Archive for the ‘science fluff’ Category

Breaking News from BBC: Fashion Industry Does Not Exist

June 17, 2011

BBC News – Flashy sports cars are male ‘short-term mating signal’

Although men used spending on luxury items as a short-term mating signal, women did not spend to attract men.

What they’re talking about, apparently, is that women don’t [tell researchers that they] buy big flashy luxury items to attract men for hookups and flings. Because makeup, designer clothes, personal trainers and plastic surgery are, y’know, free.

This pretty much encapsulates the traditional post-1980 rules on feminine versus masculine behavior: women have to make it all seem effortless. It also contradicts previous research results.


Pretty useless science story, reasonably reported

March 24, 2011

BBC News – Sexual preference chemical found in mice

As the story points out, going from this to human brains requires a whole bunch of speculative leaps (including the obvious one) that a serotonin-free brain is functioning normally at all. Without checking the rats on a wide range of other cognitive tasks, you’re pretty much picking the one bit of weird behavior in their brains that might make headlines.

(On the other hand, there’s lots of evidence of SSRIs leading to sexual dysfunction and messing with libido, so at least this result is in the same solar system.)

Those who do not understand statistics….

August 26, 2010

BBC News – Walk ‘could track down criminals’, researchers claim

With almost 2,000 walking sequences recorded in a database, Mr Matovski claims a 95% success rate.

Gait can also be measured at a distance – an advantage over other forms of biometric identification.

However researchers found that “extreme changes” in clothing can affect recognition levels.

Obviously this stuff will eventually get better. But first: 95% accuracy is terrible for identification purposes. If everyone in the world were a criminal, it would be fine, but when the vast majority of people walking down the street aren’t the criminal you’re looking for, most of your hists are going to be false positives.

Second: apparently changing your gait isn’t so hard. So you’ll just of people putting rocks in the their shoes, wearing knee braces, wearing heavy stiff coats when they go to rob a bank…

Breathing a sigh of relief

March 29, 2010

BBC News – Gulf Stream ‘is not slowing down’

Between 2002 and 2009, the team says, there was no trend discernible – just a lot of variability on short timescales.

The satellite record going back to 1993 did suggest a small increase in flow, although the researchers cannot be sure it is significant.

“The changes we’re seeing in overturning strength are probably part of a natural cycle,” said Josh Willis from Nasa’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) in California.

“The slight increase in overturning since 1993 coincides with a decades-long natural pattern of Atlantic heating and cooling.”

It’s difficult to overstate just how much trouble the whole world would be in if that circulation stopped (as it has during other warming events).

Octopus has no hobgoblins

March 15, 2010

HDTV reveals brainy octopus has no personality – life – 12 March 2010 – New Scientist

Octopuses that reacted to one film aggressively tended to respond to all films on a particularly day in the same way. But over longer periods of time, any trace of “personality” or consistency evaporated. They might react aggressively one day, but much less so on another day. “It’s a bit of a surprise,” says Hanlon. Other cephalopods, such as the dumpling squid, display consistent personalities for most of their lives.

This lack of consistent behaviour may be related to octopuses’s huge brain size, relative to other cephalopods. Big brains may “afford octopuses considerable behavioural flexibility that allows them to change their behaviour adaptively over time,” write the researchers.

This definition of “personality” is a very interestingly stupid one. It ties something that sounds like a deeply innate complex of behavioral traits to whether the researcher can figure out a set of simply stimuli that will elicit the same behavior day after day.

most random tab dump ever

March 4, 2010

Lego Universe Impressions: The Next Step In Lego Building – Lego universe impressions – Gizmodo

There are two components of the game that are pretty tightly interweaved: the more traditional MMO portions where you use your skills and interact with other players to achieve goals and defeat monsters, and the building bit, where you have your own territory and can build anything you want out of Lego pieces.

Since everyone’s more interested about the building part, we’ll cover that first. Lego says you have access to pretty much every part they have, from many of the unique Lego sets over the years (pirates, space, etc.). You have your own “home” area that you can build castles or whatever inside, invite your friends to visit and customize however you like. You can also assign behaviors and actions to what you build as well, by dragging and dropping actions onto easily-connectible UI segments

15 House Plants You Can Use As Air Purifiers

Common name Scientific name Score
1 Areca palm Chrysalidocarpus lutescens 8.5
2 Lady palm Rhapis excelsa 8.5
3 Bamboo palm Chamaedorea seifrizii 8.4
4 Rubber plant Ficus robusta 8.0
5 Dracaena “Janet Craig” Dracaena deremensis “Janet Craig” 7.8
6 English ivy Hedera helix 7.8
7 Dwarf date palm Phoenix roebelinii 7.8
8 Ficus Alii Ficus macleilandii “Alii” 7.7
9 Boston fern Nephrolepis exalta “Bostoniensis” 7.5
10 Peace lily Spathiphyllum sp. 7.5

Technology Review: Graphene Transistors that Can Work at Blistering Speeds

In theory, graphene has the material properties needed to let transistors run at terahertz speeds at room temperature.

The IBM researchers grew the graphene on the surface of a two-inch silicon-carbide wafer. The process starts when they heat the wafer until the silicon evaporates, leaving behind a thin layer of carbon, known as epitaxial graphene. This technique has been used to make transistors before, but the IBM team improved the process by using better materials for the other parts of the transistor, in particular the insulator.

