Human Bocavirus – A New Threat?

June 30, 2006

Several new studies into the epidemiology of human Bocavirus (HBoV) tell us – well, not a lot actually.
The VirologyBytes podcast reveals all!


Last chance for China’s dolphin

June 28, 2006

Zoologists have developed a plan to save the Yangtze River dolphin, probably the world’s most endangered mammal, from extinction

They hope to take some dolphins from the Yangtze and rear them in a nearby lake, protected from fishermen. The species is threatened by overfishing which removes its food, industrialisation, boat collisions, and through being caught in fishing nets.

The most recent surveys found only 17 living individuals.

BBC NEWS | Science/Nature | Last chance for China’s dolphin

This is the dolphin featured in Douglas Adams’s Last Chance to See, which is without doubt his best book. Alas I never caught the radio series, though the site Another Chance to See, has pointed me to an MP3 of the Rodrigues Fruitbat Episode. You can also hear him talk about the Komodo Dragon at the BBC.

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Displaying a Square Root

June 28, 2006

If this works the this should print root 2


The code is [ampersand]radic[semicolon]2.

…which I’ll find useful to made a note of because I’d never remember that.

Underwater volcano found by Italy

June 25, 2006

Italian scientists have identified a huge underwater volcano 40km (25 miles) off the southern coast of Sicily.The base of the volcano – named after the Greek philosopher Empedocles – covers an area larger than Rome.

BBC NEWS | World | Europe | Underwater volcano found by Italy

It’s not the first time the volcano has been seen. In 1831 it was discovered after an eruption caused it to break the surface of the sea. It was disocvered by the British Navy, who called it Graham Island. It was also claimed by the King of Naples who felt that it should belong to him, as it was a Mediterranean island close to Sicily, despite it being in international waters. France and Spain also made claims. There could have been a major diplomatic incident had it note eroded away by 1832.

There is a possibility that it could return and this time the Italians are ready. Divers have placed an Italian flag on the submerged peak.

The most interesting fact, which I got from the Wikipedia entry, is that the Americans have already bombed it because they saw it as a terror threat.

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Formula for a successful press release

June 23, 2006

Completely fictional scientists at a made up university have announced today that they have discovered the formula for a successful press release. The newsworthyness of a story, known in the trade as its Arnall quotient, can be written as:

Arnall = B0/10cKs

You may not be familiar with Cliff Arnall but you’ve probably read “his” “research”. Well you can read it at Yahoo!. You can’t read it at the BBC anymore possibly because someone noticed that this year’s formula for the happiest day of the year story bore a striking similarity to last year’s formula for the happiest day of the year story. That one was B0/10cKs too.

The formula, if that’s the right word, is:

O + (N x S) + Cpm/T + He

O stands for outdoor activities, N for nature, S for social interaction, Cpm for childhood summers and positive memories, T for temperature and He for holidays and looking forward to time off.

It raises some puzzles.

How do you measure Nature? How can you say there’s exactly 1.35 times more nature in one place than another? Further, because he’s dividing by temperature we are apparently happier when it’s colder. We’d all be cock-a-hoop if the next Ice Age started this weekend. As for holidays he’s saying the fewer holidays you have the happier you are and if you cannot take time off then (dividing by zero) you’re infinitely happy.

He’s also calculated the equation for election motivation, the best day for New Years Resolutions and the most depressing day of the year. That last one uses a different formula to his happy formula which leads to the possible result that the happiest day of the year isn’t the least depressing. That would be profound if it wasn’t such nonsense. It’s almost as if he doesn’t understand his own work.

Which is possibly true.

A report recently in Times Higher showed that Cliff Arnall discovered his depression day after Gary Wood at Birmingham decided not to. There is a scam going on in the push for free publicity. I invent a spurious equation to plug my product, you add your name to it to give it a sheen of academic credibility and I pay you a small sum for your soul effort.

Is the happy equation one of these publicity scams?

“Happiness is associated with many things in life and can be triggered by a variety of events. Whether it’s a sunny day, a childhood memory, or something as effortless as eating a delicious ice cream, I wanted my formula to prove the key to happiness can really be that simple.”

…said Cliff Arnall talking about his work commissioned by ice cream maker Walls.

I seem to keep coming across opinion pieces about why the public no longer trusts scientists recently. I read another in NewScientist this week. When this sort of story is approved by a university researcher can you blame them?

Scale model of a hydrogen atom

June 23, 2006

The universe is made up of … well, nothing mostly.
See for yourself here.

HIV Pathogenesis – Sorted?

June 23, 2006

A new study in the journal Cell suggests the nef gene is the root cause of HIV pathogenesis – and posssibly the way to prevent AIDS?
The VirologyBytes podcast reveals all!