Jul 5, 2009

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Coolest Movie Gadgets Ever Seen

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Lightsabers – Star Wars

An elegant weapon, for a more civilized age.” Whether your particular brand comes in badass red, noble hero blue, or Samuel L. Jedi purple, the lightsaber is such an intimidator, it can even make a two-foot Muppet seem tough. You don’t even have to use it, just flick it on and its unmistakable hum clearly says: “Somebody’s walking out of here without a limb.”

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Neuralizer – Men in Black

The neuralizer was a tool used by the Men in Black in both films. This alien technology was borrowed by the MIB as K suggested in the first movie:
“This is a gift from some friends from out of town.”
The uses of eliminating someone’s memories are endless, especially is you are prone to screwing up a lot.

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Copter Hat – Inspector Gadget

How many times did you watch Inspector Gadget and wished you could have at least one of his innovative gadgets to show off to your mates?
The power of flight, man! Not to mention the fashion of a sweet fedora.

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Ultimate Swiss Army Knife – Get Smart

Get Smart is loaded with new gadgets, but this wild take on the famous utility knife tops them all
Contains all the same items of your standard Swiss Army Knife but also includes a blowgun, crossbow and blowtorch.

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Remote Control – Click

The remote control with unending possibilities.
In “Click,” Adam Sandler plays Michael Newman, an overworked architect who discovers a truly universal remote, one that allows him to pause, fast-forward, mute and rewind real life

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Utility Belt – Batman

Reason You Wish You Had It? 14 reasons to be exact. 2-way Radio, Batarangs, Infra-red Flashlight, Smoke Capsules, Fingerprint Kit, Miniature Camera, Lockpick Tools, Tear Gas Pellets, Micro-Processor Power Source, Micro-Cassete Recorder, Batline, Laser Torch, Plastic Explosive Grenades and a Rebreathing Apparatus.

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Green Lantern Ring

A power ring is a weapon in the DC Universe, most notably used by the Green Lantern Corps. These rings are considered to be the most powerful weapons in the DC Universe, as its effects are limited only by the imagination and willpower of its wielder
Each Green Lantern possesses a power ring that gives the user great control over the physical world as long as the wielder has sufficient willpower and strength to wield it. While the ring of the Golden Age Green Lantern was magically powered, the rings worn by all subsequent Lanterns were technological creations of the Guardians of the Universe, who granted such rings to worthy candidates.
Reason You Wish You Had It? Is so freaking cool!!

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Hover Board – Back to the Future

Ever since you were a kid you’ve wanted something like this and probably even heard
rumors that they were coming out some day, only to be crushed again when you find out the truth.

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James Bond’s Aston Martin

The Aston Martin was first introduced in Goldfinger with machine guns, a back shield, an oil slick, rotating license plates and tire slashers. Different models made appearances in Thunderball, The Living Daylights, Die Another Day and Casino Royale
.Each model had cool add-ons like a cloaking shield, laser weapons and even a defibrillator. God, I want one of those cars

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Jack Bauer’s PDA – 24

Like James Bond’s mobile phone from Tomorrow Never Dies, Jack Bauer’s PDA could do almost anything. Satellite photos or building schematics? No problem! Encrypted messages from terrorists? Piece of cake! As long as Chloe was feeding him the information, there wasn’t anything that his PDA couldn’t do.

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The Shoe Phone – Get Smart

Okay, I know it’s a little odd to put a clunky shoe phone on the list. However, the shoe phone was from the 60s, and it was actually pretty cool… as well as funny.

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The Watches – Spy Kids

Carmen and Juni Cortez had a ton of cool gadgets as the littlest secret agents in the biz. But it was their multifunctional watch that was their coolest toy. If only it told time.

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Freddy’s Glove – A Nightmare on Elm Street

One Two, Freddy’s Comin’ For You…Three Four, Better Lock The Door..’ We all know the rhyme,

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Jun 15, 2009

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The 10 Coolest Places to Swim

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1. Bioluminescent Bay

Located in Puerto Rico, on Vieques Island, there is a shallow body of water with a narrow inlet known as Mosquito Bay. In each gallon of the bay there are 720,000 phosphorescent single-celled organisms that glow when they are agitated. It is a defense mechanism — the glowing is designed to daze whatever predator is bothering the tiny dinoflagellates. All together the bay, on a moonless night, will produce more than enough light to read. Swimming in Mosquito Bay will cause your limbs to be bathed in blue-green light. If you stop moving the light will dim, and eventually disappear completely, but each time you twitch it begins anew. Every time your kayak moves it too will be illuminated. It’s also easy to spot larger creatures; when manta rays or large jellies enter the mangrove swamps gentle rings of light form around them. If you scoop up a handful of the water you can watch individual glowing plankton roll down your arms and hands. And the salinity of the water, like the Dead Sea below, is high enough you can float sitting upright. Photographing Biobay isn’t easy, so there aren’t many high quality pictures of it, but enjoy the ones we found below.

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2. Jellyfish Lake

12,000 to 15,000 years ago one of the limestone rock islands in the nation of Palau sealed itself off from the ocean and became a marine lake. A few jellyfish were sealed inside, and with virtually no predators, they began multiplying and evolving. Today more than 10 million jellyfish inhabit Ongeim’l Tketau, known as Jellyfish Lake to tourists. Their sting became evolutionarily useless, and has been lost over time, to the point that the jellies are completely harmless to swim with. Swimming in Jellyfish lake, surrounded by a translucent sea of rhythmically pulsing creatures, is known to be unbelievably serene. The jellies, varying in size from basketballs to blackberries, slowly undulate as they follow the path of the sun across the surface of the lake.

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Please read rest of post on Super Tight Stuff

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Jun 11, 2009

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The 10 Biggest Intellectual Fights Of All time

In our modern, scientific world it is sometimes easy to forget that human progress often comes attached to some spectacular intellectual clashes between different ways of looking at things and differing interpretations of what is seen. There have been some notable intellectual mind-fights over the millennia, the following are ten such fights, the outcome of which changed the world into what we know of it today.

dna10. Intellectual Property Rights vs. Nature: Can Anyone “Own” Life?

A controversy is ongoing today between biological researchers and broader society on the issue of patenting the genes and genomes of living organisms. In 1980 the first patent on a genetically engineered bacteria was granted by the U.S. Supreme Court and the rush was on to patent the “products of nature.” Soon patents were being issued on discovered ‘new’ species of plants and animals even when they weren’t genetically engineered. Isolated and cloned DNA sequences encoding useful proteins are also patentable at present, despite the fact that they are ubiquitous in nature.

This legal and commercial situation has led to giant pharmaceutical companies obtaining patents on genes, gene products and even things like vitamins. Some indigenous people have discovered that the stranger who took that blood test now owns their entire genome! The National Institutes of Health tried in the early 1990s to patent more than 2,000 gene segments sequenced by Craig Venter during the Human Genome Project, even though neither NIH nor Venter knew what their function was. This controversy will not be going away soon, and the biotech industry risks losing public support due to its dismissal of important ethical concerns.

9. Steady State vs. Big Bang: Hoyle’s Derogatory Terms

In 1912, just three years before Albert Einstein published his theory of General Relativity [GR], Vesto Slipher measured the Doppler shift of a spiral galaxy and determined that almost all of these celestial ‘nebulae’ were receding from the earth at great speed. A decade later Alexander Friedmann derived equations from GR that showed the universe might be expanding. Two years after that Georges Lemaitre put these findings together and predicted that the recession of distant nebulae was due to the expansion of the universe.

It was Fred Hoyle who coined the term “Big Bang” in 1949 to describe the idea that the universe had a beginning, a derogatory term that stuck better than his own cosmological model, which he called “Steady State.” Hoyle postulated that new matter was being created as the universe expanded, so that it always remained roughly the same at any point in time. With confirmation of the Cosmic Microwave Background radiation in 1964 the Big Bang became the ’standard cosmological model’ after half a century of scientific argumentation and theoretical turf-wars.

8. Einstein vs. QT: The Gambling God

“God does not play dice with the universe,” said the man who became an icon of physics with his theories of special and general relativity, Albert Einstein. In 1927 Einstein began a series of debates with quantum explorer Niels Bohr about quantum indeterminism, its epistemological basis and interpretation.

The arguments revolved around what is known as the measurement problem and whether or not particles in the quantum state were really both wave and particle at the same time until measurements were made. Einstein wanted to insist that the apparent indeterminacy at the quantum level was just a (temporary) inability to measure certain properties, while Bohr maintained the impossibility of determining precise values of certain properties because at the quantum level the values were by nature uncertain. Bohr eventually won on the striking results of the Einstein, Podolsky and Rosen [EPR] experiment which arose from these debates and established the phenomenon of quantum non-locality.

7. Tesla vs. Edison: AC-DC’s Greatest Hits

In 1856 a boy was born in Croatia who became both a genius and an enigma during a time of great scientific, technological and social change. His name was Nikola Tesla and his passion was electricity and electromagnetism. The rivalry between Tesla and native born genius Thomas Edison at the turn of the 20th century became the stuff of scientific legend.

