Sunday, August 21, 2016

The Proverbial Creek

One is, of course, fully aware of the great advantages and boosts to the New Zild economy that have been provided by the industry formerly known as farming. For many years we rode on the butter boxlid and came away from the cream bowl with what can only be described as a self-satisfied smirk.
"But do things not change?" I hear you ask in your wavering revisionist voice."Does not the tide of history go in and out like a whatsit and the like" you conclude somewhat lamely having exhausted your marine metaphors.
And, yes, is the answer, unlike the raisin and mackerel slices in Mrs Miggins Pie Shop and Tractor Museum things do move on and up in a ever greatening arc of getting more gooder. Except maybe for dairying in this fair land where I have it on good Facebook authority 1/2 of the country thinks farmers want to kill them. This was news to me and startled many of my acquaintances who were unprepared for my accusations of "playing the victim card." As described on Facebook.
But now comes news of the Farming Fightback as 4100 good people in the area of the town known as Havelock North have fallen sick due to foolishly drinking the water that comes out of their taps or faucets as some "cheerful in their own way" folks call them.
Now, aside from the pros and cons of drinking contaminated water when you live in Havelock North due it being only slightly more exciting than cheesecloth, it is a very bad look to have so many people poisoned by their municipality. Bad form, what.
Gradually the story has unfolded. There are three bores for Havelock North (those of us who have been there frankly exclaimed "Yeah, right" at that) and two of them have never had any trouble in the way of hidden extras. Bore no.3 is, of course, the troublemaker and has had two former E.coli reports in 2012 and 2014. After each report the bores were chlorinated and BAD No.3 was not even used. "What's that?" you say thumbing through "Water Quality of Southern Hawkes Bay Towns: Why you should stick to straight Whiskey, 2nd ed." "Chlorinated? Surely this water is chlorinated all the time". There follows a long, embarrassing, silence.
 Er, well, you see, there have never been any problems before, except for those two times and er, well. Is that a squirrel?
But those good folks of Havelock North who can venture more than 3 metres away from a toilet have been carefully and seriously advised of what is going on by their local government representatives. Well, basically, told to boil their drinking water and it's really tricky finding out who is to blame for the contamination of the water. So tricky, with two councils involved and there being no way of communicating between them beyond wandering puppet shows performing allegorical plays. Luckily the central Government leaped into the breach and the local MP went on National Radio to say that "Frankly, I am angry". Golly Moses that showed 'em.
How has the contamination occurred? You might well ask, since the aquifer is way down in the earth and has a hard sort of cap over the top of it. Scurrilous people have pointed out the explosion in population numbers for dairy cows in the region what with dairying being more profitable than cocaine, in Havelock North anyway. These people will be laughed out of decent society and told to get a flamin' life you Commies because a bit of cow poop never hurt no one and anyway, who's to say it came from cows??? Naughty old Microbiologists is who, they have confirmed that the most probable cause of the contamination are ruminant animals. Disturbingly, there are no camels in the Havelock North greater metropolitan area otherwise we could blame them and their nomad owners and feel all white victim privileged.
And here one puts on one's lab coat, turns to the camera and says "I think NZ should get prepared for more of this. Local governments are being disbanded by the central government which doesn't give a rat's arse about NZ, much of NZ is being turned into Cowshit Creek and we, collectively, have the brains of a flatworm".
Disclaimer removed on smack my head advice.

Wednesday, August 17, 2016

Cut and paste

Here at Riddled Research Laboratory and Paspalum Infestation Help-Line we are not deterred by the jeers of the ignorant masses, nor by pettifogging concerns about "ethics", and we press on with our experiments in grafting the top half of one prototypical expression of emotion onto the bottom half of a different emotion, in an attempt to re-create Ted Cruz.

Despite our determination, progress in this research have been stymied by non-cooperation from potential donors and graftees.

I am not quite sure what a 'pettifog' is but it sounds like a rather minor smog, more like a mist.

