Archive for June, 2009

NCBI ROFL: Real shepherds use trebuchets

By ncbi rofl | June 30, 2009 7:02 pm

An analysis of the forces required to drag sheep over various surfaces.

Thanks to Pierre for today’s ROFL!

CATEGORIZED UNDER: fun with animals, NCBI ROFL, rated G

To China’s Internet Filter, Garfield is Pornography, Porn is Not

By Allison Bond | June 30, 2009 2:58 pm

computerFormer Supreme Court Justice Potter Stewart famously said that although he couldn’t define pornography, he’d know it when he saw it. Was he talking about images of Garfield? How about a photo of cooked pork? Well, according to the mandatory Internet filtration software proposed by the Chinese government, both pics should be blocked because they are pornographic.

The filter, known as Green Dam-Youth Escort, was about to be required to be installed in all personal computers sold in the country, beginning July 1. However, the government has reportedly reneged on this mandate, and has postponed that deadline indefinitely. And it’s a good thing: Critics worry that the software will be used for censorship, and the program also fails to effectively block plenty of content that may concern parents. According to Reuters:

When the software is installed, and an image scanner activated, it blocks even harmless images of a film poster for cartoon cat Garfield, dishes of flesh-color cooked pork and on one search engine a close-up of film star Johnny Depp’s face. With the image filter off, even though searches with words like “nude” are blocked, a hunt for adult websites throws up links to soft and hardcore pornography sites including one with a video of full penetrative sex playing on its front page.

Green Dam has not detailed how it scans images for obscene content, but computer experts have said it likely uses color and form recognition to zoom in on potential expanses of naked flesh. Program settings allow users to chose how tightly they want images scanned. When too much skin is detected, Green Dam closes all Internet browsers with no warning, sometimes flashing up a notice that the viewer is looking at “harmful” content.

But the interpretation of obscene is apparently generous enough to include the orange hue of Garfield’s fur and, on the highest security settings, prevent viewers clicking through to any illustrated story on one English language news website.

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CATEGORIZED UNDER: Technology Attacks!

Coming Soon: Wheelchairs Controlled By Tongues, Brain Waves

By Boonsri Dickinson | June 30, 2009 1:36 pm

342617240_77a06c8a1e.jpgRight now one of the most common ways quadriplegics move wheelchairs is through a sip and puff device, in which the person sucks or blows through a straw. But Georgia Tech University scientists are testing a headset that will allow wheelchair users to drive their chairs using only their tongues. New Scientist reports:

The device works by using two sensors to track a 5-millimetre-wide magnet attached to the tip of the user’s tongue. The sensors—embedded in a wireless headset—read the fluctuations in the strength of the magnetic field as the tongue moves and transmit the signals on to a computer, where they are interpreted and acted upon.

Of course, who needs a tongue when you can just think the wheelchair into action. Japanese researchers claim they’ve created a device that allows brain waves to control a wheelchair.
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CATEGORIZED UNDER: Technology Attacks!
MORE ABOUT: brain, innovation, medicine

New "Worm Charming" Champion Sets World Record

By Allison Bond | June 30, 2009 11:27 am

wormSaturday was a big day for the world’s worm charmers: The 30th annual World Worm Charming Championships took place in the U.K. Competitors aimed to draw as many earthworms out of the soil as possible using techniques from tap dancing to rock music, and a 10-year-old girl emerged victorious after raising a record 567 of the wigglers in half an hour.

Research shows that creating vibrations draws worms from the soil to the surface by mimicking the sensation of a burrowing mole, which feeds on worms, according to an NPR interview with Mike Forster, the chief wormer and founder of the International Federation of Charming Worms and Allied Pastimes . The Telegraph reports:

“The weather is a big factor,” says Mike Forster, a retired policeman. “When it’s warm, with a bit of moisture in the air like today you’d expect a good score, but there are still a lot of things we don’t understand.” Including, precisely, how the art of charming works. For many years it was presumed that the vibrations created by noise, fooled the worms into thinking it was raining. Apparently uncomfortable in wet soil they instinctively head for the surface.

But, recently, this theory has come under scientific challenge. Last year, in a breakthrough piece of research, Professor Kenneth Catania, an American neuroscientist, specialising in sonic phenomena, argued that the vibrations created by the best charmers, uncannily replicated those produced by moles. Moles are a worm’s worst nightmare, with the shovel-footed beasts able to eat their weight in worm every day.

Worm charming is not for the faint of heart; sometimes it requires tap dancing on a plank to the Star Wars theme song, and apparently new techniques continue to emerge.
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MORE ABOUT: animal behavior, worms

NCBI ROFL: Breaking News!

By ncbi rofl | June 30, 2009 12:16 am

In response to the growing number of people reading this blog, we are very excited to announce the debut of our own domain: www.ncbirofl.com! Thanks to all our readers, especially for the positive feedback. Keep spreading the ROFLs!
~ Mer and the Brontosaurus

CATEGORIZED UNDER: blog business, NCBI ROFL

NCBI ROFL: The science of booger picking revealed.

By ncbi rofl | June 29, 2009 8:11 pm

A preliminary survey of rhinotillexomania in an adolescent sample.

