Roll up, roll up!

Friday, April 29, 2005

Noises From America

Quotes from George W. Bush this week.

On Energy Policies:

"Millions of American families and small businesses are hurting because of higher gasoline prices.”
“My administration is doing everything we can to make gasoline more affordable.”
“In the near term we will continue to encourage oil producing nations to maximise their production."

On The Current Choice For US Ambassador to the UN, John Bolton:

"John Bolton is a blunt guy. Sometimes people say I'm a little too blunt. John Bolton can get the job done at the United Nations.

Wednesday, April 27, 2005


Prime Minister Tony Blair's election campaign plane has been struck by lightning as it approached London on Wednesday afternoon.

This isn’t the first time either. Mr Blair's plane has been hit by lightning before, during a trip to Washington.

Monday, April 25, 2005

Your Girl Is Lovely, Hubble

Astronomers are this week celebrating the 15th year in space for the Hubble space telescope - perhaps the most successful astronomy mission ever.

Since it was launched on 24 April 1990, Hubble has produced over 700,000 images of the Universe and there is a long list of scientific achievements made by scientists using the telescope.

Hubble has helped astronomers calculate the age of the Universe (13.7 billion years old), has helped confirm the existence of dark energy and has gathered evidence that the expansion of the Universe is accelerating.

But despite all of this, celebrations are being overshadowed by uncertainty over the future of the orbiting observatory.

To the outrage of many astronomers, Nasa's previous administrator Sean O'Keefe cancelled all plans to repair the telescope.

But now Hubble has been thrown a lifeline: the agency's new chief, Mike Griffin, has pledged to re-visit the decision.

Without servicing of its fading batteries and gyroscopes, it will probably stop taking pictures by 2007 or 2008.

Friday, April 22, 2005


Cavers have ventured deeper into the Earth than anyone has been before.
A Ukrainian team has reached a record depth of 2,080m (6,822ft), passing the elusive 2,000m mark at Krubera, the world's deepest known cave.

Carrying about five tonnes of equipment, they had to negotiate vertical drops and freezing torrents of water. They were also forced to blast rubble from passages that were critically narrowed or blocked by "boulder chokes".

They kept in touch with the surface base camp by rigging nearly 3km (two miles) of rope strung with a telephone wire.

But the August-September expedition encountered many obstacles. By the third week, a sump (cold pond in the cave) blocked the team's downward progress.

Finally, colleagues Denis Kurta and Dmitry Fedotov squeezed through a narrow, 100m-long passage, which successfully bypassed the sump and pointed steeply down.

On 19 October 2004, team leader Yuri Kasjan dropped down a pit and discovered from his altimeter that he had passed 2,000m.

More pits and passages brought the explorers to a sandy chamber at 2,080m, the deepest to date any human has ventured below ground.

Under The Influence

Workers distracted by email and phone calls suffer a fall in IQ more than twice that found in marijuana smokers, new research has claimed.

They’ve Got High Hopes

Allomerus decemarticulatus is a tiny tree-dwelling ant which lives in the forests of the northern Amazon. Researchers examining the relationship between different ant species and their host plants noticed that this particular ant lived on only one plant - Hirtella physophora - and that they built galleries hanging under its stems.

Many ant species build these galleries as hideouts to act as sanctuaries between their nests and foraging areas. But the team, led by Jérôme Orivel at the University of Toulouse, France, spotted that A. decemarticulatus were using these galleries as traps for prey.

The traps are woven together using hairs stripped from the ants’ host plant and reinforced with fungus, producing a platform with pitted holes. “The ants are always hiding just under the holes, waiting with their mandibles open. When an insect arrives they immediately grab the legs and antennae,” says Orivel. This pulling immobilises the victim, stretching it out as though being tortured on a mediaeval rack.

Worker ants then clamber over their helpless prey, biting and stinging until the victim is paralysed or dead. The carcass is then chopped into small pieces while still on the rack or, more likely, carried back to the leaf pouch to be devoured. The surprise-attack traps are “like something out of Edgar Allan Poe”, says Mike Kaspari, an ant expert at the University of Oklahoma, US.

Safe As Houses

This week, a top insurance company charted the world's most dangerous places to do business. Unsurprisingly, regions like Iraq, India and Russia were marked as at severe risk from terrorism.

