Guru Magazine - Issue Three

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ISSN 2048-2590









The opinions expressed herein are of the individual authors and do not represent the views of Guru Magazine Ltd. © 2011 Guru Magazine Ltd. This work is licenced under the Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercialNoDerivs 3.0 Unported License. To view a copy of this licence, click the link above or send a letter to Creative Commons, 171 Second Street, Suite 300, San Francisco, California 94105, USA.

Guru Team Editor Stuart Farrimond Sub-editor Nicola Guttridge Marketing & PR Ben Veal Graphic design Random Panda Contributors Jon Abrams Natasha Agabalyan Michele Banks Shane Burgess Jonathon Crowe Stuart Farrimond Ben Good Alex Gough Dave Gray Nicola Guttridge Charlie Harvey Daryl Ilbury Sarah Joy Kim Lacey James Lloyd James Preston Jackie Ratner Ben Veal Advertising & letters Press & marketing enquiries Text and picture material is sent at the owner’s risk. Cover image: Flickr • Simon Keeping This image: Flickr • “KIUKO” きうこ 2011/12

Guru is intended to be used for educational and entertainment purposes only. Please consult a qualified medical professional if you have any personal health concerns.

If you see a link or web address anywhere in Guru, it’s probably clickable! Where you see the

at the end of an article,


use it to click back to this contents page.


ROCKIN’ ROUND A GLOWING CHRISTMAS TREE! The Technology Guru wonders what we’ll be getting for The Christmas Of The Future. #SCIENCE

A BRIEF HISTORY OF THE IG NOBEL AWARDS Flatulent fish, buttery carpets and why sword swallowers get sore throats. It’s the Ig Nobel Awards!



PART THREE: MOLECULAR MIXOLOGY Cocktails and chocolate – Christmas fayre doesn’t get much better than this! #ASIDES


POLES APART Special bumper edition – we look back over 2011.



Our newest Guru Charlie Harvey wonders how shops get us to spend so much. £13.99, last one, buy now!

Guest contributor James Preston ponders some of the events of 2011.



THOSE DARING YOUNG MEN AND THEIR PAINTING MACHINES Meet the artists whose creations aren’t just on canvas. #ASIDES

OH MY HEAVENS! Astronomical treats this December. #MIND

FACE THE TRUTH! Are you giving away more than you think? The Mind Guru finds out how your face reveals your feelings. #ASIDES




Guest writer Alex Gough scours the shelves for specialities in the USA.



BEHOLD, A DANGEROUS GIFT! Ooh, a gift from the Sceptic Guru, yay! What could it be...? #INTERVIEW

IS THIS FOR REAL? Guru’s exclusive interview with the team behind North America’s hit science podcast, The Reality Check. #STUFF

PINBALL FOR CHRISTMAS? Guest writer Jon Abrams is a man with a passion. And he sure plays a mean pinball. #STUFF



ARRIVALS LOUNGE SEASON’S GREETINGS! Would you believe that Guru is six months old? This issue has more content than ever, and even Christmas-haters will find something in Issue Three to sink their teeth into. If you’ve ever wondered how shops trick you into parting with cash, then our new Evolution Guru Charlie Harvey explains the tricks of the trade. Ben Good, Technology Guru, considers the Christmas of the future and Food Guru Natasha Agabalyan concludes her three-part DIY Molecular Gastronomy series with some cockle-warming recipes. So kick back, put your feet up and get stuck into Guru...

Image: Flickr • Big D2112


A gadget store run by gadget lovers. We’ve a selection of great gifts, toys, gadgets and gizmos: some useful, some just fun, and some both!

Ashley Farley

Vicky Finch

Thanks to everyone who participated in the Guru Hallowe’en costume competition on the Guru Facebook page last month!

The Design Guru was mildly terrified whilst laying this page out – there’s a lot more gore than you’d usually find in GuruMail.

John Knight (granddaughter Isla) Lorraine Gaw

Naomi Dalton

Anthony Walden

Julie Roberts


Kyle Johns

Mary Emma Wilde

Abbey Chapman

Write to us at, marking your subject line with GURUMAIL. Congratulations to our competition winner, who gets a sweet prize – £15 worth of vouchers to spend at!

Congratulations to Ashley Farley, then, who scoops the prize as a home-made Predator. And yes, that is a laser cannon. FTW! Guru reserves the right to edit letters


Rockin’ round

a glowing

Christmas tree!


Image: Flickr • Kevin Dooley


Chestnuts roasting round a digital fire Classic crooner Nat King Cole regales us with tales of chestnuts roasting on an open fire. It’s the traditional image of a family gathered around a crackling fireplace, warming themselves. Even down to the chimney access for jolly old St. Nick, fireplaces are often one of the most notable features about Christmas. However, if that image bores you – and you’re lucky enough for Father Christmas to bring you some money – you can spice up this old tradition by getting yourself a nifty holographic fireplace! A typical holographic fireplace can set you back about GBP500 (USD800), but despite this hefty price tag they are becoming increasingly common. These gadgets consist of an electric unit with a representation of a fire projected on the front, to give the room an authentic warm glow. Of course marshmallowmelting and chestnut-roasting is out of the question (unless you

want your high tech equipment smeared with food remnants). However, they do allow opportunities for fun, with some models coming equipped with a DVD of different sorts of fire. The typical options range from crackling and spitting logs to glowing coals. However, if you really hate the traditional Christmas and have a bit of film or animation knowhow, you could make your own DVD which would project whatever you want: Father Christmas falling into the fire and being burnt alive, a phoenix rising from the flames... the only limit is your imagination!

The energy-saving Christmas tree Whilst a fire may be important for some, it’s by no means essential for yuletide celebrations. Probably the most recognisable of all Christmas

symbols is that of the Christmas tree. Of German origin, the concept of illuminated trees was brought into popular appeal by Prince Albert. By 1841, it had become a popular Christmas tradition. Many families now opt for a fake tree in order to avoid the inevitable mess of needles. However, scientists may soon be able to end the ‘real versus fake’ tree debate by bringing a new option to the table – genetically enhanced trees. Science has been genetically altering organisms for centuries; initially by selective breeding and now by a range of more high-tech methods. One of these methods is the ability to modify plant cells by programming them to express different colours by adding

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Image: sxc • vierdrie / Jean Scheijen

Are you a Christmas Scrooge? There’s a subset of society who have a guilty secret - they hate Christmas and all its traditions, or so says Technology Guru Ben Good. But thanks to modern science, you can techno-pimp your Christmas with gadgets and developments shiny enough to turn the harshest “bah, humbug!” into the warmest “merry Christmas!”

Image: Flickr • CodonAUG / Joseph Elsbernd

ROCKIN’ ROUND A GLOWING CHRISTMAS TREE! A kaleidoscope of colours Osamu Shimomura, Martin Chalfie and Roger Y. Tsien were awarded the 2008 Nobel Prize in Chemistry for their work on the bright green ‘glowing proteins’ (called green fluorescent proteins, or GFP) first observed in jellyfish. Because GFP glows, it allows scientist to track the microscopic movements of chemicals and molecules deep inside living cells (using high-powered microscopes). GFP isn’t big by protein standards (at 238 amino-acids long, it’s below average); but the key to its glowing is a short segment that forms a chemical structure known as a chromophore. When light hits it, chromophore reacts to produce green light. However, it is equally possible to program cells to radiate many different colours, meaning that even entire organs (such as the brain of a mouse) can be seen in a spectacular array of different colours. More festively, this development opens the door for yellow, green, blue and multicoloured trees to raise your spirit at Christmas. the small fluorescent molecule green fluorescent protein (GFP) to the tree’s proteins (see above). There have been several plants and organisms that have been given the GFP treatment, including marmosets, cats and sweet potatoes. While altering trees hasn’t yet been achieved, there is no reason to say that scientists could not produce naturally fluorescing Christmas trees that give off a lovely green glow. This tree would also ease your eco-conscience by doing away with

the need for Christmas lights.

Scientificallysupercharged food With the holographic fireplace roaring and the tree glowing nicely in the corner of your scientifically endowed living room, it’s time to turn our attention to the most important part of Christmas: the food. Cooking is in many ways a scientific discipline, as Food Guru Natasha knows only too well (see this issue’s guide to molecular gastronomy). Scientists have begun to experiment with

nanoparticles in the culinary field of molecular gastronomy. Engineers who work on an atomic level are creating flavourdetermining molecules to be strategically encased within recipes to taste exactly like other foods. The possibilities are endless: you could make your potatoes taste like turkey, your turkey taste like stuffing, your stuffing taste like pigs in blankets or, if you don’t mind making a few enemies – make everything taste of Brussels sprouts!

Could this collection of microscopic doodads super-charge your food? They are nanoparticles 7.5 nanometers across – about 10,000 times thinner than a strand wof human hair!

Images courtesy of Argonne National Laboratory

ROCKIN’ ROUND A GLOWING CHRISTMAS TREE! Tomorrow’s Santa? Technology is certainly likely to be an important part of Christmas for many families, most likely in the form of presents like tablet computers and games consoles. However, don’t think it will end there. Expect big changes in tomorrow’s Christmas – whether that’s good or not, I’ll let you decide... Have your say at

Links •

Future vision of a holographic fireplace and some information on them

Ben Good wants to understand how we interact with the latest technology. Having completed an MSc in Science Communication, Ben writes about whatever spontaneous science stories take his interest at the B Good Science Blog. Follow him on Twitter @bengood.


