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Can people think themselves sick? This is what psychiatrist Simon Wessely explores. His research into the causes of conditions like chronic fatigue syndrome and Gulf war syndrome has led to hate mail, yet far from dismissing these illnesses as imaginary, Wessely has spent his career developing treatments for them. Clare Wilson asks what it's like to be disliked by people you're trying to help

How might most of us experience the effects of the mind on the body?

In an average week you probably experience numerous examples of how what's going on around you affects your subjective health. Most people instinctively know that when bad things happen, they affect your body. You can't sleep, you feel anxious, you've got butterflies in your stomach... you feel awful.

When does that turn into an illness?

Such symptoms only become a problem when people get trapped in excessively narrow explanations for illness - when they exclude any broader consideration of the many reasons why we feel the way we do. This is where the internet can do real harm. And sometimes people fall into the hands of charlatans who give them bogus explanations.

Is that how chronic fatigue syndrome can start?

Often there is an organic trigger like glandular fever. That's the start, and usually most people get over it, albeit after some weeks or months. But others can get trapped in vicious circles of monitoring their symptoms, restricting their activities beyond what is necessary and getting frustrated or demoralised. This causes more symptoms, more concerns and more physical changes, so much so that what started it all off is no longer what is keeping it going.

One of the enigmas is why certain infections, like glandular fever, have an increased likelihood of triggering chronic fatigue syndrome (CFS), while others, such as influenza, do not. We also don't know why people who have had depression are twice as likely to develop CFS. I get cross with people who want to explain one and not the other. Some people take too psychiatric a view of CFS and ignore the infective trigger, whereas others want to think only about the infection.

So how do you treat CFS?

The first thing you have to do is engage people. I see them for 2 hours, which enables me to take a proper history to ensure I understand their symptoms and how the illness is affecting them. This helps people to open up, as they can see I am interested in their problems and taking them seriously.

With many people I genuinely do not know why they are ill. Or if I do, if they had glandular fever five years ago, say, I tell them there is nothing I can do about the original trigger. What makes a difference is what happens next. Then we get on to the practical stuff, such as finding out how people deal with the condition. Are there things they are doing that may not be the best for recovery? Then I recommend cognitive behavioural therapy and tailored programmes of gradually increasing activity levels.

How successful is your treatment of CFS?

Roughly a third of people completely recover and a third show good improvement. About a third we can't do much for.

What about those people who have such severe CFS they are bedridden?

In that kind of disability, psychological factors are important and I don't care how unpopular that statement makes me. We also have to consider what those years of inactivity have done to their muscles. People know that if you break your leg, when you take the plaster off there's nothing much left. If you've been in a wheelchair for some years, the laws of physiology haven't stopped.

Your most cited paper claims that conditions such as CFS, irritable bowel syndrome and fibromyalgia are all the same illness.

If you ask people with irritable bowel syndrome whether they suffer from fatigue, they all say yes. It's just gastroenterologists don't ask that question. Likewise, if you talk to someone with CFS, you find that nearly all of them have gut problems. If you systematically interview people with these illnesses, you find that a big proportion of these so-called discrete syndromes have a large overlap with the others. You have to think that we have got the classifications wrong.

So do you think these syndrome labels are arbitrary?

Each country has different syndromes. They don't have CFS in France; they have a strange one, spasmophilia, where a person has unexplained convulsions. In Sweden they have dental amalgam syndrome, which hasn't really caught on here. In Germany they believe low blood pressure is bad.

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TWO great challenges of the 21st century - green energy and wildlife conservation - could have a symbiotic solution.

Michael McGuigan of the Brookhaven National Laboratory in Upton, New York, has suggested that combining solar power plants with nature reserves could tackle both problems. A sanctuary for 300 tigers, for example, would cover a patch of land about 50 kilometres across. Surrounding this with a 5-kilometre-wide ring of solar panels would create a power plant producing 60 gigawatts of electricity

Some of that power could be used to electrify nearby villages. That would reduce the need for rural populations to forage for firewood, removing a major source of conflict between wild animals and villagers.

