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Bora’s Picks (December 28th, 2012)

The views expressed are those of the author and are not necessarily those of Scientific American.


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What does randomness look like? by Aatish Bhatia:

On 13 June 1944, a week after the allied invasion of Normandy, a loud buzzing sound rattled through the skies of battle-worn London. The source of the sound was a newly developed German instrument of war, the V-1 flying bomb. A precursor to the cruise missile, the V-1 was a self-propelled flying bomb, guided using gyroscopes, and powered by a simple pulse jet engine that gulped air and ignited fuel 50 times a second. This high frequency pulsing gave the bomb its characteristic sound, earning them the nickname buzzbombs…..

No, squeezing breasts does not cure cancer by Cristy Gelling:

You may have seen reports that squeezing breasts cures cancer. You may have seen these reports a few days ago, at such esteemed British purveyors of science news as the Daily Mail and Huffington Post UK (no, I haven’t linked to the actual articles). If you looked today, you may have seen similar reports, along with similarly tacky stock images of boobs being squeezed, at news sites and blogs all over the world. You are probably not surprised to learn that squeezing breasts, pleasant as it might be, will have absolutely no effect on anybody’s cancer….

Study finds spiritual care still rare at end of life by Kathleen Raven:

Physicians and nurses at four Boston medical centers cited a lack of training to explain why they rarely provide spiritual care for terminally ill cancer patients – although most considered it an important part of treatment at the end of life….

Mishaps in space: Unexpected and dangerous events can occur during spacewalks by Naveena Sadasivam:

When astronauts leave for missions, they do so understanding the difficulties of space travel. They must live in confined spaces for extended periods without much human contact and eat food that was packaged months before. But beyond these anticipated difficulties, space travel can also throw them a few curve balls every now and then — and they often occur during spacewalks…

Spider That Builds Its Own Spider Decoys Discovered by Nadia Drake:

A spider that builds elaborate, fake spiders and hangs them in its web has been discovered in the Peruvian Amazon. Believed to be a new species in the genus Cyclosa, the arachnid crafts the larger spider from leaves, debris and dead insects. Though Cyclosa includes other sculpting arachnids, this is the first one observed to build a replica with multiple, spidery legs….

33 New Species of Trapdoor Spider Discovered by Nadia Drake:

The discovery of 33 new species of sneaky trapdoor spiders boosts the total number described in one genus from seven species to 40. Trapdoor spiders, which belong to the same suborder as tarantulas, are pretty badass. Instead of weaving webs, they build subterranean silk-lined burrows — and cap the burrow with a trapdoor. Then, hunkered down beneath the trap door, the spiders wait for an unsuspecting insect to trigger the trip lines….

Growing Grass in the Desert is Dumb by Kate Prengaman:

Going for runs in the summer in Las Vegas is rough. This worst part is that you have to wake up really early, like 5am, to run before the sun has really come up all the way, while it’s still only 100 or 105, and it feels cool enough, in comparison to the 115 degree afternoons, to actually want to move. The second worst part, for me at least, was that as I ran around my neighborhood in the earliest morning light, is watching every apartment complex and gated community water their sidewalks. Sprinkler systems are the life blood of the southwestern lawn, but they always look like they are spraying over more concrete than they are grass. I’m sure that more than half the water in any given system probably makes it onto the grass on a good day, but sprinkler heads malfuntion and spray off into the distance or leak constantly, or otherwise just waste an incrediably inefficient amount of water….

A Biodiversity Map, Version 2.0 by Rachel Nuwer:

Tigers and pandas live in Asia, kangaroos and koalas in Australia and polar bears and snowy owls in the Arctic. The world can be divided into regions based upon the unique types of animals that live there. Or so the thinking went when Alfred Russel Wallace published the scientific world’s first global biodiversity map in 1876….

Prions Survive Crow Guts by Anne-Marie Hodge:

Mad cow disease, kuru, chronic wasting disease—all of these ghastly illnesses are caused by prions–misfolded proteins in the brain, which are more technically known as transmissible spongiform encephalopathies (TSEs). Once a prion infection sets in, the results are gruesome. Loss of muscle control, hallucinations, general neurological meltdown . . . the symptoms of prion disorders can lead to truly tragic and painful deaths, all ultimately due to a few key misshapen proteins (see this neat interactive animation for a refresher on protein folding)….

Beetles in the Service of Science by Erin Weeks:

In an underground vault of a mid-century missile bunker, thousands of glistening beetles encrust a pile of decomposing skeletons. An array of still-reddened rib cages and leg bones line a nearby table, baking beneath the light of 60-watt lamps. The scene may sound straight out of a horror film, but this colony of dermestid beetles works in the service of a higher order: the museum collections of Harvard University….

Classical Computing Embraces Quantum Ideas by Natalie Wolchover:

Someday, quantum computers may be able to solve complex optimization problems, quickly mine huge data sets, simulate the kind of physics experiments that currently require billion-dollar particle accelerators, and accomplish many other tasks beyond the scope of present-day computers. That is, if they are ever built. But even as daunting technical challenges keep the dream at bay, theorists are increasingly putting the ideas and techniques of quantum computing to work solving deep, long-standing problems in classical computer science, mathematics and cryptography….

Intrepid Museum, Home of Shuttle Enterprise, Reopens after Hurricane Sandy Closure by Miriam Kramer:

Most of the damage was in the visitor’s welcome center, which still isn’t open. Nearly two meters of water flooded the building, while the tip of Enterprise’s vertical stabilizer tore off when an inflatable pavilion fell down around it…

On the Curious Science of Christmas Shopping by Victoria Charlton:

It struck me yesterday, while battling my way around a jam-packed shopping centre in Essex, that anthropologists must really like Christmas. Don’t get me wrong, I usually enjoy Christmas too. But for those scientists who get their kicks out of the study of humanity, the prospect of the annual festival of spending must be truly mouth-watering….

Winter blooms: Climate change is speeding up the return of leaves and flowers, but by just how much? by Kate Baggaley:

If you’ve read Jennifer Egan’s Pulitzer Prize-winning novel, A Visit from the Goon Squad, you’ll know that the end of the book is set sometime in the 2020s, in a futuristic New York City with 89 degree days in February and trees that bloom in January….

These Were a Few of Their Favorite Things by Laura Geggel:

Science Times asked five noted scientists about the toys they remember from childhood. …

Chicago’s Field Museum Cuts Back on Science by Helen Shen:

Previous expansion projects force the natural history center to address shortfalls with $3 million in cuts to its annual budget for science operations. Zoology, botany, geology and anthropology departments will be dissolved…





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