To the man who called me an assh*le the other day in the doorway of Clear Flour,

English: Darien monument to firefighters, Dari...

I am grateful that you held the door open for me as I walked into the bakery.  I am sorry that I was so preoccupied that I did not acknowledge your kindness quickly enough for your liking.

A great man once told me not to qualify my apologies with extenuation, but simply to take responsibility for my transgression. But, I’m sorry, I’m going to make an exception this time.

I am sorry that, for you, a benevolent act is ruined if it is not given proper recognition by the recipient. Pitiful.

Indeed, I am grateful that you have helped me identify that I am sometimes a pitiful assh*le. I don’t refer so much to times I fail to acknowledge a courtesy but, rather, to when I myself have muttered an epithet under my breath when someone else was not grateful enough for my egotistical kindness.

Sometimes, the contempt of the contemptible is akin to a compliment.


Stop badmouthing sharks that bite people

English: Great white shark at Isla Guadalupe, ...

“I believe the time is right for science to reconsider its use of the phrase “shark attack” on humans. Such language creates a one-dimensional perception of these events and makes protecting threatened shark species more difficult. After all, why care about an animal that wants to eat us?

…The argument for change is compelling. Modern research has shown that bites by sharks are often investigatory or defensive, taking place in cloudy water and out of curiosity.” (via New Scientist).


Banishing consciousness

Consciousness Awakening on Vimeo by Ralph Buckley

The mystery of anaesthesia: ‘The development of general anaesthesia has transformed surgery from a horrific ordeal into a gentle slumber. It is one of the commonest medical procedures in the world, yet we still don’t know how the drugs work. Perhaps this isn’t surprising: we still don’t understand consciousness, so how can we comprehend its disappearance?

That is starting to change, however, with the development of new techniques for imaging the brain or recording its electrical activity during anaesthesia. “In the past five years there has been an explosion of studies, both in terms of consciousness, but also how anaesthetics might interrupt consciousness and what they teach us about it,” says George Mashour, an anaesthetist at the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor. “We’re at the dawn of a golden era.” ‘ (via New Scientist)


Digital Narcotics: the Future of Drugs

A field of opium poppies in Burma.
Opium poppy field, Burma

“Technologists will become the next drug dealers, administering narcotics through brain stimulation, according to Rohit Talwar, the founder of Fast Future Research, speaking at Intelligence Squared’s If conference.

Talwar was charged by the government to investigate the drugs landscape over the next 20 years, exploring scenarios going beyond the traditional model of gangs producing and shipping drugs around the world.

He described how the world of genomic sequencing and services such as 23 and Me open up possibilities for tailoring drugs to the individual, delivering effects based on your physiology — which could  pply just as effectively to narcotics as it could medicines.”  (via Wired Science).


The Cognitive Benefits Of Chewing Gum


Jonah Lehrer: “Chewing without eating seems like such a ridiculous habit, the oral equivalent of running on a treadmill. And yet, people have been chewing gum for thousands of years, ever since the ancient Greeks began popping wads of mastic tree resin in their mouth to sweeten the breath. Socrates probably chewed gum.

It turns out there’s an excellent rationale for this long-standing cultural habit: Gum is an effective booster of mental performance, conferring all sorts of benefits without any side effects. The latest investigation of gum chewing comes from a team of psychologists at St. Lawrence University…” (via The Loom, Wired Science).


On Cultural Critic Dwight Macdonald and Midcult

Mac the Knife: On Dwight Macdonald | The Nation‘No matter how fervently Macdonald avowed that he detested middlebrow consumers, he needed them as much as they needed him. Much of the lucid, cutting criticism he wrote was addressed to that “intelligent layman” who might otherwise succumb to Midcult’s temptations; Macdonald, in turn, was the guide who discriminated between the phony gesture and the real thing. He was a predator who required a steady diet of prey to survive, and for all that he was vexed by middlebrow cultural consumption, he was sustained by it too. His panic now seems less prescient than misplaced. At a time when reading up on Kafka is neither more nor less valid than keeping up with the Kardashians, a thriving demographic of middle-class strivers looks to me less ludicrous or menacing than the vacancy it has left behind.’ — Jennifer Szalai (via The Nation).


So Should I Start Cooking with Pepper Spray?