Tesla worked as an assistant to Edison when he first came to America. He designed a DC (direct current) system for Edison, who then refused to pay him the bonuses he’d promised. So Tesla struck out on his own to develop AC (alternating current) transmission. By 1915 the New York Times reported that the Nobel Prize in Physics was to be jointly shared by Tesla and Edison, though so strong was their personal animosity toward each other that both refused to accept it if the other was named. The prize went instead to two other researchers for work on X-ray crystallography. Six months after Tesla died penniless in 1943 the US Supreme Court invalidated 1909 Nobel winner Marconi’s most important patent for radio transmission and recognized Tesla as the inventor.

6. The Great Devonian Controversy: Plowing Darwin’s Road

The nineteenth century heralded many important advancements in scientific theory, including the publication of Charles Darwin’s Origin of the Species in 1859. The idea of evolution had been floating around in the scientific community for some time, with camps arguing for traditional creationism and the inheritance of acquired traits versus an ancient earth timeline and the transmutation of life forms over deep time. Darwin’s theory of natural selection enjoyed the increasing support of science as the debate over geological data developed during the 1830s to establish various ages of rock strata according to the type of fossils that could be found embedded in those layers.

Darwin had worked with geologist Adam Sedgwick before his journey to the Galapagos Islands, and found his theory dependent on stratigraphy as it steadily developed a scientific consensus in the intervening years. The controversy and Darwin’s theory initiated search for what became known as “transitional fossils,” a search that continues to this day.

5. Newton vs. Leibniz: Fluxions and Fluents

Sir Isaac Newton was an intellectual scrapper of considerable repute who was never shy of throwing power around or taking ideas and data from others without attribution. The long fight between Newton and Gottfried Leibniz over who discovered calculus is the most famous. Leibniz was unarguably the first to publish on the subjects of differential and integral calculus, 20 years before Newton. Yet letters from Newton expounding his theories of “fluxional” calculus exactly coincide with Leibniz’s work.

A major scientific bruhaha ensued, with defenders in both camps. Leibniz appealed to the Royal Society, allowing Newton as its president to appoint the investigating committee from among his friends, and even to write the committee’s report accusing Leibniz of plagiarism. Historians of science now credit both Leibniz and Newton with the discovery of calculus, probably because neither Newton nor Leibniz are around to argue about it any more.

4. Galileo vs. The Church: Our Sunny Neighborhood

Galileo Galilei published in 1610 his observations through his telescope to argue in favor of the Copernican sun-centered cosmological model against the then-predominant Ptolemaic view. He demonstrated his telescope to the Jesuit College and encountered little resistance. Then, in 1632 he published Dialogue Concerning the Two Chief World Systems and quickly found himself summoned to appear before the Inquisition on charges of heresy.

Galileo was forced to recant his support for the Copernican model and spent the rest of his life under house arrest, though with rather lenient travel and visitation allowances. His works were finally dropped from the Index of prohibited books in 1835. In 1992 Pope John Paul II expressed regret for how the “Galileo Affair” was handled, officially conceding on the part of the church that the earth is not stationary and that the planets orbit the sun.

3. Martin Luther vs. The Church: Reformation

In the year 1517 the Catholic monk Martin Luther nailed a copy of his 95 Theses to the door of Castle Church in Wittenberg, Germany to argue against the doctrine and practice of selling indulgences. These arguments were quickly translated from Latin into German and widely disseminated with the help of the newly-invented printing press, and led to Luther’s excommunication in 1520. The great Reformation quickly ensued.

Pope Leo X issued a lengthy rebuttal to Luther’s charges in an encyclical reiterating Church doctrine, which didn’t sway public sentiment in Germany and other parts of Northern Europe. Protestantism became firmly rooted as a sort of declaration of independence from the control of Rome. This in turn led to tremendous social changes along with the decline of feudalism and the rise of commercialism as well as conflicts between Catholic and Protestant claims to territories in the New World.

2. Paul vs. James: Universalizing The Faith

Surely the Council of Jerusalem [circa 50 c.e.] has to be counted among the most important of intellectual arguments, for the philosophical sub-discipline of theology. It was a clash between James the Just and the great evangelist Paul within two decades of the crucifixion of Jesus. It was about whether or not Christians would be held to the strictures of Judaic Law.