PLoS Biology: Evolution of Adaptive Behaviour in Robots by Means of Darwinian Selection

In this essay we will examine key experiments that illustrate how, for example, robots whose genes are translated into simple neural networks can evolve the ability to navigate, escape predators, coadapt brains and body morphologies, and cooperate. We present mostly—but not only—experimental results performed in our laboratory, which satisfy the following criteria. First, the experiments were at least partly carried out with real robots, allowing us to present a video showing the behaviours of the evolved robots. Second, the robot’s neural networks had a simple architecture with no synaptic plasticity, no ontogenetic development, and no detailed modelling of ion channels and spike transmission. Third, the genomes were directly mapped into the neural network (i.e., no gene-to-gene interaction, time-dependent dynamics, or ontogenetic plasticity). By limiting our analysis to these studies we are able to highlight the strength of the process of Darwinian selection in comparable simple systems exposed to different environmental conditions.

Smart soundproofing

March 4, 2010

Acoustic Metamaterials Could Make Ultra-Thin, Ultra-Effective Noise-Cancelling Panels | Popular Science

Each soundproofing panel consists of latex stretched over a 3mm-thick rigid plastic grid of squares, with a small weighted plastic button sitting in the middle of each square.

absorb, acoustic, metamaterials, reflect, sound waves, soundproof materials, soundproofing, sounds
Sound waves that hit the panel cause the latex membrane and weighted buttons to resonate at different frequencies that cancel out the sound waves. Individual membranes are tuned based on the weight of the plastic buttons, so that each can cancel out a certain frequency band of sound waves.

Stacking five differently-tuned membranes together can produce a soundproof panel that works from 70 to 550 hertz, and is just slightly thicker than a ceramic bathroom tile.

I’m guessing that the membrane need not be latex, in which case the whole damn thing could potentially be injection-molded fairly simply. As with most soundproofing schemes, the big deal will be eliminating paths for the sound to travel straight through and bypass all the smart stuff. I kinda want to try making some of this…

The smell of death

September 18, 2009

Universal ‘Death Stench’ Repels Bugs of All Types | Wired Science |

Scientists have discovered that insects from cockroaches to caterpillars all emit the same stinky blend of fatty acids when they die, and this sinister stench sends bugs of all kinds running for their lives.

Interesting that even the insects that feed on corpses are affected by this. I wonder if some chemical company can produce it in quantity as a bug repellent and within a few generations undo hundreds of millions of years of evolution.

Before the industrial revolution there were no peasants

September 11, 2009

BBC NEWS | Health | Bed sharing ‘bad for your health’

One study found that, on average, couples suffered 50% more sleep disturbances if they shared a bed.

Dr Stanley, who sleeps separately from his wife, points out that historically we were never meant to share our beds.

He said the modern tradition of the marital bed only began with the industrial revolution, when people moving to overcrowded towns and cities found themselves short of living space.

Before the Victorian era it was not uncommon for married couples to sleep apart. In ancient Rome, the marital bed was a place for sexual congress but not for sleeping.

And primitive people certainly never slept huddled together in family groups to conserve warmth, or with kids piled into the same space as adults.

It may well be that such things do in fact disturb our sleep, but painting modern living as a a space-constrained historical anomaly is really, hard to do with a straight face.

Old biomed tab dump

September 4, 2009

Donor eggs (sort of) for mitochondrial defects BBC NEWS | Health

The genetic fault is contained in structures in the egg called the mitochondria, which are involved in maintaining the egg’s internal processes.

If an egg with faulty mitochondria is fertilised the resulting child could have any of hundreds of different diseases including anaemia, dementia, hypertension and a range of neurological disorders.

Previous failures

US researchers have previously tried and failed to correct this defect by adding healthy donated mitochondria into the eggs of patients wishing to have children.

But these attempts resulted in birth defects – probably because mitochondria are so delicate that they are damaged when they are transplanted from one egg to another.

PLoS Biology: Reawakening Retrocyclins: Ancestral Human Defensins Active Against HIV-1

Our study reveals for the first time, to our knowledge, that human cells have the ability to make cyclic theta-defensins. Given this evidence that human cells could make theta-defensins, we attempted to restore endogenous expression of retrocyclin peptides. Since human theta-defensin genes are transcribed, we used aminoglycosides to read-through the premature termination codon found in the mRNA transcripts. This treatment induced the production of intact, bioactive retrocyclin-1 peptide by human epithelial cells and cervicovaginal tissues. The ability to reawaken retrocyclin genes from their 7 million years of slumber using aminoglycosides could provide a novel way to secure enhanced resistance to HIV-1 infection.

Brain radiotherapy affects mind [confirming something everyone who has known a bain-irradiated patient already knew]

It is known that radiation treatment in the brain causes some damage to normal tissue and the study’s researchers suspected it could lead to decline in mental function.

A previous study in the same patients done six years after treatment found no difference in aspects like memory, attention and the speed at which people could process information, in those who had received radiotherapy.

But the latest research, carried out more than a decade after original treatment, did find significant variation in the results of several mental tests between those who had had radiotherapy and those who had not.

In all, 53% of patients who had radiotherapy showed decline in brain function compared with 27% of patients who only had surgery.

The most profound differences were in tests to measure attention

This Blue Rat May Have the Secret to Avoid Spinal Cord Injuries – Blue dye – Gizmodo

That secret is Brilliant Blue G dye, a variant of Blue Number One, which is a common and harmless food coloring product. Scientists dropped weights on the rats’ backs to break their little spinal cords, injecting the Brilliant Blue G dye in their bodies. The dye turned their skins blue, but within weeks all motor functions returned to normal. The rat could walk, run, jump, have sex, and do whatever it wanted.