Category Archives: News

Start while you’re young

From the Sydney Morning Herald, apparently Britain's largest retailer has been in a bit of trouble over a toy they have been selling online recently - the Peekaboo Pole Dancing Kit. According to the article the product was advertised with "Unleash the sex kitten inside ... simply extend the Peekaboo pole inside the tube, slip on the sexy tunes and away you go!". Needless to say, family campaigners have been up in arms over this, claiming it would "destroy children's lives" and "It is an open invitation to turn the youngest children on to sexual behaviour". I have some serious moral objections of my own. Namely, why wasn't this product available when I was in 2nd grade?

A tribute to Steve Irwin

I've just finished my mountaineering holiday in the Alps. But, before I talk about that, there is something much more important, and tragic, that needs to be discussed. To my horror, I discovered that, upon checking my e-mail in Chamonix, Steve Irwin, the greatest Australian who ever lived, is dead. If it weren't for the fact that tomorrow I need to re-enter Australia, I'd tear up my passport right now, because, as of now, being Australian no longer has any meaning. Several years ago there was some controversy surrounding Steve, as to whether he should be named Australian of the year or not. Steve Irwin is not only Australian of the year, but the Australian of every year. Steve Irwin defines what it means to be Australian. Without Steve Irwin, the term 'Australian' is without definition. This is a tragic day for all mankind. There will never be another such person as great as Steve Irwin.

Steve Irwin, 1962 - 2006

Holographic storage in 2006?

For many years now there has been speculation about the possibility of holographic computer storage, which would potentially offer storage capacities incredible by today's standards. Now it seems that finally such storage might be just around the corner. According to The Register, Maxell, using technologies from InPhase Technologies, is planning on making a holographic storage system commercially available in 2006. The device would be capable of storing 300GB per disc (compared to about 4.5GB on current DVD's). Apparently this technology would be ultimately capable of reaching 1.6TB per disc. Here's hoping.

The Nobel and the Ig Nobel

Last week at our weekly Physics Colloquium seminar here at the University of Queensland, we were fortunate enough to have a presentation by the winner of this year's Ig Nobel Prize in Physics, our very own Prof. John Mainstone. For those not familiar with the Ig Nobel prize, as you might have guessed it is a take on the more well known Nobel Prize. The prize is intended to "celebrate the unusual and honor the imaginative".

This years winners included:

  • Prize in Medicine: for the invention of Neuticles - artificial replacement testicles for dogs.
  • Peace Prize: for electrically monitoring the activity of a brain cell in a locust while that locust was watching selected highlights from the movie "Star Wars."
  • Prize in Economics: for inventing an alarm clock that runs away and hides, repeatedly, thus ensuring that people DO get out of bed, and thus theoretically adding many productive hours to the workday.
  • Prize in Chemistry: for conducting a careful experiment to settle the longstanding scientific question - can people swim faster in syrup or in water?
  • and many more...

Most important, of course, is the Prize in Physics, which Prof. Mainstone received for patiently conducting an experiment that began in the year 1927 - in which a glob of congealed black tar has been slowly, slowly dripping through a funnel, at a rate of approximately one drop every nine years, also known as the pitch drop experiment. This experiment is officially the longest running experiment in history and is still going strong.

For those living in Brisbane, you can witness this exciting and dynamic spectacle by visiting the UQ Physics Department where the experiment is on display.

The moral of this story? If you've ever had a completely ludicrous invention, but never had the courage the make it known, the Ig Nobel Prize might be the break you've been seeking.

Archaeology with Google Maps

It was recently reported that someone inadvertently discovered the remains of an ancient Roman villa using satellite imagery from Google Maps. The image which led to the finding is located here. The discoloured oval shape is very clearly visible. It doesn't look much like a villa to me, and frankly I can't see for the life of me how someone would recognise such a vague discolouration as being an archaeological site. They must have a very keen eye indeed. I wonder how many people are now spending hours scanning through Google Maps to try and find similar sites.

New Orleans by satellite

Google Maps has just updated their satellite imagery of New Orleans to include pre- and post-Hurricane Katrina images. While, like everyone else, I have seen countless images of the devastation in the news, and read about how many people have been affected, I hadn't really comprehended the magnitude of the devastation until I saw these images.

The images can be accessed here. You can switch between the pre- and post-Katrina images using the "Satellite" and "Katrina" buttons at the top-right of the page.