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Saturday, July 22
36.5 degrees to torrential thunderstorms... Guess the country

Spain? Nope. France? close, nope.

Italy? Nah, way off.

Latvia? Oh hell no, they've had temps of at least 45 for days on end, it's not that bad here.

If you said Great Britain... You are the winner! In the week which saw Britain's hottest ever July day go past (and one of the most humid, from the feel of it), to waking up at 4am this morning to see a completely red sky (which was shortly followed by an incredible thunderstorm!), the country's weather has shown us what I'd consider to be approaching its entire gamut of tricks it has to throw at us.

Wow, it really was a scorcher on Wednesday. I was half glad I was stuck in work from 6am to 3pm, because whilst I was stuck in work, it was in a Tesco store - a cool, constant 22 degrees. The warehouse freezers were even better; -12 celcius! I had to go in one for a few minutes to get some bags of ice out, and I had icicles forming on the inside of my nose :D

We had another torrential downpour here earlier, and now it's feeling significantly less humid - which is fantastic, yesterday it was verging 60% humidity, and it's never nice when you sit down for five minutes and your undercrackers are stuck to your arsecheeks when you get back up, that's just wrong. And nasty.

So, looks like global warming's ugly head has nodded back off to sleep for another year (fingers crossed), it's just unseasonably warm now for this time of year, as opposed to actually being just like in the Med in terms of climate and weather.

Ah, Sunday tomorrow - only four hours' work and then I'm off for the rest of the day, and I have Monday off too... Plenty of sleep to look forward to :)

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Dragged out of Christopher's memory and pasted
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Monday, July 17
The Man Who Saved Your Life

Many people will fail to recognise this man's name: Maurice R. Hilleman. However, he was the man who developed vaccines that have subsequently saved (literally) tens of millions of people since their creation. His work on influenza has also hugely benefited development of a vaccine in advance of an H5N1 pandemic (the so-called 'Avian Bird Flu' strain), as he was (and still is) the only person to have ever developed a vaccine against a strain of flu in advance of the actual pandemic occurring.

Not only did he invent a vaccine for the Mumps virus (and later, the combined Measles-Mumps Rubella, or MMR, vaccine which is still commonplace today), he was a pioneer in developing vaccines for a cornucopia of other infectious diseases. Aside from the suite of MMR vaccines (and the combined MMR jab), the list of his achievements includes vaccines for chickenpox, Hepatitis B, flu and bacterial Menengitis. From the New Jersey Association for Biomedical Research article on Hilleman,

By 1967, Hilleman had turned his daughter's virus, dubbed the Jeryl Lynn strain of mumps, into the world's first live vaccine against mumps. Soon, mumps became a disease of the past in the United States. The names Jenner, Pasteur, Salk and Sabin are likely to register with people. Not Hilleman. Even though he is the godfather of the modern vaccine era. Even though he has, in a career that has spanned six decades, developed nearly three dozen vaccines - more than any other scientist.

Even though it is no exaggeration to assert, as many leading scientists do, that Maurice Hilleman has saved more lives than any other living scientist.

Hilleman died recently (April 2005), and his death went somewhat unnoticed considering his stature and importance to the medical world - and the world in general. We would be plagued by countless now-preventable diseases and infections had he not trailblazed. He even began to develop a cure for HIV/AIDS in the 70s, before the epidemic reached mass proportions - and unfortunately, his pioneering method of using infected human blood samples to create an antiviral agent was frowned upon by many other scientists, even though it was easily the most effective and expedient method for obtaining the results requird - it was a method he viewed as safe (and if he thought it was safe, then it was), but unfortunately the misunderstandings of others brought a premature end to the majority of his research, and he was relegated to using dead strains of the virus in order to further his research. This, by and large, is one of the reasons that we still don't have a truly-effective HIV/AIDS vaccine today, in my opinion.

His combined MMR vaccine has also been the subject of much controversy, including speculation that it could increase the chances of babies developing Autism after receiving the jab. A recent BBC Radio 4 documentary, presented by his daughter, stated that to this day, no conclusive evidence has been brought forward by anybody which proves any kind of link between the jab and Autism, except for a small amount of inconclusive, circumstantial evidence, much of which has since been considered either flawed or vastly over-hyped. For example, the BUPA site carries an article entitled "MMR/Autism link is unlikely", which breaks down in detail the various arguments and discussion surrounding this debate, and debunks many of the myths. The article quotes Dr. Annabel Bentley, assistant medical director at BUPA:

"What the study found is that autism cases increased each year from 1979 to 1992, but then levelled off at that point. Also, they found that the diagnosis was being made at an earlier age.