Asir Johnsingh, an expert on tiger conservation and adviser for WWF based in Bangalore, India, agrees that where sanctuaries border villages and cultivated land, solar power plants would benefit the local population. For example, poor communities near the Kalakad Mundanthurai Tiger Reserve in Tamil Nadu, India, are supplied with gas cylinders for their energy needs. "But gas may become expensive," he says.

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he first close-range, low-frequency recordings of volcanic eruptions have revealed a surprising similarity to the noise made by jet engines. The finding may provide clues to what happens prior to volcanic explosions.

Hear an infrasound recording of an eruption at Mount St Helens, speeded up 200x (Credit: American Geophysical Union. File: .mov format)

Robin Matoza of the University of California, San Diego, and colleagues measured infrasonic signals from volcanic eruptions around the globe, getting as near to them as 13 kilometres – relatively close for these sorts of measurements. This was the first time that infrasonic signals from very large eruptions had been measured at relatively close range.

When the team speeded up the frequency of the volcano recordings to within the range of human hearing, the distribution of frequencies closely resembled those of a Boeing 747 jet engine.

"The science of jet noise is very well understood," says Matoza. "If we can understand how this works for volcanoes, we may be able to infer properties of eruption columns."

They already have a few ideas. The roar produced in engines is partly down to turbulent air near the inner walls of the engine. The fact that a similar sound is generated by both vulcanian and plinian eruptions – blasts with tall, dense ash columns – suggests it is created as ash and gas blasts up near the inner surface of the volcano's mouth.
Aircraft warnings

Explosive eruptions are far too violent to measure directly using sensors or planes, says Darcy Ogden at Stanford University, so the finding could be a useful way of discovering the velocities, densities and pressures inside the volcanic plume.

"This information about the internal dynamics of the plume then helps us understand more about how plumes work. The more we understand about how plumes work, the better we are at mitigating volcanic hazards," she says.

The recordings could also be used to warn pilots of eruptions hidden by clouds. "If you get a big jet noise like this, it's a very strong indication that a volcano eruption definitely has occurred," says Matoza.

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The much-anticipated launch of the European Space Agency's new gravity mapping satellite has been delayed until Tuesday or later as teams work to resolve issues with the probe's launch tower.

The Gravity field and steady-state Ocean Circulation Explorer (GOCE), was set to launch on Monday from the Plesetsk Cosmodrome in Russia, which lies some 800 km north of Moscow.

But the countdown to its launch was stopped seconds before lift-off because the launch tower failed to retract.

The agency hopes to attempt to launch again at 1421 GMT on Tuesday, the probe's next launch window. But a new launch date has not yet been set because ESA is still investigating what went wrong.

"We're confident that it will launch tomorrow, but we're expecting more information to come," says Robert Meisner of ESA's Earth Observation Programme.

Monday's delay is not the first for the gravity probe. The spacecraft was previously set to take off in September 2008, but the launch was delayed several times while engineers worked to correct a problem in the guidance and navigation system of the probe's Russian Rockot launcher.

Once in orbit, the €350 million probe is set to map the Earth's gravity field in unprecedented detail, a measurement which is expected to refine models of the planet's climate and ocean circulation patterns.

If you would like to reuse any content from New Scientist, either in print or online, please contact the syndication department first for permission. New Scientist does not own rights to photos, but there are a variety of licensing options available for use of articles and graphics we own the copyright to.

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Have you placed multiple ad spread out your blog?
Well, another way to increase ad revenue is to use multiple ad units. According to Google’s TOS you are allowed to post up to three ad units per page. Similar to standard search results the highest paying ad units will be served first and the lowest being served last. If there is enough of an ad inventory, place all three ad units. However you should pay attention to the payouts.

Current assumption is you get 60% of the revenue (on a $0.05 click you get $0.03). So if a click from the third ad unit is only paying between 3 to 5 cents you may want to omit it from your page. This is one are where giving your ad units channels does have value. If one ad unit is getting a higher percentage of click throughs you’ll want to make sure the highest paying ads are being served there. TIP:Use CSS positioning to get your highest paying ads serving in the location with the highest CTR.

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The other tips to make the rounds is using images placed directly above or below an adsense leaderboard. This has been used for a while but came out in a digital point forum thread where a member talked about quadrupling their CTR. Basically you set up the adsense code in a table with four images that line up directly with the ads. Whether or not this is deceptive is fuzzy and very subjective.

Obviously four blinking arrows would be ‘enticing people to click’ and be against the adsense TOS. However placing pictures of 4 laptops over laptops ads isn’t, so use your best judgment here and look at it from the advertiser or Google’s perspective. If you have a question as to your implementation being ‘over the line’ write to adsense and ask them to take a look.

As far as using the images, I’ve done it and can tell you it definitely works. You get the best results when the images ‘complete the story the ads are telling’. For example if you have ads about apple pies, use pictures of freshly baked apple pies, instead of granny smith, Macintosh, pink lady, and braeburn apples. TIP: Don’t limit yourself to using images only on that size ad unit, it works just as well with the other sizes, like the 336 rectangle.

PS : This tip can jeopardize your blog because it isn’t fair one. In opposite, it can increase your CTR.


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Americans may paint themselves in increasingly bright shades of red and blue, but new research finds one thing that varies little across the nation: the liking for online pornography.

A new nationwide study (pdf) of anonymised credit-card receipts from a major online adult entertainment provider finds little variation in consumption between states.

"When it comes to adult entertainment, it seems people are more the same than different," says Benjamin Edelman at Harvard Business School.

However, there are some trends to be seen in the data. Those states that do consume the most porn tend to be more conservative and religious than states with lower levels of consumption, the study finds.

Edelman spends part of his time helping companies such as Microsoft and AOL detect advertising fraud. Another consulting client runs dozens of adult websites, though he says he is not at liberty to identify the firm.

That company did, however, provide Edelman with roughly two years of credit card data from 2006 to 2008 that included a purchase date and each customer's postal code.

After controlling for differences in broadband internet access between states – online porn tends to be a bandwidth hog – and adjusting for population, he found a relatively small difference between states with the most adult purchases and those with the fewest.

The biggest consumer, Utah, averaged 5.47 adult content subscriptions per 1000 home broadband users; Montana bought the least with 1.92 per 1000. "The differences here are not so stark," Edelman says.

Number 10 on the list was West Virginia at 2.94 subscriptions per 1000, while number 41, Michigan, averaged 2.32.

Eight of the top 10 pornography consuming states gave their electoral votes to John McCain in last year's presidential election – Florida and Hawaii were the exceptions. While six out of the lowest 10 favoured Barack Obama.

Old-fashioned values
Church-goers bought less online porn on Sundays – a 1% increase in a postal code's religious attendance was associated with a 0.1% drop in subscriptions that day. However, expenditures on other days of the week brought them in line with the rest of the country, Edelman finds.

Residents of 27 states that passed laws banning gay marriages boasted 11% more porn subscribers than states that don't explicitly restrict gay marriage.

To get a better handle on other associations between social attitudes and pornography consumption, Edelman melded his data with a previous study on public attitudes toward religion.

States where a majority of residents agreed with the statement "I have old-fashioned values about family and marriage," bought 3.6 more subscriptions per thousand people than states where a majority disagreed. A similar difference emerged for the statement "AIDS might be God's punishment for immoral sexual behaviour."

"One natural hypothesis is something like repression: if you're told you can't have this, then you want it more," Edelman says.


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A ROBOT that can play with a yo-yo in the dark may sound as useful as a chocolate teapot, but it could be an important step towards creating highly mobile, low-cost robots.

