Tuesday, November 29, 2005

Sand Dunes & Icebergs: Various Artists

Before I begin, I feel that I should apologise for the sparseness of my posting lately. The problem is that I am currently rushed of my feet trying to finish part of my MSc that cannot be done at home. Hopefully it will all be done and dusted by the weekend so I can prepare the next instalment of real men of genius for you to enjoy. Anyway until next time, here is a little something about singing sand dunes and icebergs.

Since the golden age of exploration, there have been many reports of mysterious ‘songs’ being emitted from certain sand dunes in various parts of the world. As sand avalanches down the side of the huge dunes they emit a vast array of noises ranging from loud booms to drum rolls, apparently some are even quite tuneful. This mysterious desert soundtrack can be as loud as low flying aircraft, and can last for up to 15 minutes at a time.

French scientist, Stéphane Douady found that the sands responsible for producing the sounds are smoothly coated with silicon, iron and manganese. Whilst he is unsure exactly why the coated grains produce the noise, he has found that grains with coating worn away do not produce any noise at all- explaining why only some dunes can ‘sing’. Douady’s also correctly predicted the notes of ‘singing’ dunes from all over the world, by measuring the grain size.

Scientists studying earthquakes in Antarctica recently discovered another natural ‘singing’ talent- Icebergs. Whilst monitoring seismic activity in the region, they noticed a pattern of vibrations that instead of tailing off (as those made by earthquakes do), they oscillated regularly giving a comb shaped pattern of regular peaks. Patterns like this had been seen previously from volcano tremors, but this offered no explanation as to why the signals source appeared to be moving around Antarctica. Whilst these sounds are not audible to humans, they can be heard if they are sped up- the sounds vary greatly from buzzing like bees, to a more melodic sound reminiscent of string orchestras.

In 2000, they managed to pinpoint the source of two 16-hour quakes to a 400 metre tall iceberg. It is believed the tremors are caused by water rushing through crevasses inside the icebergs at high pressure, causing the ice to vibrate at regular intervals. This occurs when icebergs bang against the seabed and slow down.

If you’re curious about what these iceberg ‘songs’ are like here’s the link:

Whilst these geographic songbirds are unlikely to make it the top of the pop music charts, you never know they may someday make it onto CDs sold in new age gift shops- alongside Whale songs and sounds of the womb.

Take it easy


Thursday, November 24, 2005

The New E Coli FinePix 100

Today new scientist reported that Chris Voigt and his colleague’s at San Francisco University have successfully created biological photographic film from the E Coli virus. Whilst this bizarre "camera" does take 4 hours to take a picture and will only work in red light, the results are astoundingly detailed. Due to the size of the bacteria, pictures taken have a resolution of 100 million pixels per inch.

Whilst these cameras will never be available in the shops, they are an important step for genetic engineering. Proving that it can be possible to control the activity of specific areas of bacteria using light. This technique could be used in the future on bacteria tailored to produce materials such as protein’s or metals.

Many people (including my esteemed friend, Darkwood) question the ethics of genetic engineering (especially in the hands of the powers that be), its role will be undoubtedly significant in the evolution of modern technology. Tight controls and limited application of future genetic developments will hopefully be sufficient to protect mankind from its own creations. Hopefully the benefits to medicine and material sciences will greatly outweigh any of the drawbacks to this work. But, only time can tell what will become of today’s genetic tinkering, so until then all I can do is point you in the direction of the original new scientist article-
I’d be interested to know what other people’s views are on genetic engineering so feel free to leave your comments below.


Wednesday, November 23, 2005

How Much Did it Cost to go to the Moon?

Good evening, today’s post is regarding project paperclip. I know those of you who used to watch X Files will be one step ahead of me, but for those of you who didn’t, let me explain.

Sixty years ago, the demise of the ‘thousand year Reich’ saw Germany being occupied by every man and his dog. Russians, Americans and the British frantically scoured post war Germany in a bid to obtain Hitler’s scientific secrets. Allied boffins were somewhat distraught when they discovered how technologically advanced the Germans were. As the allied intelligence community laid eyes on supersonic rockets, stealth technology, nerve gases and guided missiles (& no doubt a whole host of stuff that’s still top secret) they were somewhat dumbfounded. This smorgasbord of high-tech weaponry would become the star prize of the early cold war.

May 1945 saw the Russians locate and secure the Kaiser Wilhelm Institute, Hitler’s nuclear research facility. Which gave Stalin a solid platform for the forthcoming Soviet nuclear arsenal. Meanwhile, the Americans recovered the V2 rockets from a secret underground complex that was later occupied by the Russians. The Americans also captured the brains behind the rockets- Wernher von Braun & Co.

Distraught by what had been found the US generals felt it was critical to take advantage of the recovered technology and scientists, or else risk being years behind the USSR in a number of critical fields. This tactical decision gave birth to project paperclip, which saw the US smuggle von Braun, along with 700 of his colleagues and peers out of Germany behind the backs of the other Allies. The new American ‘citizens’ landed in the US within 3 months of President Truman authorising the project. However, when authorising the deal, Truman expressly stated anybody that was a member of the Nazi party or actively supported Nazi militarism should not be included in the project.

