Thursday, 24 July 2008
Monday, 23 June 2008
As the rest of the world seems to be excited about some kicky-ball competition, I thought we could jump on the bandwagon as well. There has to be some odd science going on here...
And indeed (handily) there is. It has come to light that the German team have been side-stepping the tight anti-doping rules for the tournament by using homeopathy. This story pleases me very much. The concept of Homeopathy is rather amusing even at the best of times, and the logic of "this stuff is so ludicrously ineffective they don't even bother banning it, so let's give it a go!", is the placebo effect working at its magnificent best.
In fairness, in the highly psychological environment of sports medicine, where giving a player a mental "edge" is all-important, the sphere of quackery is probably a very good one to use, but it's still amusing none the less.
Tuesday, 10 June 2008
Monday, 9 June 2008
The Sun's Kelly Eagle (I kid you not) gives the story only a brief overview, but over in the America, the more respectable USA Today (another completely fact driven news source) goes in to a little more detail, including how the current beak (shown here in a picture nabbed off of Boing Boing) isn't quite right:
"The new beak is only a temporary fix, designed to nail down precise measurements.You can see how the beak has broken in the image, exposing the metal underneath the yellow plastic.
A final beak made of tougher material will be created and attached later, though her saviors don't plan to release her back into the wild. They say that she has spent too much time with humans that the final beak will still not be strong enough to tear flesh from prey."
[via Boing Boing]
Thursday, 29 May 2008
Imagine if you couldn't even tell if you were eyeing up the right species by looking at them. This it the problem rainforest lemurs have - their love lives are a whole other level of difficult.
Tuesday, 20 May 2008
Thirty-three is indeed a significant and mysterious number. Jesus was thirty-three when he was crucified; the first temple of Solomon stood for thirty-three years before being pillaged. Every single scientist/satanist involved with the LHC is, has been, or will eventually be thirty-three. The seemingly innocent 'Clickety Click' of the bingo caller, if halved, gives us thirty-three and, alarmingly, echoes the sound of an electrical switch being operated - perhaps the 'on' switch of LHC itself? There are thirty-three symbols of the Masonic Order, one of which shows a double-headed eagle crowned with an equilateral triangle, inside of which is the number thirty-three. Prior to merging, one of the original particle detector experiments was known as EAGLE. There are currently six detector experiments in place. The country code for the CERN press office is four and one; four minus one leaves 3. Add the country code and first two digits of the number, two and two, and we get nine - three times three!
There's more, but I must run, I have a Lodge meeting at three...
Friday, 16 May 2008
Included is his denial of the moon landings, a complete misunderstanding of the term "strange matter (Satan would be pretty strange, seems to be his entire argument), the assertion that it is impossible to change direction in space, and an insinuation that all scientists involved are Freemasons. Masterful, truly masterful.
Now, once you've finished listening to it, go back and listen to the Chris Morris interview (2 posts down), so as to rinse your brain out.
Wednesday, 14 May 2008
What amuses me the most about the article is not the sentiment about aliens life forms being possible, and not contradictory to the bible, which is near-enough sensible. Except when your reasoning is that (and I found this quote in another comment on the original article)...
"Ruling out the existence of aliens would be like "putting limits" on God's creative freedom, he said."
No, it's not that that amuses me most, it's the original article title from the Vatican Magazine, the immensely improbable "Aliens are my Brother". Because...
"Just as we consider earthly creatures as 'a brother,' and 'sister,' why should we not talk about an 'extraterrestrial brother'? It would still be part of creation."
It would be the most majestic silliness, if only it wasn't dead-serious. I'm also looking forward to the Vatican's "Darwin Conference" next year, that should be even more entertaining...
Monday, 12 May 2008
Thursday, 1 May 2008
The Null, obviously, is pick of the science category (listed under geekery) but other highlights include the Green Wombat blog (green) and weirdthings.org.uk (oddities).
