How Much Science Can You Take? The Sorry State of Science Journalism

Every time a science story hits the mainstream media there comes into life a parallel universe where science writers beat their breasts about the woeful state of science journalism.

It just isn't enough to bring the public into the normally incomprehensible world of science; it has to be done with extra sugar and whipped cream on top. What with the 'God particle', the 'God spot' and creationists one could be mistaken for thinking we were in a Medieval theocracy - not yet anyway!

Media corporations just care about eye-balls and advertising revenue - truth is an arcane concept best left to philosophers. Science journalists blame their bosses who desperately want readers, and they blame the public too for being scientifically illiterate and easily bored and confused. The public blames the media because they believe what they read and then feel insulted when it turns out that what they read was rubbish.

Science writers, as distinct from science journalists, try their best to unspin the spin. From what I've seen, the best science writing these days is on the internet in places such as Science journalism has become as lazy and partisan as every other form of journalism.

So who's to blame for the spiced-up dumbed-down science news?

Children Taught to Spy on Their Neighbours

Councils in Britain are training an army of children to spy on their neighbours. As the UK shuffles into its Orwellian dystopia these 'citizen snoopers' are being taught how to take photos, note down car number plates and all relevant information that can be used in a prosecution - and on how to do it in secret. The Neighbourhood Watch schemes have been around for decades and were designed to stop criminals, especially thieves. But when families can be fined £100 for having their bin slightly too full this is no longer about crime but rather a fundamental shift in the powers of local councils. People already pay for things like waste collection and policing in their taxes but councils now see their populations as a source of revenue rather than as recipients of public services.

The councils indoctrinate these children into believing they are 'environment volunteers'- note that the kiddie-police are not paid a penny. How long will it be before they are victimized at school? Have the councils considered this backlash? The destruction of communities and civic behaviour is a tried and trusted method of totalitarian communism and a hallmark of Airstrip One.

Matthew Elliott, chief executive of the TaxPayers' Alliance, said: 'Community spirit is one thing, spying on your neighbours is quite another.

How To Get Your Twitter Account Suspended

I managed to get my Twitter account suspended! No idea why, and no big deal as I'd only recently started to use it, but has given me the opportunity to delve into the more unseemly side of Twitter. Every social networking site is full of antisocial behaviour and every website has systems in place to try and mitigate its effects on the average user. Twitter is no different, but the number of aggrieved people who have had their accounts suspended means that Twitter needs to have a long hard look at the systems they have in place. The issues below are a summary of some of the cases I have found online.

The first place to look to see what behaviour can get you banned is the Twitter Terms of Service. There are some fairly obvious things not to do, such as impersonating a real person (although satirical spoofs are accepted so long as it is obvious), publishing or linking to pornography or any other illegal activity, publishing people's private details and, of course, spamming. But it is this latter category that seems filled with potentially nebulous definitions that can get you labelled as 'antisocial' by the Twitter corporation.

Many users have found their accounts suspended for being antisocial. This is somewhat ironic for a social website but all Brothers and Sisters must conform or be banished from the social organism! But let's have a close look at what it takes to be a social outcast.

From Twitter's definition of spam: "If your updates consist mainly of links, and not personal updates." This is the most worrying one. Anybody who uses Twitter to send updates about their blog or website is going to fall foul of this, and yet, follow any mainstream website and all you get are links to their articles. This is a huge case of double standards. Are these corporate websites paying to send out their spam? Is any of it really spam if people are willingly following you? Sending out garbage that nobody reads is a waste of time. Many of the people I was following just sent out links to interesting stuff. Twitter demands that anybody who uses Twitter solely for marketing links must contact them to request to do so. Anybody who has not made such an official request is liable at some point to fall foul of this rule. To show how random this can be, one guy was accused of having all his links point to one site. When he told Twitter that was obviously because it was his blog they reinstated his account!

