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08.11.06

More than the Economy is Sagging

Strapped for cash, people may have to let breasts, baggy eyes and even flab sag along with the economy. With the number of procedures down, one doc says he may lower fees even further on his Botox Friday specials.

Obama Considers Energy Security Council
Politico is reporting that "Barack Obama is seriously considering the creation of an Energy Security Council within the White House." Were it to happen, scientists around the country would be elated to see science elevated after what many have seen as eight years of taking a serious back seat in White House decision making. It's not clear how such a council would oversee or cooperate with the EPA and the Energy Department.

Claim: Brain Tissue Grown from Stem Cells
AFP reports that Japanese researchers created working brain tissues from human embryonic stem cells. Embryonic stem cells are cells that can become all the cells of the body. Scientists hope studies like this will lead to cures for Alzheimer's and other diseases. This breakthrough could also lead to brain tissue transplants aimed at helping stroke patients.

OUT THERE:

OFFECTS:


08.11.05

History Made ... Now 77 Days to Go
In what many felt was one of the most divisive elections ever (it wasn't), history was, as every news person and network said over and over, made. Now we wait 77 days before Barack Obama takes the helm. Why? Blame it on the electoral college system. Meantime, expect Obama to begin assuming the helm, at least in terms of influence on Congress, well before then.

ELECTION TALLY:

READER SAYS about this story on election nastiness: "Is it possible that the internet has taken over the job of mudslinging for the candidates?"

OUT THERE:


11.04.08

Strange Waves Indeed
A series of large, unexpected waves as high as 12 feet struck Maine's Boothbay Harbor on Oct. 28, and there's still no explanation for what caused them. Witness accounts suggest it might have been a tsunami, but if so, what caused it?

Frozen Mice Cloned. Mammoths Next?
Japanese scientists cloned mice that had been frozen 16 years and whose cells had burst. Since the mice were not particularly well preserved, the researchers say their nuclear transfer techniques "could be used to 'resurrect' animals" such as mammoths. What's next? T. Rex?

OUCH!: Snakebites Kill 20,000 People a Year
Reuters reports that more than 400,000 people are poisoned by snakebites every year, based on a review of reports from around the world. The death toll could be as high as 94,000, however, since the bites aren't always reported.

Autism Linked with Rainfall
Children in the wettest counties of Northwest have higher rates of autism, Reuters reports. Scientists don't know why. Perhaps it has something to do with being stuck indoors, they speculate. [Background on Autism's Mysteries]

Lights Out: Big Apple Shines Less at Night
From the NY Times: "Rising energy costs, conservationism, stricter building codes and sophisticated lighting systems have conspired to slowly, often imperceptibly, transform Manhattan’s venerable nightscape into one with a gentler glow." [Maybe they'll see more than 15 stars now.]

OUT THERE:


11.03.08

Claim: TV Fuels Teen Sex
Teenagers who watch 'sexy' television programmes are being led into early pregnancies, RAND researchers claim. Truth: Teen pregnancies had declined for 15 years before rising in 2006 — the most recent year tabulated and, interestingly, two years after the last episode of "Sex in the City" — in what experts said might be a blip. Musta been those racy reruns.

TOTAL HOOEY: Professors Brainwash College Students
Liberal college professors indoctrinate students, right? Not so, according to two separate studies and two book authors concluding professors have virtually no impact on the political views and ideology of their students.

DARN!: Even a little caffeine could harm a fetus, a new study finds. [10 Things You Should Know About Coffee]

DON'T GO THERE: What a reader says about this story on voting from the Space Station: "I wonder if the universe will greet us as liberators?"

Car Runs Mostly on Air
Developer Zero Pollution Motors is working on a compressed air vehicle (CAV) that could run "all day on nothing but air and a splash of salad oil, alcohol or possibly a pint of gasoline." Cost: $20,000. Timing: 2011.

THE FUTURE: "The Internet of the future will be suffused with software, information, data archives, and populated with devices, appliances, and people who are interacting with and through this rich fabric," predicts Vint Cerf. If you're not a total geek, this article might be a little thick. So a synopsis: An "Internet of Things" will connect stuff — toys, shoes, your house or car — to the Internet much like computers are now connected. "The distinction between 'real' and 'virtual' is becoming as quaint as the 19th century distinction between 'mind' and 'body,'" says Usman Haque, creative director OF Pachube, a virtual switchboard such connections.

