Tuesday, 30 September 2014

Rural Relaxation

Clouds over the Marsh at  College Lake
For various reasons I have not done many things I had planned to do during September - including posting to this blog. I need to relax - and using these pictures as wallpaper is helpful - although taking a break and walking round the Nature Reserve is even better.
Reeds on the water's edge at College Lake
click on pictures for larger images

Friday, 26 September 2014

The Brains of The Great Apes

Mother Chimp showing infant how to break open nuts

The BBC Iplayer is currently showing a program on the brains of the great apes.The summary says "Chris Packham explores the evolution of the great ape's brain to reveal how different parts have been adapted over time by its anatomy, ingenuity and sociability." In practice it says little about the brain except to say that different aspects, such as the development of the hand, has meant that there has been enlargement of the relevant areas of the brain. However there are some excellent wild like photographs illustrating the advanced features of ape behaviours, and I fouind the discussion about the differences between Bono-boos and Chimpanzees particularly interesting. The section on chimpanzees "teaching" their young to crack open nuts showed, in my opinion, how inefficient the chimp teaching techniques are - as it takes 10 years for the young chimp to develop the skill by simply copying the mother.

Wednesday, 10 September 2014

Wednesday Science Limerick: MK17 - In memory of those who died

The large plane was flying so high
And no passenger wanted to die 
But a Russian made missile 
With a warhead so fissile 
Brought them tumbling dead from the sky.

Yesterday a preliminary report was published about the fate of the Malaysian Airline's plane MK17 over Ukraine. This revealled that the plane crashed because something exploded close to the plane, and whatever it was shattered into many small pieces which penetrated the front end of the plane, including the cockpit area, at high speed. 
Holes punched in the floor of the cockpit by the explosion
The report carefully avoids saying what exploded just outside the plane at 10,000 metres above the ground but everyone knows that the only realistic possibility is that it was a Russian BUK missile fired in anger from the ground. The missile is designed to violently shatter into fast-moving fragments and there were people on the ground who believed that the way to settle disagreements is to kill your fellow men. Undoubtedly whoever fired the missile had not intended to kill 298 completely innocent people who had nothing to do with the dispute in a country which many of the victims may not have known even existed. But while the deaths may have been a tragic accident there is no escaping the fact that those who fired the missile had meant to kill.

Of course science and technology made this particular incident possible. It could not have happened if we had not discovered how to transport people in metal tubes miles above the surface of the earth. Rockets, and explosives, and the diagnostic tools that helped the investigators discover what happened are all modern inventions. It is at times like this that we must all remember that science is morally neutral and that it is man's brain, motivated by a tendency to hate others with radically different views, which is the real cause of all the death and destruction we see in the world about us.

Wednesday, 3 September 2014

Wednesday Science Limerick: Ethyl Acetate

Ethyl acetate has a nice taste
And pear drops are with it well laced.
This allows us to savour
Its chemical flavour
As into our mouths they are placed.

Just a limerick, without a discussion of the background science this week, as various other activities are keeping me from spending so much time at the keyboard.