Archive for May, 2010

Being Dead Is No Excuse for Not Being Environmentally Conscious

By Emily Elert | May 25, 2010 5:38 pm

dead-bodyNo one dreams of leaving a lasting carbon footprint on the world when they depart. But if it’s a choice between that and being reduced to a brown soupy liquid and a pile of bones, which option would you take?

The California legislature is considering allowing funeral homes to provide a third alternative to burial or cremation. Instead of hauling out the backhoe or firing up an incinerator to dispose of human remains, funeral directors could offer a method called alkaline hydrolysis or “bio-cremation.” This technique uses hot water, pressure, and sodium- or potassium-hydroxide (the strongly basic chemicals often referred to as lye) to break down the body’s tissues into simple molecules in a matter of a few hours.

Proponents of bio-cremation say it’s the eco-friendly death option. They note that cremation produces air pollution and greenhouse gases, while burials use tons of wood for caskets and involve treating bodies with hazardous embalming chemicals.

Four other states have already approved bio-cremation, but before funeral homes can offer the service, they have to figure out what to do with the environmentally friendly liquid remains. Last week, an undertaking service in Minnesota asked its local city council for permission to pour it down the drain.

Out of respect for the dead, or reverence for the city’s sewer system, or maybe just gut-level disgust, the council rejected the proposal.

Related Content:
Discoblog: Wireless Gravestone Tech Will Broadcast Your Awesomeness to Posterity
Discoblog: “Gravestone Project” Takes Citizen Science to the Cemetery
Discoblog: Save the Planet: Dissolve Your Dead
DISCOVER: The Future of Death
DISCOVER: 20 Things You Didn’t Know About… Death

Image: iStockphoto

MORE ABOUT: burial, death, pollution

Did Google Pac-Man Destroy Worker Productivity? We're Unconvinced.

By Joseph Calamia | May 25, 2010 12:05 pm

Pac-ManExpletives and MIDI music rose from office cubicles this past Friday: Pac-Man had returned.

On May 21, Google replaced its usual blue, yellow, red, and green title with what the company calls a “doodle.”  But unlike previous replacements, which have celebrated everything from Pi day to Norman Rockwell’s birthday, for Pac-Man’s special day (the 30th Anniversary of the game’s Japan release) Google pulled out the big guns, er, ghost-eaters.

This time, the doodle was an animated and playable version of the 1980s Namco video game, complete with our pie-shaped hero and his multicolored ghost foes: Blinky (red), Pinky (pink), Inky (cyan), and Clyde (orange).

But some kill-joys complain that Friday’s Pac-Man play hindered productivity, and set out to determine just how much money had been frittered away as employees avoided their work.

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NCBI ROFL: A long time ago in a galaxy far, far away, Jar Jar Binks had a fungal infection.

By ncbi rofl | May 24, 2010 7:00 pm

jarjarIt’s BMJ week (again) on NCBI ROFL! After the success of our first BMJ week, we decided to devote another week to fun articles from holiday issues of the British Medical Journal.  Enjoy!

Tokelau on Naboo

“Tinea imbricata, a superficial fungal infection of man, has an ornate appearance composed of concentric circles and polycyclic or serpiginous scaly plaques. The condition is common in several humid tropical regions, especially in parts of Polynesia and Melanesia. It is also reported occasionally in the Amazon basin and other tropical areas in both hemispheres. The precise distribution of tinea imbricata, however, has been poorly defined ever since the disease was named by Sir Patrick Manson, the father of tropical medicine.

I report the possible presence of tinea imbricata outside its previously known geographic and taxonomic distribution. Several Gungan inhabitants of Naboo, a planet of the Galactic Republic depicted in Star Wars Episode 1: The Phantom Menace, have skin with the distinctive annular and polycyclic pattern of tinea imbricata. Jar Jar Binks, a Gungan who figures prominently in this movie, shows this eruption in figure ​2. Manson wrote of the infection, “Again, tinea imbricata, if it has been in existence any length of time, involves a very large surface, as an entire limb, or side of the trunk, or oftener still, if not checked, nearly the whole surface of the body . . . As advancing rings spread, their regularity is modified by the shape of the parts, the nature of the skin they travel over, and by encountering other systems of rings.”… Read More


Should Dolphins and Whales Have "Human Rights"?

By Joseph Calamia | May 24, 2010 4:50 pm

dolphinFrom the heroic Flipper to the charismatic Willy, dolphins and whales have made some splashy supporting actors. And since they often seem almost as smart and interesting as their human costars, perhaps it’s not surprising that a new movement is afoot to grant these animals “human rights.”