Monday, 28 April 2008
The Story of the Rebels Who Caused a Revolution in the Land of Body - by Nomi Burnstock
A busy bee called ATP
Whose wings were full of energy,
Who worked and built inside a cell
Emerged to see what he could tell
To each and every other cell.
To run, to fly with friends and foes
To keep the body on its toes,
To tell of dangers, urgent needs,
Inspire each organ to heroic deeds.
Nora Drenalin, his female mate,
Flew around with him in a constant state.
Acetyl Colin was a frequent threat
And put them in a constant sweat.
And VIP came soon to see
Joined quickly then by 5-HT
Not far behind flew Substance P
And then came Nitric Oxide too
Too see what mischief he could do.
Adenosine, that flighty bird,
Although she'd lost her phosphate,
Insisted she was coming too
And off with all the rest she flew……
They hurried here, they scurried there
These rebels reached most everywhere
They flew to visit Heart and Lung
The vessels proved to be quite fun
Then Stomach, Gut and Bladder too
Could hardly wait to join the queue
But patiently they had to wait
For Uterus and Sperm, these friends
Together with Vas Deferens
Claimed first attention from these defectors
Providing them with fine receptors.
Now Brain looked on from up on high
And gave a long protracted sigh
‘I am the master of the land
Bring me the chief of this rebel band
When he has dined, and wined, reclined
I'll give him a piece of my mind.'
So ATP flew up to see
What Brain had got in mind.
‘Leave this to me young 5-HT
With Nitric Oxide and Substance P
Even good old VIP
You can stay behind.'
He took with him to make amends
Nora Drenalin and Acetyl Colin, his old time friends.
But sickness came to the land of Body
Even Brain began to lose his nerve.
Bladder lost his continence
And couldn't find it anywhere
Gut constricted. Gripe persisted
Pain objected loud and clear.
All the bloody vessels
Chose to tighten and complain
Causing high blood pressure
To say nothing of the pain
Of angina and migraine.
‘Listen to me' said ATP,
‘If you Brain have not become too addled.
Acetyl Colin and Nora Drenalin
Can no longer cope alone,
They need help and co-operation.
I'll call my merry band in on the phone.
We'll all work together
To keep this body well.
And if by chance we don't succeed
A drug company you can tell.'
They formed a club called Autonomic
Welcomed Brain as a friendly guest
Set out their plan to work together
A healthy Body their unified quest.
Then Roche came to help and Servier too
Helped establish the messenger system anew.
In health and disease
As you will see,
Adenosine and ATP,
With NO and 5-HT,
Worked in close collaboration
With Substance P and VIP.
Faithful Acetyl Colin and Nora D too
Rejoiced with the organs throughout Bodyland
For finding such a merry band.
ATP, that busy bee was pleased and happy as could be
For he'd completed well his mission:
Admitting Dale's principle and Burnstock's too
To the minefield of neurotransmission.
Saturday, 26 April 2008
Monday, 21 April 2008
But spare a thought for all the other not-quite-so-glamorous vultures out there. Not only do they have nowt to look forward to bar the odd pound of decomposing flesh, they have to put up with getting slagged off in the press by biologists.
Quoting Texas bird man Ian Tizard at the Schubot Exotic Bird Center, "Unquestionably, they're as ugly as sin."
The scavengers have been getting a hard time for killing calves (which, let's face it, are way cuter) and authorities from various American states have recently granted permission to shoot them, despite their protected status.
And as if to add insult to injury (or, more likely, death), Tizard said of their bare necks, "You don't want your neck all matted with blood if you're sticking your head into a carcass. The bare skins are an adaptation, but it sure makes for an ugly bird."
Monday, 14 April 2008
Unfortunately the venerable Endnote doesn't really work the way that many of us do. It isn't particularly geared up for browsing, and why should it be? it was invented in the dark ages before the intertubes was one of the most useful tools that the researcher had for reading research, back when people (*gasp!) actually read paper journals!
