Monday, 29 August 2016

Entertainment stuff from the week 22-28/8/16

Hiya baby doll,

Whatcha doing? Encouraging me to get pregnant? OK then, maybe i will.

'Baby doll simulators may actually increase teen pregnancy rates'

{Bazian notes that the Daily Fail's good reporting of this study is "let down" by their article being an advert for a USAian company that sells "virtual infants"}

The first question to ask, here, is "how does the Ocean Dilemma come into play?" as the observed correlation could be spurious. Even if the control and test groups were defined fairly, chance could still present an illusory correlation.

Epidemiological advice is generally that the most effective methods of preventing teenage pregnancy are: access to non-prejudicial relationship advice; and access to cheap, reliable pre- and post-ferilisation contraception.

Well, actually, the study this claim's based on was an RCT (a randomised controlled trial) so various sources of bias in the data were eliminated. This, however, doesn't include blinding, as the participants had to know which group they were in. Well, surely you'd notice if you were holding a screaming doll, as well as getting basic sex-ed?!

The most important data, from this well-conducted study, is that 17% of girls in the test group (subjected to the baby) got pregnant at least once, compared to 11% in the control groug (that got basic advice) and 8% in the test group gave birth, compared to 4% in the control group.

The natural frequency of births was 97 to 67, meaning the 'virtual baby' intervention actually caused 30 extra pregnancies to be brought to term, in a group of ~1500 people!

This means that the intervention that is intended to decrease teenage pregnancy is actually increasing it. The VIP (Virtual Infant Parenting) programme is therefore completely counter-productive.

But i'd like to use this revelation to hammer home the point that "Science without politics is alright, but politics without science is often disastrous"

This is not the only case that is already known about, where a popular heuristic, passed off as 'common sense', has turned out to be 100% wrong.

Another good example, to go with this one, is the case of the 'Scared Straight' programme, which has sought to use prison visitation with 'at risk' youths, to try to discourage them from committing crimes.

'"Scared Straight" programmes'

"How effective is it? Overall, the evidence suggests that the intervention has increased crime"

Following the children who participated in the programme into adult life, made it seem like they were less likely to commit crimes, when compared with other children. But the kids who were put on the programme, were different kids to those who would not have been put on it, because they went to schools that were more obliging. This means that there was substantial bias between the test and control groups.

When randomised trials followed the scheme up, they found that the intervention actually increased crime rates in the test population. But why?

The suggested explanation, is that familiarity with the environment, and an opportunity to realise that prison isn't as bad as in their imagination (nothing's ever as bad as in our imaginations!) made them fear prison less. Being shown around it might also have made prison life feel more real to them, and crucially, more like something in their future, thereby undermining their rejection of crime in another way.

So what was intended to 'scare them straight' actually bent them further out of shape. (I'm sticking with the metaphor, LOL)

And in the case of using baby dolls, to scare adolescents straight, the same is probably also true. Instead of being discouraged by them, they hold the doll, familiarise themselves with the tasks, and begin to realise that actually it's something they can do, and an almost-inevitable part of their future.

So hey, throw those johnnies away, and who wants rug burn first? :-D

Intent is not enough to guarantee that you'll get the right result. The methodology has to be good too. Your brain has to be in the right place, as well as your heart.

Here's an example of what can go wrong if you don't use your brain, and just let your emotions flail, wildly:

'The Vagina Tax' - ShoeOnHead

Prices differ in many ways, to many sub-regions of the world's economy. It's all supply and demand. Sellers will sell at whatever price they think they can get away with. So you're right, Shoe, but you're also wrong.

Sometimes differences in price are actually down to people subconsciously judging something to be worth more, simply because it appears to be honed to them. So by marketing something to make people think it's honed to them, the vendor can get away with a higher price.

It might not be a bespoke suit, but if you can convince them it's 'a bit' bespoke, then you can charge them more than basement prices for it.

Australian satirical customer service programme The Checkout has done videos on this effect, in the case of what they call 'gendered marketing'. They've also shown that one word on the outside, can make something a whole chunk more expensive.

The trouble for feminists is: it drives costs up for everyone, not just for women. And it isn't necessarily sexist. Sometimes it's ageist. The Checkout has a whole series of videos called 'As a guilty mum' on products targetted at children (and sometimes pets) through their parents, and through those parents' beliefs that they have to get their special darlings special products, at especially high prices.

It's actually very interesting, if you're Sociologically inclined, to study adverts from around the world. Especially with multinationals that sell their products, sometimes exactly the same products, in multiple countries, where the peoples are highly divergent.

The branding is essentially the same; but subtle, and sometimes not so subtle (i'm thinking 'elephant in the room' not-so-subtle) changes are made, to ingratiate the potential market.

It would be counter-productive for Coca Cola to have USAians on their adverts in China and India, for example, so they don't. When you watch the ad, you think very little's amiss, but is the drink really any better because Indians drink it, on the ads? No - that's all market manipulation.

Do you think it would work as well if men advertised Tena Lady? With or without wings, women are likely to be more worried by that, than encouraged. Maybe if he had his top off, like in the Diet Coke '11.30 Appointment' and 'Sexy Gardener' adverts :-D

In fact, this form of manipulation goes beyond the world of money... well, kind of.

Religious superstition has evolved to do exactly the same thing. For some strange reason, europeans swear blind that Jesus was a blonde-haired blue-eyed aryan god, just because he was a Nazarene. This makes no sense. Especially given that Nazareth didn't exist when he was born.

What also makes no sense, are the other depictions of him, by oriental people, who depict him with a fu manchu, and african people, who send his skin and hair tones the other way - darker, much darker. And with dreadlocks.

Now, of course we can point and laugh at the unending silliness of religious superstition, but the generic quasi-methods of mind-viruses' propagation are exactly that - generic. Corporats aren't trying to deceive people (necessarily) they're just selfish, cancer-like toads, greedily grasping for more, more, more. And the way that they do that, is a product of memetic evolution of human culture - mostly the mimicry of other people.

This doesn't make it OK, of course. 'Divide and conquer' being a method that helps persuade people to give them more money, doesn't mean it's an OK way to nab people's cash. But it is a method that they use.

So when you're hunting for a product, or maybe just browsing, and you see something with national flags on it, or marketed genderedly, or there's an old/young pale/dark face on the packet, or there's a salesperson hawking it at you...

Then they might be aiming that product at you, to persuade you to overpay for it; or they might be aiming it at someone else... but you'll still be overpaying for it, if you do :-P

'Red Dwarf XI Trailer Launch Tomorrow'

And through the magic of the internet...

'Red Dwarf XI Trailer'

'Red Dwarf XI TV Spot'

I could very easily overpay for a Red Dwarf DVD! Or a Red Dwarf anything, come to that :-D

And the Sydney Telegraph too:

'If you're going to ridicule research, do your homework'

In other news:

Continuing with the subject of memetics, manipulation, and peer pressure, comes this study. It seems that when it comes to peer pressure, the peers don't even have to be real, for the peer-pressure to work. The researchers wanted to see whether fake peer pressure could encourage people to take part in a citizen science project they'd created in 2012, called Brooklyn Atlantis, in which they'd noticed that despite many signatories, most support came from a small proportion of the participants. Nothing odd there. They split their online participants into six groups: one control group, with no AI peer; one with an AI that underperformed the real person; one with an AI that overperformed; one with an AI that matched them; and two with AIs that had unrelated performance. And when they did so, they found that the overperforming fake peer encouraged greater activity the most, the other AIs encouraged it less, and the one with the underperforming peer was the only group that was discouraged.

And now to genetics. They do go both ways, you know. If you judged purely by the number of diseases (plague, HIV, etc) that have been contracted by humans, from other species, you'd think that humans had terrible immune systems and all other species redoubtable ones. But that's not true. Diseases will adapt to new hosts, if it's evolutionarily favourable for them to do so. It's relatively well known that a simple human rhinovirus (the common cold) can kill an orangutan, but it's less well known what diseases our fellow apes are shedding. GALV (gibbon ape leukemia virus) is thought not to have originated in apes itself, but this study has found that rodents from Indonesian New Guinea probably gave the disease to the Asian lar gibbon (Hylobates lar) from which the retroviral pathogen got its name. Those rodents probably also gave koalas KoRV (Koala Retro-Virus) as they were unlikely to get it straight from the gibbons. This might sound scary, but it's actually the key to biodiversity's effect, in protecting us all from diseases. In order to transmit from one species, to another genera, clade, or even family of the taxonomical tree of life, the disease has to adapt, multiple times. The more biologically diverse we are, the more adaptation the disease has to do, thereby limiting its ability to spread.

