The Virus That Could Be Making You Dumber

By Carl Engelking | November 10, 2014 3:51 pm

algae virus

You may have heard the saying, “You can’t catch stupid” — meant to console you that idiocy is not contagious. But, as it turns out, in a small way it might be.

Scientists have discovered that a foreign virus in some peoples’ throats parallels with those individuals’ poorer cognitive performance. And when mice are given this virus, previously thought to only infect algae, they were slower to learn a maze.

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CATEGORIZED UNDER: Living World, Mind & Brain, top posts

Bats Send Jamming Signals to Steal Rivals’ Meals

By Carl Engelking | November 7, 2014 2:03 pm

A flying Mexican free-tailed bat (shown above) emits specialized signals that jam the echolocation of  other bats competing for insect prey. [Credit: Nickolay Hristov]

Mexican free-tailed bats can emit specialized signals that jam the echolocation of competitors. (Credit: Nickolay Hristov)

At home in the cave, bats may live in one big happy colony; but when it comes to mealtime, friends quickly become rivals.

Bats rely on echolocation — sending out calls and listening for echoes — to track down their prey. Just before nabbing their meal, bats send out a series of rapid chirps to home in on their target. But a new study reports that sometimes they’re thwarted: other hungry bats nearby can send out ultrasonic jamming signals to confound their colony-mates’ targeting system and steal the meal for themselves.

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CATEGORIZED UNDER: Living World, top posts
MORE ABOUT: animals

Watch a Feather and Bowling Ball Fall At the Same Speed

By Carl Engelking | November 6, 2014 3:33 pm

Over 400 years ago, the story goes, Galileo stood atop the Leaning Tower of Pisa and dropped two balls of different masses over the edge. As we all know, both balls smacked the ground at the same time, proving that gravity affects objects’ acceleration regardless of mass. (Though whether that was a real experiment or merely a thought experiment is still debated.)

Regardless, it’s a great, memorable visual. But be prepared to replace it with an even better one.

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CATEGORIZED UNDER: Space & Physics, top posts
MORE ABOUT: physics

Have a Minute? Then You Have Time for a Workout

By Carl Engelking | November 6, 2014 3:04 pm


Leave it to science to invalidate the excuse that there’s just not enough time in the day for a workout.

In May, the New York Times published a story about the scientifically proven 7-minute workout routine to stay fit. But who has seven minutes? Now, scientists have discovered that just one minute of all-out, high-intensity exercise three times a week can markedly improve muscle and heart health in overweight individuals.

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CATEGORIZED UNDER: Health & Medicine, top posts

World’s First Solar Bike Path to Open in Netherlands

By Carl Engelking | November 5, 2014 12:59 pm
(Courtesy: SolaRoad)

(Courtesy: SolaRoad)

Dutch bicycle commuters will soon be riding on sunshine — well, kind of.

The Netherlands announced that it is putting the final touches on a 230-foot bike lane that’s constructed with solar panels. The bike path, set to officially open Nov. 12, will be the first publicly accessible solar road in the world.

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CATEGORIZED UNDER: Environment, Technology, top posts
MORE ABOUT: energy, sustainability

The Exact Moment When New York Office Workers Start Slacking Off

By Carl Engelking | November 4, 2014 1:33 pm
dsqt5In this visualization, blue is below-average Twitter volume and red/yellow is above-average.

People in the Big Apple are pretty productive in their mornings but social media distractions solidly take hold by lunchtime – and the rest of the day is really a wash after that.

That, at least, is one observation from a new Twitter heat-map that aims to take the pulse of the bustling metropolis by analyzing New Yorkers’ Twitter activity over a 5-month timeframe. Researchers behind the map say it demonstrates that Twitter could be a valuable resource to understand human behavior in urban environments.

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CATEGORIZED UNDER: Living World, Technology, top posts

Mistaken Identity Explains How G2 Survived a Black Hole

By Sarah Scoles | November 4, 2014 12:02 pm


Earlier this year, astronomers watched as an object named G2 zoomed through space and passed close to the black hole at the center of our galaxy. Many thought G2 was a cloud of hydrogen gas that the black hole would rip apart and devour, unleashing fireworks we could see through telescopes on Earth. But they were wrong on both counts: G2 isn’t a gas cloud, and, like a rainy Fourth of July, the fireworks never happened. That may sound disappointing, but it’s a story of mistaken identity and a journey to the center of the galaxy—and how could that be disappointing?

A research team led by Andrea Ghez of UCLA has said for more than a year that G2 is not just a cloud of gas: It’s a cloud of gas enveloping a secret star. The team also calculated that this mystery object would come closest to the black hole this summer, a few months later than other groups thought. They stood at the ready at the ultrasensitive Keck Observatory to watch. But nothing happened.

Yesterday, her team announced that G2 had held itself together. It emerged relatively intact from its black-hole encounter, which is why telescopes saw no explosions in the sky. But a gas cloud alone couldn’t have withstood that kind of gravitational grappling. It would need to have something denser inside: a star, just like they’d said.

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CATEGORIZED UNDER: Space & Physics, top posts
MORE ABOUT: black holes, stars

Unlimited Free Lives! 900 Classic Arcade Games Resurrected Online

By Carl Engelking | November 3, 2014 1:29 pm

indiana jones

Your Monday blues are about to be vanquished with a button-mashing trip down memory lane.

The Internet Archive, a nonprofit organization that creates back-ups of every page of the Internet, has branched out on a new endeavor: the Internet Arcade. They’ve added a collection of 900 classic arcade video games from the 1970s through the 1990s, and you can play them all for free on your web browser.

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CATEGORIZED UNDER: Technology, top posts
MORE ABOUT: computers

This Is Your Brain on Magic Mushrooms

By Ben Thomas | October 29, 2014 4:16 pm

Left, the stable brain activity in a normal brain. Right, under the influence of psilocybin, diverse brain regions not normally in communication become strongly linked.

Psychedelic substances can change a user’s mindset in profound ways — a fact that’s relevant even to those who’ve never touched the stuff, because such altered states of consciousness give scientists a window into how our brains give rise to our normal mental states. But neuroscientists are only beginning to understand how and why those mental changes occur.

Now some mathematicians have jumped into the fray, using a new mathematical technique to analyze the brains of people on magic mushrooms.

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CATEGORIZED UNDER: Mind & Brain, top posts

Receipts May Expose Us to High Levels of BPA

By Ben Thomas | October 27, 2014 11:28 am


You probably know bisphenol A (BPA) as the controversial chemical in hard plastic food and drink containers, such as baby bottles and Nalgene water bottles. In recent years many companies have voluntarily eliminated BPA from their plastics due to research that shows that it can damage women’s fertility and possibly pose a threat to young children. But another source of BPA is less well known: cash register receipts. And a new study reports that when people handle BPA-coated receipts after sanitizing their hands, they get a rapid spike of BPA in their bloodstream.

While BPA is commonly found at low levels in peoples’ blood, researchers are concerned that elevated levels may lead to dangerous hormonal and neurological disruptions.

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CATEGORIZED UNDER: Health & Medicine, top posts
MORE ABOUT: personal health

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