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Bora’s Picks (January 11th, 2013)

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


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Hunger Game: Is Honesty Between Animals Always the Best Policy? by Natalie Wolchover:

Imagine you’re a puny peacock, rendered weak by bad genes or poor nutrition. You hope to attract a peahen, who mainly cares about the length of your tail. Growing a long tail would greatly enhance your sex appeal, but the encumbrance might prevent you from fleeing a predator that a fitter male could evade (and getting eaten dramatically reduces your chances of mating)….

Walking linked to fewer strokes in women by Kathleen Raven:

Women who walk at least three hours every week are less likely to suffer a stroke than women who walk less or not at all, according to new research from Spain. “The message for the general population remains similar: regularly engaging in moderate recreational activity is good for your health,” lead author José María Huerta of the Murcia Regional Health Authority in Spain told Reuters Health….

Shake Your Tailfeathers, Cretaceous Style by Anne-Marie Hodge:

When it comes to fancy courtship displays, birds rule the roost: their outlandish antics have been the subject of endless fascination, nature documentaries, and YouTube videos. The feathered creatures make moves that seem to be unparalleled in the natural world. (No, Michael Jackson concerts don’t count as the “natural world)….

Dinosaurs May Have Shaken Their Tail Feathers to Woo Mates by Nadia Drake:

Visiting Mongolia during the Cretaceous might have revealed a variety of birdlike dinosaurs strutting their stuff and using a spectacular fan of tail feathers to woo potential mates. The birdlike dinosaurs are oviraptors, so named because their discoverer suspected the first specimen had been fossilized in the act of stealing eggs from a Protoceratops nest. Feathered but flightless, oviraptors had strong, flexible tails tipped with a spray of multicolored feathers, a team of paleontologists reported Jan. 4 in Acta Palaeontologica Polonica….

Recovering from homelessness: Housing New York’s transient mentally ill by Roni Jacobson:

On the fourth floor of a red brick building in the Bronx is a modest one-bedroom apartment with large windows. It is sparsely furnished and the off-white paint on the walls is peeling slightly, but to Carmela M.* it is a haven. Formerly homeless and struggling with substance abuse and bipolar disorders, Carmela moved into her apartment last December with help from the Mental Health Association of New York City’s (MHA-NYC) supported housing program….

NASA Wants to Give Our Moon Its Own Moon by Amy Shira Teitel:

A manned mission to an asteroid has been bandied about for a while as the next big human spaceflight venture. But getting to an asteroid is tricky. They’re small and quick, making it complicated (though not impossible) to reach one and land on its surface…

What the Dalai Lama can teach us about temperatures below absolute zero by Aatish Bhatia:

There’s been a lot of buzz lately in the science blogosphere about a recent experiment where physicists created a gas of quantum particles with a negative temperature – negative as in, below absolute zero. This is pretty strange, because absolute zero is supposed to be that temperature at which all atomic motion ceases, where atoms that normally jiggle about freeze in their places, and come to a complete standstill. Presumably, this is as cold as cold can be. Can anything possibly be colder than this?…

A rich life among the dead: Robert Hicks wants to show you his tumors, his bones and his jars of fetuses by Nick Stockton:

In Philadelpia’s Museum, there is a wall of skulls. In the 1800s, Dr. Josef Hyrtl collected them to disprove the once popular notion that skull size determined intelligence. He engraved each one with a biographical haiku: The previous owner’s occupation, along with their name, age, religion and cause of death. “If I had to do this on my own skull, it would be fun,” says Robert Hicks, director of the museum. “I would probably just put something that would derail people’s expectations. Something funny, like, ‘Cause of death: Autoerotic asphyxiation.’”…

Clever Measures: Three Projects That Reimagine Conventional Calculating by Miriam Kramer:

Artist and cycling enthusiast Gregory de Gouveia, based in Chico, California, has built bike sculptures before. But his 12-foot-tall clock called Time to Change—a fusion of more than a dozen two-wheeled machines—is his largest and most functional aesthetic contribution to the sport….

