Thursday, July 31, 2008

Will OnStar Work on the Moon?

Well, no. But an an Ohio State Researcher wants it to. Ron Li is already helping NASA rovers navigate on Mars, and now he wants to get a Global Positioning System (GPS) working on the moon.

NASA is providing $1.2 million for the project over the next three years, which will be a challenge because the moon won't have the same satellites we use for terrestrial GPS. However, the moon system is supposed to be able to use signals from lunar beacons, stereo cameras, and orbital imaging sensors.

I have mixed feelings about this. I am in favor of moon exploration, but when was the last time anyone was actually done on the surface of the moon? 1972? I guess I'm just depressed that even if this system goes online, we still don't have any planned missions to the moon coming up in the near future (although we'll have to test it somehow...).

And don't even get me started talking about the international space station...

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Wednesday, July 30, 2008

Heavy Metal: Not so Great

The department of ecology and evolution at Stony Brook University has been studying fish found in the Hudson river.

The results are encouraging. Their mercury level is going down. In fact, the strong decline in mercury levels has occured over the past three decades, and represents a two- to three-fold decline.

It looks like the coordinated efforts to clean things up are working, but there's still a ways to go. Mercury concentrations increased as the researchers went north. It suggests a source upstream. I, for one, am in favor of finding and eliminating the upstream mercury source.

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Tuesday, July 29, 2008

America's Heartland Stays the Course

In a comparison of Los Angeles and Wichita, it turns out that consumers in California are more sensitive to foodborne illness.

Not, like, sensitive as in getting sick from it, but sensitive as in more aware of it and actively trying to avoid it. Food recalls had more of an effect on customer purchasing habits in California than they did in Kansas. It was interesting to note that a hypothetical outbreak of bird flu in Montana would have affected the purchases of California consumers more than it would have affected their counterparts in Kansas (by 20%).

It wasn't a surprise that California residents ate more vegetables while Kansas residents ate more meat. Also, Kansas would rather have cheaper meat that was treated with antibiotics, while California would prefer their meat to be antibiotic-free.

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Monday, July 28, 2008

Appeasement as an Evolutionary Strategy

Cornell research is shedding light on milkweed evolution, which I'm sure you're dying to know more about.

Milkweed is eaten by caterpillars. It evolved defense mechanisms to keep them at bay, and the caterpillars in turn evolved counter-defense attributes. Milkweed plants adopted three strategies, growing hairs and producing latex and poison, but different caterpillars have become successful at using different mechanisms to get past each defense. This study shows that instead of further evolving any one of the three defenses, milkweed plants are now reducing their efforts in those areas, and have compensated by increasing the speed at which they repair themselves.

I'm not sure that this is the best way to go. In the economics of evolution, increased food supply leads to increased demand. Populations explode once the restrictions of starvation are removed, so unless the milkweed continues to speed up its self-repair process, it will soon find itself facing too many caterpillars to keep up with. Still, evolution moves slowly, so we'll see how it ends up.

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Sunday, July 27, 2008

Attn: Strict Parents

Your kids are totally doin' it.

Nearly 5,000 American teens have been surveyed, and it turns out that strict parenting leads to increased sexual activity.

First, they found out that more than two out of every three American teenagers have had intercourse before the age of 19. Second, they found that familes that children with parents that practice "negative and psychologically controlling behaviors" are more likely to be sexually active.

When looking at the results, it's important not to mistake correlation and causation, but the study notes that parents who try a more democratic method of communication with their children might be making them better-equipped to deal with tough choices.

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Saturday, July 26, 2008

Living History

It's sad how there are so many scientific announcements being made these days that everyone feels the need to use overblown, dramatic language to make an otherwise neat observation sound like a summer blockbuster.

Rockefeller University announced that they have found records of interactions between humans and viruses dating back millions of years.

Mind you, I completely disapprove of their methods. They "brought an ancient retrovirus back to life" to see how the body fights it off, which is a terrible idea. The last thing we need is to bring back ancient epidemics that we've already tried to eradicate, but whatever.

The point is that scientists studied the interaction between the virus and present-day humans, and saw that humans fought the virus by mutating it. Then they found a modern-day virus that corresponded to what the ancient virus became after the mutation. So, scientists have now found evidence that our DNA was mutated by viruses, and there are viruses out there that have been mutated by us.

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Friday, July 25, 2008

You Will Get Ripped Off Online

There's almost no helping it. The University of Michigan has found widespread flaws in more than 75% of the online banking sites they surveyed. I'm hoping that they surveyed sites for smaller, crappier online banks, and not the big guys.

