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Location: United Kingdom

John May is a generalist. A lifelong free-lance author, editor, producer and writer, he has worked on 15 books and written for many major newspapers and magazines. He is a published poet, a semi-professional musician and songwriter, a part-time painter and a dedicated photographer.

Friday, September 21, 2007


Also known as 'Toe-tankhamun', this worn, bendable, leather-and-wood prosthetic big toe is in the Cairo Museum, attached to the foot of a 2,400-year-old female Egyptian mummy whose real toe had been amputated.

Researcher Jacky Finch, is using the ancient prosthetic device to carry out a study at Manchester's KNH Centre for Biomedical Egyptology. He is recruiting volunteers whose right big toe has been lost in order to test an exact replica of the artificial toe.

A model of a second false Egyptian big toe - on display in the British Museum - will also be tested at the Human Performance Laboratory at nearby University of Salford.

"The toes date from between 1000 and 600BC, so if we can prove that one or both were functional then we will have pushed back prosthetic medicine by as much as 700 years," said Finch.

The oldest known functional prosthesis is the Roman Capua Leg, which was made of bronze and dates from about 300BC. The leg was held at the Royal College of Surgeons in London but was destroyed by Luftwaffe bombs during the Second World War.

"The Cairo toe is the most likely of the two to be functional as it is articulated and shows signs of wear. It is still attached to the foot of the mummy of a female between 50 and 60 years of age. The amputation site is also well healed."

The British Museum artefact- named the Greville Chester Great Toe after the collector who acquired it for the museum in 1881- is made from cartonnage, a sort of papier mache made using linen, glue and plaster.

It too shows signs of wear, indicating that it may have been worn by its owner in life and not simply attached to the foot during mummification for religious or ritualistic reasons. However, unlike the Cairo specimen, the Greville Chester toe does not bend and so is likely to have been more cosmetic.

"The Human Performance Laboratory will use state-of-the-art technology to test whether the replicas of the artificial toes benefit the wearer and could therefore be deemed functional," said Jacky.

"If either one is functional it may be interesting to manufacture it with modern materials and trial it for use on people with missing toes."

Source: Press Release. Faculty of Life Sciences/The University of Manchester

Tuesday, September 18, 2007


A short history of canine shooting incidents

Aug 6, 2007 Memphis man recovering after dog accidentally shoots him in the back

The shooting happened around 2:30 Thursday morning in the 3800 block of Kerwood. When police officers arrived, they found a man shot in the back. According to witnesses, the dog, a Great Dane, was playing in a front room when the "dog" knocked a gun off of a table. The gun discharged and the bullet ended up hitting the owner in the back.


September 16, 2005 Dog shoots man

TUSSLE over prey between a Bulgarian hunter and his hound ended when the dog shot the man. The man lost his temper and began beating his Deutsch-Drahthaar hunting dog with a rifle when the animal refused to release a killed bird it had brought back. But the dog's paw caught the trigger and the hunter was blasted with buckshot. The extent of his injuries was not reported - but local media said the dog injured a paw.


Sept. 21, 2004 Puppy shoots Florida man, deputies say dog put paw on gun's trigger as owner tried to kill him

PENSACOLA, Fla. - A man who tried to shoot seven puppies was shot himself when one of the dogs put its paw on the revolver’s trigger. Jerry Allen Bradford, 37, was being treated at a hospital for a gunshot wound to his wrist. Bradford said he decided to shoot the 3-month-old shepherd-mix dogs in the head because he couldn’t find them a home, according to the sheriff’s office.


6 nov 2003 Dog shoots man

A FRENCH hunter was shot by his dog, police said yesterday. The man left a loaded shotgun with two dogs in the boot of his car. One dog stepped on the trigger and shot the man in the hip. The hunter, from the Basque village of Espelette, was in hospital with shot wounds.


25 Oct 2002 Hunter shot in the foot by his dog

By Associated Press,

BROOKLYN PARK, Minn. -- Pheasant season took an ugly turn for Michael Murray when he was shot by Sonny, his year-old English setter pup. Murray, 42, was hunting in western South Dakota on the first day of the season last Saturday. He said he was lining up a photo of the seven birds his hunting party shot in the first hour. A loaded 12-gauge shotgun lay on the ground near the frisky dog."He stepped on the gun and it went off," Murray said. "At first I didn't know what happened. I got that blinding flash of pain and I sat down. Blood was pumping out of my ankle."