"If you have followed a large amount of users in a short amount of time." No numbers are given but this could mean anything. Getting followers is a long and sometimes tedious process of building a network from users you already follow. There is always someone who follows first, then the person followed can decide whether to follow their follower... or not. Following on Twitter is a one-way arrow and not the same as the two-way 'friends' thing on Facebook. It is easy to follow a trail of people each of whom follows the previous user. How many does one have to follow in one sitting to fall foul of the Twitter police? Nobody knows.

One consequence of the above rule is that anybody who doesn't like what you write about can flag you as a spammer just for accidentally joining them. I'm not saying most people act this way but I am saying that this can happen and from what I've read, Twitter acts first and then thinks about it in their own sweet time. The internet is full of low-level information warfare that many people are just not aware of. Whether it is Anonymous v $cientology or Christians v Atheists there are spam wars out there to remove or promote content on various social websites. In the instant world of Twitter's follow/unfollow it shouldn't be a sin to follow the wrong person. If after a few tweets you find someone isn't of interest it is a simple matter to unfollow. No ill feelings, no harm done.

However, if one combines the previous definition with the fact that "The number of spam complaints that have been filed against you" also count, then you can easily become a target for people who don't like you. "If a large number of people are blocking you" is also a way to flag an account without formally sending admins a spam report. The lesson here is perhaps to have a good long read of a user's tweets and not just look at their cryptic profile. For example, imagine you're an atheist geek and tweet about both. You follow someone because you've seen some interesting geeky tweets; he then follows you back. He suddenly reads your atheist tweets and gets offended because he's a Christian. Who's fault is that? Does that warrant being flagged as a spammer? Just unfollow and walk away.

I found one user accused of being part of a spam ring. Twitter did reinstate their account on this occasion but the reason is revealing. One spammer is less effective than a whole group. Following each other may, on the face of it, seem pointless but it does give each of them a veneer of sociability that a lone spammer needs to work hard to achieve. If you accidentally find yourself following a few of them Twitter's spam algorithm may well flag you as part of the ring. It may seem strange that someone would willingly join a spam ring but there are many areas in which legitimate information and spam can easily blend. Areas such as personal finance and health are filled with both information and spam. Again, don't just follow people for the sake of it - take a long hard look at how long they've been on Twitter and what their recent tweets look like.

"If you have a small number of followers compared to the amount of people you are following." This could be the profile of a spammer, but what use is it unless you send private messages to all those people, and then you will surely be blocked or flagged for spam. But if, for example, you've started using Twitter as a kind of aggregated RSS feed for lots of news channels then don't expect those accounts to follow you back. You could easily end up following over a hundred twitters without any of them following you back. The lesson here is to build up who you follow slowly and more or less in step with the number of people following you.

I'm sure Twitter doesn't take any one solitary condition as a trigger to suspend accounts - at least I hope not! But there are enough bemused users out there to show that the current system is far from perfect. A real spammer isn't going to bother to complain; they'll just open another account with a new name and fresh email address. Just be careful you're not the target of Twitter's shoot first policy.

Twitter Account Suspended? What to do next.

What To Do If Your Twitter Account Has Been Suspended

Your Twitter account has been suspended. You're confused and angry and want answers. You're not alone; this is becoming a frequent occurrence and Twitter admin like to hide behind some fairly nebulous terms of service.

The bottom line is that Twitter reserves the right “to refuse service to anyone for any reason at anytime.”. They can suspend your account for any reason without telling you why. If you know why you're account has been suspended then you probably won't need to read this and can merrily go ahead and create another account. If you're afraid of losing the network you have established and any reputation you feel you have gained then read on.

Twitter has gone from a lowly start-up to a major online presence in a short time, but their resources are just not keeping up with their new status. This seems to be affecting both their physical resources such as servers and bandwidth as well as their human resources such as their help system. If you feel that you need to use Twitter then you will have to protect yourself from account suspension and the consequences that arise from it, but that's for another article.

One example of this is that Twitter's help pages have a number of dead links. This look bad and means having to go the long way round to find out how to complain about your account suspension. There seem to be two ways to seek to get your account reinstated.

