Thursday, 30 August 2012

How can a film 73 years old be re-released in high definition?

The UK is now just weeks away from turning off the analogue TV signal for good, digital it seems is the way forward. Digital TV requires less broadcast transmission power, enables more channels to be broadcast in a narrower frequency band and most important of all it can transmit higher resolutions. I'm pretty sure the average consumer doesn't care about frequency bands or broadcast power, although they probably do care about the quality of the picture they can receive. The majority of the UK will be able to receive at least 3 Freeview HD channels by late October 2012; BBC HD, BBC One HD and Channel 4 HD. Fast forward five years and it's pretty likely that every free to air channel will be broadcast in HD. However, what I found curious was seeing as we're only getting a handful of HD channels in 2012, how can Gone with the Wind be available to buy on blu-ray considering it was first released in 1939?

It turns out the answer is actually pretty simple, 35mm film.

35mm film has the ability to record at resolutions far higher than what we refer to today as HD (1920x1080 pixels), basically all you need to do is use a film scanner to sample the analogue image to a digital image. It's actually very similar to a scanner you may have in your home, it reads dots per inch thus giving the resolution. The actual resolution of 35mm film is the subject of much debate although it's high enough to scan images at roughly 8000x4000 pixels (8k), 16 times the resolution of blu-ray. It's generally accepted that 4k (4000x2000) is enough to restore older films, evident by the fantastic quality of older films available for home viewing.

I look forward to a day when screens capable of 8k resolutions can be mass produced at a reasonable cost for the average consumer. Unfortunately we're probably in for at least a two decade wait.

Sunday, 26 August 2012

Is Armstrong telling the truth? 12 people who say otherwise

It's become abundantly clear over the past few days that the general public and more importantly the cycling world still seems to remain divided on whether Lance Armstrong used performance enhancing drugs to win the Tour de France. To look at it in the simplest of terms, Lance is either lying or telling the truth. Personally I believe him to be a liar, however if Lance is telling the truth who then must be lying?

Floyd Landis, the man who started the ball rolling has arguably lost the most by coming forward. In speaking out against Lance he had to admit that he did dope during the 2006 Tour de France and as a result defrauded 1800 people out of half a million dollars through the fairness for Floyd fund. Landis agreed this week to repay the sum within three years in an attempt to avoid prison time. The former USPS rider spoke of Lance's EPO and testosterone use, how Lance had helped him obtain and use doping products, how he and Lance had received blood transfusions during races and how Lance used to boast about being powerful enough to have a 2001 positive for EPO covered up.

Tyler Hamilton told his story on the US show 60 minutes and in doing so he admitted doping to win a gold medal in Athens 2004. Despite testing positive for a blood transfusion Tyler had kept that gold medal because his B sample had been improperly stored. Tyler had been home and dry but his own personal guilt and a subpoena to testify before a grand jury during Lance's federal trial changed everything. He came clean, admitted doping and told how he'd seen Armstrong receive blood transfusions and inject himself with EPO.

Armstrong's former Masseuse Emma O'Reilly stated that she had lent him makeup to cover up needle marks, helped him dispose of syringes and picked up packages containing doping products. O'Reilly also told of how team officials had panicked over Armstrong's positive test for steroids during the 1999 tour, she explained how the team doctor had forged a backdated prescription for a steroid based cream for saddle sores.

Mike Anderson was a mechanic for Armstrong between 2002 and 2004, their relationship took a turn for the worse when Anderson discovered a box of Androstenedione while cleaning Armstrong's bathroom. Anderson was terminated soon after and refused to sign a non-disclosure agreement.

In 2006 Frankie and Betsy Andreu testified to have heard Armstrong tell doctors in 1996 that he had taken EPO, growth hormone and steroids. Their testimony was part of the SCA case against Armstrong, SCA didn't want to pay a $5 million bonus for Tour de France wins. Frankie Andreu also admitted to using EPO to prepare for the 1999 tour, Armstrong's first victory in the race. Andreu stated that he was introduced to doping in 1995 while riding for Armstrong's former Motorola team, he revealed that while he did not see Armstrong using PEDs at Motorola he was confident he was doping.

