Guru Magazine: Issue 14

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ISSN 2048-2590



THE GURU TEAM Stuart Farrimond Jon Crowe

Editor / Science Guru @realdoctorstu

Deputy Editor/ Molecular Guru @crowe_jon

Ross Harper

Deputy Editor @refharper

Matt Powell

Guru Intern

Dorothée Grevers

Guru Intern

Isabel Hutchison

Guru Intern

Ian Wildsmith

Design Guru


Guru Opinions

Kim Lacey

Mind Guru @kimlacey

James Lloyd Daryl Ilbury

Physics Guru @jbb_lloyd Sceptic Guru @darylilbury

Clive Stocker Sarah Byrne Artem Cheprasov

Animal Guru

Ben Veal

Media Guru @benvealpr

Felice Tocchini Simon Makin News Guru @SimonMakin @KAPastor Kyle Pastor Matt Linsdell

Sarah Begum

(texture #16) Flickr • Asja Boroš

Fitness Guru @smartfitmatt


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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.


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PRESENT TENSE: DO LESS, LIVE MORE Do you end the day frustrated at never getting everything done? Leila Wildsmith shows us why it is worth putting an end to multi-tasking mayhem. See how choosing the slow lane may actually save you time and even make you happier. After all, there’s no time like the present.


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CROWD-SOURCED CODE CRACKING The CIA knows all. Or do they? Turns out they’ve been struggling to crack a code etched on a sculpture outside their headquarters since the late 1980s. Kim Lacey, Mind Guru extraordinare, explains why it’s baffling history’s greatest code breakers, and how the internet community is trying to crack it.


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FIVE THINGS YOU NEVER KNEW YOU NEEDED TO KNOW ABOUT SNEEZING What do sneezing and sex have in common? Our Physics Guru, James Lloyd, departs from his usual specialism to reveal the biological beauty behind his snotty habit. He debunks old wives’ tales and unearths the surprising history of bless you-ing. Go and blow your mind on page 14.


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MAKE YOUR OWN PSEUDOSCIENCE IN 5 EASY STEPS Some people do anything to make a quick buck. Sceptic Guru, Daryl Ilbury, explains the full process behind creating your very own quack medicine. From choosing your target illness, to creating the brand and marketing it, these five fool-proof steps are pseudoscientifically proven to make you rich and famous.

Musician Clive Stocker thinks that ‘talent’ shows produces celebrities that do music a disservice. He encounters folk singers Dónal Maguire and Dave Webber to find out that true music has nothing to do with a tuneful voice, but something much deeper.


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EIGHT ARMS TO HEAL YOU What do you get if you cross a spider and a prescription drug? A potential wonder drug. Sarah Byrne introduces the eight-legged spider molecule that has inspired researchers in their quest to make side-effect-free drugs. Let’s just hope they can come up with a more appealing name in the process.


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SPECIAL OFFER – BUY NOW! Let veterinarian and Animal Guru Artem Cheprasov take you through the shady back alleys of the modern day snake oil salesmen. From not so double-blind studies to foxes dressed in lab clothing, he uncovers the dirty tricks used to get you spending big money on dubious medicines for you and your pet.


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A MATTER OF LIFE AND DEATH In this issue, Ben Veal, our Media Guru, dips into the macabre-sounding A Matter of Life and Death by Paul Carroll. Does this black comedy satire of modern day mourning deserve a standing ovation or a death sentence? Check out our Gureviewer’s verdict on page 28.


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ELYSIUM It’s the sci-fi blockbuster of the year. Did its writer and director, Neil Blomkamp, manage to match his previous success with District 9, or is he better off renaming the film ‘Not Another Dystopia Movie’? Matt’s made up his mind.


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FROM THE GURU CANTEEN Award-winning TV chef, Felice Tocchini treats us to a cooking master class, combining the most unusual of flavours. If you’re feeling adventurous (and trust the science), why not try making a rainbow trout cheesecake, or, for the somewhat less daring, a sweet potato and goat’s cheese salad? It’s called food paring; we call it delicious.


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Have we got news for you… Should you be getting your Granny an X-box for X-mas? Simon Makin, our News Guru, reports on a study that put brain games to the test. Also, read about a study that (literally) shines a light in the phenomenon of false memories.


We challenged internet-savvy Kyle Pastor to hack into someone’s Wi-Fi. See how it went and how five simple steps can protect you from virtual spies and hustlers. You might never browse the internet in the same way again.

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AMERICANS DO IT WITH DOUGHNUTS A hot drink can really take the edge off a cold and windy autumn day. It can also make your sugary snacks even more delightful. Our Science Guru and dunking expert, Dr Stu, tells you all about the perks of being a dunker and how to do it right. Anyone fancy a cuppa?


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ONCE UPON A TIME IN THE AMAZON RAINFOREST Sarah Begum takes us on a walk down memory lane, which runs through the thicket of an Amazonian forest! Did she really hunt alongside tribal warriors, while musing about being reborn as a jaguar? Find out for yourself: she got it all on tape.


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WELCOME TO THE REAL WORLD Would you choose the red or the blue pill? A group of German physicists are looking for evidence that we are all living in a virtual reality. That’s right, we really could be living The Matrix, with our brains plugged into a computer somewhere. Email us when you’ve worked out how to do dodge bullets.

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Check out answers to some of our favourite questions from the past two months. Find out about the science of flower care, the cons of tactical napping and why your phone charging worries may soon come to an end.


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Jurassic Park’s science has been scrutinised, new merits of poo discovered, and time travel (of sorts) made possible through healthy living. Read all about these (and more) in this issue’s roundup of news stories you probably missed.


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PROTEIN SUPPLEMENTS Whether its solid abs, hunky biceps or He-Manesque pecs you’re striving for, Fitness Guru Matt Linsdell shows how you can bulk up just fine without investing in pricey protein shakes. Don’t believe the advertising, just tuck into his black bean chocolate brownies and get ripped. (Exercise required.)



Contents Pages: (Summer feeling) Flickr • Alfonso Salgueiro Lora

can’t resist a good mystery. Although I don’t watch a lot of TV, I have developed a fanaticism for drama-thriller shows like Scandal and Homeland. Their ever-twisting plotlines make for some pretty compelling viewing – and, when the final credits roll, you’re left wondering who are the good guys, and who are the villains. One real-life unsolved mystery that continues to baffle the CIA is the Kryptos code. Stencilled in a copper sculpture outside the agency’s headquarters, it has beaten top code breakers and supercomputers alike. In this issue, Mind Guru Kim Lacey joins those members of the internet community who are trying to crack it. From cracking to hacking, Kyle Pastor becomes the bad guy and reveals on page 39 just how easy it is to take control of someone’s Wi-Fi. He spies on everything his ‘victim’ does, and in doing so he gets inside the head of an internet voyeur – a disturbing place to be. Meanwhile, Matt Powell tries to answer life’s greatest mystery – why we are here. He finds out about the scientists who claim that we live in a Matrix-esque computer simulation.

GURU 12 • October/November 2013 • ISSN 2048-2590 © 2013 Guru Magazine Ltd.

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And what’s more, they think they can prove it. (Yes, seriously.) There’s certainly no doubting who Animal Guru, Artem Cheprasov, thinks to be the bad guys. He gives the ‘experts’ who put profit before proof a good drubbing on page 27 – and with good reason. And this issue is something of a scepticism doublewhammy, featuring Daryl Ilbury’s easy five-point guide to making your very own pseudoscience therapy. Try it for yourself on page 17. We were so taken by the idea that we have come up with our own new illness – Guropathy. Should you be afflicted with this heinous disorder, the rest of this issue will provide relief; if you’re after something different to eat, why not try the recipes on page 33? If you’re not sure what to do in your free time, check out our book and movie reviews starting on page 31. You can find out the truth about protein shakes (page 48); why life is better done slowly (page 7); and what’s currently taking the medical world by storm (page 24). Guru: your recommended dose of science-lifestyle. Consume every two months.

Dr. Stu

Guru: Your digital science-lifestyle magazine. By you and for you. Next issue released: 2nd December 2013.

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.


Present tense I wonder what you’re doing as you’re reading this. As I type, I am half watching a detective programme (I think I have worked out ‘whodunnit’); I keep checking Facebook, just in case something new has happened in the last few minutes; and I am making something to eat. I am a multitasking Queen. In fact, it is rare that I will ever be doing just one thing at once: I am always multi-tasking. And I am not alone. Multi-tasking is common in our culture; in fact, it is necessary in our culture. With increasing demands on our time and resources, lengthening to-do lists and higher expectations, we simply have to multi-task in order to accomplish everything. However, far from being an effective use of our time, recent research suggests that multitasking is actually inefficient and causes us to spend longer on each task. Carl Honoré, author of In Praise of Slowness and The Slow Fix writes, “Much of what passes for multitasking is nothing of the sort: it is sequential toggling between activities. And the research suggests that this flitting back and forth is actually very unproductive: tasks can take more than twice as long to complete when performed in this way. That’s why that history essay takes your teenage daughter (with her IMs, cellphone, MySpace page, TV monitor, etc) three hours to write instead of 90 minutes.”

What’s more, multi-tasking increases the risk of mistakes which, depending on your profession, could be life-threatening. In their Harvard Health publication, Organise Your Mind, Organise Your Life Dr. Paul Hammerness and Margaret Moore claim that multi-tasking increases the chances of making mistakes and missing important information and cues. Not only is multi-tasking ineffective and – potentially – dangerous, it is exhausting. Our brains cannot focus properly on more than one task at a time, so trying to complete two or more things at once is hugely taxing, which leaves us feeling drained. Teresa Aubele, Ph.D., and Susan Reynolds explain this in their article “Are You Smothering Your Brain’s True Genius?” in Psychology Today. So, if multi-tasking is actually a waste of our time, it leads me to wonder why we are all so obsessed with it. Multi-tasking has become such an accepted way of life that we seem unable to focus solely on the activity at hand, even in our leisure or recrea-

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(caffeinating, calculating, computerating) Flickr • Ryan Ritchie, (img_0005) Flickr • niezwyciezony

Do less, live more

(Multitasking in the Park) Flickr • David Goehring

GURU OPINIONS tional activities. This is seen increasingly in the popularity of social media sites. We no longer just enjoy a meal with loved ones, we have to share a photo of the meal as well. We no longer simply enjoy leisure pursuits, we have to let the world know too. This is even true when it comes to watching TV: we are unable to watch our favourite programmes without multi-tasking. That this is now the norm is confirmed with the new phrase “Dual Screening”, which refers to the fact that as people watch TV, they are usually also on the internet or using their phones at the same time. In fact in an online research article, TV and Social Media: A Second Screen Investigation Joel Windels (Lead Community Manager at Brandwatch) found that a staggering 60% of UK Twitter users use Twitter whilst watching TV and 40% of all Tweets sent during TV peak times is about TV. This is encouraged by TV producers who often create and promote a hashtag for Tweeters to use when commenting on the show. If it is impossible for our brains to fully attend to two tasks simultaneously, as has been suggested, then we are missing out - even in our leisure activities - despite thinking that we are achieving more. The myth that without multi-tasking we miss out has become so commonplace that we feel ineffective – lazy, even – and guilty if we are just doing one thing at a time. In a culture addicted to speed and the adrenaline buzz that comes with it, slowing down and focusing on just one thing at a time seems incomprehensible. We are part of a society in which, as Brené Brown, Ph.D., says, “our self-worth is tied to our net worth, and we base our worthiness on our level of productivity”. In such a culture, choosing to do less and to spend longer on tasks in order to accomplish them well is difficult. It is difficult because it calls into question our very identity and our sense of worth. Focusing all of our attention on just one thing at once, or on one person at a time has become uncomfortable. Being present is tense. So often we are not present in the present. Our thoughts straddle the past and the future and we are distracted by what we need to do, or should have done. But in so doing, we waste the opportunities to which each day presents us. We miss out on so much of life by trying to cram so much more into it. But our multitasking is leaving us drained and dissatisfied: no matter how many tasks we manage to tick off

our ‘To Do’ lists, there is always that nagging feeling that we could have done more, if only we had worked harder. We define ourselves by our accomplishments – we have become human doings and not human beings. The ‘Slow Movement’ is a reaction to this fastpaced, work-based life-style in which, by doing everything not as fast as possible, but as well as possible, people “do everything better and enjoy everything more”. Carl Honoré explains, “The Slow philosophy is not about doing everything at a snail’s pace. It’s about seeking to do everything at the right speed. Savouring the hours and minutes rather than just counting them. Doing everything as well as possible, instead of as fast as possible. It’s about quality over quantity in everything from work to food to parenting.” Rather than wishing we had more hours in the day, we should seek more life in the hours. Instead of believing that there is never enough time, we need to shift our thinking to understand that there is enough time if we scale back our commitments, cull our to-do lists and take control of the number of things with which we fill our lives. When we stop seeing time as a relentless master – making demands on us which we can never hope to fulfil – and start to see time as a series of unique opportunities, we will begin to find freedom from the daily grind and a deeper sense of purpose and fulfilment. So, grab yourself a cup of coffee, sit down and relax with the rest of this issue. Leila Wildsmith is an English teacher in a secondary school and, in her spare time, loves writing and reading a wide variety of different books. She also intensely dislikes misplaced apostrophe’s.

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CROWD-SOURCED CODE CRACKING It seems like so many of our biological processes are becoming joint productions between our body and a computer. If my brain fails me and I can’t remember who starred in a movie, I can quickly IMDB-it. If there is a word that’s on the tip of my tongue, there’s an app for that. And for more advanced processes in medicine or design, human-machine interaction seems to happen automatically.

Previous Page: (Antipodes) Flickr • wanderingYew2, (Enigma Machine) Flickr • Tim Gage, (Kryptos sculptor) Wikimedia • Jim Sanborn

Now, think of all the James Bond movies you’ve seen over the years. Think, too, of all the time you spent immersed in spy stories when you should have, oh, spent those evenings preparing your next Guru article (okay maybe that last one’s just me!). Whether in real life or in fiction, we are all somewhat familiar with the gadgets that spies use to increase their human senses or capabilities; espionage is no stranger to pairing humans with machines to gather, process, and decipher information more effectively. ‘Cryptanalysis’, is a traditional career path for intelligence operators, who have long worked with machines to intercept and decode enemy messages (for instance, using the Enigma machine of WWII).

