雷竞技官网 and exercise

Workout musicOver on Alex King’s blog, they’re offering suggestions for his workout playlist. Dozens of comments have rolled in with music ranging from Eye of the Tiger to Linkin Park to Pussycat Dolls and everything in between.

One suggestion I don’t think I saw in the comments was simply not to listen to music at all while working out, or watch TV screens, or read or do anything else distracting, but simply to do your workout.

There has been a lot of sports science research done to suggest that distractions while working out inherently lower the intensity and so efficacy of exercise, even though they might help you keep going or feel like you’re punching harder or whatever. e.g. J Sports Med Phys Fitness. 2006 Sep;46(3):425-30.

In that paper, the researchers conclude that “music evokes a ”distraction effect” during low intensity exercise”. They suggest that when jogging or walking at comparatively low exercise intensity, “listening to a favorite piece of music might decrease the influence of stress caused by fatigue” but that it does not affect the autonomic nervous system. As such, music can increase the ”comfort” level of performing the exercise and allow you to keep going longer (or until you’re bored with the music).

However, in my trawl for the original paper I wanted to cite, I found some very recent research in the journal Ergonomics that suggests the exact opposite of my claim that no music is good for your workout (Ergonomics. 2006 Dec 15;49(15):1597-610). In this paper, the researchers attempted to assess the effects of loudness and tempo on peoples’ workout intensity. They found that “Significant effects and interactions were found for running speed and heart rate across the different music tempo and loudness levels.” But more critically from the point of view of disproving my hypothesis, they found that a “More positive affect was observed during the music condition in comparison to the ‘no music’ condition.” So, I guess I’m wrong. That said, the latter study only had 30 volunteers so whether that’s truly statistically significant or enough to prove anything I cannot say.

It’s a complicated issue that might take a little more research to come down on one side or the other. Personally, I don’t mind a bit of talk radio in the background when I’m at the gym, but the young persons’ music that’s often playing I cannot abide, puts me right off my stride. Now, a bit of Zeppelin or Floyd would be a different matter.

As with most things in life though, there’s probably a balance point that you need to find to get the best out of your workout. So, keep taking those mp3 players to the gym. But, make sure you’ve got Wish You Were Here or Led Zep II on there.

Global warming ad

A TV public relations campaign is set to air at the beginning of February. The ad campaign sponsored by Avaaz.org is set to demand that G8 leaders put climate change, or global warming as we used to call it in pre-euphemistic times, at the top of the next Summit agenda in June.

Avaaz says this is the first such advocacy campaign and will demonstrate how citizens of every country might take the necessary concerted action on urgent global problems, such as climate change, poverty, and the Middle East crisis to persuade world leaders of the need for decisive steps towards finding solutions. The organisation anticipates a campaign launch with 880,000 participants from 168 countries.

‘Our political leaders are moving at sluggish pace as we approach a point of no return in global warming’ said Ricken Patel, the Canadian-British Director of Avaaz.org. ‘Global public opinion has been called the ‘new superpower’, but there is a huge gap between the world that most people want, and the world we have. The lack of action on climate change is a powerful example of that gap, and Avaaz.org will work to close it.’

Climate change is not a new issue, it’s not forty years ago that we were being warned that we were heading for a global ice age, we have had poverty ever since the first human traded an animal skin for food, and the crisis in the Middle East is as old as the cradle of civilization itself.

Can global citizens really stand up and be counted when it comes to such political activities? Or, are we doomed to repeat the same errors we see throughout history again and again?

Potato Powered mp3 Player – Not!

Sweet potato batteryFed up with using up so many batteries? Rechargeables giving you poor mileage? Then why not try a couple of sweet potatoes instead.

In this “video tutorial”, you’ll learn how to use a couple of galvanized (zinc coated) nails, some bare copper wire, a pair of mini crocodile clips, AND two sweet potatoes, to power up your mp3 player with not a conventional battery in sight. Great video and the music’s sweet too.

