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Bora’s Picks (January 25th, 2013)

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


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Another amazing week with an embarrassment of riches! Dig in! And have a great weekend reading all of these ;-)

Flesh-Eating Beetles Explained by Mollie Bloudoff-Indelicato:

The word “dermestid” derives from the Greek word meaning “skin,” and the insect is aptly named. These creepy crawlies will eat the flesh off carcasses in a process called skeletonization. Wildlife law enforcement agents use the beetles to expose skeletons when harsh chemicals might damage evidence, such as marks on bones. Museum curators and taxidermists also use the bugs to clean skeletons for research and displays. Hundreds of dermestid beetles are often used to pick a cadaver clean….

The Whole Two Yards: Giraffe Neck Growth Patterns by Anne-Marie Hodge:

Extreme adaptations seem to serve as canvases upon which people paint their various pet theories about evolution. The origin of the giraffe’s nearly two-meter long neck has long served as fodder for “just-so” stories, and has been featured in everything from Rudyard Kipling’s tales as a metaphor for self-improvement to countless biology textbooks as the default illustration for Lamarck’s theory of evolution via inheritance of acquired characteristics. Amongst the speculation as to why any reasonable species would develop such an extreme feature, two hypotheses predominate: 1) Giraffe necks elongated in order to enhance resource access, either through a co-evolutionary dynamic with Acacia tree height or through competition to obtain more browse material than shorter ungulate species; or 2) long necks are the result of sexual selection, akin to peacock tails, that result in more successful mate acquisition for longer-necked individuals—either because female giraffes think long necks are sexy or because males use them as weapons to compete for mates. It also could have been a combination of both, or long necks could have enhanced capacities for thermoregulation, or for vigilance . . . or something else. The debate over which mechanism applies in this case has defied resolution to this day….

Tu-itter by Alexander Brown:

….As of July 2012, there are over 8 million Twitter accounts in France out of half a billion Twitter accounts globally. Let’s assume that the vast majority of them tweet in French. I think that’s a safe bet, although there is probably some multilingualism and English influence, too. We would also have to factor in French speakers/tweeters in other parts of the world. I think Canada, parts of Switzerland and London* would be especially common – I’m not sure how many people in former French colonies (many of which are in Africa, where I imagine Internet access is more restricted) use Twitter….

A need for nature by Kate Prengaman:

I just spent a lovely weekend in the wilderness with some friends, carrying our equipment out to a cute cabin in the woods, cooking over a woodstove, cross country skiing, and generally enjoying the peace and quiet of a snowy forest. On our reluctant drive home, a friend and I discussed the striking clarity of mind we were both feeling after several days in the north woods. Maybe it was a few days away from the distraction of email or twitter, I certainly enjoyed turning my useless phone off. But maybe it was just being out among the trees. …

See ya, latex: Reinventing the condom by Hannah Krakauer:

IF I didn’t already know what they were, I would have difficulty identifying the objects in front of me. There are about 20, mounted on a rack of vertical wooden pegs and illuminated into ghostly shadows by a light box beneath. They resemble elaborate sculptures in translucent resin. One looks like a thin, hollow lemon juicer; others are like accordions or abstract spaceships….

We HAVE the technology by Rosemary Peters:

On my 10-hour flight back to the UK to start my second term at Imperial, The Avengers movie was my third in a trio of action films I watched to try to stay awake as part of my mission to avoid jet lag. I had seen the movie in theatres when it came out last May, but watching it a second time enabled me to move past the action and actually think about the technology in the film….

New Metamaterial Camera Has Super-Fast Microwave Vision by Nadia Drake:

A small, microwave-detecting camera that can see through solid materials in real time has been developed. Soon, the device could be adapted and used in law enforcement and security where, among other uses, its inventors envision airport scanners that screen passengers for weapons or explosives as they walk by….

