Thursday, February 28, 2013

Techno Telepathy

Neuroscientist Miguel Nicolelis (Duke University) studies brain-machine interfaces. In this study, Nicolelis and colleagues connected two rats together electronically, allowing signals to pass from one to the other. 
Scientists have wired the brains of two rats together and shown that signals from one rat’s brain can help the second rat solve a problem it would otherwise have no clue how to solve.
The rats were in different cages with no way to communicate other than through the electrodes implanted in their brains. The transfer of information from brain to brain even worked with two rats separated by thousands of kilometers, one in a lab in North Carolina and another in a lab in Brazil. - from Rodent Mind Meld: Scientists Wire Two Rats’ Brains Together (Wired, Greg Miller).

This is interesting by itself. However, last week I read a novel by Ramez Naam called Nexus:
In the near future, the experimental nano-drug Nexus can link human together, mind to mind. There are some who want to improve it. There are some who want to eradicate it. And there are others who just want to exploit it.
When a young scientist is caught improving Nexus, he’s thrust over his head into a world of danger and international espionage – for there is far more at stake than anyone realizes.
It was a fast-paced and gripping novel in the growing "post-human" genre. Good science-fiction is often just on the horizon of current technology. If you're interested in thinking about the consequences of linking humans (not just rats) mind-to-mind, this book provides both a grim and inspiring tale.

Saturday, February 23, 2013

The Wheels on the Bus

I saw this photo on Facebook (posted to Living Off the Grid):

After a few seconds of Internet research, I was able to find a source: "Old School Bus Turned Into A Tiny House" on I'm not sure I could live in a "tiny house," but I find the concept fascinating.

Saturday, February 16, 2013

Early Endocrinology

Went to the 57th Annual Volunteer Nonprofit Service Association Used Book Sale today at the Arizona State Fairgrounds. The Exhibit Center was filled to the brim with books and people. It took about an hour of standing in line just to get in.

I made a beeline for the science and medical textbooks, where I discovered a copy of The Glands Regulating Personality, by Louis Berman, MD. This 341-page tome educates the reader regarding the effects various glands and "internal secretions" on human behavior. The nascent field of endocrinology (circa 1921) was enjoying popularity at the time.

Naturally, I immediately consulted the Index to learn about homosexuality.

First, an excerpt to establish medical and scientific expertise of the era:
The accessibility of the thyroid gland in the next, the ease of surgical approach, the definite effects following its removal, and then the miraculous marvels of the feeding of thyroid have rendered it the center of attack by the largest army of endocrine investigators. As a result we know more about the thyroid in childhood, adolescence, adult life and old age than about the other glands.
It's a small blob in the middle of your chest, under the breastbone. 
Such research revealed that the thymus typically calms down after puberty. But not always:
It is after puberty, when the thymus should shrink and pass out of the endocrine concert as a power, that the more complex reactions of personality emerge when the thymus persists and refuses to or cannot retire. The persistent thymus always, then, throws its shadow over the entire personality.
A hyperactive thymus causes problems (Eugen Steinach was Austrian, of course):
The persistence of the thymus after adolescence makes for an arrest of masculinization or feminization, the end-point arrived at by the process of puberty. That is, a partial castration takes place. Now, as the experiments of Steinach upon the transplantation of ovaries into males deprived of their testes and of testes into females deprived of their ovaries have demonstrated, the removal of the interstitial cells of one sex assists enormously in arousing the opposite sex traits that have been latent, homosexuality. In a thymo-centric, tendencies to homosexuality and masochism appear.
Gay guinea pig wedding. Caused by science.
 Oh, us poor, unfortunate, thymo-centrics:
Homosexuality, in one form or another, frank or concealed, haunts the thymo-centric and spoils his life. The persistent thymus, like a vindictive Electra, stalks the footsteps of its victim, its possessor. He wishes to live, according to society's remorselessly rigid expectations, for virility and happiness. But his thymus condition forces him also to live for femininity and misery. That homosexuality is not purely a psychology matter, of complexes and introversion, as the newest psychology would have us believe, has been proved by observations of its development in animals with internal secretion disturbances, acquired or experimental.
 But remember, there are other glands:
If the pituitary and the thyroid can enlarge to compensate for their defects, they may become the queer brilliants, the eccentric geniuses of the arts and sciences. ... Certain of them, after a stormy life in the twenties, become adapted to their surroundings in the thirties because the pituitary gradually emerges and becomes dominant in their personalities. They are then recessive thymo-centrics. An increase in size, a broadening, together with a greater mental tranquility and stability, accompany the adaptation. Historically, the thymo-centrics who combined brilliancy and instability played a great part as some of the famous adventurers and restless experimentalists.
Neener neener, thymus. We win.
In other words...

It gets better.

Friday, February 15, 2013

Hot Dates in the Wild

By the time you swear you're his,
   Shivering and sighing,
And he vows his passion is
   Infinite, undying --
Lady, make a note of this:
   One of you is lying.

Unfortunate Coincidence
-- Dorothy Parker

Dating is serious business in the animal kingdom. Dinner and a movie is nothing compared to a love harpoon, cyanide, or pre-copulatory cannibalism. 

Hey Baby, I made this deadly poison just for you.
"Flying in daytime and spectacularly conspicuous to predators, six-spot burnet moths have evolved to release cyanide when injured. It's an effective but costly defense: Cyanide isn't easy to produce, requiring intensive nutrient and energy investments. 
During mating, male six-spots make a gift of cyanide, transferring it to females for use in their own defense. Females also transfer cyanide into their eggs, bequeathing larvae with an helpfully poisonous inheritance."
 -- From Freaky Ways Animals Woo Mates with Gifts (Wired, Brandon Keim)

Thursday, February 14, 2013

Happy Lupercalia!

Valentine's Day is a manufactured holiday to make money. One of my least favorite fake-holidays. Not surprisingly, the origins of the holiday are in pagan rituals that were repurposed (stolen) by early Christians.

Lupercalia was a very ancient, possibly pre-Roman pastoral festival, observed on February 13 through 15 to avert evil spirits and purify the city, releasing health and fertility. Lupercalia subsumed Februa, an earlier-origin spring cleansing ritual held on the same date, which gives the month of February (Februarius) its name.
from Wikipedia -
I'm not saying we should sacrifice goats and dogs, but it seems entirely logical that making young men run around town half-naked will promote fertility. Team Jacob, right?

Tuesday, February 12, 2013


Pure. Undiluted. Awesome.

Created by Audio Animals Mixing and Mastering Services

I really do not understand why Beyonce wants her Super Fierce Super Bowl photos removed from the Internet. Her performance was epic.

I'm overjoyed that this has become a meme now. Quickly becoming my second favorite meme... after Grumpy Cat.

What is this?

What is pictured in these images? Post your response in the comments.

I will update with the source and answer later.

Update: suggested answers included feathers and DNA. In reality...
With a little trial and error, photographer Brian Maffitt produced magnificent images that look like something out of a science fiction movie or a DNA lab. 
To capture his unique “Projector Snow” images, which you can see in the gallery above, he pointed an old Optoma DLP projector out a bedroom window as the mighty snowstorm known as Nemo dumped 15 inches of powder on Maffitt’s hometown of Chestnut Ridge, New York, last week. Using an Apple TV, the photog pulled up the first kids’ movie he could find on Netflix and began beaming the colorful video into the night. 
“The movie was The Lorax, but for no good reason,” Maffitt told Wired. “Projecting a darker movie like Saw wouldn’t have worked as well — and may have startled the neighbors.”
From Here’s What You Get When You Project The Lorax Into a Blizzard (Wired Magazine, Lewis Wallace)

Sunday, February 10, 2013

Better Schools

Education is the most important issue in our society. From an educated society flows a compassionate society. An innovative society. A strong society. The more we mistreat our educational system, the more our society and nation will fail against international comparisons.

A powerful pet peeve of mine is the denigration of public schools. This is fueled by partisan politics and corporate greed, of course, which seek to privatize and monetize schooling. This New York Times article, The Secret to Fixing Bad Schools (David L. Kirp), provides just one of many examples that overturn the lies hurled at public education. Our education system can be better, without resorting to corporate takeovers and so-called "charter" schools:

"A quarter-century ago, fear of a state takeover catalyzed a transformation. The district’s best educators were asked to design a curriculum based on evidence, not hunch. Learning by doing replaced learning by rote. Kids who came to school speaking only Spanish became truly bilingual, taught how to read and write in their native tongue before tackling English. Parents were enlisted in the cause. Teachers were urged to work together, the superstars mentoring the stragglers and coaches recruited to add expertise. Principals were expected to become educational leaders, not just disciplinarians and paper-shufflers. 
From a loose confederacy, the schools gradually morphed into a coherent system that marries high expectations with a 'we can do it' attitude. 'The real story of Union City is that it didn’t fall back,' says Fred Carrigg, a key architect of the reform. 'It stabilized and has continued to improve.'"

Saturday, February 9, 2013


This article from 2005 (Sports Illustrated, Rick Reilly) has been making the rounds on Facebook.
Rigged up with a computer that allowed him to control the cursor by touching a switch with the side of his head, Rick was finally able to communicate. First words? "Go Bruins!" And after a high school classmate was paralyzed in an accident and the school organized a charity run for him, Rick pecked out, "Dad, I want to do that." 
Yeah, right. How was Dick, a self-described "porker" who never ran more than a mile at a time, going to push his son five miles? Still, he tried. "Then it was me who was handicapped," Dick says. "I was sore for two weeks." 
That day changed Rick's life. "Dad," he typed, "when we were running, it felt like I wasn't disabled anymore!"
Boston Marathon, 2002.

Wednesday, February 6, 2013

Sony World Photography Awards

The Sony World Photography Awards shortlists announced.
"The World Photography Organisation is proud to announce the 2013 shortlists for the Professional, Open and Youth categories of the Sony World Photography Awards.

In a year that saw over 122,000 entries from 170 countries – the highest number of submissions to date - the judges have selected a shortlist of photographs that stood out beyond all others for their impressive high quality, originality and modern appeal. Topics ranged from haunting shots of the Syrian conflict to the Obama presidential campaign; an intimate study of cinema-goers in Kabul to quirky and witty shots of the animal kingdom."

Tuesday, February 5, 2013

Business as Usual

Horse meat is not scandalous. Meat is meat, although there are cultural taboos. The next time you chow down on a cheeseburger, remember that billions of people believe cows are sacred animals.

The real issue here is honesty and transparency. Also, the quality of the "food" we are sold.

In Vickery Eckhoff's Five Reasons Why Burger King's Horsemeat Scandal Could Happen Here, she describes serious concerns with how animals are medicated, slaughtered, and fed to us unknowingly. Industry procedures are designed to minimize liability rather than maximize safety:
"Your average beef burger is a big mash-up of edible scraps and parts from different cows from different plants, often from different states (and even countries), with fat and additives ground in. Producing ground beef this way 'makes it difficult to trace liability to any particular plant in the case of e-coli contamination,' says Dr. Lester Castro Friedlander, DVM, a veterinarian and former USDA inspector and inspections trainer of the year." 
There are other health risks:
"...phenylbutazone (bute), a known human carcinogen. It also happens to be the most widely administered equine pain reliever in the U.S. as well as abroad. The difficulty with phenylbutazone is that it, or its metabolite, can cause aplastic anemia in children. If a child were to consume an animal-based product containing even the minutest amount of bute or its metabolite then the child may develop aplastic anemia."

From Saturday Morning Breakfast Cereal comic #2878.

Monday, February 4, 2013

Super Hero

Many people are never recognized for their heroic deeds. Others are revered by history, but even then are remembered only for an iconic moment rather than a lifetime of struggle or good works.

In The Rebellious Life of Mrs. Rosa Parks, Jeanne Theoharis delves into the deeper life story of the Civil Rights Movement heroine. In her Huffington Post article, Theoharis briefly summarizes 10 Things You Didn't Know about Rosa Parks.

Number 5:
"Parks' arrest had grave consequences for her family's health and economic well-being. After her arrest, Parks was continually threatened, such that her mother talked for hours on the phone to keep the line busy from constant death threats. Parks and her husband lost their jobs after her stand and didn't find full employment for nearly ten years. Even as she made fundraising appearances across the country, Parks and her family were at times nearly destitute."

Sunday, February 3, 2013

Message in a Bottle

This is more or less how I think about "God" and "creation." When I think about it at all.

Add the necessary seeds and resources. Let things grow and die and evolve in the natural cycle of things. Intervene only when absolutely necessary. Don't tap on the glass: it only upsets the critters.
"It was Easter Sunday, 1960, when Mr. Latimer thought it would be fun to start a bottle garden 'out of idle curiosity.' [He] agrees the bottle garden is 'incredibly dull in that it doesn't do anything,' but remains fascinated to see how long it will last."



Sometimes we need to think about life, the world, and ourselves in a different way. Learn something new. Adopt a different perspective. Be shocked and horrified. Be amazed and amused.

Adorable... but not the best habit of mind.