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Images on previous page: (frame) sxc • Ian Sparks; (toast) sxc • ba1969 / Billy Alexander Images on this page (left to right): Flickr • rhaamo; Flickr • Lollie-Pop


he alarm clock that runs away

(2005 Economics prize) It’s 7am on a chilly Monday morning and your alarm clock springs into life. Groaning, you hit the snooze button and snuggle deeper into your duvet, promising yourself just fifteen minutes more dozing time. But before you know it, your clock is chiming 11 a.m., you’ve got a hungry cat pawing at your face, and your boss is leaving irate messages on your voicemail. It’s a common situation, but one that could be a thing of the past if Gauri Nanda gets her way. She is the designer of Clocky, an alarm clock that runs away, hides, and carries on ringing until you get out of bed to shut it up. The Ig Nobel judges believe that many wasted work hours would be saved if everyone owned one of these ingenious (infuriating? – Ed) devices.



striches get randy with humans

(2002 Biology prize) During the 1990s, some worried British poultry farmers couldn’t understand why their ostriches were refusing to breed. A team of biologists came to the rescue by showing that the male ostriches were actually directing their amorous courtship displays towards female humans rather than to their lonely ostrich partners! This bizarre behaviour was thought to be due to British farming procedures: the ostrich eggs were hatched in incubators, meaning that the baby ostriches spent more time getting to know the female technicians than their own species.

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he perils of sword swallowing

Images (left to right): Flickr • Teep & Rach; Courtesy of Special Collections, University of Houston Libraries. UH Digital Library; Flickr • Zemlinki!


(2007 Medicine prize) Brian Witcombe and Dan Meyer won an Ig Nobel prize for their extensive medical survey of sword swallowing injuries. Nearly half of the interviewed sword swallowers complained of sore throats (surely the least of their worries!), but more serious injuries included perforation of the gullet and intestinal bleeding. Lovely. The researchers concluded that major complications are more likely when the sword swallower is “distracted” or “swallows multiple or unusual swords”.


ountry music makes people kill themselves

(2004 Medicine prize) Many of us would agree that too much bad country music can lead to feelings of despair. However, one study has taken this a step further by showing that the amount of radio airtime devoted to country music is linked to suicide rate in American cities. Sociologists Steven Stack and Jim Gundlach believe that the depressive themes of many country songs – marital strife, alcoholism and work problems, for example – can trigger suicidal thoughts: conclusive proof, if ever you needed any, that too much of the Dixie Chicks is a bad thing.

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errings communicate by farting

(2004 Biology prize) Parp! It might not win you many friends in polite society, but for herrings, farting is an essential means of communication. In 2003, marine biologists in Canada and Sweden independently found that herrings make high-frequency sounds by releasing air through their anuses. The researchers noticed that herrings farted when shrouded in darkness or when surrounded by lots of other fish, thus helping them to communicate and form protective shoals. Whether this behaviour will ever transfer to humans remains to be seen, but you could always try it out the next time you go down your local swimming pool…



he bra that doubles as a face mask

(2009 Public Health prize) The irrefutable highlight of the 2009 Ig Nobel awards ceremony was the sight of three distinguished scientists standing onstage with bras strapped to their faces. These poor souls were demonstrating the Emergency Bra, the brainchild of Elena Bodnar. In the event of a public health crisis, the bra can be removed and converted into two face masks – one for the wearer, and one for their chosen companion. Elena claims that her revolutionary bra “frees a survivor’s hands to keep balance while running”, as well as reducing the chance of panic attacks by “providing the wearer with a sense of security and protection”. She forgets to mention that the wearer also looks like a bit of a tit.

(1996 Physics prize) After one too many ruined breakfasts, Robert Matthews of Aston University decided to apply his scientific mind to the perennial problem: why does a dropped slice of toast always seem to land buttered side first? His conclusion? Toast has a tendency to land butter-side down because it rotates as it falls off the edge of the table. If the table was higher (three metres high, for example), the problem would disappear because the toast would be able to make a full rotation before hitting the floor. Although we humans aren’t made for such gigantic tables, Matthews offers a few novel solutions to the problem. These include “eating tiny squares of toast”, “putting the butter on the underside”, and “tying the toast to a cat, which of course knows how to get right-side up during a fall.”



he slowest experiment in history

(2005 Physics prize) In 1927, Thomas Parnell began an experiment at the University of Queensland which still runs today, making it the world’s longest continuously running laboratory experiment. The set-up is simple: an extremely gloopy substance called ‘pitch’ slowly flows through a funnel. The first drop fell in December 1938, eight years after the funnel was opened. Since then, there have been seven more drops, the latest being in November 2000. Scientists use the pitch drop experiment to show that some apparently solid materials can flow, albeit very slowly (the thickness, or ‘viscosity’, of pitch is around 230 billion times that of water). Meanwhile, the world waits with bated breath for drop number nine.

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hy does toast land butterside down?

Images (left to right): sxc • aschaeffer; Flickr • jeffreyw; Flickr • gagstreet / Gagneet Parmar


A BRIEF HISTORY OF THE IG NOBEL AWARDS Images (left to right): Flickr • anna carol; Flickr • Fimb





he great belly button fluff survey

(2002 Interdisciplinary Research prize) In late 2000, Karl Kruszelnicki (‘Dr. Karl’) of the University of Sydney ran a nationwide survey to address a crucial question: “what causes belly button fluff?” The survey, answered by nearly 5,000 people, showed that you’re more likely to have belly button fluff if you’re male, older, hairy, and have an ‘innie’. It is thought that men are more likely than women to get fluff lodged in their navel because loose clothing fibres are channelled by the ‘snail trail’ that runs from the belly button to the male pubic region. Indeed, men accounted for 73% of all people with belly button fluff. But one key question remains unanswered: why does the fluff always seem to be blue?

ondon cabbies have super-developed brains

(2003 Medicine prize) It’s true… London taxi drivers have a more developed brain than the average person. But although this may sound like another silly study, I’ve put this one at #1 because it’s also a genuinely important development in our understanding of the human brain. In other words, it’s a perfect Ig Nobel prize winner – a study that manages to be both funny and innovative at the same time. So why are neuroscientists interested in studying London cabbies? It’s all because of The Knowledge (in cabbie speak) – the gruelling trial that every wannabe taxi driver must pass before being able to drive one of the legendary black cabs. This consists of memorising 320 routes along London’s 25,000 streets, as well as all nearby landmarks and places of interest. Drivers train for up to four years before taking the test, racing around the capital on a scooter until every last route has been committed to memory. This wouldn’t be such a difficult task in a place like New York City, where the roads are numbered and gridded, but on London’s gloriously haphazard streets it’s an undertaking of epic proportions. When Eleanor Maguire and colleagues at University College London carried out brain scans of taxi drivers, they discovered that part of the hippocampus, a structure in the brain associated with memory and navigation, is larger in cabbies – and that this region even grows with taxi driving experience. Their conclusion: the information acquired during The Knowledge physically changes a cabbie’s brain! This is all very exciting for neuroscientists because it means that the brain can exhibit ‘plastic’ behaviour, changing its structure in response to stimulation. This discovery could lead to new ways of rehabilitating patients with brain injuries or diseases such as Parkinson’s.

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Have your say at

James Lloyd studied physics at university and recently finished a climate science PhD. He’s now swapped semiconductors for semicolons, writing about science and blogging at The Soft Anonymous. When not doing sciencey things, James enjoys music making, hill walking and trying to find the perfect flapjack. Find him on Twitter @jbb_lloyd.

Links • • • • •

Ig Nobel prize history Meet Clocky and Tocky at Nanda Products’ website The Emergency Bra website and shop All about the pitch drop experiment at Wikipedia Dr Karl’s belly-button fluff survey

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Image by kind permission of Improbable Research

It just goes to show that silly science can also be very useful science – you just have to fight your way past sword swallowers, farting fish and amorous ostriches in order to find it.




The season of goodwill is well and truly here. Have you begun the tortuous task of buying gifts yet? If not, then you are very self-controlled, says Charlie Harvey. But why are most of us so weak-willed when it comes to shopping? Charlie uncovers some of the devious psychological tricks of the trade... Every year, our minds are assaulted. Shops, advertisers and corporations bombard us with a variety of psychological techniques with the sole purpose of getting us to part with our hard earned cash. Having investigated the ingenious ways we are duped, here’s a five-point insider’s guide to the ways retailers manipulate us. Not that knowing any of this will help you save any money – you’re still going to have to shell out for all your loved ones. After all, you don’t want to look like a Scrooge...


A bargain: only £29.99!


It’s one of the oldest tricks in the book: removing a penny (or five). It’s designed to fool you into thinking the gift is much cheaper than it really is. The theory is that we can only keep track of a few digits at a time. The first digit is normally the most important, so that’s what we keep hold of. So the gift that in reality cost £29.99, we remember as costing £20. A similar ploy gives items random prices: ending in threes or sevens. Supposedly, people think the prices of these items have been rigorously calculated and so don’t round up to the nearest whole number. Therefore, they must be good value! Right?

It’s pricey, so it must be worth it: Veblen goods

Humans are bizarre creatures. You find out they do one particular behaviour, and then five minutes later they’re doing the exact opposite. Contrary to trick number one, people not only appreciate good value, they also love it when goods are stupidly overpriced. The term for these types of gifts is Veblen goods. The only reason such products sell is that they are overpriced. Or, in other words, they are an exclusive club that not everyone can afford to join. Just cast your eye at the smug look of the nearest Apple user or the sneer of contempt on the face of a Bentley owner. While most goods would sell like hot cakes if you reduced their price, Veblen goods become repellent to those who would buy them.

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I MUST HAVE IT! Walking into your local shopping mall, you may think all the products are placed in no particular order. In fact, huge amounts of preparation go into placing products in a way that persuades you to buy. Many shops and malls deliberately organise themselves like a maze: once you’re in, it’s almost impossible to find your way out! It’s the same technique casinos use to keep the gamblers inside and spending. Many shops only have an up-escalator. If you want to be so troublesome as to leave their establishment, you’re going to have to pay the price and take the stairs. Ease of access is a huge driver of sales – no-one wants to put effort into buying things. That’s why the expensive goods (ones with the highest profit margins) are at eye level – not too high up and not too low down.


Mixing nice and nasty: affective conditioning

Not only are we lazy and snobbish when it comes to buying, we’re also very weakminded. Place an object that you want to sell amongst other things that people think of as nice, and they’ll think that product is nice too! This trick works with pretty much anything: handsome movie stars sell watches; flowers and rainbows sell washing powder; cute puppies sell toilet paper. This is known as affective conditioning. In a clever experiment, scientists subliminally showed two groups of people either nice, fancy words like Tiffany’s or Jaguar, or cheap words like pound store. When offered a pair of socks to buy afterwards, the people who saw the desirable words were more likely to shell out on the expensive socks.