The Treasury of the USA has pressured the EU to let its money-laundering multinationals go free, with billions of funds, because the Treasury pays those companies money for operating multinationally - they give them rebates for paying tax abroad! That means that the more tax they're compelled to pay, to the benefit of Europeans, the more tax USAian taxpayers might be compelled to pay, in order to subsidise their global magic-money-roundabout. I don't see why any company should be receiving rebates for economic activity in another territory, at all.
But the EU has responded that there is no bias in their tax rules, so USAian companies are not being unfairly targetted. It just so happens that three of the biggest offenders happen to be USA-based. So if you want to unfairly emburden the USA's taxpayers with bills only so that you can pay multi-billion dollar companies huge rebates, for the privilege of being able to avoid paying tax in more than one country, then that's your decision, USAian treasury :-P

WikiLeaks' openness has been the object of a lot of criticism, in recent months, as it's been found by an increasing number of people that the website has been used to publish personal information that could only be used to the detriment of the individuals, rather than (just) to a grand social benefit. But they're not alone in releasing politically useless personal data - the hack of Ashley Madison was entirely to that purpose. Edward Snowden has been quoted as saying "Democratizing information has never been more vital, and Wikileaks has helped. But their hostility to even modest curation is a mistake". But it's important to retain that context. WikiLeaks is revealing personal information along with a treasure trove of incredibly important information, the way the Ashley Madison hack did not. And it's only because WikiLeaks is so open, that we know that they've been collecting personal information. Businesses, through loyalty schemes and subscriptions and things, have been collecting and proliferating personal information about us for decades - they take our details, and then they sell them to other companies, so that those companies can target their products at us. Babyfood, quackery, eye tests, cancer screening, gay cures, etc. Even pharmacies have been doing it, with our medical data. The difference is that they're so secretive about their for-profit dealing in our personal information, that the public finger of disdain doesn't get pointed at them. But it should. WikiLeaks can justify the downside of its method with the huge gains that come from whistleblowing, but businesses can do no such thing. Let's not point our accusatory fingers at the wrong organisations by misprioritising.

A bunch of paranoid MPs in the UK have taken to the internet, to tell everyone to stop using the internet. Because if you allow people to use the internet, then the terrorists will win! Keith Vaz et al have been claiming for some time now, along with their Religious-supremacist peers in various countries, including Erdogan, president of Turkey, that because 'terrorists' can use Twitter, Facebook, Google, etc, then no-one should be allowed to use them. "Huge corporations like Google, Facebook and Twitter with their billion-dollar incomes are consciously failing to target this threat and passing the buck by hiding behind their supranational legal status, despite knowing that their sites are being used by the instigators of terror", Vaz has said. But they also use roads, too. And newspapers. And MPs, to instill fear in the populace, thereby encouraging them to capitulate to oppressive measures, without having to do a thing themselves. The chorus of anti-internet pro-censorship hollaring is dominated by superstitious ideologues who don't want the people to be so free that they can learn inconvenient facts about the world. Keith Vaz might be a Labour MP, but he is fighting on their side, not against them. It is not without good reason, that the internet has been called the place 'where religions come to die'. Total censorship is impossible, criticism is free, and so are the people who use it, when they do.

Drones and refugees, now there's a combination. There are three possibilities that spring to my mind, when it comes to a news piece with those two elements: the suggestion that drones could be used to fight the immigrants, on the beaches; the paranoid suggestion that immigrants are using drones to spy on your children; or the suggestion that drones are being used to find and help migrants, many of whom have lost their lives while trying to get themselves a better life. Vote now, on which you think is the right answer. Admit it, you'd believe me if i said either of the first two were true, wouldn't you! But they're not (i hope) though the last one is. A man who fled the Taliban (and the US Air Force too) 15 years ago, has gone back to the Mediterranean where he was saved by Amnesty International, to use drones to hunt for migrants in trouble, on the waters, and on the beaches. Having been through the ordeal himself, he understands the mindset, in which people become dedicated to the ultimate goal, and spurred on by fear of what lies behind them, are ready to risk their lives for the sake of it.

Spurious or not-so-spurious? On the one hand, this seems like ordinary psychology research, in which vague properties of people are given poorly-defined measurements, in order to make attempts at objective comparisons. On the other hand, it seems like classic advertising pseudoscience, of the kind that might be titled 'Scientist discovers equation for perfect kiss' or 'science calculates perfect bum shape' which is actually produced when a PR company creates an advert for a client, and promises an academic and their department free publicity, if they'll put their name on it! This is real, and it happens a lot. So does Donald Trump rank above Adolf Hitler and "only just below" Idi Amin, Saddam Hussein and Henry VIII, on the psychopathy scale? Has "Oxford University's Dr Kevin Dutton" actually done some spurious research, or is it all complete bollocks, invented by a PR company, on behalf of a publishing company with a few books on the way, intended to have the word 'psychopath' in the title? Or a Democrat-leaning lobby group? Or an insurance company that's trying to worry people about the abundance of psychopaths in the world? Or one of various possibilities, of who might commission such bullshit? It's yet another reincarnation of Poe's Law, isn't it - the parody is too similar to the sincerity, in order for us to tell the difference :-D

Jeffrey Williams has set a NASA record for longest time in outer space, at 526 days, as of this article's posting. But the world record for time in space goes to Russian cosmonaut Gennady Padalka, who had spent 879 days in space, in five separate stints, when he returned to Earth's surface last year.

Also in the news this week: the UKish newspapers have been having a go at the BBC (no surprise there, then) for firing the Met Office, who do all the weather reports on TV. Well, it is true that the BBC's contract with the Met (Meteorological) Office is due to end, meaning that any future weather presenters won't be employees of the UK's best and brightest weather and local-climate research and reportage body; but this has been known for a whole year. In other words, it isn't news :-D

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

Word Of The Week: hawking -- employing a hawk or falcon for hunting or entertaining purposes; flying akin to a hawk; preying on another person, generally non-cannibalistically; belligerently advocating war, especially if they're in a seat of government; any other use of aggressive policy in business, government, etc; selling something in person, and in public, usually by shouting out in order to advertise it; spreading rumours and news; an effort used to raise phlegm from the throat, or throatclear noisily

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

'Time lapse captures processionary caterpillars crossing footpath'

'Spirogyra - Under the Microscope'

'Can Paper Cut Wood?'

'The Secret of Floppy Paper - Numberphile'

'How To Trap Particles in a Particle Accelerator'

'Rosetta captures comet outburst'
It's a GIF, so click on it ;-)

'Image: Space station view of Grand Canyon National Park'

'Black Salve - Cancer 'Treatment' That Burns Holes in You!'

'The Adventures of Dad³ - No Dad's Sky'

'The Food of Dad³ - We'll Be Right Back After This...'

'The Robot Wars'

'An Expensive Lesson | The Checkout'

Monday, 22 August 2016

Entertainment stuff from the week 15-21/8/16

Hi sacrificers,

'Top European lab probes fake human sacrifice video'

So you think boffins are boring, do you? Huh! [scoffs]

As i write, this, if you go to Google and type in "cern" the 2nd top suggestion is "cern human sacrifice".

Searching for that would give you a range of churnalisations of the fact that some people, almost certainly scientists working at CERN, have, in the words of the press, been "pranking" but have "gone too far", with a "chilling mysterious video" of a "Satanic" "'Human sacrifice' ceremony" or "some kind of occult ritual" that "could undermine the actual science that goes on".

Putting all that to one side...

Did you know that a full indie zombie film has been recorded on the grounds of the LHC?

'DECAY Official Site: The LHC Zombie Film'

In fact i blogged it, 4 years ago, when it was newly released.

It was produced entirely by Physics PhD students, acted entirely by Physics PhD students, and recorded entirely on the CERN-owned grounds of the LHC,
by Physics PhD students.

The only cause of the kerfuffle, in this case, is that it's not entirely sure whether anyone else knew about the film, before it was recorded.

If you'd like to see the 60-second horror movie, then you can find links to it in all kinds of places, like here, or on many conspiracy theorists' YouTube channels.

Oh yes! You didn't think they wouldn't think it were real, did you? But then, they probably think 'Decay' was a documentary too :-D

In other news:

It's yet another new world record, with July 2016 being the hottest month on record, for Planet Earth, in the 137 years of record-keeping. "July 2016 was 1.57 degrees Fahrenheit (0.87 degree Celsius) above the 20th-century average, breaking last year's record for the warmest July on record by 0.11 degrees" according to the monthly report from NOAA.

