropped from a higher angle, models can tell us that when we change something in the climate system too much, we’re likely to see unpredictable behaviour. In recent times (the last few million years or so) the climate has been ticking along like a gently-pushed double pendulum; little flurries here, little irregularities there, but for the most part, predictable enough for life-forms to have evolved strategies to cope. Things do change, but they change slowly. The system keeps itself in check through millions of years of self-modification that has allowed it to reach a relatively stable, though delicately balanced, equilibrium. The evidence is clear, though, that over the last few hundred years (a VERY short period by geological standards) humans are swinging the pendulum’s arc wider and wider by the simple act of burning things. We’re taking carbon that has been for eons locked up in the biosphere and chucking it into the atmosphere where it has started to imprison the Earth’s heat. We can, therefore, state with a high degree of confidence (based on an enormous amount of accumulated data) that the planet is heating up monumentally faster than it ever has before, and that that heating-up is concomitant with the technological period of humans.4

But when climate modelling scientists make a ‘prediction’ that the temperatures will rise 3 or 4 degrees by the end of the century, you should not think of that as a jolly nice warming of the winter months, and the odd extra scorcher in July (or January, depending in which hemisphere you live). You should instead interpret it to mean ‘We figure the whole system is going to heat up, but how it delivers that heat, and to whom, depends on the swing of the double pendulum…’ What you should expect is periods when the weather seems just as it always has, interspersed with occasional outbursts of extreme behaviour. For a while this will seem normal, and you will be as happy as a frog in a warm pond. But this extreme behaviour itself will start to interfere with the system – it’s another phenomenon of mathematics which those in the know approach with respect: feedback. And that feedback will almost certainly affect the system in ways which we can’t even imagine.5

This coupling of complex behaviour and feedback is the thing which frightens the scientists, because it’s something with which the world of science has become very familiar in the last fifty or sixty years. We know that a complex system exhibiting instability and feedback can suddenly and capriciously become chaotic. That is, the system is likely to reach a point where even modelling is completely useless – it just goes completely berserk.

Trust me when I say that we really don’t want to see our climate system go chaotic. If we hit that point, it is likely that the great majority of the human race will suffer.6

Chapter 3: Jenga

clock

The kind of critical instability that I’ve just described is a lot like the game of Jenga. The Jenga tower will remain upright as long as the system is stable around its centre of gravity. If you lived on top of the Jenga tower, you would probably be aware of nothing at all as pieces are removed. Maybe the tower might wobble a bit, but, hey, things look pretty normal. Every removal of a Jenga tile is exactly the same kind of small effort, but each one of these small efforts moves the system closer and closer to critical instability. When the Jenga system reaches this point, the collapse into chaos happens rapidly and catastrophically, with little warning.

Well, that’s where we are right now. The tower is wobbling a bit, but everyone is saying ‘Hey, the tower has wobbled before and we were OK – what’s the problem? Worse, we continue to slide out the pieces, because that’s what we’ve been doing for years and it’s been just fine.

Unfortunately, this kind of situation is the very worst sort of thing to try to get resolved by a ‘popular vote’. When you combine the Boiling Frog situation with the Big Clock scenario and stir in a whole lot of poorly educated7 points of view, you just get lots of personal assessments of the problem – or debates about even whether or not there IS a problem – and a bucketload of total inaction. The grim truth is that it’s a state of affairs that seriously needs everyone on the planet to be in complete agreement, or we will, without doubt, plod our way into extinction.

The way it stands at the moment is that the vast majority of people are either uninterested or confused, a small minority is in denial and beset by superstition and petty agendas, and another small minority is informed but frightened, frustrated and powerless. I think that what we are seeing here are the ramifications of a massive failure as a species to improve ourselves by putting emphasis on the capacity to understand our world through observing it properly. That is, through science. It is of no use to put an appropriate course of action to a popular vote in this instance, because the holders of a popular vote aren’t equipped to understand what it is they’re voting on. And frankly, I think we’ve run out of time to get them up to speed. Added to that is the negative influence that whatever we need to do will, most likely, cause great inconvenience to a large number of people, and will include increased poverty, loss of jobs, deprivation of luxuries (and maybe even necessities for many) and a general willingness to just suck it up and take a beating. It doesn’t take much insight to see that we’re never going to get people to volunteer for that, unless they become very afraid indeed (by which time – I emphasize once more – it will be way too late).

