Prostate cancer and how you can help kick it

Once a year or so I get roped into doing some charity thing or other because it seems like a good idea at the time. Last year I did 100 pushups a day for a month in aid of Cancer Research UK. This year, I somehow thought it wouldn’t be that hard to run a marathon over the course of a month (26 miles in 31 days? Pah!) for Prostate Cancer UK.

Thing is, I hate running. I used to be good at it, but I also used to be 23 years old. At that time I could run a 3 mile circuit and get home again before the bath was filled. I’m now more than twice that age and break into a sweat tying my trainers up.

I trialled a little run around the park by my house and it clocks in at 1.18, 1.19 or 1.20 miles depending on what mood my phone’s GPS is in. Either way, just about manageable for an old fart who can sprain a muscle if he doesn’t warm up before playing on the Xbox. The only downside is that there are no streetlights anywhere in the park, and it’s winter, which means I have limited daylight and the risk of ice. As such, my original plan of a quick run when I got home from work each night hasn’t been manageable so I’m having to cram the miles in when I can around the school run, work, parents’ evenings and so on.

Still, I’ve just passed the halfway mark as the month itself is half done so we’re getting there. I’ve also passed the halfway mark in the fundraising. So I changed my target so that people would keep donating. Yes, you. Go on – donate. Thank you. Oh, and don’t forget the Gift Aid. The government would only spend the money on something useless like sweeties or Brexit.

So what are you helping? The thing is, prostate cancer is pretty common but not too many people know about it. Or, indeed, prostates. Other cancers get a lot more (deserved) publicity. Leukaemia, for instance. Yes, that’s a cancer. And breast cancer. Because breasts are pretty obvious and awesome and everyone likes them (except for people who actually own them, as I gather they’re either too big and therefore painful, or too small and therefore everyone else’s are better). But we all like boobs. It’s not just a male thing, either. I know gay ladies who do find a nice pair very appealing in a partner. All the sex stuff aside, is there anything more serene than a mother nursing her baby? Exactly, breasts are great in so many ways. And breast cancer affects men and women (though predominantly the fairer sex).

Prostate cancer is a male only thing as only men have them (and I include in this trans-women – the prostate isn’t removed during reassignment surgery, so please be aware that prostate cancer can still be a “thing”). The prostate gland is a small structure, mainly used during sex to create the fluid that sperm resides in. A simplified description and one which pretty much explains why the prostate definitely isn’t as sexy as boobs.

While mammograms aren’t a picnic, prostates are examine by a GP shoving a hopefully lubricated and gloved) finger up your bum. As the joke goes, if you can feel their hands in your shoulders while they’re doing this, you should be charging them by the hour… Prostate cancer can also be tested for by using a blood test. Macmillan Cancer has a nice bit of info on it.

In the UK, 1 in 8 men will be diagnosed with prostate cancer at some point in their lifetime, comparable to the 1 in 7 women who will be diagnosed with breast cancer. While 23% of breast cancer cases are preventable, prostate cancer is not, though there may be ways to lower the risk.

By supporting charities such as Prostate Cancer UK, we can help research this nasty beast and work out ways to reduce its likelihood, to improve treatment, raise awareness and make tests easier and more reliable.

So even if you can’t donate (I get it, it’s January, you’re broke after wasting money on crap presents that nobody really wanted or needed last month), then at least read up a little on it. Make others more aware. See if you’re in a risk category and consider getting tested just in case. As with any cancer, the sooner you spot the thing, the more likely it is you’ll beat it.

That donation link again. Thanks.

We are awesome

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Mars Science Laboratory Guided Entry at Mars (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

I’m not just talking about you and I, or the family or whatever. I mean us. The human race.

Look at what happened at 05:21GMT this morning. We deposited a new robot on the surface of Mars.

OK, so far so “heard it before”. But this is the largest machine we’ve placed there yet, weighing over a ton. And then you get into how we even got the thing there. It wasn’t “dropped” – it was lowered gently.

It takes about 14 minutes for radio signals sent from Mars to reach Earth, so there was no real way this could be done by some guy piloting it with a joystick. The entire thing was automatic.

In the 7 minutes it takes from the craft hitting the Martian atmosphere, it had to be slowed right down to near-stationary and its payload deposited on the surface. All without someone directly controlling it, or being able to override anything if anything happened and in an environment we can’t fully test on Earth.

This video on NASA’s website covers the details in 5 minutes, but briefly:

First off, the craft has to be guided as it ploughs through the upper atmosphere to ensure it lands where it’s supposed to. The calculations involved in this are incredible, ensuring that it starts to enter the atmosphere at the right time based on forecasting the position of the planet in relation to ours at the time we launched the original rocket from Earth so that we knew what the craft would be aiming at. The module will be jostled during its travel as it heats up to incredible temperatures while the on-board computers keep it on target using directional rockets.

The atmosphere on Mars is 100 times “thinner” than that of Earth. That mean there’s enough that the craft has to take it into account while it descends, but not enough to help with slowing the thing down to as large an extent as it would here. As a result, the largest parachute NASA have ever fabricated is put into use, slowing the craft from 1000mph to something more manageable. This parachute needs to withstand 65000lbs (29500kg) or force, yet only weighs 100lbs (45kg) itself.

Once the parachute is deployed, the heatshield on the base of the unit “pops” off exposing RADAR equipment which takes speed and distance readings for the next stage of the landing.

The parachute does a great job, but only slows the unit down to 200mph. Still far too fast for a safe landing. Instead, rockets will be used to slow its descent over the final stages. The parachute is detached and the rockets first of all push the main unit sideways, away from it to ensure that the two don’t become entangled.

While still ensuring the lander is travelling towards the designated site, the rockets further slow the descent to something more manageable.

However, we have one final problem. Mars is covered in very fine dust. If the rockets were used to take the actual exploratory unit right down to the surface, so much dust would be kicked up that visibility would be nill and there would be a significant risk of the mechanics and electronics being damages.

This is where it gets really cool.

At 20m above the surface, safe from kicking up that cloud, the rocket unit hovers. Then lowers the actual wheeled exploratory unit on a “skycrane”, winching it down to the surface at a slow speed. It allows it to touch down and settle, then disconnects and flies off to crash elsewhere so that it won’t get in the way of the planned examination of the planet’s surface.

All of this automated control is the result of 500,000 lines of computer code.

We did this. Human beings did this.

We foresaw every possible problem. We built rockets and units and mechanics and a host of other devices and bundled them into a package the size of a small truck. We then shoved a means of generating power, sensors, RADAR, propulsion and more into a unit the size of a small hatchback car. And then we flung the whole lot into space, managing to land it on a pre-determined spot the size of our back garden a distance of 140 million miles (250 million km) away.

We worked all of those final stage problems out to the extent that we could give instructions to a computer to handle everything. 500,000 lines of code sounds like a lot, but when you consider all the calculations and instructions necessary to hit the levels of precision necessary it’s paltry.

In a week that also sees the Olympics going on, the geek in me is overjoyed to see science grabbing the headlines for a few hours. I’m convinced the landing was scheduled for the early hours so it wouldn’t have to compete with any of the events at the Games!

Between both events, they demonstrate the pinnacles of human achievement both physical and intellectual.

I say again. We – Are – Awesome.

As a race, we are capable of so much. We waste a lot of our potential or expend it on stupid things like wars, but when we actually put the effort in these are the things of which we are capable. To be able to point at the staff of NASA, or the athletes breaking record after record, it gives our children something to go “wow” at – and hopefully the desire to emulate and exceed these achievements.

[Please excuse any glaring inaccuracies in the numbers in this post – I’ve used very rough figures and averages for some of them, and any cockups will be mine]

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1000mph car

Hammond in the Vampire Drag car moments before...

This is just nuts. After setting the World Land Speed record a couple of years back at 763mph (1228 km/h for you foreigners out there) the same team aim to increase that to 1000mph or Mach 1.4.

The BBC have all the details and a cool CGI video to go with it. I just love the bit where it compares the speed of the car (a rocket with a Eurofighter jet engine bolted to it and some wheels on the bottom) with that of a bullet fired from a Magnum .357. Top stuff.

I’d just suggest that they stick with their plan to have Andy Green drive it. Steer well clear of Richard Hammond. Well ******* clear.

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If you can read this…

Large Hadron Collider Opens Black Hole

… then the LHC project at CERN was a success. Or at least it didn’t create a whopping big black hole where Geneva used to be and start sucking the entire earth in on itself. This, on the whole, is a good thing. Frankly, I can’t believe the doomsayers all reckoning we’ll die as a result of a few scientists banging what are essentially very tiny bricks together.

One comment on the YouTube video I have posted up, made me giggle:

hey **** you. Why would you want to kill us!!. Cant you just leave earth alone.its true we only have 50 months to live after that.which is in 2012 some where near november the profecy

What a ******* nut-job. And he/she can’t even spell. Frankly, that’s more scary than particles being whacked together. That the humanity that will/did survive is so damn stupid.

It’s also amusing that I’m posting this in advance on a timer so it self-publishes the day after in case I’m dead. Using technology that was first created in the same institution as the one which is potentially going to kill us all. Messing with physics does stuff like that.

Update: seems they won’t actually be destroying anything for a few months. False alarm!

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