Archive for the ‘Interesting Technology’ Category

Brigitte’s Pick: Inside Google’s data center

October 23, 2012

Hugh Paxton’s Blog thought that GOOGLE was just something (a button) you pressed to find anything. Brigitte’s Pick has GOOGLED me a bit of an education! Click on, keep on GOOGLing, but while you do think of the following!

A Google data center in Council Bluffs, Iowa.

Google’s Douglas County data centre in Georgia is so large the firm provides Google branded bicycles for staff to get around on.

Here hundreds of fans funnel hot air from the server racks into a cooling unit to be recirculated in Oklahoma. The green lights are the server status LEDs reflecting from the front of the servers.

The Iowa campus network room, where routers and switches allow data centers to talk to each other. The fiber cables run along the yellow cable trays near the ceiling.

Even the water pipes reflect Google’s brand: These colorful pipes are responsible for carrying water in and out of an Oregon data center. The blue pipes supply cold water and the red pipes return the warm water back to be cooled.

In Hamina, Finland, Google chose to renovate an old paper mill to take advantage of the building’s infrastructure as well as its proximity to the Gulf of Finland’s cooling waters.

Google’s server farm in Douglas County, Iowa

The exterior of a Dulles, Oregon server farm

Denise Harwood, a Google Engineer, diagnoses an overheated CPU. For more than a decade, Google has built some of the world’s most efficient servers.

Each server rack has four switches, connected by a different coloured cable. Colours are kept the same throughout data centres so staff know which one to replace in case of failure.


October 22, 2012

Hugh Paxton’s Blog read the following with a stab of terror mingled with a sense of dreadful inadequacy. I’m already technologically obsolete, and now it looks very likely that I’m inching towards tecno-senility and extinction.

No doubt my daughter will assimilate this new great leap forward in a couple of days, all her friends will be given these gizmos by their rich and doting parents and I’ll have to spend a fortune keeping up with a bunch of nine year old Joneses.

Read on all you type writer users and despair!


You will not be able to know what is ahead until
You have seen the 4 pictures and read the explanation of
What they are, our future is here,incredible!!
What an age we live in.

Look closely and guess what they could be…

Are they pens with cameras?

Any wild guesses? No clue yet?

You’ve just seen something
That will replace your PC in the near future.

Here is how it works:

In the revolution of miniature computers,
Scientists have made great developments with blue tooth technology…
This is the forthcoming computers you
Can carry within your pockets .

This ‘pen sort of instrument’ produces both the monitor as well as the keyboard on any flat surfaces from where you can carry out functions you would normally do on your desktop computer.

Can anyone say, ‘Good-bye laptops!

Looks like our computers are out of date…

The message was checked by ESET NOD32 Antivirus.

__________ Information from ESET NOD32 Antivirus, version of virus signature database 7604 (20121019) __________

The message was checked by ESET NOD32 Antivirus.


August 30, 2012

An apple a day…

Leonie’s View: I-Pad (Read, then watch Video)

May 14, 2012

Hugh Paxton’s Blog rates this techno-incompetence a classic. Mainly because it is so true. To take a case in point a friend bought his father a state of the art computer with a view to open his world to the wonders of email communication. A significant amount of money was spent, not just on the computer but on training. That was over a year ago. Since then he has received just one message from the computer whizz – “Does this work?”

I’ll say no more and hand you over to our blog correspondent, Leonie.

Read, then watch the video.

How not to use an i-Pad: The daughter asks her father if he’s figured
out how to use the iPad she gave him for his birthday , which he
affirms without question.

Thai Days: Mars on Monday

March 3, 2012

This coming Monday night Hugh Paxton’s blog will be ascending a tall Bangkok building (of which there are many) and lifting my gaze to the night skies. Thailand’s National Astronomical Institute has informed me, and everybody else, that Mars will be closer to Earth than at any time in the last 26 months and will be shining 17 times more brightly than usual. If you fancy a fairly close encounter with the red planet – red because its surface is dominated by iron oxide – look in the vicinity of the Leo constellation.