Highly intricate algorithms, created to muffle sensitive national security information, can be quickly infiltrated with computer-aided analysis. As a result, even though today’s codes are increasingly sophisticated, the complexity of code-cracking technology has increased as well. But there is one code that stumps even the world’s best code breakers – Kryptos.

The Uncrackable code

Outside of the CIA headquarters in Langley, Virginia, USA there is a symbol that is indecipherable to the decoding efforts of the world’s

foremost cryptographers – humans and machines alike. Commissioned by the CIA in the late 80s, sculptor James Sanborn created Kryptos, a curved copper sculpture with a secret code on it. In an interview with National Public Radio’s All Things Considered, Sanborn remarked that his inspiration for the monument was the secrets that spies carry with them to their grave, noting that “spies can never tell anyone the secret[…]they are privy to hidden information for life.” Thus, Kryptos was born. Translated from the Greek as ‘hidden,’ the sculpture Kryptos is divided into four quadrants (K1–4). To date, all of the codes have been deciphered – except K4. K1
















H H D D D U V H ? D W K B F U F P W N T D F I YC U Q Z E R E












































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CROWD-SOURCED CODE CRACKING While Sanborn imagined that the first three quadrants would be solved in, at most, a matter of months, it took nearly a decade for someone to crack the code. Two individuals solved the K1–3: one cryptographer inside the CIA solved it with pencil and paper, while a California man designed a computer program to crack the code. (Recent reports have surfaced stating that individuals within the NSA managed to solve three of the quadrants a long time before the CIA codebreakers.)

The Answers: Yes, they’re bizarre but here’s what Sanborn encrypted. He claims the mistakes were deliberate. K1: BETWEEN SUBTLE SHADING AND THE ABSENCE OF LIGHT LIES THE NUANCE OF IQLUSION


However, since the original decoding, neither the most skilled humans nor computer cryptanalysts have been able to to decode K4’s message. (Except some of the Guru team, shhh – Ed.) In the years since its installation, multiple online groups and individuals interested in cryptography have been trying to crack the final code without success. Out of curiosity, I joined the Yahoo Kryptos group, the most popular and active group of amateurs attempting to solve the puzzle. Alas, I’m no nearer to cracking the code. (As a side note, Dan Brown’s fictional symbologist Robert Langdon caused such frenzy among the Yahoo group, that Sanborn, in a rare “clue,” noted in interviews that the novelist’s suggestions are totally false.)

Crack a secret code at home (yes, really)

But before we get ahead of ourselves, let’s talk a little about what it takes to write and crack a code. Cryptography works on the basis of sequential structure – once a certain section of the code is cracked, the remaining portions are usually understandable. The two popular types of encoding are called substitution and transposition. In The Code Book, Simon Singh defines these two techniques simply: “In transposition each letter retains its identity but changes its position, whereas in substitution each letter changes its identity but retains its position”. Confused? To illustrate, substitution ciphers simply shift the alphabet a specific number of letters; a typical substitution -4 would move “A” to the “E” slot, “B” to “F”, “C” to “G” and so forth: ‘I eat apple pie’ becomes ‘M iex ettpi tmi’


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How about a little run down of our favourite James Bond (and maybe a few other spies’) gadgets? And, hey, if you decide to make and send us the working gadgets, we’ll frame a picture of you (and then print pictures of us hideously misusing your creation). 1. Laser wristwatch: You’re telling me I could know the time and laser strangers’ faces off at the same time? Well, surprisingly, the Guru team doesn’t really need more than that. A laser wristwatch would make a brilliant Christmas gift because it’s better than a normal (muggle) watch and we could destroy the socks we always seem to get. 2. Aston Martin DB5: Does it even need the gadgets? No, it doesn’t, but no one would be able to touch you in this car. One of the first of Bond’s cars, we’ve always loved clichéd car gadgets: oil slick release, smoke and machine guns in the headlights...something is so wonderfully thrilling about all of those gadgets. Admittedly, we’ve never considered the insurance for such a beast, but let’s not ruin the magic. 3. The quantum earpiece: This is probably one of the most practical gadgets. Maybe we should rephrase that; it’s one of the only gadgets we couldn’t cause mayhem with. It gives its user the ability to listen in on conversations through walls or from a considerable distance. We’d love to have one, although the intern just wants to use it for nefarious deeds – not very spylike. 4. Exploding gum: We love this gadget. Ok, so it’s not one of Bond’s, but it was probably inspired by Bond’s exploding toothpaste in Licence to Kill. It is essential for getting yourself out of those sticky situations. But it’s not great to chew, and it’s definitely not for sharing.

Once the cryptanalyst discovers the sequence, the solution quickly appears. Some complicated ciphers substitute messages multiple times – taking our last coded message and adding another layer of substitution on top of it. On the other hand, transposition is simply an anagram – the letters are the same, but they are scrambled. This might seem easy, but as Singh explains, a simple sentence like: “For example, consider this short sentence” which contains only 35 letters has more than 50,000,000,000, 000,000,000,000,000,000,000 (fifty nonillion) combinations. So in order to solve more complex

codes, one might design an algorithm based on the frequency of certain letters in order to discover which letters represent others; and once these sequences are revealed, the decoding becomes procedural. K4 has 97 letters – nearly three times as many letters as that sample sentence. Just thinking about how many combos K4 would yield is mind blowing! All this cloak and dagger goes even further because unless you’re a CIA employee, you can’t actually see this statue in person! Any of us wishing to crack the code are limited to

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(1965 Aston Martin DB5) Flickr • Rob_sg , (159/366 - Gig killers) Flickr • p_a_h, (Jetsons Commute) Flickr • Steve Jurvetson

5. Jet pack: Does it even need an introduction? And why hasn’t someone made one yet? (Actually, they have – Ed.) It’s both a cure for un-coolness and laziness: you could fly to work and look even better than Chuck Norris. There is nothing to hate about jetpacks – except maybe if you were scared of heights or didn’t want to burn up a huge amount of fuel by flying to the bar five minutes down the road. You’d still be the coolest person there though.

CROWD-SOURCED CODE CRACKING reprints or images on the CIA website. (There is, however, a replica of Kryptos at the Smithsonian’s Hirshorn museum. Purists – take heed!) The real question I have about Kryptos is why haven’t we been able to design a computer program to crack the code? Amateurs can spend hours interrogating its meaning, but the individuals who have solved K1–3 were not ‘amateurs’ – each was highly versed in either CIA level cryptographic training or computer science. The secret of Kryptos is inaccessible to most – the code is too complicated to decipher, too complicated to create an algorithm to crack it, and too complicated to know where to begin. Kryptos is begging to be solved, and whether that solution happens with a computer, by

chance, by mathematics, or with pencil and paper, many wonder if its decoded message will really offer any relief to the swarms of devoted cryptanalysts, amateur and professional alike. (Is this a challenge to Guru readers!?)


• Elonka’s Kryptos Page • Kryptos Sculpture Mystery • The NSA cracked the Kryptos sculpture years before the CIA • Singh, S. (2000). The Code book: The Science of secrecy from ancient Egypt to quantum cryptography. New York: Anchor Books.

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.

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Sneezing, like sunlight and oxygen, is one of those things we take for granted. But behind every nasal explosion there’s a story. So the next time you have a ‘sternutation’ (yep, scientists have to rename everything), why not ponder some of these incredible facts…

Every sneeze is a masterpiece of biological engineering

It happens so quickly that it’s over before you can say “snotty shower coming your way”, but every sneeze involves an intricate, choreographed chain of events. It all starts when the sensitive lining of the nostrils becomes irritated, whether by a viral infection, pollen, pepper, dust, or the mink scarf of that woman on the subway.

This triggers the release of chemicals called ‘histamines’, which stimulate the nerve cells in the nose to send a message to the brain (something like: “help! The nostrils are being invaded!”). The brain then sends instructions along the nerves leading to the face, throat, chest and diaphragm (the sheet of muscle that sits at the bottom of the rib cage). The diaphragm contracts, filling the lungs with air. The muscles in the back of the throat and the chest then follow suit, pushing out air, mucus, and whatever nasties are inside the nose, in one big snotty explosion. The process only lasts a couple of seconds, but it can spew out thousands of droplets at speeds of up to 100mph.

Sneezing used to be seen as a good omen

If someone sneezes today, you’re most likely to mutter “bless you” and keep a safe distance lest you catch their snot disease. In the olden days, though, sneezes were loaded with meaning. Sneezes are spontaneous and apparently uncontrollable, so they were originally seen as good omens sent by the gods. One of the most auspicious sneezes occurred in the ancient Greek legend the Odyssey. Penelope is waiting for her beloved husband Odysseus to return from the Trojan War. After hearing that he may still be alive, she predicts, that upon returning, Odysseus and their son Telemachus will take revenge on her many suitors. At that moment, Telemachus sneezes, “so loudly that the whole house resounded with it”. Penelope laughs with joy, reassured that the gods are smiling down on them. Today, of course, we still invoke the gods when we say “bless you” after someone sneezes. No one knows exactly where this came from, but there are a few theories. For instance, a number of age-old superstitions link sneezes to evil spirits: some people thought that sneezes could eject the soul from the body (where it might be snatched by Satan); others thought that sneezes purged the body of demons or evil spirits that had possessed it. In both cases, saying “bless you” was a way to safeguard the sneezer against evil. Another popular explanation is that “bless you” became a common phrase during great pandemics like the Black Death. If someone sneezed, it was a sign that they had become infected and would probably pop their clogs in the not-too-distant future. So the response was a kind of benediction which sent them on their way. (It’s one of those responses you’d rather not hear – Ed.) Whatever the reason, virtually all of the world’s cultures have a similar way of wishing sneezers good health. Germans simply say “Gesundheit” (“health”), Hawaiians say “kihe a mauli ola” (“sneeze and you shall live”), while Cantonese speakers say “大吉利事”, which literally means “a great fortunate occurrence” – a positive view of sneezing if ever there was one.

Sneezing does not make your eyeballs pop out

Popular belief has it that your eyeballs will pop out of your head if you sneeze without closing

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Previous Page: (Day 286, Project 365 - 8.6.10) Flickr • William Brawley, (pollen) Flickr • theogeo

It all starts with a faint tickle in the nose. The eyes begin to water, the chest heaves, and the body tenses. There’s nothing you can do now. The tension builds, suspense mounts, you clasp your hand to your mouth, and then ah… ah… ah… tchoooooooo!

FIVE THINGS YOU NEVER KNEW YOU NEEDED TO KNOW ABOUT SNEEZING rival orgasmic pleasure, Ann Summers surely would’ve launched a range of pepper mills by now. Orgasms and sneezes aren’t completely dissimilar, of course – they both involve a build-up of tension followed by a joyous release, and there’s evidence that sneezing, like sex, can release endorphins – but they’re created by two completely different mechanisms. (Alas, the science of orgasms will have to wait for another time.) your eyes. But fear not: it’s a complete myth. In fact, it’s perfectly possible to sneeze with your eyes open, as they’re firmly attached to your head via muscles. We do usually shut our eyes when we sneeze, but that’s because it’s an involuntary reflex. The nerves serving the eyes and nose are closely linked, so signals to one can easily trigger a response in the other. And, contrary to another common belief, sneezing doesn’t make your heart momentarily stop either: it’ll still valiantly beat on as you spew out that snot.

(Day 38) Flickr • |Chris|

Sneezing can be triggered by sunlight, sex, and full stomachs

It’s not just nasty things in the air that can trigger sneezes: approximately one in four people sneeze when looking at sunlight. No one knows exactly what causes this ‘photic sneeze reflex’, but one possibility is that signals from the optic nerve overstimulate the nerves involved in sneezing: our brain essentially gets its wires crossed and initiates a sneeze when it really doesn’t need to. But it gets weirder still. Some people suffer uncontrollable bouts of sneezing after a large meal (this is marvellously called ‘snatiation’ – a portmanteau of ‘sneeze’ and ‘satiation’), while others report sneezing when aroused, orgasming, or even just thinking sexual thoughts. So the next time someone sneezes opposite you, give them a wink and see how they react (or call them a pervert and act disgusted). And while we’re on the subject of sex, six sneezes do not make an orgasm (nor eight, ten, or any other number). If sneezes really could

Counting sneezes can be strangely therapeutic

People like to make lists of all manner of unusual things, but sneezing is surely up there with the best of them. A chap called Peter Fletcher has kept a record of every sneeze he’s made since July 2007 (that’s 3,644 sneezes at the time of going to press). As well as the time, date and location of each sneeze, he also assesses its strength (from ‘mild’ to ‘strong’) and notes down what he was doing at the time (e.g. ‘preparing porridge’, ‘googling Citroën Xsara Picasso’). “What’s the point?!” you might be asking. Well, according to a blog post titled “Reflections on the Counting of Sneezes”, this peculiar practice can have a curiously therapeutic effect. In the words of the man himself, counting sneezes “not only acts to highlight, intensify and enhance the experiences that accompany a sneeze, but also the events that fall between the sneezes, giving me a more profound understanding, even than I had before, of the simple joy in the passing of time, as recently when I stopped to watch a blackbird in my garden, over the course of five or six minutes, methodically peck away at a large grape until the remaining section was small enough to swallow whole, and then fly away.” So maybe it’s not an idea to be sneezed at after all…

Further reading: • • •

Sneezecount Responses to sneezing around the world More on the photic sneeze reflex

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.

