Archive for November, 2009

iPhone Translator App Speaks for You, Using Your Mouth

By Brett Israel | November 25, 2009 10:00 am

iLingual (not to be confused with Linguo, the grammar robot) will help you communicate in a foreign county and make people smile at the same time.

According to Cult of Mac:

The iLingual app is clever translation software that speaks foreign phrases with video of your mouth saying the words. Launch the app, snap a picture of your mouth (or someone else’s) and hold the iPhone in front of your mouth. The software animates your mouth to make it look like you’re actually speaking French (or German or Arabic). Well, sorta.

See for yourself below:

The best part about this iPhone app? It’s free. We mean, c’est gratuit.

Related Content:
Discoblog: ZOMG! Get These iPhone Apps Right Meow!
Discoblog: Can an iPhone App Decipher Your Baby’s Cries?
Discoblog: Want to Cure Your Fear of Flying? There’s an App for That.

Video: YouTube / jeremyw75

CATEGORIZED UNDER: Technology Attacks!

Worst Science Article of the Week: The "Dark Side" of Darwin

By Andrew Moseman | November 24, 2009 5:02 pm

darwin2009 represents a double-dip of Charles Darwin milestones. A plethora of Darwin stories in the press have marked his 200th birthday. And today, as 80beats has already noted, is the 150th anniversary of the publication of On the Origin of Species, an occasion that sparked another round of Darwin fever.

TIME, however, observed the day by posting a Q&A with British author Dennis Sewell, who is selling a book on “how often — and how easily — Darwin’s big idea has been harnessed for sinister political ends.” Sewell isn’t an evolution denier, but rather among the crowd crowing that Darwin was a racist and responsible for inspiring eugenics.

Sigh. While it’s probably true that Darwin was influenced by the racial attitudes of his time and place—Victorian England–DISCOVER has covered the other side of that coin: that the scientist was an abolitionist and rather progressive for his day. Even Ray Comfort, in his rambling, Darwin-bashing introduction to a “new edition” of Origin that creationists passed around college campuses recently, concedes: “However, after much research, I do concede that you won’t find anything in Darwin’s writings that would indicate that he in any way felt blacks were to be treated as inferior or that his views of them were due to their skin color.” Even if the opposite were true, and Darwin the man was actually a howling racist, Darwin’s theory of evolution would still smash the fallacy that different races belong to different species.

Read More

MORE ABOUT: Darwin, eugenics, evolution

NCBI ROFL: Impact of wet underwear on thermoregulatory responses and thermal comfort in the cold.

By ncbi rofl | November 24, 2009 4:00 pm

“The purpose of this study was to investigate the significance of wet underwear and to compare any influence of fibre-type material and textile construction of underwear on thermoregulatory responses and thermal comfort of humans during rest in the cold. Long-legged/long-sleeved underwear manufactured from 100% polypropylene in a 1-by-1 rib knit structure was tested dry and wet as part of a two-layer clothing system. In addition cotton (1-by-1 rib knit), wool (1-by-1 rib knit), polypropylene (fishnet), and a double-layer material manufactured from 47% wool and 53% polypropylene (interlock knit) was tested wet in the clothing system. In the wet condition 175 g of water was distributed in the underwear prior to the experiment. The test was done on eight men (T(a) = 10 degrees C, RH = 85%, V(a) < 0.1 m/s), and comprised a 60 min resting period. Skin temperature, rectal temperature, and weight loss were recorded during the test. … …The tests demonstrated the significant cooling effect of wet underwear on thermoregulatory responses and thermal comfort… …The thickness of the underwear has more of an influence on the thermoregulatory responses and thermal comfort, than the types of fibres tested."


Cooking the Perfect Turkey–With Science!

By Brett Israel | November 24, 2009 12:00 pm

turkeyTake Andy Rooney’s advice and prepare your Thanksgiving feast from scratch this year. After you’ve bravely hunted down a flightless bird and plucked its feathers, turn to science for the proper way to prepare a turkey. However, cooking it the scientific way won’t be easy, according to a classic article from

…you can see you will need to make a series of compromises to cook a “perfect” turkey. The outside needs to be heated to between 140 and 200°C to make sure the Maillard reactions provide plenty of the “Turkey” flavour for the gravy. The tender breast meat wants to be heated to no more than 55 to 58°C to keep the muscle proteins from contracting and becoming tough. The tougher, collagen rich, legs and wings need to be heated to a higher temperature (say around 65 to 70°C) to denature some of the collagen.

