Monday, November 2, 2009

Your Love of Crabs Will Kill Us All

Congratulations, University of Alabama at Birmingham. Your research into blue crabs is going to poison the environment and kill us all. Sorry, what I meant to say was that UAB has made an exciting new discovery about a potential food source, and I'm sure that nothing could possibly go wrong!

People eat blue crabs. People only eat blue crabs when they're molting. Molting season happens only the spring and early summer. UAB scientists want to make blue crabs molt on demand so that they can be eaten year round.

I see their point. You can start setting up blue crab operations all along the coast and it will create jobs and make more food available. But is it really a good idea to force those kinds of changes? Especially when you consider that factory farms raising salmon are little more than floating ocean pens; how do you keep this chemical you're giving to the blue crabs from getting into the ocean at large? And then what happens once it starts affecting organisms in the wild?

Oh, I'm sure it'll be nothing to worry about.

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Friday, October 30, 2009

Hey, Doctors! Time to Feng Shui it Up!

So, the Mayo Clinic conducted a study to see how patients were affected by the rooms where they met with their doctors. (Not the exam rooms where they run all the tests on you, the rooms where you actually sit and talk with your doctor about what's wrong with you and what might go wrong with you.)

It was an okay test, I suppose. It turns out that in "experimental" setups where patients sat next to their doctor and looked at the same computer screen during the consultation, patients were more engaged in their treatement and received a better quality of care. That seems like kind of a no-brainer; if you give patients a chance to get involved with their own treatment, they will. (I imagine that this new setup for doctors is a pain in the ass, though.)

I don't think that the study went far enough. Sure, patients and doctors do well when side by side facing a computer screen. What about on roller skates and facing a computer screen? Or when suspended over a shark tank and facing a computer screen? What if the computer screen is replaced with a medical textbook? An informational documentary on molluscs? An angry badger with a toothache? Inquiring minds want to know! For Science!

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Thursday, June 11, 2009

Insomnia for Cancer

Staying up late slows the disease's progress.

I wish that was the case. It seems like the press release from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill is a bit of a tease in that respect. The title indicates that messing with your circadian clock can stop cancer growth.

It actually sounds kind of inconclusive to me. Original studies showed that nurses and flight attendants who messed up their circadian rhythm (the way their bodies tell night from day, usually because they were working through the night) ended up with higher rates of cancer. So scientists concluded that messing up your circadian clock by keeping odd hours gives you cancer.

Now it looks like actually messing with your genes, and restructuring the biological cells of your body to change the circadian clock can slow down cancer. They altered the genes of some mice and found that they lived longer. So staying up late is still a bad idea, cancer-wise, but they're trying to find better ways of altering the way your cells tell what time it is.

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Tuesday, June 9, 2009

Granny Tipping

Knocking old people around could provide a valuable service.

I was just looking at a paper in the Journal of Neurophysiology that presents new theories for preventing falls. Not that I read the Journal religiously or or anything. I guess I stumbled across it the same way you find anything out there on the internet.

Anyway, professors at the University of Illinois are experimenting with the way you keep your balance. They think that by exposing people to near-slips in laboratory conditions helps to train them to avoid actual slip-and-fall accidents in the real world. So the study was a lot of tipping people over on oil-lubricated vinyl, which probably wasn't nearly as erotic as it sounds.

That means that whenever you jostle old people in line and on the subway, you're being a good citizen, helping them develop a better sense of balance so they don't fall down on their own, right?

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Friday, May 8, 2009

Bloggers of Interest: Da Old Man

I'd like to introduce you to a little concept I call the "snowball of shame." It starts with something that you've been putting off doing for a while, and you're ashamed because you should have done it earlier. The "snowball" part comes in when you put it off just a little longer because you don't want to face the embarrassment of how overdue this task is, but then putting it off makes you even more ashamed to admit that you've been dragging your heels, which makes you put it off longer, etc.

For example: you're reluctant to call your mother because you don’t want a lecture about how you never call. So you put it off for a day, and then the next day you worry that you're going to hear even more about it, so you put off calling for another day, etc.

That's why it's taken so long to get to the latest entry in my Bloggers of Interest series. You don't want to know (well, actually, I just don't want to tell you) how long ago Da Old Man, the proprietor of the Crotchety Old Man World Wide Headquarters and Discount House of Worship and author of Crotchety Old Man Yells at Cars, was kind enough to answer my questions to be profiled as a Blogger of Interest. Let's just say that I'm finally sitting down to cope with a particularly big snowball of shame, and he's been incredibly patient.

Da Old Man's blog is interesting because of its aggressive outlook, no-holds-barred approach, and its regular photo caption contest. He covers a range of topics, including his courageous battle with hospital food and harrowing tales of embarrassing personal disfigurement. But he can tell you more about his blog in his own words.

What got you into blogging?

About 5 years ago I worked in a terrible job. We called my bosses the Incubus and the Succubus. Blogging gave me a way to tell off my bosses without losing my job. My co-workers could read the crap I was feeling, and usually would get a laugh or two.

Where did the names Incubus and Succubus come from? Were your bosses constantly trying to do it with their employees? Or was it a life-draining kind of thing? I always thought that while the Succubus... um, "drains it out," its male counterpart, the Incubus, is supposed to... er, "put it in."

Incubus and Succubus were chosen simply because they were perfect demonic terms, and we were sure we were working in the Social Services ring of hell.

How did you choose your blog's name?

I'm pretty crotchety, and I imagine if I live long enough, I'll be the insane old guy on the corner yelling at cars to slow down.

What were you like as a crotchety young man?
I just pretty much had a bad attitude every day. Lots of teen angst, mixed in with anger issues.

I'm going to assume that you count "crotchety" as having a good attitude these days, and skip on to the next question. When and why did you start the photo caption contest?

It almost gives me a day off. It is also a chance for the readers to get more involved. They really like it. Because my judges are my friends, it gets them involved in a fun way, too.

Why did you choose a Zucchini as a trophy?

There were so many glitzy awards being passed around, I wanted to give out something funny, and zucchini is the most humorous denizen of the vegetable kingdom.

Are you sure that the zucchini is the funniest vegetable? No love for the jicama, or the tomato, or the eggplant's snooty British cousin, the aubergine?

Zucchini is the perfect funny trophy worthy vegetable, no question. While kumquats, jicama, tomatoes, and aubergine are every bit as funny on their own, they lack the overall comedic stature that a zucchini projects.

Ah, the zucchini "projects," thrusting its mighty comedic stature forward to penetrate stodgy reserve of some of your readers. It's a dick joke, I get it. Next question: what does the blogosphere need more of?

It needs more originality, with more quality first person writing.

And more public service announcements on the dangers of buying secondhand truffles, I might add. What does it need less of?

Youtube videos, blogs about how adorable one's kids are, blogs written from the viewpoint of pets.

Where do you see yourself (and your blog) in three years?

I just hope to keep getting better and include more original photos, perhaps with frequent travelogue style posts. I'd also like to have tens of thousands of readers per day, so I can accept a bit of paid advertising and make a living.

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Monday, May 4, 2009

I Love You, Man

I'd also love it if you drank less. And I'd love some acronyms, too. Actually, I'd love a lot of acronyms. Can anyone make that happen?

