Archive for June, 2010

Buzz Aldrin Explains: How to Take a Whiz on the Moon

By Joseph Calamia | June 25, 2010 2:47 pm

144832main_aldrin_bootprintCharged with writing to an astronaut, a five-year-old boy asked a burning question: How do you pee and poop in your astronaut suit?

In an interview with Buzz Aldrin just published in Vanity Fair, contributing reporter Eric Spitznagel finally got this answer:

“We were well skilled in the art of disposal waste. There was such a thing called a ‘blue bag,’ which was kind of messy. There was a stickum on it, and you could stick it around your posterior. For urinating we had an ego-buster, which was like a condom catheter. We were cautioned not to overestimate our size. (Laughs.) Because if the condom was too big, there might be a little leakage.”

The story continues: Aldrin describes in full detail what happens if you *do* have a little “leakage” (wiggle it out into a larger bag) and where astronauts flush those blue baggies. Aldrin tells Spitznagel about a newbie mistake of tossing the bags (during extra-vehicular activity) in a trajectory that brought them straight back at their capsule.

“We looked out the window and there were three bags in a row, heading straight for us.”

In case, Spitznagel isn’t the only one wondering about space crap, you should know that taking care of business has come a long way since blue bags. Astronauts potty train using simulators before their travels. The Space Shuttles and International Space Station both have air-flushing toilets, and the International Space Station recycles pee.

Related content:
Discoblog: California Lays Claim to Astronaut Garbage Left Behind on the Moon
Discoblog: Scientists Examine Underwear Astronaut Wore for a Month
Discoblog: Astronauts in Space Finally Enter the Intertubes
Discoblog: Yum! Silkworms Could Be the Next Astronaut Food
80beats: Strife on the Space Station: Russians Can’t Use the American Toilet

Image: NASA


Everybody Panic! Reusable Shopping Bags Harbor Bacteria

By Eliza Strickland | June 25, 2010 12:04 pm

reusable-bagSo at some point you decided to do the right thing for the environment, and plonked down a couple of dollars for a reusable grocery bag. Bet you felt pretty good about yourself, huh? Well, some researchers have now come along to rain on your virtue parade. According to a new report (pdf), that bag is probably crawling with bacteria.

The researchers tested 84 bags, and found that all but one harbored bacterial colonies, and half contained coliform bacteria that suggest raw meat or uncooked food contamination. They also surveyed consumers about their use of these bags, and found that most people don’t keep separate bags for meat, and that they’re likely to tote clothes and all sorts of other things in these bags when they’re not grocery store-bound. Both these practices could allow for bacterial colonization.

But before you burn your reusable bags in a cleansing fire, consider this: The researchers also determined that either chucking a bag in the washing machine or rinsing it by hand reduced the bacterial counts to almost zero.

And The Washington Post dispassionately chimes in on another very relevant note:

The study was funded by the American Chemistry Council amid debate over a California bill that would ban single-use plastic bags. The council is opposed to that measure.

Related Content:
Discoblog: It’s In the Bag! Teenager Wins Science Fair, Solves Massive Environmental Problem
Discoblog: Got Too Many Plastic Bags? Recycle Them Into Nanotubes
80beats: Will California Be the First State to Ban the Plastic Shopping Bag?
80beats: Did Your Morning Shower Spray You With Bacteria?

Image: flickr/

MORE ABOUT: bacteria, plastic bags

NCBI ROFL: Anticipated versus actual alcohol consumption during 21st birthday celebrations.

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

birthday“OBJECTIVE: The 21st birthday celebration is often associated with excessive alcohol consumption. The current study examined whether individuals consume more alcohol than anticipated during their celebration and whether situational factors contribute to prediction errors. METHOD: College students (N = 150; 50% female) who planned to drink during their 21st birthday celebration were contacted by telephone 1 week before their celebrations and asked about their birthday plans, including anticipated alcohol consumption. The week after the celebration, in-person semi-structured interviews and self-report measures were administered to obtain information about the 21st birthday celebration, including type and amount of alcohol consumed, pace of drinking, influential peer involvement, and engagement in 21st birthday traditions. Read More


Can a Brain Scan Predict Your Behavior Better Than You Can?

By Joseph Calamia | June 24, 2010 2:17 pm

sunblockIt would be an advertiser’s dream: knowing the exact location in your brain that indicates whether an ad has worked, and whether you intend to buy that cat food or wear that suntan lotion. Now, some researchers claim they’ve found a region which might predict whether viewers will act on what a commercial tells them.

