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Wednesday, October 29, 2008

News from the Future

posted by on October 29 at 2:59 PM

People of the universe, this will soon be yours... iHeart.

Scientists say they have a working prototype of a fully artificial heart ready for implanting in humans.

The device beats almost exactly like the real thing using electronic sensors to regulate heart rate and blood flow.

A plus:

The new heart is covered with specially treated tissue to avoid rejection by the body's immune system and the formation of blood clots.

A minus:

[A battery could last] for between five and 16 hours after which it would have to be recharged to prevent the artificial heart stopping.
Dead battery means dead you.

Tuesday, October 28, 2008

News from the Expanding Universe of Science

posted by on October 28 at 10:29 AM

All warm inside...


posted by on October 28 at 9:50 AM

I can't stop watching the music video for Beyoncé's new tune "Single Ladies":

I've watched it about 50 times and could watch it 50 more times. Some of the hidden power of Beyonce's video is revealed when compared to Grace Jone's recently released video for the tune "Corporate Cannibal," a video and song that best expresses the kind of evil at the root of the current collapse of global capitalism.

Friday, October 24, 2008

News from the Plant Kingdom

posted by on October 24 at 11:19 AM

When we read a report like this...

BACKGROUND: Plants seem like the most peaceful of organisms, but they nonetheless have their own form of defense mechanisms: they emit toxins or volatile chemicals in response to plant-eating insects...


THE BEST DEFENSE: Proteins already present in the plants are eaten by the attacking insects. Digesting the proteins, the insects convert this food into a new type of chemical, which is in turn secreted back onto plants in later feedings. The plants recognize these secretions as a type of 'SOS' signal, and launch their telltale defensive chemistry. Although researchers have long known that some plants can distinguish between different insect attackers, they had not been able to fully describe all the potential interactions...

Reading this report about the tactics of plants brings up a fragment from the depths of the Pre-Socratic world:

We must recognize that war is common and strife is justice, and all things happen according to strife and necessity.

Where can we find peace?

For Your Inner Beavis

posted by on October 24 at 10:33 AM

This is juvenile. It's dumb. In fact, you probably shouldn't watch it, because, if you do, you'll see a fart in infrared.

Can this be real? Jen Graves says it goes overboard with the “second puff.”

Thanks, tipper NaFun.

Thursday, October 23, 2008

You'll Feel the Earth Move

posted by on October 23 at 11:00 AM


The problem: The Earth is going to die.

The Sun is slowly getting warmer as it burns the hydrogen in its core. In about 5 billion years, the Sun will begin evolving into a bloated red giant. Its outer gas shell will swell up, engulfing the Earth by the time it reaches its peak size and brightness 7 billion years from now.

But long before that,, raising average terrestrial temperatures to around 50 °C (120 °F). That will warm the oceans so much that they evaporate without boiling, like a pan of water left on a sunny kitchen counter.

The solution
: Move the Earth, with a humongous, solar-powered kite.

That danger could be avoided by using a giant solar sail, says Colin McInnes, a mechanical engineer at the University of Strathclyde.

Solar sails are thin, mirror-like films that are propelled by the weak pressure of the sunlight that falls on them. McInnes's idea is to put a free-floating solar sail at a point near the Earth where the pressure of solar radiation essentially balances the Earth's gravitational pull.

His analysis shows that the reflection of sunlight from the sail will pull the Earth outwards along with the sail – in physical terms, increasing the Earth's orbital energy and accelerating the centre of mass of the system outwards, away from the Sun.

A sailor's life for us.

Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind

posted by on October 23 at 9:15 AM

For real.

From the BBC:

Scientists in the US say they have developed the ability to selectively wipe out uncomfortable memories.

In experiments with mice, researchers from the Georgia College of Medicine were able to eliminate memories without any damage to the rodents' brains.

They suggested that the technique which works on a particular protein in the brain could, one day, be used to help humans overcome traumatic events.

Wednesday, October 22, 2008

The Spotless Sunshine of the...

posted by on October 22 at 7:36 PM

...rodent mind.

Targeted memory erasure is no longer limited to the realm of science fiction. A new study describes a method through which a selected set of memories can be rapidly and specifically erased from the mouse brain in a controlled and inducible manner....

