Archive for category Whimsy

Bitching and Whining – “Jogging outside could make you stupid – and more likely to suffer mental health problems”

So, I’m annoyed with a news story. After taking a laziness break post Skyfall, I’m back.

This is the the story in question, originally in the Daily Mail – posted a week after the information was released in the form of a paragraph long press release – suggests that exercising outdoors makes you stupid and is bad for you.

The press release in question doesn’t cite the original scientific paper and doesn’t describe its methods. In fact, I can find no sign of this paper other than the padded press releases in the Daily Mail and Men’s Health. According to the Mail, the Belgian authors of the study looked at the differences between people who walk and/or run outside in a city between noon and 1pm 3 times a week and those taking outdoor exercise in rural areas.

The problem is not that you are outside or that you are exercising, but the pollutants. Exercise, no matter where you do it, is good for you, most people don’t exercise outside in a city; most of us are able to run in quieter areas, parks, away from traffic. Running remains one of the cheapest methods of exercise – costing little more than a pair of shoes.

Gym memberships are comparatively expensive – most being rather cagy about their prices on their websites. It seems to me that the Mail are playing to their middle class housewife readership, those with the disposable income for gym memberships, reinforcing the opinion that simply running outside is not good enough. It’s a lazy, poorly researched piece of fluff, framed as a scare story and frankly, a non-story.

What the Belgian researchers seem to say is that pollution is the problem, and this can be somewhat alleviated by running in a park, or in weather conditions that dissipate pollutants such as rain and wind. Surely the more worrying aspect is that walking outside for a significant length of time is going to expose you to pollutants that impair cognitive ability and raise markers of inflammation.

If you are a runner, don’t let this shoddily subbed piece of journalism put you off going outside. I have had gym memberships, and I have run outside; I have joined and left four gyms. And yet I have been running on and off, injuries permitting, for 15 years. I know which I prefer, but then I don’t have to run in a city.


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Trajectory of a Falling Batman

Nananananananananananana BATMAN, Batman, Batman, Batman.

It’s BATWEEK! You may be aware that there is a film out this week.

And someone with too much time on their hands has published a paper looking into whether The Batman can really fly.

The authors, DA Marshall, RO Hinds, I Griffiths and G Douglas published their article Trajectory of a Falling Batman in the Journal of Physics Special Topics. They liken The Batman’s ‘memory cloth’ cape to a wingsuit and discuss whether The Batman could generate enough lift to glide.

Given the size of the cape and a Batman mass (or Batmass, if you will) of 95 kg. He would, the team of Leicester University physicists theorise, be able to glide for about 350 m after leaping from a 150 m building. However, his velocity would increase as he falls – predicted to reach 110 kph, which would then decrease to 80 kph (due to air resistance). Landing at this speed would be difficult to control and would lead to what I shall call a ‘BatSplat’. In their conclusions, the scientists state

Clearly gliding using a batcape is not a safe way to travel, unless a method to rapidly slow down is used such as a parachute


So, The Dark Knight Rises… No so much

Citation: Marshall, D.; Hands, T.; Griffiths, I.; Douglas, G.. A2_9, ‘Trajectory of a falling Batman’, Physics Special Topics, North America, 10 9 12 2011.

(Thanks to Ben Goldacre who drew my attention to this)

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I for one welcome our new dinosaur overlords

I have just stumbled across the most astonishingly brilliant “science” story.

Scientist Dr Richard Breslow claims that advanced dinosaurs may rule other worlds in a article published in the Journal of the American Chemical Society. Having been raised on a diet of Doctor Who and Star Trek, I got rather excited by all of this.

It turned out to be a discussion on the chemical structures of sugars and amino acids. Something rather odd (or particularly dull, depending on your view of chemistry) is that some molecules are asymmetric and therefore they can exist in two froms, as mirror images of each other: just like our hands. (As always, Wikipedia covers it quite well.) Because of the way biology works, only one form – one mirror image – of a molecule occurs in nature. The enzymes responsible for controlling the biochemical reactions that keep us alive only deal with one form of the chemical.

In his paper, Dr Breslow discusses why only one form predominates in nature; all amino acids have a left-handed orientation, most sugars (including DNA) have a right-handed orientation. He suggests that life on other planets could evolve to use either form, but meteorites that crashed to Earth 4 million years ago carried the left-handed isoform of amino acids may be the origin of the dominance of the left-handed forms of amino acids, and right-handed sugars in the present.