And it goes on. Undeterred by all of the evidence that says they're wasting their time, the superstitionists who believe there's a Nazi gold train buried under Poland, have commenced digging. Last time we heard of them, the gold-hunters were claiming 10% of the haul, that geologists from Krakow's university had found to not be there. Arguably funnier than even this, is that the World Jewish Congress has declared that if they do find buried gold, then they wants it. It belongss to thems. It's minesesss. My precioussss Jewgold. LOL. They're not even trying to be astereotypical :-D

The Fail, Sun and Dependent have all heralded the end of morphine, this week, with a press release claiming to have found a non-addictive opiate-alternative that works better at dampening pain. The Fail even promised that it would end the "opioid epidemic". The chemical developed is, in fact, an opioid. It's been named PZM21, and the only study relating to its efficacy is this one, in which several of the authors state they have a provisional patent on PZM21 and related molecules, and are consultants and co-founders of Epiodyne, a company seeking to profit from the manufacture of new analgesics. So for a mouse-based study that is rampant with industrial corruption, what can we say about the methodology itself? Well, the total number of mice in the PZM21 group was just 13, and all the other sample sizes are also staggeringly small. Some even as low as 3. I'm not sure whether the researchers would consider this to be industry standard (they're too low, either way) but they shouldn't be making grand claims in press releases, off the back of them. Is PZM21 the saviour of analgesics, with superior pain-relieving power to morphine, but without side-effects, as they claim? On the basis of this one-and-only study, it would be wrong to say 'yes'.

It's been claimed, this week, that only half of your friends actually like you back. The claim stems from a study of 84 students in a Middle-Eastern, undergraduate business-management class, who were asked to rate their closeness to the other people on a scale of 0-5, with 0 and 1 being taken as 'non-friend' and 2, 3, 4 and 5 being 'friend'. But only if reciprocated. Unsurprisingly, people thought that if they counted someone else as a friend, then that would be reciprocated, but this was only true 53% of the time. Hence the claim that only half your friends like you back. But that claim doesn't consider that people have different perceptions of their relationships, when they know what the other people in the relationships' perceptions of them are. So if you think that Bob would call you a friend, then you're more likely to call them one. And if you think they bear a grudge against you, you're more likely to reject the possibility of calling them a friend. Even considering the selective sample and inherent uncertainty in rating friendships on a 0-5 scale, there are elements of what 'friendship' is that this study simply hasn't measured. And then, what use do business-management undergrads have for friends? Honing brown-nosing skills? Maybe nerds on science courses would rate each other much higher, because they've lived in the lab with each other, for so long. All this is conjecture. Do only half your friends like you back? On the basis of this study, it would be wrong to say 'yes'.

Dubious research of the week - mini-gingers are a medicine? According to a branch of the USA's 'Department of Veterans Affairs' that looks after ex-military personnel, and apparently also does detailed medical research on the side; if you crush root ginger, and grind it down really finely, until all the bits are nano-sized, then that ginger suddenly becomes a medicine, that's efficacious in treatment of bowel conditions, such as: Irritable Bowel Disease, acute and chronic colitis, Crohn's disease, and digestive tract cancers. Well, colour me ginger! Root ginger is very popular with quacks, because it's a widely-available product, with pre-existing superstitions attached. And like most quackeries, the claimed affects are panaceic - everything from curing gippy tummy to curing cancer. Sounds familiar. Lots of people are willing to incorrectly call the former 'IBD'. Even disregarding the lead researcher's Sinese background, where ginger-related quackery is very popular, at Wenzhou Medical University, and the odd use of terms from Physics in a Medicine context, which is classic quackery - 'energy', 'resonance', 'quantum' etc - i still think this is a dubious study, claiming dubious results; very probably under pressure from the dubious beliefs of dubious veterans, who want the VA medical centres to give them something dubious, without mentioning the dubiousness. It's exactly what's caused the antibiotics epidemic.

How did Gondwanaland's marsupial lion, Thylacoleo carnifex, really hunt its prey. It was far too heavily built to be hunting smaller animals, so must have been tackling larger prey, but there are multiple hypotheses about how it did this. Thylacoleo had large cheek teeth, shaped like incisors, but set sideways, so previous suggestions have been that it used its strong arms to hold its prey, they way placental lions still do today, while it used its cheek teeth to shear through the prey's neck, to debilitate it. But a new analysis provides a motive to reject this hypothesis, which i think makes sense. Thylacoleo's arms were evolved like humans' so that they could turn their palms toward them, making it easier to grapple prey. This is an adaptation that cats have, that dogs don't, but Thylacoleo's were more primatelike than other cats. Also, they had a huge dewpaw (on the thumb) that could be swivelled through a wide range of positions. It seems more likely that the massive strength of the arms were involved in taking the prey down, than has previously been suggested, simultaneously presenting the possibility that the huge cheek teeth were actually more for gripping than for slicing. It might simply have been that Thylacoleo had evolved a halfway-house, in which both the claws and teeth played a role in bringing Gondwanaland's large, furry prey under its control, and that either could deal the killer blow.

Whether honest or facetious, there is an important truth behind the claims of this last press release. People genuinely are bad at mental arithmetic, and they are bad at making ad-hoc judgements, with little time to commit to them. Sometimes they make bad judgements because they aren't willing to spend time on committing to them. But the end result is that they make bad decisions, on the basis of wrong beliefs, arrived at through fallacious analyses. For example, a 50% loss followed by a 50% gain will not leave you with the same as you started with - it will leave you with 75% of what you started with. Scale this problem of mental space up slightly, and we can see how tough it is to be a consumer, bamboozled by unit prices, product quality comparisons, and ecological considerations - a problem only exacerbated by salespeople, who flood us with extraneous data, in the hope that we'll accidentally go for the more expensive option, just to 'play safe'. This is a big reason why markets need regulation - it simply isn't possible to do all the data-crunching, on your feet, in the store - we need boffins, behind us, feeding us intel, or preventing the guys on the other side from feeding us baloney.

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

Word Of The Week: grallatorial -- pertaining to, or belonging to, wading birds - snipes, cranes, storks, herons, etc

Game Of The Week: Dr. Langeskov, The Tiger, and The Terribly Cursed Emerald: A Whirlwind Heist

Fact Of The Week: the fastest man over 100 metres is not Usain Bolt - it's Justin Gatlin. Assisted by wind, he's done the time in 9.45 seconds, for a Japanese gameshow

Unabashedly Sexist Research Expedition Of The Week: 'eXXpedition Great Lakes 2016' which is described as "The all-female crew members on the seven lead research vessels also aim to inspire young women to pursue careers in science and engineering" Who needs single-sex golf clubs when you've got people like them, eh?

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

'LCD Projectors - Dichroic Glass'

'Physics of Computer Chips - Computerphile'

'ScienceCasts: Electric Blue Sunsets'

'The Interlaced Video Problem - Computerphile'

'Nectarine = Mutant Peach?!'

'Is It OK To Pee In The Pool?'

'Smash Glow Crystals in a Blender'

'A Strange Change of Rotation - Numberphile'

'Emission Impossible | The Checkout'

'Snot Rocket Science | The Checkout'

'Signs of the Time: Series 4 Ep 10 | The Checkout'

'The Adventures of Dad³ - Groundhog Dad'

'"Forever Young Key" for Violin and Piano by Hyung-ki Joo'

Monday, 15 August 2016

Entertainment stuff from the week 8-14/8/16

Hi layabouts,

It's only taken a few years, and already the brainscoop girl has caught up with Tapejara.

Flower porn is genuinely a thing. LOL

'Finding the fairest way to judge the Olympic medal count'

So USAians think the best way to rank countries' successes, in the Olympics, is to add up a vulgar aggregate of medals, in contrast to Ozzies, who think the population of the country they represent should be taken into account.

Well, i've news for all of you. The Olympics isn't fair, and it never has been. Nationalists sicophantically claiming other people's achievements as their own, is never going to be fair either, whether you apportion 'credit' by aggregate or by capita.

But the proportion of medals that go to each nation faction, is interesting, in the sense that it gives us an idea of how unfair the system is.

Team GB, as it nauseatingly entitles itself, has a huge medal count, in this Olympics, that is far out of proportion to the population size of the UK. How is this achieved?

Well, many athletes who affiliate to Team GB have actually changed their nationality, so that they can access the UK's superior training equipment, and established sporting organisations, with their seasoned, experienced staff, and sporting histories.

All of these factors make it more likely that you'll win a medal, regardless of any of your personal features: genetics, personality, and health.

