If life’s a beach then this is life most ordered

Monday, 15 September, 2014

If you’re spending time on certain of the beaches along Italy’s Adriatic coast, I think it’s fair to say there’ll be a place on the sand just for you, so organised do these beaches – as photographed by Bernhard Lang – appear to be.

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Higgs Boson may tear us apart again

Monday, 15 September, 2014

There’s bad news, and there’s good news here. British physicist Stephen Hawking has warned that particle accelerator experiments involving the Higgs Boson, or “God particle”, may cause it to become unstable, something that may result in the destruction of the universe. Thing is though, said particle accelerator would need to be the size of planet Earth…

He wrote: “The Higgs potential has the worrisome feature that it might become metastable at energies above 100bn gigaelectronvolts (GeV).” What might this lead to? Hawkins explained: “This could mean that the universe could undergo catastrophic vacuum decay, with a bubble of the true vacuum expanding at the speed of light. This could happen at any time and we wouldn’t see it coming.”

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If there a were a king of the dinosaurs, Dreadnoughtus was it

Friday, 12 September, 2014

At twenty-six metres in length, remember most taller people are not quite two metres in height, and weighing in at close to sixty metric tonnes, a previously unknown dinosaur, whose skeletal remains were found a few years ago in Patagonia, Argentina, has been aptly named Dreadnoughtus schrani.

As a comparison, this beast would have been seven times heavier than Tyrannosaurus rex. Luckily for us – if people had been around at the time – Dreadnoughtus was a herbivore, meaning the species wouldn’t have had much interest in humans as a food source. Heaven help any creature that did something to annoy them though.

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It may be better if we do not encounter extraterrestrials

Friday, 12 September, 2014

It’s quite possible we on Earth are the first born in terms of intelligent life in the cosmos, given the relatively young age of the universe. It’s something that makes the chances of our ever encountering extraterrestrial life pretty remote, and that may not, surprisingly, be a bad thing:

A message with a more straightforward intent could have equally ruinous effects. It could be a new scientific insight or technological blueprint sent as an item of interstellar trade or détente, but have a destabilizing effect on Earth’s economy. Or a message could contain a philosophical statement interpreted to have religious meaning, triggering conflict and disorder. Even “Is Anyone Out There?” would be problematic – the decision to answer or not could provoke more than just verbal conflict within our species.

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Good ideas will seldom come from sitting about

Friday, 12 September, 2014

My best ideas come to me while I’m on foot. Or so I like to think. Whether anyone agrees is another matter. It seems though there a clear link between walking and the thought process, that makes walking a two-for-the-price-of-one sort of activity, exercise plus clear thoughts…

When we go for a walk, the heart pumps faster, circulating more blood and oxygen not just to the muscles but to all the organs – including the brain. Many experiments have shown that after or during exercise, even very mild exertion, people perform better on tests of memory and attention. Walking on a regular basis also promotes new connections between brain cells, staves off the usual withering of brain tissue that comes with age, increases the volume of the hippocampus (a brain region crucial for memory), and elevates levels of molecules that both stimulate the growth of new neurons and transmit messages between them.

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A non alcoholic, yet potent, amber liquid? Mad honey is its name

Friday, 12 September, 2014

Some honey produced in coastal regions of Turkey, along the Black Sea, can be possessed of a certain hallucinogenic quality, if honey bees are able to pollinate, and gather the nectar of, rhododendron flowers that grow in the area.

While adding a dollop of this so-called “mad honey” to drinks, such as tea I imagine, resulted in a buzz akin to consuming a couple of alcoholic beverages, when ingested in any reasonable quantity it can however induce nausea, blurred vision, and seizures, among other things.

Indeed, the honey, that has been a product of the region for centuries, has not only seen use as a depressant though, it has also been deployed a war weapon in the past:

Indeed, in 67 B.C. Roman soldiers invaded the Black Sea region under General Pompey’s command, and those loyal to the reigning King Mithridates secretly lined the Romans’ path with enticing chunks of mad honeycomb. The unwitting army ate these with gusto, as the story goes. Driven into an intoxicated stupor by the hallucinogenic honey, many of the flailing soldiers became easy prey, and were slain.

Interestingly, I saw a film called Bal, or Honey, a few years ago, that is set in pretty much the same part of Turkey, although I don’t believe hallucinogenic honey was featured.

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Artworks inspired by maths and the workplace stationery cupboard

Thursday, 11 September, 2014

Photo by Zachary Abel

If you’re taking usual, run of the mill, items of stationery, and using them to craft works of art, as Zachary Abel does with his Mathematical Sculptures, then it seems to me your deriving the best possible value from your day job time…

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For best results, take a short digital sabbatical each day

Thursday, 11 September, 2014

Sometimes I think the only reason people talk about taking so-called digital sabbaticals is just that, so they can talk. I think it absurd that we divest ourselves of the likes of smartphones, and tablet devices, because we think we’re too connected, or spend too much time doing one thing or another online.

Luke Thomas, in a Medium article on the subject, hits the nail square on the head:

Most discussion is geared towards extended periods of time (i.e. a vacation), and while that’s great, there doesn’t seem to be much discussion around incorporating a digital break into our daily/weekly lives. If you look at “being connected” as an addiction, since when is going cold-turkey a good idea? This is one of the toughest ways to quit, and many relapse.

Indeed, try going without your devices for a few hours each day, rather than taking the whole hog, for like a year, approach.

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And here’s a shout out to all the residents of Laniakea

Thursday, 11 September, 2014

It’s nice, in a way, to know that the universe is divided into suburbs of sorts, and our galaxy, the Milky Way, is, along with some one hundred thousand of its closest galactic neighbours, part of a region that has been named Laniakea… doesn’t that make the cosmos feel all more homely then?

Astronomers were able to identify the boundaries of Laniakea by charting the flow of more than 8,000 galaxies surrounding the Milky Way. By that yardstick, they discovered that the Milky Way, along 100,000 other galaxies, is sailing toward a region named the Shapley super-cluster.

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The Boring Conference… you sure can’t beat some great boredom

Thursday, 11 September, 2014

I first heard about the Boring Conference – “a one-day celebration of the mundane, the ordinary, the obvious and the overlooked” – more than three and a half years ago. From all accounts boring sells, as the event has taken place every year since then, and from all indications will return again in 2015.

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