Six-string cabinets

My friend Rob is a cabinet maker by trade. He knows a thing or two about different woods, varnishes and finishes, how to physically bind two different pieces indelibly and perhaps even a few things about lamination when it’s needed.

Rob also plays guitar.


It was no surprise therefore to learn that he was fine tuning his woodworking skills as a wannabe luthier. First efforts involved some wonderful reclaimed materials and the creation with CAD assistance of some novel bracing in carved archtop guitars. His most recent design is a more traditional six-string acoustic with a conventional soundboard and a delightful tone. I’ve been strumming the latest guitar in a growing menagerie for a couple of days now and with a little sunlight pouring into the Sciencebase office, thought it deserved not only a song, but some arty snaps.


Rob is keen for guitarists to test drive his creations, so do get in touch and I’ll put you in touch with him in turn.


Bull stiff

There’s a brand of coffee apparently being touted as more than your usual pick-me-up…and aimed especially at men, it seems. It’s got herbal extracts (tongkat ali, maca root and guarana) that are meant to boost libido and health and are all-natural (whatever that means, isn’t everything natural?). However, one news site points out that the herbal coffee also contains desmethyl carbodenafil, which is, as you might guess from the name, an analogue of sildenafil, which is commonly prescribed as Viagra (as the orally available citrate salt).
Undeclared active pharmaceuticals in food and drink products are not allowed for good reason. A person hoping for a simple health boost and a pick-me-up might get more than they bargained for if they’re on nitrate, or other, medication for cardiovascular disease, a sudden drastic drop in blood pressure, for instance, or cardiac arrest.

Three-parent babies

Okay…so the news is full of the first baby to have allegedly been born with DNA from three people (sperm and egg from a man and a woman and mitochondrial DNA from a second woman). The baby is five months old, according to New Scientist. So, how come earlier this year (June, to be precise), the likes of Fergus Walsh were talking about the procedure being safe and others suggesting that a 3p baby might be born within a year? This conception was presumably being kept secret until the New Sci exclusive revealed all today, but there must have been plenty of people who knew about it.

Anyway, in saying it’s a first did they forget about American girl Alana Saarinen who was conceived of three parents and born in 2000 before the US banned this technique? There was an earlier birth too, Emma Ott (born in 1997), although her DNA proved to be from only two parents according to genetic tests despite the procedure having been employed in her conception.

The 3p technique could solve the problem of certain mitochondrial genetic disease by using healthy DNA from the “third parent”. The newborn has Jordanian parents and the procedure was carried out in Mexico by a US team.

Alison Murdoch, who heads the Newcastle Fertility Centre at Life, Newcastle University, is one of those at the forefront of this research in the UK. The Telegraph quotes her: “If this baby has been born as suggested then that would be great news. The translation of mitochondrial donation to a clinical procedure is not a race but a goal to be achieved with caution to ensure both safety and reproducibility,” she says.

Alma mater tempus fugit

The listed artwork Spiral Nebula, by Geoffrey Clarke RA, is an iconic piece of sculpture that stands in front of the Herschel Building at Newcastle University, site of many a failed physics practical and slept-through early morning lecture (no wonder I took 4 years to get my chemistry degree!). I snapped it a couple of times while daughter was registering for her biomedical science course at the weekend…


What a bitter-sweet day, to deliver offspring to one’s alma mater, pride (in her achievements so far, fingers crossed for a Noble Prize in 2028, say), relief (that’s she’s opted for biomed and not, ahem, another field of endeavour), and sadness at the passing of her childhood so quickly (tempus fugit and all that). And, of course, the much greater wingspan of old tempus since my university mater was only just starting her alma for me.

The Yahoo hack FAQ


Was my account hacked?

Well, there were 500 million users affected of 1 billion active users, so chances are 1 in 2 that it was. But, you will get an email from Yahoo at some point if you were definitely affected.

What should I do now?

Login with your current details, change your password to a strong, unique one and enable two-factor/multi-step authentication so that you have to receive a text or email (SMS) to login next time.

Anything else?

Yes, you should disable security questions on your account as answers may have been stolen and could be used to break in. Also, if you used the same Q&A on other sites, then I’d recommend changing or disabling those. Hopefully, you didn’t actually answer truthfully so the Yahoo hackers don’t actually now know your mother’s maiden name nor that of your first pet.

What data was stolen by the hackers?

Users’ personal data, birthdays, phone numbers, including unencrypted answers to secret account recovery questions (change those too and don’t use your actual pets’ nor mother’s maiden name, they’re easy for hackers to find out from Facebook etc!), but apparently not credit card details.

Did the hackers get my password?

If your account is one of the unlucky half a billion, then the hackers got a “hashed”, or scrambled, version of your password. Hashed passwords have random letters and numbers added to them to disguise the password, it’s very difficult to work out what this random data is and so recover the actual password.