However, there was a slight problem with this, many of the top scientists were also top Nazi’s, including von Braun. Now before I continue, I should probably tell you why the name von Braun is so familiar- because he was the guy who masterminded the Apollo missions. He was also a member of numerous Nazi organisations, and held a ranking position in Hitler’s evil SS! The original US intelligence file even classed him as a security risk.

Von Braun’s associate Arthur Rudolph also landed himself a job at NASA managing the team that built the Saturn 5 rocket. His previous job title was chief operations director at Nordhausen (the underground rocket factory), where 20,000 slave workers died building V2 rockets. This NASA employee had been previously described as "100% Nazi, dangerous type" or as we say here in Wales "a real nasty piece of shit".

Kurt Debus employed in the US as a rocket launch specialist, was also an officer in the SS. His file stated "He should be interned as a menace to the security of the Allied Force." an ideal recommendation to prospective employers don’t you think?

Hubertus Strughold is these days referred to as NASA’s "father of space medicine" for his work designing NASA’s onboard life support systems. He was formerly employed at Dachau and Auschwitz, where his subordinates conducted ‘human’ experiments. Inmates were tested for their reactions to low pressure and freezing. Needless to say, many of them died.

It would be a little reckless for me to say that NASA were the only ones to benefit from project paperclip. The US military can thank the Nazi’s for their help with the stealth technology, cruise missile designs, and NASA’s hypersonic aircraft. Also, bear in mind these are just the things that are public knowledge no doubt there’s a whole host of other Nazi "goodies" that are still being plausibly denied 60 years on.

Well there you have it, next time you see the grainy footage of Neil Armstrong "walking on the moon" just take a moment to ask yourself was it really worth billions of dollars and the lives of tens of thousands of innocent people to stick it to the Russians.


Sunday, November 20, 2005

Real Men of Genius: Michael Faraday

Good afternoon and welcome to this weeks instalment of real men of genius. After last week’s entry about Norman Borlaug who was undoubtedly one of the finest scientists of the 20th century, I felt it was necessary to pay homage to one of the all time greats- Michael Faraday (1791-1867). Just as James brown is considered to be the ‘Godfather of soul’ personally, I consider Faraday to be one of the Godfather’s of modern technology. Faraday’s research was undoubtedly a precursor for the viability of electrically powered technology. Faraday has been referred to by many scientific historians as the greatest experimentalist of all time.

Faraday was from a poor background (his dad was a blacksmith), so he had to educate himself. At the age of 14 he landed an apprenticeship with a bookbinder, and spent the subsequent 7 years reading all the books he could find. During this time, he developed an interest in science, in particular electricity.

At the age of 20, he attended a number of lectures by the eminent Sir Humphry Davey, who was at that time president of the royal society. Faraday later sent his notes on the lecture to Davey, who told him that he would bear him in mind, but thought he’d be best off sticking at bookbinding.

A short while afterwards Davey accidentally damaged his eyesight and took Faraday on as his secretary. When a vacancy arose, Davey recommended Faraday to the royal society who gave him a job as a laboratory assistant. Throughout the early days of his career Faraday was not considered to be a gentleman, due to his background. But attitudes soon changed when he recognised the relationship between electricity and magnetism.

In 1821, Faraday built the first electric motor, but failed to credit the prior work that was conducted by Davey and William Hyde Wollaston. This controversy caused Faraday to withdraw from Electro-magnetic research for several years.

A decade later, Faraday discovered that electricity could be produced by changes is magnetic field, and the mathematical model of this became known as Faraday’s law. Using this principle, Faraday built the first dynamo that is the ancestor of the modern electric generator. Faraday was the first person that suggested that magnetism was best visualised by lines of flux, and this concept was critical in the successful implementation of electromechanical inventions for the remainder of the century.

In addition to his work with electricity, Faraday made several important contributions to chemistry. He discovered benzene, found a way to liquefy gases such as chlorine, discovered the laws of electrolysis and invented the system of oxidation numbers. For those of you who don’t know (don’t worry, I didn’t) a substances oxidation number is describes the number of positive and negative charges in an atom. Not bad work for a physicist that didn’t even go to college.

In 1845, he went on to discover what he called diamagnetism, or as we know it the Faraday effect, that shows the relationship between light and magnetism. On the day of this discovery, Faraday wrote in his notebook:

"I have at last succeeded in illuminating a magnetic curve or line of force and in magnetising a ray of light"

Faradays work with static electricity led him to discover what is now known as the Faraday cage, which is probably best described by example. If a person is sitting in a car and it gets struck by lighting, the charge will pass over the outside of the car’s shell to the ground without anything inside the shell being electrocuted. In other words the car acts as a Faraday cage.

Faraday was a true genius in every sense of the word. His contributions to science have had a profound effect on the world we live in today. I for one, could not be where I am today without the electrically powered technology that resulted from his work. In addition to his contributions to science, Faraday also invented the Bunsen Burner and gave the first Christmas Lectures at the royal society, a tradition that is still carried on today. Faraday was offered a knighthood, and presidency of the Royal Society- he declined both. The importance of this humble yet great man’s work should never be forgotten. Luckily his image has been immortalised on the back of the British £20 note.

Nice work Mr Faraday, very nice work.


Saturday, November 19, 2005

LEB: Light Emitting Butterflies

Good afternoon, I hope all is well out there in bloggsville. Just a quick post today relating to biomimetics, which you DWB regulars will be somewhat familiar with, but for those of you who aren’t and want to know more should check out my previous post natures calling.

In 2001, a team from MIT came up with a new way of making LED’s (Light Emitting Diodes). The problem with conventional LED’s is that most of the light produced cannot escape or in scientific terminology, there is a low extraction efficiency of light.

Anyway a team from Exeter University recently discovered that African Swallowtail Butterflies communicate using what is essentially an identical method as the MIT team's high emission LED. It seems a little pointless me going into the specifics of how they both work as it is already covered in the BBC article, so here is the link:

This story again stresses the importance of Biomimetics in todays technologically advanced world. I think that everybody should spend some time looking at how plants and animals solve problems in their day to day lives, and deciding how their solutions can be mimicked to benefit the progress of mankind in someway. And if that’s not a big enough motive for doing so, you could patent your ideas and become filthy stinking RICH!

Off on a slight tangent here; but did you know that the guy who invented & patented the automated switching system that turns your electric kettle off when its boiled lives in Swansea, South Wales (10 minutes drive from the DWB’s cave)? I bet that guy must be seriously loaded.

Anyway be sure to check out the article about the LED’s and butterflies, and take it easy.


Friday, November 18, 2005

Urban Legends of Rock

Good morning everyone, just a quick post today, its not really science related but fun nevertheless. Below are a few urban legends about rock stars, some of them are true, others are false but I’d like you guys to try and decide which are which.

1: Van Halen's standard contract for performing contained a provision calling for them to be provided with a bowl of M&Ms, but with all the brown ones removed.

2: Frank Zappa ate excrement on stage in order to win a gross out competition.

3: Rolling Stone Keith Richard kicked his heroin addiction by replacing all of his blood at a Swiss medical clinic.

4: Marilyn Manson was Paul Pfeiffer in TV show the wonder years.

5: Mike Nesmith’s (from the Monkee’s) mother was the inventor of liquid paper correction fluid (Tippex).

6: the first Kiss comic book was printed using a combination of red ink mixed with the band members blood.

Answers on the back of a postcard please (or in the comments below). Just write the numbers with a capital T or F, indicating which statements you think are true or false.

That’s all for now


Wednesday, November 16, 2005

A Genetic Approach to Fuelling the World

I was feeling a little guilty about my scare mongering yesterday, but thankfully I found a pretty cool article which again involves DNA, but has a much more positive slant.

J. Craig Venter, the man famous for mapping the human genome a few years back is turning his knowledge of genetics to trying to solve the worlds impending energy crisis. His new company called Synthetic Genomics will try to create new micro-organisms that may secrete biological heating oil, hydrogen, or even have the ability to breakdown green house gases.

Venter’s work will initially focus on developing what he refers to as ‘bio-factories’ that produce hydrogen and ethanol. It is widely agreed that they are likely to be used to fuel the cars of the future. The genetic material used to create these new organisms will come from aquatic organisms such as algae, and experiments may be conducted with genes from larger animals such as dogs or rats.

Everyone researching into this area is fully aware of the potential ethical and environmental implications of their work, and is taking every precaution to contain their work within the laboratory.

Green Fuel Technologies in Cambridge, Massachusetts have developed storage tanks filled with algae that are fed with carbon emissions (from a power plant), water and sunlight. The algae are then harvested and can be used as bio-diesel fuel. Jay Keasling, from Berkley University is working on a new synthetic organism that could someday produce anti-malarial drugs in bulk at a low cost.

Using microbes for our benefit is not a new phenomenon, people have been doing so for thousands of years, in the production of foodstuffs such as cheese and beer. This approach could solve the problem with current bio-fuel, which requires more energy to produce than it can supply.

This story, along with the one I wrote about biomimetics the other week, and stories of cancer curing drugs being found in the rainforests really do make me think. The more I ponder about these matters, the more it strengthens my suspicion that nature has the answers to most, if not all of our problems- we just need to look a little harder (and perhaps indulge in a little genetic tinkering if needs be).

Remember to pop back on the weekend for the second instalment of Real Men of Genius. If anyone has any suggestions about who they would like me to profile then leave it in the comments below!


Tuesday, November 15, 2005

Sign Here for Smallpox

The 9/11 attacks in America saw the rapid arrival of the patriot act, the bombings of the London underground led to calls for a national identity card scheme, retinal scanners and other biometric security measures. In addition to these drastic measures Western governments are calling for a ‘slight erosion’ of our civil liberties in order to fight the war on terror. Whichever side of the fence you stand on these matters, this story that I dug out this morning will be of interest to everyone.

A team from New Scientist uncovered the sobering reality of the gene synthesis business. For those of you who don’t know, gene synthesis entails synthesising DNA for scientists and researchers to study. The service is critical to those wishing to discover medical advances because it gives them a steady supply of any disease that they wish to study. However, what is alarming is the lack of control provided by these companies. New scientist contacted 16 of these companies, and of the 12 who responded only five said that they screen all requests for genetic material, whilst 4 said they screened some applications, and 3 companies did no checks at all. The service that these companies provide is simple, you just email them the gene sequence you want synthesised and hey presto! A few weeks later your new bacterium arrives through the post.