But while most countries were classified as "guarded" risk or above, by Aon, the world's second-largest insurance broker, it also highlighted a handful of states dotted round the globe which remain unaffected by the seemingly ever-present terror threat. They were:

Greenland, Mongolia, North Korea, Vietnam, Botswana and Uraguay

Supply And Demand

Two thirds of those graduating from leading UK universities this summer believe there are not enough suitable jobs for them, a survey suggests.

Interviews with 16,113 students at 30 institutions did find a slight increase this year in those expecting to enter a graduate-level job, at 36%.

But the figure was well down on the peak of 49% recorded in the similar UK Graduate Careers Survey in 1998.

When it came to their perceptions of the job market, 63% agreed "there are some graduate jobs, but not enough for everyone leaving university this summer".

Self Contradictory Quote Of The Week

"The argument that there exists a difference between the sexes is a typical male view."

Microsoft Error Message Of The Week

"Your Web site security may need to be tightened. To tighten security as much as possible for your Web sites, select 'Fix this problem'. Note: This message will re-appear even after your security is tightened."

iPod One

US President George W Bush’s iPod contains:

John Fogerty: Centerfield
Van Morrison: Brown-Eyed Girl
Stevie Ray Vaughan: The House is Rockin'
The Knack: My Sharona
Blackie and the Rodeo Kings: Swinging from the Chains of Love

Plus songs by:

Country stars Alan Jackson, George Jones, Kenny Chesney
Classic rockers Eric Clapton, Robert Palmer, Bryan Adams

I’m A Voter… Get Me Out Of Here!


Sir Alex Ferguson, Prunella Scales, Maureen Lipman, Richard Wilson, Eddie Izzard, Beverly Knight, Lord Richard Attenborough.

Frederick Forsyth, Sir Tim Rice, Antony Worrall Thompson, Tony Hadley, Eddie Jordan, Bill Wyman, Anneka Rice, Joan Collins.

Liberal Democrats
Brian Eno, Greg Dyke, Claire Rayner, Germaine Greer, Fran Healy, Nicholas Parsons, Barry Norman.

Mark Thomas, Tim Roth.

Sean Connery.

Thursday, April 21, 2005

Supply And Demand

Two thirds of those graduating from leading UK universities this summer believe there are not enough suitable jobs for them, a survey suggests.

Interviews with 16,113 students at 30 institutions did find a slight increase this year in those expecting to enter a graduate-level job, at 36%.

But the figure was well down on the peak of 49% recorded in the similar UK Graduate Careers Survey in 1998.

When it came to their perceptions of the job market, 63% agreed "there are some graduate jobs, but not enough for everyone leaving university this summer".

Wednesday, April 20, 2005

Four Wheels Good, Two Wheels Better!

A temporary speed trap at roadworks has led to motorists being fined £750,000 in two months.

Speed cameras were placed on the A27 at Falmer, East Sussex, while a pedestrian subway was installed.

The speed limit on the road was reduced from 70mph to 40mph and about 12,500 drivers who failed to slow down were fined £60.

Bad Press

The advertising watchdog has rejected industry complaints about a public health campaign warning of the dangers of salt

The Food Standards Agency's Sid the Slug campaign last year warned too much salt was linked to high blood pressure, heart disease and stroke.

The Salt Manufacturers' Association had said the poster which stated "too much salt is bad for you" was misleading.

It had argued the concept of "too much salt" was immeasurable.

When Is A School Like An Airport?

Local education authorities are being urged to use sniffer dogs to stop drugs being brought into schools.

Monday, April 18, 2005

Rather Pointless Statistic Of The Week

LARGE sporting events have an "ecological footprint" thousands of times the size of the pitches they are played on. That's according to researchers who have calculated a sporting event's environmental impact for the first time.

The Need For Speed

The fastest computer in the world is currently an IBM Blue Gene system. It recently smashed its own record, clocking up 135.5 teraflops - 135.5 trillion calculations a second.

With its 64 full racks, each holding 1,024 processors, it is expected to reach a peak theoretical performance of 360 teraflops this year.

Within two years, petaflop speeds are expected to be reached - a thousand trillion calculations a second.

Welcome To The World Of Compromised Ideals

The International Criminal Court (ICC) at The Hague, which can investigate and prosecute people for genocide and war crimes was set up in 2002, and has its own judges and its own chief prosecutor, Luis Moreno Ocampo, who took part in the trials of Argentina's former military junta.

