Tag Archives: wired

The world’s biggest fire extinguisher – a 747

747 fire fighting plane

Wired has this article about a 747 that has been converted for fighting fires. Sounds like a joke, but this is real.

A company spent $50 million converting a 747 into a fire fighting aircraft. It can drop 75,000 litres of flame retardant on fires. That compares very favorably with the 4,500 litres that the normal fire drop planes can carry.

Size isn’t the only innovation. Normal air drops on fires rely on gravity to expel the water for fire retardant. That means you get one drop and then have to go back for more.

This bad boy has a special pressurized system that allows for several drops. That helps when you’re carrying such a huge payload.

The major disadvantage of course is that this monster isn’t as nimble or flexible as the smaller aircraft and helicopters.

Growing a garden on a vertical wall

Wired has this photo gallery showing the work of botanist Patrick Blanc who specialises in covering walls with gardens. I always loved the look of ivy covered walls at university but this guy takes it to a whole new level.

Over the years he has perfected a special frame which allows plants to grow on vertical walls. Some of the wall gardens are the size of several tennis courts.

They look great. I love the way he has clearly planted different plans in sections to create patters.

Patrick Blanc's wall gardens

Patrick Blanc's wall gardens

Referees: They’re not perfect

Any sports fan knows that referees are as human as the rest of us – mistakes do creep in.

However, I recently read this short article citing studies that show ref’s also make more subtle, but systematic mistakes.

Home Crowd Advantage

This article discusses a study of 3500 Bundesliga matches that found measurable bias in favor of the home team:

  • Interestingly the bias was more significant when there was no running track around the field – in other words when the fans were closer to the ref.
  • Refs were shown footage of tackles with the sound on and the sound off. Those watching with the sound on ruled in favor of the home team 15.5% more often!

The Team in Red

In the past I have read that football teams wearing red win slightly more matches. This article discusses a study of tae kwon do referees found that they favor the fighter in red.

In tae kwon do one fighter has a red helmet and one has a blue helmet.

In the experiment 42 experienced refs were shown videos of sparring rounds.

  • The red fighters were awarded on average 13% more points
  • The videos were then digitally altered to switch the color of the helmets. Suddenly the points awarded flipped over with the new reds getting a bigger share.

One-organism ecosystem in SA mine

Wired has this article on “the world’s loneliest species” which was discovered living deep (3km down) in a South African mine. This is the first ecosystem ever discovered that is comprised of only a single species. That makes it “the tidiest package of life found yet” with everything necessary for maintaining life packed into a single genome.


Creating life – mankind will do it

Those who thought that only God could create life are in for a nasty surprise. Wired has this article about a team of scientists who are close to creating life from scratch. The scientists are able to build protocells using fatty molecules (for the cell membrane) and inserting bits of nucleic acids containing ‘source code’ for replication.

These guys aren’t able to get the cells to replicate properly on their own yet – only certain DNA sequences get replicated. But they are close to creating a new form of life.

Obama is about promise McCain about Country

Wired has this interesting article showing word clouds of the different speeches at the recent Democratic and Republican conventions. Basically words used most often are largest in word clouds – they make an interesting way of seeing what was spoken about. For instance this is a word cloud for Michelle Obama’s speech about her husband. Predictably the word ‘Barack’ is most common but the words ‘work’, ‘people’ and ‘like’ are common too.

Michelle Obama's speech at the Democratic conventionMichelle Obama’s speech at the Democratic convention

Check out the article for the other word clouds, below I have listed the speakers and their most common words. Pretty interesting.

  • Hillary Clinton: America, going, Obama
  • Joe Biden: Barack, Obama, change, John
  • Barack Obama: promise, America, McCain
  • John McCain: country, Americans, fight
  • George W. Bush: John
  • Sarah Palin: America, country, McCain

Rocket powered, strap-on wings

Wired recently had an article on this Swiss pilot who has spend the last few years developing some rocket wings that he straps to his back. Basically he jumps out of a plane, unfolds the wings and powers up the rockets. He is able to steer pretty well (enough to do barrel rolls), build up some good speeds (over 300kph) and crucially land safely.

Very cool, but I’m sure it’s not as safe as he makes out.

Photos from restricted areas

Wired has this photo gallery from a new book called An American Index of the Hidden and Unfamiliar. The photographer gets access to areas not normally open to the public and gets some interesting photos. Two that I liked are shown below.

These are “stainless-steel nuclear waste capsules” in a pool of water. There are almost 2000 capsules at this site in Washington State and the blue light is a kind of radiation.

And this is an “avian quarantine facility” in New York. All imported birds must be kept here for 30 days in order to prevent bird flu from getting into the country.

The Law of Evolution

I’m frequently confronted by people who say something like: “Evolution is just a theory – it’s not fact.” This just proves that the person doesn’t actually understand what a “theory” is – I have already blogged on the issue.


  • “In science the word theory means an explanation of how the world works that has stood up to repeated, rigorous testing. It’s hardly a term of disparagement.”

Wired has an article on the subject which calls for a change in phrasing:

  • For truly solid-gold, well-established science, let’s stop using the word theory entirely. Instead, let’s revive much more venerable language and refer to such knowledge as “law.”
  • It performs a neat bit of linguistic jujitsu. If someone says, “I don’t believe in the theory of evolution,” they may sound fairly reasonable. But if someone announces, “I don’t believe in the law of evolution,” they sound insane. It’s tantamount to saying, “I don’t believe in the law of gravity.”

I’ve always felt that the best thing to do is improve people’s understanding. The problem is that getting the message across is really tricky (I blogged about the problem here). This guy reckons that:

  • It’s time to realize that we’re simply never going to school enough of the public in the precise scientific meaning of particular words. We’re never going to fully communicate what’s beautiful and noble about scientific caution and rigor. Public discourse is inevitably political, so we need to talk about science in a way that wins the political battle — in no uncertain terms.