Posts Tagged ‘mad scientists’

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.

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!!!!!!!!!

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:

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.

Mice get real mad fighting at home

July 11, 2010

 

We have to show these mice freedom by enslaving them, and show them courage by frightening them.

 

We all know that scientists just don’t like mice. But now it turns out that this long-standing hatred has somehow resulted in empirical data.

So in the usual, day-to-day, mouse-hating life of the lab geeks, one of them decided to try to measure the “winner effect,” i.e. that winners in previous contests will continue to win, perhaps boosted by the resultant testosterone. So instead of having the normal Schadenfreude-enducing random caged mice fights, the scientists decided to frame the mice fight clubs in the format of a tournament so they could study this possible effect:

We examined this issue in the territorial California mouse (Peromyscus californicus) because males of this species are more likely to win fights after accruing victories in their home territory but not after accruing victories in unfamiliar locations. Using immunocytochemistry and real-time quantitative PCR, we found that winning fights either at home or away increases the expression of androgen receptors (AR) in the medial anterior bed nucleus of the stria terminalis, a key brain area that controls social aggression. We also found that AR expression in brain regions that mediate motivation and reward, nucleus accumbens (NAcc) and ventral tegmental area (VTA), increases only in response to fights in the home territory.

So these mice basically got more pumped up from fighting, won more, and were more inclined to continue fighting when they were set up to win while on their own turf, but not when they were similarly set up to win in an unfamiliar environment. So the next time you think you’re flying into an uncontrollable rage, get out of town for a while and maybe that will make you more docile (?). I don’t know. Whatever.

AI will (maybe someday) enslave us all (still)

April 7, 2010

I know I’ve done my whole fearmongering about Artificial Intelligence thing before, but this time I REALLY MEAN IT WE’RE ALL FUCKED AND ARE GONNA DIE OMG WTF AHHHHHHHHHHH.

MIT released a report on how they have integrated the probabilistic approach to AI with a stricter, rule-based one, and the result, they claim, is a new unified theory of AI. What had happened is they started off trying to simulate intelligence by a rigid model of thought based on rules of logic. For example if all ravens are black and X is a raven, then X is black. Since this rules out nuances, researchers decided to abandon that approach in favor of one based on probability.

Now they’re stepping back a bit by trying to build models of intelligence which accumulate both probabilities and logical inferences in order to fine-tune their deductions. It sounds a lot like how infants learn about the world around them, which makes this both kind of scary and fascinating at the same time if it really works. But then there’s the philosophical problem of whether or not it’s even possible to really simulate intelligence, or if a simulation is always going to come up short to the real thing, or if there’s no meaningful difference between the two at all since we couldn’t distinguish between the two based on the end result. Either way, we’re probably all fucked since Skynet is imminent.

Pic of the day

March 29, 2010

Sam Harris at TED

March 23, 2010

This is from the Technology Education Development conference last month. I’m not sure how much I agree with him here. The line between an objective morality and an absolutist one is pretty tricky. I think that if you have a  situation and you have different possible courses of action to resolve it, one of them is going to cause the least amount of harm and that would be objectively the best way to act. But then the thing about science is that we’re always finding out new stuff – like for example we could discover that harm is being caused where we previously thought there wasn’t.

This is not so much of a problem in science today because nowadays we have specialization and people devoting themselves to very specific sub-fields of study. So scientists can take minute details into account on how they affect their overall picture. But when it comes to ethics and morality, every single one of us would need to devote just as much time to do some sort of meticulous analysis since we really all have to use ethics and morality. And if we’re all going to take a scientific approach then that’s what we’ll have to do. It’s too much work, and I for one am very lazy.

Quote of the Day

November 28, 2009

Scientists mess with memories again

October 22, 2009

A while back, I wrote about scientists creating false memories in humans via digitally altered video. Just a few days ago a similar report came out dealing with fruit flies, except it was using lasers and genetic engineering. Now scientists are experimenting on the memories of mice.

Unlike the fruit flies experiment, the triggered memories are actually real ones. But it similarly uses genetic engineering in order to fine-tune the details. The main finding here, as far as I can tell with my semi-retarded understanding, is that only a small number of neurons in the brains of the subjects needed to be activated in order to trigger the memory. Here is what I believe the lead author of the paper in question looks like:

Michael Häusser of the Wolfson Institute for Biomedical Research at University College London (visual approximation)

Michael Häusser of the Wolfson Institute for Biomedical Research at University College London (visual approximation)

Of course the memories so triggered had to be ones of mouse torture, for well known reasons.

“So far all manipulations of neural activity have targeted local clusters of neurons or certain neural cell types,” adds Michael Brecht at the Bernstein Center for Computational Neuroscience Berlin, who studies neural circuitry. “If the conclusions turn out to be correct, such highly selective manipulations suggest that the brain might actually compute with small, precisely selected sets of neurons.”

Huh.

Well, that’s that. It’s only a matter of time before we’re all manipulating each others’ memories with lasers and stimulating select patches of neurons until everything we know is just lies based on more lies and then a speed freak will write a story about it which will then be made into a hit movie starring the future governor of California.

Changing memory via digitally altered video

September 17, 2009

This kind of connects two things I’ve posted about here recently: digitally altered media and optical illusionsHere is a quick summary from Scientific American‘s 60 Second Psych site and here is a more elaborate report from Wired Magazine.

What happened was that psychologist Kimberly Wade of the University of Warwick set up this experiment where a group of people were playing a trivia game, with one experimenter playing along unbeknownest to the rest of the group. There were sixty subjects, split evenly into three groups. One group was told that the covert researcher might have cheated. The second group was told that he was caught on camera cheating. And the third group was provided with faked video evidence of cheating.

To standardize this experiment, each subject was then asked to sign a document only if they had actually seen cheating take place during the actual game – which, to clarify, none of them actually had witnessed. Five percent of the first group signed, ten percent of the second group signed, and 40% of the third group signed. From the Wired article:

“Our participants were willing to sign a statement to say that they witnessed another person cheating in an experiment, when in fact, that person never cheated,” psychologist Kimberley Wade of the University of Warwick wrote in an e-mail. “So we now know that digitally altered footage can change people’s perceptions of an event, and have serious consequences for how people behave.”

Not only that, but we also now know that just simply telling someone that they saw something can, in 5-10% of cases, actually change their memory of what really did happen. So if I go up to twenty people and say something like, “Hey, remember when I loaned you $100?” chances are that at least one will “remember” that.

Another reason why smoking is awesome

September 10, 2009

The Large Hadron Collider is going to destroy everything again. Really this time.

September 8, 2009

The Large Hadron Collider is being restarted again this month. So here are some reasons why the LHC = awesomeness:

It will tell us something about the fundamental particles of matter regardless of the outcome. For example, if they find the Higgs boson, it will confirm that theory and raise even deeper questions about physics which nobody can yet forsee. And if they don’t find it, then they’d have exchanged error for truth and have to go back to the drawing board with newer and better ideas, one of them having been falsified. The same goes for things like dark matter, dark energy, extra dimensions like suggested by string theory, and the possibility of a unified field theory.

Its findings will inspire future generations of physicists who will then find out even more about how the Universe works.

It will help teenagers get laid by inducing end of the world panic in people without understanding of what the LHC actually is.

The same fear-mongering will create internet joke fodder.

AAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHH!!!!!!!!!!!!!1111111111111

AAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAHHHHHHHHHHHH!!!!!!!!!!!!!1111111111111

Suicide cults will do their ‘cult suicide’ thing. Hilarity will ensue.

Creationists will either try to claim that the findings prove God created the Universe or that the findings are all part of a “Big Science” conspiracy a la Ben Stein. Hilarity will ensue.

Time travelers might show up. But probably not.

It will give nerdy musicians more inspiration for their craft:

Monkey Music

September 2, 2009

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.