Archive for August, 2009

Today’s Conservation Gimmick: Drink Your Shower Water!

By Boonsri Dickinson | August 27, 2009 1:11 pm

plant.jpgIf astronauts can drink water recycled from their urine and Orange county residents can sip on recycled sewage water, then surely people can drink water from their shower, too.

Four French design school students came up with a clever concept: They proposed using a plant system made of sand, reeds, rushes, a mesh filter, water hyacinths and lemnas, and a carbon filter that can be placed underneath the tub to recycle the water used during a shower. After the water goes through eight filtering steps, the contaminants in the water, like shampoo and soap (and your newly-removed dirt), can be turned into tasty, drinkable water.

The Daily Mail reports:

[Designer Jun] Yasumoto, 34, said: “These plants have been proven to be able to remove the chemicals from your shampoo.”

Using a natural filtering principle called phyto-purification, the bathroom becomes a mini-eco-system by recycling and regenerating the wastewater.

The designers put their drawings online—and, not surprisingly, people soon wrote to them and asked how they could purchase the system. But sadly, the concept has not actually been built yet. On the bright side, there are other ways of conserving water in the bathroom—like peeing in the shower.

Related Content:
DISCOVER: From Toilet To Tap
Discoblog: Not Subtle, But It Works: Peepoo Bag Converts Human Waste Into Fertilizer
Discoblog: Celebrities Sell Cars, Beer, Clothes…and Toilet Use?

Image: flickr/ cool3c

MORE ABOUT: conservation, plants, water

Class-Action Suit Against Taser to Begin in 3, 2, 1…

By Allison Bond | August 26, 2009 4:07 pm

TaserThe development of a new shotgun-fired long-range Taser, called the Taser XREP, is, er, sparking a fierce debate over its safety—and rightfully so.

One reason: The guns can be fired 20 meters away from the target, whereas the old Taser X26 had to be within five meters of it. Perhaps more frightening, however, is that tests have shown that the Taser XREP can deliver a stunning shock for more than five minutes, even though the shock was designed to only last for 20 seconds (which is still four times longer than older Taser guns).

The XREP also can be hard to aim, increasing the risk of lingering injury.

New Scientist reports:

In test firings, [the Taser XREP] proved difficult to aim, as the aerodynamics of the projectile caused it to fall below the aiming point at a range of 20 metres. “Any lack of accuracy means a greater risk of hitting an unintended part of the body and therefore greater risk of injury,” says security researcher Neil Davison.

A representative from Taser International said that the guns used in the tests were pre-production models, and that further experiments (which were funded by Taser) resulted in no permanent damage when the guns were fired at cadavers—meaning that no dead people were harmed by them. Understandably, experts worry about the threat electric shock weapons can pose to the mental health of the living. New Scientist says:

Shooting cadavers is one thing. But what happens when the weapons are fired at pregnant women, people with health problems or the very young, [electric shock weapons expert Steve] Wright asks.

The goal of the new Taser is to enable law enforcement officers to temporarily incapacitate people from farther away. But because the weapon would likely be used in a crowd setting, let’s hope the guns can take aim better than they did in the initial tests.

Related Content:
Discoblog: Pentagon’s New Plan to Rain Down Painful Beams From the Sky
Discoblog: Expert is Bugged Out By Insects as Terror Threat
Discoblog: Live from CES: Don’t Tase Me Sis!

Image: flickr / hermanturnip

CATEGORIZED UNDER: Technology Attacks!
MORE ABOUT: law, Taser, weapons

NCBI ROFL: Injuries due to falling coconuts.

By ncbi rofl | August 26, 2009 3:00 pm

“Falling coconuts can cause injury to the head, back, and shoulders. A 4-year review of trauma admissions to the Provincial Hospital, Alotau, Milne Bay Province, Papua New Guinea, revealed that 2.5% of such admissions were due to being struck by falling coconuts. Since mature coconut palms may have a height of 24 up to 35 meters and an unhusked coconut may weigh 1 to 4 kg, blows to the head of a force exceeding 1 metric ton are possible. Four patients with head injuries due to falling coconuts are described. Two required craniotomy. Two others died instantly in the village after being struck by dropping nuts.”