What about you? If you are an active researcher (pre- or post-doc), a student, or even just a hyper geek who reads scholarly works for shits and giggles, how do you go about managing your articles?
Wednesday, 9 April 2008
Swag in hand, I can avoid purchasing clothing and office supplies for another year.
ACS Journals’ swag was sweet – a Nestle® 100 Grand® bar labeled “Organic Letters: 10 years and over 100,000 citations” to celebrate Organic Letters’ milestone. In a FSS full of mini candies, this full-sized bar was gobbled up by conference attendees. Showing off this chocolate treat is Sean Abell, ACS Assistant Director of Product Marketing. Mr. Abell also handed-out a color changing light-up pen, courtesy of ACS’ weekly magazine Chemical & Engineering News (C&EN). Pens were the giveaway at this FSS, but all paled in comparison to C&EN’s. This pen also goes quite nicely with my new lab coat.
Tuesday, 8 April 2008
Top swag at this FSS goes to Nature Publishing Group (NPG). For signing up for email alerts, attendees get an embroidered lab coat. Modeling this fantastic bit of swag is Dr. Stuart Cantrill, Chief Editor of Nature Chemistry and co-author of the blog The Sceptical Chymist . In Dr. Cantrill’s hands is another piece of fantastic swag – NPG Post-its®. These sticky notes are conveniently bound into little booklets, fitting perfectly into my new lab coat’s pocket.
Details on lab coat accessories (more free swag) to follow...
Monday, 7 April 2008
The city’s motto is “Laissez Les Bon Temps Roulez” (Let the Good Times Roll). Conference organizers and attendees have adopted it as their own. Yesterday, the Younger Chemists Committee kicked off the conference with a session titled “The Chemistry of Alcohol”. The chemistry of beer and brewing came first, followed by an explanation of why good beer goes bad, how the pre-Columbians brewed, and the science of wine production. Let me tell you, the room was packed and the questions were non-stop. I guarantee no other talks during this conference will be so well attended and participated in.
Several ACS Divisions’ poster sessions ran from 7-9PM, including my own. An excellent jazz quartet provided music, giving the session a party atmosphere. I talked with several chemists, food and the Quarter being popular topics. We talked about research, too! Fascinating research involving bioluminescent spiders, life-saving alligators, and the facts on artificial sweeteners. Keep your eye on Null for details and tune in to this blog for more on the ACS Spring Meeting.
Not only are the Germans impossibly well organised and capable of making legendary cakes, they have some sound environmental policies, the like of which would undoubtedly cause havoc if they were to be introduced over here.
In Germany (or at least in Stuttgart, where I was in March), your car is assigned a grade depending on how polluting/energy inefficient it is and branded with a sticker to remind you of it. Idiots who drive gas guzzling four-by-fours are prevented from driving in city centres, and if they catch you at it, oh, you'll pay.
In Germany , if you go into a supermarket, nobody offers you a plastic bag. Everyone takes their own re-usable cloth bag - this probably comes of being so incredibly organised.
In Germany, they don't have bins, they have compartmentalised units with clearly marked spaces for paper, cans and then all other items. At home, Germans sort their waste neatly into separate recycling bags, which are handed out at the supermarkets.
Nobody bats an eyelid about any of this, it seems. Yet when other nations start following suit, it makes headlines.
I have noticed, however, that the staff in Sainsbury's have started asking if I'd like a plastic bag, rather than waiting for me to complain that I didn't ask for one. But that might be because they know me by now...
Anyway, I propose we start a revolution. Everyone: replace your placcy bags with a couple of cloth ones, grab a permanent marker and scrawl "Plastic bags suck, vive le revolution" all over them. Stick two fingers up to dozey check out staff and their establishments (although don't actually, because we might get in trouble).
Thanks to a concerted effort or boycotting and protest by many high profile academics, Reed-Elsevier promised to sell off the gun, bomb and death promoting aspect of its business by the end of 2007, and we all cheered.