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MAKE YOUR OWN PSEUDOSCIENCE IN 5 EASY STEPS When I was director of a science communications company, one of our biggest challenges was to try and dispel the myth embraced by many children that science was difficult to understand. Now that was difficult, because often science is difficult to understand. And this is one of the reasons why pseudoscience is so attractive; because it often makes sense, in a ridiculous kind of way. Ignorance can indeed be bliss sometimes. To show you just how easy it is to get a grip on pseudoscience, I’ve created a step-by-step guide to create your own. If you were in any doubt as to why you might want to do this, there are two very good reasons:

The most obvious is money. A lot of people still get fooled into believing pseudoscience, and there’s a lot of money to be made from ripping off the uninformed. Making your own pseudoscience can be like taking candy from a baby. (However, while many enjoy the sweet taste of success, you Guru readers have morals.) Another reason is that it’s good for a laugh, because pseudoscience should never really be taken seriously (unless, of course, people are capitalising on human ignorance and making money from it, which is immoral – see point 1 above). So let’s make this a fun exercise. Try it on your friends or family, and when they wonder as to how amazing it sounds, you can drop the bombshell and everyone can have a laugh. It’s really easy. Any idiot can do it – which is why idiots often do. Let’s choose one of the more prevalent forms of pseudoscience: ‘alternative’ medicine.

Step 1:

Step 2:

Identify a malady Think supply and demand: choose a malady that is common and, preferably, not visually specific or that needs real, specialised medical attention. So, steer clear of skin ailments or acute conditions. Stick to conditions that are associated with a busy lifestyle. ‘Tension’ is a good one – it’s vague, common and has various causes and symptoms.

Invoke the triumvirate You need to isolate a cause, so that you can prescribe your ‘treatment’. To be faithful to the pseudoscience formula, you need to be both specific and sketchy at the same time. The best way to do this is to invoke the trusty alternative medicine triumvirate of ‘body, mind and spirit’. Play around with the concepts of a ‘blockage’, ‘impediment’, ‘disassociation’, or ‘fracture’ within said triumvirate; and preferably imply some measure of fault on the part of the patient. That way, when you tell them it’s not their fault they’ll automatically feel better.

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Step 3: Attach ancient wisdom Illogically, mysticism is often used to validate pseudoscience. Many alternative medicines claim a connection with past, ‘lost’ (read ‘extinct’) civilisations. Think Mayans and Aztecs. Of course, if these civilisations were so wise, it begs the question why they are now extinct. The mix of mysticism and real science (see Step 4) is a key characteristic of most ‘alternative’ medicines.

~graphy (if it supposedly records something; such as their ‘spirit’)

~oscopy (if it supposedly involves the

placing of anything in or near the body. Gently prodding with a permanent marker could therefore be called ‘penoscopy’)

~metry (if it supposedly measures

something that can’t be measured; e.g. ‘soulometry’)

~desis (if it supposedly involves the

binding of two things; e.g. ‘mind and spirit’)

~ectasia (if it supposedly involves making

something bigger; e.g. mind, such as ‘pyschectasia’)

~iform (if something takes on the form of something; e.g. ‘vitaliform’)

~genic (if it produces something; such as a calming effect – think ‘calmigenic’)

Step 4: Name it!

As I said in the preamble to the Sceptic Quiz in the last edition of Guru, pseudoscience wouldn’t be called ‘pseudo’ science if it didn’t take on the appearance of science in some way – and the easiest way to appear scientific is to use a scientific-sounding name. If you want your alternative ‘medicine’ or ‘treatment’ to sound scientific, try affixing any one of the following suffixes:

~iatry (if it focuses on a specific part

of the mind, body or spirit; e.g. ‘spectreitry’)

~lysis (if it involves the separation of

something; such as mind from the body)

~pathy (if it supposedly involves

addressing a negative condition; think ‘aurapathy’ as if they have a negative ‘aura’).

Remember, if in doubt; just throw in the term ‘therapy’.

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Step 5: Prescribe a ‘treatment’ Medical science would agree that removing oneself from the causes of tension would help to relieve its symptoms. Therefore the ‘treatment’ for your fabricated, now named, malady should involve placing the ‘patient’ in a warm, comforting environment, preferably lying down, surrounded by calming music and the subtle scent of flowers. Whilst their eyes are closed, pretend to treat the malady in Step 1 by addressing the disruption of the triumvirate you’ve suggested in Step 2. Think ‘realign’ or ‘unblock’. Using a calming voice, continually reassure the patient that the malady has been identified and the ‘treatment’ will be effective. Hey, if it works for homeopathy, it’ll work for you! If you’re still worried about whether the ‘patient’ will find a ‘cure’ in your ‘treatment’, keep a bunch of rock crystals handy: they look pretty and people believe they’re imbued with healing properties.

So there you have it: 5 steps to creating your own pseudoscience. Told you it was easy.

Daryl Ilbury is a multi-award winning broadcaster and op-ed columnist based in South Africa. He has a passion for science that has burned since he was a child. You can see an archive of his work on his website or follow him on Twitter at @darylilbury.

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(Donal Maguire and Sean Corcoran) Flickr • candyschwartz

American Idol judge Simon Cowell is now the top TV earner in the US. He and Howard Stern, judge on America’s Got Talent, both net $95m a year. Such is our obsession with stardom. Celebrating musical ability is all well and good, but what if it gets drowned out by the desire to be famous?

Earlier in the summer, I encountered acclaimed folk singer Dónal Maguire for the first time. He discussed the songs a musician chooses to sing, and how a singer’s attitude affects their performance. As a music lecturer I was intrigued, but did not expect that what he had to say would be earth-shattering. I was somewhat mistaken. Most of us believe that there are those that have singing voices and those that do not. This isn’t true, according to Dónal, who thinks there is no such thing as a ‘good singing voice’.

Dónal claims that the musicians who perform with lasting musical success are those who understand a song and seek to communicate its meaning with an audience. They do this by thinking about how best they can use the voice with which they were born. Dónal asserts that if your goal is merely to entertain, as we see so often on ‘talent’ shows, then you will be selling yourself short. The desire to impress others is a very poor starting point – an important lesson that I have learned over the years: trying to play fast solos with the intention to impress or trying to sing like one of my vocal idols has led me nowhere. Exploring the song and investigating its meaning is the essential and only route to musical mastery. Maguire explained that it usually takes him three to four months to truly learn a song. Only then, he says, can he know exactly how he will perform each verse and how the meaning will come across at any point. And, interestingly, when he practices, he spends much of the time singing the songs inside his head, working out how best to deliver each line. It was a rare insight into the practice of a professional musician who often performs unaccompanied vocal solos all over the world. His weren’t just empty words: after talking with me, he stepped up to perform a couple of songs in front of a small audience. I was taken aback. His intensity and fluency were incredible; the songs were a part of him and I felt connected with every word. It was like hearing a story from a good friend over the dinner table: each word had its part to play, and each line was delivered slightly differently to convey meaning – all with complete musical fluency. I can’t describe what kind of voice he had because it adapted and changed with each song; the range of dynamics, the variety of tone, the pitch slides, the accents in the music, the varying of tempo, the rigid tempo sections, the pulling of the beat, the precise pitching, the pauses, the silence, the use of vibrato – all were used sparingly and unobtrusively. The end result was hypnotic and very moving. He seemed truly at one with his music, bringing forth a few tears of sadness in a song by Sean Mone, from Keady in Co Armagh, called ‘Rosalita and Jack Campbell.’ The song speaks of a young couple living in Belfast in the violence of the 1970s: “When the sun set behind the black mountain, the street demons came out to dance.”

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Toxic Celebrity Vocals

There are other musicians who have something to say about singing with meaning. Folk singer Dave Webber is passionate about the modern pursuit of “Toxic Celebrity Vocals”. In agreement with Dónal Maguire, he claims that too many artists seek celebrity status above the establishment of musical meaning and believe that endless melismas (like the yodelling of Mariah Carey) and vocal embellishments are the way to achieve it. We all know that contestants on X-Factor (another of Simon Cowell’s creations) make their way through the competition by imitating the latest chart-topping, vocal acrobat style – only to find they are dropped by their record company 8 months later. Knowing your song, knowing your lyrics,

knowing their meaning and thinking about how to perform each song are all key to a meaningful musical performance – a performance that transcends any reliance on pyrotechnics. And while they may not reach the same heights of fame (or infamy), the shelf life of a folk singer is considerably longer than that of your average pop star. I believe that it is carefully considered musical subtlety and sparing use of musical features that truly connects music with an audience. Musicians: shun trying to please people and remember that less is more. “For Sale: Baby Shoes, Never Worn.” The entirety of a six-word novel, attributed to Ernest Hemmingway.

Clive Stocker lectures on music performance in Bath, UK, and is the author of How to become a Confident Musical Performer. He is currently obsessed with expanding musical performers’ comfort zones and has no plans to enter X-Factor at this stage. You can read his blog here.

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(Bromyard during the Folk Festival 2012) Flickr • brianac37






In the US, over four billion medical prescriptions were issued in the last year. For a population of roughly 300 million, that’s a lot of pills. It’s the aging population that skews the results to make us seem like we are pill-popping fiends: as more people are living longer, more are taking medication to treat the maladies of old age. And it is not much different in other developed countries around the world, where millions of older people are taking a daily cocktail of tablets – ranging from painkillers to potentially lifesaving blood pressure drugs, to cholesterollowering medicines and psychiatric drugs for anxiety and depression. It’s no wonder that drug design is big business. But designing new medicines that are both effective and safe is only half the battle. The next challenge is how to get those drugs to the part of the body where they need to act. Whenever a drug strays to a part of the body it wasn’t intended for, side-effects are often the result.

Mission (near) Impossible You probably don’t think much about what happens to a pill after you swallow it. As long as it eases your headache, keeps your allergies under control, or even stops you getting pregnant, why would you? But the contents of that nondescript-looking little capsule have a truly epic journey to go on before it reaches its destination and completes its quest to make you better. First, it has to survive the hostility of the stomach, which is awash with car battery strength hydrochloric acid. This presents a particular problem for the many drug molecules that are small proteins (peptides), which are especially sensitive to acidic conditions. And then there are the digestive enzymes throughout the gut that break down our food. Many of these enzymes are designed to break down and digest protein-rich foods like meat, eggs, or nuts. Unfortunately, these enzymes have a nasty habit of breaking apart the proteins in our medicines as if they were protein in our food. Injecting the medication directly into the bloodstream to bypass the guts is a reasonable alternative – though not without its own problems. Injections are more difficult to administer than a capsule, and more painful and unpleasant than simply swallowing a pill. Additionally, the bloodstream is not the serenely flowing river its name might suggest – at least from the perspective of a tiny and fragile protein molecule. Once in the fast-flowing blood, the medicine molecules are exposed to extreme shear forces – forces that can literally tear proteins apart or cause them to become distorted and unfolded, rendering them useless.

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Previous Page: (Spider) Flickr • carolynconner, (ill.) Flickr • Key Foster

The notion of a spider walking on the inside of your veins sounds like the stuff of gothic horror. Make it a ‘nanotechnology spider’ and it sounds more like science fiction. But that’s how a new eight-legged creation could revolutionise the future of medicine. Researchers at the Helmholtz Centre for Infection Research have made a spider-like molecule as the latest hope in the search for new ways of getting therapeutic drugs to the places in the body where they’re meant to act: their targets.

EIGHT ARMS TO HEAL YOU High speed tearing forces aren’t the only challenge presented by the bloodstream. It is also home to the white cells of the immune system, which monitor for and dispose of any ‘foreign’ substances. While being vital for protecting us from disease, this activity can be an additional obstacle to drug molecules trying to reach their destination if the white blood cells earmark them as enemies. It gets worse: some parts of the body are a particular challenge for our little drug molecule to get to. For example, anything that needs to get to the brain must cross what is called the ‘blood-brain barrier’: a formidable defence system that protects the brain from toxins or infectious particles that might have found their way into the bloodstream. And even when there is no physical barrier – such as the one between the blood supply and the brain – we often need a drug to build up within a particular organ or in a tumour for it to do its job – but there’s a chance it could be flushed out before it has the chance to take effect. So, over and over again, the very mechanisms that protect us from harm are working against our pharmaceutical efforts to heal ourselves.

drug molecules on its arms, thereby increasing the amount of drug that is delivered with each protein molecule. Its natural role in the body also means that it will not be toxic or be destroyed by our natural defences. The ideal situation, however, would be to make a ‘transporter’ that has the ability to perform its own healing functions – at which point we enter the futuristic realm of ‘synthetic biology’, whereby we design and construct molecules which carry out their assigned tasks. Achieving this would mean working on a tiny scale – the so-called nanoscale (things the size of 0.0000001 cm). Multi-armed structures, like the spider protein, have become popular amongst researchers due to the potential for loading up the arms with the cargo of your choice. Nanobots – microscopic robots – are the ultimate goal for some. They offer the vision not only to deliver medicines to a specific ‘address’ but also to perform repairs to damaged tissues. Such developments are likely to be a long way off, but would truly revolutionise medicine if they could be made to work.

(Blood Cells) Flickr • Andrew Mason, (Hexbug Crab) Flickr • MonkeySimon

Creepy-crawly curers How, then, can we overcome this paradox? The ‘spider protein’ (otherwise known as ‘C4BP’) is an attempt to do just this. C4BP is a naturallyoccurring protein, which forms part of our immune system, helping to protect the body against bacteria. It has a spider-like structure consisting of eight ‘arms’ extending out from a central body. It is a protein that comes from the immune system and has the resilience needed to survive in the bloodstream. Most remarkably – and unlike most proteins, which only work at temperatures up to about 40⁰C – it can also survive boiling temperatures. (Of course, it’s not going to encounter boiling temperatures in the body, but it’s an impressive feat nonetheless.) Its robustness makes the spider molecule ideal to carry drugs throughout the body and to its intended target. Researchers envisage ‘decorating’ each spider protein with seven

I imagine it would be difficult to persuade many people to be injected with mini-spiders. Perhaps, then, comparisons to creepy crawlies would be best avoided.

