Posts Tagged ‘science’

No headphone jack iPhone 7 ‘revealed’

The unverified version of the iPhone 7 on top, compared to a iPhone 6s on the bottom.

A video posted to the Chinese version of Facebook showing what looks to be the new iPhone 7 has backed rumours circulating around the tech world that the new phone will have no headphone jack.

The post, which came to light over the weekend, shows an unidentified Chinese man showing off the phone and comparing it to the iPhone 6s.

Aesthetically both phones look very similar, but there are notable changes such as the headphone jack and a larger camera hole, which suggests a bigger and better camera, too.

The iPhone 7 is rumoured to have 32GB as its entry-level storage capacity, doing away with the cheapest 16GB model, while other online posts suggest the phone will have a bigger 5.5-inch option and a camera with optical zoom.

None of the rumours have been substantiated, and the source of the video is not known.

Anyhow, Apple historically launches the phones in September and makes them available later that month.

So presumably if you want to listen to your music discretely, or watch video on the tram, or whatever, you’re going to need …. what, Bluetooth or wi-fi headsets.

Which will no doubt be sold separately and cost $200. Right.

(West Australian and others)

Fascinating new research about how the human mind works.

“Humans have a capacity to imagine scenarios, reflect on them, and embed them into larger narratives,” says evolutionary psychologist Thomas Suddendorf at the University of Queensland in Australia. “There appears to be something fundamentally distinct about human “mental time travel” when compared to the capacities of our closest-surviving animal relatives.”

At it most simple, human beings look ahead and believe they can predict their future. But this ability to forecast our futures, however inaccurately, comes at a price.

“We worry about many things we can do little about, and we can experience persistent anxiety about things that may never eventuate,” says Suddendorf.

 

Animals fear predators for good reason (Credit: Anup Shah/Naturepl.com)

Animals fear their natural predators for good reason (Credit: Anup Shah/Naturepl.com)

 

Most of us overcome these worries easily enough. Humans are different from other animals. As the Current Biology website notes, we have an in-built optimism bias, which gives us a rosier view of the future than is really appropriate.

The ability to anticipate is a hallmark of cognition. Inferences about what will occur in the future are critical to decision making, enabling us to prepare our actions so as to avoid harm and gain reward.

Given the importance of these future projections, one might expect the brain to possess accurate, unbiased foresight.

Humans, however, exhibit a pervasive and surprising bias: when it comes to predicting what will happen to us tomorrow, next week, or fifty years from now, we overestimate the likelihood of positive events, and underestimate the likelihood of negative events.

For example, we underrate our chances of getting divorced, being in a car accident, or suffering from cancer. We also expect to live longer than objective measures would warrant, overestimate our success in the job market, and believe that our children will be especially talented. This optimism bias phenomenon is one of the most consistent, prevalent, and robust behaviour or cognition biases documented in psychology and behavioural economics.

This becomes especially important where death is concerned. As far as studies can establish, we seem to be the only animal able to contemplate, understand and cope with our own mortality.

“One of the realities is that you are going to die.” But humans have an amazing ability to apparently ignore – or at least suppress – this eventuality, which Ajit Varki of the University of California dubs “an evolutionary quirk”.

For example, if animals denied the risks of death as many humans do, zebras or antelopes might knowingly graze near hungry lions. They don’t.

But this is innate optimism appears not to be the case for those with depression, for whom the future often appears very bleak. And in reality, they might well be right, at least to some extent, as they are not affected by the irrational “optimism bias”.

“Clinical psychologists are beginning to recognise and disentangle the important roles aspects of foresight play in our mental health,” says Suddendorf.

Depressed people truly appreciate reality, agrees Varki, who has written extensively about human uniqueness and our ability to deny death.

So why do “healthy” people exhibit optimism bias?

“We need that denial,” says Varki. “Otherwise we might curl up and do nothing.”

And instead of facing the transient nature of life, some us engage in apparently reckless activities such as climbing dangerous mountains, driving cars too fast and taking mind-altering drugs, content in our assumption that we’ll be fine.

So the next time you meet someone suffering from depression, don’t be too quick to dismiss their view of the world. They might just be seeing it more clearly than you.

Which is a depressing thought, eh?

Seed vault

If you ever enter this place – well, it’s not a good sign, because it means something of apocalyptic proportions has happened.

The Svalbard Global Seed Vault is a seed bank located on Spitsbergen, a remote northern island that’s part of Norway.

The vault holds multitudes of seeds in the case of a global catastrophe destroys most of the earth’s crops. Currently, it holds about 864,000 distinct seeds and has the capacity to hold up to 4.5 million. It has fully 1/3 of the world’s most important food crop seeds inside of it.

The vault is buried 390 feet into a sandstone mountain with no permanent staff and no one person has all the codes you need to get inside. For hundreds of years, these seeds will be kept safe and a study done on the feasibility of the vault suggests the seeds might be preserved safely for even thousands of years. Each seed is packaged in a three-ply foil packet sealed with heat to ensure there’s no moisture.

It’s fully automated and is remotely monitored. The vault is only open for special visitors and a few days a year when it accepts new seeds. And, also, it’s in the middle of the Arctic, very close to the North Pole.

Interesting, huh? Well, we thought so.

sick-flu

 

Spike Milligan famously inscribed “I told you I was sick” on his tombstone.

Well, Dear Reader, we apologise, but we have not posted for a while because we have been laid up in bed with flu since the middle of last week.

And trust me. We’ve been whingeing about it. To anyone who will listen. Which is, predictably, no-one.

We can’t get anyone to understand how crook we feel. “Pah! Man flu!” has been the response. Well now scientists have revealed that there is such a thing as Man Flu. It really does exist, according to research.

Men suffer more with coughs and colds because they have extra temperature receptors in the brain and so experience worse symptoms.

Children deal with colds the same way because the relevant area of the brain is the same size in boys and girls, said Durham University neuroscientist Dr Amanda Ellison.

But when boys hit puberty testosterone starts to act on the area, called the preoptic nucleus, making it larger.

Dr Ellison said: ‘When you have a cold one of the things that happens is you get an increase in temperature to fight off the bugs.

‘The bugs can’t survive at higher temperatures.

‘When your immune system is under attack the preoptic nucleus increases temperature to kill off the bugs. But men have more temperature receptors because that area of the brain is bigger in men than women.

“So men run a higher temperature and feel rougher – and if they complain they feel rough then maybe they’re right.”

Research published in 2009 which also supported the existence of man flu was criticised as inconclusive as it related to genetically engineered mice rather than humans. But Dr Ellison’s study was based on research carried out on human brains.

“It is part of the whole argument about the differences between men and women and how their behaviour can be influenced by differences in their brains,” she added.

Commenting on the fact that her findings could be seen as controversial, Dr Ellison said: “I’m just throwing it out there. The debate will rage on and quite rightly so. The trouble with man flu has always been that there is not much hard evidence that the feelings are worse in males than in females. This is just a possible cause.”

We need no more evidence, Dear Reader. Pass the Lemsip. And we can’t quite reach the remote control …

Tay Tay's girl gang at the MTV Awards in 2015

Tay Tay’s ‘girl gang’ at the MTV Awards in 2015

 

If you’ve got more than a handful of friends, it seems you may need to kick some to the kerb as science reckons our brains can’t handle more than five besties at a time.

A study by the MIT Technology Review looked at a theory by British anthropologist Robin Dunbar, who noticed that there was a direct correlation between people’s brains and how many friends they have – basically the bigger your brain the bigger your friendship group and the smaller your brain, the less friends you’re bound to have.

According to Dunbar, humans are only able to have FIVE best friends, with maybe another 10 close friends, 35 acquaintances, and 100 additional contacts, due to the size of our neocortex.

And if you were having doubts about his theory, Dunbar actually tested out it out recently by examining 6 billion phone calls made by 35 million people in an anonymous European country.

“The team assumes that the frequency of calls between two individuals is a measure of the strength of their relationship,” the MIT Technology Review states. The study found that Dunbar’s estimate wasn’t too far fletched: “The average cumulative layer turns out to hold 4.1, 11.0, 29.8, and 128.9 users,” researchers found — again, that’s besties, close friends, acquaintances and “contacts” respectively.

So maybe Katy Perry and Rihanna had the right idea when they chose a girl squad of two as opposed to Tay Tay’s massive army? And who are Taylor’s best besties from among the girl gang? We think the people should be told.
We reckon we’ve got at least six friends, Dear Reader. Coz we’re really, er, you know, brainy. You know who you are.

judgement

We are indebted to Vox for this brilliant little video, which apart from anything else is just very interesting. It also bears showing to everybody you know who believes in the Biblical account of Creation. The stupid is strong in many of them, of course, and literal belief in Creation is as much a tribal cultural construct as it is actually a matter of faith. So they will probably reject your good intentions out of hand. Still, such battles are won an inch at a time.

And God said: “Lo, I have given thee a brain, that thee might wonder at the beauty of my creation, and revere me for my genius.”