Did you get all that? Good. The problem is that the different parts of the turkey require different treatments, yet it absolutely must be cooked whole so the elder males can battle over who gets to carve the bird in front of the family. This rules out the obvious solution of cooking the parts separately. Luckily, suggests an elegant solution: covering the turkey breast with aluminum foil for most of the cooking process.

But if this kitchen chemistry doesn’t have a big enough wow factor, and you don’t trust yourself with a deep fryer full of hot oil, DISCOVER’s list of hi-tech ways to cook your bird will give you plenty of reasons to be thankful on turkey day.

Related Content:
Thanksgiving Dinner in Space!
How to Build a Whizbang Chicken Plucker From a Washing Machine
Thanksgiving for Fish: Food Chemicals Go Through People & Back Into Water Supply
DISCOVER: Think Tech: 4 Hi-Tech Ways to Cook Thanksgiving Dinner—and Store the Leftovers

Image: flickr / stevevoght

MORE ABOUT: thanksgiving

Are Happy Facebook Pics Proof That You Aren't Depressed?

By Brett Israel | November 24, 2009 7:00 am

Facebook-picConsider this post to be your daily reminder to check your social network privacy settings–too much transparency could cost you your insurance benefits, according to the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation:

Nathalie Blanchard, a Granby resident, says she’s suffering from severe depression that has made it impossible for her to work full-time for the past 18-months.

She says her sick leave payments were cut after insurance giant Manulife obtained profile pictures on Facebook showing her at bars, whooping it up during her birthday and on a beach holiday.

Blanchard, who lives in Quebec province, said her doctor told her to go have some fun, but apparently her insurer thought she was having too much to be depressed. According to another CBC article, the moments of revelry didn’t cure her condition:

“In the moment I’m happy, but before and after I have the same problems” as before, she said.

She’s taking them to court, in what should be an interesting case to test social media’s reach into the real world. The case suggests a host of other difficult questions: Can insurance companies raise your premiums if they see a picture of you smoking a cigarette on the internet? Will the court decide you can make a medical diagnosis from a Facebook picture? What about a weekend’s worth of happy tweets?

Another take home lesson, kids, is that should you make headlines, for whatever dubious reason, your Facebook pics will also be on the news. However in this case, Blanchard offered up her photos to get her story to the media. ABC News has a short video interview with Blanchard on their site.

Related Content:
Discoblog: Desperate For Facebook Friends? Buy Some!
Discoblog: Computer Program Can “Out” Gay Facebook Users
Reality Base: Charged With a Crime? Better Check Your Facebook Pictures

Image: Facebook

CATEGORIZED UNDER: Technology Attacks!

Biology Lesson a Little Too Raw for Mass. Parents

By Andrew Moseman | November 23, 2009 4:41 pm

embryo220Tales of grown-ups trying to ruin science in the schools usually seem to involve anti-evolutionists. But in Massachusetts, science education has clashed with a different force: squeamishness.

We here at Discoblog love the yuck factor of science. Can’t get enough of it. But for some parents in Sandwich, Massachusetts, a presentation in their kids’ 5th grade class went too far. From MyFoxBoston:

Parents of some fifth-graders at a Sandwich school were horrified when their teacher decided to invite a presenter to class who showed them cell development at different stages of growth.

It happened during a class last Thursday at the Forestdale School. The teacher allegedly had the presenter come into her class with embryos, hearts and lungs at different stages of development.

Besides concerns that their kids were exposed to—gasp!—biology during a science glass, some Sandwich parents also complained that the fifth-graders were allowed to handle jars containing formaldehyde. Fair enough. Formaldehyde is dangerous stuff that shouldn’t be handled without supervisors… like a science teacher and the pathologist assistant who gave the presentation.

Between embryos and chemicals, perhaps a protective parent freak-out was inevitable. But hopefully fear of reprisal won’t scare this teacher or others away from teaching tactics that actually might work. As one parent told a local TV station, “It was a great class, my son actually commented on what a great class it was.”

Related Content:
Discoblog: Cheerleaders, Professor Team Up for Science
DISCOVER: Creationism Lurks in Public High Schools
The Intersection: Is America Scientifically Illiterate?