The University of Texas can make all that happen, and more. Their School of Public Health conducted a research study that threw around more acronyms than a GAO rundown of NIST RFP audits, kicking around acronyms like SMART (Southern Methodist Alcohol Research Trial), MIF (motivational interviewing with feedback), NIAAA (National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism) and e-CHUG (don't ask). Their claim is that individualized feedback is effective at stopping alcohol abuse in college.

According to this study, people in college don't realize that their peers drink less than they appear to. Sure, the rumors abound that college campuses are packed with drunken yahoos, but this study claims that there's less drinking going on than people realize, and by educating students about the behavior of their peers, they'll realize that it's okay to drink less.

I suppose that way of thinking is fine, if you're content to follow the herd. Tonight, I'm going to raise a glass to the outliers of society, who not only drink more than their peers, but who are also proud of it.

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Friday, May 1, 2009

Chicks Are Inscrutable

And that's not just my opinion. It's backed up by science. Outside observers are better at reading the intentions of men than they are at figuring out what women are thinking.

Indiana University conducted a study where observers watched clips from speed-dating interactions and were asked whether or not the participants were interested in each other. Neither men nor women were particularly effective as observers when it came to figuring out which daters were interested. However, the speed-dating men were easier to "read," and both male and female observers were able to figure out whether the interest on their part was genuine. Speed-dating women were more deceptive, and misled observers as to whether or not they were interested more frequently.

There were some other interesting side notes to this study. For one thing, there was no difference in accuracy on the observers' part whether they viewed a full 30 seconds of interaction or only 10 seconds (Hi there, Malcolm Gladwell!).

The other point worth noting was that while the observations were conducted in Indiana, the actual speed-dating sessions were conducted in Germany. So as far as we know, it's only German men who are transparently easy to read.

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Wednesday, April 29, 2009


Does talking about your problems with someone make them better, or worse? Actually, go back a step. How to you talk about your problems with people? Are you trying to find solutions, or do you just want people to pay attention to you while you complain?

Remember all the drama of high school? The endless discussion about who got in a fight/started dating/etc.? I can only imagine how much worse it is with crap like twitter and instant/text messaging. So, Stony Brook University started looking at what kind of effects it has on them (and went with the exciting study name "Clarifying co-rumination: Associations with internalizing symptoms and romantic involvement among adolescent girls").

Their studies show that frequent discussion of problems can lead to depression or anxiety. I'm not sure they aren't putting the cart before the horse, though. Isn't it equally possible that depressed or anxious people spend more time running to their friends to talk about how worried they are?

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Monday, April 27, 2009

Sweeping Carbon Under the Rug

If you can't see it, then it must not be there, right? I used to clean my room by throwing all of my junk in the closet and shutting the door. Now it looks like some scientists are recommending that we do the same thing to fix the environment.

There's a research paper put out by two scientists that thinks we can solve some of our carbon dioxide problems by burying it at sea. Specifically, they think we should start gathering up all of our "crop residue" (stalks of corn and wheat, the leftover bits of the plants that we don't use), tie it up in bundles, and then bury it in the ocean. Problem solved, right?

I think the challenge would be making sure that collecting, bailing, shipping, and burying the residue doesn't generate more carbon dioxide than the alternatives, but they're scientists and they're convinced that it's the way to go.

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Friday, April 24, 2009

It's Okay to Sleep with Your Dog

Not to, like, do it with your dog, because that's nasty, but it's okay to share a bed with your dog. The University of Kansas says that you can let your dog lick your face and sleep in your bed without worrying about germs. Apparently, more than half of all dog owners are into that kind of thing.

The press release gets a little muddled towards the end, though. The researchers tracked the spread of E. coli bacteria to determine whether or not it was "safe" to get overly affectionate with your dog. Then it gives all kinds of information about e-coli, how it is spread, and whether it can develop drug resistance.

Interestingly enough, it looks like more drug-resistant e-coli bacteria is spread from dog owners to their pets than the other way around.

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Thursday, April 23, 2009

Luckily, Bloggers Aren't Licensed

It turns out that licensed doctors can stop practicing medicine for as long as they want, and then pick up the job again later without having their competency re-assessed. Fair enough, you can keep your driver's license valid and go without driving for years, bu no one will ask you to re-take your driver's test before you can get back behind the wheel. Of course, driving a car and performing brain surgery aren't exactly alike.

Researchers at the University of Michigan are concerned that states aren't checking up on the competency of inactive doctors who return to active practice. Of course, since the licensing board for the District of Columbia is the only one that requires a minimum number of patient visits to keep a license registered as "active," most of these boards wouldn't even know which ones were in danger of getting rusty.

Of course, since bloggers don't need a license to do their thing, I can pick back up where I left off without worrying too much.

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Wednesday, April 22, 2009

Social Disease

Yeah, so it's been a while since I posted. That's because a virus wiped out my computer, and I'm still kind of pissed about it.

I wasn't looking at porn sites, I wasn't visiting shady offshore gambling sites, and I wasn't trying to download pirated movies. I was just using a popular widget that lets people hop from blog to blog (I'm sure you know the one) when an error message came up and my computer crashed, never again able to restart successfully.

Yes, I have virus protection software. Yes, it is kept current with the latest definitions. Yes, I avoid opening attachments in e-mails, especially when they're from people I don't know. That's why I am convinced that some malicious code was passed onto me when I decided to "drop" in on someone else's blog.

What will this mean for the future of my participation in social networking sites? Now that I've got a new computer and restored access to the internet, I'm not sure. I'm certainly going to be much more suspicious of bloggers I don't know.

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Wednesday, March 25, 2009

Born Leaders (Gossips/Flirts/Wallflowers, etc.)

According to studies, your role in (and the size of) your social network is a function of your genetic code. Whether you're the central hub in a network of interconnected acquaintances or an outlier with a few friends who don't know each other, your position is apparently predicted by your genes.

To get these results, they studied fraternal and identical twins. The identical twins had the same number of people who knew them as friends, and those friends had an equal chance of knowing each other. Fraternal twins had social networks of differing "shapes," with different numbers of friends and a varying likelihood of whether or not those friends knew each other.

Almost as interesting as the unsung breakthrough itself is the ability of the professors involved to milk a concept for all the sweet, sweet grant money that they can get their hands on. That's right. Research into social networks should sound familiar for good reason--these same two professors from Harvard Medical School and UC San Diego were in the news previously for using grant money to research how social networks spread happiness.

I wish I had paid more attention in school. Then I'd be able to get people to pay me for spending all my time on myspace thoroughly researching social networks like these two professors.

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Monday, March 23, 2009

Science Fiction? Media Hype? Both?

The University of Maryland got me all excited the way they were casually throwing around words like teleportation, but it's not as cool as you'd think. For one thing, it's only occurring one atom at a time, which isn't very useful for Star Trek style transport. It also turns out that they're not moving atoms, they're moving information from one atom to another.

They think it will help with Quantum Computing, which is supposed to be the Next Big Thing in computers, all smaller, faster, and more sophisticated than the current systems that are limited by the physical properties of their construction. I remain nonplussed. After all, assuming that they do manage to construct a working quantum computer, I don't think I'll personally see the effects of one for decades. The first quantum computers aren't going to be cheap, and I've never been an early adopter of new technology.

Oh, and the information? Yeah, it's up to 90% accurate. That's right, even if they do find a way to apply this to teleporting people, you've got a 1 in 10 chance of winding up with your index finger where your big toe should be and your teeth trading places with your fingernails. Good times.

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Friday, March 20, 2009

Silent Killers: Now with More Silence!

That's right, flying robot killers from the future are going to be more silent than ever before! That's robots who fly and kill people, not flying people who kill robots, by the way.

Georgia Tech is working on making our unmanned aerial drones quieter, so that they will be tougher to spot. Short-term thinking says that's a good idea, because we'll be able to spy on today's enemies more effectively.

In the long term, we're already developing more efficient aerial predators based on the design of prehistoric killing machines. It's bad enough that they'll be harvesting our own organs to hunt us down and kill us more effectively, now they'll be able to do it without giving us any warning.

It's going to be a dark future, indeed.

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Wednesday, March 18, 2009

Illusions of Value

Ohio State University has determined that when we think about money, the numbers involved can be more important than the value. Some of the subjects were actually making different choices depending on whether they were asked to make decisions about one dollar or 100 cents. In fact, it seemed like they thought that it was better to receive 100 cents than it was to receive a dollar.

To conduct the study, they used that "prisoner's dilemma" game. Are you familiar with it? I'm kind of sick of hearing about it, since it seems like the stock scenario that someone brings up when they want to sound like they know something about psychology or human behavior, but the idea is that you can screw over other "players" in the "game" or not screw them over. The outcome is based on their reactions, but it's a safer bet to screw them over (you can gain more if you don't, but you'd have to trust the other players for that).

Is anyone surprised that participants were more impressed by numbers than they were by actual values? It's kind of like the way that products are advertised for $39.99 instead of $40. Our minds can play tricks on us, so it's always important to think twice before you spend your hard-earned money.

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Monday, March 16, 2009

Good News for Gigolos

Harvard Medical School has found a way to "wipe out" the Herpes virus. I guess it's good news for anyone with a cold sore, too.

This new cure messes with the RNA of the virus. It ends up unable to replicate, and unable to get picked up by the body. At least, that's how it has worked for the mice so far, and hopefully it will also work in people.

I hope it works for people. I don't have any plans to contract herpes in my future, but it's good to know that Harvard's got my back if I ever change my mind. Of course, there is a downside to this. That's right. More ads like those Valtrex commercials where attractive people tell you how great life is now that they've found a cure for their herpes.

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Saturday, February 28, 2009

Old drivers WILL kill you.

You know all those stories about old people "confusing" the gas pedal with the brake and mowing down a huge crowd of people? Well, they're just going to get worse.

I used to be a big fan of mandatory, regular vision testing to retain your driver's license. Now it turns out that it's completely worthless. So, even if you make people take vision tests to prove that they can still drive, you're not keeping unsafe older drivers off the road.

It's an argument for buying more SUVs and driving everywhere. If some crazy 90-year-old driver is going to have a senior moment and ram me, I want to be as protected as possible.

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Thursday, February 26, 2009

It was nice knowing you, Frogs.

They're doomed. Doomed because gluttons can't stop eating them. I mean, it's bad enough that their permeable skin puts them at risk of poisoning, but now they're just web-footed cattle.

Endangered web-footed cattle. But who the hell EATS frogs, anyway? The article I read blames school cafeterias (?!) in Europe and Asians in general, but I'm stunned that it's that bad.

Only one thing for it, and that's factory farming. We're doing it with salmon, right? I can't imagine it would be that much harder with frogs.

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Tuesday, February 24, 2009

Deaf Mice = SCIENCE!

Would you want to be deaf? I wouldn't. I mean, I'm watching the Amazing Race this season, and that deaf kid's doing a pretty good job (probably better than I'd do on the race--those hillbillies from Virginia were more my speed), but I'm pretty happy being able to hear things.

Now, what if someone wanted to trade a little bit of your hearing in exchange for more damage-resistant ears? You wouldn't be able to pick up small noises or soft whispers, but you'd be able to attend rock concert after rock concert without needing earplugs.

Researchers at Johns Hopkins Medicine have found that the ear has a mechanism that protects you against hearing loss. You don't need to go partially deaf to take advantage of it, either, it's just how they proved that it existed.

They messed around with this ear system that limits just how much sound mice could hear, and the ones that retained their full hearing were more susceptible to permanent hearing damage when exposed to loud noises. The ones that heard less also suffered less damage. In theory, by manipulating this system (or at least understanding more about how it works), we could figure out how to listen to loud music at clubs and still be able to hear properly the next day. Sign me up!

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Tuesday, February 17, 2009

CEOs and Rockstars

Neither should have any expectation of privacy, says a professor at Neeley TCU School of Business.

It's the collision of two values that are important to me: A person's right to privacy, and a company's need for full disclosure. I think that company information like CEO salaries and expense reports should be available to the public. I also think that a person has a right to privacy, and that they shouldn't be forced to release their medical records.

Should the SEC be able to force CEOs to disclose information about any potentially life-threatening illnesses that they have? Why stop there? What if the CEO has a wife or child who is in the terminal stage of some sort of disease, wouldn't that be distracting? Should we require them to disclose that information?

Even when you look at celebrities, who the paparazzi claim are entitled to "no expectations of privacy," their medical records are still protected--people who sell their medical records to tabloids can be prosecuted for breaking the law. Why should someone have their medical history placed on display for all to see just because they're running a company?

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Wednesday, February 4, 2009

It's No Barry White

I'm no scientist. If I was, then I would have known for "some time" that the irritating whine that mosquitoes make is "the sound of love," according to this press release. Hopefully, romantic love, but knowing those mosquitoes I wouldn't be surprised if it was the kind of love that $5 would buy you out by the dumpster behind a Denny's on a Saturday night.

Anyway, they've been studying mosquitoes and found out that they actually change pitch when they're mating "in love." I'm not sure how they measured that, exactly. Oh, sure, the article mentions tiny microphones attached to the mosquitoes, and tethered mosquitoes, but it's still kind of odd to me. I mean, how the hell do you tether a mosquito in the first place?

Oh, hey. Aren't you glad that this was part of a $19.7 million grant from the National Institutes of Health? I'm sure that's taxpayer money well spent, even before we get into all the money that the new stimulus package is slinging around.

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Tuesday, February 3, 2009

Rumors Had It

Right. So, today's post is late because my ISP and I have been having a bit of a disagreement. With crappy, on-again off-again internet access like this, it really makes me wonder why I kill myself trying to pay my bill ontime.

Now, on to the subject of the day: election rumors. Did you hear any? More importantly, did you hear any good ones? I know the election is a polarizing subject, but there were rumors on both sides of the spectrum (secret muslims vs. banning books).

So, they did a follow-up poll asking people if they heard the rumors about the candidates, and if they believed them. Most people reported that they didn't believe them, and that the rumors didn't affect how they voted. Keep in mind that these questions were asked after the election.

Now, do you think that they really weren't swayed by the rumors, or were they just lying so they didn't look stupid?

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Monday, February 2, 2009

Bedbugs are BACK, Baby!

That's right, we're living in a Charles Dickens novel. I mean honestly, when was the last time you heard about someone having an infestation of bedbugs in their house? Well, you might hear it more often, since bedbug populations are increasing and they've become resistant to pesticides.

It's actually kind of funny because the study shows that the insect kingdom has its own regional differences. Researchers compared bedbugs found in New York City with bedbugs from Florida. The tough, urban bugs from NYC were better at surviving the pesticide than the softer, weaker bedbugs from the more hospitable climate of Florida.

