Archive for the ‘Science’ Category

And we wonder why we have such terrible politicians

April 5, 2011

It’s because stupid people elect them.

So if you’re in a line at the bank or something like that, and if the people with you in line are representative of this poll, then chances are that either the person in front of you or the person behind you doesn’t know that the Earth revolves around the Sun. And if you include the next person in line behind / in front of them in that group, chances are that one of them thinks the Earth has a hollow core, or that it’s frozen or some crazy shit like that.

In fact, usually you do have to wait in line when you go to vote. So think about that:  people who go to vote to elect people to make incredibly important decisions which affect all of us (by that I mean humans and not just Americans) can’t even grasp the very basic reality of our situation here on Earth. 41% think astrology is scientific? That’s just barely more than the percentage of eligible voters who turned out to vote in 2010.


Obama has a Cone of Silence

March 24, 2011

The idea of going into a third official war in the Middle East (not counting the drone strikes in Pakistan, Somalia, Yemen, etc.) really sucks and all, of course. But the upside is that we get just that much more coverage of all the cool tech that goes into our latest military intervention.

So for example the BBC has this article about how the President has this special tent. So does Q’addafi, but this one is way better because it’s basically like a cone of silence from the old Get Smart TV series, except it actually works 99% of the time. They have to say 99% of the time because apparently someone was able to sneak in a camera and take a picture of the scene inside.

In order to make sure it’s as secure as possible, they have to bring their own air supply. And this tent is made of a “secret material” which keeps emissions in and listening devices out. It sounds like it was invented by a 10 year old trying to make a better imaginary pillow fort, which I guess is why I find this stuff kind of cool.

This is the most awesomest music video ever

February 28, 2011

Why have I not heard of ZDoggMD before? Internet, you’re supposed to tell me about these kinds of things.

News regarding drinking

January 24, 2011

I am going to start brewing my fist batch of beer today. It’s a pale ale called chinook. I don’t really know what chinook is, but it sounds vaguely familiar. That would be a great advertising slogan: “Drink Josh’s Chinook Pale Ale! It’s vaguely familiar!”

I’ll be joining an esteemed community of people who also brew their own beer, and this community includes one heroic gentleman named Raul Cano. He is a biology professor who had recently discovered some 45 million year old yeast encrusted in amber in Burma. Earlier he had also made similar discoveries in North and Central America, and he resurrected the microbes within it. Now he is taking the obvious next step and making beer with the ancient yeast. Apparently it tastes like Blue Moon.

In other ethyl alcohol-related news, there’s this (!):

This is going to be market tested in Panama, which is where the company with the brilliant minds who came up with this product is located. Hopefully soon it will make its way to the US and I won’t have to make it so obvious when I drink straight from the bottle. And it’s recyclable too, I guess! Here’s some awesome PR spin reported by Time:

Scottish Spirits mentions – well, merely suggests – that the drink “is the perfect size to be shared between three people who can mix it with other things like cola.”

Haha! That is adorable! Yeah, I’ll share this can of whiskey with two other people and then mix it with Pepsi! Maybe later we’ll do our taxes and plan for retirement! We definitely won’t each be sneaking a can in each jacket pocket the next time we go to the movies, popping a lid every time there’s gunfire, I’ll tell you that much! Not that I’d know anything about that, of course.

REPOST: Monkey Music

December 15, 2010

A few years ago, perceptual scientist Josh McDermott of MIT and Harvard evolutionary psychologist Marc D. Hauser published a study (and here’s a laymen’s report on the report – YO DAWG I HERD U LIKE REPORTS) which dealt with the origins of music. From the abstract:

We claim that theories of the origins of music will be usefully constrained if we can determine which aspects of music perception are innate, and, of those, which are uniquely human and specific to music… Our research suggests that many rudimentary acoustic preferences, such as those for consonant over dissonant intervals, may be unique to humans.

And, of course, being scientists, they tested this hypothesis by trapping marmoset monkeys in a maze and blaring music at them. First the two ends of the maze were set up so that speakers were playing a Russian lullaby at one end and “German techno” (I heard it, it was actually jungle/drum n’ bass) at the other. And this time, the monkeys congregated near the Russian lullaby.

The next time, a control group of sorts was set up so that the German techno was replaced with no music at all. And given that choice between the Russian lullaby and nothing, the monkeys gathered near the silent speaker. So the tenative conclusion was that music is more innately a human phenomenon and that we could be uniquely hard-wired towards liking music in a way that other primates are not. This made me sad for some irrational reason. It would be cool if monkeys liked music.

But this study, like most good ones, really raised more new questions than it did answer old ones. So, for example, the monkeys used in the experiment were marmosets, or “New World monkeys,” which are more distantly related to us than, say, chimpanzees, bonobos, and gorillas. The common ancestor we share with marmosets lived around 44 million years ago, and the common ancestor we share with both chimpanzees and bonobos lived only around 5-7 million years ago. So it could be that a predisposition to music is something which arose after our branch of the evolutionary tree forked away from the marmosets- somewhere between 44 and 5 million years ago. Or, it could be that (and this is where we finally get to something new) McDermott and Hauser just weren’t using the right kind of music in their studies.

In a study in the new issue of Biology Letters, which just came out yesterday and is not yet online (although you can read reports on the study from Science News, Science Daily, and Scientific American), University of Wisconsin-Madison psychology professor Charles Snowdon teamed up with composer/cellist David Teie of the University of Maryland to run an experiment similar to the 2006 McDermott/Hauser study with an important twist. Instead of playing ordinary music, Teie created a musical composition for cello and vocals based on the tamarin calls, which is the animal on which they were experimenting. For the sake of being pedantic, the common ancestor we share with tamarins lived around the same time as the one we share with marmoset monkeys (38-49 million years ago), so this is pretty close to being a standardized test relative to the earlier one.

And the tamarins liked their custom-made music. They apparently were much calmer and groomed each other more. Snowdon says this kind of music should be used in zoos to give the monkeys a better quality of life in captivity. But that could be bad for business for the zoos, since said music is incredibly annoying to us. Don’t take my word for it though, you can listen to it at the Science News link in the above paragraph.

NASA will tell the world about the imminent alien invasion

November 30, 2010

NASA administrators prepare for their press conference

So NASA has announced a press conference scheduled for Thursday which will “discuss an astrobiology finding that will impact the search for evidence of extraterrestrial life.” This most definitely and obviously means that aliens are on their way towards Earth to either take possession of our bodies as human hosts, do battle with Will Smith and Jeff Goldblum, drop off some of their least productive alien-citizens into an apartheid regime, ride a bicycle, or possibly all of those. But definitely at least one.

The astronomy blogger Phil Plaitt thinks all of that is over-hyped and that NASA’s announcement will probably be about something more subtle and nuanced, like a finding that will clarify the conditions under which life can possibly arise. But if that’s the case, then why does it seem like NASA press conferences are never anticipated by the press? Usually when NASA or JPL or the ESA or whoever makes an announcement like the kind Plaitt anticipates, it’s just put out there and everyone hears about it. The only way we’d be hearing an announcement for a future announcement would be if the press arbitrarily latched onto this particular press release without doing the further research necessary to gain a deeper understanding of the context, and the press would never ever ever ever be that irresponsible and lazy. Really.

The other problem I have with Plaitt’s thoughts on this is that it if NASA did find extraterrestrial life, then that would be incredibly awesome. And I for one prefer things that are awesome to things that are not quite so awesome.

UPDATE: Vice has a feature on the scientists involved.

Mozart stops mall hooligans from the grave

November 9, 2010

There’s this city in New Zealand called Christchurch (sister city to Darwin, Australia) which found a simple solution to their most pressing problem: shopping mall violence. Apparently playing Mozart over loudspeakers had a drastic effect on the number of anti-social incidents.

You see, back in 2008, shit at the Christchurch City Mall was getting real. Security reported 16 drug and alcohol related incidents. And in October, anti-social incidents were reported at a rate of 77 per week. I think I personally cause at least 77 anti-social incidents per week, but this is New Zealand and that’s how they roll there.

In June of 09, the city decided to start playing classical music over the loudspeakers. And exactly two years after the October of Mayhem the rate of anti-social incidents fell from 77 to 2, and troublesome, drunk, and/or drug-addled customers fell to zero.

But as it turns out this social experiment had just narrowly averted complete disaster:

Originally, Central City Business Association manager Paul Lonsdale intended to play easy listening music like Barry Manilow, but found classical music more calming.

And this raises a further question – if we can reduce violence and crime with music, maybe we can use music to increase crime and violence, too. So all cities should start Bizarro experiments similar to Christchurch, and whichever city’s band increases theft and fistfights the most wins.

Velociraptors will eviscerate us all

October 26, 2010

You guys remember Jurassic Park? OK, do you remember how the discovery of bugs encased in amber inevitably led to a horrible disasters? That’s right; it led to Jurassic Park II: The Lost World and *shudder*Jurassic Park III. But the trivia buffs out there might also remember that it also led to hermaphroditic dinosaurs almost killing Jeff Goldblum.

Now the Wired Science blog is reporting that scientists in India have discovered a whole bunch of amber with 50 million year old insects encased in them. And they might be able to find some DNA of other species within the samples, which they might then be able to analyze. The point being, it’s definitely Velociraptors the Mayans were talking about with their 2012 end of the world business.

Sure, that sounds crazy, especially since Velociraptors went extinct about 25,000,000 years before this amber existed, but who’s to say that there weren’t any 25 million year old bugs back then? Were you there? Then shut up and be afraid of Velociraptors already.

Wired is also claiming that they haven’t gotten any information on non-insect species. FOR NOW. And here’s one of the pics of the ancient bugs:

RE-POST: Canadian scientist aims to turn chickens into dinosaurs, destroy and/or enslave all humans

September 8, 2010

So here’s the plan:

  1. Be Canadian.
  2. Be a scientist.
  3. Get a chicken embryo.
  4. Turn it into a dinosaur.
  5. ????????????????????
  6. PROFIT!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

Here is the lede from PhysOrg (8/25):

“After years spent hunting for the buried remains of prehistoric animals, a Canadian paleontologist now plans to manipulate chicken embryos to show he can create a dinosaur.”

Read MOAR and MOAR and MOAR!

So this guy’s name is Hans Larsson. That’s his real name. No word yet on whether or not he wears all black, speaks in an Eastern European accent, and shows no human emotion – although judging from his name and what he is up to, all of these things most definitely must be absolutely true. Just look at what he looks like probably looks like I think he might look like based on a quick google images search:

My understanding of this stuff is really crude, but I’ll give it a shot. Basically what happens is that when an embryo of any species is developing, its genome starts to be regulated mostly by Hox genes. Here is a rap video about Hox genes. You may listen to the music while reading the rest of this post with my permission.

So for example, since we share a common ancestry with other apes, the capacity to grow a tail is in our genes. It’s just that for most of us, outside of places like Kentucky and India, that gene gets regulated so that we don’t actually grow a tail. At least, not usually:

But if you wanted a human to grow a tail, theoretically you could go into the genome of a developing embryo and tinker around with the Hox genes so that they don’t inhibit that particular part of our genome as it normally would. I’m sure it’s a bit more difficult than that sounds since it would need to be done at a specific developmental period and in the right way, but that’s the gist of evo-devo (evolutionary development) as I understand it.

So this Hans Larsson character is doing this with chickens now, trying to deregulate old genetic material shared with the common ancestor of chickens and dinosaurs. This kind of thing has sort of already been done specifically in the form of developing chickens with teeth. Yeah, that’s right: Chickens with fucking teeth.

Unfortunately this doesn’t mean we can create our own army of unholy chickenosauruses to wreak havoc on Ken Ham’s Creationist “Museum” or to perform some other worthy endeavor. It’s probably going to be very inexact and application-free, at least for a while now. But hang in there – with any luck, Hans and his assistant Igor Ivan Ivanovich (that is very likely his name) will soon be facepalming or shouting up to the nighttime sky something like, “Nooooes! What have I done?” as mobs of the townsfolk with torches and pitchforks scramble in a futile effort to stop the madness before THE CHICKENOSAURS SLAUGHTER US ALL AND SKULLFUCK OUR CORPSES OMG OMG WTF WTF EVERYBODY PANIC RUN FOR YOUR LIVES NOW!!!!!!!!!

Corot-7b is apparently my favorite exoplanet

September 7, 2010

A few months back I wrote about some recent findings about an exoplanet called Corot-7b and added some of my own uninformed speculation on it. And now there’s a new paper for me to pretend I understand. Hooray!

If you remember, Corot-7b is supposed to be a decent candidate in the early search for extraterrestrial life due to its density being vaguely similar to that of Earth. On the other hand, it orbits so close to its star that it only takes 0.85 Earth days for one revolution. And it’s locked into this rate of rotation where one hemisphere is always facing its star, much like our Moon is to Earth. So it’s incredibly hot on half of its surface and the other half of its surface never gets sunlight and is unbelievably cold. Oh yeah, and it rains rocks there because the heavier elements on the surface melt and then go up into its atmosphere, where they then cool down, condense, and fall back down.

This new paper by a team of astronomers at the Italian Institute for Interplanetary Space Physics in Rome is saying that some of those melted elements escape the atmosphere, creating something like a comet’s tail. Apparently Mercury is in a similar situation in our own solar system. From Wired’s Science Blog:

“The planet appears to be more like a ’super-Mercury’ under much extremer environmental conditions,” the researchers write.

The researchers at the Institute for Interplanetary Space Physics

So hopefully soon these astronomers or others will get some actual pictures of this awesome planet/comet/Mercury-ish tail thing.

CERN Records drops newest jam

August 26, 2010

CERN’s secret project of starting a record label under the guise of studying physics has taken another step towards the scientists’ domination of all genres of music. First they conquered hip hop, and then they branched out into ambient drones. Now they’re going old school with a chorus:

Pic of the day

August 22, 2010

This is galaxy M87 as observed by the Chandra X-Ray Observatory and the creatively titled Very Large Array. It’s about 50 million light years away, which is 293,931,268,659,180,416,736 actual miles. If you wanted to drive there at 60 miles per hour, it would take you a little more than 559 trillion years, but probably your car would explode and you would suffocate long before you got even close to it. So don’t try it, in case you were considering it.

Anyway, what’s happening here is something called a galactic super-volcano. Very high energy particles produced by a black hole are interfering with the normal cooling process of hot gases which normally start to coalesce to form new stars. But instead all these gases are getting ejected in a way that’s apparently similar to how volcanoes here do when they fuck up European air travel. Except here that’s happening on a scale of something like a few trillion times larger than that.

Shark week!

August 4, 2010

10 weirdest sharks

Top 10 shark attack videos

Look at this fucking slow-motion video of lightning

July 31, 2010


I for one welcome our robotic arm overlords

July 15, 2010

This is so awesome! Darpa is about to test a brain implant which is supposed to directly control artificial limbs. So soon we will all be able to re-wire ourselves so we can be stronger, faster, and more deadly than before.

If you happen to be missing a limb, you’d probably do well to get in on the ground floor on this by volunteering to guinea pig at Johns Hopkins. Katie Drummond at Wired’s Danger Room blog reports that human trials should begin within the next two years. If you’re lucky, you can get trapped in some kind of quantum entanglement experiment while you’re there and somehow be given super powers.