Showing posts from March, 2007

There Are No Transitional Fossils

Rubbish. Some people claim evolution isn't an accurate picture of how life developed because there aren't any transitional fossils--creatures that are half reptile and half bird, for instance. That's simply not true.

There are many detailed examples of intermediate fossils. Perhaps the most famous fossils are from Archaeopteryx, which has the feathers and skeletal structure of birds and also features of dinosaurs.

There's a whole (ahem) flock of other feathered fossils, more and less like birds. There's a whole sequence of fossils spanning the evolution of modern horses beginning with the tiny Eohippus. Whales had four-legged ancestors that walked on land, and creatures known as Ambulocetus and Rodhocetus made the transition. Fossil seashells trace the evolution of various mollusks through millions of years. Perhaps 20 or more hominids (not all of them our ancestors) fill the gap between Lucy the australopithecine and modern humans.

And if all that isn't enough, …

You're Shaped Like A Donut

Really. Your topological shape is the same as a donut. Granted, you have what our British friends call "dangly bits" hanging off here and there, and—to be accurate—a few extra holes too. But basically you're a lump with a hole through the middle.

There's a hole that starts at your mouth and ends at your, well...other end. A donut has a hole through it too. And while a cup has that funny container part on one side, it still has just one hole through it.

Letters of the alphabet can be classified by their topology too. a, b,d, e,o, p, and q are letters with one hole; c, f, h, k, l, m, n, r, s, t, u, v, w, x, y, and are letters without a hole; and a i and j are letters consisting of two pieces. Depending on what font you use g may either be a one holer or the only letter that's a two holer, depending on whether or not the tail is closed.

So? What we're talking about here is topology, a branch of mathematics and an extension of geometry, sometimes referred to as “ru…

Evolution Is Just A Theory

Foolishness. Evolution is a law of nature and a fact.

You probably learned (incorrectly) in elementary school that a theory is better than a hypothesis but not as good as a law. And you probably have heard people use the term even more incorrectly, as in "The police have a theory the murder culprit is...", in the sense that someone has a hunch that may or may not be right. Wrong, and wrong. And two wrongs, as you correctly know, do not make it right.

Here's a dose of reality--a theory is actually an explanation of something that combines facts, laws, inferences, and tested hypotheses. If something is a theory it's repeatedly been shown to be an accurate picture of Reality.

But--and here's the part a lot of people don't get--no amount of validation can ever prove a theory. Scientist, dog love their little pea-pickin' skeptical minds, are always willing to say "we're certain this is the way it is...until we learn there's more to the story than we …

A Man's Nose is Connected to His Penis

Really. A direct brain pathway connects a guy's olfactory bulb to his septal nucleus, where penile blood flow and erection are controlled. In fact, research has shown that almost 1/5 of men who lose their sense of smell also lose sexual function.

Experiments show that a combination of lavender and pumpkin pie produces the most arousal in men, increasing penile blood flow by an average of 40 percent. A combination of licorice and doughnuts finished second, increasing blood flow by 31.5 percent.

Women, on the other hand responded most strongly to a combination of licorice and cucumber. The combination increased vaginal blood flow 13 percent. Women had a negative responses to charcoal smoke which caused a 14 percent reduction. Interestingly, the study found that women aren't turned on by male colognes; they actually caused a 1 percent reduction in vaginal blood flow.

So guys, if you want to turn your honey on, skip the barbecue and forget after shave. Go buy some Good & Plenty …

The Bible is (Not) a Guide to Moral Behavior

My Dad, a former Presbyterian missionary, used to tell amazingly creative and entertaining tales when we were kids. They were called Abbagadygooguss Stories. The main characters were Abba, Gad, Goo and Gus. Recently he went to the trouble of writing some of them down for posterity.

In one story titled 'Way Out,' Dad tells how Abba, a fictional character with an Aramaic name that sorta means 'papa', was conversing with Biblical character Gad (Gen. 30:11) who had been allotted the land east of Jordan (Num. 32). Gad, Dad wrote, was the son Jacob fathered by Zelpah, his wife's maid. And he included a biblical passage as reference (Gen. 29:24).

Good grief, I though when I read the story, my Dad made a terrible mistake. He seemed to be writing that Jacob was screwing around with his wife's maid. Not exactly a kids story. So I did a little digging,'s in The Book!

It seems Jacob and his Uncle Laban had a deal where if Jacob worked for 7 years he could have…

Sniffing Makes You Smell Better

Really. Researchers have finally found out why sniffing the air makes you detect odors better.

And its not just that your increase the volume of air through your nose. It turns out that there are two different kind of detectors in the nose. One, the olfactory nerves, as you would expect react to the chemicals in the air, the ones that characterize the smell - almonds, roses, wet dogs, whatever. When these neurons respond to odor molecules, they transmit chemical energy into electrical signals signaling that it's smelling something.

But, here's the key finding. When odor free air was puffed through the nose, the same electrical signals to the brain were generated, apparently reinforcing the message to the brain "I smell something!"

"This mechanical sensitivity increases the overall sensitivity of our nose, especially when stimulated by weak odors," said a researcher. "It helps the brain make better sense out of odor responses when it integrates the a…

Hummingbirds Consume As Much Fuel as a 747

Foolishness. Hummingbird's metabolism is notoriously high, and somehow the story started going around that they use as much energy as a 747. But pound for pound they don't consume nearly as much fuel.

Boeing 747s burn kerosene, about 5,000 gallons of the stuff every hour. Each gallon of jet fuel contains 34 million calories, so the big silver bird is consuming fuel at the rate of 170 billion calories per hour. A typical 747 weighs 750,000 pounds (including roughly 250,000 pounds of fuel) so it burns 226,667 calories per hour per pound.

Hummingbirds burn fat. Experiments with hummingbirds in metabolic chambers showed that the little colorful birds consume fuel at the rate of about 1200 calories per hour. A typical hummingbird weighs not much more than a penny, about 4.5 grams of which 2 g is fat. That's about .01 pounds, so a hummingbird burns about 120,000 calories per hour per pound—about half that of a 747. Humans burn about 500 Calories per hour per pound, if you were wo…

Humans Got Pubic Lice From Gorillas

Really. Humans acquired pubic lice from gorillas several million years ago. We know what you're thinking, but that doesn't mean that humans and great apes were monkeying around.

A recent study shows that humans most likely got the gorilla's lice from sleeping in their nests or eating the giant apes. About 3.3 million years ago, lice found on gorillas began to infest humans. They took up residence in the pubic region largely because humans lost hair on the rest of their bodies and lacked of any other suitable niche.

Here's a head scratcher, though: humans are unique among primates as host to two different kinds of lice: one on the head and body (Pediculus), which has become the bane of many schoolchildren, and pubic or crab lice (Pthirus). In contrast, chimps have only head lice and gorillas only have pubic lice. Why that would be, and how the beasties distinguish the difference between a noggin and a crotch remains to be discovered.

Understanding the history of lice is im…

A Sugar Pill Can Be Great Medicine

Really. Sugar pills have been shown in many tests to treat a variety of conditions as well as "real" medicine.

Actually, its not the sugar. Its a weird phenomenon called the placebo effect. Essentially, if someone says they're going to give you an aspirin and substitutes a sugar pill, you're likely to feel better anyway.

There are thousands of examples. For instance;

- Doctors successfully eliminated warts by painting them with a brightly colored, inert dye and promising patients the warts would be gone when the color wore off.

- In a study of asthmatics, researchers found that they could produce dilation of the airways by simply telling people they were inhaling a bronchiodilator, even when they weren't.

- Patients suffering pain after wisdom-tooth extraction got just as much relief from a fake application of ultrasound as from a real one, so long as both patient and therapist thought the machine was on.

- …

Military Budget Lowest % GDP Since WW2

Really. The Chinese character for "crisis" is comprised of the calligraphy for "danger" and "opportunity." That's probably what USAF General Michael Wynne had in mind when he told a House Armed Services Committee that China had become "awesome investors," and that "...we need to work with them, because I would not like to be their opponent."

Reviewing the USAF $111 billion FY 2008 budget request, the officers and congressmen contemplated the 14.7% increase in Chinese defense spending in 2006.

General Michael Moseley, USAF chief of staff, said, "I would say it may be time for discussion about percentage of GDP on defense budgets," adding that the US percentage is at its lowest point, at 3.8%, since World War two.


The Robots Are Coming, The Robots Are Coming

Really. Robot advances are occurring faster than you may realize. Robots have been working in factories for years, and they're becoming more lifelike all the time.

Roomba (Roombae?) built by iRobot were perhaps the first robots to be sold specifically to work around the house. They do a great job sucking up cat hair, finding their nest when they need to eat (electricity), and they even bleat "oh-oh" when they get stuck under the couch. But they look like UFOs.

The University of Tokyo has demonstrated a robot that will pour tea from a bottle if you hold up a cup, and eventually it'll wash dishes; but it looks pretty geeky. Honda has created a humanoid robot programmed to walk, go up and down steps, and even sorta run; but it looks, well ... like a robot trying to look like a human.

If you want to see the future check out this humanoid robot from Anybot—it learned to walk. It wasn't programmed to do it, it learned. Sure it had software that let it learn, kinda like a …

Air-to-air Refuleing...Unmanned!

Really. The Israeli Air Force will soon unveil a new long-range unmanned aircraft called the Eitan that can be used for reconnaissance, intelligence gathering, launcher for anti-ballistic missile missiles, and is also being considered for aerial refueling. Also known as the Heron II, the big bird has the wingspan of a Boeing 737.

Last year Boeing announced it had successfully completed automated air to air refueling tests using an Air National Guard tanker and a Learjet. The Boeing flight control system allowed the Lear to autonomously fly in pre-contact, contact or observation positions around the KC-135R. During one flight the Lear was hand flown to the refueling (contact) position behind the tanker, its flight control system was then engaged, and it autonomously held position for over 23 minutes while the tanker flew two full air refueling orbits.

Northrop Grumman is working on UAV air-to-air refueling too, and is considering the high-flying Global Hawk UAV (shown above) as an aeria…

More Galaxies In Universe Than Stars in Milky Way

There are more galaxies in the visible universe than there are stars in our own galaxy.

While, you can only see about 1000 stars on a clear, moonless night from an open spot, there are about 9000 stars that your eye is incapable of perceiving. But drag out a telescope and the number skyrockets. Use the Hubble and a really long exposure, and you can see even more.

But get this: virtually every star you've ever seen, even in pictures, is in our galaxy. Stars in other galaxies are just too small to be resolved individually. And there are no stars floating around between galaxies.

The Milky Way is home to 200-400 million stars; and as galaxies go, it's a pretty big one at something over 100,000 light years across. We live in an outlying, decidedly middle class neighborhood, about 25,000 light years from the center. There's absolutely nothing special about our little corner of the Universe, except that we know that—intelligence is a peculiarity that, so far at least, appears t…

Hubble Image Shows Planet Exploding

Nonsense. A new image of a planetary nebula taken with Hubble’s Wide Field Planetary Camera shows NGC 2440, a chaotic structure produced by the explosion of a dying star.

Our Milky Way Galaxy is littered with about 1500 of these stellar relics, but they're called planetary nebula because of their vague similarity in appearance to giant planets in old, less powerful, telescopes.

This image taken February 7, 2007 shows the colorful result of a star ending its life by blowing off outer layers of gas. Ultraviolet light from the dying star makes the material glow. The burned-out star, called a white dwarf, is the white dot left of center. Our Sun will eventually burn out and shroud itself with stellar debris, but not for another 5 billion years.

About 1500 years ago a star exploded in the constellation Lyra producing perhaps the most famous planetary nebula known as the Ring Nebula or M57, the 57th object in the Messier catalog.

The material expelled by the star glows with different colors…

Living People Outnumber the Dead

Foolishness. A meme going around claims the human population has swelled to the point that there are more people alive today than all those who have ever lived. But that's wrong; despite a quadrupling of the population in the past century, the number of people alive today is still dwarfed by the number of people who have died.

For most of history, human population grew slowly, if at all. From the time Homo habilis, the first more or less human, appeared two million years ago until they figured out how to grow their own food, Earth's population expanded to only about five million people and grew at less than .1% per year. It only reached 300 million by year 1 CE.

Then plagues killed off huge numbers of people, including 75 million wiped out by the "black death" in the 14th century alone. As a result, by 1650 the world population had only increased to about 500 million. By 1800, though, thanks to improved agriculture and sanitation, it doubled to more than one billion.…

A Universe of Monkeys Couldn't Type Hamlet

Really. There's an idea going around that a monkey typing for an infinite time would eventually type the complete works of Shakespeare. In fact the age of the Universe (about 14.7 billion years) is tiny compared to the time it would take for that tireless monkey to peck out Hamlet, never mind all the other great works of the Bard.

A monkey (or machine) picking random letters has one chance in 26 of correctly choosing the first letter of Hamlet, which happens to be an "A" (Actus Primus. Scoena Prima.) There's one chance in 676 (26 X 26) of choosing the first two letters. The probability goes down exponentially, so to get the first 20 letters correct there's already only one chance in 2620 or one in 19,928,148,895,209,409,152,340,197,376. That's about the same as buying four tickets in consecutive lotteries and winning the jackpot each time.

The text of Hamlet, even without punctuation and spaces, contains 133,874 letters which means the probability of a randoml…

Shakespeare Sucked And So Do You - The Same Air That Is

Really. In Romeo and Juliet Shakespeare wrote:

O my love, my wife!
Death, that hath suck'd the honey of thy breath
Hath had no power yet upon thy beauty

That's a lovely, even heart-breaking, sentiment if you think about it. But I'm not so sure the Bard's breath smelled like honey or that he was at all beautiful when he died. Still, the odds are good that when you suck in a breath you're breathing a molecule that he sucked in (and exhaled) with his last breath.


Dartmouth College mathematics professor J. Laurie Snell did the math and says the odds are good--nearly 2 in 3--that some of your next inhalation was part of the 16th-century poet's final exhalation.

Snell assumed the total number of molecules in the atmosphere (1044) and the total number of molecules in the average breath (1022) and performed a series of calculations to determine the probabilities. Even if you include only chemically stable nitrogen molecules in Shakespeare's final snort, the odds are…

Bottled Water Is "All Wet"

Really. Pricey bottled water is not demonstrably better than essentially free tap-water.

Ah, but it's purer you say. Well, a comprehensive review of the bottled water industry and independent testing of over 1,000 bottles concluded that bottled water isn't necessarily cleaner or safer than tap water. That's not surprising given that at least 25 percent of bottled water is really just tap water in a bottle.

"Scientific American" referred to bottled water as Bottled Twaddle after finding that twenty percent sampled had bacteria levels higher than tap water. One reason might might be that bottled water plants must test their water only once a week while city tap water has to be tested at least 25 times more often.

Chemicals contaminated another fifth of the samples. One of these icky ingredients, the chemical Bisphenol A, has been associated with prostate cancer, chromosome damage, growth irregularities, a variety of behavioral changes and sex rever…

Nobel Prize Winner Worked In A Strip Joint

Really. Nobel Prize winner Richard Feynman enjoyed working in a strip joint...but not as a performer.

As described in his book Surely You're Joking, Mr. Feynman! while a professor at Caltech, he used a nude/topless bar as an office writing physics equations on paper placemats.

When county officials tried to close the place, all the regulars except Feynman refused to testify in favor of the bar, fearing that their families would learn of their visits. Feynman accepted, and in court affirmed that the bar was a public need, stating that craftsmen, technicians, engineers, common workers, "and a physics professor" frequented the establishment.

While the bar lost the case, it was allowed to remain open as a similar case was pending appeal.

Feynman received the Nobel Prize in Physics in 1965, together with Julian Schwinger and Sin-Itiro Tomonaga, for developing a way to understand the behavior of subatomic particles using pictorial tools that later became known as Feynman diagrams.