Thursday, March 30, 2006

Indiana Finally to Spring Forward for DST; All Hell to Break Loose

Brian
Indiana has for years been a rebel—while the rest of the country has dutifully turned the hour hand on its clocks and watches thirty degrees every April and October, most of Indiana has stayed put, stubborn in its rejection of casual manipulation of time. This year, for the first time, Indiana gives in to peer pressure and adjusts for Daylight Savings Time—and the results will be earth-shattering:
"This is like Y2K except this one is really happening," said university IT spokesman Steve Tally. Currently, most Indiana computer users set their PCs to a special "Indiana East" setting -- Eastern time that doesn't spring forward every April. Starting this April, however, they'll change their PCs to Eastern Daylight Time. The few who observe Central time set their computers to Central, and will also make the switch. Tally predicts the changeover will create havoc with the widely used Microsoft Outlook calendar application. When the time changes, he said, appointments will still be listed according to the old Indiana East time.
Link (via Fark). Perhaps, when Indiana falls out the middle of the country, it will open up an opportunity for Arizona to experiment with altering time. Let's just hope the people of the eerie state don't get thrown out with the garbage.

Indexed by tags science, politics, time, Daylight Savings Time, Indiana, computers, Y2K.
Image credits: Still from Eerie, Indiana, courtesy P2PTV, borrowed for news-reporting and comment purposes.

Blow Loads of Money on Cipher Machines or Rims?

Brian
So I was walking down the street today when I spotted $19,000 just sitting there on the sidewalk. Should I use it to purchase this WWII Enigma machine on eBay? I mean, after all, it's "ORIGINAL!!! KEIN NACHBAU!!! VOLL FUNKTIONSTÜCHTIG!!!!" Or maybe I should buy some of these (submitted by zwyatt):

Indexed by tags shopping, Enigma, machine, cipher, code, WWII, eBay, Picture Rims, Pimpstar, rims.

Woman Has a Dry Ledger for a Memory

Brian
"AJ" has a ridiculously encyclopedic memory. Give her a date in her lifetime and she'll tell you the day of the week, personal details of her life, and major news events that happened on that day:
[Memory researcher James] McGaugh has spent decades studying how such things as stress hormones and emotions affect memory, and at first he thought AJ's memories were of such emotional power that she couldn't forget them.

But that hypothesis fell short of the mark when it became obvious that "the woman who can't forget" remembers trivial details as clearly as major events. Asked what happened on Aug 16, 1977, she knew that Elvis Presley had died, but she also knew that a California tax initiative passed on June 6 of the following year, and a plane crashed in Chicago on May 25 of the next year, and so forth. Some may have had a personal meaning for her, but some did not.

. . . .

"I wasn't sure she would know [who Bing Crosby was], because she's 40 and wasn't of the Bing Crosby era," he says.

But she did.

"Do you know where he died?" McGaugh asked.

"Oh yes, he died on a golf course in Spain," she answered, and provided the day of the week and the date when the crooner died.

When the researchers asked her to list the dates when they had interviewed her, she "just reeled them off, bang, bang, bang."

Link (via Fortean Times). This trick is indeed pretty amazing, but I don't think it would make for very interesting conversation. In fact, AJ might need a boredom detector.

Indexed by tags science, memory, woman, dates, AJ, James McGaugh, boredom detector.

Random Movie Quote Thursday

Brian
I'd known her for years.
We used to go to all the police functions together.
Ah, how I loved her.
But she had her music.
I think she had her music.
She'd hang out with the Chicago Male Chorus and Symphony.
I don't recall her playing an instrument or be able to carry a tune.
Yet she was on the road three hundred days of the year.
In fact I bought her a harp for christmas.
She asked me what it was.

Indexed by tags movies, quotes.

Dog, Reanimated

Brian
The Proceedings of the Athanasius Kircher Society points to a 1940 Soviet film about reanimating dead dogs [49 megs]. It's trippy, and certainly not for anyone who feels overwhelming negative sensations when looking at videos of reanimated dead dogs. WFMU's Beware of the Blog expounds on its reality or hoaxitude:
First, download and watch the movie, since the puzzle starts there. At first glance, Experiments in the Revival of Organisms comes off as a piece of World War Two era Soviet propaganda. The arteries and blood vessels leading in and out of the dog-head aren't made visible to the viewer, and the narration that accompanies the film (by the pro-Communist British Biologist J.B.S. Haldane) leaves much to be desired in terms of medical accuracy, so dumbed down was his description of the experiment. The film supposedly documents experiments performed by Dr. S.S. Bryukhonenko at the Institute of Experimental Physiology and Therapy in the U.S.S.R. It was premiered in November, 1943, when the National Council of American-Soviet Friendship and the American-Soviet Medical Society showed it to a thousand American scientists in New York City. Here are articles of that 1943 showing from The New York Times (download pdf file) and Time Magazine.
Link. Poor Ling Ling.

Indexed by tags science, history, biology, dog, head, Soviet, 1940, reanimation, film, dead.

Wednesday, March 29, 2006

Housefly Gets Laser Cut Glasses

The Grave Digger


The above image was an entry into a science photography competition: a a fly sporting a set of "designer" lenses crafted and set in place with a cutting-edge laser technique. The glasses fit snuggly on the fly's 0.08-inch-wide (2-millimeter-wide) head.
Manufacturing firm Micreon GmbH submitted the insect's picture for the Bilder der Forschung (Photos of Science) 2005 competition. Selected images were on display last week in a Munich shopping center.

[...]

Micreon, based in Hannover, Germany created the fly's eyewear using ultrafast laser micro-machining. The firm notes on its Web site that the process can create objects with high precision at scales of less than a thousandth of a millimeter.

Link. Listen, yuppies can put sweaters on their dogs, Paris Hilton can put diamonds on Tinkerbell, but this is going too far. Or is it?

Image credits: A fly wearing glasses, courtesy National Geographic, borrowed for news-reporting and comment purposes.

Tuesday, March 28, 2006

New Human Skull Found In Afar, Ethiopia

The Grave Digger


Paleoanthropologists and other field scientists at Gawis (pronounced "gow-wees"), in the Gona Paleoanthropological Research Project study area of Ethiopia, have discovered a "significantly complete cranium" of a human ancestor estimated to be Middle Pleistocene (~780 to 126 thousand years ago, or kya) in age.

The discovery was reported by Sileshi Semaw, Director of the Gona Project, who is based at the Stone Age Institute and Indiana University's CRAFT Research Center, USA.
The new cranium from Gawis appears to be intermediate between the earlier Homo erectus and later Homo sapiens and may be sampling a single lineage. At the discovery site and nearby areas, significant archaeological collections of Late Acheulian (ed.: up to 100 kya) stone tool-making tradition and numerous fossil animals were found, opening a window into an intriguing and important period in the development of modern humans.
Link (via Panda's Thumb). The southwest portion of the project area near the Gawis River contains many active and recently active volcanoes that erupted periodically. Volcanic ash layers will hold the key to dating the Gawis cranium and associated stone tools, using the 40Ar/39Ar method among others, providing the opportunity to make this "one of the best-dated human ancestors," according to project geologist Jay Quade.

The Gawis cranium comes from a time of transition to modern humans from African Homo erectus that is poorly known. The fossil record from Africa for this period is sparse and most of the specimens are poorly dated. The few fossil crania that are known from the Middle Pleistocene of Africa present a narrow view of the range of potential anatomical variation during this period. The Gawis cranium provides us with the opportunity to look at the face of one of our ancestors.

According to the press release, the face and cranium of this fossil are recognizably different from that of modern humans, but the anatomical evidence clearly indicates that it belongs to our ancestry. The form of the face and the brain are among the best means for exploring the evolutionary path of humans and the Gawis cranium preserves both areas. The Gona team is currently working to determine the age of the cranium and associated archaeology (Acheulian handaxes as well as various other animal bone), and to understand its evolutionary relationships with others known during the Pleistocene.


Image credits: Sileshi Semaw, HO, courtesyAP/Stone Age Institute/Panda's Thumb, borrowed for news-reporting and comment purposes.

Grow Your Own Meat without the Animal

Brian
The Globe and Mail asks, why raise animals with all their nasty parts and complications when you could just grow pure edible meat:
Scientists can grow frog and mouse meat in the lab, and are now working on pork, beef and chicken. Their goal is to develop an industrial version of the process in five years.

If they succeed, cultured or in vitro meat could be coming to a supermarket near you. Consumers could buy hamburger patties and chicken nuggets made from meat cultivated from muscle cells in a giant incubator rather than cut from a farm animal.

Home chefs could make meat in a countertop device the size of a coffee maker. Before bed, throw starter cells and a package of growth medium into the meat maker and wake up to harvest fresh sausage for breakfast.
Link (via Fark). This could be the biggest thing since spaghetti farming.

Indexed by tags food and drink, science, nature, biology, meat, grow, home, lab, in vitro.

Monday, March 27, 2006

Meanwhile, in Montrose . . .

Brian
"Heat the Seat" is not as risque as it sounds.

Indexed by tag Montrose.

Saturday, March 25, 2006

Left-oriented Snails Don't Get Eaten

Brian
Darryl Strawberry: You're pinch-hitting for me?

Mr. Burns: Yes, you see you're a left-hander and so is the pitcher. If I send up a right-handed batter it's called playing the percentages. It's what smart managers do to win ballgames.

Darryl Strawberry: But I hit nine home runs today.

Mr. Burns: You should be very proud of yourself. Sit down.

Even Mr. Burns knows that left-handed pitchers are better against lefty batters, and righties against righties. What Yale University researchers found is that the same is true in the animal kingdom: right-handed crabs are much better at eating snails with right-oriented shells, and fail when encountering sinister snails*:
Scientists from the US examined whelks and cone shells preyed on by the crab Calappa flammea.

They found the crab is unable to open left-handed shells because it only has a tool for peeling them on its right claw; so it discards them.

"The crabs have a special tool on their claw, a tooth that's used like a can-opener," said Gregory Dietl from Yale University.

"So, if you imagine trying to use a right-handed can-opener with your left hand - it's very hard to do," he told the BBC News website.
Link. Left-handed snails may have an evolutionary advantage, but lefties still have it rough among the human population. While the motor instructions coming from the right side of their brain don't make them any more artistic than their dextrous counterparts, they might have an advantage in battle:
While a righty fought with a sword in his right hand and a shield in his left, a left-handed swordsman could make strong surprise attack on the opponent's unprotected right side. Recall Rocky Balboa's last-minute switch to his southpaw.
Link. But unlike the shells of snails, people can sometimes have it both ways:
Most scientists agree that handedness exists on a continuum. The idea helps explain why some people bowl with their left but hold a spoon in their right. Truly ambidextrous people, who have indifferent preference for either hand, are extremely rare.
I'd give my right arm to be ambidextrous.

* "Sinister Snails" would make a great band name.
Indexed by tags science, nature, biology, zoology, crabs, snails, left-handed, right-handed, Calappa flammea, Darryl Strawberry, Mr. Burns, pitchers, batters, ambidextrous, Rocky Balboa.
Image credits:
Reflections of Nature, courtesy BBC News, borrowed for news-reporting and comment purposes.

Friday, March 24, 2006

Chewing Gum Can Enhance Breasts

The Grave Digger
Japanese women are excited about a chewing gum which the makers say can help enhance the size, shape and tone of the breasts. The gum, which comes in rose flavor, has proved so popular that there are plans to start selling it in convenience stores.

B2Up says its Bust-Up gum, when chewed three or four times a day, can also help improve circulation, reduce stress and fight ageing.

The gum works by slowly releasing compounds contained in an extract from a plant called Pueraria mirifica.

In theory, this helps to keep the muscle tissue in good order.

Pueraria mirifica, also known as Kwao Krua, is found in Thailand and Burma. Indigenous hill tribe people have long used this plant as a traditional medicine.

The plant's underground tubers contain a number of chemicals called phytoestrogens - natural compounds which mimic the effects of the female sex hormone estrogen.

These include miroestrol and deoxymiroestrol, which are believed to exert a particularly strong effect, as they are very close in chemical structure to estradiol, the main human estrogen.

B2Up says that it is the effect of these two chemicals, coupled with a third phytoestrogen isoflavone, which makes its gum so effective.

Link. Tests carried out by Thailand's Chulalongkorn University found Pueraria mirifica could enhance breast size by 80%. Further tests executed in England found the plant had a beneficial effect on the skin and hair, as well as the breasts.

Claire Williamson, of the British Nutrition Foundation, is somewhat skeptical. While research had suggested phytoestrogens may be beneficial in post-menopausal women in terms of reducing menopausal symptoms, and may also have beneficial effects on risk factors for heart disease, osteoporosis and breast cancer, she she said research had suggested that isoflavone supplements are not as effective in managing menopausal symptoms as isoflavone rich foods such as soya.

"So there is clear evidence of the potential health benefits of consuming isoflavone-rich foods such as soya, however consumption in the form of a gum has not been extensively studied and such products may be simply another food gimmick."
Gum for big boobs? A gimmick? Surely you jest, Ms. Williamson. After all, it has been proven you can greatly increase your proportions with just one piece of gum and almost no adverse effects.

Snakes on a Plane

Brian






When Samuel L. Jackson received a script for a thriller entitled Snakes on a Plane, the legend goes, he accepted the lead role on the sole basis of the title. In it, he plays an FBI agent who has to protect a witness onboard a plane when the bad guys release . . . you guessed it . . . lots and lots of deadly snakes. When the studio bosses wanted to change the title to "Flight 121" or something of the like because the original title was so stupid, Mr. Jackson insisted that the title remain Snakes on a Plane because the title is brilliantly stupid. When Internet fans created an audio trailer that included one particularly infamous line, it prompted the filmmakers to reshoot new scenes for the film that would bring it from PG-13 into the realm of the R-rated. The line?
You know, without the asterisks.

Indexed by tags movies, Samuel Jackson, Snakes on a Plane, Internet.

Thursday, March 23, 2006

The Brooklyn Buzz of Indeterminate Origin

Brian
Okay, I could understand how New Yorkers might have trouble tracking down the source of a wafting scent in the air. But when something is making a racket, why can't they just keep walking toward it?
A mysterious humming noise is driving people nuts in Bay Ridge, Brooklyn.

Every day and every night, residents are tortured by the endless hum. And it's not just background noise.

The constant buzz is like the "roar of an engine and the honk of a fog horn," the New York Daily News reported Wednesday.

. . . .

Some say it's a cargo ship sitting offshore, while others blame a nearby sewage-treatment plant or a locomotive. But all attempts to prove where the hum comes from have failed.
Link. I mean, if it's constant, it seems like it should be easier to find than a mystery screamer.

Indexed by tags mystery, buzz, sound, Brooklyn, Bay Ridge, New York.

Wednesday, March 22, 2006

Ear Wax: Not Just an Every Flavor Bean Anymore

Brian
For everyone who's ever wondered why, how, or isn't it weird that human ears secrete wax, Pharyngula lays it all out on the Q-tip:
What's the difference between an oil, a fat, and a wax? Nothing but the melting point. All are esters (the products of condensation reactions between carboxylic acids and alcohols) with an aliphatic chain of carbon molecules. The length of the chain determines the volatility of the molecule; short chains are more fluid, long chains more solid. Something like olive oil will have shorter chains than something like beeswax, but all are fundamentally similar. They are all classified as lipids.

. . . .

So what, exactly, is in earwax, or cerumen? Here's where it gets ugly. It's a combination of things:

  • Desquamated keratinocytes. Dead skin cells, in other words, that have peeled off of the epithelia lining the ear canal.
  • Sebum. This is an oily substance produced by the sebaceous glands that are scattered over most of your body. If you don't wash your hair for a few days, you know that oily, greasy substance that builds up? That's sebum.
  • Various waxes. The dense, waxy part of cerumen is a secretion from specialized glands in the ear canal, the ceruminous glands.

All of these combine into a greasy paste that helps protect the passageway into the ear from invaders. I know I wouldn't want to set foot in it.

Link. But does that mean it's okay to make a candle out of it, or just to use candles to extract it?

Indexed by tags science, nature, biology, human, ear, wax, candle.

Pixar Guru Guts Disney Crap-Animation

Brian
Pixar's heart and soul, John Lasseter, has been given free reign at Disney Feature Animation, and as his first order of business he is annihilating Circle 7, the pillagers of the Disney canon who, throughout the past decade and especially in the last three or four years, brought us such great straight-to video sequels as
Bambi II (2006),
Cinderella II: Dreams Come True (2002),
Lady and the Tramp II: Scamp's Adventure (2001),
101 Dalmations II: Patch’s London Adventure (2003),
Pooh's Grand Adventure: The Search for Christopher Robin (1997),
Pooh's Heffalump Halloween Movie (2005),
The Little Mermaid II: Return to the Sea (2000),
Beauty and the Beast: The Enchanted Christmas (1997),
Belle's Magical World (1998),
The Return of Jafar (1994),
Aladdin and the King of Thieves (1995),
The Lion King II: Simba’s Pride (1998),
The Lion King 1½ (2004),
Pocahontas II: Journey to a New World (1998),
The Hunchback of Notre Dame II (2002),
Mulan II (2004),
Tarzan & Jane (2002),
Tarzan II (2005),
Kronk's New Groove (2005),
Atlantis: Milo’s Return (2003),
and Lilo & Stitch 2: Stitch Has a Glitch (2005),
along with the strangely theatrically released
Return to Never Land (2002),
The Jungle Book 2 (2003),
The Tigger Movie (2000),
Piglet's Big Movie (2003),
and Pooh's Heffalump Movie (2005).
No word yet on whether they'll get around to releasing Fox and the Hound II, Leroy & Stitch, or Brother Bear II, but you can bet there will be no Toy Story 3. Which means Disney will never produce quite as many sequels as there are Land Before Times. Good riddance.

Indexed by tags movies, film, Disney, Pixar, Circle 7, John Lasseter, sequels, animation, Toy Story 3.
Image credits: Cover of 101 Dalmatians II: Patch's London Adventure, courtesy Amazon, borrowed for news-reporting and comment purposes.

Abandoning Hummers: The Gas Price and Public Scorn One-Two Punch

Brian
The New York Times's Micheline Maynard reports on the waning popularity of supersized luxury SUVs, the Hummer in particular:
For Janna Jensen, it was the dirty looks and nasty gestures from other drivers that finally persuaded her to give up the family's $55,000 Hummer H2. Her husband, Michael, meanwhile, was tired of the $300 monthly gasoline cost and the quality problems that began soon after they bought it.
Link (via Daily Kos). I don't condone the behavior advocated by these rude boys, but I do find it somewhat sacrilegious that Hummer chooses to adopt the image of the planet Earth as its ironic logo. Love is strange.

Indexed by tags politics, auto, Hummer, commercial, ad, Earth, scorn, flip off, gas, price.

Proto-Jack McCoy Michael Moriarty Has Gone Round the Bend

Brian

Michael Moriarty, original Law & Order DA Ben Stone in the days before the McCoy-Briscoe era, was set off by a comparison to a particular French tyrant in New York magazine and decided to exercise his freedom of speech:
A recent plug by John Leonard for Dick Wolf’s latest spinoff . . . described my role in the original Law & Order as that of a “Robespierre.” What gives? For those of you who might not know, Maximilien Robespierre was the murderous ideologist of the French Revolution. He was most assuredly not a good man like my character, Ben Stone. . . . I’m running for president of the United States in 2008 on a third-party ticket, entering the race on a basically comic note, since no one in the mainstream press is taking me seriously, certainly not John Leonard. Or is he? Someone at New York is reading my editorials and articles on enterstageright.com and mmuuuhp.com, or Leonard’s French Revolutionary comparison would never have been made. No, Mr. Leonard, I didn’t play Ben Stone as a Robespierre. If you want to lay a French moniker on me, try Lafayette, who advised George Washington to abolish slavery. As Lafayette cried for an end to slavery, I’m declaring, “End abortion! Overturn Roe v. Wade!” . . . [T]he effect of that light upon their eugenics-inspired darkness will be like rabies in a raccoon. Dick Wolf and John Leonard are minor raccoons swept up in the rabies of American careerism.
Link (via Sugar, Mr. Poon). Yeah, yeah, and you'll be sweeping up all the raccoons you can find . . . at Rikers! It's time to play Guess Which Mental Illness or Drug Problem Michael Moriarty Has. My money's on schizophrenia, but peyote is a good bet too.

Indexed by tags television, magazine, New York, letter to the editor, Michael Moriarty, Law & Order, Robespierre, raccoons, abortion, politics.
Image credits: (a) Maximilien François Marie Isidore de Robespierre, courtesy UTOPIA, public domain; (b) "Troll 1," still from the movie
Troll, courtesy the B-Hive, borrowed for news-reporting and comment purposes. Interestingly enough, in Troll Michael Moriarty played Harry Potter Sr. Go figure.

Tuesday, March 21, 2006

Ants Battle Centipedes for Vaginal Domination

Brian
Perhaps the most disturbing search term ever queried by someone who thereafter ended up, oddly enough, at the Good Reverend, is "fire ant vagina torture." I'm not sure whether the person at the other end of that query had a particular irritation problem, or was looking for instructions on a cruel trick, or was just curious about the history of insect-genital relations. I prefer to think it was necessary for a science project.

But I'm also unclear on whether ants would be more desireable than the traditional vaginal arthropod problem, centipedes. Or the Brazilian wandering spider. Furry lobster, anyone?


Indexed by tags vagina, insect, fire ant, torture, centipede, spider, lobster, science.

Two-Headed Turtle Found In China

The Grave Digger
If it's not twins or triplets, it's two-headed turtles.

This golden coin turtle, found in China, was bought at a Qingdao animal market last year.

According to press reports released Wednesday, the turtle's two heads cooperate well and can even eat at the same time. Its owner says the reptile eats more than one-headed turtles do and has grown over the past year.

Supposedly, the turtle developed its "unusual anatomy" while still in the egg (meaning, the two turtles didn't see each other and attempt to fuse, a la Hedwig and the Angry Inch). The embryo did not fully split into two.

Survival rates for two-headed animals tend to be lower in the wild. However, in a protected environment these animals can thrive.

Link. I would say that also in advertisements such individuals can thrive.

Behold! Also featured in National Geographic:

Two-Headed Advertisement Found In Right Column

Indexed by tags two headed, turtle, golden coin, National Geographic, China.

Image credits: "Two-headed Turtle," ChinaFotoPress/Getty Images, via National Geographic, borrowed for news-reporting and comment purposes.

Yellowstone's 600 Grizzlies: Endangered, or Ripe for the Shooting?

Brian

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service is thinking of delisting Yellowstone National Park's population of six hundred grizzly bears, which has grown significantly since the mid nineties:
More than 250 scientists and researchers have signed a letter protesting a federal proposal to no longer protect grizzly bears in the Yellowstone area under the Endangered Species Act.

. . . .

Among those signing the letter were primatologist Jane Goodall and bear researchers Chuck Jonkel and John Craighead Sr.

. . . .

A population of 2,000 to 3,000 is needed for genetic diversity and to withstand regional variations such as food sources, they said. A smaller one is likely to go extinct, they argued.

In a conference call Thursday, three researchers also questioned the accuracy of the agency's population estimates.
Link. The good news is, if the bears are delisted, you can go back to importing and exporting them. The bad news is they will eat you.

Indexed by tags politics, nature, fish and wildlife, endangered, species, grizzly, bear, Yellowstone.
Image credits: "Smiling Bear," Alpine Climber, via
Flickr, borrowed for news-reporting and comment purposes.

Monday, March 20, 2006

Spring Has Sprung

Brian

With the dawning of the vernal equinox, spring is upon us. Today was the day when the sun, forever traversing a geographic sine wave from the perspective of earth's residents, passed the equator on its way north for summer. It wasn't the day that makes it easier to balance an egg on its end; when I was eleven, I managed to do it with a steady hand on the vernal equinox, but also on other random days of the year as well.

The word "spring" comes from Middle English, from Old English springan; akin to Old High German springan, "to jump," and perhaps to Greek sperchesthai, "to hasten." It's the same as the verb "to spring," which implies that the season is springing forth, like the saplings and daffodils that mark its arival. Winter is a static, iced-over season, long, frozen, and outside of time. Spring is dynamic—it's an event that happens, not just a period you wait through.

From one corner of the world to another, cultures celebrate the start of spring. Catholics celebrate Mardi Gras, Shrove Tuesday, or their big brother, Carnaval, and then, forty days later, Easter, marking the cyclical end of Jesus' mortal life with dancing, feasting, and candy. Jews have Purim, which lets them drink themselves merry while contemplating the salvation of the Persian Jews from the plot of the evil Haman, and the symbolic eating of food at the Passover Seder. For the Chinese, the equinox is the middle of spring, which began with the Lunar New Year's parade and fireworks. A large part of the bacchanalian celebrations we attach to significant historical events is actually based on the seasonal changes that accompany them; we're all pagans at heart.

Indexed by tags spring, winter, season, vernal equinox, egg, etymology, Catholic, Mardi Gras, Shrove Tuesday, Carnaval, Jewish, Purim, Passover, Seder, China, Chinese New Year.
Image credits: Allegory of Gluttony and Lust, Hieronymus Bosch, 1450.

Aliens: Take Me to Your Rural, Lower-Middle Class Folks

Brian
If you're a space alien, you've traveled lightyears across the universe from some distant galaxy to explore life on Earth, so of course you'd be interested in kidnapping poor rubes:
Persons who seem to be taken from their beds, cars, or dining room tables are, indeed, taken someplace, and taken there in toto, not psychically or “spiritually.”

The fly in that ointment, however, is that only the members of the hoi polloi are abducted; no one of stature or fame has reported an abduction, unless one assumes that such noted individuals are taken but not returned: Judge Crater, Amelia Earhart, Ambrose Bierce, et alii come to mind.

That aside, those who are elements of the lower class get taken away rather frequently, and returned intact – shaken by their “experience” but no worse for wear evidently since most go about their normal living routines, unencumbered by the thing that has happened to them.
Link (via Sploid). Or, you could just be a figment of their imaginations after all.

Indexed by tags UFOs, aliens, phenomena, rural, poor, abduction, Jung.

Reality Is a Strange Place

Brian
Strange for gamers and avatars alike:


Indexed by tags video games, gamers, video.

Hotel Charges Guests .50 Euro per Kilo

The Grave Digger

In Norden, Germany, a hotel has started charging guests by the kilo for an overnight stay. An effort to encourage a healthier lifestyle among his clients, guests now have to step onto the scales before moving into their rooms and fork out half a euro ($0.61) per kilogram (2.2 lbs).

"I had many guests who were really huge and I told them to slim down," said Juergen Heckrodt, owner of the three-star establishment. "When they came back the year after and had lost a lot of weight they asked me what are you gonna do for me now?"

Additionally, Heckrodt pointed out, "Healthy guests live longer and can come back more often."

Link (via Yahoo Odd News). Customers are assured that no one is being turned away; anyone who refuses to step on the scales will be charged no more than 39 euros, the normal single room price.

I, for one, do not think this comes out of altruistic concern for the health of Germany. First Southwest, now German hotels? What's next... buffets charging by stomach volume? Dentists charging by the tooth? Hairdressers charging by scalp surface area?

Indexed by tags Germany, hotel, obesity, charge, health.

Meanwhile, in Montrose . . .

Brian
You can burn firewood, charcoal, and the tobacco sticking out of your mouth (if it's not the kind you chew). You just can't burn trash.

Indexed by tags Montrose.

Sunday, March 19, 2006

When Organic Means Unnatural

Brian
Slate probes the econoic and environmental waste that sometimes accompanies buying organic:
[H]ere's another technical point that Whole Foods fails to mention and that highlights what has gone wrong with the organic-food movement in the last couple of decades. Let's say you live in New York City and want to buy a pound of tomatoes in season. Say you can choose between conventionally grown New Jersey tomatoes or organic ones grown in Chile. Of course, the New Jersey tomatoes will be cheaper. They will also almost certainly be fresher, having traveled a fraction of the distance. But which is the more eco-conscious choice? In terms of energy savings, there's no contest: Just think of the fossil fuels expended getting those organic tomatoes from Chile. Which brings us to the question: Setting aside freshness, price, and energy conservation, should a New Yorker just instinctively choose organic, even if the produce comes from Chile? A tough decision, but you can make a self-interested case for the social and economic benefit of going Jersey, especially if you prefer passing fields of tomatoes to fields of condominiums when you tour the Garden State.

Another heading on the Whole Foods banner says "Help the Small Farmer." "Buying organic," it states, "supports the small, family farmers that make up a large percentage of organic food producers." This is semantic sleight of hand. As one small family farmer in Connecticut told me recently, "Almost all the organic food in this country comes out of California. And five or six big California farms dominate the whole industry." There's a widespread misperception in this country—one that organic growers, no matter how giant, happily encourage—that "organic" means "small family farmer." That hasn't been the case for years, certainly not since 1990, when the Department of Agriculture drew up its official guidelines for organic food. Whole Foods knows this well, and so the line about the "small family farmers that make up a large percentage of organic food producers" is sneaky. There are a lot of small, family-run organic farmers, but their share of the organic crop in this country, and of the produce sold at Whole Foods, is minuscule.
Link. All this guilt has made me give up on eating food altogether. Now I gather my nutrition from air and sunlight.

Indexed by tags food and drink, organic, Whole Foods, produce, energy, breatharian.

Australian Strippers Unionize, Get Breaks and Overtime

Brian
Australia, the nation-continent whose official flower is the Bloomin' Onion, and the only country that's more cowboy than we are, loves it the strippers. Now it can finally say it loves its strippers enough to pay them fare wages and all that jazz:
The country's Industrial Relations Commission on Friday approved new workplace rules for members of the strippers' union, the Striptease Artists Australia.

"We've got rights to have public holiday pay now, which we've never had in our career before," said a union spokeswoman called Mystical Melody. "We've got rosters and set hours. We can't work more than 10 hours a shift."

Link (submitted by kbrudnic). So I guess this means it's not just the men at work down under? I have to confess, I always get Striptease Artists Australia spokeswoman Mystical Melody confused with Teamsters Local 294 spokeswoman Crystal Mountains, but I think anybody could make that mistake.

Indexed by tags Australia, labor, union, strippers, striptease, exotic dancer, hours, wages, overtime.

Saturday, March 18, 2006

You Could Be Optimally Using this PC, but You're Not

Brian

Indexed by tags video, QVC, computer, Dell, porno.

Thursday, March 16, 2006

Homo floresiensis: Think Small

The Grave Digger

The American Association of Physical Anthropologists met last week in Anchorage. Among the many topics discussed was Homo floresiensis, referred to by some as LB1, and many, many more as "the hobbit." She was a small bodied female, just one meter tall with the brain capacity of 400 cc, or about the size of a grapefruit. The discoverers assert that this individual was the descendant of Homo erectus or a small-bodied, possibly as-yet-undiscovered member of the human family. The reason given for its small size is an adaptation to the limited resources of the island it inhabited - this dwarfing phenomenon has been documented among mammals larger than rabbits living on small islands.

Skeptics have asserted that the hobbit is not a new species but a Homo sapien suffering from a pathological condition known as secondary microcephaly, as evidenced by the small chin, several unerupted teeth, and an arm bone that seemed to suggest a height of 1.5 meters, not 1 as originally reported. Tom Schoenemann of University of Michigan Dearborn discussed this issue in his talk:

[...Schoenemann] surveyed brain size and body weight data for a bunch of modern and fossil humans, plotted them on a graph and concluded that among known hominid species, LB1's brain size relative to her body size more closely approximates that of the much older australopithecines than H. erectus. But an even better fit, he found, is with microcephalic H. sapiens. Viewed that way, of three possible explanations for what LB1 is--namely, a dwarfed descendant of H. erectus, a descendant of a gracile australopithecine, or a microcephalic modern human--the latter is the most parsimonious diagnosis.

Scientific American (via John Hawks Anthropology Weblog). Parsimonious is because the last australopithecine walked the earth approximately 2 million years ago - extremely unlikely that this species persisted undetected in the fossil record for that time. Furthermore, most modern anthropologists believe that our large brains are our greatest adaptation, allowing for higher cognition to compensate for lack of size and strength when pitted against other species. Modern pygmies have retained their large brains - natural selection acting agaist our big brains is a tough bite to swallow.

However, a study conducted by Andrea B. Taylor of Duke University and Carel P. van Schaik of the University of Zurich, suggests that there may be a primate precedent for exactly this sort of selection.

They looked at brain size variation in the four recognized subspecies of orangutan, measuring cranial capacity and skull dimensions. They found that individuals in one of these subspecies--Pongo pygmaeus morio, which resides in northeast Borneo--have a significantly smaller average cranial capacity than members of the other groups. It turns out that compared to the other subspecies, these orangutans contend with the longest and most unpredictable periods of food scarcity.
As big brains require a lot of rich nutrients to keep them running (metabolically expensive), it is feasible that Floresians might have been better off with brain size reduction.

So where does this leave us? Big brained, broke, and confused? Searching for the Ebu Gogo to explain? Keep up with the debate at SciAm.


The Stars Need a Chiropractor

Brian
I went all through Monday thinking that I was "[my] own best company, along with perhaps one other person." Now, come to find out, it was all a sham (via Philadelphia Will Do).

Indexed by tags news, horoscope, Philadelphia, newspaper, correction.

Wednesday, March 15, 2006

Polar Bear Triplets Born in Netherlands Zoo

The Grave Digger

Above are the first set of triplets known to have been born in captivity. While polar bears often give birth to more than one cub at a time, triplets are relatively rare compared to twins. Furthermore, the runt of the litter is often edged out by its bigger, stronger siblings. If unable to successfully compete for the mother's milk, it will die of starvation.
Even in zoos, where food and care are plentiful, nearly half of the polar cubs born in captivity die. But Ouwehands Zoo officials seem to have luck on their side: All three cubs are healthy and are expected to survive into adulthood.
Link. At least they are playing with each other, and not associating with foreign species.

Indexed by tags polar bears, triplets, multiples, The Netherlands, zoo
Image credits: "Polar Bear Triplets," Photograph courtesy Ouwehands Zoo via National Geographic, borrowed for news-reporting and comment purposes.

Tuesday, March 14, 2006

Body Washes up on Philadelphia's Schuylkill, but the Rowing Must Go On

Brian

From the Philadelphia Daily News:
Scullers lift a shell out of the Schuylkill along Boathouse Row yesterday. Laid out on the dock in front of them, covered by a sheet, is a body that had been found earlier in the day floating in the river.
Link. Yeah, you read that right. Now look at the picture again. That's how we roll in Philadelphia.

Indexed by tags sports, Philadelphia, rowing, Schuylkill, crime, body, murder.
Image credits: "Life and Death on the Schuylkill," Jessica Griffin, courtesy
Philadelphia Will Do, borrowed for news-reporting and comment purposes.

Groceries Make Loose Panties Fall Down

Brian

Art Frahm, American pin-up painter, was perhaps the world's leading authority on the aesthetics of fallen underwear on ladies who happen to be holding or otherwise near stalks of celery, and it's a wonder we've gotten through a quarter decade without him. At least now we have dklo, a Flickr photographer who's taken it upon himself to inject a little Frahm into the real world:

Here's a link to the full set.

Indexed by tags art, photography, painting, pinup, girl, panties, nudity, groceries, celery, Art Frahm.
Image credits: (1) A Fare Loser, Art Frahm, 1953, courtesy Lileks (James), borrowed for news-reporting and comment purposes; (2) "Photoshopped Frahm," dklo, borrowed for news-reporting and comment purposes.

Multicolored Snow over Russia

Brian

Pink snow, tinted by either Mongolian dust or volcanic activity, fell over Russia's Primorsky Krai (Maritime Province) this weekend. But it's not the first time this winter nonwhite snow has enshrouded Russia:
February’s yellow snowfall with a strong odor and an oily texture was observed on Russia’s Far East island of Sakhalin. The color, odor and texture of the snow may have been a result of environmental pollution caused by the island’s oil and natural gas industry.
Link (via Fortean Times). So the lesson goes, you could make any colored snow you wanted with the proper balance of natural and manmade environmental scourges. Or food coloring.

Indexed by tags: nature, weather, meteorology, snow, pink, yellow, color, Russia, Maritime, Primorsky Krai, dust, volcano, pollution.
Image credits: AFP photo courtesy Mosnews, borrowed for news-reporting and comment purposes.

Monday, March 13, 2006

Beer Flows from the Kitchen Faucet

Brian
A woman in Norway witnessed a miracle recently as beer issued forth from the faucet in her kitchen sink:
By an improbable feat of clumsy plumbing, someone at the bar in Kristiandsund, western Norway, had accidentally hooked the beer hoses to the water pipes for [Haldis] Gundersen's apartment.

"We had settled down for a cozy Saturday evening, had a nice dinner, and I was just going to clean up a little," Gundersen, 50, told The Associated Press by telephone Monday. "I turned on the kitchen faucet and beer came out."

However, Gundersen said the beer was flat and not tempting, even in a country where a half-liter (pint) can cost about 25 kroner ($3.75) in grocery stores.
Link. Which reminds me of a reading from the Gospel according to D.L. Hughley:
—"Lord, we done run outta wine!"
—"Now normally, I don't do this, but, uh . . . go on head, enjoy the party."

Especially on Purim. Cursed is Haman!

Indexed by tags food and drink, beer, water, faucet, Norway, Haldis Gundersen, bar, Jesus, Christ, religion, water, wine.
Image credits: The Marriage at Cana, Marten de Vos, Antwerp 1596—97.

Car Cuddling Won't Cost You

Brian
A newlywed wife in Oregon likes to ride in the middle of the front bench seat when her husband is driving, but, because it just has a lap belt without a shoulder harness, she was cited:
"I just went back to sitting next to my husband," she told The McMinnville News-Register. "I have always sat next to him since we were married."

Then, just two days before Valentine's Day, the Millers crossed paths with [Deputy Darren] Broome once again.

Spotting Miller in her accustomed position next to her husband, he lit up his overheads and pulled the couple over.

This time, she got a citation, for $97, the first ticket Miller said she had ever gotten in her whole life.
Link. But the wife, Faith Miller, decided it was a good idea to see if there was actually any law she was violating:
"I can't find a statute that supports that violation," [Lieutenant Paul] May told the News-Register. "It certainly does for children, but not for adults. "There's a recommendation that if a shoulder belt is available, to use it. But it's not in the statute. It's a traffic recommendation."
I really see this as a win for drivers of and passengers in cars with bench seats everywhere. Which makes me nostalgic for my first car:


Indexed by tags crime, weird, Faith Miller, Darren Broome, cuddling, car, middle seat, lap belt, seatbelt, bench seat, Oregon, Dodge Aries.
Video credits: 1988 Dodge Aries, courtesy YouTube, borrowed for news-reporting and comment purposes.

Meanwhile, in Montrose . . .

Brian
Finally, the good people of Lanesboro will be able to drive poorly and annoy people in movie theaters.

Indexed by tag Montrose.

Sunday, March 12, 2006

A Sicilian Message

Brian
The Washington Post's David J. Rothkopf thinks that, post-shooting, Dick Cheney has taken on a new role:
Last week demonstrated the new order. Cheney was relegated to the traditional vice presidential duty of playing the president's heavy. He rattled the U.S. saber and threatened Iran with "meaningful consequences" for its failure to comply with international nuclear safeguards, only to have Rice temper his comments later the same day. As secretary of state, Rice is now more policy architect than presidential aide. Cheney was a role player, not the puppetmaster.
Link. Which is to say, the Vice President used to be Tom Hagen, but now he's Luca Brasi.

Indexed by tags politics, Dick Cheney, heavy, movies, Godfather, Tom Hagen, Luca Brasi.

Friday, March 10, 2006

Furry Crustacean Found

Brian

Nine hundred miles south of Easter Island, seven thousand feet below the surface, lies what can only be described as a furry crustacean:
In what Segonzac described as a "surprising characteristic," the animal's pincers are covered with sinuous, hair-like strands.

It is also blind. The researchers found it had only "the vestige of a membrane" in place of eyes, Segonzac said.

The researchers said that while legions of new ocean species are discovered each year, it is quite rare to find one that merits a new family.

The family was named Kiwaida, from Kiwa, the goddess of crustaceans in Polynesian mythology.
Link (via BoingBoing). I'd still rather tangle with a furry crustacean than one that eats your tongue and lodges itself in its place.

Indexed by tags science, nature, marine, biology, furry, crustacean, kiwi hirsuta, Easter Island, lobster.
Image credits: Courtesy AP, borrowed for news-reporting and comment purposes.

Live-Action Simpsons Intro Video

Brian
Somebody should really make a TV show out of this:



Indexed by tags: television, TV, Simpsons, video, live action, real, intro, theme.
Video credits: Real Life Simpsons Intro, courtesty YouTube, borrowed for news-reporting and comment purposes.

Monday, March 06, 2006

Altruism, Cooperation, and Primates

The Grave Digger
German researchers have published in Science a discovery that infants as young as 18 months show altruistic behavior. Toddlers help strangers with a range of tasks, from stacking books to picking up pegs, suggesting that humans have a natural tendency to be helpful.

What is surprising is that young chimps displayed similar behavior. Young chimps did the same, providing the first direct evidence of altruism in non-human primates. The scientists posit that altruism may have evolved six million years ago in the common ancestor of chimps and humans.

"This is the first experiment showing altruistic helping towards goals in any non-human primate," said Felix Warneken, a psychologist at the Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology in Leipzig, Germany.

"It's been claimed chimpanzees act mainly for their own ends; but in our experiment, there was no reward and they still helped."

Link. Nearly all of the group of 24 18-month-olds helped, usually in the first 10 seconds of the experiment. However, the researchers noted that the children only did this if they believed the dropping was accidental. If the object was thrown down deliberately, the children did not retrieve it.

The tasks were repeated with three young chimpanzees that had been raised in captivity. The chimps did not help in more complex tasks[...], but did assist the human looking after them in simple tasks such as reaching for a lost object.

"Children and chimpanzees are both willing to help, but they appear to differ in their ability to interpret the other's need for help in different situations," the two researchers write in Science.

Furthermore, chimpanzees appear to display the most complex understanding cooperation in nonhuman animals. A study by Alicia Melis at the Ngamba Island Chimpanzee Sanctuary in Uganda indicated that chimps recognized when collaboration was necessary and chose the best partner to work with.

The chimps had to cooperate in reaching a food tray by pulling two ends of a rope at the same time.
[...]
But she said there was still no evidence that chimpanzees communicated with each other about a common goal like children do from an early age.

This seems to complicate our understanding of cooperation in light of an earlier study published in Nature in which captive chimpanzees failed to help others in their social group, even when it caused no inconvenience.

A team led by Joan Silk of the University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA), set captive chimpanzees tests in which they obtained a food reward.

The chimps were presented with two reward options. One option allowed a chimp only to serve itself with food. The other secured the same reward, but also delivered food to another chimpanzee in an enclosure next door.

Dr Silk's team found the 29 chimps tested in the study were no more likely to pick the second option than the first, even though it allowed them to do a "good deed" at no cost to themselves.
While the chimps were unrelated, they had been living together in the same group for 15 years and might have been expected to be very close. As food sharing has been demonstrated in groups of wild chimpanzees, some of the lack of cooperation could be due to captivity.

So really what I see here is Science contradicting Nature... I sense an epic battle only comparable to determinism vs. free will. Who will win? We may never know.