THE WORLD SAYS: "I really wish we could vote in your election — after all, it affects all of us, you know."

MORE OUT THERE:


11.02.08

Flying Car in Two Years, in Two Years, in Two Years
Yet another article about Moller Int. says the company is developing a flying car, this one based on a Ferrari. It would get you out of traffic jams. "It will have the ability to take off vertically and hover thanks to eight powerful thrusters which direct air down for take off. Vents then tilt so the car can fly forward." (We're wondering: If the car flies, why would you be in a traffic jam?) Anyway, this previous article with video on Moller's flying cars gives you the background. Caveat well worth noting: As one LiveScience reader put it, "How many years have these SkyCar stories been popping up on the Internet? Until I see that puppy flying around for real, I don't want to see another story about them." We would want to have a flying car though, wouldn't we?

OUT THERE

Clear Skies Tuesday
Most of the country is expected to have good weather for election day. Past research has found voter turnout can dip if there's rain or snow. The effect tends to favor Republicans. But University of Pittsburgh political science professor George Krause, who has studied the effect, says even where the weather might be bad this year, the trend of increased early voting could lessen the impact.

FRIDAY'S TALKER: Those Crazy Polls
A Fox News poll has John McCain down just 3 points in the polls, stating: "The race has tightened with Barack Obama now leading John McCain by 47 percent to 44 percent among likely voters." A CBS News/New York Times poll has Barack Obama up by 11 percentage points, 52 to 41, among likely voters nationwide. Why the discrepancy >>>

THE POPE ON SCIENCE: "There is no opposition between faith's understanding of creation and the evidence of the empirical sciences." He met briefly with Stephen Hawking and described science as the pursuit of knowledge about God's creation.

SCIENTISTS to NEXT PREZ: Appoint a White House science adviser by Inauguration Day and give the position cabinet-level rank.

OUT THERE:

READER SAYS about this article on Muslims: "Wow, I was expecting more moderate responses, but the comment responses to this article basically prove its point.


10.31.08

Fireball Seen Over Colorado

A dramatic meteor burned up over Colorado Oct. 28. By chance, it was right over an all-sky video camera in Guffey, Colorado. Witnesses say it was as bright as a full moon. "It was brilliant turquoise and green and lasted more than nine seconds," said Thomas Ashcraft. [Story / Videos]

Fireballs like this occur several times a year, but because the Earth is two-thirds ocean, most of them are never seen. The typical shooting star is created by a bit of space debris the size of a sand grain or perhaps. Even a pea-sized object can create a fireball, though this event likely involved something larger.

OUT THERE

Voodoo, Devils and Ghosts

VOODOO: French President Nicolas Sarkozy lost his bid to halt sales of a voodoo doll that's been needling him. A Paris judge said the doll was "within the authorised limits of free expression and the right to humour" and dismissed the case. Sarkozy had claimed the doll was an affront to his reputation and a misuse of his personal image. Voodoo is rooted in a mysterious religion still practiced in many parts of the world, including Louisiana. ...

... DEVILS: Meanwhile, thousands of police and volunteers in Detroit will be out in force tonight aiming to throw cold water on Devil's Night, in which pranksters start fires. Last year: 147 fires, down from the peak of more than 800 in 1984. AP reports: "Officials worry that the national foreclosure crisis, and a spate of vacant homes left in its wake, could be tempting targets for arsonists." Devil's Night, too, is rooted in religion, or more specifically changes in ghostly traditions that came with the Protestant Reformation, when the "treat" was taking out of Halloween across much of England and the "trick" part morphed into celebrations of the 1605 Gunpowder Plot to blow up British Parliament. ...

