Category: Science

Celebrities say silicon and bikes are key to civilisation

The BBC is very ambitious because right now it’s presenting the History of the World in 100 objects. Very ambitious indeed. And all very cosy.

We had a lass at the British Museum on the TV telling us that the statue of Tara that somehow ended up in Bloomsbury versus Sri Lanka was still iconic because Asian religions didn’t create a difference between sex and religion. Er, how come the beautiful statue of Tara ended up in Bloomsbury? Any chance the Marbles will go back to Greece?

But right at the end of the BBC teaser came some wonderful quotes from modern “personalities”.

An emblem of our modern civilisation, according to clapped out Labour politician Tony Benn, was the mini-computer called the Crackberry, sorry Blackberry.

David Attenborough was a bit more acute – he said the microprocessor was a huge element of 21st century civilisation.

James Dyson, inventor of modern hoovers, reckoned it was the photovoltaic cell.

Darcus Howe chose CCTV, because he said, quite wittily, that it marks the end of civilisation. Chinese State TV?

Journalist John Humphreys says it was the bicycle because it allowed people to travel some distance and get into bed with their lovers.

Apple's Newton goes online

An 18th century report of a conversation with the alchemist Sir Isaac Newton in which he first recounted the Apple falling from a tree story has gone online for the first time.

The fragile paper explains how a falling piece of Granny Smith or whatever helped Isaac Newton stop thinking about turning lead into gold, or how the Light of God divided itself, and start thinking about more weighty matters.

The document is owned by the Royal Society, which was formed as an actual attempt to form a scientific society similar to the magical Rosicrucians. These days they don’t believe in that sort of stuff, but Newton did until the day he died.  

Royal Society librarian Keith Moore said the apple story explains how modern science works, and contains an implicit reference to the solar system and even an allusion to the Bible.

When Newton describes the process of observing a falling apple and guessing at the principle behind it “he’s talking about the scientific method,” Moore said.

The incident occurred in the mid-1660s, when Newton retreated to his family home in northern England after an outbreak of the plague closed the University of Cambridge.

The Royal Society’s manuscript was penned by Newton’s contemporary William Stukeley who said that on a spring afternoon in 1726 the famous scientist told him the yarn over tea and biscuits  “under the shade of some apple trees.”

Stukeley said that Newton told him that it was exactly the same situation, as when he worked out the idea of gravity.

“It was occasion’d by the fall of an apple, as he sat in contemplative mood. Why should that apple always descend perpendicularly to the ground, thought he to himself … Why should it not go sideways, or upwards? But constantly to the earth’s centre? Assuredly, the reason is, that the earth draws it. There must be a drawing power in matter.”

Stukeley’s account joins the long-lost notes of Newton’s 17th-century scientific rival Robert Hooke on the Royal Society’s Web site here.

Austrians make pigs ears out of avalanche

Austrian animal rights activists have been squealing over a proposed experiment to bury 29 pigs alive under a manmade avalanche, supposedly in the interests of science.


The Charlotte’s web of controversy kicked off when boffins from the medical faculty of Innsbruck University in Tyrol’s Oetz valley and an emergency medical centre across the hill in Bolzano, Italy, had proposed to sedate the sacrificial snouts.


That’s  before dynamiting layers of snow over them to study the effects air pockets could have on saving human lives in case of real avalanches.


But activists snorted at the idea that burying pigs in snow blankets would be able to offer any kind of insight into how humans survived avalanches, despite protests by the head honchos in charge of the experiment that the pig protectors were being “naïve.”


Now, now, no need to get in a strop [shurely, Slop? – Ed].


Apparently there is as good as a one in five chance of finding yourself in an avalanche airpocket, if you’re unlucky enough to be the one person in millions who managed to get stuck in one in the first place.


According to the great wisdom of Wikipedia, 92 per cent of people hit by an avalanche can supposedly be rescued if help comes within 15 minutes. This number drops to 30 per cent after 35 minutes and near zero after two hours, mainly as a consequence of hyperthermia.


Perhaps the Austrian scientists’ rationale was that by scattering frozen ham throughout the mountain, any human avalanche survivor might find something tasty to eat whilst sitting in their airpocket as they awaited rescue.


Either way, now that the whole experiment has been called off, it looks like the poor beasts have had their bacon saved.


All’s fine that ends Schwein, eh?   

SourceThatJob stands up against exploiting hacks

Daryl Wilcox, top dog at Daryl Wilcox Publishing  – has announced his popular media job search tool will be taking a stand with the National Union of Journalists against the exploitation of young media workers.

All too often, says Daryl, ‘internships’ are placed on prominent job sites for young professionals with an eye to get into the media. They’re mostly longer than three months, with only a vague idea of getting a job after the hard slog

Gorkana’s most recent regular journalist job alert features 15 unpaid internships, with the Daily Telegraph advertising a 12 week placement on its fashion desk. A generous £5 a day for travel expenses will be provided to see applicants through the intensive, 10am-6pm full days.

The NUJ warns against placements like these, saying the practice “exploits people starting out in the industry and in many cases it’s actually unlawful.” The NUJ work experience guidelines say unpaid work placements should “normally be for no more than four weeks.”

There is a guide for recent graduates and those green to media on the NUJ website here. You can check out Daryl’s blog here.

* EyeSee The editor of this publication sometimes worked alongside Daryl when they  were both freelancers. My dad tells me Ambrose McNevin’s nickname for him was Dayrate Wilcox.

Herschel telescope brought back to life

Artist's impression of Herschel TelescopeThe Herschel Space Telescope is now operational again following a bug that’s suspected to be have been caused by space radiation.

The European Space Agency (ESA) telescope was launched into space in May 2009 but a glitch in its electronics made it non-operational after three months.

According to the BBC, scientists have switched the system to operate on a reserve electronics system. The same fault happening again isn’t possible.

The techies managed to fix the glitch online – they believe that a cosmic ray hit one of the microprocessors in the electronics unit. That in turn caused a cascade of software and hardware faults that brought the unit down.

The astronomer Herschel discovered the planet Uranus. The BBC story is here.

Having kids lowers your blood pressure

A study from Brigham Young University (BYU) said that parenthood – particularly for young women – lowers blood pressure.

This flies in the face of conventional wisdom. But then conventional wisdom regards blood pressure as something different from the way medicine does.

A BYU psychologist, Julianne Holt-Lunstad, has had her peer-reviewed findings published in the Annals of Behavioral Medicine.

Said Holt-Lunstad: “While caring for children may include daily hassles, deriving a sense of meaning and purpose from life’s stress has been shown to be associated with better health outcomes.”

She studied 198 adults wearing portable blood pressure meters under their clothes for a day.  Parents scored 4.5 points lower than non-parents in diastolic blood pressure, and three points lower in diastolic blood pressure. and Holt-Lunstad says the size of the difference is statistically significant.

But she cautioned against people having more children. “The findings are simply tied to parenthood, no matter the number of children or employment status.”

Mothers showed the effect in a more pronounced way – with a 12 point difference in systolic blood pressure and a seven point difference in diastolic blood pressure. More here.