Sunday, 30 November 2014

Entertainment stuff from the week 24-30/11/14

Hi dinosaurs,

OMFSM - Jurassic Park 4!

'Jurassic World - Official Trailer (HD)'

And yes, it has been a while since Jurassic Park III. A whole decade, in fact!

But no - it seems like none of the original cast are going to be in it :-(

In the words of Sam Neill:

"I'm told it's a big reboot, a total re-jig."

I'm quite disappointed that the franchise has left Grant, Malcolm, Sadler et al behind, but let's face it - the producers want bigger and better with every film.

With 'III' they outgrew T-Rex, for goodness' sake! Their only option is to do as Godzilla has done, and just start breaking reality like they've never broken reality before!

It's long since been infeasible for anything to grow that big, because of the limitations for a small body growing so fast that it could get that big in a lifetime, because of the food that would be necessary to sustain them at every stage, because of the power-to-weight ratio of their musculature, and because of the strain exerted on their bones in order to move.

Strain on bones is the reason we have different gaits, and intuitively transition between them, according to speed. Horses, famously, have many different gaits, suited to the different speeds they do. When humans want to go faster, it feels really uncomfortable to walk so they break into a run. Elephants are so big that they don't have the luxury of doing that, which limits how fast they can go.

Godzilla would be massively more limited still, due to its sheer bulk. Motility itself would be threatened by their own body's unwillingness to exceed ~20% bone breakage stress. Even if they could physically lift their feet, they wouldn't want to, due to discomfort signals ricocheting around their enormous nervous system.

That painful reality is completely ignored by Film&TV of course, but interestingly, Godzilla seems to have grown in tandem with the buildings they're situated amongst. In fact, faster than the buildings they're situated amongst.

The motive of Godzilla's memetic evolution, has been to retain emotional impact, on an entertainment-seeking market; and that is exactly what the 'stars' in the Jurassic Park franchise have to do.

I have no idea what it's going to look like, on screen, yet, because the trailer-clips might not have featured Jurassic World's 'main attraction' but like Godzilla, surely its size can only go up??

Or maybe, in the interests of contrast, everything else on the islands should be forced to get smaller...

Or just be children.

{Oh yeah [ponders] :-P }

My prediction for Jurassic Park 5:

The main (human) star of the film will be a newborn baby :-D

Casting casting speculations aside, i suppose i should speculate on the veracity of the sciencey lingo employed. Will it make sense, or will it turn out to be word salad?

Well, if you take a bunch of genes from hither and thither, slam them all together, and then see what grows from that...

You'll probably get a bunch of dead cells.

Biology's temperamental like that. You can't just throw any old genes together - they have to work in synchrony.

But let's just say that the scientists at whatever-their-company's-called-now have managed to splice some genes together, then they could create a dino hybrid.

But it would be wrong to think that that means sharing outward features from different dinos, like a serial killer's newspaper-cut-outs letter, in a crime drama.

Shoving a club tail on it, a sickle-like hallux claw, a row of stegosaurid plates... and, let's say, ornithocheirus' wings, just isn't going to work.

That would be a chimera. What you've got there, is Frankenstein's Monster. Except it wouldn't be re-animated dead matter, which Frankenstein's Monster was. So what you'd have there... wouldn't even be like
Frankenstein's Monster.
In real life, hybrids are usually not immensely interesting because... well, all of you are hybrids, for a start.

You are the product of a mixture of genes from your biological mother and your biological father. And do you look completely different, like some weird monstery thing that feeds only on blood and can't come out under a Full Moon?


You don't have half your hair in your mum's colour and the other half in dad's because that's a product of chimerism*.

I wonder what the new dino in Jurassic World will turn out like, though.

Probably a weird bodge job, but hopefully an excusable weird bodge job, for entertainment's sake. :-D

*In fact, the whole subject of chimerism is a fascinating one in itself.

A chimera is simply an organism consisting of cells with different genomes in them. Usually, an organism consists only of cells with the same genome in each, or no genome at all, like erythrocytes (red blood cells) which don't have any DNA in, to save space.

But the definition of a chimera doesn't specify where those differently-genomed cells might be in the body.

Griffins are a famous example of mythical chimerae - with the head of an eagle, and hind quarters of a lion; or even the chimera itself, from which the modern meaning of 'chimera' has migrated - with the head of a lion, the body of a goat, and the tail of a snake, it would undoubtedly have different genetics in those regions of its body - an eagle genome, a lion genome, a goat genome, and/or a snake genome... if it were real.

But a chimera can have all those genetically-distinct cells mixed up, all around its body. Less like a pie; more like a stew. Statistically, there are humans wandering around today, who are chimeras of this sort, who do not know it, and might not ever know it.

They will only find out if it matters to something. In fact, it's possible to be both male and female, where half your cells' genomes are XX and the other half XY - in this case you would be a hermaphroditic chimera.

When male and female cells grow in opposite places, initiating in the first stages of development, and inevitably carrying on through to adulthood, this results in a condition called mosaic chimerism. Specifically, bilateral gyandromorphic mosaic chimerism.

So basically, what this means is... anything and everything can be true :-P

Well, not really. None of these are necessarily hybrids. They might be, if one or multiple parts of them are hybrids - mixtures of DNA - but surely that's just too weirdly amazing to happen coincidentally with chimerism!?

And even if they were a hybrid and a chimera, that still wouldn't excuse a poorly-bodged pseudo-hybrid in the film, because... hybridism and chimerism are not the same.

If it's a chimera too, then say it's a chimera too.

So what shall i make the point of this addendum? Um... OK...

Just look at all the big words i've written, already. If you want to show off how sciencey boffiny brainboxey the whole palaver in your plot is, than what would be a better thing to do than to put some meat into your word salad about what the hell that thing in the cage is?

Do it, scriptwriters. Do it. Use the word 'chimera', at least. I arrest my case :-D


There is nothing peculiar about any superstition. Where you have wrong beliefs tolerated, you have moral atrocities committed, whatever type of belief they might be. Rationalism FTW!

'UKIP warns of Schrödinger’s immigrant who ‘lazes around on benefits whilst simultaneously stealing your job’'
"He continued “Some bloke down the pub who knows – for definite – told me that Romanians in particular have been stealing his job, and if that’s not bad enough, they’re also too lazy to work because cause they’re all on the dole.”"

In other news:

How bizarre. Some people seem to think that there's a species of pterosaur that lives on, to this day, called a 'Ropen', and has been credulously reported on by the SyFy and History TV channels. That's just ridiculous. I'm a Tapejara, and i've never been on either of those channels :-P

'Some Idiots Flew to Liberia to 'Cure' Ebola Patients with Homeopathy' - Vice. This story is far worse than simply that - real lives are at stake, and the horrendous conflation between genuine attempts to treat people, and the selfish propagation of a fraudulent industry, is an ever-present undercurrent whenever something like this happens. Possession of superstitious beliefs is a strong motive to lie, so i don't even believe this article's ending reconciliation to 'having their heart in the right place'. No! Quackery is done for profit - not for patients - and the perpetrators have already stooped further than they would have to, to make such an excusing lie.

