Cycling is so easy, even a dog could do it

Because it has less to do with the rider, and more to do with the cycle itself, than previously thought.

This article from Ars Technica details a study where a bunch of scientists, simply put built an ‘unstable’ cycle. A cycle that defied all the hitherto-postulated theories for the tremendous stability of a moving cycle. (Ever tried to cycle without hands? It’s easy).

A cycle that still refused to fall over.

To test the relative contributions of these factors, the authors eventually built their own computer model of a bicycle and started playing around with various features. It turned out that they could eliminate both the gyroscopic and the negative trail factors, and the bike would still be stable as long as it was moving faster than 2.3 meters (7.5 feet) per second. They could even move steering to the rear wheel and produce a stable design.

The apparently unreasonable stability of different bicycle designs must have suggested that their model had probably lost touch with reality, so the authors went out and built a bike with a counter-rotating wheel to get rid of gyroscopic effects, as well as a negligible (4mm) trailing between the front wheel and the steering. As their model predicted, it tended to stay upright, and would steer into any falls that their grad students tried to induce.

As someone who’s spent a LOT of time on a cycle and in the pool, here’s my armchair-physics theory:

A bicycle’s stability is based on its center of gravity being under the bike. Move the CoG out from underneath it, i.e. – tilt it, and it topples.

cycle CoG

cycle CoG

A cycle is stable a lot in the same fashion a pro swimmer does not wobble and twist when swimming. While the latter is a result of training, the former (imho) is a result of no more than a simple and rigid design. Take away the rider, and there’s almost nothing left to influence the the CoG of the bike. The only ‘unstable’ part of the bike is the front wheel, which again is akin to the head of a swimmer, and ‘leads’ the entire body in a direction rather than destabilizing the system.

I’m sure real physicists could do math and prove (or more likely, debunk) my thoughts, but such is as they are.


Another mobile revolution – Healthcare

This is a slightly overdue post, and more of a follow-up to an earlier post of mine.

While mobiles and social media loudly revolutionize politics and disaster relief, there’s another relatively quiet revolution going on – healthcare.

More in this space soon.

Schedule H Zombie

I am Legend. Will Smith plays a brilliant scientist who ‘cures’ the world. Only for everyone to degenerate into zombies. Or something.

Resident Evil. Umbrella Corporation and the t-virus. Zombies. First-person shooter.

You’ve heard all the cliches. Art imitates life. Fact is stranger than fiction.While we haven’t yet raised the dead or even killed people to raise them as zombies, we certainly are creating funky new ways to cure, well, everything.


To be used on prescription only

SEED Magazine has this cool article on the use of a relatively old medical technique to develop new cures for some very blue-chip diseases like malaria and anthrax.

Kary Mullis, a self-proclaimed non-specialist, won the Nobel Prize for developing the polymerase chain reaction (PCR), a technique that allows researchers to quickly and cheaply make many copies of single strands of DNA. For the past decade Mullis has been using PCR to create new types of drugs that could soon provide a cure for everything from malaria to anthrax.

What makes this technique so ‘special’ is the fact that it improves the ability of the body itself to ‘target’ infections. Basically giving the body an upgraded sniper scope:

My work with PCR allowed for the invention by Craig Tuerk of nucleic aptamers, which are tiny binding molecules that can be designed to attach themselves to harmful bacteria. However, instead of attaching a poison to the other end of the aptamer—as the silver-bullet strategy would call for—I put something on there that is a target for our immune system, a chemical compound with which the immune system is already familiar and to which it is very strongly immune. What you end up with is a drug that will drag this thing to which you are highly immune over to some bacteria you don’t want in your body. And your immune system will attack and kill it.

And, apparently, it works:

Yes, we cured anthrax in mice. If you infect a mouse with anthrax and then wait 24 hours and treat it with a penicillin-type drug, you get about a 40 percent survival rate. But using our drug you get a 100 percent survival rate. Of course, it is unlikely that you are going to get anthrax, but that is sort of a model system.

In mice at least.


This technique puts ‘something’ that the body’s immune system is already ‘very strongly immune’. While I am not normally one to frown on cutting-edge science, this particular case seems to have eaten at the ‘too good to be true’ buffet. What especially is eyebrow-raising is that the article claims this is a methodology that can be applied to ‘any infectious disease’.

If it as brilliantly successful at stopping diseases at it promises, and it garners the healthy media hype that will result, I fear for the corners that will be cut in its next ‘deployment’. Let’s hope it does not come to that, and it really is a panacea.

Obama rocks my world

The Man is just not wasting time fixing Bush’s various messes.

Thursday January 22, 2009.20:56 GMT – Guantanamo (and others similiar) ordered closed

Friday January 23, 2009. 14:10 GMT – Stem Cell Research gets the go-ahead.

Saturday January 24, 2009. 00:30 GMT – Ban on Abortion Funding Lifted

The first marks the erasure of one of the largest stains on the ethics and human-rights of the western world. I’m quite uncompromising on this and say that there is isn’t any way to justify outright torture. I don’t want to go into the details of the why and the how since I just had breakfast.

The second and third are intrinsically tied (atleast for naysayers), and I have been waiting and hoping for for a long time for someone, anyone, to make this happen. The US was one of the largest supporters of family planning and the ‘Gag Order’ on abortion funding by Bush effectively broke down a lot of family planning worldwide. Most painfully, Africa.  Dear ole Bush’s reasons, officially, include the bizarre statement that the UN Population Fund supported chinese forced infanticide. OK. Anyone else believe that. The real reasons are of course pressure from the ultra-religious-conservative lobbies and interest groups that he just could or would not refuse. Whether in these 3 cases or repealing the restrictions on assault weapons (anyone got a good reason for that?)

As for the stem cell thing. the potential benefits overwhelm the 1-legged moral argument. imho.

Pharyngula put it well.