science snippets

I’ve been fooling around with the Bloglines blog feature, and considering turning it into a sidebar feed for this site. But then again, why not just make a second MT blog? In the meantime, I thought I’d recycle a few entries here.

scissors icon Developmental patterning: this one’s for PZM. Double-segment periodicity underlies ‘odd’ segment generation in centipedes
Apparently, centipedes have between 15 and 191 pairs of legs, and the number is always odd, and we don’t know why. The paper to which this story refers indicates that segments are defined in pairs in the developing centipede embryo, and each segment develops a pair of legs. So why odd, and not even? The authors speculate that development of the forcipules (“poison claws”, which are modified legs) reduces the resulting even number by one, resulting in an odd number. So the actual mystery mechanism in question is, what programs the forcipule development?
Bah. I just read the abstract, and the real story is how the co-ordinated expression of two different genes lays down a pattern of single-segment periodicity. That’ll teach me to blog from the report not the paper.
Heh. Update to the update: the single segment periodicity is probably laid down in cycles that generate two segments each, and the generation of odd numbers of leg pairs may indeed be due to the extension of this process as far as the segments containing forcipule, genitals and so on. So the report was right, but (I found it) confusing. That’ll teach me to trespass on Prof Myers’ territory.

scissors icon German science newsfeed. If you read German, this newsfeed, which I found by browsing science-related feeds at, is quite often well ahead of the English language feeds on my blogroll. For instance: yawning chimpanzees (German feed July 24, English feed July 26), the oncomouse patent (German feed July 6, English feed July 26) and the world’s smallest fish (German feed July 7, English feed July 21).
Note that this works even for pretty feeble values of “read German”. I can get the gist of most stories without help, but need translation help and/or a dictionary to actually understand what’s going on. In fact, I originally added the feed to motivate me to pick up learning German again.

scissors iconColour perception is not innate, but acquired after birth.
The abstract is here. Monkeys raised for a year under monochromatic lights showed clear differences in their colour vision compared to those raised under normal conditions. I wonder how this relates to colour-related learning in humans with colour deficient vision (like, say, me).

scissors icon Gene therapy reaches muscles throughout body, reverses muscular dystrophy. The paper will be in the August Nature Medicine, the abstract is available here.
Researchers at the Muscular Dystrophy Cooperative Research Center at the University of Washington School of Medicine have built an adeno-associated virus vector which specifically, and without eliciting an immune response, delivered an engineered dystrophin gene to every skeletal muscle, and the heart, of adult dystrophic mice. (Disruption of dystrophin production causes Duchenne muscular dystrophy in humans; without reading the paper, I assume the mouse is a knockout/similar model of the same disorder.) One injection of the viral vector caused a “dramatic improvement” in the animals’ dystrophy.
Not only is this an important proof of principle for muscle-targeted gene therapy, it may be useful in other genetic disorders which do not even involve muscle tissue but simply require widespread expression of the therapeutic gene.
Something else that’s good to see: the director of the MDCRC stressed that “the paper represents one discovery on the long path to any clinical applications in people [and] that there are a number of scientific challenges and regulatory requirements along the way, so any tests on humans are many years in the future” — and the reporter included those quotes.

scissors icon Chagas parasite invades genome (abstract here).
Trypanosoma cruzi kinetoplast DNA sequences end up in the host genome, opening up the possibility of some pretty freaky horizontal transfer of genetic information, plus influence on host evolution via mutation and creation of recombination hotspots. The article doesn’t say “first time ever documented outside of retroviruses” so I guess other instances are known — but I’d never heard of them.

scissors icon ET first contact ‘within 20 years’
Heh. Bullshit. Publicity seeking bullshit. (Don’t get me wrong though, I *love* SETI and related goals/ideas; if this guy can bring in funding, more power to his bullshit generator.)


My “blog this” folder was getting a bit full, so here’s a random assortment of stuff that caught my eye. Much of it came from MetaFilter.
scissors icon Dammit! If lemurs can do it, and I am descended from lemur-like primates, why can’t I aestivate?
scissors icon In my place is “a series of entries about living with HIV”. It’s also a stone cold display of courage.
scissors icon This would piss me off too. “Every time one of my Aequorea photos is used in someone else’s story, something bad and wrong happens.”
scissors icon Knock on wood, not for luck but for functionality.

