Friday, 11 January 2008

"Whoops", I can only assume

Remember the Airbus A380? The world's biggest passenger plane, double-decker all the way along, very impressive piece of engineering I'm sure, and not susceptible to attack by crackers, unlike some I could mention.


"Passengers on the world's biggest plane had to switch aircraft in Singapore after the first commercial super jumbo accidentally touched the grass on the side of the tarmac as it left the departure terminal."

You have got to be fucking kidding me. "Accidentally touched the grass"? And for this it needs to be pulled out of service and given a thorough going-over? This is either the worst case of incomplete reporting I've ever seen, or the most ludicrous case of safety paranoia. How the hell could landing gear built to bear the weight of that fully-loaded behemoth, and all the stresses of take-off and landing and the speeds involved, possibly be damaged by accidentally coming into contact with a bit of grass while being towed?

I'm sure that there is a good and cogent reason for this level of caution, but I'm pretty sure that there shouldn't be.

It is the number of... A debate

There are times when chance and coincidence combine in really cool ways.

In the UK, a motion has been raised in the House of Commons to disestablish the Church of England: To dissolve the traditional link between Church and State which sees the monarch of England be head of the Church as well.

And the number assigned on next-in-line (I can only assume) basis to the motion is the number of the beast (Courier Mail Online).

Thursday, 10 January 2008

Fur: It's Canadian for blood-sport.

Apparently, European countries - starting with Holland and Belgium (which means that there is something they do well apart from beer, chocolate and ruining two days of my holiday) - are banning fur products from Canadian seals, as a result of this the seal fur industry, which is still enjoying massive success thanks to demand from Scandinavia (those bastards who also want to kill whales) and China (who are trying to catch up on a century's lost capitalism), are concerned about this and trying to work out how to counter this ban.

I think I speak for everyone when I say: Stiff shit.

It's good to know that treatments actually work

As part of my daily peruse of the news relating to work, I was directed towards a study published by the British Medical Journal back in November which conducted a systematic review of randomised trials of using occupational therapy (OT) for stroke patients, and found that:

It helps.

Which is good.

Have you any idea how many OTs there are in hospitals, and how big OT departments are? It's really good to know that they're not just making up the numbers and giving the accountants something to do.

Wednesday, 9 January 2008

The great mobile phone mass-suicide of '08

I have just had to speak to Vodafone customer support. Their ditzy-cheerful bubble-gum-girl voice and voice-recognition only system is deeply, profoundly, morbidly depressing and left me in the wrong mood or mental state to deal with someone who was speaking English as a second language and didn't know quite entirely what it was I was asking about.

Any more of that and I may be forced to move to a competing service provider.

Coffee as a placebo?

Many years ago I was told that it takes 30 minutes for caffeine to hit your bloodstream, and that the buzz you get instantly from drinking coffee is due to the sugar. Well, when I stopped putting sugar in coffee I still got an instant head-clearing buzz, which required explanation.

Option 1: Caffeine goes straight to your bloodstream, absorbed through your mouth, tongue and throat, and the "30 minutes" story is crap.

Option 2: Something else.

The "something else" I chose was to joke that my body has a learned response to caffeine, and as soon as it detects the telltale signs (taste/sensations of hot coffee) it releases adrenaline ahead of time, adrenaline release being one of the normal effects of caffeine (which makes it great for hayfever, incidentally, as well as for clearing lactic acid from your muscles, provided you balance the diuretic effect with increased water intake).

Other options include the heat prompting an adrenaline release, and a purely psychosomatic response, aka "placebo effect".

Well, well, well. Speaking of the placebo effect, excellent brand-new blog
Science Based Medicine has a piece on that very issue, and please for the love of $DEITY, go and read it.

Included is this paragraph:

"Bausell’s thorough discussion of the placebo phenomenon is illuminating and invaluable. He covers the history of research on placebos and tells some fascinating anecdotes. He argues that placebo response is not just imagination. It is a learned phenomenon, a conditioned response. You respond to a placebo pill because you have previous experience of being helped by pills. Morphine injections in dogs cause a side effect of salivation: after a while, you can inject water and they will respond with salivation. Physiologic effects from placebo are always smaller than with the real thing, but apparently they do occur. The evidence for objective physiologic effects may not be entirely convincing, but it is certain that pain and other subjective symptoms respond to placebos. And there is even research suggesting a mechanism: the release of endogenous opioids, pain-relieving chemicals produced by our own brains. If you counteract those chemicals with a narcotic antagonist like Narcan, you can block the placebo response."

So, not a purely psychosomatic effect then. More of a psychophysiological effect. If a placebo response to an expected pain medicine promotes a biochemical response in the body, isn't it reasonable to assume that a placebo response to coffee can promote a biochemical response in the body? Hmmmmm?

(N.B.: I haven't actually researched the absorption rate of caffeine, I really can't be bothered. And although I have consumed decaffeinated coffee before, I haven't done any real comparisons of subjective response between hot caffeinated and hot de-caf. It'd be a cool little home experiment, if anyone's interested.)

P.S.: Oh, alright then. For those who aren't used to *nix command lines like Linux or BSD, "$DEITY" means "your current deity". It actually means "the current local value of DEITY", but let's not pick hairs.

Monday, 7 January 2008

Spot the irony

Those whale-murdering lying bastard Japanese appear to be hypocrites as well.

Look at the cute little baby seal. All together now: Awwww.....

Oh, wait. It's a robot baby seal. Stand by for giant robot krill-munching aquatic mammals, coming soon to a popular tourist beach near you.

P.S.: And exactly how do you get into the Guinness Book of Records for Most therapeutic robot?

P.P.S.: Robotic fluffy animals suitable for retirement homes and hospitals wards are not what I think of when I hear of a film called "Mechanical Love".

Anti-product placement?

What does it say about an apparently well-funded TV series that none of the mobile phones used by any of the protagonists are obviously identifiable by brand? No product placement at all.

And then when it does become clear, via a two-second screen-shot, that at least one of the mobile used in an iPhone, the plot thickens when it becomes clear that the Apple logo on the back has been covered up by a diamond-shaped sticker.

I'm thinking that the actors were told to use their own phones, and the producers are desperately trying to find a sponsor.

Little, obvious things to want from a mobile phone

Continuing with the basics that companies persist in getting wrong:

I like predictive text. Having used Siemens, Sony-Ericsson and Samsung phones, that means T9. On each of those phones, I have entered large numbers of words into the dictionary, most of them names, some swear-words, some obscure. Occasionally, due to rushing, I will get it wrong and have to start again. Which leaves an incorrect word in the dictionary. I would like, therefore, the following features:

Being able to edit the dictionary.

Why is this so hard? Surely I should be able to remove words as well as enter them? Granted it's not, given a decent amount of RAM, something that should ever be necessary unless the user makes a mistake. But at that point, the user should have the ability to fix said mistake. Or the sheer satisfaction value of eliminating a name, perhaps.

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