More than 16,000 pages of Charles Darwin's research on evolution has been released online, as part of the Darwin Manuscripts Project. That's a lot of reading, but if you want to have a go at it, then just follow the links:

Here's a story we might be looking back on, in years to come: the European Parliament has voted to approve a resolution to compel search engines (no prizes for guessing which one they might have had in mind) to separate their business interests. The resolution passed by 384 to 174. No thanks to the Ukippers, who ideologically vote 'No' on everything, including anti-ivory-poaching legislation. There's been quite a left-wing streak in the EP, on this subject: last year, the EU's top court ruled that Google must allow a 'right to be forgotten'  where search results disappear (although WaybackMachine still works) even though this would be good news for for unaccounted criminals; and since 2010, the European Commission has fretted about Google's over-arching power, quashing competition.

A 23,000-year-old woman has been dug up in France, with all her curves still in place. Well, some of them have chipped off, but most are still there. "About 12 centimetres (4.7 inches) high, it shows a woman with big breasts and buttocks. The head and arms are less detailed. "The fact that the sculpture is not totally realistic shows the intent was to produce a symbolic image of a woman linked to fecundity," [archaeologist Clement Paris] said."

It looks like the German government's going 'arse about tit', on their Energy policy. Or should that be 'arsch vor dem titten'? Maybe not, LOL. In environmental interests, it was a totally stupid idea to get rid of the nuclear power industry before the coal power industry, and yet that is what they seem to be half way through! Sure, nimbyism and nuclearphobia are making ii difficult to find anywhere to put nuclear waste, but in the mean time it's doing nowhere near as much harm as the coal industry is. And in fact, because they got rid of the nuclear sector, harm committed through the coal industry has increased, in that mean time.

A newly-identified taxon of frog, has been named the Atlantic Coast leopard frog. It looks much like any other in the area, but is distinguishable by its croak. Instead of a more usual 'ribbit' it sounds like it's groaning and coughing. To hear its idiosyncratic vocalisation, follow the link:

Insect porn! Want to see some well-hung millipedes? No? Well, read on anyway, and just don't click the link. The gonopods (millipedes' equivalents of penises) are golden, paired structures, with enough variation between them, that they've been used to distinguish 39 different millipede species. It's the solenomere that really varies the most - the "long, twirly part" at the end, that distributes semen to wherever it needs to be. "Dr Car says, although only 39 species have been formally described, the genus Antichiropus has been extensively collected and examined with 160 species known to occur across most of Western Australia south of the Kimberley."

A reassembled woolly mammoth skeleton has sold, in Britain, for £189,000. I'm not sure this should be considered a good thing, really. When people are willing to pay lots of money for things, they tend to mysteriously go missing. Think of living species, too: the rhinos and tigers that poachers sell to quacks who sell to people who believe that ivory decorations are nice, and that penile dust is a medication. Archaeology and painting has suffered the capitalist desires of those who know that others are willing to pay a lot of money for their equivalents of a lot of old bones. High prices might be bad for both research and the environment.

For the first time, evidence of human older-than-a-baby milk consumption has been found to prove lactose persistence reaching back at least 5000 years. The researchers found that there was milk protein in dental calculus (plaque) on the teeth of Eurasian people. For that to happen, they would have to drink it regularly and frequently, and so it can be relatively-safely assumed that they drank milk quite frequently too.

------------------------------------------------------ contemporary stuff

'"I'm Dreaming of a Black Friday" by Roy Zimmerman'

'Black Friday sale like ‘the Hunger Games’, claims eye witness'
"With shoppers seemingly willing to end the lives of people standing between them and a 20% discounted television, reports say the number of victims could run into the thousands."

'Really Cool Science with Honey!'

'Ten Steps of Tortoise Taxidermy with Lonesome George'

'Beer physics: How foam affects sloshing'

'Colours of Westminster and Lambeth Bridges'

'Adult Swim compilation 2014' - cyriak

'NASA's SDO shows moon transiting the Sun'

'Guns still awesome, insists Grand Jury'
"America’s love of guns came about when immigrants from Western Europe arrived in the sixteenth and seventeenth century and shot everyone who lived there."

'The Chaser's Media Circus - Season 1 Episode 7'

------------------------------------------------------ of the weeks

Word Of The Week: lethologica -- the inability to remember a word or put your metaphorical finger on the right word

Tree Of The Week: The Lonely Tree of Llanfyllin -- well, it is Wales' tree of the year' :-D

Quote Of The Week: "Always be sincere, whether you mean it or not" - Michael Flanders

Fact Of The Week: The Komodo Dragon can eat 80% of its bodyweight in one mealtime, and actually employs venom to subdue its prey. It's known that some pretty potent bacterial varieties live in Komodo Dragons' mouths, but they presumably take too long to have a predation-enhancing effect. The venom, however, is quick enough to fell a traumatised attack victim, which makes the Komodo Dragon's job a lot easier. Claire Ainsworth found out, last year, through Raja - a dragon at London Zoo - that they can, indeed, be trained to follow commands, and that they can be placated by stroking.

------------------------------------------------------ non-contemporary stuff

'Fossil Rock Anthem'

'One Bottle at a Time (Save the Fishes)'

'All the Salamanders #SmokiesCool'

'The Reluctant Cannibal - Flanders & Swann'

'Hold the Elevator | Robot Chicken | Adult Swim'

Sunday, 23 November 2014

Entertainment stuff from the week 17-23/11/14

Hi beardies,

ISIHAC is back! Yay :-D

'Series 62 - Episode 1'

Want to hear what it sounds like to land on a comet? Well, this it:

'Scientists record thud of Philae's comet landing'

Short and crunchy :-D

'What Philae did in its 60 hours on Comet 67P'

'What is the difference between asteroids and comets?'

Following the Ukippers' 100% increase in MPs (now 2) there has been a barrage of fascism-fawning churnalism. So let's have some Thump instead...

{On the subject of fawning churnalism -- where's the 'outcry' about deranged monarchists corrupting UK democracy?}

'ISIS leader endorses UKIP candidate'

'‘Send em back where they came from’ officially 2014’s top performing political slogan'
“For some reason the idea of displacing millions of hard working people really resonated with the public – no, I don’t know why either.”

'Farage erection enters 7th hour'
"As his party won its second MP via Mark Reckless in the Rochester & Stroud by-election, Nigel Farage is said to be sporting a tumescence that full-time workers in the adult film industry would be proud of."
{Incidentally, if you happen to have a priapism that lasts longer than 4 hours, then you should head to your local A&E, straight away!}

'New bio-bus to run on bullshit election manifestos'
"The eco-friendly vehicle can travel up to 300km (186 miles) on one tank of gas, which in tests can be filled just by the Education section of the Liberal Democrats manifesto from 2010.The eco-friendly vehicle can travel up to 300km (186 miles) on one tank of gas, which in tests can be filled just by the Education section of the Liberal Democrats manifesto from 2010."

'US adds FIFA to Axis of Evil'
“They’ve accepted bribes, they’ve given bribes, they flout local regulations, they run an active slave trade, they worship the devil, they leave the toilet seat up, they don’t serve dolphin-friendly tuna, and we have a great deal of evidence to suggest it was them who attached a pogo-stick to the bottom of the Philae lander.”

'Letter delivery at risk because we only made £200m profit in 6 months, confirms Royal Mail'

The more there is of something, the more of a threat it presents. Bowl of rice, anyone?