And man sayeth, “not only that, but you did it in seven days. You’re the real deal, God.”

And the Lord sayeth, “well actually it was over a few billion years. I used a little trick I called Evolution.”

And Man sayeth, “Fuck that’s some complicated shit Lord. Explain it all again please?”

And the Lord sayeth, “there are none so blind as those who choose not to see.”

devil

And the Devil piped up and said “You go for it Man, you argue about Creation back and forth while I fuck up the world and organise your children dying every three seconds from starvation and illness, and arrange it so you destroy the very planet, and I’ll get Kim Kardashian to be Queen of the World and take her clothes off regularly so you won’t have time or need to worry.”

And the Lord cried out, “Man, I have given you Science and Rational Thought so you can come to marvel at the Universe around you!”

And Man said, “Sod that Lord, we prefer to Keep It Simple, Stupid.”

And God saw what Man had done with his Creation, and wept.

So God despaireth of Man, and sent him Donald Trump and nuclear weapons at the same time. And as the night followers the day, soon all was silent. And God turned to the cockroaches and said, “For so it is written, in the End of Days thou shalt inherit the earth.”

And after a few more billion years, a new race stood on the Earth and marveled at God’s bounty, and it came to pass that there rose among them peoples who chose to believe the God had created the entire Breadbasket in just seven days, and had put the holes in the floorboards at exactly the right level for the cockroaches to find the leavings on the kitchen floor, and Lo was it not a miracle that the holes and the cockroaches were exactly the same size? Surely this was evidence of a great Home Design Architect?

And God did express a little frisson of irritation and sayeth unto the cockroaches, “We’re not going to do all this shit again, right?” And the cockroaches had a think and said “Er, no, Lord, sorry, and did fiercely bind the “Creationists” mouths with fly paper until their voices could no longer be heard. And peace reigned on the Earth, and everyone got on with something more important.

We suspect it would be fair to say, Dear Reader, that Contemplation is a way of being that is largely ignored by the young, and of increasing solace to those of us who are irretrievably ensconced in middle or old age.

As you are aware, in the last couple of years we have become increasingly enamoured of standing or sitting around doing very little. And of spending that rescued time thinking.

Not with a deliberately blank mind, as in meditation, but with a mind that is focused on the moment – mindfulness is the de rigeur pop-psychiatry phrase that is currently in vogue – and really looking at the world and thinking about it.

cabbage-white-butterflyThis has led us to think harder about Death. And Fear. And how we deal with both.

We have even been moved to write a poem about the “Sweetness” of Death.

And one of the posts we are actually more pleased with than most, a chewy 2500 words, no less, is about how important it is to really look around oneself from time to time on Calendars, and life, and gardens, and days and marriages and butteflies and more. If you haven’t read it yet, please take the time to do so.

Life is simply so busy – so filled with stuff – that we lose the ability to be still and really think. To truly see the world around us, in all it’s intricate complexity and to learn the lessons we are offered by it.

bruce and the spiderRobert the Bruce was a famous Scottish King who laboured long and hard to free his country from English rule. Although this brave man had been driven out of Scotland, he was not ready to give up. Several times he tried to win back his kingdom, and several times he failed. An interesting story is told of how he gained the courage to persevere so patiently.

He was lying in a poor thatch-roofed cottage one day, wondering whether he had not better cease all efforts. Suddenly his eye rested upon a spider which was weaving its web. It climbed away up to the roof, but before it could fasten its thread there, it lost its hold and fell to the ground. A moment later, he saw the spider climb up and try again. Nine times the insect fell; but at the tenth attempt the thread was fastened and the web woven.

Bruce, who had watched the nine failures, gladly saw the patient spider succeed, and declared that the little creature had taught him a good lesson, and that he too would persist, in spite of repeated disappointments, until he should triumph at last. So instead of giving up Bruce tried again, and soon found that his luck had turned. From a moment of Contemplation came the campaign that drove Edward 1st out of Scotland.

I was reminded of this story today by a single bee, working industriously to harvest pollen from the  coastal daisies that grow along one end of our swimming pool. Unkempt clumps of them have now taken over the retaining wall in front of our home and the path around the pool, but despite protestations from Mrs Wellthisiswhatithink (a much more active gardener than we are, it must be said) we have resisted trimming them back.

Firstly, because Erigeron glaucus is one of our all time favourite edging plants, because this little daisy plant is incredibly drought hardy, will spread readily and is very easy on the eye. Secondly, it also attracts bees.

Even late in the summer, when all fruit trees have had their pollen used up, and even this ubiquitous little clump of daisies has already been visited umpteen times, still the bees return, pausing only momentarily on a flower head that has already been harvested, but hopping uncomplainingly to the next, and the next, until they find one still bearing its life-giving essence.

Their patience is inspirational.

beeAs we flicked the pages of the Sunday newspaper’s insert magazine up to our chest in deliciously cool water, we kept one eye on the hard-working insect. It was unhurried, thorough, and uncomplaining.

As you will know, Dear Reader, if you can dredge the matter up from the dark recesses of your mind, we have previously written about the bees in our area, and how they have tangentially reminded us of what’s important, in Drowning Bees and Men.

Well, today they reminded us that patience and persistence, married to industry,  is the great common denominator for success, and we all surely need to contemplate that from time to time.

spotted dove_0The other natural intersection today was some time spent cooing to a Spotted Dove (Spilopelia chinensis) that alighted on our pool fence and, after looking around anxiously for a minute or so to check the coast was clear, settled down to bask contentedly in the late afternoon sun.

Yes, we are aware that most people do not seek to talk to birds in their native tongue, which is why we keep our strange little habit to ourselves, but hiding alone behind a high fence seemed a safe spot to indulge.

For some years now, we have had pair of Spotted Doves that return to our home every spring to nest and produce their young, and early summer mornings we are always greeted by their unmistakeable coooo, coooo, crooo call, which depending on whether one is slumbering gently already half awake, or deeply asleep and rudely woken by it outside the bedroom window, will generally determine one’s reaction.

Their nest is seldom more than a few sticks thrown together, and for many years they nested at the top of a brick pylon inadequately supporting our car-port roof. That pylon has now been repaired, however, robbing them of their birdy AirBNB, so they have decamped to the nearby ornamental cherry.

The pairs are monogamous, although the bird also congregates in groups when feed is plentiful. This year, we had the unusual situation of two males vying for the attention of one female, with both walking along branches and other elevated surfaces cooo, cooo, crooooing for all they were worth and bobbing their heads up and down, in order to display the white spots at their neck. Mating follows immediately after such displays, so one Mr Dove made it, and one didn’t.

Looking at the Dove on the pool fence, we wondered whether she was the female taking a short break, or one of the two males enduring a lonely vigil, as the sexes are very difficult to tell apart. We imitated the male call, and immediately the bird tilted its head on one side and fixed us with rapt attention. It didn’t seem in the least concerned by our impersonation, even though we are perfectly sure, Dear Reader, that we do not present any resemblance to any Spotted Dove it had encountered before, and as we have a somewhat sore neck at the moment we weren’t about to head bob, either.

This little idyll persisted for what seemed like forever, although in reality it was just a minute or two. On climbing out of the pool and retrieving a towel from the side of the pool nearer to where the bird sat, we heard an identical (to our ears) coooo, coooo, crooo from a tree on the next property, and a second bird suddenly flew to sit next to the first one, which shifted uncomfortably for a moment or two.

The new arrival allowed the breeze to ruffle and fluff up its feathers, and it suddenly looked for all the world like a giant grey shuttlecock, at least twice the size of any normal bird. His mate, as we now presumed her to be, settled next to him, apparently comfortable again.

 

spotted doves

 

He bristled there and looked at us fiercely, with what we suppose was the equivalent of a Spotted Dove protective glare. She just gazed into space, unconcerned. It would be very easy to imagine her response to his later over-protective questioning would be “Who? Me?”

Rather than provoke an inter-species incident, we quietly retreated, and they settled down next to each other, for all the world like the King and Queen of their domain on their rickety paling pool fence thrones. Just enjoying the sunshine. Probably chatting about the need to get a new twig or two for the nest.

And somewhere, we assume, a single Dove was off resolutely looking for his conquest. Or maybe, the thought occurred, he has already found her, and they are seated too, somewhere nearby, basking in conubial avian bliss.

An unseen world, all around us, if we did but look. Not that the realisation will stop us turning the TV on tonight, but it did delay us. Today at least.

We are indebted to the BBC for this fascinating story. Australia is rightly famous for its scary fauna – now it appears it might have been an even scarier place to inhabit in the distant past.

 

An artist's illustration of Thylacoleo carnifex, Australia's marsupial lion

Source: Museum Victoria / Artist: Frank Knight An artist’s illustration of Thylacoleo carnifex, Australia’s marsupial lion.

The discovery of claw marks in a bone-filled cave in Australia suggests an extinct, “anatomically bizarre” predator was able to climb trees and rocks, meaning it would have been a threat to humans, writes Myles Gough.

