Archive for August, 2008

Challengers Lay Claim to Pisa's Leaning Title

By Andrew Moseman | August 29, 2008 2:05 pm

PisaDon’t worry, lean-lovers: They haven’t totally straightened out the leaning Tower of Pisa. It just isn’t leaning enough for some people anymore.

Last November, the Guinness Book of World Records took away Pisa’s status as the tower with the biggest lean, instead bestowing that title on the Schiefer Turm von Suurhusen in Northern Germany, a church whose steeple tilts a full degree further off center than Pisa’s. Now, a Dutch mathematician has tried to steal some leaning pride for his homeland.

Jacob van Dijk told Reuters that a tower in Bedum, Holland, is also more off-center than Pisa. Though the Dutch tower stands only 117 feet tall, van Dijk calculated that if it were the same height at the Leaning Tower of Pisa, 183 feet, it would lean 6 centimeters further than the Italian monument.

If Guinness acknowledges the German tower, this new claim seems like a silly battle for second place. But from the pictures of Schiefer Turm von Suurhusen, it looks like it could topple at any time. In any case, the Dutch tower became number one because the Italians straightened Pisa slightly between 1999 and 2001, back to its angle from 300 years ago, hoping to stabilize it for another few centuries. So thankfully, they seem to be more concerned with keeping the tower around for a while than winning a contest.

Image: Wikimedia Commons/Alkarex

MORE ABOUT: math

The Eyes Are Everywhere for Sufferers of "Truman Show Delusion"

By Andrew Moseman | August 29, 2008 12:42 pm

cameraDo you ever get the feeling that you’re being watched…by millions of people? No? Thank goodness—you probably don’t have Truman Show delusion.

This affliction, wherein people feel that they’re being monitored by cameras and they’re surrounded by actors, is no joke, psychologist Joel Gold told the New York Times. This delusion, named for the 1998 movie starring Jim Carrey, isn’t the only strange mental condition to emerge alongside the technological developments of the last decade. There’s also Internet delusion, in which people feel that rather than reality TV cameras following them, the Internet is somehow tracking all the mundane details of their lives.

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CATEGORIZED UNDER: What’s Inside Your Brain?
MORE ABOUT: mental health

Weekly Science Blog Roundup

By Andrew Moseman | August 29, 2008 9:59 am

Yee-haw! It’s the blog roundup.· Scientists have found the next great weapon against bacteria: marijuana.

· The Large Hadron Collider isn’t going to destroy the Earth, but if it did, it would look really cool from afar.

· Chris Mooney looks at Gustav, the storm forming in the Caribbean, and says, “Uh-oh.”

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CATEGORIZED UNDER: Blog Roundup

Sweet Blogger O' Mine, You're Under Arrest

By Andrew Moseman | August 28, 2008 4:20 pm

GNRCommandment number 11: Thou shalt not upset Axl Rose.

Kevin Cogill, a blogger from Los Angeles, was arrested by U.S. federal officials yesterday after he leaked tracks from the upcoming Guns N’ Roses album “Chinese Democracy” on his Web site. The “new” album, which the band has been working on for 14 years, is finally scheduled for a release later this year.

Fourteen years of waiting was apparently too much for Cogill, who taunted the band on his Web site under this screen name “Skwerl” before posting nine of their songs. Despite having earned their fame writing songs about “wild living, violence, drugs and girls,” as AFP so eloquently puts it, the band immediately got the law on their side and filed a cease-and-desist order against Cogill. After the rush of traffic to hear the songs crashed his Web site, and then upon hearing from the FBI, Cogill took down the songs. Still, he could face a maximum of five years in prison.

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CATEGORIZED UNDER: Technology Attacks!
MORE ABOUT: bloggers

Heated Car Seats: Too Hot for Sperm

By Andrew Moseman | August 28, 2008 12:57 pm

spermNot too long from now, men will scurry out to the car on the first chilly morning of autumn, jump inside, and enjoy the warm embrace of heated leather seats. But that warm feeling might have an unpleasant side effect—lowering one’s sperm count.