Digging deep: Finding power potential beneath a volcano by Alexa C. Kurzius :

When looking for new sources of clean energy, why not tap into Earth’s own natural furnaces? Volcanoes, with their bottomless heat and energy supply, may be a promising power source thanks to recent advances in harnessing geothermal power….

Fitness: When doctors practice it, they’re better at preaching it by Lacey Avery:

Med student Brian Brewer is working on a body — his own. He grips the pull-up bar and slowly uses it to raise himself, then goes back down and repeats the procedure. After completing a set of pull-ups, he drops to the floor for pushups. He follows that with core training to work his lower back and abdominals….

After a Die-Off, Runts to the Rescue by Joanna M. Foster:

It doesn’t take an expert to understand that logging and violent storms cause massive damage to forests. What is less obvious, however, is the devastating effect that the removal of trees and vegetation can have on streams and lakes….

Bitter is better: How bitterness established the genetics of taste and supertasters came to rule taste research by Andrew P. Han:

In 1931, a DuPont chemist named Arthur Fox was pouring phenylthiocarbamide, a whitish powder, into a bottle when he accidentally let some of it get airborne. Another chemist in the room, C.R. Noller, complained loudly about a bitterness in the air, which gave Fox pause, since he didn’t taste anything. Puzzled, he did what any curious scientist would do: take a lick….

My Med Student Friends Are Zombies: On The Complicated Lives Of Doctors by Khalil A. Cassimally:

Many of my med student friends are zombies. They also appear to age quicker than the rest of us, which probably has something to do with the fact that I see them after long stretches of societal oblivion. Many of my med student friends have also struck on my nerves at least once. “Arrogant, know-it-all rascal,” I distinctly remember murmuring (in less restrained fashion) on one occasion when a door slammed onto my face because my flu was apparently too much of a contagious risk to be allowed inside…

Serial killer or scapegoat? Cat advocates and conservationists debate how many dead birds is too many by Joss Fong:

What happens to a nation’s birds when millions upon millions of cats are granted free reign outdoors? The U.S. and many other countries are inadvertently conducting this experiment without doing enough research to determine the result, fueling a heated battle over how to manage the world’s most adored invasive species….

Did dinosaurs lactate..? by Jon Tennant:

The fossil record is brutally frustrating; it mostly preserves only vestiges of deaths long past as body fossils, with occasional glimpses of life being gleaned from their surroundings and any trace fossils, or activity fossils that we might find. One question palaeontologists have long been seeking the answer for is how good were dinosaurs as parents? Modern birds are descended from dinosaurs, and are pretty awesome parents in their nesting, brooding, and raising of their chicks from birth until they can quite literally fly the nest. But birds are the only extant group of dinosaurs out of three major lineages….

Artificial (emotional) intelligence: Design is the key to health care robots finding success in our sympathetic nature by Nick Stockton:

The nurses met the robot during their coffee break. It was lime-green, squat with soft edges. Its designers called it RobCab, and showed them the blood sample trays inside its body cavity before sending it on its first retrieval. The hospital staff signed study consent forms while they waited, and joked about RobCab’s resemblance to a French cartoon character. The robot returned a few minutes later and delivered its first specimen: a box of chocolate….

Save the Vultures… and Save Thousands of People by Douglas Main:

Vultures are more valuable than you may think, or at least they were. In the 1980s, more than 40 million vultures existed throughout India, where they ate about 12 million tons (11 million metric tons) of rotting flesh each year, according to the environmental writer Tony Juniper. Today, however, vulture populations have been reduced to only a few tens of thousands, and three of the most important species are listed as critically endangered by the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN)….

Ethics abroad by Laura Geggel:

At the end of an autism workshop in India, a mother sitting with her unmarried daughter and her son with autism asked a question: How could she betroth her 20-year-old daughter if potential suitors thought autism was genetic? The mother requested that Action For Autism, the nongovernmental advocacy group running the discussion, stop talking about autism’s genetic components….