Identity theft scares the crap out of me. And yet it's almost a requirement to keep more and more of our personal identifying information online. I take some solace in the fact that the survey looked at websites from 214 financial institutions back in 2006. Maybe they upgraded their security features since then? Who am I kidding. They almost definitely haven't.

Especially with the rising cost of gas these days, I want to do more of my shopping online. Maybe I can still save on gas by ordering over the phone, from catalogs? It's worth a try.

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Thursday, July 24, 2008

Hey, Europe! Nitrogen Is Murder!

The University of Alberta, University of Minnesota, and the Freshwater Institute have just wrapped up a study that involved 37 years of data, and it says that Europe is killing its freshwater lakes.

I don't know if they've found the key to saving the world's lakes as their press release claims, but it sounds like they've figured out how to stop damaging them, and that's a start.

The issue is eutrophication, a big word that means the addition of nutrients, and it causes things like algae blooms and fish kills. The European Union has been trying to control the eutrophication of its lakes by conrolling the levels of phosphorous and nitrogen added to the lakes. This study says that nitrogen controls don't work. In fact, controlling the levels of nitrogen may make things worse.

Naturally, I expect the results of this study to be disputed in short order.

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Wednesday, July 23, 2008

Cowfart Backpacks

No, it's not a name for a band. It's a highly scientific testing apparatus. Used by scientists.

I'm a little confused, because this article discusses how scientists are measuring cow emissions, and while the picture says "strapping plastic bags to backs of cows," the article says that the backpacks are hung from roof of corral (making it sound like they are hung there AFTER they are strapped to the cows, but whatever).

Apparently, the average cow produces 800-1,000 litres of "emissions" (if you're using sciencespeak, but we can just call them "farts" here), including methane gas. People have been complaining about this contributing to global warming, since the methane is apparently very effective at trapping carbon dioxide in the atmosphere, and carbon dioxide traps heat.

But what do you do with a plastic sack full of cow farts? It sounds like they're just going to throw it away, ignoring the massive potential for prankery. The article states that scientists are considering altering the diets of the cows to produce less methane, but clearly none of them watched Beyond Thunderdome. If anything, we need MORE methane, not less, if we're going to take a shot at running Bartertown.

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Tuesday, July 22, 2008

"Jim Smith, this is Jim Smith, I was wondering if you knew whether Jim Smith had a chance to go over Jim Smith's application with Jim Smith"

Okay, seriously, when you start seeing "Jim Smith" repeated over and over it begins to look a little weird. Still, some guy (some guy named Jim Smith, actually) started a Jim Smith Society. To join you have to be named Jim Smith, but they already have 1,902 members named Jim Smith, including 2 women named Jimmy Anne Smith. Really.

Apparently, they have their own league of Smiths playing baseball, and the "Jim Smith Society Fun Fest" organizes other competitive events for Jim Smiths. Including a golf tournament. The linked article notes how the Jims are both thrifty and practical, able to prepare the winning trophy in advance of the tournament because they "know who's going to win."

The Society actually has a board, composed of members named Jim Smith. I wonder what their membership dues are like. Then again, I wonder how hard it would be to change my name to Jim Smith. Speaking of which, if you change your name after joining, do you get kicked out of the Society?

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Monday, July 21, 2008

The Mall Is Going to Get a Lot Busier

The June 2008 issue of the Journal of Consumer Research apparently suggests that we're influenced by all those garish ads and loud noises. The implications are kind of scary.

Sure, we know enough not to fall for things like the word "HAPPY" superimposed over a product. When we're not distracted. However, when something else is demanding our attention, like a ringing cell phone or a crying baby, we're more likely to make impulse purchases and fall for basic advertising tricks that tell you a product will Make Your Life Better(TM).

This gives marketers absolutely no incentive to tone things down. The louder their ads, the more distracted you'll be, and the easier time they'll have selling things. No one will want to quietly represent their product's strengths at the point of sale, because evidence shows that they will lose out to their louder, pushier rivals who are just screaming "GOOD!"

However, the study did show that people who developed a preference beforehand weren't influenced more easily when distracted. This means that you can avoid getting suckered into purchasing something you don't want or need by doing your research first. Decide what you're going to buy only after you've researched all your options and are able to make a logical decision in an area that's free from distractions.

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Sunday, July 20, 2008

Martians Can Run, But They Can't Hide

Okay, the real news is that reports about a study by John Mustard, published in the July 17 issue of Nature show that Mars held water, and held it for a long time.

The study uses data from the Compact Reconnaissance Imaging Spectrometer for Mars (CRISM) on board NASA’s Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter. They found the presence of phyllosilicates (read: "clay"), which can only form in the presence of water. Their distribution shows "a variety of wet environments," says Mustard.

It gets exciting when you include the companion study, published in the June 2 issue of Nature Geosciences, which shows that the clay concentrated in a crater lake. The concentration suggests that flowing water on Mars carried the clay into the lakebed, and its distribution suggests that the standing water "persisted for thousands of years."

Clay traps organic matter. If there was life on Mars, it's possible that we'll find a record of it.

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Saturday, July 19, 2008

Emergency Begets Emergencies

Have you been to an emergency room lately? You have if you need medical attention outside of regular doctor's hours. Just like crime never sleeps, life-threatening medical conditions can develop at any time.

Good luck if your appendix bursts after 6:00 p.m., or you break a leg on the weekend. You have to get in line at the emergency room, waiting with all the other people who have cut themselves, had heart attacks, received accidental burns, or were victims of assault. Once the triage nurse has stabilized you, it's time for a very long wait.

Faced with these hordes of patients, the staff at the emergency room faces increasing pressure to hustle patients through treatment so that they can free up more rooms and beds. They don't want to get into details, or hold your hand along the way, they want to get you back in shape to get you out the door, ASAP.
Is it any wonder, then, that the majority of patients hustled through the emergency room have no idea what to do next?

The Annals of Emergency Medicine have published a study by the University of Michigan Health System showing that more than three quarters of patients discharged from emergency rooms have no idea how to continue their treatment. Should they schedule an appointment with a doctor? Will it clear up on its own? The scary part was that of the people who said they were sure of what the doctor told them were actually remembering things incorrectly.

The next time you need medical attention, you're better off waiting until you can schedule a regular doctor's visit.

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Friday, July 18, 2008

You Don't Have to Be Crazy to Work Here, But It's Expected

Those scientists are ever so coy, trying to imply that the workforce is brimming with neurotics without saying anything concrete. According to a piece in the July Journal of Occupational and Environmental Medicine nearly 5% of employess have "high levels of psychological distress" that is usually associated with "a high likelihood of a mental disorder." They're not saying that 5% of the workforce is crazy, they're just saying that it's possible that 5% of the workforce could go crazy.

If you're unfamiliar with the publication, it is put out by the American College of Occupational and Environmental Medicine (ACOEM). The strange thing is that this study that they have published was performed on 60,500 full-time employees of Australian companies. My two questions would be:

-Is this 5% figure larger or smaller than the percentage of the general population that experiences high levels of psychological distress?

-why are we assuming that a survey of Australian employees can apply to workforces across the globe? Wouldn't regional laws and cultural attitudes concerning the workplace have an affect on employees?

I am reluctant to adapt an Australian's study findings to apply across the globe, but I agree with its declaration that "employers need to focus health resources on a common, debilitating, largely untreated illness group that substantially reduces employee productivity at work, increases absences from work, and increases employee attrition."

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Thursday, July 17, 2008

Frenchy Go Home

According to Time magazine, the French are just as obnoxious outside of France as they are on their home turf. They compiled a list of obnoxious tourists, and French people were right at the top of it.

The best tourists? The Japanese. Right behind Germans. I'm not sure about the accuracy of the study's methodology, though.

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Wednesday, July 16, 2008

You were more fun when you drank.

According to UNC, it's better to keep on drinking. Apparently, if you drink moderately, then quitting will cause you problems. Problems like depression, which is weird since alcohol is supposed to be a depressant.
What was really interesting about the story is the way they checked for depression. They made a bunch of mice swim around, and the ones who stopped swimming and just floated there were judged to be depressed.

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Tuesday, July 15, 2008

Evolution vs. Intelligent Design: Battle #325,612

A graduate student at the University of Chicago has published findings in Nature that shores up arguments in favor of evolution. He claims to have found a missing link. Previously, it was difficult to defend evolutionary reasons for fish like flounder to have both eyes on the same side of their heads, since there were no intermediary stages between symmetrical eye placement and extremely asymmetrical placement. Apparently, new analysis of old evidence is showing that this physical change could have evolved gradually.

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Monday, July 14, 2008

Great Teeth Look Awful

A recent study published in the American Journal of Orthodontics and Dentofacial Orthopedics shows that the most effective braces are the worst looking. I guess it's kind of the same way that the worse a medicine tastes, the more effective it is. Smaller, less-visible braces aren't as effective as the bulky metallic orthodontia that make you want to wear a paper bag over your head. Too bad.

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Sunday, July 13, 2008

We don't need English anymore.

There's an essay over at Wired about what Asian countries are doing to the English language. It's not really a news article, more of an opinion piece that speculates on what the future will be like. It's still interesting to consider how English is adapting and evolving, not just in predominantly English-speaking countries, but all over the world.

I guess I didn't have to pay too much attention to grammar and correct sentence structure in school after all!

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Saturday, July 12, 2008

Scared Safe

Trying to keep your kids safe? Take them on a tour of your local pediatric trauma center. It will help them to see the importance of buckling up, wearing bicycle helmets, etc., according to a study done by the University of Michigan's children's hospital. It seems kind of cruel to me, but I guess that it's for their own good.

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Friday, July 11, 2008

You're a Bad Man, Seargeant Bill

Did you hear about the fake FBI agent who entered a bunch of homes without warrants? The New York Times has the story about how this guy convinced the police that he was from the government, and didn't need search warrants or any other legal niceties to uphold the law. It played out like a modern-day "Catch Me If You Can" scenario.

I don't know which is creepier, that this civilian actually arrested people, or that real criminals might get to walk on a technicality.

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Thursday, July 10, 2008


Game over, folks. They have invented a robot that can climb walls. We can run, but we can't hide. I hope that they don't get around to inventing SkyNet.

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A Lot of Effort to Boil Water

Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute has gone to a lot of trouble to find a better way to boil water. It's all done with nanomaterials. Specifically, an invisible layer of copper nanorods. According to them, this is going to be a Big Deal for manufacturing computer chips and "industrial boiling applications."

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Wednesday, July 9, 2008

Fat Lesbians Ain't Necessarily Happy Lesbians

The Vanderbilt University School of Nursing released a study showing that lesbians are nearly twice as likely to be overweight than heterosexual women. Sure, we all knew that girl-on-girl porno was completely made up from male fantasies, but this really underscores just how far removed it is from reality. Anything else I could say about it would be crude.

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Tuesday, July 8, 2008

Depression Is More Than Just Chemical

A fascinating article in the Boston Globe suggests that studies of depression have been heading in the wrong direction. It takes an interesting look at how Prozac works, how it led scientists to research and treat depression in new ways, and how that may have been a bad idea. Not that the people who committed suicide while taking antidepressants was a warning sign, or anything.

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Monday, July 7, 2008

Smoke 'Em if You Got 'Em

According to the CDC, poor families have to make tough choices between food and cigarettes. It looks like addiction can damage families no matter what form it takes.

Still, it looks like tobacco companies could increase sales by having contests that award food as prizes.

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Sunday, July 6, 2008

Won't Someone Think of the Children?

Note to self: If I'm ever a newborn again, I will need to stay the hell out of the ICU.

According to recent studies, newborns in the intensive care unit of hospitals undergo multiple procedures associated with pain and stress, and no relief measures are offered.

I don't know if they're expecting the babies to respond to aromatherapy or Shiatsu massage, but it does seem kind of cruel to make them go through all that so soon after birth.

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Saturday, July 5, 2008

Lawsuits, Libel, and Wikipedia

Suing Wikipedia? A bold move, but in the case of Barbara Bauer, a futile one, since the case was dismissed.

Bauer, a literary agent, took exception to her portrayal in the online encyclopedia. In fact, she has taken exception to several websites that accuse her of being a bad literary agent. Right now, she's number three on Writer Beware Thumb's Down Agency List, but their website warns that the list changes frequently. According to Theresa Nielsen Haden, linking to lists that portray Ms. Bauer in an unflattering light can get people in serious trouble.

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Friday, July 4, 2008

Seriously, You'll Put Your Eye Out!

Happy Fourth of July!

A killjoy doctor at UNC has called fireworks neither safe nor sane. Fireworks may be "the riskiest consumer product," but how else are we supposed to celebrate the 4th? With reflective bicycle decals? I don't think so.

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Thursday, July 3, 2008

Another Reason to Avoid Hard Work.

It will kill you. Kind of.

The University of Alabama at Birmingham has published research showing that working hard when you're already fatigued is bad for your blood pressure. It looks like it's important to stay rested. I wish my job paid me to take naps, so that I could stay healthy.

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Wednesday, July 2, 2008

Antisocial Jerks Really Get Around

According to New Mexico State University studies, people exhibiting antisocial behavior on the whole are likely to mate more frequently. Antisocial in this case defined as self-obsessed, psychopathic, or manipulative. They're also more likely to hit on people already in a relationship.

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Tuesday, July 1, 2008

It's National Horseradish Month!

You heard me.

I'm not a huge horseradish fan. I don't even like small horseradish. Still, I have to respect a condiment that can successfully lobby for its own month. To celebrate, I've developed my own recipe.

You will need:

1) Put ice in glass
2) Pour Vodka over ice
3) Toast national horseradish month by getting completely hammered.

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The header image is adapted from a photo taken by Bill McChesney and used under a creative commons license.
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