'Don’t freak out over eating rice'

"Rice is an important staple for many people, and the arsenic levels that FDA found in the samples it evaluated were too low to cause any immediate or short-term adverse health effects. All consumers, including pregnant women, infants and children, are encouraged to eat a well-balanced diet for good nutrition and to minimize potential adverse consequences from consuming an excess of any one food."

There simply isn't enough arsenic in rice products to warrant evasion. Just don't subscribe a to a pseudoscientific food fad (like GCB) and eat only huge amounts of rice.

That's why you should always eat a balanced diet - to even out your intake of helpful chemicals, and poisonous ones, so that you maximise what you need, and minimise what you don't.


Thursday 25th November marks the 155th anniversary of the publication of the first edition of 'On The Origin Of Species' by Charles Darwin

In other news:

People in Peru appear to believe that pur
éeing the skin of an endangered frog, and drinking it, is an advisable, admirable, efficacious health panacea! It's called 'Rana y maca', and is a pointless threat to the endangered species Telmatobius culeus, which is known as the 'scrotum' frog after the excessive skin that helps it respire at high altitudes. This behaviour is mirrored all around the world, in slaughtering wildlife for I-SCAM industry fake medicine. This kind of thing really contradicts the idea that an anti-scientific 'alternative' lifestyle is a 'greeny' in-touch-with-nature mode of living!
{Amphibians can breathe through their skin, so having extra skin is like having bigger lungs}

Lonsdaleite - named after famous crystallographer Kathleen Lonsdale - is a very hard form of diamond, often found around asteroid and meteorite impacts. Research might have ended half a century's debate about how lonsdaleite manages to be harder than 'regular' diamond, and what makes it so. It seems lonsdaleite is basically the same as cubic diamond, but its structure is full of repeating flaws (presumably due to a huge impact e.g. meteorite impact) that act like metal atoms in alloys like brass, where they prevent the layers of atoms around them from sliding past each other. This makes the material overall much harder. Further lonsdaleite research could produce new highs of material hardness.

Want to conceal a doughnut from discovery? If so, then John Howell and Joseph Choi, at the University of Rochester, have just the device for you. It's the first device to be able to 'cloak' (as in make apparently invisible) objects across a wide angle, but they do this by deviating light around the centre. This means centred objects can't be cloaked. That's why objects can only be hidden if they're within a doughnut-shaped region around the axis of the lens - hence why it would be good for hiding doughnuts. I'm not sure how useful this would be in practice, but every quantum of evidence helps to understand the potential mechanics of invisibility :-D

A man has used a technique called 'multiphoton lithography' to 3D-print nano-scale sculptures, ranging from the width of a human hair, to hundredths of that width. Basically, the technique is like spot-welding in miniature, but with polymer instead of metal, and light instead of scorchingly hot exhaust gas. So having scanned a model, and worked out where each spot of melted polymer should go, the computer-controlled process builds up a nano-scale polymer sculpture. Follow the link to see pictures of the result - an 80 x 100 x 20 micron figure called 'Trust'.

I'm not sure what's so brilliant about its thighs, but the brilliant-thighed poison frog of the Amazon Rainforest has just become famous for having a mental map of its surroundings. Because it tends for multiple tadpoles, left in different waterpools, across a 600-metre-diameter area, it has a motive to learn how to get from pool to pool with effectiveness and efficiency. Recognising where they are, and how to get where they need to be, improves their own survival chances, and those of their progeny. Until now, apparently, no frogs have been shown to possess this kind of mental map ability.

Migrating across South America to the Peruvian rainforest now, we find an entomologist, who's uploaded videos of a species of bio-luminescent larva. They use bio-luminescence in the same way as deep sea Angler Fish - to coax in prey - which they then grab with their huge jaws. The larvae can also control when they emit light - only when in a hunting position. Which adult species they grow into is currently a matter of speculation - insect larvae famously look nothing like their adult forms! Follow the link to see a video:

------------------------------------------------------ contemporary stuff

'Do Beards Make Men Sexier? - A Week in Science'

'Secrets of Sex @ Ri Lates'
Sally Le Page's 20 minute show at the Ri's Faraday Theatre... in chunks.

'Quantum Cheshire Cat - Sixty Symbols'

'Science Bulletins: Egg Patterns Identify Intruders'

'Light Bulb in Hydrofluoric Acid (HF)'

'It's All Just Chemistry'
The bread-mat reference:

'Ban Feminism?'
Do you remember when feminists tried to ban the word 'bossy'? Well now they've received a dose of their own medicine... and they don't like it. It seems banning the word 'feminist' is a banning that has been banned :-D

'The Imitation Game Reaction'
Follow the link in the description box for a much more in-depth scrutinisation of the ins and outs of the film. It's a really good review :-)
And skip to 7" on the SGU for a review of 'Interstellar'. It gets far more stars (black holes?) than TIG ;-)

'Johnny Depp buys a bath in Norwich'Stop the Press! ...They keep publishing fatuous stories :-D

'The Expert (Short Comedy Sketch)'
Funnily enough, it is possible to produce all of the required phenomena. It's just not possible to draw them all on a page :-D

------------------------------------------------------ of the weeks

Word Of The Week: potable -- safe to drink; drinkable (through latin for 'i drink')

Scientific Pwnage Quote Of The Week: "...I do think that a really good idea, for environmental reasons, is really getting good at growing meat tissue in labs. That solves all our problems. And obviously the technology isn't there yet, but most people have like a gut reaction of "Ewww, that's icky" and "That's unnatural". Well guess what: the entirety of human civilisation has been us building a giant, middle-finger-shaped monument toward nature! Very few things we do are 'natural' and that's a good thing." - Q-Dragon

Legal Quote Of The Week: "Even unpleasant people are entitled to justice" - Ian Cambridge, Fair Work Commissioner

------------------------------------------------------ non-contemporary stuff

'NASA issues 'remastered' view of Jupiter's moon Europa'
An old image, remastered. Plus a video about the featured moon - Europa.

'Two new Chandra images of supernova remnants reveal intricate structures left behind'
Follow the link for some wordy stuff and a picture

'The inventor of predictive text...'

'At airport...'

'The Two Ronnies: Mastermind'

'Switching Bodies (series)'
I have no idea whether this series is going to continue, but here's it, so far.

'Switching Bodies - Episode 1 {The Kloons}'

'Switching Bodies - Episode 2 {The Kloons}'

'Switching Bodies - Episode 3 - {The Kloons}'

Sunday, 16 November 2014

Entertainment stuff from the week 10-16/11/14

Hi cometeers,

It's official!

Humanity has landed on a comet!

'Rosetta Live: #2 The descent'

'Rosetta Live: # 3 Touchdown'

If you want another look at that tattoo, btw, then here's a close-up:

'Rosetta Tattoo'

'Science Bulletins: Rosetta Mission Lands Probe on Comet'

'rosetta blog'

For everything you want to know about the mission :-)

So that's something humanity can feel deeply proud about.

Here's something humanity can feel deeply ambivalent about:

'Philae conspiracies: Because there isn’t enough s**t on the internet already?'

A Grauniad journaloust went out of her way to find a shitty story to draw in morons to their readership.

{So what's new?} :-P

Incidentally, comets are too loosely packed to be used a spaceship. Just in case you were thinking that ;-)

And now for something humanity can feel deeply ashamed about... even while staying close to the prime subject :-/

'Kim Kardashian Ass vs Feminism'

I saw this 'story' on the BBC website, and i immediately thought "oh, Thunderf00t, you must do a video on this!" ...if nothing else, then for therapy's sake.

