Sciencebase Twitter archive

UPDATED: As far as I know everyone on Twitter can now download an archive of all their twitter activity, there are a few neat things you can do with the data once you’ve got it. For instance, you could upload it all to your website (or your Google Drive) make it public and searchable. I had this setup for a while, but removed it a few years ago.

All my tweets dating back to when I first signed up in June 2007 were available for your delectation. A mere 32,000 tweets at the time of writing. By using the unconverted root file “index.html” from your archive and the attendant CSS files etc you effectively get a browsable website of your Twitter archive. It looked something like this.

Once you’ve uploaded all the files and checked it’s working you might like to learn that by copying and hooking up a special Google Docs spreadsheet and following the instructions therein you can make the archive folder active so that it stays up to date with all your new tweets. Thanks to this site for the spreadsheet and instructions. The how-to for using your Google Drive as a web hosting platform not just for your twitter archive is described here.

Meteorite map malarkey

As is obvious within a few seconds of having tweeted the map purportedly showing “every meteorite that has hit Earth since 2300 BC”, the map actually just shows where the people are and where people have recorded meteorite impacts.


The first comment on the Gizmodo item puts this quite succinctly”. It’s all the recorded meteorites. Not every meteorite. There’s a big difference. The data would skew very heavily to places where there was been human habitation, followed by exploration and cartography, and filtered for places like the Sahara and the ocean, where shifting terrain masks any prior impact site. In all, this would be a tiny sample of all the meteorites from the past 4312 years.”

In fact, statistically a meteorite is almost as likely to hit any spot on the Earth’s surface as any other, including the oceans and so the map would really look more like this:


Presumably, the original map was generated to highlight the risk we face from incoming solar system shrapnel, especially in the wake of the recent Russian impact on the same day as an asteroid made a rather worryingly close flyby.  One might even go so far as to say that it was somewhat sensationalist, scaremongering, even. It seems that humanity has a fixation on doomsday prophecies from the ancient god-given plagues, pestilence and thunderbolts from the blue, hell, devils, demons and ghosts and more recently alien invasions and nuclear war (that perhaps is a real threat) and even the Y2K bug (remember that?) and cyber war. Given that all of those those have generally turned out to be nothing but fantasy (with the exception of actual plagues) perhaps a cosmic collision is just the latest in a long line of unwarranted worries.

I can say that at least until a rather bigger chunk of rock hits a major city and triggers an unsupernatural armageddon. There are, after all, an estimated 100,000 to 1,000,000 chunks of rock flying around the sun that cross Earth’s orbit right now that we have never observed, but many more are flung in from the far-reaching corners of the solar system by the enormous gravitational fields of the gas giants Jupiter and (to a lesser extent) Saturn. Conversely, it may be that Jupiter actually protects us from debris. We might stand a chance of spotting an incoming asteroid with maybe three weeks to spare…would that be sufficient time for us to make a contingency plan, to hide under the bed or blast the rock apart?

Exercise, alcohol, fruit and veg

There was a strike at the BBC yesterday, so the usual “You and Yours” on Radio 4 was replaced with an annotated compilation of recent in-depth reports by Michael Moseley from past episodes (I believe). It made for an interesting alternative podcast listen on my dog-walk today. He discussed the high-intensity exercise regime he tried for Horizon last year, the ambiguity about alcohol units and whether smoothies and fruit juice count towards your “5-a-day”.

In summary, it seems most of us don’t get enough exercise, and if we do we’re sitting at our desks too long, most of us are not eating enough veggies, but too many people are slurping down processed fruit juice and fruit smoothies, which one nutrition expert described as “bottled obesity”. In general, it seems fruit is fine but veggies are better (not such accessible sugar and more chewing and roughage/fibre).

Jogging couple image via Shutterstock
Jogging couple image via Shutterstock

As for alcohol, it would be best all round if we didn’t drink it at all. But, a quarter of a unit (2 grams, a medicinal, not quite homeopathic quantity) every day would be beneficial to the cardiovascular system (possibly) for some people without causing harm to the liver. Speaking of which one expert alluded to the 21 units for men each week as being an upper safe limit, 40 units and you really are going to cause damage and increase your risk of cirrhosis and liver cancer. For women drinking a bottle of wine each week (that’s about 9-10 units) significantly raises the risk of breast cancer: If 100 women drink a bottle each a week, then one of them will get breast cancer as a result, two bottles, the risk is 2 in 100…and so on.