Greg Lemond was the first American to win the Tour de France and in the beginning a Lance fan. In 2001 Lemond learned that Lance was working with Michelle Ferrari, a sports trainer who famously once said EPO was no more dangerous than orange juice. Lemond stated that he was disappointed Lance was working with Ferrari, a month later Lemond issued an apology and said Lance's performances were the result of hard work and dedication. Three years later Lemond revealed that he had been forced to issue an apology after being threatened. Armstrong warned Lemond to keep quiet or he would find ten people to say that he had taken EPO and that he would destroy his relationship with Trek Bicycles. Lemond's own brand of bicycles were made by Trek and a breakdown of that relationship would have ruined a profitable business.

In addition to the seven aforementioned individuals numerous ex-teammates have given evidence to USADA, I don't want to speculate as to what they might have said however I'm sure the testimonies will emerge over time. Some of those ex-teammates include George Hincapie, Levi Leipheimer, Jonathan Vaughters, Christian Van de Velde and David Zabriske. At the very least all five have either seen Armstrong take or discuss taking PEDs, otherwise I doubt they would be on USADA's witness list.

Here we have twelve individuals that according to Lance are lying, and telling a very complicated and coordinated lie at that. It just doesn't seem plausible to me and almost everyone of the 12 is in a worse position as a result of telling the truth. In my opinion it's largely why Lance has kept his doping secret quiet from the general public since 1999, what did people have to gain by speaking against him and telling the truth? This was a powerful man, someone who went for private bike rides with the US president and described himself as a friend of Nicolas Sarkozy. Greg Lemond is a good example of why people kept quiet, one phone call from Lance and he could have destroyed Greg's livelihood, honestly that's a man that I'd think twice about messing with.

Finally to all the Lance believers; you're free to think what you wish however I'd be interested to hear why you've decided to ignore these 12 individuals. Recovering from cancer and returning to professional sport is admirable but it doesn't make you a saint, it doesn't excuse defrauding millions of people.

Saturday, 18 August 2012

Euthanasia and Tony Nicklinson

I've been following the story of 'Locked-in Syndrome' sufferer Tony Nicklinson since March of this year. A stroke during a business trip to Athens in 2005 left him paralysed from the neck down and as a result can only communicate via a computer that tracks eye movement. Tony has been campaigning for the right to die and I was genuinely saddened to hear this week that he had lost his High Court case.

Quantifying quality of life is very difficult, ultimately it comes down to each individual and how they perceive their own existence. Tony Nicklinson believes he has no quality of life and that his life is a living nightmare, I have to say I agree. Tony can't dress, feed or wash himself, he needs 24 hour care and can't communicate fast enough to participate in a simple conversation. Another daily issue Tony faces is that he's unable to scratch himself. It seems rather trivial but next time you have an itch try and see how long you can leave it without scratching, imagine seven years of that.

I'm aware that this case isn't about Tony committing suicide, it's about enabling a third party to under the eyes of the law commit murder. The argument that a ruling in Tony's favour would set a precedent for future cases giving too much power to doctor's is understandable. However if the system was regulated by the courts it would take the decision out of doctors hands.Tony is of completely sound mind and to condemn him to another 20 years of hell just to make a point about the value of life seems backward to me.

I'd be interested to hear your views on this whether for or against.


Tony Nicklinson died at approximately 10am on Wednesday the 22nd of August after refusing food and contracting pneumonia.

The law prohibited Tony receiving a lethal injection to end his life, instead he had to spend his last week in pain, coughing relentlessly, his body screaming out for nourishment and ultimately the sensation of his bronchial tubes filling with fluid. Abiding the law essentially increased the sensations of a crippled man's hell for fear of setting a precedent. Decide for yourself if that's right or wrong, it's not a difficult decision in my eyes.

I hope Tony's case will put euthanasia back in the spotlight and encourage parliament to consider change.