The horrendous slut-shaming sexists who wrote the article, even proudly boasted that they'd made the project leader cry... for wearing a shirt... that a female friend had made for him!

"The outcry has evidently hit him hard though. During a press briefing this morning, he broke down in tears and apologised for his choice of clothes."

'#BBCtrending: Rosetta physicist's 'sexist' shirt'

If a woman wore a shirt with naked men on it, would it be OK to harangue her for it? No - it wouldn't.

Has all the feministing been feeble speculation about whether a woman would be allowed to do that? No - it hasn't.

Puh-lease. This shit has to stop.

Bullying someone over their choice of clothing (that's what 'the outcry' is a euphemism for) is just not on.

Ironically, this is exactly the kind of thing that discourages people from going into STEM.

"Oh no - i'm not going into STEM - i mean that guy over there was so awesome that he was the first to put anything man-made on a comet, and look at the awful way they treated him" - something someone could think

Where was all the praise for the women involved? Where was all the credit, encouraging people to follow in their footsteps?

As weirdly creepy as it is to effusively praise one population more than another, at least it's not the mirror similar - ganging up on one population more than another, and vilifying them instead.

"How does Kathrin Altwegg have 23 publications and two books to her name if sexist shirts keep women from entering tech????? Because it's easier to say men are keeping women out of tech than it is to give praise to the women already in tech. That's how. I'm sorry Kathrin. I'm sorry that instead of people looking to you and saying "You are a credit to the scientific community" they're effectively saying "You don't count because shirt"."

Oh, and btw, notice that the BBC got that story from Twitter. That's right - journalists don't do their own stories any more - they just plagiarise miserable bigots via social media.

Dear FSM.

Please make hacks do some work, for a change. RAmen.


'Corruption across EU 'breathtaking' - EU Commission'

National governments are extensively corrupt, according to an EU report. But the study data is limited in veracity, because it is based on survey data.

{Please note, EU-phobes, that this is corruption that exists across the EU - not corruption perpetrated by the EU. That's the difference between pointing out that there's mouse shit on your kitchen floor; and dropping your knickers, curling one out, and then boasting about your own!}

The survey asked people in sampled companies from countries across the EU (they couldn't sample non-EU countries because it was an EU-done survey) whether they, personally, had been involved in corruption, and whether they thought there was a problem with corruption, in the country in which they lived.

Obviously, the former question is far more useful, because the latter asks people to judge by rumour, rather than actual personal experience.

Importantly, the report found corruption to be greater at a smaller scale (regional and local) than at a national scale, which contradicts the idea that fragmentation of countries for people's 'independence' would lead to a more just world!

Also, conflicts of interest are very poorly patrolled, apparently. This comes as no surprise to me. Inevitably, the department responsible for preventing corruption, across the entire EU, is tiny, and utterly underpowered for the task.

That too, is unsurprising, given how lax national and regional governments are with corruption control.

This report seems highly ironically timely, considering an article two weeks back, about the anti-corruption enthusiasm of the current Chinese government!

In other news:

In a bizarre attempt to crackdown on pedestrian safety, police in New Jersey have sent a copper out, dressed as Donald Duck, to catch drivers who don't yield to pedestrians when they're trying to cross the road. Inevitably, the sight of an anonymous guy in a giant Donald Duck costume didn't garner much sympathy from drivers, who just sailed on past. I think the funniest part of this story is the quote from one driver: "They told me that I was getting a ticket for not stopping for a duck," she said. "But it scared me. I'm a woman." LMAO. 'I'm a woman'. All women are scared of ducks!? Helen Lovejoy, eat your heart out. "Won't somebody please think of the anatophobic women??" :-D [stands on chair and shrieks]

An inevitable-in-the-end accident has happened in India, where an uninformed member of staff went too close to an MRI machine with a gas cylinder. The famous thing about MRI machines, is the hugely powerful magnetic field which 'due to the unique way magnetic fields are funded' fades away to almost-nothing at as little as a metre from the machine. What this means, is that you can be in the next room, and not feel the field at all, but if you walk through the door, and wander too close, it will vigorously grab anything metallic that might be on you. Gas cylinders are, of course, made mostly of steel, and so you can imagine what happened - they got too close, and ended up pinned to the machine, behind this huge, heavy lump of metal. It costs a lot of money to turn an MRI machine on, and a lot of time too, so they're usually just left on. It's not a nice experience for anyone waiting around for someone who knows where the off switch might be!

I learned, this week, that the UK's House of Commons pays a fixed contract for gardening, which means the contractors employ someone to pick all the leaves of the trees in the New Palace Yard, rather than to simply sweep them up after they've fallen. Because they get paid for all gardening in one, they choose to save time instead of money, by removing all of the leaves while they're stuck in place, and easily collected! Presumably, they know this won't damage the trees' buds, and compromise their chances of surviving the winter. I mean - they're not the gardening equivalent of Atos, are they? :-D

Yay! The seven Italian geoscientists who were prosecuted over their bureaucrat employer's misleading earthquake diplomacy, have been freed of their prosecutions. The man who really did cause trouble, however - Bernardo De Bernardinis - the official at the Civil Protection Department, who was responsible for telling people whether it was safe or not, has been given a two-year sentence for causing the death of some, but not all, of the 29 victims involved in the trial. Outrageously, it was the geologists who copped the blame, through misleading journalism, for his incompetence (they were compelled only to make announcements through him) when he told the public that no earthquake was coming. The geologists gave no such advice, but he thought it would be nice if he relaxed everyone a bit. Poor diplomacy costs lives.

Here's the space story that got sidelined by Rosetta and Philae - the news of the first observations of Oort Cloud objects' surfaces! The Oort Cloud is a theorised cloud of objects, way beyond Neptune, 100000 times as far as Earth is from the Sun, where comets (for example the one that Philae landed on) are thought to come from and return to, in huge looping orbits around the Sun, taking as long as 50 million years. When comets are close to the Sun, the stream of solar particles whips up dusty ice, obscuring the surface. Philae and Rosetta will get much better views of the one they're on, but it's still fascinating to see 'inactive' distant comets' surfaces. The researchers say the two so-far seen are similar to asteroid belt objects, but are bluer in colour.

------------------------------------------------------ contemporary stuff

'Why Isn't The Sky Purple?'

'Shelf Life Episode 1 - 33 Million Things'
The first episode of the AMNH's new series, exploring the 33 million items in its collection

'Perturbed polymers - surprising solvents'

'US map flashes with lightning strikes of 2011'
Notice how the lightning follows weatherfronts, as they progress across continental North America.

'Giant sunspot returns – and it's bigger and badder than ever'

'London Finale 2014 Monday Hot Shot Rojer Tecau Peya Soares'*/Tennis/Media/Videos/Uploaded/2014/11/10/London-Finale-2014-Monday-Hot-Shot-Rojer-Tecau-Peya-Soares.aspx

'London Finale 2014 Tuesday Hot Shot Lopez Granollers'*/Tennis/Media/Videos/Uploaded/2014/11/11/London-Finale-2014-Tuesday-Hot-Shot-Lopez-Granollers.aspx

'European space robot Philae criticised for parking in comet’s disabled bay'
“Sure, they wanted to be near the front of the comet because it was ‘more convenient’, but it’s reserved for disabled drivers for a reason you know.”