James was titular head of the Church in Jerusalem, while Paul was busy establishing congregations across the Mediterranean portion of the Roman empire among gentiles. The primary issue appears to have been a requirement for circumcision, but others related to dietary provisions, etc. were also present. While some of these issues are still debated today, the consensus is that Paul ‘won’ the debate so that Christians are not held to Judaic Law which was “fulfilled” by the figure of Christ. The rest, as they say, is history.

1. Socrates vs. The Gods: Triumph of Reason

Greek philosophy helped to shape the metaphysics of the civilized world in the last half of the first millennium b.c.e. There were many divergent schools of philosophy competing with one another by the time the Sophists came along maintaining that truth was entirely a matter of persuasion by argument rather than something absolute. Socrates rose from among Sophist ranks and became famous for walking the talk so well that he made some enemies in high places.

Socrates taught that ethics were not a matter of divine decree, but are best the result of human reason and individual conscience. Socrates was charged with impiety (disbelief in the state’s gods, corrupting the morals of the youth), convicted by a margin of 6 out of 50 votes, and committed suicide by drinking poison. Through his student Plato and Plato’s student Aristotle, the intellectual tools of reason and logic lived on to become part of the guiding philosophy of the Enlightenment and science.

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Jun 11, 2009

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10 Excruciating Medical Treatments from the Middle Ages

Surgery: Crude, blunt and horribly painful

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Surgery in the Middle Ages was crude and blunt and … PAINFUL! Surgeons had a very poor understanding of human anatomy, anesthetics and antiseptic techniques to keep wounds and incisions from infection. It was not a pleasant time to be a patient, but if you valued your life, there was no choice. To relieve the pain, you submitted to more pain, and with any luck, you might get better. Surgeons in the early part of the Middle Ages were often monks because they had access to the best medical literature – often written by Arab scholars. But in 1215, the Pope said monks had to stop practicing surgery, so they instructed peasants to perform various forms of surgery. Farmers, who had little experience other than castrating animals, came into demand to perform anything from removing painful tooth abscesses to performing eye cataract surgery.

But there were some great successes. Archeologists in England found the skull of a peasant man from about 1100 who had been struck in the head by a heavy, blunt object. Close examination shows the man had been given life-saving surgery called trepanning, where a hole was drilled and a section of the skull was lifted, allowing smashed bone segments to be removed. The surgery alleviated pressure on the brain and the man recovered. We can only guess how painful it must have been!

Dwale: A crude anesthetic that could cause death in itself
Surgery in the Middle Ages was really only used in life/death circumstances. One reason is that there was no reliable anesthetic to dull the excruciating pain caused by the rough cutting and procedures. Some potions used to relieve pain or induce sleep during surgery were potentially lethal. An example was a concoction of lettuce juice, gall from a castrated boar, briony, opium, henbane, hemlock juice and vinegar. This was mixed with wine before being given to the patient.

The Middle English word used to describe an anesthetic potion was “dwale” (pronounced dwaluh).

The hemlock juice alone could easily have caused death. While the anesthetic might induce a profound sleep, allowing a surgery to take place, it might be so strong that the patient would stop breathing.

Paracelsus, a medieval Swiss physician, was the first to use ether for its anesthetic qualities. Ether did not gain wide acceptance and its use declined. It was rediscovered in America some 300 years later. Paracelsus also used laudanum, a tincture of opium, to alleviate pain. (Photo by: pubmedcentral)

Spells: Pagan rituals and religious penance as a form of cure
Early medieval medicine was often a mix of the pagan, religious and scientific. As the church gained more control, pagan “rituals” were made punishable offences. One such punishable offence might have been the following:

“When [the healer] approaches the house where the sick person lies, if [the healer] finds a stone lying nearby, [he turns] the stone over and looks in the place where the stone was lying [to see] if there anything living under it, and if [the healer] finds there a worm or a fly or an ant or anything that moves, they [the healer] avers that the sick person will recover.” (From The Corrector & Physician).

Patients who had contracted the bubonic plague were told to perform penance – the practice of confessing one’s sins, then performing a religious devotion prescribed by a priest – a common “treatment.” They were told they might be spared death if they correctly confessed their sins. (Photo by: motv)

Eye Cataract Surgery: Painful procedure that rarely saved patients’ sight
An early operation for removal of a cataract included inserting a sharp instrument, such a knife or large needle, through the cornea and forcing the lens of the eye out of its capsule and down to the bottom of the eye.

Once Islamic medicine became more widely followed in medieval Europe, cataract surgery improved. The syringe was used for the extraction of cataracts by suction. A hollow metallic hypodermic syringe was inserted through the white part of the eye and successfully extracted the cataracts through suction.