PS After informing my daughter of this extra-terrestrial visual thrill, she was less than impressed and informed me that while Mars may be putting on a bit of a show it bore no comparison to the great comet of 1811 which (according to her) passed into the solar system and was visible to the naked eye for 250 days. She gets this stuff from Ripley’s Believe it or Not! I’d never heard of this Great Comet before. But I guess she’s probably right. This said Annabel’s going to see Mars whether she likes it or not. And if the moon doesn’t explode or aliens don’t arrive or another Great Comet doesn’t put in an appearance, she’s stuck with Mars. Blimey! The youth of today! Never satisfied!


Perhaps Annabel would like to be a Martian explorer? I bet she’d be pretty good at it.

Here’s something that will get her properly in the mood for Mars viewing, NASA’s Be A Martian website. You can register as a member or use the site as a visitor and join a global human effort to map the surface of Mars. That striking orange light in the sky seems a lot more interesting when viewed from the perspective of a Martian topographical researcher!

I bet a lot of readers would enjoy the site too and enjoy making their own contribution to space exploration!

Martian Academic Skills Builder Game  Eating Ratios

This could be fun too. In this game you are a bright green Martian with an insatiable appetite for ratios, gobble them up to score points.

Mars In The News

Mars is a hot topic at the moment because this year the most advanced Mars rover yet devised, named “Curiosity”, will touch down in the vicinity of the Martian equator on a mission to find an answer to the question of whether there is, or was life on Mars. This is mankind’s best chance yet to find “the chemical building blocks of life” on the Red Planet.

Unfortunately, President Obama has just cut NASA funding and now, to misquote the Vangelis song, the chances of anything coming from Mars really do seem a million to one. These cuts mean the cancellation of proposed missions including a plan to bring Martian samples back to Earth.

Could there be a joint international mission to do that instead? It would be great to see man’s foot-prints on Martian soil.

Read more:
See a movie about Mars? Disney’s adaptation of Edgar Rice Burroughs‘ Sci-fi classic John Carter opens March 9th in America,  click here to see the official John Carter movie site.
I haven’t seen that one yet,  my favourite Martian film so far has got to be Quatermass And The Pit. It is beautifully made, very well acted and spine-chillingly sinister.
HUGH PAXTON ADDENDUM TO CHARLES’S ADDENDUM”: Thanks Charles! You have rekindled my daughter’s interest in Mars! Good work!

Linked in?

February 24, 2012

Hugh Paxton’s Blog wonders whether Linked In is really helpful? They’ve just asked me if I know Midori.

Yup. 22 years of marriage. I know her as well as she knows me. Always a problem if  I have deception in mind!

Linked In also asked me if I knew Charles? I’ve known him even longer. He’s my younger brother.

Thanks Linked In! Keep on keeping me linked in!

It’s really helping my career prospects!


Weather Folklore: Oak Before Ash …

May 26, 2011

… we’re in for a splash. This year our Oak trees sprouted leaves before our Ash trees did and so, as the weather folklore has it, we’re going to have a drier year.  While this may be true of southern Britain, which has been drier than normal, I’m not sure that we’ll necessarily have any drought in the north. Everything is incredibly lush in the garden at the moment and growing fast and well, it is coolish though. Perhaps some influence of the Icelandic volcanic ash cloud? Who knows.   The full saying, anyway is:

Oak before Ash, we’re in for a splash

Ash before Oak, we’re in for a soak

Last year we had Ash before Oak and we did get a soaking!

One thing that we can count upon at the moment is a fantastic show of Bluebells. This is a subject of nostalgia for many expatriate Britons. The bluebell wood below is in Longsleddale valley, Cumbria. We heard our first Cuckoo there on the first of May, a nice May Day gift and earlier than usual. If you are interested in seeing other Spring images, check out the spring gallery on

Bluebell wood

Bluebell wood

Virtual Warfare In Cyberspace?

December 9, 2010

As I was watching the news earlier today about retributive strikes against The Swedish Government website and various commercial operators that had fallen foul of the Wikileaks organization, I wondered how many grievences are currently being ‘worked out’ on the World Wide Web at the moment? I remember a case in which a Japanese City office’s website was cyber-attacked very soon after a senior Japanese City official made disparaging remarks about China. Though there was no evidence of an officially sanctioned cyber-attack, the timing was suggestive and it raised the question of how well defended our internet systems are.