After 15 stitches and a night in the hospital, Murray is on course for a complete recovery."It was the most bizarre thing that has ever happened to me," he said. Murray admits there is a certain amount of notoriety that goes along with getting shot by your dog. "That's the hard part, talking to people, because you feel like such a fool," he said.

11 December, 2000 Dog shoots man

BBC graphic

A New Zealand hunter has been shot by his own dog, proving that canines are not always a man's best friend. Kelly Russell was tracking wild pigs on Sunday with Stinky and two other dogs when the accident happened near Tokoroa on North Island. Having cornered one of his prey, Mr Russell put down his loaded shotgun - but in the ensuing commotion Stinky jumped on it, blasting a shot through the hapless hunter's foot. Mr Russell, 30, then endured a five-hour wait before help happened to chance by in the shape of a passing car. "There was a big bang and my leg went flying back," the 30-year-old logger said on Monday from Waikato hospital...Doctors give the foot only a 50-50 chance. Source:

August 18, 1999 Dog shoots man

STUTTGART, Germany (Reuters) - A German dog has shot and killed its owner, police said Wednesday. The 51-year-old man, who had been out hunting with his shotgun, was found dead beside his car near the southwestern town of Bad Urach Monday. Police ruled out suicide and foul play and said the gun must have gone off when the dog jumped on top of it on the car seat.



Tuesday, April 24, 2007


For centuries it was believed that the tongue only perceived four basic tastes: sweet, sour, salty, bitter. That was until the early 1900s when Professor Kikunae Ikeda (right) of Tokyo Imperial University began thinking about the taste of food and realised there was a taste which was common to asparagus, tomatoes, cheese and meat but which is not one of the four well-known tastes.

In 1907 Professor Ikeda began his experiments to identify the source of this distinctive taste. He knew it was present in broth made from kombu (a type of seaweed) found in traditional Japanese cuisine sohe started by making a huge quantity of it from which he succeeded in extracting crystals of glutamic acid (or glutamate) – an amino acid which forms one of the building blocks of protein. This was the source of the new distinctive taste which he named ‘umami' in 1908.

Professor Ikeda found that 100gms of dried kombu contain about 1gm of glutamate; he decided to try and make a seasoning of it. He realised that, for this to work, the glutamate had to have some of the same physical characteristics which are found in sugar and salt - it had to be easily soluble in water but neither absorb humidity nor solidify.

Ikeda discovered monosodium glutamate combined these good storage properties with a strong umami or savoury taste. It turned out to be an ideal seasoning because monosodium glutamate has no smell or specific texture of its own so can be used in many different dishes, where it naturally enhances the original flavour of the food.

‘Plant Scents’ [American Scientist (Vol 92 No 6 Nov-Dec 2004 p.514).

More details in: Susan McLaughlin and Robert F. Margolskee,
‘The Sense of Taste’ [American Scientist (Vol 82, No.6 Nov-Dec 1994 p.538)].
See also:


[Left]: Human taste buds (SEM at 2,800X). This tongue is covered not by protruding papillae, but by soft, overlapping sheetlike cells, each with its own intricate surface pattern which is doubtless as distinctive as a fingerprint. (Source: Cornell University)

'The word ‘umami' is now widely recognized and used amongst chefs, food writers and food fans around the world, but not so long ago it was known only in Japan, or among scientists, and even then viewed with considerable skepticism. One man who has been aware of umami longer and understands it better than most is Professor Tim Jacob, School of Biosciences, University of Cardiff who specializes in the relationship between smell and taste.

“Umami has only been accepted in the west for the past 10 years or so, and the discovery of taste receptors for umami gave it credibility,” says Jacob.

'The taste receptors he’s talking about are the L-glutamate taste receptor (mGluR4), discovered in 1996 by Chaudhari et al. and two amino acid receptors, called T1R1 and T1R3, which were first reported in 2002 by Nelson et al. It was the discovery of these receptors on the tongue, which respond specifically to substances that contain the umami taste, that led to umami being taken seriously by scientists, chefs and those with an interest in food, and it being recognized as one of the basic tastes alongside sweet, salty, sour and bitter.

