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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