Google has had a spat with the Chinese Government recently and since then I’ve been experiencing problems with the embed code for Google calendars. Me and 1000’s of others. Does anybody know if there’s a connection here, or is it merely a coincidence? For some mischievous reason, all the dates on the calendars pile up on the first two days of the week. Not dangerous, but the sort of quirky and inconvenient problem reminiscent of a mildly malicious hack. A flexing of cyber muscle?

In one sense a Cyber-war is a lot less dangerous than a physical one, electrons may be spilled, but there’s no blood shed. However, because huge sums of money are at stake in the case of commercial sites, and in the case of Google Calendars a lot of consternation and inconvenience caused,  cyber-warfare can be very disruptive nevertheless. In my own case, it has been a charming volunteer-run social club for learning disabled adults that has been effected, and so this interference seems particularly unfortunate. If it was a hack, may I please appeal to the hacker to solve the problem so that I may replace the very convenient Google Calendar on the Club’s website?

Thank you.

A New Age For Literature: Amazon’s Kindle And The Global Repository

May 12, 2010’s Kindle represents a revolution in literary technology that is every bit as significant as the invention of block type!

Imagine that you could carry your whole library of books along with you (up to 1500 titles), and that it would be  a third of an inch thin, about the same as most quality magazines and weigh in at just 10.2 ounces – that’s less than the average paperback, and that it reads (without glare, even in bright sunlight) for about a week on a single battery charge!

This amazing phenomenon is Amazon’s Kindle, an electronic reader that is currently retailing for about $260.

Now imagine that this portable library of yours wasn’t just a roomful of books, nor even a small municipal library, but was effectively a portal to an ever-expanding global library. Yes – as of writing, there are apparently over 500,000 titles commercially available for the Kindle and a staggering 1.8 million free (out-of-copyright-date) books dating back from 1923, there are some real treasures amongst these classics. How many electronic newspapers and magazines and pdfs are out there on the net now? The mind doesn’t just boggle at the thought – it expands.

The Kindle website claims:

“Slim: Just over 1/3 of an inch, as thin as most magazines

Lightweight: At 10.2 ounces, lighter than a typical paperback

Books in Under 60 Seconds: Get books delivered wirelessly in less than 60 seconds; no PC required

3G Wireless: 3G wireless lets you download books right from your Kindle; no annual contracts, no monthly fees, and no hunting for Wi-Fi hotspots

Global Coverage: Enjoy 3G wireless coverage at home or abroad in over 100 countries. See details. Check wireless coverage map.

Paper-Like Display: Reads like real paper without glare, even in bright sunlight

Carry Your Library: Holds up to 1,500 books

Longer Battery Life: Now read for up to 1 week on a single charge with wireless on, a significant improvement from the previous battery life of 4 days

Built-In PDF Reader: Your Kindle can now display PDF documents natively. Native PDF support allows you to carry and read all of your personal and professional documents on the go.

Read-to-Me: With the experimental Text-to-Speech feature, Kindle can read newspapers, magazines, blogs, and books out loud to you, unless the book’s rights holder made the feature unavailable

Large Selection: Over 500,000 books and the largest selection of the most popular books people want to read, including 105 of 112 New York Times® Best Sellers, plus U.S. and international newspapers, magazines, and blogs. For non-U.S. customers, content availability and pricing will vary. Check your country.

Out-of-Copyright, Pre-1923 Books: Over 1.8 million free, out-of-copyright, pre-1923 books are available to read on Kindle, including titles such as The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes, Pride and Prejudice, and Treasure Island. Learn more

Low Book Prices: New York Times® Best Sellers and new releases from $9.99.

Free Book Samples: Download and read first chapters for free before you decide to buy “

I want one!

The good news doesn’t stop there – has already made free-to-download Kindle applications for the most popular multimedia platforms: Windows, Mac, i-Pad, Blackberry and i-Phone, which means that if you are reading this blog you can already access this growing global repository of literature …

Hugh Paxton's Overland

including such quality titles as Hugh Paxton's Overland

Oh yes, before I finish here, there’s one more little revolution to mention that would make William Caxton’s eyes pop out of his head with amazement. Your Kindle reader can also read the text out loud to you – thus opening up literature, not just for sight-disabled folks, but for anyone who wants the story to continue with hands-free operation. This is an area of the technology that we can expect to see improve over time, with ever more authentic and attractive voices. I can foresee a time when devices will even be able to read aloud in everyone’s favourite voices – whether it be Tom Hank’s, Nigella Lawson’s, Sean Connery’s or possibly even their own!