Twitter Support

Twitter Support currently uses the Zendesk platform to generate help tickets and (hopefully) answer them. This means they have two URLs that point to the same place:

If they ever stop using Zendesk then the first URL should still work.

If your account has recently been suspended and has not been deleted then you can login to this helpdesk with the same details as your Twitter account. Some people have found it expedient to create another Twitter account and use those details to open tickets about their suspended account. This can be useful as some users have found they can no longer login to the helpdesk if their Twitter account was terminated. The downside is that if Twitter upholds the original account suspension then you may find your new account also targeted. This choice is yours.

Online companies often hide behind the anonymity the internet affords them and Twitter is no different. You will firstly receive an automated response, which merely means a human may eventually look at your case. Most people's reaction is to then send an angry reply. From reading some people's stories the best way to get your suspended account reinstated is to make a clear logical case that you have done nothing against Twitter's TOS.

Mistakes happen and there are unpleasant people out there who want to take you off the net just because they don't like your politics, religion, race, sexual orientation or whatever. There are also spam rings on Twitter and if you unfortunately follow one of them accidentally you may be flagged as part of the ring. Whatever the reason for your suspension you might, or might not, get to know and can then act upon it either with a new account or your reinstated account.

Get Satisfaction

The second place where you can complain about your Twitter account suspension is at Get Satisfaction. This is similar to Zendesk but has the advantage that it is also a forum and other users can comment on your case and share experiences. This means you're not alone in dealing with Twitter and can see who has been reinstated and who hasn't.

Get satisfaction also has a section of Twitter Known Issues. This lists known bugs on Twitter that have led to various account problems such as the inability to login, tweets or followers gone missing and accounts accidentally blocked. If you had a lot of followers you can try to get them to support your reinstatement here. That, however, assumes you've kept an offline list of your followers: how many people do that?

Will you get your Twitter account reinstated?
Maybe, maybe not.

How long will it take?
How long is an elastic band? They seem woefully under-staffed and have seen accounts reinstated after 2 months!

Is it worth the aggravation?
That really depends on how much effort you've put into your Twitter community. If you really feel you haven't done anything wrong then it is worth pursuing as otherwise you're likely to fall into the same trap with a new account.

Where can I find Twitter's Terms of Service?
Here are Twitter's Terms of Service and Rules Policies. The section that probably affects most people is their Twitter Rules page.

Good luck... just don't hold your breath waiting.

Edgar Allen Poe 3D Film - The Fall of the House of Usher

Indie company Green Knight Ventures will be producing a remake of Edgar Allan Poe’s ‘The Fall Of The House Of Usher’ according to The Hollywood Reporter.

Published in 1839, this gothic short story centres on the crumbling spirit of Roderick Usher as he is haunted by the burial of his sister, only to succumb to his worst nightmare.

The working title of the film is 'The Ushers'. The Ushers? What possessed them to change a famous title? Is this a film about an escort or usherette? Or is it going to be turned into the Munsters? Let's wait and see if this project ever sees the light of day or gets buried alive.

In the meantime, you can always read The Fall of the House of Usher at

Risks of Buying Erectile Dysfunction Treatments Online

The US FDA has a long article on "Hidden Risks of Erectile Dysfunction "Treatments" Sold Online". Many consumers perceive these products as safe because they appear to be properly labelled and promoted as all-natural alternatives to prescription drugs. However, FDA testing has revealed that some of these products actually contain sildenafil or vardenafil - the active ingredients in Viagra and Levitra respectively.

There are a few issues here. The FDA has a vested interest in protecting the pharmaceutical industry so they will do whatever they can to trash competing products. To pretend that Viagra, and similar products, are used purely for medical purposes and not as a recreational drug is to live in a fantasy world. People who have had their online Viagra purchases confiscated will look for alternatives. Keeping prices high by maintaining a monopoly only hits those people who live in the USA. So one "risk" of buying online medicines is that they will be confiscated by customs.