Alas, hidden away in the business pages of the Times (yawn, I know), is this little nugget of information that they have failed to do this. Disappointing.
One to watch to see if they get round to it...
Sunday, 30 March 2008
Friday, 28 March 2008
Wednesday, 26 March 2008
The running water covering the road on an otherwise dry day can be explained by physical geography — or perhaps the agricultural science of overflowing drainage ditches.
As my biological self contracted muscles and stomped on the brake, fluid mechanics came into play, and my little Mini Cooper started aquaplaning. I believe some other muscles may have tightened up around that point, too.
My faith in engineering science was dented by the failure of the ABS to do anything useful. It was restored a second or so later, though, as Mini met Skoda and the same kind of micro electro-mechanical accelerometer that senses you waving your Wiimote around told one of the car's on-board computers that we were all in trouble.
Thinking faster than the useless bag of biology occupying the front seat, the computer took a millisecond to assess the situation, then decided to play with its chemistry set, firing the explosives in the seat-belt pre-tensioners, and setting off both airbags.
This heralded the arrival of acoustics, specifically acoustic shock. Three days on, I still have a ringing in my left ear where some frequency response used to be. If you want to know how loud it is in car when it's busy remodelling its interior into a bouncy castle, take a look at this YouTube video of an airbag detonating. Now imagine sharing an enclosed space with two of the things.
And — like any good chemistry experiment — airbags stink.
Psychology would shed light on how we've managed to suppress our fight-or-flight reaction since we've moved out of caves and into cities. In particular, it would explain how we can stumble out of a violent, life-threatening encounter with another human being and politely ask them if they're okay while our adrenal glands carry on dumping Ug-hit-enemy-with-rock hormones into our bloodstream.
Luckily, both I and my co-crashee escaped injury, so it was back to classical mechanics as we shoved our vehicles out of the single-track road before anyone else joined our impromptu science fair. Phonology tagged the nice man who came to see what all the noise was about as a Welsh local, and his offering his driveway as temporary parking confirmed it.
After a little time to calm down and exchange details, it was all physics and electronics as we phoned friends and breakdown services, and I cursed low-earth-orbit satellites and the applied mathematics of in-car navigation systems. If my sat-nav hadn't mentioned that there was a more interesting way to get back to Bristol than staying on the A48, then my Sunday afternoon would have involved significantly less scientific interest.
And now we're left with economics clashing with the forensic psychology of eyewitness recall, as our insurance companies each try to figure out how to get the best result from their zero-sum game.
I just hope they manage to come to some agreement before we all get the chance to study the Big Crunch…
Car image courtesy of Steve Ford Elliot.
"It's a great honour. First and foremost I'm looking forward to meeting one of the greats of European and world football," said the Fulham forward.
"For him to take the time out to come to Belfast to present the award is a great honour.
"I'm looking forward to meeting the great man.
"It's a great honour to hold the record."
"The hat-trick against Spain was the highlight. To score one against Spain was good but to score a hat-trick was great.
Has David Healey has been hanging out with Tony the Tiger again?
“When life hands you lemons, make lemonade.”
Ever tasted sour lemonade?
"A bird in the hand is worth 2 in the bush."
Not if you're a bird.
"Absence makes the heart grow fonder."
Of the mistress!
"Today is the first day of the rest of your life!"
Till its the last.
"Every Rose has its thorn."
Roses wilt - thorns hang around.
"If you can't beat them, join them."
If they will let you.
More to follow....
Tuesday, 25 March 2008
This particular one is the skull from an extinct early-human species, Paranthropus boisei, and I think looks particularly cool.
Having said that, I bet it really hurts. Maybe I'll leave off getting one myself for a bit.
Saturday, 22 March 2008
Friday, 21 March 2008
Having recently set fire to my research group's lab (it was a trifling incident really) I now find myself in a position to be able to apply for the role you advertised this week. I would very much like to be Editor of New Scientist magazine and hope you will consider my application.