German scientists studied 30 men (subscription required), measuring their scrotal temperature after they had sat in a car seat for 90 minutes. Those who sat in heated seats measured an average of about 99.1 degrees Fahrenheit, up from about 98 degrees for men in plain old unheated seats. The scrotum is located outside the body because sperm production requires a lower temperature, and even a slight raise like the one in this study could interfere with that, the researchers say.

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To Do: Find New Bug Species on EBay, Name It After Self

By Boonsri Dickinson | August 28, 2008 10:29 am

amber.jpgIt’s not the first time someone has discovered a new species on eBay, but this is the first time a scientist has found a new insect species on the Internet.

In this case, a man in Lithuania recently sold his 40- to 50-million-year-old fossil of an insect on eBay for $37 to a scientist. The buyer let his curiosity get the best of him, so he sent the insect to an expert in Denmark who confirmed that it was indeed a completely new species. The expert then named the insect Mindarus harringtoni, after the scientist, Richard Harrington.

“It’s rather nice to have something named after you, even if it is an old fossil,” says Harrington, an entomologist at Rothamstead Research Centre. He donated the insect to the Natural History Museum.

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MORE ABOUT: ebay, insects

Woman Looks at Baby Photo and Sees Cancer from 4,000 Miles Away

By Andrew Moseman | August 27, 2008 5:19 pm

RetinoA British woman correctly identified a baby’s eye cancer from 4,300 miles away, all because of some white-eye.

Madeleine Robb, a woman from Manchester, U.K., had been exchanging baby pics with another new mom, Megan Santos from Florida, after the two became friends online. But what Robb saw in the picture alarmed her: Santos’ daughter Rowan had a white glare in her eye, similar to the red glare people often have in photographs. But the white version can be a warning sign for retinoblastoma, a rare kind of eye cancer in kids under 5.

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MORE ABOUT: children's health

The Brain Can Forget an Invisible Hand

By Andrew Moseman | August 27, 2008 12:49 pm

MittsTo be an expert is to know something like the back of your hand, or so the saying goes. But science suggests we don’t know our own limbs quite as well as we think.

For years scientists have used “rubber hand illusions” to show how the mind can be fooled: They cover a test subject’s real hand with a towel, and then put a real-looking rubber hand in the place where it should be. After a while, the subjects’ minds get the best of them and they “feel” sensations from the fake hand. In a new study [pdf, subscription required], Oxford University researchers went one step further and showed that the brain can begin to abandon a limb if it thinks it’s got a replacement.

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CATEGORIZED UNDER: What’s Inside Your Brain?
MORE ABOUT: senses, the brain

Can You Say "Mommy"? Babies' Brains Like Repeated Syllables

By Andrew Moseman | August 27, 2008 10:29 am

baby talkEarlier this month we wrote that alliteration can help you maintain your memory, and now it seems that patterns are also good for those whose brains are just developing.

Babies’ brains are the most active when they hear words with repeated syllables, according to Judit Gervain from the University of British Columbia, and that my help to explain why their first words are often words like “mama” or “papa.”

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CATEGORIZED UNDER: What’s Inside Your Brain?
MORE ABOUT: learning, senses

After 4,500 Whale Killings, Japanese Publish Their Research

By Andrew Moseman | August 26, 2008 5:10 pm

MinkeEnvironmentalists have been all over Japan’s “scientific” whaling for years, with some organizations saying the program is unnecessary or little more than commercial whale hunting in disguise. But now Japanese scientists have published new research in Popular Polar Biology, and their findings aren’t good: whales are getting skinnier, and global warming might be at fault.

The scientists measured the amount of blubber in minke whales captured since the 1980s and found that the level has dropped off precipitously since then. Why are they pointing the finger at global warming? Because krill, the tiny crustacean at the base of the food chain, have declined in Antarctic areas by 80 percent since the 1970s. Part of the problem is warming waters, but over-fishing for krill to use at fish farms and the ozone layer hole have contributed to the drop as well.

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MORE ABOUT: global warming, Ocean
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