Thanks to Ian for today’s ROFL!


Did Some Guy Spot the Loch Ness Monster on Google Earth?

By Allison Bond | August 26, 2009 2:07 pm

not the Loch Ness monsterJust when you thought it was safe to get in the water: The Loch Ness monster lives! At least, according to a 25-year-old British security guard, who claims he spotted the creature while browsing Google Earth. The supposed sighting has given hope to those who were getting worried about the monster’s lack of appearances in the past year—an absence that some have speculated is due to climate change.

The Telegraph reports:

Veteran American monster hunter Bob Rines thinks environmental conditions in the Highland loch have changed and can no longer sustain the elusive reptile.

Gary Campbell, of the monster’s official fan club, said: “I’m concerned. There have been none of the normal sightings that verify that Nessie and her family are still alive and well.”

Blame it on global warming! (It’s shrinking the polar bears, too.) But thank goodness we have Google to verify that the undying fable lives on…

Related Content:
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Gallery: Zombie Animals and the Parasite That Control Them
Discoblog: Parasitic Plants Steal RNA, Spy on Their Hosts
Discoblog: See It to Believe It: Animals Vomit, Spurt Blood to Thwart Predators

Image: flickr / zimpenfish

Can a Bolt of Lightning Create New Transplant Organs?

By Boonsri Dickinson | August 26, 2009 11:50 am

lightning.jpgGrowing artificial organs has been easy—it’s figuring out a way to supply blood to them that’s the hard part. Scientists have been trying to make blood vessels the same way they created synthetic computer chips. But producing artificial channels this way can be costly and inefficient. Enter Texas A&M University researchers, who have figured out a way to use lightning bolts to create channels that look a lot like our circulatory system.

The Discovery Channel reports:

The artificial organs begin as clear blocks of biodegradable plastic about the size of an inch-thick stack of Post-It notes. An electron beam fills the block with electricity, then the scientists drive nails into either end of the plastic block.

While the pattern displayed in the plastic block is not even close to being an actual working blood vessel, it’s an impressive start. Someday, the researchers hope this plastic tunnel system can help grow implant cells that will mature into a fully-implantable organ.

Related Content:
Discoblog: Get A New Organ From A Sheep?
DISCOVER: Grow Your Own Organs

Image: flickr/ adijr

CATEGORIZED UNDER: Technology Attacks!
MORE ABOUT: innovation, medicine, organs

An Environmental Dilemma: Using Sunlight to Harvest Petroleum

By Allison Bond | August 25, 2009 5:49 pm

oil fieldLooking for an example of irony? Here’s one, compliments of the oil industry: A solar-powered oil field. Yes, that’s right—sunlight will be used to make the petroleum easier to extract on a Chevron oil field, instead of the natural gas that traditionally does the job.

The New York Times’ Green Inc. blog reports:

The 100-acre project’s 7,000 mirrors will focus sunlight on a water-filled boiler that sits atop a 323-foot tower to produce hot, high-pressure steam.

In a conventional solar power plant, the steam drives a turbine to generate electricity. In this case, the steam will be injected into oil wells to enhance production by heating thick petroleum so it flows more freely.

Is using alternative energy to fuel oil production a step in the right direction? Seems like power produced by solar technology could perhaps be used a liiiittle more efficiently.

Related Content:
Discoblog: Can Scientists Really Turn Seawater Into Jet Fuel?
Discoblog: Brazilians Urged to Pee in the Shower to Conserve Water
Discoblog: Could Potholes Power Your Honda?

Image: flickr / richardmasoner

NCBI ROFL: Surprising study finds that little old ladies enjoy playing bingo.

By ncbi rofl | August 25, 2009 3:00 pm

Who plays bingo in later life? The sedentary lifestyles of ‘little old ladies’.

“Bingo is a popular past time with less than 20% of seniors, but the prevailing stereotype of bingo players describes elderly women with nothing better to do, smoking heavily while gambling away their limited income day after day. Little research has actually explored the lifestyles of seniors who frequent the bingo halls or identified social factors explaining who plays and why. PURPOSE: The purpose of this study was to clarify the social context and lifestyle characteristics of seniors who regularly invest money on bingo… …RESULTS: Being female, more elderly, living in rental accommodation, receiving federal income supplements and reporting more health problems were significant predictors of more money typically spent on bingo (18% variance explained), and these findings lend support to the “little old lady” stereotype. However, sedentary living, rather than smoking, was the only significant and predictive lifestyle pattern, suggesting that the lifestyle vices projected about bingo players are not entirely accurate.”

