Monday, November 30, 2015

Computer Helps Paralyzed Man to Walk Again

Cutting edge technology has enabled a paralyzed man to move his legs again.

According to the Journal Neuroengineering and Rehabilitation, the subject, a male suffering from total paralysis of the legs for five years, was able to walk just under four metres with support.

The system used in this breakthrough was developed in the US by researchers from The University of California, Irvine. The test subject had suffered a severe spinal cord injury, which disrupts the link between the brain and the leg muscles. Essentially, this means that the brain can still generate signals to the legs and that the legs are still fully capable of receiving them, but the spinal cord is incapable of relaying the messages between the two.

What the researchers were able to do was use an electroencephalogram cap to read the activity in the man’s brain; a computer then interpreted his brainwaves and electrodes, placed at strategic points along the man’s legs, were then used to stimulate the leg muscles whenever he thought about walking.

It took a lot of gruelling training on the part of the patient, who effectively had to re-learn how to use his legs. He was trained, in part, via the use of virtual reality avatars and video game characters.

The results speak for themselves, although a full cure for paralysis is still a long way off, you have to feel that it just got a little bit closer to becoming a reality.

One of the researchers, Dr. An Do, told BBC News, "We showed that you can restore intuitive, brain-controlled walking after a complete spinal cord injury. (...) This non-invasive system for leg muscle stimulation is a promising method and is an advance of our current brain-controlled systems that use virtual reality or a robotic exoskeleton."

Although the results of this test are highly encouraging, experts have been quick to point out that there are many hurdles yet to overcome, among them the issue of balance, which has yet to be addressed. The patient was strapped into a harness for the experiment, something that would not be possible anywhere other than a home or hospital environment.

Nevertheless, this is still a hugely encouraging step and the success of this test will hopefully serve as a ray of hope for many people suffering paralysis.

Wednesday, November 25, 2015

Life On Mars? Scientists Find Liquid Water On The Red Planet

Unless you happen to be a natural history buff or a science nerd, the word extremophile probably won’t mean much to you. However, once the world’s public has a chance to fully absorb the implications of a discovery made this month, I can pretty much guarantee it’ll be on everybody’s lips sooner or later.

Basically, an extremophile is an organism that thrives in conditions that are seemingly too extreme to support any kind of life. Last year, for example, scientists confirmed the existence of microorganisms living half a mile below the ice of Antarctica, but that isn’t the weirdest place you can find microbial life. Different types of extremophiles have been observed in places as inhospitable as the bottom of the Pacific Ocean, the driest deserts on Earth, boiling hot springs and even deep sea hydrothermal vents.

This month’s confirmation that liquid water exists on Mars has gotten a lot of people â€" myself included â€" wondering if the Martian landscape may include an extremophile, or two (billion, that is). In general, the rule of thumb here on Earth is that water generally supports life. Of course, it’ll be a while before we know for sure if the same holds true on the Red Planet, but the potential implications for such a discovery are literally enormous. It would be final, incontrovertible proof that Humankind is not alone after all and that, somewhere out there, life does indeed exist on other worlds. Just take a second and imagine that.

...But that isn’t to detract from the enormous significance of finally confirming that there is water on Mars, a planet long considered to be dead and devoid of anything even remotely connected with life as we know it.

New data retrieved from a NASA satellite has been used to link the long, dark streaks that appear on Martian slopes with salt deposits. If this is indeed the case, then these salt deposits could allow water to remain in a fluidic state for long enough for it to move around. This is no mean feat, as Mars features average temperatures well below zero and the low atmospheric pressure means that any liquid water would boil instantly. However, it has been theorized that the deposits of salt could change all this, altering the freezing and vaporization points of water and, in the process, allowing for the existence of the life giving liquid.

Long-term observation of the Red Planet corroborates this theory, as the streaks tend to change with the seasons, leading some scientists to link them with trickling water, however this could never be proven, until now.

Luju Ojha, a PhD student at the Georgia Institute of Technology, has used data from NASA’s Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter, which makes use of an instrument called Crism to determine the chemistry at work on the Martian surface, to make the incredible claim.

By employing the Crism data and looking at four separate locations where the dark streaks regularly appear and disappear during the Martian summer, Mr Ojha was able to prove that these formations are covered with salts, particularly magnesium perchlorate, chlorate and chloride, the exact types of salts that are known to alter the freezing and vaporization points of running water.

So, it is fairly safe to say that we now know that there is water on Mars. The next big question (before we get to the possibility of anything living in it) is, where is it coming from? It has been suggested by some that ice exists at a great depth below the surface and by others that the salts are literally pulling moisture from the atmosphere itself. For now, we just don’t know.

...And now back to the million Dollar question, first put to us by the philosopher David Bowie in 1973, Is there life on Mars?