Thursday, 16 August 2012

How expensive is it to fuel a commercial jet?

The cost of fuelling a car in the UK has risen substantially over the past number of years, as recently as 2002 a litre of petrol was just 69.9p. Fuel has become so expensive that I've altered my driving style quite a bit. I was able to work out that by using a little less right foot I could improve my average mpg by 15 thus saving myself roughly 5.7p per mile. If I was to drive a pretty average 14,000 miles a year that extra 15 mpg would save me just short of £800, the equivalent of 132 hours working on minimum wage. I also tried to work out whether a slightly longer commute that avoided hills would be more efficient than the shorter hillier route although I don't really want to discuss that in this post. What I would like to discuss is how much it costs to fuel a commercial jet, I think you may be quite surprised.

Aviation fuel as of Monday August 13th was priced at $3.13 per US gallon, compared to a gallon of petrol it's not very expensive. It's also usually of a higher quality than what you'd use in your car and often contains additives to help prevent icing or explosions. Now that we know the price it's pretty simple to work out how much it's going to cost to fill the fuel tanks of a commercial jet, I'll give examples for a few different kinds of aircraft starting with the medium range A320.

If you've ever flown with Easyjet or Aer Lingus chances are you've been on an A320. It's a good aircraft for short to medium range flights and can be just as efficient on a 30 minute flight as a 4 hour flight. However just because it's efficient doesn't mean it's cheap. The standard A320 has a maximum fuel capacity of 6,400 gallons meaning you'll need $20,000 to fill it.

The Boeing 777-200LR hold the record for the longest non-stop flight by a commercial airliner. On the 9th of November 2005 it flew eastward from Hong-Kong to London, a distance of 13,423 miles. It has reduced cargo space thanks to three auxiliary fuel tanks in the cargo hold and has the ability to connect almost any two airports in the world. Those auxiliary tanks help achieve a maximum fuel capacity of 47,890 gallons costing roughly $150,000 to fill.

Now onto the big one, the Airbus A380. The A380 holds the record for the world's biggest passenger jet, it's so large that a number of airports have had to alter their existing infrastructure to accommodate it. It takes 2.75km of runway to reach a safe take-off speed, is likely almost twice the height of your house and can accommodate 853 passengers in a single class configuration. Unsurprisingly as the world's biggest jet it also has one of the biggest fuel capacities. The A380 can hold a maximum of 84,600 gallons giving the owner a $265,000 bill every time the aircraft needs to re-fuel. 

$265,000 for one tank, fuelling my car seems pretty cheap now.     

Saturday, 11 August 2012

How do you set the entire earth on fire?

The Cretaceous–Paleogene extinction event was a large scale mass extinction of animal and plant species, most notably the dinosaurs in geologically speaking a short period of time. The primary cause of extinction was an asteroid impact so large that it severely disrupted the earth's biosphere. Such an impact would create a dust cloud big enough to block out sunlight for a number of years, fill the stratosphere with sulphuric acid aerosols and during the hours immediately after the impact everything that can burn will. 

Think about that, everything that can burn will. How?

Firstly it's important to understand that the asteroid in question was about 10miles in diameter, so big that when the bottom hit the ground the top hadn't yet entered the bulk of the atmosphere. Picture that, the bottom of the asteroid is touching the ground and the top is up around 30,000ft with commercial airliners. It really would be something amazing to see although I'd prefer not to considering it would mean I was seconds from death. 

Now that we know the size of the asteroid we can begin to work out what's going to happen once it hits the ground. 

Sound travels through granite at about 5,950m/s which is a lot slower than the speed of an incoming asteroid travelling at about 27,000m/s. This means that when the asteroid hits, the back of the asteroid will hit the ground before the shock wave can get to it. It'll smash all the way into the earth's surface. This means nearly all of the energy created by the impact is added to matter beneath the ground surface, for the asteroid in question that's about 1x10^25 joules. That's enough energy to melt about 100 times the asteroid's own mass or 5x10^18kg of rock, a small amount of that rock will vaporize instantly and travel about 60miles into the air, maybe higher.

