Most visited page on Sciencebase.com

So…that time of year…what was the most visited page on Sciencebase.com? As if you care…

Well, of the 800,000 total visits to the site in 2017 (so far, at one time the site used to get almost that many visits every month!), served 4.4 million pages, the most visited was an article asking whether great tit beaks are getting longer! A piece showcasing my photos of three grey herons did well too, as did a post about the wren. The story of Grace Darling in October, 175 years after her death was popular, just beating an explanation as to why the sun over the UK went red in the autumn. My music promo page dropped back a little, nowhere near as many visits as this time last year, but then again, our feathered friends have been featuring heavily this year and any music links I’ve shared have pointed straight to my BandCamp or SoundCloud pages in recent months.

The periodic table song, the structure of morphine, chemical puns, and other phrases continue to bring people in from the search engines, and also the question “Why does salt lower freezing point?” and one asking what boron smells like”.

Perceived slights and a happy whatever

An interviewee on BBC Radio 4 Today recently, I think it was the sister of the murdered Member of Parliament Jo Cox said something along the lines of how, before we all got tied to our smartphones, we used to talk to each other in the street. That may well have been true in some small rural communities and is probably the case in some places, but I doubt it was ever really true on the streets of London or any other big city, at least not within living memory.

Nevertheless, without wanting to be a broflake or trigger a youthquake. It’s vaguely worth saying that we each used to know a few dozen people, the average villager before the industrial revolution and perhaps well into the twentieth century would have a connection with rarely more than a couple of hundred people (the approximate Dunbar number). Now our “village” has thousands if not millions of residents, people we barely know and most of whom we never meet. Any one of whom might summarily take umbrage at some perceived slight, be offended by an off-hand statement, criticism, or other remark. Something that might have been laughed off in the working fields or down the pub, but no more.

In an era when “banter is bullying” it’s as if we’re all snowflakes. That slight against one’s personality becomes a pinprick to the bubble and the riposte and response can quickly amplify as social media sees and seizes the opportunity to exploit the novelty of its viral infections. An unguarded comment, a risque remark, a comic criticism quickly disturbs the Wi-Fi ether, wiggles the pipelines under the oceans that make our village global and often disrupt our lives in unforeseen ways. In fact, increasingly the lives of “everyday” people, are being shattered if not entirely ruined by the ruminations of the great online unwashed. Celebrities fall from grace, they always did. Politicians are smeared, and often rightly so. But, for the prole, the pleb, the peasant, life can become just as unpleasant at the hands of the angry virtual mob.

With billions of updates every second, swathes of selfish selfies, texting, sexting, doxing, unboxing, outfoxing and all that blocks-ing, where will it end? I certainly don’t hanker for the time when we each had a social whirl limited by the muddy tracks leading in and out of the village and social networking meant an annual barn dance on the night of the harvest moon, but sometimes I wonder whether that notion of six degrees of separation might occasionally do us more harm than good. Like those data pipes under the ocean they’re now so worried the Russians might slice, perhaps we occasionally need six degrees of insulation. Perhaps this holiday/festive season/Winterval, we should all have a proper digital detox and disconnect our own data pipes, at least until the New Year. And, on that note, here’s wishing you festive felicitations. Happy Whatever!

Pre-Xmas rush to finish work

In the pre-Xmas rush to finish work and get on with the festivities, take a few moments to save yourself New Year heartache:

  • Enable two-factor or multi-factor authentication for all your logins where you can (email, social media, cloud storage etc).
  • Encrypt any sensitive files such as your tax stuff, investment documents, personal photos, recordings.
  • Backup those files and all your other data files: documents, spreadsheets, photos, anything you’ve created or edited (not your installed programs/apps). Back them up to a cloud server where you have a strong password and for which you have two-factor activated.
  • Back up all those files again to an external drive and store that off-site, with a trusted neighbour, family member, fire-proof bank vault, or secure storage facility.
  • If you have time, before the tinsel and tree beckon, install an offline password manager, such as Keepass, set it up with a strong master password that you can easily remember. Add your important accounts to the password manager database and then reset their passwords one by one, use the manager to generate new strong passwords for each and save the database once you’ve reset them. If you still have time, do the same for all your other less important accounts. Use a different password for every login. Never use your master password for any logins.
  • Backup the encrypted password manager database, but perhaps not to cloud storage.
  • Update your antivirus software, run a full scan across your computer and mobile devices.
  • If everything is clean and backed up, boot down your PC. Unplug. Accept that mulled wine and mince pie
  • Wish everyone a “Merry Christmas”
  • Do not say “Happy Holidays”
  • Do not pull your kecks down and photocopy your backside, do not sext anyone.

Songs of the Sea

An acrostic acoustic and eclectic electric of original songs from Dave Bradley, written as a semipseudoautobiographical response to life’s ebb and flow. Now available from CDBaby.

The album kicks off with the insistent rocker “In Deep Water”. Then I’m pondering the political climate in “Prevailing Wind”. The angst-ridden “Luna” worries about love. “Foreign Shores” serves its time overland by sea with “The Tide That Never Turns” telling of the twin cities, followed by “When the Mood Takes You”. Watch out for “Turncoats” on the shore and you can “Give My Love to the Waves”. “Coaldust and Seaspray” takes me back to my childhood and before, while “Still Empty Boats” reflects on family life. Finally, I return to the home port in “Sail Me Back to Uh-Huh Town”.

Songs of the Sea is available to stream via SoundCloud, BandCamp, and now released on CDBaby.

All songs words and music by 雷竞技官网 . Guitars, vocals, bass, synths, percussion, and production 雷竞技官网 . Except for drums on “In Deep Water” by Klaus Tropp. Backing vocals on “Give my love to the waves” Beth Bradley.

Does asthma drug boost athleticism?

The title of this blog post is obviously a QTWTAIN.

If you’re an athlete taking the WADA allowed 1600 micrograms of salbutamol each day that’s the equivalent of 16 doses from a standard metered dose inhaler. If you’re taking so much that it leads to you failing a drug test, then you have serious problems. Most lay people take two doses at a time to relieve symptoms, such as chest tightness, coughing, wheezing and breathlessness, so that’s still using the stuff 8 times a day.

I wonder though, whether you are an athlete or not, if you need to take that much bronchodilator each day to get relief and a decent peak flow rate, then it’s odd that you got so high up in the world of sport in the first place irrespective of how tenacious you might be. Asthma at that level of reliever need can be quite debilitating regardless of fitness.

Moreover, at that level of dosing, most GPs would’ve prescribed inhaled corticosteroid preventers to preclude the need for taking so much bronchodilator. That, of course, brings with it its own issues with respect to bone density and, of course, the World Anti-Doping Agency’s rules, even though corticosteroids are not muscle-building anabolic steroids.

So, does inhaled salbutamol actually benefit people without asthma? And thence enhance athletic performance. It’s possible. Presumably, everyone has some degree of possible expansion of their airways even if they don’t have the disorder. There was an item in the January 2016 issue of Cycling Weekly that discusses the issues in more detail and suggests that there may well be benefits. However, earlier work suggests that salbutamol does little to enhance the performance of top-level athletes. A research paper from May 2017 studying salbutamol use among professional footballers corroborated that earlier finding; that said it looked at footballers using a single therapeutic dose (2 puffs, 200 micrograms), rather than the big daily dose that represents the upper allowed limit under WADA’s rules.

Salbutamol can have a range of side effects: tremor, anxiety, headache, muscle cramps, dry mouth, heart palpitations, tachycardia, arrhythmia, flushing of the skin, myocardial ischaemia (rare), and insomnia.

Chemical turn on and off

My latest news article in Chemistry World is about a light switch, not a lightswitch, that can control chemical reactivity. The PR team at the research centre involved have put together a nice video showing the experiments involved, watch for the lasers and dry ice, I’m pretty sure, #RealTime doesn’t involve Pink Floyd stage effects…but, it does look dramatic nevertheless.

Lighting the way to switch chemical reaction pathways

Computer code for children and politicians

We need some new computer code that interprets user input and assigns an appropriate tag to terse messages.