What about my logins for other sites?

As long as you didn’t use the same password as your Yahoo login, you should be fine. If you did, change the password on those accounts too to a unique, strong password.

Who were the hackers?

Yahoo says it doesn’t know for sure, but they suspect state-sponsored hackers, but that is looking increasingly unlikely, it was more likely a crook hoping to grab data to sell from your Yahoo mail, chats, flickr photos, or Tumblr blog etc.

Either way, should I worry?

Yes, be wary of unsolicited emails, phone calls and even snailmail that have unexpected personal details, such as your birthday and phone number, they could be trying to trick you into clicking a dangerous link or getting hold of your bank and other details. Yahoo will not send out emails with links, so any email that claims to be a security alert from them and has links will most likely be a “phishing” attack.

Is this the biggest hack ever?

At least 500 million accounts have been compromised, which is more than the MySpace breach earlier this year which involved 360 million user accounts, and far more than the Linkedin hack of 2012 (117 million users), so yes.

When did the hack take place?

The attack is thought to have occurred two years ago.

If the hack happened two years ago, why is it in the news only now?

Yahoo had suspicions just two months ago when a hacker called Peace was offering to sell data on 200 million of its users on the dark web, but it is only now that they have verified that a security breach actually took place at the end of 2014.

Could Yahoo have prevented this attack from happening?

It’s very difficult to keep one step ahead of very clever people with malicious intent. So, maybe not. However, they left some personal details unencrypted, which is bad practice and may ultimately expose millions of their users to future problems if their account were one of those compromised. Moreover, they really did take their eye off the ball if they’ve only just noticed the intrusion all that time ago.

Isn’t Yahoo irrelevant in today’s internet?

In some sense yes, the glory days of it being the top search engine long before Google came along are long gone. But, it still has a billion active users, that’s a lot of email accounts and personal details that may well have been compromised. Also, if you have a Flickr photo account, that’s Yahoo too, as is your Tumblr!

What’s Yahoo doing about this hack now?

Who knows? Presumably, they are shutting the barn door, despite the horse having long since bolted, had a good run around and been put out to pasture.

Put out to pasture?

Yes, you know? Like you do with an old horse that’s totally useless, long past its prime, way beyond its use-by date, like a saggy old search engine…







The smart vibe “cha cha cha”

Earlier, I issued a warning about slipping a USB stick into your slot for fear of infection or physical damage. But, it’s not just USB devices you have to worry about. According to Naked Security today, which quotes Gizmodo, the “We-Vibe 4 Plus” smart vibrator and accompanying phone app, manufactured by Standard Innovation Corp, sends heat and vibration intensity data back to the manufacturer in realtime when the app is in use. They can therefore tell how many of their connected “Internet of Things” devices are in pulse, wave, echo, peak or “cha cha cha” mode at any given time.

Practice safe USB

There is, unfortunately, no insulated digital condom for USB sticks. Infections can be transmitted both ways as soon as you slide the stick into the slot, whether it’s a laptop, TV, copy machine or any other USB device. But, it’s not just the risk of catching and transmitting viruses USB users have to worry about, your infection might turn the machine into a zombie and add it to a criminal botnet or worse…


A couple of years ago, there was a demonstration of something far more lethal than a USB stick infected with malware. Some clever sod came up with a tiny circuit that would take a current from these hybrid data-power ports and become charged up and then blast the port with a sudden surge of power that would literally burn out the recipient’s innards.

The malicious device exploits a hardware vulnerability that manufacturers have not bothered to fix in the 20-year history of USB and there is no prophylactic to save your bits…or bytes. It is now available to anyone who fancies ruining somebody else’s equipment, sabotaging computers at work or indeed anywhere they can stick their USB.

If someone offers to put a USB in your port or sends you a free one in the mail to stick in the slot yourself, just say no, no matter how attractive the digital offer, nor how much you really want to. It’s just not worth it.

USB – Don’t die of ignorance.

The Tide That Never Turns – a song

A spot of post-holiday proggy angst about tides and eternity…usual happy-go-lucky stuff. Added to my now five-track Detail is a Devil EP available on BandCamp.

One listener waxed lyrical about the track:

“…cool, melancholic rock number with an urgent beat and predatory electric guitar waiting to move in; the change in tempo depicting the power of the sea. This contrasts well with the acoustic guitar which, all the while, holds on to the narrator’s idea of life’s sad thread. The echoes and whispers add drama and tension whilst the lyrics unfold a wistful message. A theatrical number which holds on to the listener like a limpet to granite rock.”