The last of these two are essentially environmental factors, but environment plays a part in the first too, though only through your parents and grandparents, epigenetically.

When you're watching the Olympics, you are watching freaks. They're not average people, who 'dreamed big' - they're people with convenient genes, who were born into an environment of sporting enthusiasm, and who have been assisted along their entire career by people who share their received enthusiasms. I've lost count of the number of interviews where it turns out that they first picked up a raquet, or kicked a ball, at 4.5 weeks old.

You were never going to be able to compete with them. How on Sagan's pale blue dot is that fair?

The Olympics isn't fair. Sport isn't fair.

The bigger boys are always going to win, no matter how hard you try, simply because they're bigger than you, and they're more boyish than you... grarrh, testosterone!! :-D

But then, do you really care? I don't watch tennis because i think i can win. I watch it because it feels amazing to sympathise with the players, as they do things. As they do barely-credible things. Things i could never do myself.

Sport is not about encouraging people to do exercise - it's about encouraging a large majority to watch a small minority do exercise - it's entertainment.

So men and women are still segregated, in sport. And able-bodied and disabled people are also segregated, in sport. Then what makes the Paralympics a going concern?

It's not a deep understanding of fairness, and the nature of competition, and that it's all ultimately futile for the 99.999999% of us. Because then, there would be no Women's Events, or Paralympics. They only exist, because people find them entertaining - they want to watch them.

It's the ticket buyers, and the couch potatoes at home, who are responsible for the Olympics continuing to exist. And continuing to exist in its present form. They provide the funding, and the motivation for anyone who might bother to organise it. Without them, the 0.000001% would have no stage to play on, and a 0% chance of winning any medals at all.

So here's to you, you lazy layabouts. You are the true spirit of the Olympics. Without you, nothing happens :-P

'Australian census back online 2 days after cyberattack'

And here's why doing these things online is such a terrible idea...

'Why Electronic Voting is a BAD Idea - Computerphile'

Don't underestimate the influence of censusses. Humans are social animals, so they're highly susceptible to peer pressure. When people think they're in a majority, they assume they must be right. And when they see racial profiling on a census "What is your ethnicity?" it genuinely makes a difference. If someone hacked a census, they could influence public perception, through any of the criteria recorded on it.


The peak of the latest Perseid Meteor Shower was over the weekend, on the nights of the 12th of August and the 13th, with up to 200 meteors per hour. You can see a couple of picture in the 'contemporary stuff' section

In other news:

Let's start with a roundup of pseudomedicine in the unjustifiably-popular press. The Torygraph, Fail, Sun and Beeb, have all incompetently claimed that swapping meat for vegetables will make you live longer. The study actually found that no difference was observed, when accounting for factors such as smoking, obesity, etc. It's those that were genuinely correlating with shortened lifespan. So gobbling lentils won't put years on your life, but stopping smoking, excercising more, and eating less overall, will.

The old 'favourites' of early-20th century quackery are back in the news, this week. The Daily Fail and Torygraph have both claimed that quackupuncture ('health by a thousand cuts') is a treatment for dementia, based on rehashed, republished bullshit from years ago, and the BBC and others have also been 'covering' chiroquacktors' claims that cupping is a treatment for muscle weakness. It isn't - it just bruises the skin. It's the bruising all over various athletes at the Rio Olympics, including Michael Phelps, that got people talking about it. You can see Prof. Colquhoun on the Beeb, in his video, here, and you can read more about the demented nature of 'cupping' here, and a non-topical history of it, here. Unlike acupuncture and chiropractic, which are both less than 200 years old, cupping has been performed, with utmost futility, for about 2000 years. It still doesn't work. All it does is bruises the skin.

The Beeb, Grauniad, ITV, and NME, have successfully covered (it's dramatic enough, so they didn't have to lie) Public Health England's report that there have been 38 suspected measles cases in people who attended music festivals in June and July, and that they have declared msuical events to be 'measles hotspots'. This is unsurprising - large congregations of people are always a health risk, especially when they don't generally meet each other, because it means diseases can spread from one group to another, that it hasn't had access to, before. This is why the WHO were called upon to judge the public health risk of the Rio Olympics, through Zika transmission. Thanks to the antivax movement, measles is still about, in the UK, making PHE's warning a necessary one. The Islamic pilgrimage to Mecca - the Hajj - costs thousands of lives, every year, the majority of which are surely not even reported, as the individuals won't realise how they got ill.

Here's a good case for the Ocean Dilemma - vaginal douching (washing) correlates with incidence of ovarian cancer. Given that it's known that pathogenic infections, such as HPV (human papilloma virus) can cause cancer, and that an HPV vaccine is currently marketed as a cervical cancer vaccine, it seems quite plausible that women who have trouble with gynaecological problems, including infections, are also likely to douche a lot, as well as to have a raised risk of developing a genital cancer. This doesn't mean that douching causes cancer. And this is the same case for talc. Except the study cited found that there isn't even a correlation between talc use and ovarian cancer. But that didn't stop the Metoo, Fail, and Sun, from claiming that douching doubles your cancer risk. The Sun even warned that women "should NEVER douche" (emphasis not added) which is even worse! Douching is the vaginal equivalent of an enema - useful in some situations, but problematic in most. Especially the ones where people decide to self-diagnose their conditions, and treat themselves. In fact, it might make you smell worse, down there; but there's currently no reason to think that douching (or talcing) will cause you to develop cancers, too.

And yet another case for the Ocean Dilemma. This professor, from RMIT University in Melbourne, Australia's School of Economics, Finance and Marketing, has found that "Students who play online games almost every day score 15 points above the average in maths and 17 points above the average in science" and so the necessary conclusion is that "Teachers should consider incorporating popular video games into teaching - so long as they're not violent ones". Yeah, as long as they're not violent ones, because, y'know, we know violent computer games don't make people violent in real life. But his main findings (that only looked at Maths, Reading, and Science subjects, by the way) that computer game players score higher in the only fields he looked at, can not be directly translated to 'playing computer games causes nerdiness'. The causation might go the other way - that nerdiness causes computer game consumption, or they might both be the consequence of a common cause, such as: they're indoorsy types, so while the other kids get good at kicking seven types of snot out of each other, on the sports pitch, they get good at nerdy things like science, maths, reading, and computer games.

Uh-oh, feminists. Evolutionary psychology's back in the news. But this time in cats. How do your 'genders' fit in with them? The evolution of sexual dimorphism in cats has produced differing psychologies in the resulting dimorphic populations - males and females. Female cats grade the urgency of kittens' calls with respect to the intensity of the plea, but males treat all infant mews equally. To clarify, these are the calls of unrelated kittens, in all cases. The researchers intend to continue, by testing whether relatedness to the kittens, makes males and females more responsive to those kittens' mews. And maybe whether feminist felines are more attentive to female kittens' mews. Or maybe not :-P

A top court in India has ruled that New Delhi's ban on the most polluting cars must be overturned, because motor industry avarice is more important than the health of the people. The motor industry lobbied for a repeal of the city's act, whining that they had lots of SUVs, littering their forecourts, because people wouldn't buy them. Market forces, you cretins. New Delhi has a huge problem with air pollution, that has been mentioned on this blog before. I think the poor foresight of dealers should come second to people's health, myself.

According to Barclays bank, or at least Barclays' head of personal banking, "Unlike a password, each person's voice is as unique as a fingerprint" and so they're going to faze out passwords, and replace them with voice signatures, for people who communicate with them over the phone. But is that really true? Is a voice signature as distinguishing as a fingerprint? We know that, far from popular superstition's insistence, fingerprints are not unique. People have been served with punishments for crimes they did not commit, through mistaken attribution of fingerprints. For example, Stephen Cowans and Shirley McKie, who were falsely accused of murder, and eventually reprieved in 2004 and 2006 respectively. Even if all prints were different (and they do change due to senescence, so they're even different to our own, in the past!) practical forensic science would be limited by the ability of the people/software to discriminate between one print and the next. If they're unidentical, but the software can't tell the difference, you'll get flagged up as a match. This same problem is going to happen with voices. But arguably, due to throat infections, adolescence, and physical injuries, vocal signatures hold the potential to vary even more than fingerprints do. So if you bank with Barclays, don't get ill, or too old, or they might decide you're not you any more, and refuse you access to your money!