Sarah Byrne has a background in computational biology and is based in London, UK. Her speculative fiction and science writing can be found at

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SPECIAL OFFER – BUY NOW! One of my biggest pet peeves is bad science. I turn blood-red at the thought of having to read another utterly mismanaged ‘scientific study’, revealing nothing more than the idiocy of its own methods, results, and conclusions. But what’s worse is that some people, including the researchers themselves, use this bad science to rip you off. These people are no better than the 19th century snake oil salesmen, who peddled little bottles of ‘miracle cures’ that turned out to be bottles of God only knows what. Some of today’s scientists, doctors, veterinarians, and greedy businessmen abuse the scientific method – humanity’s best measure of whether something works – to make a fast buck at your emotional, physical, and not to mention, financial expense. Now, I’ve nothing against financial gain – but I would rather not walk around with oily money in my hand. So why do I feel such rage? The problem is that these people are bastardising and manipulating the science, touting study after study and using impressive-sounding terms, in order to convince you that their treatment works. They sound authentic and it’s hard to spot the magical deception – unless we are trained to do so. That’s why the snake oil of today is far more sinister than that of days gone by.

claims). This is a typical example of the logical fallacy known as the ‘appeal to authority’ – a claim that we are expected to believe because it comes from an ‘expert’, albeit an expert from the wrong field. But other seemingly magical claims are more sinister. There are ‘scientific studies’ that are double-checked by scientific peers prior to publishing, which nevertheless amount to nothing more than fluff. Sometimes the researchers try to give a sense of objectivity by using what’s known as the blind or double blind approach, methods normally used to weed out bias. A double blind study is the best research method we have, and it boils down to this: half of the test subjects picked at random are given a new treatment, and the other half are given a placebo – a dummy drug. Neither the test subjects (the patients) nor the researchers or doctors know who is getting the placebo and who is getting the actual treatment.

Previous Page: (Snake oil, Sapa) Flickr • Jeremy Weate

“Trust me, I’m a doctor” Sometimes, this scientific misdirection amounts to nothing more than a name. I recently saw a commercial for a pet breath freshener (something that looks like the human tongue scraper) that featured an individual calling himself ‘Doctor’. A member of the public watching the commercial would doubtless assume he was a veterinarian because of the context in which he was appearing – promoting a pet health product. Yet a bit of internet searching revealed nothing of the sort: he was not a medical practitioner of any kind (which would help to explain his utterly ridiculous

Yet even the double blind approach is not foolproof. For example, some studies may ‘blind’ the researcher and participant to what is being used in the study, but the evaluation of how well the product works may still rely on an opinion-based scoring system, instead of a measured analysis. So, the results – and the study itself – rely on subjective techniques, not

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objective measurements. The likelihood of these subjective analyses giving a false result is even higher in studies with a small number of participants – and often the participants of the study, be it the doctor or the patient, can actually tell if they were given the placebo or control drug even before the study is over. How do you think that will influence the subjective scoring system in a ‘double blinded’ study?

Bad science = lots of suckers Unfortunately, poor designs such as these have been used in a lot of studies that have reported beneficial effects – everything from acupuncture and nutraceutical joint supplements to stem cell therapies for animals. Yet people continue to use them with nothing more than blind faith, hoping that a scientist who found a positive result was able to be unbiased even in the face of a subjective scoring system. Allow me to let you in on a big secret: someone with a doctorate or a practicing doctor is a human – and isn’t always unbiased. In the world of veterinary medicine, this is even truer. My animal patients cannot tell me how they actually feel (something that is in and of itself subjective) and my clients may not be the most reliable when it comes to indicating whether Fido is limping more today than he was one month ago. Therefore, is the drug I gave Fido for arthritis actually working for his individual needs? Or is Fido just having a good day, never

mind his treatment for arthritis or lack thereof? Do I stop or switch treatments? One thing I can be sure about is that our senses are inherently unreliable. It’s a part of being human. Consider our sense of taste: a dish that’s too spicy for one person may have just the right ‘kick’ for someone else. The same meal that is beautifully laid out on a plate will taste nicer than one that is slopped in a bowl. All too often, however, study designers know that much more objective methods of measurement will yield the ‘wrong’ results – or they simply aren’t willing to finance these typically more expensive options. Therefore, we’re stuck with a lot of information based on subjectivity, even from seemingly objective studies. As an important side note, research that fails to show that a treatment works has a tendency to end up in the dog bowl. Or put another way, there is little glamour in proving that something doesn’t work. This factor may subconsciously influence researchers to conduct studies that are more likely to have a positive result. Why would they waste all that time, money, and effort on a negative result, only to not be recognized for their hard work? If you flip a coin fifty times and get 27 heads, does that mean that the coin is always more likely to land on a head? No. And in the same way, every piece of research needs to be analysed statistically to find out whether changes are

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(The old dog) Flickr • *therovingsheep


SPECIAL OFFER – BUY NOW! real or arise merely through chance. While the chances are small, there is always the possibility that through dumb luck alone, a ‘favorable’ statistical result will finally occur – especially if the ‘negative’ results never see the light of day. That’s why the best studies are repeated and independently verified in order to minimise the impact of such luck or scientific machination.

(Don’t forget to take your Wonder Oil) Flickr • liquidnight

Proof by talk show What’s worse is that the media feeds on these bad studies, claims, and products. We would all like an easy solution to complex issues and everyone wants the best for themselves, their pet, and their wallet. Who wouldn’t want to do everything possible to help Fido? Typically, the media reports a great story about a new, easy-to-implement solution; the company then makes a killing, and all of us who bought the product feel a heartwarming hope. You never hear about the owners whose animals didn’t get results, or the research study that showed no benefit, do you? That type of story wouldn’t get the same ratings nor make the same money for everyone involved (unless, of course, a lot of patients are dying, which always boosts ratings). It gets even more disturbing. When I have questioned some companies or organizations claiming their products have positive effects, I am invariably given the silent treatment. You would expect that a company with a robust, worthwhile product would have no problem using the most concrete scientific methods to prove their product works. You wouldn’t need to hide from objective criticism because you’d have nothing to hide from, right? So who’s at fault here? In short: everyone. Complacent veterinarians who don’t do their homework; consumers who subconsciously justify the precious time, emotion, and money they spend on a product by seeing ‘results’ that would have occurred even without the snake oil; and the companies that sell it. And the dividends from this false hope are hardly shared evenly. What does the consumer end up with? A warm fuzzy feeling. The companies that sell it? Thousands of dollars per stem cell procedure, millions of dollars in sales for the

tongue scraper, and billions of dollars in global sales for nutraceutical and herbal ‘medicines’. I have some solutions to this problem, but I know that not many people will adopt them. Anything in life that’s truly good for you always comes as a result of some very hard work or extreme luck. But it’s easier to forget that and ignore the problem – just like those companies who’ve ignored real science. In the end, don’t take what you read in newspapers or online at face value. Dr. Google has no MD. Most of the people that write about these things in online or print media don’t actually read or understand the complex study they are writing about, or at worst are in the pocket of some organization looking to profit from your ignorance. Ultimately, buying any ‘treatment’ will probably make you feel better about yourself, regardless of whether it works. And it has been shown that the more you spend on a placebo, the more likely you are to think that it works. If you think that’s a price worth paying, then spend away – the snake oil merchants are counting on you.

Born in St. Petersburg, Russia, Artem Cheprasov moved to the U.S. when he was a little boy. So no, he is not a spy. Or is he? He finished his studies in veterinary medicine in the top 10% of his class, conducted research, and discovered a cool mathematics algorithm; but we cannot confirm this as both Washington and Moscow have refused to comment on this matter because he really is a spy or, more likely, they have no idea who he even is.

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Book Review

A MATTER OF LIFE AND DEATH Author: Paul Carroll Publisher: Matador Price: £6.47 (Amazon UK), £5.14 (Kindle) Rating:

The one certainty in life is that we are all destined to be faced with death. The grief and suffering that comes with it is an emotional topic at the best of times, and rarely the stuff of modern fictional satire – especially here in the UK, where stiff-upper-lip mentality is the norm.

As a Public Relations professional, it was no surprise that former PR man Paul Carroll’s debut novel, A Matter of Life and Death, piqued my interest. I was initially attracted by the book’s macabre cover art, and further intrigued by the novel’s synopsis: a modern-day take on mourning, which taps into Generation Z’s need to feel connected to one another and to celebrate life’s accomplishments. Carroll’s debut novel centres on Farren Mortimer, an entrepreneur behind a hugely-successful business known as A Matter of Life and Death, or AMOLAD for short. Dubbed ‘Mr. Eulogy’ by the press, Mortimer has grown a business empire by putting the ‘fun’ into funerals by offering a range of services including bio-vids and online memorial pages. We join Mortimer, recently appointed as the Government’s ‘bereavement czar’, exactly one year before the first People’s Remembrance Day (PRD) – a newly-created national British holiday allowing workers one day off work to mourn the departure of loved ones. It’s a holiday designed to tap into the public’s passion for mass mourning, as demonstrated in the wake of Princess Diana’s death. This upcoming ‘celebration’ irks both religious groups and

the traditional funeral industry alike – and Mortimer is the driving force behind its imminent success. Whilst paving the way for morbid revelry, Mortimer contends with a host of memorable characters. There’s corporate in-fighting with AMOLAD’s ambitious Operations Director Jon, who is intent upon taking the concept even further; unwanted conversations with footballer’s-wife-turned-roadsafety-campaigner Annie Brooks (figurehead of HASTE – Help Arrest Speed Through Education); tabloid attention from limelight-seeking showbiz journalist Kieran McDonaghy; ongoing critique from the influential anonymous Tweeter known only as @wappinglie; and frequent public attacks from an anarchist graffiti street artist called Smudger. And to make matters worse, this all happens as Mortimer is coming to terms with the imminent death of his adopted father. As the clock ticks ever-closer to the launch of People’s Remembrance Day, and the difficulties mount for Mortimer, it seems almost inevitable that things are not going to run smoothly for the Government’s next big initiative. AMOLAD is a richly-woven and deliciously dark take on grief and loss, set against the interconnected, PR-savvy world in which we all live. While it may sound unlikely from the premise, in a bizarre way it is a heartening tale of family bonds, history, and standing up for what you believe in – even when those beliefs are at odds with popular culture. Mortimer, whose moral compass is surprisingly well aligned for a man profiting from misery, is a relatable central figure pushed to the edge by spiraling events – culminating in a chilling finale, which will stay with you long after the book is finished. As a fellow PR, I certainly appreciated Carroll’s public relations and media insight, which shines through from the outset. He makes cynical, yet astute, observations on the world of celebrity, and the ways in which the media plays personalities off against one another to its own end. It is uncomfortably accurate, if somewhat exaggerated for effect. A Matter of Life and Death is a cutting tale of mass culture, and the way in which we all feel the need to be constantly linked to one another while fighting to be the centre of attention – even when we are no longer here to receive the affirmation. Immensely readable, sharp and surprisingly funny, A Matter of Life and Death is a strong first effort and hopefully a sign of things to come. If you like your fiction – and your humour – dark, then this is a book definitely deserving of your attention.

Ben Veal is a Public Relations and Digital Marketing professional based in Wiltshire, UK. A big fan of film and literature, Ben also writes for the Daily Mirror about the rather unusual sport that is professional wrestling. Find out more about Ben at www. The GuReview rating system:






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Film Review

ELYSIUM Writer/Director: Neil Blomkamp Released: 21st of August 2013 Running Time: 109 minutes Rating: So what’s Earth like in the year 2154? Well, it’s fairly bleak: a scorched Earth, gangs, orphans, and a robot police who take the idea of ‘no tolerance’ to its extreme. This is the dystopian Earth as Neil Blomkamp imagines – the same director who brought you the cult classic District 9, which was a success both in its story, characters, and political undertones. In Blomkamp’s imagined future, the wealthy live in a space station far from the poor, who are forced to stay on a ruined and polluted Earth. The poor are refused the high-tech medical care of their wealthy counterparts, leaving them susceptible to diseases that could otherwise be cured in a matter of minutes. The movie’s protagonist, Max, played by Matt Damon, is an ex-con who is desperately trying to sort out his life and who finds stability working at a robot production factory in future L.A. Max is known as a notorious and clever criminal who finds himself in a compromising situation after he receives a lethal dose of radiation. He is forced to accept a job which could save him – but one that comes with more risks than he is aware of. Elysium’s premise makes it a movie worthy of a watch and the credentials of Neil Blomkamp and Matt Damon should also pique your interest. It features stunning special effects, which include the landscapes of a ruined Earth and the interior of the Elysium space station, which are so wonderful they appear real. (Thankfully they aren’t.) Not to mention, the robots, weaponry, and almost-but-not-quite-believable technology. You’ve got to forget the science: brain implants that can upload data but that kill the user when downloaded (at least when the plot demands it) , and a floating atmosphere on the

Elysium space station that somehow doesn’t float off into space. And we certainly aren’t meant to ask where the Elysium inhabitants get their wine from. Personally, I found that the gun shootouts were the best and most engaging part of the movie, being shot as if with a handheld camera. (But, hey, I’m a sucker for big screen explosions). Even without knowing that District 9 and Elysium were directed by the same person, you would probably make the connection between the two movies: both use a science fiction premise to make a political point about racism and inequality. Unfortunately Elysium runs into problems beyond the special effects and action scenes. Matt Damon tries his best with a character so flat it could have been pulled straight from a video game. The story – what little there is of it – is both predictable and, in some cases, bordering on non-existent. Don’t expect any clever twists and turns – you will probably guess the ending within the first twenty minutes of the movie (or after reading this review). The other characters of the movie are similarly one-dimensional, although I will say that Sharlto Copley (Wikus van de Merwe in District 9) plays a fine villain, even if utterly clichéd. In a similar vein to District 9, Elysium is an allegory of social inequality: the rich live in another ‘world’ where good health, advanced technology, and prosperity reign. The poor are left in an impoverished ghetto-like Earth with a droid police force who ruthlessly oppresses them. Stressing the ever-widening gap between the poor and the rich, Elysium has all the subtlety of an exploding Death Star. If you dig deeper into the partially hidden meanings of this movie, you could say that Blomkamp wants to highlight how the wealthy destroy our Earth to earn more money, and how we all have to deal with the consequences. Overall, Elysium is an exciting, if intellectually undemanding, movie to watch. As with many Sci-Fi movies, scientific plausibility is ignored for the sake of the narrative. The glaring plot holes, uninspiring script and superficial characters are a continuous reminder of how good this movie could have been – and how far it fell from its mark. It won’t be a movie that you’ll cherish and you’re only likely to remember the special effects, explosions, and big guns. But then, if you’re like me, then that isn’t a complete disaster.