For a study published yesterday in The Journal of Neuroscience, researchers asked 20 participants to listen to a series of “persuasive messages.” While the test subjects listened, researchers used an fMRI to record the activity in various regions in their brains. The study was small–but researchers say that, with these 20 participants, they could determine many of these listeners’ intentions by looking at a region associated with self-consciousness, called the medial prefrontal cortex.

The subjects listened to messages covering a range of subjects, but the team, lead by Matthew Lieberman at UCLA, was really interested in a public service message about the importance of using sunscreen. Before the brain scans, researchers surveyed the participants about a variety of their behaviors, including their expected sunscreen use for the next week.

Read More

CATEGORIZED UNDER: What’s Inside Your Brain?

David X. Cohen on the New Season of Futurama (New Episode Spoilers!)

By Andrew Moseman | June 24, 2010 9:12 am

FuturamaAmyTonight’s the night: Futurama returns with fresh episodes on Comedy Central, starting at 10 PM Eastern Time. Two weeks ago we featured our conversation with Billy West, the voice actor behind Fry, Professor Farnsworth, and other characters. Today, it’s executive producer David X. Cohen, who worked on The Simpsons before creating Futurama with Matt Groening more than a decade ago.

Cohen discusses how he went from scientist to comedy writer, the logic (or illogic) behind heads in jars, why things still don’t work in the 31st century, and how he sneaks math jokes into the show.

*Plus, read through to the end for some spoilers about the plots of some new episodes coming this season.

DISCOVER Magazine: I feel compelled to ask: Does the X stand for anything? Or is it like the Harry Truman S, and it stands for nothing?

David X Cohen: I’ll get that off my chest right off the bat: It’s a fraudulent middle initial, but there is a logic behind it. The reason for that is the writer’s guild, which has a regulation that no two writers can have the same name for on-screen credits. So, when you join the union, if your name is already taken, you have to change your name. Being named David Cohen—as you can imagine, there were several other David Cohens already in the guild, [and] one with my actual middle initial, S, for Samuel.

So, I decided to go for the craziest most sci-fi letter available, X.

DM: Both of your parents were scientists, correct?

DXC: Yes. Both PhDs in biology. I grew up in a house that was very science-oriented. The family activities we did were usually science-related—trips to the zoo or the museum of natural history in New York. So it was just taken for granted—by me at least—that I would be a scientist sooner or later. I tended to gravitate, though, more toward the physical sciences and math and computer science and physics, and I actually majored in physics in college.  So, my undergraduate degree is in physics, and then I got a master’s degree in theoretical computer science as well. Before I derailed.

DM: How did you “derail?”

DXC: When I was growing up I just wasn’t really aware that there were careers such as writing cartoons. It wasn’t something that anybody I knew did and never popped into my mind. But then, when I went off to college, I worked on the Harvard Lampoon humor magazine, and suddenly I did know some people who had the career goal of becoming writers, or specifically, comedy writers.

And after that, I was somewhat torn. Should I continue down my path to be a scientist, or should I pursue this thing which (I thought) I did for fun? Ultimately, [I decided] I would like to go to graduate school before forgetting everything I did as an undergraduate. I went to UC Berkeley and had a good time there, but got to the point where I had reached the end of the line of what I was working on, and I had to reevaluate. I  decided I might rather try the other option after all.

It worked out. So, my leave of absence from graduate school is still in progress.

Next: Fermat’s Last Theorem, Star Trek, and suicide booths

CATEGORIZED UNDER: Space & Aliens Therefrom

NCBI ROFL: Ridiculous abstract is ridiculous.

By ncbi rofl | June 23, 2010 7:00 pm

omgwtfbbq2Chronoastrobiology: proposal, nine conferences, heliogeomagnetics, transyears, near-weeks, near-decades, phylogenetic and ontogenetic memories.

“Chronoastrobiology: are we at the threshold of a new science? Is there a critical mass for scientific research?” A simple photograph of the planet earth from outer space was one of the greatest contributions of space exploration. It drove home in a glance that human survival depends upon the wobbly dynamics in a thin and fragile skin of water and gas that covers a small globe in a mostly cold and vast universe. This image raised the stakes in understanding our place in that universe, in finding out where we came from and in choosing a path for survival. Since that landmark photograph was taken, new astronomical and biomedical information and growing computer power have been revealing that organic life, including human life, is and has been connected to invisible (non-photic) forces, in that vast universe in some surprising ways. Every cell in our body is bathed in an external and internal environment of fluctuating magnetism. Read More


Eugenics Today: Do Ugly People Deserve Beautiful Children?

