Tips for clearing snow and ice

Tips for clearing snow and ice

It is perfectly legal to remove snow and ice from outside your property, pathways and public spaces as long as you do it considerately. In some parts of the world, it is illegal not to!

Start early – much easier to clear fresh, loose snow

Don’t use hot water – it melts the snow, but replaces it with black ice

Use table salt, rock salt, ash or sand to prevent ice forming but avoid spreading it on plants or grass

Be a good neighbour and help anyone that may not be able to clear snow and ice from their own pathways

If shovelling snow:

Think about where you will put the snow so you don’t block paths or drainage channels

Use a wide shovel

Make a line down the middle of your path first, so you have a safe surface to walk on – then shovel the snow from the centre to the sides

Use the sun to your advantage by removing the top layer of snow so sun melts any ice underneath

Climate change and digital music

Information technology has a carbon footprint, that’s beyond doubt. Now, writing in a special issue of the Journal of Industrial Ecology, Christopher Weber, Jonathan Koomey and Scott Matthews in the US in work supported by grants from Microsoft Corporation and Intel Corporation have calculated that purchasing music digitally reduces the energy and carbon dioxide emissions associated with delivering music to customers by between 40% and 80% from the best-case physical CD delivery, depending on whether a customer then burns the files to CD (it’s five times better if they don’t). They point out that digital media services, such as subscription and streaming systems, like Spotify, last.fm and Pandora have higher energy usage than direct downloads, such as iTunes, Zune, amazon mp3 or any of myriad file sharing tools.

The team concedes that their calculations are very sensitive to both behavioural assumptions of how customers use digital music and several important parameters in the logistics chain of retail and e-tail delivery, such as customer transport to the store, CD packaging method, and final delivery to the customer’s home for e-tail.

“In particular,” they say, “online music’s superiority depends on the assumption that customers drive automobiles to the retail store.” Therein lies one of the biggest issues surrounding any carbon footprint calculations: the fact that it is relatively easy to overlook or overegg a specific factor depending on the stance one wishes to take.

Research Blogging IconWeber, C., Koomey, J., & Matthews, H. (2010). The Energy and Climate Change Implications of Different 雷竞技官网 Delivery Methods Journal of Industrial Ecology, 14 (5), 754-769 DOI: 10.1111/j.1530-9290.2010.00269.x

Weber is at the Science and Technology Policy Institute in Washington, D.C. and Carnegie Mellon University. Koomey was visiting professor at Yale and is now at Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory. Matthews is at Carnegie Mellon.

Leaving a trail of carbon footprints

Six science books for the holiday season

Six science books for the holiday season subjects as diverse as molecular biology pioneer Sydney Brenner, the question of antimatter, how scientists can better explain their research to non-scientists, a history of the chemical elements, scientific feuds and how innovators exploit business and technology trends.

  • Minitrends – Minitrends are emerging trends that promise to become significantly important within 2-5 years, but are not generally recognized. Unlike megatrends or microtrends, Minitrends are of a scope and importance to offer attractive opportunities to individuals and businesses of all sizes. The one that caught my eye is mention of nanotechnology and how it could be used in water purification and to make "fake" bone (I think they mean "artificial")!
  • Scientific Feuds – Most science histories present a triumphant march through time, with revolutionary thinkers and their discoveries following in orderly progression. The truth, however, is very different. In Scientific Feuds, Joel Levy offers a collection of the most vicious battles among the greatest minds. It features such contests as Huxley and Wilberforce's debate on Darwin's theory of evolution, Franklin and Wilkins' fight over the discovery of DNA, and the “War of Currents” between Tesla and Edison (which ended with Edison electrocuting dogs and horses in a vain attempt to discredit Tesla's work). From passionate competition to vindictive sniping, these rivalries prove that the world of science is just as political and emotive as the rest of human endeavour.
  • The Disappearing Spoon – The fascinating tales in The Disappearing Spoon follow carbon, neon, silicon, gold and every single element on the table as they play out their parts in human history, finance, mythology, conflict, the arts, medicine and the lives of the (frequently) mad scientists who discovered them.
  • Explaining Research – A comprehensive guide for scientists, engineers, and physicians that draws on Dennis Meredith's forty-year career in research communications. It shows how scientists can disseminate their discoveries to important audiences and explains how to use websites, blogs, videos, webinars, old-fashioned lectures, news releases, and lay-level articles to reach key audiences, emphasizing along the way that a strong understanding of the audience in question will allow a more effective communication..
  • Sydney Brenner: A Biography – Nobel Laureate Sydney Brenner has made some of the most significant discoveries in molecular biology. His reach extends way beyond his own research and has inspired countless young scientists and promoted the development of science and biotechnology around the world. Friedberg's book is based on Brenner's recollections as well as contributions and correspondence from his close friends and colleagues. It tells the lively story, not only of Brenner himself, but of what came to be known as the golden age of biology.
  • The 4 Percent Universe – Only 4 percent of the universe consists of the matter that makes up you, me, our books, and every star and planet. Over the past few decades, a handful of scientists have been racing to explain what the other 96% of "everything" actually is. In The 4 Percent Universe: Dark Matter, Dark Energy, and the Race to Discover the Rest of Reality, writer Richard Panek tells the story of the search for dark matter and dark energy based on in-depth reporting and interviews with the major players—from Berkeley’s feisty, excitable Saul Perlmutter and Harvard’s witty but exacting Robert Kirshner to the doyenne of astronomy, Vera Rubin.
  • Okay, I said six, but actually there’s a bonus book, the cover of which is shown above: The Ultimate Quotable Einstein, which just landed on my desk this week and is packed with the unmistakable wit and wisdom of one of the greatest thinkers of the twentieth, and perhaps any century.

More thoughts on science from sciencebase

My latest science news updates

  • Low-allergy wine, true blood, boronic butterflies – The Alchemist learns of low-allergy wines could one day be possible thanks to the discovery of glycoproteins in the tipple that seem to trigger the sniffles and headaches in susceptible drinkers. In analytical news true blood is spotted using infrared and one of the most complex small molecules is approved for treating metastatic breast cancer. In the world of agriculture a new discovery could point the way to boosting a crop plant's defenses against pests without pesticides and a butterfly effect is observed in boron compounds that could lead chemists to the elusive boron-boron triple bond. Finally, more than forty years of dedication to polymerization earns Marino Xanthos a major award.
  • Not another planet! – Less than 20 years after confirming the first planet beyond our own solar system, astronomers have bagged exoplanet No. 500. The milestone was reported by Extrasolar Planets Encyclopedia, a database compiled by astrobiologist Jean Schneider of the Paris-Meudon Observatory.
  • Enigmatic papers could stay in the UK – Papers published by World War II codebreaker Alan Turing have failed to sell at auction – raising hopes they could be kept in the UK.

Pharma industry could thrive in open

The pharmaceutical industry is facing tough times. The patents for many of the billion-dollar blockbuster drugs have expired, generics have taken market share. Health insurance companies and national health services are under increasing pressure to cut costs. Manufacturers and governments in the developing world are either ignoring intellectual property rights totally and producing generics for their poor sick.

Moreover, the pipeline is almost empty. Many old diseases the yielded blockbuster drugs have become resistant or are proving too difficult to tackle with traditional small molecule science. The decade-old promise of the Human Genome Project in the form of pharmacogenomics is not yet living up to its full potential, while the diseases of old age represent a new pipeline but the complexity of these illnesses – Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s, cancer, cardiovascular, even obesity and aging itself – seem to require something more than pharmaceutical intervention. However, macromolecular medicine using peptides, proteins, and genetically modified antibodies are struggling to get out of clinical trials and into the clinic.

The pharma industry also faces increasing pressure from regulators, activists, and patient advocacy groups (not necessarily a bad thing in some ways). The main problem remains, of course, that these days research and development costs billions and takes many years to bring a new drug to market that might not give the company a decent payback on its investment within the patent lifespan.

Ram Subramanian and C. Jayachandran of Montclair State University, in New Jersey, USA, and Jeffrey Toney of Kean University, NJ, suggest that it is time for the pharma industry to reinvent itself, or at least adapt to adopt the ethic of open innovation. They’re not the only ones, of course.

Until now the industry has attempted to rebuild its fortresses through multibillion dollar acquisitions, which suggest that it feels money is yet to be made from medicine. But such consolidation does not pump new products into the drug discovery pipeline it simply funnels the near-empty R&D conduits into a shrinking number of product vats. In 2007, the US Food & Drug Administration approved just 17 new drug products for market, the lowest number since 1983.

The way forward might lie in open innovation where a company initiates a project in cooperation with others outside its boundaries and so accelerates the R&D process as well as cutting costs. This approach has worked successfully outside the pharma industry and some companies, Merck partnering with India’s Piramal Life Sciences and Eli Lilly with Jubilant Biosys are already beginning to see the possibilities.

“As innovation models have evolved, the sixth generation model calls for opening up the innovation process to provide a seamless interface between the focal organisation and a network of, among others, competitors, suppliers, and firms from other industries,” the team says. Of course, given the long lead times to market and the intrinsically scientific nature of the drug discovery process, new models that have worked for technology companies such as IBM and for consumer product manufacturers like P&G may not be entirely appropriate for the pharmaceutical industry.

Research Blogging IconRam Subramanian, Jeffrey H. Toney, & C. Jayachandran (2011). The evolution of research and development in the pharmaceutical industry: toward the open innovation model — can pharma reinvent itself? Int. J. Business Innovation and Research, 5 (1), 63-74


More thoughts on science from sciencebase

My latest science news updates

  • Alternative medicine and the law – The science, history, politics, religion, and culture that mean it is legal to sell quackery in many parts of the world.
  • NHS.uk allowing Google, Facebook, and others to track you – The UK's National Health Service has implemented various "features" on its website that could lead to your health privacy being compromised.
  • Death of Dudley Williams – I just heard of the sad death of one of the great scientists with whom I corresponded and wrote early in my science writing career – Dudley Williams. Cambridge's Prof Williams worked on vancomycin and antibiotics aimed squarely at defeating resistant bacteria. I wrote about his work for New Scientist, Chemistry & Industry, and Chemistry in Britain back in the 1990s.