Having said that, there are people for whom taking Viagra can have serious unwanted side-effects and therefore they should inform themselves of what the real ingredients are in these alternative treatments. People with diabetes, high blood pressure, high cholesterol, or heart disease are often prescribed drugs containing nitrates, and men with these conditions commonly suffer from erectile dysfunction, but unfortunately sildenafil interacts with these drugs in a way that could potentially lower blood pressure to dangerous levels.

The article includes a long list of products that the FDA considers undesirable within the US market. The lesson here is that whenever buying anything online just do a bit of due diligence and background checks through search engines and forums. You may not believe everything the FDA says but be aware of what exactly it is that you're going to put in your body.

Genetically Engineered Puppies Glow In The Dark - You're Next

A team at Seoul National University located in South Korea has successfully created a new breed of beagle capable of fluorescing under ultraviolet light. There's even a video to brighten up your day. Why, you might ask? Some species, such as fireflies and plankton, can create light naturally but genetic engineers have been keen to develop luminescence in other animals. This transgenic canine, named Ruby Red, had a gene inserted into its DNA that creates a fluorescent protein when in contact with ultraviolet light. If placed in the dark with a UV source the puppy glows bright red.

So, apart from possibly creating a fad for luminescent tattoos, is there any real use for this? Do you really need to look for a stray dog armed with a UV ray? Scientists claim that if they could tag various cell types with different fluorescing genes then that could help locate things such as tumours and cancers. Sounds tenuous to me. The most obvious application is in tagging people. Maybe it won't be enough to have a radio frequency microchip implant but just for good measure you could have different classes of people emit a different colour. I'd say it would be impossible for a person to hack into their own genes. Your new fluorescent colour will run much deeper than your mere skin colour.

WHO Insists "Concern over flu pandemic justified"

The Director-General of the World unHealth Organization gave a speech to the World Health Assembly in Geneva today. The lengthy speech was designed to show the world that the WHO is trying to level the delivery of healthcare in spite of a wide gulf in the resources of countries.

If there is a disease that would warrant the term 'pandemic' then that is surely HIV/AIDS, and yet that is mentioned as a mere epidemic. There is enough evidence to show that HIV was also manufactured, but the DG was obviously silent on this.

One section caught my eye, however:

"For five long years, outbreaks of highly pathogenic H5N1 avian influenza in poultry, and sporadic frequently fatal cases in humans, have conditioned the world to expect an influenza pandemic, and a highly lethal one. As a result of these long years of conditioning, the world is better prepared, and very scared."

Pavlov is still alive and in the service of medicine. Perhaps Dr Margaret Chan is unaware of how "very scared" people on the net are and that the "conditioning" is not really working very well.

The southern hemisphere is entering its flu vaccine season, but we shall probably have to wait for the north to cool down before the swine flu vaccine gets smuggled into the annual jab.

Draft National Institutes of Health Guidelines for Human Stem Cell Research - First Comments

The National Institutes of Health has just released its draft guidelines on future stem cell research in the USA. It is also seeking public debate on these guidelines with a view to establishing firm guidelines for funding bodies giving grants to stem cell researchers.

Here is what seems to be the crucial conclusions of the current stem cell research draft guidelines:

"These draft Guidelines would allow funding for research using only those human embryonic stem cells that were derived from embryos created by in vitro fertilization (IVF) for reproductive purposes and were no longer needed for that purpose. Funding will continue to be allowed for human stem cell research using adult stem cells and induced pluripotent stem cells. Specifically, these Guidelines describe the conditions and informed consent procedures that would have been required during the derivation of human embryonic stem cells for research using these cells to be funded by the NIH. NIH funding for research using human embryonic stem cells derived from other sources, including somatic cell nuclear transfer, parthenogenesis, and/or IVF embryos created for research purposes, is not allowed under these Guidelines."

On first reading, the NIH has tried to placate both the research community and the largely Christian right-wing anti embryonic stem cell research lobby. After all, the arguments are largely about embryonic stem cells but here we find that essentially the same embryonic stem cells from two different IVF sources are treated in two different ways. There seems no logic as to why spare embryos from an IVF clinic should be treated differently to an IVF embryo created specifically for research purposes. It also opens up a way around the proposed legislation by encouraging IVF so as to harvest the resulting embryos rather than primarily for fertility reasons. Shoddy piece of logic and, from what I've seen so far, both sides are up in arms.