'Another area for further study that relates to this is the position of taste buds and receptors in the mouth. Many people may be familiar with diagrams of the human tongue, neatly divided into areas that respond to different basic tastes, such as the sweet area, and the bitter area.

'Although it was thought for many years that this was how the taste buds worked, this theory was subsequently disproved, partly due to the emergence of umami, and scientists began to agree that all tastes could be experienced all over the tongue. But again, Jacob suggests that this is not the whole story either. In fact, “certain regions are more sensitive to one or two tastes [so] it’s a case of throwing the baby out with the bathwater, to throw out the idea that there are sensors [for certain tastes] in certain areas.”

In fact, taste buds are not simply located on the tongue, but also on the palate, esophagus and throughout the oral cavity. Jacob is particularly keen to point out that there is a high density of umami taste buds on the palate in addition to those on the tongue, and what is more, these are connected to the brain by the facial nerve, which is separate to the nerves serving the tongue. Thus, he says, “umami has its own direct link to the brain.”

Jacob, however, gives a more fundamental explanation of the importance of umami as a taste, which touches on the basic role of taste in the way we eat. “The purpose of taste,” he says, “is to drive appetite … umami is the taste of proteins and amino acids, so it makes perfect sense that we have to have the umami taste.”

[Left]: Tongue with bitter, sweet and umami receptors in green and sour receptors in red. Credit: Nicholas Ryba, NIDCR and Charles Zuker, UCSD

August 23, 2006

UCSD-led Team Discovers How We Detect Sour Taste

By Sherry Seethaler

A team headed by biologists from the University of California, San Diego has discovered the cells and the protein that enable us to detect sour, one of the five basic tastes.

The study reports that each of the five basic tastes is detected by distinct taste receptors—proteins that detect taste molecules—in distinct cells. The team previously discovered the sweet, bitter and umami (savory) receptors and showed that they are found in separate cells, but some researchers have argued that sour and salty tastes, which depend on the detection of ions, would not be wired in the same way.

“Our results show that each of the five basic taste qualities is exquisitely segregated into different taste cells” explained Charles Zuker, a professor of biology at UCSD and a Howard Hughes Medical Institute Investigator, who headed the study. “Taken together, our work has also shown that all taste qualities are found in all areas of the tongue, in contrast with the popular view that different tastes map to different areas of the tongue.”

UCSD/Department of Biological Sciences


Colly Cibber [1671-1757] was the first in a long-line of actor-managers in the English theatre and pioneer of the truly personal autobiography, a work that appeared in 1740 under the title An Apology for the Life of Mr Colly Cibber, Comedian, and Late Patentee of the Theatre Royal, With an Historical View of the Stage During His Own Time, Written by Himself.’ (At that time the word ‘apology’ meant a statement in defence of one’s actions).

He made his name as an actor and dramatist with ‘Love’s Last Shift, or Virtue Rewarded’ (1696) in which he starred as the Frenchified fop Sir Novelty Fashion; fops were to remain his forte, entertaining his audiences with his portrayals of Lord Foppington, Sir Courtly Nice and Sir Fopling Flutter

He also adapted (or mutilated) many plays by other authors, including Shakespeare’s Richard III. His version – ‘The Tragical History of Richard III’ - which premiered in1700, remained the standard stage version until the 1840s. It was thought by many to be an improvement on the original, despite the fact that the first two lines of Richard’s most famous soliloquy – ‘Now is the winter of our discontent /Made glorious summer by this son of York’ – were excised. The role of Richard III made the name of the actor David Garrick and it remained the character for which he was most renowned. The theatrical term ‘break a leg’ is said to have come from this, Garrick being so transported by the role of Richard that he didn’t notice he’d fractured his leg.

Colly Cibber’s appointment as Poet Laureate was seen to be a political rather than artistic honour, and widely ridiculed by the likes of Fielding, Johnson and Pope. Some of his poems have survived but only in ‘bad verse’ anthologies.’

