New technologies illuminate Babylonian tale


New technologies at Warwick University have helped British Museum’s Babylonian language expert, Dr Finkle, to decipher a 4,000 year old tablet believed to narrate the story of Noah’s Ark.

Inscribed in Babylonian ‘cuneiform’ – the world’s oldest known standardised writing system – the tablet is believed to depict the story of a Noah-like character and a flood, complete with instructions on how to build an Ark.

Cuneiform is a writing system which involved marking wet clay tablets with a stylus (a wedge-like tool). The tablet and stylus exist in essence today.

The tablet, discovered 20 years ago on a mantel piece in a UK home was damaged in parts due to millennial ‘wear and tear ‘ and rendered indecipherable. The 3D visualisation technologies, typically used in engineering, have enabled the translation of the whole tablet and uncovered new insights into the tablet’s story. 


3D visualisation technology marries techniques such as computer aided design (CAD), infrared technology, animation software and photo capture. Often used in vehicle production, the same methods involved in projecting a potential end product was adopted for projecting the missing parts of the ancient tablet.

Projected onto a 3D wall, the tablet was made viewable at all angles via 3D visualisation technology. This allowed Dr Finkle to decipher the complete text of the tablet.


The new vision of the tablet and revised translation suggests that the ark that featured in the story was round in shape, rather than the previously assumed oval boat-shape. This suggests that the ark was possibly built to float rather than sail.

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Gentrification predicted by social media data


flickr photo by x6e38 shared under a Creative Commons (BY) license

Gentrification – the process by which a deprived area becomes affluent – can be predicted by data from location-specific social media networks.

The Cambridge University study took data from location-specific social media networks, such as Facebook places and Foursquare, to show that the ‘poor to posh’ process can be identified when high levels of deprivation and social diversity are seen to develop in an area.

Data crunch

Predicting gentrification is more than a spike of social media users tweeting about Radio 4 programmes. It is data analysis of social media check-ins which reveal behaviours derived from the particular places that people go.

37,000 users and 42,000 venues in London were used to build a network of Foursquare places and Twitter visitors, totalling half a million check-ins over a ten-month period.

Researchers quantified the social diversity of various areas by distinguishing between places that:

  • brought together strangers versus those brought together friends
  • attracted diverse individuals as opposed to those attracting ‘regulars’

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Blood pressure app downloaded 100,000 times proves inaccurate, study shows

Blood pressure

flickr photo by Waifer X shared under a Creative Commons (BY) license

A blood pressure app that has been downloaded over 100,000 has been shown to be unreliable, according to a study by John Hopkins University, with just a 20% accuracy rate.

The ‘Instant Blood Pressure’ app claimed to provide an accurate and instant measure of blood pressure when the user placed a SMART phone to their chest.

Results of a study of 85 volunteers using the app under the guidance of health professionals showed that the app missed the warning signs in eight out of ten patients who had high blood pressure.  Continue reading

New technologies illuminate Babylonian tale


New technologies at Warwick University have helped British Museum’s Babylonian language expert, Dr Finkle, to decipher a 4,000 year old tablet believed to narrate the story of Noah’s Ark.

Inscribed in Babylonian ‘cuneiform’ – the world’s oldest known standardised writing system – the tablet is believed to depict the story of a Noah-like character and a flood, complete with instructions on how to build an Ark.

Cuneiform is a writing system which involved marking wet clay tablets with a stylus (a wedge-like tool). The tablet and stylus exist in essence today.

Continue reading

Scientists unveil first method for controlling growth of metal crystals


The first method of controlling the growth of metal-crystals from single atoms has been announced by the UK’s Warwick University.

Known as ‘nanocrystallometry,’ the new process allows for the creation of precise components for use in nanotechnology.

