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David Bradley science journalist, photographer, musician
Updated: 1 day 4 hours ago

Who was Gerry Mander?

7 October, 2014 - 20:12

Moving the political goalposts – Gerrymandering is the deliberate design of voting districts to achieve a specific outcome other than fair representation in a governmental election. It is named for US Governor Elbridge Gerry of Massachusetts, who signed the Massachusetts Senate Redistricting Bill of 1812 that included several “creatively” drawn districts designed to ensure his political party’s continued majority in the state senate. This less than ethical approach to democracy continues unabated in many parts of the world to this day.

gerry-mander

In 1973, political scientist PJ Taylor defined various shapes in The American Political Science Review, 1973, Vol. 67, No. 3, pp.947–950) that revealed the creation of indentations, elongations, separations and other choice boundary movements that were indicative of gerrymandering. Unfortunately, politicians, while not renowned for the subtlety on many matters are rather too adept at masking their unethical behaviors. The term originated with an editorial cartoon entitled ‘Gerry-mander’ that portrayed one oddly shaped district in Gerry’s redistricting plan of 1812 showing a salamander with wings (Boston Gazette, 1812). Now, Brian Lunday Assistant Professor of Operations Research at the Graduate School of Engineering and Management at the US Air Force Institute of Technology at Wright Patterson Airforce Base, in Ohio, USA, has developed a mathematical metric to provide quantitative evidence building on the somewhat more subtle shapes proposed by Taylor .

Wikipedia cites examples of gerrymandering in modern times in Australia, Canada, Chile, France, Germany, Greece, Hong Kong, Hungary, Ireland, Kuwait, Latvia, Lithuania, Malaysia, Malta, Nepal, Philippines, Singapore, Sudan and the UK…but of course, the vice is used elsewhere and in particular in the home of gerrymandering the USA. Gerrymandering is essentially precluded in Israel and The Netherlands because there is only a single voting district for elections there.

Lunday explains that in the US, at least, for House of Representatives as well as state legislatures, political districts exist to ensure elected representatives are responsible for and accountable to the residential constituents from local geographic regions rather than representing a state at large, lest a legislator be potentially more accountable to a political party. As populations grow and relocate, so boundaries must be shifted periodically to ensure fair representation. It is at these times that gerrymandering can be carried out to shift the political focus of particular regions, which has to be considered an unfair exploit within a democratic system.

Lunday has looked at the 16 main shapes and compared 80 different combinations to find the metrics associated with each that might be combined into a single figure to define whether gerrymandering has or has not been implemented. He has also calibrated the metric against recent “redistricting” plans. He has proposed a method for evaluating objectively the shape of political districts based on the presence of undesirable geometric characteristics such as puncturedness, indentation, elongation, and separation, the presence of which portend the absence of compactness and/or contiguity, he says, the metric was calibrated against court decisions by federal courts and the Supreme court on boundary changes. Tests of the metric against human judgment of whether or not gerrymandering took place are highly correlated (correlation coefficient of 0.804, which means a little over 8 times out of 10, the metric was right to say whether gerrymandering took place or not).

Research Blogging IconLunday, B.J. (2014) ‘A metric to identify gerrymandering’, Int. J. Society Systems Science, Vol. 6, No. 3, pp.285–304.

In case you hadn’t realised my headline and graphic is a joke, there was no Gerry Mander in this context, rather, the word is a portmanteau of Massachusetts Governor Elbridge Gerry’s name, with “salamander” and was coined in a famous cartoon showing “The Gerry-Mander”, this political satire lampooned the way in which Gerry had adjusted borders to favour specific candidates in the 1812 elections.

The-Gerry-Mander

Who was Gerry Mander? is a post from the science blog of science journalist, photographer and musician David Bradley
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Spiders on drugs

28 September, 2014 - 16:25

Back in the day, when I was freelancing regularly for New Scientist, the magazine covered the story of the errant webs created by spiders that had been exposed to (THC) from marijuana, LSD, speed and various other drugs including caffeine and alcohol . This was an issue in 1995, if I remember rightly. There was a follow up a “humourous” video many years later, which you can watch here:

As you can see the spiders don’t do their best work when they’re stoned on various psychoactive drugs and the social outcomes are not optimal it has to be said. The original New Scientist story from 1995 is here (paywall); perhaps surprisingly the research was done by NASA.

Spiders on drugs is a post from the science blog of science journalist, photographer and musician David Bradley
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Liquid energy

22 September, 2014 - 13:07

My latest news story for Chemistry World is on the topic of stationary energy storage and a rather unique concept – liquid metal batteries.

Researchers at MIT have developed such a device, which could allow electricity generated by intermittent, but renewable sources, such as wind, solar and wave power. Such a battery could lower the overall costs of energy storage while also having the advantages of small physical footprint and mechanical simplicity.

liquid-metal-battery

Stanford University materials scientist Robert Huggins was very positive of the development:

“There is currently a large amount of research and development underway on energy storage in various types of batteries,” Huggins told me. “Much of this relates to various versions of lithium-based batteries. However, the invention of the three-level liquid metal battery by Sadoway and his co-workers at MIT is unique.”

Huggins points out that the work which uses three layers of liquid lithium, antimony and lead, which are maintained in the liquid state by electrical energy itself keeping it at 450 Celsius, “is leading to the development of an entirely different type of energy storage device, applicable to a different set of applications and technical requirements, in which size, weight and portability are not critical parameters. Instead, cost, high rate performance, safety and lifetime are most important,” he adds.

The approach has many advantages in terms of being safer than conventional batteries with solution electrolytes that can leak into the environment. If this battery fails the components freeze instantly and so cannot leach into the environment. “Characteristics of this new approach to energy-storage technology are especially applicable to large-scale energy storage, such as that which could be employed in connection with solar or wind energy systems. Intermittent cloud cover or sudden shifts in the velocity or direction of the wind can cause major rapid changes in the output of such important systems,” Huggins told me. “The development of new methods and technologies that can alleviate this transient problem is of great importance. The work of the Sadoway group is clearly one of the most interesting approaches to this problem. I think that it is important to give visibility to this important work, which is very different from what is being done in other laboratories throughout the world.”

I was slightly concerned with the fact that this system uses lead, but Sadoway pointed out an obvious benefit of using liquid metals over solutions. “Lead is not a problem as it is inside a sealed container,” he told me. “It’s not going to be venting or leaking into the environment. Safety is not an issue in the course of normal use. In fact, if the battery case were breached and the contents leaked, they would freeze. In this sense, a battery that is operative only at elevated temperature is safer than a battery that is operative at ambient temperature. If the case of a lithium-ion battery is breached, the contents can leak into the environment with attendant harm. Plus, we know that it is forbidden to ship lithium-ion batteries by air transport. The liquid metal battery, in contrast, can be safely shipped by any means since at room temperature the contents are solid metal and salt, i.e., totally disabled.”

My full news story: Molten metal batteries set to store grid power.

The image above by Felice Frankel shows a model of just such a liquid metal battery at room temperature, in a glass container. The bottom layer is the positive electrode. In the real battery this is an alloy of antimony and lead, represented here by mercury. The middle layer is the electrolyte – in reality, a mixed molten salt; here, a solution of salt in water. The top layer is the current collector of the negative electrode, a metal mesh of iron-nickel alloy.

Liquid energy is a post from the science blog of science journalist, photographer and musician David Bradley
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A simple flowchart for trolls

22 September, 2014 - 09:09

The end of all name-calling arguments during childhood is often the intervention of an adult with a phrase such as: “If you’ve got nothing nice to say, don’t say anything at all”. If only we could apply parental rule #4.6/d to the childish online, the twitter trolls, the youtube haters, the blog spammers and others. Here’s a handy flowchart you may cut out and keep and pin to your computer screen so that next time you are making a decision regarding a Twitter reply, a Facebook update or are commenting on a blog, a video or some other creative output, you will know how to behave graciously.

troll-flowchart

A simple flowchart for trolls is a post from the science blog of science journalist, photographer and musician David Bradley
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Did you fake your password?

18 September, 2014 - 08:37

It’s an evergreen news story in the tech world: the top 25 idiotic passwords we use. Every tech magazine reports it and trumpets our global stupidity in the face of hackers. The articles usually beseech us to think about security, to batten down our virtual hatches, to make sure we use a good strong password like 6z!!jciBAOdGEy5EHE&6 or something equally unmemorable.

spoof-login

The surveys and roundups of passwords usually show that simple alphanumeric strings are in widespread use purportedly protecting our Hotmail, GMail, Facebook, Twitter, Xbox, Sony and every other online account, even our bank and credit card accounts. Among the apparently silliest and simplest are things like “password” and “passw0rd”, “123456”, “ILoveYou”, “qwerty”, “abc123″, “111111” and many others besides. All equally crackable and/or guessable. Indeed, any short alphanumeric string, no matter how seemingly random can be cracked by so-called bruteforce means within seconds by a powerful enough computer, or an array of hijacked machines running malware.

Recent revelations about an alleged 5 million GMail passwords being published online revealed once again that the users of those accounts were particularly foolish with their password use. Security blogs suggested that 9 out of 10 of the passwords leaked could have been bruteforce attacked easily because they were so simple.

But, a twitter discussion with Michael Horak ‏@fatmike182 and Benedikt Malleolus ‏@BMalleolus has got me thinking about those silly statistics. Horak pointed out that of any bunch of leaked GMails there is a likelihood that a fair proportion will be either fake (accounts set up for spam and other malicious purposes) or else created for one-time use as a disposable account with which to register on a particular site. We have no easy way to determine what percentage of any list of username/password logins, from whatever hacked source, are genuine users and what proportion are fake, spam, disposable logins.

In other words, the shouty tech blogs that discuss password complexity and how inept most of use supposedly are at using decent passwords may be basing their proclamations on skewed data. Maybe many of us use really strong passwords and two-factor authentication, maybe more than they care to admit aren’t really so dumb as to use “password” as a password for our mission critical logins.

But, here’s a little puzzle, which of these two imaginary passwords would take the longest to crack?

“iSK6%3U6Gt” or “Password……..”

The answer, given the leading question may not surprise you, but is surprising nevertheless. It’s all about making the haystack in which your password needle might be found much bigger than everyone else’s. The mixed character password would be crackable in about a week assuming some kind of Massive Cracking Array Scenario carrying out one hundred trillion guesses per second. The latter password would take the same Array slightly longer, about 2 billion years. Of course, if everyone starts simply adding fullstops to the ends of their passwords, the hackers will soon learn and add that pattern to their search algorithms. Maybe we need to be even a little cleverer than they give us credit for.

Did you fake your password? is a post from the science blog of science journalist, photographer and musician David Bradley
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A brief word about tomatoes and prostate cancer

4 September, 2014 - 14:16

UPDATE: To avoid confusion: eating lots of tomatoes will not stop you getting prostate cancer if other risk factors are in place!

At least 20 years ago I wrote a news story in my rookie days about how the natural red pigment in tomatoes, the antioxidant lycopene, could somehow protect men against prostate cancer. Nothing was ever proven and the latest news which hit the tabloids in the last couple of weeks doesn’t add much, at least if you read between the lines.

NHS Choices, as ever, has a good summary:

“This large study has shown an association between the consumption of more than 10 portions of tomatoes per week and an 18% reduction in risk of prostate cancer. However, as this was a case controlled study, and not a randomised controlled trial, it cannot prove that eating more tomatoes prevents prostate cancer.”

Tomatoes grown and photographed by David Bradley

The study does have some strengths: large size and accounting for confounding factors. However, limitations include: reliance on dietary questionnaires and the broad categories for self-estimate of body size. After all, do you recall how many portions of tomatoes you’ve had and can honestly tell us how fat or thin you are?

The bottom line NHS Choices says:

“This study does not provide enough evidence to change the recommendations for reducing the risk of prostate cancer. A healthy, balanced diet, regular exercise and stopping smoking are still the way to go, rather than relying on eating one exclusive food type such as tomatoes.”

Tomato-rich diet 'reduces prostate cancer risk'.

Incidentally, from this paper: “Prostate cancer (PCa) represents a major public health burden in the western world. It is a peculiar disease as more men die with it than from it. Also interestingly, PCa was virtually unknown until the 20th century.”

A brief word about tomatoes and prostate cancer is a post from the science blog of science journalist, photographer and musician David Bradley
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Lodestar Festival 2014 Extras

3 September, 2014 - 16:21

I got rather too many photos from the 2014 Lodestar Festival, the top bunch are in my Flickr gallery and Facebook gallery. This little lot are ones I’ve plucked out from the folders that didn’t jump out at me first time through but are more representative of the festivalgoers than the bands themselves!

(function(d, s, id) { var js, fjs = d.getElementsByTagName(s)[0]; if (d.getElementById(id)) return; js = d.createElement(s); js.id = id; js.src = "//connect.facebook.net/en_US/all.js#xfbml=1"; fjs.parentNode.insertBefore(js, fjs); }(document, 'script', 'facebook-jssdk'));

Post by Dave Bradley Photos.

Lodestar Festival 2014 Extras is a post from the science blog of science journalist, photographer and musician David Bradley
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The Dark Net – Jamie Bartlett

28 August, 2014 - 20:12

From the blurb: “Beyond the familiar online world that most of us inhabit – a world of Google, Hotmail, Facebook and Amazon – lies a vast and often hidden network of sites, communities and cultures where freedom is pushed to its limits, and where people can be anyone, or do anything, they want. A world that is as creative and complex as it is dangerous and disturbing. A world that is much closer than you think.”

jamie-bartlett-dark-netIf you’ve been using the Internet since pre-web days, as I have, you may wonder what more you could learn, having spent endless hours on bulletin boards, usenet, gopher systems and the like. Jamie Bartlett, may well open your eyes to a whole new world of neurotica from the true meaning of trolls to the doxxing of camwhores, racist-nationalist activist rants and how they spill into the real world the way to the Silk Road marketplace and the truth about some of the most disturbing abuses of humanity. From cypherpunks and cyberpunks to hackers and crackers. It’s all here, it’s all dark. He shines a light on the taboo zones and demonstrates what the darkest recesses of the online world might tell us about our real-world selves.

Bartlett is Director of the Centre for the Analysis of Social Media. His primary research interests are: new political movements and social media research and analysis, internet cultures and security and privacy online and so more than qualified to tell us about the darkest back alleys away from the information superhighway. A gripping read, more thrilling and chilling than many a fictional tale of the digital could ever be.

Footnote: As I understand it, there have been some issues brought to light since what I assume was Bartlett’s “time-of-writing” regarding various tools and techniques taken as fact at the time that are no longer necessarily valid. For instance, I don’t think the Tor (the onion router) browser and tools are necessarily as secure and private as was originally thought (although that may be due to 3rd party interactions and user errors, it’s unclear. Neither is PGP as honourable as it once was, but who’s to know whether that’s disinformation put in place by the spooks? Indeed, there are also ongoing revelations about spying by NSA and GCHQ that put paid to some of the safe harbours for libertarians.

One minor quibble that isn’t really about the Dark Net text at all is that the idea that human communication is mostly non-verbal is wrong, that piece of Deceived Wisdom has been debunkeud repeatledly over the years.

The Dark Net – Jamie Bartlett is a post from the science blog of science journalist, photographer and musician David Bradley
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When Google comes to town

21 August, 2014 - 09:30

UPDATE: Friend of the blog Nick Howe just pointed out to me that the Google car has a flight tyre, rear offside…so wasn’t “broken down”, just had a puncture to deal with…I should have spotted that but was too busy getting the composition and exposure for my photo right!

UPDATE: Daughter returning from school having collected her excellent GSCE results says there was an RAC van with the Google car, he’d actually just broken down, which would explain the driver’s surliness.

Mrs Sciencebase out and about in our village this morning alerted me to the fact that she had spotted a Google StreetView vehicle parked outside a boarded up shop on the High Street. I dashed out on my bike, camera in hand, to get a snap – watching the watchers – and hopefully have a chat with the operative. Well, I got a photo or two, but the chap with the controls was less than conversational, nervous almost, as if he’d been doing something wrong…like harvesting Wi-Fi passwords (allegedly) rather than assimilating images of the local streets. Either that or he was just a shy chap and not interested in chatting to the public…incidentally, I wonder if I’ll get a request to pixelate his number plate. Hahahah

google-streetview-car-2 google-streetview-car

Anyway, if you’re out and about in the village today and see him assimilating, give him the vees or a little wave depending on your mood and let’s all celebrate the wonder that is Google. Not.

When Google comes to town is a post from the science blog of science journalist, photographer and musician David Bradley
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Anticancer Aspirin? Not so fast

7 August, 2014 - 08:41

The news was full of the discovery that taking some aspirin every day for ten years could somehow reduce your risk of getting cancer, particularly cancers of the gastrointestinal tract. The stomach bleeding side-effect (for some) and other as yet unknown side-effects aside, I was skeptical from the start, it just looked like a review of reviews where they looked at the idea that taking aspirin for years and years might somehow correlate with not getting cancer. To me, this is like the inverse of so many other studies that purportedly “prove” that such and such an exposure to food, pollution, toxin or whatever will “cause” cancer. Correlation is not causation.

chemical-structure-of-aspirin

As far as I can tell, the discovery was based on a literature review and not an actual study of the pharmacology and biochemical effects of aspirin itself. Thankfully, NHS Choices magazine, which takes a look at the science behind the headlines seems to agree. “The study was carried out by researchers from a number of institutions across Europe and the US, including Queen Mary University of London. It was funded by Cancer Research UK, the British Heart Foundation and the American Cancer Society. The study was published in the peer-reviewed medical journal Annals of Oncology.” Fine. Good.

But, says NHS Choices: “Several of the study’s authors are consultants to or have other connections with pharmaceutical companies with an interest in antiplatelet agents such as aspirin.” That’s common, and, of course, those involved in pharma research are generally connected to the industry in some way. So, not necessarily a bad thing, there are often what some might refer to as conflicts of interest in biomedical research if these are indeed conflicts here.

More worrying though, and to my mind, the real nub of the problem is what NHS Choices says about the details of the study: “It is not clear that the results are reliable from the methods reportedly used to compile this review. This is because it included studies of varying design and quality, with much of the evidence coming from observational studies, which, while useful, cannot be totally relied on to test the effectiveness of healthcare interventions.”

NHS Choices also criticises the way studies in the review were chosen: “It’s not clear how the studies included in the review were chosen and whether others on the same topic were excluded. It is also not clear whether or not this was a systematic review, where studies are rigorously appraised for their quality and criteria are established for their inclusion.”

That sounds like quite the damning indictment to me and for that reason, I for one am out.

Daily aspirin 'reduces cancer risk,' study finds – Health News – NHS Choices.

Anticancer Aspirin? Not so fast is a post from the science blog of science journalist, photographer and musician David Bradley
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Virtual Art Conservation

30 July, 2014 - 15:09

This tweet showing a partially restored painting where 500 years of grime, varnish and earlier conservation efforts got me thinking. We usually see all these fabulous old paintings through a patina of filth and there are people trying to strip them back to the artist’s original view…but with digital images and Photoshop could this be done virtually for a whole lot of artworks. We colourise old monochrome photographs, this would be akin to that, taking the image back to what it really looked like…

art-conservation

More details about this specific restoration work here.

Virtual Art Conservation is a post from the science blog of science journalist, photographer and musician David Bradley
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Sciencebase Fifteenth Anniversary

25 July, 2014 - 15:42

It was 20th July 1999 when I first registered the domain name sciencebase.com and transferred my old Elemental Discoveries websites from various ISP and freenet type hosts to this super hub of science. Don’t the years just fly by? At that time, I was quite serious about building up a science portal (as they were then known) and publishing regular science news, views, and interviews in what would eventually become known as the blogging format. Quite by chance 20th July was the forty-fifth anniversary of a slightly more globally significant event – the first manned moon landing.

When I blogged the 10th anniversary post in 2009, I’d delivered 1600 items on the blog part of the site, plus all the legacy pages before I started counting. The CMS tells me there are almost 2500 items on the blog now. 1600 in the first decade, and then 900 posts in the last five years. Somewhere the rate went up slightly. Although as of the last year or two my focus has been less on frequent updates to this site and more about fulfilling deadlines for various clients, and my spare time tuning up and snapping photos – hence the recent “rebranding” to Songs, Snaps and Science of this and my social media stuff.

The Science blogging is mostly here on Sciencebase.com and announced on Twitter and Facebook. My photography is most accessible via my Imaging Storm site or on Fine Art America. My music via BandCamp, although you can also find me as “Dave Bradley’s Sciencebase” on iTunes, Google Play, Spotify and other music download sites.

Sciencebase Fifteenth Anniversary is a post from the science blog of science journalist, photographer and musician David Bradley
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The Real David Bradley

18 July, 2014 - 14:36

I feel awfully guilty calling myself “the real David Bradley” now that I’ve met the actor who played Argus Filch in the Harry Potter films and William Hartnell alongside actor Brian Cox in the BBC Dr Who period drama “An Adventure in Space and Time”. I just happened to bump into him in a pub whilst we were on a camping trip to North Norfolk. I introduced myself and he was more than happy to give me an autograph, but only if I gave him mine (apparently he knew of his namesake and the book Deceived Wisdom), which was rather gratifying.

real-david-bradley david-bradley-actor

As two celebrities sharing a name and meeting for the first time, we didn’t do that whole selfie thing. Funnily enough though, my son was on an educational trip to New York City earlier in the year and bumped into actor Christopher Eccleston, who played the first Dr Who in the resurrected TV show back in the 21st Century; they did do the selfie thing. Eccleston, of course, acted alongside the other/real David Bradley in gritty 1990s TV drama Our Friends in the North. Anyway, he was a lovely chap and perhaps even almost as chuffed as I was to meet his namesake…

UPDATE: Daughter home from her trip away with friend’s family tells us she bumped into comedian Rob Brydon in the Brecon Beacons…apparently his family pushed in front of them in a cafe queue, c’leb encounters of the wurst kind

The Real David Bradley is a post from the science blog of science journalist, photographer and musician David Bradley
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Dave Bradley Music

8 July, 2014 - 08:43

itunes-logo bandcamp-logo amazon-mp3Click the button above to buy Dave Bradley’s Wishful Thinking album from BandCamp or other songs on iTunes and amazon mp3. There’s also my more recent 4-track Radio Edit EP on BandCamp.

Other original songs from DB are also available on ReverbNation and Dave Bradley (covers EP on Loudr.FM).

In case you didn’t know, I wear three hats: a science journalist’s green eyeshade, a backwards turned baseball cap for shooting photographs and a really trendy felt hat for writing songs…well, not really. But I have written and recorded a bunch of acoustic and electric songs perhaps reflecting my eclectic tastes and influences. Genre? That’s a tough call – acoustic indie pop-rock retro new wave electro jazz alt funk prog? That probably covers all bases.

dave-bradley-wishful-thinkingAlbum on BandCamp.

Athlete, The Beatles, Daft Punk, David Bowie, Kate Bush, Elbow, Peter Gabriel, Led Zeppelin, Mumford & Sons, The Police, Gerry Rafferty, R.E.M., Nile Rodgers, Rush, The Smiths, Rod Stewart, Paul Weller, John Denver, Bacharach & David, The Who and others. Apparently, I occasionally sound like a Geordie Glenn Tilbrook, and sometimes a blend of Steely Dan and David Bowie…

Dave Bradley Music is a post from the science blog of science journalist, photographer and musician David Bradley
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Just a moderate bee sting

2 July, 2014 - 08:55

When the garden lawn is covered in blooming clover (Trifolium) and the last few honeybees (Apis mellifera) that haven’t yet succumbed to colony collapse disorder are busy about their floral business, it’s probably a good idea to not walk around barefoot in the garden with one’s reading glasses on, it would help avoid all that embarrassing hopping about in blooming apitoxin-induced pain…caused mainly by melittin (Glycyl-L-isoleucylglycyl-L-alanyl-L-valyl-L-leucyl-L-lysyl-L-valyl-L-leucyl-L-threonyl-L-threonylglycyl-L-leucyl-L-prolyl-L-alanyl-L-leucyl-L-isoleucyl-L-seryl-L-tryptophyl-L-isoleucyl-L-lysyl-L-argin yl-L-lysyl-L-arginyl-L-glutaminyl-L-glutamamide)

bee-sting-venom-melittin

UPDATE: Three days later. Sole of my foot is swollen, sore, red, hot to the touch and feels as if there’s a piece of tough leather just below the skin…nice…so headed to the Mayo Clinic website for their take on bee stings. Apparently, my sting is merely moderate, I can barely put my shoe on, so yeah, moderate. A mild reaction would have subsided within a few hours. Conversely, a severe reaction might involve: skin reactions, including hives and itching and flushed or pale skin, difficulty breathing, swelling of the throat and tongue, a weak, rapid pulse, nausea, vomiting or diarrhoea, dizziness or fainting, loss of consciousness. Thankfully, Mayo says that a moderate reaction this time does not predispose one to a severe allergic reaction on next apian encounter.

moderate-reaction-beesting

Honeybee photo by David Bradley Photographer

Just a moderate bee sting is a post from the science blog of science journalist, photographer and musician David Bradley
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Grow crops from open-source seed

25 June, 2014 - 08:20

The three bullet points:

  • Many poor farmers use low-quality local seed rather than expensive patented ones
  • The Open Source Seed Initiative is offering 36 types of 14 food crops
  • All seed packets contain a pledge stating that the seed can be used freely

‘Open-source’ seed released to nurture patent-free food – SciDev.Net.

Grow crops from open-source seed is a post from the science blog of science journalist, photographer and musician David Bradley
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A five-step plan for nano

23 June, 2014 - 14:56

A five-stage, and very demanding protocol, for taking a nanoscience discovery to a consumer nanotechnology product has been outlined by engineer Michael Kelly of the University of Cambridge. Kelly, who is also based at the MacDiarmid Institute for Advanced Materials and Nanotechnology, at Victoria University of Wellington, New Zealand, explains how a clear understanding of how and why experimental silicon semiconductor and liquid crystal technology took so long to move from the laboratory bench to the manufacturing plant and mass production and consumption should underpin predictions about current nanoscience.

Kelly also explains why once a technology, such as the silicon chip, is in place it is very difficult to usurp even with advances such as conducting polymers and novel forms of carbon from buckyballs (fullerenes) and nanotubes to graphene despite the hyperbole that surrounds such novel materials. He points out that too little attention is paid to the many hurdles facing the nanoscientist hoping to be revolutionary nanotechnologist. But, his systematic protocol reveals what the aspirational need to know in making that quantum leap.

If one is working towards nanotechnology, then one must first identify the environment in which a new nanomaterial will be superior to the current state-of-the art material, otherwise the science becomes a solution looking for a problem. There are a few examples of fundamental science, the laser being a rare example, where uses are found after the fact, but, Kelly suggests that, in a burgeoning field with myriad projects and experiments final outcomes do not commonly justify the initial effort.

Secondly, it is important to identify the critical properties of the new nanomaterial and to be able to reproduce them absolutely in different samples with values to within better than 10 percent of the mean or there is no possibility of mass production. He points out that semiconductor tunnelling devices have only very recently addressed this problem.

Thirdly, a way to make the material or device with pre-specified performance and at high yield is essential from an early stage of development or again wasted raw materials will keep end product costs too high for a product to be commercially viable.

Kelly’s fourth commandment asserts that for a product, one must be able to simulate its performance from first principles and to readily invert properties at any stage of development so that it might be reverse engineered and adapted to resolve discrepancies where a device deviates from design.

Fifth and finally, even if the first four steps of the protocol are addressed adequately lifetime performance must be demonstrated as being superior to any current state-of-the art technology. He cites multi-heterojunction tandem solar cell technology as being on the cusp of serious development in this regard, one might also mention organic light emitting diodes (OLEDs) and their development from unstable devices in the early 1990s to fully fledged commercial technology today.

The shift from traditional manufacturing to the current developments based on novel and even designer materials means that industry now places great emphasis on product development taking place at the laboratory bench and expects much more than a one-off result before adopting new science and converting it into technology, nano or otherwise.

Research Blogging IconKelly M.J. (2014). From nanoscience to nanotechnology: what can and what cannot be manufactured, International Journal of Nanotechnology, 11 (5/6/7/8) 441. DOI: http://dx.doi.org/10.1504/ijnt.2014.060563

A five-step plan for nano is a post from the science blog of science journalist, photographer and musician David Bradley
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Copyright 1993-2011 Mark Winter [The University of Sheffield and WebElements Ltd, UK]. All rights reserved.