By Joseph Calamia | June 23, 2010 4:22 pm

beautifulThink picking a date on looks alone is a little shallow? How about picking your kids? The owners of the dating site have no qualms on the subject–they’ve launched a “virtual sperm and egg bank” where users can select beautiful people’s beautiful genetics by signing up for their beautiful gametes.

Though the company won’t perform egg extractions or accept sperm donations, they will serve as matchmakers and then forward the interested parties to the proper clinics. The company says its exclusive dating site–you can only join if other members judge you attractive enough–is a magnificent resource for those looking to breed up.

As reported by ABC News, the site has decided to generously offer its services even to the beauty-challenged.

“Initially, we hesitated to widen the offering to non-beautiful people. But everyone–including ugly people–would like to bring good looking children in to the world, and we can’t be selfish with our attractive gene pool,” company founder Robert Hintze said in a statement.

Everyone from bioethicists to the professionals who run clinics are concerned about site visitors skipping over the proper medical and psychological screenings. There is also concern about the participants’ expectations–and perhaps basic understanding of genetics. Just because biological mummy and daddy have good looks, it doesn’t necessarily mean their offspring will. If doesn’t make that clear, things could get very ugly.

Related content:
Discoblog: Dating a Dud? Blame It on Biology
Discoblog: Worst Science Article of the Week? Women are getting “hotter”
Disoblog: In Japan, Your Blood Type Could Get You Hired…Or Fired
80beats: No Gattaca Here: Genetic Anti-Discrimination Law Goes Into Effect

Image: flickr / alainelorza


National Pork Board to Unicorn Meat Purveyor: Lay Off Our Slogan

By Joseph Calamia | June 23, 2010 10:55 am

unicornTrying to cut back on beef, but tired of fish and chicken? Try unicorn. According to a joke advertisement on the website ThinkGeek, unicorn is the “new white meat.”

But according to the National Pork Board, it had better not be. The Board’s lawyers sent the nerdy site–also sellers of Tauntaun sleeping bags (real) and Tribbles ‘n’ Bits cereal (fake)–a 12-page-long, cease-and-desist letter last month telling the site to lay off “the other white meat,” which is trademarked in the United States, Europe, and Canada.

ThinkGeek thinks the two meats can’t compare. Unlike pork, unicorn is an excellent source of sparkles. Also unlike pigs, unicorns aren’t real–so ThinkGeek believes the slogan “Pate is passe. Unicorn — the new white meat” constitutes fair use as a parody.

As reported in The Washington Post, Board spokeswoman Ceci Snyder says their lawyers must protect any use of the phrase:

“Clearly there’s some fun being had, and we can laugh, too,” Snyder said. “But in the end [the lawyers are] just following the law.”

From their site, it doesn’t look like ThinkGeek is budging. If the Pork Board is successful, maybe the National Cattlemen’s Beef Association might have a better sense of humor. “Unicorn: It’s What’s For Dinner” has a nice ring to it.

Related content:
Discoblog: Science (What Else?) Reveals the Secret of the Montauk Monster
Discoblog: Pilots Attacked By Frickin’ Laser Beams
Discoblog: The World’s Geekiest T-Shirt Has a Wi-Fi Detector

Image: flickr / Scorpiorules58 / Tanakawho

NCBI ROFL: Ovulatory cycle effects on tip earnings by lap dancers: economic evidence for human estrus?

By ncbi rofl | June 22, 2010 7:00 pm

tips“To see whether estrus was really “lost” during human evolution (as researchers often claim), we examined ovulatory cycle effects on tip earnings by professional lap dancers working in gentlemen’s clubs. Eighteen dancers recorded their menstrual periods, work shifts, and tip earnings for 60 days on a study web site. Read More

AD4HERE: Digital License Plate Ads May Come to California

By Joseph Calamia | June 22, 2010 3:55 pm

customplateWhat’s a quick way to make some cash? Sell advertising space on anything you’ve got. That’s what a proposed bill suggests to put a dent in California’s $19 billion deficit. If the bill gets passed, the state will roll out digital car license plate ads for traveling promotion.

While the car is in motion, the plates will display the driver’s standard license plate number, but four seconds after stopping the magic happens. The plates will then flash ads alongside the number until the car starts to move again.

This bill was the bright idea of Curren Price, a democratic state senator from Los Angeles, who told the AP

“We’re just trying to find creative ways of generating additional revenues,” he said. “It’s an exciting marriage of technology with need, and an opportunity to keep California in the forefront.”

Read More

CATEGORIZED UNDER: Technology Attacks!

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