Friday, August 12, 2016

The noselessness of man

Not many people know that Tycho Brahe had a range of prosthetic noses, including an ornate Cloisonné replacement with built-in salt-and-pepper shakers that he used at formal dinners, and another which dripped saline solution, which he wore when he had a cold.
Will I be a better person if I think that Tycho Brahe had among his prosthetics a plain, non-reflective working nose, a gold party nose, and a plainer silver nose which he wore for occasion where he didn't wish to upstage any royalty? His Fabergé nose with the tiny erotic scene inside, a present from his mistress? The bulletproof one, made from solid wolfram?

Now I want a Scandi-Crime series set in the Renaissance, in which Tycho Brahe and Kepler solve crimes through a combination of intuitive brilliance and backroom laboratory analysis, aided by prosthetic-nose concealed gadgetry and Brahe's beer-drinking scene-stealing pet elk.
In Season 2 the action shifts from Uraniborg to Prague, because of Rudolf II and Dr Dee. Also to save money filming in Czechia.

Wednesday, August 10, 2016

Allegro non Troposphere

"Bring-your-telescope-to-work-Day" sounds all very well in principle, but inevitably it goes pear-shaped, and ends up with Another Kiwi scraping parasitic flatworms off the inside of the lens. The little buggers get everywhere.

In other astronomical news, the stratospheric diatoms are back! Dr Wainwright has vouchsafed further details about the 2002 Anglo-Indian collaboration that used a weather balloon to take a reconditioned CD drive up to 41 km., and sample whatever odds and sods might occupy the near-vacuum at that altitude.

I remember a documentary about sending probes into space to collect alien life-forms, and it NEVER ENDS WELL.

Anyway, there is evidently an entire ecosystem up there between the Aurora Borealis and the noctilucent clouds, a "high cold biosphere", sustained by organic detritus falling out of orbit, much as whale-poop drifts down into the oceanic abyss and sustains a vibrant food-chain. The low troposphere is a veritable Ellis Island of constantly-arriving new lifeforms, borne on ice-meteors, encapsulating for the journey from other stars within protein sacs and vanadium-titanium spheres -- seen at right emitting a seemingly endless stream of ectoplasmic white goo from ears and mouth spilling mucoid contents in the manner of a vomiting pumpkin.

Figure 6. A flask-shaped BE (no EDX available).

Figure 8. A titanium–vanadium sphere with both biology-like filaments on outside and mucoid material oozing out of sphere EDX at C and O only.

It further appears that labelling these particles with the DNA-specific fluorescent dye DIPD or the membrane-specific DiCO6 shows that they are not Life as We Know It, because they are all DNA and also all cellular membrane. As shown by the change in colour of their Scanning-EM images. WHAT THE FUCK IS THIS?!
Figure 13. Particle masses isolated from the stratosphere, stained with DAPI.

Figure 14. Particle mass isolated from the stratosphere, stained with DAPI, showing edges breaking into nanoparticles.

Figure 15. Particle mass isolated from the stratosphere, stained with DiOC6.

Tell us about this journal Astronomical Review, Uncle Smut! At great length with all the boring details!

With pleasure! Time was when Astronom,Rev. was the thorn in the crown of KE-I publishing, a Saloon des Refusé for contrarian cosmological speculations unfettered by the surly grip of reality. Astronom.Rev. supported the work of SETI (yay!), charged a nominal $25 / page processing fee, and enlisted the names of Francis Everitt and Roger Penrose for the editorial board.

Then Taylor & Francis bought the title and racked up the article-processing charge to $750. The current one-person editorial board is no doubt inundated with submissions, which he reluctantly rejects for failing to reach the journal's demanding standards, for its most recent volumes (covering 2015) contain only Wainwright's article and three others.

It was hard for erstwhile editor-in-chief Dylan Fazul to reconcile himself to the loss of Astronom.Rev. -- it remained on the website of KE-I Journals for half a year, into mid-2015. But to help him over the grief there were six other journals needing material... including Medical Research Archives.

So all across the civilised world, and in NZ as well, people checked their email and found spam like this. It is a small but perfectly-formed slice-of-life narrative, conjuring the sense of a network of solicitous individuals:
Dear Dr. YYYY,
My last email must have reached you at a bad time so I am following up. If you are not the right person to talk to about this please let me know or feel free to forward this email. 


