links for 2010-09-06

  • One of the criticisms I often get from homeopathy supporters is that I don't really understand it. I'm not an expert in the mystical art, so how on Earth can I pass judgement on it? So in an effort to prove them wrong, I took this online homeopathy test that's been doing the rounds on Twitter (tip of the hat to @zeno001 and @david_colquhoun). Here's how I got on with each of the multiple choice questions… (and feel free to take a look and let me know how you get on in the comments!)

    Q1. The word "Homeopathic" is correctly used interchangeably with the word:

    "Bogus"? Strangely this isn't listed as an option, and neither is "watery", "sham" or "made up bollocks", so I plump for "none of the above".

    (tags: homeopathy)
  • Bus passengers face higher fares and fewer routes as the Department for Transport (DfT) prepares to reduce a £500m subsidy for the industry.

    The secretary of state for transport, Philip Hammond, views the bus service operators' grant (BSOG) as one of the most vulnerable items in his department's £15.9bn budget ahead of the comprehensive spending review, according to informed sources. The subsidy pays for about 80% of operators' fuel duty and its removal would increase fares by 6.5%, with a similar reduction in services. The impact would be disproportionately felt outside London.

    "BSOG is one of the places where the DfT is unable to guarantee that there will be no cuts," said a government source. However, the scale of the reduction is dependent on the outcome of negotiations with the Treasury ahead of the review next month.

    (tags: transport)
  • Elta's Flight Guard is a missile detection and avoidance system that is installed on more than 200 military aircraft and helicopters as well as on several VIP commercial aircraft, and has been also installed in aircraft of the El Al,[1][2] Arkia and Israir fleets that fly to high risk destinations.
    (tags: weapons)
  • Civil Aircraft Missile Protection System or CAMPS is an infrared countermeasure against infrared-homed anti-aircraft missiles, specifically designed to defend civilian aircraft flying under 15,000 feet (4,600 m) against MANPADs.

    The system was developed by Saab Avitronics, Chemring Countermeasures and Naturelink Aviation.[1]

    The decoys use a pyrophoric substance that burns at a relatively low temperature,[2] thereby avoiding any fire safety concerns associated with conventional pyrotechnic military flares, such as those used by a similar Israeli system[3]. The onboard processor uses neural network pattern recognition algorithms to classify potential threats detected by its infrared sensors.[2] The system was successfully demonstrated at the Overberg Test Range in March 2007.[1]

    (tags: weapons)
  • The development of the Igla short-range man-portable air defense system (MANPADS) began in the Kolomna OKB in 1972. Contrary to what is commonly reported, the Igla is not an improved version of the earlier Strela family (Strela-2/SA-7 and Strela-3/SA-14), but an all new project. The main goals were to create a missile with better resistance to countermeasures and wider engagement envelope than the earlier Strela series MANPADS systems.

    Technical difficulties in the development quickly made it obvious that the development would take far longer than anticipated however, and in 1978 the program split in two: while the development of the full-capability Igla would continue, a simplified version (Igla-1) with a simpler IR seeker based on that of the earlier Strela-3/SA-14 would be developed to enter service earlier than the full-capability version could be finished.

    (tags: weapons)
  • Light to carry and easy to operate, the FIM-92 Stinger is a passive surface-to-air missile, shoulder-fired by a single operator, although officially it requires two. The FIM-92B can attack aircraft at a range of up to 15,700 feet (4,800 m) and at altitudes between 600 and 12,500 feet (180 and 3,800 m). The missile can also be fired from the M-1097 Avenger and M6 Linebacker. The missile is also capable of being deployed from HMMWV Stinger rack, and can be used by paratroopers. A helicopter launched version exists called Air-to-Air Stinger (ATAS).
    (tags: weapons)
  • The Fliegerfaust (lit. “pilot fist” or “plane fist”), also known as the "Luftfaust" (lit. “air fist”), was an unguided German multi-barreled ground-to-air rocket launcher designed to destroy enemy ground attack planes and is credited as the first MANPAD (man-portable air-defense) system.
    (tags: weapons)
  • Man-portable air-defense systems (MANPADS or MPADS) are shoulder-launched surface-to-air missiles (SAMs). They are typically guided weapons and are a threat to low-flying aircraft, especially helicopters
    (tags: weapons)
  • Edward Nino Hernandez weighs just 22lbs and has just been officially certified as the world's shortest living man by Guinness World Records.