Interviewed by BBC News, Dr. Joe Michalski, a Mars researcher at London’s Natural History Museum was optimistic, "We know from the study of extremophiles on Earth that life can not only survive, but thrive in conditions that are hyper-arid, very saline or otherwise extreme in comparison to what is habitable to a human. In fact, on Earth, wherever we find water, we find life. That is why the discovery of water on Mars over the last 20 years is so exciting."

The wonderful, exhilarating reality of this discovery is that, through its profound implication, you may very well see within your lifetime an answer to that most vexing (and famously unanswerable) of questions, are we alone in the universe?

Friday, November 20, 2015

Steven Moffat Reveals Plot of Every Upcoming Doctor Who Episode...Well, Almost

BE WARNED: There are some MAJOR spoilers in this article, so, if like Seinfeld’s Frank Costanza, you “like to go in fresh!” then you should stop reading here and go read something else.

Go on. We’re all waiting.

Thank you.

Now, as the three-nippled fortune-teller in Mallrats once quipped, “you guys still in? Good”

You don’t need a working TARDIS in order to be up on Doctor Who Series 9, it seems. This month, Doctor Who showrunner Steven Moffat gave an exclusive (and very revealing) interview to SFX magazine, whereby he gave non-spoiler-phobes a pretty detailed run-down of each and every upcoming episode â€" and it looks like we fans have got a pretty fun twelve weeks ahead of us!

So, here goes...

Episodes 1 & 2

“This is the opening two-parter. It features lots of Daleks and this time we mean it! Clara receives a mysterious summons and has to team up with Missy to search for the Doctor in a very, very old place.”

There have been a lot of rumors going around about this two-part story. Some have speculated that it is going to be a spiritual sequel to the 1975 classic Genesis of the Daleks starring Tom Baker, with The Doctor visiting Davros childhood. Some of these claims have been refuted since then, but at least we know that the part about Daleks is true.

PS: Don’t be surprised if we see The Karn Sisterhood in this story.

Episodes 3 & 4

“This two-parter is written by Toby Whithouse and features an underwater base plagued by creeping ghosts and an island that is about to be submerged in water. But who or what is doing this and how can the Doctor stop it? It’s very scary, atmospheric and claustrophobic, much like some classic episodes.”

This sounds like a love letter of sorts to the popular base under siege concept that was regularly used during the cash-strapped Patrick Troughton era of the show (1966 â€" 1969). The idea gave us some wonderful stories/monsters and often yielded strong, memorable performances from the actors involved, here’s hoping for more of the same.

Episodes 5 & 6

“Those two are exceptional! Doctor Who meets Game of Thrones! Well, only because Maisie Williams is in them. The first part features Vikings fighting mercenary robots (and a dragon!) and the second one sees a group of Highwaymen dealing with a Norse god”.

This wouldn’t be the first time that Doctor Who cashed in on the popularity of a big-selling American TV show or movie. With both Vikings and Game of Thrones experiencing huge levels of fan-devotion right now, it seems to make sense. The leaked on-set photos from this two-parter were visually stunning, so they should make for an interesting couple of nights in front of the telly at least!

Episodes 7 & 8

“This one is written by Peter Harness and Day of the Doctor acted as a prologue to it. In it, the Zygons made peace with the Humans, but not every Zygon decided it was okay so theyve been raising an army, silently and now they’re rising against UNIT! We’ve been planning this forever and Osgood is in it! But how is that possible you’d ask? Missy killed her! Who knows? Well, we know.”

Zygons! Zygons! Zygons! Ever since Tom Baker’s shape-shifting adversaries decided to let Zygons be Zygons in the 50th anniversary special, I’ve been anxiously awaiting their return. Lets face it; we all knew they’d be back. Zygons Vs. UNIT? Bring it ooooon!

Episode 9

“This is a very unique Doctor Who story from Mark Gatiss. It wasn’t possible to do such an episode ten years ago, when the show came back and Mark has been rewriting it over and over again to make it perfect. It’s a beautiful story, very eerie and special, I think it’s going to be an instant classic.”

Mark Gatiss is the only writer other than Steven Moffat to have written for every incarnation of The Doctor in the revived series. However, Series 8’s Robot of Sherwood was undoubtedly the season’s lowest point, so let’s hope he does a little bit better this time around.

Episode 10

“An episode which leapt out as “why haven’t we done this already? This is so Doctor Who we should be doing this immediately”. And when Sarah Dollard walked in with the finalised script, it was even better! Really, this is going to be a fan-favorite, everyone will want to re-watch it.”

Ooooh, cryptic! No idea about this one. Dollard has written for the popular BBC shows Being Human and Primeval, but she also wrote for Merlin (which personally, I hated) and, um, Neighbors. I guess we’ll all just have to watch it and see!