"While memories are great teachers and obviously crucial for survival and adaptation, selectively removing incapacitating memories, such as traumatic war memories or an unwanted fear, could help many people live better lives," says Dr. Joe Z. Tsien, brain scientist and co-director of the Brain & Behavior Discovery Institute at the Medical College of Georgia School of Medicine.

Add memories of failed relationships to that list, doc.

Tuesday, October 21, 2008

India to the Moon

posted by on October 21 at 12:14 PM

Launching Chandrayaan-1:

Following in the footsteps of regional rivals China and Japan, India will launch its first unmanned moon mission Wednesday morning.

The unmanned rocket Chandrayaan-1 is scheduled to lift off at 6:20 a.m. local time Wednesday (8:50 p.m. ET Tuesday) from the Satish Dhawan Space Centre on the island of Sriharikota off the Bay of Bengal.

The rocket, which cost 3.86 billion rupees ($94.4 million) and has a take-off weight of more than 1.3 tonnes, is scheduled to orbit the moon on a two-year mission.

The rocket will carry 11 scientific payloads: five from India, two from the U.S. and one each from Britain, Germany, Sweden and Bulgaria. India's space agency said the probe will map a three-dimensional atlas of the moon and study the chemical and mineral composition of its surface.

This is the second space race.

India will become the third Asian country to send an unmanned mission into lunar orbit, as Japan and China both successfully launched lunar probes in 2007. The United States, Europe and the former Soviet Union have also previously sent probes that have orbited or landed on the moon.

The third space race? Africa, the Middle East, and South America? South Africa, Iran, and Brazil?

Monday, October 20, 2008

A Histogram You Want to Read

posted by on October 20 at 5:37 PM

Nate Silver, the wonky head of the mathematically rigorous election projection site, has a computer model that uses all of the available polling, weighted for accuracy, demographics and the rest, to run through ten thousand possible elections every day. Each one of these simulated elections pops out an electoral vote total for Obama.

What's the best way to display all this data? A histogram.
Here's Nate's:


Along the bottom, on the horizontal, are the possible electoral vote counts for Obama.

For each one, from zero to five hundred thirty eight, on the vertical are the number of times this Obama electoral vote count happened during his ten thousand simulations. The tallest peaks are the most likely outcomes during the simulation. The low tails are things that are possible, but not very likely.

Many of the closer followers of, like the Stranger's own Anthony Hecht, tend to focus more on the big Obama victory pie chart. Over the past few days, Obama's number has drifted down a bit, from a peak around 96% to the low nineties today.

Look at Nate's histogram for today:


McCain is all tail, no peak. The peaks are still strongly skewed to an Obama blowout.

The histogram tells you, in much more detail than a number or a pie chart, the chances of the different outcomes in crisp (and this case comforting) detail.

I love histograms.

What Does Outer Space Smell Like?

posted by on October 20 at 3:23 PM

"(F)ried steak, hot metal and...welding a motorbike."

News from the Animal Kingdom

posted by on October 20 at 10:00 AM

Gorrillaz going at it face-to-face:

gorillafacetoface.jpgScientists from the Wildlife Conservation Society and Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology have released the first known photographs of gorillas performing face-to-face copulation in the wild. This is the first time that western gorillas have been observed and photographed mating in such a manner.

How did the wild animals hide this ability for so long? Is it a new development?

"It is also interesting that this same adult female [Leah] has been noted for innovative behaviors before."
Maybe this face-to-face thing is a consequence of "cultural pollution."

Wednesday, October 15, 2008


posted by on October 15 at 2:31 PM

The organs without a body:

In late 2005, cardiac researcher Doris Taylor revived the dead. She rinsed rat hearts with detergent until the cells washed away and all that remained was a skeleton of tissue translucent as wax paper -- a ghost heart, as Taylor calls it. She injected the scaffold with fresh heart cells from newborn rats. Then she waited.

What she witnessed four days later, once the cells had a chance to make themselves at home, was astonishing. "We could see these little areas that were beginning to beat," says Taylor, director of the University of Minnesota's Center for Cardiovascular Repair. "By eight days, we could see the whole heart beating. The first time that happened, it was like 'yes!'"

We really are heading toward the twilight of two moments: the human (the dusk) and the post-human (the dawn). (In the far distance behind us is another twilight, between the god and the human.) We're not post-humans yet, but soon our mode will arrive at that freaky land which was poetically described at the end of The Order of Things (the face on the beach), and also added a layer of anxiety in the middle of Grandmaster Melle Mel's rap "The Message":

They pushed that girl in front of the train/ Took her to the doctor, sewed her arm on again.

Stabbed that man right in his heart/
Gave him a transplant for a brand new start

If You're Reading This...

posted by on October 15 at 10:41 AM

... and you're not drunk, you likely do a fair amount of Googling. Thusly, good news from the venerable USA Today:

Time spent Googling the latest campaign news or searching for choice eBay buys may help stimulate and improve the minds of middle-aged and older Americans, UCLA scientists suggest. Research reported in next month's American Journal of Geriatric Psychiatry is the first to assess how performing Internet searches influences brain activity in older Americans, says study author Gary Small, professor at the Semel Institute for Neuroscience and Human Behavior at UCLA.

The research included 24 healthy volunteers ages 55 to 76. Half had Internet-searching experience, and the others had none. All were asked to perform Web searches and book-reading tasks while undergoing functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) scans, which recorded the brain-circuitry changes they were experiencing.

All of the volunteers showed significant brain activity during the reading task, which stimulated brain regions that control language, reading, memory and visual abilities.

But during Internet searches, major differences flared up between the two groups, Small says. Only those who had previous Web-search experience registered extensive activity in decision-making and complex-reasoning portions of the brain.

"Our most striking finding was that Internet searching appears to engage a greater extent of neural circuitry that is not activated during reading, but only in those people with prior Internet experience," Small says. He is also co-author of iBrain (HarperCollins, 2008), which was released on Tuesday and explores how older Americans can keep up with younger generations in an increasingly technological world.

Small says that over time, he'd expect the inexperienced Internet searchers to benefit as well.

A more in-depth analysis from Newsweek, after the jump:

Continue reading "If You're Reading This..." »

Monday, October 13, 2008

Cosmic Imperative

posted by on October 13 at 9:13 AM

Even here, in the underworld, life is possible:

chalkmine.jpgA bug which lives entirely on its own and survives without oxygen in complete darkness underground has been discovered in South Africa.

Desulforudis audaxviator, or bold traveller as it is known in English, relies on water, hydrogen and sulphate for its energy.

Because it gets by without oxygen, it could offer clues as to whether life exists on other planets.

The loneliest living species known to science was found inside a gold mine.

At the end of it all, one question remains: What makes life so obstinate? What is this mission, this imperative to be the thing that not being is not.

Tuesday, October 7, 2008

The Sum

posted by on October 7 at 9:56 AM


Scientists using NASA’s RHESSI spacecraft have measured the roundness of the sun with unprecedented precision. They find that it is not a perfect sphere.
Who in our day is surprised to learn that the sun is imperfect? Who? You? No, no. What would shock us to a million bits is the very opposite: that sun is a perfect shape, a perfect star at the center of a perfect system of planets, the third of which is just perfect for the final creation of the perfect form of life, the human being, the animal that looks up at the sky to find things that are like itself: bright and perfect.

Monday, September 29, 2008


posted by on September 29 at 4:10 PM

On Mars.

(Thank you to reddit and iTWire.)

Tuesday, September 23, 2008

The Complement Cooperative

posted by on September 23 at 6:21 PM

Complement%20Cooperative%20Logo.jpgWell, that was a lot of money chasing nothing.

It's not as if we're lacking in problems needing solutions--climate change, energy scarcity, almost every meaningful commodity priced at historical highs. A vast pool of money and a growing list of problems--why wasn't the connection ever made? Why didn't at least some of this wealth go toward solving these problems?

We could be riding high on American ingenuity. But we're not.

Let’s say you and I start a company with the goal of replacing petroleum-based jet fuel. We engineer a bug that spits out something pretty close to kerosene. Excellent. Since we’re a company, we immediately patent the invention.

Now what? While we’ve just figured out a key step, our invention by itself cannot replace jet fuel. We need more pieces--the technology to refine our proto-fuel into something we could put into jets, the bioreactor technology to grow our bugs, a factory and its land, a distribution network, sales to airlines, and so on.

That’s a lot of pieces; we only own one right now. If we raised the money and assembled all of these to the point where we could actually sell an useful product, we’d be first. We don’t want to be first.

If we show it can be done, what would stop someone in China or India or somewhere else in the world from stealing all of this technology and competing with us? (Our present global economy isn’t exactly brimming with respect for intellectual property.) Without the cost of buying up patents—the costs of developing the technology—they’d easily outcompete us. By being first, we end up broke.

We’re better off selling our patent. We could sell this patent to someone who wants to turn it into a product—but they’d run into the same problem we would on that path.

The most likely buyer of our patent would be someone who desires our technology to never be turned into a product—someone who already makes jet fuel from petroleum. Patents, in our post-intellectual-property world, are more valuable as a defensive weapon. To a large extent, this is why all the wonderful scientific knowledge and technical ability pouring out of R&D labs fails to translate to something useful for humanity.

(More after the jump or at, including my exciting solution to this problem....)

Continue reading "The Complement Cooperative" »

Thursday, September 18, 2008

Why Do I Have to Poop When Browsing, Redux

posted by on September 18 at 2:18 PM

This just in to the Dear Science mailbag:

Dear Science, I recently read your response to Bothered Bowels' inquiry from 2/13/2008. Sadly, BB is not alone. I actually know several people who experience this same issue, most with #2, but others with #1. Indeed, it particularly occurs at Value Village, libraries, bookstores, and also when shopping to CD's. I find your Pavlovian theory rather interesting and plausible, but I would like to be so bold as to add a comment. The common theme for BB and others like him/her seems to be situations that involve the act of browsing. Is there something relaxing about the process of roaming through large spaces while searching for non-specific items of marginal necessity that activates the parasympathetic nervous symptom and its associated "urges"? Or, could it be that people are more likely to have downed a cup of coffee shortly before entering one of these establishments? Thanks for your excellent column, Laurie


I like your theories as well. I almost always have to pee after public speaking--I figure from the loss of sympathetic tone from the relief of it finally being over allows my bladder to reassert itself.

Coffee is a sympathomimetic, forcing the activation of the wrong side of the autonomic nervous system. But it's also a diuretic, causing you to have to pee. More research is warranted.

Thanks for reading and writing!

- Jonathan (aka Science)

(Don't forget to check out the podcast for this column, one of my all-time favorites!)

Tuesday, September 16, 2008

LHC Webcam

posted by on September 16 at 10:50 AM

With all my fretting over the state of WaMu--something the PI and Times finally deigned to notice in today's papers, after WaMu's bonds were dropped to junk status--it was time to find something enjoyable.

When my sister used to live in Naperville, one of my treats was to visit the FermiLabs collider. I can't afford to travel to Europe right now, but found a decent webcam of the Large Hadron Collider.


(Thanks to NapoleonXIV and zeroryoko.)

Monday, September 15, 2008

The Curse

posted by on September 15 at 3:17 PM

In this week's Dear Science, Golob writes:

If you're over 35—more or less the point at which the risk of having a child with trisomy 21 (Down syndrome), or another chromosomal abnormality, dramatically increases—prenatal genetic tests are remarkably accurate at detecting such abnormalities. They can be done in the first trimester of pregnancy and pose virtually no risk to the fetus. If the screen comes up positive, you can elect to terminate the pregnancy while still in the first trimester. That's great! Combining such a screen with the choice of termination, even a woman well into her 40s can make her risk of having a child with trisomy 21 lower than a young woman.

The risk, however, only goes down if the woman has an abortion. If she is like Palin (who was informed of the serious irregularities in her pregnancy but decided not terminate it) then the risk remains high.

Palin had her reason for not aborting, and this reasoning needs to be examined.

When tests made it clear that Palin's pregnancy, which happened around the age of 43, had chromosomal abnormalities, she did not do the rational and even humane thing: return to nothing that which was still a no-thing. Why? Because of a religious belief. She holds the unverifiable belief that God is against abortions. How she came to this conclusion is for now not worth considering. Let's instead consider this: The life expectancy of women only increased (and surpassed that of men) when science (not God) significantly reduced the dangers of pregnancy. Without science, women were lucky to see life beyond their mid 30s; with science, they can reasonably bank on seeing life in their 80s. Women (and this is women in developed countries) can also have children at a relatively late age. For example, the women in the above image, Salma Hayek, had a healthy baby in her early 40s. It's now normal for this sort of thing to happen. But it's only normal because of science.

In short, the only reason Palin could have a baby in her 40s is because of the achievements in science. There is no other reason. If it was left to God, she would be lucky to reach the age she is in now, the age she gave birth to a mentally deficient baby. But her decision not to abort (an unscientific decision) is based on the belief that pregnancy is entirely God's business. She leaves this one thing, the pregnancy, to God, and the rest of her life--her health, he long life, her sparkling teeth--to science.

This makes no sense. Even if He exists, God has nothing to do with why Palin is having a baby at 43.

To conclude, let's turn to history. Let's go back to the wonderful 19th century (the cradle of our productive world) and examine the moment (1853) when Queen Victoria first decided to use chloroform during labor (she would do it again for her next and last, her 9th, delivery). The drug made the hard experience far less painful, and she made it known to the public (or at least the social elite) that anesthetized labor was a wonderful discovery, a great achievement, a sign of progress. But guess who was upset about the success of Queen Victoria's experiment? The Church. Why? Because painless pregnancy was not a part of God's plan. Indeed, it negated Eve's curse. God cursed women, and that curse must, for God's sake, remain undone.

Thursday, September 11, 2008

From Steel in Failing Towers to Steel in Functioning Fusion Reactors

posted by on September 11 at 1:51 PM

Via the BBC:

Scientists say an understanding of how the Twin Towers collapsed will help them develop the materials needed to build fusion reactors.

New research shows how steel will fail at high temperatures because of the magnetic properties of the metal...

The key advance is the understanding that, at high temperatures, tiny irregularities in a steel's structure can disrupt its internal magnetic fields, making the rigid metal soft.

"Steels melt at about 1,150C (2,102F), but lose strength at much lower temperatures," explained Dr Sergei Dudarev, principal scientist at the United Kingdom Atomic Energy Authority (UKAEA).

At room temperature, the magnetic fields between iron atoms remain regular, but when heated, these fields are altered allowing the atoms to slide past each other, weakening the steel....

The peak in this pliability is at 911.5C, but begins at much lower temperatures, at around 500C (932F) - a temperature often reached during building fires.

The steel backbone of the Twin Towers was probably exposed to temperatures close to this, when insulating panels - meant to protect the buildings' structural frame - were dislodged by the impacts of the hijacked planes.

Part of the mysteries of the falling towers has to do with the extremity of the situation. Steel really hadn't been placed into such a situation--with both intense heat and enormous stress and strain--before the towers fell. We learned something about our world that we can now apply to the future.

Tuesday, September 9, 2008

The Land Before Time

posted by on September 9 at 10:20 AM

After a short life in the sun and air, the long and hard return to rock:

Researchers have uncovered a 300-million-year–old-fossilised rainforest, buried deep below ground in a coal mine in Illinois, US. It is by far the largest such forest ever found and provides an unprecedented look at the ecology of one of the world's earliest tropical forests.

Kiss Your Ass Hello

posted by on September 9 at 8:38 AM


As a public service, I remind you that tomorrow, September 10, 2008, a bunch of nerds in Switzerland will fire up the Large Hadron Collider, attempting to recreate the origins of the universe by accelerating protons to 99.999999 per cent of the speed of light and then smashing them together.

The chances that their attempt to create the beginning will actually create the end are small, to be sure, but still.. might want to carry an umbrella.

Monday, September 1, 2008

Maternity Testing

posted by on September 1 at 12:58 PM

Well, we seem to have a bit of a question here.

While some cover is being created, if I were a woman accused of claiming my daughter's child was my own, and I knew such accusations were false, I'd use science to prove myself right.

Using genetics to test for maternity is no different than in paternity testing, and I wrote about that a bit ago:

Paternity testing is all about mixing and matching.

DNA-based tests work by comparing the recipes—the alleles—you have for a given gene to those of a possible child. For most genes, we get two alleles—one from our mother and one from our father. A child of yours must have one of your alleles for all the paired genes in his or her DNA.

A graphic if this process--how genetics can be used to rule out a woman as the mother of a child--is over at

Saturday, August 30, 2008

VP Jesus Freak

posted by on August 30 at 12:10 PM

Sarah Palin supports the teaching of creationism in public schools.

Can we expect her father, a former elementary-school science teacher, to publicly ridicule her position? Sadly,

"I'd rather go moose hunting than be involved with politics," [Chuck Heath] said.

Oh, and Palin thinks global warming is scary but unrelated to human activities:

What is your take on global warming and how is it affecting our country?

A changing environment will affect Alaska more than any other state, because of our location. I'm not one though who would attribute it to being man-made.

Via TPM.

Tuesday, August 26, 2008

Meat Compass

posted by on August 26 at 10:04 AM

cows1.jpgIt took the invention of Google Earth to reveal a simple fact about our friend, the cow: It likes to stand facing north. Or south.

German scientists used satellite photos to analyze 8,510 cattle at 308 places around the world. The animals were standing on flat ground and not near water, feeding areas, or other things that might influence their position.

The resolution of the images was not sufficient to tell which ends of the cows were pointing north, however.

Researchers have long known that certain bacteria, birds, fish, whales and even rodents have minute organs in their brains containing particles of magnetite that can act like a compass.

The LA Times article ends with this comically dour sentence:

Experts acknowledged that the research almost certainly has no practical applications.

Obviously, they've never been lost in the countryside.

Friday, August 22, 2008

Headlines of Articles in Science Journals I Wish I'd Never Read

posted by on August 22 at 12:50 PM

Forgive me.

Spiers AS. Attempted suicide or hitting the nail on the head. Case report. J Fla Med Assoc. 1994 Dec;81(12):822-3.

Ropohl D, Scheithauer R, Pollak S. Postmortem injuries inflicted by domestic golden hamster: morphological aspects and evidence by DNA typing. Forensic Sci Int. 1995 Mar 31;72(2):81-90.

Schievink WI, Ebersold MJ, Atkinson JL. Roller-coaster headache due to spinal cerebrospinal fluid leak. Lancet. 1996 May 18;347(9012):1409. No abstract available.

Kunz J, Gross A. Victim's scalp on the killer's head. An unusual case of criminal postmortem mutilation. Am J Forensic Med Pathol. 2001 Sep;22(3):327-31.

Thursday, August 21, 2008

Dept. of Proving What You've Suspected for Years

posted by on August 21 at 10:34 AM

"Multitasking" is bad for you:

Multitasking messes with the brain in several ways. At the most basic level, the mental balancing acts that it requires—the constant switching and pivoting—energize regions of the brain that specialize in visual processing and physical coordination and simultaneously appear to shortchange some of the higher areas related to memory and learning. We concentrate on the act of concentration at the expense of whatever it is that we’re supposed to be concentrating on.

"Multitasking" is bad for the world:

the end of the decade we may call the Roaring Zeros—these years of overleveraged, overextended, technology-driven, and finally unsustainable investment of our limited human energies in the dream of infinite connectivity. The overdoses, freak-outs, and collapses that converged in the late ’60s to wipe out the gains of the wide-eyed optimists who set out to “Be Here Now” but ended up making posters that read “Speed Kills” are finally coming for the wired utopians who strove to “Be Everywhere at Once” but lost a measure of innocence, or should have, when their manic credo convinced us we could fight two wars at the same time.

UPDATE: As commentor w7ngman notes, that last sentence isn't just a diagnosis of the multitasking disease—it's a symptom.

From the Atlantic.

Tuesday, August 19, 2008

News From The Animal Kingdom

posted by on August 19 at 12:40 PM

A consequence of cultural pollution:

A wild dolphin is apparently teaching other members of her group to walk on their tails, a behaviour usually seen only after training in captivity.

The tail-walking group lives along the south Australian coast near Adelaide.

One of them spent a short time after illness in a dolphinarium 20 years ago and may have picked up the trick there.

What's sadder than a dolphin walking on water? You guessed it:

The African Thinking

posted by on August 19 at 11:08 AM

Reading this report made my eyebrows go up:

LUSAKA, Zambia — Zambian President Levy Mwanawasa, who broke the African tradition of silence and solidarity among leaders to denounce neighboring Zimbabwe's economic ruin, died in a French military hospital Tuesday. He was 59.

Mwanawasa had suffered a stroke and collapsed at an African Union summit in Egypt in June, which cost Zimbabweans the voice of one of their few champions on the continent.

The mind that is African can see no accident in the sudden stroke and death of an open opponent of Robert Mugabe. The whole strange business points to one understanding: Mwanawasa's muti (medicine) is not as powerful as Mugabe's.

Monday, August 11, 2008

The Mouth Unknown

posted by on August 11 at 12:37 PM

Every millilitre of saliva is a cocktail of millions of bacteria, half of them unknown.

Monday, August 4, 2008

Something New Everyday

posted by on August 4 at 11:27 AM


My surprise? Tornadoes happen in places outside of the US.

LILLE, France (AP) -- A fierce but short-lived tornado has left at least three people dead in northern France.

Inhabitants of four regions are assessing the damage after the tornado collapsed some homes and uprooted trees along its path.

The tornado swept through the Lille region's town of Hautmont and three other communities shortly before midnight Sunday. Did you witness the tornado?

The local prefecture said 13 people had been hospitalized for injuries and three others were dead as a result of the tornado. In addition, officials say a 76-year-old man whose house was among those destroyed in Hautmont has killed himself, but they could not yet comment on his motive.

Are French tornadoes the same as American ones? Or can this meteorological event be classified with other instances of Americanization--Big Macs, cornrows, tornadoes?

Up to this point in my life, I have been the citizen of four nations: Rhodesia (69-74), United Kingdom (74-83), Zimbabwe (83-2003), and the United States (2003-?). What next will I become?

Saturday, August 2, 2008

Which Fathers Know Best

posted by on August 2 at 12:24 PM

A new study finds that nonbiological fathers—those who opt in to raise children who are not their own offspring—make better parents. Furthermore, making it legal via marriage correlates with even better fathering. Only heterosexual couples were studied.

Thursday, July 24, 2008

Today In Lunacy

posted by on July 24 at 1:11 PM


FORMER NASA astronaut and moon-walker Dr Edgar Mitchell - a veteran of the Apollo 14 mission - has stunningly claimed aliens exist. And he says extra-terrestrials have visited Earth on several occasions - but the alien contact has been repeatedly covered up by governments for six decades.

Dr Mitchell, 77, said during a radio interview that sources at the space agency who had had contact with aliens described the beings as 'little people who look strange to us.'

...Dr Mitchell, along with with Apollo 14 commander Alan Shepard, holds the record for the longest ever moon walk, at nine hours and 17 minutes following their 1971 mission.

The illness that has taken the aging astronaut? It must be moonsickness.

Wednesday, July 23, 2008

Mercury and You

posted by on July 23 at 5:26 PM

Mercury poisoning has a delightful triad of characteristic symptoms:

1. Personality changes. (Think: Mad hatter from Alice in Wonderland.)

2. Uncontrollable shaking of the hands. Makes things like writing difficult.

3. (My favorite.) Swollen and bleeding gums combined with drooling.

Severe poisoning (typically from concentrations above 1 mg per cubic meter) shred your lungs until you die.

Basically, it's like the delightful scene from the movie Airplane! in which the pilot collapses, dooming everyone. I can't find it on YouTube, so enjoy these instead:

(Jonah asks, I deliver.)

Monday, July 21, 2008

Holy Crap, I'm Famous!

posted by on July 21 at 4:20 PM

Or, it's the magic of coincidences...

Details on Lineout.

Purdue LED Us to More Efficient Lighting, Less Mercury

posted by on July 21 at 3:19 PM


Longtime readers know of my aversion to compact fluorescent lightbulbs:

The "mercury vapor" that fluorescent bulbs require is quite toxic. While new compact fluorescent bulbs are voluntarily limited to five milligrams of mercury each, as little as a tenth of a milligram per square yard will make you seriously ill. Shaking hands, drooling, irritability, memory loss, depression, weakness—sounds like fun. And that's what happens to adults; kids can be permanently injured by mercury exposure. If you break one of these bulbs in your house—and think of all the times a bulb breaks—the current advice is to open a window and run, not to return for at least 15 minutes. Whereas if it's a traditional bulb, you grab a broom and screw in a new one.

And even if you manage to not accidentally dump hazardous waste in your living room, what do you do with a fluorescent bulb when it just plain wears out? Most places cannot recycle fluorescent tubes.

There is another. LED (light emitting diodes) have a similar energy efficiency to fluorescent bulbs with a far friendlier environmental impact. In the least, they involve no mercury.

Great! Why not use them everywhere? Huge expense. Most LEDs are based upon a substrate of sapphire. Urk. Requiring a precious stone means LED lightbulbs are about twenty times more expensive than traditional lightbulbs.

Enter some clever researchers at Purdue University:

The Purdue researchers have solved this problem by developing a technique to create LEDs on low-cost, metal-coated silicon wafers, said Mark H. Oliver, a graduate student in materials engineering who is working with Sands.

(Who would think something good could come from Indiana?)

Replacing the sapphire with silicon (made from sand) makes the bulbs fantastically cheaper. Good work people. Expect the cheaper, environmentally sound and energy efficient bulbs in stores in about two years.


Thursday, July 17, 2008

Waterless World

posted by on July 17 at 12:12 PM

The more we explore Mars, the closer we get to a clear but disturbing picture of our future.

Water was once widespread on Mars, data from a Nasa spacecraft shows, raising the prospect that the Red Planet could have supported life.

Researchers found evidence of vast lakes, flowing rivers and deltas on early Mars, all of which were potential habitats for microbes.

They also discovered that wet conditions probably persisted for a long time on the Red Planet.

What Bush Got Wrong on Stem Cells

posted by on July 17 at 11:24 AM

W's August of 2001 speech on the evils of embryonic stem cells was an early classic of his presidency, one of the first indications of his deciderish, rather than uniter-not-a-divider, tendencies. All his favorite hobbies were covered--simpleminded and peevish sanctimony, rigid adherence to a bizarre and inconsistently absolutist moral code, and disinterest in any sort of logical, thoughtful or informed critique. In short, it was a delightful preview of the following eight years.

Bush's policy was to deny federal funding for any research on new embryonic stem cell lines created after August of 2001. This wasn't a ban. Nor was it a system of regulations, well thought out or idiotic. Research involving any embryonic stem cell line created before August of 2001, all requiring the destruction of an embryo? Fine. Dandy. Not murder. Moral, according to Bush. On a line after August 2001? Murder, as it involves the destruction of an embryo--a murder good decent American taxpayers shouldn't be asked to participate in, even indirectly.

Put another way: Under the Bush policy, if you have money you can do whatever you damn well please. Commission embryos for the sole purpose of destroying them? No problem. Pay women for their eggs? Sure. Create a jello-mold out of human embryo? If you have the cash, you can do it.

Federal funding of contentious research buys you, the public, the right to set rules and demand oversight. Ask the animal rights activists. Instead of banning federal funding for animal research, they focused on demanding massive regulation and oversight. Killing a mouse in a research lab involves a prodigious amount of paperwork, hours of training and going in front of a panel of vets to explain yourself. Even if your research is privately funded, most non-federal grants require you to follow the federal grant rules. Bush's innovative policy of "do what you want, just not with our dollars" successfully shoved the most ethically contentious work out of the public's eye and into the shadows.

Well, weren't some embryos saved? Hundreds of thousands of fertilized embryos are sitting in cryogenic storage at in-vitro fertilization clinics around the country, largely because it is much more difficult to freeze unfertilized human eggs. Therefore, eggs collected for fertility treatment are typically fertilized with sperm, allowed to develop for a few days into a very young embryo and then frozen. The overwhelming majority of these embryos will eventually be destroyed, after the couple has decided they want no more children and the insurance stops paying for storage.

If you really believe that human life begins when the egg fuses with the sperm--as Bush's new family planning policy asserts--this is the worst imaginable outcome. At least with federally funded embryonic stem cell research, a few of these embryos destined for destruction could be used to generate new embryonic stem cell lines, advancing medical science and potentially improving human health.

(If you want more, please continue on to a longer post at