Sunday, 23 March 2014

Entertainment stuff from the week 17-23/3/14

Hi Turingian morphogenes,

60 years after his death, it has finally been demonstrated that Alan Turing was a genius!

Oh, OK - we already knew that. Without him, modern computing would be decades less well developed, for example. But it turns out that another area - biology - really was another one of brilliance!

'Turing's theory of chemical morphogenesis validated 60 years after his death'

Turing predicted that there would be six different patterns to how a simple blastocyst/morula would develop into a foetus, with a front and back, head and tail, inside and outside, etc.

His model involved spatial variance in presence of chemicals, within the cells, which would define in/out, up/down, etc, so that a body shape could develop. That is what 'morphogenesis' means - the growth of a shape.

Well, the researchers found all six patterns predicted by Turing... and a seventh that he didn't. Well, nobody's perfect. :-D

You might have heard of Fred Phelps - to most people, he's the crazy/hateful Westboro Baptist Church Christian who pickets people's funerals with signs declaring "GOD HATES FAGS" and the like, and is basically a living incarnation of evil.

Well, he can't be, anymore, because he's died. Either way, the religious and unreligious have found mutual satisfaction in despising him and his family (their whole sect is basically nepotistic) because of their behaviour.

Interestingly, psychologically-speaking, the confused 'moderate' religionists try to pretend that what they do doesn't count as 'proper' religion. But if you're going to do bronze age bullshit, surely you should do it right? I have empathy with him, for at least sticking to his principles. Not, of course, for sticking to bigoted principles.

"You're not going to get nowhere with that slop that 'God loves you,'" Mr Phelps once told the Religion News Service. "That's a diabolical lie from hell without biblical warrant."
“It’s pure nonsense to say that God loves the sinner but hates the sin. He hates the sin, and he hates the sinner. He sends them to hell. Do you think he loves the people in hell?”

As demonstrated by the preceding quotes, everything he said was eminently logical within the confines of religious bullshit. Oddly, it's the 'moderates' who seem to have the most trouble making sense. Phelps was sincere in everything he hysterically preached - moderates pretend that Xtianity's goodness and light, when Phelps knew better. Ironic, really.

Even more interesting than the psychology of 'moderate' religion, is the fact that he was once an eminent civil rights lawyer. Oh yes! A civil rights lawyer who became famous for the hysterical condemnation of anyone suspected of being being a bit Gay. Could you make it up?

He once fought in legal cases, not on the side of Queers, but on the side of 'Blacks' who were condemned to slavery by the Christian dogma that saw slavery as perfectly fine. (The Bible contains rules of how slavery should be done, and does not condemn it explicitly) Indeed, it was overwhelmingly religionists who defended slavery and the slave trade, while humanists, notably the secularists of unitarianism, opposed slavery.

This just goes to show how arbitrary bigotry is. Because prejudices are superstitious (opposed, or just unsupported by evidence) there is no objective reference - there is nothing necessitating coherence. So this man, who advocated so enthusiastically for 'Blacks' in courts of law, did so as an arbitrarily received position - not one from rational principle - which meant homophobia would come just as easily as racism left.

Less interesting, but maybe something for the deathbed-conversionists to think about, is the way he changed, at the end. He was kicked out of his own Church - deposed by a rival, and relative. How did he lose favour with his followers (baying hoardes). Well, apparently, for suggesting that his peers be nicer!

Well, if this story's true, he was kicked out of his own cult, for being moral... relatively speaking, of course!

Or maybe it's just that he said "be nice" like this:

"Oh, be nice!"

Or maybe, sensibly-speaking, he just wanted a chance to see his estranged son again, one last time. The son he drove away through blind, unbending adherence to superstitious principle.

Did he soften, in his dying hour - mind opened to the humanistic value of relationships, and personal affection? And who would deny him such an opportunity? It would be emotionalism alone to deny him the one thing you'd wished he'd shown through all the rest of his life!

In contrast, there is Humanism itself, which is a deliberate attempt to be nice, for goodness' sake, regardless of proximity to mortal expiry.

Well, there is slightly more to it, than that. And for that reason, the British Humanist Association has produced this mini-series, explaining what humanism's all about:

'That's Humanism'

Speaking of mortality: a 3200 year old skeleton has been found, bearing evidence of metastatic carcinoma - a kind of cancer. It's not possible to say whether they died of it, however.

It's not the oldest known case of cancer, though - many examples of bone-related cancers have been found in hadrosaurs - herbivorous dinosaurs that lived about 100 million years ago.
{Blogspot tried to spellcheck 'hadrosaurs' into 'pterosaurs'... um, no!}

So cancer is very much not a new thing; which is to be expected, really. Fundamentally, all cancer is, is where cells go rogue, for whatever reason, and start hoarding bodily resources, at the expense of the body as a whole.