Episode 11 & 12 (Finale)

“A challenge. I won’t say anything else because it would be too spoilery, but when you’ll watch it, you’re going to ask how exactly the Doctor and Clara are going to pull it off.”

 Moffat has struggled with ambitious concepts before, often leaving story strands frustratingly loose and occasionally overlooking some mammoth plot-holes in the process (Asylum of the Daleks, anyone?). However, he is maybe the top sci-fi screenwriter in the world right now - and when he’s on top form, nobody can touch him.

The finale of Series 8 was a big, bold concept, which, while it may have been a little unwieldy for its own good, certainly provided more than enough bang for your entertainment buck. Will Series 9’s climax offer as much? We’ll have to wait and see.

Overall, this series sounds absolutely cracking. Moffat comes off in these soundbytes as energized, excited and optimistic (always a good sign) and Peter Capaldi has proved to be an excellent Doctor so far, so my hopes for Series 9 are certainly high.

In addition, a return to the cliffhanger endings that were such a big part of the series’ classic run should have the effect of allowing the writers a chance to better pace their stories (thus eliminating some of the anti-climactic endings that plagued Series 7), as well as encouraging stronger viewing figures throughout the run of the series (as opposed to just the opener and finale episodes).

Furthermore, the apparent increase in two-part stories should hopefully serve to weed out some of the lesser story concepts and overly gimmicky premises that might otherwise make it to production (Dinosaurs on a Spaceship, to cite just one example), placing a stronger emphasis on the best concepts and allowing the cream of the ideas to rise to the top, as it were.

The beauty of Doctor Who, of course, is that whilst other shows in their ninth year might be struggling with cast and crew leaving, ageing and possibly even dying, Doctor Who simply doesn’t have that problem. Like the titular Time Lord himself, the show can always regenerate, staying perpetually fresh, new and exciting and thus pleasing its audience, again and again.

Wednesday, November 18, 2015

Wrestling Legend Rowdy Roddy Piper Dies At 61

The world of professional wrestling is in mourning following the death of the legendary Rowdy Roddy Piper last month. Piper suffered a cardiac arrest whilst at his home in Hollywood, California. He was just 61 years old.

For many kids (including myself) that first became fans in the mid-late 1980’s, Roddy Piper was the definitive wrestling heel (industry jargon for a bad guy). Whether hosting his notorious Piper’s Pit segment, or facing off against Hulk Hogan & Mr. T (with partner Mr. Wonderful Paul Orndorf) at the inaugural WrestleMania event, Piper was one of the industry’s biggest starts during one of its most popular and lucrative periods.

He was also instrumental in making the WWF (now WWE) brand the biggest in professional wrestling. In addition to headlining the very first WrestleMania event (a pioneering Pay-Per View extravaganza that could easily have ruined the company had it proved to be a failure), Piper also featured in one of WrestleMania II’s three main event matchups, thus securing his position as one of wrestling’s most bankable stars.

His undercard matches at WrestleManias III, VI and (the stone cold classic against Bret The Hitman Hart at) VIII are absolute highlights of a classic era of pro wrestling. He even acted as a guest referee for the main event of Bret Hart vs. Yokozuna at WrestleMania X. Younger fans, however, will undoubtedly remember Piper teaming with fellow veterans Ricky Steamboat and Jimmy Superfly Snuka to face Chris Jericho at WrestleMania XXV.

In an era defined by outlandish babyface characters with bodybuilder physiques and sometimes questionable in-ring abilities, Roddy Piper stood out as a genuine wrestler’s wrestler, an authentic tough guy - and the necessarily evil counterpoint to the simplistic, superheroic good guys being featured at the time by the WWF.

Born in Saskatoon, Saskatchewan, Canada in 1954, Roderick Toombs was always an unruly personality. Expelled from school at a young age and subsequently falling out with his father, (a member of the Royal Canadian Mounted Police) Toombs hit the road, staying in various youth hostels and earning a buck wherever he could. Eventually, the tempestuous youth wound up in a wrestling ring, making his in-ring debut at the tender age of just 15-years-old.

The kid was tough (he had a Black Belt in Judo), displayed a natural affinity for the ring and he had a roguish charisma all of his own. In addition, he really could play the bagpipes. After early stints jobbing in Verne Gagne’s AWA, NWA Houston and Fritz Von Erich’s Big Time Wrestling promotion in Dallas, Texas, Piper debuted for Mike and Gene LeBell’s NWA Hollywood promotion and soon became the outfit’s top heel. A slew of regional Championships followed.

Whilst working for promoter Roy Shire in the NWA’s San Francisco territory, Piper developed his character and ring work. In Los Angeles, he feuded with Chavo Guerrero Sr, Hector Guerrero and ultimately locked up against their father, Mexican wrestling legend Gory Guerrero (father of future WWE Champ Eddie). In The Pacific Northwest, he unseated former NWA World’s Heavyweight Champion Jack Brisco for Mid Atlantic’s version of the World Heavyweight Championship, a title he would go on to hold twice more.