From: Dr. Kateryna Bielka, M. D. [ Sent: Wednesday, July 6, 2016 7:42 AM
To: Dr. YYYY
Subject: manuscript submission from Dr. YYYY
Dear Dr. YYYY
I hope this email finds you well. My colleague Reni asked if I could get in touch with you about your paper titled XXX. Firstly thank you for taking the time to publish this, it was an interesting read. I am hoping to have the opportunity to discuss having a short followup or perhaps a review article published in one of the next issues of our journal. I think our readers could be interested in a paper with information from any continued research or new data since this was published. It would not have to be a long article, but if you don’t have time for this perhaps you could also reach out to the co-authors or one of your students to collaborate.

If you have moved on from this line of research I am certainly interested in knowing more about your current projects; perhaps there is the potential for an article that would fit our journal. If you have any questions about whether or not a certain subject fits the scope of the Medical Research Archives I can put you in contact with Dr. Steven Lindheim from our editorial board.

Could you please let me know your thoughts on this?

Dr. Kateryna Bielka, M. D.
Senior Editor
Medical Research Archives


From: Koen, Reni []
Sent: Saturday, July 30, 2016 4:22 PM
To: Dr. Kateryna Bielka
Subject: manuscript submission from Dr. YYYY
Would you contact the authors of XXX about possibly preparing something for one of the next two issues? Let me know if you can’t find the article online and I will send it.

Thank you,
The Archive's definition of "Medical Research" is unusually wide, and the subject XXX can range anywhere from "The place of Renaissance speculations on memory palaces in contemporary culture" , to "freshwater fish ecology". If "junk mail disguised as entire forwarded conversations" does not become its own literary genre, I will be sadly disappointed. I particularly like the suggestion that the recipient should foward it, and try to recruit students or colleagues on the spammer's behalf. Don't break the chain!!
Stolen from Oglaf
Other versions of the invitation maintain the personal touch, but come from Internal Medicine Review, so Lisseth Tovar, Milena Mihaleva and Drs Donald Combs or Chadwick Prodromos fill the respective slots in the template for Senior Editor, colleague, and editorial-board member. Int.Med.Rev. is another of Dylan Fazel's project, but for some reason it stands outside the KE-I umbrella, and it is covered separately at ScholarlyOA. Int.Med.Rev. also has a Washington address. From it we learn (through the Goofle Street View) that you can also cash cheques there, then buy liquor and Chinese takeaways at the adjoining premises, which saves time if you've paid $2900* to publish a paper and you want to celebrate .

The format is an elaboration of spam that Editorial Assistant Krystyna Vinokurova was blasting out with Dylan's name in 2014, using the same gambit -- "The guilt you feel for ignoring my non-existent earlier request can only be assuaged by submitting an article".

Some have questioned the reality of these people, or wondered -- in cases such as Reni Koen, the Bulgarian customer-service specialist in online gambling and casino management -- if they are aware of the use of their names. However, further inquiry finds Dr Lovar announcing her editorial post in her LinkedIn entry, while Milena Mihaleva's status as Senior Editor / Writer appears in the Face-Bukkake. It may be that Dylan recruited the entire team through their entries at UpWork, a freelancing service where they offered their skills in writing / editorial work (or in project management, in the case of Ms Vinokurova).

 It is not clear how use an editor or writer would be at the Internal Medicine Review, which is a write-only medium. The papers are only accessible to subscribers,** and there is no way to acquire a subscription.
[Thx Jeffrey Beall and commenters]

Uncle Smut, apart from the Astronom.Rev. history, does this have anything to do with Wainwright's stratospheric diatoms?
Not as such, no.
* The processing fee is negotiable by a factor of 10 if you deal with Lisseth or Kateryna.

** With occasional unexplained exceptions.

Sunday, August 7, 2016

What fools these mortals be
(the Blood is the Life)

They bled an old dog dry yet the exchange rills
Of young dog blood give but a month’s desires;
The waste remains. the waste remains and kills.
I hope I am not alone in hearing that poem recited in the dulcet tones of Wayne "Laughing Boy" Hussey.