Make Way For The Mushrooms!

April 12, 2010

A celebration of fungi, what they have done for us so far and their staggering potential to do very much more.

Occurring worldwide, from the lichen covered rocks of polar regions to deserts, fungi appear in marine, freshwater, and terrestrial forms. Many are microscopic and unicellular such as the yeasts that serve us so well in the kitchen and brewery and trouble us as parasitic infections like Candida, others are enormous, such as Oregon’s famous honey fungus (Armillaria ostoyae) that extends 9.65 Km2  and is somewhere between 2000 and 8500 years old, the world’s largest living organism and probably the oldest. Older than the animals, fungal evolution has been essential to the development of life on Earth as we know it and their value to the ecology and human economy is enormous. Mysterious and fascinating, the force of their growth can raise concrete slabs and crack asphalt. Their metabolic processes can raise bread, produce alcohol and slay pathogenic bacteria. They can also digest the most noxious chemicals known to man and serve us as bio-pesticides. Can they also beat cancer? Evidence that gives real cause for hope is amassing.

As both healers and killers, fungi are strong medicine and worthy of respect. While Destroying angels, Death caps and the recent deadly outbreak of Cryptococcus on Vancouver island represent the dark side of fungal influence, millions of us world-wide owe our lives to the wonderful work of antibiotics like penicillin and cephalosporin. But why stop at antibiotics? Advocates of mycopharmacology like Jeff Chilton, long-time mushroom cultivator, believe that modern western medicine has much to learn from Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) in terms of medicinal application of fungi. Ganoderma lucidum is a case in point. This “mushroom of immortality” known commonly as the Reishi, is a variety of polypore bracket fungus, a “superior” herb valued since 300 B.C. by TCM practitioners and unique among medically studied mushrooms for not only containing active antitumor polysaccharides, but also a high content of terpenoids.  Research has shown Reishi’s action to be immuno-stimulating rather than directly toxic to tumor cells. Though non-toxic chemotherapy could benefit millions, Chilton emphasizes their wider role should be “as a cornerstone for preventive medicine and a means to maintain a high level of overall resistance to disease in general.” Chilton states that despite fungi’s considerable promise, “only a dozen or so species have been seriously utilized or studied. Including: Ganoderma species (reishi), Lentinus edodes (shiitake), Polyporus umbellatus, Grifola frondosa (maitake), Coriolus versicolor, Poria cocos, Cordyceps species, Auricularia auricula, Hericium erinaceus, Schizophyllum commune, Flammulina velutipes, and Pleurotus species.” There are many more fungi awaiting broader medicinal study. Citing from their book Icons of Medicinal Fungi from China, (Ying, et al., Science Press, Beijing, 1987), Chilton informs us that from the 272 species with reported medicinal properties documented by the authors, over sixty contain polysaccharides (notably glucans and mannans) which “inhibit the growth of specific tumors”in laboratory test animals.

Li Shi-chen

According to Li Shih-chen, one of the greatest physicians and pharmacologists in Chinese history, the Ling-Chi relieves “symptoms of a knotted and tight chest…”, aids the heart, “…increases intellectual capacity and banishes forgetfulness. Eaten over a long period of time, agility of the body will not cease and the years are lengthened to those of the Immortal Fairies.”  Modified image. Original Photo

That sounds good to me!

A 'Mushroom of Immortality' growing in Louisiana.

A ‘Mushroom of Immortality’ growing in Louisiana.

Even acknowledging the Chinese engagement with fungi, eminent mycologist Paul Stamets says,” we are just beginning to discover the importance of species in this barely understood genome”. Of the estimated 1.5 million species in the fungal kingdom, under 100,000 have been identified. Fungi  are now classified in their own Kingdom. 1998 studies declared that fungi split off from the plant kingdom about nine million years before the animals did. They were officially recognized as differing from plants in some fundamental and significant matters of physiology and heterotrophic lifestyle: chitinous cell walls, self motile spores that swim with flagella and none of the chlorophyl that enables green plants to photosynthesize. Stamets exemplifies the Kingdom’s great medicinal potentials citing a new species of leaf fungus recently discovered in the forests of the Congo that replicates the beneficial action of insulin for diabetics – but is orally active! Also a new species of fungus parasitic on yew trees, Taxomyces andreanae, that yields Taxol, a compound proven against breast cancer.