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Beware: shopping addiction

Obviously, the clever techniques of marketing departments affect some of us more than others. A lot of our different shopping habits can be put down to how we all perceive and evaluate reward. A few interesting studies have emerged in recent years, drawing a curious parallel between the behaviour of shoppers and the behaviour of drug addicts. Within the brain, a chemical called dopamine (a ‘neurotransmitter’) helps transmit the feeling of reward in our brain. When we get a hit of dopamine, it feels great – it’s responsible for the pleasure a starving person gets after eating, or a lonely person gets after some affection from a loved one. It also gets released when taking drugs, and when you do a satisfactory piece of retail therapy!

Unfortunately – just like drugs – shopping can become addictive. People who are more impulsive and have lower levels of self-esteem are the ones most likely to become a ‘shopaholic’ – incidentally the very same traits associated with drug abusers. And just like a drug addiction, the pleasure after each shopping trip gets less as your body acclimatises to this increasingly boring experience. To get the same rush, you have to do it harder and faster. Although our collective relative wealth has increased hugely over the decades, our collective happiness, however, has flat-lined. Money does not, it seems, buy happiness. It has even been discovered that recent lottery winners and recent amputees reported the same level of happiness three years after their life changing event! Humans are very adaptable – we easily get used to an experience that once brought pleasure (or indeed pain).

Image: sxc • jaylopez


Easy to enter – tricky to leave!


Some links

The festive season is supposed to bring the best in us, but as I’ve demonstrated, Christmas shows us for what we humans really are: lazy, snobbish, fickle and easily manipulated. To top it off, any pleasure we do get from material possessions on the twenty-fifth of December is unlikely to last.

But don’t let my cheery outlook on life get you down too much. Instead, forget about the shops and the hype and remember that the holidays are a time to reflect, recharge, and spend some quality time with people you care about...

Have a very Merry Christmas!

Charlie Harvey is a writer and blogger with an unhealthy appetite for science. He was once described as “one of the most talented science writers of the last decade” by his mother. You can follow him on Twitter at @charlesharvey.

Brickman, P.; Coates, D.; JanoffBulman, R. (1978) Lottery winners and accident victims: Is happiness relative? Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, vol. 36(8), Aug 1978, pp. 917-927. Chartrand T. L.; Huber, J.; Shiv, B.; Tanner, R. J. (2008) Nonconscious Goals and Consumer Choice. Journal of Consumer Research, vol. 35, no. 2, August 2008, pp. 189201 Voon, V.; Pessiglione, M.; Brezing, C.; Gallea, C.; Fernandez, H. H.; Dolan, R. J.; Hallett, M. (2009) Mechanisms Underlying Dopamine-Mediated Reward Bias in Compulsive Behaviors. Neuron vol. 65, issue 1, 14 January 2010, pp. 135-142 Gendall, P.; Holdershaw, J.; Garland, R. (1997) The effect of odd pricing on demand. European Journal of Marketing, vol. 31, issue 11/12, pp. 799-813

Have your say at

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Those daring

young men and their painting


Can a machine help us understand how humans communicate? In doing so, could a machine also create art? For multimedia artist Alberto Gaitán, the answer is yes. Our Art Guru, Michele Banks, sets out to investigate how he and other artists are using technology to push the boundaries of art, and discovers how computers reveal deep truths about all of us…

Image courtesy of Curator’s Office, Washington, DC


THOSE DARING YOUNG MEN AND THEIR PAINTING MACHINES Alberto Gaitán’s Remembrancer – a machine for painting and understanding

Image courtesy of Curator’s Office, Washington, DC

Alberto Gaitán is a scientist turned artist. Originally training in biology and computing, he is now involved in the rapidly developing field of computer-designed artwork. His computer-driven art machines combine technology and technique to explore essential aspects of the human condition – learning, remembering, forgetting – in unique and beautiful ways. Combining his passions for art and technology has also allowed him to continue creating despite increasing physical disability. One of Gaitán’s major works, Remembrancer (2007), is a machinebased multimedia installation that creates paintings and sound out of data. But the “gee-whiz!” aspect of a machine creating paintings is overshadowed by the concept of the piece – which manages to encapsulate how human beings remember and forget events.

“I was thinking about how events resonate in cultures,” explains Gaitán. Drawing upon his years of experience working in music, he says he first thought in terms of “how different sound events reverberate, and what the visual analogue might be for that.” The device he developed is called the Remembrancer. It was described by gallery owner Andrea Pollan as “Frankenstein’s lab meets Walter Reed hospital room.” Gareth Branwyn, writer for BoingBoing, enthused about the “peristaltic pumps that look like they were lifted from an OR, and paint-laden ‘carboys’ suspended from the ceiling, that look like they might be from the recovery room.” Despite its potentially geeky trappings, at its core the work may actually be closer to a scribbled note on the back of an envelope than to a heart monitor reading: Remembrancer consists of three interlinked machines which run off complex and intricate computer

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Image courtesy of Curator’s Office, Washington, DC

algorithms. In Gaitán’s own words, his creation took “over four weeks to create three canvases using keyword data collected from online sources, each with a different frame of reference. The red panel looked at local/regional keywords, the blue panel at national keywords, and the green panel at global keywords. Over time, the sum of those keywords mentioned with the greatest frequency caused more paint to deposit at a given point.” The Remembrancer’s ability to reflect the cultural resonance of a given event was proved when, days after its 2007 opening, a gunman killed thirty-two people at nearby Virginia Tech University. The ‘local’ device recorded the tragedy, prompted by keywords such as “death” and “tech”, as huge, triangular swaths of red paint. Gaitán maintains that one of the most important aspects of his work is not what it conveys, but what it leaves out: he specifically designed the Remembrancer to be a “very lossy” and “tenaciously low-fidelity” form of recording information. It “creates documents that are basically illegible”, making them human and poignant. Like us, the Remembrancer, is an “imperfect receptor” that inevitably loses or alters information.

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Computers that can restore Personal Loss Loss of a more personal kind is another theme of Gaitán’s art, and one which prompted him to begin using computers in his art over thirty years ago, when it was much less common than today. Gaitán has had arthritis since he was around three years old, and the progressive worsening of his symptoms over the years has left him with significant joint damage. “There’s been a gradual reduction in the things I can do [physically],” he says. As his disability grew, his use of computers increased. A serious guitarist in his youth, he began creating music on computers in the late 1970s, when the first generation of personal computers was being developed. Computers now provide Gaitán’s livelihood – he has been self-employed as a computer programmer, composer / sound artist and systems consultant for twentyfive years. They now serve him, he says, as a prosthetic – “not just as hands, but as eyes, as an extra lobe of my brain.” You can learn more about Alberto Gaitán at his website and follow him on Twitter.


Scribbly Drawings and Fuzzy Paintings Many artists use a combination of random and controlled machine inputs to produce drawings and paintings. These creations were often displayed alongside the machines themselves in exhibits. Many artists in this field gave their painting partners surprisingly human-like names (such as PAM or AARON); further blurring the distinction between human and machine.

Jean Tinguely

Below left: Detail of Adam Shreckhise’s PAM, a mechanical painting machine containing no software or programming. Below right: Detail of a painting by PAM. Images by kind permission of Adam Shreckhise.

Jean Tinguely (1925-1991) was a Swiss painter and sculptor best known for his sculptural machines or kinetic art, which he called “metamechanics”. These pieces, mostly produced in the 1950s and 60s, satirized the mindless overproduction of material goods in 20th century industrial societies. His machines - fanciful, elaborate, motorized metal structures – produced scribbly drawings which were then exhibited as part of the art.

Adam Shreckhise and PAM At the other end of the spectrum is American artist Adam Shreckhise, whose painting machine PAM (Portrait of the Artist as a Machine, pictured below) was recently exhibited at the 2011 Pittsburgh Biennial. PAM is operated by a series of switches and relays, which are mechanically activated by motors and electro-magnetic current.

PAM, which is not a computer and contains no programming or software, produces fuzzy abstract paintings. Shreckhise explains that, despite the lack of software. Pam’s paintings are unpredictable: “There are about twenty mechanisms that throw switches, and each switch runs between several different lines of electricity. There are ten lines of different voltages. The lines that go through switches control motors. Each line and switch increases the possible outcomes. The number of factors affecting the outcome makes the final image beyond the predictive capacity of the human mind.”

Harold Cohen and AARON Many artists who build machines are careful to distinguish their work from computer-based art. Pioneering English artist Harold Cohen straddles the line. Cohen was already a well-known painter when he began developing AARON, a computer-driven painting machine, in 1973. Cohen programmed AARON to have Artificial Intelligence capability, so the computer decides on its own what to draw or paint. “I don’t tell it what to do. I tell it what it knows, and IT decides what to do.” Cohen and AARON have exhibited at London’s Tate Gallery, the Brooklyn Museum, the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art, and Amsterdam’s Stedelijk Museum as well as many science centres.


Music, Motion and Sculpture The use of computers in technologically-produced art perhaps lends itself best to a different type of media – sculpture. The artists detailed below were – or are – key players in this field, using methods such as musical interpretation, spin platforms and centrifugal forces to create their work.

Roxy Paine

Olafur Eliasson

Roxy Paine, an American artist working in a variety of media, has produced a number of ‘art-making machines’ designed to replicate creative processes, including the SCUMAK (Auto Sculpture Maker, 1998) and the PMU (Painting Manufacturing Unit, 1999-2000). SCUMAK melts plastic with pigments and periodically extrudes them onto a conveyor belt, creating bulbous, uniquely varied sculptures. PMU uses a metal arm that is programmed to squirt white paint onto a canvas according to instructions programmed into the machine. The machine, which was exhibited at the National Gallery of Canada in 2011, produces richly textured paintings reminiscent of landscapes or geological phenomena.

