1. Possible reason for Homo floresiensis (“Hobbit”) extinction

    Homo floresiensis and a Dodo

    Remember the small species of humans Homo floresiensis (dubbed “Hobbits” by the media) discovered on the island of Flores in Indonesia in 2003? This possible species existed with modern man from 93,000 to 13,000. Interestingly, the natives had legends of small people in the jungle…

    Dr. H.J.M. (Hanneke) Meijer has some interesting comparisons between the estimated size of the short-statured, long-armed, and large-footed cousin of ours Homo floresiensis and aviary fauna.

    That bird at 1.8m look like it could eat 1.0m. Never underestimate man’s capacity to kill– even if he is a Hobbit. These might have been the delicacy of Homo floresiensis or even their only food source.

    According to this research the island of Flores in Indonesia (despite popular misconceptions from documentaries movies by Peter Jackson, hobbits are not from New Zealand) was for a period an oasis just 4,000 years ago. There was fresh water and if there’s anything a vertebrae like us, Dodos, or Hobbits like is a good beverage. Could climate change and lack of good Dodo meat have killed our shorter cryptid cousins?

  2. We’re Number One: Pee Your Way to Carbon Neutrality

    don't pee on power lines

    Remember when I sang the praises of ass-powered electrical generation?  Yeah, well, that’s just the half of the juice you’re flushing away.  Or drinking as part of a bizarre training regimenGerardine Botte of Ohio University has been working on a method of pulling hydrogen out of urine for future fuel cells and Hindenburgs.

    Tell ’em Chemistry World:

    Botte says the idea came to her several years ago at a conference on fuel cells, where they were discussing how to turn clean water into clean power. ‘I wondered how we could do this better,’ she adds – so started looking at waste streams as a better source of molecules from which to produce hydrogen.

    Urine’s major constituent is urea, which incorporates four hydrogen atoms per molecule – importantly, less tightly bonded than the hydrogen atoms in water molecules. Botte used electrolysis to break the molecule apart, developing an inexpensive new nickel-based electrode to selectively and efficiently oxidise the urea. To break the molecule down, a voltage of 0.37V needs to be applied across the cell – much less than the 1.23V needed to split water.

    Awesome.  To enable this technology, may I suggest we start designing facilities that take a cue from the urine-diverting latrines I was lucky enough to use down in the bateyes in the D.R.?  Two processes, two routes for the gold.

    I’m also interested to hear if this electrolysis process can be adapted to solar energy storage schemes or to use the viral scaffolding technique for splitting off hydrogen that was recently reported by MIT researchers. Picture it: every bathroom a power plant, every septic tank a goldmine.

    Get ready kids.  Your toilet handle’s about to start paying off better than a slot machine.

  3. Wonderworks Presents: Konrad


    Spacey Earth mother type receives someone else’s mail.  Surprisingly, mail is not a half kilo of uncut yayo but a barrel containing a dessicated lab-grown boy and a packet of nutrient gel.  Mom’s bad with instructions, the Factory gets steamed that this mistaken delivery is quirking out their prized specimen, Ned Beatty is somehow involved.  Hilarity ensues.

    This would be another bit of children’s programming most commonly remembered through the haze of a fever dream, the sort of thing that was always playing on PBS at 2 PM on the day you stayed home sick from school.  It bears the Wonderworks stamp, placing it in the company of other book to TV adaptations as the original Chronicles of Narnia and the Hoboken Chicken Emergency.  I’m pretty sure this is the first movie I ever snobbishly asserted was better as a book than as a movie.  Still, where else are you going to get a good show about unexpectedly finding a kid in a barrel that doesn’t involve a serial killer?

    If nothing else, the lead is a kid with the stage name of Huckleberry Fox–with a post-acting IMDB bio to rival that of super genius Mayim Bialik. (Is that the first Blossom reference on here?  Won’t be the last.)

    After some furious googling, I came up short on a video clip.  Damnation.  Well, if you’re prepared to drop $20 on a VHS, Amazon has you covered.  And if you’ve got your own copy, be a good internet citizen and get a bit of it on YouTube will ya?

    And just so you don’t feel stiffed, after the cut is some Hoboken Chicken Emergency.
    Read the rest of this entry »

  4. Manners are the Weapon


    Last week’s pop science debut of the remains of the early hominid species Ardipithecus ramidus was notable for a variety of reason’s, not the least of which was the secrecy and slow, careful approach of the scientists involved, so different from the half-baked, chuck out speculation for the slavering masses approach of so much of what crops up in my internet drain trap.  I particularly liked Carl Zimmer‘s summary of the findings, with this paragraph catching my eye:

    White and his colleagues  found so many teeth of different Ardipithecus individuals that they could compare male and female canines with some confidence. The male teeth turn out to be surprisingly blunted. This result suggests that hominids shifted away from a typical ape social structure early in our ancestry. If this was a result of males forming long-term bonds with females and helping raise young, this shift was able to occur while hominids were still living a very ape-like life. Ardipithecus existed about 2 million years before the oldest evidence of stone tools, suggesting that technology was not the trigger for the evolution of nice hominid guys.