James Fenton, ‘In My Good Books’ (The Guardian 4.2.06)

[Above]: The memory of Kolly Kibber is not lost in Brighton. This is an invite card to an art show at The Headquarters featuring work by Damien Le Bas, Delaine Le Bas, Cathy Lomax, Wayne Lucas, Alex Michon, Jimmy Pursey and Stella Vine. Date uncertain (in the last few years).

"Kolley Kibber" was the newspaper nom-de-plume for Fred Hale, a former gangster, who returns to Brighton to anonymously distribute cards for a newspaper competition and disappears, presumably murdered, at the end of the first chapter of the novel ‘Brighton Rock’ by Graham Greene.

The character of Kolly Kibber was a homage and an amalgam of Colly Cibber and Lobby Lud, a fictional character invented in 1927 by the Westminster Gazette, the name being derived from the newspaper’s telegraphic address (‘Lobby, Ludgate’). The newspaper would print details of which holiday resort ‘Lobby Lud’ (impersonated by member’s of the Gazette staff) was going to visit, provide a description of him and that day’s password phrase. Anyone carrying a copy of the newspaper could challenge "Lobby Lud" utter the password, and win some money.

The News Chronicle, Daily Mirror and Daily Mail all ran similar schemes. The Daily Mirror's "Chalkie White" continues to visit resorts, and the idea has been taken up by local radio stations and other media (often offering lesser prizes).

Guardian journalist Alan Rusbridger caught up with a ‘Chalkie White’ in1980, on the prom in Lowestoft. He wrote:Each day a picture of Chalkie's eyes appears in the Daily Mirror and each day the Great British holidaymaker memorises them, together with the line he must say to claim the £50 prize. It is usually some such sentence as "To my delight, it's Chalkie White".

(He has a different version of the origin of this tradition: ‘Chalkie White comes from a distinguished tradition of mystery men, a British summer institution that began between the wars with the News Chronicle's Lobby Lud and was celebrated after a fashion in Graham Greene's Brighton Rock.’)


Sunday, August 06, 2006


The Colour of Memory (Photo: John May)

Two linguists – Paul Kay and Brent Berlin – began studying the language of colour when they were comparing their field notes in the early 1960s. Kay had just returned from
Tahiti; Berlin from studying a Mayan language in southern Mexico. To their surprise, they discovered that, in both languages, all the major colour terms but one were exactly like those in English; the exception was also the same in both languages (grouping green and blue together in what the linguists call ‘grue’).

Intrigued, Kay and Berlin sampled the colour terms used in 110 languages. They found that colour vocabulary certainly varies in size: English has 11 basic terms: black, white, red, green, yellow, blue, brown, pink, orange, purple and grey. Russian adds goluboy (light blue). By contrast, Dani, a New Guinea language, only has two: one is for ‘cool’ colours, encompassing black, green and blue; the other for ‘warm colours, including white red and yellow. Those languages having only three terms, almost always have ‘black-cool’, white-light’ and ‘red-yellow-warm’; those having four, usually add ‘grue.’

The variation in the number of colour words, Kay believes, is due to the fact that hunter-gatherers need fewer colour words because colour data rarely provides crucial information about a natural object or scene. The number of colour words in a society corresponds to its degree of industrialisation.

The publication of their book Basic Colour Terms (1969), which suggests that people everywhere see colour in quite similar ways, triggered off years of speculation as to whether the patterns they had discovered had a common neurophysiological basis but, according to Kay (2004) ‘there is no physiological evidence for or against this view.’

A more recent theory suggests that universals in colour vocabularies can be attributed to the way the world is coloured i.e. to the natural distribution of wavelengths.

Source: Philip E. Ross, 'Draining the Language of Colour (Scientific Smerican. April 2004. p24)


Aconcagua at dawn/7 Summits

The highest mountains on each of Earth’s continents were first named the Seven Summits by Dick Bass, who was the first to climb them all. He completed this amazing feat on April 30th 1985, when he became the oldest climber (at that time) to reach the top of Mount Everest. He was 55.

They are: Aconcagua (6,959m) in South America, Kosciusko (222.8m) in Australia, Everest (8,848m) in Asia, Elbrus (5,642m) in Europe, Kilimanjaro (5,895m) in Africa, Vinson Massif (4,897m) in Antarctica and Mount McKinley (6,194m) in North America.