Fox News Food Products: “In my recent post on the poisonous nature of pepper spray, I noted that the name makes it sound more innocuous than it really is. We’re talking, after all, about a chemical agent potent enough that our soldiers are banned by international treaty from using it in other countries:

But we’ve taken to calling it pepper spray, I think, because that makes it sound so much more benign than it really is, like something just a grade or so above what we might mix up in a home kitchen. The description hints maybe at that eye-stinging effect that the cook occasionally experiences when making something like a jalapeno-based salsa, a little burn, nothing too serious.

As it turns out, this is exactly the message that Fox News is promoting to its views. And not subtly either. As Gawker reported, last night News co-hosts Bill O’Reilly and Megyn Kelly mulled over the pepper-spraying of peacefully protesting students at UC-Davis this weekend. Why all the outrage, Kelly wondered. After all “pepper spray is a food product, essentially.”

On Twitter, this has launched some fairly hilarious suggestions from my fellow science writers for potential Fox News Food Products…” — Deborah Blum (via Speakeasy Science).


What Kind of Fish are You?

Kalliopi Monoyios: ‘I can’t say for certain whether New York based photographer Ted Sabarese had science or evolution in mind when he conceived of this series. But I’m almost glad he never responded to my follow-up questions about his inspiration behind these. Part of the fun of art is its mirror-like quality: everyone sees something different when faced with it because everyone brings a different set of experiences and expectations to the table. When I look at these I see equal parts “you are what you eat,” “your inner fish,” and “United Colors of Benetton.” ‘ (via Symbiartic, Scientific American Blog Network.


The shocking truth about the crackdown on Occupy

Police Tape

“The violent police assaults across the US are no coincidence. Occupy has touched the third rail of our political class’s venality.” — Naomi Wolf (via guardian.co.uk).


Wikipedia List of fictional diseases

Prince Prospero flees the Red Death. The Masqu...

This article is a list of fictional diseases — nonexistent, named medical conditions which appear in fiction where they have a major plot or thematic importance. They may be fictional psychological disorders, magical, from mythological or fantasy settings, have evolved naturally, been engineered artificially (most often created as biological weapons), or be any illness that came forth from the (ab)use of technology.’ (via boing boing)


Neanderthal Neuroscience

moulage du crâne d' Homo neanderthalensis de L...

‘[Svante] Paabo has changed the way scientists study human evolution. Along with fossils, they can now study genomes that belonged to people who died 40,000 years ago. They can do experiments to see how some of those individual genes helped to make us human. During his talk, Paabo used this new research to sketch out a sweeping vision of how our ancestors evolved uniquely human brains as they swept out across the world.’ (via The Loom | Discover Magazine).


The Anthropologists Begin to Weigh in About Afghanistan

Map of Afghanistan with flag.‘Though …academic ethnographers have balked at working with the military — the American Anthropological Association issued a report condemning the Human Terrain program as a violation of professional ethics — they have not ignored the country. Noah Coburn’s “Bazaar Politics” is the first extended study of an Afghan community to appear since the Taliban fell. It follows an ambitious history of Afghanistan by the Boston University anthropologist Thomas Barfield, and an impassioned essay by Rory Stewart, the Conservative M.P., author-adventurer and Kabul preservationist, that faults the international .effort in Afghanistan for its neglect of ethnographic insight. Whatever anthropology has to say about America’s longest war, it’s saying it now.’ (via Book Review – NYTimes.com).


Why Kids With High IQs Are More Likely to Take Drugs

Various prescription and street drugs may caus...

‘People with high IQs are more likely to smoke marijuana and take other illegal drugs, compared with those who score lower on intelligence tests, according to a new study from the U.K.’ (via TIME). This finding is universally referred to as ‘counterintuitive’, but I don’t think so. We are not talking about use of tobacco, and we are probably not talking about heroin addiction, but those with higher IQ are generally more open to novel experience, less credulous about anti-drug propaganda and less rigidly moralistic.


How to tell in 20 sec. if a stranger is trustworthy

Spacefilling model of oxytocin. Created using ...

“There’s definitely something to be said for first impressions. New research from the University of California, Berkeley, suggests it can take just 20 seconds to detect whether a stranger is genetically inclined to being trustworthy, kind or compassionate. The findings reinforce that healthy humans are wired to recognize strangers who may help them out in a tough situation. They also pave the way for genetic therapies for people who are not innately sympathetic, researchers said.

…Two dozen couples participated in the UC Berkeley study, and each provided DNA samples. Researchers then documented the couples as they talked about times when they had suffered. Video was recorded only of the partners as they took turns listening. A separate group of observers who did not know the couples were shown 20-second video clips of the listeners and asked to rate which seemed most trustworthy, kind and compassionate, based on their facial expressions and body language.