These companies will synthesise genes for as little as $1.50 per pair of DNA strands, with simple viruses being made up of only a few thousand strands. The structure of the viruses is publicly available so that in theory they should be easily identified. Admittedly many deadly pathogens like smallpox are made up of over 190,000 strands of DNA and requesting them is likely to arise suspicion, but parts of the genome of smaller viruses could easily be ordered separately and combined with other micro-organisms to create new strains of killer viruses.

Craic Computing, an American software company have created an application that scans all incoming orders and flags any orders similar to organisms identified as ‘cause for concern’ by the US government. However some of these sequences do have other legitimate uses so all orders flagged by the software need to be double-checked by a human expert. Perhaps this additional human control is the reason why some companies do not bother screening orders. Bob Xue, director of Genemed Synthesis in San Francisco simply stated that performing scans was "not their business".
If it’s not your business then whose is it then Bob? You prick! In case you didn’t realise it Bob, if you sell potentially harmful material you owe it to the rest of us to check whom you are selling it to. Unless of course, you want to be tarred with the same brush as the shit bags that sell crack to 12 year olds.

Some companies do not check the orders but do attempt to verify that email addresses are from valid research institutions. Whilst this provides some precautions is does not accommodate for the fact that email addresses are easy to fake.

Whilst some experts have called for tight global control of synthesised genetic material this action could have a negative effect on advanced medical research and cause delays in the development of vaccines for new diseases. Perhaps what is more alarming is that the technology to synthesis DNA is becoming cheaper and these services will be springing up all over the world making them tougher to control.

Luckily, a team from MIT has launched a study into the pros and cons of synthesised genomes and will publish the results in 2006. A spokesperson from this team argues that a high level of self-regulation is key, so these companies will only do business with legitimate research institutions making it tougher for deadly pathogens to fall into the wrong hands. Whereas a tighter clampdown on gene synthesis from the world’s governments could limit the amount of new research being conducted.

Hopefully (sooner rather than later) everyone will wake up to this major flaw and it will be sorted before its too late and thousands die and medical advances slow to a snails pace.

I’m not trying to be the harbinger of doom, I just thought it would make an interesting post! Maybe in future I’ll be best off leaving the scare mongering to CNN and the other news channels.


Sunday, November 13, 2005

Real Men of Genius: Norman Borlaug

Good afternoon everyone and welcome to the first instalment of real men of genius. Most of you probably have not even heard of Norman Borlaug, but he is one of the greatest humanitarians that has ever lived and in 1970, Norman was awarded the Nobel Prize for Peace. In 1942 Norman was awarded his PhD in plant pathology and genetics at the University of Minnesota.

After leaving college, Norman moved to Mexico where he worked on developing more efficient Wheat crops that could feed the countries poor and boost its economy. He worked on ‘dwarfing’ wheat crops to make them shorter and stronger so that the storks could support more grain. In addition to this Norman developed strains of Wheat that are more resistant to disease and introduced new agricultural methods. By 1963, 19 years after arriving in Mexico Norman’s work had increased the countries wheat production 6 fold.

The success of Norman’s work in Mexico led the expansion of his work to Asia in what is now dubbed as the ‘Green Revolution’. In the 1960’s the Indian Subcontinent was at war with populations on both sides suffering from famine and starvation. By 1965 the governments stepped in allowing Norman to conduct his work. With Norman’s intervention, by 1968 Pakistan was self-sufficient in wheat production, and by 1974 India was self-sufficient on the production of all cereals. Since the 60’s in both countries food production has increased at a faster rate than population growth. These strains of wheat have also been used in South America, the Middle East and some parts of Africa. Norman’s life work has saved the lives of untold millions of people; in fact, many people credit him with saving the lives of over a billion people.

Despite his superb efforts to feed the world Norman’s work has come under some criticism. Whilst he accepts some points of his criticism stating that his work is a ‘step in the right direction, but it has not transformed the world into a Utopia’. Much of the criticism about his work and GM crops in general come from environmentalists such as Greenpeace. In response to this criticism Norman remarked

"some of the environmental lobbyists of the Western nations are the salt of the earth, but many of them are elitists. They've never experienced the physical sensation of hunger. They do their lobbying from comfortable office suites in Washington or Brussels. If they lived just one month amid the misery of the developing world, as I have for fifty years, they'd be crying out for tractors and fertilizer and irrigation canals and be outraged that fashionable elitists back home were trying to deny them these things"

Unfortunately, these activists were not simply slandering the names of the world’s top humanitarians and in 2002 things took a turn for the worse. At the 2002 environmental summit in Africa activists from Greenpeace and Friends of the Earth convinced the Zambian government to turn down free high-yield GM crops donated by the US due to unsubstantiated health concerns. In other words Greenpeace and Friends of the Earth were directly responsible for the continuation of famine, starvation and inevitably the deaths of an already poor and suffering population.

So there you have it, a quick insight into one of the worlds real men of genius. Next time some activist harasses you about GM crops, before you sign their petition or buy that bumper sticker, tell them about Norman Borlaug and if that doesn’t work send then round to the disgruntled wogbeast’s cave where I’ll serve them up a 100% organic knuckle sandwich.


Friday, November 11, 2005

Astronomy with a Gravitational Slant

Visible light, like the kind picked up by telescopes is part of the Electro-magnetic spectrum. This light which travels millions of light years until it hits our eyes (or telescopes) has been the basis of the entire history of astronomy. But now in the 21st century, scientists are on the verge of what is hailed to become the greatest discovery of our age.

This discovery will (hopefully) be made through the use of devices called Laser Interferometers that have been designed in an effort to detect gravitational waves. So What? Well there are massive implications from detecting gravitational waves; for starters their successful detection will be a further confirmation of Einstein’s general theory of relativity. Secondly, it will open up a whole new kind of astronomy. Most of the universe does not emit Electro-magnetic waves (e.g. light) so at present we are unable to study them. The success of this new technology will allow us to study cosmic objects without the need to rely on light, meaning scientist will be able to look inside the most violent events in the universe.

These ripples in space-time are extremely weak making them almost impossible to detect so Astro-boffins from NASA and Academia have had to develop fantastically accurate equipment in order to try and detect them.

Like me, you’re probably thinking Gravity’s weak? I thought it was holding everything including us tethered to the Earth’s surface. Well yes it is, but in relation to other forces at work in the Universe it is incredibly weak. You can prove this to yourself right now; all you need is a magnet and a sewing pin.

Place the pin on the table and hover the magnet over it until it lifts the pin right off the table. Now that insignificant magnet managed to attract that pin out of gravity’s clasp despite the fact that the entire Earth was pulling on it!

So to detect waves of Gravity from the depths of space is pretty tricky, the set-ups produced in Europe and the US have shoot Lasers down vacuum that are between 0.5 and 4 KM long. At the end of the tubes are finely crafted mirrors hung from dampened glass threads. Professor Karsten Danzmann, from the Albert Einstein Institute and Hanover University stated:

"The displacement sensitivity of GEO 600 is one three-thousandth of the diameter of a proton,"
Sounds pretty damn fine, but what’s that in layman’s terms Professor D?

"Put another way, it's equivalent to measuring a change of one hydrogen atom diameter in the distance from the Earth to the Sun."

So from this mind-boggling analogy you can really see how tricky this detecting gravity waves business is. But not to worry, the boffins have everything ready and both the US and European systems are due to begin a full science run this month, in which they will continuously detect data for 18 months. If a wave is detected by at least two the sites, then the results will be official.

There are even grander plans to launch one of these facilities into space with 3 spacecraft flying in formation 5 million km apart. Calculation’s show that this project, LISA (Laser Interferometer Space Antenna) could detect left over gravitational radiation from the big bang, hopefully settling some of those arguments plaguing the big thinkers on the forefront of theoretical physics. Professor Mike Cruise from Birmingham University remarked

"Some of these observations are going to give us a clue as to how gravity can be viewed in terms of quantum mechanics and the prospect of that is just mind-boggling."

Well you said it man, and you’re the professor! Personally I’m eagerly awaiting the results from this just so that I can hear about what crazy theory’s and explanations will be cooked up.
That’s all for today, but be sure to pop back over the weekend for the first instalment of real men of genius.


Thursday, November 10, 2005

Real Men of Genius: Coming Soon

Good Morning Bloggsville!! Just a quick post today to inform you that a new regularly updated series of posts will begin this weekend here at the DWB. The series will be called Real Men of Genius and each week, a single genius who has helped the progress of mankind will be profiled.
Since this will be an ongoing thing over the next few months or so I want to generate plenty of discussion from you guys. Maybe we could start by getting a few suggestions of someone you think is real man (or woman) of genius, just post a comment and let me know.
Anyway for those of you who were hoping for an article to read might I suggest visiting http://rhymezworange.blogspot.com// for a rather cynical insight into the new concept of Intelligent Design.
Enjoy, and remember to come back soon

Wednesday, November 09, 2005

Google Print is here

Good morning everyone, like me you will have undoubtedly noticed the numerous stories about Google print circulating the web recently. These have mostly surrounded the story of the writers guild suing Google over intellectual property rights. I must have personally read at least half a dozen of these stories in the news over the last month and then just now as I began to read another, I realised that I haven’t even tried out Google print- 3 guesses what I did next.

Now before you can get access to full scans of pages you need to register with Google and click on an activation link (which took about 2 seconds). Now at this point it is probably worth reminding you that books still covered by copyright are not present in their entirety, but the surrounding paragraph related to your search will still be shown. Whilst this is not perfect it is suited to lazy student writing essays the night before deadlines who need to get a few quotes ASAP.
But forget about copyright protected books, the real good stuff comes from doing an advanced search for really old books. Most of the old books (e.g. 100-200 years old) are out of copyright so you can read them all if you like, I’ve only had a quick play around and I’m impressed. I’ve found exerts from Faraday’s letters referring to Swansea, a 150 year old book about vampires in Africa, and numerous historical accounts on peoples attitudes towards Freemasonry and other secret societies: not bad for 10 minutes searching.

Whilst I am somewhat sympathetic towards authors who piss and moan about copyright after all, if I had written a book I’d be the same. However, they really need to appreciate that this is the way of the future and that people will still buy books because reading 50,000 words off a computer screen sucks.