Matt Powell is a graduate from Oxford, obsessed with all things space orientated. Besides being the meanest ukulele player to grace the English countryside, Matt spends his time reading, writing and walking. He was also the Summer 2013 Guru Intern. The GuReview rating system:




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FROM THE GURU CANTEEN Unless you are a particularly sophisticated eater, you probably haven’t sampled these two dishes, created by T.V. chef, Felice Tocchini. Felice owns an award-winning restaurant and has a strange preoccupation with trying to get everyone to eat more sweet potatoes (see the first recipe). There is some sense behind the madness, as Felice incorporates a science called ‘food pairing’ into his quirky cuisine. Red wine and meat go together, as do tomatoes and basil, but food pairing turns this art of food-combining into a science: scientists examine the chemicals that constitute the flavours of certain foods and then pair them with other foods that share the same chemicals. Some of the results are more than a little


surprising – but often work well. For example, you could eat a bacon and strawberry salad, their shared flavours blending together in an explosion of culinary delight. The principle of food pairing was covered extensively in Issue 5, and some strange combinations were sampled in episode one of the Guru podcast (with varying levels of success). So while enthusiasm for a seafood cheesecake may be low, a potato and cheese salad can’t be that offensive to the senses. Have fun with the following recipes, and if you’re uncertain, try them on your friends and family first – loved ones make such good guinea pigs!

Serves 4 people

“This is fantastic with some warm walnut crusty bread!” Ingredients • 1 large sweet potato • 2 spring onions, sliced • Small bunch of rocket • 2 tsp honey • Juice of ½ lemon • 2 tsp sesame oil • extra virgin olive oil • 4 slices of goat’s cheese • 50g black and white sesame seeds • Salt and pepper

Method 1. Peel the sweet potato and, with the help of a mandoline*, slice lengthwise into thin little strips. (If you don’t have a mandoline you can simply carry on with the potato peeler to obtain thin slices.) 2. Dress the sweet potato with the honey, a little salt and pepper, sesame oil and a little olive oil. Mix well and place in the fridge for 20 minutes. 3. In the meantime, drizzle the goat’s cheese with a little olive oil and top with the sesame seeds; place under a grill for 3 or 4 minutes, or until the cheese starts to melt and the seeds are golden. 4. Add the rocket and onion to the sweet potato and mix. 5. Place a generous handful of salad on the centre of the plate, top with the slices of goat’s cheese and serve. *A mandoline is a cooking utensil used for slicing and for cutting. You can buy one in any good kitchen shop.

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Serves 4 people

Ingredients Base • 25g butter, melted • 6 wholemeal biscuits, crushed Filling • 200g smoked trout • 150g mascarpone • 75ml natural yoghurt • 50g crème fraiche • 60g butter • 1.5 tsp horseradish sauce • 1.5 tsp chopped dill • 1.5 tbsp chopped spring onion • Juice of ¼ lemon • Salt and pepper • ¼ tsp of mace or nutmeg • 10ml brandy

Method 1. Prepare the base by mixing together the biscuits and butter. Press into four moulds and leave to set. 2. Combine cheese and yoghurt together, add the lemon juice, horseradish, dill, onion, and mace, and mix well. 3. Add the flaked smoked trout and butter. 4. Adjust the seasoning and place in the mould (level to the top).

If you like the sweet potato recipe and want more, visit Recipes and images © Felice Tocchini

5. Leave in the refrigerator to set.

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October/November 2013

Reporting the news you might have missed...

MIND Does your memory fail you sometimes? Convinced something happened when there’s proof it didn’t? It happens to the best of us, and it’s a mystery that science is finally starting to solve. Researchers have managed to create false memories in mice by controlling groups of cells in a specific part of the hippocampus, a brain region crucial for memory. Their work sheds light on how memory fundamentally works, and may offer the first real insight into the biology of false memories in humans – a phenomenon that has, among other things, resulted in people being wrongly imprisoned (only to be later exonerated by DNA evidence). Susumu Tonegawa and colleagues at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology bred genetically engineered mice with brain cells in their hippocampus that could be activated with the flick of a light switch. This state-of-the art technique, known as optogenetics, is transforming brain science, and you can learn more about it here. The team knew from previous studies where in the hippocampus the neurons that store memories of being in a specific place are found – and that, in their mice, these memories can be “labelled” and reactivated with a pulse of blue light delivered via a fibre-optic cable. In this study, they first put mice in one box and labelled the memory that formed as they explored. They then did something really clever (and a bit mean): the mice were placed in a different box, but the ‘memory’ of the first box was reactivated with light, while giving the mice a mild electric shock. Amazingly, when the mice were returned to the first box, they froze in fear: they associated this environment with pain, even though they had never been shocked there. What’s more, the mice were only frightened in this first box, not in another they had never been in. In short, the scientists had successfully created a false memory by incorporating the shocks into an artificially activated existing memory. Of course, this is a far cry from remembering what you did on your holidays five years ago, or a key event from your childhood. But the scientists think


“the formation of at least some false memories in humans” may happen because “recalling a memory renders it highly susceptible to modification”. In other words, when we bring something to mind, it can end up being distorted by what is happening to us there and then, creating false memories. Tonegawa told Nature they refer to the technique as ‘incepting’ a false memory. We are a long way away from the sci-fi scenarios depicted in films like Inception, but the study still raised some eyebrows: James Giordano, a neuroethicist at Georgetown University in Washington DC, told Nature: “That was a bell-ringer, the idea you can manipulate the brain to control the mind.” Thankfully, Tonegawa says the study was just meant to provide insight into memory formation and he has no plans to implant false memories in humans. The team hope their work will help inform researchers and legal experts alike, as to just how fallible memory can be.

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(Memory Mouse Diagram) © Collective Next

This cartoon explains how Dr Tonegawa’s team created a false memory in the brain of mice. They first put the mouse in one environment (illustrated as the blue box), labelled the brain cells encoding for the memory of this environment (white circles), and made these cells responsive to light. Then they put the animal in a different environment (illustrated as the red box) and delivered light into the brain to activate these labelled cells. This induced the recall of the first environment -- the blue box. While the animal was recalling the first environment, they also received mild foot shocks. Later when we put the animal back into the first environment, it showed behavioural signs of fear, indicating it had formed a false fear memory for the first environment, where it was never shocked in reality.

IN THE NEWS MIND A recently published study seems to show that training the elderly on a specially designed videogame can make them better multi-taskers than untrained youngsters. The game, dubbed NeuroRacer, involves steering a car along a winding road. To add an extra dimension, players must press a button whenever a green circle appears briefly at the top of the screen, while ignoring other ‘signs’. By comparing their performance on reacting to the signs while not driving, the scientists could estimate the mental ‘cost’ of multi-tasking. By testing 174 people aged between 20 and 79, they confirmed what we already knew – multi-tasking ability declines with age. The team, led by Adam Gazzaley at the University of California, San Francisco, then tested people using a version of the game that gets harder as players get better – as any good game should. They divided 46 elderly volunteers into three groups, who either played the full multi-tasking version of the game, trained in driving and sign-spotting separately, or got no training at all. The two training groups


practised for a total of twelve hours over the course of a month. Only the full game training dramatically improved multi-tasking ability. No real surprise there, perhaps, but these elderly NeuroRacer pros were now better than 20-year-olds playing for the first time – and these improvements were still there 6 months later. All the volunteers were also given a range of general mental performance tests before and after training, and the new pros had also improved at some unrelated brainy tasks. This is crucial because otherwise all we can really say is that people improved at something they practised at – and that’s not exactly headline news! Training was also found to have boosted activity in the foremost part of the brain (the prefrontal cortex), which is involved in controlling mental processes, making the brains of these elders behave like much younger people’s. The researchers claim the study demonstrates just how much the ageing brain can still be modified by experience – a phenomenon known as ‘plasticity’. NeuroRacer remains a research tool, but a company called Akili (which Gazzaley co-founded and

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advises), is developing a commercial version it hopes to get approval to market as a therapy. But don’t write up your Christmas list for granny just yet... ‘Brain training’ games have spawned a multimillion dollar industry in recent years, but the manufacturers’ claims remain highly controversial. After the initial hype died down, a number of studies were published showing that they actually have little effect on general mental abilities. A recent study looking at all the published evidence (called a ‘meta-analysis’), concluded “memory training programs appear to produce short-term, specific training effects that do not generalize”. In other words, you get better at the games, but not much else. From a scientific standpoint, things weren’t looking good for the industry before this latest study came along. Of course, this study is different

from most commercial brain-training programs in some important ways. It doesn’t target short-term memory as most do, but trains multi-tasking. The authors also make no wild claims about improving mental abilities across the board in just about anyone: the game tackles a known problem in a specific group of people. But while the results are intriguing, and have certainly reignited debate, it might not be the game-changer (groan – Ed) it appears to be. NeuroRacer was used much like a medical treatment, to ‘cure’ a mental decline caused by ageing. But whenever researchers attempt this, there’s always the risk of a placebo effect – where people get better just because they expect to. The researchers didn’t measure the volunteers’ expectations about their training, casting some doubt on the results. There are other problems, but probably the most glaring omission is that the elderly pros were only compared to the untrained 20-year-olds in terms of game performance and not the other mental tasks – which is what we’re really interested in. We also don’t know whether these other abilities were still heightened after 6 months. The question is far from settled, so there’s a lot more researchers and manufacturers will have to prove before Guru can unreservedly recommend a purchase. Whatever the answer, there’s certainly no danger of NeuroRacer outselling Grand Theft Auto V just yet.

Simon Makin is an auditory researcher turned science journalist. Originally from Liverpool, he has a degree in electronics, a Masters in speech and hearing sciences, and a PhD in auditory perception. He worked as a post-doc in the psychology deptartment at Reading University for several years, before recently taking the leap into journalism. Tweets as @SimonMakin. Blogs as Heisenberg’s Hamster.

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(brain training) Flickr • Jessica C, (Grand Theft Auto Five Artwork) © Rockstar Games






Previous Page: (Crackers) Flickr • elhombredenegro

A HACKER REVEALS HIS SECRETS Whistleblowing, digital crime, hacking. In recent news there has been much controversy over spying programmes headed by the American National Security Agency (NSA). Allegedly, they track bulk email and cell phone data for domestic surveillance. And while there are arguments both for and against these antics – running the gambit from preventing terrorism to an Orwellian dystopia – the question of how easy it is for non-government organisations and individuals to track your data still lingers. As a hacker, I decided to find out. My field experiment was to see how realistic the possibility is to uncover the details of someone’s personal life by hacking into their Wi-Fi. (To be clear, the target in this experiment was fully informed of my intentions.) In order to pull off this operation, I needed three things. The first

was a laptop computer. The second, and most difficult to acquire, was a USB wireless device that would allow me to access Wi-Fi (called a dongle), which I was able to purchase for less than $40 on Amazon. The third item was a piece of software called VirtualBox (a ‘virtual machine’ program) that I downloaded for free from the internet. Most people access the internet wirelessly, so I searched for Wi-Fi hacking programs. As absolutely no surprise, the first website I came across had swathes of information and details on the programs one could use and how to use them. In my case, all I needed was a version of an operating system called Backtrack. Providing I had a Wi-Fi dongle with the correct specifications, I could start hacking straight away. (The Wi-Fi dongle needs to be set to something called BELOW: ‘monitor mode’ so that it can listen to the traffic The programs within Backtrack on a Wi-Fi network.) The trickiest part is that were able to only certain manufacturers make dongles that crack the Wi-Fi can be put into this mode, and therefore I had passwords (blanked out for privacy to search the Internet to make sure I ordered reasons). This took the correct one. Total time: ten minutes. less than 2 hours.

5 tips to keep the hackers out 1. Make sure that when logging into a website, it says https in the URL address bar (rather than just http). This is a secure connection. 2. Avoid doing important things in coffee shops, such as banking. 3. Always try to use different passwords for different accounts. Or at the very least, make different passwords for more sensitive data (banking, etc.) 4. If possible, always include numbers or symbols into passwords, such as “ILoveGuru1!2@3#4$”. This will make decryption much more difficult. 5. Make sure that your router password is not the same as your Wi-Fi password (go here for instructions on how to do this). If my ‘victim’ had done this, then this article would have been much shorter!

Now comes the fun part. Would I actually be able to hack a Wi-Fi network? The short answer: yes. And it’s embarrassingly easy to do. Not only was I able to gain access to someone’s wireless network, but the program even showed me the Wi-Fi network password in plain text. This is what I believe to be the most important and potentially powerful achievement from this simple hack. With access to someone’s Wi-Fi password, I would have a high chance of accessing more of

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A HACKER REVEALS HIS SECRETS their passwords (such as those for their e-mail, social networking, and possibly even bank accounts). Just think of your password and all of the possible variations you could add on to it. Perhaps only adding a number at the end or, if you’re clever, adding a few characters such as “!@#$”, etc. Being able to access someone’s network password and realising the potential dangers that could result if the password was in malicious hands is a scary revelation. It made me think twice about the digital world we live in. As I carried out this experiment I felt a sense of power and presence; once I had their network password, what else could I do and be capable of? I was curious to try out more. In my spiral of corruption, I decided to take things a step further (with permission of my ‘victim’, of course…)

Watching while you browse Once you have access to a wireless network, you have access to all of the information being passed by the computer to and from the Wi-Fi router. A program called Wireshark was a convenient tool to sniff out this traffic. With this software I was able to determine what websites are visited and, in some cases, even see the plain text usernames. As long as I was hacked into the Wi-Fi network before someone connected to it, I could capture all the BELOW: Using Wireshark, network traffic. For example, if I was connected I was able to see to your Wi-Fi network and started to listen to when the target logged into an the network traffic before you turned on your online account (in this case, Minecraft. computer then I would be able to see the ‘digital net). This gave me handshake’ your computer makes with the access to the plain Wi-Fi router. With this I would have access to text username all of your web browsing data. (highlighted).