The listeners who got the highest ratings for empathy, it turned out, possess a particular variation of the oxytocin receptor gene known as the GG genotype.” (via e! Science News).

Ummm, okay, so we can recognize people with a particular oxytocin gene variant. and we think they are more empathic. But is there any evidence that truly correlates with greater empathy? (I know  there is some evidence that, at least in animals, oxytocin has a relationship with strength of social affiliation.)



The Problem With Landing Humans on Mars (and How to Fix It)

Mars, 2001, with the southern polar ice cap vi...

‘With current technology, nothing larger or heavier than [the Mars Science Library, touching down on Mars in August 2012] can be put on the surface of Mars. Anything more massive, including a human mission, which NASA estimates would require landing at least 40 to 80 tons of machinery, is completely out of the question.

“We’ve maxed out our ability to take mass to the surface of Mars,” said engineer Bobby Braun, former NASA chief technologist and co-author of a 2005 research paper highlighting this problem.

The basic obstacle for large-scale missions is Mars’ tenuous atmosphere, which is more than 100 times thinner than that of Earth. The pressure of the Martian atmosphere at its surface is equivalent to what someone would experience flying at 100,000 feet on Earth.’ (via Wired.com). 


Search for Alien Life Should Include Exotic Possibilities

“For most researchers’ money, an Earth-like planet is the best bet for finding alien life. But looking in such an exclusive range of possibilities might give them only half the story.

"The Blue Marble" is a famous photog...

A team of scientists is now proposing an index that ranks a planet’s habitability using a much wider set of criteria.

“We are trying not to be geocentric, calculating planetary habitability independent of liquid water,” said physicist Abel Mendez of the University of Puerto Rico in Arecibo and one of the co-authors of the new index, published in Astrobiology on Nov. 21.

Astronomers have discovered more than 700 extrasolar planets, many of them gas giants that orbit too near or far from their parent star to be comparable to Earth. But Mendez and his group want to expand the narrow possibilities generally considered necessary for a planet to host life.

The team proposes to rank planets on both an Earth Similarity Index (ESI) and also a broader Planetary Habitability Index (PHI). The first index looks at how close a planet is to Earth in mass, temperature, and composition while the second is based on the whether or not it possesses more exotic chemistries, liquids, and energy sources than found on our planet. Alien life could be based on elements other than carbon, require liquids other than water, and gain energy through means other than sunlight.” (via Wired.com).


Norwegian Tech Company Fits Dual-Core Computer Inside USB Drive

Norwegian Tech Company Fits Dual-Core Computer Inside USB Drive‘Codenamed the Cotton Candy (at 21 grams it weighs as much as a bag of the candy), the computer is powered by a dual-core 1.2 GHz Samsung Exynos ARM CPU and runs a version of Google’s Android operating system. It also sports wi-fi, Bluetooth, and a HDMI-out port, and a MicroSD card slot.

The Cotton Candy can be used either on a HDTV or a Mac or Windows computer. When The HDMI port is used with a TV, the USB port is used to power it, while Bluetooth is used to attach a keyboard and mouse. When used with a computer, you plug in the USB end and run the Android OS inside a secure window while your Mac OS X or Windows OS runs in the background.’ (via Complex).


‘Super Committee’ likely to announce failure to reach debt deal

‘Members of the “super committee” charged with coming up with $1.2 trillion in budget cuts are focused on how to announce failure to reach a deal, Democratic and Republican aides confirmed to CNN Sunday.

While aides said no final decision had been made, they acknowledged that — barring an unforeseen development — an announcement of an end to negotiations is the most likely scenario.’ (via CNN.com)

How to announce failure? Sen. Bernie Sanders (I.-VT) said it well in June:

WASHINGTON - DECEMBER 16:  Sen. Bernie Sanders...

Everyone understands that over the long-term we have got to reduce the
deficit – a deficit that was caused mainly by Wall Street greed, tax
breaks for the rich, two wars, and a prescription drug program written
by the drug and insurance companies. It is absolutely imperative,
however, that as we go forward with deficit reduction we completely
reject the Republican approach that demands savage cuts in
desperately-needed programs for working families, the elderly, the sick,
our children and the poor, while not asking the wealthiest among us to
contribute one penny.”


Q: what’s the difference between members of Congress and other crooks?