I fail to see how he managed to segue into explaining that with alternative forms of these molecules being dominant on other planets leads to the rise of the dinosaurs as the superior species “An implication from this work is that elsewhere in the universe there could be life forms based on D-amino acids and L-sugars. Such life forms could well be advanced versions of dinosaurs, if mammals did not have the good fortune to have the dinosaurs wiped out by an asteroidal collision, as on Earth. We would be better off not meeting them.”



Post script: I heard this week that the paper has been withdrawn from the journal because of accusations of self-plagiarism. 😦

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The Schiensh of Bond: Octopussy

A Bond film a month until Skyfall next October. BlogalongaBond. I continue through the Roger Moores like wading through so much treacle. I was enjoying Octopussy until all that mucking about on the circus train, then I got bored. And while I was musing on potentially perverse definitions of the word “octopussy” I realised that, in fact, the octopus is the most interesting thing about this film. Incidentally, I was not brave enough to put “octopussy” into google without the SafeSearch on.

What’s in a name?

My first stumbling block in Octopussy is the pluralisation of octopus: octopuses or octopi. Well, the origin of the name “octopus” stems from the greek for eight footed. Okto- : eight, pous-: feet. The use of the suffix -us is common in latin and the standard pluralisation of latin words ending in -us is to replace it with -i. Hence cactus -> cacti. There are common exceptions, for example the commonly used plural of campus is campuses, rather than campi. Octopus however has its etymological origins in greek rather than latin, so many object to the pluralisation octopi on these grounds.

There are three plural forms of octopusoctopuses [ˈɒktəpəsɪz], octopi [ˈɒktəpaɪ], and octopodes [ˌɒkˈtəʊpədiːz]. Currently, octopuses is the most common form in the UK as well as the US; octopodes is rare, and octopi is often objectionable.


Many sources agree that while “octopodes” is technically correct, it is pedantic and there is the general impression that the sort of people using the word “octopodes” don’t get out enough. Furthermore, although many argue that octopus is a greek word, some bright spark has pointed out that octopus is actually a latinised-greek word. The word octopus wasn’t used to refer to the animal it describes until 1758, long after the Greeks and Romans were conjugating language.

Therefore, octopuses is generally accepted.

It does, however, bring the following exchange to mind.


Octopuses are cephalopod molluscs with no form of skeleton (like other molluscs) so they are able to squeeze through very small gaps. When it comes to dealing with predators, they have numerous defence mechanisms: they produce ink, have the ability to change colour and they are venomous.

Their physiology is, frankly, bizarre by our standards – an octopus has 3 hearts. Two brachial hearts pump blood through the gills and the third pumps blood around the body.

I have borrowed this pictograph to show you the inner workings of an octopus:

The blood contains coppers rather than iron to carry oxygen around the body. Also, the haemocyanin protein that carries the oxygen is dissolved in the blood rather than being contained within red blood cells as is in mammals. This give their blood a bluish colour.

The blue-ringed octopuses – as featured in Octopussy – are a group of 3 (possibly 4) species of octopus. They are quite small in size and they have numerous chromophores in their skin which are normally brown to aid camouflage. If the octopus is threatened, these patches turn blue. Octopuses produce ink which is contained in their ink sacs (located just below their gills), the ink contains the pigment melanin and mucous and is squirted out with the help of a jet of water from the funnel. In the blue-ringed octopus species, the ink sac has shrunk during evolution. Young blue-ringed octopuses can still effectively squirt ink, however the adults of two of the species do not produce ink at all, a third species can but is pretty crap at it.

Toxic bite

Blue-ringed octopuses are the only group of octopus with venom that can kill humans. The list of chemicals in the venom are:  tetrodotoxin, 5-hydroxytripamine, hyaluronidase, tyramine, histamine, tryptamine, taurine, acetylcholine and dopamine. The most important of these is tetrodotoxin, known to a bunch of lazy pharmacologists and neuroscientists as TTX. TTX is the same toxin found in pufferfish and is around 100 times more toxic than cyanide. It’s produced by bacteria that live in the octopus’ salivary glands. TTX blocks nerve transmission, so once someone is bitten, paralysis ensues. The patient is unable to breathe, so unless they are ventilated they will quickly die. Treatment is by artificial ventilation; the body is able to break down the toxin so after about 24 hours of ventilation, the patient will most likely make a full recovery.

