Sunday, August 31, 2008

325: beetle provides cancer research clue

A major breakthrough in basic science, which could accelerate cancer research, was announced today - all thanks to a team of scientists from Philadelphia ... and the red flour beetle. As today's linked article from reports, scientists had been trying to decipher the protein telomerase for many years, since its role in helping cancer cells multiply was first identified around two decades ago. But they'd had little luck. The human form of the protein was too unstable. As a result, the Philadelphia scientists searched through data on other species - and eventually found the red flour beetle, which produces a less complex form of the protein that could be studied, and this enabled its structure to be mapped. This is the first step of many that will be required to develop new cancer drugs, but it's a vital step. Researchers will now know more about this important protein, and that's key if they're to work out how to deactivate it.

Saturday, August 30, 2008

324: kids helped to lose weight, get fit - and feel better

This is a really promising tale, about a couple of kids from Rotherham in the UK, who had been bullied because of their weight and totally lacked confidence. That is, until they attended a six-week fitness camp this summer - so today's linked article from the BBC reports. The camp helps kids make healthy eating choices and to take regular exercise. Throughout the camp, participants are told how much weight they are losing, and this builds their confidence. It certainly seems to have worked for the kids in the BBC article - who have said they feel taller, slimmer, and generally better. When they get home, they and their families will be supported for a further four months to make sure their progress - and optimism - is sustained. What's more, it's all funded by the National Health Service - so families needn't lose weight from their wallets at the same time. Based on my time in the US to date, I can't help thinking that the Rotherham experience could translate well to the other side of the Atlantic, though I've never heard of anything like it here. Definitely something worth watching though...

Friday, August 29, 2008

323: Afghan Olympian given hero's welcome

I'm on vacation at the moment, in Jamaica - blogging in the middle of a hurricane! This is a new and interesting experience, to say the least. As I browsed through the web, and simultaneously wiped my laptop free of rain every few seconds, my attention was grabbed by this lovely story from the BBC. As the linked article reports, Afghanistan's first Olympic medallist, Rohullah Nikpai, returned home today and received a hero's welcome. Even during his layover in Delhi, he was paraded through the airport and decorated with flower garlands - and when he arrived in Kabul he was met by the country's Vice-President, and then driven through the streets in a open-top truck to the national stadium, which was packed with well-wishers. Nikpai won a bronze in Taekwondo, which is a hugely popular sport in today's Afghanistan, with more than 700 clubs training around 25,000 athletes. And it looks set to become more popular with this Olympic success. (Afghanistan's previous best performance in the Olympics was a fifth placed wrestler in 1964.) As Nikpai said "I hope this medal will bring a better future for my country, both in terms of peace and friendship... what matters is showing the world that our flag can rise as well." (Photo from BBC online.)

Thursday, August 28, 2008

322: junk ship proves its point

A ship called 'Junk' - and made from it too - docked safely in Honolulu today, at the end of it's 3-month trip from California to raise awareness about plastic debris and its effect on marine life. As today's linked article from MSNBC reports, the two-man crew had constructed 'Junk' from ocean debris - part of a Cessna's fuselage, salvaged boat masts and 15,000 plastic bottles for floatation. They'd had some scary moments, running low on food and watching as some of the plastic bottles filled with water and sank after a storm, but they made it in the end. The trip was arranged by the 'Junk' project run by the Algalita Marine Research Foundation. In addition to the crew, another member of the project team provided remote support and raised money and awareness. The project's key message is that single-use plastics should be banned as they generally end up in the ocean or persist elsewhere harming fish, flora and fauna. As if to prove this point, a fish caught by the crew - which they'd hoped to eat - was found to be filled with pieces of undigested plastic. I hope that 'Junk' (the raft, the project and the problem) gets the attention it deserves.

