Archive for August, 2009

How Fast Is the Internets in Your Country?

By Boonsri Dickinson | August 31, 2009 6:15 pm

roland.jpgThese days, Internet speeds are an international bragging point. In a report issued by the Communications Workers of America, South Korea apparently wins, with the fastest Internet speed time in the world, clocking in at 20.4 megabits per second. That’s four times faster that what we get here in the U.S.—on average, about 5.1 mbps. reports:

“The US has not made significant improvement in the speeds at which residents connect to the Internet,” the report said. “Our nation continues to fall far behind other countries.”

“People in Japan can upload a high-definition video in 12 minutes, compared to a grueling 2.5 hours at the US average upload speed,” the report said.

Fine, so the Japanese can download videos faster than we can (not that we’re jealous or anything). Of course, not too surprisingly, there’s a disparity even within the U.S.—people living in areas like New York have faster Web service, while states like Alaska and Montana enjoy the slowest Internet speeds. Apparently, during the test, 18 percent of the people downloading material in the U.S. did so at speeds that are considered merely “basic broadband” connection. Ouch!

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Image: flickr/ roland

CATEGORIZED UNDER: Technology Attacks!

Lizard's Third Eye (Not) Blind…To Light, That Is

By Allison Bond | August 31, 2009 5:26 pm

Italian wall lizardA third eye comes in handy—if you’re a lizard, that is. This so-called parietal eye, which is also found in some fish and amphibians, is made up of a patch of light-sensitive cells and helps guide lizards by the sun’s light, according to the results of a study published in Journal of Experimental Biology.

Wired reports:

To test how third eyes… help them find their way, biologists at Italy’s University of Ferrara first trained Italian wall lizards to swim from the center of a small outdoor swimming pool to a hidden ledge at its edge. A fence was erected around the pool, so that the only visual point of reference was the position of the sun. The lizards passed the test.

But when researchers put some of the lizards in rooms lit out-of-sync with the sun’s rhythm, those animals were unable to find the ledge once they were moved to the outdoor pool–apparently because the sun wasn’t where the reptiles expected it to be.

The weirdest part? Apparently, we humans also possess a third eye (or something like it, anyway). Wired says:

Humans also have a version of the third eye system. Unfortunately for hikers and drivers, it’s located under our skulls. It’s essential for spatial processing, but not much help if you’re lost.

Related Content:
Discoblog: See It to Believe It: Animals Vomit, Spurt Blood to Thwart Predators
Discoblog: 111-Year-Old Reptile Becomes a Dad After Tumor Surgery
Discoblog: On the Darwinian Fast-Track: Lizards Evolve Away Limbs

Image: flickr / Allie_Caulfield

NCBI ROFL: It's like a Brita filter for your butt.

By ncbi rofl | August 31, 2009 3:00 pm

Effectiveness of devices purported to reduce flatus odor.

“OBJECTIVE: A variety of charcoal-containing devices are purported to minimize problems with odoriferous rectal gas; however, the evidence supporting the efficacy of these products is virtually all anecdotal. We objectively evaluated the ability of these devices to adsorb two malodorous, sulfide gases (hydrogen sulfide and methylmercaptan) instilled at the anus. METHODS: Via a tube, 100 ml of nitrogen containing 40 ppm of sulfide gases and 0.5% H(2) was instilled at the anus of six healthy volunteers who wore gas impermeable Mylar pantaloons over their garments. Since H(2) is not adsorbed by charcoal, the fraction of the sulfide gases removed could be determined from the concentration ratio of sulfide gas: H(2) in the pantaloon space relative to the ratio in instilled gas. RESULTS: Measurements with no device in place showed that subjects’ garments removed 22.0 +/- 5.3% of the sulfide gases, and results obtained with each device were corrected for this removal. The only product that adsorbed virtually all of the sulfide gases was briefs constructed from an activated carbon fiber fabric. Pads worn inside the underwear removed 55-77% of the sulfide gases. Most cushions were relatively ineffective, adsorbing about 20% of the gases.”


It's a Hoax! Famed "Moon Rock" Turns Out to Be Hunk of Wood

By Allison Bond | August 31, 2009 1:23 pm

rockEver since Buzz Aldrin and Neil Armstrong gave former Dutch prime minister William Drees a chunk of moon-rock in 1969, the public has been eager to see it. In fact, the relic has drawn tens of thousands of people to Amsterdam’s Rijksmuseum.

But Houston, we have a problem: Turns out that so-called moon rock (which was insured for 308,000 British pounds, or about $500,000) is really just a hunk of petrified wood—and its actual value is less than 50 British pounds.