The Wi-Fi router is the box in the corner of the room where the wireless signals come from. You can actually access many functions of it using any web browser (Internet Explorer, Firefox, Google Chrome) providing you have the password. As it would turn out, my ‘victim’ uses the same password for just about everything, including the password that connects them to the router. This gave me real power and it was at this point that things became really interesting. With this password, I was able to reboot the Wi-Fi router without actually touching it; this was the first time I could perform an operation in the digital world that could actually have physical implica­ tions in the real world. As soon as I pressed a button on my keyboard, the ‘victim’ would be disconnected from whatever they were doing. It could be something as mundane as sharing BELOW: a Tweet or looking things up on Google, or it As the target was could be something more important such as lazy and used the a Skype job interview or purchasing a plane same password for both the Wi-Fi and ticket. Since I knew that my ‘victim’ wasn’t the router, I could easily reset the doing anything too important I could put my router, forcing them worries to rest. to reconnect to their own Wi-Fi.

Once the reboot occurred, all I had to do was to make sure that I connected to the network before they did – which allowed me to see the ‘digital handshake’ and have access to their browsing behaviour and their usernames. The ‘door’, so to speak, was basically open at this point. If they used the same password for both their Wi-Fi and their router administrator

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A HACKER REVEALS HIS SECRETS account, it would be likely that they also used it for their Gmail, Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, etc. accounts. If they used the same password for their online banking, then they would be in real trouble.

Previous Page: (Una luz entre las sombras...) Flickr • anieto2k

ABOVE: Once I was able to see the user log into their Wi-Fi, I used Wireshark to view the websites they were looking at in real time. They obviously had good taste.

The ethical hacker Is what I did wrong? Does it matter when you say you have nothing to hide? Would your opinion change if I wasn’t an individual but rather a corporation or government agency? Personally, I have never been truly able to put into words why I don’t like the idea of someone spying on me. I don’t have anything to hide, but for some reason, I don’t like the feeling of being watched. After performing this experiment, I was finally able to find the reason behind my feelings. From the perspective of a hacker, I have realised that there is a very distinct and visceral line that must be crossed. Until you have experienced it – or at the very least, tried to step into the shoes of a hacker like I have – you may never truly understand these feelings of disdain.

That is why I do not like the idea of someone watching. We can all think of how creepy it would be to stand behind someone who is on their computer and just watch their screen, but it takes a certain type of person to take that imagination and apply it to reality. What they end up seeing is more than just the information; it’s the person behind the monitor that they’re observing. Whether it is a single individual or a group, the people doing the hacking can see me, understand me, and influence me. I don’t fear what they know about me. I fear them.

Kyle Pastor is in graduate school completing a Masters in theoretical polymer physics. When not exploring the physics of stuff nobody cares about, he is usually writing, coding, or playing obscure games that nobody cares about. He blogs about all things interesting at

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BELOW: An American biscuit (left), and a British biscuit (right).

Americans do it with doughnuts, South Africans do it with rusks and the Australians do the Tim Tam Slam. It’s a worldwide curiosity that has existed since the dawn of sweet baked treats – dunking. There aren’t very many of us who don’t enjoy partially submerging a sugary snack into a hot drink, and I’m no exception. However, everyone has their own style: whether you dunk chocolate chip cookies or ginger snaps, it can say a lot about your personality. * NB. Hereafter, ‘biscuit’ refers to what are called ‘cookies’ in US English

Biscuit dunking has been the subject of many a newspaper article and magazine column in the UK. Now, a forthcoming BBC documentary will explore humankind’s fascination with these sweet-tasting snacks – with a sizable portion devoted to the dunking ritual. Due for release Nov-Dec 2013 and hosted by UK cook, Nigel Slater, I (Dr Stu) will be explaining the science of dunking. But you needn’t wait for general release: join me now Guru-readers as I unpack the many mysteries of the dunk.

Dipping into the science of dunking

Once upon a time, when I worked as a lecturer, I alleviated the boredom of the summer recess by filming myself conducting some very tonguein-cheek science ‘experiments’. Despite terrible production values, ‘Which is the Best Biscuit to Dunk’ went down quite smoothly with the YouTube community. Having stumbled across my video, and having clearly enjoyed watching me act like a sweet-toothed buffoon, the documentary producers requested my assistance. The rest, as they say, is history.

Dunking makes for better taste

With the exception of ice cream and last night’s pizza, food invariably tastes best when it’s hot. There is a scientific reason for this: taste buds work most effectively at warm temperatures; below about 15°C they stop detecting flavour properly. (Frozen desserts are loaded with sugar and flavourings to compensate for this

numbing effect.) So, heating your biscuit with ABOVE: Tim Tam Slam. a dip in a mug of tea or coffee will enhance the TheOpposite corners biscuit’s flavours. of a Tim Tam are bitten off, then Smell is also a crucial part of the flavour the hot drink is sucked through sensation – something you can prove by the biscuit like a holding your nose while eating. When chow straw. When the gets chewed, aromas from the mushed food hot drink reaches the pass up the back of the throat and into the nasal resttheofmouth, the biscuit cavity – where we can smell it. Hot, moist food is quickly placed in releases more flavour molecules into the nose the mouth, before the outer chocolate than cold, dry food. So by wetting a doughnut, melts, and eaten. biscuit, or cookie in a warm drink, the flavours are further intensified.

Fatty treats just taste too darned good

We are ‘programmed’ to taste and enjoy fats: our ancestors survived famine because they were innately driven to go for the foods with the most calories in them (i.e. high fat foods). If you’ve ever compared the taste of a low-fat food with a high-fat one, the fatty option always tastes better. A chocolate chip cookie or low-fat crispbread? Not a contest, really. We used to think taste was a combination of sweet, sour, bitter and salt. You might recall the pictures of a ‘tongue map’ from school, showing that different parts of the tongue are sensitive to different tastes (see image on the next page) Most of this wisdom of old has been proved wrong: the ‘tongue map’ isn’t true, and there is in fact a fifth basic taste: savoury (or ‘umami’). A couple of years ago, flavour got even richer when researchers discovered a sixth basic taste sensation – fat. In 2012, researchers at Washington University

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AMERICANS DO IT WITH DOUGHNUTS School of Medicine in St. Louis found that our taste buds sense fat itself. You can replace butter and oil with alright-tasting alternatives, but it’s never quite the same because you simply can’t trick those fat-sensing taste buds. The researchers also went some way to work out why some of us crave fried foods, while others are infuriatingly ambivalent. They discovered that everyone has a different sensitivity to fat: some people have taste buds that are eight times more sensitive to fat than others. So if you can’t resist eating the entire box of chocolates, this could be the reason why. Dipping your chosen (full-fat) biscuit or cookie into a full-fat milky drink will guarantee to tingle those fat-sensing taste buds. Just don’t think about your waistline.

Bitter Sour Salt


Timing thing



Tea and coffee drinking veterans will know that plunging a biscuit into a hot beverage is an exacting discipline. Insufficient biscuit submersion results in an unsatisfying experience; waiting too long causes the biscuit to break apart, leaving an unpleasant sludge in the bottom of the mug. Or worse, it severs during transit to the mouth with the sugary slop crashlanding onto your lap. A biscuit is essentially a mesh of hard starchy fibres held together by fat and sugar. When dunked, the fat and sugar quickly dissolve; the starch absorbs liquid, and the biscuit softens and expands slightly. The liquid

tracks upwards through the microscopic gaps between the starchy fibres (through a process called ‘capillary action’) and eventually the biscuit will soften to the point that it rips apart under its own weight (what I term ‘catastrophic biscuit failure’). Biscuits with more sugar and fat tend to fare badly when dunked whereas less tasty ones are far more resilient. Doughnuts are particularly hardy because they are made from dough, which contains gluten (a strong protein that holds the doughnut together – hence ‘catastrophic doughnut failure’ is rare).

It is possible to do some calculations to work out which biscuit or cookie is best able to resist death by coffee (see sidebox).

Put a biscuit in a drink and you will notice that the liquid slowly tracks up the biscuit like rising damp. Try it with a few different types and you will notice that the beverage soaks the biscuits at different speeds. The rate at which the liquid rises up a biscuit depends on how dense the biscuit is; on a microscopic level the tiny gaps between the starch fibres act like little pores through which the fluid travels. In 1998, Physicist Len Fisher wrote a curiously complex equation to predict how quickly any biscuit will get soggy. It’s questionable how useful it is, but if you insist…

Distance liquid travels (in metres)


σDt 4μ

To get an answer, you need to decide how many seconds you are dunking for (put this where the t is) and D is the size of the microscopic pores in the biscuit (you aren’t going to know this, but it is usually less than 0.00001 m). σ and μ are the liquid surface tension and the fluid’s viscosity respectively (0.0679 N/m and 0.547 × 10–3 Nsm-2 for 50°C coffee). If you managed to do all that maths, then you definitely deserve to finish off the packet. (If you haven’t eaten them already.)

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Clamp Stand

Biscuit 1 Timer Clamp Stand

Biscuit 2

Hot Water

The only way, however, to truly discover which biscuit is the perfect ‘dunker’ is get down and dirty with a hands-on experiment. Under (cough) carefully controlled conditions, it is possible to compare different biscuit varieties’ relative dunkability.

As one might expect, dense biscuit varieties are tough and last a long time – up to five minutes or more. Those endowed with a chocolate coating or cream centre are especially good: under boiling conditions, the coating/filling melts and acts like a glue to hold the biscuit together. Here’s a summary of the results.

King of the dunkers Plain wheat flour (‘Rich Tea’) Reliable and dependable. When eaten dry, they are disappointingly bland, although under ideal conditions they are able to withstand over 20 minutes in a hot drink.

Chocolate coated or cream centred The dunker’s dream. Indulgent, satisfying and remarkably dunkable – thanks to the sticky chocolate ‘glue’ effect. WARNING: Messy if dropped.



Chocolate chip cookie

Ginger nut / ginger snap

(Rich Tea) Wikimedia • Sean Whitton, (Tim Tams) Wikimedia • Bilby

A risky choice. They taste fantastic but are highly unpredictable when dunking owing to the random distribution of chocolate chips.

Not recommended. It is teeth shatteringly hard when dry but rapidly softens and collapses in hot drink. It has an acquired taste.



Oat-based biscuits Deceptively effective. Don’t let its crumbly nature deceive you – it can be surprisingly robust if handled carefully. Its highly absorbent qualities result in maximum flavour experience. 3.5/5

Special Mention: ‘Tim Tam’ The Tim Tam Slam ritual is an odd variation on dunking. Available in many parts of the world and often performed in the Southern hemisphere, hot tea is sucked through this chocolate-encased biscuit sandwich. Very weird, but a chocolate-lover’s delight.

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AMERICANS DO IT WITH DOUGHNUTS Protect yourself: introducing the Dunk-o-Meter™

You can’t argue with science: baked snacks taste better when paired with a hot drink and lead to a more satisfying mid-morning break. Perfect timing remains an unresolved issue and further investigative dunking work needs to be undertaken. (Any volunteers?) However, given the danger of a hot biscuit falling onto a clean shirt, I feel that urgent action is required to protect unsuspecting dunkers. In the UK and parts of Europe, food packets often display a ‘traffic light’ labelling system (‘healthy foods’ having a green label – see image). I propose a similar ‘dunk-o-meter’

traffic light advisory system for all packets of cookies and biscuits: a red circle would indicate short dunk of under five seconds; amber would advise a five to ten second dip; and green for longer. To bring about a change of this magnitude will need all of you dunk-fans to speak out. Join the petition to lobby the food industry today by sending an email to ProtectTheDunker@ Dunkers unite! Your coffeehouse needs you.


How temperature influences our taste

Dr Stuart Farrimond
(Doctor 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 Doctor Stu’s blog at

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Be warned: I am woefully under-qualified to give personal nutritional advice – and so are virtually all other trainers. It is a complicated and ever-changing issue. The moment I finish typing this article, there will be a new study making different recommendations. I won’t give you my opinion – or even my experience – but I will do my best to collate the best evidence we have on the matter. If it disagrees with what you have learned, then good. Let that place the seed of doubt in your mind. But don’t just troll the internet trying to confirm what you want to believe (because you’ll find it eventually). Don’t go to body building websites that sell the products they recommend. Exercise extreme scepticism with regards to diet issues (word play intended). Now here are the facts…

Everybody into the pool! I’m going to keep this simple. Protein is a big thing made of smaller things. Those smaller things are called ‘amino acids’. Slap a bunch of amino acids together and you get a protein. Different combinations of amino acids make up different proteins. Got it? Cool, let’s keep going. So you eat some protein. Then what happens? Well, your stomach is a bubbling bowl of hydrochloric acid. The proteins you eat get broken down into their constituent amino acids by the acid and enzymes in the stomach and by more enzymes in the intestine. Now, what does your body do with those? Like drunken frat boys at a keg party chucking girls into a swimming pool, your body chucks the amino acids into your amino acid ‘pool’. This pool is not in one place, but diffused throughout your body: it is in your cells, in your blood stream, in your liver – wherever they can hang out until needed. This amino acid ‘pool’ is under continuous turnover – the old being used and replaced by the new that is ingested. Now, when your body needs some protein, it can reassemble the amino acids from the pool to make things like enzymes or structural proteins (which may, in turn, be used to build new cells and new tissue, like muscle). All the time there is an on-going process of breakdown and remodelling of proteins within your body. But the process of protein synthesis comes to the fore during growth or when tissues are damaged: if you tear a ligament, then you’ll need to draw from your amino acid pool. If you are pregnant, you are creating a baby and that will require dipping into the amino acid pool on

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(Protein) Flickr • tamakisono

I’m a personal trainer, because of which people often stop me and open the conversation with the words “I have a quick question for you.” Eight times out of ten they say, “How do I lose the fat around my stomach?” I have no idea why they think this is a quick question. Another question I get is “how do I get bigger?” I usually assume they mean muscles and not shoes. And the one that I am not qualified to answer: “What should I eat after exercise?” This last question is one of the most challenging to any personal trainer, and I’m going to try to shed some light on it in this article.