Want to see a polystyrene ball being levitated using sound alone? OK, go on, click the link:

IceCube researchers have put a sterile neutrino to bed. By which i mean: researchers working at the IceCube facility, in the Antarctic, who have been researching neutrinos, and in this case, the hypothesised fourth form of neutrino - the sterile neutrino - have presented evidence that it doesn't exist. There are three known forms of neutrinos - muon, electron, and tau - none of which interact very well with matter, but are susceptible to gravity, and can be produced by nuclear reactions. The hypothesised 'sterile' neutrino is so-called because it doesn't collide with matter at all, and so can only be discovered by its gravitational interactions with it, or when it 'oscillates' (as neutrinos do) into one of the other three matter-interacting forms. The researchers also state that the sterile neutrino, if it existed, could "dramatically interfere with the way conventional neutrinos" interact with matter. After "a year's worth of data or about 100,000 neutrino events" IceCube has come to the conclusion that sterile neutrinos, at least as currently defined, do not exist. For more details, see the video embedded in this article:

Another proof of a negative, to come from the world of Unclear Physics, this week, is the revelation that MACHOs - gigantic black holes, sitting where they shouldn't be, on the peripheries of galaxies, instead of in the middle of them - do not exist in galaxies' halos. At least, not if they're over 10 times the mass of our Sun. They're missing from gravitational lensing surveys, discounting them from being 10-30 solar masses; and the existence of fragile wide halo binaries has discounted them from the range above 100 solar masses, as they would be destroyed by such huge black holes. Observations of ultra-faint dwarf galaxy Eridanus II, discovered by the Dark Energy Survey, have been used to discount MACHOs from the range in the middle - 30-100 solar masses. Ultra-faint dwarf galaxies are dominated by dark matter content, so if MACHOs accounted for dark matter in the universe, then they should be abundant there. But if they were, the dynamic heating between Eridanus II's star cluster and the MACHO black holes would cause the cluster to expand. Eridanus II's star cluster is simply too compact for MACHOs to exist there, ruling their presence out. It could be that Eridanus II is somehow an exception, where all the black holes have left for their summer holidays, but this is very unlikely.

In the wake of Solar Impulse 2's completed voyage around the world, using zero carried fuel, NASA has selected five concepts for research over the next two years, that might revolutionise the emissions-efficiency of future aeronautics. The concepts are: alternative fuel cells; using 3-D printing to increase electric motor output; the use of lithium-air batteries for energy storage; new mechanisms for changing the shape of an aircraft wing in flight; and the use of aerogel in the design and development of aircraft antennae. NASA presumably hopes that work on these concepts will help it towards its stated targets of: reducing fuel use by half, reducing harmful emissions by 75%, and significantly reducing aircraft noise.

A Greenland Shark (Somniosus microcephalus) has recently been proclaimed to be the world's oldest vertebrate, at 500 years old. Well, radionuclide analysis of the lens in its eye, has actually revealed a specimen of the fish to be 272-500 years old. The reason radiometric testing of the animal's lens was used to test its age, is that environmental exposure to fallout from nuclear tests would embed in the material of the lens, indicating that it had been alive at the time of the event. By projecting its growth rate backward, to when it were born, the researchers made an estimate of 392±120 years - much older than the previous record, set by a 211-year-old bowhead whale. This method of projection is unreliable, despite the greenland shark's slow-and-steady growth rate (common in animals living in cold, polar conditions) which is why the uncertainty in estimates of its age spread so widely. It could be as young as 272, or as old as 500. The figure of 150 years, for the commencement of breeding, is subject to this same uncertainty, but of one thing we can be sure: any animal that grows so slowly, and lives so long, is highly susceptible to fishing, as it can't renew its population easily.

Researchers led by a marine ecologist with NOOA Fisheries' Southwest Fisheries Science Center have made the claim that the humpback whales they have observed, have been engaging in altruistic, or at least quasi-altruistic behaviour. Adult humpback whales are practically immune to attacks by orca (killer whales) due to their size, but their young are susceptible, so the adults get in the habit of defending their younger charges from the orcas' attacks. According to these researchers, their wont extends to defending orcas' other victims, such as sea lions, gray whales, sunfish and harbor seals, by forming a cetacean wall, encircling and patrolling the victims for several hours, if necessary. A colossal 104 out of 115 incidents of defencive behaviour, that the researchers spotted, did not involve humpback whale calves. It might be an extension of a parenting reflex, or it might be an extension of personal experience, as many of the defencive whales bore scars from attacks they had suffered themselves, in their youths.

All vertebrates develop through a temporally-ordered process, in the womb. First, development focuses around the head, then the torso, and lastly the tail. Genetic differences are responsible for the proportions of all of these bodyparts, and this includes the length of the torso - from the stubby torsoes of little animals like mice, to the hugely elongated torsoes of snakes. And most of their body genuinely is torso - it's not all tail! The biologists behind this study have found that the Oct4 gene is the key controller of trunk development, and that in snakes, their epigenetics keeps the gene 'on' (being expressed) for much longer than in other vertebrates. In fact, evolution has led to the Oct4 gene in snakes being located next to a DNA region that keeps this gene in an 'on' state during long periods of embryonic development. This means that, conversely, the snake's tail is actually relatively short, because there is less time devoted to developing its length.

Warm waters might be balmy and inviting to humans and their fellow vertebrates, on their holidays, but they're also inviting and nurturing to other forms of life. Warm water is a boon for a range of pathogens, and with climatic change increasing the temperature of surface waters, around the world, it's unsurprisingly causing an increase in outbreaks of diseases in shallow-water environments. About a dozen species of vibrio bacteria are responsible for sicknesses, from consuming undercooked seafood, especially oysters. And they also cause illness in swimmers, and people drinking infected water. Probably vibrio's most famous disease is cholera - long banished from Britain - but vibrio varieties are apparently on the rise in the USA, where researchers have observed warming trends providing more places for infections to fester. And similarly, in Europe, outbreaks have coincided with heatwaves, such as have occurred twice in the UK already, this year.

Hammerhead sharks, it has been found, swim on their sides to save energy. Not at right-angles, of course - at an angle of about 50-70 degrees from upright. And they do this because their large dorsal fin provides lift when they lean to the side, meaning they don't have to put as much effort in, to stay up, in the water. This means that as long as they're not going anywhere in a hurry, it helps to swim lop-sided. Windtunnel experiments on a scale model have verified the energy efficiency, explaining why they travel at that angle ~90% of the time.

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

Word Of The Week: pathology -- the study of diseases; from greek 'pathos' meaning 'suffering', and 'ology' meaning 'the study of'

Advice Of The Week: Don't buy a car in the dark

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

'Thermal Camera reveals how your body dumps heat while exercising!'
Holy freaking shit! This is the one to watch!! IT WILL BLOW YOUR MIND!!!

'Powering a Particle Accelerator'

'Silver Halides - Periodic Table of Videos'

'Fully-Charged-Electric-Bikes | Fully Charged'

'Who Owns the South China Sea?'

'The 'Nazi' Dog Of London'

'The Adventures of Dad³ - 100m Sprint World Record'

'Pensioner's massive cock has become a tourist attraction'

'Perseid Meteors over Mount Shasta'

'Perseid from Torralba del Burgo'

'IRIS spots plasma rain on sun's surface'

'Image: Infrared Saturn clouds'

'Cassini finds flooded canyons on Titan'

'ACCC-CCCC: Investment scams | The Checkout'

'Card Sharks | The Checkout'

Monday, 8 August 2016

Entertainment stuff from the week 1-7/8/16

Hi vinaiguys and vinaigrettes,

Exposé of the week:

'The Fake Vinegar In British Fish and Chip Shops' - Tom Scott

But the exposé goes deeper, Tom Scott. The exposé goes deeper...

What's the active ingredient in vinegar that makes it vinegar? Acetic acid.

What's the active ingredient in Non-Brewed Condiment that makes it a vinegar alternative? Acetic acid...

Oh, wait. Non-Brewed Condiment is vinegar. The only other ingedients are water, to dilute it, and contaminants, to give it a flavour. The same is true of wine/cider/ale/malt/cocunut/honey/whatever-vinegar as well as NBC. Matching a vinegar for purpose, depends on which particular contaminants are in it. If you want a wine-like vinegar, for example, you go for wine vinegar, because the contaminants in it come from the wine, making it taste a bit winey.

The purported reason for using NBC instead of 'proper' vinegar is the 'temperance' (in modern lingo: 'prohibitionist') movement which, like the anti-GMO movement, condemns by association, not by fact. Because fermentation of alcohol is the method by which vinegar is made, they condemned it. Whether any alcohol would be in the product at all, they condemned it. If it came from alcohol, it was deemed to be evil.