Hedgehog fungi

The Lion’s Mane fungus (Hericium erinaceus) reveals”a remarkable effect on extending the life of cancer ridden patients”, especially gastric and esophageal cancers and Japanese research on erinacines finds them strong stimulators of nerve growth factor synthesis with potential for treatment of Alzheimer’sdisease and stroke rehabilitation.

Stamets reports that  Lion’s Mane fungus (Hericium erinaceus) pictured above has been found beneficial in prolonging the lives of cancer patients especially in cases of gastric and oesophageal cancers.  Japanese research on the active compounds known as erinacines finds them to be strong stimulators of nerve growth factor synthesis with potential for treatment of Alzheimer’s disease and stroke rehabilitation. I find this news particularly exciting and hope that more efforts and funding will be brought to bear on this increasingly important research area.

Fungi in the kitchen
For most of us mushrooms may seem more at home in the kitchen than in the lab and there is a wonderful range of flavours amongst culinary mushrooms. Some cultures are particularly mycophilic e.g. the Italians and Japanese. Perigord truffles, White truffles, Matsutake, Boletus and Chantarelle mushrooms – all the gourmet mushrooms, some worth their weight in gold at point of consumption, are mychorrizal fungi, that is they live in close mutualistic associations with particular plant roots.  They enable the plants’ roots to absorb minerals and soil nutrients in exchange for plant sugars and carbon. As the mycelial filaments extend out in a mesh some distance from the roots, they greatly increase the effective physical range of nutrient uptake. University of Michigan doctoral student Miroslav Kummel believes “plants may be actively ‘choosing’ the species of fungus that supports the highest growth for the plant.”

Some edible forest mushrooms

A walk in the Forest can provide good food for the mycophagist – here are Saffron Milk Caps and various Boletes

A walk in the forest can provide good food for the mycophagist.


“Penny Bun” Boletes or Ceps can be stored frozen, dried or eaten fresh.

'Penny Bun' Boletes confer a delightful flavour to rice and pasta.

‘Penny Bun’ Boletes confer a delightful flavour to soups, stews, rice and pasta.

‘Penny Bun’ Boletes are highly valued by the French. A small amount of these fungi impart fine flavour to enhance soups, stews, rice and pasta dishes. You can now find them for sale in good English Green grocer’s shops such as Stephenson’s in Appleby. I haven’t seen them fresh in supermarkets here yet, but the time may eventually come.

To date, cultivators have had difficulty farming these fungi outside the regions where they naturally occur. Time will tell whether New Zealand’s naturally low mychorrizal populations will allow investments in Matsutake plantations there to bear the phallic fruiting bodies that Japanese mycophagists prize so highly.

Along with edible mushrooms, the unicellular and multicellular members of this kingdom also enhance our diets with leavened bread, beer, wine and the many tasty veinous cheeses such as Stilton and Danish Blue. The economic value of culinary fungi in world trade is impressive – estimates of US $ 8 billion in 1993 were probably conservative even then. In the U.K., U.S. and some progressive European nations shoppers can now enjoy a high protein – zero cholesterol meat substitute called Quorn, derived from Fusarium venenatum, a filamentous fungus that when textured and flavoured to resemble chicken, pork and beef makes a very pleasant meat alternative with none of the hormonal influences of soya.

quorn bacon

Quorn bacon

Fried Quorn bacon and egg with field mushrooms – delicious!

Winter Chantarelles boiled in white wine vingar for pickling

Winter Chantarelles boiled in white wine vinegar for pickling

From a culinary point of view life would be very much the worse for most of us without fungi – it would be simply unbearable for the gourmande. On an ecological level it would be extremely unlikely for a human gourmande to exist at all without fungi. This is because they have served so long (at least since the early Devonian period, 400 mya) and so well as symbionts, and decomposers (primary through tertiary) freeing up the nutrients and minerals from decaying matter for recycling into new generations of life forms that make life, as we know it now, possible. Possibly establishing themselves on land before plants, the fungi had certainly established many of the same ecological niches then that make them so crucially important today, furthermore, in the case of the enigmatic Prototaxites (declared a fungus in 2007) it seems that they towered up to 20 feet tall!