The job specification calls for someone with:
- A degree in science - CHECK! And a PhD in toad sex.
- A good track record in journalism - CHECK! All my Wikipedia entries have been accepted so far.
- Management experience - CHECK! I'm really good at telling people what to do.
- A deep understanding of science - CHECK! Especially toad sex.
P.S. It doesn't say anywhere when I should expect my first pay cheque. Will it be long? It's just that they're getting a bit funny about this electron microscope that got damaged in the fire...
Sunday, 24 February 2008
I particularly love his dry commentary, with understated gems such as "it hurt", and "I'm starting to think this may actually really not be a good idea"... Well, quite.
Top banana, or rather, top pineapple.
Tuesday, 19 February 2008
So far, we have eight confirmed performers, all of them absolute gems. You'll be able to download the whole gig and take it away with you to listen to on your iPod (other iPods are available) or absorb the atmosphere at www.geekpop08.com Either way, a real treat is in store. If you want to sign up in advance to receive your podcast, just subscribe here.
But the best thing about Geek Pop is that it's absolutely 100% FREE. We won't be asking you to part with any of your precious pennies, or pieces of eight (if you happen to be a pirate). All you have to do is show up.
Monday, 18 February 2008
Well the Xmas chart topper in New Zealand was a song that is only audible by dogs and the producers are hoping that its success becomes world-wide.
The song, which has been recorded at a high frequency so that humans can't hear it, was released as a Christmas present dog owners could buy their pets.
The tune 'A very silent night' has raised around NZ$22,000 (£8,900) for the country's SPCA. Due to the current success, producers are looking to release the track in the US and Australia, despite admitting not knowing what the track actually sounds like to dogs.
The dogs themselves have reacted in a range of ways from destroying the radio playing the song to dogs that just lay still.
If this continues could we have a doggy X-factor on our hands? Cue YouTube videos of singing dogs.
Saturday, 16 February 2008
Thanks to Lawrence for this.
Tuesday, 12 February 2008
Q: I've heard that cardiovascular exercise can prolong life; is this true?
A: Your heart is only good for so many beats, and that's it... Don't waste them on exercise . Everything wears out eventually. Speeding up your heart will not make you live longer; that's like saying you can extend the life of your car by driving it faster. Want to live longer? Take a nap.
Q: Should I cut down on meat and eat more fruits and vegetables?
A: You must grasp logistical efficiencies. What does a cow eat? Hay and corn. And what are these? Vegetables. So a steak is nothing more than an efficient mechanism of delivering vegetables to your system. Need grain? Eat chicken. Beef is also a good source of field grass (green leafy vegetable). And a pork chop can give you 100% of your recommended daily allowance of vegetable products.
Q: Should I reduce my alcohol intake?
A: No, not at all. Wine is made from fruit. Brandy is distilled wine, that means they take the water out of the fruity bit so you get even more of the goodness that way. Beer is also made out of grain. Bottoms up!
Q: How can I calculate my body/fat ratio?
A: Well, if you have a body and you have fat, your ratio is one to one. If you have two bodies, your ratio is two to one, etc.
Q: What are some of the advantages of participating in a regular exercise program?
A: Can't think of a single one, sorry. My philosophy is: No Pain...Good!
Q: Aren't fried foods bad for you?
A: You're not listening....Foods are fried these days in vegetable oil. In fact, they're permeated in it. How could getting more vegetables be bad for you?
Q: Will sit-ups help prevent me from getting a little soft around the middle?
A: Definitely not! When you exercise a muscle, it gets bigger. You should only be doing sit-ups if you want a bigger stomach.
Q: Is chocolate bad for me?
A: Are you crazy? HELLO Cocoa beans! Another vegetable. It's the best feel-good food around!!
Q: Is swimming good for your figure?
A: If swimming is good for your figure, explain whales to me.