The Hole – video powered by Metacafe

This appliance is, of course, closely related to the lemon battery (or more formally lemon cell) familiar to anyone who’s searched for a high school science project. Two different metallic objects dipped into a conduction solution (an electrolyte) will produce an electrochemical reaction the byproduct of which is electricity. A single lemon is usually enough to illuminate a flashlight bulb, but two sweet potatoes are apparently required for an mp3 player. Yes, it reduces the portability of your player, but just think…no more buying batteries! Of course, things might get a bit smelly as those sweet potatoes (Ipomoea batatas) start to go off.

Green Laundry Detergents

Retailers and industry have tried to paint themselves green through the marketing of so-called “green” laundry detergents. The January 29 issue Chemical & Engineering News claims that this represents parties having “taken the leading role in a new effort by retailers and industry to market mainstream, environmentally friendly consumer products.”

The cleaning products industry has apparently embraced sustainability, with various innovations, including energy-efficient laundry detergents that work without hot water and other products that degrade once they go down the drain.

Report author Michael McCoy says that, “Wal-Mart Stores, Inc. has been a major catalyst in the green detergent revolution. Using its purchasing power as the world’s biggest retailer, Wal-Mart launched an environmental initiative last October to encourage its suppliers to manufacture more environmentally friendly laundry detergents. Laws and regulations in the United States and the European Union are giving industry additional regulatory incentive to go green with mainstream consumer products,” he adds.

A consideration that is missing from the notion that any laundry product can be “green” is the fact that even the most modern and efficient washing machines and dryers still use huge amounts of energy and vast amounts of water. There is nothing “green” about washing clothes, especially given the common western notion that one wear means an article of clothing is dirty and must be washed.

Now I’m not advocating a return to washboards, mangles, and a weekly bath in front of the hearth, but those in the developed world cannot possibly hope to be “green” as long as we’re using water and energy to wash and dry clothes. In many parts of the world (and coming to a town near you, any time soon) there are millions of people who live day to day with minimal water. An aboriginal Australian told me on a trip to the outback many years ago that he simply couldn’t understand why we’d waste water in such a way when it is such a precious commodity.

Singling out molecules

tip enhanced raman spectroscopySwiss chemists have devised a new approach to the familiar analytical technique of Raman spectroscopy that allows them to investigate the structure of individual molecules.

The full story is available today in advance of publication on SpectroscopyNOW’s Raman channel for Sciencebase readers only.

According to research team leader Renato Zenobi, there are two potentially very important applications of this new high-gain Raman technique:

  • Molecular electronics – This is a field where individual molecules are being used as electronic elements (diodes, transistors, logic gates, etc.). One can, for example, imagine that a molecule would “switch” a current by a change in conformation (shape), which would of course be immediately reflected in a change of the Raman spectrum. Molecular diagnostic / analytical methods for this emerging field are largely missing so far. Here this methodology could make an important contribution, Zenobi told me.
  • Cataysis – In catalytic conversions, A -> (B) -> (C) ->D , where A is the reactant, B and C are intermediates and D is the product, reactions are accelerated by a catalyst, by activating the molecules. Usually this happens on the surfaces of finely dispersed metal on a support material, i.e., it is generally surface process. Catalysis is employed in many industrially important chemical reactions, but – surprisingly – often the exact course of the reaction / the nature of the intermediates is not known. Again, identification of small numbers of molecules in tight spaces (= the nanoscale metallic “active sites” on catalysts) could be achieved with our methodology.

Nuclear assured destruction

Radiation damageAdvocates of nuclear power point to recent advances in waste storage materials that could allow the radioactive byproducts of the nuclear industry to be stored safely and indefinitely in ceramics rather than glass. Whereas those not in favour of splitting atoms to produce almost limitless energy point out that even vitrified nuclear waste will represent an ongoing problem for thousands of years.

Ceramics have come to the fore as an alternative storage medium. However, a recent study by researchers at Cambridge University and Pacific Northwest National Laboratory using NMR spectroscopy suggests that storing high-level nuclear waste (plutonium) without leakage over thousands of years might not be possible even with those materials. The NMR study reveals that alpha particles emitted by the plutonium, while only travelling a short distance through the ceramic wreak havoc with the ceramic’s structure and so could lead to long-term stability problems.