'Bankers’ wrists starting to get really sore'
"With fines and a severe talking to also part of the punitive action, some bankers have told us that maybe manipulating the market for their own selfish ends might not be worth it. Maybe."

'Man finds Jesus on piece of chicken'

'Virgin Mary holding Jesus spotted on tree trunk'
I don't think the pareidolia lulz will ever run dry :-D

'Samson Da Barbarian'

'Last Week Tonight with John Oliver: Salmon Cannon (HBO)'

'The Chaser's Media Circus - Season 1 Episode 5'

------------------------------------------------------ of the weeks

Word of The Week: confabulation -- discussion, communication; or in Psychology, the fabrication of false memories, whether deliberate or accidental, to fill in gaps in one's memory. Confabulation is very common after popular events that were not actually witnessed by many e.g. in the case of the thousands of people who claim to have seen the first aeroplane hit the first World Trade Center tower, in 2001, even though no-one knew to look, until after it had happened.

Etymology Of The Week: 'botulism' -- meaning the disease caused by Clostridium botulinum bacterium's eponymously named toxin; derived from the latin 'botulus' for 'sausage', as the first identified case related to infected sausages

Quote Of The Week: "I'm not going to spend the next ten minutes of your life trying to make religion look ridiculous, because i don't think i could if i tried... There is nothing i can say about religion which makes it look any sillier than the light in which it happily paints itself... Even with my most mean, sarcastic, liberal-smartarse head on, i can't come up with anything as remotely ridiculous as magic biscuits that turn into chunks of Jesus!" - Mitch Benn - IFS 171 - Unicorns vs Narwhals!

Fact Of The Week: In Alfred Hitchcock's production of the film 'Psycho', which he filmed using his own TV crew because no film crew would support him, the 'blood' in the shower scene is actually Bosco Chocolate Syrup. In grayscale, the brown was indistinguishable from red. Many viewers misremembered the red colour, despite it never being recorded in colour in the first place! This is another example of psychological confabulation, resulting in a false memory.

------------------------------------------------------ non-contemporary stuff

'Question of the Day: Revisiting the Spaghetti Racquet'


Sunday, 9 November 2014

Entertainment stuff from the week 3-9/11/14

Hi double-halves,

The long-awaited documentary about James Randi is here!

'Exposed: Magicians, Psychics and Frauds'

"This entertaining film chronicles Randi's best debunkings of faith healers, fortune tellers and psychics. It documents his rivalry with famed spoon-bender Uri Geller, whom Randi eventually foiled on a high-profile television appearance. Another target was evangelist Peter Popoff, whose tent-show miracles and audience mind-reading were exposed as chicanery when Randi revealed a recording of Popoff's wife feeding him information through a radio-transmitter earpiece."

I suspect it'll only be able available on iPlayer for a month or so, so if you can, make the most of it.

"This is why Britain is the best country in the world. Well done, Steve."

'Leisure centre winner is Steve'

The frustrating thing about this story, is that it's absolutely true...

'Steve snaps up free membership prize'

It reminds me of a closing quip from Stephen Fry, on QI, wherein he iterated that a team had been commissioned with naming a new University-College chimera in Bradford:

"When a market-research team was asked recently to come up with a new name for the merger between a university and a college in Bradford, they took three months, this company, to suggest the following alternatives: University of Bradford, The University of Bradford, or Bradford University. Their fee was £20,000."

'Series 1, Episode 8'

To think that people name their own kids, free of charge. Fools!

No University ever got bullied for having a silly name. They're less worth the expense :-D

Y'know when 'reports' say 'the Media' does a good job, broadly-speaking, of reporting Science?

Well, i'm going to present this is an example of how they're so abysmally wrong:

'U.K. paper posts the year’s worst story on dowsing'

When a bunch of ignoramuses at, for example, the Kent and Sussex Courier credulously report the facile claims of dowsers as if they're scientific... that is atrocious Science reporting!

Dowsing is a find-by-magic superstition, that uses sticks and coat-hangers and things as props, as part of a deception into thinking that stuff can be found without actually looking. Most famously, in recent years, it's been perpetrated by people like Jim McCormick, who've used it to sell useless plastic things to military forces and police, so that when little Salim's daddy goes out into the field bravely looking for bombs to save people from, he's much less likely to come back in fewer than 72 pieces!
{Yes, i use macabre humour occasionally}

Additionally, every time a quack is featured in a 'debate' about the I-SCAM industry; or a pharma sales rep is featured in a 'debate' about prescription; or an antivaccer is featured in a 'debate' about how to kill children with avoidable diseases while simultaneously insulting autists as 'broken' by medicine; or an MP for Health sends homeopathic propaganda to the Chief Medical Officer and doesn't get lambasted for it -- that's utterly shit Science reporting!

There's much more to reporting Science than just cherry-picking the things that Science found to be true, as if Science magically finds only true answers. [splutters with incredulity]

The way the scientific method works, is to distinguish true ideas from wrong ones, by accruing evidence that either substantiates or falsifies them. This necessarily means testing lots of ideas - the majority of which, are going to be wrong.

This is why it's so absurd that the Brownian-Conservative incarnation of the EPSRC requires researchers to state what their findings are going to be, before they've actually found them, in order to get the funding that would allow them to find their findings!

"The EPSRC's obsession with impact will lead to funding things that are mediocre and incremental because you can't accurately predict the outcome of fundamental research. Either that or it will lead to some scientists simply telling lies." - Prof Tony Barrett, head of synthetic chemistry at Imperial College London and leader of 'Science for the Future'

And what also makes it so absurd that cultural excrescences like Dowsing are not seen as functionally anti-scientific, in encouraging people to accept it as true, despite research having found it to be wrong.

Part of the scientific method necessarily involves calling wrong ideas wrong, as well as right ideas right - doing so is part of the same process.

That's why it's bad Science reporting to gullibly report that dowsers "...are always trying to refine the science aspect because it is a scientific thing although not universally regarded as such"

No - it's not a scientific thing - it's a pseudoscientific thing, that is not universally regarded as such, but should be.

And that's why it's also incredibly bad Science reporting to go to town on the subject of Naturopathic fraud, as if it were not already known to be entirely risible:

'Alternative to health: The Telegraph does a totally credulous piece on naturopathy'

Remember that the Torygraph is a national newspaper, owned by the multi-millionaire Barclay brothers. They have all the resources necessary to fact-check their content (they are worth £6 billion). And yet somehow this sentence gets through:

"Aside from nutritional therapy, acupuncture and biopuncture (in which the needles contain homeopathic injectibles), she uses infusion therapy (“if your digestion isn’t working properly there is a malabsorption of nutrients”)."

There is no such thing as nutritional therapy. Telling people to eat a healthy balanced diet is not therapy.

Quackupuncture - 'health by a thousand cuts' - is a pointless (punintended) threat to health, by putting lots of holes in the one organ of the body most key to keeping germs out.

Biopuncture is even more nonsense, because it combines one superstitious ideology with another one, based on a completely different fictional universe (like throwing a pokeball forward and seeing Gandalf jump out)

Homeopathic 'injectibles' is nongrammatical because there is only one ingredient in homeopathy -- water.