According to the quote attributed to Paracelsus, "the dose makes the poison". If there's a trace amount of alcohol in vinegar, then who really cares? Only people who care about ego, over fact.

But then, where does the acetic acid that's used to make NBC come from? If it's not the fermentation of ethanol, then where?

The only viable methods of mass-producing acetic acid are methanol/acetaldehyde/ethylene oxidation, and aerobic/anaerobic fermentation.

But the first three are off limits, because they're not allowed to be used in the production of foodstuffs. Only the biological metabolism of acetic acid is allowed, in this case, because the end product is a food. Or is it a drink? So the only options remaining are aerobic/anaerobic fermentation.

Non-Brewed Condiment, however, is supposed to be a cheaper alternative to vinegar, so it can't be anaerobic fermentation, which is more expensive, as it's compromised by economies of scale. If not other factors, too.

So it must be... aerobic fermentation... that is used. Which is the same method that's used to produce 'vinegar' vinegar. So Non-Brewed Condiment is just flavoured vinegar! And is, in fact, brewed! That's what the term 'fermentation' means, in this context.

Then what's the point of Trading Standards prohibiting the sale of NBC as vinegar, when the acetic acid that's used to make the NBC, is vinegar itself??? They're just prohibiting one form of vinegar, in order to favour another form of vinegar!!

To add to the madness, this is what Non-Brewed Condiment's Wiki page says about the economics of NBC production:

"Non-brewed condiment is acetic acid mixed with colourings and flavourings, making its manufacture a very quick process"

But you have to make the vinegar, in order to mix it with the colourings and flavourings, to make it into Non-Brewed Condiment. Why isn't that time (3+ months) included? I don't call a quarter of a year a "very quick process".

"Excuse me dear, just going down the shops. It'll be a very quick trip. See you in the Spring"

It's mad. Completely mad.

So what's the reason for all this? Well, i don't really know whether there is a reason. But i can conject that it has something to do with legal bollocks. And maybe something to do with smirking at the prohibitionists, too.

Quoting Wiki again:

"According to Arthur Slater, writing in the August 1970 edition of Industrial Archaeology the Chief Metropolitan Magistrate ruled in a 1949 prosecution at Bow Street Magistrates Court that the term ‘Non-brewed Vinegar’, which up until then had been used to market such acetic acid solutions, was in contravention of the Merchandise Marks Act 1926 as it constituted a false trade description. The decision was upheld on appeal to the King’s Bench Division. Mr Slater goes on to state that after the unsuccessful appeal ‘the trade association concerned announced that in future their product would be sold as ‘Non-brewed condiment’’."

So the ruling was that the term 'non-brewed vinegar' was misleading. So the trade body representing the manufacturers decided to change the name from 'non-brewed vinegar' to 'non-brewed condiment'.

I have one 'minor' gripe about that resolution:


You have to brew whatever it is you brew, to produce the acetic acid, with which the 'non-brewed' condiment is made. Changing the name from 'vinegar' to 'condiment' has preserved the wrongness in the name, not corrected it! Gah....

Still, if it got the prohibitionists off everyone's backs, then maybe it was worth it :-D

The Red Dwarf series XI episode list is complete. Roll on, September :-D

'Red Dwarf XI episode list and synopses released'

'Queensland rays could pose toxic Asian medicine risk'

Time to get sarcastic... :-P

"Consumers of Asian alternative medicine derived from Australian marine life may be inadvertently consuming toxins"

No! What, really? Quacks don't sell people poisonous bollocks, do they? I've never heard of that, before!

Naturopaths aren't obsessed with arnica, that does nothing except occasionally kill people; echinacea, that has one property - mild poisonousness; crushed apricot kernels, 8 of which contain enough ancestral-cyanide to kill an averagely-sized man; or strychnos, which is a completely benign brandname for the completely benign product strychnine.

No, i've never heard of an alternative/complementary/integrative/intelligentdesign-medder who willfully sold things that scientific investigation has found to be harmful!

Chiropractors don't crack babies' spines, and give fatal strokes to people with neck pain. Acupuncturists estudiously wash their needles so that they don't spread TB and HIV to dozens of their victims patients. Homeopaths don't keep selling their damp sugar, even when it's got crushed glass in it.

And crushed glass isn't famous for being lethal, when ingested.

But i am sure that it makes total sense, to pick out the fact that wildlife off the shores of Queensland, tend to have slightly raised concentrations of lead in them.


Unless they're in the shape of a gun.

[Sarcasm ends]

Here's an interesting case for USAians et al... well, it's interesting for everyone, but especially those without this particular idiomatic quirk...

'The MP, the ASA and the Case of Alyssa Burns-Hill'

In the UK, the term 'doctor' is used colloquially, almost exclusively, to mean 'medical doctor'. If you say you're 'Doctor Willy Scraper' people will think you're a GP, or surgeon, or working in some equivalent medical capacity. And when they stop laughing at your silly name, they'll take you seriously.

So even though people with PhDs are perfectly within rights to title themselves 'Doctor Thing' they generally don't, to avoid confusing people, who might think that they're ready and willing to give them a hand with their haemorrhoids!

Alyssa Burns-Hill is an example of a charlatan, who's whining about the ASA (Advertising Standards Agency) for insisting that she not call herself 'Dr Alyssa...' because of this fact.

As far as i can be aware, she is not non-UKian, and so should not be unaware that by calling herself 'Doctor' she is misleading the public, and especially those who become her customers.

It's the specified job of the ASA to prevent advertisers from misleading the public, and especially those who might become customers through being misled.

But unsurprisingly, this individual, who claims to have conquered cancer through pseudo-medicinist bullshit, is trying to con the world (and at least one MP) into thinking that the ASA is an evil organisation, intent on wreaking morbid destruction, on anyone who's 'just trying to help' i.e. a criminally-flexible, profit-motivated bozo with a fake qualification.

I've said it many times before: superstitions clump. Quackeries, religions and conspiracy theories have a tendency to go together. She might believe what she claims.

But if you're someone looking at the British use of the term 'doctor' from the outside, i suggest using this opportunity to think about the way language is used, and how the same term means different things, in different cultures, and what really matters, in the way they're used.

If calling yourself 'Dr Portas' gets you a job in engineering, even though your degree's in agriculture, have you deceived your employer? I think so. How's the case above any different?

[coughs: Gillian McKeith]

In other news:

Warnings have been made, last minute, about the health risks of Rio, but they have nothing to do with Zika. See last week's article for the AMNH event on that. The bigger disease threat is from adenoviruses, that can cause everything from throat infections to meningitis and encephalitis, and death, in people with compromised immune systems. Adenovirids are usually transmitted by exhaled water droplets (coughs and sneezes), and faecal contamination. Especially when the virus has caused gastroenteritis, which can kill children by dehydration, so good sanitation is essential. One biomedicinist has warned everyone "Don't put your head under water". Olympic athletes are probably at least risk, as the Rio Olympic Committee has deliberately selected clean places, but anyone who wanders from the Olympic site, tourists and especially local residents, are faced with sewage, released directly into the sea, and uncontrolled viruses. IMO, Zika pales in comparison to these longstanding problems.

Olympic gymnast Kohei Uchimura seems to be the Kent Hovind of Pokemon Go. His enthusiasm for it followed him from Japan to Rio, where the telecommunications company he's contracted to charged him Y500,000 in roaming fees. When he got in touch, they reduced the fee to Y3000 - a turn of fortune for which he said "I really lucked out". He 'lucked out', because he only got charged Y3000? Kent Hovind claimed to be blessed by 'the lord', because he only got nine years in prison :-D

It escaped my article, last week, that Apple has mimicked the Google Feminist Fail of creating a load of 'gender diverse' emojis. Except theirs don't seem quite so bad, as some actually have bodies below the neck, and so aren't purely defined by sexist assumptions about hair length. Apple has, however, made news for swapping its pistol emoji, with a water-pistol emoji. This is completely pointless. Words and pictures are communicative kin, as i have said before, but the salient detail is that taboo terms, whether words or pictures, maintain their taboo status, through emotional association. No-one objects to the word 'can't' if they don't mishear it, and if they don't think that the mishearing is 'swearing'. Censoring one taboo term, whether 'can't' or something like the word 'spastic', either reinforces its strength, if the censorship is ineffective, or if it is replaced with a substitute, merely transfers the emotional association to the substitute. People fear the pistol emoji because they associate it with a real-world threat. This emotional association is only going to shift to the water pistol emoji, instead, because it will be used in the same way. And then, maybe, real water pistols will be banned, too, even though they hold negligible potential to do harm, in comparison to the real thing. There's no point running from words!