A clever little bastard

Experiments have shown that octopuses are highly intelligent, far more so than other invertebrates. They are adept problem-solvers, showing both short- and long-term memory, although they learn next-to-nothing from their parents as they have little or no contact. In science laboratories, octopuses have show fear directed a specific individuals. This gives them the same level of protection under the law as vertebrates with respect to scientific experiments.

Their intelligence makes them problematic as pets as they have a tendency to escape from aquariums.

I wouldn’t want to encounter one of these guys on the run…

Barring encounters with poisonous octopodes, Schiensh will return for Roger Moore’s penultimate outing as Bond in A View to a Kill.

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Risks of Accidental Death in Ambridge

As an avid avoider of Radio 4’s iconic farming-oriented soap, the following story tickled me greatly.

From the Christmas edition of the British Medical Journal.

Inhabitants of the fictional Borsetshire village are at higher risk of death by accident than the country as a whole according to Rob Stepney. Although if Ambridge residents avoid accidents, they can look forward to a long life. Stepney followed the lives of the Ambridgites for 20 years, during which there were 15 deaths,

According to the BMJ

Of the 15 deaths recorded in Ambridge over the 20 years, nine were of male characters and six of female characters. This equates to a mortality rate of 7.8 per 1,000 population per year for men compared with 8.5 per 1,000 in England and Wales mid-way through the study period. For women in Ambridge, the mortality rate was 5.2 deaths per 1,000 compared with 5.8 per 1,000 nationally.

The disturbingly high number of accidental deaths were the result of traffic accidents, someone was killed by a tractor turning over, some poor bugger fell off a roof and there was a self-inflicted gunshot wound. This takes the death rate from accident to 27% in Ambridge compared to 4% in the country as a whole. Conversely, the birth rate in Ambridge between 1991 and 2011 was lower than the country as a whole: 5.6 per 1,000 compared with 11.4 per 1,000 in England and Wales.

It has previously been found that characters in TV soaps Coronation Street and EastEnders have a higher risk of death than bomb disposal experts and racing drivers.


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Of course we’re going to throw faeces at him…

Arthur Eddington theorised that an infinite number of monkeys tapping away on typewriters would eventually reproduce the complete works of Shakespeare. A practical demonstration of this using a computer keyboard and six Celebes Crested Macaques in a Devon zoo merely resulted in 5 pages of the letter ‘S’ and a keyboard smeared in poo. Not necessarily the actions of an intelligent life form.

From the film Project Nim

Or maybe not. Bill Hopkins and his team at Emory University have conducted behavioural experiments in the journal Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society B. Chimps are one of the few species, aside from humans, that throw things at specific targets. Invariably, this includes faeces. According to the authors one of the aims if the study was to test whether chimps that have learned to throw are socially more sophisticated or more intelligent than those that have not. Because the chimps are aware that their actions can influence those around them (throwing poo at people does tend to make them more sweary), it is thought that they are better able to adapt socially and are more able to manipulate situations. Apes went thought a series of cognitive tests to measure communication, spatial cognition, memory, causality and theory of mind. Magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) was used to compare the brain activity of apes that could throw well with those who could not.

What the authors found was that chimps who threw more stuff and with better aim showed more activity in the brain areas associated with movement and movement planning during cognitive testing. The scientists suggest that this is a result of better connectivity in the brains of throwing-chimps. Theses chimps were also better communicators, not only with other chimps, but with humans as well – bear in mind how strongly ape and monkeys depend on gestural communication.

Here’s an example of some smart monkeys:

Curiously, the same conclusions cannot be extrapolated to humans; by and large human premiership footballers, while very skilled at kicking a ball (and presumably throwing faeces), tend to lack verbal communication skills (as evidenced by anyone who has tried to watch post-match interviews). Although their gestural communication on the pitch is probably pretty good.

Full paper here: Phil. Trans. R. Soc. B 12 January 2012 vol. 367 no. 1585 37-47, doi: 10.1098/rstb.2011.0195

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The Schiensh of Bond: Moonraker

BlogalongaBond – a Bond film a month until Skyfall is released (I hate The Incredible Suit so much right now).

I think the plots have been ropy for a while – they’ve mostly involved a crazed megalomaniac destroying life on Earth while allowing a subset of the beautiful and the vacuous to survive underwater/underground/underwater/in space, while Bond goes on a weird array of nonsensical trips to Switzerland, Japan and generic South America. Moonraker dispenses entirely with reason, logic and comprehensible plot, to cash-in on the late ‘70s obsession with all things space. George Lucas, Stanley Kubrick, you have a lot to answer for.