This is essentially the same as any entrepreneur - quack, scammer, or church - they hoard all the resources, and if they're 'successful' enough, then they kill their host. But like with diseases, the most successful are non-lethal and effective only post-reproduction, because then they can't be countered by natural selection.

Consequently, it should be expected that cancer has been with eukaryotes - especially big vertebrates - for the hundreds of millions of years of their existences!

Speaking of long-times-ago, let's awkwardly segue into cosmology:

'Cosmic News: Astronomers Find the Twisted Fingerprints of Inflation in the Background Glow of the Universe'

'Big Bang breakthrough explained with towel and apple'

So basically, what's happened, is that a new technique has been used to 'look' further back in time than has ever been achieved before.

The universe is expanding. That's known. The universe was smaller once. That's known. The farthest into the past we can see is the CMB - the Cosmic Microwave Background - light that is only just reaching us, because inflation caused the universe to expand so fast that it's getting to us 13.5 billion years late! That's known.

But what is also known, is that we will probably never be able to see the actual start, itself - the t=0 moment, as it were - because that data has ceased to exist. We can see the CMB, because that light is out there, on its way. Anything before then is non-existent data.

But like ripples in a pond, or waves in a towel, goings-ons in the early universe will have left features in the modern universe. Looking back toward the CMB is like looking back at the middle of the ripples - they're clearest there, and so easiest to measure.

The non-metaphorical ripples observed in this research, are gravitational waves, caused by massive stuff moving about. Just like sound waves are caused by a diaphragm moving in and out, in a speaker, gravitational waves are caused by massive cosmos-sized diaphragms moving around.

It is by measuring these miniscule deviations in spacetime, that the hallmarks of pre-CMB events have been observed - not directly, because that's (probably) impossible, but by their effects further down the timeline.

That's basically it, according to my comprehension. Did you understand it all?

Good. There'll be a quiz on it, next week. Have your pencils at the ready :-P


Earth Hour is the 29th of March. Turn off lights, for the WWF; and jump into each other's arms, for Durex. Or don't, as the case might be.

The 24th of March is Ada Lovelace Day - a woman who was prolific, in her mathematical and computational achievements, who unfortunately died very young.

In other news:

Pole dancing robots? In Germany, that's a "yes"! LOL, those crazy Germans. On a side note, there are feminists who gleefully await IVF technology that utterly negates a need for men. Well, artificial dancers, artificial cooking (ready-made + microwave ovens), artificial housekeeping (cleaner robots and dishwashers), and someday artificial wombs, are going to make female humans obsolete too. It's a dangerous game, to see males and females as opposing sexes, rather than complimentary ones, as i do!

Silent magician - Teller - of Penn & Teller fame, has won a lawsuit, in which he sued someone for breaching performance copyright. There is no law giving Intellectual Property rights to someone for a magic trick, but there is legal status to performances - plays, presentations, etc. It was on these grounds that Teller successfully sued, The judge said "By arguing that the secret to his illusion is different than Teller's, Dogge implicitly argues about aspects of the performance that are not perceivable by the audience," he writes. "In discerning substantial similarity, the court compares only the observable elements of the works in question. Therefore, whether Dogge uses Teller's method, a technique known only by various holy men of the Himalayas, or even real magic is irrelevant, as the performances appear identical to an ordinary observer."

A computer program has solved a virtual Rubik's Cube in 3.253 seconds. Yeah, but can it do a pole dance?

A 3-metre chicken has been discovered in Dakota, the USA. Well, not really - paleontologists have discovered a species of oviraptorosaur, that was feathered, and measured 3 metres tall. The researchers nicknamed it the 'chicken from hell'. Pictures are available at the link:

Some delusional people in Arkansas have tried to 'save' their owl, by quackupuncture. Having been hit by a car, it was feeling low, and responding slowly to treatment. Impatiently, the rescue centre grasped at bullshit non-medicine in an attempt to hurry their recovery. "Well, i guess stabbing it can't hurt!", Lynne Slater, executive director of the HAWK Center, almost said. And so they did. And now that the bird's showing minor signs of not being dead yet, they're attributing recovery to the pseudoscience of 'health by a thousand cuts'. The credulity is astounding!

It doesn't get any less comic. Yet another so-called psychic has had to cancel a show 'due to unforeseen circumstances'. Maybe she should stick a pin in her diary planner, then it might get better. Oh, sorry - i shouldn't mix my superstitions. Bad Tap :-D

Non-news item of the week: camels love beer! ITV took time out to tell people how much a particular camel loves beer. When asked how the guy found out his camel liked beer, he told them he asked someone else what camels like, and they said "Well, camels like beer". Gah - slow news day, i suppose...