Percentage of members of the House of Represen...
House of Representatives by party

‘The “60 Minutes” piece last week on the free pass members of Congress get when it comes to trading on nonpublic information they routinely receive opened a lot of eyes. But it came as no surprise to reform advocates or academicians who have studied the investing skills of federal lawgivers for years.

A 2004 study concluded that U.S. senators outperformed the stock market by 12 percent annually during the 1990s, about twice as well as corporate insiders did. A more recent study concluded that members of the House of Representatives outperformed the broad market by about 6 percent annually.’ (via Post-Gazette, with thanks to abby)


R.I.P. Dr. Paul Epstein

Public Health Expert Dies at 67:  ‘His views provoked arguments. Within the politically contentious climate-change debate, it has been especially hard to prove direct links between climate events and the outbreak of disease.But Dr. Epstein’s prolific writing and his championing of others’ research broadened the terms of the debate — initially focused on long-term threats facing coastal populations and Arctic polar bears, for instance — to include questions about potentially sudden, unforeseeable public health catastrophes.

Former Vice President Al Gore, who tapped Dr. Epstein as a science adviser in conceiving the slide show about global warming that became the basis of the Academy Award-winning 2006 documentary “An Inconvenient Truth,” praised him not only for his research but also for “his rare ability to communicate the subtleties and complexities of his field.” ‘ (NYTimes obituary).

I was proud to have been a friend and neighbor of Dr Epstein. He championed many other ‘inconvenient truths’ before turning his attention to climate change in the past decade. This interest was a natural outgrowth of his radicalism and determination to encompass the political dimension of public health issues and the public health dimension of political issues, e.g. poverty, colonialism and the nuclear threat.


Quantum mechanics difficult to grasp? Too bad

JERUSALEM - MARCH 09:  A detail from Albert Ei...

“…To those uncomfortable with quantum theory’s picture of wavelike particles that are simultaneously everywhere, their message in The Quantum Universe is clear: tough. Scientists are, they tell us, “not mandated to produce a theory that bears any relation to the way we perceive the world at large”, although you might comfort yourself with the thought that even Einstein found quantum mechanics disturbing.” (via New Scientist).


EEG finds consciousness in people in vegetative state

EEG fragment

‘Signs of consciousness have been detected in three people previously thought to be in a vegetative state, with the help of a cheap, portable device that can be used at the bedside.

“There’s a man here who technically meets all the internationally agreed criteria for being in a vegetative state, yet he can generate 200 responses [to direct commands] with his brain,” says Adrian Owen of the University of Western Ontario. “Clearly this guy is not in a true vegetative state. He’s probably as conscious as you or I are.” ‘ (via New Scientist).


The dope on mental enhancement

Medicine Drug Pills on Plate

“So-called cognitive-enhancing drugs are usually prescribed to treat medical conditions, but they are also known for their ability to improve memory or focus. Many people buy them over the internet, which is risky because they don’t know what they are getting. We also know next to nothing about their long-term effects on the brains of healthy people, particularly the young. But some scientists believe they could have a beneficial role to play in society, if properly regulated.

So who’s taking what?” (via New Scientist).


Brilliant Ingmar Bergman parody, 1968

‘The Dove (De Düva) is an Academy Award-nominated short parody of Ingmar Bergman’s films, made in 1968. They used to show this a lot in the early days of HBO. The short lampoons elements of Bergman’s Wild Strawberries, The Seventh Seal, The Silence and Smiles of a Summer Night.

Professor Viktor Sundqvist (co-director George Coe) is being chauffeured to a lecture at a university, when a dove shits on the car’s windshield. He decides to make a visit to his childhood home ala Wild Strawberries .

In a flashback, Viktor and his sister challenge Death (screenwriter Sid Davis) to a game of badminton in exchange for Death sparing her life. A dove shits on Death and he loses the game.

The ridiculous fake Swedish is a mix of English, Yiddish and adding “ska” to certain words, as in “It will take a momentska” or “sooner or lateska.” ‘ (via Dangerous Minds)

I remember seeing this in the early ‘70’s at the late great Orson Welles Cinema in Cambridge, MA. Abut half an hour into the screening, someone jumped up in the front row, raised his arms in amazement and exclaimed, “My God! I’m so stoned I can understand Swedish!!”


What (Not?) To Do When You Meet the Last Great Wild Buffalo






Krulwich Wonders: “Suppose there’s a vanishing species of animal you love. Its population is down to a scary few, the last survivors are hiding deep in the wilderness, and you want to protect them, save them from extinction.