Wednesday, August 27, 2008

321: hope that tourists will return to Baghdad

I love the optimism that emanates from this story. According to today's linked article from Newsday, officials in Iraq are calling for designers to submit proposals for a huge ferris wheel that will one day grace the city's skyline. It is hoped that the ferris wheel, which is being called the Baghdad Eye, will be 650 feet tall - making it much taller than the famous London Eye, which comes in at 450 feet. While hugely ambitious, it's not the only tourist attraction in Baghdad. The city has a zoo, pools, parks and restaurants, and there are plans to recreate the 'lovers island' in the middle of the Tigris, once a favoured destination of honeymooners. The private sector is beginning to invest in this infrastructure (e.g. building luxury hotels) alongside the government. All in all, it's a sign that Baghdad's spirit has been undiminished by the violence of recent years. The city and its people have a vision for the future - one it seems they want visitors to share.

Tuesday, August 26, 2008

320: paraplegics may walk again

Thank you very much to RTBH reader Titus for sending in today's linked article from Reuters. I must say, it's a fascinating read and also really good news. As the article reports, an Israeli man has invented a device that can enable those paralyzed below the waist to walk again. It's similar to a crustacean's exoskeleton in terms of how it supports the body, and it can be manipulated using controls attached to crutches operated by the arms. Users can choose to sit, stand, walk, descend or climb. The robotic device then moves, when body sensors detect the user leaning forward. Experts say the benefits are both physical and psychological: as well as exercising different muscle groups and extending the torso, standing up enables users to make eye contact with others and to get on 'level terms' with them. This is very empowering, as user Radi Kaiof - paralyzed 20 years ago while serving as an Israeli paratrooper - testifies in the article. Although the inventor won't be able to use the device himself, sadly - he's paralyzed too, but does not have enough control of his arms to operate the suit - it will be on the market in 2010, and will cost about the same as an advanced wheelchair. Definitely a breakthrough invention. Let's hope that healthcare providers step up to the plate, to make it available to those who need it. (Photo from Reuters.)


If you want to see the ReWalk in action, click here for a Reuters video.

Monday, August 25, 2008

319: hope at last in Zimbabwe

There were cautious expressions of hope in Zimbabwe today, as the new Parliamentary speaker was sworn in. As today's linked article from the BBC reports, Lovemore Moyo - a member of the main opposition party, the Movement for Democratic Change - hailed the beginning of a new era, in which the Parliament becomes a more effective check on Mugabe's regime. Only time will tell whether this hope is well-placed, of course, but today certainly ushered in some change.

Sunday, August 24, 2008

318: Chinese civil society boosted by Olympics

Post 237 on this blog, back in June, brought you an article from Yale's news site that suggested China's civil society was maturing and having greater impact, particularly on environmental agendas. Today's linked article, from German news site Die Welt, would seem to support that thesis. The article argues that the Beijing Olympic games - which closed today, of course - have given impetus to certain segments within China's civil society. Specifically, those working to tackle pollution and reduce waste have been able to rally people around their cause as the country worked to 'get in shape' for the games. Meanwhile, those working to improve the rights of disabled people have been given a boost by the attention-grabbing Paralympics, which will open in Beijing on September 6th. As the article points out, there are many other issues that appear to have made less progress, but the recent successes of the few may nevertheless give heart to others seeking change.

Saturday, August 23, 2008

317: dog saves abandoned baby in Argentina

A dog in Argentina has rescued a newborn baby after it was abandoned by its teenage mother, CNN reported today. According to the article linked above, the dog found the baby in a field and carried it home, eventually placing it amongst its own puppies. Apparently, the temperature had dropped to 37 degrees Farenheit, and doctors said the baby would have found it difficult to survive the night had the dog not rescued it. The baby was taken to hospital but is said to have suffered very few injuries. The 14-year-old mother later presented at the hospital and is also being treated. Meanwhile, according to various news reports today, the dog has become something of a celebrity and is being hailed as a hero by the local community. It certainly is an amazing tale, revealing a depth of maternal instinct that cuts across species. (Picture from Channel 9/CNN.)