Image: flickr / lunar caustic


NCBI ROFL: Pigs learn what a mirror image represents and use it to obtain information

By ncbi rofl | November 23, 2009 4:00 pm

“Mirror usage has been taken to indicate some degree of awareness in animals. Can pigs, Sus scrofa, obtain information from a mirror? When put in a pen with a mirror in it, young pigs made movements while apparently looking at their image. After 5 h spent with a mirror, the pigs were shown a familiar food bowl, visible in the mirror but hidden behind a solid barrier. Seven out of eight pigs found the food bowl in a mean of 23 s by going away from the mirror and around the barrier. Naïve pigs shown the same looked behind the mirror. The pigs were not locating the food bowl by odour, did not have a preference for the area where the food bowl was and did not go to that area when the food bowl was visible elsewhere. To use information from a mirror and find a food bowl, each pig must have observed features of its surroundings, remembered these and its own actions, deduced relationships among observed and remembered features and acted accordingly. This ability indicates assessment awareness in pigs. The results may have some effects on the design of housing conditions for pigs and may lead to better pig welfare.”
Thanks to Kathleen for today’s ROFL!


How Much Does the Internet Really Weigh?

By Brett Israel | November 23, 2009 1:31 pm

serverTechnology writer Chris Stevens calculated the weight of the Internet by adding up all the computers, iphones, blackberries, servers, cables —  and just for fun, viruses and websites. The damage comes to 498,438,559,990 kilograms, which Wolfram|Alpha tells us is 1.7 times the mass of all humans currently alive.

CNET tries to help readers imagine this bulk:

There you have it, ladies and gentlemen. The Internet is very heavy indeed. To give you some idea of just how heavy the internet is, imagine an absolutely enormous tower of computers and servers and cables reaching up into the sky like the evil fingers of some apocalyptic demon. Now imagine sparks, thunder, electrical storms. And, on top of it all, an otter screaming pointlessly. That is the closest you are likely to come to visualising the Internet.

The author claims that “for the first time in the world, we have precisely and scientifically calculated the weight of the Internet.”

Well that’s interesting, considering that Stephen Cass, writing for DISCOVER, calculated the weight of the Internet back in 2007 and came to a very different answer. Cass ignored the hardware, and instead calculated the weight of  online information by taking the total estimated Web traffic of 40 petabytes (40 x 1015 bytes: a 4 followed by 16 zeros) and figuring out the weight of the electrons required to store that information. His total?

The weight of the Internet adds up to just about 0.2 millionths of an ounce.

However, a year before that, in 2006, Russell Seitz, calculated the weight of the internet to be 2 ounces. You can read more about his calculations on his blog.

So which is it, readers? Weigh in on whose calculation is closest to the truth.

Related Content:
DISCOVER: How Much Does The Internet Weigh?
Discoblog: Will Swine Flu Take Down the Internet?
Discoblog: Typo Brings Down the Internet In Sweden

Image: flickr / sugree

CATEGORIZED UNDER: Technology Attacks!
MORE ABOUT: internet, iPhone

Weekly News Roundup: A Klingon Dad, Russian Space Bloggers, & Black Market Fat

By Brett Israel | November 20, 2009 5:04 pm

roundup-pic-web• Gardak! To learn about children and language, Dad speaks to son only in Klingon for first three years of the child’s life.

• In Soviet Russia, blog writes you! Maksim Suraev, a Russian cosmonaut, joins the blogosphere with a healthy dose of cold war humor about life on the International Space Station.

• In a case of Project Mayhem gone terribly bad, Peru police say a gang drained the fat from their murder victims and sold it on the black market for use in cosmetics.

• Wisconsin looks to become the first state to recognize an official state microbe. Of course the bacterium, Lactococcus lactis, ferments the state’s $18 billion per year cheese industry.

• An Italian art collector found a mummified tooth, thumb, and finger of Galileo Galilei that have been missing since 1905, according to Florence’s History of Science museum.


NCBI ROFL: Why you should always put bull semen in your carry-on (but don't worry about the embryos).

By ncbi rofl | November 20, 2009 4:00 pm

Effects of airport screening X-irradiation on bovine sperm chromatin integrity and embryo development.

“Biological samples, including cryopreserved sperm, are routinely X-rayed during air shipment. The goal was to investigate the impact of X-irradiation used for checked and carry-on luggage on bovine sperm chromatin integrity and postfertilization in vitro embryonic development. Frozen domestic bull sperm (Bos taurus) (n=9 bulls) stored in a dry shipper (-160 degrees C) was screened by X-irradiation 0, 1, 2, and 3 times as either carry-on or checked luggage. Duplicate straws were thawed, and sperm were assessed for chromatin damage using the sperm chromatin structure assay (SCSA) and by postfertilization in vitro developmental competence of mature oocytes… …There were lower proportions of oocytes cleaved… and that developed to blastocysts… when fertilization was performed with sperm X-rayed 3 times using checked luggage irradiation; developmental competence (percentage cleaved embryos becoming blastocysts) was unaffected. There were no deleterious effects of other X-irradiation treatments on embryo development.”


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