For instance, if one’s offspring respond to the suggestion that they assist with household chores and the response is “Yay!”, then the code would automatically enclose the message in <sarc> </sarc> tags so that no one would be in any doubt as to the true meaning of the enthusiasm. The tags would generate some kind of audiovisual signal to leave the reader in no doubt as to the sub-text.

Dad: "Right, let's get those dishes washed and dried, eh?"

Kid: <sarc>Yay!</sarc>

Something similar could be applied to everything politicians tweet:

Trunt: <lie>"I am bigly the most honest Amerkun president ever"</lie>

<sarc>Like, we need that to be able to determine whether he’s lying or not</sarc>

Other tags might include <serious></serious>, which could be abbreviated to <!sarc></!sarc> the exclamation mark, or “bang”, being a negator of a given command.

By the way, <!sarc>I am deadly serious</!sarc> about this…

How to take photographs in the snow

When photographing snow you have to pretty much ignore what your camera thinks the scene looks like otherwise you will get an underexposed, grey shot. Conversely, if it’s sunny there will likely be a blue cast over the photo and the snow whites will be blown out.

So, if it’s dull and snowing take your meter readings, but then notch up your exposure compensation (EV) a couple of thirds to compensate for what the camera thought the light levels were. If you want to do it properly, zoom into a bright patch of snow, dial in an EV of between +2/3 to 1 and a 1/3 and note the shutter speed and aperture the camera’s meter obtained (or get the measurements from an external light meter). Now, go to manual mode and dial those in with the EV reset to 0. This will overexpose the snow, but give you the right effect.

If it’s sunny, use a neutral white balance card (a grey card or a patch of uncovered wall that’s grey, rocks whatever and test white balance, adjust accordingly to warm the image and avoid the blue cast. You might have to nudge down the EV 1/3 or 2/3.

Useful tips on photographing in the snow here and here and here.

Starring All Saints’ Church

A few snaps of All Saints’ Church, Cottenham, with the stellar backdrop of the Milky Way. In the third picture down, you can see the light trail of a satellite I spotted as I was framing up. Milky Way is perhaps most obvious in the last photo.

For those interested in such things, these were all shot with ISO set to 1600, a focal length of between 24 and 105mm and an f-stop of 4.0. Shutter speed was varied to accommodate the 500/fl rule, whereby you divide 500 by the focal length to obtain the maximum speed that will avoid star trails appearing as the Earth turns on its axis. At 24mm, a shutter speed above 20 seconds will clearly show star trails.

If some of these are not perfectly sharp or framed, blame my freezing hands, it’s minus F out there tonight…

Green sandpiper confirmed

In mid-October I spotted a bird I didn’t recognise scooting along Cottenham Lode. It looked mostly black/very dark-brown but with a white rump and a square tail. It was a quick flyer shooting along the fen drain close to the water’s surface. I’d say it was just a little smaller than a swift and with a similarly sickle-shaped wing profile; but the swifts were long gone by this time of the year. I thought maybe it was a seabird, but that felt unusual we’re just outside Cambridge miles from the coast. Perhaps it was a migrant blown off course by the strong winds we called “ex-Ophelia” at the time. I didn’t get a photo.

Members of the RSPB forum had various suggestions, but it was my trusty ornithological mentor on Facebook, Brian Stone, who recognised it from the description and told me it was most likely a green sandpiper. I saw the same bird again a few nights ago, it was almost dark, but it was definitely the same species. I got a very noisy snap as it passed over a patch of light on the Lode.

I sent the picture to Brian who confirmed it, even from this awful photo, as a green sandpiper (Tringa ochropus). He pointed out that it’s a common visitor to the fen drains in winter, and on passage). The green sandpiper is a wader (a shorebird). It breeds across subarctic Europe and Asia and is a migratory bird, wintering in southern Europe, the Indian Subcontinent, Southeast Asia, and tropical Africa. It eats small invertebrates plucked from the shoreline mud. Almost uniquely for a wader it nests in trees although will often adopt a used thrush’s nest as its home.

According to the RSPB its call is a loud “tllu-eet weet-weet!”