31 October 2009

Den Haag and Amsterdam

Interesting facts about the Netherlands. The Hague acts as seat of government although it is not the nation’s capital. Amsterdam is the capital city but is not the seat of government.

30 October 2009

Living in a cashless society - a freeconomy

Some people are challenging the notion that money makes the world go round.

Suelo has been living without money for nearly nine years around Moab and Portland (presumably in Oregan USA). See his website.

More recently, Mark Boyle in Bristol UK has lived for nearly a year without money and wrote an article for The Guardian about it.

In the photo that he provided for the article, it shows that he looks healthy and not malnourished.

It's a noble concept, which relies on the kindness of others. The other extreme is greed, where people exploit others for personal gain (and wealth). Thankfully most people lie somewhere in between, though most people would like to have more money than they really need.

Root of all evil?

29 October 2009

more on Brisbane zombie walk

According to a more recent report by Gary Kemble on ABC News, there may have been as many as 5000 who attended Sunday's zombie walk in Brisbane, which may have set a new world record. Except

Queensland Police say five police were tasked to help with the zombie walk, based on estimates from event organisers that 1,500 people would take part.

"A much larger number of people participated in the walk than expected, possibly as many as 5,000, however the exact number is not known," the statement said.

Ms Westworth says she was shocked and delighted by the turn-out.

"We'd been expecting a good 2,000 or so people and we'd speculated maybe 3,000 or so people turning up due to the amount of last-minute press we'd received the week before, but not in my wildest dreams had I thought we'd get that many people," she said.

"Luckily for us the police were really helpful and did an excellent job of getting all those people through the city without incident and even managing to close off roads so efficiently and without prior planning."

She said unfortunately the event didn't raise as much money as they had hoped for.

"But we figure every little bit helps and at least we know what we need to do differently next year in order to raise more money or the Brain Foundation, who we'll keep using as our chosen charity," she said.

Ironically, the event's success has landed organisers with a new headache.

Mr Radaza wrote on the Brisbane Zombie Walk Facebook page that if the same numbers are expected next year, organisers will have to foot half of the policing bill.

The official police statement says police will continue to work with organisers to plan and manage future zombie walks.

"Having due regard to potential crowd sizes and their impact upon public safety and amenity, police will negotiate with organisers as to the provision of policing resources considered necessary to support the event. This may include some costs associated with police involvement," the statement said.

The official World Record for a gathering of zombies is 4,026, at the Big Chill festival in Ledbury, UK, in August.

another awesome photo from ABC News by Giulio Saggin

Interestingly, Gary Kemble who authored that article is also actively posting on the facebook page mentioned. A news reporter also being actively involved in the story is usually a conflict of interest, but in this case, justified. I hope he was also dressed as a zombie.

He also has an interesting blog - The Kemblog.

Next year, participants should contribute more, perhaps $10 each, which would raise over $50,000 for charity.

28 October 2009

wild budgies

The above photo was taken by Ann Britton who submitted it as a user submitted photo to the ABC. It shows a flock of budgerigars at Boulia in far west Queensland (15 October 2009).

Budgerigars (also called budgies) are such a common (bird) pet that it's easy to forget that they are native to Australia and flock in the wild.

Close up of a pet budgie by Amos T Fairchild from Wikipedia.

The budgerigar (Melopsittacus undulatus) is a very hardy species.

27 October 2009

A reason to visit Iceland

Reported in Morgunblaðið, Iceland's major newspaper, McDonald's is to close. According to the franchisee, with the collapse of the kronar and the requirement to import all ingredients and packaging from Germany, the business is now uncompetitive.


Viðskipti | mbl.is | 26.10.2009 | 08:47

McDonald's hættir - Metro tekur við

Lyst ehf. mun um mánaðamótin hætta samstarfi við McDonald's skyndibitakeðjuna, en fyrirtækið rekur þrjá veitingastaði samkvæmt sérleyfi frá McDonald's. Rekstri staðanna verður haldið áfram undir nafninu Metro. Þetta kemur fram í tilkynningu.

Fram kemur að ástæðan fyrir breytingunni sé erfitt efnahagsumhverfi hér á landi. Þar ráði hrun gengis íslensku krónunnar mestu. Lyst ehf. hafi undanfarin ár keypt flest hráefni í McDonald's réttina, kjöt, ost, grænmeti og önnur aðföng af erlendum birgjum, samkvæmt kröfum og stöðlum McDonald's.

Gengishrunið, ásamt háum tollum á innfluttar búvörur, hafi tvöfaldað hráefniskostnað fyrirtækisins og gert afkomuna erfiða. Aðilar hafi ekki trú á að efnahagsaðstæður hér batni nægilega til að rekstur veitingastaða undir merkjum McDonald's verði arðbær til lengri tíma.

Þá kemur fram að Metro-staðirnir muni áfram bjóða svipaðar vörur og áþekkan matseðil á sambærilegu verði. Áhersla verði lögð á íslenskt hráefni, gæði og hraða þjónustu eins og áður. Breytingin sé gerð í góðu samkomulagi við McDonald's.

Veitingastaðirnir á á Suðurlandsbraut, í Kringlunni og á Smáratorgi muni halda áfram undir nýju nafni. Einnig komi fram að 10-15 ný störf verðo til hjá innlendum framleiðendum vegna breytingarinnar. Nautakjöt, kjúklingur, mjólkurvörur, sósur, ís, brauð, grænmeti og umbúðir allt frá innlendum framleiðendum.

Þá segir að viðskiptavinir Metro muni frá og með 1. nóvember geta gengið að svipuðum matseðli og hafi verið á McDonald´s stöðunum.
Soon, it will be the perfect time to visit Iceland. Iceland used to be very expensive to visit as it had a high standard of living and a strong currency. A further appeal is the fact that there now won't be a McDonald's. It's not even food.

No, I can't read Icelandic either. Daniel Tammet, on the other hand, learnt the language in one week.

26 October 2009

Brisbane zombie walk

The fourth Brisbane zombie walk happened yesterday. It used to be held earlier in the year, so it was many months late. Reported by Gary Kemble for ABC News
Zombie brides, zombie doctors and nurses, zombie strippers and zombie Santas were popular at this year's walk.

Zombie Darth Vader, zombie Where's Wally, and even zombie Hunter S Thompson turned out at the walk, which raised money for the Brain Foundation.

First-time lurcher Lara Shprem said the walk was more than just a fun day out for her.

"The charity is apt and ironic and funny, but it also has personal meaning for me," she said.

"My Mum's suffering from brain lesions so we're hoping to raise heaps of money. It may not help my Mum but it will help other people facing similar issues."

Organiser Cara Westworth said she was happy with how things went, and was looking forward to next year's walk.

Police said the zombie walkers were well-behaved and there were no problems reported.

The earliest recorded zombie walk was held in California in 2001, and have become popular since through the rise in zombie-related video games and movies.
photos from ABC News by Giulio Saggin

One day, a real zombie might appear and infect the others for real!

25 October 2009

another useless invention 6

A tray attached to a steering wheel by Mobile Gear and distributed by cyberguys.com and Amazon.com, amongst others. From Amazon's product description
Introducing the AutoExec WM-01 Wheelmate Steering Wheel Desk Tray - Gray - , featured in our Other Vehicle Parts department. This product generally ships within 2 business day(s) from Pinellas Park, Florida, and weighs 2 pound(s). Attaches to your steering wheel for easy access to a writing and drink storage surface. The Go Office Wheel Mate Steering Wheel Desk is flat for writing and perfect for lunch or a snack. This Go Office Wheel Mate Steering Wheel Desk stores neatly in your car when used with the larger Auto Exec Laptop Car Desk. For safety reasons, never use this product while driving. Easily convert your car into your personal automobile office with the Wheel Mate car desk by MobileOffice.

Of course, when it comes to useless inventions, it is most likely that that Japan had it available first. This one is Thanko's eDesk.

Seriously. If, not to be used while driving, then get out of the car.

23 October 2009

games of former empires

The Commonwealth Games are held every four years (in between Olympic Games years), with participant nations and territories from the Commonwealth members participating (71 teams from 53 members). Most were formerly part of the British Empire or constitutionally linked with members who were, with Mozambique being the only exception. The Commonwealth Games evolved from the British Empire Games which began in 1930.

Just recently this year (27 September to 6 October), the French Jeux de la Francophonie was held. Participants were members of Organisation internationale de la Francophonie (56 member nations, 3 associate members and 14 observers). Many were former French colonies, but most united by the French language. Mozambique is an observer. The games were first hosted in 1989 in Rabat and Casablanca in Morocco.

Only a few months earlier this year, the Portuguese Jogos da Lusofonia was held. Participants were members of Comunidade dos Países de Língua Portuguesa (11 members). Most were former Portuguese colonies and united by the Portuguese language. Mozambique is definitely a member. The games were first hosted in 2006 in Macau, China.

Unusually, Spain, former members of the Spanish Empire and Spanish-speaking nations have not yet united to hold their own games in this manner. Should they do one day, Mozambique would probably also want to participate.

22 October 2009

Beyond reasonable doubt 2

Last month, I raised attention about David Grann's article in the New Yorker about Cameron Todd Willingham, who was executed for the murder of his daughters through arson.

An Australian writer in New York, Bernard Lagan, has now raised the case in The Age and Sydney Morning Herald (same publisher). Highly unusual for Australian newspapers.
Within three weeks of the publication of the New Yorker article, Perry suddenly, and totally unexpectedly, announced that he had fired members of the Texas Forensics Commission, whom he had appointed, just two days before the commission was to hear evidence from one of America's mostly highly regarded arson experts on the Willingham case. Dr Craig Beyler intended to say Willingham had been convicted on evidence of arson that was wrong. Other leading experts have agreed that the original arson findings were made by ill-trained men who had little or no understanding of fire behaviour.
On Wednesday, under increasing suspicion that his office – and he – had ignored the evidence that might have saved Willingham, [Texas Governor Rick] Perry refused to release written advice he had received from his general counsel about giving a stay of execution. Instead he called Willingham a monster.

For those who don't believe that Governor Perry or the US system would be capable of killing an innocent, it is worth considering one fact; 17 people have left death row alive because DNA testing proved their innocence after a death sentence. They served an average of 12 years in prison.
John Burnett in All Things Considered on NPR also raised important issues
Did Texas execute an innocent man?
That question, and the controversy surrounding it, continues to dog Gov. Rick Perry. Critics say the governor has tried to squelch an investigation into the case. Now the issue has moved to the forefront of Perry's effort to win re-election.

At the heart of the controversy is Cameron Todd Willingham, who was executed by lethal injection in 2004 after being convicted of setting a house fire in Corsicana that killed his three children.

The Texas Forensic Science Commission hired a nationally recognized arson expert to examine the fire science used to convict Willingham. In a report made public in August, that expert, Craig Beyler, asserted the initial arson investigation was deeply flawed, adding his voice to those of other fire investigators who now doubt whether arson caused the fatal blaze.

Just as the commission was set to hear from Beyler in late September, Perry abruptly removed three of its members, including the chairman. The chairman, Sam Bassett, later said he felt pressure from the governor's office because it was unhappy over how the Willingham probe was proceeding.

Governor Defends His Actions

As the uproar swelled, the governor went on the offensive. He called Willingham "a monster" and said numerous state and federal courts had upheld his conviction for more than a decade. Perry dismissed contrary views as those of "latter-day supposed experts."

As for the shakeup on the Forensic Science Commission, Perry said, "What's happening is we're following pretty normal protocol in the state. Those individuals' terms were up, so we replaced them — nothing out of the ordinary there."

But the state's leading newspapers aren't buying his explanation. Their editorial pages have roundly condemned the governor's actions as arrogant. They also have criticized his refusal to release an advisory memo from his general counsel regarding clemency for Willingham on the eve of his execution. The governor says the state attorney general has ruled that the memo is protected by attorney-client privilege.

Leading Republican Opponent Criticizes Perry

Capital punishment is sacrosanct in Texas, which executes more inmates than any other state. No serious candidate from either party runs against it.

So it was with some delicacy that Perry's opponent for the Republican nomination for governor, U.S. Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison, took on the Willingham case.

"I just think the governor made a mistake in trying to ramrod a covering up of what might be more evidence for the future," Hutchison told a Dallas-Fort Worth radio station.

Perry's office pounced on Hutchison, knowing the popularity of capital punishment in Texas — upwards of 70 percent of the population support it.

"If the senator is suggesting she opposes the death penalty for an individual who murdered his three daughters, then she should just say so," said the governor's spokeswoman, Allison Castle.

However, the senator had started her statement by saying she's "a steadfast supporter of the death penalty."

"The point that Hutchison is trying to make about Rick Perry is that he's hurt the death penalty, weakened it, by making it look to people outside Texas — and a lot of people in Texas — that he's playing fast and loose with the death penalty," said Dave McNeely, a longtime political journalist in Austin.

Perry, who gained his seat after George W. Bush left the Texas governor's mansion for the White House in 2001, is the longest-serving governor in Texas history. He's seeking an unprecedented third term.

Perry's new chairman of the Forensic Science Commission, John Bradley, is a hard-nosed district attorney and a conservative ally of the governor. He says he needs time to study the Willingham arson report and has not set a new date for the commission to consider it.
Surely, the case is an argument against the death penalty. Senator Kay Baily Hutchison's motives in raising the issue are probably purely political and not on any moral or ethical grounds.

newsreader in the land of the giants

Either the seagull is a giant, or the newsreader is a miniature. Proper explanation provided by ninemsn

21 October 2009

Aqua Tower in Chicago

Under construction in Chicago at 225 North Columbus Drive is a mixed-used building tower, Aqua Tower, designed by Jeanne Gang of Studio Gang Architects and developed by Magellan Development.

Aqua Tower will stand 250 m (819 ft) tall with 82 floors, containing a mix of apartments, hotel rooms, offices and retail space.

From the Studio Gang website
In an increasingly dense city like Chicago, views from a new tower must be negotiated between existing buildings. Aqua tower considers criteria such as views, solar shading and function to derive a vertical system of contours that gives the structure its sculptural form. Its vertical topography is defined by its outdoor terraces that gradually change in plan over the length of the tower. These terraces offer a strong connection to the outdoors and allow inhabitants to occupy the building façade and city simultaneously. The result is a highly sculptural building when viewed obliquely that transforms into a slender rectangle from further away. Its powerful form suggests the limestone outcroppings and geologic forces that shaped the great lakes region.

I think it would have been more appropriate to call it Iceberg. According to the UK Guardian, it is also the tallest building in the world to be designed by a woman.

The balconies do not look safe and it would be a nightmare to people suffering from acrophobia. The railing should be as high as a person's shoulder.

The question remains, how energy efficient is the building?

20 October 2009

125 years of the Prime Meridian

In October 1884, an international conference was held in Washington DC for the purpose of fixing a prime meridian and universal day.

The result was the conference agreed the prime meridian (at longitude 0° 0' 00") would be located at Greenwich, United Kingdom.

The conference also agreed Greenwich Mean Time (GMT) would be used as the standard for the world, with the day beginning at midnight at Greenwich and counted on a 24-hour clock.

Read more at BBC News

This was at the height of the British Empire, a great sea-faring nation, so it was not surprising. Imagine if this was on the agenda at the United Nations today. It would be a complete debacle as national egos come into play.

19 October 2009


mental_floss is a great magazine for those who like trivia, as I do.

Having a lot of knowledge about trivia, no matter how useful it may be one day, does not make one smart. It only means having a good memory and a natural curiosity.

Smart people are those who are analytical, can reason well, and can argue a point of view without offense, while keeping an open mind.

It's how to apply knowledge that should be more valued than just having knowledge.

18 October 2009

the world will not end in 2012

I previously wrote about the upcoming film 2012. It seems that the marketing of the film has a lot of people worried. Understandably, the NASA Astrobiology Institute is rather annoyed. See Ask an Astrobiologist from their website

People are saying that a solar flare is going to hit the Earth in 2012 and "toast" us alive. What is this site http://www.instituteforhumancontinuity.org/ all about? I even saw their commercial on tv! I just want to know the truth and be prepare[d] if something is really going to happened. AND I recently saw a commercial on Discovery's History Channel where a lottery entry has begun to "save yourself" from the 2012 doomsday event; however, it was not specified what this event may be or how these winners would be saved. AND I found this website with very believable information. Is it really true ? http://www.instituteforhumancontinuity.org/#/home. AND I saw this commercial on tv about the institute for humanity continuity and I am very scared.

About dozen people have written to me this week about ads for the Institute for Human Continuity. This is just part of the publicity for the science fiction film “2012” to be released in November. Let me be clear: (1) Nothing bad is predicted to happen in 2012. The 2012 doomsday is a hoax. (2) There is no Institute for Human Continuity. It is a fake website created to generate interest in the film. (3) Neither the film nor this website are based on science. This is fiction. (4) The creation of a fake website to publicize a film is called “viral marketing” by a analogy with a computer virus (look it up in Wikipedia). (5) It is important to learn to distinguish fiction from fact, and Hollywood film plots from reality. Here is what I wrote in this subject a few months ago in my “Twenty Questions” about 2012: The pseudoscientific claims about Nibiru and a doomsday in 2012, together with distrust of the government, are being amplified by publicity for the new film from Columbia Pictures titled “2012”, to be released in November 2009. The film publicity includes creation of a faux scientific website (www.instituteforhumancontinuity.org/) for “The Institute for Human Continuity”, which is entirely fictitious. According to this website, the IHC is dedicated to scientific research and public preparedness. Its mission is the survival of mankind. The website explains that the Institute was founded 1978 by international leaders of government, business, and science. They say that in 2004, IHC scientists confirmed with 94% certainty that the world would be destroyed in 2012. This website encourages people to register for a lottery to select those who will be saved; a colleague submitted the name of her cat, which was accepted. I learned from Wikipedia that creating this sort of fake website is a new advertising technique called “Viral Marketing”, by analogy with computer viruses.

David Morrison
NAI Senior Scientist

September 23, 2009
See also Nibiru and Doomsday 2012: Questions and Answers

Additional reporting by UK Daily Telegraph.

There's one born every minute.

17 October 2009

Murdoch versus the world

At the World Media Summit, held in Beijing, Rupert Murdoch, chief executive of News Corporation, spoke (on 9 October 2009) about his vision of the future of news media
Too often the conventional media response to the internet has been inchoate. A medium once thought too powerful has often seemed impotent in the past few years. Of course there should be a price paid for quality content, and yet large media organizations have been submissive in the face of the flat-earthers who insisted that all content should be free all the time. The sun does not orbit the earth, and yet this was precisely the premise that the press passively accepted, even though there have been obvious signs that readers recognize the reality that they should pay a price.

There are many readers who believe that they are paying for content when they sign up with an internet service provider, presuming that they have bought a ticket to a content buffet. That misconception thrived on the silence of inarticulate institutions which were unable to challenge the fallacies and humbug of the e-establishment.

The value of content has been volatile in the past decade but we are entering another decisive phase in which device makers are again courting the creators of content. I have sensed that shift in recent days during my travels in Japan and South Korea where I met some of the world’s leading electronics manufacturers. These companies don’t want their customers to be served a diet of digital dross, and yet that will be the inevitable consequence if the worth of content and creativity are not appreciated.

The Philistine phase of the digital age is almost over. The aggregators and the plagiarists will soon have to pay a price for the co-opting of our content. But if we do not take advantage of the current movement toward paid-for content, it will be the content creators, the people in this hall, who will pay the ultimate price and the content kleptomaniacs will triumph.
Obviously the age of the internet does not agree with Mr Murdoch. Google is merely a short cut for consumers (whether paying or not) to locate news articles of interest based on topic. Even then, they are merely links. He would probably also want to scour Wikipedia and invoice them for every word that he perceives to have originated from his media empire. What is also galling is the fact that he was speaking in China, where there is no media freedom.

One could also describe as dross, his version of the news as it appears on Fox in the United States.

As Mr Murdoch's speech was provided in a media release, I could have quoted him in full. If it was an article in one of his online newspapers, probably not.

Meanwhile, Mark Scott, Managing Director of the publicly funded Australian Broadcasting Corporation (ABC) in a speech about the future of media, given in Melbourne on 14 October 2009, countered the Murdoch view
When you have been so powerful and dominant for so long, it is hard to believe that empire is slipping away. You want to believe you'll see the green shoots of recovery, the good times coming back when advertisers start spending again. These surviving media giants - successful and profitable for decades - are used to shaping their audiences and their worlds.

The habit of command is hard to break. And any deference to audience power seems acquired only when all other possibilities have been exhausted. The latest example is the push by newspaper proprietors, led by Murdoch, to get people to pay for their content online. After nearly 15 years where the vast majority of online news and information has been free.

When Rupert Murdoch bought The Wall Street Journal, he indicated he would look to drop the paper's paid website. But now in the saddle, he looks to transplant that paid content model to all his newspapers. And he is keen for other newspapers to fall into line. And as his son James said recently in the UK, those pesky public broadcasters, who would seek to provide quality content to the public for free should be pulled into line.

The Murdoch push is fascinating. You sense this rage at the injustice of what the online world is doing to his traditional print business model. Murdoch has always been willing to cross-subsidise his print passions. Papers like The Times of London, The New York Post and The Australian endured years of losses and survived, because he said so. And because he had The Simpsons there to soak up the red ink.

And, ironically given his current plans, one of his strategies was always to cut the price of content - to cheap and almost uneconomic levels - to put his competitors under the gun.

But now, the man who just four years ago said he wanted to "make the necessary cultural changes to meet the new demands of the digital native" says he's not going to respond to the demands of these digital natives. Instead, they - who have never in their lives paid for news online - will be asked to respond instead to his demands and start paying.

The argument seems to be that people once didn't pay to watch television but now many do. We fought against timed local calls but now make them every day on our mobiles. Some of us might pay for recorded music we might once have illegally downloaded. And because we want to read and see this great content so badly, now we will pay for that.

It strikes me as a classic play of old empire, of empire in decline. Believing that because you once controlled the world you can continue to do so, because you once set the rules, you can do so again. Acting on the assumption that you still have the power that befits the Emperor.

And while it is always dangerous to underestimate Murdoch, the assumptions that underpin the Murdoch plan seem wistful, and perhaps, wishful. Some mastheads, like the Wall Street Journal and the Financial Times, will have pricing power. They have distinctive content. That content, appropriately used, is more than entertaining and informative - it can be financially valuable. And beyond that - there will be other brands - The New York Times, The Economist, The Washington Post - who provide reporting so distinctive, so comprehensive, so authoritative, that they may have pricing power.

But what about the rest of what is on offer online? Major events have never been reported more widely. From news reports to commentary, analysis, chatrooms. Photos and video become ubiquitous. When a newspaper breaks a story, it becomes news - and everyone reports it. Unless everyone, everywhere decides they will charge - then so much content will be available free.

The pricing power comes from being an exclusive provider of services people feel they badly want. The convenience and utility of the mobile phone allowed providers to set a price for those services - and while there are differences in prices and offers - noone is offering mobile services for free. Exclusive content on pay-TV in the main has been the driver of audience take up there.

Despite the massive piracy levels for recorded music, iTunes has demonstrated again that the public is willing to pay for a service that appears to be relatively cheap, of high quality and of enduring value. A song on iTunes costs little, and lasts forever, and is built on the back of micropayments for artist royalties.

But when you want to charge customers for something that in this era is effectively generic, that has many different free substitutes and is, by its nature ephemeral - mainly used and discarded - then the challenges you face are formidable.

Anti-trust laws lie in wait for a deal to be struck between newspaper organisations around a collective approach to this. And in any event, game theory would suggest the incentive for other newspapers will be, finally, not to charge. To lock up content will be to dry up traffic.

To be a substitute that offers that content for free will drive traffic up and assist in the pricing power in setting advertising rates.

You can almost hear other proprietors urging Murdoch on, assuring him they are right behind him. And they are, pushing him through the pay wall as they then scurry away to make as much as they can for as long as they can outside it. To be free to pick up the traffic that flees the sites that now want payment for access. There will be sites that have free and premium content, as there are today. But I suspect too much attention is being given to finding a pay model rather than addressing the content questions in terms of quality and distinctiveness that will really drive audience commitment.

There will be newspapers that largely get out of online altogether, who try and hold their print franchise for as long as they can. It might work for a regional paper, for a time, but it denies the reality of those who can make the investment in content without the overheads of printing and distribution.

Much of the content, most of it, nearly all of it when you look at the totality of the web - will be free.

It will certainly be free online at the ABC. We run the most comprehensive news operation in the country, with more reporters locally, nationally and internationally than anyone else.

We report the news, break news and provide space for analysis and commentary. The public pays for the ABC to deliver distinctive, quality content to them - and if it is content we are creating and packaging for them now, they are entitled to view that content free of charge.

We are restructuring our entire operations around our ability to deliver on that commitment: redesigning the way our newsrooms operate, creating new services like our continuous news online and our internet television service, iView.

And as our content is paid for by the public and the public also currently pays for the distribution of our content through terrestrial broadcasts, we will be fighting for that content to continued to be accessed free, including through the national broadband network.

Today at the ABC we face plenty of challenges. In a way we are a media giant of our own and face very real demands in this new environment. Like how a public broadcaster created in an era of media scarcity survives in an era of media plenty - how to be heard amidst the clutter?

And standing up to critics who, in the face of their own competitive pressure, will turn against the public broadcaster. Attacking our content, our funding, our right to exist.
Brilliant view of Murdoch by Mark Scott. I could have quoted his entire speech, just like any item from ABC News online, without any problems. He also makes salient points about online content.

16 October 2009

looking for the Higgs boson, but it does not want to be found

The Large Hadron Collider (LHC) at CERN was built to create conditions of the Big Bang and find the Higgs boson (see also CERN).

Holger Bech Nielsen, of the Niels Bohr Institute in Copenhagen, and Masao Ninomiya of the Yukawa Institute for Theoretical Physics in Kyoto have suggested that the Higgs boson eventually created by LHC in the future may have travelled back in time to sabotage its creation in the first place.

Paradox galore. Awesome!

Also see my previous post on the topic.

15 October 2009

Frankfurter Buchmesse ist nicht verboten

foto: DPA

The Frankfurter Buchmesse (Frankfurt Book Fair) is the largest book trade fair in the world. Over 7000 exhibitors from more than 100 countries take part. International sale rights and licences are negotiated.

This year's fair is from 14 to 18 October 2009 with China as this year's Guest of Honour.

Ironic, as the People's Republic of China bans some 600 books a year. Just like its 'great firewall', written work about the Tianenmen Square events of 1989 are unlikely to be published in China.

See Der Spiegel (Deutsch, Englisch) und Die Presse (Deutsch)

14 October 2009

herbivorous spider

photo by Robert L. Curry: An adult female Bagheera kiplingi harvested this tasty yellow treat from the tip of an ant-acacia leaf.

Scientists have discovered a species of spider that does not prey on other insects, according to a study published in Current Biology, Volume 19, Issue 19, R892-R893, 13 October 2009. Abstract
Spiders are thought to be strict predators [1]. We describe a novel exception: Bagheera kiplingi, a Neotropical jumping spider (Salticidae) that exploits a well-studied ant–plant mutualism, is predominantly herbivorous. From behavioral field observations and stable-isotope analyses, we show that the main diet of this host-specific spider comprises specialized leaf tips (Beltian food bodies; Figure 1A) from Vachellia spp. ant-acacias (formerly Acacia spp.), structures traded for protection in the plant's coevolved mutualism with Pseudomyrmex spp. ants that inhabit its hollow thorns [2]. This is the first report of a spider that feeds primarily and deliberately on plants.
See also reporting in (UK) Daily Telegraph and NPR. Excerpt from BBC News (includes video).
Running the gauntlet

The jumping arachnid, which is 5-6mm long, has developed a taste for the tips of the acacia plants - known as Beltian bodies - which are packed full of protein.

But to reach this leafy fare, the spider has to evade the attention of ants, which live in the hollow spines of the tree.

The ants and acacia trees have co-evolved to form a mutually beneficial relationship: the aggressive ants protect the trees from predators, swarming to attack any invaders; and in return for acting as bodyguards, the ants get to gorge on the acacias' Beltian bodies themselves.

But the crafty Bagheera kiplingi has found a way to exploit this symbiotic relationship.

One of the study's authors, Professor Robert Curry, from Villanova University, Pennsylvania, told BBC News: "The spiders basically dodge the ants.

"The spiders live on the plants - but way out on the tips of the old leaves, where the ants don't spend a lot of time, because there isn't any food on those leaves."

But when they get hungry, the spiders head to the newer leaves, and get ready to run the ant gauntlet.

Professor Curry said: "And they wait for an opening - they watch the ants move around, and they watch to see that there are not any ants in the local area that they are going after.

"And then they zip in and grab one of these Beltian bodies and then clip it off, hold it in their mouths and run away.

"And then they retreat to one of the undefended parts of the plant to eat it."

Like other species of jumping spider, Bagheera kiplingi has keen eyesight, is especially fast and agile and is thought to have good cognitive skills, which allows it to "hunt" down this plant food.

Fierce competition

The spider's herbivorous diet was first discovered in Costa Rica in 2001 by Eric Olsen from Brandeis University, and was then independently observed again in 2007 by Christopher Meehan, at that time an undergraduate student at Villanova University.

The team then collaborated to describe the spider for the first time in this Current Biology paper.

Professor Curry said he was extremely surprised when he found out about its unusual behaviour.

He said: "This is the only spider we know that deliberately only goes after plants."

While some spiders will occasionally supplement their diet with a little nectar or pollen, Bagheera kiplingi's diet is almost completely vegetarian - although occasionally topped up with a little ant larvae at times.

Professor Curry said there were numerous reasons why this spider might have turned away from meaty meals.

He said: "Competition in the tropics is pretty fierce so there are always advantages to doing what someone else isn't already doing.

"They are jumping spiders, so they don't build a web to catch food, so they have to catch their prey through pursuit. And the Beltian bodies are not moving - they are stuck - so it is a very predictable food supply."

Acacias also produce leaves throughout the year - even through the dry season - which would make them attractive.

And Professor Curry added: "Because the plants are protected by ants, they have none of their own chemical defences that other plants do."
Bagheera kiplingi looks like a spider, but maybe it gets bullied by the other insect eating spiders. It would be worth finding out which species are above it in the food chain.

13 October 2009


Some colleagues in the office cycle to work. Today, I asked someone who lives in the same suburb if he'd cycled, and if so, could I get dinked. I said "dink me". My colleague laughed, but other people looked confused.

The (Australian) Macquarie Dictionary defines dink as
--verb (t) 1. to convey as a second person on a horse, bicycle, or motorcycle.
--noun 2. a ride obtained from being dinked.
When I was a kid growing up, we lived less than a block away from the local primary (elementary) school so we walked to school. Some kids had bikes and it was fun to be dinked home. Usually, the person being dinked would ride behind the cyclist on the rack, or sitting over the front handle bars with legs hanging over the front. If the person being dinked was really lucky, the cyclist would ride over the front bar and give their 'passenger' the seat.

Nobody dinks these days and children today have no idea what the word means. In fact, the word is so particular to certain parts of Australia, that a lot of older people have never heard of it.

Photographer Heidi Swift took this photo of cyclist Chris Horner dinking Billy Demong during the Cascade Cycling Classic in 2008 (from Velo News - which did not use the word dink at all).

12 October 2009

solar flares will not destroy Earth

According to NASA, a massive solar flare won't destroy Earth
If the flare happened on the side of the Sun directly facing the Earth, the ozone layer would be destroyed completely and a huge amount of energy would be added to the upper atmosphere causing it to expand into space. Many satellites in Low Earth Orbit would re-enter the atmosphere, and most of the other satellites would be damaged by the huge increase in radiation exposure. Astronauts working in space would be instantly killed. Airline passengers might receive as much radiation exposure in a few hours as the normally would on the surface of earth for one or more years. But as for any impact to the biosphere, there wouldn't be much to worry about. During the last few million years, lunar rock samples show that there has not been a solar 'superflare' for at least this time, even though Earth has experienced literally millions of smaller flares during the same time. Superflares are not very common on G-type stars like the sun, but on M-type dwarfs called 'flare stars' they can outshine the star by over 1000 times!
So there is no chance of this happening


11 October 2009

I want one, err two

The latest pet craze in Britain is the micro pig. Much smaller than the previous American craze of pot belly pigs (most grew too big and retired to the country side), these are the size of a spaniel. From (UK) Daily Telegraph

Micro pigs are much smaller than a standard farm pig and weigh 9oz, about the size of a tea cup when they are born.

At two years old they are fully grown and weigh in around 40-65 lb and are around knee height at 12-16in tall. They can live for up to 18 years, but make popular pets as they are low maintenance, quiet and surprisingly clean.

See also UK Daily Mail

ITN News

msnbc Today Show

The piglets are bred in the UK at Little Pig Farm.

Not only do they make great pets, but are the perfect size for whole roast suckling pig. Just kidding.

10 October 2009

aqua luna

NASA's search for water on the moon is incredibly fascinating. From media release
Grey Hautaluoma/Ashley Edwards
Headquarters, Washington

Jonas Dino
Ames Research Center, Moffett Field, Calif.

Oct. 9, 2009
NASA Spacecraft Impacts Lunar Crater in Search for Water Ice
MOFFETT FIELD, Calif. -- NASA's Lunar Crater Observation and Sensing Satellite, or LCROSS, created twin impacts on the moon's surface early Friday in a search for water ice. Scientists will analyze data from the spacecraft's instruments to assess whether water ice is present.

The satellite traveled 5.6 million miles during an historic 113-day mission that ended in the Cabeus crater, a permanently shadowed region near the moon's south pole. The spacecraft was launched June 18 as a companion mission to the Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter from NASA's Kennedy Space Center in Florida.

"The LCROSS science instruments worked exceedingly well and returned a wealth of data that will greatly improve our understanding of our closest celestial neighbor," said Anthony Colaprete, LCROSS principal investigator and project scientist at NASA's Ames Research Center in Moffett Field, Calif. "The team is excited to dive into data."

In preparation for impact, LCROSS and its spent Centaur upper stage rocket separated about 54,000 miles above the surface of the moon on Thursday at approximately 6:50 p.m. PDT.

Moving at a speed of more than 1.5 miles per second, the Centaur hit the lunar surface shortly after 4:31 a.m. Oct. 9, creating an impact that instruments aboard LCROSS observed for approximately four minutes. LCROSS then impacted the surface at approximately 4:36 a.m.

"This is a great day for science and exploration," said Doug Cooke, associate administrator for the Exploration Systems Mission Directorate at NASA Headquarters in Washington. "The LCROSS data should prove to be an impressive addition to the tremendous leaps in knowledge about the moon that have been achieved in recent weeks. I want to congratulate the LCROSS team for their tremendous achievement in development of this low cost spacecraft and for their perseverance through a number of difficult technical and operational challenges."‪

Other observatories reported capturing both impacts. The data will be shared with the LCROSS science team for analysis. The LCROSS team expects it to take several weeks of analysis before it can make a definitive assessment of the presence or absence of water ice.

"I am very proud of the success of this LCROSS mission team," said Daniel Andrews, LCROSS project manager at Ames. "Whenever this team would hit a roadblock, it conceived a clever work-around allowing us to push forward with a successful mission."

The images and video collected by the amateur astronomer community and the public also will be used to enhance our knowledge about the moon.

"One of the early goals of the mission was to get as many people to look at the LCROSS impacts in as many ways possible, and we succeeded," said Jennifer Heldmann, Ames' coordinator of the LCROSS observation campaign. "The amount of corroborated information that can be pulled out of this one event is fascinating."

"It has been an incredible journey since LCROSS was selected in April 2006," said Andrews. "The LCROSS Project faced a very ambitious schedule and an uncommonly small budget for a mission of this size. LCROSS could be a model for how small robotic missions are executed. This is truly big science on a small budget."

For more information about the LCROSS mission, including images and video, visit:

Here is the video of the press conference after impact

NASA isn't really looking for water. They are trying to get the subterranean inhabitants of the moon to come to the surface!

09 October 2009

Why President Barack Obama was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize

No doubt conservatives are thinking up a response to this. So far, the best some can come up with is "go figure".
This is the announcement from the Norwegian Nobel Committee

The Nobel Peace Prize for 2009

The Norwegian Nobel Committee has decided that the Nobel Peace Prize for 2009 is to be awarded to President Barack Obama for his extraordinary efforts to strengthen international diplomacy and cooperation between peoples. The Committee has attached special importance to Obama's vision of and work for a world without nuclear weapons.

Obama has as President created a new climate in international politics. Multilateral diplomacy has regained a central position, with emphasis on the role that the United Nations and other international institutions can play. Dialogue and negotiations are preferred as instruments for resolving even the most difficult international conflicts. The vision of a world free from nuclear arms has powerfully stimulated disarmament and arms control negotiations. Thanks to Obama's initiative, the USA is now playing a more constructive role in meeting the great climatic challenges the world is confronting. Democracy and human rights are to be strengthened.

Only very rarely has a person to the same extent as Obama captured the world's attention and given its people hope for a better future. His diplomacy is founded in the concept that those who are to lead the world must do so on the basis of values and attitudes that are shared by the majority of the world's population.

For 108 years, the Norwegian Nobel Committee has sought to stimulate precisely that international policy and those attitudes for which Obama is now the world's leading spokesman. The Committee endorses Obama's appeal that "Now is the time for all of us to take our share of responsibility for a global response to global challenges."

Oslo, October 9, 2009
Perhaps they should put more analysis into figuring out why George W Bush was never considered. 20 years ago, the Nobel Peace Prize was awarded to the 14th Dalai Lama, Tenzin Gyatso.

When Mr Obama collects his award in Oslo, previous laureates would be invited to attend. Surely China could not object to a meeting between the Dalai Lama and Mr Obama in this context.

08 October 2009

it's now Vegemite Cheesybite

I previously wrote about Kraft's new name for its new Vegemite product.

After a consumer backlash against the new name of iSnack 2.0, Kraft allowed consumers to vote in a poll last weekend (from Friday to Monday).

Yesterday Kraft announced the new name as Vegemite Cheesybite (reported in Sydney Morning Herald).

Also see Vegemite website.

06 October 2009

new Doctor Who logo revealed

Today, the BBC revealed the new logo for Doctor Who for the 2010 season

I still like the old one from 1973 to 1980, which was for Sarah Jane Smith's first episode and continued for most of the fourth Doctor's run (Tom Baker)

In other news, the (UK) Daily Telegraph has revealed another photo from the set

Karen Gillan: Smith and Gillan began filming the new series in July, which will be broadcast on BBC One next spring. Photo: HUW JOHN

Just like The Guardian, the Daily Telegraph also has an entire Doctor Who section in its online edition under television and radio. Woohoo!

Germaine Greer's dangerous idea (or who has she upset this time?)

Over the weekend, the Sydney Opera House hosted the Festival of Dangerous Ideas. From their website

The Festival's Opening Address is by international journalist Christopher Hitchens, in conversation with Tony Jones on the topic 'Religion Poisons Everything'. Taking an opposing stance on Sunday is Catholic Archbishop Cardinal George Pell, who argues 'Without God We Are Nothing' and Keysar Trad who argues that 'Polygamy and Other Islamic Values are Good for Australia'.

We have Susan Greenfield discussing the implications of Online Networking on developing brains; an international panel debating the merits of Democracy; Aboriginal activist Gary Foley arguing that 'The Aboriginal Genocide will be complete'; Germaine Greer questioning whether people really want Freedom; Julian Savulescu supporting genetic enhancement and much much more.

The Festival will almost certainly cause moments of outrage, but will hopefully push the boundaries enough to stimulate, provoke and engage people in wider discussion.

Germaine Greer in speaking about freedom has intentionally upset a lot of people. As reported in the Sydney Morning Herald
Dr Greer said children are the least free of all, and are owned like pets or slaves. ''They can be mutilated with impunity,'' she said. ''No baby asks to be circumcised, or baptised for that matter.

''Parents do, as governments do, they invoke an outside threat to justify their own draconian control,'' she said. ''We don't recognise protest in children … against the conditions in which they are being raised, against a culture that is deeply hostile to children and frightened of them. Now in case that sounds like one of my madder and more exaggerated sayings, just think about it.''

Good on you Germaine. I may not agree with what she says most of the time, but I admire her for being brave enough to challenge people's rigid assumption of everything and anything.

A blogger named Consumption Rebellion attended the session and wrote about some of the other ideas Germaine raised.

05 October 2009

When the value of art is actually priceless

Van Thanh Rudd is a Melbourne artist who is currently exhibiting a very expensive piece of work at Off the Kerb gallery in St Kilda.

Used Car Part from Afghanistan is priced at a hefty $1.2 billion

Video of artist talking about this work

Reported by ABC

Rudd claims the work contains a small piece of an Afghan civilian car, destroyed by an International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) missile in southern Afghanistan.

"All art must be priced and the price paid by victims of war is astronomical. So my price tag should reflect this," he said.

"I know it's beyond reason to put $1.2 billion on this object, but everything out there in the global market place is extremely devoid of reason. The global recession is showing us this."

Rudd says while he has not been approached by anyone willing to fork out $1.2 billion for the work, it has generated a lot of interest.

"[I've had] no prospective buyers so far, but just general commentary as to whether it's a genuine article, where it's come from and how it came here, that sort of thing," he told ABC News Online.

But he would not say how he came to be in possession of the piece.

"That's just the mystery part of the artwork. I can't reveal any more," he said.

He says he has not been to Afghanistan himself.

Rudd says he examined the pricing strategies of the elite auction houses, Christies and Sothebys, but decided his work should be priced more realistically.

He says instead of pricing which is based on an artist's profile, he decided to ask for a figure which he thought reflected the art work's message.

Cost of war

Rudd says his pricing analysis included a breakdown of the multi-trillion dollar US war budget in the Middle East since 2001, and other variables such as the cost of civilians and soldiers wounded.

Once he came up with the figure, he instructed the gallery director to put it in the catalogue.

Off The Kerb's director Shini Pararajasingham says the work is probably uninsurable.

Damien Hirst's Beautiful Inside My Head Forever set the record for the most expensive single artist auction - going for $203 million in 2008.

If Rudd's Used Car Part sold it would eclipse this figure - although Rudd admits a sale is unlikely.

"Christies and Sothebys would no doubt argue that my piece is unsellable," he said.

"This is totally the point."

Rudd is not a stranger to controversy. The artist, who is the nephew of Prime Minister Kevin Rudd, is known for his left leaning political views.

Last year his painting, depicting Ronald MacDonald carrying an Olympic torch past burning monk Thich Quang Duc, was at the centre of controversy when it was banned by the Melbourne City Council from being shown at an exhibition.

Rudd says Used Car Part From Afghanistan will probably become part of a larger collection he is working on that will have similar price tags.

"They'll be, in terms of the formal aspect, they'll be presented in a similar way - museum sort of style and very minimal," he said.

"I guess it'll be a work in progress in which objects that are displayed do have a mystery narrative or mystery background."

Rudd says he does not know what he would do if someone actually wanted to buy the work.

"To be honest I haven't thought that far ahead. It's almost out of the question," he said.

"But hopefully what comes across is just the actual point of it being so extreme."


04 October 2009

Switzerland most respected by others. Australians have the highest image of own country

According to a study by the Reputation Institute, in a survey of 40,000 people, Switzerland is the most respected country in the world. Australians also have the highest self-image of their own country. From their 20 September press release
The CountryRep 2009 study measures the overall respect, trust, esteem, admiration and good feelings the public in the G8 countries hold toward 34 countries outside of their home country and how 33 of those countries rate their own nations. Findings from more than 40,000 interviews showed that Australia, Canada, and Finland gave their home country the highest ratings, giving insight into self-image around the world. The general public in Japan rated their own country the lowest when asked about their perceptions of the following statements:
- “The country has a good reputation.”
- “I like the country.”
- “I admire and respect the country.”
- “I trust the country.”

The general public in the G8 countries (Canada, France, Germany, Italy, Japan, Russia, UK, USA) were surveyed for their perception of which countries are the most attractive to invest in and indicated Sweden and Canada placed in the top three here, as well, with Switzerland being the most desirable to invest in among 34 rated nations.

Other highlights from Reputation Institute’s CountryRep 2009 include:
- Canada and Australia are the only non-European countries in the top ten.
- China and Russia showed the largest gap by rating themselves above average and higher while others rated them the lowest of the countries in the survey.
- Conversely, Japan showed the only perception gap between their own public perception of their country and the ratings of their nation by non-Japanese respondents in which they rated their own country lower than how others perceived their nation.
The scores make for very interesting reading. Of course, people who have not travelled or whose research (via internet etc) is censored, are not going to know any better.

Rio 2016 postscript

Rachel Maddow gave her take on some American reactions to the failed Chicago bid.

'Conservatives' appear to be rather unpatriotic to their own country. Perhaps they should give up trying to undermine the President who was elected by the majority.

They would cut off their own noses to spite their own faces.

03 October 2009

Rio 2016

The late Peter Allen sang that when his baby smiled at him, he'd go to Rio. In seven years, athletes from around the world will have their nations' smiles.

Early today, the International Olympic Committee (IOC) announced Rio de Janeiro as the host city for 2016
Rio de Janeiro Elected As 2016 Host City

The city of Rio de Janeiro has been elected as the Host City of the Games of the XXXI Olympiad in 2016 following a vote by the International Olympic Committee (IOC) Session. IOC President Jacques Rogge made the announcement at the close of the first day of meetings of the IOC’s 121st Session in Copenhagen, Denmark. Rio de Janeiro received 66 votes compared to Madrid’s 32 in the final round of voting.

“Well done, Rio!”
Following the election, Rogge said, “I would like to congratulate the city of Rio de Janeiro on its election as the host of the 2016 Olympic Games. Rio de Janeiro presented the IOC with a very strong technical bid, built upon a vision of the Games being a celebration of the athletes and sport, as well as providing the opportunity for the city, region and country to deliver their broader long-term aspirations for the future. This call to “live your passion” clearly struck a chord with my fellow members, and we now look forward to seeing Rio de Janeiro staging the first Olympic Games on the continent of South America. Well done, Rio!” He continued, “I would also like to thank Nawal El Moutawakel and her Evaluation Commission team for the excellent work that they undertook and which allowed us to reach today’s decision.”

Games of Celebration and Transformation
The Rio 2016 Games will be, first and foremost, a celebration of athletes, who will perform in world-class venues all located in the host city itself. The Rio Games will also celebrate and showcase sport, thanks to the city’s stunning setting and a desire to lift event presentation to new heights. At the same time, Rio 2016 will be an opportunity to deliver the broader aspirations for the long-term future of the city, region and country – an opportunity to hasten the transformation of Rio de Janeiro into an even greater global city.

A Sporting Celebration
Rio 2016 will provide the best possible environment for peak performances. Athletes will enjoy world-class facilities, including a superb village, all located in one of the world’s most beautiful cities, in a compact layout for maximum convenience. The competition venues will be clustered in four zones – Barra, Copacabana, Deodoro and Maracanã – and connected by a high-performance transport ring. Nearly half of the athletes will be able to reach their venues in less than 10 minutes, and almost 75 per cent will do so in less than 25 minutes. Of the 34 competition venues, of which 18 are already operational, eight will undergo some permanent works, seven will be totally temporary and nine are constructed as permanent legacy venues.

The Vote
The IOC members made their choice for 2016 following a long and detailed process, which included the presentations made today by the cities of Chicago (United States), Tokyo (Japan), Rio de Janeiro (Brazil) and Madrid (Spain)*, a report and presentation from the IOC’s 2016 Evaluation Commission, chaired by Nawal El Moutawakel, the Candidature files of each city, and a technical meeting for the IOC members held in Lausanne this June.

* Cities are listed in the order of drawing of lots as performed by the IOC Executive Board in December 2007.

Results of the vote:

Round 1
Madrid: 28 votes
Rio de Janeiro: 26 votes
Tokyo: 22 votes
Chicago: 18 votes

Round 2
Tokyo: 20 votes
Rio de Janeiro: 46 votes
Madrid: 29 votes

Round 3
Rio de Janeiro: 66 votes
Madrid: 32 votes
The voting system is very similar to the preferential system used in Australia in federal and state elections. It is fairer that those whose votes don't count as their preferred candidate is eliminated can exercise a secondary option and so on.

Quite interesting that votes for Tokyo and then Madrid did not significantly increase, with subsequent votes going to Rio. Quite conclusive.

Meanwhile in Chicago, the Sun-Times has blamed anti-American sentiment. Hello! The IOC isn't exactly a democratic organisation. Members do not represent governments. In any case, after recent games in Atlanta (1996) and Los Angeles (1984), hosting another in the USA so soon in 2016 might be a bit greedy. Likewise for Spain after Barcelona (1992).

Perhaps no country should be allowed to bid for at least 40 years since their previous games.

02 October 2009

2009 Ig Nobel awards

The Ig Nobel is awarded to researchers, whose research should not be repeated. The 2009 winners, announced on 1 October 2009 were
VETERINARY MEDICINE PRIZE: Catherine Douglas and Peter Rowlinson of Newcastle University, Newcastle-Upon-Tyne, UK, for showing that cows who have names give more milk than cows that are nameless.
REFERENCE: "Exploring Stock Managers' Perceptions of the Human-Animal Relationship on Dairy Farms and an Association with Milk Production," Catherine Bertenshaw [Douglas] and Peter Rowlinson, Anthrozoos, vol. 22, no. 1, March 2009, pp. 59-69. DOI: 10.2752/175303708X390473.

PEACE PRIZE: Stephan Bolliger, Steffen Ross, Lars Oesterhelweg, Michael Thali and Beat Kneubuehl of the University of Bern, Switzerland, for determining — by experiment — whether it is better to be smashed over the head with a full bottle of beer or with an empty bottle.
REFERENCE: "Are Full or Empty Beer Bottles Sturdier and Does Their Fracture-Threshold Suffice to Break the Human Skull?" Stephan A. Bolliger, Steffen Ross, Lars Oesterhelweg, Michael J. Thali and Beat P. Kneubuehl, Journal of Forensic and Legal Medicine, vol. 16, no. 3, April 2009, pp. 138-42. DOI:10.1016/j.jflm.2008.07.013.

ECONOMICS PRIZE: The directors, executives, and auditors of four Icelandic banks — Kaupthing Bank, Landsbanki, Glitnir Bank, and Central Bank of Iceland — for demonstrating that tiny banks can be rapidly transformed into huge banks, and vice versa — and for demonstrating that similar things can be done to an entire national economy.

CHEMISTRY PRIZE: Javier Morales, Miguel Apátiga, and Victor M. Castaño of Universidad Nacional Autónoma de México, for creating diamonds from liquid — specifically from tequila.
REFERENCE: "Growth of Diamond Films from Tequila," Javier Morales, Miguel Apatiga and Victor M. Castano, 2008, arXiv:0806.1485.

MEDICINE PRIZE: Donald L. Unger, of Thousand Oaks, California, USA, for investigating a possible cause of arthritis of the fingers, by diligently cracking the knuckles of his left hand — but never cracking the knuckles of his right hand — every day for more than sixty (60) years.
REFERENCE: "Does Knuckle Cracking Lead to Arthritis of the Fingers?", Donald L. Unger, Arthritis and Rheumatism, vol. 41, no. 5, 1998, pp. 949-50.

PHYSICS PRIZE: Katherine K. Whitcome of the University of Cincinnati, USA, Daniel E. Lieberman of Harvard University, USA, and Liza J. Shapiro of the University of Texas, USA, for analytically determining why pregnant women don't tip over.
REFERENCE: "Fetal Load and the Evolution of Lumbar Lordosis in Bipedal Hominins," Katherine K. Whitcome, Liza J. Shapiro & Daniel E. Lieberman, Nature, vol. 450, 1075-1078 (December 13, 2007). DOI:10.1038/nature06342.

LITERATURE PRIZE: Ireland's police service (An Garda Siochana), for writing and presenting more than fifty traffic tickets to the most frequent driving offender in the country — Prawo Jazdy — whose name in Polish means "Driving License".

PUBLIC HEALTH PRIZE: Elena N. Bodnar, Raphael C. Lee, and Sandra Marijan of Chicago, Illinois, USA, for inventing a brassiere that, in an emergency, can be quickly converted into a pair of gas masks, one for the brassiere wearer and one to be given to some needy bystander.
REFERENCE: U.S. patent # 7255627, granted August 14, 2007 for a “Garment Device Convertible to One or More Facemasks.”

MATHEMATICS PRIZE: Gideon Gono, governor of Zimbabwe’s Reserve Bank, for giving people a simple, everyday way to cope with a wide range of numbers — from very small to very big — by having his bank print bank notes with denominations ranging from one cent ($.01) to one hundred trillion dollars ($100,000,000,000,000).
REFERENCE: Zimbabwe's Casino Economy — Extraordinary Measures for Extraordinary Challenges, Gideon Gono, ZPH Publishers, Harare, 2008, ISBN 978-079-743-679-4.

BIOLOGY PRIZE: Fumiaki Taguchi, Song Guofu, and Zhang Guanglei of Kitasato University Graduate School of Medical Sciences in Sagamihara, Japan, for demonstrating that kitchen refuse can be reduced more than 90% in mass by using bacteria extracted from the feces of giant pandas.
REFERENCE: "Microbial Treatment of Kitchen Refuse With Enzyme-Producing Thermophilic Bacteria From Giant Panda Feces," Fumiaki Taguchia, Song Guofua, and Zhang Guanglei, Seibutsu-kogaku Kaishi, vol. 79, no 12, 2001, pp. 463-9. [and abstracted in Journal of Bioscience and Bioengineering, vol. 92, no. 6, 2001, p. 602.]
REFERENCE: "Microbial Treatment of Food-Production Waste with Thermopile Enzyme-Producing Bacterial Flora from a Giant Panda" [in Japanese], Fumiaki Taguchi, Song Guofu, Yasunori Sugai, Hiroyasu Kudo and Akira Koikeda, Journal of the Japan Society of Waste Management Experts, vol. 14, no. 2, 2003, pp. , 76-82.
I wonder which of these were publicly funded.

01 October 2009

bad vibrations in Alabama

Alabama's criminal code Section 13A-12-200.2 prohibits the distribution, sale and production of "any device designed or marketed as useful primarily for the stimulation of human genital organs for any thing of pecuniary value".

Love Stuff, an adult store, sued the City of Hoover, arguing that the ban was unconstitutional. On 11 September 2009, the Supreme Court of Alabama ruled in favour of state Attorney General Troy King and the City of Hoover.

See Alabama Press-Register and Birmingham News.

Coincidentally, Sarah Ruhl's play In the Next Room or the vibrator play opens in November at the Lyceum Theatre located at 149 West 45th Street (Between Broadway and 6th Avenue) in New York - tickets to the public are on sale from 3 October.
A provocative, funny, touching and marvelously entertaining story about a young doctor and his wife set at the dawn of the age of electricity in the 1880s. Back then hysteria was a real diagnosis, and women were commonly treated with electrical stimulating machines to ease their condition! Playwright Sarah Ruhl wondered what exactly doctors were thinking when they used vibrator therapies on their female patients. And what did women think was happening to them? In the Next Room or the vibrator play looks at a young technology-obsessed doctor and the devoted wife who longs to connect with him -- but not electrically.
As Jacob M Appel wrote in Huffington Post
Families will come to the show. So will tourists. Even Alabamans. They will enjoy themselves. I'd be thrilled if Attorney General King came to the opening as my guest. Not a date, just two grown men enjoying a lively, tasteful play about vibrators. We can even pick up a souvenir or two for Mrs. King, maybe something she can't buy in Alabama.
It might even be appropriate for Troy University's Davis Theatre for the Performing Arts in Montgomery AL to host the play. Maybe even the Governor might attend.

*with thanks to Sarah Ruhl's mother-in-law for drawing this to my attention. ;-)