June 2011

Science Art: Ecphora gardnerae, by J.C. McConnell

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A shellfish that was around when megalodons swam and the first crows flew.

It was drawn by J.C. McConnell, a doctor who officially worked as a clerk for the Army Medical Museum, and gained a reputation for his shells, especially prehistoric ones.

If you’re going to be known for anything, I guess, why not that?

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SONG: "Jump, Jump, Jump."

SONG: “Jump, Jump, Jump”.

ARTIST: grant.

SOURCE: Based on “Fish and Adaptation: Mangrove Fish Jumps into Air in Warming Water”, Nature World News, 21 Oct 2015, as used in the post “Global warming might make the fish jump.”

ABSTRACT: First, let me say that this was done on time, even early. It started as a jokey thing I was singing to my son while he was watching me play guitar on the couch, and I decided what the hell. They call it “playing” music for a reason. (I guess if I spoke …

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SONG: All Praise Black Ice

SONG: “All Praise Black Ice”.

ARTIST: grant.

SOURCE: Based on “New Horizons Finds Blue Skies and Water Ice on Pluto”, NASA.gov, 8 Oct 2015, as used in the post “There’s water ice on another planet. Not Mars. Pluto.”


Laryngitis followed by a business trip and here I am, a couple weeks late. I hope the brass section makes up for that.

(Yes, there’s brass in there, somewhere. I really need help mastering these things, but one does what one can in between everything e…

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Science Art: Taf. V: Feuer-Salamander by Bruno Dürigen.


Fire salamanders.

They don’t look so hot.


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Science Art: Chemical Laboratory room. Experimental Research labs, Burroughs Wellcome and Co. Tuckahoe, New York

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Welcome to Wellcome.

They’ve got all kinds of wonderful things in their image gallery, including this marvelous experimenter in an even more marvelous experimental lab.

In 1935, this was where the future was made.

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Fear remembers.

30 June 2011 // 0 Comments

Next time you’re stuck trying to get Boyle’s Law or some cute person’s email into your memory, think of something awful. That’s MSNBC’s solution, based on the way our brains store unpleasant images: When study participants viewed color images of a dead cat, a pointed gun, or a person getting a dental exam — pictures that evoke negative feelings — it actually improved their recall of recently learned information. In this case, 40 college students were asked to bone up on 100 vocabulary words in Swahili along with their English translations. (Example: “Mashua” means “boat” in Swahili, if you’re going to east Africa.) Volunteers were then tested on the vocabulary pairs, 10 words at a time. After they gave a correct answer, participants were shown a negatively arousing photo, a neutral image, such as a fork or shoelaces, or a blank screen. If they gave the wrong response, they saw a blank screen or neutral […]

Plastic isn’t sexy.

29 June 2011 // 0 Comments

Not just looking at – being around it. Science Daily has the skinny on how BPA is making male mice less attractive to females: The latest research from the University of Missouri shows that BPA causes male deer mice to become demasculinized and behave more like females in their spatial navigational abilities, leading scientists to conclude that exposure to BPA during human development could be damaging to behavioral and cognitive traits that are unique to each sex and important in reproduction. “The BPA-exposed deer mice in our study look normal; there is nothing obviously wrong with them. Yet, they are clearly different,” said Cheryl Rosenfeld, associate professor in biomedical sciences in the College of Veterinary Medicine and investigator in the Bond Life Sciences Center. Enjoy that bottled water!

Google vs. Nonsense

28 June 2011 // 0 Comments

In my day job, I’m not a scientist – I’m a writer. So it pleases me immensely to see this New York Times piece on the innovative ways Google is waging war on “content farms” and other purveyors of word salad: Last year, The Economist admiringly described Associated Content and Demand Media as cleverly cynical operations that “aim to produce content at a price so low that even meager advertising revenue can support it.” … As recent accounts of life in these words-are-money mills make clear, some content-farm writers have deadlines as frequently as every 25 minutes. Others are expected to turn around reported pieces, containing interviews with several experts, in an hour. Some compose, edit, format and publish 10 articles in a single shift. Many with decades of experience in journalism work 70-hour weeks for salaries of $40,000 with no vacation time. The content farms have taken journalism hackwork to a whole new level. […]

Evolution machine

27 June 2011 // 0 Comments

Genetic engineers have, in the latest New Scientist, devised a device that (deviously) speeds up the process of evolution: For instance, a yeast engineered to churn out the antimalarial drug artemisinin has been hailed as one of the great success stories of synthetic biology. However, it took 150 person-years and cost $25 million to add or tweak around a dozen genes – and commercial production has yet to begin. … But George Church, a geneticist at Harvard Medical School in Boston, thinks there is a far quicker way: let evolution do all the hard work for us. Instead of trying to design every aspect of the genetic circuitry involved in a particular trait down to the last DNA letter, his idea is to come up with a relatively rough design, create lots of variants on this design and select the ones that work best. The basic idea is hardly original; various forms of directed evolution […]

Science Art: Hubble Confirms Existence of Massive Black Hole at Heart of Active Galaxy, by Holland Ford, et al. (5/25/1994)

26 June 2011 // 0 Comments

From the image’s archive.org page: A schematic diagram of velocity measurements of a rotating disk of hot gas in the core of active galaxy M87. The measurement was made by studying how the light from the disk is redshifted and blueshifted as part of the swirling disk spins in earth’s direction and the other side spins away from earth. The gas on one side of the disk is speeding away from Earth, at a speed of about 1.2 million miles per hour (550 kilometers per second). The gas on the other side of the disk is orbiting around at the same speed, but in the opposite direction, as it approaches viewers on Earth. This high velocity is the signature of the tremendous gravitational field at the center of M87. This is clear evidence that the region harbors a massive black hole, since it contains only a fraction of the number of stars that would be […]

Uncut lovers.

24 June 2011 // 0 Comments

That’s Denmark for you. The International Journal of Epidemiology published an article from Danish researchers who found circumcision isn’t all that great in the sack: RESULTS: Age at first intercourse, perceived importance of a good sex life and current sexual activity differed little between circumcised and uncircumcised men or between women with circumcised and uncircumcised spouses. However, circumcised men reported more partners and were more likely to report frequent orgasm difficulties after adjustment for potential confounding factors [11 vs 4%, OR(adj)?=?3.26; 95% confidence interval (CI) 1.42-7.47], and women with circumcised spouses more often reported incomplete sexual needs fulfilment (38 vs 28%, OR(adj)?=?2.09; 95% CI 1.05-4.16) and frequent sexual function difficulties overall (31 vs 22%, OR(adj)?=?3.26; 95% CI 1.15-9.27), notably orgasm difficulties (19 vs 14%, OR(adj)?=?2.66; 95% CI 1.07-6.66) and dyspareunia (12 vs 3%, OR(adj)?=?8.45; 95% CI 3.01-23.74). Findings were stable in several robustness analyses, including one restricted to non-Jews and non-Moslems. CONCLUSIONS: Circumcision was associated […]

SONG: “Humidity”

23 June 2011 // 0 Comments

SONG: “Humidity.” [Download] (To download: double right-click & “Save As”) ARTIST: grant. SOURCE: Based on Star Found Shooting Water “Bullets”, National Geographic, 13 June 2011, as used in the post “Star sprinklers”. ABSTRACT: Dude, it’s hot. Why is it so hot? Humidity. Feels like 98 in the shade. Sweating won’t make you any cooler. Where’d this humidity come from? From space, I guess. It was here before we were. It’s so hot. I can’t think. I wish the A/C worked. Lyrics: The heat wrapped us up and it smothered us / /don’t hold me so tight. You lay on a towel on the couch in the shade / / it’s too hot to fight (D) Sweating like a glass of iced tea. / / You were making those eyes at me In this humidity And the hum of the fan is all that held us together/ / As we both peeled off our shirts And […]

Test-tube steak will save Earth.

22 June 2011 // 0 Comments

PhysOrg hops on the in-vitro meat bandwagon with a study that concludes lab-grown meat will lower greenhouse gas emissions by 96 percent: The analysis, carried out by scientists from Oxford University and the University of Amsterdam, also estimates that cultured meat would require 7-45% less energy to produce than the same volume of pork, sheep or beef. It would require more energy to produce than poultry but only a fraction of the land area and water needed to rear chickens. A report of the team’s research is published in the journal Environmental Science & Technology. ‘What our study found was that the environmental impacts of cultured meat could be substantially lower than those of meat produced in the conventional way,’ said Hanna Tuomisto of Oxford University’s Wildlife Conservation Research Unit, who led the research. ‘Cultured meat could potentially be produced with up to 96% lower greenhouse gas emissions, 45% less energy, 99% lower land use, […]

Robot astronauts.

21 June 2011 // 0 Comments

I suppose automation just made the Space Shuttle obsolete (or, well, something like that). MSNBC reports that the latest supply ship to the ISS is unmanned: The Progress 43 cargo ship blasted off at 10:38 a.m. ET from the Baikonour Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan in Central Asia. The robot resupply vehicle will dock at the space station’s Russian Zvezda service module on Thursday. “There’s a little less than 3 tons of supplies, equipment, fuel and oxygen,” NASA spokesman Kelly Humphries told Space.com. He said the payload included about 104 pounds (47 kilograms) of science supplies and equipment from NASA, the European Space Agency and the Canadian Space Agency. … Progress vehicles are disposable and routinely burn up in Earth’s atmosphere once their missions are complete. Makes me think the people on the space station must be kinda lonely.

A dying flash.

20 June 2011 // 0 Comments

CSM takes a somber look at a star essentially giving a final wave as it’s swallowed by a black hole: Using Swift observations and others by the Hubble Space Telescope and the Chandra X-ray Observatory, Bloom and his colleagues concluded that the strange activity they were seeing was likely from a star being ripped apart by a massive black hole, rather than the effects of a gamma-ray burst, which typically can only be observed for about a day. “This burst produced a tremendous amount of energy over a fairly long period of time,” Bloom said. “That’s because as the black hole rips the star apart, the mass swirls around like water going down a drain, and this swirling process releases a lot of energy.” These findings are published online in the June 16 issue of the journal Science. … Bloom’s research showed that the highly energetic and long-lasting X-rays and gamma-rays were produced as a […]

Science Art: Farnsworth–Hirsch Fusor (U.S. Patent 3,386,883)

19 June 2011 // 0 Comments

The innards of a nuclear reactor, from a relatively recent patent application. That is, 1966. By inventor Philo T. Farnsworth. It’s a fusor, which is to say a thing that makes fusion happen. Not the fission that uses radioactive stuff to make nuclear energy, but fusion. It never worked exactly right, but it’s close enough to be promising. Still. It’s made by taking the guts of four TV sets (the old-fashioned cathode ray kind) and pointing them at each other instead of phosphorescent glass screens. Particle beams, colliding in a chamber. Nowadays, devices like this one are mostly used to get extra neutrons. You know, for, like, neutron stuff. Image found on Wikimedia Commons.

Echoes of the magma oceans of Io

17 June 2011 // 0 Comments

Wired gets all hot about some of our solar system’s OTHER moons – specifically, the strange magnetism of the magma oceans of Io: The magma sea is buried deep beneath the surface and is 20 to 30 miles thick, meaning it makes up at least 10 percent of the moon’s mantle by volume. The blisteringly hot reservoir, which feeds the moon’s many active volcanoes, would probably exceed temperatures of 1,200 degrees Celsius. So how did the team only just figure this out, when its Io-hunting spacecraft Galileo threw itself into the burning atmosphere of Jupiter way back in 2003? … “It turns out Io was continually giving off a ‘sounding signal’ in Jupiter’s rotating magnetic field that matched what would be expected from molten or partially molten rocks deep beneath the surface,” said Khurana.

Star sprinklers.

16 June 2011 // 1 Comment

Just in time for summer, National Geographic lets us know that someone left the sprinklers on way up there: The discovery suggests that protostars may be seeding the universe with water. These stellar embryos shoot jets of material from their north and south poles as their growth is fed by infalling dust that circles the bodies in vast disks. “If we picture these jets as giant hoses and the water droplets as bullets, the amount shooting out equals a hundred million times the water flowing through the Amazon River every second,” said Lars Kristensen, a postdoctoral astronomer at Leiden University in the Netherlands. “We are talking about velocities reaching 200,000 kilometers [124,000 miles] per hour, which is about 80 times faster than bullets flying out of a machine gun,” said Kristensen, lead author of the new study detailing the discovery, which has been accepted for publication in the journal Astronomy & Astrophysics. So that might […]

Mother cow.

15 June 2011 // 0 Comments

It must be strange to work in a facility like the ones Sky News just reported on – the places where genetically modified cows produce human breast milk: The milk produced by the transgenic cows is identical to the human variety and has the same immune-boosting and antibacterial qualities as breast milk, scientists at China’s Agricultural University in Beijing say. The transgenic herd of 300 was bred by inserting human genes into cloned cow embryos which were then implanted into surrogate cows. The technology was similar to that used to produce Dolly the sheep. The milk is still undergoing safety tests but with government permission it will be sold to consumers as a more nutritious dairy drink than cow’s milk. Workers at the university’s dairy farm have already tasted the milk, and say it is sweeter and stronger than the usual bovine variety. It’s funny that in English, the university where this is happening is […]

The shrunken head considered.

14 June 2011 // 0 Comments

I never realized there was doubt about the tales of vicious headhunting tribes in South America until I read this Discovery News item. Apparently, they’ve just gotten around to DNA-testing a well-preserved shrunken head to verify that yep, it’s real: “The shrunken heads were made from enemies’ heads cut on the battlefield,” co-author Gila Kahila Bar-Gal told Discovery News. “Then, during spiritual ceremonies, enemies’ heads were carefully reduced through boiling and heating, in the attempt to lock the enemy’s spirit and protect the killers from spiritual revenge.” Kahila Bar-Gal is a senior lecturer in the Hebrew University of Jerusalem’s Koret School of Veterinary Medicine. She is also a faculty member within the university’s department of Agriculture, Food and Environment. For the study, she and her colleagues used DNA testing and other techniques to examine the authenticity and possible cultural provenance of a shrunken head displayed at the Eretz Israel Museum in Tel Aviv. The head […]

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