Friday, August 22, 2008

316: rebuilding Liberia's education system

Way back on day Forty-One of this blog, I posted a story about a Liberian teen who was about to start university at age 14, having educated himself against the odds. Today, I found this hopeful article on, reporting on the priority that President Sirleaf's government has given to expanding the country's education infrastructure and supporting poorer families to keep their children, especially girls, in school. Fortunately, it seems that NGOs, UN agencies and foreign donors are lining up in support of the Liberian government's goal - and this support will be necessary to make progress, given the extent of the challenge. The country has a literacy rate of just 20% currently. But commitment from the top, and money in the budget to back it up, give Liberia a fighting chance. Hopefully it won't be too long before all Liberia's children are in school and doing well, even if they can't all get to university at 14!

Thursday, August 21, 2008

315: follow your nose to detect cancers

Fascinating story this one, from the BBC. As today's linked article reports, US researchers have discovered that certain types of skin cancer - basal cell carcinomas - give off a scent, which they can pick up using a machine they've developed. In a similar UK study, researchers are exploring whether bladder cancer might be identified in a similar way, through subtle changes in the smell of a patient's urine that dogs can be trained to detect. And it's even been postulated that lung cancer tumors might be detected through specific odors in a patient's breath. Certainly, if deemed sufficiently accurate, such tests would be a welcome non-invasive method of diagnosis - and I suppose it would give further weight to the idea that dogs are mankind's best friends.

Wednesday, August 20, 2008

314: hope for a sustainable future, by design

I really enjoyed today's linked article from this week's Newsweek, which gave me a lot of hope that industry can become greener and energy cleaner, with a little imagination and investment. In the piece, Fareed Zakaria interviews the visionary green architect William McDonough, whose company has already designed many energy-efficient and visually sympathetic buildings - including an office tower shaped like a tree, which would produce more in the way of nutrients and oxygen than it consumes (see the photo gallery linked to the article for that). In interview, McDonough also discusses the potential of new technologies to make industrial production extremely low-impact and effectively zero-waste, citing a Swiss textile mill that takes in and emits crystal clear water fit for drinking! McDonough's take on this topic is reassuring, because he's not just imagining the possibilities but realizing them too. It shows what we could achieve, if we only had the collective will - and a few creative folk like McDonough.

Tuesday, August 19, 2008

313: revitalizing Zambia's copper mines

Tragedy struck Zambia today as the nation's President, Levy Mwanawasa, died in hospital in France at the age of 59, following a stroke several weeks ago. However, hope also emerged from Zambia today, as reported by the Inter Press Service. As outlined in today's linked article, after years of decline, Zambia's copper mines are being revitalized, bringing new jobs and boosting the local economy. This time around, however, the government is determined to share the benefits more evenly, with a new tax structure for the industry. The upgraded mines will also incorporate technologies that limit their CO2 emissions and cut pollution. A more sustainable mining sector would bring huge benefits to Zambia - and it would certainly leave the country better off than when Levy Mwanawasa took up the Presidency six years ago.

Monday, August 18, 2008

312: lucky escape from suspended plane

From blind luck (post 309) to life-saving luck today, as news broke of a German couple's amazing escape from their light plane. As reported in today's linked article (and video without commentary) from the BBC, they had taken off from a small airport and were due to land in another one nearby when they struck a power line. Somehow, rather than crashing to the ground, their plane remained there, suspended precariously. After some time, they were removed from the aircraft via small rescue cranes or 'cherry pickers' as they are apparently known. They are now safe - though I imagine their plane may not make it...

Sunday, August 17, 2008

311: East Africa gets connected

Long-awaited good news for the East African region today, as reported in the UK's Guardian newspaper. Apparently, the region is one of the world's last remaining coastlines to be connected to the global fibre-optic cable network. As a result, existing internet connections are prohibitively high for most people and too slow for institutions such as universities to function optimally. But that will change. This October, the Seacom cable - 9300 miles long, owned by mostly African investors and costing more than $600m - will begin to roll out. Next year will see the completion of the Eastern Africa Submarine Cable System (EASSy), a thinner cable that will connect 21 countries in East Africa to each other - and to the rest of the world. The result will be much faster and cheaper connectivity, giving a tremendous boost to commerce and the exchange of knowledge across the region. Indeed, it seems as if many people and businesses, in Kenya, Rwanda and elsewhere, are desperate for greater connectivity... They won't have to wait much longer.

Saturday, August 16, 2008

310: rare clouded leopard spotted in Borneo

Good news for conservationists today, as motion-activated cameras in Borneo's Sebangua National Park caught a rare type of clouded leopard on film. As today's linked article from the BBC reports, the cat had not been spotted in the area previously, though conservationists were already aware of several other wild cat species there. They hope the recent clouded leopard sighting will strengthen the case for protecting the region, including from logging. Either way, the fact that Borneo's diversity is still being uncovered is very encouraging. (Project photo from BBC online.)

Friday, August 15, 2008

309: one man's blind luck

This is a nice light-hearted story with which to end the working week. As reported in today's linked article from The Journal Gazette (a local newspaper from Fort Wayne, Indiana), a Roanoke man had an amazing run of luck recently. Bobby Guffey has been playing the local lottery regularly for nearly two decades, using the same numbers. However, having left his glasses at home on one occasion recently, he entered one number incorrectly on his ticket. He realized shortly afterwards and bought a second ticket to correct the mistake. Well, you guessed it - the ticket with the 'wrong' number won him $3m! (And of course he won an additional $1000 with his other ticket, for having all but one number correct.) A very happy mistake indeed... (Photo from The Journal Gazette.)

Thursday, August 14, 2008

308: hope shared in 15.24 carats

I'm not much of a shopper - pretty much can't stand it, in fact - and I'm definitely not a hunter of luxury goods. But this story about a diamond necklace, from Reader's Digest, grabbed my attention nevertheless. You see, it's not really about the necklace. It's about a group of women who bought the necklace together, finding friendship and confidence in the process, and worked together to raise funds for various charities. It's a very unusual story, and I can't do it justice in summary here. You'll just have to read it for yourselves! (Photo from Reader's Digest.)

Wednesday, August 13, 2008

307: rapid test for avian flu could save lives

Good news in the battle against avian flu today, as reported by the BBC. Apparently, scientists in Nottingham, UK, have developed a rapid diagnostic kit - a portable testing machine - that could identify whether a patient is carrying H5N1 or another bird flu virus using a saliva sample. Rapid diagnosis greatly increases the chances of treating a patient successfully. As things stand, with treatment often coming too late, most sufferers die - more than 80% of those infected in Indonesia, for example. But the new machine could yield a result within two hours. If it can be manufactured and rolled out, therefore, it really could save many lives.

Tuesday, August 12, 2008

306: UK car dumping down as scrap prices rise

This is a great 'happy by-product' story, which caught my eye in the UK's Times newspaper today. As the article reports, the UK had become something of a used car dumping ground over recent years, as owners had to actually pay scrap dealers to take their old vehicles away, so unattractive were they. As I recall, slip roads leading on or off major roads were a favoured dropping off point - most abandoned cars had their license plates removed and some were burnt out for good measure. Apparently, far fewer cars are dumped in this way now, as prices of key metals such as steel, aluminium and copper are up and dealers are paying over £100 for many makes of car. And so, at least for now, British side streets are slightly less cluttered. (Photo from The Times online.)

Monday, August 11, 2008

305: humpback whales resurgent

Great news for whale watchers today, as reported by the UK's Guardian newspaper. According to today's linked article, the number of humpback whales globally is on the rise, due to the long term impact of a worldwide hunting ban enacted 40 years ago. It is thought that there are now about 40,000 adult whales and 15,000 juveniles across the globe, and as a result the IUCN has reclassified the species from 'vulnerable' to 'of least concern'. Many other marine species remain endangered, of course - some critically so. But the success of conservation efforts affecting the humpback whale shows what can be done. (Beautiful photo from EPA/Guardian.)