If ever there was a time for the leaders of our nations to listen to the science, and act decisively and quickly for the good of human race, this is it.

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Image of the Earth courtesy NASA and the Visible Earth project.

  1. If the deniers are right on this and global warming is an inevitable natural process, then we’re in a handcart to hell anyway, and it doesn’t matter what we do. So we may as well make efforts to ameliorate the situation as not. An argument of financial imperative (‘it will ruin our economy’) is quite irrelevant because in a hundred years there won’t be an economy. []
  2. For small angles of swing. As the angular acceleration increases things become a little more complicated, but for our purposes we can assume true simple harmonic motion. []
  3. We still know the lengths of the rods, the mass of the bobs and the gravity coefficient. []
  4. We’re excluding events that happened in geological times of many hundreds of millions of years ago, where lots of weird climate events happened. They are not relevant to our argument because we weren’t involved. If we had been, we’d be dead, which is of course the issue at hand. []
  5. We don’t really have much of an idea of the way the climate system is held in such delicate check anyway – global atmospheric behaviour is without doubt one of the most complex systems we know. All we can say for certain is that that if it changes much, we are in trouble. []
  6. It should be understood here – because I often think that it’s not – that the planet is indifferent to this problem. You hear climate deniers putting forward ideas like ‘Well there have always been periods of global warming’ or that ‘Sea levels have changed many times though the Earth’s history’. Well, sure. But mostly, there were no, or few, humans around, and other creatures were affected by these events, often in the form of species-wide extinctions. The Earth was once a giant greenhouse, covered with plants. But WE could never have lived in it. The planet would probably survive quite extreme results of our global warming efforts – it’s just that we wouldn’t. []
  7. I say ‘poorly educated’ because I think that even the great majority of people who are literate do not have a good grasp on science, nor on rational ways of thinking. Any of you who have been reading TCA for a significant period of time will understand exactly what I mean here. []


How often have you noticed the numbers 11:11, 12:12, 10:10, 22:22, 12:34, 2:22, 3:33, 4:44 or 5:55 popping up all over the place? These number sequences are not necessarily only time prompts. They can also be number sequences, like 333, 1111 etc. To your mind, is this a coincidence, or are they too frequent to be random? Perhaps you are puzzled or amused by this phenomenon? Possibly even a little bit nervous?

The question everyone is asking is “What does 11:11 mean?” and “Is there a reason for this?”


That’s actually two questions, as it happens, and I have, in fact, asked each of them exactly NO times in my life in relation to any of the ideas advanced on 1111 Spirit Guardians, the website from which this information comes.

1111 Spirit Guardians is a spectacular outpouring of mindless claptrap, which sounds almost like it could have been put together by the same people who brought you Special One Drop Liquid.

The basic gist of the site is that celestial beings called Midwayers are communicating with humans by arranging numbers in such a way as to send ‘signals’ to chosen recipients via digital clocks. Apparently (according to the site) this is happening to a lot of people.

11:11 signals are driving me nuts!

This is a very typical comment from folks who reach this site.

I should think a more typical kind of comment is “Wow, what a load of gobbledygook”, or “Do you also sell Space Diamonds?”

So how is it that these strange supernatural entities have become fixated on the numbers 11.11?


O-k-a-y… So they asked the digital chip makers to reserve them a few numbers…? I guess that does demonstrate some forward thinking. It seems like a kind of a roundabout way of communicating though – why the rigmarole?


Hey – they started it! I would have simply suggested conversation in the first place. It’s extremely tedious trying to get your ideas across in clock language.

What do I have to do?

Acknowledge it out loud. Say – OK guys I hear you, tell me what you want. This speaking out loud is to get around the problem that Midwayers do not automatically have access to our thoughts.

Our clocks, yes, our thoughts, not so much.

What proof have you got?

Well it’s getting so that this is now pretty much proven, simply because by following our instructions, so many other people have found these guys, and talked with them.

Yeah, now see, that’s not actually proof. That’s just you telling us something that may or may not have any truth in it. Proof is independent of personal opinions. You might like to see if you can dig up any of that.

The 1111 Guardians site is, apparently, the handiwork of one George Barnard, a self-styled ‘psychic’ and writer. Barnard claims to be able to ‘channel’ the Midwayers and has transcribed a mind-boggling amount of material from them.

George has been dealing with these guys for over 60 years. He sees them, and talks to them. Mostly he sees with his spiritual eyes, but there have been cases of physical manifestation as well. You could not expect a psych (George) to believe in the voices in his head if they did not turn up physically, could you?

The last sentence seems somehow metaphysically tautological. I don’t think anyone would be surprised if George has, aside from seeing the Midwayers with his ‘spiritual’ eyes,1 talked to them, shaken hands with them or stayed up late playing poker with them.

What I find intensely (and fascinatingly) strange about people like George, is that they are somehow completely unable to understand the process whereby our brains naturally knit together unrelated incidents in an attempt to find some kind of cohesion for them. We all do this, but most of us realise that it’s just a curious ability that evolution has bestowed upon us – some vestige of our pattern-matching skills honed way back in our time on the veldt, that has now gone into idle mode and leaps to the fore when our brains aren’t productively engaged. Sure you notice the clock is on 11:11. It’s a pattern. As is 12:12 or 10:10 or 12:34 or a wide variety of other numerical combinations. Our brains like patterns. We notice patterns because they are pretty. If the number on the clock is 10:52 or 09:48 it doesn’t ‘stick’ as much and therefore goes completely unnoticed, like nearly every other set of numbers on a digital clock that denote the time.2 People like George are completely unable to see that this process is totally normal. It’s as if their world filters are somehow broken and they are obliged to find meaning in the vast drifts of meaningless trivia that the rest of us are able to tune out.

Sometimes I feel a little guilty making fun of people like George. It is quite probable that he has come to completely and profoundly believe his fantasy about Midwayers and meaningful communications via clocks. How is he different, for instance, from the millions upon millions who believe they have meaningful dialogue with a discarnate entity called ‘God’ who lives in a place called ‘Heaven’ and has an adversary called ‘Satan’? How is George’s communication with his Midwayers any different from praying to God, or taking Communion or giving Confession?

Yes, sometimes I feel a little guilty, but then I glance at my digital clock and see it flip over to 4:44. And then I realise that it’s the Midwayers telling me to make fun of him. And everything is alright again.

Some entertaining links from the 1111 Guardians Site:

A conversation between George Barnard and what appears to be a veritable cavalcade of Midwayers, in which we find out that parrots like to chat with the spirits.

A conversation with a Midwayer named Sharmon in which we see biblical links with this mythology (the Christian links are profuse throughout Mr Barnards’ channelling).

A conversation with a Midwayer named Mathew that sounds rather a lot like stuff I’ve read from the Unarius Society.

Some Midwayer humour (oh, my belly still aches from the laughing!)

  1. I idly find myself wondering if you need to wear ‘spiritual spectacles’ if you’re shortsighted? []
  2. Unless of course the numbers 1052 or 948 have particular meanings for you, in which case, you might remember them. []

Recently on Tetherd Cow Ahead we did a simple science experiment that allowed us to reveal a visual representation of the magnetic data on the stripe of a standard swipe card. You will remember that one of the magnetic cards I examined in that post was the dubious Shoo!TAG, which according to its inventors, is a miraculous device that repels fleas and ticks (and other ‘targeted’ pests!) from you or your pets by using ‘the power of the bio-energetic field which surrounds all living thing to create a frequency barrier’.