In the mid 1980’s, Piper entered Vince McMahon’s insurgent WWF. He was billed as being from Glasgow, Scotland and was well known for being the only wrestler to wear a kilt to the ring. Fans ate it up. Feuding with such stars as Hulk Hogan, Adrian Adonis, Andre The Giant, Jimmy Superfly Snuka, Million Dollar Man Ted DiBiase, Jerry The King Lawler and Bret Hitman Hart, to name but a few, Piper always brought out the best in his opponents and it was with the WWF that he became a household name, as well as one of the industry’s biggest ever stars.

In the mid-1990’s, Piper wrestled for WCW (World Championship Wrestling), where he debuted as one of the company’s headline stars. He feuded, once again, with Hulk Hogan and also battled old rivals such as Ric Flair, Bret Hart and ‘Macho Man’ Randy Savage. Whilst working for WCW, he was even chosen to headline ‘Starrcade’, the company’s flagship Pay-Per-View event.

In his later career, Piper made sporadic reappearances for the WWE, briefly worked for TNA, enjoyed a reasonably successful acting career and also hosted his own podcast. He battled Hodgkin’s Lymphoma after being diagnosed with the illness in 2006, but had completely beaten it into remission as of last year. Despite the setbacks caused by his ill health, Piper wrestled his last match in 2011.

Although he never held a recognised World Heavyweight Championship, Piper will be remembered as one of the greatest WWF Intercontinental Champions of all time, a reign that was attested to during his appearance at this year’s WrestleMania XXXI, where he congratulated then-IC Champion Daniel Bryan on his victory. He also held other notable belts, such as the United States Championship, the WWF/E Tag Team Championship (with Ric Flair) and the NWA World Light Heavyweight Championship.

Piper was a member of the WWE Hall of Fame and the Wrestling Observer Hall of Fame, as well as the Professional Wrestling Hall of Fame. He was also a member of the Cauliflower Alley Club.

On the August 3rd edition of RAW, the entire WWE roster, each member clad in Roddy’s signature Hot Rod t-shirts opened the show with a very moving ten bell salute in tribute to the fallen legend.

WWE boss Vince McMahon said, "Roddy Piper was one of the most entertaining, controversial and bombastic performers ever in WWE, beloved by millions of fans around the world. I extend my deepest condolences to his family."

UFC Bantamweight Champion Rowdy Ronda Rousey dedicated her 34-second victory over Bethe Correia to Piper’s memory, "I just want to say that we lost a really close friend, Rowdy Roddy Piper, who gave me permission to use his name as a fighter (...) And so I hope him and my dad had a good time watching this today."

Former WWE and WCW Champion (and Piper’s frequent in-ring rival) Bret Hart wrote, “I can’t find the words to describe the sorrow in my heart upon learning the news of my dear friend, Roddy Piper, passing away. He was my closest friend in the business, a man that schooled me and guided me throughout my career. In fact, if it wasn’t for Roddy Piper reaching out to help me, I’m sure I would’ve been a mere footnote in wrestling. He was always there for me. He was family to me.” Hart also recalled that, following his stroke in 2002; Piper was the only wrestler who visited him in hospital.

Hulk Hogan, another of Piper’s famous adversaries, said of Piper that, “He was my best friend. He is a legend. God’s gain is our loss. May his family in this time of need, find peace"

Other friends, colleagues and admirers of Piper’s included former WWF Champ The Iron Sheik, who said “Roddy Piper. I love you forever. God bless you Bubba” and multi-time World Champion Chris Jericho Tweeted, “Sorry to hear of the passing of my friend and Wrestlemania rival #RoddyPiper. One of the greatest who ever lived, but more importantly a legit sweet family man with a good heart”. Former WWE Divas Champion Paige called Piper a “legend” and Tweeted a picture of a broken heart, an image which reflected the feelings of many a wrestler and wrestling fan.

Roddy’s son, Colt, said that his father was his “best friend” and a “great man” saying that he would miss him forever and “always try to be the man he raised me to be”.

Rowdy Roddy Piper lived a life littered with accomplishments. Not many of us will ever be declared as legendary by our peers and fewer still will be able to stack 30+ Championship reigns anywhere on our resume, but those weren’t the man’s proudest achievements. Piper had been married to his wife, Kitty, since 1982 and is survived by her and the four children they lovingly raised together. My thoughts are with them, as well as everyone else who knew, worked with, or simply enjoyed to watch the late, great man work his magic in front of a capacity crowd. R.I.P Roddy.

Friday, November 13, 2015


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