Research on everything from whale communication to “trans-species psychology” hints that the glowing portrayals of these fictional animal friends have some basis in reality. If cetaceans—marine mammals including whales, dolphins, and porpoises—can act like humans, even using tools and recognizing themselves in a mirror, shouldn’t they have the same basic rights as people?

That’s what attendees of a meeting organized by the Whale and Dolphin Conservation Society (WDCS) said yesterday, where a multidisciplinary panel agreed on a “Declaration of Rights for Cetaceans: Whales and Dolphins.” Read More

Copernicus Gets a New Grave, Belated Respect From the Catholic Church

By Joseph Calamia | May 24, 2010 11:01 am

514px-Nikolaus_KopernikusOver four hundred years after his death, the man known for moving the sun to the center of the solar system made a move himself.

On Saturday, at a medieval cathedral at Frombork on Poland’s Baltic coast, the astronomer Nicolaus Copernicus—whose ideas were once declared heresy by the Vatican—was reburied with full religious honors.

After a stint in city of Olsztyn, Copernicus’s remains returned to his original resting location (under the cathedral’s floor), but his grave got an upgrade. After his death in 1543 he lay for centuries in an unmarked grave, but his new plot has a black tombstone with six planets orbiting a golden sun. The ceremony concluded a several week tour of a wooden casket with the astronomer’s remains. Read More

NCBI ROFL: Kinky quails fertilize more eggs.

By ncbi rofl | May 21, 2010 7:00 pm

quailSexual fetishism in a quail (Coturnix japonica) model system: test of reproductive success.

“In the present study, the authors explored the reproductive consequences of fetishistic behavior in a previously developed animal model of sexual fetishism (F. Köksal et al., 2004). Male domesticated quail (Coturnix japonica) received sexual conditioning trials in which a terrycloth object (the conditioned stimulus [CS]) was paired with the opportunity to copulate with a female quail (the unconditioned stimulus). Approximately half of the male quail came to copulate with the CS object and were considered to have developed fetishistic behavior. Read More

Science Explains: Why Overheard Cell Phone Conversations Are So Annoying

By Joseph Calamia | May 21, 2010 1:06 pm

halfalogueHow many yakking people does it take to drive you freaking nuts? Not two. Not three. Researchers say it only takes one–if they’re talking to someone else you can’t hear.

Cornell University scientists monitored how well 41 college students could perform concentration exercises (like tracking moving dots on a computer screen) in different listening environments.

They compared their skills while working in silence to working while listening to a monologue, a conversation between two people, or a half conversation—called a “halfalogue.” In a paper to appear in Psychological Science, they say that this last case, listening to only one side of a conversation, was the most distracting. Read More

MORE ABOUT: cell phones, language

Video: The Delicate Flutter of Robotic Butterfly Wings

By Joseph Calamia | May 21, 2010 11:15 am

Butterfly in the sky, researchers wonder how you fly. To this end, Harvard University’s Hiroto Tanaka and the University of Tokyo’s Isao Shimoyama have built a butterfly doppelganger by combining angelic plastic wings, balsa wood, and rubber bands.

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NCBI ROFL: Sorry Pedobear, science proves drinking is no excuse.

By ncbi rofl | May 20, 2010 7:00 pm

4573328854_9ea0e119bfBarely legal: is attraction and estimated age of young female faces disrupted by alcohol use, make up, and the sex of the observer?

“One ‘reasonable ground’ for unlawful sex with a minor is mistaken age. Alcohol consumption and make-up are often deemed further influences on impaired perception. Two hundred and forty persons in bars and cafes rated the attractiveness of composite faces of immature and mature females with and without additional makeup, alcohol users having their concurrent blood-alcohol level measured using a breathalyser. Read More

Mixed-Up, Adopted Ducks Try to Mate With the Wrong Species

By Joseph Calamia | May 20, 2010 5:46 pm

canvasbackThere’s that old saying about the futility of a bird and a fish falling in love. Apparently, two birds might not fair any better: Unlucky ducks from two different species are falling for the wrong women.

Actually, matchmaker Michael D. Sorenson of Boston University set them up at birth. In a foreign exchange program of sorts, his team took sixteen young male redheads (Aythya Americana) and sixteen young male canvasbacks (Aythya valisineria) and switched their homes, allowing canvasbacks to raise redhead ducklings and vice versa.

Sorenson wanted to study imprinting—when a young bird sees its caretaker and recognizes her as its mother. Determining what Mom looks like turns out to be important later in a bird’s life, as the duck uses its mother’s image to pick out mates.

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