Explaining Custard Creams

At the end of Episode 2 of Season 11 of Doctor Who, the TARDIS rewards the Doctor with a cookie or rather a BISCUIT. Yes, this is somewhat condescending of the TARDIS but all things considered there are few beings who have more right to be condescending to the Doctor.

Viewing on my phone on a bumpy commuter train, I couldn’t quite make out what she ate but on a proper telly it was clearly a custard cream. For non-British viewers this may require a little elaboration. Firstly I didn’t want to write this without first aces retaining whether Custard Creams are a thing in Australia. Australia is sort of a parallel universe of English things due to patterns of colonialism and immigration and not everything carries across (e.g. you can’t get Shredded Wheat here and Weetabix is Weet-Bix).

So firstly here is an Australian Custard Cream:

Now, I haven’t eaten one in awhile but I think the canonical British version are more oblong. However, the other features are correct, including the swirly embossed pattern and a rhombus (again I think less square in the UK).

In construction (but not flavour) not unlike an Oreo. The biscuit has three parts, two quite firm biscuits which form a sandwich with a sweet icing in the centre. For a custard cream that centre is yellow and vanilla flavoured.

Here you can see the Custard Cream in-situ:

(Arnotts are the big biscuit company in Australia – almost monopolistic. They do a lot of classic ‘British’ biscuits but I can’t recommend their Ginger Nuts which are way too brittle rather than crunchy. Luckily you can get McVities chocolate digestives in Australia. )

As a food item they fit a pattern with occasional other Doctor Who food stuffs, specifically:

  • Jelly Babies (Tom Baker)
  • Fish Fingers and Custard (Matt Smith)

The common feature is mass produced, child friendly, nostalgic post-war foods that are sort of a treat but also a bit mundane. The fish fingers for the Matt Smith era also playing on the association of Doctor Who with ‘tea-time’ in the sense of an early-evening meal and al,so the original Saturday evening time slot for Doctor Who. The show was (and to some extent still is) intended to be a transitional program between parts of the BBC’s programming

So several things going on:

  • A call back to Matt Smith and custard,
  • British junk food nostalgia,
  • Tea-time reference,
  • The Doctor has a secret biscuit stash,
  • The TARDIS is the Doctor’s adopted mum.

Also, now I have a secret stash of Custard Creams at work!


Magic Gun Stopping Thing Part 2

Thanks for all the suggestions for my last post about anti-weapons systems in fiction. I think I can divide them into a few types based on suggestions and some extra brainstorming.

  • Personal force fields/shields. For example in Dune. Weapons still function but can’t damage the shielded person.
  • Personal direction disrupters. A magnetic field sends bullets around you. If you are Magneto you can just do this yourself.
  • Active defence systems. Rather like those anti-missile systems on ships, some kind of tiny laser that zaps incoming bullets. Alternatively a cloud of tiny drones protecting you.
  • Pro-active defence systems. Another computer guided thingamabob. This time it scans for weapons and then targets them with something to disable them (nice version) or set them off prematurely (not nice version).
  • Passive gun neutralising system. A field that causes guns to malfunction from a distance. How? Let’s wave our hands at magnets something.
  • Mandated gun neutralising system. This also works with power armour (a trick used in a recent Expanse novel). The weapons have a mandatory electronic kill switch/safety that allows them to be neutralised remotely by computer.
  • Premature explosion field. Some sort of field that causes explosives to become more unstable and explode before they are triggered. How? Maybe microwaves or something.
  • Explosive eaters. Modified bacteria or nanobots that just love to gobble up all those free calories in explosives. Quite how they’d get into those sealed containers I don’t know.

Review: Doctor Who – The Ghost Monument (no spoilers)

Episode 2 brings another story that makes no great effort to push story boundaries but makes good use of most of the cast to create a very likeable episode. I won’t recount the plot as it hasn’t aired on broadcast TV in Australia yet (ABC streams the episodes on Monday morning here, so I can watch Doctor Who on the morning train!)

The main problem with the episode is two under used actors. Yas (Mandip Gill) doesn’t get to do very much other than point out relevant plot events (e.g. locations of killer robots) and guest star Art Malik does very little other than slot into vaguely middle-eastern stereotype rich bad guy in a tent in a desert. That’s a shame because everybody else (including the other two guest stars) get some snappy dialogue and as much depth as can be managed in 40 minutes.

Ryan and Graham make for an interesting pair. It’s an unusual set up for a SF show – a relationship between two men that isn’t friendship, romantic, professional and not exactly family. Grace’s death last episode can reasonably be called a ‘fridging’ in that it is used as a plot device to hang the emotions of men on. However, there’s more going on here than just stereotyped man-pain.

Graham is still a bit annoying but much less so than the last episode and Ryan gets to have some fun moments. His dyspraxia is being represented mainly by him having a thing about ladders (bad news for Ryan as Doctor Who episodes tend to have a lot of ladders).

The science is pleasantly non-sensical as always and purists will be delighted by the amount of running down corridors there is this week.

Whittaker brings another great performance. There’s a few glimpses of the Doctor’s callousness early on but this primarily a more empathetic Doctor than Capaldi. There are similarities with Peter Davidson’s Doctor (another Doctor with a crowded TARDIS) as well as Matt Smith’s more manic energy. There are a few shout outs to past Doctor’s as well as some forward continuity which I won’t discuss yet.

Filmed in South Africa, the visuals are excellent. The mysterious alien planet has hints of a classic planet-that’s-actually-a-quarry-in-Kent but with panoramic views. Nobody says “I guess we’re not in Yorkshire anymore.”

I really enjoyed this. It felt fresh but also reminiscent of the Ecclestone Doctor, in that it feels unencumbered by the success that followed and episodes were less loaded with significance.

Oh, and we get to see the new opening titles which are nicely symmetrically swishy abstract. The revised version of the theme music has already been accepted by my brain as how the theme music usually sounds and by next episode I’ll have forgotten that its changed.

Next week Doctor Who gets embroiled in the US Civil Rights movement and meets Rosa Parks. I can imagine far too many ways in which that episode might go horribly wrong so lets hope for the best…

Magic Gun Stopping Thing

Malka Older’s Infomocracy makes a few mentions of a device called a “lumper”. The lumper is some kind of electromagnetic device that disables metal guns. The use of the lumper is part of the underlying technology that has helped change the world in various ways. Guns still exist but are plastic and there are multiple mentions of people using flame-throwers but at least initially, the lumper helped defuse world conflicts.

The exact principle behind the lumper isn’t explained for obvious reasons: there’s not any such technology on the horizon. I don’t think that is a flaw in the novel referencing a device as there isn’t really a way of discussing in detail technology that hasn’t been invented yet but it might impact some people’s suspension of disbelief. How a lumper distinguishes guns from other metal devices with moving parts isn’t mentioned either but I can imagine that a device that only affected small metal moving parts might not impact too many other things to be wholly useless.

It’s an interesting fantasy technology though. I can’t think of many examples of something similar (suggestions welcome). Only a couple came to mind:

  • In the fourth season of new-Doctor Who there is a double episode featuring a Sontaran plot to invade Earth using computer controlled car engines.* The Sontarans are opposed by UNIT (who have recruited ex-companion Martha Jones) who try and fight a pitched battle with them only to find that the Sontaran’s have disabled all their guns. In this case, they used some sort of hand-wavey field which caused all the bullets to swell (or gun barrels to shrink?) jamming all the guns.
  • A novel by Arthur C Clarke and Michael Kube-McDowell called “The Trigger” (which I only read once and was unimpressed with) has a device that emits a field of some kind that triggers any explosive remotely. The device can clear landmines by setting them off from a distance for example. The novel looks at the impact in the US as the device is used as a means of gun control (at least initially).

The common element here is a kind of semi-passive field (i.e. it doesn’t need to detect in advance a gun) that either causes the gun to discharge or renders it inoperable. I call it a fantasy not because it may be impossible but because it’s a way of solving a fraught political problem (gun control) by changing the space of the problem with technology.

I would imagine in most countries any such technology, if it was possible, would be highly regulated. However, the USA, where the technology would have a big impact, might teat a device as something that was itself covered by the 2nd amendment.

Any other examples or more plausible mechanisms for such a story device welcome! 🙂

*[There’s a genius/tech-guru in that episode who was just an annoying shit. He didn’t seem very plausible at the time (2008) but now feels like a Elon Musk parody.]

I’ve Found My New Favourite

I returned to Voxopedia to see if it had been transformed into a temple to Englebert Humperdinck and found something even better: some maths crackpottery! I love this kind of stuff because it requires so much more investment of time and brain power to come up with stuff. There’s not been a good example of it at Voxopedia since the Pi=4 guy stormed off.

Let me introduce you to Bibhorr, who appears on his own Voxopedia page in aviator sunglasses in a rockstar pose: https://infogalactic.com/info/Bibhorr Said person is the inventor of the “Bibhorr formula” which also gets its own page: https://infogalactic.com/info/Bibhorr_formula  [Archive version]

That page tells us that:

“Bibhorr Formula, universally known as King of equations, is a new mathematical equation invented by an Indian aerospace engineer. Bibhorr. The formula is a part of a set of three formulas first disclosed by Bibhorr in his research treatise. The formula that has evolved into a mathematical branch is considered as the foundation of ultra-modern science. It is an alternative to the traditional trigonometry, as it forms a relation between the all four elements of a right triangle.”

And the page then provides a breakdown of the terms in this formula. What it says (using conventional Western nomenclature) is that for a right angle triangle with sides of length a,b & c (where c is the hypotenuse and a & b are shorter sides) that the size of angle ∠A opposite to side a can be found using this formula:

Angle ∠A = 90 × [(c + a − b)^2 ] ÷ [a^2 + 1.5c × (c + a − b)]

You can ignore the 90 for the moment, what the rest of the expression forms is a fraction that use the lengths of the triangle to determine what proportion of a turn Angle A is. Swap out the 90 for pi/2 and you get the answer in radians. Plug in the lengths of an arbitary 45° right-angle triangle and the formula will spit out 45° because the main chunk of the formula comes to half. Which is neat. In fact you’ll get a decent match for any right angle triangle.

“Decent” but not correct. For example a 30°, 60°, 90° triangle does not give the correct values. This is a handy test case because the angles are simple fractions of 90 (1/3 and 2/3). Instead of a third, the formula gives a decimal approximation to a third that’s 0.001 and a bit out. Now that’s not bad for some purposes and it tells us what this formula actually is a species of: a trignometric approximation formula.

Trigonmetric approximation formulas are themselves fascinating and have been around for a long time. Obviously their importance has lessened as it has become easier to access accurate values for sine, cosine and tangent via printed tables and these days electronically. A particulalry notable one is Bhaskara’s sine approximation formula https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bhaskara_I%27s_sine_approximation_formula which is well over a thousand years old.

As a curiosity this formula is interesting. If it is genuinely novel, then that’s quite clever. However, it is only that: an interesting approximation formula which these days is actually more effort than using trig functions. Wayyyy back, the original scripting language for Macromedia Flash didn’t have trig functions and I remember having to look for trig approximation formulas back then.

So the crackpottery really derives from the associated claims about the formula i.e. that it REPLACES the trigonemetric functions rather than approximates them. The page goes onto claim that:

“Bibhorr formula also finds its application in the following areas:

  • Astrophysics: For finding inter galactic distances.
  • Aerodynamics: For finding various angles of attack of an aircraft.
  • Navigation: In finding real time locations of vehicles.
  • Geography: In calculating distances between far located geographical locations.
  • Robotics: In studying robotic arm movements.
  • Civil Engineering: In the study of various architectures.
  • Teleportation and Quantum Physics: In micro-level invisible particle patterns.”

The “King of Equations” had a short life on the actual Wikipedia where it was summarily deleted for obvious reasons https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Wikipedia:Articles_for_deletion/Bibhorr_formula

The question is what will the benighted souls at Voxopedia do?

Another look at crowdfunding data

In relation to the post on Vox Day’s comic being pulled from IndieGoGo and whether there were financial shenanigans, I thought I’d grab some data. Unfortunately, because the dodgy comic has shelved, the contribution data is no longer available at the IndieGoGo site. However, a different “Arkhaven” (aka Castalia House, aka Vox Day’s vanity press) comic still has a live campaign. This one is being run by Timothy’s number 1 client, Jon Del Arroz. https://www.indiegogo.com/projects/the-ember-war-graphic-novel#/

Contribution data is available by looking at the list of backers. Not all backers are named (which is fair enough) and not all backers reveal how much they contribute (also fair enough – not trying to invade anybody’s privacy). For those backers who don’t reveal how much they gave publically, the overall total can be inferred by subtracting the amount raised by people who do show their contribution from the complete amount raised. For convenience, I’ve shared that between all the backers who didn’t list an amount (of course, in reality, some may have given a lot less or a lot more).

NOTE: I’m using this just as an example of crowdfunding data. I’ll point out interesting or notable features but 1. I’m not saying they are evidence of anything dodgy and 2. to make any such claim would require looking at many other campaigns to get a sense of what was typical v unusual. Also, while many names are given publically at the site, no names should be referred to in the comments etc aside from the organiser.  Lastly I may have made errors 🙂


There were four donations that were set as “Private” and they occurred “24” and “23” days ago (the data on the site is given in that format – I’ve inferred dates). Together they amount to $70 or $17.50 each i.e. unremarkable*.

The graph looks like what I might expect. I guess some campaigns might be more S shaped with a slow start and then a steeper climb before tapering off. Yet, campaigns with a big burst of contributions in the first few days and then a slow increase after makes sense also. I would imagine campaigns that run a danger of just falling short of their target goal might show a big blip near the end as the campaign makes one last push. For comparison here is a graph I drew of a different style of campaign: https://camestrosfelapton.wordpress.com/2018/03/03/looking-at-some-crowdfunding-data/ (it looks smoother because I spread some of the day-by-day data out artificially).

The biggest contributions were from five people who gave $515 each. That’s a curious amount, particulalry as the tier reward is at $500 and there’s no other donation values around that size i.e. everybody who gave a lot of money gave exactly the same amount. How weird is that? I don’t know, hence my caveat above. That maybe something that happens a lot with crowdfunding campaigns or maybe it’s really weird. Drawing conclusions about what’s weid requires data from more campaigns but also models to compare data against. For example, there’s no tier reward between $150 and $500, so it is not actually surprising that there’s no contributions at around $200 or $300.

Even so, around the $150 tier there is a lot more variation. Like I said, I don’t have a theoretical distribution to compare this against but while there’s more kinds of values they are still oddly clumped to my eye:

  • 2 at $172
  • 3 at $170
  • 2 at $167
  • 1 at $165
  • 18 at $162 (?!?)
  • 6 at $160
  • 0 at $150

I’ve no idea why exactly $162 is so popular. Perhaps it is a round number contribution in some other currency (don’t know what though – doesn’t match Euros or Canadian $) It doesn’t seem to match a combination of tier rewards either.

This graph shows the frequency of each of the 23 different sizes of amounts that were contributed and how much money was raised by that category. Bars are numbers of people and green dots are totals amount of money. ($18 is actually $17.50 and that’s actually the “Private” amount and hence should be taken with a pinch of salt).


I’d have expected something a bit more Pareto like I guess.

So, no big conclusion just that there’s stuff to look at and with enough background data of similar campaigns it would be plausible to spot campaigns that were distinctly unusual.

*[Speaking of errors, in the first graph I drew I’d calculated these ‘Private’ amounts incorrectly by using the Goal of the campaign instead of the total raised. Luckily I spotted my error before making a fool of myself.]