When the Court was established by an international conference in Rome, only seven countries voted against. They included China, Israel, the United States, and Saddam Hussein's Iraq.

American hostility towards the ICC, which is based on fears of politically motivated (in other words, anti-American) prosecutions, has lessened slightly as a result of the Darfur crisis.

The US eventually agreed to let those accused of atrocities in Darfur be tried at The Hague, as long as Americans and people from other countries which have not ratified the Court would only be tried in their home countries if they too were accused of war crimes.

But the result is that only three years after the ICC came into being, it is already subject to the same kind of national pressures which have stopped the UN dealing effectively with crimes against humanity.

Friday, April 15, 2005

Out Of Context Quote Of The Week

"About 80% of sweeping is physical. It is getting down on your hands and knees, amongst the dirt, and looking for devices."

Fish In A Barrel

UKIP's new manifesto proclaims that "too many young people leave school without any basic standards of literacy or numeracy".

Maybe they end up working at campaign HQ, judging by the misspelt first word of their manifesto, which begins with the headline "Forword" above an introduction by party leader Roger Knapman.

Education And The Real World

More and more students are plagiarising material - and buying essays online, a BBC investigation suggests.

The boss of a firm selling coursework to students has admitted that her work "belittles the whole education system".

She told a BBC Radio 4 documentary she sells between 500 and 1,000 essays a week, mainly to overseas students studying in the UK. Prices start at £50.

This is in the same week that almost 300 school and college students were disqualified from exams in England last summer for malpractice involving mobile phones.

Assembly Lines

McDonald's is 50 years old this week.

Well, sort of. Dick and Mac McDonald opened their first drive-through, in San Bernardino, California, in 1948.

The birthday being marked today was the result of a meeting the brothers had with a milkshake-mixer salesman called Ray Kroc. Mr Kroc was so impressed by the amount of business he was doing with the McDonalds that he signed up to be their first franchisee, opening his first restaurant in Illinois, in 1955. By 1961, he had bought them out for $2.7m.

"What Henry Ford did for cars, McDonald's did for burgers," says John Williamson of branding agency Wolff Olins. This demanded intense attention to detail. In 1961, for example, Mr Kroc opened Hamburger University, granting bachelor degrees in hamburgerology.

In the same year, the company ditched its original logo - a little man named Speedee - in favour of the Golden Arches.

Since then, McDonald's uniquely consistent branding, matching the worldwide homogeneity of its food, has been legendary.

It's now in 121 countries, more than half of which were added during the breakneck 1990s. Curiously - but no doubt meaninglessly - no two countries with a McDonald's presence have ever gone to war with each other.

Thursday, April 14, 2005

Food For Thought

Around one third of food grown for human consumption in the UK ends up in the rubbish bin, new figures reveal.

Statistics from the government and food industry show each adult wastes food to the value of £420 each year.

Nice Advice


If someone tries to take something from you by force, it may be best to give it to them

This will help you avoid getting injured

Facing a sexual attack, you must decide whether to defend yourself, which may put you at risk of further injury

Or it may not be possible to defend yourself


avoid getting engaged in conversation by strangers in the street by pretending to be foreign. Many robbers start by distracting their victims by approaching them and asking for the time.

Rather than do that, pretend you don't understand, say something in a foreign language, even a made-up one, or just walk off. Just don't enter into conversation.

You could also wear a decoy watch or carry a second wallet with a small amount of cash inside which you can hand over to a robber if they demand it, while keeping your real valuables hidden.

A Monopoly By Any Other Name

President Jacques Chirac is set to launch the Yes campaign in France's referendum on the European constitution in a TV debate with 80 young people.

The Yes campaign, which includes most of the country's political elite from left and right, is under pressure.

Two months ago they were well ahead but now the opinion polls give the No campaign a clear lead.

It says the new European Union is too Anglo-Saxon in its commitment to free market economics and open competition.

Children Are Our Future

If kids were in charge of the election campaign the things the politicians would be talking about would be very different, according to a survey.

If they could pick what was on the agenda before the election it would be animal cruelty and bullying.

The survey of kids aged nine to 13 also found out that Wayne Rooney is the most popular choice as prime minister.

Mind you, with 12% of the votes, fictional character Harry Potter was the next choice, ahead of Tony Blair.

