19 November 2008

Google gets into Nature

Following on from the launch of Google Flu Trends, reported to the tune of much oohing and aahing (and probably hmming among technophobes) last week, it appears the application has bagged Google a space in a major international science journal.

I opened my Nature press release just now to find 'Google Flu Trends' spluttered all over it. So forget beardy professors - you can email 'Jeremy G' [at] Google.com to find out more about the application. (But I think I'd rather speak to his co-author on the paper... Larry Brilliant - brilliant.)

To be fair, Jeremy's other publications do apparently include 'Anticoagulant treatment of deep vein thrombosis and pulmonary embolism' and 'Withdrawal, recovery, and long-term sequelae of gamma-butyrolactone dependence', so it's not as if he's just some wacky net nerd. Still, I never thought I'd see the day Google made it into Nature. Maybe there's hope for my science podcasts thesis yet...

12 November 2008

Is a coincidence really a coincidence?

On the weekend I got into a panic about what I was going to read after finishing the Time Traveller's Wife (again) (and crying about it - again).

Having just eaten two very tiny, very dainty cupcakes - from a shop called 'Tart', where the lady at the till was very rude to me, but I digress - I started thinking about Alice in Wonderland. You know: the part where she finds a tiny cake with EAT ME written on it and it makes her grow very tall. So then I got to thinking about Lewis Carroll and wondered whether Through the Looking Glass might still be any good at the ripe old age of 25. Irritatingly, I had left my copy of Carroll's complete works at my parents' house, but no matter, I thought, I'll pick it up on Sunday.

Are you still with me? The relevance will soon become apparent...

Right. So I'm sitting at the dinner table on Sunday, making absolutely no mention of Tart or cake or Lewis Carroll, and my mum says, 'You look like Alice in Wonderland with that hair'. Now, given that I had styled myself with some sort of wild, demi-Winehouse-esque beehive which didn't in anyway resemble Alice's neat golden locks (I should also point out that I am brunette), this was a particularly strange thing to say. And, clearly, made all the more strange by the fact that I had only the day before decided to retrieve Alice in Wonderland from my old room - where it had been standing on a bookshelf gathering dust since the day I left home.

BUT, it doesn't end there. An hour later, I open the Sunday newspaper to find this - Alice herself, the little minx, pictured in a review of a book about British writers. Something, I decided, was afoot.

Perhaps, because I had been thinking about Alice in Wonderland the day before, my subconscious brain had programmed my hands to turn my hair into something that was whispering "Alice" to my mum - however much it was shouting "mess" at me. This didn't seem very likely. But as it turns out, there's a theory that deals with this idea. It's called "coincidence theory". (Ah ha! Finally we get to the point!)

Proponents of coincidence theory believe that "anomalous phenomena", like coincidences, occur when little pieces of information submerged in the unconscious somehow bob up and float out into the physical world. But they also use the term "anomalous phenomena" to refer to clairvoyancy and prayer healing - not things I believe in or want to associate myself with...

I think there's something in coincidence theory though, albeit on a very basic level. Coincidences aren't really coincidences, surely? It's like when you meet someone called Zebediah and then suddenly everyone is called Zebediah - you notice something more when you've recently been thinking about it. So in the same way, I probably wouldn't have noticed Alice when I was leafing through that newspaper if I hadn't already been thinking about picking up my book.

I'm not done with this yet. All this requires further investigation. But for the record: I certainly wouldn't expect to be able to speak to any dead relatives because of coincidence theory. However, I'm willing to concede it might have ruined my beehive.... to be continued...

4 November 2008

Sciencey things I haven't got time to write about

What with article deadlines looming, top scientists to interview and a 10,000 word thesis to edit, this is really the last thing I should be doing. But hey ho.

In no particular order, sciencey things that have amused me recently:

Grandparents a safe source of childcare
Ha! Press release headlines do make me chuckle. My first thought on reading this one was "What? Why shouldn't they be?" (Followed by images of nans playing Hot Potato with babies). But some people (h'apparently) have been accusing grandparents of having some sort of cavalier attitude to babysitting. "Recent growth in the number of grandparents providing childcare has some observers concerned they don't adhere to modern safety practices," said David Bishai. Who are these "observers" exactly? Where are they? 'Cause I think my nan would be pretty offended by them. Modern safety practices indeed. I'll have you know my nan brought up seven children - eight if you count my dad's imaginary best friend, Christoper. And they all turned out alright. Except for Christopher... admittedly nan did sit on him once when she was getting into the car.

Mohinder "The Scientist/The Hulk/Spiderman/The Fly" Suresh, Heroes
For anyone who doesn't watch Heroes, Mohinder Suresh is a geneticist (although given some of his ropey explanations, I sometimes wonder what university he went to) and part-time superhero/villain of his own making. So, just to recap: at the start of Season 3, Suresh injects himself with adrenaline from the glands of Death Girl (people die when she gets upset) and hey presto, he's a hunk with a head for heights. Off comes the lab coat and suddenly he's super-strengthed up and hanging from the ceiling. All is fine and dandy for about 30 minutes before his skin starts peeling off and he's sticking people to the walls with the gunk seeping out of his fingers... Aside from that, he looks pretty. Oh, why can't we just have a fit scientist, for once?

Charlie Brooker on Brand-Ross
Ummm, not science, but very funny. Also: Media Talk podcast, beginning with anti-Brand comments to the tune of Carmina Burana - inspired. P.S. I hope Russell Brand starts his own podcast and gives the Beeb a run for its money.

Scientists film 'jogging' shrimp on a treadmill

"The experiment was filmed and later released onto the internet where it has been seen by more than a million people.

Some fans have added backing music from the film Chariots of Fire, while others have played the Benny Hill theme tune."

Just watch it. (Via Lucy at Society for General Microbiology - thanks for my mid-morning giggle).