Embryonic Stem Cell Research NIH Guidelines Released and Public Opinions Wanted

Stem cell researchers seemed happy when President Obama lifted Bush's ban on certain types of research. However, what Obama did was to instruct the National Institutes for Health to set up stem cell research guidelines. Those guidelines have now been published and there is only a 14-day period to solicit public responses. However, the guidelines are far more conservative than some had hoped, and opponents of the research are systematically flooding the comment process. You too can join in!

here you can find the open letter from the ESCR plus all other relevant links.

Are the Trending Topics on Twitter a Waste of Time?

Twitter has been busy messing around with its user interface. It recently added the latest Trending Topics in its right-hand column, just below the Search box. The Trending Topics shows the top ten keywords currently in use. If one looks at a third-party application such as Twopular you'll get a more detailed view of the trends but it is fairly consistent with Twitter's own calculations. However, how useful is Twitter Trends and how does it compare to Google Trends?

Google's own Hot Trends is based on actual searches. The full algorithm is somewhat of a secret and the data given does not indicate how this calculation is performed. What one can assume is that the Hot Trends are those keywords whose search numbers are above their norm. They therefore tend to be news-related keywords and even a small but sudden increase in searches can lead to a listing in the Hot Trends. Apart from a serious burst of viral marketing it isn't easy to manipulate what Google is tracking. After all, once you click on a keyword there is absolutely no reason to then go and search for the same word unless you really want some further background information that is not available at the links already provided by Google.

In contrast, if you click on a keyword in Twitter's Trends what you'll see are dozens of identical tweets, often retweeting (RT) the same message over and over again. However, what you also find are lots of spammy tweets that have taken the trending keyword and then inserted it into a tweet about something completely different! On Twitter there are two types of keywords: one is a keyword string extracted from tweet texts, somewhat like Google does; and the other are hash tags such as #hottrends. The hash tags are useful for defining a subject across many tweets but what one finds is that most trending keywords on twitter are hash tags rather than contextual keywords.

Finding short-term trends can be useful to those writers who like to ambulance-chase the latest buzzy topics in the hope of increased traffic and earnings. But this somewhat relies on the trending data being genuine and not subject to mass manipulation. Tweets are so short that it is impossible to tell whether a message is really about the keyword or not. As often happens with any list across the web, such as social bookmarking lists, there is always a tipping point. If you can sneak into the bottom of the list this often gives you a leg up to the next level. Hover just below this cut-off point and you could easily fall back down again. people are lazy - they'll look at the most obvious thing first.

But on Twitter, getting a subject on its Trending Topics is liable to be swamped with spam and unrelated garbage. Yes, you will also find the original tweet being resent by lots of people but what you don't seem to get is a stream of any discussion that is taking place. Perhaps I'm the only one who thinks this is a problem, but what was supposed to be a good idea is just too easy to abuse.

Is Hand-Shaking Old-Fashioned and Unhygienic?

Michael Arrington has a problem: he hates shaking hands when meeting people. Why he should choose to air this on TechCrunch has baffled most commenters. What Arrington really hates is the idea of catching a disease off some sweaty palm. He frequently has to excuse himself and go to the nearest toilet to wash his hands. This sounds like he's morphing into Howard Hughes and he should see someone about this (without shaking hands).

However, he has tried to turn a personal obsessive-compulsive disorder into a mini-crusade against the whole cultural proclivity for shaking hands. His idea of promoting 'fist bumps' is puerile, potentially painful and still includes skin contact. He has even posted a second article claiming partial victory as one company claims to have held a board meeting without shaking hands - irritatingly they engaged in a round of... yes, fist bumps!

Thing is, not everyone in the world engages in hand-shaking as a form of greeting. Here in Thailand people 'wai' to each other; hands held together as if in prayer and with a slight nod of the head. If you're carrying something then the equivalent one-hand-clapping gesture is acceptable, and amongst friends often a simple nod is sufficient. In Japan people greet each other with a simple bow, although this can become exaggerated if there is a huge difference in social standing.