I spoke with Cambridge’s Ian Farnan about the research for the February 1 issue of the NMR channel on SpectroscopyNOW.com. He explained that silicon-29 NMR spin counting experiments on samples with activities greater than 4 GBq was used for the first time to demonstrate how decaying plutonium knocks atoms in the ceramic out of kilter. The findings do not preclude the use of zircon ceramics in the storage of radioactive waste but provides a stronger basis in long-term stability on which to make nuclear waste disposal decisions.

Brits mass debate over science

sciencehorizons (all lower case, apparently) launched today to answer questions like:

“Will we all be sprinting at 80?”, “Sitting in self-driving cars?”, “Will robots be serving us breakfast?”, “Will our fridges be talking to our shopping trolleys?”, “Will organ donors be a thing of the past?”

The idea, funded by the Department for Trade and Industry (DTI), is intended to engage the public in the mass debate on what science can and cannot do and what we should let it do and not do. According to Malcolm Wicks, Minister for Science and Innovation, discussions will look at how science and technology could affect our lives over the next 15-20 years.

He said: “What’s important about sciencehorizons is that we’re inviting anyone and everyone to get involved in the discussions, not only the scientists. We want discussions about science to involve the whole community.

“Over the coming decades, we’re going to have some huge ethical debates about science as new discoveries are made and new technologies emerge. We will all need to be part of making informed
decisions about how we develop and use scientific and technological advances.”

Of course, if you’re already approaching 80 and have not been on the sports track for many years, then the answer to that first question is likely to be a resounding, “No!”, but who wants to be sprinting at 80 anyway? I’d be quite keen to have a robot that could serve my breakfast, but surely such a device is going to require electrical power and if they still haven’t fixed it by then to have a decent daily dose of solar power in England to charge it up, then it’s simply going to be yet another source of carbon emissions for everyone to offset by planting a tree.

And as to fridges talking to shopping trolleys…if we’ve got robots serving us breakfast then surely we won’t still be pushing shopping trolleys around supermarkets by then, although with the advent of the senior supermarkets in Germany (the Kaiser Senioren Supermarkt in downtown Berlin) such questions will put a whole new slant on a supermarket sprint!

Are initiatives like this worthwhile, does the public really care about science policy and debate? It seems that the only real coverage science receives in the media is when things are going wrong, or the scientists are “playing god” again.

Scientific stereotypes

Youtube scientist bad reactionScientific stereotypes continue to persist, stretching even as far as recent Google acquisition, Youtube, the social video upload site. (Right click and view image to read it full size).

Today, Youtube had a period of allegedly scheduled downtime and to explain the lack of vids, they displayed a cartoon showing a marginally mad scientist (albeit a youngster rather than the usual aged, balding mad scientist). The scientist in question seemed malevolently preoccupied with pouring one green liquid from a test-tube into another. For what purpose we’re not told, but the caption beneath read:

“We’re busy pushing out some new concoctions and formulas We’ll be back soon…assuming all reactions are stable”

Inherent in that phrase is a fundamental lack of understanding of chemistry, of course. What, after all is a “stable reaction”, a reaction by virtue of being is anything but stable, it is intrinsically unstable, in constant flux…reacting! Perhaps they meant to say “steady reaction”, instead, a reaction can be steady, with a constant conversion of starting materials into stable products and byproducts as opposed to an explosive reaction, which one might talk about as being unsteady, or perhaps that’s what they are alluding to in using the words stable, somehow attempting to imply that reactions to their new concoctions might be unstable and lead to an extension of their scheduled downtime.

I suspect most Youtube readers will not care one ion. But, the pushing of scientific stereotypes in popular culture is a serious issue. With scientists repeatedly characterised as mad, malevolent or at best absent minded, it is difficult to see how the general public will ever reach a point at which they will understand or trust the scientific endeavour.

You can read a feature article I wrote on the subject of scientific stereotypes for the now defunct HMSBeagle webzine on BioMedNet here. Note the hopefully ironic use of a benevolent, slightly madcap, and certainly balding character as illustration.

Viruses Versus Bacteria

bacteriophageIn 1919, long before antibiotics were commonplace and long before the notion of drug resistance had emerged, a doctor in the east European state of what is now Georgia, Felix d’Herelle, gave a patient suffering from severe dysentery a seemingly lethal concoction of viruses. You might think such a drink would kill the patient, but these were no ordinary viruses, they were bacteriophages, the nemesis of bacteria.

