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