... AND GHOSTS: Elvis Presley made $52 million last year, making him the top earning dead celebrity. [Other famous ghosts]

WHAT READERS ARE SAYING about this idea to generate electricity from parked cars: This is a hair-brained scheme. ... We've spent numerous decades figuring out how to get more bang for the buck out of gas powered engines and expanding on our dependency for fossil fuels. We need to invest the same amount of time and more into effective alternative fuel R&D. What about heat? Parked vehicles trap heat during the hot and sunny days...they turn into mobile ovens. Surely, all this heat could be used somehow.

OUT THERE:


EVEN OLDER STUFF

A Newspaper Dies
There's been plenty of talk about how newspapers are declining, but this marks the most significant nod to date that the digital era is taking over print: The 100-year-old Christian Science Monitor will opt out of daily print in 2009 in lieu of an online strategy to be supplemented by a weekly print edition. Circulation has trended down for 40 years. But "the Monitor's Web readership clearly shows promise," said Judy Wolff, chairman of the Board of Trustees of The Christian Science Publishing Society. "We plan to take advantage of the Internet in order to deliver the Monitor's journalism more quickly, to improve the Monitor's timeliness and relevance, and to increase revenue and reduce costs." Meantime, a new study argues that the newspaper industry is not dead, it's just changing as circulation areas are consolidated.

Bad Economy Stifles Optimism

As the economy stalls, home prices plunged 16 percent in August compared to a year earlier, it was reported today. The rising costs of health care add to the burden, sending more people into debt. And layoffs mount.

Even optimists might not hold up, says Ulrich Schimmack, an assistant professor in psychology at the University of Toronto. Schimmack studied Germans aged 16 to 94 and found that when laid off, even optimists struggled to put on a good face. "Even if your general outlook is positive, losing a job can significantly alter how you evaluate your life," Schimmack said today. Details in the most recent issue of the journal Social Indicator Research.

Indeed, the consumer confidence index this month dropped to its lowest level since record-keeping began in 1967. If you find you're among many who are grinding your teeth, stop. "Clenching and grinding will actually noticeably shorten your teeth and can lead to Temporomandibular Joint Syndrome, otherwise known as TMJ," New York dentist Dana Gelman Keiles said today. [Why Do We Grind Our Teeth?]

Meanwhile, happiness among Republicans is off from traditional highs right now, but they're still more glib than Democrats. In a Pew Research Center survey conducted from Oct. 3 through Oct. 19, 37 percent of Republicans said they are very happy, compared to just 25 percent of Democrats. [Keys to Happiness] [Late addition: Dow Soars]

OUT THERE:

Palin Opposes Research into Agricultural Pests
In a recent speech about people with special needs and budget priorities, veep candidate Sarah Palin ridiculed "projects that have little or nothing to do with the public good. Things like fruit fly research in Paris, France. I kid you not."

Turns out the research project she refers to, according to the Knight Science Journalism Tracker, involves a type of fruit fly known to be a major agricultural pest. Others have point out that research done on fruit flies has boosted autism research, the very thing Palin was speaking in favor of.

Palin has previously made comments suggesting she is a creationist, which worries many scientists. And John McCain scored no points among astronomers when he ridiculed a $3 million earmark sought by Barack Obama and others to replace the 1970s-era projector in Chicago's Adler Planetarium (the project was never funded).

Earthquake@Home Project
Your laptop has a small accelerometer chip to protect the hard drive from sudden jolts. Turns out it can also detect earthquakes. Researchers have hooked 1,500 laptops up in a network that has detected several temblors, including a magnitude 5.4 quake in Los Angeles in July. The laptop sensors are not very sensitive, but they can help researchers interpolate what's going on between professional quake sensors, which can cost $100,000. Quake Catcher Network story >>>

369 Exabytes and Counting...
Yes, we live in twilight of the age of analogue, but don't toss out those old printed photos just yet. While they may fade over time, they'll still be around to pass on to your kids, barring fire or other natural disaster. But the digital ones you scanned may one day be rendered unreadable by whatever new generation of computers is invented, says Jerome P. McDonough, at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. He says we currently have 369 exabytes worth of data kicking around (an exabyte is 1 quintillion bytes; a quintillion is the number 1 followed by 18 zeroes). Just losing old emails could mean "you've lost the archive of what has actually happened in the modern world," he argues.