PROTEIN SUPPLEMENTS You’re probably eating more protein than you think • 2 slices whole wheat bread = 8 g • 1 small potato = 4 g

• 1 portion of pasta (100g) = 6 g • 1 cup of rice = 4 g

• 1 cup of lentils = 18 g

• 10 ounce steak = 82 g

• One salmon fillet (80g weight) = 33g

• 1 portion of chicken fillet (160 g weight)

= 70.37 • 1 small tub (113 g) of yoghurt = 13 g • 1 slice of cheese = 7 g A 65 kg (143 lb) woman should aim to eat 52 grams of protein per day A 70 kg (150 lb) man should aim to eat 56 grams of protein per day Search for all foods online at the USDA website and calculate your protein needs here.

a regular basis. And of course, if you are engaged in strenuous exercise, then muscle tissue repair will require withdrawals of amino acids from the ‘pool’. Problems arise when our diet doesn’t contain enough protein. If this goes on too long your amino acid pool will be depleted and so your body will need to get it from somewhere else. It will break down its existing tissues, like muscle and internal organs, and use the amino acids to make repairs, to replace worn-out enzymes, and to make new cells (such as red blood cells). This is not a good thing and eventually results in muscle wasting or damage to other organs.

Eat enough starch and fat but don’t believe the websites So what if you eat too much protein for your requirements? It will ultimately get converted into fat. However, this basic biological process is regarded as a myth in some weight-lifting circles, who believe ingested protein is only ever used to make muscle. Protein can be used as a fuel to power bodily processes. In fact, about 5% of the protein you eat is burnt up during

exercise. And during times of inadequate carbohydrate intake – our main energy source – as much as 15% of the protein will be used for energy. We should always strive to eat enough fats and carbohydrates (starchy foods like bread and pasta) to fuel the body. Let protein be the building block for your tissues. It’s what protein is best suited to. If your body relied on protein for fuel all the time, it would be continually performing a process called ‘deamination’ (pulling the nitrogen group off of the amino acid molecule). Lots of deamination results in liver and kidney damage – and you don’t want that. They’re called vital organs for a reason. So that is why we need protein in our diet: not just to recover from exercise but for all sorts of repair and growth. But how much do we really need on a daily basis? Ask this question online and you’ll receive hugely varied answers: buff weight-lifters tend to tout a huge number. I’ve read 1 gram of protein per pound of body weight, sometimes more. This is a lot of protein. In the US, the Dietary Reference Intake (DRI) for moderately active people is a third of this – and virtually the same as inactive people: 0.36 grams of protein per pound of body weight. So if you weighed 200lbs that means 72 grams of protein per day is adequate for normal tissue repair. If you are recovering from an injury, this number can be more than double. Endurance athletes, like runners, require between 0.55 and 0.72 grams of protein per pound of body weight. The range takes into account gender differences in athletes, with female athletes tending to require slightly less. In the case of power athletes, like weightlifters, American football players/rugby players, and body builders, the recommendation is 0.68 to 0.81 grams of protein per pound of body weight.

The punch line Now here is the kicker. As you become a better trained athlete you actually require LESS protein. WHAT?! Yes, you read that correctly. WHY?! Well, the better trained you are, the more efficient your body is at utilising the protein you ingest. The first few weeks of training tend to require higher amounts of protein. Three or four weeks into training and an athlete’s requirements can drop to lower levels. I don’t want to give too many numbers because it is the concept that is the important thing I’m trying to convey here. I should probably also make reference to

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PROTEIN SUPPLEMENTS eating a variety of different foods. Hey, here’s a fun idea. Track how much protein you eat in a day. If you are training then you are probably consuming more food anyway, and you’ll probably ingest more protein without even trying. But add it up and see what you get. I bet you’ll be surprised. Right, I’m off to eat a Black Bean Brownie (homemade of course) and a glass of skimmed milk. That’s probably half my daily intake right there.

Black Bean Brownies Recipe

the ‘quality’ of protein. Some proteins are considered to be more ‘complete’ because they contain more of the amino acids essential to human life. We call these amino acids essential because we can’t make them within the body. They need to come from our diet. Plant sources of protein tend to have less of the essential amino acids whereas animal sources tend to provide a complete source. That doesn’t mean you can’t be a vegetarian and an athlete; it just means that you need to put some effort into

Preheat oven to 350°F/180°C. Spray an 8 x 8-inch (20cm x 20cm) baking pan with non-stick cooking spray and set aside. Place the black turtle beans – one 15 ½-ounce can (approx. 450g), drained and rinsed – in the bowl of a food processor; blend until smooth and creamy. • Add 3 large eggs • Add 3 tbsp. canola oil • Add 3/4 cup granulated sugar • Add 1/2 cup cocoa powder • Add 1 tsp. vanilla extract • Add 1/2 tsp. baking powder • Add 1/2 cup flour • Add a pinch of salt and process until smooth • (Optional: add 1/2 tsp peppermint extract. I like Orange extract.) • Add ¼ cup of chocolate chips (I add more) and pulse a few times in the processor until the chips are broken up. • Pour the batter into the prepared baking dish and sprinkle the top with ¼ cup of chocolate chips. • Bake 30 to 35 minutes, or until the edges start to pull away from the sides of the baking pan and a toothpick inserted in the centre comes out clean. Cool in the pan before slicing. Eat, enjoy and feel healthy all at the same time.

Matt Linsdell is a certified personal trainer and has a degree in Environmental Science. He

calls himself an ‘evidence-based trainer’, because training is a field which is littered with welldisguised pseudoscience – his emphasis is always on teaching the biology behind exercise. He lives at the edge of the beautiful and expansive Gatineau Park in Quebec and works across the water in Ottawa, Ontario. If he’s not out walking his two pit bulls, you’ll find him doing press ups with insanely large weights on his back. Follow Matt on Twitter at @smartfitmatt.

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(Russian Embryo) Flickr • Thirteen Of Clubs





Each phase of my journey through the Amazon could be summarised as an adrenaline-fuelled adventure. Within moments of the canoe first coming to a stop after a two day journey, I was greeted by the Huaorani – a curious and intriguing group of people. They looked just as I had imagined in my dreams: longish black hair, short in stature, stretched earlobes and a friendly wonder on their faces. Some warriors were clothed, ready to battle the invading westerners, whereas others wore a string around their waist. All were perfectly adapted to their environment – the thickened soles of their feet providing protection against the harsh jungle terrain. Everything about their way of life fascinated me and I wanted to know more.

Trials on the trails: three become two

but the journey had to continue. Three days in and ‘bush meat’ was no longer on the menu. With food supplies running low we were given an important task which was an integral part of the Huaorani way of life – hunting.

Hunting with the natives Pego, one of the Huaorani warriors, and his brother danced through the jungle to the music of the monkeys, blowgun in hand and darts ready to fire. Mission: dinner. But the trouble was that dinner was dancing somewhere up in the trees. I could sense the monkeys were grinning from the branches with their tongues poked out! But from the ground, looking up with an empty stomach, I couldn’t see the funny side. I watched as the warriors carried out their duties; they imitated the voices of the animals to lure them in and capture them with ease. Tip toe, tip toe, tap – the warriors danced on the floor of the jungle to the beat of a monkey’s steps and in the style of a monkey’s moves. The hunter’s strategy was well polished. As I hunted with the legendary warriors, I saw that, in some way, they were also fighting to save their lands from exploitation. During my time in the Amazonian rainforest I had met with the tribe elders and listened to their stories of past and present, and felt their fear over the destruction of their land. Modern western influences have greatly affected these people; it is a culture on the verge of erosion. The future had arrived here in the jungle, and with it, change was inevitable. It made me ponder on similar

Day 1: man down! Steve, the sound recordist, could go no further when a graze suddenly became infected. He left us in search of a hospital and was fortunate to hitch a ride on a plane with a National Geographic film crew (who had just finished filming in the same village). It felt like a disaster that would jeopardise everything we had prepared for. Just my cameraman, Frank, and I were left to make the documentary. We had come with a purpose and I was determined to fulfil it. I kept telling myself that nothing was impossible even when the challenges came thick and fast – limited petrol supplies to charge the camera and power the boats, the threat of being attacked by the Tagaeri tribe while out to catch food, and a radio call announcing Steve’s death (a misunderstanding I was grateful for) –

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Previous Page: (Rainforest Biome) Flickr • Webbaliah, (Roadside tribesmen) Flickr • Ben Sutherland

As I walked under the canopy of a tropical world, thoughts of ancient mysteries flooded my mind. At 21 years of age, my childhood dream had finally come true. Many years ago during a primary school lesson on deforestation, my fantasy was born. And now, I was in the Amazon jungle, ready to survive like the natives have done since the beginning of time. Set for adventure, thirsty for action, I was ready to live the dream I had kept alive for so long. And I was making a documentary to chronicle everything I saw.


struggles from around the world to preserve our environment and cultures; are we fighting a losing battle or will there ever be an end to this war over the destruction of rainforests?

(Black Panther by Bruce McAdam) Wikimedia • Bruce McAdam

The spirit of the jaguar One fascinating tradition I discovered was the Huaorani’s connection with the jaguar and the legend behind it: they believe that when a warrior and shaman die, they are reincarnated as a jaguar. As a feline-obsessive myself, I was hoping I might get a chance to see one in the flesh, but unfortunately the mysterious beast remained elusive during my stay. Instead, one of the warriors trained me to throw a spear. Upon proving myself worthy, I was promptly challenged to an arm wrestling match. The warriors told me that the jaguar spirit existed within me and that when I died, I would also be reincarnated as a male jaguar. I was flattered, and couldn’t help but amuse myself with the thought of growing whiskers and a pair of giant, manicured claws!

On the last day, in homage to my ‘jaguar spirit’, I had the feline image painted on me in blue (semi-permanent) dye. While perfectly appropriate for the jungle, I didn’t fit in as well walking through passport control in Miami, New York and London, where officials mocked, “Avatar’s my favourite movie!” I remember thinking, “I hope my documentary will be too!” ---Amazon Souls was selected for the Cannes Film Festival Short Film Corner and the Sheffield Doc/Fest Videotheque 2013. It has had both local and online press coverage and recently been endorsed by celebrity presenter and adventurer, Bear Grylls and supported by Sky Rainforest Rescue, Rainforest Alliance and Rainforest Concern. We are now waiting for it to hit the big screens so that everyone can share in this extraordinary journey and see how beautiful the Huaorani way of life really is. Sarah is also anticipating a return to make part two.

In 2010, Sarah Begum became the youngest female Documentarian to produce her first film in the Amazon Rainforest. With an interest in ancient civilizations, Sarah has since been exploring the world, embarking on adventures and working on various film and humanitarian projects. You can find out more at

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Previous Page: (Universe in my hands) Flickr • Lauro Roger McAllister -...

Throughout history, humanity has believed in some form of benevolent creator – ranging from our Sun, to a multidisciplinary team of Gods, or indeed one bearded old man sitting on a cloud. But what if our creators are a bunch of tech-wizards? It sounds even more far-fetched than superstitions of old, but leading physicists now suggest that life, the universe and everything, are nothing more than a simulation like a video game in which we are the ‘players’. Perhaps they’ve been watching the Matrix trilogy a bit too much… Our universe seems to be unbelievably finetuned. If any of the ‘laws’ of physics were even slightly different to what they are, life as we know it, would be impossible. Dark matter, for example, releases just enough energy to keep the universe stable and expanding – any more, and it would be torn apart; any less, and it would implode into a fiery furnace. One of the main motivations for investigating whether the universe is a simulation is simply convenience; if it is shown to be the case, we would instantly be able to answer these tricky philosophical questions by saying “That’s just how the simulation was programmed!”

Life is but a dream Until now, it has been believed that the universe is infinite. If this is true then the sums don’t quite add up: astrophysicists have come to the conclusion that dark matter energy levels are far weaker than would be expected, and high-

energy cosmic rays seem to lose energy as they travel through space. These quirks of nature are difficult for physicists to explain – unless we all live in a simulation. If all of our existence is not actually in an infinite universe, but trapped within a space with limited boundaries (like being inside a computer game), then many of the things astronomers see start making more sense. So how on Earth will scientists try to see if the universe is a computer simulation? Ironically, they intend to test their theory with algorithms and super-computers. Increasingly sophisticated computers are presently crunching their way through very, very complex algorithms, and have so far digitally recreated some pretty complex stuff – including the way subatomic particles and atoms are held together.

Tumbling down the rabbit hole Silas Beane and his team from the University of Bonn, Germany, have made a computer program that creates a digital grid-like lattice. This grid is stuffed with virtual particles which follow all the forces of nature that we know of, so all Beane and colleagues had to do is sit back and watch what happens. A lattice can be likened to a chess-board: it restricts whatever moves along it to certain lines and energy levels, with nothing being able to move beyond the lattice spacing. It’s like a garden trellis, which directs plants to grow in only certain directions. If the universe was ordered in a lattice, it would restrict (or ‘cut-off’) the energy level of cosmic rays travelling along these pre-set lines, as they’d be unable to travel in any other direction than the lattice spacing. So within the super-computer’s microchips, a minute part of the universe is being created like a lattice – albeit at a size equivalent to something 1,000,000,000 times smaller than a bacterial cell. Why so small? Well, imagine simulating planets, stars and galaxies right down to the tiniest atomic particle; you would need an immensely powerful computer to calculate what each particle was doing and where it was at any given time. At the moment we simply don’t have enough computing power to do this. However, Beane believes we’ll be able to make simulations as big as a human sometime in the next century. (I’m not sure what a person living in a universe the size of one would do! Ed.) By generating a mini-universe in a computer,

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Your very own Truman Show For me, the most interesting aspect of this experiment is its philosophical implications for humanity. If we discovered our universe to be a simulation, how would this affect our value of life? Would we cope if we had to question reality and how it differs from what we perceive to be real? These are all far-reaching, metaphysical questions that don’t necessarily have clear answers – and they have understandably caught the attention of bloggers, as well as advocates of Intelligent Design who aim to scientifically prove the existence of God. Many of these believers tend to focus on certain aspects of the experiment to serve their own ideological interpretation of the universe. Some of the more creative reporters claim that our universe could be a testing ground for an

References •

• •

Beane, S. Savage, M.J. Davoudi, Z. (2012). Constraints on the Universe as a Numerical Simulation. Justin Mullins. (2012). The idea we live in a simulation isn’t science fiction. Are you living in a computer simulation? Yet more evidence emerges that our universe is a grand simulation created by an intelligent designer Cosmic rays offer clue our universe could be a computer simulation

Matt Powell is a graduate from Oxford, obsessed with all things space orientated. Besides being the meanest ukulele player to grace the English countryside, Matt spends his time reading, writing and walking. He was also the Summer 2013 Guru Intern.