According to Professor Peter Sadler of Warwick’s Chemistry Department the breakthrough ‘allows us to observe and directly control the nano-world in action.’ Continue reading

No Signal, No Problem: World’s First Text Message Sent Using Molecules

water.molecule, chemical, molecular communication“O Canada” – the first two words of the Canadian National anthem, is the first text message to be communicated via chemical signalling – a molecular communication system. 

The two word text was sent in a joint project between York University in Canada and Warwick University in the UK. The findings are published in the journal PNAS.

“O Canada” was first translated into binary signals and then “programmed” into evaporated alcohol molecules with the message then being translated several metres away. The decoding equipment used cost as little as $100.  Nariman Farsad, lead researcher at York University said:

We believe we have sent the world’s first text message to be transmitted entirely with molecular communication, controlling concentration levels of the alcohol molecules, to encode the alphabets with single spray representing bit 1 and no spray representing the bit 0.”

The need to communicate over a distance has always been an integral part of being human. Throughout history, communication methods have ranged from semaphores (flag communication), fire beacons, smoke signals, and carrier birds. Modern society settled on electrical signals and electromagnetic waves.

communicating with flags

There are a number of environments where communication via radio waves is not possible – in these cases chemical or molecules communication could enable communication where it was not possible before, for example: 

  • tunnels
  • pipelines
  • underwater
  • within the body

Data has been successfully transmitted using  chemicals before, yet no one has ever transmitted continuous data or achieved a distance of over several meters – the researchers effectively went to the “next level” in molecular communication.

Molecular communication is a possible solution to the problem of communicating in “no signal” areas. Plant and animals communicate via chemicals, for example, insects use pheromones for long – range signalling, and bees use chemicals in pheromones to signal a threat to the hive. The communication evident in the plant and animal world however is essentially “signalling,” not “continuous data.”

Researchers believe that molecular communication provides the potential for a simple and cheap communication tool in non conventional environments, as the method is biocompatible and require very little energy to generate and propagate.

In future, electromagnetic waves will continue to transmit the bulk of our data, yet molecular communication could be used to enable communication in environments where it has not been possible before due to lack of radio waves, with the potential to prevent disasters from poor health in structures and processes such as the 2013 “fatberg” and the Deepwater Horizon oil spill –

Potential targeted applications include wireless monitoring of sewage works and oil rigs. This could prevent future disasters such as the bus-sized fatberg found blocking the London sewage networks in 2013, and the Deepwater Horizon oil spill in 2010.”

Further possibilities include communication in hostile environments and uses in nanotechnology – for example in medicine where recent advances mean it’s possible to embed sensors into the organs of the body or create miniature robots to carry out a specific task such as targeting drugs to cancer cells. Researchers add;

On these tiny scales and in special structural environments, there are constraints with electromagnetic signals such as the ratio of antenna size to the wavelength of the signal, which chemical communication does not have.”

The possibilities are endless, and not unlike the stuff of thrillers. Dr Weisi Guo of Warwick University, adds –

Imagine sending a detailed message using perfume it sounds like something from a spy thriller novel, but in reality it is an incredibly simple way to communicate.”


Tabletop Molecular Communication: Text Messages through Chemical Signals

Warwick Press Release:

8 incredible nano technologies –

Image credit: with thanks to RGB Free photographer rgbalpha

Baring It All: Exposure, Disclosure and the Online “Hit and Run”

communicating with flags

Flag semaphore –  less prone to toxic or benign disinihibition

The internet loosens our inhibitions. Dr John Suler of US Rider University researched the behavioral effects of communicating online to identify seven principles involved in the freeing of social etiquette’s hold on behavior.

Anonymity, authority and the sense of “otherness” being a few factors that are absent online that normally keeps us on our best behavior offline.

According to Dr John Suler, the Internet is a micro-blogging arena which enabes the perfectly reasonable among us to morph into behaviors that are  –

– nicer than normal

– or positively meaner

Unshackling us from the restraints of the hard-to-please task master that is social etiquette, the Internet has given rise to the phenomenon of the “disinhibition effect.” We may disinhibit nicely or not so nicely, but we disinhibit all the same.