The Telegraph reports:

Researchers Amsterdam’s Free University were able to tell at a glance that the rock was unlikely to be from the moon, a conclusion that was borne out by tests. “It’s a nondescript, pretty-much-worthless stone,” said Frank Beunk, a geologist involved in the investigation [of the rock].

Xandra van Gelder, who oversaw the investigation, said the museum would continue to keep the stone as a curiosity. “It’s a good story, with some questions that are still unanswered,” she said. “We can laugh about it.”

An investigation is under way to find out how the heck this debacle could have happened (a bait-and-switch, perhaps?). Meanwhile, we bet moon conspiracists will view this discovery as far from a laughing matter—in fact, it may add fuel to their argument that the moon landing never really happened. (For the record, it did.)

Related Content:
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Discoblog: Buzz Aldrin, Rapper?

Image courtesy of Rijksmuseum

CATEGORIZED UNDER: Space & Aliens Therefrom
MORE ABOUT: conspiracy, faux pas, moon, rocks

For Honey Bee Awareness Day, Music Video Asks, “Where My Bees At?”

By Allison Bond | August 28, 2009 3:06 pm

beesIt’s no secret that something mysterious is going on with the honey bees around the globe. Still, who would’ve thought to rap about it?

From the Huffington Post:

In preparation for the first-ever National Honey Bee Awareness Day that took place on Aug. 22, big bee backer Häagen-Dazs used the creative efforts of five brothers from Los Altos, Calif. to make a short video raising awareness.

Max Lanman, a 21-year-old senior at Yale majoring in film studies (and the third-oldest Lanman brother), directed, edited and photographed the result of the request, a viral video entitled “Do the Honey Bee.”

In the video, people dressed as bees shimmy and shake, mimicking the ways bees “dance” to communicate with each other. The lyrics extol bees’ agricultural importance, and the beat’s pretty catchy, too.

But don’t take our word for it—check out the video. You just may want to “shake your stinger, bend your knees / Get down real low, and do the honey bee.”

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80beats: Honeybee Murder Mystery: “We Found the Bullet Hole,” Not the “Smoking Gun”
Discoblog: Bees on a Plane! 10,000 Bees Swarm an Airplane Wing in Massachusetts
Discoblog: You Can Dance if You Want to, You Can Learn from Different Bees

Image: flickr / david.nikonvscanon

NCBI ROFL: Weak with sex: sexual intercourse as a trigger for cataplexy.

By ncbi rofl | August 28, 2009 3:00 pm

“INTRODUCTION: Sudden, often positive emotions are typical triggers for cataplexy in patients with narcolepsy-cataplexy (NC). Cataplexy during sexual intercourse and orgasm (orgasmolepsy) has been previously reported, but its frequency and characteristics are poorly known. AIM: To assess frequency and features of loss of muscle tone during sexual intercourse in a series of patients with NC, other sleep-wake disorders, and healthy controls… …RESULTS: Orgasmolepsy was reported by three NC patients (two female, one male), one male patient with behaviorally induced insufficient sleep syndrome (BIISS) and cataplexy-like symptoms, and none of the healthy controls. In the two female NC patients, orgasmolepsy occurred by each sexual intercourse, and the male patient reported orgasmolepsy only when in a relationship involving emotional commitment and trust. In the patient with BIISS and orgasmolepsy, cataplexy-like symptoms involved unilaterally upper or lower limbs in association with negative emotions or sports activities.”

Thanks to Amos for today’s ROFL!


Weekly News Roundup: Robot Chauffeurs and Hand-Holding Otters

By Allison Bond | August 28, 2009 1:30 pm

Yee-haw! It’s the blog roundup.• Back away from the game controller: Venezuela is laying out a plan for a new law that would ban violent video games in an effort to cut back on rampant crime in the country, even though studies have been unable to prove a link between gaming and violent behavior.

• Because walking, trams, and moving walkways are so last millennium, business travelers at London’s Healthrow Airport will soon be able to hitch a ride on driverless podcars. The battery-powered, robotic cars constitute the first personalized rapid transit system that lets riders control their destination.

•In a meaty ode to the food web site This is Why You’re Fat, here are 10 structures made entirely out of meat. Feats of engineering, no doubt.

• How one scientist hopes to turn chicken embryos into dinosaurs. Not only is it scientifically implausible, but it seems like there was a movie based on a similar idea—and it didn’t turn out well (for the humans, that is).