Fungi play a crucial role in both forestry and pasture maintenance. Successful tropical dipterocarp reforestation programs are highly dependent on planting ‘mother soil’ inoculated with mychorrizal fungi along with the seedlings. When acid rain from noxious industrial and automotive gases kills trees, it does so indirectly, by killing the mychorrizal fungi that provide essential nutrients to the host trees.

Beautiful and mysterious, Fungi's ability to digest tough cellulose like lignin makes them  natural allies in cleaning up noxious hydrocarbon pollution.

Beautiful and mysterious, Fungi’s ability to digest tough cellulose like lignin makes them natural allies in cleaning up noxious hydrocarbon pollution.

Role of Fungi in Environmental Rehabilitation
Thankfully, mushrooms even come to our aid in environmental rehabilitation. Matching the right fungal agent with the pollutant is the key to success in Mycoremediation. That is the new buzzword in waste clean-up and Paul Stamets has achieved trail-blazing fame by utilizing White rot fungi, Brown rot fungi and Oyster mushrooms’ specialization as decomposers to break down noxious hydrocarbons from petrochemical and pesticide pollution. One study he conducted with bioremediation company Thomas, on a pile of oil polluted soil employed Oyster mushrooms to reduce over 95% of the noxious PAH (polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons) to non-toxic components in just four weeks. Concentrations of PAH fell from 10,000 ppm to under 200 ppm in just eight weeks, three comparable test piles treated with nothing, enzymes, and bacteria respectively, were still “dead, dark and stinky” while the mycoremediated pile became “an oasis of life”.

Oyster mushrooms

Oyster mushrooms delicious when fried in butter, can also make highly effective bioremediation agents against terrestrial noxious hydrocarbon pollution!

Patents to mycodegrade VX and Sarin gases, two of the most poisonous substances on Earth, have been applied for and fungi can even sequester toxic heavy metals. Even depleted uranium can be mycodegraded to a safer state according to BBC News. Prof. Gadd of Dundee University “found that free-living and plant fungi can colonise depleted uranium surfaces and transform the metal into uranyl phosphate minerals.” Gadd states “fungi are perfectly suited as biogeochemical agents”.

Grasshoppers killed by the entomopathogenic fungus Beauveria bassiana. USDA Photo.

Grasshoppers killed by the entomopathogenic fungus Beauveria bassiana. USDA research and photo.

Fungi can also play a very important role in biopest control against insects, see photo above. Stamets has developed the use of parasitic fungus to be highly effective against termites – the bane of wooden houses in many parts of the world. Stamets also uses mycelial mats to protect deforested land from erosion and as mycofilters for cleansing water of toxic waste and pathogenic microorganisms, including nematodes.

Fungi can also help our insect friends. Warwick University researcher Dr Dave Chandler hopes that his team have found the entomopathogenic fungal nemesis of the varroa mite (Varroa destructor) so deadly to honey bees. He explains “we examined 50 different types of fungi that afflict other insects (known as entomopathogenic fungi) to see if they would kill varroa. We needed to find fungi that were effective killers of varroa, had a low impact on the bees, and worked in the warm and dry conditions typically found in bee hives. Of the original 50 fungi we are now focusing on four that best match those three requirements.” This is important research and deserves higher funding priority, our civilizations owe a lot to honey bees and cannot afford to lose them!

As medicines, food, purifiers, and protectors, the humble fungi make formidable allies for the mycologically astute. Acknowledging the many fine qualities of our fungal companions it seems more important than ever that we better preserve their habitats. Enlightened men like Paul Stamets are leading the way and inspiring more intelligent human-fungal interaction. A challenging question for our age might well be “how can mankind team up with fungi in more, and better managed symbiotic relationships?” What a team we could be!

Coming soon on Hugh’s Herbs: Growing your own Oyster mushrooms!

For more on the power of mushrooms, please see:
Paul Stamets: 6 Ways Mushrooms Can Save The World
Fungi Perfecti Website
Fungus Foot bath Could Save Bees

Text and images by Charles Paxton unless otherwise stated

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