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Comment: Re:For real fun! (Score 1) 272

by RDW (#48898077) Attached to: Americans Support Mandatory Labeling of Food That Contains DNA

Ask if they would consider eating radioactive food!

A scientifically inclined artist, Zoe Papadopoulou, had some fun with this idea in an exhibition at the Wellcome Collection in London a couple of years ago. Visitors were invited to eat 'yellow cake' which, while sharing a name with processed uranium ore, was actually a real cake made from edible but naturally slightly radioactive ingredients (enough to pick up on a Geiger counter):

I don't know exactly what she used - Carbon-14 is ubiquitous, of course, though hard to detect in small quantities, but the ingredients seem to include brazil nuts (which tend to concentrate environmental radium) and she might have added some 'Lo Salt' for the potassium-40.

Comment: Re:And they found... (Score 4, Interesting) 66

by RDW (#48861823) Attached to: Interior of Burnt Herculaneum Scroll Read For First Time

... the oldest goatse in history.

They already found that:

"A statue of the Roman half-goat, half-man god Pan - who was the Greeks' god of the wild - getting wild with a female goat (see above) has proven so NSFW (or, in this case, NSFM) that the British Museum has placed a parental advisory in the gallery where it will be on view as part of the upcoming exhibition 'Life and Death in Pompeii and Herculaneum.' The statue was excavated from beneath some 100 feet of Volcanic ash that enveloped the Villa of the Papyri, the residence of Julius Caesar's father-in-law Lucius Calpurnius Piso Caesoninus, on the slope Mount Vesuvius."

Comment: Re:Except that now (Score 4, Informative) 840

by RDW (#48733171) Attached to: Professor: Young People Are "Lost Generation" Who Can No Longer Fix Gadgets

when you open the latest gadget, it's black boxes, nothing that you can see working, or replace without just desoldering a chip.

Prof George knows this of course:

"All of these things in our home do seem to work most of the time and because they don't break we just get used to them. They have almost become like Black Boxes which never die. And when they do we throw them away and buy something new."

The Daily Telegraph, knowing its readership (traditionally rather conservative and not exactly in the first flush of their youth) has chosen to emphasise the 'young people are lost generation' angle, which is reflected in the summary. But the message she's putting across in the Christmas Lectures is much more positive - the talks are intended for a general audience, especially kids, and she wants to get them excited about using everyday technology in creative ways, in the spirit of the Maker community.

Nice article here:

If you have a UK IP address or VPN, the Lectures are available here:

They're part of a series goes back to the time of Faraday, and has featured many eminent scientists (including several Nobel laureates). They've just been broadcast on national TV, as they have been since the 60s (I suspect quite a few of us who ended up being scientists in the UK got early inspiration from one or more of these lectures).

Comment: Re:old news (Score 1) 112

by RDW (#48711595) Attached to: Ebola Patient Zero Identified, Probably Infected By Bats

I can't help imagining a correlation was made from the large bat population (and guano) at Kitum Cave on Mt Elgin.

Yes, the EMBOMM article mentions this:

"This [the hollow tree] may have resulted in massive exposure to bats and have created a situation similar to the one described for Marburg virus for which transmission from bats to humans has occurred in caves occupied by large bat colonies."

(Kitum is one of the caves where Marburg, a virus from the same family as Ebola, has been transmitted).

Comment: Re:old news (Score 2) 112

by RDW (#48710723) Attached to: Ebola Patient Zero Identified, Probably Infected By Bats

Previously, they just had a probable index case. They've now done a followup field study that confirms this case and identifies a hollow tree where the kids used to play as a possible source of the infection - it contained a bat colony at the time. They didn't find evidence that other wild animals were infected, suggesting transmission directly from the bats rather than from other bushmeat. The paper is very readable and not paywalled:


Comment: Re:print fans (Score 2) 351

by RDW (#48664565) Attached to: Ars: Final Hobbit Movie Is 'Soulless End' To 'Flawed' Trilogy

Speaking as a 'print fan', I don't have a problem with adaptations in general, just adaptations done 'badly'. The BBC Radio version of LOTR from the 80s was excellent, but their attempt to do The Hobbit back in the 60s wasn't much good. There's much to enjoy in the Jackson films of LOTR, but the type of flaw that has blighted his version of The Hobbit was already there to a lesser extent in the previous trilogy - good actors saddled with a clunky script, silly additions to the plot, over-emphasised battles, crudely altered characters, cringeworthy attempts at humour, and a general lack of subtlety. An adaptation doesn't have to follow the source slavishly to be good (see Game of Thrones for a really intelligent treatment that frequently takes major liberties with the novels), but it has to preserve something of the spirit of the original to really work for those who love the books (not just the popcorn crowd).

Footnote, after all these years, having read the novels multiple times, once to my daughter before the films first came out, I just recently had an in-story epiphany. It always seemed curious and whimsical that Gandalf was so adamant about Bilbo being included in the quest. But think -- that simple decision set in motion a chain of events that after many years leads to the destruction of the One Ring -- something that probably could not have happened otherwise. How did Gandalf know?

There are hints about this in various places:

Gandalf to Frodo:

'Behind that there was something else at work, beyond any design of the Ring-maker. I can put it no plainer than by saying that Bilbo was _meant_ to find the Ring, and _not_ by its maker. In which case you also were _meant_ to have it. And that may be an encouraging thought.'

Gandalf on planning the quest of Erebor in the Shire:

'It was a strange business. I did no more than follow the lead of "chance", and made many mistakes on the way.'

Gandalf on Thrain's map and key:

'...I suddenly remembered the strange chance that had put them in my hands; and it began now to look less like chance'

Gandalf on his choice of Bilbo:

'I knew in my heart that Bibo must go with him, or the whole quest would be a failure - or, as I should say now, the far more important events by the way would not come to pass'

Gandalf on happening to meet Thorin at just the right time to set everything in motion:

'A chance-meeting, as we say in Middle-earth'.

I think all this implies that apparently random events are getting the occasional nudge from a Higher Power, and that Gandalf in particular (as a member of an 'angelic' order in accord with the Divine Plan, albeit limited by his human incarnation) is getting the odd subtle hint (more of a feeling rather than any sort of direct instruction) on how best to proceed with his mission.

What this country needs is a good five cent ANYTHING!