Studying the motions involved in rhythmic activities such as playing with a yo-yo and juggling could help make robots more stable when walking, says Peter Bentley, a specialist in bioinspired computing at University College London. "The cyclic dynamics of the yo-yo may share some properties with the cyclic behaviours of limb movement," he says. "So if we can get robots to play yo-yos more effectively we may be able to get them to walk and run more effectively, too."

A team led by roboticist Leon Zlajpah at the Jo┼żef Stefan Institute in Ljubljana, Slovenia, has previously developed software that allowed a robot's arm to control a simulated yo-yo on a computer screen. The robot used a camera to watch the progress of the yo-yo, allowing a control system to pull it upwards just before it reached the end of its string.

However, the sophisticated sensors and computer processing needed for a robot to perform tasks using their vision alone are expensive, says Miriam Zacksenhouse, a roboticist at the Israel Institute of Technology in Haifa. Cheaper robots that can work in all conditions, including darkness or bad weather, will need to feel their way through tasks such as walking or running.

So Zacksenhouse and her colleagues have developed a robot that can use a yo-yo without any visual information. Instead it responds to the change of force, or kick, just before the yo-yo reaches the end of its unwinding string.

Their trick, to be reported in IEEE Transactions on Robotics, is to use the sensors on the robot's arm to detect this kick and feed it back into the robot's control system. It is then used to tune the electronic circuit that drives the arm, so that it locks itself to the motion of the yo-yo. "We have learned to stabilise the yo-yo motion using the simple force feedback that arrives once every cycle, instead of continuous, complicated visual feedback," says Zacksenhouse.



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Getting to space has never been simple. A standing army of thousands is needed to launch the space shuttle, land it safely, and refurbish it so it is once again ready for flight.

And even the most basic space rockets require multiple stages, whose weight is mostly taken up by oxidisers needed to burn fuel. Rockets launch vertically to minimise the time they spend where Earth's gravity is strongest and shed stages to reduce their weight as they climb.

For decades, engineers have dreamed of a better way: a single-stage-to-orbit vehicle that would be lighter, cheaper, and easy to reuse. A fleet of these vehicles, supporters say, could be almost as easy to maintain as conventional jet planes, reducing the preparation time before each launch from months to days or even hours.

Since most of a rocket's weight is taken up by oxidiser, one logical approach is to save weight by developing an engine that can use oxygen from the atmosphere to burn fuel at least part of the way.

Are we getting any closer to this goal? Last week, the UK firm Reaction Engines announced they had received €1 million from the European Space Agency to develop three key parts for an air-breathing rocket engine. The firm hopes those components could one day help fulfill a decades-old plan to build a space plane called Skylon, which could take off and land on a runway like a conventional jet.

How do air-breathing engines work?

The basic air-breathing engine uses inlets at the front of the vehicle to suck in air. What happens after that depends on the design.

One common engine is the ramjet, which uses the geometry of the engine to slow air down. But ramjets are only useful at relatively low speeds. At hypersonic speeds - above 5 times the speed of sound, or Mach 5 - the slowed air is too hot to be useful for combustion.

A popular solution to this problem is the scramjet, which does not slow air down very much, but instead quickly mixes the fast-flowing air with fuel together to create thrust. But scramjets are only useful above Mach 5, meaning another system, perhaps a conventional rocket, is needed to propel the plane to hypersonic speeds.

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ALLIGATORS basking off the English coast; a vast Brazilian desert; the mythical lost cities of Saigon, New Orleans, Venice and Mumbai; and 90 per cent of humanity vanished. Welcome to the world warmed by 4 °C.

Clearly this is a vision of the future that no one wants, but it might happen. Fearing that the best efforts to curb greenhouse gas emissions may fail, or that planetary climate feedback mechanisms will accelerate warming, some scientists and economists are considering not only what this world of the future might be like, but how it could sustain a growing human population. They argue that surviving in the kinds of numbers that exist today, or even more, will be possible, but only if we use our uniquely human ingenuity to cooperate as a species to radically reorganise our world.

