Archive for June, 2012

It Slices, It Dices–With a Minuscule Jet of High-Speed Water Instead of a Knife

By Veronique Greenwood | June 13, 2012 2:57 pm

A moonpie sliced with a water jet cutter: Not a crumb out of place.

There are many wonders of engineering, confined to the labs and warehouses of industry, that we laypeople never get to see. That’s the case with the water jet cutter, which fires out a thin stream of water through a diamond nozzle at nearly the speed of sound and can slice through everything from peaches to linoleum with the greatest of ease.

It’s been around in some form since the 1950s, but if you’re not in the business of cutting things into ever-smaller pieces, you may not have come across it.

Here is a cutter made by Paprima going through beets like a knife through butter:

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NCBI ROFL: Beware of the flaming hairball–a brief review and warning.

By ncbi rofl | June 12, 2012 7:00 pm

“Operating room fires are receiving increasing attention in the medical literature and in the general public. The best way to reduce these iatrogenic, sometimes devastating, events is communication and education. The authors present the case of a 14-year-old adolescent girl who had an apparent explosive event during a laparotomy for removal of a large gastric trichobezoar. Read More

Listen to the Sounds of Antique Technology Online

By Veronique Greenwood | June 12, 2012 4:02 pm

spacing is important
Several of the sounds on display in the Museum, including a floppy drive, a Gameboy, a pay phone, and the Microsoft Encarta Mindmaze game.

The hissing of an empty audio cassette, the wee beeps of the Tamagotchi, the soothing song of Tetris on a Gameboy: These are sounds you don’t hear anymore. But just because technology’s moved on doesn’t mean we can’t use that technology to preserve the audio of the past. That’s what Brendan Chilchutt has done, with his online Museum of Endangered Sounds.

Today’s personal devices, which receive regular software updates from the powers that be and sport as few moving pieces as possible, have little in common with their clankily physical forebears. And to Chilchutt, a world populated by such quiet objects is, if not dystopian, at least at a far remove from the world of his youth. In his rationale for the site, he writes:

Imagine a world where we never again hear the symphonic startup of a Windows 95 machine. Imagine generations of children unacquainted with the chattering of angels lodged deep within the recesses of an old cathode ray tube TV. And when the entire world has adopted devices with sleek, silent touch interfaces, where will we turn for the sound of fingers striking QWERTY keypads? Tell me that. And tell me: Who will play my GameBoy when I’m gone?

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CATEGORIZED UNDER: Technology Attacks!

NCBI ROFL: Nice guys really do finish last.

By ncbi rofl | June 11, 2012 7:00 pm

Do nice guys–and gals–really finish last? The joint effects of sex and agreeableness on income.

“Sex and agreeableness were hypothesized to affect income, such that women and agreeable individuals were hypothesized to earn less than men and less agreeable individuals. Because agreeable men disconfirm (and disagreeable men confirm) conventional gender roles, agreeableness was expected to be more negatively related to income for men (i.e., the pay gap between agreeable men and agreeable women would be smaller than the gap between disagreeable men and disagreeable women). Read More

Secret, Censored 100-Year-Old Manuscript Reveals Penguins' Sexual "Crimes"

By Sophie Bushwick | June 11, 2012 3:39 pm

Adélie penguins
Adélie penguin chicks chase an adult.

Penguins are undeniably adorable. What other animal waddles around in a little tuxedo? But don’t let that cute exterior fool you: on a 1910–1913 Antarctic expedition, surgeon and zoologist George Levick bore witness to some surprising sexual behaviors of Adélie penguins, including coerced sex and necrophilia. In fact, the paper he wrote on the penguins’ sexual habits was considered too explicit to be published during the Edwardian era, and has only recently been rediscovered after spending almost a century hidden away in the Natural History Museum at Tring.

Levick travelled to Antarctica with Captain Robert Scott’s 1910 Terra Nova expedition, where he spent 12 weeks in the world’s largest Adélie penguin colony at Cape Adare, observing the birds, taking photographs, and even collecting nine penguin skins. After his return, Levick used his daily zoological notes as source material for two published penguin studies, one for the general public and a more scientific one to be included in the expedition’s official report. Intriguingly, this second account includes vague references to “’hooligan’ cocks” preying on chicks. Levick merely writes, “The crimes which they commit are such as to find no place in this book, but it is interesting indeed to note that, when nature intends them to find employment, these birds, like men, degenerate in idleness.”