Anyway, the point is that hand-shaking is not universal. Should we dispense with it and accept a nod or a bow of recognition as sufficient greeting etiquette? Are there any other ways that humans greet each other?

As for Arrington, he could go down the politician's route of using Prevex hand-cream to form a protective chemical barrier against unwanted germs.

A Child's Severed Finger Will Amazingly Grow Back Spontaneously

It is fairly common knowledge that certain reptiles, such as the salamander, are able to regrow severed limbs. Such an ability has always been though impossible in mammals, including humans. But pioneering research by Robert O. Becker has shown that such an ability to regenerate limbs does exist in humans, albeit to a limited extent.

One of the most common reasons for children being admitted to hospital is the loss of a finger from some accident such as being wedged in a car door or sliced off by a fan. The standard technique is to just stitch some skin over the wound or, if the tip of the finger is still available, to rebuild the finger using microsurgery. Neither method results in a fully-functioning finger.

However, by pure accident Cynthia Illingworth at the Sheffield Children's Hospital noticed that in some children the finger would grow back. Just by doing nothing and letting the body heal itself, by 1974 Illingworth had documented hundreds of cases of regenerated fingers in children.

The criteria for this to happen are that just the tip of the finger be lost – the region from the fingernail down to the very first joint – and that the child be under eleven years of age. If the finger is sliced below the first joint then regeneration does not take place. If the skin is stitched back over the cut the finger will also not grow back. Also, the younger the child the quicker is the regrowth.

A small number of physicians took up this technique but further research was not funded. The term 'stem cell' is now in common use and this regeneration is the amazing ability of cells to not only differentiate from being a stem cell to one specific type, such as bone or cartilage or blood, but the ability for some cells to dedifferentiate from a specific type back into stem cells and then transform themselves into a different cell type. In the 1970's this was considered heretical, but even today the non-invasive techniques pioneered by Becker have been left to rot.

The Body Electric is a great book about what it is like to be a real scientist in pursuit of knowledge to help humanity. The grand thesis is that we are not just flesh and bones but also a complex and subtle electromagnetic system. The regeneration of a child's fingertip was proof that humans and salamanders had some common mechanisms. Becker was able to heal severely broken bones that would not heal naturally by the simple stimulation with a very low electric current. He was also able to destroy bacterial infections without antibiotics using similar methods. Read the book – it is eye-opening stuff.

Such simple yet powerful techniques should by now be in widespread use. Sadly they are not. We can all speculate on what vested interests are served by using complex surgery and pharmaceuticals instead of gently stimulating the body electric.

Twitter Tweak Ruffles Feathers

A small tweak in Twitter's default settings has many users up in arms. Most newbies will probably not even know what all the fuss is about.

Before the recent change, the default setting for what you could see included tweets between two people if you were already following both of them, but not if you were just following one of them. However, Twitter did include the option of changing this default to allow users to see all the correspondence sent out by those they were following. For many, this was too much stream of consciousness, but others enjoyed watching a whole debate develop. This latter option has been removed!

What this also does is remove the more serendipitous nature of finding people with common interests and views. It is often the case that seeing a reply from A to B - where you're following A - will lead to looking at B's profile and possibly thereby following B as well. The new changes mean this will happen less. The full feed is available if one goes to A's user profile or the global timeline, but that isn't the best way of using Twitter.

Nobody seems entirely sure why Twitter has done this. Bandwidth problems?! But the Twitter management is now finding their communication tool being directed at them.

Get Paid to be a "Go Game" Actor or Plant

"Have you always dreamed of soaring through a city in a Batman suit? Do you practice your pirate accent daily in your eye patch and boots? Does the idea of dressing up like a 70's gym teacher and leading people in aerobics sound like the time of your life?

If you enjoy being the center of attention and showing people a good time, The Go Game is looking for you! We are constantly hiring fun, reliable, talented people to act in our games in locations all over the USA, UK and Europe."