Now you've got trillions of tons of lava raining down on everything from a height of 60miles. The earth has roughly 6x10^14kg of carbon in it's biomass which will burn in a matter of hours.

Everything that can burn will. 

Thursday, 9 August 2012

What comes after a terabyte?

I'm pretty sure most people are familiar with kilobytes, megabytes, gigabytes and even terabytes as they become more common. A terabyte is probably the largest unit of information known to most people, for example I have just over 2 terabytes of storage space on my home pc. That's enough for 2000 songs, 400 high definition movies and roughly 4000 episodes of various tv shows. To be honest I have more digital media than I could ever have time to watch, just the movies and tv shows alone would take 220 days to watch if I only took breaks to eat and sleep. For the average consumer two terabytes of storage space on a home pc is going to be more than enough, most of the space will likely never be used. However, what comes after a terabyte?

That honour falls to a petabyte, followed an exabyte, zettabyte and finally the largest unit we've named, a yottabyte.

I've already explained how much data you can store on 2 terabytes, a petabyte is a thousand times larger than one terabyte. It's pretty big, so big that you could store every single piece of data used to render the 3D CGI effects for Avatar. Interestingly the human brain's ability to store memories is roughly the equivalent of 2.5 petabytes of binary data.

As you can see a petabyte is pretty big, so how much bigger is an exabyte, zettabyte or yottabyte?

An exabyte for example (a thousand times larger than a petabyte) is roughly the amount of traffic that passes through the entire internet on a daily basis and 5 exabytes are enough write down all the words ever spoken by humans.

A zettabyte is unimaginably large, it's a thousand times bigger than an exabyte and the amount of information a few zettabytes can hold is truly mindbogglingly. Roughly half a zettabyte is enough to hold the entire internet and as of January 2012 no storage system has achieved one zettabyte of information. A zetabyte is so large that if you had just 42 available you could store all human speech ever spoken.

Finally a yotabyte, or a quadrillion gigabytes is so large than no storage system has even achieved one thousandth of a yotabyte. In fact the internet combined with every hard drive in existence wouldn't even be a thousandth of a yotabyte. There is no doubt in my mind that one day a yotabyte storage device will be created, however it's likely we'll create one before we've generated enough digital media to fill one.    

Wednesday, 8 August 2012

How easy is it to beat UKA's whereabouts system?

Eleven days ago Kazakhstan's Alexander Vinokourov won the men's cycling road race in emphatic fashion. Just over a week later GB's Christine Ohuruogu won a silver medal in the women's 400m. Both athletes have served suspensions, one for blood transfusions, the other for missing three out of competition drug tests. Vino was announced on the 6 o'clock news as the former drug cheat who ruined British hero Mark Cavendish's dream of Olympic gold, Ohuruogu's suspension is rarely mentioned and I'd be surprised if the majority of the British public even knew she had served a ban. Ohuruogu is portrayed as a victim of the system, a role model and an ambassador for British Athletics, Vino on the other hand is portrayed as a cheat and the villain. Ohuruogu a victim of the system? The system is victim of Ohuruogu.

There is absolutely no doubt in my mind that Ohuruogu was using performance enhancing drugs at the time when she missed those three out of competition tests. Missing out of competition tests on purpose is a strategy used by numerous athletes in track and field. This strategy allows them to reap the benefits of PEDs outside of competition thus eliminating the need to use 'heavy' products during competition when the likelihood of being tested is much much greater. I'd like to outline how easy it is to beat UKA's whereabouts system and how athletes manipulate it to continue doping. I'm going to use the method Victor Conte devised as an example, Ohuruogu was likely using a similar system. Athletes can only miss three out of competition tests in an 18 month period, unfortunately for Ohuruogu she ran out of tests to miss.

For this program the athlete will be taking seven banned products: THG, Testosterone Cream, EPO, HGH, Insulin, Modafinil and Cytomel. 