Lets forget for a moment the thousands of angry authors worried about their livelihood and think about the rest of us. I can now access the New York public library, and libraries from the universities of Oxford, Stanford, Harvard and Michigan from my own home. In forthcoming months and years Google print will be a valuable tool for students everywhere, not to mention blogger’s like us, or in fact anyone with an interest in selecting books from a colossal catalogue from the comfort of their own home.

So what are you waiting for? Go and check it out! Be sure to let me know what you think about it!


Tuesday, November 08, 2005

Nature’s Calling

Throughout history mankind’s progress has been charted and referred to by his use of materials. Throughout the stone, bronze iron and steel ages these materials made a major contribution to mankind’s development. But now in the 21st century, we live in the age of materials. For technology to advance further we need to improve all sorts of materials, looking to nature for inspiration.

This exiting field of research is known by several names Bionics, Biomimetics, or Biomimicry. Wikipedia define Biomimetics as

".. the application of methods and systems found in nature to the study and design of engineering systems and modern technology. This technology transfer is desirable because evolutionary pressure typically forces natural systems to become highly optimized and efficient. A classical example is the development of dirt- and water-repellent paint (coating) from the observation that the surface of the lotus flower plant is practically unsticky for anything (lotus effect). Examples of bionics results in engineering include hulls of boats imitating the skin membrane of dolphins, sonar, radar, and medical ultrasound imaging imitating echolocation of bats."

Biomimetics has also been one of the most significant forms of inspiration for 21st century experimental computer science. Seeking Natures advice has lead to the conception and development of cybernetics, artificial neurones, artificial neural networks, and swarm intelligence. One field of experimental computing has superseded nature by simulating evolution, which has produced highly optimised solutions that have not arisen in nature. This exiting field is known as evolutionary computing (Who’d have guessed that one?).

There are countless inventions already created through the biomimetic approach. Perhaps the most famous of these was created by Swiss engineer George De Mestral in 1948, who after a walk one day, was cleaning his dog of burrs and suddenly realised how they worked, and shortly afterwards created Velcro.

As computing experts and microprocessor designers are rapidly reaching the limits of what can be done with silicone, the need for natural solutions such as those based on the human brain (neural networks) or those that use DNA to store and process data (DNA computing) becomes ever more important.

The significance of Biomimetics is perhaps said best in the following quote:

"Nature has been conducting evolutionary experiments for millions of years, so if we're lucky enough to find something close to what we require in nature, then it's very likely to have been highly optimised, and we're unlikely to do much better." -Greg Parker

Personally, I feel that this something that we should all bear in mind, one flash of inspiration from nature could benefit all of mankind forever. Anyway if reading this has sparked your interest in Biomimetics be sure to check out the following pages:

Anyway that’s it for today, I hope you’ve enjoyed and that you’ll return again soon to the wonderful world of the Wogbeast.

Take it Easy


Sunday, November 06, 2005

Hiccups Explained, & Hopefully Cured

Good morning everyone, today I’ve got some interesting facts about hiccups. Hiccups are basically a reflex action. They are caused by irritation of the Vagus nerve (or its branches), which runs from your brain to your abdomen. It is believed that hiccups are usually brought on by common digestive disturbances. Although you probably cant remember, we’ve all been suffering from hiccups since infancy, and 3 to 5 times a year ever since.

We’ve all heard of old wives tales for getting rid of hiccups, which all work by stifling the Vagus nerves signals with more pressing matters, such as a big fright or the need to breathe. Anyway, I’ve dug out 13 tried and tested methods for stopping hiccups, so you’ll never have to look like a stereotypical drunk of a Disney Movie ever again.

Sweeten those hiccups out of existence- Forget Bouquets and Barry White, but it is possible to stop hiccups by overloading your taste buds. This is achieved by having a spoonful of sugar, which should ideally be placed at the back of your tongue, which is optimised for tasting sour things.

Don’t listen to them- Some doctors recommend putting your fingers in your ears (but not too far or you’ll damage them). This works because the Vagus nerve also reaches into the auditory system and poking your fingers around inside your head should stimulate it into action.

A good ol’ fashioned scare- This is a classic home remedy, find someone to give you a fright, which can overwhelm the Vagus nerve and scare away the hiccups.

A glass of water- another classic remedy, which works on the principle that swallowing water interrupts the hiccup cycle.

Yank your tongue- Apparently, sticking out your tongue and pulling on it will stop hiccups.

Tickling- either get someone to tickle you if you’re that way inclined, or tickle the roof of your mouth with a cotton bud.

Holding your breathe- this works, but remember to cover your nose and mouth. This stops the hiccup reflex by creating the more pressing condition of a build up of Carbon Dioxide in your bloodstream.

Breathe into a paper bag- works on the same principle as holding your breathe.

Antacid tablets- Magnesium based remedies tend to decrease irritation to the nerves, and should stop hiccups.

Take your time eating- When you scoff down your lunch it doesn’t get chewed properly, which causes air to get trapped between mouthfuls resulting in hiccups.

Don’t eat so much- Scientists believe that hiccups can occur when your body is trying to tell you not to eat any more until your stomach has digested its contents.

Chill out on spicy foods- some spices may irritate the oesophagus or cause a build up of excess stomach acid, causing hiccups.

Don’t drink like a maniac- alcoholic beverages stimulate the oesophagus and stomach causing hiccups. Being a big drinker for a long time will also damage the food pipe, making you more prone to hiccups. Downing pints, funnelling and other gluttonous party tricks cause hiccups by irritating the digestive system, and by causing the oesophagus to expand rapidly.

Well there’s some top tips about curing hiccups, so next time you stimulate your Vegus nerve try out some of these methods. I’m particularly curious about the yanking your tongue one. If anyone tries these methods out be sure to let the DWB know by posting a comment here, and maybe in a few weeks time we can put together a top five tried and tested remedies.

So until next time dear readers… Goodbye


Saturday, November 05, 2005

Of Mice and Men

Since the dawn of civilisation, mankind has had a long running obsession with the concept of love. It has been the inspiration for millions of poets and song writers, from literary greats to cheesy boy band types. Even I, the humble Wogbeast is familiar with the concept of Love. This romantic inspiration is not just confined to humans, as we know many birds sing songs, mainly to attract mates. It has also been found that some bats sing during courtship, and we are all familiar with Whale songs (especially those of you who have bought tapes from a new age gift shop). Recently scientists have discovered what appear to be romantic musical numbers performed by our most studied mammalian relative – Mice.
Tim Holy and Zhongsheng Guo, of Washington University School of Medicine in St Louis, Missouri discovered these rodent serenades by recording the ultrasonic vocalisations made my male mice exited by the scent of female pheromones. Once recorded, these audio samples were dropped several octaves so that they fell into the audible range of humans.

Under closer inspection, Holy & Co. discovered that the songs included a number of syllable types (collections of notes), and these syllables were arranged into phrases and motifs: fulfilling the definition of a song.

Whilst the purpose of this song is not yet known, it seems likely that it is used to serenade females. "So what are these songs about?" you may be wondering. Well Mr Holy & Co. suggest that if the songs are used to attract lovers, then they are likely to contain information about the males "qualities". They have found some evidence to support this, some parts of the songs are metabolically taxing, suggesting that the stronger males are likely to be the better singers.

Holy hopes that studying the singing mouse will help uncover fundamental principles about the brain, and may eventually help understand disorders of communication, such as autism.

Personally, I don’t really find the concept of mouse love songs surprising. After seeing Crocodiles on TV vibrating in the water to attract a mate who can blame me. However, I’d love to hear some first hand opinions from Mice owners so I’m going to set you some homework. Firstly, save the sound clips below, import them into Sound Forge or whatever and raise the pitch. Then, simply play the rodent love songs to you pet mice and watch for any reactions.

I’m somewhat dubious if this would work because:
I do not know the exact pitch that the songs need to be.
I’m not sure if PC speakers can effectively reproduce the sounds.

Anyway, if anyone manages to do this I’d love to hear about it so post your finding here at the DWB. Here is the links to the mouse love songs and original article:

A male mouse producing a snatch of song: click here
A male mouse producing a more determined croon: click here
Original article: http://www.newscientist.com/channel/life/dn8237.html

Stay tuned for more mildly interesting facts from the DWB, hope you all return soon.


Friday, November 04, 2005

Why Elephants Hate Pigs, & Pigs Hate Romans

As you may or may not be aware, Elephants were the tanks of the ancient world. Wild Elephants were stalked by hunters, who incapacitated the gentle giants by hacking large chucks of flesh away from their legs (I know its gruesome but stay with me, it gets worse).

Once captured, they were no use to the military due to their injuries and were instead used as breeding animals, lame studs if you will. Any offspring produced in this way were tamed and sold on to armies to become a fearsome spectacle used to frighten/destroy marauding tribes or other ‘bad’ guys.

Every major army of the day used elephants, a seemingly unstoppable weapon. That was until one day, some insightful Romans noticed that Elephants were easily spooked by the sound of a squealing pig. Those clever Romans discovered they could turn this to their advantage by sending squealing pigs running towards their enemy’s Elephants. However, pigs do no squeal on demand, so the simply answer was to set the little porky’s on fire (told you it got worse) and let them loose on the battlefield!

I’d love to take credit for this interesting little fact, but I wont. Instead I’d like to give all credit to pipe-smoking, wordy funnyman Stephen Fry (or perhaps his researchers) for this classic bit of trivia. For more interesting tidbits like this I suggest those of you reading in the UK watch witty quiz show QI (quite interesting).

Here’s the link to the QI site, I believe there’s some clips on there too so check them out:


That’s all for now


Thursday, November 03, 2005

Cosmic Absurdities

The BBC today reported that archaeologists in China have found the worlds oldest observatory. The semicircular platform (130 feet in diameter) surrounded by 13 pillars was unearthed near the city of Linfen in the Shanxi province. The remains are thought to be 4,100 years old. He Nu, a researcher at the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences, told the Xinhua news agency:
"The ancient people observed the direction of sunrise through the gaps, and distinguished the different seasons of the year."

This theory was tested by archaeologists that spent 18 months testing possible uses of the site. They found that the seasons calculated were accurate within one or two days of the Chinese calendar that is still in use today. Personally, I find it somewhat humbling that these ancient Chinese dudes managed to unlock the secrets of the seasons over 4,000 years ago. But it leaves me wondering how these ancient thinkers would have reacted to today’s astronomical discoveries.