Danish-Icelandic artist Olafur Eliasson, renowned for his use of elemental materials such as light, water, and air, has also made artwork incorporating drawing machines. One of his recent projects, Spatial Vibration, undertaken with a team of artists and technicians, is a study of a string based instrument that gives visual form to sound waves and harmonics. When Spatial Vibration was shown in a New York gallery in 2008, visitors were invited to play the single-stringed instrument, which produced sound through a series of resonator devices. The vibrations of the sound waves triggered a laser projector and drawing machine, which created images in real time based on the sound information.

Roxy Paine’s Scumak No. 2, 2001 at the Museum of Contemporary Art, Detroit, USA.

Damien Hirst English artist Damien Hirst may be more famous for suspending sharks in tanks of formaldehyde and covering a platinum skull with diamonds, but he has also dabbled successfully in machine art. Since the mid-1990s, Hirst has produced large numbers of spin paintings, made by dripping wet paint onto a canvas or paper on a rapidly rotating platform. The centrifugal force of the rotation draws the wet paint outward into interesting shapes. Hirst, who admits that he got the idea from children’s TV show Blue Peter, has sold spin paintings for over EUR100,000.

Image: Wikipedia • Roxy Paine

Have your say at Michele Banks is a painter and collage artist based in Washington DC. Her science-themed work is in the permanent collection of Children’s National Medical Center and DC City Hall.She sells her work online at and tweets @artologica.

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Total Eclipse

December is going to be a very exciting month for stargazers. On 10 December, there will be a full lunar eclipse – the moon turns completely black as it passes through the Earth’s shadow. The partial eclipse will last about 3.5 hours and the moon will be in complete darkness for a little under one hour. Unfortunately the full eclipse won’t be visible for anyone living in South America, West Africa, the Caribbean, or the extreme eastern parts of Canada – but everyone else, you’ll be able to catch at least part of the show! The lucky ducks in Asia, Australia, and anywhere north of 60N (i.e. Greenland, Alaska) will get to see the whole thing from start to finish! The partial eclipse is set to begin at 12:45 GMT, with the total eclipse happening from 14:06 GMT to 14:57 GMT, and ending at 16:17 GMT. But for everyone else, here’s when to look skyward:

(a full colour change)

(look out for a darkening of the moon’s edge)

If you live in Europe, India or the Middle East then this will be in early evening as the moon is rising. For those who live in eastern United States, Mexico, Central America or eastern Canada then you will be able to catch the partial eclipse at dawn (as the moon sets).

Central Europe, eastern Africa and the United Kingdom – early evening as the moon is rising. USA and central Canada – around dawn as the moon is setting.

Partial Eclipse End (watch the darkened edge of the Moon as the eclipse passes)

Western Europe, Iceland, and west-central Africa as the moon is rising in early evening. Western United States and western Canada can catch the tail end of the eclipse at dawn as the moon is setting.

Meteors above! One of the most exciting astronomical events of the year, happening from 6-19 December this year (and peaking from 13-15 December) is the Geminid Meteor Shower. Consistently one of the sky’s most spectacular shows, this shower produces around 50 to 60 meteors per hour – in multi-colour! This year will have some interference from moonlight, but only the dimmest meteors ought to be shut out. If you want to catch it then get comfortable in a very dark location (like a beach or large park away from light pollution) around 10pm and look to the east. Expect Mother Nature’s firework display to be at its best around midnight. Not bad for free!

Jackie Ratner is a native New Yorker with a penchant for pretty shoes and Googling into the wee hours of the morning. She’s also reading for a DPhil in volcanic hazards at Oxford, aiming to turn scientific research into real disaster contingency plans. She’s not on Twitter, but say hi if you see her in the street! PA G E 2 5 • D E C E M B E R 2 0 1 1 • I S S U E 3 • G U R U

Image: Flickr • Logan Brumm Photography and Design

Start of the Partial Eclipse



KIM LACEY • MIND GURU Image: Flickr • josemanuelerre / José Manuel Ríos Valiente

Is the truth really written all over our faces? Inspired by her experiences dealing with difficult customers whilst hiding her true feelings, Mind Guru Kim Lacey takes a close look at Dr. Paul Ekman – the world expert in spotting a liar. Kim wonders whether her expressions are giving away her real inner feelings…

“Oh, your steak is overcooked? I’ll be happy to bring you another…” “I understand you ordered your food an hour ago, how frustrating! I’m sure it will be out momentarily.” Masking my grumpy inner monologue with disingenuous politeness – was I actually getting away with it?

Meet the Human Lie Detector Had I ever served Dr. Paul Ekman, then he would have spotted my true feelings from the other side of the dining room. Ekman is a face-reading expert and manager of the Paul Ekman Group – a company that “produces training devices relevant to emotional skills” and which heads up

research “relevant to national security and law enforcement”. Ekman believes our bodies hold the keys to our true feelings - our expressions always betray our inner thoughts. Ekman believes we have ‘hard-wired’ expressions like animals but he isn’t the first to come up with this idea: Charles Darwin had the same idea in The Expression of Emotions in Man and Animals – noting the similarities of body language between man and various animals. (Darwin even used his children and pet dogs to collect data!) Dr Ekman’s results are stunning and dramatic – showing facial expressions for specific emotions and moods are not just closely related, but are consistent across different animal species! Think of it this way: the expressions displayed by familiar animals and beloved pets can be easily recognised. Right now, my dog Barkley is staring at me with eyes that seem to say, “C’mon – stop writing and let’s play!” If you check yourself out in the mirror next time

you are anticipating something, it’s likely that the muscles in your pet’s face are the same ones contracting in yours. Image: Flickr • smerikal / Sini Merikallio

Some time back, I would wait on tables to pay the rent and get me through school. To earn respectable tips I had to shamelessly pour on the happiness to customers; often this with fake ‘happiness’. I covered complaints about customer waiting times and over-cooked steak with a cheery smile and respectful responses – mostly through gritted teeth:

Micro-expressions: The key to our thoughts Ekman says that small, automatic muscular responses (known as microexpressions) are common to everyone’s face – and always betray our true feelings. If this is so, then why do we miss them so often? How is it we are so easily deceived by an unscrupulous sales person? According to Ekman, the reason is “because most of the time people do not watch each other’s faces”. Staring at someone is considered to be rude or intrusive in many cultures, and may explain why many of us avoid eye contact; so we don’t notice the small facial expressions

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FACE THE TRUTH! Mixed emotions Ekman artificially blends two expressions together to show not only the impossibility of expressing both emotions simultaneously, but also how unnatural (and funny!) our faces would look if we could.

Photographs by kind permission of the Paul Ekman Group, LLC. www.

that occur during conversation. We’re not attuned to these gestures that last “only a fraction of a second”.

How to read faces Ekman’s big breakthrough has been training people on how to recognise these common expressions correctly. His techniques are pretty effective, and high-level departments such as America’s Transportation Security Administration use his techniques to spot suspicious behaviour. He offers several examples of facial expressions in his book Unmasking the Face. His experiments are pretty telling (see sidebox). Ekman says that “it is easier to falsify words than facial expressions”. Our upbringing has

“explicitly taught [us] to speak... [teaching us] vocabulary and grammar”. We have neglected to learn the “dictionary of facial expressions”. Ekman explains that we are deficient in this ability because “you were never taught how to speak with your face”. Some of us ‘read’ faces better than others. Ekman has painstakingly catalogued every facial twitch and nuance – correlating them to feelings. He claims he can train others how to spot the truth behind the grimaces. Had I known what he knows, I’m sure I’d be rich by now – just from tips by waiting tables...

Have your say at

With a PhD from Detroit’s Wayne State University, Kim Lacey from Detroit, USA knows a thing or two about memory studies, digital media and digital humanities. She also has a serious addiction to combo plates at restaurants. You can read about Kim at or follow her on Twitter at @kimlacey.

References • • •

Darwin, C. (2009). The Expression of emotion in man and animals. Oxford, UK: Oxford University Press. Ekman, P. and Friesen, W. V. (2003). Unmasking the face. Cambridge, MA, USA: Malor Books Ekman, P. (2011). About Ekman. Retrieved from

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© 2011 Random Panda

From our correspondent in

San Francisco


Image: Flickr • SF Brit


Images: Alex Gough

Guest writer Alex Gough has an unwavering eye for detail. Working in advertising, her passion for travelling has taken her to far flung corners of the globe. Loving new experiences, she now faces what could be her greatest challenge yet – trying to live as a Brit in the USA... Four years ago whilst travelling in Thailand, I met a certain American man. We travelled, and had a stint living together in London. Now it is role-reversal time, and we’ve set off to live in his home turf – San Francisco. I love experiencing new cultures, however large or small the differences may be; but when comparing life in San Francisco to London, I’m spoilt for choice. However, I can’t resist focusing on a personal favourite of mine – food. I have a confession: I love supermarkets in other countries. So as you read the rest of this article, you can picture my child-like glee as I describe the peculiarities of buying food State-side...

San Francisco = Shopping Fun I can’t get enough of it: the different product ranges, the packaging and the way things are laid out. Whenever I travel, my companions always know to set aside a good hour to let me wander around the local store. Yes, it is a slightly bizarre obsession, but I’m convinced you can learn a lot about a country by looking what it eats. And as someone who works in advertising, I’m also intrigued by the different brands and varieties which line the shelves. In the UK, supermarket chains Tesco and Sainsbury’s reign

supreme. In SF, it’s all about the independent store: glorious shops are packed to the rafters with wholesome, local, organic produce. Aisles of beautiful stacks proudly display glistening fruit and vegetables; I saw nine types of sweet potato and five types of mango in one. For me, it has it all. Dispenser bins measure exactly how many chocolate covered pretzels I want – a far cry from prepackaged goods in England. The very fact that there are chocolate covered pretzels is fabulous! Each trip is a delight, and always takes at least three times longer than necessary. San Francisco – you are pure joy for my supermarket-loving self!