    Paleoanthropologists and their ilk can only work with what they dig up and so quite often charting prehistory can be a little too reliant on tracing the minutia of stones tools and other artifacts, reducing our evolution to a technological arms race that sorted out the killer apes with the best kill sticks and honey diggers.

    But what fascinates me are the inferences into social structure and group relations which I regard as a type of technology in its own right, even more more important to discerning why humans have been so prosperous in a world they are seemingly physically unprepared to thrive in.  A fire can keep you warm but so can rules governing the cooperation of individuals and acceptable norms of contact and exchange.

    Social structure should to be regarded as a technology with profound effects on evolutionary adaptation.  The way we relate to each other in a group is a construct and one that is passed on intact from generation to generation even as outside pressures prompt innovation in its design.  Much as the technique of flint-napping was passed down an refined–yielding meat and defense, fueling population growth and fostering group stability–prodding and bending the ties that bind any two or more humans into a coherent structure that underpins a culture determines the fate of each unit of humanity, both in competition against the elements and against other groups of humans.

    In short, some societies work and some don’t.  Those poorly configured prototypes of how a band of humans should treat each other reap destruction and stumble off into the cliche of cliches, the dustbin of history.  Jared Diamond has a better rap about that than me.

    The lesson to take from this is neither conservative nor progressive.  Yes, this indicates that our social structure is a vital thing that has brought us very far, protecting us from much uncertainty.  So don’t break it, right?

    But still, where would we be without innovations to it?  In the forest with our highly specialized rituals and mores about picking fleas off each others’ backs.  Instead, we’re riding the exponential upstroke of unprecedented connectivity, allowing cultures to meet, mix, exchange and clash like never before.  I’m not telling you anything new here.  You saw the commercial for this back when they still called it the Information Superhighway.

    And so, reading about the ancient teeth of a long-extinct evolutionary cousin has me in awe of what millions of years of figuring out who eats what and when and who sleeps with who has wrought.

    It strikes me that this process has never been entirely peaceful or without uncertainty and often our manners and social rules have been born of far more bloodshed than the usually just annoying culture wars we Americans seem to fixate on over who eats what and who sleeps with whom.  While the random spots where these conflicts burst into violence and hateful breaches of civility make me recoil in disgust, so far the body count has nothing on, say, the Protestant Reformation or European contact with the inhabitants of the Americas.

    What I’m getting at is that while relations between genders, ages, cultures, classes and competing perceptions of reality are artificial constructs, they’re also the code of a society’s operating system.  That code is rapidly forking and millions out there are debugging it everyday.  Some of these will be dead-ends.  (How many versions of Linux are we up to these days?)  But certain codes of tolerance, order and patience at the center of modernity have so far kept this exchange thriving.  This is the promise of our connected future and something to take pride in as a citizen of the world right now.  Be bold, but know what’s worth keeping.

  5. 12 Lies Every Douche in a Bar Insists Are True

    There are many, many lies we all believe. Every douche at a bar will swear these 12 fictoids are true despite science– As everyone know these things to be ‘true’. Here are twelve of the most common that I have heard recently.

    Ostriches put their head in sand.

    If you have seen it, it’s called “Photoshop” as in the case of a recent Newsweek cover. We can all blame Pliny the Elder (23-79 CE) who attempted to catalog all knowledge of the Roman Empire. In Book 10, Chapter 1, he wrote “…they imagine, when they have thrust their head and neck into a bush, that the whole of their body is concealed.” Thanks, Pliny. In fairness animals are hard to categorize; for some time it was thought a kangaroo had two heads due to the young baby in tow.

    Disney is frozen

    Disney maintained an extremely private life leading to rumors that he was a harsh anti-Semite, a puppet of Zionists, a Communist and a Fascist. One confirmed fact is his remains were cremated at Forest Lawn cemetery in Glendale, California– much more prosaic than cryogenic suspension. Very few have taken the leap to become a cryonaut, most notably baseball legend Ted Williams, Williams’ son John Henry Williams, and futurist FM-2030.

    Sugar causes hyperactivity

    Sugar is called empty calories for a clear reason: its just calories without vitamins, proteins, or lipids. Our bodies need calories for energy, but we can find them in every food we consume. Sugar is no different than any food with calories and does not provide any excess energy. Excess amounts of oranges, pork, or even burgers provides the same if not more for bouts of energy.

    Every seven years your cells regenerate

    Do you remember any event from seven or more years ago? Good, as that means a neuron in your head has survived  seven years. Brain cells– among other cells– last longer than seven years. It’s nice to think that every seven year your body gets a refresh but unfortunately that’s not the case. We just get seven years older.

    You only use 10% of your brain

    The origin of this myth is dubious but perhaps stems from upstate New Yorker Orson Squire Fowler a proponent of the pseudoscience phrenology, life-style pundit, and inventor of the octagon house. Phrenology claimed the brain was divided into neat platonic sections controlling “friendship,” “love,” and “ailments.” It’s a soothing idea to think that 90% of your brain remains untapped of potential. Perhaps one we could utilize that, and realize our dream as a 6 year old of being the greatest person, ever. CAT scans and logic tells us we use that 90% all the time– and you don’t want to part with that 90%.

