Ted Yoder Rules The World

NOTE: I would urge even those who don’t usually watch videos on 6000 miles… to watch this video on 6000 miles… 
Go on – give it a go. What have you got to lose? (spoiler: it’s time and bandwidth)

Herewith Ted Yoder. Ted is one of the world’s foremost Hammered Dulcimer players. If you don’t know what a Hammered Dulcimer is, it’s the thing that Ted is playing in the video below, defined by google as:

a musical instrument with a sounding board or box, typically trapezoid in shape, over which strings of graduated length are stretched, played by plucking or especially by being struck with handheld hammers.

And with a Hornbostel–Sachs classification of 314.122-4.

Obviously, the Hammered Dulcimer is wholly different to the Appalachian Dulcimer, which is always plucked. The Hammered Dulcimer is the one that is always hammered. It’s the Amy Winehouse of instruments.

So, without further ado – Ladies and Gentlemen: Ted Yoder! Enjoy his performance, you must.

I’ve never had that much appreciation from anyone for anything I’ve ever done in my back garden.


A bit of science on Friday

Australia is moving

Sadly, it’s towards civilisation (North) rather than away from us all. 7cm a year, to be exact, because of tectonic plate movement. Australia is on the Indian-Australian Plate (can you guess which other country is also on there?) and that plate is moving North, where it collides with the Pacific Plate and the Sunda Plate.

Now, 7cm might not seem like a lot (because it’s not a lot), but there’s been no update of GPS systems and the like since 1994, and now Australia is 1.5m further north than it was back then.

Now, 1.5m might not seem like a lot (because it’s not a lot) (although it’s clearly more than 7cm), but if you are navigating by super-accurate GPS, and the data you’re getting is fundamentally incorrect, then that might have rather serious consequences, as Dan Jaksa from Geoscience Australia told ABC News.

In the not-too-distant future, we are going to have possibly driverless cars or at least autonomous vehicles where, 1.5 metres, well, you’re in the middle of the road or you’re in another lane.

Indeed, so what are they going to do about it?

On 1 January 2017, Australia’s local co-ordinates will be shifted further north – by 1.8m. The over-correction means Australia’s local co-ordinates and the Earth’s global co-ordinates will align in 2020.At that point a new system, which can take changes over time into account, will be implemented.

Can’t we just rather give it a big push back the other way?

Brain Disease

I learned about a disease called kuru when I was at university, but suddenly, it became much more relevant when people worked out that Bovine Spongiform Encephalopathy (BSE, Mad Cow Disease – and its human equivalent CJD – Creutzfeldt-Jakob Disease) had the same causal “agent”.
I use those quotes, because these diseases aren’t caused by bacteria or viruses, but rather prions – tiny strands of protein that gradually destroy the brain. It’s a slow, drawn out, lingering death. And we have no way of stopping it. Any antibacterial or antiviral drug relies on attacking some part of the life cycle of the bug to kill it. Protein strands don’t have life cycles. They’re just protein strands. Prion diseases are (currently) incurable.

What’s interesting about kuru is that it existed solely in remote tribes in Papua New Guinea – specifically the Fore people – who engaged in cannibalism. In many villages:

…when a person died, they would be cooked and consumed. It was an act of love and grief.

“If the body was buried it was eaten by worms; if it was placed on a platform it was eaten by maggots; the Fore believed it was much better that the body was eaten by people who loved the deceased than by worms and insects.”

What’s even more interesting is that these prions attack the nervous system. And the vast majority of the victims were women and children, because traditionally, they were the ones who ate the brains. The elders and men in the tribe were spared the offal, and thus, mostly spared from kuru as well.

There’s more reading on that link above, but the last known kuru victim died in 2009. Sadly, because of the long incubation period of prion diseases (I’m still on 40-year high risk list because I processed patient specimens from suspected CJD cases when I worked in the labs in the UK) we can’t be certain that it’s completely gone, but there have been no cases in the intervening 7 years.

Which probably explains why Australia now thinks it’s safe to drift closer to Papua New Guinea.

Dead Heat

Filing under Interesting, Really Rather.

After the three way tie for second between Michael Phelps, Chad Le Clos and László Cseh in the 100m butterfly, you might wonder why the swimming authorities don’t work to thousandths rather than hundredths of a second to separate these athletes.


Well, the simple answer is: they can’t.

For the record:

In a 50 meter Olympic pool, at the current men’s world record 50m pace, a thousandth-of-a-second constitutes 2.39 millimeters of travel.

And while that might not seem like a lot (because it isn’t), we are talking about the best swimmers in the world, at the most important swimming event in the world, so these tiny margins count for a lot.

The trouble is, while our swimmers are pushing boundaries all over the place, our pool builders haven’t quite attained the same sort of levels.

FINA pool dimension regulations allow a tolerance of 3 centimeters in each lane, more than ten times that amount. Could you time swimmers to a thousandth-of-a-second? Sure, but you couldn’t guarantee the winning swimmer didn’t have a thousandth-of-a-second-shorter course to swim.

I’ve been doing some rudimentary calculations, and that potential 3cm variation amounts to 12.5523012552 thousandths of a second. That’s 1.25523012552 hundredths of a second. And that explains why timing to thousandths of a second wouldn’t actually be fair. But it’s not like we can do anything about it:

Attempting to construct a concrete pool to any tighter a tolerance is nearly impossible; the effective length of a pool can change depending on the ambient temperature, the water temperature, and even whether or not there are people in the pool itself.

Of course, there are some sports that do time to thousandths of a second – like track cycling and bobsleigh – but the important difference here is that all the athletes compete on the same track. No danger there of Lane 4 being 3cm shorter than Lane 5 (or whatever). If the track isn’t quite the correct length, well, there’s no advantage for any one athlete: it’s the same for everyone.

One anomaly here: speed skating: Yes, they use the same track, but they’re so backward in using a starting pistol to begin races that some competitors definitely start at a disadvantage…

Virus Vrydag

Alliteration because this is a post about viruses. And it is a Friday. And Vrydag is Friday in Afrikaans.
Also Virus is Virus in Afrikaans. So we’re all good.

My inbox was full of posts and articles about viruses today. Real viruses, not digital ones. I’m not sure what prompted this outbreak, but if you have even a passing interest in microbiology and biomedical science, they’re quite interesting.

First up, a two-parter: this TED-talk from CSIR laser scientist Patience Mthunzi.

Could we cure HIV with lasers?

and this response:
Fullscreen capture 2016-08-12 105612 AM.bmp

because, as UCT virus scientist Ed Rybicki says:

Sorry, and I realise that she’s a passionate and well-meaning woman who has a TED talk and everything, but this idea is right up there with using electrotherapy to treat HIV infections. In short, it might work at the single-cell level, but is hopelessly impractical to use on whole people.


Next up: Polio is back in Nigeria.

After more than two years without wild poliovirus in Nigeria, the Government reported today that 2 children have been paralyzed by the disease in the northern Borno state.

A huge push on a very successful worldwide vaccine programme against polio has yielded incredible results. It does/did appear that polio is/was heading the same way as smallpox.


But continuing religious opposition, together with political upheaval in northern Nigeria has meant that the campaign has been failing at local level. These two cases, which have resulted in two children being paralysed for life, are both a setback and a reminder that we’re not quite there yet and that any thoughts of eradication were decidedly, and sadly, premature.

Room for one more? Good. Because it’s really interesting.

It’s a long one, but if you want to try to take some positives away from the West Africa Ebola Outbreak which began 2 years ago this month (yes, I know), then it would be the lessons that we have learned about how to contain future outbreaks. Not just Ebola outbreaks, but any outbreaks. Especially those in the developing world.

These lessons will stand us in better stead when the next challenge arises, says the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine’s Professor David Heymann:

“By using language that they could understand we were able to get communities to work very rapidly to stop transmission,” said Prof Heymann, who feels this was not the initial priority in West Africa. “We’re too biomedical in all our approaches, but we’ve learned that community engagement is the key as we’ve gone along.”

“If communities can be empowered with understanding about how to bury their own people safely and how to prevent themselves getting infected, outbreaks can be stopped. That’s how they’ve been stopped in the past and will be stopped in the future.”

Much of this isn’t rocket science. In fact, none of it it is rocket science. Rocket science isn’t going to help you prevent the spread of a killer virus in West Africa. Getting to the moon, perhaps. But telling scared villagers how they can avoid dying from a seemingly unstoppable disease process? No. This basically comes down to using the correct language (something we’ve talked about before on the blog) and going through the correct channels. In effect, just communicating effectively.

If that’s the rather simple foundation for a more successful response to the next outbreak – whatever that might be – then lives are going to be saved. And that’s obviously a very good thing.


Busy day, busy evening ahead, so just a quick recommendation which I recently found on The Twitter:


Described as:

Fragments of life in real messages on postcards from the past. Delivered to you every day. Wish you were here?

It does exactly what it says on the tin. The fragments of life come as single line quotes from the postcards in question and range from the rather mundane, through to the altogether intriguing, and include several of the bewildering and bizarre. Of course, many of these snippets can be attributed to the actual holiday experience, but then there are some that provoke further interrogation.

Fullscreen capture 2016-07-28 013620 PM.bmp

If you’re in the right mood, you can become quite involved. Who is Martin, how big is his picture framing business now (clue: it’s bigger than before), and what does that have to do with a visit to Robin Hood’s Bay?

When was the last time you sent a postcard?
With WhatsApp, email and Facebook, postcards are surely dying the death, aren’t they?
Discuss [5 marks]

As I said – just a quick recommendation today, but do go along and have a look.