CATEGORIZED UNDER: duh, NCBI ROFL, ridiculous titles

Not Freezing Ice Cream Would Help the Environment; Not Eating It Would, Too

By Allison Bond | August 25, 2009 12:55 pm

ice creamCould part of the solution for global warming fit inside an ice cream cone? Maybe—at least, that’s what the developers of so-called “ambient” ice cream are hoping.

Unilever, the world’s largest ice cream producer (and owner of perhaps the world’s best ice cream, Ben & Jerry’s), is trying to figure out how to produce a new kind of frozen treat that can be shipped and sold at room temperature, before being frozen at home once purchased. The goal is to reduce the carbon that is needed to keep today’s ice cream from turning into a sloppy mess. The Times Online reports:

A spokesman for Unilever said that warm, or so-called ambient, ice cream was a “very interesting idea” but one that posed tough challenges that its scientists were trying to solve. “The key question which has yet to be fully answered is: how do you ensure that, when the ambient ice cream is frozen at home it will have the right microstructure to produce a fantastic consumer experience?”

The new ice cream may be the tastiest part of an overall program to help Unilever cut down on the impact its products, such as dishwashers and refrigerators, have on the environment. Of course, an even bigger way to reduce carbon: Eat less ice cream.

Related Content:
Discoblog: Next in the Weight-Loss Arsenal: Food That Sits in Your Stomach Twice as Long
Discoblog: Let Them View Cake: Looking at Food Pics Equals Less Eating
Discoblog: How to Make Solar Chocolate Chip Cookies on Your Car Dashboard

Image: flickr / lilivanili

Weird Tube-Shaped Clouds Floating Above Australia

By Allison Bond | August 24, 2009 5:08 pm

Morning Glory cloudsNo one is quite sure what caused bizarre 600-mile-long tubular clouds to form above a small Australian town. But because the fluffy white rods, known as Morning Glory clouds, can move up to 35 miles per hour, they can pose a problem for airplanes flying through the area.

Wired reports:

A small number of pilots and tourists travel there each year in hopes of “cloud surfing” with the mysterious phenomenon.

Similar tubular shaped clouds called roll clouds appear in various places around the globe. But nobody has yet figured out what causes the Morning Glory clouds.

Related Content:
Discoblog: The Softer Side of Climate Control?
Discoblog: Pentagon’s New Plan to Rain Down Painful Beams From the Sky
Discoblog: It’s Raining Tadpoles? Fish, Frogs Shower Japanese Residents

Image courtesy of Mick Petroff


NCBI ROFL: Bonus zombie double feature: How to create a zombie…and how to control a zombie outbreak.

By ncbi rofl | August 24, 2009 4:21 pm

The ethnobiology of the Haitian zombi.

“For many years students of Haitian society have suggested that there is an ethnopharmacological basis for the notorious zombies, the living dead of peasant folklore. The recent surfacing of three zombies, one of whom may represent the first potentially verifiable case, has focused scientific attention on the reported zombi drug. The formula of the poison was obtained at four widely separated localities in Haiti. The consistent ingredients include one or more species of puffer fish (Diodon hystrix, Diodon holacanthus or Sphoeroides testudineus) which contain tetrodotoxins, potent neurotoxins fully capable of pharmacologically inducing the zombi state. The ingredients, preparation and method of application are presented. “

And by popular demand: if you haven’t seen it yet, be sure to check out
P. Munz, I. Hudea, J. Imad and R.J. Smith? When zombies attack!: Mathematical modelling of an outbreak of zombie infection (Infectious Disease Modelling Research Progress 2009, in: J.M. Tchuenche and C. Chiyaka, eds, pp133-150).

It’s not on PubMed but definitely deserves a shout out. The BBC News article describing it is here.

Thanks to Mary, Corey, and Nathan for today’s ROFL!


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