    We lose 90% of heat through our head

    So what does that 90% of your brain do? According to suburban mom wisdom it is where 90% of the heat in your body escapes. The ancient Greeks among others thought of the brain as simply a cooling mechanism for the body. For 90% of the heat in your body to escape from your body, 90% would need to be in your head. If you want to do an experiment, walk around with a hat but completely naked in the dead of winter. Chances are you will be arrested and pretty damn cold.

    Drink 8 glasses of water a day; coffee causes you to lose hydration

    Though not recommended, you can get daily requirements for liquid from daily food intake. Many will insist though that water is a cure-all, able to solve any and all problems. They will also insist that beverages such as coffee, soda, or tea are a diuretic meaning a net-loss of water. Though coffee and soda are not as efficient as water, they do not cause a loss of water.  While drinking eight glasses might not be necessary, it is not a requirement.

    Lemmings jump off a cliff

    Uncle Walt may not wait in cryogenic suspension. His company did force numerous lemmings to die and create the myth of lemming suicide. Lemmings do on occasion fall into the ocean from cliffs, as do people on occasion. However, it is not a habit and not the norm. While filming the nature documentary White Wilderness the set staff pushed the poor critters off a cliff dramatically. Killing the lemmings but a myth was born. [Edit: Let’s go to tape on this one: lemmings getting White and Wild]

    Tequila worms

    Tequila does not have a worm in it. Mezcal, however, does. Tequila, by definition, is made exclusively from blue agave. According to liquor standards in the US and Mexico tequila cannot contain insects or larvae.

    More importantly though eating the worm will not provide any additional inebriate, aphrodisiac, or any effects. It’s just a gimmick.

    Cow tipping

    Cows do not sleep standing up. Period. Nor do they lock their legs. Period. Approaching a field for cow-tipping has simply become a faux right-of-passage for hick high school students in the US. While cows are docile, tipping them is physically impossible.

    Purple cloud in a pool when you pee

    Many even recall seeing a cloud of purple or red around someone in a public pool indicating that person was urinating. There is no such chemical. Though this discouraged youths from peeing in the pool, this chemical cannot be purchased and does not exist. How often urination in pools happens would require constant draining and refilling of every public pool which is beyond budgets or feasibility. Discouraged from swimming yet?

    Water spins in a different direction in the southern hemisphere

    The Coriolis effect does have a weak force on objects on Earth. That force is too weak to effect water or any other liquid. Water spins both clockwise and counterclockwise on both sides of the equator. Movement in water from origin will dictate its direction regardless of hemisphere. Try it in your sink by pushing water one way or another. This will not even require a trip across the hemisphere to Australia, New Zealand, Thailand, etc.

  6. DIY Fix for Global Warming?


    Russ George: The Man to Save the World?

    “Give me half a tanker of iron and I will give you an ice age.” — Russ George

    Russ George in the volume 18 issue of Make magazine says he has a solution for global warming. His plan sounds like a deus ex machina solution for our global warming problems: get some iron (0.5 micron hematite), drop it in the ocean, spread at the right times and places, plankton eats iron, plankton grows, and global warming and dying fish go bye-bye. He has also written a Google Knol article (yes, someone uses Google Knol) on the subject as well.

    His company, Plantoks Science bills themselves as a “privately held ecorestoration and ocean  biotechnology company” though this sounds like “MacGyver style fix to global warming.”

    Science to the rescue or psuedo-science fraud?
    Read the rest of this entry »

  7. Apollo Landing Module, Footprints, & Experiment Gear Spotted

    One of the often touted “the Moon landing was a hoax” statements is “how come the Hubble telescope can’t get a picture of the equipment?” When in reality that makes as much sense as using a microscope to take a photo of a friend. Hubble is designed to look deep into space, not on the moon or some chick’s apartment. Different lenses, different uses.

    Well, in honor of the 40th anniversary of when man was on the moon NASA released an image from LROC showing not only the hardware left behind from Apollo but experimental gear and even the footprints of astronauts.

    So there.


  8. Jules the Robot Says Farwell

    Jules is a robot designed to invoke human-like responses. The robot is not a fully fledged AI and is programmed to state certain responses such as the infamous “will I dream” speech from 2010: The Year We Make Contact. None the less the simulation is interesting:

    Jules is designed with a material called Frubber™ which allows human-like expression. Jules borders on the Uncanny Valley a term created by robotocist Masahiro Mori. The uncanny valley refers to how when something looks about “95% human” its often more disturbing that something that looks “30% human.” For example a cartoon figure as a robot seems unthreatening and not disturbing. Yet a human-like robot that is close to human in appearance but has just the slightest irregularities such as not blinking, lack of facial expression, etc. seems more disturbing. That last “5%” is the hardest to replicate.

  9. New Sub Species of Monkey: Mura Saddleback Tamarin

    New Tamarin Monkey Species Found in AmazonThe small gray and brown tamarin monkey which weighs 213 grams (0.47 pound) guy was named Mura’s saddleback tamarin in honor of the Mura tribe.

    Not an alien life form in a sewer, but much cuter.

    Read more on the tamarin: