Friday, October 31, 2008

Getting Your News from Here Is a Terrible Idea

Of course, the Journal of the American Medical Association says that getting your medical information from any type of news media is a bad idea because the information is biased. Patients and even some doctors get their information from news articles that can be based on studies funded by pharmaceutical companies or other potential conflicts of interest. More than 40% of the news sources (in print and online) that they reviewed failed to disclose how the studies they reported on were funded.

My unbiased report is that we're biased. Well, the major news outlets are biased, I'm just an idiot with a keyboard, but that still counts as me being biased by my own stupidity. If you REALLY want to be able to make informed, objective decisions about new drugs or specific medical treatments, you'd better have access to a lab that can do the research for you. And you'd better pray that the lab isn't biased.

Question: Do you still look at news and other information coming from sources that you know are not objective? I do, especially because you can actually get more information from them by reading between the lines.

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Thursday, October 30, 2008

Raising the Stakes for Graduate Students

Have you ever screwed something up so badly that you've wasted over a century worth of work? I hope not, but if you have, I hope that you stay the hell away from Auburn University (formerly the Agricultural and Mechanical College of Alabama). They've had an ongoing experiment running for the past 110 years.

I know, I know, you've probably already read all about this in the press release put out by the American Society of Agronomy, but I just love repeating what they have to say so that I can bask in their reflected glory.

Anyway, Auburn University is the oldest continuous cotton experiment in the world, and the third oldest field crop experiment in the United States (on the same site). They've been using thirteen plots to grow cotton, corn, wheat, and soybeans (they all grow cotton, but some plots alternate cotton with the other crops in rotation). Some of the plots are treated with nitrogen, and it's nice to know that it's good for something besides killing lakes.

I hope they've got safeguards in place to make sure that things keep running smoothly, because the longer an experiment like that runs, the more researchers stand to lose when it ends unexpectedly.

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Wednesday, October 29, 2008

Bearclaw: Breakfast Pastry, Gang Sign

Black bears are TOTALLY gangsta, according to the journal Human-Wildlife Conflicts. They get pregnant at a younger age, are more likely to die violent deaths, and grow bigger. The weight is because they supplement their diet with garbage (real garbage, not frito-lay products and hostess snack cakes (ZING!)), and the increased weight leads to the earlier pregnancies (don't ask, I don't want to know).

The violent death part is due to vehicle collisions, but the study doesn't state how many of those collisions were during drive-bys.

It also brings up an interesting concept, the "bear sink." Urban areas and their tasty, tasty garbage are drawing in bears from outlying areas. Then the bears get killed. Violently. And eventually, no bears are left in the wilderness. This is why we should start dumping our trash in the middle of the woods. Problem solved.

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Tuesday, October 28, 2008

Do You Like Working Out?

Actually, a more fitting title is "Do you like excruciating pain?"

Physical therapy sucks. It's painful, difficult, and usually frustrating as you struggle to complete simple motions that were once effortless to you. It's no wonder that a lot of people would prefer to skip their physical therapy sessions.

Johns Hopkins Medical Center has developed a way to tell in advance if patients are going to be blowing off their physical therapy appointments. They did a whole survey and everything, naming it a Patient Activation Measure (calling it PAM for short, which may or may not be because they're huge fans of The Office), and using it to predict how involved the patients want to be with their recovery. You may not be surprised to hear that patients who felt that they were less responsible for their own health/well being/recovery were more likely to skip therapy.

The whole thing seems much more elaborate and complicated than just asking the patients, "Hey, are you gonna do that physical therapy or not?" but I guess that's why I'm not a doctor.

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Monday, October 27, 2008

5,000 Year-Old Unknown Substance

Twilight-Zone style twist ending: It's just glass! Glass is weird. My high-school chemistry teacher said it was just a super-slow-moving liquid. That explains why really old glass windows look all distorted, because the glass has been pulled downwards by gravity over time.

We've been making glass since 3,000 B.C. (E.), but scientists still have a lot of questions about how it makes the transition from molten to solid. Enter the Twinkling Fractal Theory. According to Richard Wool of the University of Delaware (the developer of the theory), atomic fractals inside of glass twinkle as it cools towards the solid, glassy state. Dr. Wool thinks that the twinkling frequency will determine the temperature at which the material transitions to solid, as well as "the dynamics of the glassy state."

I'm a fan of this theory because of its liberal use of the word "twinkling," and the potential to use variants like "twinkles," "twinkly," and "twinkalicious."

