Three physical illusions

I’m quite fond of optical illusions, where your brain is tricked into seeing something that isn’t there or can’t exist. You also get physical illusions, where your body creates sensations of things that don’t or can’t happen. I want to share three illusions, although only one would strictly fit those criteria. For all but one you will need a partner, otherwise there are no special requirements. Continue reading

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A most enjoyable break

One of several decorative platters adorning the walls. I'm sure I heard they come from Afghanistan the last time I was there.

One of several decorative platters adorning the walls. I’m sure I heard they come from Afghanistan the last time I was there.

This past weekend I took advantage of Heritage Day to spend a few days with some of my family in a holiday house on the west coast, just a little way out from St Helena Bay. The visit, and others previously, was characterised by free-flowing drink (particularly sparkling wine), great food, interesting company and smaller activities punctuating the day. I took very few photographs of my own but I did select a couple taken by others, probably mostly by my mother. Continue reading

Quicklink: Shareefa Dalvie on ENCA

I’m going away for a few days but I’ll share this. As I mentioned before, one of my fellow lab members, Shareefa Dalvie, was involved in the sequencing of the first human genome done on African soil. You can watch a short insert on this on the ENCA website. There was another interview that focussed on her specifically but it doesn’t appear to be available online. This is part of her PhD work to understand the genetic causes of bipolar disorder.

Gay marriage scientifically proven wrong… not quite

Chibuihem Amalaha has “scientifically proven” gay marriage is wrong. (Source: ThisDay Live)

Here’s something interesting that popped up on my Facebook feed. Apparently, Chibuihem Amalaha, a Nigerian student, is claiming that he has scientifically proven that gay marriage is wrong. This seemed really hard to believe and so I went to the original article. It looks genuine. It’s in the “Life and Style” section of “the preferred newspaper among the business, political and diplomatic elite” in Nigeria. While Amalaha may very well believe his work is a breakthrough, it’s really just heavily-flawed nonsense. Continue reading

Quicklinks: Science

I’ll start with a link that claims dolphins are unexceptional! This article is based on a book that looks at the claims made about dolphin intelligence. I do think they are particularly intelligent so it might be worth buying if I happen to see it.

Also in the ocean is this interesting report of a mutant lobster, now heading to the Maine State Acquarium. It seems to have too many claws on one of it’s arms, however PZ Meyers takes exception to referring to them as claws. I don’t know enough about lobsters to comment but it’s unusual and interesting. It’s unusually interesting.

Cheetah (Source: Wikimedia Commons)

There’s an encouraging story here about using dogs to keep cheetahs away from livestock in Namibia. This decreases the conflicts between cheetahs and farmers, which is important as they are endangered. When I was younger I had the opportunity to stroke a live cheetah at Cheetah Outreach. They have since relocated but it’s still possible to visit and meet cheetahs in the flesh.

I’m a big fan of open source technology. I do think it is the best direction for us and this is an encouraging example of what it can accomplish. A South African man who lost part of his hand learned how to make his own prosthetic with a 3D printer and has released the plans for anyone to use. This drops the cost of a prosthetic hand from US$10 000 to US$500!

The final story is close to home. One of my lab members, Shareefa Dalvie, has had one of her samples be the first human genome sequenced on African soil! This is a huge achievement for genetics, the University of Cape Town and the University of Stellenbosch. Large sequencing projects like this are the future for genetics research and can help us understand the causes of many diseases. In this case, it should bring us closer to understanding the genetic underpinnings of bipolar disorder.

Quicklinks: Government spying

Sorry for the lack of updates here. I’ve been very busy helping to organise the human genetics open day, where we show high school kids what we do, and preparing for a postgraduate research day talk, which I presented today. While I try rest a little I’ll share a couple of links I’ve been picking up that are related to the NSA leaks and government spying programmes.

Some people are reporting that the NSA has been bugging the EU and UN, a strange place to look for terrorists. The UN just said that it is protected by international treaties and members are expected to act accordingly.

Not unexpectedly, all the focus on the US spying has damaged people’s trust in US IT companies and fairly large numbers are moving to alternatives. Tech companies aren’t happy about that and this link talks about possible future conflicts with tech companies and government with regards to security and privacy. This is a big thing as Facebook received requests for info on 38 000 users in the first half of this year! Microsoft and Google are even teaming up to sue the US government over the restrictions about what they can reveal about user data requests.

Lastly is a disturbing report that the New York Police Department is labelling entire mosques as terrorist organisations! This allows them to spy on what happens even though they make these designations with apparently no justification, something the FBI refused to do.