Firstly the THG would be taken two days a week on a three week on, one week off cycle preferably on the heaviest weight training days during the off season. The athlete would place 30 IUs under the tongue, this would accelerate healing and tissue repair. 

Secondly, the testosterone cream would be mainly used during the off season. The athlete would rub the cream onto his/her forearm two days a week using a dosage containing 50mg of testosterone and 2.5mg of epitestosterone. This dosage would offset the suppression of endogenous testosterone and accelerate recovery. This product would be used in cycles of three weeks on, one week off.

The EPO would be used three days a week during the first 2 weeks of a doping cycle and once a week afterwards as maintenance using 4000 IU per injection. EPO boosts the red blood cell count and enhances oxygen uptake, this enables athlete to cope with a much deeper training load during the off season.

HGH would be used three nights a week with each injection containing 4.5units of growth hormone. Similar to the testosterone the HGH would help with recovery from heavy weight sessions.  

The Insulin should be used after heavy weight sessions during the off season. Three units of fast-acting insulin would be injected immediately after the workout sessions together with a sports drink that contained 30 grams of dextrose, 30 grams of whey protein and 3 grams of creatine. This cocktail would replenish glycogen, re-synthesize ATP and promote protein synthesis and muscle growth.

The Modafinil would be used one hour before competition in the form of a 200mg tablet. It will decease fatigue, enhance mental alertness and improve reaction time.

Cytomel should also be used before competition to improve the athlete's metabolic rate. It should be taken in the form of two 25mg tablets one hour before competition.

Now that I've outlined products the athlete would be taking, how do they avoid getting caught? Most will use the 'duck and dive' technique, it works something like this.

Firstly the athlete fills his/her own voicemail and message inbox so they can claim not to have received messages from testers. Secondly they will put incorrect information on their whereabouts from, meaning they can still train without being interrupted by an unannounced tester. Once the athlete has completed these steps they can start using the testosterone, HGH and other drugs on a short three week cycle. Once the three week cycle has finished the athlete can wait a few days until they know they will test negative and resume training at their normal facility, or the facility listed on the whereabouts form. UKA randomly tests each athlete approximately two times a year out of competition, if the athlete misses three he/she will receive a sanction. This means an athlete can continue to dope using the 'duck and dive' approach until they have missed two tests. It's a pretty good trade, two supposedly innocent mistakes in the eyes of UKA enable the athlete to 'prepare' in the off season for their big objectives i.e. Olympic games or World Championships. It is my opinion that Ohuruogu was using this system and as a result missed three out of competition tests.

On a final note, if you think it wouldn't be possible to take the cocktail of drugs I've mentioned and avoid testing positive think again. This is the exact system Dwain Chambers admitted to using for two years until he was caught. Scarily he only tested positive for the THG, all the other substances went undetected. During these two years Chambers won two European titles, ran 9.87 for the 100m and 20.27 for the 200m, all heavily drug assisted.  

Sunday, 5 August 2012

Is being indoors enough to protect you from lightning?

Lightning is a random atmospheric electrostatic discharge, this discharge is due to massive unbalanced electrical charges building up in the atmosphere. It is without a doubt one of the most powerful forces of nature killing 24,000 people a year. A force powerful enough to reach you indoors if you're in contact with any conductor that originates from outside. For example, if lightning hits a phone line outside your house the current will travel to every phone connected to the external line. The current will continue to travel through anyone holding the phone at the time of the strike.

Really any electrical item has the potential to connect you with the lightning. Your television, computer and hairdryer all have the potential to disrupt your body's electrical signals and ultimately stop your heart and brain. It's only since wireless internet and laptops with good battery life that we've been able to continue browsing the web or watching television during lightning strikes.

Lightning has also been known to strike the exterior of a house and travel along the interior metal pipes, if you're touching anything connected to those pipes that current will travel through you. This isn't as big an issue as it once was, mainly due to the cheaper PVC pipes now used for indoor plumbing. It's nice to know we can now answer the call of nature safely during a lightning storm, I was losing sleep over that issue.