EDIT: Eh, I have been proven wrong by the cold, hard facts of SCIENCE. Glass is NOT a liquid, but I maintain that it is both weird as hell and FRACTALLY TWINKALICIOUS.

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Sunday, October 26, 2008


No, it's not a slang for a more interesting part of the body, it's a news item about women, their bunions, and the scientists who study them. That's right, an entire press release was written around the issues that women experience with their feet. Shoe fetishists ahoy!

In fairness, there actually is information that they're trying to convey. Namely, women can choose to wear shoes in colder weather that aren't good for their feet. After a summer of flip-flops and open-toed shoes, pointed shoes can put stresses on feet that cause bunions (eeew!) and other problems. That's why they need to be careful about selecting shoes that aren't going to damage their feet.

So speaketh the American College of Foot and Ankle Surgeons (yes, there is actually an American College of Foot and Ankle Surgeons.)

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Saturday, October 25, 2008

I Thought Economy Class Would Suck Less

I got all excited when I saw the latest research from Georgia Tech, talking about how they've developed a new material to mute the noise from airplane engines. People could buy those houses near the airport, I wouldn't be kept awake by engine noise on long flights, and I'm sure the military would want to use it for some kind of stealth plane.

Well, they've only developed a prototype material, and I'm not very excited about it. The material is supposed to be a honeycomb of channels that work together to trap noise and remove its energy before it gets to our ears, but it sounds like they're still figuring out what they'll need to use in order to construct the channels that would be as small as a single micron. Some kind of superalloy, they suspect.

Right, so check back once you have the material in production, and actually used in an engine design that is less loud than current airplane engines. Who am I kidding? Even if they did get it into production, it would do nothing about the screaming baby in the seat next to me.

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Friday, October 24, 2008

Don't Plan a Prehistoric Vacation in Argentina

Unless you want to make friends with a new dinosaur they discovered that ate meat, was over 30 feet long, and weighed as much as an elephant.

This dinosaur (Aerosteon riocoloradensis, if you must know) is an exciting find for paleontologists because it's another link between dinosaurs and the evolution of birds. It doesn't have normal lungs like a mammal. Instead, it breathes "more efficiently" with a bellows system. It's fun to talk about because it involves a series of air sacs, and who doesn't like a good excuse to use the word "sac" as much as possible, right?

FUN FACT: Aerosteon riocoloradensis didn't have any sweat glands. That's good to know, because if a dinosaur had to run me down before it tore me limb from limb, I'd hate to think that it would be all sweaty when it finally caught me.

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Thursday, October 23, 2008

Fat Kids Respond Well to Help

Sometimes, I read these studies and wonder what they thought was going to hapen. I mean, super job, Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality, you've established that obese children can lose weight if they participate in a behavioral management programs. Why don't you commission a study to find out if patients denied medical care will get sicker and die?

Yes, we need more education on eating healthy in the United States, at all levels, but did we really need scientific studies to tell us that? And haven't they already studied it?

I guess that this is different because it comes from an official government agency.

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Wednesday, October 22, 2008

What Could Possibly Go Wrong With Your Pregnancy?

Wouldn't you want to find out? I say not really, especially if it involved putting me or the baby at risk to find out, but then I'm not pregnant. And won't be in the future.

Anne Drapkin Lyerly, MD, a medical ethicist at Duke thinks that pregnant women should be studied in trials along with everyone else when testing new medications.

It's a tough issue she's tackling. On the one hand, it seems irresponsible to expose an unborn fetus to potentially dangerous or deforming chemical interactions. On the other hand, doctors don't currently know a whole lot about what could be dangerous or deforming, because no one has been runnning tests on pregnant women.

I don't know how I feel about the issue, except to say that I don't want to take a stand on it. You know how doctors used to experiment on themselves rather than put someone else at risk? I'm envisioning a creepy worst-case scenario where a woman doctor gets herself pregnant and then starts experimenting on herself to collect data. Not that it would actually happen, but I guess that someone could write a medical thriller about it. Someone who needs a lot of therapy.

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Keep Your Surgeries out of My Orifices

Okay, this whole surgery without external incisions business is getting a little crazy. I mean, now they're performing gastrectomies--removing part of the stomach to assist in weight loss--through "natural orifices" (in this case, the vagina).

I swear that they're just competing to see who can pull what out of where now. There's no end to the stories about the orifices that doctors have decided to pull things out of.

If you had surgery scheduled, would you want an incision done the old-fashioned way, or through the new natural orifice entry technique? I say slice me open. I'd like to keep my orifices to be used the way god intended, and I don't think god intended for me to have a kidney transplant performed via the anus.