Apparently, Australia’s extinct marsupial lion, Thylacoleo carnifex, was the continent’s top predator at the time of human arrival 50,000 years ago.

Weighing more than 100kg, the animal had sharp claws and a powerful jaw, and shearing teeth that could rip through the flesh of its prey, which included giant kangaroos, rhinoceros-sized herbivores known as diprotodon, and possibly early humans.

But while experts agreed on the marsupial lion’s fearsomeness, whether or not they could climb rocks and trees has been a source of scientific contention. Some have speculated that the lions’ anatomy would lend itself to climbing, while others argued they would have been too heavy to clamber up to high places.

Now palaeontologists at Flinders University say they have found the answer in a cave in Western Australia where marsupial lions left thousands of scratch marks.

A reconstructed skeleton of the marsupial lion, which weighed up to 100kg

Image copyright Gavin Prideaux, Flinders University A reconstructed skeleton of the marsupial lion, which weighed up to 100kg …

‘Significant threat to humans’

The scratch marks, mostly made by juveniles and clustered on a near-vertical rock surface leading to a now-sealed exit, suggest two things about the lions: they were skilled climbers, and they reared their young inside caves.

“[Our findings indicate] the [marsupial] lions were running up and down these rock piles to get out of the cave, and they weren’t using the lower-gradient, longer route,” says associate professor Gavin Prideaux, who supervised the research.

“We can be confident now and say that they could climb.

“And if they could climb really well in the dark, underground, there’s no reason they couldn’t climb trees.

“They would have been a very significant threat to people when they first arrived in Australia.

“What we’re dying for are different lines of evidence that shed light on the behaviour or ecology of these animals, and that’s what we’ve been presented with in the form of these claw marks.”

The team’s findings, which reinforce some contentious ideas about the behaviour of these “highly adapted” and “anatomically bizarre” predators, have been published in Nature’s open-access journal Scientific Reports.

Identifying the scratch marks

An almost complete skeleton of a marsupial mammal was discovered inside Western Australia's Flightstar Cave

Image copyright Gavin Prideaux, Flinders University An almost complete skeleton of a marsupial mammal was discovered inside Western Australia’s Flightstar Cave

The claw markings were found inside the Tight Entrance cave near the Margaret River.

In the mid-90s, bones inside the cave were identified as belonging to extinct megafauna, dating from 30,000 to 150,000 years old, says Prof Prideaux. Between 1996 and 2008, he went on numerous expeditions to the cave to collect fossils, and during that work discovered the scratch marks.

“We had the feeling that they were probably Thylacoleo scratch marks, but we had to test it,” he says.

Prof Prideaux and his honours student, lead author Samuel Arman, established a list of seven species of animal that could have been responsible.

It included the extinct marsupial lion, as well as Tasmanian tigers and Tasmanian devils, which used to live on the mainland, wallabies, koalas, possums and wombats.

Mr Arman left scratch pads inside zoos and wildlife parks, and collected tree bark to get sample claw markings from the living animals, which he compared to those inside the cave.

Lions and devils

This helped the researchers narrow their list to two key suspects: marsupial lions and Tasmanian devils. But they needed another clue.

 

Tasmanian Devil

Image copyright Getty Images Zoo tests helped the scientists rule out Tasmanian devils as being behind the scratches

 

“We went through the more than 10,000 bones we collected from the cave to look for evidence for bite marks or little chewed-up bones [which are] absolute hallmarks of devil dens,” says Prof Prideaux. “We found zero of that.”

“This is more consistent with what we’ve inferred about the behaviour of Thylacoleo from its dental morphology, and that is, it was primarily a meat eater and not a bone cruncher.”

Mr Arman also reconstructed a skeletal hand of the marsupial lion and made mock scratches on modelling clay that “perfectly matched” the large ones found in the cave.

The animals, which went extinct around 46,000 years ago, lived all across the vast continent. Prof Prideaux suspects similar claw markings exist in caves elsewhere, but have yet to be discovered.

Dr Judith Field, an expert in megafaunal extinctions from the University of New South Wales, says “the methods used to determine the size of the animal making the marks appear well conceived and well executed”.

“It is highly likely these marks were made by Thylacoleo,” she told the BBC. “They are probably the only animal with claws large enough to effect these scratch marks.”

Still, Dr Field expressed some reservations about the study: “Most of the conclusions are speculation,” she said. “Great discovery, and a neat story, but these assertions about their behaviour have yet to be substantiated by empirical data.”

We await more news with interest. Meanwhile, back to killing red-back spiders, swimming with sharks, being bombed by homicidal magpies, avoiding blue-ringed Octopuses, and staying away from Zika virus and Dengue fever -bearing mozzies. Sheesh.

Speed-of-Light

Every now and then, a revolutionary technological advance comes along and changes how we live our daily lives.

Li-Fi might just be the next one.

This amazing idea is like Wi-Fi, but much, MUCH, faster.

LI FI

Having just been trialled for the first time in real life, Li-Fi was found to live up to scientists’ claims that it operates up to 100 times faster than Wi-Fi technologies.

And if you picture such genius inventions to have been born of a ‘light-bulb moment’, well this one most certainly was.

Li-Fi is a wireless technology that transmits high-speed data using visible light communication (VLC).

It means, within the next five years, you could be accessing the Internet using the light-bulbs in your home.

This would reportedly be safer from a data security perspective as well, protecting the data being sent, because light cannot pass through walls.

The technology was brought from research labs – where scientists achieved speeds of 224 gigabits per second – to real life by an Estonian start-up company, Velmenni.

Estonia? Yup.

“Currently we have designed a smart lighting solution for an industrial environment where the data communication is done through light,” Deepank Solanki, CEO of Velmenni, told IBTimes UK.

In another project, the company has set up a Li-Fi network in an office space to provide Internet access for a private client.

The man who invented Li-Fi, Professor Harald Haas from the University of Edinburgh, said that current infrastructure is suitable for integration of Li-Fi.

In a Ted talk broadcast in 2011 he demonstrated how, by flickering the light from a single LED, he could transmit far more data than a cellular tower.

“All we need to do is fit a small microchip to every potential illumination device,” Haas said.

If it does all turn out to be that easy, you really could be downloading that favourite movie or TV series of yours in a flash – a flash of light.

Gull

One night about a year ago Mrs Wellthisiswhatithink turned the late night TV shopping channel on.

It was an accidental act, in truth, but we found ourselves taken by the subject matter: to wit, buying a new camera at what looked like an amazingly low price.

NikonIt turned out, of course, that it wasn’t an especially great price, and we could have walked round the corner and bought it at the same price and got some professional advice into the bargain.

But no matter. We had always wanted a nice camera, as opposed to taking snaps using the iPhone, not that the remarkable and ubiquitous little device didn’t actually take nice snaps, but this one seemed very swish and a nice colour, and the front pointy bit went in and out really far, so in we dove.

Anyhow, as a sign for how ludicrously busy all our lives have become, this weekend is almost the first chance we have had to play with the camera, at Smiths Beach on gorgeous Phillip Island, in Victoria, Australia.

Of course, as you will have discovered previously, Dear Reader, the new technological age sits somewhat heavily on our prematurely aging shoulders. Fresh from wrestling with things that go bing, we now found ourselves poking with uncertain, stubby little fingers at a camera for which a high-flying degree in advanced sub-atomic particle physics would be inadequate preparation.

There is not one, not two, but fully three ways to make the telephoto thingy whiz in and out. meaning, of course, that it does so when one least expects it to.

Press the wrong button, and the playback screen turns into a mass of statistics and charts telling you why you have just messed up the last shot taken. Trying to get back to just seeing the photo on its own again without the accompanying science takes fully half an hour of increasingly frantic thumbing through the “destructions” as Mrs W calls all manuals, which as with most things seems to be written in a sort of pig-din Japlish which defies easy translation.

The little diagrams of buttons on the camera would be very helpful if one didn’t need a magnifying glass to see which buttons they refer to, (dagnabbit, knew we left something out of the beach bag), as the whole booklet is clearly written for people with A1 20-20 vision aged 18, which as it emanates from the Land of the Rising Yen is somewhat curious as we never yet met a Nipponese who could see past the end of their nose without glasses as thick as the bottom of a Coke bottle, so quite who the manual is aimed at is something of a mystery.

Meanwhile the little twirly thing on the top offers you fully twenty “shooting modes”, and heaven forbid you should try and photograph a sunny Aussie beach in “Night Portrait” mode, as the seagulls flying by suddenly all look like Ring Wraiths or Dementors come to drive us back into the cottage.

Plumping for “Scenic” seems like a safe option, until you realise the sub-Menu offers you fully fifteen variations of scenic to choose from. Choosing between “Cloudy” and “Dusk” looks tricky to the untrained eye …

Seagull at dusk. Or cloudy. You choose.

Seagull at dusk. Or cloudy. You choose.

