Once you’ve had yer fill…it’s time to head for the chippy but snapping, en route, the crescent Moon and Venus watching dispassionately from the Heavens over the annual Cambridge Beer Festival on Jesus Green. Just out of shot was also the planet Jupiter, all three first lights of the night sky as far as my eyes could make out after ales from Wold Top Brewery and others on the evening of 21st May 2015.
The number of middle-aged men and women suffering a cerebral stroke has apparently risen significantly in the last decade or so. It seems that the press release from the Stroke Association making this pronouncement which has been widely reported almost verbatim by the media is based on NHS hospital admission statistics, which could have all kinds of biases and errors. I couldn’t find an actual peer-reviewed research paper to support the numbers and neither could Adam Jacobs the stats guy. It may well be just scaremongering by the media and it’s sure to boost charitable donations and raise awareness, but it’s also scary for anyone in middle age, scary enough to get you worrying and raise your blood pressure. That said, there are certain lifestyle choices that medical research suggests increase the risk of stroke, whether this latest media frenzy is based on published science or not, and so some advice on reducing one’s risk might be useful.
Thankfully, The Guardian has a nice howto on lowering your risk of suffering this often life-changing and sometimes lethal cardiovascular event.
Basically, it boils down to this:
- Stop smoking
- Exercise, but don’t overdo it, avoid straining
- Cut your calorie intake, eat smaller portions (obesity and diabetes increase risk)
- Eat a lot less salt, avoid shop-bought bread, for instance
- If you drink alcohol, spread it over the week rather than binging
- Don’t use illicit recreational drugs, including so-called “legal” highs like ecstasy, flakka and cat
- De-stress, seek help for depression
- Monitor your own blood pressure at home and see your doc if it’s consistently higher than about 140/85
I’d add another piece of advice…don’t ignore a “mini-stroke” (transient ischaemic attack (TIA)), temporary blackouts and such, if you have weird symptoms (dropping your coffee cup, slurred speech, confusion, disorientation that passes after a moment and isn’t due to alcohol use, see your doc urgently)
Alpha-PVP (α-pyrrolidinopentiophenone, alpha-PVP) is a synthetic stimulant of the cathinone class; the street drug – commonly known as flakka – is chemically similar to the illegal high MDPV (bath salts), but lacks the 3,4-methylenedioxy motif; the same difference that distinguishes methamphetamine (meth) from MDMA (ecstasy). Hype in the media have alluded to flakk leading to extreme violence, paranoid psychoses, compulsive nudity and “zombie-like” behaviour and worse. Now, researchers at The Scripps Research Institute in California have demonstrated that alpha-PVP appears to be as potent a stimulant, and therefore as addictive, as MDPV. (News source)
“There have been assertions that flakka is somehow worse than MDPV, but this study shows that the two are very similar,” explains Scripps’ Michael Taffe. “That doesn’t mean that flakka use is ‘safe’. Our data show that flakka is as potent as MDPV, making it a very good stimulant, arguably with worse addiction liability than methamphetamine.”
Aarde, Shawn M., et al. “In vivo potency and efficacy of the novel cathinone α-pyrrolidinopentiophenone and 3, 4-methylenedioxypyrovalerone: self-administration and locomotor stimulation in male rats.” Psychopharmacology (2015): 1-11.
In case you didn’t know, I’m a science journalist by day, a photographer on my days off and a musician by night. I started trying to play guitar properly aged about 12, but only in recent years have I performed live and actually recorded my original songs. Some of my stuff originals and covers is available on : iTunes, BandCamp, Spotify, Google Play, Pandora, Deezer, Rdio, Amazon mp3, Loudr, ReverbNation, SoundCloud and more Spotify etc.
Here’s a very short list of a few of the musicians, bands and artists I admire: Athlete, The Beatles, bigMouth, Blur, David Bowie, Kate Bush, Crowded House, The Cure, John Denver, Doves, Editors, Elbow, Fred’s House, Peter Gabriel, The Kinks, Led Zeppelin, Manic Street Preachers, Van Morrison, Gerry Rafferty, R.E.M., Nile Rodgers, Rush, The Smiths, James Taylor, U2, Neil Young, there are many others. I’ve been told that I occasionally sound like a Geordie Glenn Tilbrook (that’s according to the Manchedelic Roger Waters better known as Dek “MonoStone” Ham), and sometimes George Harrison, Steely Dan, Peter Gabriel, Phil Collins, Sting and David Bowie, Stephen Stills…I can dream, can’t I?
Interesting interview in The Washington Post that corroborates what I’ve thought about all these special weightloss diet scams and con tricks made to sell books and supplements. Here are the salient points:
- When you are dieting, you actually become more likely to notice food…and it actually begins to look more appetizing and tempting and harder to resist.
- As you lose body fat, hormone levels changes, in particular concentrations of the hormones that help you feel full decrease, while hunger hormones increase.
- As you diet, your metabolism slows down so as to get the most out of the food you are eating and this means storing excess calories as fat.
Who knew? Well, lots of people knew, including many of those scammers with a diet book to sell.
Last month I reported on research into “green” coffee for SpectroscopyNOW. From a quick glance at the reader statistics it looks like it was one of my most popular articles in recent months. What is it about coffee? We’re fascinated…
Anyway, the story discussed how unroasted, green, coffee beans have become a popular alternative to regular coffee because of supposed health benefits, but there was little solid evidence of mineral availability or antioxidants from a green coffee drink that might support the claims.
Now, a team at Wroclaw University of Technology, in Poland, have used a sophisticated analytical technique* to measure how much calcium, copper, iron, magnesium and manganese ions are released into an infusion depending on whether or not the drink is made “in the cup”, using a drip filter or the Turkish coffee method. They found that calcium and magnesium are released (and so can be ingested) better than the other mineral ions but only if drip filtering or Turkish brewing was used rather than making it in the cup**. Tests on antioxidant activity also correlated with those brews from which the most calcium was leached.
*High-resolution-continuum source flame atomic absorption spectrometry
**My photo of a frothy fern in my coffee, not green coffee, unfortunately, roasted
A cutting from the Nepalese government website for the National Seismological Centre dated 2011:
“From the available data there has been no great earthquakes of magnitude >8.0 in the gap between the earthquakes of 1905 AD and 1934 AD and there is a real threat that a major earthquake may occur in this gap that will affect Western Nepal.”
A big earthquake was long overdue, and while it was magnitude 7.6, just look at the number of lives lost and the people injured. Earthquake proofing of buildings and emergency planning is feasible, but only if there’s a willingness to spend the money and if those holding the purse strings deem it worth the investment!
The best way to help in the aftermath of the earthquake is not to send stuff, nor is it to grab your backpack and head for Nepal, leave that to the logistics people and the rescue and healthcare experts. The best way for you to help is to GIVE MONEY NOW
A triumphant homecoming gig for Cambridge band Fred’s House saw a heaving Junction2 rocking to the rafters to the bands confident and big, big sound. The band old favourites at Strawberry Fair, Lodestar Festival and countless pubs and clubs in the region came home for the last steps of their Shut Up and Dance tour, delighting an enthusiastic crowd that was on its feet from the first beat with classics from their first, rootsy and folky album “Bonnie and Clyde” and introducing a few new tracks destined for their next album that reveal their strengthening songwriting skills.
The ever-smiling drummer percussionist Paul Richards provides the firm but dynamic foundations for the band with feathery flourishes interspersed between the strongest beat and partnererd perfectly by Gafin Jameson on bass guitar. The departure of lead guitarist Lachlan Golder, who played one of his final gigs with band at a private bash in Cottenham in February for Tricia, the band’s biggest fan who was 50 this year, left space for guest guitarist 18-year old Adam Chinnery who by turns was the classic country rock rhythm player and soloist and a speedy shredmeister where it was warranted by the space in some of the band’s more uptempo songs. Ali Bunclarke recently joined the housemates on keyboard, adding a subtle new layer to the overall sound and some cool fills and licks (Tricia is disappointed that I didn’t fit Ali into my photo).
Acoustic guitar player Griff, brother of Gafin and founding member, was on top form on the 6-string and vocally. And, of course, Vicki Gavin, on lead vocals is the band’s not so secret weapon, her voice never straining sweeps from the fragile rootsy sounds of their gentler repertoire to the full on raunch of their rockers. Vix and Griff, recently engaged to be married, blend beautifully with Gavin providing a subtle third harmony part (hinging on that vocal connection with Griff that you only get with siblings).
A stunning Neil Young cover was icing on the cake and there was plenty of whooping, footstamping and applause, and the occasional wolfwhistle (well done Chris) which brought the band back for an encore. From the first note, this awesome band are destined for greatness.
Husband and wife duo The Black Feathers opened wonderfully for Fred’s House. Beautiful harmonies on melancholic melodies, great guitar (with none of that silly two-handed percussive playing, just proper fingerstyle and strumming) and a unique take on English Americana.
Many species of brush-footed butterfly rely on nettles (Urtica dioica) for their caterpillars to thrive, among them, the comma (Polygonia c-album), the peacock (Inachis io), small tortoiseshell (Aglais urticae) and red admiral (Vanessa atalanta).
Sciencebase – currently rebranding weeds as wildflowers…
Apparently, puffins prefer to be deeper into rocky crevices on coastal cliff faces than razorbills (and guillemots) who cling to the edges. The puffin then has to wait until those other birds fly off, before it can get away itself to feed and socialise.
Sheer coincidence that we were visiting the East Riding of Yorkshire last week when the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds (RSPB) opened its new visitor centre at Bempton Cliffs. We approached the reserve on two walks first from North Landing on Flamborough Head where I photographed coble fishers landing and unloading their boat and then from the village of Speeton with its tiny Anglo-Saxon church (St Leonard’s and its flock of rarebreed Leicester Longwool sheep).
Bempton Cliffs plays host to England’s largest nesting colony of Northern Gannets (Sula bassana), graceful and quiet in flight and far more beautiful than their rather ugly name. The cliffs also host countless kittiwakes, razorbills, guillemots, fulmars and puffins as well as pigeons, rooks and herring gulls.
Some nice tricks to deviate from the norm with your smartphone camera: Drive-by panorama, water-drop macro lens, armless selfies with your headphone cable, cardboard “tripod”, underwater housing, binocular zoom and more
When we’re in our teens, it’s common that we first discover the music we see as our own, discarding the vinyl our parents played, and kicking back on beats to our own tune. For me it was a migration from 60s pop to 70s prog and hard rock. But, when you get to middle age you might find yourself living in some kind of shack and you may ask yourself, well what do I listen to now, as you let the days go by? For me, I’ve revisited many of those “discs” my parents played, but digesting them via a stream of 1s and 0s rather than ass the amplified jitterings of a diamond-tipped needle coursing through the vinyl vein.
And, in turn a huge spectral wall of sound has fed into my own music making as you may well have heard via my SoundCloud page. I also like to add a new spin to some of those old favourites, putting together cover versions. What is an endless surprise is how the ranking of those cover songs of mine runs quite steady and reflects the longevity of some classic songs, I love all of them, despite their not fitting into any single niche, indeed they couldn’t be any different, could they, although they’re all basically singing and guitar with percussion? This week, for instance, the Top 5 listens to tracks I’ve racked up are as follows:
Take me home, country roads – John Denver
I’ll Be There – Chic ft. Nile Rodgers
Freewill – Rush
Baker Street – Gerry Rafferty
Solsbury Hill – Peter Gabriel
You’ll notice in at number 2, my cover of the new Chic song (originally recorded and mooted for Sister Sledge back in the day by Nile and Nard), now if you’re uptown, head on downtown, cos that’s where the real funk is at…that song is going to be the most mahusive hit of the summer of 2015, just you watch. Have a listen to my version and then go any buy the real thing, preferably as a high-def download but also on vinyl, like your parents might have done, back in the old days ;-)
A catchy pop song of 2014 had the refrain “I’m all about that bass, no treble” or somesuch throwaway line. The accompanying video, much parodied and pastiched, was popular on teh interwebz and was apparently all about raising body image awareness and itself a pardoy of the modern pop culture in which certain characteristics of the female and male form are emphasised in a modern grotesque..
Anyway, in the spirit of scientific endeavour I did a quick frequency analysis of the song to ascertain whether it really was “all about the bass”. And, guess what? There’s plenty of treble and loads of mid-range frequencies too. Indeed, as you can see from the chart below, at one point in the song there is only very low peaking at the bass end of the audio spectrum. The song, at that point is much more about the treble and plenty about the mids…
Quite bizarrely my tweeting this graphic to DrKiki led to a barage of abuse from a twitter troll, all sub-tweeted after the first addressed tweet. The saddo name for the troll and the fact that they had no followers was also quite bizarre. Their claim was my vaguely (un)funny graphic was the reason no one likes scientists and how we’re all a bunch of…well, you get the picture.
So, is my graphical pastiche of the title of a so-called bubblegum pop song offensive to sociopolitical efforts to remedy almost universal body dysmorphia propagated by the popular media? I really can’t see how (I hadn’t even seen the video until just now, nor listened to the lyrical content other than the refrain) and I’m sure Ms Trainor and her record company would still be laughing all the way to the bank even if it were, given that it was a Grammy-nominated song and one of the biggest-selling tracks of last year, topping the singles charts in 50 countries and selling more than 6 million copies. Yeah, it’s all about that bass, no trouble.
In the words of the song “Shed a little light”: There is a feeling like the clenching of a fist, There is a hunger in the center of the chest, There is a passage through the darkness…
As such, this story is one in the eye for all those spammers selling erectile dysfunction drugs as scientists have implanted a light-activated gene into rats that makes a protein involved in sexual arousal.
“With this gene in place,” the team reports in the journal Angewandte Chemie, “the rats make a protein involved in the release of the a synthetic designer guanylate cyclase producing a blue-light-inducible surge of the second messenger cyclic guanosine monophosphate (cGMP) in mammalian cells.” With this molecular biology in place, shining a light on the rat’s penis triggers and erection or as the team puts it: “Photostimulated short-circuiting of complex psychological, neural, vascular, and endocrine factors to stimulate penile erection in the absence of sexual arousal.” They suggest that this “may foster novel advances in the treatment of erectile dysfunction.”
Creative Commons rat photo adapted from vyctryx (Lauren Harradine)
Raising more than the roof at the house of blue lights is a post from the science blog of science journalist, photographer and musician David Bradley Subscribe to our Email Newsletter
A song of history, chemistry and exploitation
White line warrior
Heading up the Inca Trail
Hides behind electric veil
En route to the promised land
Fuelled with a bitter taste
Torment is in her hand
One in ten, where worlds collide
Find the taker nation
A future lost for lack of pride
Main line quarrier
Digging up the dragon’s tale
Milk wet citizen
Finds the time to read the mail
Waking in the promised land
Works a little haste
Though history’s in his hands
One in ten, where worlds collide
Find the taker nation
A future lost for lack of pride
Words & Music by David “dB” Bradley
Vocals, Fender and Ibanez electric guitars
Taylor acoustic guitar
Drums Klaus “daFunkyDrummer” Tropp
Mixed and mastered by dB
Heads down proggie rock with layers of guitar in the early 80s Rush vein (sans keyboards) and with the awesome Klaus Tropp on drums being the Neil Peart to my Alex Lifeson ;-) Where’s Geddy?
Think of a plant trying to attract a pollinator and the image of brightly coloured flowers with sweet bowls of nectar perhaps come to mind. You might also be aware of the ultraviolet landing strips that guide insects towards the flowers sexy bits where pollen is picked up and deposited. There are even plants the flowers of which resemble female insects and so a libidinous male will attempt to mate unwittingly with the structure and do the pollen transfer business too.
What I didn’t know until I read “The Sound Book” by Trevor Cox is that some plants use, not brightly coloured flowers, but noisy leaves to attract their specific pollinator. The Cuban vine, Marcgravia evenia, stands out aurally from the rainforest crowd. At least to the local bats. The vine produces a ring of flowers on an arching stock and atop the stalk a leaf that is concave and hemispherical hangs over the flowers. This structure reflects the ultrasonic chirps from the bats hunting insects on the wing.
Amazingly, while the vegetation of the rainforest presents to the bat a complicated soundscape of endless echoes that shimmer and shake as it flies through the trees, that convex vine leaf is a steady signal. No matter at what angle the bat flies past, it can sense the vine as the chirps are focused by the leaf. Marc Holderied of Bristol University, UK, and colleagues have confirmed (in 2011, it was all over the science news, how did I miss it?) that the bats benefit from the presence of these leaves in the rainforest, finding food twice as fast in areas where the vine grows than when there are none. For its part, the plant increases its chances of being pollinated by being a focus of the chiropterine aviators who also benefit from a tasty supply of nectar from the ring of flowers.
How could you not want to read a book that reveals such a wonder? Cox, who acoustically engineers classrooms and concert halls for a living reveals many more exotic noises: creaking glaciers, whispering galleries, stalactite organs, musical roads, humming dunes, seals that sound like alien angels, and a Mayan pyramid that chirps like a bird. Listen up, this is a book worth reading.
The Sound Book: The Science of the Sonic Wonders of the World Paperback (2015) Trevor Cox, Published by W. W. Norton & Co; ISBN-10: 0393350584 ISBN-13: 978-0393350586.
Molecular astrophysicist “Invader Xan” just posted a photo on Twitter showing a chemical structure painted on the wall at Schloss Ringberg. It looked like a steroid hormone to me and Invader, but were weren’t sure which. It didn’t take more than a minute or so for me to draw it on the emolecules site and do a quick search: 17-acetyl-10,13-dimethyl-1,2,6,7,8,9,11,12,14,15,16,17-dodecahydrocyclopent a[a]phenanthren-3-one, better known as progesterone or pregn-4-ene-3,20-dione a hormone involved in menstruation, pregnancy, embryogenesis in humans and other species.
We’ve all been there…spotted a typo in someone’s tweet, an unfortunate autocorrection, bad grammar, misused apostrophes, their instead of there, tragic spelling mistakes. Grammar and spelling are important, of course. But, is it your place to correct your fellow twitter users? Maybe they’re on a crowded commuter train and simply desperate to share that photo of a sleeping passenger dribbling over The Times crossword, maybe they have other things on their mind (Instagramming their food, yelling (virtually) whassup via WhatsApp, liking something unlikeable on Facebook, etc etc). Either way, don’t get labelled a grammar numpty, use this hand flowchart to help you decide whether to interject when you spot a typo or other error…
We are all essentially addicted to dopamine…we seek out things that stimulate the release of this neurotransmitter in our brains, dopamine activity hooks into the pleasure and reward centres, it makes us feel good. Some things stimulate those centres more than others…but whatever your choice, it’s down to dopamine…
Dopamine & Desire
White sheets without emotion
Soaking up your fever
Watching from the corner of your eye
Floating round in circles
Your limbs as flailing cleavers
Thrashing with the torment in your eye
The pulse of failed addiction
Scratching at the ceiling
With the needles of desire
Tomorrow never knows what today would bring
The day before the aftermath
The eve of all the yesterday’s bitter sting
Words, music & production by dB
Vocal, guitars, bass, programming dB