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Tuesday, October 21, 2008

Live Fast, Die Young, Leave a Honeybee Corpse Behind

There are two types of bees in this world; the lazy SOB's who loaf around the hive all day, watching TV and waiting for their welfare checks to arrive in the mail, and the hard-working go-getters who are out there in the fields, foraging for new sources of pollen. Or nectar. Or whatever the hell it is that bees eat forage for.

The hard working foragers die first (surprise!). At least, I think that's what this study is trying to show. Something about active bees processing more oxygen, the effects of age observed as the inability to process oxygen efficiently, There's some extra commentary about bees being forced to go and forage earlier by the hive leads to them aging faster and dying sooner, but I really can't make much sense of it.

I'm a loud-mouthed internet pundit, not a scientist! It just sounds to me like aerobic exercise will kill you faster, which is fine because it was worthless anyway.

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Monday, October 20, 2008

Houston, We Have Some Prozac

First of all, we're going to send astronauts to Mars, and it is going to be awesome. That's just a given.

Now, the problem is how to help astronauts on their mission after they've left Earth. That's why they're developing computer programs to help astronauts diagnose and treat depression on their own.

So now I'm excited about the trip to Mars, and I'm excited about this new, self-serve depression treatment. After all, once they start using it on astronauts, it's only a matter of time before they adapt it for use here on Earth.

If you could design a computer program that could diagnose and treat an illness without the intervention of a doctor, which illness would you pick?

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Sunday, October 19, 2008

Science Proves: A DJ Saved My Life

You may remember the song "Stayin' Alive" from the movie Saturday Night Fever, but did you know that it was actually designed to be used as a medical aid in lifesaving efforts?

Okay, that's a bit of a lie. But not much of one, since it apparently CAN be used as a medical aid in lifesaving efforts, specifically when performing CPR. I'm not kidding. The American Heart Association has been using it as a training tool for the past 2 years.

The song has 103 beats per minute, and it's almost the perfect rate for performing chest compressions. If you're trying to restart a stopped heart, listening to the song or trying to remember how it goes in your head will help you keep the right rhythm. The AHA tested it by having classes train while listening to it on iPods, and trying it again while remembering the song a week later, and both times it helped them keep the right pace to save a life.

What song would you prefer to save a life to?

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Saturday, October 18, 2008

Think It, But Don't Feel It

We all have negative experiences that we want to forget. You know, stuff that just gets you so worked up that even remembering it gets you bent out of shape? Well, it turns out that if we want to deal with our psychological issues, to get over them and move on, we've got to detach ourselves from the emotions involved.

Nothing new, right? Well, people are studying it anyway, and they now have scientific evidence to back up common sense. Processing the emotions involved in a traumatic event requires you to distance yourself, so that you're not feeling the emotions associated with it as intensely.

Of course, that's easier said than done, since the whole reason you should be reviewing the event is so that you can think about it without getting emotional.

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Friday, October 17, 2008

This One's (Not) For The Ladies

Okay, I'm not a bisexual black male, but I've watched a few crime shows. They were very helpful in explaining what it means to be "on the down low." It's not something I'd normally spend a lot of time thinking about, but it's getting some serious coverage in the journal Archives of Sexual Behavior.

Um, tolerance is good, and blaming bisexuals on the spread of HIV is bad, I guess? I mean, the journal has an entire section dedicated to discussing bisexual latino and black men, which is way more detail than I would normally concern myself with.

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Thursday, October 16, 2008

Wasps Are The New Elephants

Except that wasps are just looking for an excuse to fuck you up. (The insects, not the churchgoers. Okay, maybe both groups, but this post is just going to be about the insects from here on out)

According to studies, wasps remember. They're less aggressive to wasps they remember meeting. Of course, they probably also remember all the times you tried to kill them, and get more aggressive when they see you.

Wasps. There are more of them than you think, and they're going to remember all the times you've pissed them off.

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Wednesday, October 15, 2008

The Arm Is The New Pancreas

Man was meant to play god, apparently.

I had never even heard of islets before reading this story, and yet they're vital in producing insulin. It turns out that having your pancreas removed makes you lose all your islets, and you end up unable to produce insulin and come down with type I diabetes.

That's why the solution is to make a new pancreas in your arm. Well, normally they put the islets in your liver and a new pancreas analog sets up shop there, but in this patient's case they couldn't choose that option because of liver damage.

I'm curious to see if the creation of a new, arm-based pancreas could lead to the creation of better treatments for diabetics. Let's hope so.

It's a fascinating story, mostly because it uses the word "pancreases."

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Tuesday, October 14, 2008

The Men Make The Money While The Women Bake The Pies

Not only do jerks see more action, they get more money, as well. Men who "believe in traditional roles for women" earn more money than men who don't, according to the American Psychological Association.

Traditional roles in this case means men who think that a woman's place is in the home, employing wives leads to more juvenile delinquency, the man should be the achiever outside the home, etc. I see one of 2 things at work here:

-Men who think that they should be the main achiever outside the home put more pressure on themselves to go out and get high-paying jobs, because they don't have the safety net of a partner working as hard as themselves.

-Men who believe in so-called "gender equality" are just lazy and looking for an excuse to goof off and play XBox while their wives pick up the slack.

Sure, there could be some third option that I'm not considering, but dammit, Jim, I'm a pundit, not a psychologist.

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Monday, October 13, 2008

Parental Role Reversal and Stress

Newsflash: caring for an older parent when you yourself are a midlife adult is incredibly stressful. I mean, who would have thought that watching the people who rasied you and who were always there for you actually needing assistance themselves could have any kind of negative psychological effects, right?

Anyway, it turns out that adults who care for older parents are under more stress, especially if they're trying to balance that with caring for their own children.

Since our constant medical breakthroughs are keeping people alive longer there are going to be a lot more parents hanging around. I think we need to follow the example set by the Japanese, and develop robots that will help care for our elderly. We'd still visit (the elderly, not the robots) and provide emotional support, but we'll let the robots handle the physical effort.

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Sunday, October 12, 2008

Malt Liquor Is Absorbed Differently (And Awesomely)

Thanks, Science! Researchers have been loading up African-American youths with malt liquor or a mixture of alcohol and diet Sprite. It's great to see science continually going against existing stereotypes.

Anyway, they were getting these kids youths drunk to study how quickly the body absorbed the alcohol. The malt liquor was actually absorbed slower, with blood alcohol concentration peaking 28 minutes after they finished the malt liquor, compared with the soda drink that made it peak 5 minutes earlier.

They're not really sure what that proves, but I'd like to know if the diet soda could help the body metabolize the liquor faster. The whole thing just seems odd.

Oh, by the way. That malt liquor used in the study? It was Olde English.

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Saturday, October 11, 2008

(Hormone-Laden, Teenage) Monkeys See, Monkeys Do

It turns out that teen dating isn't all skinny-dipping and trips to the malt shop (like anyone under 75 has actually gone to a malt shop). According to St. Louis University, teenage relationships are rife with physical, sexual, and emotional abuse.

What's going to solve this problem? Bracelets, naturally. Like the livestrong bracelets with an anti beating-your-partner message. Bracelets and constant vigilance.

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Friday, October 10, 2008

This Is Why I Don't Play Football

Not professionally, anyway. I totally have the skills, I just don't want to end up with lead poisoning.

It turns out that if the microscopic rubber particles from astroturf are ingested, some of their more harmful chemical components can be absorbed into the body. This includes lead, polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (that's right, you heard me. Polycyclic hydrocarbons.) and zinc. The zinc means that astroturf isn't just going to kill us, it's going to take down non-human species in the environment as well.

All of our modern conveniences are going to kill us, one way or another.

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Thursday, October 9, 2008

Bees Are Good For Your Blood Pressure

Okay, I don't really think of bees as having either venoms or toxins, but thank god most scientists (and apiarists?) don't think like me. Don't get me wrong, I would be a kickass mad scientist, monkeying around with venoms and toxins to produce totally badass effects, but I wouldn't start with honeybees.

Researchers at the University of Pennsylvania School of Medicine have modified honeybee venom toxin to use as a new diagnostic tool. It turns out that this modified toxin can be used to study hypertension (by stopping the flow of potassium ions across cell membranes by plugging up the opening of Kir channels on the outside of cells, if you absolutely must know).

Hopefully, they'll find some results before colony collapse disorder kills all the honeybees.

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Wednesday, October 8, 2008

Hammer Makes More Problems Like Nails

Corn. It's important for biofuel right now. We're also having trouble keeping the supply up with its demand now that it's used in food, fuel, industrial applications, etc.

Meanwhile, Miscanthus X Giganteus is a giant grass that specializes in growing for a longer period of time in colder climates than corn.

Enter the scientists, who think that they've figured out what makes this grass perform so well. Their solution to the biofuel problem? Turning the grass into biofuel would be too pedestrian (almost as crazy as trying to solve the fuel problem by using less gas). What they want to do is take genes from the grass that develop a special protein for it to thrive in the cold, and transplant them into some kind of frankencorn that's genetically engineered to survive in those conditions.

Way to go, science.

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Tuesday, October 7, 2008

The Sun Is a Ramblin' Kind of Star

Stars move a lot more than previously expected. University of Washington has run some simulations showing that stars like the sun could actually move a great deal withing galaxies like the milky way.

It's thrown a wrench into scientific calculations because previous models contained "habitable zones" withing galaxies that are more conducive to developing and supporting life. If stars can move, then those zones can move as well. It looks like it's time to rethink the development of life in our galaxy.

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Monday, October 6, 2008

When Addiction Turns Deadly

First, it turns out that Missouri has an impressive program in place for helping problem gamblers help themselves. In 1996, they were the first state to implement an exclusion program, and it currently allows people to ask to have themselves banned from casinos. Expect Las Vegas to implement a similar program sometime between when they can figure out how to make money out of it and never.

Now, researchers have been studying some of these people who are self-reporting themselves as problem gamblers. They found that older problem gamblers are three or four times more likely to request a self-ban because they are worried that they will kill themselves. So, either older problem gamblers are suicidal, or they're drama queens.

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Sunday, October 5, 2008

Science Has Disappointed Me

I was all excited when I heard that Jermaine Jackson was cutting a new album, until I realized that I had just misunderstood this story. It's about cutting an atomic element, Germanium.

I guess that they need Germanium for solar cells, so the story is good news as far as alternative energy goes. They'll be able to produce solar cells more efficiently with less waste and at a lower cost, but it's kind of a crappy consolation prize for me.

There is no atomic element named Jacksonium.

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Saturday, October 4, 2008

Same Problems, Different Causes

This study has it all. Violence, exploitation of children, gender bias, you name it.

Researchers studied kids with "conduct problems" like ADHD or oppositional defiance disorder. Kids with and without problems were asked to play video games for money (as much as $50 at a time!). Then the scientists monitored things like heart rate and how much they would sweat.

It turns out that the boys with conduct problems are physically calmer (lower heart rate, less sweat) at rest AND while gaming for dollars -- suggesting that it's not a conduct PROBLEM, it's a conduct SOLUTION -- than their counterparts without problems. On the other hand, this physical distinction doesn't manifest between girls with problems and girls without.

Ultimately, the researchers are saying that the source of the problems may be different in girls and boys, so they should be studied separately. I just wish a medical study would pay ME $50 to play video games.

Sorry. I wanted to, but couldn't figure out how to make a catfight reference in this post.

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Friday, October 3, 2008

A Happy Kidney Is a Living Kidney

By which I mean that going into dialysis depressed will get you killed.

Depressed patients on dialysis are almost two times more likely to be hospitalized or die within a year compared to their non-depressed counterparts. It looks like an an effective treatment for depression really has the potential to save lives.

But what could there be for patients to get depressed about? I mean, the healthcare system is in such great shape!

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Thursday, October 2, 2008

Unholy Terrorbeasts from Pangea

Specifically, Kryostega collinsoni. Its fossil was recently discovered, and it's not what you'd call "cuddly."

It's a fifteen-foot-long salamander with a wider, flatter skull than a crocodile. Its head was over two feet long. Its enormous teeth, some of which are placed on the roof of its mouth in a gnarly configuration that makes british dentistry look like an uncanny marvel of symmetry, mean that it can bite you, and then bite you a second time when you are safely inside its mouth.

"This animal was a predator taking down large prey," says one of the scientists who discovered it. That's not exactly comforting.

Still, it hasn't been around since the days of Pangea, so its nothing to lose sleep over, I guess.

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Wednesday, October 1, 2008

Wait, Is This Study Racist, Sexist, Or Both?

I mean, come on, people.

It says that Mexican immigrants are less likely to use contraception than Mexican-American women before they have a baby. Can we rephrase that a little more offensively? All we need is Pat Buchanan to draw some inflammatory conclusions from it, and we're good to go.

The author suggests that this could be "simply because they want to start having children as soon as possible," noting that contraceptive use among Mexican immigrants was similar to contraceptive use among women in Mexico. The study notes that 69 percent of sexually active women in Mexico use contraception, but contraception is only used by 24 percent of childless women.

Outrage by the numbers: blah blah anchor babies, blah blah how many times before they learn their lesson, blah blah no wonder they're outbreeding the Anglos. I think we're done here.

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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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