"It is true, and thus the question of whether it is sad or happy has no meaning whatever."
Bernhard Schlink

Science is best when discussed: leave your thoughts and ideas in the comments!!

Friday, July 09, 2010


Sometimes, all that's needed to inspire productivity is the right soundtrack. I present to you my getting-shit-done-montage playlist, July 2010:

Tuesday, April 21, 2009

Making it for Ourselves 

"Energy independence" is a big buzzword these days, what with calls left and right for alternatives to extracted fossil carbon to fuel our ever-expanding consumptions. Investments into 'biofuels' - basically, corn or sugar cane ethanol - have been disastrous for the environment and economy, respectively exploding food prices and clear-cutting rain forests.

Some California researchers have teamed up with a bacteria and a yeast to perhaps address some of this problem - the bacteria, Actinotalea fermentans, digests cellulose into acetate, which the genetically-engineered yeast then converts into methyl halides. Methyl halides can, in turn, be converted into fuel for humans' machines. This could potentially help turn our masses of plant-based waste (from corn husks to old newspapers) into something useful.

Calling it carbon-neutral, however, is a bit of a stretch: burning the fuels will still move CO2 from solid states into the atmosphere. Even still, it's a clear example of human cleverness - which comes, of course, from our brains.

Endogenous cannabinoids have long been known to exist for some time, and researchers have now identified another one, raising hopes for effective medications without the bothersome side-effects of deep thoughts and incarceration.

It turns out our brains are better at doing fractions than we'd thought. Except, well, they don't actually "do fractions" - they interpret them directly as magnitudes, as opposed to as one number relative to another, an important distinction for understanding how we understand fractions. And how they ought to be taught in school...

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Friday, April 03, 2009

Oral Sex Could be Deadly (So Could Robots) 

So I guess it's been a while...having a job I don't spend all day bored at really does cut in to blogging time (not to mention reading-cool-science time). But, today I ran across some science that's just so cool I have to write it down, lest I forget forever. That's why I started this blog anyways, innit?

Starting with the bad news. It seems that HPV, that sexually transmitted infection most famous for causing cervical cancer (which, for those who took biology in Texas, only women can get), is also associated with tonsil cancer (which men can get). HPV is also preventable with a vaccine which causes nymphomania, but which is not approved for use in men (possibly due to redundancy on that last point). Well, I've been meaning to have my tonsils out anyhow, so this seems like a good excuse.

On the upside, you may not need that heart transplant. Swedish researchers used Carbon-14 concentrations to show that humans' hearts do indeed regenerate themselves, albeit slowly. The next step will be figuring out how to speed up the process. I guess this suggests that there may be hope for other organs as well?

Speaking of replacement parts, it seems that scientists may be close to replacing their research assistants with actual giant nerd-bots. In this week's Science, two articles (cite-one and two) describe the development of Adam, a lab-worker generating and testing his own hypotheses about the yeast genome, and another (cruelly nameless, it seems) which was able to deduce the law of conservation of momentum and Newton's second law of motion from sets of raw data. Both of these developments herald perhaps startling changes in the way science gets done, and also suggests that now might be a good time to buy stock in robot-overlord repellent.

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Tuesday, December 23, 2008

2008 in Less Than 80 Minutes 

2008 was a really good year, musically speaking, for me. One album really kicked my ass all year - when "Made in the Dark" came out in February, I knew immediately that it was gonna be my annual favorite. So that competition was over pretty much before it started, even if the likes of Ladytron, Vampire Weekend, and Los Campesinos! gave Hot Chip a good run. Picking top ten albums of the year is fun, and I may do that yet, but more fun (and useful!) is to make a 'best of' CD: I put together a compilation, not exceeding 80 minutes so it'll fit on one CDR, of my favorite tracks from 2008. Here we go:

The Kid - Transient Dance. Swedish dance-pop at its best - heavy catchy bass and fun riffs, plus wispy vocals and vaguely wide-eyed lyrics. A great offering and my favorite off the generally excellent "Transient Blood."

MGMT - Electric Feel. 'Oracular Spectacular' is a solid effort, but I do have a few favorites. This one happens to fit on my CD. It also has solid hooks, a nice chill groove, and enough weirdness to be worth my while.

Bitter:Sweet - The Bomb. Usually it's hard to forgive a band for singing a cheap-sparkling-white-wine commercial. But when the vocals are as spot-on as Shana Halligan's and the grooves as tight as Kiran Sahani's, it's impossible not to. This track, like most of 'Drama,' is cheeky and fun but also dark and sexy.

Islands - Creeper. Somebody emailed me a link to this track at some point, and I bought it about nine seconds into the free sample. It's catchy as hell, and hey, who doesn't love a lo-fi ode to home robbery and murder?

Vampire Weekend - A-Punk. Yes, I know I'll catch hell for picking this, of all tracks on Vampire Weekend's shockingly superb debut. It's got all the funny fragile bounciness and sarcastic white-kids-burden subject matter, not to mention the awesome African-inspired sounds and rhythms. Plus, it fits in my time allotment.

Does It Offend You, Yeah? - Let's Make Out. Well, let's. All noisy violence and bluster, this track may not be sexy itself, but the energy and giddiness it induces sure are. Plus, that's a damn fine make-out groove, especially for choreophiliacs. And really, who isn't a choreophiliac? No one I know!

The Magnetic Fields - The Nun's Litany. If Stephin Merrit fails to make my best-of list, he probably didn't put out an album that year. Even if 'Distortion' is no '69 Love Songs,' it puts forth any number of austere, viciously sarcastic, and unwaveringly witty tracks, of which this track is, I think, the funniest. Seriously: it's a jumbling list of all the things a nun wishes she'd done (but maybe not till mother's dead).

Lisa Miskovsky - Still Alive - Teddybears Mix. Another pretty Swedish dance floor track, Miskovsky's sweet vocals and lilting melody hover over and pull along the driving backbeat for a wonderful effect. Possibly the best driving-into-the-sunrise track of the year.

Cut Copy - Lights and Music. Yeah, it's the Big Single, but it's also damn good. This one gets me grinning and bouncing every time.

The Dresden Dolls - Night Reconnaissance. Nobody does crazy quite like this pair - and this leader from 2008's "No Virginia..." is a perfect example. The frankly depressing lyrics bounce along to a catchy beat, and that always makes me smile.

April March and Steve Hanft - Attention Chérie. On the whole I was a bit disappointed by Ms Blake's 2008 antics (or, actually, lack thereof), but this track and its totally bonkers video have been rocking my socks since the first moment. Bouncing along over happy pizzicatos and synthy bass, Blake's voice is coquettish and twee, but never lets go of ironic distance from her lyrical topics.

Sébastien Tellier - Devine. M. Tellier put out pretty much the sexiest album this year, a 70's porn mélange of electro beats and sappy croons that I simply can't resist. At all. If this track doesn't make you giggle a bit, you should probably have your ears cleaned.

Hercules and Love Affair - Hercules Theme. Another rock-solid album by a total newcomer this year, but this track is just so utterly flawless and fun I had no trouble picking. What is it about? Who cares, it makes me grin and bounce!

Ladytron - They Gave You A Heart, They Gave You A Name. Ladytron routinely kicks my ass all over the place, and 'Velocifero' is no exception. I had to pick one track for this compilation, and this one makes me happy right now. How could it not? Driving synth, hot bass, and dark vocals...gorgeous!

Hot Chip - Bendable Poseable. There was really no way to pick a favorite off this album...every singe one was a contender. This one edged out the others by rights of its completely ridiculously goofy refrain, absolute dancability, and shorter time stamp.

Lissi Dance floor Disaster - I'm gonna keep on riding my bike. What could improve on massive dance floor beats, semi-political but still fun lyrics, and weird sound effects? Only one thing: free download! This Uppsala band kicked my ass with their 'Counterpoint' EP, and this song got picked just because it's in my head today. The whole damn thing is awesome.

Zoot Woman - Live in My Head. Another random find from somewhere on the internets, this track wound its way into my brain, and hasn't left. It's pretty, with some strange twists and flourishes I just really like.

Miss Kitten - Barefoot Tonight. Picking a favorite off BatBox was tough, as the album is all pretty hot. Yeah, it's probably better suited to glowering from a posh bar stool than really dancing, but still, Mme. Herve makes her point, and makes me want to be sure I'm on her side.

Cof Cof - Forbidden Cocktail. We all know I love a good party anthem, and this duo of Spanish goofballs' 2008 "Who Said Party?" is full of them. This one just happens to be my favorite, with its random sound effects and so what if I will, in David's words, "drink anything." Admittedly, I drank whatever god-awful fruit-laden concoction it was he poured me that night.

Los Campesinos! - Death To Los Campesinos!
They're Welsh, and all the members adopted a made-up name, which is a good start to any endeavor. And anyhow, two albums in one year is impressive for anyone...this track just happens to be one of my favorites and fit in my time constraint.

James Pants - We're Through. I have no idea who this guy is, but this track's slightly hilarious lyrics and slick groove have been a fixture on my playlists this year. Sr. Pantalones, I expect we're not finished just yet.

Frankmusik - Done Done. This gorgeous confection is, well, gorgeous. It's a bit sad, but not downbeat at all, and is, I think, perfect for a cold night by the fire, curled up with a drink and a coy smile.