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(God is watching you) Flickr • The unnamed

we can see whether it behaves like our universe does and it could help balance the unbalanced equations. So far, Beane and his team have had positive results. Within their simulation, the cosmic rays do have restricted energy levels, which they say could point towards our universe being a simulation with pre-set restrictions, or a simulation with a finite space that causes cosmic rays to bounce back and forth as they travel. However, these findings should be taken with a pinch of salt – at least until computing power advances to the point at which we can simulate a larger universe. There is also the problem that a single high-energy cosmic ray passes Earth only once every century – making it difficult to compare the virtual results with what is observed in life.

advanced race of humans who put themselves in simulations like our universe to gather life experience, which will qualify their entrance into a ‘super-race’ – whatever that might be. Others say our universe could be a simulation that was created by humans from the future who wish to examine their own past time periods. It sounds like a story from an Arthur C. Clark novel, but it isn’t, I promise. Beane and his team believe that, if the universe is a simulation, there should be a way to communicate with our simulators. But is this classic human arrogance? Rather than admitting that some of our predictions are wrong, Beane and others make the audacious claim that the universe is an artificial simulation with restrictions. Most science-nuts seem wholeheartedly enthusiastic about the simulation idea. And while I’d like to believe there may be something better to be found beyond our current perception of reality, it’s hard to be sold on these simulation ideas. But if the universe is a simulation, how will science convince the human population that they’re simply the characters in a Sims-esque game? It’s not going to be easy. These experiments have the potential to change how we view our lives, our outlook, and our very worth. There is something strange about the human condition: we want reality to be real, but secretly hope that it isn’t.

ASK A GURU Got a burning question? Friday’s your chance to

Your questions are awaited by an eager team of

get it off your chest.

qualified writers and Gurus who will do their very

You can tweet your questions to us @GuruMag with the hashtag #AskAGuru, post it on our Facebook wall, send it via the app (just tap the ‘?’), or use the good old-fashioned e-mail.

best to find you an answer. And we will seek out an external expert to help if we can’t. Go on, give us your best shot! Here’s a roundup of some recent answers:

Why can’t we stop laughing when we are tickled?

(suspicious tickler) Flickr • istolethetv

Asked by Jodine via Facebook Whether for pain or for pleasure, tickling is something we all experience. It is accompanied by laughing and smiling, but underlying the joy is an intense hatred for the tickler. They will taunt you as you gasp for breath: “If you hate it so much why are you laughing?” And after the assault is over you may ask yourself, “Why? Why can’t I stop laughing when tickled?” To understand this, you need to understand the basic mechanisms of the tickle reflex. Tickling is split into two distinct categories called ‘knismesis’ which is that itching feeling when you lightly touch your skin, and ‘gargalesis’ which is the ‘funny’ tickled feeling. Knismesis is pretty easy to understand from an evolutionary point of view: if a bug or foreign body is crawling on your skin, the natural response is to wipe it off so it can’t bite you or make you sick. Gargalesis, on the other hand, is more complicated. Recent studies have shown that the tickling feeling we get is related to pain sensing nerves in our skin. Researchers found that if someone

loses their pain response then they also lose their tickling response. Endorphins are released when feeling pain, so this may also have something to do with the nature of tickling. As for why we cannot stop laughing, it may be psychological. Anyone that is super – ticklish can tell you that they will begin laughing before even being touched – so the anticipation of tickling may be the culprit… Read the full answer online.

Answered by Kyle Pastor

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Do cut flowers last longer if you cut up or bruise the bottom of the stems? How? Asked by Louise Allan via Facebook the air bubble that’s blocking the flow of water… So there you have it, the science behind flower care. Right, can I start laying out my flower puns? What a blooming great question; I hope I got to the root of the problem and haven’t stemmed any new ones. Ah, that felt good. Read the full answer online.

Answered by Matt Powell

Is there any science behind the old wives’ tale ‘feed a cold, starve a fever’? Asked by UOPscience via Twitter Sometimes the oldest sayings are the best. Advice handed down through the generations can be trustworthy wisdom. Eating apples is most certainly good for health and will go some way to ‘keep the doctor away’. Likewise, not letting the sun go down when you’re angry is an aid to improving marital harmony. But should you ‘feed a cold’ and ‘starve a fever’? ‘Feeding a cold’ certainly falls into the ‘good advice’ category. Any doctor, me included, would stress the importance of good nutrition when fighting off an infection. The immune system can consume vast amounts of energy when it is battling off the baddies. On a similar logic ‘starving a fever’ makes little sense – although there is a little bit of research that suggests it might just be true. This 2002 study showed that eating a meal enhanced the immune system’s specialised virus-killing abilities (viruses being the cause of the cold); whereas

fasting enhanced its bacteria-fighting powers (bacterial infections being a common cause of fever). Although this finding grabbed the headlines of certain newspapers, it’s far from convincing. The research was done on only six volunteers, all of whom were perfectly fit and healthy. Also, bacteria do tend to cause the

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(trekkyandy) Flickr • trekkyandy, ((88/365) :: It burnss uss, my preciousss) Flickr • chispita_666

They do indeed! There is a lot of contradictory advice on the internet about how to handle and care for cut flowers. In fact, there’s more than enough advice to fill an academic journal for a year – so much so, that it could make you want to give up displaying flowers altogether. I digress. Let’s nip this question in the bud. Whether you buy flowers from a shop or grow them in your own garden, they’ll need their stems cut at the bottom before you place them in a vase. It’s important to do this because the moment you cut a flower from the bush or plant, an air bubble will form at the base of the stem. If you think of how a plant continually sucks up water from its base (by a process similar to capillary action), then exposing a cut stem to air will mean an air bubble forms at the bottom. This air bubble will block the flow of water up the stem. That’s why everyone will tell you to cut the stem – it means you get rid of

ASK A GURU worst fevers – but viral infections can cause very nasty fevers also. Most importantly, when going through a fever, our metabolic rate sky-rockets – so not eating when in such a state will deprive the body of the fuel needed to sustain itself. The pounds may fall away, but you’ll be pig-sick.

On balance, it would appear sensible to keep eating through a cold and a fever – even if sustenance is in non-solid form (chicken soup, anyone?). Food poisoning is a little bit different, and a far more messy affair. But we’ll save that for another day. Read the full answer online

Answered by Dr Stu

‘Polyphasic’ sleeping means it is possible to sleep for 2 hours a day. Is this true? Asked via email Maybe you’re a night owl; maybe you’re a morning lark. Nevertheless, most people will sleep no more than once a day, and when they fall asleep it will be at night and for about 6–9 hours. If you sleep 8 hours a day, you would spend one third of your life sleeping. Many people have experimented with various sleep styles. Throughout history, it is said that people from all walks of life – from Napoleon to Winston Churchill – have deviated from the usual 8-hour ‘monophasic’ block of sleep. When you break up your sleeping hours into multiple segments, it’s called ‘polyphasic sleep’ and it can take on numerous forms. The most extreme version of polyphasic sleep is also known as the ‘Uberman’ style where you would only sleep for 2 hours a day. This sounds like a great time-saving technique and it’s not surprising that many are keen to try it out. However, it’s not something to be taken lightly. Your sleep pattern is regulated by something called your ‘circadian rhythm’. External cues such as light and darkness,

as well as hormones, are involved in this natural body rhythm that makes you feel sleepy or awake. Polyphasic sleep disrupts this rhythm while your body tries to adapt to your new sleeping style. There is the potential for long term health problems through poor sleep. But if you think sleeping sounds like a great waste of time, worry not. Google have come up with a solution – the Nap Pod. Now you can sleep in the office and get away with it! Read the full answer online.

Answered by Dorothée Grevers

Could body heat one day be harnessed to power electrical devices?

(just a quick snooze) Flickr • Phil Gradwell

Asked by Mad Moules via Facebook It could indeed. In fact, it won’t be long before you will be able to buy body heat energy-generating products. Researchers have been working on this idea for some time now, but only recently have they discovered materials cheap enough to make it worthwhile producing them. The principle underlying all of these new technologies is basically the same: certain materials generate energy when they are exposed to two different temperatures

at the same time. These devices are called thermocouples and could turn the difference in temperature between, let’s say, the inside and outside of your trouser pocket into electrical power. At the annual Isle of White festival earlier this month, Vodafone gave a demo of the so-called “Power Pocket”. By printing heat sensitive electricity-generating material onto the inside of trouser pockets and sleeping bags, festival visitors could use their own

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(Show Me The Light) Flickr • d_pham

body heat to charge their phones. However, patience is required: after 8 hours of slumber you can talk on your phone for a mere 24 minutes or leave your phone on standby for up to 11 hours (an excuse for a lie-in, perhaps?)… Besides charging phones, body heat, in this case from the inside of your ear, could be used to run medical devices such as hearing aids. Furthermore, lining car seats with thermoelectric material could reduce your fuel usage and potentially shrink your carbon footprint. The advantages of using body heat as an alternative energy source are striking. It looks like soon enough you’ll be able to have your cake and heat it, too. Read the full answer online. Answered by Isabel Hutchison

News: bite sized Click on the headlines to find out more!

Animals that live life in slow motion

Although many insects only live a matter of days, they certainly don’t see it that way. Time moves more slowly for animals that are smaller or have a faster metabolism. Dogs process information twice as fast as humans, experiencing everything at half the speed that we do. Flies live in ‘bullet time’, seeing life slowed down 7 fold – which is why they can easily outsmart our attempts to swat them.

The future looks Hot!

What’s cooking? Our future, that’s what. The land area affected by heat waves will double by 2020 and quadruple by 2040, scientists warn. They even claim this will happen no matter what we do, but don’t stop investing in green living because reducing your carbon footprint should help the world beyond 2040.

You can’t taste corked wine, but it still tastes like a wet dog

It has been discovered why ‘corked’ wine tastes like rotten cardboard: a substance called TCA gets into the bottle. However, it isn’t TCA that we taste: it seems that TCA suppresses our sense of smell, and our brain fills the gap with an ‘imaginary’ musky odour.

Eat well, get younger

Ten elderly men have successfully managed to turn the clock back. After five years of following a strict daily regime of yoga, meditation, exercise and a meat-free diet, their cells became biologically ‘younger’. With age, telomeres (the caps at the ends of cellular DNA

strands) usually shrink. In these 10 volunteers, telomeres increased in size by 10%!

When arms became wings

Whether the chicken or the egg came first doesn’t bother many palaeontologists (it was the egg – Ed). Working out how birds first got their wings has been a real head-scratcher – until now. Researchers have found that 150 million years ago some dinosaurs started evolving disproportionately large arms. They may have been the laughing stock of the herd back then, but over countless generations these gangly arms developed into something that could let them fly off.

Jurassic Park will sadly remain fiction

You probably remember the scene: a long needle going into an insect in a chunk of amber. It is the way Jurassic Park scientists got hold of dinosaur DNA. However, real-life attempts to extract and decode DNA from the blood of insects entombed in fossilised tree resin have failed.

Turn your poo into power

Scientists have developed a battery that is powered by sewage. Containing microbes, silver oxide and carbon cloth, the bugs break down the sewage into carbon and clean water, generating electrons in the process. These electrons flow through a wire to the silver oxide, creating electricity (and silver). Talk about clean energy!

PA G E 6 1 • O C T O B E R / N O V E M B E R 2 0 1 3 • I S S U E 1 4 • G U R U

DEPARTURE LOUNGE Welcome back to the Departure Lounge: the fictional waiting room where we share a friendly chat before parting ways (until the next issue, of course!) How are you feeling? Puzzled? Good stuff. In this issue we’ve focused heavily on the mysterious– from unbreakable codes and the veiled world of computer hacking, to the suggestion of a simulated universe. We hope to have shed some light on the complexities of the world we live in, and give a polite nod to the many secrets that remain locked in its vastness. But all this wondering has tired me out. Let’s turn our attention back to something a little more stable – like the bi-monthly release of Guru. Simulated reality or not, the next issue of our delightful science lifestyle will come to you on the 2nd of December, and don’t forget, the Guru Magazine app is available to download all year round, from The App Store or Google Play. We know that two months can feel like a long time when you’re not tucking into a fresh edition of our magazine, but don’t despair. If you have any science(y) questions you’d like answered, our elite team of Gurus is always here to lend a

hand. Whether it’s why we get dizzy when we’ve had a few too many, or what makes our hair turn grey as we get old, just head over to our Facebook page and post your question! (You’ll then get the answer on our website, thanking you for bringing it to everyone’s attention). Right, I don’t want to freak you out, but the gate attendant has been shooting evil glares our way for the past 5 minutes… I think your flight is boarding. But one more thing before you go: Guru is a crowd-sourced magazine, which means we need you! If you’re a budding writer, or have any other skills you think could be useful, we’d love to hear from you. Take care!

(Deputy Editor) Oh, and if you were wondering, the face on the front cover is Alan Turing – famous for leading the effort in breaking German secret codes in World War II.

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