The Go Game is a cutting-edge company that helps other companies succeed through innovative, technology-driven team building games. At the core of all of our products is the belief that technology should facilitate real, meaningful interactions that foster creativity, collaboration and above all, fun.

If this sounds like your kind of insanity then go to either The Go Game USA or The Go Game UK for more details.

Playboy Has No Clothes

The Playboy business is going into freefall. To pull out of this, Playboy are going to increase prices and print fewer copies of the flagship magazine. Smart Bunnies!

from TechCrunch.

Would you pay to read online newspapers?

Rupert ­Murdoch expects to start charging for access to News Corporation's newspaper websites within a year. 'The current days of the internet will soon be over,' he said, as the media strived to fix a ­'malfunctioning' business model. Would you pay to read papers online?

The sub-headline from The Guardian says it all. For Murdoch 'free' is a nasty four-letter word and he will do everything in his power to turn the internet into a money-grabbing mirror of his off-line businesses. Just have a look at his media interests, from The Times, The Sun and Sky in the UK to Fox Network and Dow Jones in the USA, and many many more. Oh yeah, he owns MySpace too.

Just don't become dependent on any one platform in case you're suddenly trapped into paying for the privilege or closing your account. The internet is changing from the idealist information superhighway to the social web 2.0 to the corporate pay-per-net. But without users these sites have no influence and hence little advertising. This will be a great test to see how fast people will flee from a subscription news site. But, what if they don't?

Would you pay to read the news online? As newspapers have always sold a particular political spin, rather than any raw news, would you pay to read news that's spun to your liking?

Take our TrendWagon poll at the top-right corner of this page. (Closes 15 May 2009)

Crap Names For Pubs

OK, you're bored, you're tired, you've had a hard day at work, or a hard night's sleep. What you want is some mindless amusement that still tickles a few braincells. Well, join the wags at Twitter to come up with some really crap names for pubs.

In the UK there is this trend for corporate pubs to come up with ever-more stupid names for their drinking dens.

The whole thing may indeed be funnier if you already have a bottle of your favourite tipple open. Cheers!

Every Intelligent Man Dreams of Being a Gangster

The quote is from the French existentialist author Albert Camus:"The truth is that every intelligent man, as you know, dreams of being a gangster and of ruling over society by force alone."

Perhaps too many people cling on to their morals as an antidote to the news. As swine flu has infected our consciousness it has also sidelined the continuing financial crisis. But both are manifestations of the same covert quest for power and control.

Paul Farrell predicts the new film Public Enemies will be a big hit because it will tap into what many people would love to do to all those who have been ripping us off for years - be they bankers, politicians or pharmaceuticals.

Unfortunately, the truth is that it is us who are staring down the wrong end of the barrel. "Yes, this time the banks are the gangsters. They're robbing Main Street's Treasury. And it's an inside job. Hank Paulson, the "Goldman Conspiracy's" Trojan Horse, plays a "Dillinger," leading a much bigger conspiracy, the "Happy Conspiracy," that robbed America's 300 million citizens and taxpayers. They made off with trillions, while our "guards," a clueless Congress, laid down their guns and surrendered the keys to the vault."

Except that in our oh-so-civilized world we see no guns, no masks, no hold-ups - just the silent theft of our ration of freedoms. Whether it is the WHO or the SEC, the first lesson is that none of these organizations exist for your benefit; they are funded, often covertly, by people for whom your well-being is measured in how much profit you can make for them. The consequence is that your future depends on disempowering these public enemies of their trade.

Forget computer games, forget virtual reality, here is a game we can all play. The targets are shadows, behind which lurk real people with flesh and bile. But the shadows are worth chasing for without them the shadow-masters would have to step into the light of day. Remember how effective was the boycott against South African goods all those years ago? Yes, it was politically approved by the media, which made it easier, but it still shows the power of the masses when focussed.

We can all train our sights on these shadows that darken our lives. We all need to protect those dear to us. Camus was not so wide of the mark.