Blocked Bladders: Metallic catheters inserted into the bladder
Blockage of urine in the bladder, due to syphilis and other venereal diseases, was fairly common at a time when antibiotics were not available. The urinary catheter – a metal tube inserted through the urethra into the bladder – was first used in the mid-1300s. When a tube could not easily be passed into the bladder to relieve the obstruction, other procedures to enter the bladder were devised, some quite novel, though all probably as painful and dangerous as the condition itself.

Here is a description of the treatment of kidney stones: “If there is a stone in the bladder make sure of it as follows: have a strong person sit on a bench, his feet on a stool; the patient sits on his lap, legs bound to his neck with a bandage, or steadied on the shoulders of the assistants. The physician stands before the patient and inserts two fingers of his right hand into the anus, pressing with his left fist over the patient’s pubes. With his fingers engaging the bladder from above, let him work over all of it. If he finds a hard, firm pellet it is a stone in the bladder… If you want to extract the stone, precede it with light diet and fasting for two days beforehand. On the third day, … locate the stone, bring it to the neck of the bladder; there, at the entrance, with two fingers above the anus incise lengthwise with an instrument and extract the stone.” (Photo by: McKinney Collection)

Surgeons on the Battlefield: Pulling of arrows was a nasty business
Use of the longbow – a large powerful bow that could shoot arrows great distances – flourished in the Middle Ages. This created a real problem for battlefield surgeons: how to remove arrows from the bodies of soldiers.

The heads of war arrows weren’t necessarily glued onto the shafts, but attached with warm beeswax. After the wax set, they could be handled normally, but once shot into something if the shaft was pulled, the head would come off inside the body.

One answer was the arrow spoon, based on a design by an Arab physician, named Albucasis. The spoon is inserted into the wound and attaches itself around the arrowhead to be drawn from a wound without causing further damage as the barbs rip out.

Wounds such as these were also treated with cautery, where red hot irons were applied to the wound so that the tissue and veins sealed over, preventing blood loss and infection. Cautery was especially used in amputations.

A famous illustration for surgeons was called, “The Wound Man,” which showed the various kinds of wounds a battlefield surgeon might expect to see. (Photo by: FM)

Bloodletting: A cure-all for almost any ailment
Physicians in the Middle Ages believed that most human illnesses were the result of excess fluid in the body (called humour). The cure was removing excess fluid by taking large amounts of blood out of the body. Two of the main methods of bloodletting were leeching and venesection.

In leeching, the physician attached a leech, a blood-sucking worm, to the patient, probably on that part of the body most severely affected by the patient’s condition. The worms would suck off a quantity of blood before falling off.

Venesection was the direct opening of a vein, generally on the inside of the arm, for the draining of a substantial quantity of blood. The tool used for venesection was the fleam, a narrow half-inch long blade, which penetrates the vein, and leaves a small wound. The blood ran into a bowl, which was used to measure the amount of blood taken.

Monks in various monasteries had regular bloodletting treatments – whether they were sick or not – as a means of keeping good health. They had to be excused from regular duties for several days while they recovered. (Photo by: McKinney Collection and FM)

Childbirth: Women told to prepare for their death
Childbirth in the Middle Ages was considered so deadly that the Church told pregnant women to prepare their shrouds and confess their sins in case of death.

Midwives were important to the Church due to their role in emergency baptisms and were regulated by Roman Catholic law. A popular medieval saying was, “The better the witch; the better the midwife”; to guard against witchcraft, the Church required midwives to be licensed by a bishop and swear an oath not to use magic when assisting women through labour.

In situations where a baby’s abnormal birth position slowed its delivery, the birth attendant turned the infant inutero or shook the bed to attempt to reposition the fetus externally. A dead baby who failed to be delivered would be dismembered in the womb with sharp instruments and removed with a “squeezer.” A retained placenta was delivered by means of counterweights, which pulled it out by force. (Photo by: Wikipedia)

Clysters: A medieval method of injecting medicines into the anus
The medieval version of the enema was known as the clyster, which is really an instrument for injecting fluids into the body through the anus. The clyster was a long metallic tube with a cupped end, into which the medicinal fluid was poured. The other end, a dull point, which was drilled with several small holes, was inserted into the anus. Fluids were poured in and a plunger was used to inject the fluids into the colon area, using a pumping action.

The most common fluid used was lukewarm water, though occasionally medical concoctions, such as thinned boar’s bile or vinegar, were used.