And infusion therapy... well i don't think i need to go any further, do i.

That any of this can get published in a broadsheet newspaper, is a indicator that reporting of Science by 'the Media' is not 'good'. That all of it got past the team, and the editor, is a dramatic repudiation, refutation, and castration of the statement!

On the plus side, this subject made me think of Ben Goldacre. So i checked his blog. And looky here, he's got a new book out. Yay!

'I totally just touched my new book: Collected Journalism, out next week!'

And here's the intro:

I must get this for Winterval!

{Yes - i'm still calling it that, just to piss off the Daily Fail and Daily Diana :-D }


The 8th of November marks the 49th anniversary of the Race Relations Act, in the UK, which banned racial discrimination in public places in Britain. Regarded as weak legislation, it did little to counter racism-based behaviour, but was a progenitor of later, more effective legislation.

The 9th of November marks the 25th anniversary of the fall of the Berlin Wall, which came to symbolise the emotional barrier between people of East and West, as well as their physical division, and the emotional divisions between peoples in similar situations, around the world.

In other news:

'Man in charge of nation’s finances struggling with concept of ‘half’'
“Instead of us giving them £1.7bn, and then them giving us £850m, we’re just going to give them £850m and call it quits.”

It says something quite staggering, that a parody web-site has a more veracious insight into current affairs, than the leading News organisations, doesn't it :-D

Let's have some more of that then, LOL:

'Tesco wondering if George Osborne fancies having a go at their books'
“It’s really very simple. If someone is capable of getting people to pay exactly the same amount they always did for something, but convincing them he’s actually saved them 50%, then we’d really like to talk to them.”

'Complaints at ‘Sexy UKIP politician’ Halloween costume'
"The costume features tobacco-yellow cuffs, a joke ‘never-empty’ pint glass, and cut off shirt to reveal a fake beer belly."

{The original costume idea was actually a fake}

'Pyongyang claims Kim Jong-un recovery so spectacular he’ll soon be able to fly'
“The Dear Leader is literally the greatest human being who ever lived,” said a North Korean spokesman. “His capacity for healing is beyond normal people. His legs have healed so brilliantly that he will be able to fly very soon.”

Even more comedy. A Green MP has made a total embarrassment of himself, by signing a homeopaths' petition to compel the WHO to send shaken water to Ebola sufferers in Africa! Like a typical polly, he gave the pathetic excuse that it was late at night when he signed it. So he was tired... tired and emotional, too? :-D

Pope Frank - head of one of the world's largest, most valueful businesses - has condemned members of his own, for making it too much like a business, having sacked a Church Court official who had been caught offering to facilitate marriage annulments for cash.

And Frankie also gets a follow-on from last week, on the basis of the science-denial stuff. He might accept evolution as a thing; but he also thinks that exorcism is a thing. Y'know - the flagrant abuse of mentally ill people, by culturally ill people who think that possession by fictional demons is a thing that actually happens! So Religion's still dragging its arse along the ground, even into the 21st century. Well done, lads - you're working hard to avoid ever receiving that much-demanded respect :-D

------------------------------------------------------ contemporary stuff

'Stunning New View of Planetary Genesis'

'Black hole merger'

'John Lewis Christmas ad secretly highlights plight of trafficked sex workers'

'The sordid truth of #MontyThePenguin's sex life | Shed Science'
{Definitely watch this one, LOL. But read the newsthump article first}


'Philpot Lane Mice'

'Conductive Glass'

'Robot arms recreate feeling of alien presence'
This is actually quite interesting. If it's this easy to deliberately fool yourself into thinking that someone else is acting, and not you, then it must be very easy for people to accidentally persuade themselves that their own actions were in fact determined by someone else's, for example in automatic writing, channelling the dead, etc. It doesn't make what those people do OK, but it could explain how they've convinced themselves that it's OK.

'Thrush song shares harmonies of human music'

'All About That Base (No Acid)'

'Le Mémo (Aude Gogny-Goubert et Loïc Bartolini)'

'The Chaser's Media Circus - Season 1 Episode 4'

'World of Batshit - #3: Chemtrailer Trash'
Ahahah 19:29 is 24-carat example of superstition! Do a thing, see a thing; erroneously conclude that the done thing caused the seed thing. LOL!

------------------------------------------------------ of the weeks

Word Of The Week: sangfroid -- composure or coolness shown in danger or under trying circumstances

Expression Of The Week: 'to the nines' -- meaning 'to the highest degree' / 'to perfection'. Makes most sense when considering the french version, in which 'nine' ('neuf') clearly also means 'new' ('neu'/'neuf'/'nouveaux'). The english etymology, through 'nigon' also indicates that it the number 'nine' comes from 'new' through Greco-Latin, back to Proto-Indo-European.

Journalist Quote Of The Week: "A pod of dolphins stunned lucky sailors with their aquatic acrobatics on Saturday afternoon. Around 20 of the mammals played in waters off Sandbanks for around an hour, delighting viewers. The same group could also be spotted from Southbourne earlier that morning, where many walkers reported catching a glimpse of the animals as they strolled along the beach."
{If journalists aren't good at scientific investigation or language, then what are they good at?? :-D }

Scientist Quote Of The Week: “Science is what we have learned about how to keep from fooling ourselves.” - Richard P. Feynman

------------------------------------------------------ non-contemporary stuff

'Notable effigies from Lewes's Bonfire Nights'

'Instant paranormal: The ubiquitous use of camera apps'

'BBC1 Best Of Carrott Confidential 88. Part 1'

'BBC1 Best Of Carrott Confidential 88. Part 2'

'BBC1 Best Of Carrott Confidential 88. Part 3'

'BBC1 Best Of Carrott Confidential 88. Part 4'

Sunday, 2 November 2014

Entertainment stuff from the week 27/10 - 2/11/14

Hiya cannibals,

So, Hallowe'en has been and gone. Or, Samhain (pronounced saw-hin) as it used to be known.

Maybe that's where the stage trick of samhain a woman in half comes from? :-P

The SGU's 'Truth or Fiction' round was excellent, this week, with extra-special guest Richard Saunders (yes, this one) in the guest seat:

SGU#486 (skip to 58" in, for the quiz)

Theme: Archaeological Horror

#1) In the El Sidron cave in Spain, archaeologists found the remains of 12 Neanderthals, three children, three teenagers, and six adults. All 12 were killed, butchered, and eaten raw by other humans. 

#2) Italian Egyptologist Girolamo Segato discovered a method for preserving flesh by turning it into stone. His process of petrification from almost 200 years ago remains a mystery and has never been duplicated.

#3) Archaeologists examining the prehistoric remains of dozens of butchered adults in the Sacred Ridge region of Colorado have concluded that the butchers were all children, indicating that they wiped out the adults of their village in a single orgy of blood, perhaps as revenge for the practice of child sacrifice. 

#4) Scientists examining the fully articulated and deliberately buried remains of a 3,000 year old Scottish man and woman discovered that they were actually reassembled from the remains of 6 unrelated people.

So there's something to ponder, before/while you read on...

Next up: a disaster ... well, two!

On Tuesday, the 28th of October, Orbital Sciences lost a supplies rocket - Antares - which was a crucial part of their $2 billion deal to resupply the International Space Station, in place of the public sector.

On Wednesday, the Russian State project picked up the tab, and delivered 3 tons of food, fuel and other items to the ISS.

As expected, there was much speculation about the effect of this disaster. Could a private company weather the storm of such huge infrastrcture losses? How would the shareholders react? Orbital Sciences' share price lost 15% of value in the wake of the event.

And what did this say about the safety of space flight? With an 8% failure rate, how would Space X and other companies comply with their self-serving interests to engage in commercial space tourism, if 8% of customers won't come back? An accident like this, but causing deaths, could really throw a spanner in their works.

On Friday, the 31st of October, Space X's space plane exploded, killing one of the pilots, and with the other escaping by parachute. More than 500 people have already reserved seats—and paid a deposit on the $250,000 ticket price for a minutes-long suborbital flight on SpaceShipTwo, which can carry six passengers.

Due to this rapid succession of events, the speculation just got even more exuberant. "The developments reignited the debate about the role of business in space and whether it is or will ever be safe enough for everyday people looking for an expensive 50-mile (80-kilometer)-high thrill ride."

Personally, i just don't think private companies can cut it, in space exploration, because of the way they're funded and run. Cheap joyrides above the atmosphere are one thing; but any more than that has huge overheads, which simply can't be covered by a profit-motivated organisation. They're too short-sighted to cope with the long-term investment necessary. All of the contenders, including Space X and Orbital Sciences, have been vying for decades, by drawing huge amounts of wealth from public purses, and their huge mother-organisations. But they still haven't got their own products working properly; and certainly not in a self-sustaining way.

Space exploration, as far as i'm concerned, will always be a loss leader. A brilliant, exciting, dangerous, inspiring, scientil loss leader; but still an economic loser.

And now from that macabre double-disaster, to another kind of double-disaster. But this time, a good one:

'Lessons from the dubious rise and inevitable fall of green coffee beans' (GCB)

"Plucked from obscurity and then subjected to bogus research, it’s now clear that the only people that actually benefited from GCB were those that profited from its sale. GCB had some powerful boosters, too. Once it became one of Dr. Oz’s “miracle” weight loss cures, sales exploded following two hype-filled episodes."

I take it you know of and about Dr. Mehmet Oz, right? Well, you will in a few inches time. Here's my abbreviated form of Scott Gavura's article. But please do read the whole thing.

"Oz’s promotion of GCB was so breathless and detached from the actual evidence that his actions were subsequently eviscerated by Senator Clair McCaskill during televised hearings on weight loss scams. It’s a long, sordid, ugly and yet entirely predictable story."

"Given how widespread obesity is, and how difficult it is to fix permanently, it’s not surprising that weight loss cures are fodder to those that want to sell magical cures."

"The story of GCB can’t be told without describing the pivotal role played by Dr. Mehmet Oz." "There is no other show that can top The Dr. Oz Show for the sheer magnitude of bad health advice it consistently offers, all while giving everything a veneer of credibility. That’s because Dr. Oz is a real physician – he just doesn’t play one on television. That might surprise you given his show’s content. He’s promoted homeopathy and faith healing. He’s hosted supplement marketer Joe Mercola to promote unproven supplements, and the notorious “Health Ranger”, antivaccinationist and conspiracy theorist Mike Adams. Oz has promoted ridiculous diet plans, and he gives bad advice to diabetics. Then add the long list of “miracle” foods like red palm oil, or manufactured public health scares like cell phones causing breast cancer. “The Dr. Oz Effect” was coined to describe how Oz drives product sales, but it more accurately describes how Oz’s advice wastes the time and finances of consumers that actually follow the advice he offers."

"Dr. Oz’s first episode on GCB looked at the Vinson trial" which was dodgy for a number of outlined reasons. Including being industry funded - the same company that would be marketing the product; poor publishing standards; the authors did not work in pharmacology; the trial was small and short; huge swathes of methodological data was missing, which makes replication impossible; the trial was not blinded, yet it was described as blinded!

"GCB had all the features of a bogus weight loss product. It was implausible, and backed by flimsy evidence with some serious methodological issues. Even before we knew it was fraudulent, it was clear this trial should not be used to guide treatment decisions."

"None of this was an obstacle to Oz, who declared it to be the newest panacea for weight loss, using words like “magic”, “staggering”, “unprecedented”, “cure” and “miracle pill”. He concluded his episode with an absurd “trial” in two audience members who took the supplement for five days. One reported a two pound loss, the other, a six pound loss. In doing so he illustrated one of the worst ways to evaluate a weight loss supplement: short duration of use and informed by anecdotes. It served as nothing more than an extended advertisement for the product."

"AFS subsequently sold 500,000 bottles, apparently at $50 each. And that’s how a chemist and psychologist in Pennsylvania came to be the authors of a bogus clinical trial of green coffee bean, driving millions of dollars in sales for AFS."

This is not just academic - people are putting their health on the line, for the sake of these products.

"In a hamfisted attempt to address the criticism of Oz’s first episode on GCB, Dr. Oz revisited the topic in a follow-up episode, which he called The Green Coffee Bean Project... Based on the Vinson study, Oz designed and conducted a clinical trial of green coffee bean on his studio audience... Oz didn’t obtain ethical approval to conduct the trial... Daytime TV trumps research ethics."

Oz has prior experience of doing research, and yet he's quite willing to churn out this shit. That says something about his ethics, doesn't it.

"When Dr. Oz arrived to speak at Senate hearing into weight loss scams in hearings led by Senator Clair McCaskill, he probably wasn’t expecting to be verbally disemboweled on television."

"If you haven’t watched the hearings yet, the best and smartest summary on Oz and supplements in general came from John Oliver."

"In May of this year, the FTC announced it was suing a Florida-based company (Applied Food Sciences) for its promotion of green coffee bean... Not only was the advertising misleading, but the trial itself was fraudulent" due to known data-corrupting techniques, and outright lies.

"In an amazing display of handwaving and fingerpointing, the two hired “authors” are now blaming the sponsor for the validity of the data. No apologies for the serious ethical lapse of pasting their names on research they didn’t even conduct. And yet they blame the sponsor, who was the manufacturer, who should be last group with any involvement in the data collection and analysis."

They were willfully complicit in research fraud (and yes, it really  is that) and yet they think they can pass the buck. Yes, AFS were responsible for the bullshit data, but they were responsible for making it look good, and thereby making it publishable.

"Yet there seems to be no stopping Dr. Oz. The miracles continue, even after his Senate smackdown. I’m heartened by medical students like Benjamin Mazer, who is determined to go after Dr. Oz by asking his medical regulator to take action against him. Is the Dr. Oz strong enough to deflect a regulator? Time will tell."

"So how does one avoid the next miracle cure? It’s what Dr. Oz actually admitted to under Senate questioning: There are no miracle pills that replace a proper diet that includes calorie restriction. The facts of weight loss aren’t catchy, but they are based in reality, not hype."

Eat a healthy, balanced diet; and burn as many calories as you consume. There's no other way.