The patient was well again within a week.

Thus was heralded in the age of phage therapy. Different viral strains were selected for almost every bacterial infection. Diseases were cured. What’s more, because bacteriophages are themselves in some sense alive, they can evolve to keep up with any resistance efforts mounted by the bacteria.

So what happened to bacteriophages? Why are the news headlines filled with stories of new deadly bacteria, such as MRSA, and the newly re-emerged forms of tuberculosis? Why are we so worried about outbreaks of E coli, salmonella, and other bacteria. Surely, we have a whole armoury of trusty phages to turn to that can wipe out the rank and file of resistance microbes quickly?

Well, we don’t, somewhere between the discovery of penicillin and the second world war, chemical antibiotics fell in to pharmaceutical line as the treatment of choice to deal with bacterial infections. Never mind the fact that within months of the first dose of penicillin being given doctors were already seeing resistance. Today, there are thousands of antibiotics on the market, some are even available over-the-counter in southern Europe. Moreover, in countries that cannot really afford to use them, individuals receive short dose regimens that don’t cure their illness and provide new opportunities for bacteria to develop resistant genes.

Swiss science editor Thomas Häusler tells the story of bacteriophages and phage therapy from its humble roots to its dimly recalled heyday of the 1920s and 1930s in his book Viruses vs. Superbugs. He tells a tale of rancidity and disease that were all but eradicated by bacteriophages but that is gradually returning as hospital wards succumb to the resistant hoards and various sectors of society, such as drug users and the homeless are dealt a deadly blow as TB and other “old” diseases crawl the streets.

In the USA alone some 90000 people die each year from these so-called superbugs. The likes of the World Health Organization and other official bodies agree that things can only get worse. Perhaps a discovery from the middle of the Great War of 1914-1918 could take the place of the dozens of obsolete antibiotics stacked on pharmacy shelves and provide a final cure for the bacterial infections that until the 1960s the medical profession had all but consigned to the history books.

Intelligent Dawkins Debate

Dawkins rap

The Intelligent Design and Anti-Evolution lobbies often argue that evolution is but a theory and that opposing theories must be taught in order to be properly scientific about the origins of the human race. Well, if its debate they want, then it’s debate they shall have. The Education section of the Guardian reports that the UK government wants religious education classes for 11-14 year olds to encompass the notion of intelligent design (ID) and to highlight texts such as the writings of evolutionary biologist Richard Dawkins, Galileo, and Charles Darwin.

It’s about time. While it is all well and good giving our children an education that offers them the opportunity to understand the traditional religions – Buddhism, Christianity, Hinduism, Judaism, Islam etc – the only way to get a true perspective on philosophical thinking is to provide them with the perspective of those who have no religion.

“ID,” The Guardian says, “argues that the creation of the world was so complex that an intelligent – religious – force must have directed it.” The debate has been an incredibly contentious issue for scientists and “people of faith” in Britain and the US in recent year, with several education boards (Kansas in the US, Gateshead in the UK) famously scratching evolution from the curriculum because it is purportedly an “unproven theory”.

Scientifically speaking, evolution is a theory, of course and as all good scientists know theories cannot be proved. Science can only look for contradictory evidence that requires said theory to be refined or discarded if too many observations conflict with the predictions of the theory. Scientists are yet to find any such conflicting evidence when it comes to evolution. In contrast, there is much evidence that ID “as a theory” is wholly invalid.

Take the eye, for instance. How on earth could such a device have been designed and if it were, then why were so many variations developed from the simple light sensors of flat worms to the prismatic arrays of fruit flies to the honed sensors of the Golden Eagle?

Debate is a good thing and it is certainly a positive step to at least address the concerns of scientists about the degrading of evolutionary theory by the ID lobby, but there is the worry that 11-14 year olds who are not generally keen on science will become even more confused by the complexities of evolution as a sound explanation for the origin of species. It might even nudge a proportion of them to the far easier to understand fairy tales of benevolent sky gods.

How do you feel about this development? Does evolution have a place alongside Intelligent Design in religious education or should they both be kept for science lab debates?