“Almost the entire sample admitted to nose picking, with a median frequency of 4 times per day; the frequency was > 20 times per day in 7.6% of the sample. Nearly 17% of subjects considered that they had a serious nose-picking problem.”

Warning All Competitive Male Cyclists: Less than 5% of Your Sperm May Be Normal

By Allison Bond | June 29, 2009 3:02 pm

bicyclistFriction and high levels of heat in the groin area, combined with the physical stress of intense training, greatly decreases the number of normal-looking sperm produced by male competitive cyclists, according to a Spanish study.

And we mean “greatly”: The researchers found that the sperm of triathletes who pedaled more than 186 miles per week was, on average, only 4 percent normally sized and shaped. That’s significantly lower than the 15 to 20 percent in the most fertile non-cyclists, and this low count could make conceiving difficult.

Cyclists, therefore, should consider freezing their sperm before commencing training, according to the BBC:

“Fifteen triathletes with an average age of 33 were asked not to have sex for three days before giving a sperm sample. When the results were compared with their training routines, only cycling – not swimming or running – was linked with sperm quality. All of the men – who had been training for an average of nine times a week for eight years – had less than 10% of normal looking sperm, compared with the 15-20% seen in the most fertile men. In those who managed more than 186 miles a week on their bikes, the proportion of sperm that was the correct size and shape had fallen to 4%, the point at which men may struggle to conceive without fertility treatment.

[Lead researcher Diana Vaamonde] added it was unclear whether sperm quality would improve if men retired from the sport but that after years of wear and tear this was unlikely. “Something which could be done would be to have their sperm frozen but when they start training they do not realise what damage can be done to their sperm.”

The researchers said that casual cycling, such as biking to and from work, likely would not negatively impact a man’s fertility. Let’s face it: Because obesity also can cause infertility, most men (and women) should be worried about spending more time on a bicycle, not less.

Related Content:
Discoblog: Vatican Science: Pope Blames Male Infertility on…the Pill
Discoblog: Heated Car Seats: Too Hot for Sperm
Discoblog: The Unusual Story of a Pregnant, Bearded Man

Image: flickr/ donjd2

For Early Europeans, Cannibalism Was One Perk of Victory

By Allison Bond | June 29, 2009 11:54 am

cannibal pumpkinWhat was eating the earliest Europeans? Their rivals, apparently. Human remains up to 800,000 years old have been found in an archaeological cave site in northern Spain. They reveal that early Europeans killed and ate their adversaries, and took a special liking to the flesh of children and adolescents.

The abundant food and water available in the area indicate that the cannibalistic practice was not one of necessity. AFP tells us:

A study of the remains revealed that they turned to cannibalism to feed themselves and not as part of a ritual, that they ate their rivals after killing them, mostly children and adolescents. “It is the first well-documented case of cannibalism in the history of humanity, which does not mean that it is the oldest,” said [project co-director Jose Maria Bermudez de Castro]. The remains discovered in the caves “appeared scattered, broken, fragmented, mixed with other animals such as horses, deer, rhinoceroses, all kinds of animals caught in hunting” and eaten by humans, he said. “This gives us an idea of cannibalism as a type [of] gastronomy, and not as a ritual”….

[Archaeologists] found water and food in abundance, could hunt wild boar, horses, [and] deer, “which means that they did not practice cannibalism through a lack of food. They killed their rivals and used the meat,” he said. “We have also discovered two levels that contain cannibalised remains, which means that it was not a one-off thing, but continued through time,” he said. “Another interesting aspect…is that most of the 11 individuals that we have identified” as victims “were children or adolescents.”

Lends a whole new meaning to “the sweet taste of victory.”

Related Content:
Discoblog: Caribbean Bowls Reveal Ancient…Drug Habit?
Discoblog: Archaeological Surprise: Grave Site Full of Phallic Figurines

Image: flickr / stu_spivack

NCBI ROFL: So THAT's where that condom went…

By ncbi rofl | June 28, 2009 6:42 pm

Accidental condom inhalation

“A 27-year-old lady presented with persistent cough, sputum and fever for the preceding six months. In spite of trials with antibiotics and anti-tuberculosis treatment for the preceeding four months, her symptoms did not improve. A subsequent chest radiograph showed non-homogeneous collapse-consolidation of right upper lobe. Videobronchoscopy revealed an inverted bag like structure in right upper lobe bronchus and rigid bronchoscopic removal with biopsy forceps confirmed the presence of a condom. Detailed retrospective history also confirmed accidental inhalation of the condom during fellatio.”

Thanks to Pierre for today’s ROFL!

NCBI ROFL: Why Santa Claus shouldn't work in a lab

By ncbi rofl | June 27, 2009 10:20 pm

Microbiological laboratory hazard of bearded men

“An investigation was conducted to evaluate the hypothesis that a bearded man subjects his family and friends to risk of infection if his beard is contaminated by infectious microorganisms while he is working in a microbiological laboratory.”

Thanks to one of our anonymous informants for today’s ROFL!

CATEGORIZED UNDER: duh, NCBI ROFL, ridiculous titles
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