But I realised what bothers me most is that Bond has the inability to die in precarious situations. Read on as I continue on the ill-advised task of whining about the Schiensh of Moonraker, subtitled WHY WON’T YOU DIE?

Bond fails to die pt.1 – jumping out of an airplane without a parachute

The film’s opening is rather promising: Roger Moore falls out of an aeroplane without a parachute. It had so much promise. That bastard Bond pulls a parachute of a defenceless henchman and leaves him to fall to his death. The odds surviving a fall from a plane are pretty slim.

According to Wikipedia, the higher someone falls, the more severe any injuries. The chances of survival increase if the faller lands on a surface with high deformity. Survival is also strongly dependent on anything that may slow descent; even a partially open parachute may mean the difference between life and death. There is a site called The Free Fall Research Page which lists accounts of survival from falls from height. There is a section dedicated to Unlucky Skydivers it’s rather astonishing how many people do survive. Many of them survive because their falls are broken by power lines, corrugated roofs etc. Some people are lucky enough to survive without such things breaking their falls – Bear Grylls survived a fall in the desert, but he was in pieces for months afterwards. From the accounts that exist, it would seem plausible that Jaws could survive a fall from a plane by landing on a circus tent. The fate of the anonymous henchman seems less certain, he almost certainly dies unless he has the good fortune to land on a barn.

Bond fails to die pt.2 – death by centrifuge

Shortly after his arrival at Drax’s lair, Dr Goodhead *headdesk* leads Bond to the high-G training centrifuge chamber thing. Scary Asian henchman turns the knob on the centrifuge up to 13 g. Dr Goodhead is good enough to explain that most people pass out at 7 g, and if the g is high enough for long enough, the poor sod stuck in the centrifuge will die. Bond, however, does not have the decency to die. Damn him.

Why does high g cause someone to black out? Well, it is all to do with blood flow to the brain. Normally, blood pressure remains fairly constant – it is carefully maintained in a narrow range by a group of autonomic reflexes. These reflexes adjust. For example when you go from lying down to standing up, your blood pressure needs to increase to ensure that your brain receives sufficient blood. Your reflexes are able to increase blood pressure to the required level. You may have noticed that occasionally, if you stand up too quickly, your vision will go fuzzy, or you may even faint. This is when your reflexes don’t quite compensate quickly enough.

In the centrifuge for high-g training and in instances of high g caused by high speeds, your blood tends to collect in your legs. Your reflexes compensate by raising your blood pressure up to a point, but this isn’t sustained. A second reflex takes over and blood pressure falls, in a similar manner to what happens during blood loss. The fall in blood pressure means that there is a decrease in blood flow to the brain which leads to gradual loss of vision, followed by loss of consciousness. If the blood flow to the brain becomes insufficient for longer than a few minutes, the brain will start to die. So close. Why won’t you die, Mr Bond?

Bond fails to die pt.3 – death by nerve gas

Bond goes nosing around a lab in Venice. Honestly, sneaking into a lab and carelessly jabbing at things at random without so much at a latex glove. Annoyingly, Bond nonchalantly shoves the most lethal chemical in the lab into his top pocket. In the process, he leaves a vial of the same toxic substance in a precarious position thereby killing a bunch of innocent scientists with his carelessness. Lab safety is in force for a reason. Now kids, never enter a lab without due supervision. And don’t touch anything. Health and safety is about other people’s safety as much as your own.

Q analyses the vial that Bond has stolen from the lab. He waves the chemical structure around. Bond observes that it is a “chemical formula of a plant” he is of course totally wrong. Plants have many components: DNA, proteins, sugars, cellulose. None of which are summarised by the chemical structure. What he means is “that looks like a plant-derived toxin to me, and by the way, I never told you about that degree I have in pharmacological chemistry”.

I have no idea what this is and I did chemistry A-level. I am, quite frankly, baffled that Bond knows. I can tell you that it is not DNA, a protein, an amino acid or a sugar. Fortunately, I just happen to know a lecturer in Forensic Toxicology. I handed him the formula for analysis.

Nerve agents come from a group of compounds called anticholinesterases and they affect the way that nerve signals are relayed in the body. Irreversible nerve agents contain a phosphate group and are classed as organophosphates. This compound above does appear to contain phosphorus atom, however, in an organophosphate, the oxygen atom (O) would be double-bonded to the phosphate atom (P) in the phosphate group.