Less glamorous shopping There is of course a chain store here named Safeway. What it lacks in an array of organic produce, it makes up for by delighting me with glorious E-number-filled (artificial additives – Ed) and brightly coloured treats; all in wonderful Technicolor packaging! Safeway also has another sensual treat up its sleeve: refrigerator units house certain vegetables, such as loose-leaf spinach, that are misted with water every twenty minutes. In itself not exciting, but to prevent an unfortunate customer getting sprayed, thunder and lightning ‘special effects’ periodically alert the customer just before the automated misting. How cool is that? I’ve tried to capture this on film several occasions, and failed every time (all the while getting odd stares from other shoppers)! So, Tesco take note – install this back in the UK and watch the delight of young children (and one twentysomething woman) as you mist your vegetables.

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Image: Alex Gough


Into the market

My supermarket exploration has yielded some absolute corkers in fascinating finds.

But it’s not just the supermarkets which give me joy – It wouldn’t be right for me not to mention the Farmer’s Markets. They truly are something else and blow London’s Borough Market out of the water. Near countless aisles of stalls selling organic home grown goodies – and best of all, they’re everywhere! They pop up all over town on a weekly basis and I can’t resist a look and sampling their delicious wares. Plus, I get to wander around in the California sunshine!

First up, Clam Juice: I don’t believe it’s for swigging back, but it sure looks like it is. I’m tempted to buy one and leave in the fridge for an unsuspecting victim!

Yesterday’s top discovery, Blackened Garlic: The packaging promised it tasted just like creamy chocolate and left no garlic aftertaste. I wasn’t entirely convinced.

Top tip: always make sure to eat a light breakfast before venturing out to the farmers market spree. But of course supermarkets aren’t the only place for food joy – restaurants are a whole new experience... but I’ll save that for another time. Have your say at

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Alex Gough worked in London for 4 years in social media. She loves to travel – you can find a photo blog of her latest trip at Adventures of a Gougher or read her more serious thoughts on Social Marketing at Thoughts of a Gougher. You can also catch her on Twitter @gougher tweeting about digital marketing.


Ben Veal is a PR and digital marketing professional based in Wiltshire, UK. Ben studied Film at university, and spends most of his free time with his head buried in a book, listening to obscure (and often terrible) bands. Follow him on Twitter @BenVealPR and find out about Ben’s work at


Sarah Joy is Guru’s graphic designer. She’s usually to be found rummaging for old cameras in charity shops, scouring eBay for Franco-Belgian comics or tweaking the kerning between letters. You can read her blog at and tweets @RanPanda.

James Lloyd studied physics at university and recently finished a climate science PhD. He’s now swapped semiconductors for semicolons, writing about science and blogging at The Soft Anonymous. James enjoys music making, hill walking and trying to find the perfect flapjack. Find him on Twitter @jbb_lloyd.


Ben Good is interested in the way we interact with the latest technological developments. With an MSc in Science Communication, Ben works in advertising and writes about science stories that grab his interest at the B Good Science Blog. You can follow him on Twitter @bengood.

Michele Banks is a painter and collage artist based in Washington DC. Her sciencethemed work is in the permanent collection of Children’s National Medical Center and DC City Hall.She sells her work online at and tweets @artologica.


Daryl Ilbury is an award-winning South African broadcaster and columnist. Currently completing a Masters in Science Journalism at London’s City University, he enjoys being the pointy stick that jabs at the uncomfortable area where science and society collide. See his work at, his blog and Twitter feed.

With a PhD from Wayne State University, Kim Lacey from Detroit, USA knows a thing or two about memory studies and digital humanities. She also has a serious addiction to restaurant combo plates. Follow her on Twitter @kimlacey or go to


Natasha Agabalyan is on her way to becoming a Doctor of Cell Biology in Brighton, UK. In between drinking far too much coffee and blogging at The Science Informant, she has a love of finding out interesting tit-bits from all aspects of life.

Charlie Harvey is a writer and blogger with an unhealthy appetite for science. He was once described as “one of the most talented science writers of the last decade” by his mother. You can follow him on Twitter @charlesharvey.


NEW! PA G E 3 3 • D E C E M B E R 2 0 1 1 • I S S U E 3 • G U R U





Dr Stu originally trained as a medical doctor before deciding to branch out into lecturing. He drinks too much coffee, eats ice cream and has a bizarre love of keeping fit. You can check out his blog at and follow him on Twitter @realdoctorstu.







Mixology vessel 75

chocolate chantilly


Images: (Bottom) Flickr • syvwlch; (middle) Flickr • jamiebdr – used with kind permission; (top) Flickr • Global Jet

Jellied Gin & Tonic

Chefs around the world are constantly finding new ways to exhilarate our senses by changing the texture, colour and shape of our day-today food. In the third in her series on do-it-at-home molecular gastronomy, Guru’s scientist-turned-cook Natasha Agabalyan lets her hair down with some cheeky Christmas cocktails... Molecular Gastronomy is all about creating eye-popping, mouthwatering and surprising ways to cook and present food. Making the kitchen more and more like a lab, some of the professional’s techniques require specialised equipment. Fortunately, others are well within the reach of most of us. One brand of Molecular Gastronomy is called Molecular Mixology: if you like cocktails then you’ll love this! It is a whole new level of intricate cocktail design – turning your

party drinks into amazing art! It is thought to have grown from the long-established practice of layering ingredients in cocktails. Bartenders have been polishing those glasses and honing their skills to create beautiful and exciting creations for years. “It’s about changing the texture, density or viscosity, the molecular structure of a liquid,” says Charlotte Voisey, award winning Molecular Mixologist from the UK. One trick you may have seen is spherification – the art of jellifying a liquid and making small little textured spheres. It’s not too tricky and you can buy the ‘lab ingredients’ online (see links at the end of the article for more info) – but this issue’s recipe uses gelatine for a slightly different effect. So, with the holiday season upon us, it’s time to put on your apron (or lab coat) and get jellifying! These fun and fabulous recipes are certain to wow your guests and make a refreshing break from tradition!

Jellied Gin & Tonic The classic G&T takes on a new spin: in gelatinous form! Smart and sophisticated, this recipe brings a whole new design to the sharpest of drinks.

Ingredients ❄❄ 1 frozen lime ❄❄ 2oz simple syrup ❄❄ 1¼ tsp citric acid ❄❄ ¼ tsp bicarbonate of soda ❄❄ ¼ tsp confectioner’s sugar ❄❄ 1½ sheets of sheet gelatine ❄❄ 30ml gin ❄❄ 60ml tonic water

Method ❄❄ Freeze the lime and cut into chips using a knife or a slicer ❄❄ Coat slices in syrup and 1tsp of citric acid ❄❄ Cook at 150°C / 300°F/ Gas Mark 2 in a preheated oven until crisp ❄❄ Mix the bicarbonate of soda, sugar and remaining citric acid ❄❄ Soften the gelatine sheet in cold water ❄❄ Warm gin and add to the gelatine mix ❄❄ Add tonic water

❄❄ Pour into a baking tray lined with plastic wrap – or, for added fun, into ice cube trays (preferably with funky shapes!) and refrigerate for two hours ❄❄ Remove from ice trays or cut into half-inch cubes ❄❄ Place gin jelly onto lime chip and sprinkle with sugar-soda-acid mix for added zing on the tongue ❄❄ Serve and delight your guests!

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vessel 75

And for dessert...

Have you been w atching lots of th e TV show Mad Men lately? I conf ess I’m an addict . But just in case you hadn’t re alised: the old-fa sh ioned cocktail is well and truly back! So, here’s a cla ssic that has stood the test of tim e, but with a bran d new twist: Ingredients

spending hopefully you’ll not be , son sea ay lid ho it’s As lining ulous cocktails but also all your time tasting fab late oco Ch d. foo g e great tastin your stomach with som – so ar, ye of e tim ate for this seems suitably appropri t ies mm yu the ure – here is for Guru readers’ pleas loped er likely to taste, deve ev ur yo chocolate mousse is Th e rv He y r Gastronom by the father of Molecula u yo e nte ara gu I menthal. and TV chef Heston Blu won’t be disappointed.

❄❄ 90ml Bourb on ❄❄ 3 dashes of bitters (dependi ng on your taste) ❄❄ 4 egg whit es ❄❄ 180ml wat er ❄❄ 120ml maple sy rup ❄❄ 60ml lemon juice Method ❄❄ Mix the Bo urbon and bitter s and strain into a tu mbler ❄❄ Make the M aple Syrup foam : whisk the egg w hites, water, map le syrup and lemon juice to a light an d fluffy foam and refrigerate ❄❄ Be careful not to over-whip the mix

Chocolate Chantilly

Ingredients 0% cocoa solids) ❄❄ 265g bittersweet (7 referably chocolate, chopped (p Valrhona Guanaja) ❄❄ 240ml water nal) ❄❄ 4 tbsp sugar (optio Method her g bowl on top of anot ❄❄ Place a large mixin ld co d filled with ice an slightly smaller one, ld the large bowl shou water (the bottom of ide touch the ice). Set as d/ water (also sugar an ❄❄ Put chocolate and ized -s m iu ing) in a med or liquor if you’re us iu ocolate over med m pan and melt the ch nally heat, stirring occasio ing ocolate into the mix ❄❄ Pour the melted ch ice and water, and bowl sitting on top of a wire whisk (or an start whisking with ixer) until thick electric hand-held m e as you whip and mak ❄❄ Watch the texture lt p as this will resu sure not to over-whi grainy. If the mousse in the mousse being ch is possible at your becomes grainy (whi ck into the pan, first try), transfer it ba is melted, pour it reheat until half of it wl and whisk again back to the mixing bo briefly rving cups ❄❄ Divide into four se ly and serve immediate

❄❄Top the Bourbo n mix with the maple syrup fo am and garnish with a circle of orange zest

Have your say at

Read more •

Jamie Boudreau’s Bartending Blog Spirits and Cocktails • Tool kits and methods for spherification • Watch Charlotte Voisey prepare a New York Sour for show Cocktail Corner

Natasha Agabalyan is on her way to becoming a Doctor of Cell Biology in Brighton, UK. In between drinking far too much coffee and blogging at The Science Informant, she has a love of finding out interesting tit-bits from all aspects of life.