Science sightings from sciencebase

  • First stem cell trial in stroke patient, how did the media do – In its regular assessment and critique of reporting on medical happenings, NHS Choices looked at the recent early test of stem cell therapy for a stroke victim and reports (amazingly) that "In general, the media coverage has been accurate."
  • Sex and CERN and Rock ‘n Roll – Forget mini Big Bangs, benchtop black holes and the God particle, scientists at CERN are releasing an album called Resonance 雷竞技官网 from their LHC Atlas Experiment. You'll have to ask them if the first bit of my title is relevant or not.
  • Brain size and a trip to Disneyland – Could the enormous relative size and complexity of the human brain be explained by that trip to Disneyland your parents took you on?

My lucky 13 exam tips for students

My son and his friends are today heading into their first set of important high school exams, their “mock GCSEs”. They call them mock, but the results they achieve at this stage will determine where they go after they do their GCSEs proper, i.e. their 16+ options. So as a loving dad who has done more exams than I can remember and still has nightmares about turning up to finals in pyjamas without a pen and having done no revision. Here are my lucky 13 tips for those taking exams, finals, SATs, and other academic tests, whether you’re in middle school, high school, college, or at university and beyond.

  1. (a) Revision (b) preparation – do lots of it and don’t leave it till the last minute

  2. Cramming – do it only if you didn’t fulfil #1

  3. (a) Water (b) sleep – get plenty in the run up to the exams, but not right before

  4. Equipment – make sure you have all the equipment you need and are allowed

  5. Toilet break – take one in plenty of time before, not during, the exam

  6. Instructions – follow all instructions on the paper precisely, don’t assume

  7. Questions – ask the invigilator any you have before the exam begins

  8. Exam paper – read it through before you put pen to paper

  9. Answers – use them to demonstrate your depth of knowledge and understanding

  10. (a) Expletives (b) slang – avoid totally

  11. (a) Panic (b) frustration (c) anger – unneccessary if 1(a) completed adequately

  12. Cheating – don’t do it, you will end up mopping floors for Ronald McDonald

  13. Best – just do yours

Good luck!

Sizing up the universe

As a child I devoured books on the stars and planets, on dinosaurs, volcanoes. Was fascinated by the prospect of a space shuttle and lament the fact that I was sent to bed before they landed on the Moon (I was only three at the time, and the Apollo 11 landing happened at 2am UK time).

I was ever keen to hear about the latest research developments on TV from the likes of Tomorrow’s World and Horizon as well as the revelations about life from Attenborough (Sir David, not the bro, Richard). I was constructing all kinds of gadgets with Lego and Meccano from an early age and had an electronics kits at age ten and hankered after an astronomical telescope, a dream fulfilled the Christmas before my 11th birthday. My dad still reminds me that my most favoured word even before I started school was “mechanism”.

It’s no surprise that I went into a career in science and “grew up” to be a science writer is it? Equally unsurprising is that Gott and Vanderbei’s “Sizing up the Universe” quickly rekindled some long forgotten feelings about the universe in which we will. They present stunning visual comparisons of scale from Buzz Aldrin’s footprint on the Moon, to the gas giants that orbit our Sun to the swirling whirpool of stars that is the Milky Way and onwards and outwards to the Sloan Great Wall of galaxies and beyond stretching back to the cosmic microwave background of almost 14 billion years ago and 14 billion light years away.

The authors offer up the almost unimaginable vastness of the universe in this lavishly illustrated tome (plenty of beautiful Hubble space telescope images and much more, including backyard astronomical photography by Vanderbei). They say almost, but even after forty+ years of trying I personally cannot grasp the notion of the universe being a billion, billion, billion times bigger than that lunar footprint. Moreover, it’s not as if a billion, billion, billion is even a particular large number. Evidence suggests that the universe is a whole lot bigger than the limits of what we can see stretching back to the Big Bang, after all it has been expanding all that time. What’s more, if our universe is simply one bubble in a truly unimaginable froth of multiverses, then what now for “almost”?

You can order Gott and Vanderbei’s Sizing Up the Universe: The Cosmos in Perspective from Amazon, right now. Perfect for emergent science writers whose favourite words might include black hole, dinosaur, and even mechanism.

Latest science snippets

  • New cancer treatment shows promise – An holistic and alternative approach to cancer treatment that isn't "alternative medicine"
  • Pillbox – prototype pill identification system – Pillbox enables rapid identification of unknown solid-dosage medications (tablets/capsules) based on physical characteristics and high-resolution images.
  • The Alchemist Newsletter: November 12, 2010 — Welcome to ChemWeb – In this week's issue a new definition of the hydrogen bond could lead to major textbook revisions and open up new chemical vistas. We learn that a turbo transfer can be used to synthesize useful nucleosides and organic vegetables are no higher in healthy nutrients than conventional crops. The world of materials could make "Star Wars" type holographic movies a reality and a weed might be the biofuel industry's saving grace in the food versus fuel debate. Finally, accolades for DOE biochemist Richard Smith.