In the 16th and 17th centuries, the medieval clyster was replaced by the more common bulb syringe. In France, the treatment became quite fashionable. King Louis XIV had over 2,000 enemas during his reign, sometimes holding court while the ceremony progressed. (Photo by: CMA)

Hemorrhoids: Agony of the anus treated with hot irons
Treatment of many diseases in the Middle Ages included prayers to patron saints for possible divine intervention. A seventh century Irish monk, St. Fiacre, was the patron saint for hemorrhoid sufferers. He developed hemorrhoids from digging in his garden, one day, and sat on a stone which gave him a miraculous cure. The stone survives to this day with the imprint of his hemorrhoids and is visited by many hoping for a similar cure. The disease was often called “St. Fiacre’s curse” in the Middle Ages.

In more extreme cases of hemorrhoids, medieval physicians used their cautery irons to treat the problem. Others believed that simply pulling them out with their fingernails was a solution, a solution that the Greek physician, Hippocrates suggested.

The 12th century Jewish physician Moses Maimonides wrote a seven-chapter treatise on hemorrhoids and disagreed with the use of surgery, instead prescribing the most common treatment used to this day: the sitz bath

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Jun 11, 2009

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13 Unsolved scientific puzzles

We investigated some of the most puzzling anomalies of modern science, those intractable problems that refuse to conform to the theories. Here he counts down the 13 strangest.

eclipse1. MOST OF THE UNIVERSE IS MISSING

We can only account for 4 per cent of the cosmos

If you’re wondering what the LHC might do for you, how’s this: it might just find a whole quarter of the universe. The collider is hoping to create some particles of what physicists call “dark matter”, an enigma that is thought to make up roughly 25 per cent of the universe. Then there is the “dark energy”, a mysterious force that seems to be ripping space and time apart. In total, a whopping 96 per cent of the universe has gone AWOL. Unless, that is, we’ve got our maths all wrong. Watch this space.

2. THE PIONEER ANOMALY

Two spacecraft are flouting the laws of physics

In the 1970s NASA launched two space probes that have caused no end of headaches. About 10 years into the missions of Pioneer 10 and 11, the mission head admitted that they had drifted off course. In every year of travel, the probes veer 8000 miles further away from their intended trajectory. It is not much when you consider that they cover 219 million miles a year; the drift is around 10 billion times weaker than the Earth’s pull on your feet. Nonetheless, it is there, and decades of analysis have failed to find a straightforward reason for it. Times Archive: Pioneer 11 arrival at Saturn, 1974

3. VARYING CONSTANTS

Destabilising our view of the universe

A decade ago, we discovered that the fundamental constants of physics might not be so constant after all. These are the numbers that describe just how strong the forces of nature are, and make the laws of physics work when we use them to describe the processes of nature. Light that has travelled across the universe from distant stars tells us those laws might have been different in the past. Though the physical laws and constants have helped us define and tame the natural world, they might be an illusion.

4. COLD FUSION

Nuclear energy without the drama

In 1989, the world was rocked by claims that you could release nuclear energy without a catastrophic explosion. Various failures to replicate or explain these results soon ended the careers of the scientists involved. But, despite what you might have heard, “cold fusion” never really went away. Over a 10-year period from 1989, US navy labs ran more than 200 experiments to investigate whether nuclear reactions generating more energy than they consume – supposedly only possible inside stars – can occur at room temperature. Numerous researchers have since pronounced themselves believers. With controllable cold fusion, many of the world’s energy problems would melt away: no wonder the US Department of Energy is interested again.

5. LIFE

Are you more than just a bag of chemicals?

Are you more than the sum of the inanimate chemicals that make up your body? What turns a living tree into a lifeless piece of wood? No one knows. Researchers have even given up trying to define what life is. But they are still trying to understand it – by making it from scratch. In labs across the world, people are taking the raw materials of living things and trying to put them together in a way that makes them come alive. In an effort to resolve the anomalous nature of life, the idea of scientists playing God has taken a whole new turn. Times Archive: Dr Edmund Leach on when scientists play God, 1968

6. METHANE FROM MARTIANS

NASA scientists found evidence for life on Mars. Then they changed their minds

On July 20, 1976, the Viking landers scooped up some Martian soil and mixed it with radioactive nutrients. The mission’s scientists all agreed that if radioactive methane was released from the soil, something must be eating the nutrients – and there must be life on Mars. The experiment gave a positive result, but NASA denied an official detection of Martian life. Today, there is even more evidence that something is creating methane on Mars. Is it life? The Viking experiment suggests it was. Martin Rees, England’s astronomer royal, calls the search for extraterrestrial life the most important scientific endeavour of our time. But have we already found it? Times Archive: Spacecraft evidence suggests life on Mars was possible, 1976

7. THE WOW! SIGNAL

Has ET already been in touch?