What is peak farmland? by Kate Prengaman:

One of the most interesting science news stories to catch my eye recently is research indicating that the planet may be reaching peak farmland. At first brush, it sounds like bad news, that we are running out of land suitable for growing food to feed our growing global population. Like peak oil refers to when we max out oil production- the point when we start running out…

Breaking the mold: Mitchell Joachim is creating from scratch the materials we’ll need in days ahead by Rachel Feltman:

To get to the 7th floor workshop that houses Terreform, a nonprofit ecological design think-tank, one must navigate a cracked front door, a hall full of junk, and a creaky elevator. Though the Brooklyn warehouse looks like the kind of place where someone might be murdered, it’s actually the office of Mitchell Joachim, an architect turned mad scientist who spends his days creating new life. With an eye toward changing the landscape of urban design, the New York University professor constructs building materials out of living organisms….

Keeping the Standard Kilogram From Gaining Weight Is a Constant Struggle by Nadia Drake:

After more than a century, the international prototype kilogram – a cylindrical chunk of metal stored in a French vault – doesn’t weigh the same as its 40 replicas, distributed worldwide and used to standardize mass measurements. Suspecting that gunk accumulating on the metallic surfaces is to blame, scientists at Newcastle University have developed a high-tech way to clean the standards….

Oprah’s Lance Armstrong interview could be redemption for them both by Arielle Duhaime-Ross:

When Oprah Winfrey left network television in 2011 to form her own cable channel, OWN, her show was bringing in six million viewers a week. Today, OWN suffers from underwhelming ratings, which led it to lay off about 20% of staff last year….

In Flies’ Innards, Vital Clues to Biodiversity by Kate Yandell:

How many mammal species live in the forest? It sounds like a simple question, but the actual distributions of shy, small or rare mammals are often murky, confounding conservationists seeking to protect them….

Early-career scientists discuss the challenges of juggling work and family life by Cristy Gelling:

Academic science does not have a reputation for being family friendly. The competition for jobs and grants and the clash of biological and tenure clocks seem to be fueling a pervasive fear that a career in science and a satisfying family life are mutually exclusive….

It’s elementary: Maria Konnikova says the field of psychology has something to learn from great works of fiction by Joss Fong:

“I tell this to everyone,” Maria Konnikova says in a delicate voice, poised atop a blue exercise ball, “I think you lead an impoverished life if you only read nonfiction.” Her stylish West Village apartment is spotless save for one detail – the coffee table in her airy living room is covered with stacks of books. Speaking with Konnikova, you get the sense that the books, more than the apartment, are her real home….

Don’t read the comments! Online communities shape risk perception by Allie Wilkinson:

In today’s media landscape, people are turning to blogs and other online-only media as their primary sources of information on science, and relying less on online versions of traditional news outlets. This transition to consuming science online may be a double-edged sword, according to a pair of professors from University of Wisconsin-Madison. Their Perspectives article in the journal Science highlights the opportunities and unintended consequences that this shift to the web may present, and may force scientists and social scientists to rethink how the science community and the public interface online….

How excess holiday eating disturbs your ‘food clock’ by Rosy Southwell:

New research from the University of California, San Francisco (UCSF) shows how your body’s ‘food clock’ can become disturbed when you eat at odd times. This will be a familiar phenomenon for many, whether it be through late-night snacking, working night-shifts or simply overindulging in the festive season. More seriously, such food-clock desynchronisation could help uncover the basis of metabolic syndromes like diabetes and obesity. The work, led by Louis Ptacek MD at UCSF, found the molecule which is required to help reset the food clock when circumstances change…..

Unknown Corals of the Deep by Markus Hammonds:

Corals are some of the most beautiful things to be found under the sea, blossoming in clusters like gardens off tropical coasts worldwide. Easily the grandest display is to be found in Australia with the Great Barrier Reef, and it seems that the reef may contain even more diversity than was once thought. The latest surveys have found Australian corals thriving at depths far greater than was ever before thought possible….

Landfill through a moral lens by Tom Bragg:

A hundred years ago, when resources were scarce, it was costly to replace essentials like clothes or furniture. Broken items would be stripped for parts, and only when there were no other uses for the constituent materials would they be discarded. But since the second half of the 20th century, consumer products have become so cheap that there is now no incentive to reuse materials when an item needs replacing….

New Ecological Study Suggests Some Storm-Tossed Trees Be Left Alone by Zahra Hirji:

Hurricane Sandy turned many East Coast forests into tree graveyards overnight, but one study says that removing them all may not be a good idea….





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