Now, modern-day researchers have discovered that Levick did in fact describe the hooligans’ crimes in the paper, “The sexual habits of the Adélie penguin.” This paper was expunged from his official account, probably because it was too disturbing for Edwardian mores. Levick himself covered some explicit passages of his personal notes with coded versions, rewritten in the Greek alphabet and pasted over the original entries. Although the paper was withheld from the official record, researchers at the Natural History Museum did preserve it in pamphlet form, printing 100 copies labeled, “Not for Publication.” But most of the originals have been lost or destroyed, and no later works on Adélie penguins cited this paper until recently, when researchers in the Bird Group at the National History Museum at Tring discovered one of the original pamphlets in their reprints section.

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NCBI ROFL: Gaydar doesn't work as well on upside-down faces.

By ncbi rofl | June 8, 2012 7:00 pm

The Roles of Featural and Configural Face Processing in Snap Judgments of Sexual Orientation

“Research has shown that people are able to judge sexual orientation from faces with above-chance accuracy, but little is known about how these judgments are formed. Here, we investigated the importance of well-established face processing mechanisms in such judgments: featural processing (e.g., an eye) and configural processing (e.g., spatial distance between eyes). Participants judged sexual orientation from faces presented for 50 milliseconds either upright, which recruits both configural and featural processing, or upside-down, when configural processing is strongly impaired and featural processing remains relatively intact. Read More

NCBI ROFL: On the physics of slug mucus.

By ncbi rofl | June 7, 2012 7:00 pm

Nonlinear viscoelastic biomaterials: meaningful characterization and engineering inspiration.

“Nonlinear mechanical properties play an important role in numerous biological functions, for instance the locomotion strategy used by terrestrial gastropods. We discuss the progress made toward bioinspired snail-like locomotion and the pursuit of an engineered fluid that imitates the nonlinear viscoelastic properties of native gastropod pedal mucus. The rheological behavior of native pedal mucus is characterized using an oscillatory deformation protocol known as large amplitude oscillatory shear, and we review recently developed techniques for appropriately describing nonlinear viscoelastic behavior. Read More


Unusual Creatures, Beautiful Sounds: Composer Michael Hearst's New Album

By Veronique Greenwood | June 7, 2012 2:44 pm

An album of songs inspired by animals doesn’t sound immediately promising. It brings to mind certain cassette tapes from my youth, featuring bearded men singing earnest ballads about the banana slug (not a joke; I actually had that tape).

But Songs for Unusual Creatures, by composer Michael Hearst, is a beast of a different color. If you popped it into your player without any context at all, you’d hear a catchy, rhythmic cross between classical music and jazz, threaded with eerie theremin solos and digeridoo bass lines. It’s the kind of music you might play on endless loop while you study, work out, or write (ahem). Lots of syncopation and kooky instruments, as well as clear melodies, keep the sonic landscape interesting. (You can see Hearst perform one of the songs above.)

But it’s not just pretty sounds. Each track on the CD draws its inspiration from one of 15 unusual creatures, the kind of evolution-honed weirdoes that readers of this blog and science writers like myself enjoy so much, like the blue-footed booby, the Chinese giant salamander, the honey badger, and the humpback anglerfish. Each of these animals is profoundly odd—the tardigrade (track 11), for example, is one of the few creatures that can survive the vacuum of space—and their eponymous songs are also distinctively strange. “Dugong,” about the cigar-shaped, seagrass-grazing marine mammals, is a spacey, blue little tune. “Tardigrade” sounds like the love child of a Gypsy circus band and a jazz quartet.

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NCBI ROFL: Study proves "old person smell" is real.

By ncbi rofl | June 6, 2012 7:00 pm

The Smell of Age: Perception and Discrimination of Body Odors of Different Ages

“Our natural body odor goes through several stages of age-dependent changes in chemical composition as we grow older. Similar changes have been reported for several animal species and are thought to facilitate age discrimination of an individual based on body odors, alone. We sought to determine whether humans are able to discriminate between body odor of humans of different ages. Body odors were sampled from three distinct age groups: Young (20–30 years old), Middle-age (45–55), and Old-age (75–95) individuals. Perceptual ratings and age discrimination performance were assessed in 41 young participants. Read More

NCBI ROFL: Double feature: are your dog's cowlicks normal?

By ncbi rofl | June 5, 2012 7:00 pm

Hair whorls in the dog (Canis familiaris). I. distribution.

“Hair whorl characteristics were assessed in the domestic dog (Canis familiaris) in the regions of cephalic, cervical (dorsal, ventral, and lateral), thoracic and brachial axillary regions, the chest, shoulders, elbows, ventral abdominal region, and on the caudal thighs (ischiatic). They were classified as simple or tufted, and their position was recorded as the distance between their centers and bony landmarks within each region. The distribution of whorls was explored in a cohort of domestic dogs (N = 120) comprising a variety of breeds and cross-breeds, sourced from shelters (N = 60) and the general public (N = 60). Read More


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