An international team of researchers have diagnosed a hadrosaur as having septic arthritis, through micro-Computerised Tomography, which had progressed so far as to render its elbow joint, resulting in a fused joint covered in bony growths. Modern birds and crocodiles can be seen with the same condition, that would have left it unable to use the affected arm.

When you want to cool something down, there are usually moving parts involved. Some kind of apparatus pumps a fluid around the object, to draw heat away from it, thereby making the surroundings hotter, but the object cooler. But a LASER-based technique called 'optical refrigeration' requires no moving parts, and has recently been used to set a new world record, for coldest temperature measured in a solid. The new record of 91 Kelvin (or -182 degrees Celsius) has been achieved by shining LASER radiation onto the chosen object, which then fluoresces, emitting more energy than was incident upon it, causing an overall decrease in temperature. I have no idea how long it took them, but this technique could potentially be developed for many purposes, in which the vibrations of currently-popular cooling equipment pose problems. Due to the technique working by fluorescence, it only works on certain materials, for example the Ytterbium crystals in this experiment, but in practice, a crystal could be laid against the hot target, and its heat wicked out, through the cooling apparatus.

An international group of Physicists has found a very interesting property of Gallium metal. Like an ice cube, the water on the inside is solid, but if you look closely at the surface, there is always a layer of liquid water, where the cold water meets the warm outside world. But in Gallium, that liquid layer remains, at temperatures ranging from 180 Kelvin (-93 degrees Celsius) all the way up to 800 Kelvin (527 degrees Celsius). You can see images of the Gallium nanoparticle, in the linked article, with the ordered atoms of the solid Gallium on the top-left, and the disordered liquid Gallium on the bottom-right.

Continuing the nanophysical theme, and the LASERy theme, the hypothesised method of treating and beating cancer, by injecting nanoparticles and heating them with a LASER, to cook the tumour's cells, seems to be showing efficacy, according to research by the Niels Bohr Institute and the Faculty of Health Sciences at the University of Copenhagen. Their experiments have shown that the best results are achieved with nanoparticles that are 150 nanometers in size and made of a core of glass coated with gold, when using near-infrared light. This method is hoped to become a big weapon against cancer, as it can be injected precisely into targetted tumours, and minimise damage to the rest of the body. Researchers also hope the technique can be developed so that injected nanoparticles can be used to target cells deep inside the body, and metastaside cancer cells, that do not have one centralised location.

What happens when you drop 297 USB sticks on a university campus? Well, according to Elie Bursztein, at the Black Hat hacker conference, last week, who installed call-home software in them, and littered them around a campus, 98% of them get picked up, and 45% of them get plugged in. Such breaches of security can compromise an entire company. The cost to Bursztein, of installing his call-home program, onto a circuit board, attached to a USB stick, was $40 each. Of course, the only utility of his software, was to tell him whether the USB sticks had been plugged in, but the consequences could be much worse if malicious software were installed.

Good news from, and for, Australia. Following the re-election of Malcolm Turnbull, the successor to halfwit homophobe and climate change denier Tony Abbott, to the Prime Ministership of Australia, the country has made a slow return from the scientific graveside. It's gone from lacking a Science minister, having a PM who denies climatic responsibility, and facing cuts to CSIRO - its leading science organisation, to recovering its Science minister, gaining a (more) sensible environmental policy, and optimism that CSIRO will get its funding back.

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

'Rayleigh–Bénard convection cells'

'Make Silver Testing Solution to Detect Fake Silver'

'The Mushroom Cloud Over Britain: RAF Fauld and the Hanbury Crater'

'grooming minds' - Theramin Trees

'Rosetta’s journey around the comet' (so far)

'Image: Hubble gazes at long-dead star'

[GIF] 'Image: ESA, NASA's SOHO sees bright sungrazer comet'

'A Huge Solar Filament Erupts'

'Being ICEd | Fully Charged'

'Berlin Wall - Maps With Gaps'

'The Adventures of Dad³ - Dad Space'

'Grape Expectations | The Checkout'

'Pharma Sutra | The Checkout'

'The Packet Racket | The Checkout'

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

Word Of The Week: sagacious -- having or showing keen mental discernment and good judgement; wise or shrewd e.g. "That Tapejara gives me nerdgasms. They're the most sagacious extinct flying reptile that i have ever met!"

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

'Burbujas subterráneas gigantes de metano en Siberia' (Underground methane bubbles)

'40 brilliant idioms that simply can’t be translated literally'

'Chelmsford 123 . Odi et Amo'

'Chelmsford 123 .The Secret War'

Monday, 1 August 2016

Entertainment stuff from the week 25-31/7/16

Hi solarangutans,

Solar Impulse 2 has arrived!

'Historic solar flight marks first round-the-world journey'

It's the end of the flightpath for SI2, which has completed its 40,000 km, around-the-world journey, powered only by sunlight, collected using 17,248 solar cells, and connected to four electrical motors.

The project has demonstrated that it's not an impossibility to travel huge distances without fossil fuel. Depending on the rate of technological process, all aircraft could soon be competing with electric versions of themselves.

NASA has its own New Aviation Horizons initiative, to develop all-electric aircraft. For more on higher-speed shorter-distance electric plane technology, see 'Electroflight' from three weeks ago.

'GMOs lead the fight against Zika, Ebola and the next unknown pandemic'

'Zika: What You Need to Know - AMNH SciCafe Special Event'

Has an orangutan really demonstrated primitive human-like speech?

'Orangutan "speaks"' - New Scientist

The recordings exhibited above might be dubious, and certainly brief, so unrepresentative of the entirety of evidence, but assuming that it is representative...

I don't count wheezing on cue as "an ability to emulate human speech"

Communication yes, but speech no. To me, it sounds like the researchers are the superstitious pigeons in this scenario.

In the 'superstitious pigeon' research, a pigeon was persuaded to accept any one of a variety of increasingly bizarre choreographies, in order to get a reward. In this case, the researchers have accepted any one of a variety of vowels, which they perceive as the reward itself.

So all the orangutan has to do is breathe out the right way, and the researchers give it a treat. There's definitely training in there, and also communication, but i'm not convinced that it can really be described as 'speech'.

The researchers appear, according to the video, to have accepted a wide variety of vowels as evidence of speech. Personally, i think your arrow has to hit the right target, or you don't get the points :-P


The 1st of August marks the 20th anniversary of Frida Boccara's death. She would have been 70

In other news:

Do you remember the Cancer Research UK sun-safety guide that i posted a link to, about a month ago? In case you don't, i'll remind you that the number one, most effective method of avoiding skin damage, disease and cancer, is to stay out of the sun entirely. Especially between 11am and 3pm. Next, is covering up with loose-fitting clothes, and third is sun-screen. Well, a Business and Engineering student has come up with a device that tells the wearer how much UV they're currently being exposed to, so that they can deal with the first, most effective method. But the problem, is that there's no detail of how it warns the wearer. Dose makes the poison, as the old adage goes, so hours of mild sun will do more damage than 30 seconds of intense sunlight at 1pm. If it doesn't calculate UV exposure during the day, it'll be an expensive waste of money.

In a follow-up to the Tesla autopilot death report, it has been confirmed that the driver was indeed breaching the speed limit when the accident happened. The investigators haven't yet assigned a cause for the fatal collision, but the National Transportation Safety Board has said that the vehicle was travelling at 74 mph (119 kph) in the 65 mph zone, when it happened.

Do journalists have a sense of humour? Maybe only when their editors aren't watching. The 'science' correspondent for the Torygraph has unthinkingly reported the facetious 'findings' of statistician David Spiegelhalter, last month, producing an article that was then churnalised numerous times. The problem, was that the claim they quoted as 'fact' was a joke, and clearly a joke. It was a comic extrapolation of sex surveys (see last week for my piece on surveys) that predicted no-one would be having sex by 2030 - a trend correlating with TV ratings, and blamed on Game of Thrones. What kind of a person sees a claim like that and doesn't laugh? What kind of a po-faced cretin doesn't think "hang on - is that even serious?" The 'science' correspondent for the Torygraph, apparently. And everyone who copied-and-pasted the 'story' with the exception of 'JV Chamary' who wrote their article for Forbes magazine, and actually spotted the humour.