Another list was proposed by the legendary mountaineer Reinhold Messner in which he substituted Oceania for Australia and chose the Carstensz Pyramid (4,884m) to replace Kosciuszko.

Pat Morrow was the first to climb this list followed by Messner himself, both in 1986. By 2003, more than 100 climbers had climbed all seven on one or other of these lists; 40% had climbed all eight to complete both lists. The fastest time to complete either list was set by a climber who made the seven ascents in about seven months, using Kosciuszko; another did it in ten months, using Carstensz Pyramid.

Carstensz Pyramid is located on what was Irian Jaya (named Papua since 2000), Indonesia, at Lat/Lon: 4.08°S, 137.18°E. It was first climbed by Heinrich Harrer who describes the experience in his book ‘I Come From the Stone Age’: ‘It's a steep granite wall with sharp good climbable rock. Only a few hundred people have climbed Carstensz due to the political instability and the fact that it is hidden in dense jungle. Be prepared to climb in snow, rain, with your gloves being torn by the sharp rock, while seeing the Freeport company tearing down other nearby mountains, the last glaciers near the equator and men wearing nothing but penis gourds!’

Harrer died in January 2006 at the age of 93. Quicktime movie of Harrer with Dalai Lama here
If you want to climb Carstensz Pyramid go here


'Seven Summits'
- Dick Bass, Frank Wells (with Frank Ridgeway).
Warner Books 1988

'Seven Summits: The Quest to reach the Highest Point on Seven Continents'
- (Editor) Steve Bell (Forewords: Dick Bass and Pat Morrow).
Gramercy Books. 2006

Wednesday, August 02, 2006


The paper clip must be one of the simplest and most ingenious of all inventions. Legend has it that New Yorker Walter Hunt, a prolific inventor and mechanic, was fiddling around with a piece of wire whilst trying to think of something that could help him pay off a $15 debt. He made his first safety pin out of a piece of brass wire about eight inches long, coiled at the centre and shielded at one end. He went on to patent it on April 10, 1849 as a ‘dress pin’ but later sold the rights to it for $400.

Hunt came up with his first invention - a flax spinner - when he was in his late teens He also invented: a fire engine gong, a forest saw, paper collars, a knife sharpener, a streetcar bell, a hard-coal- burning stove, artificial stone, road sweeping machinery, velocipedes, ice ploughs and mail making machinery. None of them, it seems, achieved significant commercial success as Hunt had problems marketing them effectively.

In 1834, he built America's first sewing machine - the first to employ an eye-pointed needle. He lost interest in patenting it because he believed the invention would cause unemployment amongst seamstresses.

Today In Science History

See Hunt's original patent here

According to Wikipedia: The origin of the safety pin dates back to the Mycenaeans c.1050 B.C. They were known as "Fibulae". It is also possible that it was invented by the iron age Hallstatt culture who lived in what is modern day Austria.

Accordimg to the website Find A Grave: Walter Hunt was born on July 29th 1796 and died on June 8th 1859. He is buried in Green-wood Cemetry,
Brooklyn, Kings County, New York, USA. There is a portrait of him on this site and pictures of an ornate tombstone and an obelix, both erected in his memory.

The website claims that Walter Hunt died of gangrene, from an unattended pin-prick at the age of 63.


The smallest seahorse so far discovered was identified amongst the delicate corals of the Flores Sea off the coast of Indonesia in 2003 by Sara Lourie, a member of the UBC-based Project Seahorse marine conservation team and a doctoral student at McGill University in Montreal. Adults of the new species, a pygmy seahorse to be known as Hippocampus denise, are typically just 16 mm long -- smaller than most fingernails.

In the past they have been mistaken for the offspring of another of the 32 known species of seahorses.

(Above): Close up of Sara Lourie's hands holding a test tube containing Hippocampus denise. Photo: Joerg Adam. (Right): Hippocampus denise with its tail entwined around the stem of a gorgonian seafan, its natural habitat. Photo: Denise Tackett

'A New Pygmy Seahorse, Hippocampus denise (Teleostei: Syngnathidae),
from the Indo-Pacific', Sara A. Lourie and John E. Randall Zoological Studies 42(2): 284-291.