Sunday, 7 September 2014

Entertainment stuff from the week 1-7/9/14

Hello again iceketeers,

I know you'll think that i'm late to the party, but i'm going to mention the Ice Bucket Challenge.

I'm here to remind you that Motor Neuron Disease isn't a flash in the pan. And neither should donations to MND research be.
(Motor Neuron Disease is called Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis in the USA, where it is colloquially known as Lou Gehrig's Disease - Lou gehrig was a famous sufferer)

Of all the ways to die, i consider MND to be by far one of the worst. Why?

Because MND is also the way you live, knowing that your inevitable decline is effecting your muscles but not your brain. You slowly lose control of the body that is apparently yours, and bit by bit become a total burden on other people.

And the worst thing is, that it's both rare and untreatable.

But it's only untreatable because it's rare.

Cancer - the big 'c' - is a scary range of diseases that is relatively very common, which means there are a lot of people pushing to fund research, so that it is understood, and so that that understanding can then be used to develop treatments.

Everyone knows someone who has had cancer, yet few people know someone who has had MND. In the modern age, you can hear about cancer from survivors. There are no 'survivors' of MND. The best sufferers can hope for is perpetual imprisonment within their own bodies. Approximately 3% have this kind of MND - Stephen Hawking is one.

Because we are constantly reminded of the threat cancer poses, to people we know and love, charitable funding for research is maintained. That is how cancer is the beatable range of diseases that it is today, and not the death sentence that it used to be, even in the most developed societies.

But that is where MND research still is, today. Please don't forget the Ice Bucket Challenge. It's not a flash in the pan, or a cube in the bucket. MND will continue to exist, and it will take consistent commitment to raise sufficient money for research to find a way to fight it.

To a government, research is cheap. A million is nothing to them, even in pounds sterling. But compared to domestic expenditure, it's a heck of a lot of money.

A few million pounds is not going to deal with MND forever. This campaign has raised 100 million US dollarsworth, so far. Cancer research, by comparison, draws in half a billion pounds, in the UK alone, to be spent on research.

And that's every year!

And Cancer's still not done for.

To conquer MND, we need consistency. We need this Ice Bucket campaign to metamorphose into a butterfly that can catch people's attention consistently, and draw people's attention, in the governments that can wield State budgets.

And that is why i'm not actually 'late' to this anti-party. It must carry on until MND is ultimately controllable.

Here are 'the best' Ice Bucket challenges (that i have seen) from the last month or so:

'What is Motor Neurone Disease? #ALSIceBucketChallenge'

This one is obligatory viewing. You must watch!

'#alsicebucketchallenge for Motor Neurone Disease'
I know Rachey from the Skeptic Zone podcast (that music you can hear is by Stefan Sojka who does all the music for the Skeptic Zone) and she works in MND research.

If you want to give money directly to some MND researchers, follow the link in her video's description box, or here.

There aren't many famous people to have died of MND, but there are some, including David Niven - the brilliant actor of The Pink Panther, Casino Royale, and many other movies.

'Famous people with Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis / Motor Neurone Disease'

Here's another, but different medical topic, that's caught the eye of sensationalists in the linear media:

'The case of Ashya King, his 'wanted' parents, and the Czech proton therapy'

My first thoughts, when i heard that a young boy was being whisked around the world, for some 'experimental' new treatments was "Oh FSM no - another family ruining their child's last days chasing quack non-cures"

But then i thought about what the therapy involves: protons.

To Space Scientists, a proton is a 'cosmic ray' which is an erroneous term for a proton flying through Space. (Erroneous because rays are photons, and protons aren't)

When astronauts go up into microgravity, and shut their eyes, they see flashes, as 'cosmic rays' pass through their retinas. So clearly they do interact with the human body.

But that doesn't make 'proton therapy' a real and effective treatment. It could do more damage than 'conventional' radiotherapy, that uses photons. That's photons, not protons. #forgoodnesssakepleasenotypos

So i went from feeling a knee-jerk "Noooooooo!" response, to thinking that the technique might be feasible, to wondering whether Science Based Medicine's done a blog post about it.