The Daily Fail, Torygraph, BBC and Grauniad, think that "adults who sit down for at least eight hours every day must do at least an hour's daily exercise to undo all the harm" (the Fail's words) because they found a press release for a systematic analysis that found that total exercise is inversely correlated with life expectancy. In other words, the less exercise you do, the sooner you'll die. The two major errors of thought in this reporting are: a false duchotomy - the reality is not a case of 'exercise or don't', it's 'the more exercise you do, the healthier you'll be'. And secondly, it's the back-to-front analysis that is also responsible for 'superfoods' such as the Torygraph was claiming oily fish to be, a couple of weeks ago. Eating more oily fish will make you fatter; it'll only make you healthier, if it displaces other things from your diet, that you previously ate too much of. For example, red meat. The generic advice has been 'eat a healthy balanced diet' and 'pretty much anything's OK, in moderation' for as long as i can remember. A healthy diet isn't about picking out individual 'superfoods' and gorging on them - it's about having a diverse diet, without too much of one particular thing, and too many calories overall. Being inactive, sitting down, is only a problem when it's usurping time that should be spent being active. A common problem with modern lifestyles is lack of low-intensity daily exercise, not the existence of chairs.

And while i'm at it, i might as well clear up rumours you might have heard about Public Health England's advice for people to consider taking 10mg vitamin D supplements, every day, during the autumn and winter. The statement was a suggestion to consider it, not an instruction, Daily Diana and Daily Fail. And it certainly wasn't yet another superfood advert, Grauniad. PHE suggests considering daily 10 milligram vitamin D supplements, during the autumn and winter, for anyone over one year old, if they're not getting enough from their diet. The UK being at a high latitude, many people would be wise to get more through their diet, during the winter; but because they won't change their diet, PHE has suggested small amounts of supplements instead. That's it. TYVM.

Was it a Russian agency that hacked and leaked the Democratic National Committee of the USA's documents? Hillary Clinton has concurred with multiple cybersecurity firms, that it was 'the Kremlin' that leaked DNC documents, and attributed the blame to an intent to help Donald Trump win the Presidential election. You can see the logic behind the narrative: elect Trump, and he'll bring the USA to its knees, on his own, so the Reds don't have to. But a narrative is all that is, and a probability is all the accusations toward Russia are. Other parties have argued this same point, including Julian Assange, and other 'Intelligence' companies. As well as detecting threats, cybersecurity companies have a motive to encourage scary narratives, because fear solidifies their careers, and possibly inflates their pay-packets too. Was it a Russian agency? Probably, but not necessarily.

Qualcomm has been fined $19.5 million, in a class-action lawsuit, in which a male lawyer represented 33,000 women employed by the company, who claimed they should be given more money. Well, it seems like they've got it. Unfortunately, this press release doesn't present any substantial basis for genuine masculist sexism at Qualcomm, even if it does exist. The closest they get, is an observation that the company favours working late, but not working early - coming in before 9am - with fiscal rewards. But why would this press release not present actual damning points, if they are around, to be presented? As far as i can see, Qualcomm's biggest condemnation for oppressing 33,000 women by employing them, is that their response was "[we] has strong defenses" but they weren't going to use them. Evidence-or-GTFO, to both sides!

An actual study, that actually compares one case to another (a test and control) that can actually show evidence of sexism when it's there (which is not survey based) has found that STEM students seeking teaching positions, in France, are favoured when they're female. The girls get better scores in their oral exams, when their voice gives their sex away, than in the written exams, where it doesn't. I think it's quite reasonable, in this case, to expect consistency from people of their age, when it comes to comparison between written and oral communication skills. Somewhat jaw-droppingly, the researchers who did the study, and found the bias in favour of females, still suggested that bias be introduced into the teaching system, to make sure that more girls choose STEM, before the biased tests can favour them, years later! I don't know about you, but i find the idea of making decisions about the careers that other people are going to do, when they're still little kids, is slightly creepy, if not outright immoral. So why do people not think it's wrong to suggest that girls be coddled into certain fields? Inspiration is not the same as manipulation.

Where is Australia? Apparently, it's about 1 metre further north than satellite navigation systems think it is. Due to tectonics, the Australian continent drifts 7 cm north every year, so some update is going to have to be made, at some point, so that satnavs don't get confused. This isn't a major problem, as satellite navigation systems aren't actually that accurate - they fudge their location measurements to fit in with nearby landmarks, and to preserve continuity. If you drive off the road, you can get as far as 10 metres away, and it will still say you're on the highway, due to the uncertainty in its calculation of your position. So Australia's still in the Southisphere, and satnavs there aren't going to go bonkers, any time soon, but with the increasing precision of modern gadgets, complacency might start to matter.

Two more spiky ant species have been discovered in the Papua New Guinean rainforests, along with a discovery about their internal physiology. Micro-CT scans have been done on both species, revealing their insides as well as their outs, including the muscles that are inside their hugely elongated spikes. The researchers suggest that the evolution of their strange morphology might have had a second cause - the provision of bigger anchor points, for their neck muscles, so that the soldier ants can hold their heads up. You can see an embedded video of the 3D scans of the ants, if you follow the link.

Gold, you might not be aware, is not generally magnetic, or ferromagnetic (responsive to a magnetic field) unless it's put in a powerful mangnetic field, in which it will repel magnetically. To get gold to produce its own magnetism when the field's turned off, it has to be mixed with iron, but even at 20% iron, the alloy has to be cooled for anything to happen. But this study has found that a temperature change can induce magnetism into gold. As long as the gold is increasing in temperature, it produces the Hall Effect in a magnetic field, meaning it's producing a counter-field inside the one that it's being subject to. The output of current in the heating gold, that the researchers saw, indicated to them that the pure gold was exhibiting ferromagnetism.

SCUBA surveys around the southern Japanese island of Okinawa have been the first to discover a solitary individual polyp for more than 100 years. The zoantharian 'Sphenopus exilis' was almost completely buried in the sands of the seafloor, with only its oral disks and tentacles protruding into the waters. Zoantharia are related to, and look very similar to, anemones, and are generally found in groups, but these zoantharia were also found to lack zooxanthellae - single-celled organisms that typically live in symbiosis with their hosts.

A team of international researchers claims to have found the oldest geological preservation of trapped atmospheric gas, in the world, in halite (rock salt) from Australia. Because the air mixture was trapped in there, when the rocks were formed, it tells us what the composition of the atmosphere was, 815 million years ago, when they formed. Some studies have suggested that there wasn't enough oxygen in the Earth's atmosphere for animals to flourish, until much later, but according to this sample, there was. Of course, there can easily be local variations in composition, that can lead to samples that are unrepresentative of the global atmosphere. This particular sample led the researchers to declare a 10.3 to 13.4% composition of oxygen, compared to 20.9% today.

Four 'sisters' of Dolly the Sheep have recently reached their ninth birth anniversaries. Unlike Dolly herself, Debbie, Denise, Dianna, and Daisy, have all lived healthily to a mature age... for sheep. Dolly died young, of osteoarthritis, prompting suggestions that clones can't live long, because their 'body clock' has not been reset from their parents'. But it's now clear that that isn't true. The researchers had great difficulty getting their SCNT technique (where the nucleus, with the genome in, is taken from the 'mother' cell and displaces the nucleus in a 'daughter' cell) to work, requiring 277 reconstructed embryos to produce just Dolly. The difference in success might be purely down to the pragmatics of getting the technique to work. The researchers are continuing to investigate the causations that contribute to the healthy development of a cell, into an adult animal - something that can help non-engineered animals too. To see the 'Nottingham Dollies' happily grazing (and being scanned) click on the top link, below, for embedded footage.

Here's another citizen science project: get counting Weddell seals, in the Antarctic, using satellite images, on the website Tomnod, linked at the bottom of the article, and here.

Barnacles, it seems, are polyphenic (last week's 'word of the week') as their penises change according to the environment, including the changing seasons of the year. This research has shown that they can change the shape, size, length and girth of their organ, and even degenerate and shed it, during the first post-mating moult. It grows back, of course, for the next season :-D

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

Word Of The Week: undernutrition -- a medical condition in which insufficient intake of nutrients hampers physiology, including lethargy, depression, and especially the functioning of the immune system. Undernutrition is one of the two forms of malnutrition. Overnutrition is where the intake of nutrients is too high. The most common form of overnutrition is obesity, but supplement abuse can cause damage to the liver, too.

Fact Of The Week: There is a gargoyle on Washington National Cathedral, sculpted in the shape of Darth Vader's head. It was sculpted by Jay Hall Carpenter and carved by Patrick J Plunkett. Star Wars is not as good as Star Trek. And Star Trek beyond is much, much better than The Force Awakens, so QED.

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And double-busted...

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'Image: Dust storm over the Red Sea'


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