Behold the fantasy-life website of xVitality Sciences.
"Prophylaxia" sounds like a plant... a member of the Spurge family, perhaps, native to Madagascar, used in the manufacture of condoms. Evidently it "directly supplements circulating youth factors as the most natural approach to reversing aging." It is "all-natural and contains no artificial chemicals or drugs". Did you ever in all your puff see such an amateurish operation?
The site sprang into being fully-formed, in the way of Athene birthed from the head of Zeus... written in terms suggestive of long experience with administering Prophylaxia, ("Most patients experience no side effects"), and complete with artisanal hand-made diagrams displaying the benefits of treatment. In the course of its six-month existence it acquired no further information. Thus we never learn (chiz chiz) the exact identities of the private clinics in Lima and Kiev that had signed up up to infuse Prophylaxia.

But we know that they did exist because they are mentioned in a promotional puff for xVitality. It alludes to clinical tests and generally bolsters the impression of a history of steady operation:
We've adapted a common clinical biologic for this purpose with an excellent safety profile and have completed the first in-human clinical trial. We're partnering with two clinics overseas to provide our product towards the end of 2015. Our treatment would be legal but not marketable in the US as an off-label treatment.
Otherwise, xVitality Sciences maintained a low profile before vanishing in a cloud of vapourware at the end of 2015. Rather than the usual start-up track of incorporating their hobby into an actual company and hitting up venture capitalists for funds, the entrepreneurs (Jesse Karmazin* and Howard Yee**) confined their promotional activities to spamming on Disqus and bulletin boards, waiting for topics faintly related to aging as an excuse to pimp the now-vanished website, make promises about rejuvenation, and plead for interest and funding.
Familiar trope in SF
Elsewhere we learn that the "all-natural" product rebranded as Prophylaxia is human blood. Natural, yes, but my people don't do that any more. Karmazin had started with the familiar stem-cell cargo-cult and added the magical-thinking principle that plasma transfusions will transfer some of the donor's youthfulness and stimulate the recipient's stem-cells, therefore rejuvenation.

There is some limited support for this from experiments in the 1860s, the golden age of vivisection, where researchers were sewing rats together -- creating conjoined twins -- so that their blood circulations merged in a single vascular system. Perhaps the idea was that the conjoined entity would become a Rat King, a creature of majesty and arcane powers who would lead the human race into a new era of eternal darkness.
Or else it was just what researchers did back then.

There was a revival of enthusiasm for rodent quilting in the 1950s-70s, with claims that when older rats were stitched up with younger ones they benefited from the propinquity... apart from the 10% or so that died from the operation or the 20%-30% that died of ‘parabiotic disease’. It was one of those avenues of research where results became progressively less positive as the studies became more rigorous. Then Amy Wagers announced that major surgery was unnecessary, and that the vitality-transfering element was injectable, being the growth factor GDF-11... though attempts to replicate her results failed dismally. Also there was this.

The entertaining coda of the xVitality debacle, with all its amateurish glory and fabulatory self-delusion (and CamelCase typography), is that the founder is back for a second bite of the cherry. Dr Karmazin has scrubbed off all trace of xVitality from his LinkedIn entry and FB account, and picked Ambrosia as the name for his new company. It has received a fair bit of attention around the Intertubes, what with its "clinical trial" that lacks control cases but charges a $8000 fee for "subjects". Tech billionaires, concerned that youth is wasted on the young and that the poors are consuming valuable resources --
“It’s this extremely abundant therapeutic that’s just sitting in blood banks”
-- are recruiting Dr Kamarzin to fill the role of Renfield. The prospect of Peter Thiel sinking millions into this cargo-cult (blithely sanguine that having won the golden ticket in the dot-com lottery, and being a Nietzschean Übermensch, he is as much an expert on biology as he was on nautical engineering), it is enough for one to wish Karmazin the best of luck.