Other Contenders (besides alternate tracks from albums already represented):

The Teenagers - Homecoming
Mrandmsmays - B-'05
The Ting Tings - That's Not My Name
Fredrik - 1986
Hello Saferide - Anna
Eleanoora Rosenholm - Tammen Varjossa
Computer Club - Load Rocket

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Tuesday, December 16, 2008

RNA Sugar Found on Exoplanet 

It's cool that scientists have found this molecule *out there.* However, it just serves to yet again emphasize what I view as the biggest stupidity in our 'search' for extraterrestrial life: that it has to look exactly like terrestrial life (in this case molecularly, if not outwardly). RNA is necessary for life here (and life that works how we work, however little we understand that at all), but why shouldn't life elsewhere have some other chemical unit of replication? It is, in my view, no different than the deists who say that life on Earth must be unique because G-d said so.

Friday, December 12, 2008

Fuel for the Fire 

I'm a bad blogger, this I know. But without coffee, I'd be probably even worse. Unless of course said lack also led to unemployment (it might), in which case I'd have time to blog again.

So, coffee fuels my brain - why not also my car? Researchers at the University of Nevada have found that they can extract 100 percent of the oil from spent coffee grounds and turn it into biodiesel. The resulting fuel even smells like coffee, they say, and the remainders are compost. With a home extractor, I would never have to see a gas station again!

A more intensive way to ween ourselves off the grid may be to follow JR East's example: the Tokyo metro company has installed piezoelectric floors to capture the energy of passengers walking by to power ticket consoles and gates. I could install some of these in my upstairs neighbor's bedroom and never pay Georgia Power again!

Speaking of sluts...French researchers have found that women in their peak fertility periods are more likely to give their phone numbers to guys spouting cheesy lines. Yet another reason I'm glad I don't have to deal with this aspect of women!

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Friday, September 19, 2008

Mood and Intelligence 

UK researchers have vindicated Oscar the Grouch. They found that children who are made to be happy and cheerful all the time are in fact not as clever as ones who are made sad. Or, at least, they perform more poorly on cognitive tests.

The researchers played pre-teens either Mozart's joyous Eine Kleine Nachtmusik or the sadder Adagietto by Mahler, and made six-and-seven-year-olds watch a song-and-dance number from The Jungle Book versus Simba's father's death in The Lion King, or a neutral scene from The Last Unicorn. Kids exposed to the happy stimuli performed performed more poorly on analytical reasoning tests.

The implications of this research are unclear, except that I now have science as an exuse to make fun of excessively happy people.

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Wednesday, August 13, 2008

Mystery Worm 1 

We found this gorgeous guy in my friend's front yard...it was about 4" long and 1 in circumference. It didn't show much interest in eating grass or leaves. Didn't seem to dig either, but he high-tailed it as soon as we let him. Moved pretty quick, for a caterpillar (?).

Anyone know what it might be, or become?

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Monday, August 04, 2008

Possibly The Stupidest Thing Said This Election 

(well, this week anyway)

The Wall Street Journal seems to think that Senator Obama is too fit to be President.

For those of you who have managed to not die of irony, what they say is that, because Americans are so famously obese, they may have trouble thinking of such a sveltie as One Of Them. This I guess must be code for the WSJ being a bit racist, frankly, because it's such an utterly inane statement I can't even conceive of a rational explanation.

If the American electorate is really even a little bit significantly swayed by candidates' being too fit (as opposed to too old/decrepit, morbidly obese, or some other relatively superficial trait which might actually impact the job - i.e., dying on it), we are in more trouble than even my cynical charred black coal of a soul can imagine.

Whether the WJS's or America's (or both): the supid, it burrrrnnnnsssssss!

Now playing: Los Campesinos! - You! Me! Dancing!
via FoxyTunes

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Friday, August 01, 2008

Eat and Drink and Grow (Plus: Mom was Wrong!) 

My mom always insisted that we drink fruit juice instead of soda. Research suggests that, except for 100% orange and grapefruit juice, drinking fruit drinks or juices are at least as big a diabetes risk as soda. The grapefruit exception may have to do with this, but the orange juice, well, who knows. Still, the message is clear: drink water or unsweetened coffee/tea. Mostly tea.

Speaking of things we thought were good for us: soy. A correlational (read: probably unreliable) study linked even low levels of soy consumption to lowered sperm count in men. This is hilarious, but given the population of Asian nations where soy is a staple food, unlikely to be meaningful or real.

And speaking of dubious, we have much-hyped claims that researchers have developed "exercise pills." I'm not entirely clear on how these are even supposed to work, but apparently it's possible that in the (near) future, I may not have to bother with the treadmill at all. Which would make me very happy! It also seems that taking garlic in a pill may help lower your blood pressure, but I really fail to see the point: garlic is delicious. why not just eat the stuff? Anyone who thinks garlic breath is bad clearly shouldn't ever come to my house!

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