They haven't. Yet. As i write this. But Steven Novella (one of their contributors) has:

'Ashya King and Proton Beam Therapy'

His explanation of the goings on is neat, concise, and not too long, but the points of note are these:
- Proton Therapy is a real thing, that has been researched, but only a bit, and the evidence is indirect and thereby slightly dodgy.
- The hope is that Proton use will be better than photon use because it is better targeted, meaning less damage to surrounding tissue while killing the tumour. But remember that these are hopes, not facts.
- It is impossible to decide whether a particular treatment can suit a particular person without knowing their particular case. If, for example, you were to try a potentially-lethal substance on someone who's dying anyway, your actions would be rightfully welcomed. If you tried something lethal on someone with a cold, you would probably be arrested. All medical cases are shades of grey between these two extremes. (Think AIDS, across to Thalidomide - straw-clutching to pointless threats)
- This case is one of conflict between parental rights and the responsibility of health care providers, and the state, to care for minor children, who are unable to make their own decisions. This topic usually comes up when guardians wish to deprive the little people in their care of effective treatment, for superstitious reasons, relating to the treatment itself or an 'alternative'.
"In cases where parents wish, for whatever reason, to deprive their children of standard of care medicine, I personally think the issue is fairly clear – parents do not have the right to sacrifice their own children at the altar of their religious beliefs, philosophy, ideology, or scientific illiteracy. In such cases the state has a right to step in and defend the rights of children to basic medical care. This is not one of those cases."
I agree, but i think it remains to be seen whether this is one of those cases.
- The UK's NHS has denied (funding for) treatment of Ashya's medulloblastoma, because (1) they think it's insufficiently evidenced to throw hope/money at (2) the specific physiology of Ashya and his tumour mean proton beam therapy is not a good idea even if it does work, or (3) bureaucratic insufficiency means there is a red-tape knot preventing the right thing from being done.
- The NHS, in general, insists on evidence of clinical effectiveness for any new treatment, and increasingly, these days, they are also insisting on evidence of cost effectiveness, which means it must not only be as effective as the incumbent, but it must also be demonstrated to be of adequate value-for-money. (Why spend money on saving one person's life, when you can save five elsewhere?)
- The NHS has recognised that there is likely to be a future for proton beam, as it has committed funding to build two treatment facilities (at a cost of $200 million for each facility – yes, proton cyclotrons are expensive).
- The study that Steven cited is not clinical evidence – it is a mathematical model of late effects of radiation based upon simulated proton and photon treatments. It’s theoretically compelling evidence, but it is indirect evidence; and medicine has a history of making mistakes based on indirect evidence, so it’s not surprising that plenty of people are advocating caution.
- Ashya's parents are Jehovah’s Witnesses.

That last one might turn out to be important. The situation we seem to have, is one where parents are running their child around the world, for a condition that the NHS probably thinks is untreatable, as they have shown willingness to back the greater expense of cyclotron facilities, over paying for this particular patient's treatment abroad. So the conjecture is around the parents' motive.

We don't know the full ins and outs of their medical case, and we probably never will (probably never should, for privacy reasons), but it seems suspect that superstitious ideologues, like members of The Witness, would be involved in evasion of the law, again, in spite of medical advice, to chase a treatment they know very little about. (And let's face it - there isn't much anyone could know about it, yet)

Desperate they might be. Willing to spend their own money they might be. But JWs have form for denying medicine for the sake of their beliefs - Courts regularly order JW parents to surrender their children in order to save their lives, simply because JWism has an obdurate stance against blood transfusion!

As my first sentences indicated (in this segment - not my life) there are many cases where people try dodgy bullshit to save themselves or their kin, but i think this is not (quite) one of them.

But only for reasons the people involved will probably not understand - the theoretical background to the medical viability of the treatment.

Because i don't know Ashya's specific case, i shouldn't either support his parents' decisions or oppose them, but i do await potential future applications of proton therapy with interest. I hope the hopes are justified by future evidence.


80 years ago, Maurice Martenot invented the Ondes Martenot - a kind of electrical piano that sounds like a sonically-flexible theramin.

In other news:

Warming urban areas in Australia are resulting in bigger and bigger spiders; even of the same species. It's the heat-sink effect and the spread of high-thermal-mass concreted surfaces and other hard surfaces that seems to correlate best, suggesting that the temperature itself is effecting the metabolism of the spiders. It's hypothesised that accelerated maturation might be resulting in longer growing periods, meaning a fuller full-size by the time they stop growing.

This is what Newsthump thinks of the story: 'House spiders taking the piss now'

Paelontologists have been getting excited about a remarkably complete skeleton of a huge cretaceous-era sauropod dinosaur - Dreadnoughtus schrani. It's found to be 26 metres long, and would have weighed 59 tonnes, dwarfing Brachiosaurus at 34 tonnes and Diplodocus at 15. Amphicoelias fragillimus holds the record for highest estimates (also found in the lands of modern-day Argentina) for length and weight - 60 metres and 100 tonnes. But these estimates are unreliable, due to key scale-related bones of their skeletons being missing. So Dreadnoughtus schrani is the biggest dinosaur to assuredly have been that huge.

Here's an interesting story about the nature of evidence, and the importance of the scientific method in avoiding presumption. Emergency services in Peterborough, UK, responded to a report that there was a body hanging from a billboard. A police spokesman said they were called to reports of "a body hanging from a structure". The ambulance service said they were told "a patient was in arrest due to hanging". What did they find when they arrived at the scene? The expanded-foam, sellotape, plaster and spray-paint sculpture that an artist had had put there, the weekend before. A witness saw this sculpture, dressed in a hoodie and trackies, dangling motionless from a billboard saying "What's an artist worth", with legs splayed and left arm permanently raised, and concluded that they had discovered sufficient evidence to justify occupying the emergency services' time. They didn't see it as a justification for going to see whether someone had somehow got stuck there, in a weird catatonic stupor, or not - they presumed that their inference was necessarily going to be valid. The only excuse i can imagine for making this stupid presumption, would be "I'm housebound" but then, surely, you'd have noticed the erection of the structure, in the first place?!? The mind boggles.

Ever seen a cat riding a buffalo? Not a 'big' cat - i mean a domestic cat, of the species felis catus? Well, this is the closest i think you're ever going to get. Riding a wild buffalo, at least. A camera trap, in South Africa's Hluhluwe Game Reserve, caught shots of a genet (a species that looks like a cat/dog) riding a buffalo, on its back, and unless genets can do sub-space transportation, evidence of it walking from hind to haunches between shots. And there are people who say CCTV's all bad, LOL

A US mobile phone company has changed its name from 'Isis', to avoid associations between itself and ISIL (ISlamic State in Iraq and the Levant) formerly knows as ISIS (...and Syria) but there are many more organisations that go by the name of 'Isis' which is the name of a god in Ancient Egyptian mythology. In 2013, in the UK alone, 46 babies were named 'Isis' but presumably not because all of their parents were members of the religionist organisation! A quack in Miami has apparently raised a petition calling for the Linear Media to call them something different (ISIL, instead of ISIS). Quackery-fanciers are probably the only people of low enough intellect that they struggle with distinguishing the name of an individual and the same name in the context of an international religionist terrorist organization! I wouldn't be worried by one called 'TAP'.

And this is what Newsthump thinks of that story: 'ISIS to change name again after further negative publicity'. "Earlier name experiments with Islamic State and The Levant were dropped when its British-born fighters were unable to locate The Levant using an Ordnance Survey map."