The simple, bottom line on these various in-depth reports were Moseley’s tips. “20+” – 20 minutes or more of exercise each day (including domestic chores), don’t sit for more than 20 minutes and squeeze in a high-intensity burst of 20 seconds on a bike each day. For veggies, one third of your plate should be covered with vegetables (fresh, frozen or canned, but not pureed) and you should avoid processed fruit juices and smoothies. For alcohol: “2+2” – two glasses of your favourite tipple and then two days off (although a couple of days off after a binge is not enough to allow the liver to “recover” from the toxic onslaught of the organic solvent we know as alcohol). He also suggests using smaller glasses.

The You and Yours items are available on iPlayer.

Five major challenges to avoid food crunch

Growing population and an increasing poverty gap are major challenges for global food security especially when the issue of biofuels produced from crops is introduced. According to Tahereh Alavi Hojjat of DeSales University, in Center Valley, Pennsylvania, USA, governments around the world must address five major challenges if we are not to see an enormous increase in human suffering, disease and starvation:

1 Energy security – This directly affects food prices through fertiliser costs, farm energy use and transportation costs, as well as the use of land for growing biofuel crops, which is meant to circumvent our reliance on putatively dwindling fossil fuel supplies and mitigate against challenge #2, climate change.

2 Climate change – Will increase by tens, perhaps hundreds of millions, the number of undernourished people worldwide as higher average temperatures negatively impact on food crop yields.

3 Water security: is already becoming a major problem as the population grows and consumption rises. Half a billion people live in countries chronically short of water. By 2050, this number could be closer to four billion as a result of climate change and loss of fresh water resources.

4 Competition for land – A growing problem that will likely increase the incidence of civil unrest and international conflict as fertile land area dwindles and urbanisation predominates.

5 Demand for food – This will inevitably rise as the population increases toward 10 billion and a greater percentage of people demand meat.

Driven by these various factors, Hojjat suggests that we are heading for a “food crunch”, which will inevitably hit the poorest hardest. The international community must move quickly and effectively Hojjat urges. Hunger is not caused by scarcity in terms of production capacity, there is plenty of food being produced globally but it doesn’t reach those in most need while obesity levels continue to grow in certain parts of the world. “To solve the world hunger crisis, it is necessary to do more than send emergency food aid to countries facing famine. Leaders must address the globalised system of agricultural production and trade that favours large corporate agriculture and export-oriented crops while discriminating against small-scale farmers and agriculture oriented to local needs,” Hojjat says.

Research Blogging IconHojjat T.A. (2012). Global poverty and biofuel production: food vs. fuel, International Journal of Energy Technology and Policy, 8 (3/4/5/6) 209. DOI: 10.1504/IJETP.2012.052109

Sciencebase grilled by students

UPDATE: 2012-02-13 It’s on again and this year I can offer a little advice on how to get a popular science book published if any students are interested in hearing my thoughts on that.

Once again, I’ll be attending the annual media careers event at Cambridge University, where students and alumni get a chance to chat with members of the media about careers in journalism, broadcasting, film, publishing, science communication, media law and media management.

The previous event attracted around 328 students (from first-year undergraduates to final-year PhDs and alumni) and there were 50 employers/professional bodies/course providers/individuals (including yours truly) who talked about opportunities and experiences and answered specific questions (one-to-one) from students and alumni.

If you’re up in Cambridge on 13th February (18:00 to 20:30), come along and have a chat; I should be there for the whole evening. I’ve been in science communication for almost 25 years, initially as a technical editor at the Royal Society of Chemistry, and have written as a freelance science journalist for New Scientist, Science, Nature, The Telegraph, Guardian, Economist, Focus, BBC, Channel 4, Discovery Channel, Popular Science, American Scientist and many other publications and organisations. Hopefully can offer a few words of, if not wisdom, then at least how not to do it!

You can register for the event and get more details here: Cambridge Careers Media Event and here. Cambridge students/alumni only.

If you’re attending, or even if you’re not, I have a list of links useful to science writers and others.