RSS RIP, Hail Twitter!

I get the feeling that TechCrunch must have some pecuniary interest in Twitter as there is an almost daily propaganda piece. This article suggests the demise of RSS feeds as they will be overtaken by following tweets.

I think this is complete crap. Ever tried reading tweets? the joy of an RSS reader is being able to scan articles and pick what to read. If a full RSS feed you never even have to go to the originating site. Very unlike Twitter where one has to forever click to open a new page only to then discover whether it was worth reading or not.

What RSS doesn't do is facilitate a two-way (or group) chat on a topic. Then again, RSS is a syndication service and never designed to be a text messaging service. But I, for one, am not closing my RSS reader, whatever TechCrunch might believe.

Stephen Wolfram on Wolfram Alpha Knowledge Search Engine

Wolfram Alpha will go public in May 2009. It has already been hyped as the first serious challenge to Google and traditional search engines. This may be true in the future but for now Wolfram has set his sights on making his computational knowledge engine do precisely what it claims to do - to turn the raw information on the web into real understandable knowledge.

Wolfram Alpha brings together two of Stephen's most famous products: Wolfram's Mathematica software and his work on cellular automata published in A New Kind of Science. Both are fundamentally about performing computations on formally defined structures - be they mathematical integrals or chaotic cellular systems. What would be really useful is to perform computations on knowledge structures as written in human language. After all, isn't this what computers were supposed to do?

This is where Wolfram Alpha is very different to our current batch of search engines. Rather than being just a sophisticated concordance of the web, this knowledge engine will turn plain text into human language structures, then convert these into computational language structures that can be queried, and finally turn the output back into a readable human form. Answering simple questions has never been so difficult!

Some techie websites have had access to this new Wolfram Alpha and are generally impressed, although keen to stress that this engine will have some limitations at first. The data it uses has been curated and will therefore expand only as fast as this process allows. Because of this, some think this is more likely to be a challenge to the likes of Wikipedia than to Google.

Now, this bit is impressive:"Another query with a very sophisticated result was "uncle's uncle's brother's son." Now if you type that into Google, the result will be a useless list of sites that don't even answer this specific question, but Alpha actually returns an interactive genealogic tree with additional information, including data about the 'blood relationship fraction,' for example (3.125% in this case)."

I, for one, look forward to tryin it out.

Happy Star Wars Day! May The Fourth Be With You!

May the 4th is Star Wars Day.

Was the first Star Wars film released on 4 May 1977? Nope! The whole thing is one big joke based on a pun. The first film was actually released on 25 May 1977 and, believe it or not, the Los Angeles City Council declared this day in 2007 as Star Wars Day, thereby ruining the joke. But a good joke is hard to kill, and any excuse to replay the whole Star Wars saga.

May The Force Be With You!

There are supposed to be events marking this slightly tongue-in-cheek celebration - if you know of any then let us know. The alternative is to invite a few friends round and enjoy those DVDs!

Hamthrax - the unofficial new name for swine flu virus!

As the swine flu hysteria turns hysterical, the good folks of the internet have been trying to help the World unHealth Organisation pin down a really good name for swine flu.

Israel was first off the starting blocks, complaining that as pork is not kosher then language itself has to be changed. In the tradition of blaming the wrong target they chose to call it Mexico flu. Can a virus be kosher?

The US administration has tried for days to ban the offensive "swine" from the media but without any effect. Calling it Baxter flu was off the menu.

Finally the WHO stepped in to officially call it the A(H1N1) virus. So what's wrong with pigs? They didn't rename avian flu. Actually, this isn't a rebranding but has been the scientific name for some time. However, it does hide the fact that this strain has 4 different genetic components.

One problem with suddenly renaming a virus with such public health spotlight is that most information will already have the "swine flu" tag, so people searching for A(H1N1) are likely to find less diverse information.

Anyway, into the breach steps the ever-inventive denizens of the internet with a better name: Hamthrax.

Great name! Can't trace where Hamthrax came from, but who cares - better than the mouth-twisting A(H1N1), right?

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