Archive for the 'Weird Science' Category

Does Rover Know She Has a Name?

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While perusing the Sunday paper, an odd scrap often catches in the old cranial craw, requiring rumination and later regurgitation. Case in point, from that paragon of American journalism, Parade Magazine:

Nancy Cassidy, from Falls Church, VA, asks Ms. Smartypants, aka Marilyn von Savant, the Smartest Woman in the World, as certified by the Guinness Book of World Records, "Do pets really know they have names?"

While we have a great deal of respect for Ms. Smartypants, primarily because she has managed to turn her off-the-charts I.Q. into fabulous fame and fortune rather than an early grave or a trip to the nuthouse like most super-geniuses, in this case her answer left much to be desired:

"No. The repetition of a pet’s "name" merely provokes a learned response, depending on how the owner vocalizes the name. To a pet, it might mean anything from "come along, now" to "time for dinner". Try saying your pet’s name disapprovingly, and he may hang his head unhappily as if he’s done something wrong."

Well, duhh. So how does Rover hanging her head after we point out she has crapped on the doormat indicate she doesn’t know we are addressing her alone when we start an utterance with "Rover"? Not only that, but when we disapprovingly say "Fluffy" because the CAT shat the mat, it is the cat who raises his head in feigned incomprehension, while Rover wags her tail, pleased to see our displeasure directed towards her rival for our affection.

We are sure that on those bleak Arctic afternoons when Lance Mackey was madly mushing his way towards the finish line of the 34th Iditarod dog-sled race last week in Alaska, that each and every one of his 12-dog team knew its own name, and probably the names of its harness-mates.

And we know for a fact that dogs understand a lot more language than just their names. When we were a wee tyke and walked to our neighborhood primary school, every morning Rover would sadly see us off, stoically prepared for six hours of boring loneliness until our return. Before leaving we would tell her where we were going that afternoon upon our release. Either right back home, or to best friend Bobby Horowitz’s house on the next block, or to our Grandmother’s house on Highland Avenue, near the school. Inevitably, Rover would be waiting at the designated destination before the final school bell rang.

Rover, in fact, was smarter than most of the people we have known in the intervening 50 years, although probably not smarter than Marilyn…..

from Parade Magazine (content appears on-line one week after publication)

Evidence of Human/Neanderthal Breeding

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WASHINGTON (Reuters) – A 40,000-year-old skull found in a Romanian cave shows traits of both modern humans and Neanderthals and might prove the two interbred, researchers reported on Monday.

If the findings are confirmed, the skull would represent the oldest modern human remains yet found in Europe.

The study, published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, will add to the debate over whether modern Homo sapiens simply killed off their Neanderthal cousins, or had some intimate interactions with them first.

from Reuters

News Flash: Both the NFL and the WWF are evidence of Human/Neanderthal breeding, as were several of our college girlfriends (see: I dated Sasquatch)

Buddhism Cures Bulimia

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A psychological technique based on Buddhist philosophy and practice may provide a solution for women who struggle with binge eating and bulimia.

The technique known as ‘mindfulness’ is being taught to Queensland women to help them understand and deal with the emotions that trigger their binges.

Unlike many therapies for eating disorders, there is less focus on food and controlling eating and more on providing freedom from negative thoughts and emotions.

from Eureka Alerts

Taking diet advice from a Fat Man? Not to be sacreligious, but by any modern standards the Buddha was obese. Could his be but the smile of the cosmic clown, who cries inside?

Flying Mammal Not a Bird, Or a Bat, or a Squirrel

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Scientists have discovered an extinct animal the size of a small squirrel that lived in China at least 125 million years ago and soared among the trees. It is the earliest known example of gliding flight by mammals, and the scientists say it shows that mammals experimented with aerial life about the same time birds first took to the skies, perhaps even earlier.

Until now, the earliest identified gliding mammal was a 30-million-year-old extinct rodent. The first known modern bat, which is capable of powered flight, dates to 51 million years ago, but it is assumed that proto-bats were probably gliding much earlier.

from the New York Times

New HIV Treatments Smart

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In two studies, researchers in Kenya and Uganda enrolled thousands of uncircumcised men to determine if the procedure could reduce HIV transmission among heterosexuals, with some men having their foreskin removed and others remaining intact.

The trial in Kenya, involving nearly 2,800 participants, found that the circumcised men were 53 percent less likely to contract HIV. The Ugandan study, with nearly 5,000 men, showed a 48 percent reduction.

from the Boston Globe

Why stop with the foreskin? Research we are working on will show that castration almost completely eliminates genital transmission of HIV…..

Babar in Utero

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Tiny animal kingdom: the elephant foetus at 12 months, when it is 18 inches long and weighs approximately 26 lbs. It can use its trunk, and can curl it right up into its mouth and over its head.

An unborn elephant, tiny but perfect in every way. A dolphin swimming in the womb, just as it will have to swim in the ocean the moment it is born. An unborn dog panting.
Each one amazing and now, thanks to these remarkable pictures, they can be seen for the first time.

Using an array of technology, the images reveal what until now has been a secret – exactly how animals develop in the womb. They were created by the same team who in 2004 showed how human embryos "walk in the womb".

Using a combination of three-dimensional ultrasound scans, computer graphics and tiny cameras, the team were able to show the entire process from conception to birth.

"These kind of images from inside animals have never been seen before," said Jeremy Dear of Pioneer Productions, who made the film.

article from the Daily Mail

Gallery of images

Our Growing Family of Planets

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The solar system has 12 planets.

That is the conclusion, to be announced today, of an international panel formed
to devise a scientific definition of a planet and settle an increasingly intense
dispute over whether Pluto qualifies. The panel suggests retaining Pluto and
immediately adding three new planets to the nine that are familiar to any schoolchild:
Ceres, currently considered a large asteroid; Charon, now considered a moon of
Pluto; and Xena, a recently discovered object that is larger than Pluto.

from the
Boston Globe

It’s about time! For the past thirty years we have
been regularly reading reports of a repeatedly rediscovered tenth
planet
,
to the point that our unofficial count was up to about 16 planets in
all. A nice round dozen sounds fair to us.

Boston Wi-Fi: When We Finish the Big Dig

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Boston will tap a nonprofit corporation
to blanket the city with “open access”; wireless Internet connections,
under a plan to be unveiled today by Mayor Thomas M. Menino.

The plan, which envisions raising $16 million to $20 million from local businesses
and foundations, is a striking departure from the business models used by other
cities, including Philadelphia and San Francisco, which have turned over responsibility
for their wireless data networks to outside companies such as Earthlink Inc.
and Google Inc.

By empowering an independent organization to own and operate the city’s WiFi,
or wireless fidelity, network, Boston is hoping to keep control of the technology
deployment and use it to spur innovation, improve city services, and extend wireless
Internet access into low-income neighborhoods across the so-called digital divide.
WiFi allows laptops, handheld computers, cellphones, music players, and other
devices to connect to the Internet at high speeds via radio waves.

“They want to create a wholesale network and open it up for entrepreneurs to
build all kinds of applications on top of it,” said Jim Daniell , a Boston
venture capitalist who tracks wireless development around the country. “If this
model works, it will probably become the dominant pattern other municipalities
adopt. It could be a blueprint.”

from the Boston Globe

We’ll believe it when we log on. These stories have
been popping up like lawsuits all over the country, but from what we
have seen, all vaporware so far…..

Take That, Einstein

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Ames, IA — Physicist Costas Soukoulis
and his research group at the U.S. Department of Energy’s Ames Laboratory
on the Iowa State University campus are having the time of their lives
making light travel backwards at negative speeds that appear faster
than the speed of light. That, folks, is a mind-boggling 186,000 miles
per second – the speed at which electromagnetic waves can move in a
vacuum. And making light seem to move faster than that and in reverse
is what Soukoulis, who is also an ISU Distinguished Professor of Liberal
Arts and Sciences, said is "like rewriting electromagnetism."

from a Press
Release
from U.S. Department of Energy’s
Ames Laboratory at Iowa State University

Preserved for Posterity

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GUBEN, Germany — Dr. Gunther von Hagens, the German
inventor of a body-preserving process called plastination, is always
eager for volunteers, people willing to donate their corpses for his
public anatomical displays. He says 6,800 individuals have pledged
their mortal coils so far .

He hopes to add to that list when his traveling show reaches Boston later this
month. Body Worlds 2, which opens July 30 at the Museum of Science in Boston.

"Think of it as an alternative to being eaten by worms or going up in smoke," von
Hagens said by phone from his Institute for Plastination in Heidelberg, Germany.

from the Boston Globe

This is how we envision ourself ending up some
day, edifying the scientific and sensationalist curiosity of generations
of jaded youth, preserved for posterity with a fat joint still in our
hand and another between our
legs…..

Crisis in the Heartland

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Older farmers are at high risk for injury when they
stop taking prescribed pain medications, shows a study done in part
by the University of Alberta in Edmonton, Canada.

A case review of farmers aged 66 and older in Alberta, Canada, revealed
some previously unknown relationships may exist between the use of pain
medications and subsequent injury. For instance, when farmers stopped
taking prescribed pain or anti-inflammatory medications within the 30
days prior to the date of injury, there was a higher risk of getting
hurt while working on the farm. The injuries included falls, being struck
by an object, or wounds inflicted while working with farm machinery or
livestock

Researchers were able to identify several possible reasons for this,
said Dr. Don Voaklander, one of the study’s authors and a professor of
Public Health Sciences at the University of Alberta in Edmonton, Canada.
Queens University also worked on the study.

"The first is that pain, unmasked when they stop using medication,
distracts the farmer when he’s doing his work. This means less attention
to the
task at hand. A second possibility involves limitations on mobility for
farmers who are in pain or who are guarding their movements as a result
of pain." Third, those who use pain medication may be experiencing
withdrawal symptoms that again may be distracting in a dynamic work environment.

from the University
of Alberta
via Eureka

Fourth,
they have been junkified by previous exposures to the point that they
are, consciously or subconsciously, engaging in behavior likely to
result in injury leading to renewed access to narcotics. A typical
junkie scam,
no doubt related to the explosion of Oxycontin abuse in rural America.
Only a lack of rigorous control of Agro-pharmaceuticals has prevented
the exposure of related widespread rural abuse of bovine tranquilizers.
America’s farms are a festering focus of drug abuse…..

Where’s the Fire?

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An ocean speed limit proposed by the federal government
yesterday could help protect endangered right whales, but is expected
to face stiff opposition from the shipping industry.

The migration paths of the North Atlantic right whales significantly
overlap with major East Coast shipping lanes, and ship strikes and fishing
gear entanglement are the commonest causes of death for the whales.

from the Boston Globe

At the risk of sounding stupid
(a risk the Dowbrigade has been know to take on in his sleep) can
we ask
why
ships
don’t
use some sort of high-frequency warning horn to tell those pesky
whales to get out of the way? We always thought that whales had exceptional
underwater hearing, what with the Whale Songs of the Seas and all
that.

With all of the pork barrel projects getting milked
like zits on an adolescent by lawmakers of all stripes and political
persuasions these days (see this
Boston Herald article
for juicy details
on line items such as $150,000 for a UMass study of the winter moth
worm,$50,000 to restore a stagecoach in Barre and $40,000 for Seine
Boat replicas in Gloucester), one would think the government could
spare a couple of hundred grand to figure out what kind of sub-sea
sounds
whales just hate, to clear them out of the area. Hell, if we have an
"ultrasonic teenage repellant", why not one for whales?

How much could it cost to mount one of these sonic
cow-catchers on the prow of every cargo ship and liner plying the Atlantic
shipping lanes. A lot less than this proposed "speed limit"! How much
would it cost world business and shipping concerns if all of our steel,
Toyotas and fashion footware took longer to get to the US because of
a mid-ocean speed limit! Think of the rock-hard avocados and rotting
mangos we would be facing on supermarket shelves! Think of the added
costs in labor and maintenance when 10-day trips become 15-day trips.

Think of the fiendish complexity alone of the necessary
efforts to enforce the limit! Maritime troopers on jet skis flagging
down million-ton oil tankers? Submarine speed-traps hidden beneath
the waves? A fleet of confiscated cigarette boats passing out infractions?

How about we impose a speed limit on the WHALES, huh?
They’re supposed to be smart – aren’t their brains even bigger than
ours? Why can’t they slow down by 5 or 10 knots, and watch where they
are going? What’s their hurry, they late for choir practicce? They aren’t on the clock.  What
right do they have to impede the wheels (or screws, in this case) of
commerce and cost tax-paying businesses millions?

We think it is time for the Whales of the World to
step up and do their part to keep the shipping lanes free. We all have
to share this planet, after all.

Nobody wants to see the whales get hurt.  But
of you insist on playing in traffic, sooner or later you will be hit.