30 November 2009

Michelin star meal for nix

Hong Kong's The Standard recently reported about the launch of the second edition of Michelin Guide Hong Kong Macau. Fine dining is actually quite expensive in Hong Kong, so the inclusion of more affordable (actually rather cheap) places is great
Michelin Guide director Jean-Luc Naret said yesterday one can also have a "star" meal for just HK$100.

The two described as the "cheapest" among restaurants rated by Michelin are the one-star Tim Ho Wan, on Kwong Wa Street in Mong Kok, and Hung's Delicacies, on Wharf Road in North Point.

Tim Ho Wan chef Mak Kwai-pui used to work for Lung King Heen, and started his own business in March.

A chef for 30 years, Mak said he was surprised his nine-month-old business had made it to the world's top food guide.

"The shop's decoration is simple and we only have 29 seats here," he said, adding he has no intentions of expanding as he wants to maintain a high quality.

HK$100 is about A$14.15 or US$12.90 and that is the price of several dishes or a complete meal for a person. Dim Sum (uniquely called Yum Cha in Australia) costs more than that in Australia. Also reported in Sydney Morning Herald.

Photos by Chika Watanabe via Flickr (http://www.flickr.com/photos/chikawatanabe/ / CC BY 2.0)

29 November 2009

random footy photo

Brisbane Lions Training Session
Jun 26 2009
BRISBANE, AUSTRALIA - JUNE 26: Simon Black chases down the ball during a Brisbane Lions training session at The Gabba on June 26, 2009 in Brisbane, Australia. (Photo by Bradley Kanaris/Getty Images) © 2009 Getty Images All rights reserved.

I haven't seen the guys since April when I was in Brisbane. Thankfully, they are due to visit in February next year.

wasting food 2

I've previously written about wasting food. According to the New York Times article of 18 May 2008 that I had linked, Americans waste an estimated 27 per cent of food.

A more recent article in the journal of the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS), Science of 25 November 2009, suggested that the wastage figure is even higher at 39 per cent.

The difference between calories available and calories consumed, they say, is food wasted. "We called it the missing mass of American food," says co-author Carson Chow, a mathematician at NIDDK. In 2003, some 3750 calories were available daily per capita; 2300 were consumed, so 1450 were wasted, comprising 39% of the available food supply, the team reports in the November issue of PLoS ONE. This figure exceeds the 27% estimated by the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) from interviews with consumers and producers.

Much of the waste is probably happening at home, say experts. A study published earlier this year by Jeffery Sobal, a sociologist at Cornell University, and colleagues examined food waste in Tompkins County, New York, through interviews. They found that production accounted for 20% of waste, distribution for about another 20%, and consumers for the remaining 60%. "Food waste used to be a cultural sin," Sobal says.

Wasting food should still be considered sinful. We live in a wasteful and 'throw-away' society where it seems acceptable to consume more than we require, whether it is food, water or energy and surplus is wasted.

Surely consuming more calories (kilojoules) than is required is also being wasteful, even if modern production methods have made certain types of food, especially those high in fats and sugar, cheaper.

28 November 2009

the pandas are here

It has been a long wait since the announcement in September 2007, but the pandas have finally arrived in Adelaide. From ABC, 28 November 2009, 5pm
Giant pandas arrive in Adelaide

Adelaide's giant pandas are settling into their new home at the local zoo.

The pandas are in their specially built $8 million enclosure at the Adelaide Zoo, where they will spend the next 30 days in quarantine.

Earlier this morning a crowd of about 100 people greeted them at Adelaide Airport and broke into cheers and even tears when their plane touched down.

Wang Wang and Funi's keepers say the animals coped very well with the 12-hour plus trip from Chengdu in southern China.

The CEO of Adelaide Zoo says it is a relief the city's new giant pandas have landed safely on Australian soil.

Chris West says the pandas will be closely monitored.

"We've got sleeping accommodation in the facility, and I'm quite sure we've got two or three staff who'll be there overnight making sure they're fine," he said.

"We've also got lots of cameras, so we'll be watching them to make sure everything is fine."

The public will get its first chance to see the pandas on December 14.

It is expected the pandas will be released into the outdoor part of their enclosure early in the new year.

See also
- Adelaide Zoo
- The Advertiser (Adelaide newspaper) panda supersite

Wang Wang at his new home (Picture: Bryan Charlton)

I will definitely visit Adelaide to see them, in the next ten years.

Meanwhile in other panda news, San Diego zoo's panda cub was named Yun Zi on 17 November.

There are so few pandas left that anything related to them is a big deal. I suspect that less than one per cent of Australians have ever seen a live panda in person. The last (and only time) that pandas were in Australia was for three months in 1988, when two 'visited' Sydney and Melbourne. Other than that, one would have to visit a zoo, which has them, in another country and even then, there are not that many foreign zoos with pandas. Or panda locations in China.

27 November 2009

World's strongest beer

The world's strongest beer (in terms of alcohol content) is called Tactical Nuclear Penguin, brewed by BrewDog brewery, a 32% double cask matured uber-imperial stout.

The beer also comes with a warning on the label
This is an extremely strong beer; it should be enjoyed in small servings and with an air of aristocratic nonchalance. In exactly the same manner that you would enjoy a fine whisky, a Frank Zappa album or a visit from a friendly yet anxious ghost.

See BBC News. With such a high alcohol content, does it have to be drunk cold?

26 November 2009

Time to sacrifice the Gadhimai festival's animal sacrifices

Reported in the Times of India
Indians throng Nepal's Gadhimai fair for animal sacrifice
Sudeshna Sarkar, TNN 24 November 2009, 06:05pm IST

KATHMANDU: Thousands of Indians from Bihar, Uttar Pradesh and other states bordering Nepal swarmed to the Himalayan republic’s southern plains Tuesday to attend a notorious Hindu fair there and sacrifice animals and birds in the hope their wishes would be fulfilled.

While a debate began to grow in Nepal about the Gadhimai Fair in Bara district and the wanton cruelty it inflicted on animals, the festival drew its strength from zealous Indian attendees who have been flocking to it every five years in a bid to circumvent the ban imposed on animal sacrifices in their own states.

The name on everyone’s lips on Tuesday, when the slaughter of buffaloes started, was that of Raman Thakur, a farmer from Sitamarhi in Bihar who sacrificed 105 buffaloes to show his gratitude. The goddess, Thakur said, had answered the prayer he had made five years ago by granting him a son.

Men, women and children poured in from Bihar, most of them carrying kid goats and roosters, many of which had been smuggled across the porous Indo-Nepal border, bypassing the few Nepali quarantine posts. “My son Vishnu has been ill for years and can’t walk,” said Kalaiya Devi, pointing to a severely malnourished child in her arms whose legs looked like matchsticks. “I am going to sacrifice a pigeon now and come back with a buffalo at the next fair if the goddess gives him the strength to walk.”

People who believe in witchcraft and supernatural powers and were hardened to suffering due to the suffering they themselves have undergone for generations are the people who keep the Gadhimai Fair in Nepal alive while the locals regard it more as an occasion to do brisk business when their hotels and restaurants remain full.

Ram Mahato, 37, who also came from Sitamarhi, planned to watch the execution of the animals, visit the circus and drink his fill of local liquor that has also been doing brisk sale underground despite an official ban on it. He had not heard of Maneka Gandhi, let alone her plea to the Nepal government to ban the quinquennial slaughter at Gadhimai. Neither had he heard that six people, including one from Motihari, had died after consuming adulterated hooch.

“Gandhi?” he asked, scratching his head. “Is she related to Indira Gandhi? But then, they have everything, unlike us. They can afford not to seek the blessings of the goddess.”

The local Maoist MP, Shiv Chandra Kushwaha, said he had decided to skip attending parliament – which his party had agreed to allow to convene for three critical days to pass the budget – to attend the fair since it was for a bigger cause. “About 75 percent of the people who come to fair to offer sacrifices are Indians. We can’t stop them because it is a religious sentiment. Why blame us? It is not us who are making the sacrifices.”

The Maoist MP estimates about 15,000 buffaloes will be killed Tuesday. On Wednesday, he says, the number of slaughtered goats, roosters and pigeons will run into hundreds of thousands. The temple authorities have built a new slaughter house at a cost of nearly NRS 5 million while a huge pit has been dug to bury the heads of the butchered animals. The animal skins are being bought by tannery owners in India and Nepal.

Nepal’s government refused to ban the massacre despite warnings by animal lovers and livestock experts that it could cause an outbreak of animal-borne diseases like goat plague, swine flu and bird flu.

Though celebrities like Maneka Gandhi and yesteryear’s sex symbol French actress Brigitte Bardot raised their voices against the killings, the root of the problem perhaps is that these voices are not as potent in the drinking water and electricity-less villages of Bihar and Uttar Pradesh as the voices of imagined gods and demons.
Vision from Associated Press

The reporting from an Indian newspaper is even more remarkable, as it reports that attendees are mostly Indians from neighbouring states but more importantly, indicates that such ritual sacrifice is itself banned in those neighbouring Indian states.

Just because a cultural practice is old, it does not make it right. There is something macabre about turning mass killing into a spectacle, no matter how old the tradition.

Meanwhile, the President of the United States of America has yet again pardoned another turkey (or two) from being slaughtered for Thanksgiving, even if the 'nominated' turkeys were named, pampered and raised to perform for the televised spectacle. Surely the whole ritual is rather pointless when another nameless turkey is going to be killed and eaten anyway.

25 November 2009

Tintin update

Reported in (UK) The Guardian
Tintin's 3D adventures to land in 2011

Steven Spielberg's 3D adaptation of Tintin will take two years in post-production before it hits cinema screens, says producer Peter Jackson

Russell Tovey as Tintin in the Barbican's stage version of the classic comic strip. Photograph: Tristram Kenton

Steven Spielberg's 3D adaptation of Tintin is in the can, but it will be another two years before anyone sees the film due to the amount of post-production work involved, Peter Jackson has said.

Work will now start on transforming the raw footage into a finished film, explained the Lord of the Rings director, who is taking a producing credit on the project.

In London to attend the Royal gala premiere of new film The Lovely Bones tonight, Jackson told the BBC: "Tintin is great. It's made. The movie is cut together and now [we] are turning it into a fully-rendered film. So the movie, to some degree, exists in a very rough state."

The Adventures of Tintin: Secret of the Unicorn, the first in a proposed trilogy, will feature the voice of Billy Elliot star Jamie Bell as the intrepid Belgian journalist, with regular Jackson collaborator Andy Serkis as the salty Captain Haddock. The initial plan was for Spielberg to direct the first movie, with Jackson taking the second and another unannounced film-maker the third, but studio Universal passed on the project last year, leading to a downscaling. The film will now come out under the auspices of Paramount and Sony. It is based on three Tintin books: The Crab with the Golden Claws, The Secret of the Unicorn and Red Rackham's Treasure.

Tintin will be shot in full 3D, but Jackson confirmed that his next project as a producer, The Hobbit, would not follow suit. "[Director] Guillermo [Del Toro] wants to shoot in 35mm, old-fashioned film," he said, "which suits me, because he wants to keep it in the same space as the original trilogy".

See also BBC News. Wicked!

24 November 2009

There is more to the deep than darkness

The Census of Marine Life has revealed that there is more to the depths of the oceans than people realised. From a recent media release, excerpt
The Deep Sea World Beyond Sunlight

From the Edge of Darkness to the Black Abyss: Marine Scientists Census 17,500+ Species and Counting

- Explorers report deep sea teeming with species that have never known sunlight;
- Describing all new species in a cup of deep seafloor mud “a daunting challenge;”
- Discovered: jumbo “Dumbo” octopod and its new-to-science cousin;
- Video captures “wildcat” tubeworm drilling for oil on ocean floor;
- Vibrant coral gardens found amid Pacific “Graveyard” of seamounts;
- En route to historic 1st global ocean Census: Oct. 2010

Census of Marine Life scientists have inventoried an astonishing abundance, diversity and distribution of deep sea species that have never known sunlight – creatures that somehow manage a living in a frigid black world down to 5,000 meters (~3 miles) below the ocean waves.

Revealed via deep-towed cameras, sonar and other vanguard technologies, animals known to thrive in an eternal watery darkness now number 17,650, a diverse collection of species ranging from crabs to shrimp to worms. Most have adapted to diets based on meager droppings from the sunlit layer above, others to diets of bacteria that break down oil, sulfur and methane, the sunken bones of dead whales and other implausible foods.

Five of the Census’ 14 field projects plumb the ocean beyond light, each dedicated to the study of life in progressively deeper realms – from the continental margins (COMARGE: Continental Margins Ecosystems) to the spine-like ridge running down the mid-Atlantic (MAR-ECO: Mid-Atlantic Ridge Ecosystem Project), the submerged mountains rising from the seafloor (CenSeam: Global Census of Marine Life on Seamounts), the muddy floor of ocean plains (CeDAMar: Census of Diversity of Abyssal Marine Life), and the vents, seeps, whale falls and chemically-driven ecosystems found on the margins of midocean ridges and in the deepest ocean trenches (ChEss: Biogeography of Deep-Water Chemosynthetic Systems).

Edward Vanden Berghe, who manages OBIS (Ocean Biogeographic Information System), the Census’ inventory of marine life observations, notes that, unsurprisingly, the number of records in the database falls off dramatically at deeper depths (see animation at http://coml.org/press-releases-2009) – a function of the dearth of sampling done in the deep sea.

However, Dr. Vanden Berghe reports that OBIS today records 5,722 species for which all recorded observations are deeper than 1,000 meters (~.62 miles) and 17,650 species for which all recorded observations are deeper than 200 meters, the depth where darkness stops photosynthesis.

Scientists working on the deep-sea Census number 344 and span 34 nations.

By the time the 10-year Census concludes in October, 2010, the five deep-sea projects will have collectively fielded more than 210 expeditions, including the first ever MARECO voyage in October-November this year, to explore the Mid-Atlantic Ridge south of the Equator, a scientific collaboration between Russia, Brazil, South Africa and Uruguay.

Each voyage is hugely expensive and challenged by often extreme ocean conditions and requirements that have kept the remotest reaches of Neptune’s realm impenetrable until recently.

While the collective findings are still being analyzed for release as part of the final Census report to be released in London on October 4, 2010, scientists say patterns of the abundance, distribution and diversity of deep-sea life around the world are already apparent.
Transparent sea cucumber, Enypniastes

Large octopod called "New" Dumbo, Grimpoteuthis sp. (David Shale)

See also Nature blog The Great Beyond

This is awesome. It goes to show that we still don't know much about our own planet.

23 November 2009

Antarctic ice sheet melt

A study by researchers from the University of Texas using data from GRACE satellites indicates that the East Antarctic ice sheet is melting faster than previous thought. Abstract from Nature Geoscience
Accelerated Antarctic ice loss from satellite gravity measurements

J. L. Chen1, C. R. Wilson1,2, D. Blankenship3 & B. D. Tapley1

Accurate quantification of Antarctic ice-sheet mass balance and its contribution to global sea-level rise remains challenging, because in situ measurements over both space and time are sparse. Satellite remote-sensing data of ice elevations and ice motion show significant ice loss in the range of -31 to -196 Gt yr-1 in West Antarctica in recent years1, 2, 3, 4, whereas East Antarctica seems to remain in balance or slightly gain mass1, 2, 4, with estimated rates of mass change in the range of -4 to 22 Gt yr-1. The Gravity Recovery and Climate Experiment5 (GRACE) offers the opportunity of quantifying polar ice-sheet mass balance from a different perspective6, 7. Here we use an extended record of GRACE data spanning the period April 2002 to January 2009 to quantify the rates of Antarctic ice loss. In agreement with an independent earlier assessment4, we estimate a total loss of 190plusminus77 Gt yr-1, with 132plusminus26 Gt yr-1 coming from West Antarctica. However, in contrast with previous GRACE estimates, our data suggest that East Antarctica is losing mass, mostly in coastal regions, at a rate of -57plusminus52 Gt yr-1, apparently caused by increased ice loss since the year 2006.

  1. Center for Space Research, University of Texas at Austin, Austin, Texas 78759, USA
  2. Department of Geological Sciences, Jackson School of Geosciences, University of Texas at Austin, Austin, Texas 78712, USA
  3. Institute for Geophysics, Jackson School of Geosciences, University of Texas at Austin, Austin, Texas 78712, USA

Correspondence to: J. L. Chen1 e-mail: chen@csr.utexas.edu

See reporting by ABC (Aust), BBC, Reuters, AFP and Bloomberg.

57 billion tonnes is a lot of ice to melt. What a shame that climate change and global warming issues have become politicised. It would be an interesting exercise to see which American media outlets pick up this story without any spin, either way.

22 November 2009

Anybody can become famous

Raiina Kelley, writing for Newsweek, has revealed the talentless pathway to becoming famous. She writes
The tabloids abound with superstars who are “famous for being famous,” to crib the phrase most commonly used for this phenomenon. Paris Hilton, Kim Kardashian, Nicole Richie, and Lauren Conrad are just some of the A-list names who enjoy the power and privilege of worldwide fame even though it is difficult to name a single project in which they showed an inkling of aptitude. They cannot act or sing, nor are they renowned for outrageous acts of charity, political courage, or even intelligence. They’re each adorable; but none is a great beauty on par with Halle Barry or Angelina Jolie. What each has, it seems to me, is the ability to turn their personal lives into viral video. But before you come to the conclusion that keeping the self-perpetuating fire of fame burning is, in itself, a skill, I promise you that it is not. Anybody can do it. You just have to follow the seven tried and true steps to celebrity—no skills required.
Read further about the seven tried and true steps in Newsweek.

Hopefully, those names will disappear within a generation when people ask what their actual claim to fame is, and nobody can answer.

20 November 2009

Human fat in cosmetics?

Reuters reported on a macabre story about a gang in Peru that allegedly killed people in order to extract their fat, which was then sold to buyers to make cosmetics. Apparently, the rendered fat fetched USD 15,000 per litre. From BBC News
'Fat for cosmetics' murder suspects arrested in Peru

Four people have been arrested in Peru on suspicion of killing dozens of people in order to sell their fat and tissue for cosmetic uses in Europe.

The gang allegedly targeted people on remote roads, luring them with fake job offers before killing them and extracting their fat.

The liquidised product fetched $15,000 (£9,000) a litre and police suspect it was sold on to companies in Europe.

At least five other suspects, including two Italian nationals, remain at large.

Police said the gang could be behind the disappearances of up to 60 people in Peru's Huanuco and Pasco regions.

One of those arrested told police the ringleader had been killing people for their fat for more than three decades.

The gang has been referred to as the Pishtacos, after an ancient Peruvian legend of killers who attack people on lonely roads and murder them for their fat.

Human tissue

At a news conference in the capital, police showed reporters two bottles containing human body fat and images of one of the alleged victims.

One of the alleged killings is reported to have taken place in mid-September, with the person's body tissue removed for sale.

Cmdr Angel Toledo told Reuters news agency some of the suspects had "declared and stated how they murdered people with the aim being to extract their fat in rudimentary labs and sell it".

Police said they suspect the fat was sold to cosmetics and pharmaceutical companies in Europe, but have not confirmed any such connection.
There is something fishy about the story. Surely, cosmetics companies that really do want to include human fat as an ingredient in their products would seek this from liposuction companies at a much lower cost.

The Peruvian story reads too much like a horror movie.

19 November 2009

The least to the most corrupt countries (by perception)

Transparency International media release of 17 November 2009

As the world economy begins to register a tentative recovery and some nations continue to wrestle with ongoing conflict and insecurity, it is clear that no region of the world is immune to the perils of corruption, according to Transparency International’s 2009 Corruption Perceptions Index (CPI), a measure of domestic, public sector corruption released today.

“At a time when massive stimulus packages, fast-track disbursements of public funds and attempts to secure peace are being implemented around the world, it is essential to identify where corruption blocks good governance and accountability, in order to break its corrosive cycle” said Huguette Labelle, Chair of Transparency International (TI).

The vast majority of the 180 countries included in the 2009 index score below five on a scale from 0 (perceived to be highly corrupt) to 10 (perceived to have low levels of corruption). The CPI measures the perceived levels of public sector corruption in a given country and is a composite index, drawing on 13 different expert and business surveys. The 2009 edition scores 180 countries, the same number as the 2008 CPI.

Fragile, unstable states that are scarred by war and ongoing conflict linger at the bottom of the index. These are: Somalia, with a score of 1.1, Afghanistan at 1.3, Myanmar at 1.4 and Sudan tied with Iraq at 1.5. These results demonstrate that countries which are perceived as the most corrupt are also those plagued by long-standing conflicts, which have torn apart their governance infrastructure.

When essential institutions are weak or non-existent, corruption spirals out of control and the plundering of public resources feeds insecurity and impunity. Corruption also makes normal a seeping loss of trust in the very institutions and nascent governments charged with ensuring survival and stability.

Countries at the bottom of the index cannot be shut out from development efforts. Instead, what the index points to is the need to strengthen their institutions. Investors and donors should be equally vigilant of their operations and as accountable for their own actions as they are in demanding transparency and accountability from beneficiary countries.

“Stemming corruption requires strong oversight by parliaments, a well performing judiciary, independent and properly resourced audit and anti-corruption agencies, vigorous law enforcement, transparency in public budgets, revenue and aid flows, as well as space for independent media and a vibrant civil society,” said Labelle. “The international community must find efficient ways to help war-torn countries to develop and sustain their own institutions.”

Highest scorers in the 2009 CPI are New Zealand at 9.4, Denmark at 9.3, Singapore and Sweden tied at 9.2 and Switzerland at 9.0. These scores reflect political stability, long-established conflict of interest regulations and solid, functioning public institutions.

Overall results in the 2009 index are of great concern because corruption continues to lurk where opacity rules, where institutions still need strengthening and where governments have not implemented anti-corruption legal frameworks.

Even industrialised countries cannot be complacent: the supply of bribery and the facilitation of corruption often involve businesses based in their countries. Financial secrecy jurisdictions, linked to many countries that top the CPI, severely undermine efforts to tackle corruption and recover stolen assets.

“Corrupt money must not find safe haven. It is time to put an end to excuses,” said Labelle. “The OECD’s work in this area is welcome, but there must be more bilateral treaties on information exchange to fully end the secrecy regime. At the same time, companies must cease operating in renegade financial centres.”

Bribery, cartels and other corrupt practices undermine competition and contribute to massive loss of resources for development in all countries, especially the poorest ones. Between 1990 and 2005, more than 283 private international cartels were exposed that cost consumers around the world an estimated US $300 billion in overcharges, as documented in a recent TI report.

With the vast majority of countries in the 2009 index scoring below five, the corruption challenge is undeniable. The Group of 20 has made strong commitments to ensure that integrity and transparency form the cornerstone of a newfound regulatory structure. As the G20 tackles financial sector and economic reforms, it is critical to address corruption as a substantial threat to a sustainable economic future. The G20 must also remain committed to gaining public support for essential reforms by making institutions such as the Financial Stability Board and decisions about investments in infrastructure, transparent and open to civil society input.

Globally and nationally, institutions of oversight and legal frameworks that are actually enforced, coupled with smarter, more effective regulation, will ensure lower levels of corruption. This will lead to a much needed increase of trust in public institutions, sustained economic growth and more effective development assistance. Most importantly, it will alleviate the enormous scale of human suffering in the countries that perform most poorly in the Corruption Perceptions Index.

To view the CPI 2009 Table click here.


Transparency International is the global civil society organisation leading the fight against corruption.

Media contact(s):
Gypsy Guillén Kaiser
+49 30 34 38 20 19 or + 49 30 34 38 20 662
Some interesting results. One would hope that the surveys were not just based on perceptions of police taking bribes. Political donations may be transparent if they are declared, but the influence on policy and decision making processes should be considered another form of corruption, if politicians can be influenced in this manner. Indeed, could political donations be considered to be another form of bribe?

Interestingly, Australia and Canada are considered less corrupt compared to the United Kingdom and the United States.

18 November 2009

Nick Xenophon versus the Church of Scientology

Yesterday in the Australian Parliament, Senator Nick Xenophon (Independent Senator for South Australia) raised serious issues concerning the Church of Scientology (see Hansard).

Needless to say, the Church of Scientology is furious with Senator Xenophon.

Perhaps some truth may come out of all this.

I label this post under ethics and not religion.

17 November 2009

Apparently, some chemicals make boys act like girls

In a recent study from the University of Rochester in New York, published in the International Journal of Andrology, Professor of obstetrics and gynaecology Shanna Swan found that some chemicals such as phthalates made boys who were exposed to them in utero behave as girls. Abstract
Prenatal phthalate exposure and reduced masculine play in boys

Correspondence to Shanna H. Swan, Department of Obstetrics and Gynecology, University of Rochester School of Medicine and Dentistry, 601 Elmwood Avenue, Box 668, Rochester, NY 14624, USA.
E-mail: shanna_swan@urmc.rochester.edu

Foetal exposure to antiandrogens alters androgen-sensitive development in male rodents, resulting in less male-typical behaviour. Foetal phthalate exposure is also associated with male reproductive development in humans, but neurodevelopmental outcomes have seldom been examined in relation to phthalate exposure. To assess play behaviour in relation to phthalate metabolite concentration in prenatal urine samples, we recontacted participants in the Study for Future Families whose phthalate metabolites had been measured in mid-pregnancy urine samples. Mothers completed a questionnaire including the Pre-School Activities Inventory, a validated instrument used to assess sexually dimorphic play behaviour. We examined play behaviour scores (masculine, feminine and composite) in relationship to (log10) phthalate metabolite concentrations in mother's urine separately for boys (N = 74) and girls (N = 71). Covariates (child's age, mother's age and education and parental attitude towards atypical play choices) were controlled using multivariate regression models. Concentrations of dibutyl phthalate metabolites, mono-n-butyl phthalate (MnBP) and mono-isobutyl phthalate (MiBP) and their sum, were associated with a decreased (less masculine) composite score in boys (regression coefficients −4.53,−3.61 and −4.20, p = 0.01, 0.07 and 0.04 for MnBP, MiBP and their sum respectively). Concentrations of two urinary metabolites of di(2-ethylhexyl) phthalate (DEHP), mono-(2-ethyl-5-oxohexyl) phthalate (MEOHP) and mono-(2-ethyl-5-hydroxyhexyl) phthalate (MEHHP) and the sum of these DEHP metabolites plus mono(2-ethylhexyl) phthalate were associated with a decreased masculine score (regression coefficients −3.29,−2.94 and −3.18, p = 0.02, 0.04 and 0.04) for MEHHP, MEOHP and the sum respectively. No strong associations were seen between behaviour and urinary concentrations of any other phthalate metabolites in boys, or between girls' scores and any metabolites. These data, although based on a small sample, suggest that prenatal exposure to antiandrogenic phthalates may be associated with less male-typical play behaviour in boys. Our findings suggest that these ubiquitous environmental chemicals have the potential to alter androgen-responsive brain development in humans.
Surely using type of play as a measure raises questions about judgmental assumptions about behaviour. The only scientific measure should only be of testosterone levels. Measuring behaviour such as play, based on stereotyped gender roles raises more questions about nature versus nurture.

Research findings were widely reported including by BBC, Time, etc. None of the media reports challenged the assumptions made about stereotyped behaviour.

16 November 2009

The economics of happiness - money might not buy it, but it could alleviate some unhappiness

There was a workshop on last Wednesday at the Australian National University (ANU, also my alma mater) on the Economics of Happiness. Professor Paul Frijters of Queensland University of Technology's (QUT) School of Economics and Finance spoke on his paper, Happiness Dynamics with Quarterly Life Event Data (an early discussion paper on this published by Forschungsinstitut zur Zukunft der Arbeit/Institute for the Study of Labor in 2008).

Professor Frijters has assigned monetary values to life events such as marriage, separation, birth of child etc. For example, to a woman, getting married is equivalent to receiving a windfall of nearly $16,000. Speaking to a journalist from the Sydney Morning Herald (article) after the workshop, Frijters said ''losing or gaining money can offset the effect of other life events quite well, and that is what we are formally looking at - the amount needed to offset an event or keep someone happiness-neutral.''

Money might not buy happiness, but it might make up for some of life's challenges.

15 November 2009

aqua luna 2

NASA has announced that they did find water on the moon. From media release
Jonas Dino
Ames Research Center, Moffett Field, Calif.

Nov. 13, 2009
RELEASE : 09-146AR
NASA'S LCROSS Impacts Confirm Water in Lunar Crater

MOFFETT FIELD, Calif. -- Preliminary data from NASA's Lunar Crater Observation and Sensing Satellite, or LCROSS, indicates the mission successfully uncovered water in a permanently shadowed lunar crater. The discovery opens a new chapter in our understanding of the moon.

The LCROSS spacecraft and a companion rocket stage made twin impacts in the Cabeus crater Oct. 9 that created a plume of material from the bottom of a crater that has not seen sunlight in billions of years. The plume traveled at a high angle beyond the rim of Cabeus and into sunlight, while an additional curtain of debris was ejected more laterally.

"We're unlocking the mysteries of our nearest neighbor and, by extension, the solar system," said Michael Wargo, chief lunar scientist at NASA Headquarters in Washington. "The moon harbors many secrets, and LCROSS has added a new layer to our understanding."

Scientists long have speculated about the source of significant quantities of hydrogen that have been observed at the lunar poles. The LCROSS findings are shedding new light on the question with the discovery of water, which could be more widespread and in greater quantity than previously suspected. If the water that was formed or deposited is billions of years old, these polar cold traps could hold a key to the history and evolution of the solar system, much as an ice core sample taken on Earth reveals ancient data. In addition, water and other compounds represent potential resources that could sustain future lunar exploration.

Since the impacts, the LCROSS science team has been analyzing the huge amount of data the spacecraft collected. The team concentrated on data from the satellite's spectrometers, which provide the most definitive information about the presence of water. A spectrometer helps identify the composition of materials by examining light they emit or absorb.

"We are ecstatic," said Anthony Colaprete, LCROSS project scientist and principal investigator at NASA's Ames Research Center in Moffett Field, Calif. "Multiple lines of evidence show water was present in both the high angle vapor plume and the ejecta curtain created by the LCROSS Centaur impact. The concentration and distribution of water and other substances requires further analysis, but it is safe to say Cabeus holds water."

The team took the known near-infrared spectral signatures of water and other materials and compared them to the impact spectra the LCROSS near infrared spectrometer collected.

"We were able to match the spectra from LCROSS data only when we inserted the spectra for water," Colaprete said. "No other reasonable combination of other compounds that we tried matched the observations. The possibility of contamination from the Centaur also was ruled out."

Additional confirmation came from an emission in the ultraviolet spectrum that was attributed to hydroxyl, one product from the break-up of water by sunlight. When atoms and molecules are excited, they release energy at specific wavelengths that can be detected by the spectrometers. A similar process is used in neon signs. When electrified, a specific gas will produce a distinct color. Just after impact, the LCROSS ultraviolet visible spectrometer detected hydroxyl signatures that are consistent with a water vapor cloud in sunlight.

Data from the other LCROSS instruments are being analyzed for additional clues about the state and distribution of the material at the impact site. The LCROSS science team and colleagues are poring over the data to understand the entire impact event, from flash to crater. The goal is to understand the distribution of all materials within the soil at the impact site.

"The full understanding of the LCROSS data may take some time. The data is that rich," Colaprete said. "Along with the water in Cabeus, there are hints of other intriguing substances. The permanently shadowed regions of the moon are truly cold traps, collecting and preserving material over billions of years."

LCROSS was launched June 18 from NASA's Kennedy Space Center in Florida as a companion mission to the Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter, or LRO. Moving at a speed of more than 1.5 miles per second, the spent upper stage of its launch vehicle hit the lunar surface shortly after 4:31 a.m. PDT 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.

LRO observed the impact and continues to pass over the site to give the LCROSS team additional insight into the mechanics of the impact and its resulting craters. The LCROSS science team is working closely with scientists from LRO and other observatories that viewed the impact to analyze and understand the full scope of the LCROSS data.

For information about LCROSS, visit:

Of course, India's moon mission Chandrayaan-1 had also announced it had found evidence of water on the moon only recently.

Most people are probably not even aware that India even has a space program.

12 November 2009

Sabi found

From a Department of Defence media release of 12 November 2009

An Australian Special Forces Explosive Detection Dog has been found alive and well almost fourteen months after going missing in action (MIA) in Afghanistan. “Sabi” was recovered by a US Soldier at an isolated patrol base in north-eastern Oruzgan last week.

The black Labrador was trained to counter the threat posed by improvised explosive devices (IEDs) in Oruzgan province.

Sabi was declared MIA in September 2008 during the same battle with the Taliban in which SAS Trooper Mark Donaldson won his Victoria Cross. Sabi was present with her handler when their combined Australian, US and Afghan National Army convoy was ambushed by a numerically superior, well-sited and prepared insurgent force. Nine Australian soldiers, including Sabi’s handler, were wounded during the engagement.

The US soldier who recovered her and who can be identified only by his first name, John, was aware his Australian Special Forces mates were missing one of their explosive detection dogs.

He said it was immediately obvious that Sabi was no ordinary canine. “I took the dog and gave it some commands it understood.”

John thanked the man who was with Sabi and shook his hand.

Sabi spent more than a year in the desolate south of Afghanistan. Repeated attempts were made by the Special Operations Task Group to discover Sabi’s fate. Sabi was flown to Tarin Kowt to be reunited with one of her Australian Special Forces trainers.

The Australian trainer knew instantly it was Sabi.

“I nudged a tennis ball to her with my foot and she took it straight away. It’s a game we used to play over and over during her training,” the trainer said. “It’s amazing, just incredible, to have her back.”

Currently in the United Kingdom after meeting Her Majesty the Queen, Trooper Mark Donaldson said Sabi’s return closed a chapter of their shared history.

“She’s the last piece of the puzzle,” Trooper Donaldson said. “Having Sabi back gives some closure for the handler and the rest of us that served with her in 2008. It’s a fantastic morale booster for the guys.”

At the time of her disappearance Sabi was coming to the end of her second tour of duty in Afghanistan, having previously deployed to Oruzgan in 2007.

Sabi had also deployed with the Incident Response Regiment during the Melbourne Commonwealth Games in 2006.

Sabi will now undergo a period of quarantine before a decision can be made about the timing of her return to Australia. A veterinary assessment of Sabi’s exposure to diseases has yet to be completed. It is hoped the tests will prove negative and Sabi can return to Australia.
Photos from Department of Defence

At work in July 2007

A bath after being found on 28 October 2009

Awww... I love these Lassie come home type real life stories.

I was going to just link to articles reported in newspapers (online), but given the nature of an actual media release (the source), I can copy and paste this in its entirety (sourced appropriately of course). Would minor paraphrasing and the addition of a byline make such an article the copyrighted property of a media outlet? If I had reproduced an article from a Newscorp owned newspaper, would Rupert Murdoch get upset?

11 November 2009

another useless invention 7

Pretend you are a disc jockey while washing the dishes by hand. I kid you not. Introducing, the Dish Jockey, by Dunlop Volley Warehouse.

Seriously, it is not a joke but a real product for sale.

10 November 2009

40 years of Sesame Street

Sesame Street Google with the ensemble. Where is Mr Snuffleupagus?

People all over the world between the ages of 20 and 50 are probably reminiscing about their childhoods with Sesame Street. I don't know when I stopped watching, but with younger siblings, I was still watching well into my teens.

Richard Termine/Sesame Workshop

I remember the opening sequences below (first two) from when I was a kid.

episode 1575 opening

episode 2178 opening

Having stopped watching, as most grown ups without young children do, I am not familiar with the new sequence from 1998-2001, but do understand that something as important as the opening sequence theme music must evolve with the times.

episode 3940

Promotion for the new series

Elmo's new best friend is Jake Gyllenhall (from New York Post) photo by Jesse Grant

09 November 2009

20 Jahre Mauerfall - 20th anniversary of the fall of the Berlin wall

Some great photographs from AFP of 20 years ago via ABC.

Official celebrations in Berlin are being held as Fest der Freiheit (Festival of Freedom) and tonight focuses around the Brandenburg Gate.

Some other great sites
- www.mauerfall-berlin.de
- Goethe Institut
- Berlin.de

Count von Count Google

He's called Count von Count because he loves to count. After he finishes counting, the Count would laugh like a maniac "ah ah ah ah ah" and there would be thunder and lightning.

07 November 2009

more Google Sesame Street

The top two were featured before Bert and Ernie.

Oscar the Grouch was today's. I can't wait to see who Google will feature tomorrow.

06 November 2009

Sesame Street classics

Sesame Street was first broadcast on 10 November 1969. In celebration of its 40th anniversary, Google has been featuring characters.

My favourite monster was always Grover. Grover first appeared in 1970. He was always a hopeless waiter, frustrating Mr Johnson.

Clumsy, naive, misunderstood - there's a little bit of Grover in all of us, some moreso than others.

05 November 2009

Banksy 'grafitti' attracts graffiti

Reported by the BBC (2 November 2009), a Banksy work in south London has been defaced
Banksy mural defaced during vote

A mural by graffiti artist Banksy has been defaced in south London while a public vote was taking place calling for its preservation.

Sutton Council asked residents to vote on whether the "punk" mural should stay on its Beddington Farm Road site.

More than 93% of the 250 voters urged the council to keep it but as the vote was taking place, the work was defaced by graffiti "taggers".

The council is deciding whether the mural can be restored.

The mural showed a punk standing by a box labelled IEAK - an anagram of the furniture store Ikea - apparently reading instructions on how to put together a graffiti slogan.

Despite usually operating a zero-tolerance stance on graffiti, the council made an exception for this piece of work.

Councillor Colin Hall said: "We believe in democracy and wanted local people to decide what should happen to the Banksy.

"Sadly someone decided to take it into their own hands."

He added: "The image actually criticised mindless graffiti so perhaps it isn't surprising that the sort of people who do that sort of thing should attack it."

The council is consulting the building's owner to decide whether the mural can be restored.

Acclaimed artist Banksy has gained an international following for his graffiti and exhibitions, the latest of which drew 300,000 visitors to Bristol earlier this year.

In September, Hackney Council in east London partially covered a Banksy mural with black paint by mistake.
Photos by Robin Gunningham via Gawker


04 November 2009

San Diego zoo's panda naming

San Diego Zoo's male giant panda cub, born on 5 August 2009, is to be named and the public's vote is now being sought amongst the following five options

福圣 Fú Shèng (fu sheng): blissful San Diego
小龙 Xiǎo Lóng (siao long): little dragon
熊伟 Xióng Wěi (syong wei): extraordinary bear
永祥 Yǒng Xiǎng (yong siang): eternally blessed
云子 Yún Zǐ (yun zih): son of cloud

Pronunciation of names in this YouTube video

See - San Diego Zoo: Name the Panda (note vote ends at midnight, Tuesday 4 November - their time)

Seriously, why should every single Panda cub born outside of China be given a Mandarin Chinese name?

What is wrong with names like Percival or George? Personally, I think Patrick would be a cool name for a panda.

03 November 2009

Horse racing - for every 3 champions, 7 end up at the knackers

Today was Melbourne Cup day, when most of Australia stopped and watched the horse race.

Most people have probably not given a second thought to the cruelty behind horse racing. The RSPCA has campaigned against the use of whips.

Worth a read
- PeTA
- Animals Australia
- animal liberation victoria

In Australia, retired race horses (no longer of any economic worth to owners) do not get put out to pasture for the rest of their lives. They are sent to a horse abattoir and turned into pet food, with choice cuts exported to Japan and Europe. Along the way from retirement to slaughter, the treatment of these horses is cruel.

02 November 2009

headline of the month

One of Italy's most wanted mafia bosses was recently arrested in Italy. This was widely reported and a few media outlets picked up the Agence France-Press (AFP) feed. Only one newspaper came up with a decent headline. From Sydney Morning Herald
Mafia top rooster caught hiding in hen house
Shame on the rest.

01 November 2009

cruel cheap meat

I find cruelty to animals abhorrent, as would many people. Unfortunately, it is all too common in the practices to produce meat as 'efficiently' and as cheaply as as possible so they can be sold at low prices to consumers.

This PeTA video is very disturbing, though it is nearly two years old now

Many people now buy free range eggs and free range chickens. Perhaps one day, meat at the supermarket could be labelled as "cruelty free" and certified as such, in much the same way that tinned tuna is labelled "dolphin safe".