Archive for December, 2011

When Good Flowerbeds Go Bad: A Story of Chemistry in Action

By Veronique Greenwood | December 30, 2011 8:43 am

White gates turning black in Belgrade.

Once upon a time, long, long ago, a fortress of white limestone was built between the River Sava and the Danube in what is now Serbia. It later gave its name—Belgrade, or “white fortress”—to the city that sprang up within and outside its walls, and in the twenty-first century, after more than a millennium of attacks by Huns, Bulgarians, Byzantines, more Bulgarians, Turks, and what-have-you, Belgrade fortress met its harshest enemy yet: fertilizer.

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Adopt a Calendar That Makes Sense? Fat Chance.

By Veronique Greenwood | December 29, 2011 2:38 pm

A logical calendar? Never! The pre-Julian Romans (see above) had a good thing going.

It’s almost the new year. And you know what that means: stories about academics’ plans to finally make the Western calendar reasonable and logical. And you know what that means on Discoblog: a quick tour through all of the times when we changed what we were doing because switching over just made sense.

Like the metric system, for example. The quick, unanimous adoption of this eminently logical system by grateful nations the world over has been a sterling example of how reasonable we all can be when we put our minds to it. Pretty much everyone is on board, except for Liberia, which is working to put itself back together after one of Africa’s ghastliest civil wars, and Myanmar, home of the WHO-certified world’s worst health care system. And, of course, the United States, which would rather incinerate a 125-million-dollar satellite in the Martian atmosphere than convert feet to meters. (It also has a pretty crappy health care system. Related?)

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Hacktivists: Doin' It For the Lulz Since 1903

By Veronique Greenwood | December 27, 2011 2:35 pm

Marconi and assistants erecting a radio antenna.

They call themselves hacktivists. Or they say they’re doing it just for the lulz: Some hackers take over sites, swipe users’ information, and then post their exploits online  just to make the point that hey, you losers aren’t as safe as you thought you were. Better fix that gaping hole in your electronic chain link fence.

It may seem like the kind of public embarrassment only possible in the networked age (at least, Sony probably remembers the era of the Walkman a lot more fondly than this last mortifying year of being hacked again and again), but as Paul Marks writes in New Scientist, it ain’t necessarily so. Just ask Guglielmo Marconi, the inventor of the wireless telegraph.

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CATEGORIZED UNDER: Technology Attacks!

NCBI ROFL: Psychosexual study of communist era Hungarian twins.

By ncbi rofl | December 23, 2011 11:23 pm

“Our aim in this study is to describe the characteristics of sexual development in twins and estimate the role of heritability and environmental factors as causes of certain sexual disorders. Two hundred and ten adult same-sex twin pairs (92 monozygotic [MZ] female, 41 MZ male, 55 dizygotic [DZ] female and 22 DZ male pairs) were involved in the study. Data were collected in 1982 by self-administered questionnaires that included items on sexual maturation, sexual life, contraception, mutual sexual activity within twin pairs and alcohol use. Read More

NCBI ROFL: Immunizing against prejudice: effects of disease protection on attitudes toward out-groups.

By ncbi rofl | December 22, 2011 7:01 pm

“Contemporary interpersonal biases are partially derived from psychological mechanisms that evolved to protect people against the threat of contagious disease. This behavioral immune system effectively promotes disease avoidance but also results in an overgeneralized prejudice toward people who are not legitimate carriers of disease. In three studies, we tested whether experiences with two modern forms of disease protection (vaccination and hand washing) attenuate the relationship between concerns about disease and prejudice against out-groups. Read More

NCBI ROFL: Living large: The powerful overestimate their own height.

By ncbi rofl | December 21, 2011 6:54 pm

“In three experiments, we tested the prediction that individuals’ experience of power influences their perceptions of their own height. High power, relative to low power, was associated with smaller estimates of a pole’s height relative to the self (Experiment 1), with larger estimates of one’s own height (Experiment 2), and with choice of a taller avatar to represent the self in a second-life game (Experiment 3). Read More

NCBI ROFL: And the December “no sh*t, Sherlock” award goes to…

By ncbi rofl | December 20, 2011 8:58 pm

Possibilities to improve the aircraft interior comfort experience.

“Comfort plays an increasingly important role in the interior design of airplanes. Although ample research has been conducted on airplane design technology, only a small amount of public scientific information is available addressing the passenger’s opinion. In this study, more than 10,000 internet trip reports and 153 passenger interviews were used to gather opinions about aspects which need to be improved in order to design a more comfortable aircraft interior. Read More


The Perfect Gift This Holiday Season: The Neanderthal Test

By Veronique Greenwood | December 20, 2011 9:48 am

If you’ve ever wondered if your slothful spouse—he of the prominent brow and grunted endearments—has caveman blood, wonder no more. Genomics company 23andMe, purveyors of fine genotyping, would like to suggest a gift that will keep on giving this holiday season: the Neanderthal test, which will give you nagging rights for eternity.

The latest gossip says the Neanderthals, the other human species kicking around about 30,000 years ago, did not leave this earth without spreading a few wild oats among our Cro-Magnon ancestors (nudge nudge, wink wink). And genetics, as so many daytime talkshow guests can tell you, is where such secrets go to die. Everyone except Africans (who missed the shackin’ up party that was prehistoric Europe) now has a sort of genetic souvenir, a remnant of our forebears. Read More

NCBI ROFL: Was Saint Paul struck blind and converted by lightning?

By ncbi rofl | December 19, 2011 6:58 pm

“In the Bible, St. Paul (Saul of Tarsus) was struck blind by a light from heaven. Three days later his vision was restored by a “laying on of hands.” The circumstances surrounding his blindness represent an important episode in the history of religion. Read More


NCBI ROFL: If I'm not hot, are you hot or not? Physical attractiveness evaluations and dating preferences as a function of one's own attractiveness.

By ncbi rofl | December 16, 2011 7:00 pm

“Prior research has established that people’s own physical attractiveness affects their selection of romantic partners. This article provides further support for this effect and also examines a different, yet related, question: When less attractive people accept less attractive dates, do they persuade themselves that the people they choose to date are more physically attractive than others perceive them to be? Read More


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