In the UK, this week, people have been panic-buying vacuum-cleaners. Why? Because nationalists have told them that the evil EU is compromising their power, meaning they won't be able to keep their houses clean, and they'll suffocate in a furball of aggregated fluff. Well, that's bollocks! What's due to be regulated, by the EU, is power consumption of electrical appliances (including vacuum cleaners, hair dryers, etc) not power output. There are many flabby, wasteful, inefficient designs on the market, today, and they are wasting electrical energy and contributing to inflated energy bills. These regulations will force an improvement in efficiency, and thereby push electricity bills down. When i bought the computer with which i write this, i had marginally cheaper options available to me, that would have consumed 20 times as much energy, to achieve exactly the same results! Surely this bureaucracy is something to embrace. Why panic-buy old, inefficient appliances when the wiser thing would be to wait for the forthcoming more-efficient designs? The people i saw on TV really didn't think it through, did they :-D

Was a palaeolithic neanderthal shot in the head and killed, with a rifle, in Africa, 38000 years ago? Dun-dun-drrrrr... no. Odd stories are odd. Bad Archeology explains that pretty much everything about the story is wrong :-D

'Ticking package that caused evacuation of government building was box of clocks'
Yes. This is literally a scene in the Will Hay film 'Ask A Policeman' from the 1930s, except set in Los Angeles instead of a mysterious coastal location in the British Isles :-D

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

'Momentum and Spinning Chain in Slow Motion'

There was a paper published, earlier this year, about the 'chain fountain' featured in this video. Here's the Royal Society's video of it, again:

'Ballo Goes Home'

'Roger Federer - Top 10 ..even more Fake Shots (HD)'

'Giant rabbit installed at Taiwanese naval base'

'Good With Food, Not So Good With Motoring'
Here's something i spotted, near where i live :-D

'Archerfish shoots down prey with jet of water'

'Rubbery robot walks through flames and snow'

Baconbot is born, LOL. I can see this in Hollywood movies :-D

'Gallus Light'
Interesting. A flame, of course (of course!), is a region of air that's been sufficiently heated to emit light - to illuminate. Hence how it's possible to have smoke without fire. To see the flames of fire - the phenomenon that has enthralled human beings for thousands of years - requires more energy than it does to make something smoulder and smoke.

'APPLE Iphone 6 Parody Commercial by IKEA "BookBook ™"'
I usually reject companies' parodies of other companies, for ideological reasons, but this is quaintly amusing. The last point is an interesting one though: paper records are more secure than digital ones, because copying them (and thereby the data contained within them) requires more effort. The easier it is to make the data in the first place, the easier it is to steal and distribute - an innate problem for future tech.

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

Word Of The Week: usquebaugh -- a scots synonym for 'whisky', from gaelic for 'water of life' (and pronounced like 'wunderbar')

Etymology Of The Week: nematic -- a chemistry term, for materials that exhibit strands aligned parallel to each other, but loosely packed, so that the material can exhibit both solid and liquid properties, such as in 'liquid crystal displays'

Quote Of The Week: "It is a goodly life that you lead, friend; no doubt the best in the world, if only you are strong enough to lead it!" - the Sea Rat, in Wind In The Willows

Fact Of The Week: There are populations of sheep and/or goats that will wear their teeth down, to consume more lichen that contains psychoactive substances - narcotics and hallucinogens, for example. Monkeys and parrots have been known to steal cocktails from guests at tourist resorts, and elephants to consume fermented (over-ripe) fruit. Rats have been shown to respond to any drug that humans will use - heroin, amphetamine, cocaine, alcohol, etc - with the only exception being LSD.

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

'Transit Of Phobos'

'42 Butterflies Of North America'

'If you are missing the edinburgh fireworks I will be tweeting them live'

'Coolest Dog Ever'

'More Pareidolia'


'How Will You Accidentally Destroy Civilization?'

'Updated Science: The Science of Body Language'

'Updated Science: How Do You Get Pink Eye?'

'Updated Science: Make Your Own Invisible Ink'

'Updated Science: How Are Bees Organized?'

'Busting Some Common Parrot Myths'

'Why Is Breakfast Important?'

'The Effects of Pesticides'

'High Fiber Diets'

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