And let’s further suppose, that one day, you happen upon a small remnant, the last of these wild animals, and by sheer luck, one of them is healthy, strong, beautiful, a true survivor. What would you do? Cage it? Trap it? Let it go?

I’m going to tell you a story — it’s a true story, about William Temple Hornaday and the animal he loved, the American buffalo, but this tale is so improbable, so strange, I can’t quite explain what happened. It makes no sense to me.” (via  NPR).


Solar System May Have Lost Fifth Giant Planet

Solar System Planets.

“Astronomer David Nesvorny from the Southwest Research Institute in Texas believes that the solar system might have once contained a fifth gigantic planet, which was ejected deep into the galaxy in a moment of cosmic turmoil.

By looking at the population of the Kuiper belt — the icy-cold ring of asteroids beyond Neptune — and by studying the historical fingerprints left on the craters of the Moon, Nesvorny was able to piece together clues about our solar system’s adolescence…” (via Wired).


Garrett McNamara rides 90-foot wave

‘An extreme surfer is set to earn a place in the record books after riding a 90-foot wave.

Garrett McNamara caught the monster wave during the ZON North Canyon Project in Praia do Norte, Nazare, Portugal.

The coastline is home to a deep water canyon which funnels large swells from the Atlantic Ocean, creating record-breaking waves such as the one McNamara rode.’ (via Mail Online).

Also: Watch the video (YouTube).


Happy 11/11/11 – 11:11:11


We won’t have another moment so elevenish for a hundred years (unless you don’t use military time and will observe it again tonight). Eleven is the first number which cannot be counted with a human’s eight fingers and two thumbs additively. In English, it is the smallest positive integer requiring three syllables and the largest prime number with a single-morpheme name. Numerologists believe there is something quite powerful about the time 11:11, having to do with synchronicity. Imagine what they will be thinking today.


Supreme Court, Help! My Mini-Bar Is Spying Without Warrants

WASHINGTON - AUGUST 07:  The statue of 'Author...
‘Authority of Law’, James Earle Fraser

‘All the while, the Supreme Court was debating whether Americans had a “reasonable” expectation their movements would not be electronically monitored. Yet we live in a world today where we pay $300 for a hotel room that spies on your alcohol intake, where millions of people voluntarily “check in” their every movement on FourSquare and Facebook, and where we routinely give big-name and no-name mobile-phone applications the right to track us everywhere we go.’ (via Wired.com).


How to Load Up Your Ereader with Ebooks For Free

Cover of "Kindle Wireless Reading Device,...

OverDrive is a digital distribution and publishing company that partners with thousands of libraries, schools, and universities around the globe to give users access to ebooks on any device they may own. The beauty of the OverDrive service though is that it’s not limited to Kindle owners, but it supports them and Kindle app users. The OverDrive Media Console works on Mac OS systems, Windows computers, iOS devices, Android devices, and Windows Phones, and OverDrive locations support lending ebooks to more ereaders and tablets than we can list here. It’s safe to say that if there’s a library near you in the search results, you can take any device and borrow an ebook to read.

A few months ago, Amazon announced that Kindle owners could visit their local libraries to check out books, which was really their way of announcing Amazon finally partnered with OverDrive for distribution to Kindle devices. OverDrive already works worldwide. To find out if your library participates, visit OverDrive Search, click Library Search, and type in your ZIP or postal code. Odds are there’s some location near you.’ (via Lifehacker).


2009 World Barista Champion Gwilym Davies is Done With ‘Lattes’ & ‘Flat Whites’



Gwilym Davies has sworn off lattes and flat whites. The 2009 World Barista Champion has also removed cappuccinos and cortados from the menu of his Prufrock Coffee trolley at London’s Present. Gibraltar, SG-120 and all the other groovy terms for an espresso with hot milk have been banished from his vocabulary. Henceforce all his milk-marbleised coffees will be identified by their cup sizes: 4 oz, 6 oz or 8 oz.

The trouble with his old menu, according to Gwilym, was that the coffee names mythologised what were, from his hands, fundamentally the same drink: a double espresso blended with varying quantities of milk he steamed and textured in the identical manner. Furthermore, the terms were confusing and meant different things to different people from different places. It was problematic to figure out what each customer’s understanding of a flat white or a cortado was and frustrating when what the barista champion served measured below – or above – each one’s expectations.’ (Via YoungandFoodish, thanks to William Gibson)