Gaia 2010

has the last word...

SF & science oddities, gossip, exotica and whimsy from the past year to Easter 2010


Bra saves woman from bullet… Barely had last year's Gaia been posted when Gaia heard that a Detroit (US) woman had a burglar's bullet bounce off the metal underwire in her bra: shades of Wonder Woman. Police in the city of Detroit said one of three young burglars robbing her neighbours' house fired a shot when she looked out of her window. The bullet smashed the window and hit her, but was deflected off the wiring in her bra. A police spokesman said: "She sustained injuries but they're not life-threatening."

Going into space is a right headache. A survey of 17 astronauts revealed that two-thirds experienced headaches going into space. Weightlessness is known to redistribute fluid about the body and this might increase the amount, hence pressure, in the head. Because three-quarters of the headaches were not accompanied with other symptoms of weightlessness (such as nausea) the neurologist researchers propose that they be classified as a separate illness to space sickness. The research appeared in the journal Cephalalgia.

Talking of headaches, do coloured drinks give you more of a hangover than clear ones? This is one of life's really important questions. So does, say, whiskey give you more of a hangover than vodka? Until now this popular belief was little more than an urban myth. Now Damaris Rohsenhow and team have come up with some empirical evidence that it is true as reported last year (2009) in the journal Alcoholism Clinical and Experimental Research in their paper 'Intoxication with Bourbon Versus Vodka: Effects on Hangover, Sleep, and Next-Day Neurocognitive Performance in Young Adults'. In a controlled test subjects drank either vodka or bourbon and the next day's hangovers assessed using a symptom-based scale as well as their performance in set tasks. The results showed that bourbon gives worse hangovers and all the subjects other than those given a non-alcoholic placebo (decaffeinated cola) had more disturbed sleep. Alcoholic drinks' colours are due to congeners – compounds other than ethanol (ethyl alcohol). Bourbon has 37 times more congeners than vodka. Though ethanol causes hangovers, congeners are thought to make them worse.

ESA's claim to have created the coldest place in the Universe is a little myopic. And myopism is surely not what you would want with a space telescope. ESA's Planck telescope is designed to be so cold as to see the big bang aftershock just a few degrees above absolute zero (-273°C). Launched in May by July it had reached its operating temperature just a tenth of a degree above absolute zero. ESA announced this with a press release leading to widespread reporting that: "it is unlikely there is anywhere in space currently that is colder than their astronomical satellite…" So no alien civilizations anywhere in the Universe capable of infra red space telescope technology then? Europe leads the way in astronomy across the entire cosmos…. Right… (More on aliens below…)

Aliens left a message in DNA was one of a number of highly exotic ideas put forward by physicist Paul Davies about extraterrestrial intelligences at a talk at the Geological Society (London) on behalf of the Royal Astronomical Society as part of the Burlington House group. His presentation was tied in with the launch of his latest book and was fun, albeit highly whimsical and very science fictional, but delivered with dead-pan seriousness. Of course, he skated over minor details such as of which millions of species' genomes we might analyse to find, or the purpose of, the aliens' message, let alone unimportant biological triviality like sex (meiosis tends to jumble genes and facilitates mutation, hence would corrupt any message especially a lengthy one). And the attempt to demonstrate periodicy on quite well understood (by geologists and palaeobiologists) mass extinction events was (ahem) more than a little stretched. But then when it comes to discussion of alien life and intelligence biologists should be by now used to physicists' and astronomers' life science expertise. The problem was that many (especially non-biologists) in the audience lapped it all up. A shame really, as with correct science the topic (addressing the Fermi paradox) is a worthy one that does not warrant sloppy thinking. A shame that some of us are a little old fashioned in holding that ridiculously quaint notion that science fiction should be (err..) 'fiction' and science 'science'. Ho hum.

Another odd book title… Just keeping his nuts warm. He has been devoured by rats, trapped in an upturned ocean liner, blown up in a spaceship, melted into a puddle, had his way with Raquel Welch and co-starred in the series Airwolf: Ernest Borgine's autobiography is called I Don't Want to Set the World on Fire, I Just Want to Keep My Nuts Warm. More odd titles below…

Crocheting Adventures with Hyperbolic Planes is the winner of Bent's annual competition for odd book titles in the Bookseller. It was written by Latvian mathematician Daina Taimina, it was judged the winner of the annual Diagram Prize after a public vote. Bent attributed the book's win to "the public proclivity towards non-Euclidian needlework". The competition's shortlist included:-
          The Origin of Faeces
          Peek-a-poo: What’s in Your Diaper?
          Collectible Spoons of the Third Reich
However from the long-list Gaia quite likes these which have a biological slant:-
          100 Girls on Cheap Paper
          A Tortilla is Like Life (selected for Concat's Dan)
          Bondage for Beginners
          I'm Not Hanging Noodles on Your Ears
          Schoolgirl Milky Crisis (which our Tony has already reviewed)
          The Great Dog Bottom Swap
          The Wild World of Girly Men and Masculine Women - And Why Americans Suffer from So Many Other Idiotic Syndromes!
          Venus Does Adonis While Apollo Shags a Tree
Many of these are not doubt available on Amazon in your country, or partially viewable on Google Books.

Have a dump with thought this year (2010) says Gaia who is well into global nutrient cycles. So when you are sitting there in the afterglow of smooth-muscle sphincter release, spare a thought in memory of Thomas P. Crapper who died 100 years ago. He was a plumber in London who did much to develop the toilet into the form that which we know today, including inventing the ballcock. Though the flushing toilet was invented by Yorkshireman John Harrington in 1596, and not Crapper as is often thought, Thomas Crapper did take out three patents for improving the toilet (including the one for the ballcock). Also his nephew, George Crapper, did improve the toilet's siphon mechanism.   Some say that developing a decent toilet is the sign of a civilization worthy of entering the Galactic federation. Gaia concurs.

Scary climate advert subject of complaints! The demographic bomb of population, climate change and energy really is a very serious – arguably the most serious – issue facing humanity, so Simon and Jonathan keep on telling us. So it came as a bit of a surprise to find that an advert, as part of a £6 million (US$9.6) British government advert warning about climate change, is being investigated by the Advertising Standards Authority. Apparently, 357 people found it so scary that they felt obliged to complain! The advert had already been withheld from being screened during children's TV programme but still the complaints came in from adults. Some claimed that the science could not be substantiated… So it's heads in the sand then? +++ In 2005 promotion for an Iain Banks' book -- The Algebraist was also subject to complaints sent to the Advertising Standards Authority. +++ In 2008 complaints (including by Jonathan) were made to Ofcom (who adjudicate on standards of British Broadcasting) concerning the bad science in the climate-denying programme The Great Global Warming Swindle and decreed that it was not in its remit to rule on controversial science.

SF denial continues… Yet another example of artists denying that their work is SF, but this one is rather blatant. Actress Tamzin Outhwaite is the star of the BBC's latest 'SF' offering, called Paradox, concerning messages received at a research lab that seem to relate to crimes taking place in the future. She plays a police detective called in to investigate. "Initially I thought it was a sci-fi project," she said. "Then I read the script and realised it wasn't. It's about police officers trying to work out whether there is a worm hole between two time zones."   So that's clear then: not a childish genre show for spotty teenagers… Presumably.

So, exactly how does homeopathy work? Gaia is indebted to one Laura for pointing us to this informative website Enjoy.

And finally...

And if it is not genre denial then it is the promulgation of genre ignorance… The Bookseller reported on the following exchange on Glasgow's Radio Clyde…
George Bowie: Which famous detective features in the Agatha Christie (sic) novel The Hound of the Baskervilles?
Contestant: Is it Harry Potter?

See you in 2011 with more frivolity.

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