Firstly, the drug is entirely fictitious, being impossible to make. Secondly, the DS doesn’t equate to a chemical element, it may be a molecule of sulphur (S) connected to a molecule of deuterium (an isotope of hydrogen; but why not use H, which is standard notation). They might mean Darmstadtium (Ds) and the capitalised S is a typo. Darmstadtium is very unstable existing for mere secong –  this is unlikely to occur in nature, though the chaps at Drax laboratories may have added this to the formula.

According to Wikipedia, effective organophosphates would have 2 lipophilic (fat-soluble) groups bonded to the phosphorus (this would enable the nerve agent to pass though the skin. In contrast – Drax’s nerve agent has a polar carboxyl group, although the three carbon rings in the middle (tricylohexane group) are very non-polar and may counteract this.

The poor unsuspecting scientists do appear to die in a manner consistent with nerve gas poisoning. The liquid (which is usually quite volatile) vapourises. When it is inhaled, it gets into the body where it interferes with the signals that go from the brain to the diaphragm and the victim can no longer breathe. They asphyxiate and DIE.

Bond fails to die pt.4 – death by cable car

Bond randomly bumps into Dr Goodhead *cough* on Sugarloaf mountain, followed by Jaws. Jaws being notable for having metal teeth, being rather large and being apparently very strong. Jaws attempts to kill Bond and Goodhead by biting through the cable suspending the cable car. It’s clear when you watch the film that the cable has already been cut before Richard Kiel “bites” through it. Fortunately for me Mythbusters have already dealt with this one. They found that even when applying 20,000 lbs of pressure, they were unable to cut through one inch of cable with metal teeth; they tried sharpened teeth as well as the blunt teeth Jaws appears to have in the film. It took a purpose designed hydraulic cutter to go through the cable. 20 tonnes of pressure could not possibly be applied through a set of human jaws.

Sadly, despite the efforts of Hugo Drax and his own ineptitude, James Bond fails to die.

That aside, here are the highlights of Moonraker.

Still, we’re halfway through the Moore, and it won’t get this bad until Die Another Day. BlogalongaBond is looking up.


Follow the Lemur wishes to acknowledge the help of the University of Dundee Centre for Forensic and Legal Medicine for their input on Drax’s deadly nerve toxin.

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The London Film Festival – a crash course in psychology

I’ve had a few days to breathe since the end of the London Film Festival (see the stuffs at A few days into the festival, it struck me that rather a lot of the films I was watching relied heavily on psychiatry or characters with psychiatric disorders. Characters with Alzheimer’s were presented in both The Descendents, where the protagonist’s mother-in-law suffers and in Terri, where the title character cares for his Alzheimic uncle. Alcoholism is prominent in both Rampart, where Woody Harrelson’s antihero-cop is seldom without a drink, and Junkhearts as Eddie Marsan struggles with alcohol to deal with a traumatic event in his past. Obsessive-compulsive disorder is prominent in oddball Norwegian flick King Curling and in divisive American indie-kook flick Damsels in Distress. And characters in Alois Nebel and Wreckers appear to be suffering from post traumatic stress disorder. This is without throwing in the delusions and paranoia suffered by Elizabeth Olsen’s character when she escapes an abusive cult in Martha Marcy May Marlene.

Here are my five picks from the London Film Festival for a crash course in psychology

A Dangerous Method

While it’s not a great historical drama and not as interesting as the directors earlier work, it’s not a bad introduction to Sigmund Freud. Carl Jung (Michael Fassbender) attempts to use Freud’s talking therapy to treat Sabine Spielrein (Keira Knightley) and her fondness of spanking. Freud is played totally deadpan by Viggo Mortensen; he exchanges letters with Jung in which he expresses his belief that sexual drive underlies all human behaviour. On camera, Jung suggests this is because Freud isn’t getting any. Freud also believed that his talking cure helped release the repression practiced by the unconscious mind over human sexual desires. Freud was also very interested in dreams, something he shared with Jung. However Jung’s obsession with the occult was deemed unscientific by Freud, and I am inclined to agree with him. The film (based on Christopher Hampton’s play The Talking Cure) suggests that Freud and Jung’s falling out had more to do with Jung’s relationship with Spielrein, but this remains largely speculative. Of course, Spielrein herself became a prominent child psychoanalyst. Trailer.

