Science, technology, and all things awesome with Ian Steadman

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Victims of the Black Death in the 14th century, whose remains were discovered during excavations for London's new Crossrail railway line. Photo: Crossrail Ltd
Gerbils and squirrels, not rats, may have been responsible for the Black Death
By Ian Steadman - 24 February 15:48

New research has found that rats alone can't have been responsible for Europe's medieval plague outbreaks - and giant Central Asian gerbils may have been an alternative accessory to the crime.

Human chromosomes, with the "sex" chromosomes on the far right. Image: BSIP/UIG via Getty Images
Sex isn’t chromosomes: the story of a century of misconceptions about X & Y
By Ian Steadman - 23 February 14:11

The influence of the XX/XY model of chromosomal sex has been profound over the last century, but it’s founded on faulty premises and responsible for encouraging reductive, essentialist thinking. While the scientific world has moved on, its popular appeal remains.

More pancake is better pancake. Photo: Getty Images
Using bad science to create the perfect Pancake Day recipe
By Ian Steadman - 17 February 10:41

Lots of places claim to have the “perfect” pancake recipe – but here’s how to guarantee the best results. Maybe.

Samsung's 4K TV sets on show at CES. Photo: Getty Images
Before we give doors and toasters sentience, we should decide what we're comfortable with first
By Ian Steadman - 10 February 13:51

It's becoming more and more common for everyday appliances to have features we don't expect, and the implications for privacy and freedom can be surprisingly profound. We should be sure we know what we're buying into.

Though not a household name in the UK, model and actor Jenny McCarthy’s claims that vaccinations caused her son’s autism have had a huge and damaging influence in the US. Photo: Getty Images
Anti-vaxxers have revived measles in the US, but what about the UK?
By Ian Steadman - 06 February 16:37

The resurgence of diseases like measles in the United States has come from the refusal of parents to vaccinate their children. The good news is that Britain isn’t seeing those same risks – but it could in the future.

The main GCHQ building in Cheltenham. Photo: Ministry of Defence
Privacy campaigners score big win as tribunal rules GCHQ's mass surveillance "illegal"
By Ian Steadman - 06 February 13:11

Programmes where US and UK security services intercepted and shared private data were unlawful, tribunal declares.

Julia Reda speaking at the German Pirate Party's annual congress in 2014. Photo: Joachim S. Müller/Flickr/CC BY-SA 2.0
The Pirate Party's lone MEP might just fix copyright across the EU
By Ian Steadman - 29 January 17:33

The first draft of a copyright reform report, from the digital rights party's last MEP, could give the Pirates a significant legacy.

The Twitter logo and an example Twitter timeline. Photo: Getty Images
More sliding into DMs than ever before as Twitter adds group messaging
By Ian Steadman - 27 January 16:24

Twitter's move away from the stream continues apace with new mass direct messaging and video features.

The House of Lords in 2014, during the state opening of parliament. Photo: Getty Images
Sneaking Snooper's Charter in by the back door is the best argument yet for abolishing the Lords
By Ian Steadman - 26 January 13:23

The House of Lords is meant to be a place where those with specialist knowledge and experience can offer suggestions or amendments of how to improve the bills the Commons puts through - not remove our fundamental freedoms on a whim.

Poole in 2012, at the Digital Life Design conference in Munich, Germany. Photo: Getty Images
End of era as founder of anarchic messageboard 4chan steps down
By Ian Steadman - 21 January 17:40

4chan lies at the source of much of contemporary web culture, for better or worse, but its creator is walking away.

A lion tries to catch a box at the Santa Fe zoo in Medellin, Antioquia department, Colombia on January 10, 2015. Photo: Getty Images
Who would win in a fight, a trillion lions or the Sun?
By Ian Steadman - 19 January 18:21

A trillion lions fired into space could make Mars into an oasis, plus other things you can do with a giant ball of cats.

A general view of the Bitcoin booth at the 2015 International CES at the Las Vegas Convention Center on January 8, 2015 in Las Vegas, Nevada. Photo: Getty Images
Slowly but surely, Bitcoin appears to be falling apart
By Ian Steadman - 14 January 17:32

Once seen as a better investment than gold, the digital cryptocurrency is experiencing some severe existential threats.

The Royal Observatory in Greenwich, site of the (theoretical) Prime Meridian. Photo: Getty Images
June's leap second will be a kind of deliberately-induced Millennium Bug
By Ian Steadman - 12 January 18:01

Sometimes the Earth doesn't spin as fast as it should - and that can give programmers a headache.

Musk unveiling the Tesla Model D in August 2014. Photo: Getty Images
Billionaire inventor Elon Musk's mundane top tip for success
By Ian Steadman - 06 January 11:53

Good news: you probably do it too.

Derby, the dog with the prosthetic paws. Image: 3D Systems
Adorable dogs (and Nasa) benefit from 3D printing's continual improvements
By Ian Steadman - 22 December 17:16

The flexibility and speed of 3D printing makes pet prosthetics and digitally-downloaded space tools a reality.

Curiosity taking a self-portrait. Image: Nasa
Curiosity sniffs farts on Mars, could mean extinction of humanity
By Ian Steadman - 19 December 15:00

Fluctuations in methane gas in the Martian atmosphere, detected by the Curiosity rover, could mean that there's life living below the surface of Gale Crater. The implications could be surprising.