French physicists have figured out how to rap on tabletops to communicate with CD’s, lights or most other nearby electric or electronic devices. The inexpensive new technology has the potential to turn kitchen tables, desks, windows or other rigid surfaces into remote control panels with hundreds of touch-sensitive spots.

scissors icon The Last Word. Well, not really, but this Q&A section of New Scientist online is great. Why are the ends of your fingernails white? Are men always taller than their mothers? If your eyes were popped out and put back in the wrong way, would you see upside down? How far does the average mole tunnel in its lifetime? Why do tornadoes have the shape of an inverted cone? Why do old rubber bands go all icky? What percentage of the world’s population is flying on airplanes at any given time?
Caveat lector, though: I think the first answer to this one is bollocks, so other answers may be less than reliable. (Relax, there’s a search function so you can find those questions without links.)
scissors icon Ubuweb’s 365 day project is a collection of outsider audio. This is some of the weirdest stuff you will ever hear.
scissors icon In 1853-4, Commodore Matthew Perry led a mission to, er, convince Japan to open its doors to the rest of the world. Artists on both sides of the encounter did what artists do, and Black Ships and Samurai presents 200 graphical representations, both “looking East” and “looking West”, together with a vivid historical narrative by MIT Prof John W. Dower.
scissors icon First we have “driving while black”, now it’s “taking pictures while brown”. Ian had a bullshit run-in with the Patriot Act, but rather than give in to intimidation he went online to make some real trouble. Good for him.
scissors icon Now this is cool. Creepy, but cool.

The hollow, talking tombstone will include a flat touch screen and will house a computer with a microchip memory or hard disc. It will be powered by electricity from the cemetery’s lighting system.[…] “It’s history from the horse’s mouth.”

My first thought was, why not solar power? My second was, since I want to be cremated rather than buried, why not use this website as a virtual tombstone? I could even add video. I have seen a few websites maintained after the author’s death by their friends or family, and I wonder whether it will become common to leave provision for one’s website in one’s will. The more I think about it, the more I like the idea.
scissors icon Sent is an art project built on phonecam pictures. There’s a gallery of public submissions and another for invited artists. The best thing about gadgets is the neat things people do with ’em.
scissors icon 100 years’ worth of War of the Worlds cover art.
scissors icon Galleries of “found photos” from public p2p directories. Betcha can’t stop at one.
scissors icon The Basic Laws of Human Stupidity. As the footnote says, there is genius at work here. No attribution, for reasons you’ll discover if you find the post that led me to it.

snippets, with pictures even

scissors icon comet Wild-2, up close and personalComet Wild-2 is billions of years old and millions of miles away, travelling at 13000 miles an hour — and we just took pictures of it, and grabbed a few handfuls of its dust. This gave me one of those “holy shit” moments that got me into science in the first place. (photo: nasa; you really have to go and see the high-res version)

scissors icon I like to think I’m pretty straightforward and unsentimental about mortal remains, mine or anyone else’s, but this guy has me beat by a mile.

a callimico, or Goeldi's monkey scissors iconI’d never heard of callimicos. They’re cute. (Photo Credit: Edilio Nacimento Becerra / University Of Washington)

scissors icon I love this kind of geekery, even if the songs do suck.

scissors icon shieldbug.jpg “New bug proves global warming”

“In all the other cases people say, ‘Is this to do with global warming?’ And we have to say we are not sure. But in this case we are sure.”