Then, when one finishes the hour-long process of turning the damn thing on, one realises that there is actually more to taking a good photo than pointing and pressing. More digital photos (and before them, bazillions of miles of film) must have been taken of waves crashing on rocky seashores than almost any other subject matter you care to name. One very quickly realises that taking a good photo of a wave is clearly nigh-impossible. There is that wildly improbable nexus of the right camera, the right setting, the right moment, and that indefinable “eye” that true photographic geniuses have.

Which we, Dear Reader, do not.

Looking west at Smiths Beach

Luckily, the world is such an intensely beautiful place that it is impossible to entirely stuff up photographing it even with one’s new techno-rich clicky thing. We did, we think, nevertheless manage to make the photos quite big and a suitable format for desktop wallpapers. Feel free to nick any you like.

A Spring day on a beach in rural Victoria is probably the best balm for the soul imaginable. Even when your camera is just another way of reminding you that the world is hurtling ever onward to a place where you no longer really belong.

No, these photographs are not very good.

DSCN0218

Looking East

But the world is. The world rocks.

(Gettit? The world rocks. Oh, never mind …)

Seafood-buffet

 

Wellthisiswhatithink’s Mum used to scoff oysters with cheerful excess until one day she ate a bad one. She was so crook she never touched another one for the next thirty years till old age carried her off.

Well, oysters now appear to be an important link in the transmission of norovirus among humans, according to new research from China.

Norovirus — better known as “cruise-ship flu,” “stomach flu” or “winter vomiting flu” — is one of the world’s most common causes of gastrointestinal distress. Although most patients recover after a few days of misery, and sometimes ruined vacations, the virus can sadly be lethal to infants, older adults and people with weak immune systems.

It is highly infectious — especially in confined environments like ships — but exactly how it is transmitted has been a mystery.

The unwashed hands of food workers have been blamed. But recently, scientists at North Carolina State University built a “vomiting machine” that showed tiny infectious droplets of vomit can fly through the air to infect other people, just as droplets from a sneeze will do.

In the current study, published last month in Applied and Environmental Microbiology, researchers analyzed the genetic sequences of 1,077 samples of noroviruses found in oysters. Some sequences had been stockpiled in genetic databases since 1983.

The scientists found that 80 percent of the known human noroviruses matched those found in oysters. The majority of the matches were in oysters from coastal waters, more likely to be contaminated with human sewage.

Noroviruses mutate very quickly, as do influenza viruses, and big outbreaks usually begin after a new strain emerges. There was a “convergence” between new strains circulating in oysters and those circulating in humans, the researchers also found.

Yongjie Wang, a food science specialist at Shanghai Ocean University and lead author of the study, concluded that oysters were an important reservoir for human noroviruses — a place where they can hide between outbreaks and mutate. They also can be transmitted back to humans, presumably when oysters are eaten raw. A way to detect noroviruses in oyster flesh and in the beds where they grow needs to be developed, Dr. Wang said.

Alternatively, avoid enclosed spaces where people are vomiting, and go easy on the seafood buffet.

(NY Times)

  • Study of Holocaust survivors finds trauma passed on to children’s genes
  • New finding is first example in humans of the theory of epigenetic inheritance: the idea that environmental factors can affect the genes of your children
  • The team’s work is the clearest sign yet that life experience can affect the genes of subsequent generations.

In a fascinating study discussed in the Guardian newspaper and elsewhere, it seems that genetic changes stemming from the trauma suffered by Holocaust survivors are capable of being passed on to their children, the clearest sign yet that one person’s life experience can affect subsequent generations.

holocaustThe conclusion from a research team at New York’s Mount Sinai hospital led by Rachel Yehuda stems from the genetic study of 32 Jewish men and women who had either been interned in a Nazi concentration camp, witnessed or experienced torture or who had had to hide during the second world war.

They also analysed the genes of their children, who are known to have increased likelihood of stress disorders, and compared the results with Jewish families who were living outside of Europe during the war. “The gene changes in the children could only be attributed to Holocaust exposure in the parents,” said Yehuda.

Her team’s work is the clearest example in humans of the transmission of trauma to a child via what is called “epigenetic inheritance” – the idea that environmental influences such as smoking, diet and stress can affect the genes of your children and possibly even grandchildren.

The idea is still highly controversial, as scientific convention states that genes contained in DNA are the only way to transmit biological information between generations. However, our genes are modified by the environment all the time, through chemical tags that attach themselves to our DNA, switching genes on and off. Recent studies suggest that some of these tags might somehow be passed through generations, meaning our environment could have and impact on our children’s health. If so, it will provide a whole new area of preventative health care.

Other studies have proposed a more tentative connection between one generation’s experience and the next. For example, girls born to Dutch women who were pregnant during a severe famine at the end of the second world war had an above-average risk of developing schizophrenia. Likewise, another study has showed that men who smoked before puberty fathered heavier sons than those who smoked after.

GenesThe team were specifically interested in one region of a gene associated with the regulation of stress hormones, which is known to be affected by trauma. “It makes sense to look at this gene,” said Yehuda. “If there’s a transmitted effect of trauma, it would be in a stress-related gene that shapes the way we cope with our environment.”

They found epigenetic tags on the very same part of this gene in both the Holocaust survivors and their offspring, the same correlation was not found in any of the control group and their children. Through further genetic analysis, the team ruled out the possibility that the epigenetic changes were a result of trauma that the children had experienced themselves.

“To our knowledge, this provides the first demonstration of transmission of pre-conception stress effects resulting in epigenetic changes in both the exposed parents and their offspring in humans,” said Yehuda, whose work was published in Biological Psychiatry.

It’s still not clear how these tags might be passed from parent to child. Genetic information in sperm and eggs is not supposed to be affected by the environment – any epigenetic tags on DNA had been thought to be wiped clean soon after fertilisation occurs.

However, research by Azim Surani at Cambridge University and colleagues, has recently shown that some epigenetic tags escape the cleaning process at fertilisation, slipping through the net. It’s not clear whether the gene changes found in the study would permanently affect the children’s health, nor do the results upend any of our theories of evolution.

Whether the gene in question is switched on or off could have a tremendous impact on how much stress hormone is made and how we cope with stress, said Yehuda. “It’s a lot to wrap our heads around. It’s certainly an opportunity to learn a lot of important things about how we adapt to our environment and how we might pass on environmental resilience.”

The impact of Holocaust survival on the next generation has been investigated for years – the challenge has been to show intergenerational effects are not just transmitted by social influences from the parents or regular genetic inheritance, said Marcus Pembrey, emeritus professor of paediatric genetics at University College London.

“Yehuda’s paper makes some useful progress. What we’re getting here is the very beginnings of a understanding of how one generation responds to the experiences of the previous generation. It’s fine-tuning the way your genes respond to the world.”

Can you inherit a memory of trauma?

Researchers have already shown that certain fears might be inherited through generations, at least in animals.

Scientists at Emory University in Atlanta trained male mice to fear the smell of cherry blossom by pairing the smell with a small electric shock. Eventually the mice shuddered at the smell even when it was delivered on its own.

Despite never having encountered the smell of cherry blossom, the offspring of these mice had the same fearful response to the smell – shuddering when they came in contact with it. So too did some of their own offspring.

On the other hand, offspring of mice that had been conditioned to fear another smell, or mice who’d had no such conditioning had no fear of cherry blossom.

The fearful mice produced sperm which had fewer epigenetic tags on the gene responsible for producing receptors that sense cherry blossom. The pups themselves had an increased number of cherry blossom smell receptors in their brain, although how this led to them associating the smell with fear is still a mystery.

boy-infront-of-city-e1342200914945-1024x501

The implications of this study are surely enormous. One can only imagine the impact on children of parents living in vicious war zones like Syria and Iraq. The children of parents suffering the horrors of famine in Africa. What changes are we wreaking in our gene pool from the modern day stress of living in overcrowded urban environments, especially those that are grindingly poor, such as in Mexico, Brazil, the Phillipines, India and elsewhere?

And very close to home, what are the impacts on the eventual descendants of the poor people trapped in seemingly never-ending detention in the Australian  immigration system: people who have already suffered the trauma of leaving their homes as refugees, escaping persecution.

We have often heard “the sins of the fathers are vested in the children”. Now it seems their innocent suffering may be, too.

‘Heat dome’ covers the Middle East to bring temperatures up to bring ‘feels like’ temperatures up to 74 degrees.

An “heat dome” has fallen on the Middle East to create “feels-like” temperatures as high as 74 degrees. The people of Iraq were given a four-day holiday last week after the government declared soaring temperatures too much to deal with. Authorities in the Middle East cautioned residents to drink plenty of water and stay out of the sun.

earth on fire
The Iranian port city of Bandar-e Mahshahr recorded an extreme feels-like temperature of 74 degrees on Friday based on a calculated heat index. The formula combined the actual air temperature that peaked at 46 degrees with the highest humidity – or dew point – temperature reading that topped 32 degrees. A dew point exceeding 26 degrees is said to be oppressive on the human body as it struggles to deal with the heat through perspiration.