Meanwhile the xVitality twatterstream is still extant, a monument to entrepreneurial play-acting: wishful thinking and self-confidence in a Platonic form, untainted by commercial or clinical activity. Enjoy the torrent of inspirational-poster platitudes before it goes the way of the website.

* Karmazin records on his LinkedIn entry that while at Stanford he took a course in Creating a Startup I (STRAMGT 356). Dude, they owe you your money back.

** Howard Yee had previously staked out domains for "eternitychocolate,com" and "" and "". I have no idea what the business plan was there.

Alternative title:
There's no turning back now; My fate is traced in blood

Monday, August 1, 2016

Till Human Voices Wake Us
(we used to be Apex Predators until the apices went extinct)

Our immediate response to the letter from Trahison & Clerisy (Solicitors and Commissioners for Oaths) was unfavourable. Trahison & Clerisy are our usual legal advisors at the Mad Scientist Anti-Defamation League, and this was their chance to earn the retainer we pay them, what with the impending court case arising to stand in the way of scientific progress. Always there are bleeding-heart nay-sayers going on about "things man was not meant to know", and "ethics committees", and it is at such times that those of us at the forefront of research expect support from our counsel. I was about to write "at the cutting edge of research", but under the circumstances it would be an indelicate choice of words.
Perfectly humane experiments
Instead, they appear to be rethinking their practice. "What in the name of bollocks is 'Holistic Integrative Jurisprudence'?" I exclaimed, slitting open the envelope and catching the letter as it slipped out under its own weight. It was printed on a heavy grade of deckled foolscap that demanded to be not merely read, but perused, or even pored over.

"Apparently it is the new paradigm of legal counselling," said Evangeline van Holsterin (chief barmaid at the Old Entomologist), glancing at the note as she collected the empty glasses from our table before Another Kiwi started stacking them up in another of his attempts to recreate the Tower of Babel out of glassware. "Treating the whole person rather than a narrow focus on winning specific cases. A range of traditional and non-western modalities of courtroom performance."

"Acupuncture complementing the cross-examination," said tigris.

"Chakra readjustment during deposition hearings," Another Kiwi suggested.

"When deciding which expert witnesses to call," read Evangeline, "they will base the choice on omens, auguries, entrail examination, and real-time observations of the movements of large mustelids." I was holding the letter towards me but years of experience at looking over from her side of the bar, and helping the patrons finish their crossword puzzles, have given Evangeline an ability to read printed messages whether they are right-way-up, or upside-down, or any other angle.

"The prosecution would never allow it, I said, imagining the scene. "They'd be all 'Objection, your honour! The defense is witnessing the badger!'”

In other badger observations, Clinchy et al. hid speakers within an English forest, and played back sound effects of various kinds during the night, to see which ones were most distressing and disturbing to badgers as they foraged.

68% of badgers were freaked out by fox barking, which reminded them of the traumatic experience when a Cunning Little Vixen pissed on them to drive them out of a sett.

The other 32% of badgers recalled a similar experience but rather enjoyed it.

82% of badgers were unfazed by weird avant-garde Penderecki compositions performed by large beetles on a Hammond organ, and indeed found them rather relaxing.
On the other hand, badgers are very unsettled by eerie theme-music from "Ring" and become nervous around sunken cavities in the ground, for fear that they are wells from which a long-haired ghost is about to emerge in search of revenge.
The sounds of "people speaking, in conversation, or reading passages from books" produced significantly more badger vigilance than other noises, which Clinchy et al. attribute to the fact that humans are "super-predators" who predate badger populations at a much greater rate than other large carnivores. Bear vocalisations were second scariest, despite bears being long-extinct from UK forests. This ursophobia could indicate traditions passed down through badger families, or genetic imprints of threats from past millennia; the authors are unclear in their explanation.

"The movements of large mustelids?" Another Kiwi vouchsafed. "I think they're called fiants, in the case of a badger, or spraints if it's an otter."

Sunday, July 31, 2016

Russian technological advances continue to lead and astonish the world

Before a packed audience, the Great Helmsman demonstrated the latest motorised rotatory nipple buffers.

...Now UPDATED with animated version through generosity of ckc (not kc) in comments: