Lstrblg

Grg Lstr's linkdump and thoughts on science, family and things in the ocean that would kill you if given the opportunity.

Category: Science Fandom (page 2 of 11)

A Parent’s Guide to the Apocalypse

I had plenty of time to think on the train this morning courtesy of SEPTA’s robust and efficient service, and I had the idea for A Parent’s Guide to the Apocalypse . I realized that horror movies and disaster flicks are less fun for me now that I have children, a fact brought home to me last night as each of my children came down with a separate form of the plague. Julia acquired the pukey one, while Benny favored the fevery one. I’m sure they’ll swap in a day or two.

Anyway, I realized that I can’t just pick up and run once the zombies rise. With small kids in tow, the options are fewer.

Here’s the outline I sketched in my head, but I don’t know if I should put the serious stuff first or the fun stuff first.

Introduction: Dawn of the Dread, The Paranoid Style in Parenting
Chapter 1: Hey, its happened before
Chapter 2: So, You Think You’ll Live through This.
Chapter 3: Preparing for the Highly Unlikely without Looking Like A Total Kook or Freaking out Your Kids and Partner.
Chapter 4: Nowhere Left to Run, How to Hunker Down or Find New Shelter
Chapter 5: Scruffles Isn’t Coming Back, Helping Children Cope with Deaths in the Family And/Or Civilization
Chapter 6: Running Bartertown: Skills for the Post-Apocalypse
Chapter 7: Oh The Many Ways We’ll Die <--Here is where the fun starts; Include a chart on whether a particular apocalypse is worth doing anything about Chapter 8: They Came from Outer Space, Part I: Nature Wants Us Dead Chapter 9: They Came from Outer Space, Part II: Invasion: Earth Chapter 10: Zombie A-Go-Go Chapter 11: Financial Apocalypse (Duh) Chapter 12: They Suck: What To Do When The Vampires Take Over Chapter 13: Robot Riot Chapter 14: When the Stars Are Right: Surviving Mind-shattering Reveals Chapter 15: Everyone Look Busy: Religious Apocalypses Chapter 16: Pascal's Powerball: A Review Of Non-Western Religious Apocalypses Chapter 17: Kaijuageddon: Life Under Foot Chapter 18: Monster Mash-up. Good deal, eh? Now I just need a publisher and an illustrator. And to write it. UPDATE: I added a new first chapter.

Link Dump: Quacks and Dinos

Here’s an interesting essay on homeopathy for those interested in that sort of thing. Regulating over-the-counter curatives is a weird thing, especially when dealing with homeopathy which, if done properly, doesn’t really have anything in it.

Arnica, for example. There’s a big difference between homeopathic arnica preparations (which don’t got no arnica in it) vs. arnica gel (which is often labeled homeopathic even though it has an active amount of ingredient). Arnica gel can actually do something. Anyway, PZ Myers schooled the Jezebel site on the topic, which is worth a read.

I know some folks who have fallen for applied kinesiology…not scams, per se, but some hokum motivational speaker. Here’s a good an interesting look at the phenomena and how its used on Science-Based Medicine, written by the awesome Harriet Hall whose wrath I unfortunately incurred by attributing an article of her’s to Steven Novella, likely because SBM at the time looked identical to NeuroLogica.

Also: Heh, wallet biopsy.

Are blue whales the biggest animals ever? Maybe.

I mean, its one of those factoids that comes up repeatedly in books about either whales or dinosaurs, both of which we have in great heaps at Stinkbug Manor. (Definitely need a new bookcase in Julia’s room.) At 98 ft (30m) long and weighing almost 200 tons (180mt), it is certainly big. Dino-writer extraordinaire, Brian Switek, reexamines the claim with a look at some of the biggest sauropods that may (or may not) have ever existed. Spoiler: some dinos were longer, but none were likely more massive than a big blue.

Argentinosaurs, shamefully hot-linked

Speaking of Switek and sauropods, he mentioned on Twitter the other week about a dinosaur app for the iPad that I felt necessary to buy. It hasn’t been as popular with the kids as Dinosaur Zoo, due to the lack of defecating sauropods, but it is a little more stylish, a lot more expensive, and contains 100 percent more Stephen Fry, which is worth the $15. It is called Inside the World of Dinosaurs, and each morning, as I make coffee, Mr. Fry tells me about a dinosaur. This morning it was Argentinosaurus. Of course, I’d buy a copy of the phone book if Fry were to narrate it. Interestingly, he pronounces Giganotosaurus (which played into the story of Argentinosaurus) differently than they do on Dinosaur Train, favoring Ji-GANT-osaurus over Ji-gah-NOH-ta-saurus (forgive my phonetic approximations).

Quick link dump: Med History, GMO Fearmongering at the Atlantic and SciFi (literary and realized)

OK, a few things that have caught my interest today that I’ll post here for whatever limited sense of posterity it can offer.

Today at the Consumer Electronics Show in Vegas, Pete Diamandis announced an X-Prize for a tricorder-like device. The X-Prize Foundation is one of those organizations that make me proud of humanity.

Emily Willingham deftly dissects an awful attempt by a writer for The Atlantic at turning a cool scientific discovery into a “Frankenfoods” fear fest. Emily sums up the science in question — findings on how little bits of rice RNA can have an affect on our genes — in these passages :

A study from a Chinese group led by Chen-Yu Zhang of Nanking University and published in Cell Research, has uncovered the fascinating result that when people eat rice, they can absorb microRNAs (miRNAs)–tiny sequences of RNA–from the rice into the blood. These rice-originating miRNAs turn up in blood and tissues of people who eat rice and…here’s the kicker…one type of rice miRNA interacts with human proteins that are responsible for removing LDL (“bad” cholesterol) from the blood (!). It’s the first report of plant miRNAs ending up in people by way of diet and the finding that at least one of them alters an important process in the body.

{A bunch of cool stuff you should read cut out.}

Researchers have discovered myriad ways that miRNA influences human development and disease, and these discoveries open the way to using that information to cure disease. But all of the miRNAs investigated thus far in people have come from people themselves, either present for normal functions or overabundant and linked to disease. The flashy take-home from this latest rice study is, We can pick up these tiny regulators from what we eat…and they can interfere with the functions of proteins we make.

She then goes into The Atlantic author’s illogical leap attempt to turn into a cautionary tale of genetically-modified food. I understand (via her Twitter handle) that she’s updating the piece. I look forward to following the tale.

Oh, where were we? History, yes! NEJM is 200 years old and they’re celebrating with a cool site and timeline.

Science Fiction magazines (like all genre literary magazines) are suffering what are probably unsustainable drops in readership, which makes it curious to see that MIT’s consumer-friendly Technology Review has just announced its own Skiffypub: TRSF. I know you can find Analog and Asimov’s in “e” versions, but I’m shocked neither has an Android or IOS app. Its not like they cater to savvy geeks or anything.

Why I don’t go in the water: Yeti Crabs

Here’s a great article on recent animal discoveries in the Antarctic Ocean.

Here’s a great reason why I won’t be sleeping well tonight: Yeti crabs. They look like giant, slightly fuzzy, ticks.

Yeti Crabs

The little octopus is just adorable, though, in an entirely Cthulhuesque way.

Also, why I read EarthSky.org: they’re good about linking to published sources. Handy! Considerate!

Awesome parasite tricks

Stories about parasites just creep me the heck out, but I can’t resist them. The idea that parasites can “rewire” the brains and/or behavior of their victims isn’t new. A great example is that of Toxoplasma gondii, which can cause mice and rats to change their behavior, essentially causing them to seek out cats that will eat them (and thus pass along the Toxoplasma gondii). There are even scientists who believe that Toxoplasma infection causes mental illness in humans.

While waiting for a photographer to set up this morning, I read a nifty PLoS ONE paper on parasitic wasps from some Czech researchers that might add a few good parasite examples to your cocktail party conversation bank. The chief example, of course, is the larva of the wasps themselves, who force their spider hosts to build the sort of snuggly web-den that they would normally do as they are preparing for winter. The researchers gather that the larva get the same advantage from the winter webs as the spiders do, namely protection from weather and predators. Then, presumably, the larva eat their hosts from within. Eh, don’t feel too bad. Unless you are a big fan of spiders, Neottiura bimaculata and Theridion varians are not the sort I’d hesitate to squish. But maybe that’s just me.

Interestingly, both spiders make different kinds of winterized webs, where N. bimaculata creates a dense wad of webbing while T. varians builds a cupola-like structure. So, despite the fact that the hosts are two distinct species who build two distinctly different types of webs, the wasp larva effects them in more or less the same way, presumably by tinkering with the same winterizing mechanism (yay evolution!).

The paper’s intro also provides a few good examples, which I’ll just paste here for reference:

Many parasites and parasitoids have evolved remarkable strategies to manipulate the behavior of their hosts in order to promote their own survival and reproduction [1], [2]. The behavioral manipulations described include altered phototaxis, changes in locomotion, and the alteration of foraging and defensive behaviors [2]–[19]. The most fascinating manipulations are those that lead to unnatural host behaviors. The parasitic trematode, Dicrocoelium dendriticum Rudolphi, forces its intermediate ant-host to move up onto blades of grass during the night and early morning. This action increases the ingestion of infected ants by grazing sheep, the final host [3]. Mermithid nematodes induce their terrestrial arthropod hosts to commit suicide by jumping into water, after which the hairworms desert the host to spend their adult stage in their natural habitat [8].

Behavioral manipulations often result in the induction of innate behaviors. Acanthocephalan, Polymorphus paradoxus (Connell & Corner), evokes evasive behavior in the amphipod intermediate host, Gammarus lacustris Sars, which is then eaten by ducks [4]. The braconid parasitoid, Glyptapanteles spp., makes their caterpillar host behave as a bodyguard of the parasitoid pupae [15]. The caterpillar stands bent over the parasitoid pupae and violently lashes out at approaching predators, resulting in reduced predation of parasitoid pupae.

Evidence for benefits of the host manipulations for the parasitoid has been gained from several host-parasitoid systems [9]–[12]. But there might be also costs involved. This has been rarely studied. Maure et al. [13] investigated bodyguarding of the braconid pupae, Dinocampus coccinellae (Schrank), by ladybird Coleomegilla maculate Timberlake. Laboratory experiments revealed that duration of bodyguarding suppressed predation by lacewings but also decreased the parasitoid fecundity.

You can find the entire article here, for free, because PLoS ONE is awesome like that.

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