April 2012

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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There’s a new subatomic particle.

30 April 2012 // 0 Comments

And it’s a USB! Well, that’s what Science Daily says it’s made of, anyway. It’s formally called a “Xi_b^*” and it’s just been spotted at the Large Hadron Collider: In the course of proton collisions in the LHC at CERN, physicists Claude Amsler, Vincenzo Chiochia and Ernest Aguiló from the University of Zurich’s Physics Institute managed to detect a baryon with one light and two heavy quarks. The particle Xi_b^* comprises one “up,” one “strange” and one “bottom” quark (usb), is electrically neutral and has a spin of 3/2 (1.5). Its mass is comparable to that of a lithium atom. The new discovery means that two of the three baryons predicted in the usb composition by theory have now been observed. … The discovery of the new particle confirms the theory of how quarks bind and therefore helps to understand the strong interaction, one of the four basic forces of physics which determines the structure […]

Science Art: CERN-EX-1107175 01 by the LHCB Team at the CERN Large Hadron Collider.

29 April 2012 // 0 Comments

Click to embiggen The formal name for this image: LHCb: Event display presented at the EPS-HEP 2011 conference showing a B0s meson decaying into a ?+ and ?- pair. It’s what happens when a strange beauty particle called B0s, made from a beauty antiquark (b) stuck together with a strange quark (s), falls apart into two muons, one positive and one negative. The purple lines – those are the tracks left by the muons. And this kind of thing – this process – is a very small part of how the Big Bang resulted in everything we see around us today. Image from here, with more information about this poetic quantum interaction from the LHCb Team.

Lovecraft report: Proto-organism found in remote lake sludge.

27 April 2012 // 0 Comments

PhysOrg calls it “man’s remotest relative,” a living thing that has no branch on the tree of life. Why can’t they just call a shoggoth a shoggoth, man?: The elusive, single-cell creature evolved about a billion years ago and did not fit in any of the known categories of living organisms — it was not an animal, plant, parasite, fungus or alga, they said. “We have found an unknown branch of the tree of life that lives in this lake. It is unique!” University of Oslo researcher Kamran Shalchian-Tabrizi said. “So far we know of no other group of organisms that descends from closer to the roots of the tree of life than this species”, which has been declared a new category of organism called Collodictyon. Scientists believe the discovery may provide insight into what life looked like on earth hundreds of millions of years ago. Collodictyon lives in the sludge of a small lake […]

Robots make the grade on essay questions.

26 April 2012 // 0 Comments

New Scientist discusses the future of the academy, in which teachers have been replaced by essay-grading robots: Grading software from nine manufacturers, which together cover 97 per cent of the US market, was used in the test. To calibrate the systems, each looked for correlations between factors associated with good essays, such as strong vocabulary and good grammar, and the human-assigned score. After training, the software marked another set of essays without access to the human-given grades. The essay marks handed out by the machines were statistically identical to those from the human graders, says [Jaison Morgan of The Common Pool consultancy]. “The result blew away everyone’s expectations,” he says. The work was released this week at the conference of the National Council on Measurement in Education in Vancouver, Canada. It is an important finding, says Morgan, because teachers often do not assign essays because they do not have the time to mark them. He […]

You will remember… FEAR!

25 April 2012 // 0 Comments

Science News chills us to the bone with the latest breakthrough from Mark Mayford and Susumu Tonegawa, neuroscientists at Scripps and MIT, respectively. They’ve been able to manufacture memories – terrifying memories of things that never happened – in mice: Though the two teams used different approaches, they both created a false memory of a fearful situation in mice. In the work reported in Science… Mayford and colleagues relied on a molecule that, upon binding a particular drug, could activate nerve cells. The team genetically engineered the mice so that only the nerve cells active during the formation of a particular memory would make the molecule. … The marked memory was of a square room with opaque white walls and floor, and no particular odors. The mice played in this room, had their memory tagged and later went into a different room — this time, a wintergreen-scented room with a black-and-white checkered wall and a […]

Coke ages brains.

24 April 2012 // 0 Comments

Scientific American veers into “No, really?” territory with news that cocaine ages your brain prematurely: “As we age we all lose gray matter,” Karen Ersche of the Behavioral and Clinical Neuroscience Institute at the University of Cambridge and co-author of the new study, said in a prepared statement. But, she noted, “chronic cocaine users lose grey matter at a significantly faster rate, which could be a sign of premature aging.” Ersche and her colleagues used magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) to study the brains of 60 people ages 18 to 50 who used cocaine habitually and 60 healthy people of similar ages and IQs who did not. They found that on average, healthy individuals who didn’t use the drug lost about 1.7 milliliters of grey matter annually, whereas cocaine users were losing closer to 3.1 milliliters each year. Cocaine users lost much more gray matter in the prefrontal and temporal regions—which help control memory, decision-making and […]

DNA evidence finds Chinese medicine guilty…

23 April 2012 // 0 Comments

…of killing endangered animals. Or at least Nature hypes up enough evidence to put Chinese medicine on trial: “There’s absolutely no honesty in the labelling of these products. What they declare is completely at odds with what’s in there,” says Mike Bunce, a geneticist at Murdoch University near Perth, Australia, who led the study. The results are published today in PLoS Genetics. … Bunce’s team sequenced DNA from 15 traditional Chinese medicine preparations that had been seized by Australian customs, including powders, tablets and teas…. They identified 68 families of plants, including a poisonous herb called Ephedra and the woody vine Aristolochia. Sometimes known as birthwort, Aristolochia contains aristolochic acid, which can cause kidney and liver damage and bladder cancer. Medicinal use of the herb probably explains high rates of bladder cancer in Taiwan, according to a paper published this week in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. … The researchers also found DNA […]

Here’s why Pioneer slowed down…

20 April 2012 // 0 Comments

Physics World has a solution for the Pioneer Anomaly – the strange slowdown experienced by both Pioneer space probes as they passed beyond the farthest reach of the solar wind. It’s not as exciting as aliens with tractor beams or magnetic walls built to keep humans from exploring the galaxy, but it is an explanation for what happened at the edge of the solar system: Physicists have known for more than a decade that the Pioneer 10 and 11 probes are following trajectories that cannot be explained by conventional physics. Known as the “Pioneer anomaly”, both craft seem to be experiencing an extra acceleration towards the Sun as they exit the solar system…. In 2011 a team led by Slava Turyshev of the Jet Propulsion Laboratory in California – and including Viktor Toth, Jordan Ellis and Craig Markwardt – showed that the magnitude of the acceleration is decreasing exponentially with time. Given that for both […]

You are a hive mind.

19 April 2012 // 0 Comments

Scientific American is seething with the swarm of possibilities that bring every human decision down to the level of bees: To Dr. Thomas Seeley, a professor of neurobiology at Cornell University, the hive mind is more than just a metaphor. In a recent paper in Science, Seeley and his colleagues describe a potential deep parallel between how brains and bee swarms come to a decision. With no central planner or decider, both brains and bee hives can resolve their inner differences to commit to single courses of action. To watch a group of bees is to see a frenzy of different interests coalesce into a single, clear thought. This is analogous to neurons in the brain, which must reach a consensus on how to achieve a behavioral goal by positioning the body in space. Bees in a hive must do something similar when deciding where to move the superorganism that is the swarm. Part of […]

NASA wants your Mars ideas.

18 April 2012 // 0 Comments

The space administration needs YOU – and your vision of what we should do on Mars: “This is a two-way capability open to anyone,” says Doug McCuistion, director of the director of NASA’s Mars Exploration Program. “We’re absolutely serious about that. We want to hear from anyone who has an idea, not just the establishment.” The MPPG is reluctant to speculate about what form the new missions will take, including whether they will begin with an orbiter or a lander, but the hope is to begin launching no later than 2020. “We’re not trying to write a roadmap for every mission we’ll fly through the next 20 years,” says [NASA’s John] Grunsfeld. “We’d hate to prejudice the process at this point by trying to make those kinds of predictions.” The goal is to move towards having a human presence around the Red Planet in the 2030s, Grunsfeld adds. Send suggestions to this workshop….

Darwinian pediatrics: Painkillers are *counterproductive.*

17 April 2012 // 0 Comments

I think I’m much more sympathetic to this viewpoint than might at first appear. New Scientist reports on medical philosophy that holds that when kids are in pain and discomfort, their bodies are doing important things: What do you do differently from other doctors? One example is when a child twists an ankle playing soccer. Everyone rushes to offer ice and ibuprofen. As the father of a soccer player, I’ve seen this happen many times, and it didn’t take me long to earn the label “cruel and unusual”, by insisting that my son needed neither. As a Darwinian paediatrician, I think the pain and inflammation that made my son cry and his ankle swell are an evolutionary response to injury, which suggests that they are part of the solution rather than the problem. They exist to promote healing. … Do your ideas extend to other areas of parenting? Yes. Sometimes people don’t understand how child-centred […]

Science Art:Dugesia Anatomy Schematic, by Andreas Neudecker

15 April 2012 // 0 Comments

This is a flatworm. A German flatworm. It may be a distant cousin of the planarians that hypnotized Dutch artist M.C. Escher with their two-dimensional lives and their bizarre ability to learn by eating the brains of the educated. It’s probably not thinking about that, though. Look into its eyespots. Did you see that? Found on Wikimedia Commons.

SONG: “Inside the Box”

14 April 2012 // 0 Comments

SONG: “Inside the Box.” [Download] (To download: double right-click & “Save As”) ARTIST: grant. SOURCE: Based on “CEOs and the Candle Problem”, Nature, “A Mad Hemorrhage” blog, 2 Apr 2012, as used in the post “About those CEO bonuses: How financial incentives make us less creative.”. ABSTRACT: This song was a response to Mike Phirman’s SongFu prompt, “Write a song about your last day at work. Any style you choose.” So, it seemed like a natural fit to apply that idea to the implications of the Candle Problem. Although this song is, strictly speaking, not autobiographical (for one thing, my office doesn’t have regular time-wasting meetings like most corps I hear about), I do work in the print media. You might have heard about that industry lately. And I kind of figured most people seeing that prompt would zig into “Take this job and shove it!” territory, so it seemed like the thing to do […]

Crab chips for a living computer.

13 April 2012 // 0 Comments

New Scientist blogs about the ultimate Rube Goldberg cybernetic machine – a computer that uses living crabs for processors: Yukio-Pegio Gunji of Kobe University in Japan and colleagues realised that when two swarms of crabs collide, they merge and continue in a direction that is the sum of their velocities. This behaviour means the researchers could adapt a previous model of unconventional computing, based on colliding billiard balls, to work with swarms of crabs, with 0s and 1s represented by the absence or presence of a swarm. … They then tried the logic gates for real, using swarms of 40 crabs. The crab swarms were placed at the entrances of the logic gates and encouraged to move by a looming shadow that fooled them into thinking a predatory bird was overhead. The results closely matched the simulation, suggesting that crab-powered computers could indeed be possible.

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