Meanwhile, Fox31 has accidentally broadcast a penis, on air. No, i'm not referring to any of the presenters - i mean they actually showed a picture of a penis, tweeted to the same column as a picture relevant to their news subject. The production values at Fox are staggering, aren't they. Come for the soundbites, leave with a free wang. I bet they don't advertise that to the kids!

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

'Unlocking a car with your Brain'
The scientific lesson, herein, is that it is imperative you do not believe something, until evidence supports the notion. There is no difficulty in revoking prejudices that were never received in the first place.

'The Dream'
Oh, what a horrible nightmare! Fortunately, not all of those mutually exclusive superstitions can be true :o)

'Hubble's Stunning Monkey Head'
For everyone else, this title's an example of absurd humour. For an astronomer, it's just an everyday name :-P

'Baby assassin bug lures deadly ants with a wave'I prefer them to vertebrate babies - they lure adults in with raucous screaming!

'Animated cyber eyes mask your expression'

'Drayson B12 200 mph electric car | Fully Charged'
219 mph (352 kph) in an electric car. Wow! P.S. The world's first electric formula - Formula E - tour starts, in September of this year.

'Get shaved in the face'

'Flower Marge!'

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

Word Of The Week: sternutation -- the act of sneezing

Expression Of The Week: 'gone for a burton' -- failed, terminated, or originally, died; most probably derived from Burton's Ale - a drink popular with RAF pilots who already used the phrase "in the drink" to refer to crash-landing in the sea; 'going for a Burton' originally meant dying by crashing into the sea

Etymology Of The Week: ghastly -- from old english 'gaesten' meaning 'to torment/frighten'; it has the same etymology as the word 'ghost'

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


THE nutritional information on a packet of bread mix from Wrights startled Richard Lawson by giving the energy supplied by 100 grams, about two slices, as "987g".
Assuming that they did mean this as a measure of energy in grams, and applying the infamous equation "E = mc2" to convert mass to energy, by Richard's calculation his breakfast should supply 9 x 1016 joules: enough to power a tenth of the world for the rest of the day.
15 Feb

AS is his custom, Ben Garrod recently went to buy "my weekly hit of all things science" from a W. H. Smith shop in Cambridge, UK. "When I left the store," he reports, "(after paying, I might add), I beeped at the door." After staff had checked through various bags, they discovered that his copy of New Scientist had a pink stick-on security tag on the Feedback page.
Staff said all of their New Scientist copies are tagged and they still frequently "go missing". Ben, being at a loose end, checked: the New Scientists, and no other magazines, were indeed tagged. This leads him to two distressing conclusions: first that the scientific world is a den of thieves, and, worse, that some of us "can be out-foxed by a sticker".
15 Feb

SOME time ago Feedback noticed posters plugging nutritional supplements, exhorting us to buy "his" and "her" pills from Vitabiotics, and shrugged. We started from a sceptical stance on the benefits of supplements, especially for the people who buy them – who probably have a more balanced diet than those who don't. We were more sceptical still when it came to separate pills for women's and men's subtly different recommended daily amounts. One effect of the division would seem to be that twice as many pills would lurk untaken in certain bathroom cabinets, increasing sales.
Recently we have spotted the company promoting a plethora of pregnancy-related pills: Pregnacare® Original, Plus and Max; Pregnacare® Breastfeeding; Pregnacare® New Mum; Pregnacare® Conception; Wellman® Conception; and, for that feeling of togetherness, Pregnacare® His & Her Conception. If there's some kind of quantum limit for this kind of subdivided advertising, they must be approaching it. Perhaps the next step will be a super-specific supplement to be taken only during the hour before conception? Or during?
22 Feb

Tesco supermarket's labelling helpfully informed Geoffrey Thomas that what he had bought was "freezer safe": "Indeed," he says of his ice-cube trays, "I hope so"
22 Feb

GOOD news for those who don't get around to proper exercise. A blog in The New York Times describes a study concluding that "Over all [sic], the data reveal that 'sex can be considered, at times, a significant exercise'." It adds that researcher Antony Karelis therefore believes that sex is worth encouraging in people who otherwise balk at working out.
Ninety-eight per cent of Karelis's volunteers reported that sex felt more fun than jogging. Feedback notes that the study included 21 couples, so that other 2 per cent was one individual.
22 Feb
{Sex is much more fun your own! This study is bunk :-P }

One of the products offered by John West in Australia is "naturally smoked oysters": David Prichard would like to know where in the world you find them – volcanic vents, perhaps?
1 Mar

SEQUENCING the DNA of a 3-year-old who died 12,600 years ago in the foothills of the Rocky Mountains created much excitement last month (15 February, p 8). This may explain the title of a report in Science on 14 February: "Ancient Infant Was Ancestor of Today's Native Americans". Will Howard asks: "What's wrong with this headline?" Feedback confesses it took us several deep thinks to get it. Hint: he was 3...
1 Mar

PROSAIC justice – that was the name we suggested for the risk we run by pointing out other publications' errors, as above. Elizabeth Spiegel and Ian Boehm point us to a lovely note from the Canberra Society of Editors in 2003, suggesting that we, in fact, risk falling foul of "Muphry's Law" – named by John Bangsund of the Victorian Society of Editors as "the editorial application of the better-known Murphy's Law," which holds that if it can go wrong, it will. Read the piece in full at
1 Mar

MUPHRY was indeed at work: while this page was in production, we spotted that New Scientist itself said that the 3-year-old boy "turns out to be a direct ancestor of most tribes in Central and South America" (15 February, p 8). Whoops...
1 Mar
{It's a sign of strength, that someone can accepted criticism and laugh at it. Feedback must be one of the most powerful organisations in the world!}

The Cardinia Cultural Centre café in Pakenham, Victoria, Australia, instructs Peter Robinson that "any patrons that bring dogs must under council policy be on a leash." Harsh, but fair?
8 Mar
{As long as it applies to councillors, too :-D }

WE SUSPECT a bet may also have been involved in the editing of the Wikipedia page for the pterosaur Arambourgiania. According to Courtney Kelly, at some point it provided the essential information that the beast was two and a half Benedict Cumberbatches tall, referring to the actor who plays Sherlock Holmes for the BBC. At the time of writing, this information remains on the Dutch version of the page. Feedback wonders whether this may have been inspired by last year's popular compendium at
8 Mar

FOOD, treacherous food! On 5 March the World Health Organization recommended we halve the amount of sugar in our diets. When we saw this, we remembered a prominent report in The Guardian newspaper the day before: "Diets high in meat, eggs and dairy could be as harmful to health as smoking".
Call Feedback a sour cynic, but we wondered whether that could have been spoon-fed as a "spoiler" to spread confusion and doubt about the WHO recommendation. It certainly turned out that there was much less to the story than met the eye. It was based what people aged 55 to 60 had eaten in the 24 hours before a survey (8 March, p 7).
When we turn to the declarations of interest on the paper ( we find no links to the usual confusion-spreading suspects. But one author, Valter D. Longo, "has equity interest in L-Nutra, a company that develops medical food". We find at that "ProLon™ will be L-Nutra's first product to reach the market. "So what is it?
So far, we have found no list of ingredients, just a statement that it is an "all natural product produced from vegetables... a source of all the important vitamins, minerals and other essential micronutrients".
ProLon is also described as a "Fasting Mimicking Enhancing™ Diet". We are left with the suspicion that it is food-free food. At least it seems to be free of macronutrients.
22 Mar

A scam email gave the game away to Joe Hill when it mentioned a tax refund of "lb 1,400". It'd be so much easier for them if the UK metricated the pound sterling...
22 Mar

SEX, meanwhile, makes nearly as good an opening to a story as food. Grant Hutchison responded to our mention of researcher Antony Karelis, who believes that sex is worth encouraging in people who baulk at working out (22 February).
Grant points out that the aerobic benefit is quantified in, among other places, the article "Clinical practice guidelines for physical therapy in cardiac rehabilitation" from the admirably thorough Royal Dutch Society for Physical Therapy.
As an equivalent level of exercise to slow dancing or bricklaying, you could consider "sexual activities (own partner)". This will burn energy at a rate of 60 watts. You could hit 80 to 90 watts through dancing (not slow) – or "sexual activities (new partner)". Feedback disclaims all responsibility for any untoward effects of following this advice.
22 Mar

PLASTIC carrier bags from the Cotswold Outdoor shop come emblazoned with the intriguing message: "Made from biodegradable". Feedback wonders how many people consider the things they buy to be composed of virtues, not atoms. Consider the possible power of the slogans "Made of nutrition" and "Contents: cleanliness"... and the time saved by accepting these value judgements, thus avoiding reading the ingredients.
22 Mar
{Those slogans should be hurled against the wall of shame :-P }

FINALLY, a contender for probably Feedback's favourite-ever unusual unit arrives in an email from Mark Dowson, and it has the more unusual cachet of likely great antiquity. Apparently, reindeer are unable to walk and pee at the same time: they have to pause at set intervals of distance.
In Finnish, this interval is known as poronkusema or "reindeer's piss" and was an old-fashioned description of rural distances. By Mark's calculation, it is about 320 blue-whale-lengths.
This is a WikiFact, but it seems almost too nice to be true. So Feedback asked a friend – the Finnish journalist Heikki Jokinen. He confirms that it is used in Lapland and was delighted to be diverted from other work to discover its actual value, which is about 7.5 kilometres for a reindeer drawing a light sledge – and that it is important: reindeer eating lichen produce urine as strong as battery acid, he says, and they get sick if deprived of their comfort breaks.
22 Mar.

No comments:

Post a Comment