For some of us, it’s a story too far
Of distant lands, of pearls and bars
For others there’s still a life untold
In dusty towns where they never found gold

There are those who take it all too hard
They stake their claims but bear the same scars
For others there’s still a grief unsound
In dusty towns unholy ground

But either way, the sea’s unchanged
The lies it hears the lives it takes
All of them are foam upon the waves
And though some are lost, none are ever saved

For others there’s a grief uncrowned
In gusty towns on holy ground

The tide that never turns
The sun that never burns
The summer wind that only makes you yearn

For storms to ride and waves of pride
On a tide that never turns
The tide that never turns

We all deride the waves of pride
You will never learn
On a tide that never turns

Three lost cities beyond the wind
Fatigued by fear, the changes begin
If time and tide sweep all away
Then what are we but the ocean spray?

Yet either way, the seasons change
The smiles we fake and rearrange
Emotion lost unto the feign
Now summer’s gone we all feel the same pain

The tide that never turns
The sun that never burns
The summer wind that only makes you yearn

For waves to ride
and ways to hide
From a tide that never turns
From a tide that never turns

We all deride the waves of pride
You will never learn
On a tide that never turns

Words and music, vocals, instrumentation, photo and cover art by dB.

UPDATE: I couldn’t leave this song alone…it went through at least 5 remixes with several retakes of the vocals and the guitar solo…and I was happy with it…until the phrase Moog Taurus bass pedals popped into my head and ohhhh…I just had to add some of those classic earbusting sounds ever-present in the late 1970s prog of Rush, Yes, and countless others. And, then, of course, once you’ve kicked your heels with the Taurus, the track was just begging for some Minimoog…which it’s now got, I think it lends some additional atmosphere and makes it even more of a not-so-heavy offspring of Rush’s Cygnus X-1 or Jacob’s Ladder and probably a thousand other songs I’ve absorbed over the last half a century. You can stream this final version for free from SoundCloud or download it from Bandcamp.

UPDATE: Of course, as ever, when I said “final”, I didn’t mean the last mix. I’ve now remixed one track of the acoustic guitar and added a bit of flanger to it, just to make sure you’re fully aware that this song is fully immersed in the 1970s. As promised, I did the high-quality master for BandCamp, which means you can download it as a high-quality mp3 or flac converted from the native wav file format.

It all probably sounds even more like I was attempting to emulate late-70s Rush now, although my voice hasn’t been as high as Geddy’s since 1979! I’ve treated the acoustic with a bit of old-school flanger in places and issued an acoustic advisory to the cover.

This song has to be the epitome of the sort of music I enjoyed as a teen when I was first learning to play guitar…and trying to work out Rush, Bowie, Pink Floyd and even Nile Rodgers stuff…here I really let free my inner Lifeson…but there are definite hints of the other db, Nile Rodgers, David Gilmour, Steve Howe and Chris Squire from Yes. You could call it a Permanent Moog X-1 Oddity.

Here comes the flood

Peter Gabriel’s 1977 song Here Comes the Flood is, as far as I know, nothing to do with downpours, weather, or indeed floods. Rather the lyrics muse on the bizarre and fantastical notion of universal telepathy suddenly occurring across the human race and the devastation to us as individuals that would ensue with such an information and emotional overload. It’s almost as if the sledgehammer-wielding songmeister clambering up Solsbury Hill was predicting a future wherein we are all connected via some weird technological advance and able to see and hear everybody’s last inner thought and secret, see every sunset and salad they experience, and visualise a never-ending list of their first-world problems and gripes…sound familiar?

Anyway, I arranged and recorded a simple guitar-based cover of the song a few years ago, being, as you might say, a bit of a Gabrielesque acolyte, But, given the UK weather today, I thought I’d dig it out, remix it with some thunder and lightning and the odd raindrop and post it as a static Youtube clip on teh Youtubez. I haven’t even included the lyrics…you can find them yourself. But, do have a listen…

Water cannot dehydrate you

Here’s a thing, we’re endlessly told we should be drinking more water…well, that’s not strictly true, you get water from food and lots of different types of drinks and unless you have particular needs because of age or disease or are in a particularly desiccating environment it’s actually quite hard to become clinically dehydrated. Another bit of deceived wisdom often bandied about is that certain drinks, particularly those containing caffeine and/or alcohol make you dehydrated too. But, an interesting paper in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition earlier this year has attempted to standardise a beverage hydration index (BHI). The authors of the paper hypothesised that “the postingestion diuretic response is likely to be influenced by several beverage characteristics, including the volume ingested, energy density, electrolyte content, and the presence of diuretic agents.”

However, that doesn’t seem to be what they found, debunking that particular piece of deceived wisdom. Fizzy drinks, coffee and beer do not make you dehydrated: “Cumulative urine output at 4 h after ingestion of cola, diet cola, hot tea, iced tea, coffee, lager, orange juice, sparkling water, and a sports drink were not different from the response to water ingestion.”

Fundamentally, all of those drinks are mostly water and are not quite the potent diuretics as lifestyle gurus in their lifestyle magazines and bestselling opratic books might have you believe…