Q: Is getting in-shape important for my lifestyle?
A: Hey! 'Round' is a shape! !
"Life should NOT be a journey to the grave with the intention of arriving safely in an attractive and well preserved body, but rather to skid in sideways - Chardonnay in one hand - chocolate in the other - body thoroughly used up, totally worn out and screaming, "WOO HOO, What a Ride!"
Thanks to Sam G for these
Friday, 1 February 2008
"I am greatly concerned about the apparent disappearance of Gentlemen of the Road, the old fashioned true British Tramp that in my youth I recall as an abundant species. I strongly suspect that there is a scientific root cause for this demise, it could be Global Warming but for me that doesn’t stack up as surely that would make the lifestyle even more desirable and in fact I suspect that a successful campaign to revive and promote Trampism could significantly help turn the tide of GW, so it really is a mystery to me and I would respectfully and humbly request that Hayley carries out an investigation into subject."
An interesting idea Julian. Veeeery interesting. What, specifically, I wonder, leads you to think that I might be qualified to carry out such an investigation?
Monday, 21 January 2008
Now, in a rather genius move, scientists have gone one better, and adapted this technology to work not with little chunks of plastic, but with cells, and they say they can print body parts. Skin, bone, and even more complex internal organs can apparently be printed.
I love this idea. And I love it even more because on their patent application (which can be found here) they refer to a multi-cellular "pie" structure, a turn of phrase which conjures up a whole myriad of applications. You could print out the perfect steak, with exactly the right amount of fat running through the meat.
A printer that can print body parts: probably painfully expensive.
Trivialising what could be an enormously important life-saving invention: priceless.
Friday, 18 January 2008
I wonder whether one day there may be a new question we have to ask ourselves in Tesco - would you rather eat a pig who had a lovely life dashing round the greenlands of Devon but came from a test tube, or a natural pig whose standard of life was low? If you had to choose, would you go for free range cloned or battery farmed natural?
Wednesday, 16 January 2008
Michael Portillo's investigation of the various methods currently used for execution managed to get more good science in than usual, and be enormously entertaining television at the same time. Some of the interviews with various figures in the field, varying from scientists to more political figures, were equally enlightening.
And best of all, because of the BBC's fantastic new iPlayer, you can (for the next 6 days at least) go back and watch it here. Well worth a watch.
Friday, 11 January 2008
The physics of Moreno’s fall have been brilliantly presented by Newsweek’s Charles Euchner in his article Falling Man: The physics of surviving a 500 foot fall. It is an excellent read and science article non-scientists will find engrossing.
Euchner interviewed University of Minnesota physics professor James Kakalios, author of The Physics of Superheroes. Kakalios knows his stuff; he gave an excellent talk at my academic home, the University of Nebraska-Lincoln (UNL).
The laws of physics aren’t a license to take a tumble, so don’t try to mimic Moreno’s descent. But do read more about how physics saved his life and how it could save yours.
Tuesday, 8 January 2008
My fellow Americans, who may have overlooked Hayley’s post regarding falling physics funds as a U.K. only problem, think again. To all my fellow chemists, don’t think “lucky me!” Think “they’re coming for us next!” Because they will. You too biologists! And you, X-ologist, X-ist, X-ian. Oh, don’t think you’re getting away. Don’t think “my work is far too important!” It isn’t.
Think about how fast you can contact your local congressional representatives. Don’t know who they are? Note your zip code and go here. Take a break from your morning routine, pop a snarky email to a U.S. Representative or Senator, and save science.
Saturday, 5 January 2008
From what I had read previously (I unfortunately missed the article at the time) I had had the impression that she was a somewhat dubious authority, but I hadn't quite realised to what extent. Makes me feel rather angry just thinking about it.
NB. I have linked to some of Ben Goldacre's work before, and it is consistently excellent. There is a brilliant speech he gave (including a little more about Ms. McKeith), available through iTunes, or here, on his website. Well worth a visit.