Worms from a garden waste composter. Photo: Getty Images
Is a worm's brain in a Lego robot alive, or just creepy?
By Ian Steadman - 16 December 12:21

Researchers find model of worm brain acts just like a worm would, if it was a robot made of Lego.

James Watson at an event at the Science Museum in London, 2005. Photo: Getty Images
Russia's richest man indulges James Watson's Nobel Prize sale tantrum, buys to give it back
By Ian Steadman - 09 December 16:44

Alisher Usmanov spent just shy of $5m to purchase Watson's 1962 Nobel medal at auction, but says he plans to return it. Can we please go back to ignoring this bigoted man now?

The Orion capsule at the head of Nasa's Delta IV rocket as it launched today. Image: Screenshot of Nasa live feed
Orion, Nasa's next-gen Mars rocket, launches on first successful test flight
By Ian Steadman - 05 December 12:13

Major milestone passed as part of ongoing plan to land humans on Mars by 2030.

Sangeang Api, a volcano off the coast of Sumbawa Island, Indonesia, as it erupted on May 30, 2014. Volcanic dust can cool the Earth. Image: Nasa
The problem with keeping the Earth cool with space mirrors and fake volcanic eruptions
By Ian Steadman - 01 December 11:46

Reflecting heat back into space, seeding the ocean with iron, simulating the effects of volcanic dust - the problem with thinking big about fixing the climate is that the massive risks are far more expensive than the known costs of simply not screwing the planet up in the first place.

Footballer Gavin Swankie (left), just one of the players whose every goal is recorded by the Whitehall fan. Photo: Getty Images
Who's the Whitehall civil servant spending hours each week editing footballers' Wikipedia pages?
By Ian Steadman - 27 November 15:59

Someone, somewhere in government, is spending a considerable amount of time keeping Wikipedia's entries on Scottish football up-to-date.

Sir Malcolm Rifkind, the head of the ISC, has said companies like Facebook offer terrorists a "safe haven". Photo: Getty Images
Making Facebook an arm of MI5 won't be a guarantee against terrorism
By Ian Steadman - 26 November 13:42

The security services want social networks like Facebook to be more forthcoming with material posted by users that might indicate a threat to national security. But the root causes of terrorism will never be fixed with data alone.

Collateral damage? Debris from Virgin Galactic's crashed SpaceShipTwo
Space incorporated: lessons from the deadly Virgin Galactic crash
By Ian Steadman - 13 November 10:00

Governments are setting their sights on missions to Mars and the moon but private companies are focused on shorter excursions into space. Their motivation is simple: there’s money in it.

An illustration of Philae (right) detached from Rosetta (left) and falling towards the comet 67P/Churyumov–Gerasimenko (background). Illustration: ESA
Rosetta, Philae and the comet: what you need to know about today's historic space mission
By Ian Steadman - 12 November 13:47

Some background while we wait for the ESA's probe to touch down on the comet's surface.

Free capital: a winning design for one of Peter Thiel's floating cities. Image: Andras Gyorfi
Peter Thiel: we must stop fearing the future
By Ian Steadman - 30 October 12:35

The co-founder of PayPal, Facebook board member and hugely successful venture capitalist is disappointed in the future. He doesn’t think we’re ambitious enough.

A young Hungarian protester throws the base of a desktop computer at the headquarters of the governor of the FIDESZ party to protest against the plan for the introduction of the internet tax next year in Budapest on October 26, 2014. Photo: Getty Images
Hungarian government's tax on internet use inspires massive "free speech" protest
By Ian Steadman - 28 October 13:05

The government in Budapest wants to bring in a tax on internet file transfers - and the public sees it as a tax on free speech.

Hostile planet: Echus Chasma, one of the largest water source regions on Mars, is pictured from ESA's Mars Express. Photo: Getty
68 Days Later: why the Mars One mission would end in disaster
By Ian Steadman - 23 October 10:00

A team from MIT estimated how long it would take for the mission to experience its first fatality. The answer: 68 days. The second group would arrive to find the first pioneers had been dead for more than a year and a half.

The moon rises behind the turbines of Whitelees Windfarm,the largest in the UK, on October 7, 2014 in Glasgow, Scotland. Photo: Getty Images
Wind power briefly overtakes nuclear in the UK, thanks to storms
By Ian Steadman - 22 October 17:58

Another milestone in wind power generation does nothing to reverse the government's scepticism over its potential.

Diana Wynyard as Eliza Doolittle in Pygmalion in 1937. Photo: Getty Images
The ultimate weapon against GamerGate time-wasters: a 1960s chat bot that wastes their time
By Ian Steadman - 15 October 12:49

In a kind of digital version of an unstoppable force meeting an immovable object, tenaciously dull videogame truthers have met their match in an inexhaustibly interested chat program coded 50 years ago.

Free again: Doctorow signals the danger of states pushing tech boundaries. Photo: Rex/Will Ireland/Future Publishing
Betrayed by your smartphone: Cory Doctorow on the future of internet censorship
By Ian Steadman - 09 October 10:00

“Information doesn’t want to be free,” writes the sci-fi novelist and activist Cory Doctorow, “people want to be free.”

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