Or go all vegan-zombie and just eat 'grains, grains, grains...' :-D

And here's another interesting thing from Science Based Medicine. Go on, read it yourself... :-P

'Mirror Neurons and the Pitfalls of Brain Research'


The 28th of October 2014 marked the 100th anniversary of Jonas Salk's birth. He was every bit the stereotypical scientist - a dark-haired, bespectacled, white lab-coat-wearing, pale-skinned man - everything feminists hate! As creator of the inactivated polio vaccine (IPV), Salk seemed a miracle-worker to people of the 1950s - more than 3000 people had died, and 20000 people paralysed, in a poliomyelitis (polio) outbreak in 1952, 3 years before his vaccine became available. Most of the victims were children. A century on, and epidemiologists are seriously considering global eradication of the disease. His area - vaccination - takes the 'prevention is better than cure' mantra and makes it reality. Truly, a hero of our age.

The 23rd of July marked the 15th anniversary of the Chandra X-Ray Observatory's launch into outer space. And this beautiful, purple picture had its 15th anniversary on the 30th of October: 6 hours of the Hydra A galaxy cluster

In other news:

Autists have indistinguishably different neuroanatomy to non-autists, according to a meta-analysis pooling information from 18 different neuroimaging studies. It's most powerful message, was that the 'accuracy' of the component analyses could be increased by lowering the sample size! This is not a good thing. usually, you see more, the harder you look - not less. This study suggests that  previous reports of highly accurate ASD ‘diagnosis’ on the basis of brain structure, were false positives caused by small sample sizes. There are hundreds of tiny studies declaring anatomical differences, which are contradicted by this study, but remember that anatomical differences are not functional differences (a point raised in my last mini-essay on brain types) and functional differences are clearly present (and indeed the defining features) in autism spectrum disorder (ASD).

Anti-corruption investigators in China have taken a haul of 200m yuan (£20m) from the home of the deputy chief of the National Energy Administration's coal department. There has been a big drive, in China, to counter intra-government corruption, and the State has sentenced more than 13,000 officials for corruption and bribery in the first nine months of 2014 alone. President Xi has warned that his campaign against corruption will target both "tigers" and "flies", indicating that no-one, not even senior party members, are exempt from the crackdown. China might have more to deal with; but isn't it interesting that so-called 'western' nations seem perfectly happy to tolerate corruption; especially via the revolving door between the public and private sector.

Misleading article title of the week's 'in other news'es: 'How often is 'antifreeze' added to food and drink?' Propylene glycol has been found at above-regulation limits in Fireball Whisky (a very nice, spicy-ginger-flavoured whisky) in the EU, where accepted limits are slightly lower than in the US - the place of manufacture. Propylene glycol is not antifreeze - it's an ingredient in it - and one that is widely used to improve the flavour of various ingestibles. As Paracelsus attributedly said, 'the dose makes the poison' and the amount at which it's found in food and drink is rarely anything to worry about. Regulators set their limits way below safe limits, anyway, so don't worry about it. Besides, the alcohol content's far more dangerous than the propylene glycol, and people deliberately buy drinks with alcohol in!

Pope Frank says evolution is a thing - and it's not just a thing - it's mandated by gawwwwwwwd. Interestingly, evolution denial (and science in general, for that matter) has been more of a Protestant thing than a Catholic one. The idea of the Big Bang (a Universal beginning) was actually officialised by an RC priest. Protestants insisted in a steady-state Universe, made perfect and unchanging, and are still, contemporarily, the leading denialists of abiogenesis, in order to displace it with the mythology of Adam-and-Eve-Creationism. So there you go. All Frankie's decree demonstrates, is that bigotry is arbitrary: "You must believe that evolution is a lie, condemned by God" / "You must believe that evolution is a fact, driven by God". It's wrong, either way.

Do you remember the puppy-sized spider story? You know - that species of spider that's 30cm in legspan and weighs up to 170g, which is apparently about the same as some puppies? Well, the guy who discovered it has received death threats for researching it! Why? Because it's impossible to find out how individuals and entire ecosystems work, without dissection, and DNA analysis, which requires ground down muscle mass. But insects can't feel pain. They have no pain mechanism. So if it's not animal abuse to do this research, then why did people feel death threats were justified? Well, i think it's because the intitial story compared the spider to a puppy, which triggered people's knee-jerk doe-eyed-sympathy responses. See a spider, and people stand on chairs shouting "kill it, kill it, kill it!"; see a puppy, and the same people will kill you for patting it too hard :-P

Parthenogenesis! From a huge spider, to a huge snake. Thelma - an 11-year-old, 6-metre, 90-Kg reticulated python - has given birth to six snakelets, without ever having encountered a male of her species. Because there's been no mixing of DNA, her young are clones of herself, and so must be female (like Jesus, who similarly had no male DNA) and must also be quite inbred. This means that progeny by parthenogenisis are usually less healthy, and expected to live shorter lives, than those from sexual reproduction. Scientists already knew about 10 species of snake, four species of shark, several monitor lizards, including the Komodo dragon, and two birds – zebra finch and Chinese painted quail - reproducing parthenogenetically. The term 'parthenogenesis' refers to the birth of Athena, in the mythology of the Ancient Greek Religion. She was birthed, whole, from the head of Zeus (and so should have been male too) and it is after her that the Parthenon is named - the virgin goddess.

------------------------------------------------------ contemporary stuff

'Hendo Hoverboard: BUSTED'
$400,000 for a $70 toy? Puh-lease! 'Believe'. No - don't - do some skeptical investigation first.

'John and Kevin's Sunday Papers - October 2014'

This edition is hilarious :-D

'Tinchy Stryder & The Chuckle Brothers | To Me, To You (Bruv) [Music Video]: SBTV'

'Jay Foreman - Happy Halloween'

'Queen - Love Kills - the ballad - (Montage Video)' (official)

'Brian May and the Czech National Symphony Orchestra - One Night In Hell - Official Music Video'

In case you didn't know: Brian May is hugely enthusiastic about stereoscopes (see description box) So now you do ;-)

'Kitchenette (Lucien Maine / Valentin Vincent)'

Macabre prank parody. Well, it is Hallowe'en... was.

'World beard champion crowned'

'Man Proposes to Girlfriend With 1,001 Hot Dogs! ft. David So'

'Carretilla extrema' (extreme wheelbarrow)

'Cellphone use tracks holiday population shifts'
Web activity last week, and phone activity this week :-)

'Floating touchscreen lets you feel virtual objects'

'This is Not a Rainbow'

'Ghost Metal (Chemistry Trick) - Version 2'

'Levitating pumpkins! Halloween science'

'Orbital's Antares rocket explodes on launch'
This was a private sector venture. But  who do you think's going to pick up the tab?

'The Chaser's Media Circus - Season 1 Episode 3'

------------------------------------------------------ of the weeks

Word Of The Week: prig -- a person who shows an inordinately zealous approach to matters of form and propriety. They see little need to consider the feelings or intentions of others, relying instead on established order and rigid rules to resolve all questions.

Etymology Of The Week: timorous -- meaning 'fearful'; comes from latin 'timere' meaning 'to fear, be afraid, dread'. In 15th century English, confused with 'temerous' which referred to rashsness; from latin 'temere' meaning 'by chance, at random; indiscreetly' and itself coming from proto-indo-european 'teme-' meaning 'dark' and being used to imply lack of knowledge/foresight.

Quote Of The Week: "Herbal medicine: giving patients an unknown dose of an ill-defined drug, of unknown effectiveness and unknown safety." - Prof. David Colquhoun

------------------------------------------------------ non-contemporary stuff

Nothing is non-contemporary, this week. Just do the SGU's quiz again :-P