Today's Math Whiz Is Tomorrow's Scientist
Researchers proved the obvious by finding that adolescents who had scored highest on the SAT math test were, 25 years later, most likely to have authored a peer-reviewed scientific publication or to have earned a patent. They found other predictive factors, too. "Educational credentials are clearly important, as are educational opportunities at outstanding universities, but that they cannot fully substitute for ability," they write in the October issue of Psychological Science.

AYE!: Private security firms such as Blackwater (of Iraqi fame) have been enlisted to fight pirates off the coast of Somalia, where ships and crews are frequently held for ransom. Meanwhile, a university lecturer recently suggested that the current credit crisis is directly traceable back to the most infamous pirates of the golden age, a time when entrepreneurial greed was rampant and even encouraged.

Man Burning
Humans controlled fire about 800,000 years ago, research has shown, but they did it by moving the flame from one burning branch to another. Not exactly rocket science. Now researchers say early man figured out how to start a fire with flint about that same time. "The new data shows there was a continued, controlled use of fire through many civilizations and that they were not dependent on natural fires," archaeologist Nira Alperson-Afil said. [Events that Changed the World / What is Fire?]

OUT THERE:

Bacteria Eat Buildings
The Parthenon was once very colorful. But time took a toll on the paint as well as the structure. Bacterial destroy buildings, too. Now researchers have pinned down which types. Leonila Laiz from the Institute for Natural Resources and Agrobiology in Seville, Spain, and colleagues studied three indoor sites showing overt biodeterioration: the Servilia and Postumio tombs in the Roman Necropolis of Carmona in Spain and the Vilar de Frades church in Portugal. Their microbiological and molecular analyses identified five new strains of the already-notorious species Rubrobacter. Learning how the creatures alter the structure of stone, and destroy it, could help in preservation efforts, they say.


Doctors Purposely Deceive ... For Your Own Good
Studies in the past have shown the placebos, or sugar pills, are often better than nothing in helping patients feel better. A new study finds American doctors regularly prescribe placebo pills that are intended to have just such a psychological effect. One twist: They don't just dole out sugar pills, but rather they "use a treatment that may have some effects but that they think will not have a direct effect on the patient except by the placebo effect." Hmm. Doctors purposely deceive? Well, yes. Nearly two-thirds said they thought the practice was ethical. But: "It is not ethical to actively deceive patients," said Dr. Farr A. Curlin, an assistant professor of medicine at the University of Chicago. [Why We Lie]

BUZZ ALDRIN: First Mars Explorers Should Stay: "At age 30, they are given an opportunity. If they accept, then we train them, at age 35, we send them. At age 65, who knows what advances have taken place. They can retire there, or maybe we can bring them back." AFP Interview.

"Cold War Modern," an exhibition in London, explores how superpower tension produced some of the most exciting and futuristic design of the 20th century.

U.S. Pennies Called Un-American
Metals in some U.S. pennies dating back to 1849 and prior came from an English mine, a new study finds. And a stash of copper pennies, given the price of copper, might be worth more than pennies. See also: What's a Penny Made Of? Coins Don't Smell, You Do.

WAY BACK: The Pony Express died on on Oct. 24, 1861 with the advent of the telegraph, which then died in 2006 when Western Union stopped sending telegrams.

THE EVENING NEWS IN 4,000 B.C.: Greeks escape house fire, salvaging their treasured stone blades and axes.

THE EVENING NEWS IN 2008 A.D.: French president needled by voodoo doll. Herpes in your inbox.

Initial Impressions Count

Knock, knock. Who's there? Ima. Ima Who? Ima IBM employee (har har har). Turns out Ima, who doesn't let bad grammar stand in the way of a good joke, might have chosen IBM because of the alliteration effect.

In a new study, researchers found that "for about one in nine people whose initials matched their company's initial, choice of employer seems to have been influenced by the fact that the letters matched." The effect occurred with every letter of the alphabet, but was more apparent for rarer initials. Zeke invented the ZScanner at Zcorp.

In the journal Psychological Science, Frederik Anseel and Wouter Duyck from Ghent University in Belgium write that they "have demonstrated that people are more likely to work for companies with initials matching their own than to work for companies with other initials."

