Planets, stars, and a sense of scale

If placed at the center of the Solar System, VY Canis Majoris’s surface would extend beyond the orbit of Jupiter!

This just blows my mind.



Girl has vein made from her own stem cells successfully transplanted

Girl, 10, has vein made from her own stem cells

This is great. Rather than painful and invasive surgery to harvest a healthy vein from elsewhere on her body, doctors made a vein for her by dosing a “blank” donor vein with stem cells taken from her bone marrow.

Groundbreaking stuff, and has wide potential for further applications. I’m looking forward to when they’ll be able to grow organs on demand in a lab, but until then, make sure you’re on the organ donor register.

via Girl, 10, has vein made from her own stem cells successfully transplanted | Science | The Guardian.

Prometheus looks just amazing

What an amazing trailer. And the soundtrack nails it.
I can’t remember the last time I was so excited about an upcoming film.

I’m a big fan of the Alien franchise. Especially Alien and Aliens, which are simply astounding. This looks like a worthy successor.

This is a prequel of sorts, but I can’t tell from the trailer whether the alien makes an appearance. But I’m looking forward to finding out.

Letwin binned confidential documents in park bin, and other data protection bungles

I’ve got a bit of a thing, bordering on an obsession, about data protection. From an NHS trust losing 1.6 million patient records, to another NHS trust losing an unencrypted USB stick with patient data on, to a council faxing details of a child protection case to a member of the public.

All of these are easily avoidable. Having encryption on memory sticks and laptops is basic stuff for any competent IT department, and why on earth is anyone still using a fax anyway?

I recently got an email from a school, which was sent to all of the parents on the list, rather than blind copying them all. That’s not great, but in the scheme of things pretty minor.

So, I found it amusing and extraordinary that a senior politician would be so stupid as to dispose of confidential documents in a park bin. Paper documents. In a public bin. Not even shredded. Don’t they have advisors to warn them about this sort of thing? Expect more developments when the ICO finish investigating.

The UK Citizenship test: could you pass?

Our dear leader has unveiled some changes to the citizenship test, that all potential immigrants are expected to pass before being allowed to get a British passport. You can take the test over at The Guardian.

I thought it would be fun to have a look at some of the questions, and at the end I’ll let you know my score.

Let’s begin.

Continue reading

Building a steam-powered Babbage computer

I’ve been fascinated with the Analytical and Difference Engines since I read about them as a teenager. Just imagine what the Victorian era would have been like if they had had computers!

Now, the Science Museum is helping a group of scientists and researchers actually build one of Babbage’s Analytical Engines, and run it on steam – just as it would have been originally. One of the people involved, John Graham, said:

What a marvel it would be to stand before this giant metal machine, powered by a steam engine, and running programs fed to it on a reel of punched cards. And what a great educational resource so that people can understand how computers work

Boffins step closer to steam-powered Babbage computer • The Register

Online gamers strike major blow in battle against AIDS • The Register

Fascinating and inspiring.

Next time someone tries to tell you that video games and gamers have no positivie contribution to society, point them in the direction of this article.

Online gamers strike major blow in battle against AIDS • The Register

Basically, a video game was designed to try and unpick the complex folded structure of a specific protein. Computers aren’t very good at tweaking and prodding at complex 3D structures, but humans excel at it. Within a few weeks, the structure had been mapped – having been unsolvable for years.

This protein is important in understanding how HIV grows and spreads.

Great stuff.