Monday, January 30, 2006

Meanwhile, in Montrose . . .

Brian
It rained, and then it got really cold, and the wet ground froze.

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Saturday, January 28, 2006

Sasq-Watch: Bigfoot Wants Chemical Weapons

Brian
A security guard saw someone breaking into the chemical weapons depot compound at Pine Bluff, Arkansas, only the someone he saw may not have been human:
"There's no doubt in my mind that the officer saw something, but it wasn't human," Col. Brian S. Lindamood said. "At this time I have no idea what it could be."

Lindamood said the officer was patrolling inside a 500-acre secure section of the arsenal where chemical weapons, including nerve agents, are stored.

"He reported that he saw three individuals on foot inside the (secure area) and when he approached in his vehicle they ran into the woods," he said.
Link. Cryptomundo's Craig Woolheater thinks it must have been bigfoot. But what would bigfoot want with chemical weapons? And what would he be using it for in Malaysia (submitted by Mars)? Trouble is afoot.

Previously on Sasq-Watch . . .

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Matching Sight and Sound in Owl's Brains Could Treat ADHD

Brian
Scientific American reports that owl's brains are specially structured to match sights to sounds and home in on targets:
Neurologists Daniel Winkowski and Eric Knudsen of Stanford University wired 12 owls with electrodes in the areas of their brains that process either visual or auditory input. Each region literally maps the world of sound or sight, determining whether it comes from up or down, left or right. Sending a small electrical charge into the owl's visual brain region--the so-called arcopallial gaze fields--caused it to move its head and eyes in a particular direction. When a simultaneous audio stimulus matched that direction, the owl's brain responded more strongly to that noise. It also blocked out competing noises from other directions.
Link. The idea is that this might have implications for the treatment of attentionU+2014hey, what's that over there?

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Little Tiny Fish Live in Acid

Brian

The world's smallest vertebrate, a species of carp called Paedocypris progenetica, shown here at a hundred times actual size, lives in an environment about as acidic as lemon juice:
The tiny, see-through Paedocypris fish have the appearance of larvae and have a reduced head skeleton, which leaves the brain unprotected by bone.

They live in dark tea-coloured waters with an acidity of pH3, which is at least 100 times more acidic than rainwater.

'This is one of the strangest fish that I've seen in my whole career', said Ralf Britz, zoologist at the Natural History Museum.

Link (via BoingBoing). Its brain is still larger than Pat Robertson's. And, with its brain unprotected by bone, it has something else Pat lacks: an open mind.

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Thursday, January 26, 2006

Random Movie Quote Thursday

Brian
Coke.
You see, we drink it.
It's a—it's a drink.
You know, food.
These are toys;
these are little men.
This is Greedo,
and then this is Hammerhead,
see this is Walrus Man,
and this is Snaggletooth,
and this is Lando Calrissian.
See, and look,
they can even have wars.
Look at this.
Look fish.
Fish eat the fish food,
and the shark eats the fish,
and nobody eats the shark.
See, this is PEZ,
candy.
See you eat it.
You put the candy in here,
and then, when you lift up the head,
the candy comes out and you can eat it.
You want some?
This is a peanut.
You eat it,
but you can't eat this one,
'cause this is fake.
This is money.
You see.
You put the money in the peanut.
You see?
It's a bank.
See?
And then,
this is a car.
This is what we get around in.
You see?
Car.
Hey, hey wait a second.
No.
You don't eat 'em.
Are you hungry?
I'm hungry.
Stay. Stay.
I'll be right here.
Okay?
I'll be right here.

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Cat Poo Parasite Makes Women Charming, Men Jerks, Babies Schizophrenic

Brian
BoingBoing has the story on toxoplasma, which alters moods in both rats and humans:
The Toxoplasma . . . protist is shed in cat feces, which are eaten by rats; infected rats become fearless in the presence of cats, which makes them easier to catch, which, in turn spreads the disease to new cats.
Link. Recent studies have shown that men and women who ingest toxoplasma end up at opposite ends of the niceness scale:
Parasitologist Jaroslav Flegr of Charles University in Prague administered psychological questionnaires to people infected with Toxoplasma and controls. Those infected, he found, show a small, but statistically significant, tendency to be more self-reproaching and insecure. Paradoxically, infected women, on average, tend to be more outgoing and warmhearted than controls, while infected men tend to be more jealous and suspicious.

It's controversial work, disputed by many. But it attracted the attention of E. Fuller Torrey of the Stanley Medical Research Institute in Bethesda, Maryland. Torrey and his colleagues had noticed some intriguing links between Toxoplasma and schizophrenia. Infection with the parasite has been associated with damage to a certain class of neurons (astrocytes). So has schizophrenia. Pregnant women with high levels of Toxoplasma antibodies in their blood were more likely to give birth to children who would later develop schizophrenia.
Link. Yet another reason to fear pumas.

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Wednesday, January 25, 2006

Boom

Brian
Now that's how you come back from a week with no posts.
Via BoingBoing.

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Image credits: Chu's Sweet Sixteen, courtesy Home of Grand Champions, borrowed for news-reporting and comment purposes.

Wednesday, January 18, 2006

Michiko Kakutani?

Brian
From Overheard in New York:

Nancy Bass: I'm pleased to welcome David Foster Wallace to our store. Recently, in the New York Times, renowned reviewer Ma...cocoa... Kaku...chooni...?

Thereupon David Foster Wallace gave the thumbs up.

--The Strand

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Dogs Can Smell Cancer, but Not Bombs on Subways

Brian
Mrs. GR and I have been talking about purchasing The Official Dog of SuedO Apmuza, and I wish to change my preference (previously presa canario) to any dog capable of telling me if I develop cancer:
In the small world of people who train dogs to sniff cancer, a little-known Northern California clinic has made a big claim: that it has trained five dogs - three Labradors and two Portuguese water dogs - to detect lung cancer in the breath of cancer sufferers with 99 percent accuracy.

. . . .

In [research director Michael] McCulloch's study, the five dogs, borrowed from owners and Guide Dogs for the Blind, were trained as if detecting bombs. They repeatedly heard a clicker and got a treat when they found a desired odor in many identical smelling spots.

The clinic collected breath samples in plastic tubes filled with polypropylene wool from 55 people just after biopsies found lung cancer and from 31 patients with breast cancer, as well as from 83 healthy volunteers.

The tubes were numbered, and then placed in plastic boxes and presented to the dogs, five at a time. If the dog smelled cancer, it was supposed to sit.

For breath from lung cancer patients, Mr. McCulloch reported, the dogs correctly sat 564 times and incorrectly 10 times. (By adjusting for other factors, the researchers determined the accuracy rate at 99 percent.)

For the breath from healthy patients, they sat 4 times and did not sit 708 times.
Link (submitted by Ian). While dogs may be great at telling you whether you have cancer, they're not as excellent as we think at telling you whether you are about to explode:
The London bombings last summer highlighted the vulnerability of mass transit to terror attacks, and scientists are pushing to develop new gadgets to detect explosives and other hazards. But as some of these technologies come up short or prove tricky to implement, some law-enforcement agents have begun to speak wistfully about the olfactory prowess of man's best friend. As sensitive as the canine nose may be, however, dogs are not well-suited to the challenges of mass transit. It's just not where they do their best work.

Dogs are acclaimed for detecting minuscule amounts of myriad compounds. Their noses are 100 times to 10,000 times more sensitive than human noses, depending on the scent. And they can identify particular odors within a complex mixture—which should be useful for detecting explosives, since many are a potpourri of scents. (There are around 19,000 known smells associated with explosives, grouped into chemical categories of nitrate compounds and acid salts, as well as chlorates, peroxides, acids, and others.) Dogs can also home in on target scents, even when other strong smells are present. Well-trained canines have proved valuable in searching for narcotics and explosives in airport luggage, sniffing out land mines in places like Afghanistan, and ensuring that there are not bombs behind the wall panels in rooms where high-level meetings are to take place. A California clinic now claims it has trained three Labradors and two Portuguese water dogs to detect lung cancer in the breath of patients. Dogs' accuracy is the stuff of legend, which is why, in urban police departments, dogs are considered strong deterrents to would-be criminals.

. . . .

For one thing, dogs work best in quiet places that have been cleared of people other than their handlers. In airports, they are best at sniffing luggage in secluded baggage areas. Canine performance has also been shown to "fall off exponentially," the bomb expert said, because of distractions like gusts of air, noise, food, and people—all realities, of course, of mass transit. Bomb-sniffing is also exhausting work—a kind of sensory sprint—that dogs can't sustain for more than 20 or 30 minutes out of every couple of hours. And as they move through an area, dogs need constant reassurance and reward; if they aren't talked to, given an explosive to find now and then, and allowed to run back and forth, they may lose interest in the game. The explosives and the scampering would be hard to offer in the subway.

. . . .

In addition, dogs probably can't be trained to detect the kind of explosives many experts increasingly worry about. Peroxide-based substances like TATP—used by shoe bomber Richard Reid and some recent terrorists in Israel—are unusually unstable—prone to blow up or otherwise react in air. That makes it difficult, if not impossible, to train dogs to recognize their scent, because to do so requires repeated reinforcement and practice, and that would be dangerous for the canines and their handlers.
Link. So, all things considered, I'd rather have a cancerdog. Or a helper monkey.

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A Quiet Moment with Steven Wright

Brian





"I finally got around to reading the dictionary. Turns out the zebra did it."








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Monday, January 16, 2006

Westerville, Ohio: This Bud's for You

Brian
"I consider myself the luckiest man on the face of the earth," first baseman Lou Gehrig said at Yankee Stadium as he announced his retirement and the end of his consecutive game streak due to illness.


"Does segregation of children in public schools solely on the basis of race . . . deprive the children of the minority group of equal educational opportunities? We believe that it does," Chief Justice Earl Warren said, ruling school segregation unconstitutional.


"That's one small step for man, one giant leap for mankind," astronaut Neil Armstong said as he took the first step on the surface of the moon.


"Here's to a new tradition in Westerville," local jeweler Bill Morgan said as he raised his plastic cup of Budweiser at Michael's Pizza.
Link (submitted by Mars).

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Iran Bans Western Music; Kenny G Goes Underground

Brian
Iran banned Western music from its airwaves last month:
Hard-line President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad has banned Western music from Iran's radio and TV stations, reviving one of the harshest cultural decrees from the early days of the 1979 Islamic Revolution.

Songs such as George Michael's "Careless Whisper," Eric Clapton's "Rush" and the Eagles' "Hotel California" have regularly accompanied Iranian broadcasts, as do tunes by saxophonist Kenny G.
Link. Philadelphia Will Do thinks this might be a pretty good idea. We think this'll only increase Kenny G's cult status as an edgy, antiestablishment icon among Persian college kids looking to stick it to the man.

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Meanwhile, in Montrose . . .

Brian
Ira Reynolds turns 104 and receives an award from the freemasons for being built so soundly.

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Sunday, January 15, 2006

Taiwan Creates Glow-in-the-Dark Pigs Just for Kicks

Brian

When you're doing your lunar new year shopping, what do you buy the Taiwanese scientist who has everything? How about a pig that glows because of implanted jellyfish genes?
The scientists, from National Taiwan University's Department of Animal Science and Technology, say that although the pigs glow, they are otherwise no different from any others.

Taiwan is not claiming a world first. Others have bred partially fluorescent pigs before; but the researchers insist the three pigs they have produced are better.

They are the only ones that are green from the inside out. Even their heart and internal organs are green, the researchers say.
Link (submitted by Mars) (emphasis added). We at the Good Reverend think this is a great idea. How many times have you been late because you misplaced your pig spleen? Now it will be easy to spot. As for the gift idea, you might be better off waiting until 2007.

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Image credits: "What a boar," AP photo courtesy the Age, borrowed for news-reporting and comment purposes.

Did You Know . . .

Brian

. . . this book has nothing to do with me?

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Friday, January 13, 2006

Ashkenazi Jews Can Trace Their Genes to Four Ancient Women

Brian
Last month's year-end Economist explored the evolution of the human race and cited the identification of a source mother for living humans:
Whichever way you drew the tree (statistics not being an exact science, there was more than one solution), its root was in Africa. Homo sapiens was thus unveiled as an African species. But Dr Cann went further. Using estimates of how often mutations appear in mitochondrial DNA (the so-called molecular clock), she and Wilson did some matridendrochronology. The result suggests that all the lines converge on the ovaries of a single woman who lived some 150,000 years ago.

There was much excited reporting at the time about the discovery and dating of this African “Eve”. She was not, to be clear, the first female Homo sapiens. Fossil evidence suggests the species is at least 200,000 years old, and may be older than that. And you can now do a similar trick for the patriline using part of the male (Y) chromosome in the cell nucleus, because this passes only from father to son. Unfortunately for romantics, the most recent common ancestor of the Y-chromosome is a lot more recent than its mitochondrial equivalent. African Adam was born 60,000-90,000 years ago, and so could not have met African Eve. Nevertheless, these two pieces of DNA as they have weaved their ways down the generations have filled in, in surprising detail, the highways and byways of human migration across the face of the planet.
Link. The issue also discussed some of the recent genetic evidence linking intelligence, neurological disorders, and Ashkenazi Jews:
Until a century or two ago, the Ashkenazim—the Jews of Europe—were often restricted by local laws to professions such as banking, which happened to require high intelligence. This is the sort of culturally created pressure that might drive one of Dr Deacon's feedback loops for mental abilities (though it must be said that Dr Deacon himself is sceptical about this example). Dr Cochran, however, suspects that this is exactly what happened. He thinks the changes in the brain brought about by the genes in question will be shown to enhance intelligence when only one copy of a given disease gene is present (you generally need two copies, one from each parent, to suffer the adverse symptoms). Indeed, in the case of Gaucher's disease, which is not necessarily lethal, there is evidence that sufferers are more intelligent than average. If Ashkenazi Jews need to be more intelligent than others, such genes will spread, even if they sometimes cause disease.
Link. Now even more recent research finds the Ashkenazim's own Eve, or rather Eves:
Some 3.5 million of today's Ashkenazi Jews—about 40 percent of the total Ashkenazi population—are descended from just four women, a genetic study indicates.

Those women apparently lived somewhere in Europe within the last 2,000 years, but not necessarily in the same place or even the same century, said lead author Dr. Doron Behar of the Rambam Medical Center in Haifa, Israel.

He did the work with Karl Skorecki of the Technion-Israel Institute of Technology and others.

Each woman left a genetic signature that shows up in their descendants today, he and colleagues say in a report published online by the American Journal of Human Genetics. Together, their four signatures appear in about 40 percent of Ashkenazi Jews, while being virtually absent in non-Jews and found only rarely in Jews of non-Ashkenazi origin, the researchers said.
Link. When you think of all our genetic commonalities, and how all these people you hang out with, work with, and date are essentially your own not-so-distant cousins, doesn't it make you feel like a Jeff Foxworthy joke waiting to happen?

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Wednesday, January 11, 2006

Sharon Hospitalized; Israeli Crime Rate Plummets

Brian
Some are asserting that, ever since Ariel Sharon was admitted to the hospital with a massive stroke, incidence of crime in Israel has declined by as much as 50%, but I just don't want to believe the prime minister could really have been behind all those burglaries.

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The Return of Atlatl?

Brian

A few months ago we brought you the story of the Pennsylvania Atlatl Society's pursuit of legality for their weapon of choice. Now it appears that movement is doomed:

The Pennsylvania Game Commission staff has recommended that, at the Jan. 22-24 meeting, its board not allow hunting with the device, known as an atlatl, and its "dart."

Hunting by atlatl would result in too many maimed deer stumbling through the woods to slow deaths, the staff suggested.

The recommendation, released by the commission yesterday, warned that "the staff is not convinced" that an atlatl, "in the hands of the average hunter, possesses sufficient lethality to ethically and humanely harvest a deer in Pennsylvania."

Link. Ah, well. Trebuchet it is.


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Image credits: Copyright Ken M. Brown, 1986, available at The Graham-Applegate Rancheria, Texas Beyond History, borrowed for news reporting and comment purposes.

Everyone Knows an Ant Can't Teach a Food Source to Another Ant . . . But He's Got High Hopes

Brian
Can animals other than human beings intentionally teach lessons to their own kind? Bristol University researchers think yes, ants can:
The ants studied over two years by scientists from Bristol University used a technique known as tandem running -- one ant led another ant from the nest to a food source.

It was a genuine case of teaching as ant leaders observed by Professor Nigel Franks and Tom Richardson slowed down if the follower got too far behind. If the gap got smaller, they then speeded up.

. . . .

Information then flows through the ant colony when followers are promoted to leaders and the teaching process starts all over again.

"Teaching isn't merely mimicry. It involves the teacher modifying its behavior in the presence of a naive observer at some initial cost to itself," said Franks, who reported the findings in the journal Nature.

"We think real teaching involves a lot of feedback. This is to our knowledge the first example of formal teaching in non-human animals," he told Reuters.

Link. We at The Good Reverend are thinking of starting a worthwhile program where the best and brightest young ants just out of the pupal stage can dedicate one or two weeks of their life to teaching less fortunate ants where the picnic basket is. I'm just wondering what to call it.




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Tuesday, January 10, 2006

Garfield Randomized

Brian

If Jim Davis ever gets tired of producing new Garfield strips, he could follow this webpage's example and create new work by randomizing previously used cells. Link (via BoingBoing). Of course, he could try something new:
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Monday, January 09, 2006

Sasq-Watch

Brian
Bigfoot's been busy recently on the Asian leg of his world tour. First, in Malaysia, there's the report of a creature killed by hunters whose body was removed by loggers—or the government?!—before researchers could arive:
Amlir [Ayat], a former World Wildlife Fund officer, said villagers in Kuala Tahan had told him they were looking for jungle produce when they came into contact with a huge black and hairy creature which they claimed was over three metres tall.

"One of them fired a shot from his shotgun. When it started to charge at them, they fired again. . . ."

. . . .

Amlir said although he was only told of the shooting a year later, he managed to locate the villagers and mount a search for the remains.

"By then, loggers had moved into the site and cleared the grounds. The evidence was gone," he lamented.
Link (via Cryptomundo). But mere shotgun blasts and a year of decomposition can't stop Bigfoot! He next travels to India, where he leaves huge footprints near an apparent shelter:
Was there an Indian Bigfoot? Yes, insists a team of amateur anthropologists led by S R Krishnaswamy. "We found four footprints of Bigfoot. In one, the footprint of the adult male measures 29 inches and the female size is 26 inches.

Even the young one's foot size is 8.5 inches," said Krishnaswamy on Monday. Going by the size of the footmarks, the anthropologists say Indian Bigfoot would have been far bigger than his Australian and Malaysian counterparts, estimated to be about 8 feet tall and weighing a hefty 350 kg.
Link (also via Cryptomundo).

Previously on Sasq-Watch . . .

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Is Mexican Mannequin Really a Bona Fide Body?

Brian

Folk tales mixing religion with gruesome reality are prevalent along the Mexican-American frontier, but the legend of Pascualita, a realistic mannequin–cum–embalmed corpse on display in a shop window in the Chihuahuan capital, is perhaps the bizarrest of all:
Dressed in a spring-season bridal gown, the figure immediately gripped the attention of passers by with its disquieting, wide-set glass eyes, real hair and blushing skin tones.

. . . .

Rapt locals soon began to notice a striking resemblance to the shop's then owner, Pascuala Esparza. A rumor quickly spread that the figure was not a dummy, but her daughter who, it was said, died from the bite of a Black Widow spider on her wedding day.

. . . .

Down the years, the tale has been embellished with claims of supernatural happenings, including visits by a love-sick French magician who is said to bring the dummy magically to life at night, and take her out on the town.

Others say that her gaze follows them around the store, or that she shifts positions at night in the darkened shop window to the surprise of passers by.
Link. I think this is actually a decent idea. When I die, I plan to be stuffed and mounted in a fierce, bear-like attacking position so that I can spend eternity in the living rooms of the houses of my descendants.

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Image credits: "A Mexican peers through a shop window" by Luis Reyes, courtesy Reuters, borrowed for news-reporting and comment purposes.

Meanwhile, in Montrose . . .

Brian
Carl Hibbard, longtime unsung hero of the Progressive Agriculture Organization for dairy farmers, is finally sung.

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Friday, January 06, 2006

Cage's Longest Concert Just Hit Second Chord

Brian
John Cage, the American experimental composer behind such surreal pieces as 4'33", which consisted of a pianist sitting down at a piano and sitting in silence for four minutes and thirty-three seconds without playing a note, is, despite Woody Allen's preference, achieving immortality through his work. An organ performance of his organ2/ASLSP (or "As SLow aS Possible") began September 5, 2001 at an abandoned church in Germany and will conclude in another 635 years, give or take:
The first year and half of the performance was total silence, with the first chord -- G-sharp, B and G-sharp -- not sounding until February 2, 2003.

Then in July 2004, two additional Es, an octave apart, were sounded and are scheduled to be released later this year on May 5.

But at 5:00 pm (1600 GMT) on Thursday, the first chord was due to progress to a second -- comprising A, C and F-sharp -- and is to be held down over the next few years by weights on an organ being built especially for the project.
Link (via Fortean Times). Can you imagine how many psychotropic substances are being passed around the general admission lawn seats at this concert during its run?

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Thursday, January 05, 2006

Random Movie Quote Thursday

Brian
O pointy birds!
O pointy, pointy.
Annoint my head.
Annointy-nointy.

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More Annoyances

Brian
Ian Urbina, author of Life's Little Annoyances, which features a story about a defiant young man who attempts to thwart parking authorities everywhere, or at least somewhere, has a blog (submitted by Richard Rhorer).

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Back in Business

Brian
Christmas vacation is over, and I'm about to get taken to a dreamworld of magic.

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