I actually had a coworker come back from a trip recently and he thought he had picked up some bedbugs at a shady hotel he was staying in. It turns out that they weren't bedbugs (the exterminator didn't know what the hell they were), but he had done a lot of reading about them in the meantime. Have you ever gone to a party where the host puts all the coats in a big pile on the bed? That's what my parents used to do when they had company, but it turns out that it's a terrible idea. My friend was telling me that bedbugs can get into your clothing, so they can either move from an infected mattress into the pile of coats to get taken to all the guests' houses, or from one guest's coat into the mattress and all of the other guests' coats. It makes me cringe just thinking about it!

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Sunday, February 1, 2009

Of Butterflies and Bootleggers

First, do you call it a bootlegger turn or a handbrake turn? You know, that move where you yank on the emergency brake while turning the wheel, so that you can whip your car around 180 degrees (hopefully without flipping over)? It's a staple of a lot of racing video games.

I've heard it called a bootlegger turn because the mobsters running illegal liquor during prohibition would use it to escape police roadblocks. I don't know how effective it was, or how often they used it, but it's a fun mental image. Also, it was probably easier to do back then, given the low top speeds that cars used to have.

It turns out that butterflies and bootleggers may have more in common than you'd think. They both attempt erratic, high-speed maneuvers to evade capture. Butterflies may have developed their hind wings to make fast, tight turns in the air to keep from getting eaten. The wings help them move quickly and erratically. That's what they think at Cornell, although it's kind of a shame that they had to go around clipping wings off of butterflies to prove their theory.

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Saturday, January 31, 2009

They Won't Have To Hunt Us

So, we're using robots to help stroke victims regain their mobility.

It makes sense. I wouldn't want to spend my day watching someone do boring, repetitive motions to rebuild their muscle strength. In fact, it's so boring and repetitive that the stroke victims don't like doing it. The breakthrough in this case is that by involving virtual reality environments (read: having patients use the robot as a controller in a video game), stroke victims will work at the rehab exercises longer and regain function faster.

Sure, it sounds helpful at first. Until you think about what's in it for the robots. Not only will we be providing them with massive amounts of valuable data about how we move, where our mobility weaknesses are, and how we can be stopped from moving, but we're also giving them the chance to harm us directly. It's all fun and games physical therapy until the patient has his legs ripped off. We won't need faster robots that hunt us like dogs, we're already walking right into their cold metallic hands!

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Friday, January 30, 2009

Touching Costs Extra

What's your favorite possession? Where did you get it? How much is it worth to you?

Now imagine I gave you something cheap, like a keychain. Would you value it as much? You might if you held it for a little while. At the very least, you'd think it was more valuable than a keychain that you hadn't held.

All it takes is 30 seconds. Test subjects that held a coffee mug for 30 seconds showed an attachment to it that was stronger than those who held it for ten seconds, or those who hadn't held it at all. How strong? Well, subjects who held their coffee mugs would aggressively bid for them in an auction setting. So aggressively that four out of seven times the test subjects would pay more than the retail price for the mug, even when they were told how much it was selling for in the nearby campus bookstore.

It's a good reason to figure out what you're going to buy and what you're willing to pay for it before you enter the store, since all it takes is a little physical contact to completely abandon common sense.

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Thursday, January 29, 2009

Your Potato Children Will Be Deformed

Plants have reproductive organs. Who knew? Well, everyone who had to sit through high school biology, but who remembered? And/or who cared?

Soil scientists, that's who. Specifically, agronomists. And not just because they have some kind of sick plant fetish. They're not just daydreaming about the private parts of plants, they're trying to make the world a better place. And this time, someone finally thought of the (plant) children.

Concerned agronomists have determined that while herbicide tests consider whether the plant-killing substances will kill "good" plants (read: the ones that aren't weeds), the tests don't verify that the herbicides don't accidentally sterilize the good plants.

I'm all for improved testing to make sure that we can keep enjoying future generations of plants like potatoes, corn, and soybeans. However, I do think that the language in their press release is dry, densely scientific, and a little obsessed with reproductive organs.

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Wednesday, January 28, 2009

What Makes Someone a Jerk?

How do you define what a jerk is? When you get mad at someone for acting like a jerk, is it because they're actually doing awful things, or is it just because they're not being as nice as you would like? The University of Chicago has found out that not only is it better to be nice to people, but we tend to punish people if we feel slighted by them.

Let me explain the experiment. In part 1, you are participating with another guy. The other guy is given $100, and chooses to give you $50. If the roles were reversed afterwards, and you were given another $100 with the option to share some of it with the other guy, how much would you give him?

In part 2, pretend the study gives you $100, but lets the other guy take as much from you as he wants (and he takes $50). When it's your turn, and he gets $100, how much would you take from him?

It turns out that most people felt like they were getting ripped off in part 2, and took as much as they could from the other guy. In part 1, people generally felt grateful and shared their $100 evenly with the other guy to thank him for his earlier generosity.

It's strange because in both situations, the participant ends up with $50 more than he had before. But in the first part, they liked the other person in the study. In the second part, they thought that they were paired with a jerk. They acted accordingly.

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Tuesday, January 27, 2009

Where did you learn that smile?

Or did you know it all along? That grin of triumph, the pout of unhappiness, are you doing it because you've seen other people do it, or because it just feels natural to you? If you hadn't seen other people expressing their emotions, would you still use the same expressions yourself?

Yes, you would. It turns out that some emotional responses are hard-wired, and not something that you learn. A study of blind and sighted athletes showed similar expressions on the faces of both blind and sighted winners (and similar expressions of disappointment on blind and sighted losers). Even athletes who were blind from birth "knew" how to express happiness and disappointment on their faces without seeing other people do it.

I don't really have any jokes to make about it, it's just kind of interesting.

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Monday, January 26, 2009

Walkin' Farther and Doin' It More

In the title of this post, "doin' it" is not referring to walking, it's referring to... you know, doin' it.

It's an an interesting mix of theory and speculation put forward by Washington University in St. Louis. After studying a bunch of mammals (161 different species), researchers found that the animals that traveled the most had the most offspring.

I would have guessed that all the walking was done by bigamist mammals who were trying to make sure that their wives stayed far enough apart that they never bumped into each other, but the researchers had a simpler explanation: the animals that walk more find more food. They find more food, it gives them more energy, and so they get busy more often.

Does this translate to the human species? I kind of doubt it. We can drive places to get food. I think that walking as part of an exercise plan to keep up your appearance could lead to more romantic encounters, but I don't think that people would find a direct link in humans between daily distance walked and number of children.

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Sunday, January 25, 2009

Peeing In Your Food

I suppose it's not news that no one in food service washes their hands after using the bathroom. But Kansas State wanted to find out why. Surprise! It's because they're lazy.

It's not just bathroom handwashing. It's not cleaning their work surfaces, and not paying attention to how long foods have been sitting out, which foods need to be refrigerated, and how hot food needs to get in order to kill germs. Restaurant workers don't know, and don't care. Luckily, they were willing to complete surveys that confirmed it.

Even after four hours of training, the food service workers participating in the survey still didn't follow proper procedures for kitchen hygeine, but they stopped citing ignorance and started blaming the managers for not monitoring them. I guess they think that if they're sloppy enough, they'll get their own Food Network TV Show.

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Saturday, January 24, 2009

Vampire Clothing

Yarn that feeds on blood. That's certainly something the world needs more of. Luckily, the University of Michigan has invented bloody yarn that conducts electricity.

It's supposed to be exciting because it's (partly) an advance in nanotechnology. The yarn is coated in carbon nanotubes by soaking it in a special solution, and the nanotubes conduct electricity. By adding anti-albumin to the solution, the yarn conducts even more electricity when it comes into contact with blood.

Personally, I think this sounds about as useful as that clothing that changes color when your body temperature changes. The researchers have high hopes, though. They think that the clothes can be tied into a device like a cellphone or PDA so that when people start bleeding, the device calls for help (electronically, by calling an emergency service, not, like, by screaming loudly). We'll just have to wait and see how they do with that.

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Friday, January 23, 2009

Is Your Pig Farm Too Gassy?

No, that's not a euphemism.

Do you know what happens in pig finishing barns? I'm pretty sure you don't want to know. And I like bacon too much to ever find out. Still, I guess that they're pretty stinky places.

A lot of time and effort has gone into researching the methane and carbon dioxide (read: pig stink) given off by these finishing barns, and the best ways to reduce them (no, raising fewer pigs was not an option). It turns out that sprinkling vegetable oil actually helps reduce the omissions, while essential oil misting and misting of essential oil with water do jack squat--no surprise, given how "essential oils" seems like just a phrase used to bump up the cost of shampoo and skin lotion.

The research is all thanks to a study by those unsung heroes of the academic community: soil scientists.

Thank god for soil scientists. I mean, they're the ones who first realized that the robot uprising may be led by plants. I think we can all agree that we need more of them.

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Thursday, January 22, 2009

I Can't Believe It's Not Bone Marrow!

Well, actually it is bone marrow. It's just bone marrow that's created artifically, and not meant to be implanted into the human body. Still, it cranks out red and white blood cells just like the real thing, and that's Kind Of A Big Deal.

If, like me, you're wondering why anyone should bother making bone marrow if they're not going to put it into people, the University of Michigan has some ideas. Hell, that's why they created it in the first place. This artificial marrow is supposed to allow new ways to test drugs in development, allow for closer study of problems with the immune system, and most importantly (to me) generate a supply of blood for transfusions. If it means that I won't have people begging me to give blood anymore, I'm all for it!

What impresses me is the amount of work that went into it. They had to design a tiny 3-D scaffold to develop the material. Because of the conditions inside the human body, they were very particular about where the openings were for the cells and how large they were so that the cells interacted properly. I suck at sculpture, and can't even put together furniture from IKEA, so it's not something I would have been able to do.

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Wednesday, January 21, 2009

How to Dismantle an Atomic Bully

Even though college students are more likely to be criminals, it turns out that they're less likely to be bullies. College students are above the whole stuffed-in-a-locker, head-in-the-toilet type of physical bullying shenanigans, according to Kansas State University. However, they're breaking new ground in the field of cyberbullying.

The study has an interesting note on the motives of bullies. They think that grade school bullying is done for fun, or out of boredom, while college-level bullying is done out of jealousy. It makes sense when paired with the rise of cyberbullying. Some of those college gossip sites can get really catty.

The best part of the study is that it calls out one particular college gossip website as a major source of bullying. Is that a good idea? It's kind of up there with making the schematics for building a nuclear device widely available in terms of keeping your mouth shut about potentially harmful information.

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Tuesday, January 20, 2009

Inauguration Day

Yeah, so, new President, huh? That's a pretty big deal.

Big enough that I'm not really sure what to say about it.

I mean, I don't think that my usual reports of health, science, or technology happenings are really appropriate. And I'm not going anywhere near that controversy about who should lead the nation in prayer (I will go on record as saying that bigotry is Not Cool). So I'm kind of at a loss for words.

Still. New president. Wow.

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Monday, January 19, 2009

When is Earth not an Earth?

When it's a super-Earth. Don't get me wrong, the planet we live on is pretty super, but Ohio State University thinks that it's not the only type of planet that could support life.

I'm not sure if it's "thinking outside the box" or wishful thinking. Assume that there's other life out there in the galaxy. Most of the sci-fi I've read assumes that life is only going to develop on planets similar to earth. Now, a few scientists are moving in a different direction.

They think that if a planet has a liquid ocean, it can support life, so they came up with the name "super-Earth" to describe planets that could support life. This new super-Earth description can be applied to a number of larger, colder planets that are much more common than planets like ours. Super-Earths might even be present in about one-third of all solar systems. So we might actually find life out there after all.

Or it might find us first.

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Sunday, January 11, 2009


Ugh. I think I ended up with that illness/bug/virus that has been going around. I don't have a new post for today. Sorry.

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Saturday, January 10, 2009

Cheer Up, You'll Be Incapacitated

And that will be good for your marriage. Brigham Young University now has research showing that when someone can't do normal daily activities, they end up being happier in their marriage. The people they were married to? Eh, it's a mixed bag.

Men and women end up happier in their marriages if they become disabled. Men with disabled wives become happier in their marriage, while women with disabled husbands don't care very much (about the disability, that is. They generally weren't more or less happy with the marriage than they were before the disability).

I guess they're happier because they're forced to spend more time with each other getting through the chores of the day. That has to be the reason, right? After all, it's not like people answering questionnaires would lie because they felt guilty about resentment for being burdened with the care of a spouse, right?

I just hope my son doesn't see this study and try to cripple me with a sledgehammer so he can bring mommy and daddy back together.

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Friday, January 9, 2009

Bloggers of Interest: Beyond Don's Left Field

For the second blog in my Bloggers of Interest series, I chose to interview Don, the man behind Beyond Left Field.

Don has quite an impressive biography, and at his blog he writes about 60-year-old paperboys, some rules for funerals
, and places to use K-Y jelly. But he can tell you more about his blog in his own words...

What got you into blogging?
I began blogging just six months ago, because I wanted to do something where I could curse and not get yelled at too much... Actually, I wanted to share some of the funnier things that I've seen, or experienced, or both.

How did you choose your blog's name?
When I first set out to write a blog, I figured that I could really relate to morons and idiots well. However, the bulk of my subjects were going to be others that I could point a finger towards and exclaim, "Yeah, you moron! What were you thinking, you idiot?" Then I realized that question would be best answered if asked of me. So, here I am. Answering the question on everyone's mind--"What were you thinking?"

Does it have anything to do with liberal or left-leaning politics?
My blog's name is simply derived from the expression that describes a strange or clueless thought or idea or some really odd behavior such as, "Where did that idea come from? Left field?!" Then I thought I wanted to get way out there with some of my stories as far as the "funny" goes. Hence, the "beyond" was added.

Do you track the search terms that people use to find your blog? What's the weirdest?
I don't track the search terms that people have used to find me, although some of us at Humorbloggers have compared ours with one another's for fun. I still get a lot of queries into "doggy butt skids" and "Mexican hot wax baths." Go figure...

I'd imagine that your "incredible life and history" pulls in some people looking for rapist Viking pimps that they can buy slaves from.
Actually, my profile doesn't garner much in the way of search words, and initially I thought that may be a good use of the profile--a hook and catch so to speak.

Do you believe in reincarnation?
No. I believe in not dying though, if that counts. I was thinking of Shirley McLaine when I took that reincarnation route with my profile... she was nuts! Although Popeye and John Dillinger were definitely "special."

You've got quite an awards cabinet. Which award are you proudest of?
Ahhh, those well deserved, ugh....I mean hard earned--no wait! My awards are really cool to get. It's nice to be recognized and thought of in a positive way by so many fellow bloggers. Especially the humor bloggers. The one that I'm most proud of is the Zuchinni Award bestowed upon me by no other than Da Old Man at Crotchey-Old-Man-Yells-At-Cars
. That one is not passed around so there are not too many of us that have earned the right to "own" one. It's for a captioning contest that I won which is amazing because I truly suck at those. I just got lucky that one day though and voila!

Tell me about the Humor Bloggers Blog Roll.
The Humorbloggers genesis goes back to only August '08. I joined 5 days after it went online. Chelle B. from The Offended Blogger is the site owner and masseuse. Really, our only goal besides from spreading it on thick is total world domination. So far, it's going well! However, since most bloggers aren't as funny as we are... ahem, then we proudly share the interwebs with blogs of all types!

Do you think that there's a place for "serious" blogs in the blogosphere, and if so, what topics do you think that serious blogs could cover well?
Serious blogging can be of great use, and there are already millions of serious blogs out there. I believe that they can actually perform a service to the average person. For example, the news media is to general, too slanted, too brief (due to time constraints) and too damn ill informed! That's where some heavy duty blogging can come in and step up to the plate. It already has in many ways.

Speaking of serious subjects, Is there any truth to the allegations that you were personally involved in Mississippi having the highest teen birth rate in the United States?
No. I quit drinking a couple of years ago for the most part... but I'm glad to see that Mississippi is still forging ahead with its failing policies. It warms the heart to know that our state legislature is as least as good as that of the fed's.

Where do you see yourself (and your blog) in 3 years?
I see myself still plugging away at this blog in a few short years. It's really growing at an impressive rate so far, and I will try to maintain that growth and even "shoot" for far more. I may possibly introduce a new blog in the future, but I'm still undecided. Right now, one is enough! Blogging is just something that has almost turned into an obsession at this point.

So, no worries about running out of material,then?
The future should be interesting, and I'm looking forward to it for sure. People (including myself) will never cease doing crazy things, and I intend to cover as much as possible!!!

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It just got a little less fun to be a teenager.

Thanks, University of Utah. It figures that the state that hates chocolate would come up with a device that keeps you from talking on your cell phone in the car.

That's right, researchers there have developed a new ignition key that interferes with cell phones. It's supposed to keep teenagers driving safely by not talking on their cell phones or sending text messages.

"But wait," I hear you asking, "What if there's been a bad accident, and the driver needs to call for help?" Well, they appear to have prepared for that by making the device activate when you take the key out (going into "driving mode") and having it stop messing with your cell phone when you put the key away (it sounds like it's one of those flippy things like on the fancy Volkswagen key fobs. You know, the ones where the metal part of the key flips out like a switchblade?).

It looks like you're still boned if you get into an accident and the key gets stuck in the ignition, though. In that case, you'd better pray that someone else sees you and goes to get help.

This is all well and good, but I wish they'd gone in a different direction. I'd do unspeakable things to get my hands on a device that could block the cell phones in other cars. Oh, what I wouldn't give to be able to stop those reckless jerks who almost get me killed while they yak on their cell phone...

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Thursday, January 8, 2009

Are Potatoes the New Brain Food?

They may not make you smart, but they will keep you from getting stupid... er. Your cognitive skills like attention, long- and short-term memory, spatial memory, and visual attention will all take a hit if you eliminate carbohydrates from your diet. That means that the bag of potato chips I ate this afternoon was brain food. The french toast I like to have on weekends? Absolutely vital for my spatial memory. (The gallons of syrup? Not so much.)

I'm not making it up. A Tufts University study tracked volunteers on low carbohydrate diets, and a separate set of subjects on balanced, low-calorie diets. The low carbohydrate test subjects did worse on memory-based tests. Luckily, it's not a permanent effect, and they returned back to normal as soon as carbohydrates were reintroduced.

The study only involved 19 test subjects, so it's not as though there's a massive body of data available. Still, I'm going to load up on twinkies, mashed potatoes, liquor and pie so that I'm ahead of the curve. I've got to keep my edge, after all!

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Wednesday, January 7, 2009

Slap Wraps as an Evolutionary Imperative

See also: acid-wash jeans, beanie babies, and those goddamn Wii Fits that are cropping up everywhere I look. They're all fads, but now Science offers the reason behind our societal obsession (and later abandonment) of the Latest Big Thing: we evolved that way.

The idea is that 1) We see something (a corporate logo). 2) We start to unconsciously associate that something with a "reward" (the product), but we see it infreqently and assume it is scarce. 3) That's when we work to actively acquire it and make it part of our lives. 4) The logo & product are suddenly everywhere, because everybody has one 4) and our unconscious mind decides that this product isn't worth working for, since it can be found so easily all over the place and decide that it must be worthless (Oh, how I wish my subconscious would skip to the part where it decides that a Wii is worthless!). And that, boys and girls, is the life cycle of a fad.

That's all well and good, but after announcing this theory, those maniacs at Rensselaer decide that marketers should use this information to find new ways of pushing things on us subconsciously. That's like announcing that bears should look into getting stainless steel claws. People, they have enough of an advantage already.

Then again, you shouldn't be suprised at the professor who recommended this. It's the same guy who wants to harvest your eyes for robots.

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Tuesday, January 6, 2009

Man was TOTALLY meant to play god.

Especially if he's a man from Belgium. Men from Ireland, not so much. And by "play god," I mean work with nanotechnology.

Wait, what? Yeah, apparently if you're trying to work with objects on an atomic level, you're playing god (which isn't that outrageous of a claim, I mean, c'mon, you're messing with the fabric of the universe itself). Like most other worthwhile and entertaining activities, you have to ask yourself, just because you CAN do it, does that mean that you SHOULD do it?

According to the University of Wisconsin-Madison, religious individuals do not believe that nanotechnology is morally acceptable. They studied the number of people that agreed or disagreed with the statement "nanotechnology is morally acceptable" and cross referenced it with the general level of religous belief in that country. In their fun and exciting graph:

they show that on average, as people identify themselves as less religious, they are more willing to find nanotechnology morally acceptable.

Are you right along that dashed red line (i.e., ultrareligious and nanotech-opposed, or atheistic and pro microbots)? Or are you an exception?

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Monday, January 5, 2009

Apples, Pears, Livers, and Fat

Had you heard about apple fat vs. pear fat? I first learned about it when I was leafing through a Cosmo a few years ago (What? Don't look at me like that. It was for valid research purposes). It was a very helpful article, with silhouettes superimposed over fruits and everything. It made me a better person.

Anyway, the idea was that people with big round apple-shaped beer guts are headed for trouble with all kinds of heart problems, while the people with big behinds and thick legs (making them look kind of pear-shaped) have less to worry about. It's not what fat you're carrying, it's where you carry it, was the idea. It turns out that the article was wrong. Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis says that the best way to tell if you are headed for trouble with insulin resistance, cholestoral problems, and the fast track to diabetes and heart disease is to check for excess fat in the liver ("nonalcoholic fatty liver disease").

So now it turns out I've got to worry about whether or not I have a chubby liver. I thought fretting about love handles was bad enough. I mean, what exercises can you do to tone up a liver?

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Sunday, January 4, 2009

Kick Unhappy Friends to the Curb

Also, the people at the center of social networks are happier.

UC San Diego and Harvard Medical School are publishing research in the British Medical Journal discussing happiness spreading through social networks. No, they're not involving sites like myspace, linkedin, or facebook because they're analyzing data collected from 1983 to 2003. Still, they tracked almost 5,000 people and their moods, determining that happy people keep happy friends, and an increased number of social contacts was associated with happier people.

Mind you, this is all self-reporting using statements like "I feel hopeful about the future" and "I felt that I was just as good as other people," so it's kind of cute that they're appling percentages to the amount of happiness that's being spread around, but I guess that's how science works.

The good news? Happiness is supposed to spread. The study cites a 15% increase in happiness if directly connected to a happy person, a 10% increase if connected to the friend of a happy person, and 6% if it's one step further out than that.

The bad news is that while having a happy friend gives you a 9% greater chance of being happy yourself, having an unhappy friend makes you 7% less likely to be happy.

So, what does this study mean for you? Is it important for you to keep up a good front, to seem happy so you keep your friends happy? Or is it time to trim the dead wood and get rid of unhappy friends who are dragging you down, while you go out to look for some happier people?

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Saturday, January 3, 2009

Making Night Shifts Suck More to Suck Less

I can't imagine what a pain in the ass it must be to make a living working the night shift. I had a friend who worked nights at the post office, unloading and sorting all the mail that came in on the trucks through the night, and he hated it. He said that even on his days off, he still couldn't feel like a normal person, because everyone he knew was operating on a completely different schedule.

So, Rush University Medical Center looked into night shift workers. They're trying to make sure that night shift employees are efficient. I guess that they're workin' for the Man, trying to squeeze every last drop of productivity out of the workers, but whatever.

The medical center is now claiming that people can offset some of the difficulties of adapting to night shift work, as long as you are strict about monitoring when you sleep and make sure to wear wicked dark sunglasses when outside in the daytime. It sounds like a hassle, but I guess that the trade off is that you're less likely to hate your job as much. Or, you still hate it as much but manage to work more efficiently.

The good news is that they're calling it a "compromise" adaptation, in that people aren't sleeping entirely through the daytime, they're just reducing the hours that they spend awake during the day. It still sounds like it kind of sucks, though. How high would the pay have to be before you considered a night shift job?

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Friday, January 2, 2009

Bloggers of Interest: Cromely and his World

I wanted to learn more about some of the people behind some of my favorite blogs, so I'm starting a series I call "Bloggers of Interest." Cromely of Cromely's World was kind enough to get the ball rolling by answering a few of my questions.

He's from Seattle and works in the tech industry. His blog has book reviews, Seattle politics, technology, business travel, TV, Star Trek, and the current state of of the world. It's a random collection of thoughts, rants, raves, and trivia, which is what makes it so much fun to read.

Does it really rain all that much in Seattle?

Yes and no. You could say we have two seasons—wet and not quite so wet but still pretty darn moist. Basically it's overcast for about 8 months out of the year and in a seemingly perpetual drizzle. So it's gray. A lot. You don't get all that green in the hills without an awful lot of gray. If you can handle the gray, Seattle is a great place.

Despite the gray, it's still a very outdoorsy kind of town. Not that I'm a particularly outdoorsy kind of person, but it's nice to have options. Generally, June through September is simply fantastic.

So, to answer the question: Sorta.

What about Seattle’s other two stereotypes, coffee shops and tech companies?

The gray makes Seattle ideal for writing and for the coffee renaissance of the past 15 years. Cool, drizzly weather makes people want warm beverages—which also explains the prevalence of Pho shops. Also, the coffee shop has always been a center of literary evolution throughout history (that spills over nicely into the blogging world, where the literary and the technological collide).

In any given (independent) coffee shop, after the morning rush, easily 70% of people will be using laptops to do whatever it is they are doing. In those 4 months of the year when the sun comes out—they're sill in there. But if they do come out, it's absolutely gorgeous.

I'm not sure why both Seattle and the San Jose area spawn so many tech companies. Aside from that they appear to have very little in common.

What got you into blogging?

About three years ago, I realized I hadn't written anything that wasn’t work related in more than 5 years. I decided that it wasn't healthy, and worried that I might be getting dumber about the world because those muscles weren't getting used.

Around that time, my friend Jon started his blog and I found myself leaving long comments there. After I spent half an hour commenting on the musical stylings of Weird Al, I knew I needed to get my own blog.

Weird Al is pretty awesome. It’s only through superhuman effort that I am able to restrain myself from writing a detailed literary analysis of his song, “Stuck in a Closet with Vanna White.” So what gets you excited? Are there some things you can't wait to write about?

A good William Shatner story will always get a fairly good writeup. Shatner-Palooza was one of my early themes. I'll comment on the stupid things I do if I think they might be entertaining. Unusual travel stories are also good, but I try to avoid the airline commentary that stand up comedians beat into the ground in early nineties (We’re looking at YOU, Jerry Seinfeld! -S!). I also rant about stupid or offensive things the government does, if no one else it ranting about them.

I try not be a “me too” blogger. There is so much other stuff to talk about. If I do talk about something that everyone else is talking about, I try to find an aspect of it that doesn't get nearly enough attention.

Other topics I get excited about include document management (getting rid of paper) technology in general, public speaking, the power of reading, personal finance and other topics. They don't always fit a post, but those topics become sort of meta-themes for what I do.

What aspects of blogging do you find most fulfilling?

I enjoy releasing my book reviews into the wild. They're lengthy and I know most people never read through them to the end, but I write them for people that are really interested in the books. I also write them so I remember what the book was about. It's easy to forget the details of even an awesome book two years down the road. The process of writing the reviews makes the books stick in my memory because of the effort involved, and it gives me something I can go back and review in the future.

I also enjoy the posts where I "write" instead of just post. I do the occasional piece where I focus on the creative writing side of it and really try to put the reader inside of it. Time and energy constraints don’t let me do that often, so when I can do it, I get a nice sense of accomplishment.

Is there anything you won’t blog about?

I don't write about anything I wouldn't want my mother to know. After all, she's one of my regular readers. About two years ago she even started her own blog.

I also won't write about my employer, my industry, or items relating directly to my job. I will write about my business trips and generic corporate things on occasion—it’s not that my whole work life is off limits—but not about my company.

Was it your choice to avoid job-specific subjects, or does your company have rules about blogging?

My employer doesn't have an employee bloging policy (that I know of), and I prefer not to be the reason they create one. Plus, I spend enough time writing about work during the work day. Cromely's World is my alternative to that.

On a related note, I don't blog under my IRL name. It's not really about guaranteeing anonymity, because there is really no such thing when someone can look up my real name with a bit of work. Rather, it's about discretion. It's about building a separate blogging world. It's about not associating my blog with my employer in the minds of my employer’s customers.

At this point, Cromely is almost a brand in its own right. It raises the interesting question of how I introduce myself when I actually meet bloggers or tweeters in meat space.

Credit card arbitrage is an unusual subject to tackle. What gave you the idea of writing about it?

I made several thousand dollars doing it for relatively little labor, and wanted to share the process. I've been a long time member of the Motley Fool and used to hang out on the credit card forums quite a bit. I lurked mainly, but posted when I had something to contribute. It was a helpful tool while I was getting my own financial life straightened away.

As I started to think about the topic, I realized it was more than one post. So I split it up into multiple posts that I could just publish during the Consumer Electronics Show (CES). I work at CES and have no energy by the time I get back to my hotel room. I wrote the arbitrage series several weeks before, spent just about 5 minutes on my blog each day during the show, and still provided (what I hope is) high quality, useful content. CES also gave birth to Star Trek Book Review Week last January, and Star Trek Book Review Week Part II this January.

Are we the only two people who think that the Lincoln MKS ads connecting their cars with space disasters were completely insane?

There are a few others, but sadly, most people don't even know the song anymore. And most people don't stop to think about these things. This is not a new phenomenon, though.

I remember hearing a story in the 80s about how one New Jersey town wanted to pay tribute to their town and Bruce Springsteen by naming "Born To Run" as their official song. They almost got to a vote before someone read the lyrics and realized it was about how they had to get out of the town because it was deathtrap.

In a similar vein, and awful lot of people think "Born in the USA" is a patriotic song, when really it's about how the Viet Nam–era military was filled with people whose alternative was jail, and when they came back from war their life sucked. Yet people still see it as a rally around the flag song.

I don't usually talk this much about Springsteen. I'm more of a Billy Joel fan.

Fun fact: Allentown, Pennsylvania bears very little resemblance to the town described in Billy Joel’s song. In fact, the tales of woe and steel mill closings are much more applicable to Allentown’s neighbor, Bethlehem.

What do you think the Blogosphere needs more of?

I suppose it could use more RSS conent and fewer blogrolls. The great thing about blogs is the ability to always have fresh content, and I'm not sure that static blogrolls are the best way to do that. Blogger’s Following tool is interesting and helps promote this shift. I've been using Feed Digest to accomplish the same thing in my side bar. Alan just launched an entire blog of RSS feeds.

What I find really interesting is that blogs were not originally designed to be a writing/publishing platform. They were intended to make it easy to highlight cool things on the web and provide brief commentary. The format evolved away from that.

Go back even further to the early nineties, and you encounter the early homepages on the web. When people first started creating homepages, it was more to organize daily links. Your home page would be where you started your web journey that day by clicking on your favorites. Eventually, home pages turned into individual platforms for self expression. Suddenly, they were intended to be seen by the general public and not just the creator. At the same time, the web portals (Excite, Yahoo!, etc.) started filling the traditional homepage role of organizing customer content, and they took over the Home button in the browser. Google broke that trend with its simplified search page.

What could it do without?

Fewer blogs about blogging. The meta level is interesting, but most of those blogs bring nothing new to the table. They post the same tips and slap a bunch of ads on them. The “Make Money Blog” genre has been done to death.

Blogs about blogs can be useful when they are specific. Some are specific to the Blogger platform, or specific to Wordpress hacks. Those kinds of things get beyond the basics and beyond the cliched hype you see a lot of places.

I guess my point is that even in an overexposed content area there is still room for a niche, but the author needs to be passionate about that niche.

The blogosphere could do without some pretension. I'm not sure that's what I mean here, but when I hear someone in real life say, "I'm a Blogger," I can't help but roll my eyes. Somehow it strikes me as too self-important. Maybe it's the self identification rather than saying, "I blog." I feel the same way when someone tells me they're an artist. If they tell me they're a painter or a sculptor or that they dance, or paint, or sculpt, it doesn't bother me. But claiming a label like Artist or Blogger just puts me off. (I realize I'm describing this reaction very poorly.)

The blogospere needs greater social acceptance in the non-blogging world, but that’s less likely to happen the more it seeks self acceptance. It's almost like the blogospere is a little yippy dog jumping up and down around the knees of journalists, writers and the non-tech world, saying, "See, I'm jsut like you! I'm cool! I'm cool!" The rest of the world scratches it behind the ears, smiles, and says, "Sure you are."

I'm not sure how to address that, but I do think that the harder you argue for legitimacy, they less likely you are to achieve it.

Where do you see yourself (and your blog) in 3 years?

I have very little idea. Most of my projects are on a six month time frame. At work that means involving more Web 2.0 technologies in what we do. IRL, it means interacting with more people who blog and Tweet in the Seattle area.

For my blog, I don't see a lot of change coming. I might transition over to Wordpress to take advantage of threaded comments. Right now, I think that's the only thing I'd like to do that I can't do with Blogger. It might be nice to transition to a three column template, but that's all little stuff.

My traffic is growing slowly, and of course I'd like to see it higher. But aside from the Powells affiliate program (through which I've made $0) I doubt I'll monetize. It just doesn't seem worth it given the time required and the results people see. Besides, I didn't get into this for money. It's about the writing.

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Anthropologists Check Out Ladybutts

At least, that's how they do it in Utah. Seriously. do you spend a lot of time worrying about a lady's waist-to-hip ratio? Because anthropologists in Utah do. But they're a little hung up on reality versus fantasy.

First, they state that men prefer a hip-to-waist ratio of 0.7 when selecting a mate (which "makes perfect sense, according to evolutionary psychologists"). Then they note that the average waist-to-hip ratio for women is higher than 0.8. Dedicated couch potato that I am, this is the part where I'd say "Men want what they can't have, end of story."

But the anthropologists at the University of Utah wouldn't let it rest there. Instead, they've released this study declaring that the larger-than-desired ratios are actually desired in some parts of the world. According to them, narrow waists and wide hips show a predominance of estrogen, making for more dependent women who need to be provided for. Wider waists are associated with an increased level of androgens, meaning that the women are more assertive, dominant, and willing to take initiative. Then they go on to say that in cultures that value submissive women (like Greece, Japan, and Portugal), men prefer their women to have narrow waists (and so they try to make themselves that way), but some cultures value women who can fend for themselves and their women are correspondingly wide of waist.

Honestly, does anyone really work that way? I mean, aside from sitcoms where the guy's mother makes some crack about his girlfriend's "child-bearing hips," are there people out there who are evaluating the waist-to-hip ratio of women and basing their decision to get involved in a relationship with them solely on that information?

In completely unrelated news, check back this afternoon! I'm rolling out an entirely new series for this site, and I'm very excited about it. The first installment goes up later today.

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Thursday, January 1, 2009

Proof that Phoning and Driving Will Kill You

Look, I think that talking on a cell phone while driving will not only kill you, it will kill other drivers around you as well. And I'm not talking the slow death-by-cancerous-tumor business that has people scared enough to use those devices where they clip the phones to their belts and talk into headsets designed to look ridiculous. I'm talking the fast, violent death that results from car crashes.

And science has proven me right. Talking on a cell phone while driving is more dangerous than talking with a passenger because the passenger can see what's happening around the car and will adjust the pace of the conversation so as not to distract the driver during intense situations. Inconsiderate jerks on the other end of the cell phone won't stop yapping no matter how many times the driver has to change lanes while boxed in by a sixteen wheeler.

If you're a hitman trying to off someone, consider a cell phone. Call them when they're driving. Ask them how their day went. Keep them talking, and ignore any traffic conditions your target might be dealing with. They'll get into an accident eventually. Trust me.

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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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