Meh. First, prove that the London colonies are not metabolically different from the populations in warmer regions. Mutation is no less likely an explanation than global warming, and easier to falsify. (photo: bbc)

scissors iconThe obvious question arising from this is, do male and female humans have different levels of vasopressin in the orthologous brain region?

scissors icon Hydrolagus matallanasi is a living fossil, like the coelacanth. Another scalp-tingly moment.
Hydrolagus matallanasi, a living fossil

(AP Photo/Vale do Itajai University, Rafael de Alcantara Brandi)


scissors icon The last word on copyright was written more than twenty years ago, by someone you’ve never heard of. (via Cory at Boing Boing)

scissors icon Chris at Signal + Noise (best. tagline. ever.) waxes romantic about a public enthused over science, and in the process makes me nostalgic for my own feeble forays into amateur astronomy. Good reads, as Alton Brown might say.

scissors icon A little bright spot: critter comeback.

scissors icon I haven’t been able to write about the latest obscenities in Tha War on Terra™, because it twists my gut to think about it. As usual, Teresa has made as much sense as can be made of the awfulness, and lists the same must-reads as I was planning to.
After you read that, be sure to cheer yourself up (you’ll need it!) with some of Teresa’s Particles, such as the official H2 salute, the One Eater, pretty glass arthropods (they’re not all insects!), BeoWatch, the dildo of death and this superb experiment (measuring the speed of light with marshmallows — no, really, it works!)

scissors icon Via Metafilter (a blind pig that still, even in its dotage, turns up more than its share of acorns; the RSS feed avoids the comments, which are a pit of bilious inanity), an overview of the world’s biodiversity hotspots. Thrilling and depressing all at once.

scissors icon Excellent news: lunatic Ten Commandments Warrior Roy Moore is considering a run for the presidency. Not only will he bring down much-needed ridicule upon the Christian hard right, but he’s set to be the GOP’s very own Nader and is hitting Bush where it hurts by claiming he’s not Christian enough. Moore is just insane enough to pull support from Bush’s psychofundie base, a pack of slavering American Taliban assholes for whom there can be no such thing as too much public piety. Eat each other, you scumbags.

scissors icon Speaking of Shifty George, he was recently “unable” to think of any mistakes he’s made, so the Center for American Progress has put together a short list for him to choose from.

scissors icon More watching the watchers: Media Channel (“the global network for democratic media”) and its executive editor’s weblog News Dissector can’t be worse than CNN et al. Following the money (scroll down to #8) doesn’t raise any obvious red flags.

scissors icon Finally, a nod to this “science” stuff I keep saying I’m going to write about. Apparently, mammals have at least two biological clocks, one of which is sensitive to light. Miseries like jet lag are visited upon us when the clocks get out of sync. The article is in Current Biology; here’s the abstract.


scissors icon From the EFF, an excellent Wired story about the dangers of electronic voting (and a link at the bottom to further coverage of the issue). This is perhaps the single most compelling issue in American politics right now, and I predict that it will spread to other countries. If this unmatched opportunity for subversion of the democratic process comes anywhere near you, fight it. If you vote in the US, do it by mail for the forseeable future, until e-voting is forced to add a paper trail at the very least.

scissors icon From Neat New Stuff: “provides direct links to over 7000 scholarly periodicals which allow some or all of their online content to be viewed by ANYONE… for free”. Marylaine points out that the site only has an alphabetical index, so it’s mainly good as a reference link for when you already have your citation. (Also, I haven’t checked but “some or all” may be problematic.)

scissors icon Remember the dragon in a bottle that made the blog rounds a while ago? Turns out it was a promotional prank by this self-satisfied asshole. The report calls it a hoax, but it was just a grubby moneymaking stunt. Hoaxes should have a point, dammit; Ern Malley is turning in his grave. (via links miniblog)

scissors icon Lots of things from Kevin Kelly’s Cool Tools go straight into my “want” folder. Consider this gorgeous book on African rituals, or this collection of somewhat more Western ones.

scissors icon US troops will soon be armed with a weapon that jwz aptly dubs the Bowel Disruptor: a stun gun that emits a baby’s scream, played backwards, at between 110 and 145 decibels (the pain threshold is around 120, which is like standing next to a jet aircraft as it takes off).

scissors icon They played every song as if their nuts were on fire, and shrieked out incomprehensible banshee babblings; this was music to kill dogs with a hammer by.

scissors icon From Stavros: Charlie Brown is an existentialist, and a collection of truly remarkable pictures.

scissors icon I might as well just pipe Graham‘s RSS feed straight in. All human communication fails, except by accident: Jukka Korpela has provided the world with a translation of, and some commentary on, Wiio’s Laws. Wiio:communication::Murphy:everything, pretty much. It’s funny ‘cos it’s true.

scissors icon Noam Chomsky has a blog, which is where I found a link to The Nation Institute via one of their projects, TomDispatch. They’ve been around for a while, and look good at a glance:

Founded in 1966, The Nation Institute has a fundamental commitment to the values of free speech and open discourse. The Institute places particular importance on strengthening the independent press in the face of America’s increasingly corporate-controlled flow of information, and through its programs the Institute promotes progressive values on a variety of media platforms.

They list their Trustees but don’t give any details on where their money comes from.


scissors icon This is just a great post. Go read it.

scissors icon Rebecca points. I drool.

scissors icon Like Terence, I would not have believed this if I hadn’t seen it: men’s room urinals shaped like a woman’s mouth, complete with lipstick. Designed by creepy sad little bastards with serious issues. I would buy a drink, pour it out and find a quiet corner to piss in the container before I would use those things.

scissors iconVia Metafilter: Crop circles, lots of them. These things have become an art form in their own right, and I’m duly impressed by the beauty and complexity of many of the images.

scissors icon Via amphiskios: Computer programs on (vinyl) records. Most were written for the Sinclair Spectrum home computer series, and there’s even an emulator available so you can still run them.

scissors icon Via Pharyngula: The Annals of Improbable Research has a blog. Read about control meat loaf and Troy Hurtubise’s robocop-inspired bearproof suit.

scissors icon Via the increasingly indispensable Graham, this is a nice little gallery of photographs. Explanation (and a contest to win a print, if you’re into that sort of thing) here.

scissors icon Depending on genes, epigenetics, lifestyle and luck, this is at the most a six-times-a-lifetime opportunity: this May, brood X will emerge across more than a dozen mid-western and eastern States (map). Periodical cicadas (Magicicada spp) are fascinating critters (link, link with sound samples and further links). This is the big one, the Great Eastern Brood which can reach densities of 1.5 million cicadas per acre. I’d love to take a road trip to see (and record) this.

scissors icon Subway systems of the world presented on the same scale; nineteen major cities shown as I write this. (via just about everyone, but too good not to post)


scissors icon Photojournalist Shannon Higgins offers a tour of Kamagasaki, the largest slum in Japan. Don’t miss the rest of her site, either. (I think I found this on Metafilter.)

scissors icon (via nearly everyone by now) Elena likes to ride her bike through the Chernobyl dead zone, and she has a photo log of sorts. This sort of thing is what the web is for. (Mirror site here.)

scissors icon (via Eliot) The Activists’ Center for Training in Organizing and Networking has loads of good information. Check out their Corporate Accountability Project‘s in-depth information on consuming less, corporations to boycott, corporate welfare and more.

scissors icon (from Graham) Best. Ask Metafilter Thread. Ever. Will sirmissalot eat the crab that he left out of the ‘fridge overnight? If he does, will he die? Can we watch on webcam, and dude can I have your CDs if you croak? Call me sick, but I laughed my way through this thread like a hyaena.

scissors icon Planet Party. Starting in just a few days, Mercury, Venus, Mars, Saturn and Jupiter will all be visible to the naked eye, an opportunity for sensawunda that won’t come our way again until 2036. I don’t think I’ve ever seen Mercury, now that I stop to think about it. I’ve seen all the others, but never together.


scissors icon Why would Mel Gibson make a movie about the ancient Middle East and fill it with white people? William Rivers Pitt answers at length and with restraint. Me, I think Gibson is a bigot; end of story. And if you think I’m going to go see his grubby little porn flick, think again. (via Eliot)
scissors icon (heh) has a nice simple introduction to social network analysis and interesting examples of the method in action. I particularly liked the analysis of book buying habits (2003 version here) and viral spread. (link-fu props to John Q at Crooked Timber)
scissors icon I bloody knew it. It’s the same everywhere, and don’t let the bastards tell you otherwise.
scissors icon Pix Populi is a Los Angeles photoblog by Neil Baylis. I like.
scissors icon (via Boing Boing) How to make matchstick rockets. You know I’m going to have to try this.
scissors icon These look like heaps of fun: for example, watch some of these quicktime movies. Sadly, they seem mainly to be available through unethical suppliers like Wal-Mart. They are manufactured by Swiss toy company ACTIVE PEOPLE, who don’t say where their factories are, and distributed in the US by the icky-looking Body Time Wellness.
scissors icon Leuschke points to this review of this book, which I have added to my predictive model of things I will like in the future.
scissors icon has some fun tests aimed at uncovering hidden biases. According to the one I just took, I have little or no automatic preference for or against a particular body type (thin or fat). (Being on the chunky side myself, I’d have expected to be somewhat pro-fat.)


scissors iconAnimals on the underground: London tube map as constellation-riddled sky. I wonder if anyone’s tried this with LA or NY? (via the indispensible Boing Boing)
scissors icon(also from BB) John Ashcroft is barking mad. (I think Mike must have typed this Vanity Fair article in by hand, a prodigious effort.)
scissors iconStuart of DoublePlusUngood issues a challenge. I’m going to do it; so should you.
scissors iconTwo posts from the Pagan Prattle indicating that Scotland the not only Brave but also Sensible is preparing to jettison state funding for faith schools.
scissors iconAlso from PP, something I want to follow up: apparently right-wing psychofundy “Christian” bigmouth Pat Robertson recently said

I think George Bush is going to win in a walk. I’m hearing from the Lord that it’s going to be a blowout.

so when (think positive!) Shifty George loses, I want to Pat to tell me: was God wrong, or did He lie to you?
scissors icon(via Jerry Kindall) I know someone who would love this: Enigma-E, a kit with which to build yourself an electronic version of the Enigma coding machine. If that’s too much trouble, PBS has a virtual Enigma you can play with.
scissors iconJerry got that link from, which is a neato keen bookmarking and recommendation service. I like it better than, which I joined and never got around to using much.
scissors iconCrooked Timber features a bunch of overeducated liberals, posting and commenting. I like that in a website. Also, Belle likes Sesame Street, and even caught them out in a James Joyce allusion. Criticisms about “preparing kids for sound-bite consumer culture” are valid I suppose, but the last word for my money goes to commenter mike: Name a single other entertainment entity that over a quarter century threw up occasional bits of disorienting depth with so much good humor and so little mean-spiritedness.
scissors iconAnother great books thread; in this one, Ed wants to know which five science and technology books you would have every (university) student read. Good stuff.


scissors icon Language Hat points to “one of the most charming articles I’ve read in a while”, If You Build a Restaurant, He Will Not Come in the New York Times. I agree; go read it. (Unlike LH, I haven’t gone to any trouble about the link. Get yer own fake member account.) Use one of these. (thanks to randomWalks for the link)
scissors icon Scott J Bloch is a worthless maggot. (another registration required)
scissors iconfractal flowers, a video feedback image by Tom Holroyd (via jwz) The Ultimate Video Feedback Page. Humans make art from the strangest things. Tom Holroyd’s explanation and gallery are a good starting point if, like me, you can’t read Danish.

scissors iconwaterwheels.jpg (via Dave Barry) St. Petersburg inventor Tim Englert has created Water Wheels, a bicycle-mounted pump-operated squirt gun capable of directing two independent jets of water up to fifty feet. He predicts that “Water Wheels will do for bikes, squirt guns and extreme sports what Peter Fonda and the film Easy Rider did for Harley Davidson and motorcycles.” After sinking twelve years and $300K into it and quitting his job to market it full-time, he’d better hope so. (photo credit: James Borchuck, St Petersburg Times)
scissors icon (also from Dave Barry) Noon, Feb 23. Yeeeeeee-haaaaa! Update: Booooooooom!
scissors icon Sisyphus Shrugged reminds me that we are all Tommy Chong now, and TalkLeft reports that the gummint has spent $12 million bringing that desperate drug fiend to justice. (The 65-year-old father of five plead guilty to a bullshit charge related to his son’s business, Chong’s Bongs, to shield his family from prosecution; he got nine months in jail, a $20K fine and $100K in forfeited assets.)