"They conclude that the rise in autism cases isn't a 'real' rise, but is due to greater awareness of the condition, greater acceptance of the diagnosis and improved record keeping."

Something everybody should listen to is this BBC documentary, which I was listening to the day I was moving all the things out of my room in University Halls back in June (June the 21st, in fact) - "BBC Radio 4: The Vaccine Hunter" (requires RealPlayer). It's presented by Jeryl-Lynn Hilleman, Maurice's daughter (and the source of the original strain of Mumps infection which is still used in vaccines for the disease today). It's half an hour of your life which I definitely think is worth dedicating to listening to this documentary (and pay close attention, you will definitely learn something from it).

That I am even writing this blog post should help you to appreciate the level of importance which Helleman and his work has in our world and our society - he is one of the most important scientists to have ever lived, in terms of saving lives, developing cures for then-commonplace illnesses and helping to improve and further society's ability to cope with disease. In the future, if an avian flu pandemic occurs, Helleman's work will be pivotal to the development and widespread rollout of an effective vaccine against the virus, and yet the majority of people who survive thanks to it won't even know about him. This is my attempt to help introduce just a few more people to the marvels of his achievements, right up until his death last year.

Further reading (and listening!)...

BBC News: 'Number one enemy of child infections"
BUPA: "MMR/Autism link is unlikely"

The NJ Assoc. for Biomedical Research: "The Man Who Saved Your Life - Maurice R. Hilleman - Developer of Vaccines for Mumps and Pandemic Flu"

And, of course, what Wikipedia has to say on Maurice Hilleman (includes more referenced reading).

Listen again to BBC Radio 4's documentary, "Maurice R. Hilleman: The Vaccine Hunter".

(To listen to the documentary requires RealPlayer, but it's worth it if only for this. If you don't want to install RealPlayer, go Google for 'Real Alternative', an excellent hack which lets you play Real format files without needing RealPlayer installed, and which I have installed on my PC. Of course, you could always use VLC to play the file, too.)

Happy learning...

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Dragged out of Christopher's memory and pasted
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Tuesday, July 11
Lip reader reveals what riled Zidane (Guardian)

I know Zidane went completely over the top in his reaction during Sunday's World Cup Final, and wholly-deserved his red card (missed it? watch the moment where Zidane headbutts Materazzi then gets red-carded on my YouTube page). Nevertheless, what Materazzi said to him must've been something spectactularly offensive to spur one of the world's greatest sportsmen to physical violence in front of the entire world.

The Guardian today carried an article on an Italian lip-reader who claims to have deciphered what Materazzi said to Zidane in the match...

An Italian lip-reader last night claimed to have deciphered the words Marco Materazzi said to Zinédine Zidane that provoked the French captain into butting him in the chest during Sunday's World Cup final, the great midfielder's final act before a red card ended his career in top-level football.

According to the BBC, Materazzi said, "I wish an ugly death to you and all your family," and then told Zidane to "go fuck yourself". [Emphasis aded.]

A Paris-based anti-racism group, SOS-Racism, earlier said that "several very well informed sources" had suggested Zidane was called a "dirty terrorist".
But though video evidence is being used to judge Materazzi, it was not used by match officials to condemn Zidane. Fifa yesterday released a statement insisting that "the fourth referee saw the incident with his own eyes and told the referee and the assistant directly through their headsets".

The controversy did not stop Zidane from winning the Golden Ball as the World Cup's best player, ahead of the final's other captain, Italy's Fabio Cannavaro. The Frenchman earned 2,012 points in a poll of journalists covering the event, with Cannavaro on 1,977 and the Italian midfielder Andrea Pirlo third with 715.

Hmm, the jury remains well and truly out on this one. I just hope that people don't forget all his amazing achievements, both on the pitch and off (he has been a driving force to unification between different ethnic groups in France, doing his part to help rid the country of racism and racial tension, and being an absolutely amazing role model to millions of children both in France and throughout the world).

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Dragged out of Christopher's memory and pasted
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