It was an electromagnetic pulse that came from the direction of the Sagittarius constellation. It lasted 37 seconds and had exactly the characteristics predicted for an alien signal. Maybe that’s why, on 15 August 1977 it caused astronomer Jerry Ehman to scrawl “Wow!” on the printout from Big Ear, Ohio State University’s radio telescope in Delaware. The nearest star in that direction is 220 light years away. If that really is where is came from, it would have had to be a pretty powerful astronomical event – or an advanced alien civilisation using an astonishingly large and powerful transmitter. More than 30 years later, its origin remains a mystery. Times Archive: ET, The Extra Terrestrial, The Times review 1982

8. A GIANT VIRUS

It’s a freak that could rewrite the story of life

Mimivirus is sitting in a freezer in Marseille. Around thirty times bigger than the rhinovirus that gives you a common cold, it is by far the biggest virus known to science. But this virus’s biggest impact won’t be on the healthcare systems of the globe. It will be, most likely, on the history of life on Earth. Mimivirus doesn’t fit with the established story of how life on Earth got going. Mimi has a genome that, in parts, looks like yours. Mimivirus seems to be part of the story of life on Earth. It may even make us rewrite it.

9. DEATH

Evolution’s problem with self-destruction

Why must we die? It is a question that splits biologists, and over the years, theories have been batted back and forth as new evidence comes to light. One answer is that death is simply necessary – to avoid overcrowding, for instance. But evolution doesn’t – can’t – select for a “death switch” because evolution is supposed to be all about the individual. And yet there does seem to be a death switch: researchers have managed to locate genetic switches that massively extend the lifespan of some nematode worms. Can we solve the riddle of death? Times Archive: Why die? Experiments in immortality, 1921

10. SEX

There are better ways to reproduce

Sex is everywhere, but no one knows why. It is a question that “better scientists than I have spent book after book failing to answer,” says Richard Dawkins. To Charles Darwin, the reason for the prevalence of sexual reproduction was “hidden in darkness”. All the arguments in favour of sexual reproduction are countered by stronger arguments in favour of self-cloning: asexual reproduction, where an organism produces a copy of itself, is a much more efficient way to pass your genes down to the next generation. There’s no proof that sex makes a species more resilient, or better placed to cope with change. Why is it still around? Times Archive: Darwin on the Descent of Man, 1871 Part 1 Part 2

11. FREE WILL

Your decisions are not your own

Our gut instinct, our experience, is that we make the decisions to move, to think, to eat, to steal, to lie, to punch and kick. We have constructed the entire edifice of our civilisation on this idea. But science says this free will is a delusion. According to the world’s best neuroscientists, we are brain-machines. Our brains create the sense that somewhere within them is the “you” that makes decisions. But it is an illusion; there is no ghost in the machine. What does this mean for our sense of self? And for our morality – can we prosecute people for acts over which they had no conscious control? Times Archive: Necessity and free will, 1877

12. THE PLACEBO EFFECT

Who’s being deceived?

The placebo effect used to be thought of as just a manipulation, a mind-trick. Doctors wore white coats, spoke in soothing tones, exuding confidence and medical know-how, and if they told you a pill would make you better, it would. By the time you found out it was just a sugar pill, you were feeling great, so who cares? Well, lots of people, actually, because our new understanding of placebo is messing up medicine. Some prescription drugs that were judged to perform “better than placebo” in clinical trials don’t work unless you know you’re taking them. All in all, the gold standard of medicine, the placebo-controlled clinical trial, is looking a little peaky. Times Archive: Science report: Endorphins and the placebo effect, 1978

13. HOMEOPATHY

It’s patently absurd, so why won’t it go away?

Homeopathy’s claim is that you can take a substance of dubious properties, dilute it to the point where there are no molecules of the original substance left in the sample you have, and still use it to heal sickness. Sir John Forbes, the physician to Queen Victoria’s household, called it “an outrage to human reason.” There is no justification in all of science for this idea — and yet there remains some slim evidence that homeopathy works. How can this be? Times Archive: Advertisement: The New Homoeopathy, 1914

13 Things That Don’t Make Sense – The Most Intriguing Scientific Mysteries of Our Time by Michael Brooks is published by Profile Books, £12.99 More information at Michael’s website.