It turns out that some pretty smart people read the Science Experiment post, including commenters MomentumV and the inimitable Dewi Morgan. To my great surprise, both MomentumV and Dewi were actually able to look at my images and read the card’s encoded data directly off them – something I had never anticipated as possible – and make some great initial headway in decoding the mysterious power of the Shoo!TAG.

The results were cryptic at first. Surprisingly, all of us missed the significance of the letters A E L F, which appeared on the card, along with a string of numbers. I threw up an image of the second ‘Cat’ tag I had (this one supposed to ward off ticks) and Dewi came up with a clever little javascript to auto-decode ShooTags. A number of things then dropped swiftly into focus. We were looking at the data backwards. You can experience the discovery as it happened in the Comments on that post – it makes for a wonderful scientific ‘Aha!’ moment.

This is what Dewi found when he ran the data through his script (all the technical details of how it was achieved are explained in detail on Dewi’s journal):1

I’ve arranged the characters to correspond with their equivalent position on the cards. Note that the words ‘FLEA’ and ‘TICK’ are actually encoded as letters in the magnetic data.

In the interests of science I decided to expand our dataset, and to this end I acquired a pair of the ‘Dog’ ShooTags from a nearby pet supply shop.2 Dewi was kind enough to decode them also:

There is some numerical symmetry and repetition apparent here, and the obvious conclusion is that the various numbers simply signify ‘Dog’ or ‘Cat’ and ‘Flea’ or ‘Tick’.3 Melissa Rogers, one of the CEOs of ShooTag claims, however, that the tags are ‘encoded with earth friendly frequencies’ in the form of a ‘three dimensional or tri-vector signature imprinted onto the magnetic field of the card’ and the ShooTag FAQ says that ‘we are only using the energy field that is already emitted from an animal and adding a few frequencies that we know that specific insects do not like’. The implication is, therefore, that the data on the cards is some kind of numerical representation of these supposedly effective frequencies. I think you will agree with me that it beggars belief to think that anyone would base a serious 21st century product on this concept. It makes wearing a ShooTag the modern equivalent of the old superstitious practice of warding off evil spirits by carrying around a piece of paper with numbers written on it.

Whatever the characters signify, there is no known scientific mechanism that would explain how a few lines of magnetic data in a common encoding format, written to a card that is designed to be swiped through a checkout terminal, could have any effect at all on fleas, ticks, mosquitoes or any other insect.

[NOTE: I think there is still probably some kind of screwy logic to the numbers on the cards – if there’s anyone out there with some expertise in cryptography, or who feels like going on a treasure hunt, any extra information is welcomed. Places to start: Rife Frequencies, Quantum BioEnergetics and Quantum Energy Wellness (where you will see the term ‘tri-vector’ bandied about some more). Who knows whether any of these are relevant in the case of ShooTags, but it would be hugely satisfying to find out…]

  1. It’s probably the best description of how mag stripes work anywhere on the net – trust me, before Dewi came along, I looked! []
  2. Do you know how they work?’, the sales assistant asked. ‘No-one knows how they work. It’s bunk’, said I. She seemed nonplussed. []
  3. There are a number of ways the digits can be paired with the actual words in the code or with the animal on which the tag is supposed to be worn. []



Every now and then out of curiosity I check the server statistics for Tetherd Cow to see who visits, from where, and what they’re interested in. Mostly it’s boring. Occasionally it’s baffling. This is one of those times. I mean, veronica, rasputin and shoo tag scam, sure no problem. Famous mirrors, yup. Old ‘adds’ – I guess.

But fanny as the number one term? Really? Just go over to the side bar search button, Acowlytes, and do a search for fanny. You get one hit – this post. And yet the number one search term bringing people to Tetherd Cow Ahead this last month, with 71 requests, is fanny. What the crap is that about?

And as for girl sucks cow singsong





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