“The Online Disinhibition Effect” published in the International Journal of Applied Psychoanalytic Studies theorizes “benign disinhibition” and “toxic disinhibition”  – the unbridled friendliness seen in online forums and the unfettered meanness that can unfold in Twitter rows.

Dr. John Suler points to the Internet’s “loosening” of the constrictive hold on our behaviour of identity, immediate feedback and the visible presence of authority commenting –

Several factors account for this loosening of the repressive barriers against underlying fantasies, needs, and affect.”

The Secret Seven

The several factors are seven which interlink to create a hot bed of opportunity for engaging in behaviors that we would normally blush at when offline. The first is the “dissociative effect” of being unknown and anonymous, bar a username and thumbnail –

  • Dissociative Anonymity
    Dr John Suler points to anonymity as the principle factor responsible for creating disinhibition. Online we are unknown entities, except for what we choose to disclose. Without a real sense of “other”, we are prone to filling in the missing parts and in essence we are communicating with part-fictional characters.
  • Invisibility
    Online, we are invisible except for our written communication. Facial or verbal clues that identify disapproval are neither seen nor heard. We engage in a silent dance of conversation where negative feedback is not received and we can plough on regardless.
  • Asynchronicity
    We do not immediately responded to people in blogs, forums and email. Online we may have a delay of a few hours, days or weeks. According to Dr John Suler, the consequence of not having to confront an immediate reaction disinhibits us. This “asynchronicty” can even gives rise to the  “emotional hit and run” – posting a message and running away –

A person feels safe putting it “out there” where it can be left behind quickly. In some cases, as Kali Munro, an online psychotherapist, aptly describes it, the person may be participating in an”emotional hit and run.”

  • Solipsistic Introjection
    Dr John Suler suggests that as we do not hear a voice in online communication, we draw the other into our internal world, applying the sound of our voice and the other to the intimate landscape which is our internal dialogue.

In cyberspace, when reading another’s message, one might also “hear” the companion’s voice as one’s own voice. In this projecting of voice, and along with it, elements of one’s self, into the other person’s text, the conversation may be experienced unconsciously as talking to or with oneself, which encourages disinhibition. Talking with oneself feels safer than talking with others. It encourages a confrontation of oneself and an unlocking of the unconscious” Dr John Suler

  • Dissociative Imagination
    We can separate our online self from our offline self and “disassociate” with what happens online. Add to this our internalising of voiceless characters, and we can soon believe that our online life, like our internal life, lives in a different space subject to different rules and laws, This, according to research is particularly the case in online fraud and deception.
  • Individual Differences
    The extent to which we are susceptible to disinhibition is variable to our differences in personality. If we are open, emotional or “histrionic”  we are more compulsive in our behaviour. “Schizotypal” personalities tend to be more prone to fanatasy.

Personality types vary greatly in the strength of reality testing, defense mechanisms, and tendencies towards inhibition or
expression.” comments Dr Jonh Suler

  • Attenuated Status and Authority
    The normal guises of status and authority; hierarchy, position, voice, and dress are less prominent in cyberspace. There is a superficial equality, bar the inequality of not having a computer/broadband to be there in the first place. However, once online there is an equality of sorts –

“Because of fear of disapproval or punishment, people are reluctant to say what they really think as they stand before an authority figure.” Dr John Suler comments, adding –

Without the authority figure, we can say what we really think. As cyberspace expands into new environments, many of its inhabitants see themselves as innovative, independent-minded explorers and pioneers, even as rebels. This atmosphere contributes to disinhibition and the minimizing of authority.” 

There’s nothing wrong with a bit of holding back on what we really think sometimes, and perhaps a touch of social restraint is just what we need to keep us all jogging along nicely and politely.

The Online Disinhibition Effect

Image: with thanks to Mzacha of RGB Free Stock.