Shock Head Soul

Daniel Paul Schreber’s astonishing account of his own mental illness, Memoirs of my Nervous Illness, was published in 1903  and has been used for the basis of Shock Head Soul. Using a combination of documentary and dramatisation, the filmakers have made use of modern day academics to provide insights into Schreber’s symptoms and treatments. Schreber was a German high court judge in Dresden, the added pressure his new job, in addition to some barbaric treatment as a child, precipitated the onset of what was described at the time as dementia praecox.  Initial symptoms included insomnia, but his condition deteriorated rapidly and he was admitted to the University of Leipzig Psychiatric Clinic. He believed, among other things, that God wanted to turn him into a women. Schreber’s case was brought to prominence by Sigmund Freud, in his book The Schreber Case. Although Freud never met Schreber, Freud’s analysis of the book meant that it became hugely important in the history of psychiatry. The 1900s were a landmark in psychiatry – the way in which the brain worked was just starting to be understood, it meant that madness was starting to be considered a disease and not something ‘other’ like demonic possession or being of divine origin. Present day psychoanalysts diagnose  Schreber with schizophrenia. It is a fascinating watch and will likely become required viewing for any students of psychology or psychiatry. Clip.

Take Shelter

Curtis (Michael Shannon) is plagued with vivid nightmares and hallucinations in Jeff Nichols striking indie  film Take Shelter. While not entirely based on the writer-director’s own experiences, when asked, Michael Shannon has said that what Curtis goes through is an extreme version of what Nichols had experienced. Shortly before the start of the film, Curtis’ father has died, the country is in a financial crisis and a nearby town has succumbed to a toxic cloud. Curtis, his wife Samantha (the apparently ubiquitous Jessica Chastain) and daughter Hannah (Tova Stewart) live in a tight-knit community in small town Iowa. His vivid dreams centre on impending storms of toxic rain and how the rain makes people crazy. The dreams affect his everyday life; he relocates his beloved dog to the yard, it leads to a rift between his best friend and it drives him to obsessively build a storm shelter. Curtis is concerned by the intense dreams and the way they are affecting him, especially since his mother was diagnosed with paranoid schizophrenia at the age of 30 (and as with many illnesses, there is a genetic link). Because of the shitness of the US health care system, Curtis doesn’t get treatment from a specialist. It is apparently a fairly good depiction of schizophrenia; in Curtis’ case, it appears to be brought about by anxiety surrounding his family,  Nichols sums this up “Anxiety, no matter how free-floating it feels, it’s all rooted in the idea that you have something to lose.” Take Shelter is a moving depiction of a normal man’s decent into schizophrenia and how it affects people around them. As a piece on schizophrenia, found it much more engaging than Shock Head Soul. Trailer.

I know I have schizophrenia in here twice. This is my blog, so screw you.

We Need to Talk About Kevin

One of the more uncomfortable films at the London Film Festival is Lynne Ramsay’s We Need to Talk About Kevin. Based on Lionel Schriver’s book, it centres on the relationship, or lack there of, between Eva (Tilda Swinton) and her son Kevin (played by Ezra Miller, Jasper Newall and Rocky Duer). While the film (and presumably, the novel) looks into why Kevin is the way he is, it never makes any conclusions. Eva is entirely un-maternal, she appears decidedly unhappy while pregnant, and fails to bond with her child. When Kevin cries for 16 hours straight, driving Eva insensible – her husband Franklin (John C Reilly), sees nothing of this – she wonders if he is just pure evil. Kevin’s behaviour becomes consciously vindictive as he gets older, leading to a horrifying crime for which he is imprisoned. The author puts forward Eva’s failure as a parent along with Kevin being just evil to come up with every parent’s nightmare. However, the film paints Kevin as unnaturally evil – as a sort of Damien from The Omen. I think the debate of nature versus nurture in this case is a moot point as the book and film are fictional and the situations entirely contrived. Kevin is evil because Lionel Shriver hates children. However, Simon Baron-Cohen, Professor of Developmental Psychopathology at the University of Cambridge, has already taken a look at Kevin. He describes Kevin’s as having a lack of empathy, which likely has physiological routes. The brain pathways in psychopaths and sociopaths underlying empathy are not as strong as in others, and this appears to be genetic. However, there is also an environmental component, so parenting can play a role.  Kevin seems to fit in with what the DSM describes as Dyssocial Personality Disorder or Antisocial Personality Disorder; what is interesting is that although lacking in affective empathy, (he feels no empathy for others) he has a good grasp of cognitive empathy which enables him to skillfully manipulate others. Trailer.


Michael Fassbender is a sex-addict in Steve McQueen’s second film. He lives a sparse life, as his clinical apartment and his relationship void attest. He has a filthy porn stash on his work computer (a sackable offence everywhere I’ve worked), engages in frequent onanism (please don’t google that word), and beds multiple women in meaningless encounters – in short, his sex addiction rules his life. His sister Sissy (Carey Mulligan) appears, needing somewhere to stay. She is clearly unwelcome, and Brandon is determined to keep his life as empty as possible. They are both equally isolated loners and through their relationship an unhappy family life emerges. There is an ongoing debate by the American Psychiatric Association as to whether this is a “sex addiction” per se, or whether it is a manifestation of other disorders such as bipolar disorder or schizoaffective disorder. The cases are subjective to some extent, but it would appear that if it is significantly affecting the individual’s life and behaviour, the purported addiction is clearly a problem. The discussion in the newest version of the DSM highlights a condition they call “hypersexual disorder“, but they consider it to be a symptom, rather than a condition in itself, and fail to discuss the causes. Trailer.




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The Schiensh of Bond: The Spy Who Loved Me

After a dispiriting viewing of The Man With The Golden Gun, it’s with deep trepidation I attempted The Spy Who Loved Me, or, as it should be known from now onwards SUBMARINES: Fuck Yeah! Thus continues BlogalongaBond, a Bond film a month until Bond 23.

Dive! Dive!

I suppose scientifically, the most important thing about a submarine is its ability to change its buoyancy. Usually, things either float or sink in water, this floatiness, or buoyancy, is determined by the density of the object. Submarines change their buoyancy by varying the amounts of water and air in their ballast tanks. When the submarine dives, the ballast tanks are filled with water, to return to the surface, air is released into the ballast tanks, it displaces the water in the ballast tanks. The air is stored as compressed gas.

Pushing the limits

If you think about it, there are two factors that would limit how deep a submarine can dive. The first is how much water it can take on in the ballast tanks – when the ballast tanks are full, that’s it, the sub is as heavy as it can possibly get and can go no deeper. The other problem is water pressure. At normal atmospheric pressure, the air pressure inside the submarine equals that outside the sub. As a submarine dives however, the pressure exerted by the water outside exceeds the air pressure inside. If you had a balloon and took it deep underwater, it would shrink because it is being squished by the greater pressure of the water outside it. The same thing happens with submarines. Their hulls are designed to withstand a certain amount of force, beyond these depths, the submarine would be crushed.

The nuclear option

Nuclear submarines were developed in the 1950s, they have massive advantages over battery and diesel powered subs because they don’t need refuelling as much. Indeed, submarines nowadays need never refuel, while electric subs need a recharge every few days. Subs still need to restock for things like food though. this isn’t to say that nuclear powered subs are problem free, some tragic accidents have involved nuclear submarines. While nuclear powered subs can stay at sea for long periods of time, there is one flaw – in fact it is the method by which Q is able to track the lost submarine in the film – its heat signature. The nuclear reactor must be constantly cooled with sea water, so the sub leaves a thermal wake behind it which can be seen with thermal imaging system much like this.

Submarine car

If you’ve always wanted a submarine but don’t have the space (and you have a tonne of money to burn) you could get yourself a car that turns into a submarine. Sadly, Lotus don’t make these. The Esprit does not come with a submarine option. For the film, they used different models in various states of undress, finishing with the modified submarine car. According to Lotus Esprit World Perry Submarines constructed a mini-submarine with 4 electric propellers attached to the back. They couldn’t just modify a Lotus Esprit as there would be huge problems with water getting into the car. Bear in mind what happens in Top Gear anytime they build boat-cars. It wasn’t terribly manoeuvrable either.

As a road car, the design of the Esprit includes elements to help the car stick to the road, things that enhance downforce. It uses the same principles as wings on a plane, but in reverse – the air pressure below the car is lower than the air flowing over the car, pushing the car to the ground. The amount of air flowing above and below the car can be altered by structures on the car, like spoilers and wings and stuff. The designers were concerned that the downforce would have the same effect on the car in the water making the thing sink. Modifications were made at the front and back of the car to ensure this didn’t happen.

If you would like your own submarine car, sQuba exist. It will set you back $1.5 million and no one has taken it to market. The petrol engine has been replaced by three electric motors, one for the back wheels and the other two for the propellers. On land it can reach 75mph, while on water it can reach 4mph and underwater only 2mph. It can dive to 10 metres and can stay underwater for 2 hours.

