Tastes like chicken

As a child, I wasn’t very keen on eating meat. It was nothing spiritual, I just didn’t like the taste or the texture. I quickly worked out that our family dog had no such qualms. I used to slip my chunks of meat to him through the crack between the table and the wall. It made for a happy partnership. He got to eat something better than dog food and I managed to clear my plate, thus not incurring the displeasure of my mother.

Public domain photograph of various meats. (Be...

Public domain photograph of various meats. (Beef, pork, chicken.) Source: http://visualsonline.cancer.gov/details.cfm?imageid=2402 (via http://geekphilosopher.com/bkg/foodMeat.htm) Public domain declaration: http://visualsonline.cancer.gov/about.cfm (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

It was only when I joined BP, where the staff restaurant served up 3 course gourmet lunches for the princely sum of 5p, that I started to experiment. As I could pick and choose what I wanted and no-one cared if I left it because I didn’t like it. I found that I enjoyed eating some meat, providing it’s thinly cut and not too fatty. I like meat to have the right form factor. I get very suspicious when the meat chunks are perfect polyhedrons or the edges are perfectly rounded like the chicken you sometimes get in a Chinese take away.

Anyone following the news in the UK will have seen the unfolding scandal of irregular discoveries in the testing of meat and meat based products. Supplier and retailer alike have fallen foul of the DNA tests carried out by food inspectors. Time and again, where one would expect to find beef, the inspectors have found horse. In one particular case, they found pork in supposedly halal meat supplied to a prison. The problem seems to have stretched throughout the supply chain and has probably been going on for some time.

All this makes my toes curl. It’s not so much about eating horse. What else have they been putting into these products? It’s bad enough that sometimes I start looking around for a hungry dog when I think about eating meat. I sincerely hope that the perpetrators are found and harshly punished. Misrepresenting foodstuffs is a low act. If I had my way, they would be sent to prison where they would be fed on a diet of mystery pies filled with all manner of dead flesh. Each day, they would be told they were eating beef.

Maybe it’s no coincidence that the word “hamburgers” is an anagram of Shergar bum or “dodgy beef” is an anagram of “feed by dog”



The inconvenient science of science fiction

English: A picture of the plaque at Riverside,...

English: A picture of the plaque at Riverside, Iowa, reading “Future Birthplace of Captain James T. Kirk March 22, 2228”. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

150 years ago, Jules Verne wrote about a trip to the moon. 5 years later, he wrote about a powered submarine. Arthur C Clark wrote about GPS long before it ever became a reality. Captain Kirk used communicators to get Scotty to beam him up. Spot the odd one out.

Well, we’ve been to the moon and we have countless submarines creeping around the world packed with missiles waiting to unleash Armageddon. Most people have GPS in their smartphones which they also use as portable wireless communication devices. All of these things that were dreamed up in the realm of science fiction have since become true. Unfortunately, transporter beams have yet to be invented. We’re not even close.

In some Star Trek episodes, they talk about how transporters work. They transfer the subject’s substance or matter into energy, send it to another place and then turn the energy back into matter arranged according to the pattern. When something goes wrong, they “pull back” the subject to their starting point, only sometimes, they don’t make it. It all sounds terrifying and I certainly wouldn’t be keen on trying out early prototypes.

But how likely are they to happen?  I once asked a hulking great Jamaican barman on a cruise ship whether the crew ate the same food as the passengers. With a deep-throated roar of laughter, he told me “same meat, same fish, same vegetables – different chef, different recipe”. In other words, just transferring matter is not enough, the pattern in which that matter is arranged is crucial.

We have a pattern for the human body. Twelve years ago the first draft of the human genome was published. Our DNA is incredibly complicated with 25,000 genes and 3 billion chemical base pairs arranged in a double helix. In a recent update, scientists announced that what they previously thought was junk DNA is actually crucial to the make up of the human body.

A tiny unwanted accidental change in the pattern could be enough to render the subject blind, deaf or worse. It would seem to be a pre-requisite that this work is completely finished before transporter technology could be feasible for transmitting humans. But what about simpler matter? Using something I don’t claim to understand called quantum entanglement, scientists in Copenhagen have transported  matter 18 inches. Physicists in the Canary Islands have used the same trick to transmit small payloads over 89 miles.

Scientists admit that the same trick won’t work for humans, so something fundamentally different will need to be discovered to make transporters viable. Looks like we will be stuck with planes, trains and automobiles for a while yet.