Health, Nature, Science

Ditching the Pills?

This image shows a whole and a cut lemon.

This image shows a whole and a cut lemon. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

As we face more snow, it always seems to snow on my birthday these days, which is nice, and America is getting more than its fair share too, the folks at Gizmodo UK asked for the commenters’ DIY cold remedies.

The kind of cold and flu pills and powders you find in pharmacies seem to all be variations on the same drugs – pain killers, antiinflamatories, decongestants, lemon or blackcurrant flavourings – and many people are trying traditional methods instead, though many still use some medicines too.

Some, myself included, mix the powdered hot lemon drinks with honey – for its antibacterial properties; some make a honey and lemon drink using fresh fruit juice and take a paracetamol with it; others swear by whiskey.  Hot baths and wrapping up well are always popular, as is staying in bed although for many of us that’s not a viable option.

Finally a good hot curry was offered along with other drinks recipes.  I can agree with the curry option for one because you can at least taste it even if it doesn’t clear you out.

[Gizmodo UK]

Health, Nature, Outdoors, Psychology, Science, Society

Everyday Dangers

Dangerous Risk Adrenaline Suicide by Fear of F...

Dangerous Risk Adrenaline Suicide by Fear of Falling (Photo credit:

Jared Diamond of The New York Times provides an interesting lesson about how people in the modern world perceive dangers.  After witnessing friends in New Guinea refusing to sleep under an old, dead tree due to the risk of it falling he realised that people have begun to worry more about the bigger, more unlikely risks such as terrorist attacks, nuclear radiation, plane crashes and so on and be less vigilant towards smaller risks that are taken or encountered very often – risks that are ignored because people think “that’s not a problem, I’m careful” while often not being.

I personally have this “hypervigilant attitude towards repeated risks” or “constructive paranoia” – I watch what I’m doing when I’m descending the long flight of stairs outside, I wear well treaded shoes on snow and ice and I’m particularly careful when handling sheet glass; which can literally be lethal, or at least painful as the scars on my hands from unavoidable accidents attest.

As the article states, with access to emergency services and the assumption that help is only moments away the awareness of real dangers has become diminished and unlikely ones exaggerated.

Have a read of the full article, then be careful out there.


Science, Society, Work

Retail Tales: Unpleasant and Unhygenic

"Cover Coughs, Cover Sneezes" - NARA...

“Cover Coughs, Cover Sneezes” – NARA – 514081 (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

I have been feeling under the weather again this week, which may or may not be left over infection from last week when to be honest I was glad I’d booked the days after New Years as holidays.

This started me thinking about why I seem to get colds, sore throats and so on so regularly, I thought maybe I wasn’t healthy enough, maybe it was bad diet.  The answer isn’t pleasant, it’s shop customers.  Or rather the customers who come in coughing, sneezing and spluttering and leaving germs on my door handles.

When I cash-up I have to go and wash my hands afterwards because of the grubby feeling they’re left with, I know many people who do the same.  I know many people who work in shops and supermarkets who also fall ill regularly.

Working with the public is a minefield of potential contagious illnesses coughed across the counter or handed to you on cash handled by unwashed hands from the last time they went to the loo.  If you worried about it too much it would make you run from behind the counter in search of hand sanitizer – which is handy stuff to have around but doesn’t stop the sneezes, though you could throw it at someone who does fire contamination in your direction, and don’t get me started on the number of people who cough all over you without covering their mouths, as a lady in the shop today told me happened on a recent train journey, the cougher being the conductor.

At the other end of the scale are people who obsess about having every surface 100% bacteria free, being told by adverts that there are more on a chopping board than toilet seats, that if they don’t use all these products they’re putting their kids at risk.  It’s true that you need to be careful with raw food and so on, just follow some basic rules and you’ll be fine, it is now even believed that excessive cleaning and removing all contact with bacteria could be detrimental to health.

The most ridiculous thing I’ve seen though are automatic handwash dispensers, again advertised as being essential for your family’s health.  The adverts say that handwash pumps are riddled with bacteria and every time you touch one you get infected.  True, but it’s handwash, you’re using what you’ve just pumped into your hand to wash off the bacteria you’ve just wiped onto your hand.  If you’re in a public toilet using either kind of handwash dispenser though you’re probably about to then pull open the door using the handle that the person who didn’t wash their hands has just used.  Which brings me back to my counter, my cash and my cold.

Architecture, Art, Design, Food, Gadgets, Science, Tech

Print Anything

3D Printed Cells Bowl - Math Art by @Dizingof

3D Printed Cells Bowl – Math Art by @Dizingof (Photo credit: Dizingof)

And I mean anything.  Trust me.

Whatever new technology comes along someone will use it, or combine it with something else, to create something unique.  And this is true of 3D Printing.  The technology has been around for a while, used by designers and engineers to create prototypes and demonstrations for shows, and has now matured to the point where desktop and portable devices are soon to be available although some, like the Kickstarter-funded Formlab Form1 have come up against patent issues that are ongoing.

The idea, of slowly producing three-dimensional solid objects layer by layer by laying down material one layer on the next or selectively laser-fusing or curing liquids to form the layers, at the moment produces solid parts that can be assembled like an Airfix model kit but there has also been an intriguing chocolate 3D printer which could prove popular too. Already there are online archives of things to download and print from models of the Eiffel Tower to AK-47s – as I said, someone will always find a use for such tech.

The hope is that in future the technology could combine multiple materials in a single object, extending the technique beyond plastics and further improving the detail achievable although at the moment the printers can create tiny details, and even using the materials to replace structures like steel beams.  One amazing use is a device called a 3D Bio-Printer that can print out a hybrid natural-synthetic cartilage which once implanted acts as a support for natural tissue to regrow.

Which medical miracles brings us to two Japanese uses for the technology:  firstly a 3D photobooth that can scan your body and create a plastic mini-me, perfect for those who are so into model railways they want to be in their model railways, and secondly Fortean Times this month (FT297 pp10) reports on a clinic in Tokyo that uses a “Bio Texture” process and MRI scans to give parents-to-be a chance to see and hold their baby months before birth.  The “Shape of an Angel” service is £800 plus the cost of the MRI scan.  Imagine the scene, a family get-together, the baby photos are brought up on the wall projection to embarrass the teenager as parents sometimes do…   “This is you when you were five… ah, when you were two… look, you were only a few hours old there…  go get the box…  this was you when you were minus three months”.

Science, Tech

Eye Control You!

Tobii-EyeTracker der Universität Hohenheim

Tobii-EyeTracker der Universität Hohenheim (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Tobii have released a device that allows control of computers using your eyes.  The device, about the size of a pen, attaches to the bottom of your screen and monitors eye motion.  Users of prototype devices have said how it “works like a dream” with Windows 8 enabling full control of navigation, scrolling, selecting and zooming.

Combined with increasingly sophisticated voice recognition and gesture recognition these new technologies are more examples of how interacting with computers will become more intuitive and natural in the future.

The Sci-Fi films weren’t so far fetched after all.

[Gizmodo UK]

Psychology, Science, Society

Snap Judgements

Speed dating

Speed dating (Photo credit: ☺ Lee J Haywood)

It’s New Year’s Eve and many people will be going out to bars tonight to see if they can meet someone to see the new year in with but how will they choose?

Well it’s been assumed that the initial snap judgement is based on physical attractiveness and research using a speed-dating group does confirm this but also found that a second part of the brain – the rostromedial prefrontal cortex – was active when choices were being made.  This is a part of the brain that deals with choices where apparently equal options are available, it considers other people’s opinions and the similarities to others and it’s shown that when activated a person would choose a candidate that they considered to be more likeable than other people did.

The choices are still based on quick initial impressions but there is more going on than previously thought.




Dark Skies & Night Lights

Milky Way

Milky Way (Photo credit: TierraLady)

The only time I’ve ever seen a truly dark sky was while staying in a cabin near Hartsop in the Lake District, once my eyes had adjusted I could clearly see the misty band of stars we call the Milky Way, the Via Lactea, home.

I know in this country the weather has a lot to do with this but light pollution from streetlights, security lights and so on also makes a huge and surprising difference, even a town over the horizon can still cast a glow where you are.  Many people ask why it matters, it’s only astronomers and misty-eyed romantics that want to gaze at these distant pinpricks of light.  You may as well ask why people want to look at flowers – some study them, some find them beautiful.  Seeing the light of the galaxy from somewhere away from streetlights can give you a feeling of awe, of being a tiny speck in a unimaginably vast universe.  That sight inspired astronomers and philosophers for centuries to seek the answers to what was out there, where we are and along the way they created instruments and developed sciences to discover and explain what they saw that have benefits beyond their original purpose for example the glasses I wear are possible because of lens grinding techniques developed for telescopes.

The modern world is lit up so much that out planet looks like some kind of cosmic glitterball and most of the light that is emitted upwards is wasted.  Well, except for landing lights at airports, we need them.  It is worth fitting newer shaded lights and more efficient bulbs and even new lighting technologies to both save money and let people look at the night skies.  Flagstaff, Arizona is the worlds first International Dark Sky City and hopefully more towns and cities will follow their example.

[International Dark Sky Organization]

Food, Science, Tech

Eco Cow – Ruminent of The Future!

Cattle on the alp

Cattle on the alp (Photo credit: Darkroom Daze)

Methane emissions from cows (burping rather than farting, apparently) are a serious problem, contributing to climate change due to the huge numbers being bred for our insatiable appetite for a good steak and milk.  Now though researchers in Brisbane, Australia are investigating breeding low-methane livestock and modifying feeding regimes to keep the emissions low.

They will be monitoring gas build up using a small submarine like sensor with wings that keep it in the cows rumen – the chamber in the stomach where gas production is greatest.  Using infra-red sensors they can assess the conditions that create the most gas and adjust feeding accordingly.

Good news for those of us who enjoy a good sirloin.

[Gizmodo UK]

Nature, Science, Transport

Whalers, Cartographers and Disappearing Islands

discovery channel ship

discovery channel ship (Photo credit: the queen of subtle)

This week has seen much confusion for oceanographers in the Pacific.  Scientists from the University of Sydney tried to visit Sandy Island between Australia and New Caledonia, identified on everything from marine charts to Google Earth it was nowhere to be found and the ocean beneath its supposed location was 4,500 feet deep.

That’s a lot of island to lose – an exceptional case of coastal erosion perhaps?  Or maybe one of the errors that map makers have deliberately added to maps to show who’s copied their work?

Probably the best solution has been proposed by Shaun Higgins from Auckland Museum who has found records from the whaling ship Velocity which recorded the island around 1876.  It is possible that the crew were mistaken about what they saw or where they were.  Since then it has been applied to all other maps of the area.  Google has removed the island from its database stating to AFP that they welcome feedback and “continuously explore(s) ways to integrate new information from our users and authoritative partners into Google Maps”

Whatever the cause it’s an error that has lasted until today, demonstrating the vastness of our Earth’s oceans and how much there’s still to find, or not as the case may be.

[Gizmodo UK, Discovery News]

Politics, Science, Tech

Online Democracy: Death Star Edition

Death Star Memorial

Death Star Memorial (Photo credit: sabertail)

Both the UK and USA have websites where the populace can start e-petitions to highlight concerns on subjects as diverse as immigration, the health service, troops in Afghanistan and whether the US should build a Death Star by 2016.  Er, pardon?

To quote from the petition:  “By focusing our defense resources into a space-superiority platform and weapon system such as a Death Star, the government can spur job creation in the fields of construction, engineering, space exploration, and more, and strengthen our national defense,”

Admittedly noble sentiments but a Death Star, really?  Seems some people just can’t let go of the Star Wars programme.

I’m reminded at this point of the end of Dr Strangelove…

[Washington Post]