I really enjoyed Submarines: Fuck yeah, join me next month for Space: *headdesk headdesk*

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The Schiensh of Bond: The Man With the Golden Gun

Blah blah blah wasted Christopher Lee, blah blah blah bollocks, BlogalongaBond – The Man With The Golden Gun.

Golden Gun, Golden Bullets

Gold is a fascinating metal, it’s rare, it’s precious and most important of all it’s shiny. Wikipedia tells me that it has a melting point of 1064.18 °C (1337.33 K), and it is also a very good conductor of heat and electricity, and very dense (more so than lead). Scaramanga’s gun is custom made, it is assembled from a cigarette case, a fountain pen and a lighter with a cufflink trigger. He uses gold bullets in the film – these being his calling card.

What are the logistics of using gold for these? Well, for a gun, you probably wouldn’t want a firing pin in a metal as malleable as gold; it would likely change shape during repeated firing. The force involved in firing a bullet originates from some form of explosive pressure. In a gun made of gold, you’d lose a lot of the heat to the barrel because it is such a good conductor of heat. The gun would therefore be rather inefficient. It would also get quite hot, so it would be difficult to hold. If you were going to make a gun out of gold, you wouldn’t have a gold firing pin or barrel.

Things get a little fuzzy around the bullets. Lazar makes custom 4.2 mm diameter bullets (~.17 calibre) that are 23 carat gold. Cartridges have been used for many years, they encapsulate a bullet and an explosive propellent in a casing. Presumably, Scaramanga’s bullets come in a gold casing with some sort of explosive powder to provide thrust for the bullet. This isn’t discussed at all in the film so I can’t really comment. More information can be found here.

There’s a nice explanation here.

Trying to find out anything on the behaviour of gold bullets is tough work, principally because gold is rather expensive (over £1k per ounce). However, some bored genius on Yahoo Answers has. Lead, a normal material with which to make bullets, is soft and has a tendency to flatten on impact, causing a huge amount of damage. Gold does much the same thing as it is also soft and dense. If it had a casing made of a tougher material – like copper or tin, it wouldn’t come apart so much.

Car Stunt Skills

One of the coolest things about this decidedly sub-par film is that car stunt (which some pillock decided to add a swanee whistle to)

This stunt has a rather cool history: it was originally developed by Raymond McHenry using a mathematical model,  details of which can be found here. The genius thing about the compter model is how well it matches up with the reality. The stunt had been performed before TMWTGG, and MGM bought the rights to it. The stunt was done in one take using eight cameras.

Physical Impossibilities

I got a bit bored after the car stunt, so I was practicing guitar. But then I noticed this piece of glaring stupid.

The temperature absolute zero? Like -273 °C? With all due respect, BOLLOCKS.

The Maguffin in this film is a Solex agitator, an integral component in Scaramanga’s highly efficient solar power generator. Scaramanga describes his set up for generating solar power, and as part of the process, there are superconductivity coils cooled by liquid helium. I have absolutely no idea how this set up works.

There are two methods by which it is possible to generate solar power. One way is by using solar panels which heat in the sun, this heat is then used to boil water and turn turbines (which generates electricity in the same way as nuclear power and fossil fuel power plants do.) The second method is by use of the photoelectric effect using photovoltaic cells. When light shines on a material, a semiconductor, the energy of the photons is transferred to electrons within is, giving the electron enough energy to break away from their associated atoms. This means the electrons in the semiconductor are free. The material solar cells are made of have very special characteristics that mean that the electrons can only move in one direction. A net flow of charged particles (in this case electrons) produces an electrical current.

Back to the liquid helium being held at absolute zero. This is impossible. Absolute zero – 0 degrees Kelvin (0 K) is -273.15 °C. Temperature is a measure of energy in a system, energy has to be removed for temperature to drop. When the energy of a material decreases, the movement of atoms falls – so theoretically ast absolute 0, all movement of molecules ceases. Even deep space has a temperature of ~3 K. But absolute zero cannot be reached – this would violate the third law of thermodynamics. However,  Aaron Leanhardt’s team at MIT managed to reach 450 picokelvin (0.000 000 000 45) degrees above absolute zero in 2003.

Weird things happen when you reach really low temperatures  – helium becomes a superfluid around 2 K. In this state, it becomes a perfect thermal conductor and has no viscosity, so it has a tendency to creep out of containers.

It was more fun relearning A-level physics than watching The Man With The Golden Gun. I really hope The Spy Who Loved Me is better.

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