• Can red help you score? It seems red doesn’t just make women more attractive to men; it can also help make sports teams more victorious.

• And finally, infinitely adorable otters holding hands… er, paws?

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Science Not Fiction: Hungry Robots. What Could Go Wrong?
Discoblog: New Humanoid Robot Shows More Emotion Than Some Humans

MORE ABOUT: gaming, motor vehicles

What's Your Risk of Dying Next Year? Wanna Find Out?

By Allison Bond | August 28, 2009 11:06 am

clockEver wonder what your exact numerical risk of dying in the next year is? Feel free to satisfy your morbid curiosity at, a tool developed by professors and students at Carnegie Mellon University. The site uses data from the CDC and the European Commission to calculate an estimated likelihood that you’ll kick the bucket, based on factors like your gender and geographic region.

According to Livescience:

Of course the results produced by the web site speak to groups of people and cannot predict with accuracy when you might actually kick the bucket. The timing of your own end is based on many uncharted factors, from heredity to lifestyle to untimely accidents….

The researchers found that beyond infancy, the risk of dying increases annually at an exponential rate. A 20-year-old U.S. woman has a 1 in 2,000 (or 0.05 percent) chance of dying in the next year, for example. By age 40, the risk is three times greater; by age 60, it is 16 times greater; and by age 80, it is 100 times greater (around 1 in 20 or 5 percent).

Maybe the tool can serve as a happy reminder that the clock is ticking. On that note, perhaps your precious time would be better spent doing something besides surfing the ‘net. [Ed note: No, please, surf away! And tell your friends!]

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Image: flickr / Robbertvan der Steeg

CATEGORIZED UNDER: Technology Attacks!
MORE ABOUT: algorithm, death, morbidity

Where in the World is Wired's Evan Ratliff?

By Allison Bond | August 27, 2009 3:10 pm

Where the heck is Waldo?Have you seen Wired writer Evan Ratliff in the past few weeks? We’re guessing the answer is no—otherwise, we assume you would’ve claimed your $5,000 prize.

That’s because Ratliff is doing his best to keep his whereabouts unknown (even to friends and family) until Sept. 15. The goal of the stunt is to demonstrate how easy it can be to disappear under the radar, even in the digital age. ABC News reports:

[Ratliff] must stay hidden for one month with a bounty over his head.

But to keep things interesting, Ratliff can’t go entirely off the grid. Like any digital denizen, he has to keep up with social networking sites like Facebook and Twitter and make at least the occasional cell phone call or credit card transaction.

By posting those digital breadcrumbs to the contest’s online page, Wired hopes sleuths both high-tech and low will be enticed to join the hunt. Already, hundreds — maybe thousands — have taken the bait, populating Facebook pages, Twitter feeds and comment threads with tips and teasers about his whereabouts.

Ratliff apparently got the idea while writing about Matthew Alan Sheppard, who disappeared in an attempt to escape  financial ruin. Wired‘s plot seems a little gimmicky, but that doesn’t mean we aren’t curious about where he is—and who (if anyone) will be able to track him down before time runs out.

Related Content:
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Discoblog: Want a Job at Best Buy? Better Have 250 Twitter Followers
Discoblog: Twitter Used to Test Our “Psychic Abilities”

Image: flickr / Si1Very

CATEGORIZED UNDER: Technology Attacks!

NCBI ROFL: I swear I haven't been drinking, Officer. It was my gut flora!

By ncbi rofl | August 27, 2009 3:00 pm

Endogenous ethanol ‘auto-brewery syndrome’ as a drunk-driving defence challenge.

“For various reasons, the reliability of the results of forensic alcohol analysis are often challenged by the defence. One such argument for acquittal concerns the notion that alcohol could be produced naturally in the body, hence the term ‘auto-brewery’ syndrome. Although yeasts such as Candida albicans readily produce ethanol in-vitro, whether this happens to any measurable extent in healthy ambulatory subjects is an open question. Over the years, many determinations of endogenous ethanol have been made, and in a few rare instances (Japanese subjects with very serious yeast infections) an abnormally high ethanol concentration (> 80 mg/dl) has been reported… …With reliable gas chromatographic methods of analysis, the concentrations of endogenous ethanol in peripheral venous blood of healthy individuals, as well as those suffering from various metabolic disorders (diabetes, hepatitis, cirrhosis) ranged from 0-0.08 mg/dl. These concentrations are far too low to have any forensic or medical significance. The notion that a motorist’s state of intoxication was caused by endogenously produced ethanol lacks merit.”


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