“That was one of the most incredible temperature observations I have ever seen, and it is one of the most extreme readings ever in the world,” said AccuWeather meteorologist Anthony Sagliani in a statement. Sagaliani pointed to a high-pressure system that has cloaked the region since July for the heat surge, making one of the world’s hottest places even hotter.

The heat dome is a high pressure ridge over the region which makes normal hot temperatures seem even hotter.

The UK’s Telegraph newspaper reported that the “heat index” – a measurement of what weather feels like – is the highest ever recorded. The scientists monitoring the heat index say Iran are probably enduring among the hottest temperatures ever experienced by humans.

Meanwhile it has been warm across the globe with the north-west US and eastern Pacific starting to feel the effects of El Nino in recent weeks following the deaths of hundreds in May’s heat wave across South Asia.

climate-change-denial-350x242And Australia has since an unusually early start to bushfire season with one blaze in the Blue Mountains being fought into its forth day only two weeks after the mountains were blanketed in snow. Northern Australia also had record-breaking July with Gympie noting its hottest July day since records began in 1908 with the temperature reaching 29.4 degrees, according to the Bureau of Meteorology.

It’s happening.

And it may already be too late to prevent the low end of temperature rise predictions, let alone the high end. Tell someone.

Fast.

Woman finds twin growing in her brain

Yamini Karanam got quite a surprise when doctors revealed the results of her brain tumour. Photo: GoFundMe

Yamini Karanam got quite a surprise when doctors revealed the results of her brain tumour.

In fact, it wasn’t a tumour at all. It was her embryonic twin.

The 26-year-old found herself struggling with reading and speaking and was diagnosed with a brain tumour that was feared to be cancerous.

“Problems with reading comprehension, listening comprehension. If a couple people were talking in a room, I wouldn’t understand what was happening,” Karanam said.

After many discussions with confused medical staff, Karanam underwent keyhole surgery.

Doctors made a half-inch incision into Karanam’s brain that enabled an endoscope to reach and carefully chisel away at the ‘tumour’.

Her surgeon, Dr. Hrayr Shahinian, explained to Karanam when she woke that the ‘tumour’ was a teratoma which was her embryonic twin complete with bone, hair and teeth.

Yamini Karanam woke the the news that her ‘tumour’ was a teratoma, which was her embryonic twin complete with bone, hair and teeth. Photo: NBC

She joked about how the ‘tumour’ was actually her ‘evil twin sister who’s been torturing me for the past 26 years’.

Dr Shahinian said this is the second time he has found a teratoma in his work, having performed over 7000 of these procedures.

(Yahoo)

Lake Learmonth at sunrise on the summer solstice … you can almost hear the magpies saying good morning

Today, I was woken, as I often am, by the sound of the Australian magpie, sitting on my roof, carolling away.

When I first came to Australia, some 25 years ago, having only been in the country a few days, I was taken camping by friends at a very pretty spot called Lake Learmonth, near the Victorian country town of Ballaraat. About an hour and a half north of Melbourne.

At about 5 or 5.30 am (having not been asleep very long), I sat bolt upright in my tent, when the most astonishing noise from the depths of some awful Hell broke over my head like an aural tsunami.

I flung open the tent and stood up in my undies, still lily-white from the northern winter, (me, not the undies; they were a sort of off white) and utterly panicked. I must have made an amusing spectacle for the numbers of hardy, bronzed Aussies that were already up and about, gathering wood for barbecues, showering, getting boats rigged for an early morning sail, or fishing.

When I had gathered myself, I soon surmised that on the ground nearby was a single black and white bird, singing away for all it was worth, hoping to be chucked a scrap of spare bacon in all probability, and with the most astonishing collection of sounds I had ever heard.

Warbles, cat calls, obbles, wobbles, doodles, melodious notes held apparently forever, soaring trills, clicks, coughs* … a seemingly endless repertoire of noise. No, it wasn’t Armageddon. It was a single bird.

Needless to say, it was some time before my Aussie hosts allowed me to forget that I had been so terrified of one small black and white bird looking for some free breakfast that I ran around the campsite in my smalls.

Anyway, lying in bed this morning listening to the morning chorus which I have now, of course, grown to love, it occurred to me that you, Dear Reader, might like to hear what all the fuss was about.

The first video is an exceptional sound file, although poor for seeing the bird. The second is not so good for the sound, although still good, but lets you see the birds clearly.

And there’s another good sound file for you to listen to here: http://tinyurl.com/6numspx

The other bird we hear regularly, of course, especially when my wife is selling her beautiful handmade glass at lovely Warrandyte market by the Yarra River, is the Kookaburra, a member of the Kingfisher family, and the iconic “laughing”  Australian bird.

Enjoy!

The Australian Magpie was first described by English ornithologist John Latham in 1802 as Coracias tibicen, the type collected in the Port Jackson region. Its specific epithet derived from the Latin tibicen “flute-player” or “piper” in reference to the bird’s melodious call.[1][2] An early recorded vernacular name is Piping Roller, written on a painting by Thomas Watling, one of a group known collectively as the Port Jackson Painter,[3] sometime between 1788 and 1792.[4] Tarra-won-nang,[3] or djarrawunang, wibung, and marriyang were names used by the local Eora and Darug inhabitants of the Sydney Basin.[5] Booroogong and garoogong were Wiradjuri words, and carrak was a Jardwadjali term from Victoria.[6] Among the Kamilaroi, it is burrugaabu,[7] galalu, or guluu.[8] It was known as Warndurla among the Yindjibarndi people of the central and western Pilbara.[9] Other names used include Piping Crow-shrike, Piper, Maggie, Flute-bird and Organ-bird.[2] The term Bell-magpie was proposed to help distinguish it from the European Magpie but failed to gain wide acceptance.[10]

*One of the best-known New Zealand poems is “The Magpies” by Denis Glover, with its refrain “Quardle oodle ardle wardle doodle”, imitating the sound of the bird.

The bird was named for its similarity in colouration to the European Magpie; it was a common practice for early settlers to name plants and animals after European counterparts.[4] However, the European Magpie is a member of the Corvidae, while its Australian counterpart is placed in the Artamidae family (although both are members of a broad corvid lineage).

Magpies are ubiquitous in urban areas all over Australia, and have become accustomed to people. A small percentage of birds become highly aggressive during breeding season from late August to early October, and will swoop and sometimes attack passersby. The percentage has been difficult to estimate but is significantly less than 9%.[81] Almost all attacking birds (around 99%) are male,[82] and they are generally known to attack pedestrians at around 50 m (150 ft) from their nest, and cyclists at around 100 m (300 ft).[83] Attacks begin as the eggs hatch, increase in frequency and severity as the chicks grow, and tail off as the chicks leave the nest.[84]

These magpies may engage in an escalating series of behaviours to drive off intruders. Least threatening are alarm calls and distant swoops, where birds fly within several metres from behind and perch nearby. Next in intensity are close swoops, where a magpie will swoop in from behind or the side and audibly “snap” their beaks or even peck or bite at the face, neck, ears or eyes. More rarely, a bird may dive-bomb and strike the intruder’s (usually a cyclist’s) head with its chest. A magpie may rarely attack by landing on the ground in front of a person and lurching up and landing on the victim’s chest and peck at the face and eyes.[85]

Magpie attacks can cause injuries, typically wounds to the head and particularly the eyes, with potential detached retinas and bacterial infections from a beak used to fossick in the ground. A 13-year-old boy died from tetanus, apparently from a magpie injury, in northern New South Wales in 1946. Being unexpectedly swooped while cycling is not uncommon, and can result in loss of control of the bicycle, which may cause injury. In Ipswich, a 12-year-old boy was killed in traffic while trying to evade a swooping magpie on 16 August 2010.

If it is necessary to walk near the nest, wearing a broad-brimmed or legionnaire’s hat or using an umbrella will deter attacking birds, but beanies and bicycle helmets are of little value as birds attack the sides of the head and neck.[90] Eyes painted on hats or helmets will deter attacks on pedestrians but not cyclists.[91] Attaching a long pole with a flag to a bike is an effective deterrent.[92] As of 2008, the use of cable ties on helmets has become common and appears to be effective.[93] Magpies prefer to swoop at the back of the head; therefore, keeping the magpie in sight at all times can discourage the bird. Using a basic disguise to fool the magpie as to where a person is looking (such as painting eyes on a hat, or wearing sunglasses on the back of the head) can also prove effective. In some cases, magpies may become extremely aggressive and attack people’s faces; it may become very difficult to deter these birds from swooping. Once attacked, shouting aggressively and waving one’s arms at the bird should deter a second attack. If a bird presents a serious nuisance the local authorities may arrange for that bird to be legally destroyed, or more commonly, to be caught and relocated to an unpopulated area.[94] Magpies have to be moved some distance as almost all are able to find their way home from distances of less than 25 km (15 mi).[95] Removing the nest is of no use as birds will breed again and possibly be more aggressive the second time around.[96]

abbottdutton

Australian Prime Minister Tony Abbott (L), and Australian Health Minister Peter Dutton (R) during a press conference in Sydney, Australia, 5 November 2014.

 

As we have pointed out before, Australia has been slow and mealy-mouthed in sending aid/health workers to try and control the Ebola outbreak at source.

Yet even now some small move has been made, as PM Abbott and Health Minister Dutton have been dragged kicking and screaming to the table, people around the world, and indeed at home, could be forgiven for being a little confused about Australia’s response to the Ebola crisis.

The government has been sending out somewhat mixed signals over what help it can offer, as is now pointed out for the world to read on the front page of the BBC website in the UK. Nice.

First, the Abbott government refused to send any official medical or military personnel to West Africa, a decision for which he was widely criticised on this blog, inside Australia, and overseas, at the same time as President Barack Obama was saying the US should be encouraging health workers to volunteer to go to the frontline.

Mr Abbott has now bowed to pressure and announced Australia will be contributing A$20m (£11m; $17m) to help fund a British Ebola response clinic being set up in Sierra Leone. However, the prime minister has been vague about who will be staffing it.

The Australian side of the operation has been contracted out to the private health provider Aspen Medical and Abbott suggested most of the staff would be recruited locally, but contradictorily health officials in Sierra Leone have said the principal thing they are lacking is qualified local doctors.

Meanwhile, the managing director of Aspen Medical, Glenn Keys, has said around 350 Australians have registered with the company to go and help.

What is clear is that the prime minister is sticking by his line that no government medical teams or military personnel will be dispatched.

Mr Abbott said the decision to contract in Aspen had been reached after Britain agreed to treat any Australians who become infected while in West Africa, something the Australian leader had said was his principal concern.

It’s now emerged though, that the European Union had already made a similar offer to treat Australian staff that Mr Abbott had rejected.

 

How many innocent lives could Australian workers have saved in the last few weeks? We will never know.

How many innocent lives could Australian workers have saved in the last few weeks? We will never know.

 

Yet the media in Australia have been perfectly silent in asking him “Why?”, and still are. Especially as the end result is Australia’s response has looked very tardy and been delayed by crucial weeks. Meanwhile the poor of West Africa continue to face death rates from Ebola of up to 90% of all those infected.

Add to that the strong criticism Australia has faced after it became the first developed country to ban the issuing of visas to anyone from Sierra Leone, Guinea and Liberia. The Sierra Leonean government called the move “discriminatory” and “counter-productive” suggesting it created a climate of panic.

As the BBC say, anyone who’s visited Australia will know they take a tough line on bio-security. There are strict rules about bringing in food products due to fears of bringing in disease.

But given that only a handful of people have been tested for suspected Ebola in Australia and all have tested negative, the government here risks being accused of showing a lack of compassion in the eyes of many around the world.

What is more important is that if this outbreak is not stopped AT SOURCE, and somehow transmits itself into other poor areas of the world with bad sanitation and inadequate health services – the rest of Africa, India, Pakistan, Central and Southern America, great swathes of South East Asia, even China – then we would be looking at an Armageddon scenario. In the face of which, Abbott and Dutton looked nothing more nor less like rabbits stuck in the headlights. So much for “strong leadership”, eh?

obama in churchMeanwhile, the political and media beat up worldwide on the outbreak has continued, with near hysteria levels, in the USA in particular.

A couple of weeks back we predicted that there wouldn’t be another Ebola case in the USA in the next seven days. It’s now 14 and counting.

But has the fever of commentary died down? Hardly. And why is so annoyingly obvious. The Republicans knew that by making Obama look “weak” on Ebola, by terrifying the population, in simple terms, then they would hurt the Democrats. And so they did, as seen in their “wave” of wins in the mid-terms on Tuesday just gone.

In fact, as is widely acknowledged, Obama’s response has been a small miracle of intelligent healthcare policy.

That he has not received the credit for acting smartly, promptly and effectively – not just in the USA, but in West Africa – is truly sickening.

clown

 

There is a curious and well-known phobia where otherwise sane, rational people are scared of clowns.

The phenomenon is relatively recent, as the white-faced red-nosed version of clowns that some people find so alarming is a construction of the 20th century. Before that people with anxiety found something else to fixate on.

Now it seems there’s good reason to be worried. At least in Europe and the USA.

Clowns attack passers by

Freakish aggressive clowns, some allegedly armed with knives, pistols, and bats are driving French towns crazy, chasing down and attacking people.

In the southern port town of Agde, about 15 ‘clowns’ were arrested in a high school car park for ‘laughing manically’ while chasing people. In nearby Marseillan, a clown was detained for damaging a car.

In Montpellier: a ‘clown’ beat a man 30 times with an iron bar and then stole his wallet. Three motorists in the area also complained of “scary clowns.”

The French freak-clown wave began in the north a couple of weeks ago, in suburban Douai. In Bethune, a fake clown got a six-month suspended jail term for threatening passers-by.

A French police statement blames the web. “Since mid-October, a rumor inspired by videos published on the Internet has created the presence of threatening and aggressive clowns in France. Symptomatic of the impact of the Internet, this phenomenon can lead to damaging individual acts and disturbances to public order”.

The ‘clown craze’ is thought to have been triggered by a viral YouTube video and a recent episode of American Horror Story featuring a killer named Twisty.

Clown attack cases didn’t begin in France though: London’s Metropolitan Police dealt with 117 clown-related incidents in 2013.

In Portsmouth, UK, a masked figure began stroking passers-by in the city streets with a single red-gloved finger. As we come from Southampton, we’d believe anything of people in that particular locale.

US police have also made dozens of clown-related arrests, most prevalent in California.

Fear of clowns? It’s understandable.

But why be scared of the very look of a clown?

Coulrophobia – fear of clowns – is difficult to understand. They straddle a cultural nexus between fear and entertainment, but are generally intended to be affectionate, especially towards children.

The phobia may grow from the fascinating concept of “the uncanny valley”. The uncanny valley is a hypothesis in the field of human aesthetics which holds that when human features look and move almost, but not exactly, like natural human beings, it causes a response of revulsion among some human observers.

The “valley” refers to the dip in a graph of the comfort level of humans as something moves toward a healthy, natural human likeness but does not become entirely indistinguishable from a human. Examples of the effect can be found in the fields of robotics and 3D computer animation, among others. Unless the simalcrum is perfect, some people find it disturbing – and some find it so in the extreme.

The term was coined by the robotics professor Masahiro Mori as Bukimi no Tani Genshō (不気味の谷現象) in 1970. The hypothesis has been linked to Ernst Jentsch’s concept of the “uncanny” identified in a 1906 essay “On the Psychology of the Uncanny”. Jentsch’s conception was then elaborated by Sigmund Freud in a 1919 essay entitled “The Uncanny” (“Das Unheimliche”).

Mori’s original hypothesis states that as the appearance of a robot is made more human, some human observers’ emotional response to the robot will become increasingly positive and empathic, until a point is reached beyond which the response quickly becomes that of strong revulsion. However, as the robot’s appearance continues to become less distinguishable from that of a human being, the emotional response becomes positive once again and approaches human-to-human empathy levels.

This area of repulsive response aroused by a robot with appearance and motion between a “barely human” and “fully human” entity is called the uncanny valley. The name captures the idea that an almost human-looking robot will seem overly “strange” to some human beings, will produce a feeling of uncanniness, and will thus fail to evoke the empathic response required for productive human-robot interaction.

For robot, read clown. But why would humans react this way to something which is “almost” human, but slightly different, like a clown? The science is fascinating.

 

"What do you mean you don't want to have sex with me my pretty?"

“What do you mean you don’t want to have sex with me my pretty?”

 

A number of theories have been proposed to explain the cognitive mechanism underlying the uncanny valley phenomenon:

  • Mate selection. Automatic, stimulus-driven appraisals of uncanny stimuli elicit aversion by activating an evolved cognitive mechanism for the avoidance of selecting mates with low fertility, poor hormonal health, or ineffective immune systems based on visible features of the face and body that are predictive of those traits. Put simply, we avoid mating with weird looking people.
  • Mortality salience. Viewing an “uncanny” person elicits an innate fear of death and culturally-supported defences for coping with death’s inevitability.
  • We don’t want to get sick. Uncanny stimuli may activate a cognitive mechanism that originally evolved to motivate the avoidance of potential sources of pathogens by eliciting a disgust response. The more human someone looks, the stronger the aversion to its obvious defects, because (1) defects indicate disease, (2) more human-looking organisms are more closely related to human beings genetically, and (3) the probability of contracting disease-causing bacteria, viruses, and other parasites increases with genetic similarity. To some people, clowns look sick. We don’t want to catch whatever they’ve got.
  • They mess with our brains. Thanks to a concept called “Sorites paradoxes”, when we see a character with both human and nonhuman traits it undermines our sense of human identity by linking qualitatively different categories. That’s why quasi-human monsters like vampires are simultaneously attractive and scary. And why some Halloween costumes scare the bejeesus out of some people.
  • They just don’t measure up to our expectations. There is a concept of “violation of human norms” which says that if someone looks “almost” human, they elicit our model of a another human being and we have detailed normative expectations of how they will behave. Their non-human characteristics will be more noticeable than if they were trying to be something totally non-human, giving the human viewer a sense of strangeness. In other words, a clown stuck inside the uncanny valley is no longer being judged by the standards of a clown doing a passable job at pretending to be human, but is instead being judged by the standards of a human doing a terrible job at acting like a normal person.

So there you have it. If you’re frightened of clowns, you may have deep biological reasons to be so. Although frankly, we think having your new iPhone nicked by a hoodlum is the best reason to view with alarm someone approaching you in the street looking like a refugee from Billy Smart’s circus.

OCD-AlphaOrderOnce upon a time, as we have described before, we went down with a bad dose of OCD. That’s the illness caused by f***** up brain chemicals that makes people do things over and over again … tap their feet a certain number of times, never say the letter P, or, most commonly, check that they’ve turned the gas cooker off thirty times or wash their hands repeatedly in very hot water with lots of soap.

We got the germy version. Big time. So we will confess to being 100% more aware of hygiene issues than  the average poor sap, even if that is about 10,000 times less aware of it than we used to be, as we are largely recovered from the illness, thank the Lord.

But being a bit germ aware does actually make some sense in today’s very busy and rushed world. We often take shortcuts with personal hygiene nowadays, or lay ourselves open to risk simply by being unaware, and there are some really nasty bugs around. Anti-biotic resistant staph we know about, and the world is positively swimming in E.coli (literally, often) which can make us very unwell, not to mention salmonella, which can hospitalise or kill you. (We have had members of our family go down with it – mythology it ain’t.)

Er, no thanks,

Er, no thanks,

So here’s today’s list of ten things you really need to think about. Even if you haven’t got OCD.

Unless you/re eating in this toilet-themed restaurant in China you wouldn’t eat off your toilet. But you might be surprised at the items that are dirtier in your world.

So 1. Your cell phone.

Your cellphone is disgusting. Trust me. It is an absolute holiday resort for germs.

If you don’t believe me, go here, where you can actually find out how many germs are living on your trusted companion right now.

germs on cell phoneWe are actually quite careful about our phone’s hygiene level, and we got the result that currently, there are 674,100 germs living on our cell phone: that’s the equivalent of 135 toilet seats!

Not that we’re paranoid, or nuffink. But seriously, who washes their hands after using their cell phone?

No 2. Your BBQ grill

Now we know you would never glance at the BBQ and say “I’ll clean it after”, right? Not even once.

You will always rigorously clean your grill immediately after cooking on it, even if you’re sitting down by the pool with a belly full of Vic Bitter and sausages with the biggest food coma of all time on the horizon.

dirty bbqOr even if you did leave it till next time, just that once, you would never hope for the best and stick a steak on top of the charred leavings of last time, on the basis that all the new fire you’re about to crank up is bound to clean up anything that’s grown there since last time? Eh?

Yeah, We hear you.

Just be aware that any food left on your grill immediately becomes a five star Michelin restaurant for nasty bugs of all kinds just floating around merrily in the sunshine.

Cooking on an unclean grill is seriously risking a tummy upset for you and the crowd, at the very least.

3. Your “clean” laundry

clean laundryNot to put too fine a point on it, crap clings to your underwear, whether you can see it or not. When you throw your undies in tub, you transfer about 500 million E. coli bacteria to the machine.

On top of that, water tends to settle in the bottom of front-loading machines, making it a breeding ground for germs. Then you wash your clothes in that mess.

To make sure your clean clothes come out actually clean, do a load of whites first so you can use chlorine bleach to sanitise the machine.

Or dedicate a cycle to underwear and use the hottest water the undies will bear without shrinking with a color-safe bleach substitute.

Also, run an empty cycle with bleach once every month to keep your washer free of bacteria. Easey-peasey.

4. Your toothbrush

Careful. They bite back.

Careful. They bite back.

When you flush your toilet, it can spray aerosolised droplets over six metres, says Dr Philip Tierno Jr, director of microbiology and immunology at NYU’s Langone Medical Center and the author of The Secret Life of Germs. It’s called a “plume”. Such a pretty name for such a horrid thought.

One option is to put the lid of the loo down before flushing. But it’s only a partial solution because it usually isn’t a perfect seal.

So if you leave your toothbrush out on the bathroom sink, it will almost certainly be showered with tiny drops of whatever you just flushed.

Stowing your toothbrush in a cabinet away from the flying faeces might be a good idea. Running it through the dishwasher will also eliminate germs, according to a 2011 study in the American Journal of Dentistry.

As a minimum, run it under a hot tap before using, or an even easier option would be to soak your toothbrush in a mouthwash that contains cetylpyridinium chloride, like Listerine, for 20 minutes.

5. Your kitchen sponge

Your dish or surface sponge is probably the nastiest thing in your kitchen. It’s just out to get you, we tells ya’allkeep-kitchen-sponges-clean-1!

It’s damp and constantly in contact with bacteria, making it a prime place for germs to proliferate.

Rather terrifyingly, there’s a one in three chance your kitchen sponge has staph just sitting on it, according to a Simmons College study. (That’s twice the contamination rate of your toilet.) And it could be harbouring up 10 million bacteria per square inch.

What can you do? Watch it in very hot soapy water or even in a light solution of disinfectant before using. If that seems a step too far, then vinegar is a natural disinfectant, so try dousing it in that, rinse it out with clean hot water, then do the dishes. Throw old sponges and cloths away more often, and use new ones.

6. The buttons in an elevator

5Going up? That elevator button could be crawling with more bacteria than a toilet, a new study from the University of Toronto found. Up to 40 times more.

And another large study from Saudi Arabia found that 97 per cent of elevator buttons in offices and residential buildings are contaminated. One in 10 had germs that could cause food poisoning or sinus infections.

Using an alcohol-based hand sanitiser after you press the “up” button should kill any bacteria you picked up, the researchers say. And for elevator button read … door handles, stair handrails … etc.

Sure, it’s not healthy to be constantly using hand sanitiser all day long, but before you touch food that you’re going to put in your mouth? That’s actually a smart idea.

7. Your computer

keyboardHow often do you chow down a sandwich at your desk while tapping away at your computer? Those keys, and now your hands, are swarming in potentially harmful bugs. Especially if more than one person use the computer.

Your hands, the keyboard. Your hands, the sandwich. The sandwich, your mouth. Your mouth, your gut. You get the picture.

But it’s not just your keyboard. It’s other people’s keyboards. And their mice. And other people’s tablets. It’s all because too many people don’t wash their hands thoroughly after visiting the loo despite health experts warning that rushed or ignored hand washing can lead to diarrhoea,vomiting, food poisoning, flu and the spread of MRSA.

Stop it already!

Stop it already!

There’s a new problem looming. British media regulator Ofcom suggest that consumers are so addicted to smartphones and tablet computers that over one in ten – 11%, in fact – now view video content on a device such as the iPad in the bathroom. It’s estimated that around 20% of 18-24 year-olds do so on a regular basis.

And if they’re not washing their hands, you can be damn sure they’re not washing their bloody iPhones and iPads.

8. Your ATM

atm-germsSwab tests recently conducted of public surfaces in six major cities revealed that ATMs are among the worst carriers of illness-causing germs. Starting to get the picture? Anything that is touched regularly by lots of people is a potential source of infection. The problem is very simple – bank staff don’t head outside to clean the keypads on their ATM with anti-bacterial or disinfectant wipes.

The tests showed that 41% of automated teller machine keypads carry germs that can cause colds and the flu.

Washing your hands afterwards or a hand sanitiser after using an ATM will help you in only picking up cold hard cash, and not a cold along with it.

9. The petrol pump.

everything bathroomYour hands could actually be germier after washing them than they were before.

That’s no exaggeration: one 2011 study from the University of Arizona found that one in four refillable soap dispensers in public bathrooms was contaminated and pumped out bacteria.

Another study tested whether those potentially disease-causing germs could be left on your hands after washing.

The short answer: yup.

Hot air dryers can also blow up to 45 per cent more bacteria onto your hands, according to a study in the Journal of Applied Microbiology.

If you have a choice, use soap dispensers that have bags of soap in them that are replaced, rather than those that are refilled by pouring more soap into them.

It might sound nuts, but you can wash the taps (faucet) before you use them, and after washing your hands, use paper towels to dry off, and then use them to turn off the taps and open the door as you leave.

Better momentary embarrassment because someone looks at you strangely than a handful of gut-wrenching oooby-goobries.

So, feel better now? Yeah, us too. Remember these simple rules to drastically reduce the risk to yourself and others.

  • Always wash your hands thoroughly with soap and hot water after going to the toilet.
  • Always wash your hands before eating.

It’s a warzone. Good luck out there.

sunshine

Older adults who are severely deficient in vitamin D may be more than twice as likely to develop dementia or Alzheimer’s disease than those who don’t have a deficiency, according to the largest study of its kind, published Wednesday in the journal Neurology.

“We expected to find an association between low Vitamin D levels and the risk of dementia and Alzheimer’s disease, but the results were surprising — we actually found that the association was twice as strong as we anticipated,” noted lead researcher David Llewellyn of the University of Exeter Medical School in a news release.

Llewellyn looked at several years worth of data on 1,658 Americans ages 65 and older who had taken part in the National Heart, Blood and Lung Institute’s Cardiovascular Health Study. He and his team found that adults who were just moderately deficient in vitamin D had a 53 percent increased risk of developing dementia — the general term for any severe decline in mental ability — while the risk jumped to 125 percent for those who had a severe deficiency. Similarly, for Alzheimer’s disease — the most common type of dementia — the moderately deficient adults were 69 percent more likely to develop it, while the severely deficient had a 122 percent increased risk.

“Clinical trials are now needed to establish whether eating foods such as oily fish or taking vitamin D supplements can delay or even prevent the onset of Alzheimer’s disease and dementia,” Llewellyn said. “We need to be cautious at this early stage, and our latest results do not demonstrate that low vitamin D levels cause dementia. That said, our findings are very encouraging, and even if a small number of people could benefit, this would have enormous public health implications given the devastating and costly nature of dementia.”

Currently, more than five million Americans are living with Alzheimer’s disease, which is the sixth leading cause of death in the USA, according to the Chicago-based Alzheimer’s Association. One in three seniors dies with Alzheimer’s or another form of dementia. “We think this study is important,” Keith Fargo, director of scientific programs and outreach with the Alzheimer’s Association (a major funder of Llewellyn’s research), told Yahoo Health in response to the findings. “It’s a relatively large study, and it looks like it does show a pretty substantial link.… It just doesn’t show us why there is a link.” One hypothesis, Fargo noted, is that the brain — including the hippocampus, which is one of the first areas to break down with Alzheimer’s — is full of vitamin D receptors.

There has been a growing body of research on the disease’s connection with vitamin D — the main sources of which are sunshine and supplements, with minor sources including egg yolks and oily fish like salmon and sardines. Earlier this year, a study out of Denmark, for example, also showed a link between Alzheimer’s disease prevalence and low levels of vitamin D, while earlier studies conducted in Australia and France found tenuous connections between taking doses of vitamin D and having an improved memory. The vitamin has also been linked, in various studies, to preventing asthma, diabetes, and cancer.

“People tend to not believe vitamin D news, because it seems too good to be true,” John Cannell, MD, executive director of the California-based nonprofit Vitamin D Council, told Yahoo Health. “But vitamin D has a profound mechanism of action, as it’s really a steroid hormone that turns genes on and off, and no other vitamin works that way. There are at least 1,000 different genes directly influenced by vitamin D.” The council recommends a combination of cautious sun exposure combined with supplements in winter months.

Cannell called the new study’s findings “pretty exciting,” mainly because of its size and structure. “It’s important because it’s the first cohort study of a large population — meaning that it’s forward-looking, having followed people over several years,” he said. “The next step is a randomised controlled trial, but this is as close as you can get without that.”

(Yahoo Health)

Of course, Aussies and others who enjoy frolicking in the sunshine need to be careful of the other effect of drinking up Vitamin D through their skin – which is skin cancer, of course. As we all make sure we get some sunshine, let’s also remember the advice that adequate Vitamin D levels can be achieved with just 20 minutes exposure to sunshine a day.

Lung cancer cell division

Lung cancer cell division

 

A couple of dear friends have recently been struck low by the Big C, one of them terminally, and Mrs Wellthisiswhatithink recently had a skin cancer removed (a near-universal affliction in Australia if you hang around here long enough), so having come across this information on the Web we thought we’d share it.

HYPOCHONDRIAC ALERT

Many of the symptoms listed here can be caused by a dozen other things, other than cancer. So the message we are sending out is “if you experience these symptoms, don’t soldier on, don’t go into denial, go and see a medical professional and get checked”. With the advances in treatment for almost all kinds of cancer, early diagnosis saves lives. Maybe yours, or a loved one’s.

There are too many medical terms and descriptions in these signs for us to explain all of them. Google is your friend here.

THE COMMON SYMPTOMS OF CANCER

1. Losing weight at a rapid rate (among people not being on a diet): gasses, discomfort, digestive disorders, anorexia, recurring diarrhoea, constipation are the symptoms occurring most frequently in case of lung, stomach, kidney and large intestine cancer. If accompanied by a feeling of weakness, it can be a sign of blood loss or lack of proper elements building it.

2. Pain of unknown cause long-lasting stomach-ache can be the symptom of large intestine cancer, lumbalgia can be the sign of kidney cancer, pain in the chest can result from lung cancer. Bone aches can be caused by metastasis.

3. Haemoptysis, long-lasting hoarseness (over 3 weeks), persistent cough or change of its character can be caused by lung or larynx cancer.

4. Change in colour of moles and warts, ulceration and itching, ulceration of open wounds, burns and scalds can be the signs of skin cancer.

5. Excessive production of urine, backlog of urine, painful urinating, slow, time-consuming flow of urine, lumbago as well as backache can be the signs of prostate cancer.

6. Pain, vertigo, nausea, sight distortions (oversensitized sight, astigmatism), hearing impediment, upset balance and mental disorders can result from brain cancer.

7. Swallowing difficulties can be a symptom of throat, larynx, oesophagus and stomach cancer.

8. Feeling of fullness in epigastrium, aches and digestive disorders may be due to stomach cancer and other kinds of alimentary canal cancer, sometimes ovary cancer.

9. Blood in feces, black feces, alternating diarrhoea and constipation, mucus in feces, narrow (pencil-like) feces  are the symptoms of alimentary canal cancer, especially of large intestine and rectum.

10. Blood in urine (without the symptoms of urinary tracks inflammation), dysuria (compulsive urination, difficulties in urination) can accompany the urinary tracks cancer.

11. Improper bleeding from the genital tracks, pink or dark-red vaginal discharges, hypogastrium and lower limbs ache can be the signs of vagina, uterine cervix and uterus cancer.

12. Marks on skin and mucosus membrane (lips, oral cavity, genitals): not healing ulceration, change in marks appearance, occurrence of new skin marks of some specific features (irregular distribution of pigment, vague line between the mark and healthy skin, quick growth of the marks, bleeding, dripping).

13. Breast tumour (by approximately 15% – 25% can be impalpable), ulceration, the retraction of nipple, asymmetrical nipples, change of size or the shape of a nipple, its swelling and the marks around it, enlargement of lymphatic glands in the armpit, extension of veins in the breast skin, ulceration of breast skin, shoulder swelling, flat efflorescene in case of the so called advanced inflammation nipple cancer are often the symptoms of breast cancer.

14. Fever, tiredness, bones and joints ache, inclination to temporary anaemia and bleeding, impalpable tumour of abdominal cavity, as a result of spleen enlargement, that can be detected in gastro-bowel test.

15. You start feeling exhausted and notice aches in weird places on your body.

Remember, far better to suffer the momentary embarrassment of hearing your quack say “you silly old thing, that’s nothing, take an aspirin and a day off” than to hear them say a few weeks or months later, “I’m terribly sorry, it’s cancer, and it’s advanced”.

FiscalCliffAvery2Here is a quick selection of some Cancer Charities you may wish to consider helping, listed by country (those countries that provide our largest readership. There are hundreds more, this is just to get you started if you would like to make a donation or need advice or help. You might like also to consider remembering them in your Will. Even small donations can make a real difference, or as our old Mum used to say, “Many a mickle makes a muckle.”

AUSTRALIA

www.canteen.org.au – helping youth suffering from cancer
www.kidswithcancer.org.au – supporting children with cancer and the hospitals treating them
acrf.com.au – peak cancer research body
www.nbcf.org.au – National Breast Cancer Foundation in Australia
http://canceraustralia.gov.au/affected-cancer/cancer-support-organisations – a government website pointing to hundreds of cancer charities and support organisations, with links to organisations in every state

AMERICA

https://donate.cancer.org/index – American Cancer Society, direct link to their donation page
http://cancerrecovery.org/ – Cancer Recovery, links a number of charities together, in the US and overseas
http://www.nationalbreastcancer.org/ – National Breast Cancer Foundation, probably the most respected organisation of its type

UK

http://www.cancerresearchuk.org/ – Cancer Research UK
http://www.braintumouruk.org.uk/ – Brain Tumour UK, specifically providing for research into brain cancer, and cash support for those suffering from the illness.
www.leukaemiacare.org.uk – provides financial assistance for those suffering from leukaemia and related blood disorders
http://www.breakthrough.org.uk/ – leading breast charity research and support group

WORLDWIDE

http://www.wcrf.org/ – worldwide research and advocacy group dedicated to cancer prevention.