OUT THERE:

***READER SAYS: The Zodiacal lights are often visible from the cockpit as we fly through a moonless night over the ocean. Beautiful! But the least bit of moonlight or light from below and it gets washed out. [STORY]***

 

>>> Single dark male, 36, 6 feet tall, dark hair, bilingual, good natured, widowed, seeks willing gorilla

Drug Dog
Move over McGruff, and look out kids! Sniff Dogs, a new company in New Jersey, rents drug-sniffing canines to parents for $200 an hour. That way if you can't spot the dazed look on your teens, the dog will tell you they're indeed using heroin, cocaine, crystal meth or ecstasy. The dogs are getting much needed employment, having retired from police work and apparently gotten bored. Dogs can also sniff out buried corpses. [Amazing Animal Abilities]

Do Sneezes Pass Colds?
First watch this video of Barack Obama sneezing on a reporter. Based on the popularity of the news media, many people probably view this as just treatment. Anyway, with cold season starting up, should that reporter worry? Yes. From the National Institutes of Health: "When someone has a cold, their runny nose is teeming with cold viruses. Sneezing, nose-blowing, and nose-wiping spread the virus. You can catch a cold by inhaling the virus if you are sitting close to someone who sneezes, or by touching your nose, eyes, or mouth after you have touched something contaminated by the virus." And what can you do to prevent a cold? Why do we "God bless" a sneeze?

Meet Mr. Green Genes, the Fluorescent Cat. Archives: Glowing pigs, glowing fish, Mysterious ocean glow, glowing fungus, glowing mice, and finally: Freakiest Lab Animals

OUT THERE:

DUH! DEPT.: We're Finally in a Recession
While there is no official definition of recession, anyone who used to have money can tell you we are in one. But many experts have been loathe to proclaim thus. Liz Ann Sonders, chief investment strategist at Charles Schwab & Co., says we're deep into it ... it started in late 2007, she says. And it's going to last a good, long time. Meanwhile, global stocks plunged again today on what the media insists are "fears of" a recession (which is to say everyone is worried that what we all know is here might come). The big Q, of course, is how will we get out? A: Make money, of course.

Related: Many had seen China as the global Superpower-in-Waiting, but the global financial crisis has put the squeeze on its low-priced exports and threatens to derail the country's incredible engine of economic growth.

The Cost of Getting Old
Six illnesses common among Americans over age 65 together cost more than $196 billion in 2007, according to a new analysis by the research firm RTI International that considered medical costs and lost productivity: They six: chronic lung disease, ischemic heart disease, stroke, lung cancer, pneumonia and gastrointestinal illness. Expect the figure to grow. "As our population continues to age, we expect that the total cost burden of these illnesses will also continue to increase," said lead researcher George Van Houtven. [Related: HMM... People are not allowed to die of old age]

HE SAID: "I used to sing with my younger brother, Alex, but he passed away four weeks ago. He was 100." / SHE SAID: "I've been to every country in Europe and even climbed to the summit of Mount Vesuvius when I was 88." (secrets to growing really, really old and staying happy)


The Election Is in God's Hands

Sarah Palin, asked if she's worried about polls showing she and John McCain are behind: "To me, it motivates us, makes us work that much harder," Palin said. "And it also strengthens my faith, because I'm going to know, at the end of the day, putting this in God's hands, that the right thing for America will be done at the end of the day on Nov. 4."

She may be on to something she won't be too excited about: A recent survey found people who believe that God is involved in worldly affairs are less likely to participate in national elections than others. Some tend to think that "God is taking care of things," the pollsters said.

Another factor that might take voting out of our hands: How we vote is in our genes, if you believe in that sort of thing. [Aside: Palin for President ... 2012]

Forget This!
Scientists have erased individual memories in mice without otherwise damaging other brain cells. They did it by over-expressing a certain protein just as the memory was being recalled. The breakthrough is detailed in the Oct. 23 issue of the journal Neuron. Purpose: "While memories are great teachers and obviously crucial for survival and adaptation, selectively removing incapacitating memories, such as traumatic war memories or an unwanted fear, could help many people live better lives," said Joe Z. Tsien, brain scientist at the of Georgia School of Medicine. [Bad memories stick better than good ones.]