Sunday, August 10, 2008

304: thermoelectric efficiency

How's this for recycling? According to today's linked article from, scientists are competing currently to develop technologies that can harness heat from car exhausts, turning it into energy that can then (re)power the car. Necessary technology too, since up to 70% of energy from internal combustion engines is wasted apparently, 40% of it through exhaust heat. General Motors has said that if they can reach their goal of 10% fuel economy through these imminent technologies, that would save around 100 million gallons of fuel per year just in GM cars driven in the US! And of course the same thermoelectric technologies could have so many other applications too, saving energy everywhere they are deployed (even in zero emissions cars, I assume?). A potentially great scientific advance.

Saturday, August 9, 2008

303: tackling taboos in India

To India today, and an interesting article from BBC news. As the article reports, new initiatives are being piloted across India in an effort to promote condoms for women and gay men - and they are proving far more successful than anyone thought. There are about 2.5 million HIV positive people in India, homosexuality is illegal, and women in particular lack control over family planning options. But those women involved in the pilot schemes have embraced the female condoms and, apparently, persuaded their husbands to embrace them too. And, according to the BBC article, they are more than happy to talk openly about their experiences, shattering local taboos in the process. Many have said they feel empowered - giving hope that women across the country can take greater control of their lives as these new initiatives are rolled out.

Friday, August 8, 2008

302: amputee swimmer leads and inspires

Another uplifting flag-bearing tale today! This time, as South African website News 24 reports, the athlete concerned is Natalie du Toit, who carried South Africa's flag for her team at the Olympic opening ceremony today. Natalie is a long-distance swimmer, whose left leg was amputated at the knee in 2001 after a motorcycling accident. She had competed at the Commonwealth Games before that, and this year she qualified for both the Paralympics and the Olympics - the first amputee ever to have done so. Like Lopez Lomong for the US, Natalie was the obvious choice to carry the flag for South Africa today. Her own words sum up the Olympic spirit better than anything I could craft: "Everybody has problems, everybody has things that get them down. It's just saying, 'I can go out there, if I have a dream, I can really, if I work hard and I believe in it, I can achieve it'."

Thursday, August 7, 2008

301: 'lost boy' will carry US flag in Beijing

Do you remember post 243 about the 'lost boys of Sudan' and the great things they were doing with their lives having settled in the US? Well, today it was announced that one of the 'lost boys' will lead the US team at the Olympics in Beijing, carrying the nation's flag at the opening ceremony tomorrow. As today's linked article from CNN reports, Lopez Lomong came to the US after fleeing his war-torn community in southern Sudan at the age of 6, becoming separated from his family and spending 10 years in a refugee camp. He will represent the US in the 1500 meters at the Beijing games, having gained citizenship in 2007. His fellow US team mates chose him to bear the flag. Lopez is also a member of Team Darfur, a group of athletes committed to raising awareness about ongoing violence and rights abuses in western Sudan. The flag he carries tomorrow will therefore represent hope in many more ways than one. (Photo from CNN.)

Wednesday, August 6, 2008

300: likely ruins of Shakespearean theatre uncovered

After yesterday's story about finding wildlife in surprising numbers, here's a story about finding history in surprising places. According to today's linked article from US news site Knoxnews, builders excavating a site in east London stumbled across some interesting looking foundations. Archaeologists from a local museum were brought in, and concluded that the remains were very likely to be from 'The Theatre' where Shakespeare's 'Romeo and Juliette' and 'The Merchant of Venice' debuted. The structure was used by Shakespeare's company in the 1590s but was later dismantled and moved south of the river Thames, where it became the famous Globe theatre. If the recently discovered ruins were from The Theatre, it would be very apt - the new building to be erected on the site is ... you guessed it ... a new theatre. (Photo from AP / Knoxnews.)


So, post 300. Very nearly there. The 12-month target is in sight. I'm still trying to work out what I should do then. Thanks to all of you who've said 'keep going'! But I need to make it manageable... I'm thinking of either posting less frequently, or building a 'blogging team' (ideally from across the world) to take it in turns. Any thoughts would be most welcome to Thanks!

Tuesday, August 5, 2008

299: amazing discovery of thriving gorillas

A very uplifting story from the National Geographic News site today. Apparently, new research from Congo suggests that the population of Western Lowland Gorillas may be twice as high as previously thought. The research indicates that about 125,000 gorillas are living in the region, some of which is officially protected. Conservation agencies hope that this recent survey will encourage the Congolese government to designate further areas as national parkland. Meanwhile, the world of primatology is getting excited - and even though the 'nest counting' methodology used in the census is doubted by some, experts appear to agree that gorillas are thriving in this region and that conservation efforts are working. In addition, there is something thrilling about the fact that, with all the technology we have at our fingertips, we can still stumble across the wonders of this planet in this way and be pleasantly surprised. Wonderful. (Do go to the website via the link in the post title above - there's a great video there. Photo here from National Geographic.)

Monday, August 4, 2008

298: sharing hope in the face of adversity

Well, it seems as if our message is being heard, RTBH readers. I noticed today that MSNBC has started carrying a segment entitled 'Wonderful World' on its website, which focuses on happy news! (It doesn't look as if they post something every day ... but perhaps they don't have enough staff on it? Ha ha...) Anyway, today I'm posting one of their recent articles, about two women in Warsaw, Poland. They are in their seventies and have been close for decades, living as sisters - though they are in fact a Holocaust survivor and her rescuer. Janina Pietrasiak (then 8 years old) and her mother were taken in by Maria Lopuszanska and her family, to hide them from Nazi persecutors. Janina's mother died shortly afterwards and Janina was then baptised and treated as a sister to Maria. She survived. Later, she was offered refuge in the US but decided to stay with her adoptive family in Poland. Janina and Maria care for each other to this day, and Maria's role as a rescuer has been recognized by Jewish organizations in both the US and Israel. It's a remarkable example of how two people can sustain each other, even in the face of many hardships. Love may not quite conquer all, but it goes a very long way...

Sunday, August 3, 2008

297: China gets serious about renewable energy

I found this interesting article on the UK's Guardian newspaper website today. Apparently, a report issued this week confirming China's rapid development and application of renewable energy technologies. Indeed, current figures suggest that China is now the world's second biggest producer of solar energy after Japan, and within the next year should lead the world in the export of wind turbines, as well as contributing significantly to innovation in renewables generally. There is no doubt that China's current CO2 emissions and levels of pollution give serious cause for concern, but this report suggests China has the potential to move away from a destructive pattern of energy use quite rapidly. If that's not a reason to be hopeful, I don't know what is.

Saturday, August 2, 2008

296: New York girl's miraculous escape

This story is pretty incredible. Many thanks to RTBH reader Paul for alerting me to it. According to today's linked article from the Associated Press, a 12-year-old girl had a lucky escape this week when she fell 14 stories down the chimney of her New York apartment block. Grace Bergere had been climbing up the side of the chimney to show her visiting cousin the great view - but then slipped. When her parents and firefighters found her at the bottom of the flue shortly afterwards, they expected the worst, but found her buried in 2 feet of soot and ash, virtually unscathed. They think the pile of debris cushioned her landing, saving her from internal injury or death. Apparently, Grace is a budding drummer and songwriter. Her recent escape definitely sounds like something to sing about... (Photo from AP.)

Friday, August 1, 2008

295: German man receives double arm transplant

This truly amazing story was covered widely today. I'm posting the version from the UK's Telegraph newspaper. It reports that a German farmer, who lost both his arms in an accident several years ago, has received the world's first double arm transplant. The man, who is 54, recently received arms from a 19-year-old donor. The procedure to reopen the man's blood vessels and other connective tissue was difficult, taking five teams of surgeons 15 hours to complete, but it was apparently very successful. Following another five weeks of intensive therapy he will be able to use his new arms without assistance, though it could be up to 2 years before he has feeling in his fingertips. It just shows how far transplant technology has come. And for this man, it's brought a new lease of life. (Photo from EPA / Telegraph.)