And they don't seem that bothered about which party is in charge of the country, as 15% of the children surveyed couldn't recognise any of the leaders of Conservative, Labour or Liberal Democrats political parties.

You Bet Your Life

An Irish bookmaker has risked the displeasure of the Vatican by inviting punters to have a flutter on the papal election.

Since the death of John Paul II, the money has been flooding in, with more than 5,000 bets taken so far.


Cardinal Francis Arinze (Nigeria): 3-1 (fav)
Cardinal Oscar Maradiaga (Honduras): 9-2
Cardinal Dionigi Tettamanzi (Italy): 9-2
Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger (Germany): 6-1
Cardinal Claudio Hummes (Brazil): 7-1
Cardinal Jorge Bergoglio (Argentina): 7-1
Cardinal Jaime Ortega (Cuba): 16-1

New pope's name

Benedict 3-1
John Paul 7-2
John 5-1
Pius 6-1

Duration of conclave

One day: 14-1
Two days: 7-4
Three days: evens

Parasites Found

From viruses to tapeworms, barnacles to birds, parasites are among the most successful organisms on the planet, taking merciless advantage of every known creature. Take the tapeworm. This streamlined parasite is little more than gonads and a head full of hooks, having dispensed with a gut in favour of bathing in the nutrient-rich depths of its host's digestive system. In its average 18-year lifespan, a human tapeworm can generate 10 billion eggs.

Many parasites, such as the small liver fluke, have also mastered the art of manipulating their host's behaviour. Ants whose brains are infected with a juvenile fluke feel compelled to climb to the tops of grass blades, where they are more likely to be eaten by the fluke's ultimate host, a sheep.

Leafcutter ants use chopped-up leaves as a fertiliser for the fungus they grow in underground chambers. The ants cannot digest the leaves but the fungus that feeds on them produces a tasty meal of sugars and starch while breaking down the toxins in the leaves. And there is not an animal out there, including us, that can survive without the bacteria that live in its gut, digesting food and producing vitamins.

Fantastic Plastic

There are 52 Lego bricks for each person on Earth

If all Lego sets sold in the last 10 years were placed end to end they could reach from London to Perth in Australia

Lament To Miss-placed Faith

Conservationists say the number of tigers in India has dropped alarmingly in recent years, and that forest officials in many game reserves have been covering up the problem.

State officials, have suggested that extensive mining and farming might have scared the tigers away.

It has been hopefully suggested that the tigers might be hiding, and return later.

The main reason, it is believed, is the high price to be gained from the use of tiger parts in traditional Chinese medicine. The head, skin, claws, meat, blood and penis all command high prices. A whole body, ground down and separated into various medicines, could in total command around $50,000.

Happy Campers

Star Wars fans have started queuing seven weeks early for the opening of the final movie - but appear to have camped outside the wrong cinema.

Dedicated fans are lining up outside the famous Grauman's Chinese Theatre in Hollywood but have been told it will open on 19 May at a cinema a mile away.

Producers opted to open the film at the ArcLight cinema, making it unlikely other cinemas in the area will show it.

But the fans are refusing to move, believing the news to be false.

In 2002, two die-hard fans started camping outside their local Seattle cinema four months before the release of Episode II: Attack of the Clones.

Mobs Rule!

About four million visitors have descended on Rome - which has a population of three million - since the pope’s death on Saturday, said city police chief Achille Serra.

Only Human

Angela Hodgson, 43, of Bolton, is complaining after receiving a bill for £38,292 - even though she has a pre-pay meter and does not pay by bill.

Energywatch's other investigations last year included a bill sent seven years late and a customer who was threatened with disconnection for owing £0.00.

Standing Still

A law letting people in Florida kill in self-defence on the street without first trying to flee an attacker has been passed by Florida politicians.

Florida law already allows people to shoot a potential attacker in their home, place of work or car.

Cold Blood

Nearly 4,000 people were executed worldwide in 2004 - the most in nearly a decade, Amnesty International says.

I’m Lovin’ This

Rappers are being invited by McDonald's to drop the words "Big Mac" into songs. According to Advertising Age magazine, the fast food chain has offered to pay rappers up to £2.70 ($5) every time a song name-checking the Big Mac is played.

Free Range Markets

KFC gets through 700 million chickens a year worldwide.