OUT THERE:

*** THE MOST AMAZING NUMBERS YOU NEVER KNEW: How many U.S. presidents were an only child. How many blondes are really blond. Average number of minutes it takes to fall asleep. Months it takes to grow a new fingernail. Bottles of Champagne that Winston Churchill drank during his life. Okay, just go see. ***

New Designer Bees Are 'Polite'
Bees all over North America have been decimated in recent years by mysterious disease. Susan Cobey of the University of California, Davis has crossed some New World bees with Old World stock to create a new line that are "very gentle, very hygienic and very productive, and hopefully will confer increased resistance to pests and disease," she said. "Sue's bees are polite," said beekeeper Steve Godlin of Visalia, vice chair of the California State Apiary Board.

Duh! Dept.: Eat Fast, Get Fat - Those who choke down food eat more and weigh more than the culinary cautious crowd, who tend to eat less.

India's 'Moon Craft' Launches
Lunar mission called Chandrayaan-1 (from the ancient Sanskrit) is the country's first and yet another milestone in now-global effort to explore the solar system. "You're seeing India lifting its sights," said Scott Pace, director of space policy at the George Washington University. The robotic probe, which will map the still-poorly-known moon, left the planet early Wednesday local time.


Survival of the Fearful
Once the province of religious End-of-Timers, sci-fi fans and extremists, stockpiling of food and other acts of survivalism are on the rise, this story suggests. "I'm getting slammed with big orders," said Kurt Wilson, a distributor of freeze-dried and canned foods. It also cites rising traffic to survivalblog.com, where you can learn how to build a proper perimeter fence using 1960s vintage flash bulbs as tripwire. If you really want to get ahead of curve on planning for TEOTWAWKI (The End Of The World As We Know It), read Cormac McCarthy's postapocalyptic "The Road," but prepare to be sadder than when you recently checked up on your 401k. [Top 10 Crazy Cults / Suicide Rate Up]

The Glass is 15 Percent Full!
Who are the 15 percent who think the U.S. is on the right track? According to a new Associated Press-Yahoo News poll, "they tend to be older, less educated, conservative and supporters of Republican presidential candidate John McCain." A separate CNN/Opinion Research Corp. poll released today finds one-fourth of Americans think things are going well in the country.

OUT THERE:

Baseball Science Grab Bag: The brain and hitting, pitching, fielding, by blogger Dan Peterson. Formula predicts World Series Winner. What makes great players. The physics of deception. And a favorite: Why kids can't hit slow pitches.

FYI: Flagging Erections May Precede Heart Attacks
"Our research has shown that men experience erectile dysfunction four or five years before they have a heart attack," University of Hertfordshire researcher Mike Kirby, also author of "Sleeping with Ed," said today. [Get it? ED?] "Erectile dysfunction is an early warning sign of underlying vascular disease and diabetes. It is crucial that men talk about it and don't ignore it." And ...

Heart Attack Risk Rises Due to Western Diet
The typical Western diet — fried foods, salty snacks and lots of meat — accounts for about 30 percent of heart attack risk across the world, a new report suggests. In some countries, such as Japan, even children have traditionally loved vegetables. But many countries where people used to eat well have adopted these fatty foods, in part or in whole, in recent decades.

*** DON'T GO THERE: What readers are saying about this save the species story: The sad thing here is that scientists are put into this predicament because of the hubris of ignorant human beings. ... Someday, somehow another sentient species will arise to take our place. Hopefully they do a better job of it. ... Oh the arrogance! ***


Time, Time, Time ... Science in Jail
Inmates at Cedar Creek Corrections Center, a medium security prison in Littlerock, Washington, work under the direction of Nalini Nadkarni of Evergreen State College to investigate ways to cultivate slow-growing mosses. "I need help from people who have long periods of time available to observe and measure the growing mosses, access to extensive space to lay out flats of plants, and fresh minds to put forward innovative solutions," Nadkarni said. One inmate has gotten out since the program started in 2004, and went on to get a Ph.D. in microbiology, the National Science