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Jun 10, 2009

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Top 5 Coolest Things In Space

Since day one, at least day one of human existence, we’ve looked to the stars and beyond, and in them we’ve found faith, dreams, inspiration, direction, and love. From our scriptures to NASA and from the moon to Mars, we’ve searched for answers about ourselves and things far greater. Unfortunately, with modern urbanization, and its corresponding light pollution, it has become increasingly difficult to enjoy space in all its glory.

This pollution is precisely why we’re thankful for the spectacular photos taken by such photographic astronomers as David Malin. He, along with Phaidon Press, has put out a book (Ancient Light: A Portrait of the Universe) that features a number of his black and white works and includes such cool things in space as star clusters, galaxies, nebulae, and much more.

For our purposes, we’ve gleaned five cool things in space from Malin’s book based on their proximity to Earth and their general popularity within human society (meaning you might have heard of the phenomenon).

5.Halley’s Comet

halleys-cometDistance from Earth: 0.000000474 light years (closest approach)

Many of us remember Halley’s Comet’s last approach in 1986, and if you were young at that time you may have yet another chance within your lifetime to see this phenomenon; the next scheduled passing is in 2061. Since Halley’s Comet’s first observation in 240 BC (and being recognized as a periodic comet — arriving every 75 to 76 years — in the 18th century), the ’86 passing was the least spectacular due to urban light pollution. In fact, the light pollution was so bad that many amateur astronomers were forced to travel to the southern hemisphere if they hoped to catch a glimpse of one of the most accessible cool things in space. Despite the handicaps provided by modern civilization for terrestrial-bound persons, space programs throughout the world literally reached for the sky as they sent a number of probes (nicknamed the Halley Armada) into space. These probes managed to capture the first images of Halley’s Comet’s nucleus and an ultraviolet space telescope helped Soviet scientists put together a model of Halley’s Comet.

What might surprise us the most is that while Halley’s Comet appears bright and shiny from our perspective on Earth, it’s actually black as coal and only reflects about 4% of the sun’s light. Another surprise is its small size; the nucleus of Halley’s Comet is only 15 kilometers long, 8 kilometers wide and about 8 kilometers thick, however, the coma stretches back about 100 kilometers.

4.The Helix Nebula

Distance from Earth: 700 light years

As the closest bright planetary nebulae to Earth, the Helix Nebula provides plenty of great photo ops from the Hubble telescope and other ground-based telescopes. The Helix Nebula, part of the Aquarius constellation, was first discovered around 1824 by Karl Ludwig Harding, but it wasn’t till about 2003 when this phenomenon received its “Eye of God” nickname. If this were truly the Eye of God, its proximity to us makes total sense since there aren’t many parents who don’t want to keep close tabs on their depraved children.

The Helix Nebula is named as such because, from our earthly position, it appears that we are looking down a helix, the shape of a cross-section of DNA. The Helix Nebula is a planetary nebula and its core will eventually become a white dwarf star. It’s also this central core that glows and causes the light show in the surrounding gases.

3.The Eagle Nebula

Distance from Earth: 7,000 light years

The Eagle Nebula is interesting not only because you can see its brightest star with a good pair of binoculars, but also because in 2007 scientists discovered evidence that led them to believe a nearby supernova destroyed the distinctive Pillars within the Eagle Nebula some 6,000 years ago; however, the light that will reveal the new shape won’t reach Earth for another 1,000 years.

Another interesting aspect of Eagle Nebula, which is part of the Serpens constellation and was discovered in 1745-’46 by Jean-Philip de Cheseaux, is the fact that there is a whole open cluster of bright blue stars being formed.

2.The Witch Head Nebula


Distance from Earth: 1,000 light years

The Witch Head Nebula, which looks like a right-facing profile of a witch, is located near what’s likely the most recognizable constellation to most people — Orion. Although it’s officially a part of the Eridanus constellation, it is Orion’s Rigel star (located at the bottom right corner of Orion) that illuminates the Witch Head Nebula. The Witch Head Nebula appears blue due to the combination of Rigel’s blue color and the dust within the nebula’s cloud that reflects blue light better than red (it’s the same physical process that causes the Earth’s daytime sky to appear blue).

1.The Horsehead Nebula


Distance from Earth: 1,500 light years

Another space phenomenon found in the Orion constellation (to the right of the left-most star in Orion’s belt) is the Horsehead Nebula. First seen in 1888, the Horsehead Nebula is part of the Orion Molecular Cloud Complex and is a dark cloud of swirling dust that blocks the light from the bright red emission nebula behind it. Bringing the Horsehead Nebula down to Earth, South Park’s character, “Biggest Douche in the universe,” was from this randomly formed cloud.

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