29 February 2008: Leaping About

Everything you ever wanted to know about leap years.

We have leap years because our calendar counts a year as 365 days, but a complete revolution of the earth around the sun takes around 365 days and 6 hours. After four years, roughly an extra day has accumulated, so an extra day is added to that year to keep the calendar coordinated with the sun.

That is not precise enough, however, so every 100 years, at the turn of the century, the year is declared not a leap year, even though its number is divisible by four. So the year 2100 will not be a leap year.

However, you may remember that 2000 was a leap year, despite being the turn of the century. This is because, for even greater precision, every 400 years the century year is declared a leap year, despite all the preceding rules. So 2000 was a leap year and so too will be the year 2400.

And if that wasn’t enough, some scientists claim that every 4000 years it should switch again. Hopefully by the year 4000, when this first occurs, agreement will have been reached on whether or not that year is a leap year.

In most countries people born on 29th February are required to treat their birthday as falling on 28th February in non-leap years, so you can’t claim to be twenty when you are really eighty.

And lastly, for those ladies intending to take advantage of the convention that says a woman may propose marriage on 29th February, there is something you should know. Tradition dictates that if the man rejects your proposal, he should soften the blow by providing a kiss, one pound currency, and a pair of gloves or a silk gown.

[source: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/February_29]

28 February 2008: Weather causes a storm

An Israeli man has caused a storm by querying why his home is not covered by Israeli TV weather maps.

In a letter to the Israel Broadcasting Authority the man asked why national TV weather forecasts did not include Jewish enclaves in the occupied West Bank, such as the one in which he lives.

The IBA replied that the areas in question were excluded because they are (and I quote) "not part of the state of Israel".

Whether the territories,occupied by Israel in 1967, are legitimately part of Israel is at the heart of the conflict between the Israelis and the Palestinians.

However, the IBA back-pedalled quickly onto safer ground. It issued an open letter stating that it omitted Jewish settlements purely because they were too small to warrant a separate mention.

The settler who made the complaint claims he was not trying to make a political point and simply wanted to know his local weather forecast.

27 February 2008: To Protect and Serve

Police dogs in the city of Dusseldorf are being fitted with rubber shoes to protect their paws while walking the beat.

Police dog handlers say shards of glass and other sharp objects get stuck between the cobbles of Dusseldorf's old town and are dangerous for the canine squad.

Some 20 German shepherd dogs will show off their new footwear at a police fashion show in March.

Whether the female dogs will be issued with matching handbags and hats was not revealed.

26 February 2008: A Eurovision Turkey

Despite Ireland's rich musical tradition, and a record seven Eurovision wins, the nation’s song finished last place in the 2007 Eurovision song contest. And now, the nation’s entry for the 2008 contest is a turkey. Almost literally.

The song “Irelande Douze Point” (that means, Ireland Twelve Points) is sung by a glove puppet, Dustin the Turkey.

Dustin is better known for his burps and thick Dublin accent, and when the song was first played it attracted both applause and boos from the audience.

Irish music star Bob Geldof, who has released a duet with Dustin, denied he was unfit to represent the country just because he is a turkey. "The mere fact of his being a turkey should give Ireland the edge," Geldof said.

25 February 2008: The End Is Nigh

Scientists have known for some time that the Earth will eventually become uninhabitable when our sun expands in the final stages of its life. And now they think they know when it will happen.

A team at the University of Sussex, working in conjunction with scientists in Mexico, have studied similar stars and say first the seas will begin to evaporate, filling the air with water vapour and causing runaway global warming that will kill all life as we know it. Then the earth will spiral slowly into the sun and be incinerated.

They suggest either pushing the earth out of its orbit to move it further from the sun, or building a fleet of interplanetary 'life rafts' to carry humans to new planets, further from our dying sun.

The good news is that we have a little while to make a plan. They say the sun's changes won't have much effect for at least a billion years.

SaintFM thinks that on current performance we'll probably have destroyed the planet ourselves long before then.

22 February 2008: Progress on a global problem

Scientists around the globe spend their time trying to solve the world's problems; such as climate change, energy shortage, hunger, and snapping rubber bands. Now they have made progress, on the last one at least.

A group of French scientists have made a rubber band from material that can heal itself after a break. All you have to do is press the broken edges back together for a few minutes. The bands can be broken and repaired over and over again.

And the bands are made from recyclable materials which can be broken down with heat, so they are environmentally friendly, too.

Whether the bands can also be persuaded not to fly off and hide in a dark corner wasn't revealed.

20 February 2008: Putting out the flame

A man in Germany was angry when his girlfriend lit up a cigarette in his home and refused to put it out.

So angry, in fact, that he used the entire contents of a fire extinguisher to put out the cigarette, caking her and the apartment in powder.

A police spokesman said "it looked like a bomb had gone off in there."

It seems he was successful in putting out the cigarette. The flames of passion between them also seem to have been extinguished.

19 February 2008: Driving up to Ascension

A car that can be driven underwater is set to be unveiled at this year's Geneva International Motor Show.

Like something out of a James Bond film, the 'Squba' is a convertible sports car that transforms into an electrically-propelled underwater vehicle that can descend a depth to 10 metres.

The open-top design of the car is described as a safety feature, so passengers to get out quickly during an emergency, though it does mean they all have to wear scuba diving gear.

Prices have not yet been announced.

18 February 2008: Funds to Newcastle

A town in Staffordshire is refusing to pay back over a million pounds in grants after government officials confused them with another English city.

The Department for Communities and Local Government mistook the market town of Newcastle-Under-Lyme for the industrial city of Newcastle-Upon-Tyne when calculating funding budgets, resulting in a 1.1 million pound overpayment to the market town.

Newcastle- Under-Lyme council described it as "an astonishing error", and now says it is unable to pay back the money because it has already been allocated to business development projects.

A red-faced government spokesman said: "This is a regrettable error."

15 February 2008: What's in a game console

The magazine New Scientist reports that researchers are using computer game consoles like low-cost super computers, to help them with complex calculations.

One scientist quoted by the magazine says his adapted Sony Play Station is 130 times faster than on an ordinary PC.

Another has strung together 16 consoles and programmed them to simulate the gravity waves that occur when two black holes collide.

The consoles contain advanced computer technology that allows them to efficiently share out the massive processing required to do the calculations, and advanced graphics chips that can readily display the complex results.

And, presumably, can also provide a little down-time entertainment between experiments.

14 February 2008: Things that go bump in the loft

A local council in northern England has paid a psychic to exorcise a ghost from one of its properties, after the frightened occupants threatened to leave and make themselves homeless.

The Fallon family told reporters they heard banging in the loft, saw items fly across rooms and had doors slammed in their faces. They called police, who found no evidence of anything. Then they called in a local psychic, who says she used her Russian spirit guide and some angels to help rid the property of evil.

Easington Council in County Durham said the family could not be persuaded to stay in the house, and that by paying the psychic ghost hunter they were actually saving money. Otherwise, they said, they would have had to pay for the family to be put into emergency housing.

13 February 2008: "You'll have to put that in the hold"

Passengers flying from Zurich airport this month can buy a variety of things in the duty free shop, including wines, perfumes, tobacco-products and a Formula One racing car.

A selection of cars and memorabilia owned by Peter Sauber, whose Swiss-based team were taken over by BMW at the end of 2005, will be on sale at the airport from February 19th.

Although prices haven't been announced, the cars, including ones actually raced by Jean Alesi and Kimi Raikkonen, and are unlikely to be easily affordable.

SaintFM also wonders how the buyers will get them onto the plane.

12 February 2008: Mapping out the misinformation

Last week we mentioned a poll which showed that a large number of Britons don't know whether the Duke of Wellington really existed.

Now mapmakers in the Sussex town of Battle, where the so-called Battle of Hastings actually took place, have shown even more confusion.

The latest Town Map And Guide for Battle says that the defending forces of Harold the Second were defeated by a Norman army led by - the Duke of Wellington.

The town council says it did not get an opportunity to proof-read the guide before it went to print and only found out about the historical howler when they and advertisers received copies this week.

SaintFM thinks they should call in Sherlock Holmes to sort out who really led the Normans in 1066.

11 February 2008: Counting the count

Countering the count
As St. Helena's census night is now over, and your form should already be complete, it may be safe to share a few stories about censuses around the world.

The 2000 American census found that nearly 95 percent of the United States is uninhabited.

Before the 2001 census in both Australia and the UK there was a campaign to get people to list their faith as "Jedi", hoping that the government would have to formally recognise Jedi as a religion.

Similarly, in the UK small villages often have 'census parties', inviting as many people as possible to stay in the village overnight. They hope that by raising the recorded population they will qualify for more services.

And, lastly, according to a survey, 9% of Australian Census collectors were injured or had clothing damaged due to a dog attack. In addition, one collector had the misfortune to be bitten by a horse, one chose not to tackle a large bull standing guard at a house, several collectors were driven off by geese, two were pursued by pet emus, one was attacked by nesting birds, and another was chased off by a large pig.

8 February 2008: Flying High - on Viagra

The Israeli air force is considering giving its combat pilots Viagra to improve their performance -- in the air.

A recent study found a link between erectile dysfunction drugs and improved performance at high altitudes. The active ingredient in the drugs was found to make climbers perform better in an environment with less oxygen, and jet fighter pilots need to fly at altitudes of up to 50,000 feet; nearly twice the height of Mount Everest.

"Viagra is effective in these conditions because a shortage in oxygen leads to high blood pressure in the lungs, and the drugs fight that," according to military medical sources.

How they propose to deal with the other effects of the drug was not disclosed.

7 February 2008: Flipped off

A traditional British pancake race was tossed off the menu this week due to health and safety regulations.

The event, in Ripon, northern Yorkshire, is a fun race along a city street by schoolchildren, choristers and office workers, flipping pancakes as they go.

But the event had to be scrapped this year due to the cost of complying with regulations.

Organisers said Harrogate Borough Council wanted to charge them 250 pounds to close the road; local police wanted in excess of 1,200 pounds to police the event; and then they would have had to pay for insurance risk assessments and qualified medical staff in case of any injuries or accidents.

The race is traditionally started by ringing Ripon Cathedral's ancient Pancake Bell, which has rung for 600 years; but not any longer, it seems.

6 February 2008: Sleeping on the job

As if in a scene from "Goldilocks and the Three Bears", a Malaysian family was startled to return home to find their apartment ransacked and an intruder snoozing on the bed.

The burglar remained fast asleep under a blanket until police arrived to take him away.

As the would-be thief hadn't actually left the apartment with any goods, local police think they can only charge him with trespassing.

5 February 2008: Britons losing their grip

Britons are losing their grip on reality, according to a survey just released.

The survey found that nearly half the respondents thought the 12th century English king Richard the Lionheart was a myth. And about a quarter thought World War II prime minister Winston Churchill, and Crimean War nurse Florence Nightingale, also did not actually exist. Other real people widely thought to be fictional included Charles Dickens, Mahatma Gandhi and Battle of Waterloo victor the Duke of Wellington.

Meanwhile, 58 percent thought Sir Arthur Conan Doyle's fictional detective Sherlock Holmes actually existed and a third thought the same of W. E. Johns' fictional pilot and adventurer Biggles.

SaintFM blames television, though there are some here who think they may be right about Biggles.

4 February 2008: Don't eat the salami

German authorities have been able to pin a burglary on a suspected serial thief because he left a half-eaten slice of salami at a crime scene.

The man is accused of breaking into a workshop office in the western city of Darmstadt, stealing cash and two locks and causing damage worth around 2,500 pounds. During the raid the man took a bite out of a salami he found there.

Police were able to identify him by analysing DNA from from a trace of saliva he left on the uneaten part.

1 February 2008: The UK's first woman-in-tights

Queen Elizabeth II has just appointed the first woman to be a Serjeant at Arms in the Houses of Parliament.

The role, which dates back to 1415 and the reign of King Henry V, has always previously been done by men. The Serjeants at Arms are the only persons in the Commons allowed to carry a sword, and are often jokingly referred to as "the men in tights" because of members' traditional uniform that includes knee-length breeches, stockings and buckled shoes.

Now Jill Pay has become the first female Serjeant at Arms, taking over from Major General Peter Grant Peterkin, who retired in December.

The post remains a royal appointment and the holder is usually an ex-serviceman, but Ms Pay previously worked in advertising.