    "He hasn't grown since he was two years old," his mother, Noemi Hernandez, said of the oldest of her five living children.

    The previous title-holder was He Pingping of China, who was 1.5 ins (4cm) taller and died March 13. The Guinness people discovered Nino afterward.

    They say Mr Hernandez's reign is not likely to last long, however.

    Khagendra Thapa Magar of Nepal is expected to take over after he turns 18 on Oct. 14. He measures about 22 ins (56cm) and is currently recognised by Guinness as the shortest living teenager.

  • A group of scientists at the United States' National Institute of Science and Technology have created light pulses called "Quantum Cats", which can exist in two states at once.

    The researchers have published a paper titled "Generation of Optical Coherent State Superpositions by Number-Resolved Photon Subtraction from Squeezed Vacuum", which lays out how the team "repeatedly produced light pulses that each possessed two exactly opposite properties-specifically, opposite phases, as if the peaks of the light waves were superimposed on the troughs."

    These pulses are in an optical state which is similar to the famous "Schrödinger's Cat" though experiment, dreamed up by Nobel Prize winner Erwin Schrödinger. He imagined a cat in a closed box, along with a device that releases poison if it detects a random event occurring. You don't know if the cat is alive or dead, so it exists in a state of "quantum superposition" until you open the box and find out.

    (tags: science)
  • While Stephen Hawking is busy denying God's role in the creation of the Universe, horticulturalists across the world are building enormous cathedrals out of trees, using hazel, beech, fir and chestnut to form living arches.

    The "Green Cathedral" is located in Italy, on the slopes of the Arera mountain near the northern city of Bergamo. It was designed by Giuliano Mauri, a natural architect who died in May 2009. The structure was his last work, to signify the International Year of Biodiversity, and has just been completed.

    It stands 21 metres tall, with five aisles and 42 columns. It's 28.5 metres long and 24 metres wide, and has been built from 1800 firs, 600 chestnut branches and 6000 metres of hazel branch that's been weaved into the design. 42 beeches have been planted inside, which will grow over time to provide the roof to the structure, which remains open to the rain for the time being.

  • You can take that toe tag off Duke Nukem Forever. The game, presumed dead after developer 3D Realms pulled the plug on it last year, is alive and kicking at the Penny Arcade Expo, and it's as raunchy as ever.

    Borderlands developer Gearbox Software has taken the reins of the first-person shooter, which Take-Two Games will release next year. Two levels of the game are being shown to attendees at PAX 2010, the massive videogame gathering this weekend in Seattle.

    “You cannot kill Duke. You cannot kill Duke!” shouted Gearbox's CEO Randy Pitchford to a group of gamers that had waited in line Friday at Take-Two’s PAX booth to see the game. Pitchford, a former employee of 3D Realms, was wearing the Duke shirt the company gave him in 1996. “I couldn’t let Duke go, either,” he said.

    The oft-delayed videogame, a sequel to 1996’s Duke Nukem 3D, became the perennial winner of Wired’s Vaporware Awards during more than a decade of delays.

    (tags: videogames)
  • Researchers have demonstrated tiny solar cells just billionths of a metre across that can repair themselves, extending their useful lifetime.

    The cells make use of proteins from the machinery of plants, turning sunlight into electric charges that can do work.

    The cells simply assemble themselves from a mixture of the proteins, minute tubes of carbon and other materials.

    The self-repairing mechanism, reported in Nature Chemistry, could lead to much longer-lasting solar cells.

    The design and improvement of solar cells is one of the most vibrant areas of science, in part because sunlight is far and away the planet's most abundant renewable energy source.

    (tags: solar science)
  • Daredevil teenager Aaron Fotheringham has just made history by completing the first double back flip – in a wheelchair.

    After months of practice and painful attempts – and one broken wheelchair – Aaron nailed the dangerous stunt for the first time on August 26.

    'I feel so happy to have finally done it,' said the 18-year-old, who goes by the name of aka Wheelz.

    (tags: stunt)