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ns to our Congra tula tio(James Lloyd, Physics Guierunce Guru (Stuar t left) and Scd, centre), finalists Far rimon ellcome Trust / in the W cience W riting Guardian S d Sceptic Guru Prize! (An came along too!) Daryl Ilbury

GURUMAGAZINE .ORG/NEWS on Read about it m Creative Boo

Visit the new

Bourgeois trinkets

Neat stuff


Now on sale at the Guru Boutique!




Images: sxc • slafko / Slavomir Ulicny (postcard); Flickr • sonia vallejo (clay stars); sxc • ivanmarn (snowflake paper); sxc • jpsdg / John Siebert (garland)


POLES APART It’s time to get reflective and consider the year just passed. We asked both you and our Gurus, ‘what was the most important significant event of 2011?’ Here’s what everyone had to say... Seven scientists are on trial in Italy for 309 counts of manslaughter – for giving “inexact, incomplete and contradictory information” about the possibility of an earthquake in 2009. It’s a pivotal issue for science, and raises the critical question of accountability when it comes to natural disasters. It’s not their science that was flawed, but the communication. How could it have been done better? If Italy’s Great Risks Commission is convicted, will all hazards scientists be at risk? Jackie Ratner What did the deaths of Osama Bin Laden, Amy Whitehouse, and Muammar Gaddafi have in common? They all prompted a surge of activity on social networks – a kind of behaviour that’s really come to the fore in 2011. Nowadays, it’s the social networks like Twitter – not rolling news channels – that are first with the latest stories.

2011 was the year in which social media was revealed as something of a double-headed beast, reportedly being used to organise violence during the UK riots that erupted over the summer. Yet it was also used in the clean-up operation that followed. The best and worst of human nature were all played out through a medium that just a few years ago didn’t even exist. Jonathon Crowe For me, 2011’s most memorable event is the News International phone-hacking scandal. As a UK resident, I’m getting a bit sick of the incessant coverage, but overall it represents something incredibly important: that maintaining a high, honest and ethical standard within journalism is paramount, regardless of the discipline, audience, or outlet. Hopefully this will make a great difference in the future. Nicola Guttridge Guru sub-editor

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I think the most notable event so far has been the rise of the patentbased lawsuits in the telecoms industry. It’s not just mobile phone makers, but also operating system (OS) owners – Google and Apple have spent HUGE amounts. So far the bill for Apple’s purchase of the Nortel patents is around USD2.6bn (excluding court cases) and Google’s purchase of Motorola Mobility is said to be around USD12.5bn. Who in 2010 would have thought that Google would buy Motorola Mobility? It seemed to contradict their plans for an open-source OS. Yet it was a deal borne out of necessity, so Google could help its strategic partners fight off Apple’s attacks. Can you imagine an iPhone cloner in Shenzhen suing Apple for

Image: Flickr • Dmitry Sandalov

Image: sxc • jpsdg / John Siebert


POLES APART: REVIEW OF THE YEAR copying the look of one of its phones? That would be very amusing. Everyone’s been getting in on the lawsuit action: HTC against Apple, Apple against Samsung, Samsung against Apple and Nokia against... everyone. The real winners are the lawyers! Do we need changes in patent law or to call a truce? That would see money going to the right place – namely, developing more cool toys for all us Gurus. Shane Burgess

Image by kind permission of LIFESAVER Systems Ltd.

This year saw a great increase in the numbers of LIFESAVER water bottles in circulation. They look like sports drinks bottles but offer a solution that could save millions of lives. These bottles, which come in a variety of sizes, filter water and rid it of practically all bacteria, viruses and toxic substances – in

an instant. Using nanofilters, the bottles are not only cheap but also last several years. For me, LIFESAVER bottles could well be science’s finest hour – offering 2.5bn people access to clean water for the first time. So, come New Year, I’ll definitely be drinking to that! Dr Stu Science Guru

It has to be the death of Steve Jobs. No-one this year has had such a massive affect on the way that we live with technology. I’m not a writer, so I’ll say no more... James Green A look back on 2011 simply cannot go by without a mention of the Royal Wedding. Yes, the wedding of Wills and Kate in April showed that, when it comes to pomp and circumstance, no one can do a royal event quite like us Brits. Over 2bn viewers around the world watched and enjoyed the sight of full-grown trees in Westminster Abbey, some truly bizarre hats... and that bridesmaid’s dress. For one day, all eyes around the world were fixed firmly on the United Kingdom, and for the right reasons. Sadly, with the phonehacking nonsense and rioting that followed in the summer, it wasn’t the last time that the

UK was the centre of attention! Ben Veal Media Guru

I’m not hugely observant. I noticed a few changes in 2011; but chiefly that our local postman now has a van and a pram for his letters instead of a bike. Overall, 2011 for me was about ordinary life. World events occasionally barged in on the everyday: in March, visiting friends in Hong Kong, we wondered if it was still safe to eat Japanese food. In August, friends living in London braced themselves for the worst of the riots. This year brought birth, death, marriage, travel, highs and lows. When the stuff hit the fan, I tried to remember that it’s all part of life: just as valid and important as the times when things are going great. And on that vague and fuzzy note, bring on 2012...! Sarah Joy Design Guru

Would you like to have your say in next issue’s Poles Apart? Stay tuned to Guru through the website, Facebook or on Twitter.

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Looking back, looking forward

Image: Flickr • rachaelvoorhees



As New Year celebrations loom, Guru takes a contemplative detour by looking back at some key events of the year past. Guest writer James Preston highlights his key events of the last year and explains what he thinks the dramatic events of 2011 might mean for tomorrow’s society, environment and politics... The year is 500BC. A Greek named Heraclitus sits and ponders the universe. It is a particularly good day for thought and he concludes:

“The only constant is change.” Without doubt this was to become his most famous conclusion – and for good reason...

The world is changing Everything we know is constantly changing – even our favourite computer programs. I don’t know about you, but I’m still getting

used to the new-look Facebook after September’s fairly radical transformation. As we near the end of another year, billions of people around the world take time to step back and evaluate their lives. Stop Smoking helplines will hit their busiest season, and Oprah Winfrey’s book ...A Better Life is about to peak in annual sales. It’s not just the world that changes; people want to change too. What can we learn from the changes we’ve seen in 2011? And perhaps more importantly, what does this mean for 2012 and beyond?

January 2011 onwards: Arab uprisings For me, the Arab uprisings are the most significant story of 2011. Whilst not diminishing the significance of other events this year, I believe what happened in the Arab World holds more importance to humanity than we can comprehend. Think about it – we each go about our daily lives with the feeling there is at least one thing worth complaining about; be it slow internet, biased tabloids or the government’s stance on taxes. However, if we are honest, we are largely helpless on such issues. The uprisings in the Middle-East are

proof that we people still do have the power to change the societies we live in. One would think that our modern culture has bred an emasculated society of conformists. The Middle East revolutions prove that, when forced into a corner,

people eventually make a stand. These revolutions are now serving as a warning to governments everywhere to be more sympathetic to their populous when drawing up laws and policies. Just stop and consider the significance of that for the future.

Image: Flickr • S a l e e m - H o m s i

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Image: Flickr • Abode of Chaos / Thierry Ehrmann

March 2011: Japanese earthquakes and tsunami This year in the Eastern Hemisphere, the Earth’s tectonic plates worked. First Canterbury in New Zealand was struck by a 6.3 magnitude earthquake, and a month later Japan was brought to her knees by a 9.0 magnitude megaquake. The big story of this catastrophe became the ongoing nuclear disaster in Fukushima. The resulting tsunami of the mega-quake broke retaining walls of the Fukushima I Nuclear Power Plant

and destroyed its cooling generators. The overheating of the nuclear reactors and eventual explosions released plumes of radiation into the environment. Not only are we reminded of the power of Nature, but we are forced to question our philosophy of reducing carbon emissions at all costs. Suddenly nuclear power comes into question: what risks are we prepared to take? Germany has announced that they will stop nucleargenerated power by 2022 and Japan has already reduced its reliance on nuclearreactors from fiftyfour power plants to nineteen. But is this a knee-jerk reaction? Surely better preventative measures

can be implemented rather than a wholesale abandoning of atomic energy? While the seismic threats in that part of the world are by no means trivial, the most eco-efficient energy known to man at the moment is nuclear. This dramatic nuclear U-turn may prove to be a bad move for the longevity of future energy generation. One positive side to such drastic policy change is that humankind always seems to work best under pressure. With an imminent energy crisis, German or Japanese engineers could well discover even greater eco-friendly energy. I certainly hope so, as a future in the dark sounds less than appealing...

August 2011: Violent protests in England and ongoing financial crisis The scenes from London in August were harrowing. Youthful yobs were seen disregarding other people’s possessions and rights. It was anarchy. However, the root from where this anarchist attitude derived was quite possibly a legitimate one. Is it not too far-fetched an idea to believe that

the Western Capitalist society is coming to an end? Capitalism, at worst, is a system whereby everything that possibly can be done to gain wealth is done – no matter how immoral or illegal. The anarchists we saw in London seemed to make a statement, albeit a violent one, against the inconsiderate and

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immoral way in which Western banks operate. They could have a point. In its most evil form, Capitalism is no different from the hunger for power and world domination displayed by the Imperial monarchies. What European explorers did to the Native American Indians is a reflection

of those evils. As the financial crisis tightens its grip, the number of people disenchanted with the current Western system is increasing. Whilst many of these people take to the streets in protest, like those of the Occupy Wall Street Campaign in New York, very few solutions seem viable. There are simply very few realistic alternatives to Capitalism in a free society. Surely true freedom relies on our ability

to dream big and live with the possibility of fulfilling those dreams? Maybe the best alternative is stricter regulations and higher taxes – who knows? I am no left-wing socialist... yet. But these are serious issues that the West will have to face in the not-toodistant future. The bottom line? Greed must be controlled or regulated. Now that sounds Socialist in every sense, but seriously – how much is enough?

Image: Wikimedia Commons • Voice of America


Looking Forward

Image: Flickr • d.billy

Our world faces many challenges, but none have ever stopped mankind succeeding in the past. So, as the sun rises on yet another calendar year, I think it is the right time for all of us to take stock. Dare we assess our own lives, we might wish to consider where we can make for positive change in the future. It could be in the research of alternative energy. Perhaps it may be joining a peaceful march to stand up for injustice. Or it could just be being a tad more wary of a deal that looks too good to be true... Whatever our hope is for 2012, we must believe it is possible.

Have your say at James Preston is a journalist and lecturer with a passion for the positive side of life. Born in Guildford, Surrey and raised in South Africa, he has run a radio show in his home city of Durban, South Africa for over ten years. After five years of marriage he likes to tell everyone he has a young Preston on the way.

References on the web • • • • •

The Arab Spring unrest (Wikipedia) A timeline of events surrounding the Fukushima disaster (Wikipedia) Journalist Marc Gunther discusses nuclear power after Fukushima The English riots of 2011 (Wikipedia)

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Image: Flickr • seanmcgrath / Sean McGrath

Behold! A Dangerous Gift

Image: Flickr • albertogp123 / Alberto G.

Do you believe in astrologers, tarot readers and fortune-tellers? How would you like to become one? In this issue, Sceptic Guru Daryl Ilbury offers you a unique Christmas gift you won’t find anywhere else – but be warned, use it wisely and carefully, because in the wrong hands it could be very, very dangerous...

Many years ago, in my final year as a student of clinical psychology, I foolishly allowed myself to be experimented upon. The class was studying personality disorders, and I agreed to be one of sixteen volunteers to complete an Eysenck Personality Inventory (or EPI). It would, our lecturer claimed, provide an insight into our personality profiles. It comprised a series of questions to which we could answer yes or no. On the due date, we each presented our completed questionnaire. The following day, we each were given our personality assessment and told to read it

privately to evaluate its accuracy on a scale of one to ten and then tell the rest of the class our conclusion. I was amazed: the lecturer had managed to describe my personality to a T! It seemed the others agreed, and the average score for all of us was 8.5 out of 10. It was only then that the lecturer dropped the bombshell – we had all been given exactly the same personality description!

Reading the Stars So how was this possible? The secret lies in a combination of generalisation and knowing a little about human psychology –

specifically, how we see ourselves, how we like others to see us, and how we like to think we behave. Unfortunately, it’s also what fortunetellers, psychics and astrologers also use to fool you. Here’s an example – how accurate is this statement about you?

“Your friends see you as honourable and unselfish, but there is also a competitive side to you that emerges when necessary.” It’s true for most people – everyone likes to think they’re nice and no-one likes to think of themselves as a pushover (whether true or not)!

How socially desirable are you? Are you extroverted? Would you consider yourself neurotic? Try this personality test yourself: the Eysenck Personality Inventory.

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BEHOLD! A DANGEROUS GIFT A Guide to Mind-Reading So here’s my Christmas gift for you: an exposé of the tools of the trade of fortune-tellers, psychics and astrologers and my tutorial on how to use them:

➊ Use flattery

“You often find yourself looking in the mirror, thinking ‘yeah, I’ve got a certain something’.”

➋ Apply balance This is achieved through the use of opposing characteristics in the same sentence, thereby ensuring a ‘hit’. The above statement about being both ‘unselfish’ and ‘competitive’ is an example.

➌ Offer hope and expectation We all hope for good things to happen to our loved ones and ourselves; so we’ll never deny their possibility. For example, “someone in your family is about to hear some really good news, about something they’ve worked hard towards”.

➍ Use ‘common flexible experiences’ These are frequent, ordinary experiences that people will expand or contract to fill their interpretation of the term. For example,

“You’ve recently had a rather interesting meeting”. What is ‘interesting’ and what defines a ‘meeting’? It could be a chat with a colleague, or it could be scheduled appointment with a doctor. The terms ‘interesting’ and ‘meeting’ are therefore flexible.

➎ Use ‘common potential experiences’ These are based in the future and so are not immediately disprovable. Because they are ‘common’ (frequent, everyday things) they will immediately be considered likely. An example:

“I see a trip on the near horizon – it may not seem immediately significant, but be careful.”

ou llowing about y fo e th ll te n a c He g the way your in k c a tr y b ly p sim ery page!* eyes read this v

You’re actually cleverer than you think you are. You have a creative imagination, but, when needed, you can also be practical and realistic. This has served you well. le Although you’re comfortab joy with daily routine, you en ty. rie va of ge the challen You prefer to evaluate things carefully before making judgement, rather than jumping to conclusions. Your friends agree that you have an engaging personality, although sometimes you like to just spend time on your own. You’re bothered by a weighty decision in your life that needs to be made, promptin you to look back on your g life and reflect on your past decisions.

Image: Flickr • Joybot

You fear a significant event in the near future that would have a major negative impact on your life.

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* He can’t really.

Everyone responds to flattery, but it needs to be subtle. Saying “you’re handsome” doesn’t work as well as:


Sceptic Guru shows you how to stun your friends! So let’s put it all together as an example so you can fascinate people at end–of-theyear parties... Explain to someone that you ‘apparently’ have a gift for reading palms. Sit them down and tell them to hold their right hand palm upwards – not their left (that’s part of the performance). Hold their palm with your left hand and lightly draw your right index

finger across the creases in the palm, all the time nodding gently and making interested sounds (again, a part of the performance). Now, making sure you pause thoughtfully (as if you’re searching some ethereal space for answers) and that you look into their eyes at critical moments, say the following:

been thinking quite a bit about someone you’ve met recently… someone you think could have quite an impact in your life. That’s interesting, because I see a joining of forces here (point to arbitrary point on palm where creases overlap) that bodes well for the future”.

“Definitely one of the more interesting palms I’ve seen. You’re an intriguing character and it seems like you’ve had a somewhat fascinating life. You might disagree and think that it’s been pretty humdrum at times, but you’ve had quite an impact on the people that you care about. You have a small group of dedicated friends who consider you relaxed and laid-back… but it seems you also have moments when you feel emotionally insecure.

If you do this right, you’ll have them, quite literally, eating out of the palm of your hand! So use your skills wisely... Have your say at

I see you are concerned about a member of your family right now; but there’s no need – things are going to be all right. You’ve also Daryl Ilbury is a multi-award winning South African broadcaster and columnist. With a passion for science that’s burned since childhood, he’s currently completing a Masters in Science Journalism at London’s City University and enjoys being the pointy stick that jabs at the uncomfortable area where science and society collide. See his work at, follow his blog or follow him on Twitter at @darylilbury.

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Image: Flickr • Remko van Dokkum

Of course, at first glance, vagueness is common to all of these techniques so to make them work effectively in fooling people, they need to be part of a performance; and this is where fortunetellers, psychics and astrologers really weave their magic. They combine careful examination of a subject’s physical presentation; such as the clothes they are wearing, their posture, any physical manifestation of ill health (a technique called cold reading), with an engaging, sleight of hand performance.


Is this for real?! Guru meets the team behind The Reality Check What do sleepwalking, hiccoughs and Batman have in common? Each week a videogame nerd, pinball addict and a man who enjoys dressing up in children’s costumes gather around a microphone. Broadcasting to the world their own insightful yet irreverent take on popular culture, Guru catches up with the four Canadian hosts to try and find out why...

By most standards, Ottawa isn’t a big city – but it is a smart one. It boasts more scientists, engineers and doctors per square mile than anywhere else in Canada. From such rich pickings, it is surprising that four quirky nonscientists choose to run a radio show about science Now in its third year, The Reality Check show is hosted by Jon Abrams, Elan Dubrofsky, Darren McKee and Adam Gardner – the show is going from strength to strength... Guru: What is The Reality Check all about? Elan Dubrofsky: Every week, we look at popular claims in culture. We try to examine them from a sceptical viewpoint in order to really get what the facts are. We try to find out if there is evidence against something then you really shouldn’t be promoting in it and believing in it.

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Guru: So, you mean talking about things like astrology and homeopathy? Elan: These would be the popular examples, but we like to go into more obscure topics that other people don’t tend to look at – like myths about McDonald’s, how long a goldfish’s memory really is and the truth behind movie reviews; anything that might be in popular culture or popular belief


Image: Flickr • Dave Kleinschmidt

that turns out isn’t exactly how people think it is. We find that sort of stuff really interesting. Guru: When did you decide to go into the world of podcasting / broadcasting? Elan: The Reality Check was set up by Jon Abrams, president of the Ottawa Skeptics, who is a big fan of podcasts. He sent out an email to people in the society asking, “Does anyone want to make a podcast with me?” It originally started off as a radio show, but the practicalities didn’t work out and running a podcast gave us more control over what and when we could record. Guru: So you’re all members of Ottawa Skeptics – what’s ‘scepticism’ about? Elan: Basically, there are people out there making claims for all sorts of things. All scepticism really says is that you shouldn’t just believe something that you hear – but you should actually look and see if the data backs it up. On a deeper level, scepticism can also then become

understanding how to understand the data itself. You could think of it as a process, or almost a philosophy of some sort – making sure that for everything that you believe, you have a good reason for it. Guru: You seem to research your topics pretty well. Does that take a lot of time? Elan: We discuss three topics a week, and each of us does our own research. In all it takes a couple of hours to put everything together – the trick is to think of an idea early in the week so you have more time to prepare. Guru: If a Guru reader was interested in starting their own podcast –what suggestions or advice could you give? Jon Abrams: Running the podcast has been one of the most rewarding experiences of my life – I highly recommend people try it out. Here are three lessons I’ve learned about doing a successful podcast: 1 Find a topic or interest that you’re both passionate about and have a unique angle to take on it. 2 Get a couple of equally passionate friends involved, preferably with different sounding voices so listeners can tell you apart. Having a team also really helps you stay motivated week after week. 3 Record at least three episodes and don’t publish them; instead, share them with friends and incorporate their feedback. It can take time to ‘find your voice’.

Find out more about The Reality Check at their webpage and download the latest show free from iTunes.

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Pinball for Christmas? IT’S NOT JUST A TOY, IT’S A LIFESTYLE...


Photographs by Robin Van Mourik •

What’s on your Christmas wishlist? For most of us, a pinball machine won’t feature highly. This issue’s special Guest Guru, Jon Abrams, is a flipper fanatic and advocate of everything pinball. If you thought pinball was a pastime for sweaty teenagers and eccentric loners – think again: Jon offers four compelling reasons why this forgotten art offers more than any games console… Shortly after buying my first house, I noticed a conspicuously large empty corner in my basement. At first, I considered fulfilling a childhood dream by buying an old arcade machine. But living in the age of big screen TVs, consoles and smart phones, there seemed little point: my computer emulator could already play any classic video game ever released.

Then I remembered pinball… To my inner-child’s delight, I discovered that not only are pinball machines still in production, but buying one for your home is easy. My pinballing passion was unleashed!

The addiction begins It started with a single machine to simply fill a gap in my basement. This one machine quickly multiplied into five, with many more passing through my possession. As a teenager, pinball couldn’t compare to the amazing graphics of video games. However, as I have grown older, my tastes have become far more... refined. Here’s why:

Four reasons to love pinball 1

It’s not virtual – it’s real!

Like video games, pinball is a form of electronic entertainment that can be enjoyed alone or with friends. But unlike video games, pinball is real. No matter which pinball machine you play, it will always be essentially the same – you with two flippers and some gentle nudging in a quest to stop a silver ball succumbing to the unrelenting force of gravity. Forget those stupid 3D glasses – when you’re standing in front of a pinball machine, you’re looking into a threedimensional world designed by a talented team of designers, artists, and engineers.


Pinball has depth and longevity

The depth of pinball not only exists in the third dimension. I never appreciated the complexities in pinball rules and strategies until one arrived in my basement. After hours devoted to exploring the game’s intricacies, I uncovered considerable

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depth in gameplay mechanics and strategy. If you’ve played a pinball machine once or twice before then you will only have just scratched the surface. Most machines made since the early 1990s have multiple goals; various types of multiball modes; timed modes, and an ultimate “wizard” mode that can only be reached once you’ve mastered everything else.

Each machine has about 3500 different pieces, half a mile of wire, and takes more man-hours to assemble than a car!


Playing requires skill

When most people first play pinball they always do the same thing – frantically activating one or both flippers


Forget 3D glasses – a pinball machine is a three-dimensional world designed by a talented team of designers, artists and engineers.

Stern Pinball is the only remaining manufacturer of full-size pinball machines. They manufacture everything by hand at their factory and headquarters in Chicago, Illinois, USA.

Pinball was illegal in major US cities between the 1940s and 1976 as it was considered gambling. In 1976, Roger Sharpe demonstrated to a court in New York that he could shoot deliberate shots, proving that pinball was more about skill than luck. The ban was lifted as a result.

whenever the ball gets in range, hoping to stop the ball from ‘draining’ (falling past the flippers – Ed). Usually, after doing this a couple of times – and contrary to all semblance of ‘fairness’ – it gets drained anyway. The first lesson to learn if you want a game to last more than a few flips is to learn how to stop and control the ball. There is a world of techniques to learn (see next page), but ultimately pinball is a fascinating game of risk vs. reward. Every potential shot, at any given time, has a potential risk and a reward (in terms of points to be earned), which leads to a wide variety of possible strategies depending on the game.


Pinball is more than fun!

Pinball is a blast to play – especially once you’ve learned the basic skills. For me, pinball has offered me so much more than any other hobby: owning a pinball

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machine also means you can learn about maintaining, fixing, and modifying them. Thanks to pinball, I’ve learned about electronics, mechanics, and even art! There’s also a great community of pinball enthusiasts in most areas and online. I’ve made many lasting friendships through this pastime. Whether you have never played pinball, or you haven’t touched it since the hobby’s heyday in the 90s – you ought to take some timeout from this yuletide to check it out. Why not do some research online (links below) or visit a local pinball league event? If you do jump into the world of pinball, I’m sure you’ll find out that it’s flippin’ fantastic! Have your say at

The best selling pinball machine of all time was Williams’ The Addams Family. It sold over 20,000 units!


You can easily control the ball by holding up a flipper when the ball is approaching at a slow speed. Pinball skill starts with then being able to manipulate the ball into this position. There are lots of techniques to trap or cradle the ball, but by far the easiest way is not to flip when the ball comes flying at one of the flippers. By not flipping, the ball bounces off the flipper, loses considerable momentum, and then jumps slowly and safely to the opposing flipper. Called the bounce pass, it seems counter-intuitive at first. But it’s a critical step in learning how to become a pinball wizard! When the ball is stationary and under your control you have the time to examine

the various lights on the playfield and decide where you should aim the ball. Every time you shoot the ball, there’s a significant risk that you’ve started on a journey that leads to a game over. Ramp shots are considered relatively safe because they are easy to hit and ramps deliver the ball safely back to a flipper. Aiming at stand-up targets is much riskier because it’s difficult to predict where the ball will go if you successfully hit it. So always choose your next shot carefully, and try not to miss! Shrewd pinball pros often wait until a multiball mode before attempting to hit the riskiest shots – so if they miss then it’s not game over.

Links • Pinball champ Bowen Kerins talks strategy for the classic Williams game Dracula • Watch The Addams Family strategy video • The latest in pinball news at! • Learn yourself some basic pin skillz • Catch up with the UK Pinball Group • Watch the unboxing and a review of Stern’s Family Guy pinball machine Jon Abrams is an entrepreneur and computer engineer from Ottawa, Canada. He’s the founder of and co-host of the science-andskepticism podcast The Reality Check (available free in iTunes). He also likes loud noises and blinking lights, hence his attraction to pinball and oncoming traffic.

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Dr Karl’s Brain Food

Image: Mel Koutchavlis

Dr Karl Kruszenlnicki Publisher: Pan Macmillan Australia, 2011 Hardback: AUD32.99

Food-angst is the scourge of modern day living. There are more foodrelated scare stories than you could shake a battered sausage at: antibiotics in meat, deadly diets and toxic additives in food. With the season of festive feasting upon us, Dr Kruszenlnicki’s new book, Dr Karl’s Brain Food, is a timely release to lay all those gastronomic hang-ups to rest. Indisputably the most prolific science journalist south of the equator, Dr Karl is dubbbed Australia’s ‘science guru’. With thirty years experience hosting TV shows and writing about science, he is an unfaltering advocate of ‘science for the masses’. Churning out popular science books as fast as they can print them, his writing prowess makes Maeve Binchy look decidedly lazy. His latest tome claims to have ‘no artificial facts or flavours’ and weighs in at just 230 pages. Opening

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with the story of a ‘woman whose life was saved by a poo transplant’, you quickly get a feel for what is to come. Brain Food is fast-paced, accessible and irreverent, jam-packed with interesting trivia, anecdotes and titbits on anything digestion related. Dr Karl takes you on a journey through the body; from mouth to back passage – depicting everything in between. Citing up-to-date research, he touches on everything from low GI diets to ice-cream headaches. Entertaining and informative throughout, the sprinkling of cartoons and relevant microscope photographs keep the pages turning. On this nourishing journey, the author makes brave attempts to explain enzymes, antibiotic resistance and the molecular structures. Despite abundant witticisms, these textbookstyle interludes are the book’s lowest points. Such tricky concepts read like an ‘idiot’s guide’ but will likely lose anyone without a grounding in scientific terms. However, immaculate graphic design and photography lift Brain Food above the norm. Popular science fans will find it a veritable fact feast with which to regale friends. For foodies, it will serve as an informative coffee-table accompaniment for the recipe books. An ideal Christmas treat for armchair scientists. Rating: ● ● ● ● ◐ Dr Stu

GUREVIEWS Birgitta, A Life Wired Abimbola Heikka Publisher: Bookstand Publishing, 2011 Available from E-book: USD9.95 Paperback: USD13.95 Without question, no single historical event has received more media coverage over the last decade than 9/11. Hundreds of thousands of column inches have been devoted to exploring virtually every angle of that fateful day in the United States, and its subsequent global effect. So it was with some surprise when Guru received a new book that looks at September 11th from a different and very unique perspective. Birgitta, A Life Wired is a tale told from the point of view of Abimbola ‘Birgitta’ Heikka: a foreigner living in the US and



working as a computer programmer. Living in the USA, she came under ‘heavy scrutiny’ and personal attacks due to her expertise in science and computing. Her tale recounts this scrutiny, which allegedly led to documents being taken from her apartment, and being subjected to a series of electronic monitoring and probing tests. A Life Wired is a challenging read, to say the very least. With little in the way of narrative structure, it’s written mainly in the midst of a disorientated state reality is mixed with surreal dreams, which are in turn mixed with bouts of intense interrogation. There’s more than a passing similarity to Orwell’s 1984, with unnerving overtones that Big Brother is always watching you, and is always in complete control. Heikka’s first book is an unsettled and challenging affair. In literary terms, it is far from a perfect read, but if you’re interested in exploring 9/11 from a very different perspective then this could be for you. Rating: ● ● BV



FOR THE GURU IN YOUR LIFE (possibly yourself)

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THE RANDOM IMAGE Image: Flickr • donielle


Every issue, we pick a photograph that makes us smile. This is how they roll in LA... Have a classy Christmas! If you have a great picture you’d like to share, why not email it to us at – we may even feature it in the next issue.


Illustrations by Dave Gray

2012 is nearly here (or here already if you’re reading this in January)! In the coming months, Guru will be doing more than ever. We have more competitions, videos and articles on our website to keep you entertained over the next two months. And don’t forget – join our Feedback Group and we’ll send you a lighthearted weekly question.


There’s now also an online forum for you to air your views, and of course you can keep in touch via e-mail, Facebook and Twitter. Guru is crowd-sourced and we’re committed to letting everyone play. Issue Four is out on 1 February 2011, so who knows? Maybe you could see your name in lights next issue...


Image: Flickr • Gidzy

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