Now, where did I put that Ebola? by Helen Shen:

In the first study of its kind, the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) unveiled statistics on problems related to the handling of hazardous biological agents, such as Ebola, SARS and anthrax, at hundreds of academic and government research centres….

Curious ‘Mice’ Thrive on Glaciers by Justine E. Hausheer:

The frigid, barren expanses of glaciers may not be as hostile to life as long thought—bizarre creatures have been discovered thriving inside mysterious balls of moss called “glacier mice.” A pebble serves as the anchor, with moss growing around it….

Do men really have higher sex drives than women? by Robert T. Gonzalez:

There is possibly no greater source of debate than the age-old question of whether men want sex more than women. But embedded in that debate are a host of other questions. What is a “sex drive” anyway? What is a good scientific way to compare men and women’s sexual desires? What happens when women want it more than men? Does sexual desire in gay and lesbian couples mirror that of men and women in straight relationships?…

Brainiac Parrots Threatened by Widespread Lead Poisoning by Cristy Gelling:

New Zealand’s kea* are among the most devastatingly intelligent birds on the planet. For instance, animal cognition researchers say kea are as smart as crows at solving mechanical puzzles. So it comes as a shock to learn that much of what we know about the kea’s unusual behavior in the wild comes from studies of birds stultified by lead poisoning….

Carrion flies’ suppers reveal secrets of forest biodiversity by Kate Whittington:

Picture the scene: you’re standing deep in a rainforest, gazing around you at the lush green scenery. In the depths of this tangled mass of tree trunks live a multitude of mammal species – from fruit-feasting bats, to dainty duikers. – Your task is to find out exactly which species are found here….

The animal link to sleeping sickness by Charles Ebikeme:

As with many parasites, the nuisance they bring is partly compensated for by new insights they provoke. The African trypanosome is perhaps unique among all of the diseases of developing worlds. The diseases of sleeping sickness, inflicted on man and cattle alike, perhaps drove early man ‘out of Africa’ — in an attempt to avoid tsetse infested areas of the Rift Valley. The Zulu word for powerlessness and useless, “N’gana”, describes the disease in cattle — listlessness, emaciation, hair loss, and progressing towards being fatal….

The Geology of Skyrim! by Jane Robb:

….The first question to ask therefore is what? What kinds of rocks can you find in Skyrim? Luckily, for most of this work, there are a whole host of other people in the world who are much geekier than me who have actually taken and collated and all I have to do is ask the right questions!…

So you’ve decided to quit smoking: Some simple tips to help you butt out for good by Taylor Kubota:

“You have to really want to quit or you’re not going to,” says Relia Merrifield, a 63-year-old former medical transcriptionist from Santa Rosa, California. Merrifield was a smoker for 35 years and tried many different quitting methods — from hypnosis to the patch to acupuncture — that she lost track. In hindsight she believes she couldn’t quit because she wasn’t fully devoted to the effort. It took a cigarette tax hike in 2000 to finally make her leave the pack behind. At the time she envisioned rolling up a $20 bill and smoking it; that permanently ended her three-decade battle…

Norovirus crops up in North Carolina by Kelly Poe:

A new strain of norovirus could make this a busy year for the nasty intestinal disease. Seven outbreaks have been confirmed across North Carolina so far in 2013, including in Wake County, and state health officials are trying to prevent more, said Dr. Zack Moore, a medical epidemiologist for the state health department. Norovirus is a group of viruses that typically cause severe diarrhea, vomiting and stomach pain, most commonly in winter months….

Neural Networking: Online Social Content Easier to Recall Than Printed Info by Mollie Bloudoff-Indelicato:

Recollecting trivial and sometimes dull Facebook posts is easier than recalling the same information in a book. It also takes less effort to remember posted patter than someone’s face, according to new research….





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  1. 1. Valley234 10:55 pm 01/26/2013

    I love Bora. Such an interesting guy. Thank you for the ‘picks’, they were great.

    Link to this

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