The good news is that the survival of humankind itself is not at stake: the species could continue if only a couple of hundred individuals remained. But maintaining the current global population of nearly 7 billion, or more, is going to require serious planning.

Four degrees may not sound like much - after all, it is less than a typical temperature change between night and day. It might sound quite pleasant, like moving to Florida from Boston, say, or retiring from the UK to southern Spain. An average warming of the entire globe by 4 °C is a very different matter, however, and would render the planet unrecognisable from anything humans have ever experienced. Indeed, human activity has and will have such a great impact that some have proposed describing the time from the 18th century onward as a new geological era, marked by human activity. "It can be considered the Anthropocene," says Nobel prizewinning atmospheric chemist Paul Crutzen of the Max Planck Institute for Chemistry in Mainz, Germany.

A 4 °C rise could easily occur. The 2007 report of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, whose conclusions are generally accepted as conservative, predicted a rise of anywhere between 2 °C and 6.4 °C this century. And in August 2008, Bob Watson, former chair of the IPCC, warned that the world should work on mitigation and adaptation strategies to "prepare for 4 °C of warming".

A key factor in how well we deal with a warmer world is how much time we have to adapt. When, and if, we get this hot depends not only on how much greenhouse gas we pump into the atmosphere and how quickly, but how sensitive the world's climate is to these gases. It also depends whether "tipping points" are reached, in which climate feedback mechanisms rapidly speed warming. According to models, we could cook the planet by 4 °C by 2100. Some scientists fear that we may get there as soon as 2050.

If this happens, the ramifications for life on Earth are so terrifying that many scientists contacted for this article preferred not to contemplate them, saying only that we should concentrate on reducing emissions to a level where such a rise is known only in nightmares.

"Climatologists tend to fall into two camps: there are the cautious ones who say we need to cut emissions and won't even think about high global temperatures; and there are the ones who tell us to run for the hills because we're all doomed," says Peter Cox, who studies the dynamics of climate systems at the University of Exeter, UK. "I prefer a middle ground. We have to accept that changes are inevitable and start to adapt now."

Bearing in mind that a generation alive today might experience the scary side of these climate predictions, let us head bravely into this hotter world and consider whether and how we could survive it with most of our population intact. What might this future hold?

The last time the world experienced temperature rises of this magnitude was 55 million years ago, after the so-called Palaeocene-Eocene Thermal Maximum event. Then, the culprits were clathrates - large areas of frozen, chemically caged methane - which were released from the deep ocean in explosive belches that filled the atmosphere with around 5 gigatonnes of carbon. The already warm planet rocketed by 5 or 6 °C, tropical forests sprang up in ice-free polar regions, and the oceans turned so acidic from dissolved carbon dioxide that there was a vast die-off of sea life. Sea levels rose to 100 metres higher than today's and desert stretched from southern Africa into Europe.

While the exact changes would depend on how quickly the temperature rose and how much polar ice melted, we can expect similar scenarios to unfold this time around. The first problem would be that many of the places where people live and grow food would no longer be suitable for either. Rising sea levels - from thermal expansion of the oceans, melting glaciers and storm surges - would drown today's coastal regions in up to 2 metres of water initially, and possibly much more if the Greenland ice sheet and parts of Antarctica were to melt. "It's hard to see west Antarctica's ice sheets surviving the century, meaning a sea-level rise of at least 1 or 2 metres," says climatologist James Hansen, who heads NASA's Goddard Institute for Space Studies in New York. "CO2 concentrations of 550 parts per million [compared with about 385 ppm now] would be disastrous," he adds, "certainly leading to an ice-free planet, with sea level about 80 metres higher... and the trip getting there would be horrendous."

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