Today, Nature the scientific journal published an article in which NASA scientists announced that they have detected left over radiation from the first stars that formed in the universe. These gigantic thermonuclear furnaces were formed less than 200 million years after the big bang. It baffles me how these astro-boffins have discovered so much about the origins of the universe through the use of telescopes. It leaves me feeling a little sad, yet hopeful that one day I’ll find out what’s supposed to have happened before the big bang.

Well that’s it now! My humble troglodyte grey matter is feeling the strain caused by pondering these cosmic matters, and I find myself asking the classic questions that have plagued mankind "How?" "Why?" and of course "How did they think of that?"

I haven’t felt this bewildered since watching a documentary about super string theory.


Its Time to Grit My Teeth & Lie to the Voters

Good evening guys, just a quick late night post to let you know about about a new site i've joined called www.popublog.com.
Fellow bloggers might I recommend registering with this site, and pretty soon you'll find your blog rated under the scrutiny of anyone and everyone!

Anyway if you like whats being said here at the DWB the please click the vote button on the right..

Thats all folks


Wednesday, November 02, 2005

Virtual Insanity?

Good Morning everyone, I trust all is well in cyberspace. Today I’d like to share some of my thoughts with you about one of they latest crazes going on in the digital world: real estate in MMORPG’s. Now for those of you who don’t know (or can’t work it out for yourself), Wikipedia defines a MMORPG as:

A massively (or massive) multiplayer online role-playing game or MMORPG is a multiplayer computer role-playing game that enables thousands of players to play in an evolving virtual world at the same time over the Internet. MMORPGs are a specific type of massively multiplayer online game (MMOG).

For more info from wikipedia: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mmorpg

Well OK, I hear you say "a virtual universe where everyone plays online together, that was always going to happen" well yes, that’s something even the humble DWB had foreseen. However, something that I did not expect was that these games would have spurred on a real world economy, and a strong one at that. Recently you may have heard about some dude paying £13,000 for an island in one of these games which seemed a bit mad, this was my first inclination that there was money to be made in these games.

A few months later I saw a feature on the channel 5’s ‘the gadget show’ that pointed out that people are now making money out of playing these games. For example, there is an online star wars game:

It takes X amount of game play to reach Jedi status.

Many people do not have the time/ambition to put X amount of hours in, but want to play as a Jedi.

People who do have time to put X amount of hours in, can reach Jedi status and sell their profile on eBay.

Mr Too Busy to play (and all his peers, bid on said Jedi account) until.

Mr professional gamer gets paid $300-500 for his time and of course, character.

Now those of you who don’t believe me and are thinking "Oh man, that DWB is full of shit, you cant make money playing games at home" well check it out for yourselves: just visit eBay and search for star wars galaxies jedi.

Now the latest development in this virtual economy is that someone has bought a space station in the Entropia game for £56,200 ($100,000 US). The space station was described as a "monumental project" in the "treacherous, but mineral rich" Paradise V Asteroid Belt. The good news is, its new owner wants to turn it into a night club and has apparently been in talks with some of the worlds top DJ’s. This could very well be the beginning of real world entertainment companies grabbing a slice of virtual world profits.
You can find out more about this at:


or read the original article from the BBC at:


It may surprise you that the DWB has been to a night club or two with super star DJ’s (namely Swansea’s Escape super-club), and it leaves me wondering one thing.

Hypothetically speaking, this is a virtual club in a virtual word, which people spend real money. Some clever programmer could invent some virtual disco drug that makes your character gurn like a chocolate Easter bunny in the microwave. What would the government’s of the world's stance be on people making vast quantities of money out of safe drugs that do not even technically exist?

Food for thought dear readers, but until next time…

Look after yourselves


Tuesday, November 01, 2005

Easy Peasy Japanesey

Ah Japan; land of Samurai, Sake, raw fish, bizarre game shows, and of course high-technology. Now those of you in the know about these things will undoubtedly be aware of Japans stance as the world leaders in m-Commerce.

But for the benefit of those who are not so savvy: m-Commerce is essentially e-Commerce via mobile phones. M-Commerce has yet to take off in a big way in Europe and the US, which is partly the blame of us (most of us have no real need to shop on EBay whilst on the bus). And partly the blame of mobile phone operators who wall in our access to the Internet, effectively crippling the usefulness of the supposed ‘high’ bandwidth of 3G mobile phones.

So to give you an idea of just how far things have been going in the far East let me put it like this:

While we were taking photos on our phones for the first time, the Japanese were surfing the net & sending emails while on their way to work.

While we bought crappy ringtones at £3-00 a go, they were using bluetooth at vending machines to pay for soft drinks.

An now, as we download low resolution video clips at extortionate prices, the Japanese are in the process of doing away with their wallets!

EDY is the main company creating the market for mobile cash. The company promotes the system as a replacement for all situations where using cash is inconvenient, and by providing shoppers with reward points. The system works by letting you credit your phone with up to £250, with is either done at payment stations or online (via your mobile obviously). Then you simply use your mobile like a credit card for everyday purchases such as groceries, booze and cinema tickets.

At present EDY is a relatively new phenomenon with around 25,000 retailers that accept payment. These mobile wallets are expected to take off in a big way in January, when another firm called Suica join the party. Suica already have millions of customers using their smart cards, so their migration to the new technology will mean a much greater awareness of the mobile wallet.

For more information on this mobile madness, check out these links: