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Triple-Decker Weekly, 130


Films with a female presence earn less at the box office

Research shows more sex does not mean more happiness

The relation between sexual orientation and penile dimensions in a large sample of men was studied. […] Penile dimensions were assessed using five measures of penile length and circumference from Kinsey’s original protocol. On all five measures, homosexual men reported larger penises than did heterosexual men. Explanations for these differences are discussed, including the possibility that these findings provide additional evidence that variations in prenatal hormonal levels (or other biological mechanisms affecting reproductive structures)affect sexual orientation development. [Archives of Sexual Behavior]

Worker fired for disabling GPS app that tracked her 24 hours a day

New Zealand-based company is building a very, very angry robot to help companies deal with angry customers

Big brands said to want models with at least 10,000 Instagram followers

A statistical analysis of birth month and celebrity finds that individuals born under certain astrological signs are more likely to become famous

Dog poo DNA tests to catch owners who fail to clean up their pet’s mess are to be launched in an east London borough

DNA (deoxyribonucleic acid) is the main component of our genetic material. It is formed by combining four parts: A, C, G and T (adenine, cytosine, guanine and thymine), called bases of DNA combine in thousands of possible sequences to provide the genetic variability that enables the wealth of aspects and functions of living beings. In the early 80s, to these four “classic” bases of DNA was added a fifth: the methyl-cytosine (mC) derived from cytosine. And it was in the late 90’s when mC was recognized as the main cause of epigenetic mechanisms: it is able to switch genes on or off depending on the physiological needs of each tissue. In recent years, interest in this fifth DNA base has increased by showing that alterations in the methyl-cytosine contribute to the development of many human diseases, including cancer. Today, an article published in Cell describes the possible existence of a sixth DNA base, the methyl-adenine (mA), which also help determine the epigenome and would therefore be key in the life of the cells. [ScienceDaily]

3D X-ray technique detects 40% more breast cancers than traditional mammography does

Ageing causes changes to the brain size, vasculature, and cognition. The brain shrinks with increasing age and there are changes at all levels from molecules to morphology. Incidence of stroke, white matter lesions, and dementia also rise with age, as does level of memory impairment and there are changes in levels of neurotransmitters and hormones. Protective factors that reduce cardiovascular risk, namely regular exercise, a healthy diet, and low to moderate alcohol intake, seem to aid the ageing brain as does increased cognitive effort in the form of education or occupational attainment. A healthy life both physically and mentally may be the best defence against the changes of an ageing brain. Additional measures to prevent cardiovascular disease may also be important. […] It has been widely found that the volume of the brain and/or its weight declines with age at a rate of around 5% per decade after age 40 with the actual rate of decline possibly increasing with age particularly over age 70. […] The most widely seen cognitive change associated with ageing is that of memory. Memory function can be broadly divided into four sections, episodic memory, semantic memory, procedural memory, and working memory.18 The first two of these are most important with regard to ageing. Episodic memory is defined as “a form of memory in which information is stored with ‘mental tags’, about where, when and how the information was picked up”. An example of an episodic memory would be a memory of your first day at school, the important meeting you attended last week, or the lesson where you learnt that Paris is the capital of France. Episodic memory performance is thought to decline from middle age onwards. This is particularly true for recall in normal ageing and less so for recognition. It is also a characteristic of the memory loss seen in Alzheimer’s disease (AD). […] Semantic memory is defined as “memory for meanings”, for example, knowing that Paris is the capital of France, that 10 millimetres make up a centimetre, or that Mozart composed the Magic Flute. Semantic memory increases gradually from middle age to the young elderly but then declines in the very elderly. [Postgraduate Medical Journal | Thanks Tim]

This is what happens after you die

Physical activity has a multitude of health benefits — it reduces the risk of heart disease, Type 2 diabetes, high blood pressure and possibly even cancer — but weight loss is not one of them. A growing body of scientific evidence shows that exercise alone has almost no effect on weight loss, as two sports scientists and I described in a recent editorial in the British Journal of Sports Medicine. For one, researchers who reviewed surveys of millions of American adults found that physical activity increased between 2001 and 2009, particularly in counties in Kentucky, Georgia and Florida. But the rise in exercise was matched by an increase in obesity in almost every county studied. There were even more striking results in a 2011 study published in the New England Journal of Medicine, which found that people who simply dieted experienced greater weight loss than those who combined diet and exercise. […] It’s calorie intake that is really fueling the obesity epidemic. But it’s not just the number of calories we’re eating as how we’re getting them. The sugar calories are particularly bad. […] The World Health Organization now recommends no more than six teaspoons of sugar a day for the average adult. […] The food and beverage industry is most guilty of perpetuating the false belief that the obesity epidemic is simply due to lack of exercise, spending billions to market nutritionally poor products as “sports drinks” while simultaneously promoting the benefits of physical activity. […] None of this means you should turn in your gym membership card. Working out will make you healthier and less susceptible to disease. No matter what your size, even 20 to 30 minutes of physical activity that breaks you into a sweat five times per week will substantially improve your health and well-being. Do what you enjoy, whether it’s dancing, cycling, sex or all three. If it’s longevity you’re after, note that elite athletes in high-intensity sports don’t live any longer than top golfers. But if weight loss is your goal, your diet is what really needs to change. An analysis by professor Simon Capewell at the University of Liverpool revealed that poor diet (for example, eating too much junk food without enough nuts, whole grains, fruit and vegetables) now contributes to more disease and death than smoking, alcohol and physical inactivity combined. [Washington Post]

Organic milk ‘is less healthy than regular milk and could harm child IQ,’ say researchers

Meat eaters who justify their eating habits feel less guilty and are more tolerant of social inequality say researchers.

In study, skipping meals is linked to abdominal weight gain

More than 40 percent of US honeybees died this past year

Traffic noise blocks fish sex

New study suggests that flying may be greener than driving

The future is always stranger than we expect: mobile phones and the Internet, not flying cars. […] “We’re not funding Mother Teresa. We’re funding imperial, will-to-power people who want to crush their competition. Companies can only have a big impact on the world if they get big.” […] The dirty secret of the trade is that the bottom three-quarters of venture firms didn’t beat the Nasdaq for the past five years. […] The truth is that most V.C.s subsist entirely on fees, which they compound by raising a new fund every three years. Returns are kept hidden by nondisclosure agreements, and so V.C.s routinely overstate them, both to encourage investment and to attract entrepreneurs. […] “We live in a financial age, not a technological age.” [New Yorker]

If you sold every share of every company in the U.S. and used the money to buy up all the factories, machines and inventory, you’d have some cash left over. That, in a nutshell, is the math behind a bear case on equities that says prices have outrun reality. The concept is embodied in a measure known as the Q ratio developed by James Tobin, a Nobel Prize-winning economist at Yale University who died in 2002. According to Tobin’s Q, equities in the U.S. are valued about 10 percent above the cost of replacing their underlying assets — higher than any time other than the Internet bubble and the 1929 peak. [Bloomberg]

Most real decisions, unlike those of economics texts, have a status quo alternative—that is, doing nothing or maintaining one’s current or previous decision. A series of decision-making experiments shows that individuals disproportionately stick with the status quo. [Journal of Risk and Uncertainty | PDF]

Would you Pay for Transparently Useless Advice?

The secret to overturning negative first impressions

Researchers have discovered a virus that infects our brains and “makes us more stupid.”

Frequent earbud headphone use increases your risk for “hidden hearing loss”: study

Pop music shows a pattern from biological evolution known as punctuated equilibrium, in which periods of gradual change are separated by explosions of complexity

The shortest scientific paper ever published

Physics paper with 5,154 authors has broken the record for the largest number of contributors to a single research article.

How to choose a price that will maximize your profit

Why is the number 2,147,483,647 important?Anything larger confuses many computers.

The Predecessors of Bitcoin and Their Implications for the Prospect of Virtual Currencies

Slot machines perfected addictive gaming. Now, tech wants their tricks.

Labyrinths have made their way into prisons, spas, wellness centers, and hospitals in recent years

Before leaving his girlfriend’s apartment in Crown Heights, on the morning of his nineteenth arrest for impersonating and performing the functions of New York City Transit Authority employees, Darius McCollum put on an NYCTA subway conductor’s uniform and reflector vest. […] Six weeks earlier, Darius had been paroled from the Elmira Correctional Facility, near Binghamton, New York, where he had served two years for attempted grand larceny—”attempted” because he had signed out NYCTA vehicles for surface use (extinguishing track fires, supervising maintenance projects) and then signed them back in according to procedure. Darius has never worked for the NYCTA; he has never held a steady job. He is thirty-seven and has spent a third of his adult life in prison for victim-less offenses related to transit systems. […] His obsession with the subway manifested itself as soon as he began riding trains with his mother, at age three. [Harper’s/Long Reads]

Water-skipping stones and spheres

Why Is the Heart Symbol so Anatomically Incorrect?

Japanese hotel launches ‘crying rooms’

Chinese Restaurant Gives Discounts to Customers with Short Skirts

Beard Hair Net Sales Are Booming Thanks to Hipster Chef Bros

Anti-NSA pranksters planted tape recorders across New York and published your conversations

Triple-Decker Weekly, 129


Algorithm recovers speech from vibrations of potato-chip bag filmed through soundproof glass. [ | Thanks Tim]

Back in 2009, researchers at the University of California, Santa Barbara performed a curious experiment. In many ways, it was routine — they placed a subject in the brain scanner, displayed some images, and monitored how the subject’s brain responded. The measured brain activity showed up on the scans as red hot spots, like many other neuroimaging studies. Except that this time, the subject was an Atlantic salmon, and it was dead. Dead fish do not normally exhibit any kind of brain activity, of course. The study was a tongue-in-cheek reminder of the problems with brain scanning studies. Those colorful images of the human brain found in virtually all news media may have captivated the imagination of the public, but they have also been subject of controversy among scientists over the past decade or so. In fact, neuro-imagers are now debating how reliable brain scanning studies actually are, and are still mostly in the dark about exactly what it means when they see some part of the brain “light up.” [Neurophilosophy]

What happens to people when they think they’re invisible? Using a 3D virtual reality headset, neuroscientists at the Karolinska Institute in Stockholm gave participants the sensation that they were invisible, and then examined the psychological effects of apparent invisibility. […] “Having an invisible body seems to have a stress-reducing effect when experiencing socially challenging situations.” [...] “Follow-up studies should also investigate whether the feeling of invisibility affects moral decision-making, to ensure that future invisibility cloaking does not make us lose our sense of right and wrong, which Plato asserted over two millennia ago,” said the report’s co-author, Henrik Ehrsson. [...] In Book II of Plato’s Republic, one of Socrates’s interlocutors tells a story of a shepherd, an ancestor of the ancient Lydian king Gyges, who finds a magic ring that makes the wearer invisible. The power quickly corrupts him, and he becomes a tyrant. The premise behind the story of the Ring of Gyges, which inspired HG Wells’s seminal 1897 science fiction novel, The Invisible Man, is that we behave morally so that we can be seen doing so. [CS Monitor]

Participants were 152 students (88 women, 64 men; average age 19.7) at a “mid-sized university in the northeastern US.” […] Texting during class was not acceptable, but 84.7% had done this. Texting in the shower is unacceptable and 34% have done this. Texting during the Pledge of Allegiance is unacceptable and 11.3% have done it. Texting while having sex is unacceptable and 7.4% have done it. Talking to a friend and texting another at the same time is unacceptable and between 79% and 84% have done it. Texting one person in whom you are romantically interested while on a date with someone else is unacceptable and 21.5% have done it. Breaking up by text is unacceptable and 26% have done it. Sending text messages while at a funeral is unacceptable and 10.1% have done it. Texting during a job interview is unacceptable and 2.7% have done it. Fighting with some via text is unacceptable and 66% have done it. Sexting is unacceptable and 42% have done it. [The Jury Room]

Ladies take and delete five photos before settling on one they feel comfortable posting online

An ambitious effort to replicate 100 research findings in psychology ended last week — and the data look worrying. Results posted online on 24 April, which have not yet been peer-reviewed, suggest that key findings from only 39 of the published studies could be reproduced. […] The results should convince everyone that psychology has a replicability problem, says Hal Pashler, a cognitive psychologist at the University of California, San Diego, and an author of one of the papers whose findings were successfully repeated.  “A lot of working scientists assume that if it’s published, it’s right,” he says. [Nature]

A paper on gender bias in academia was recently rejected by an academic journal, whose reviewer told the two female authors to “find one or two male biologists to work with” if they wanted to get their work published. That work was a scientific survey of how and why men in academia tend to publish more papers, and in more prestigious academic journals, than women.

Embryonic Twin Sister Discovered in Woman’s Brain

Prosecution is often dropped in cases largely reliant on DNA evidence when the suspect is an identical twin. The risk of convicting the wrong twin is too great. The chance of a DNA match between two unrelated individuals is extraordinarily small — one in a billion. For siblings, the chance is 1 in 10,000. But identical twins have essentially the same DNA sequence, making the identification of the forensic evidence they leave behind extremely difficult. But researchers at the University of Huddersfield recently developed a cost-effective and accurate method for differentiating between the genetic profiles of identical twins. The method looks at DNA methylation, a biochemical process that helps manage gene expression — turning genes on and off. As identical twins age, different environmental factors affect their genomes, or the ways in which their genetic material is expressed. These differences can be seen in their corresponding DNA methylation. […] The process isn’t perfect. Young twins with similar environments may not have developed significant differences in their DNA methylation. The technique also requires a large genetic sample, which may not be recoverable at every crime scene. [UPI]

Optimism and pessimism are separate systems influenced by different genes

37-year nationwide study reports strong evidence of familial clustering of sexual offending, primarily accounted for by genes rather than shared environmental influences.

Eight studies explored the antecedents and consequences of whether people locate their sense of self in the brain or the heart. [Organizational Behavior and Human Decision Processes]

In the UK, the number of labial reduction procedures has risen five-fold over the past 10 years

Resistance to antibiotics found in isolated Amazonian tribe. The find suggests that microbes have long evolved the capability to fight toxins, including antibiotics, and that preventing drug resistance may be harder than scientists thought.

Scientists Figure Out Why Your Knuckles Crack

Psychologists can influence people’s moral choices by tracking their gaze [more]

Kids can’t tell the difference between journalism and advertising

Marketers often seek to minimize or eliminate interruptions when they deliver persuasive messages in an attempt to increase consumers’ attention and processing of those messages. However, in five studies conducted across different experimental contexts and different content domains, the current research reveals that interruptions that temporarily disrupt a persuasive message can increase consumers’ processing of that message. As a result, consumers can be more persuaded by interrupted messages than they would be by the exact same messages delivered uninterrupted. [Journal of Consumer Research/Stanford Business]

Scientists develop algorithm that can identify and auto-ban internet trolls

Study shows that the growth rate in industrial electricity usage negatively predicts next one-year stock market returns

The car that knows when you’ll get in an accident before you do

Inventing a 2-D liquid

Organic milk ‘is less healthy than regular milk and could harm child IQ,’ say researchers

Mystery of why the Earth hums solved

Baboon bone found in famous Lucy skeleton

This paper argues that there are at least five reasons why the claim that the Bible is to be taken literally defies logic or otherwise makes no sense, and why literalists are in no position to claim that they have the only correct view of biblical teachings. First, many words are imprecise and therefore require interpretation, especially to fill in gaps between general words and their appli- cation to specific situations. Second, if you are reading an English version of the Bible you are al- ready dealing with the interpretations of the translator since the earliest Bibles were written in other languages. Third, biblical rules have exceptions, and those exceptions are often not explicitly set forth. Fourth, many of the Bible’s stories defy logic and our experiences of the world. Fifth, there are sometimes two contrary versions of the same event, so if we take one literally then we cannot take the second one literally. In each of these five cases, there is no literal reading to be found. Furthermore, this paper sets forth three additional reasons why such a literalist claim probably should not be made even if it did not defy logic to make such a claim. These include The Scientific Argument: the Bible contradicts modern science; The Historical Argument: the Bible is historically inaccurate; and The Moral Argument: the Bible violates contemporary moral standards. [Open Journal of Philosophy | PDF]

The Shortest-Known Paper Published in a Serious Math Journal

Would you Pay for Transparently Useless Advice?

Shakespeare’s plays reveal his psychological signature

Using TV anachronisms to learn about changes

We took a tourist guide to New York City from 1997 and tried to use it in 2015

In 1992, Diaconis famously proved — along with the mathematician Dave Bayer of Columbia University — that it takes just seven ordinary shuffles to mix a deck of cards. [Quanta | NY Times]

Hacked Sony emails reveal that Sony had pirated books about hacking

German student makes a freedom of information request to see test papers before exams

In 1872, Woodhull was the first female candidate for President of the United States. [Thanks GG]

Report of a female jogging in the area

Gillian Wearing has redefined portraiture by photographing herself in rubber masks she’s cast from other people’s faces

How to grow your own furniture

At a multicourse dinner party in San Francisco, marijuana is paired like wine. But you’ll need a doctor’s note. [NY Times]

Remember your loved one – by putting their ashes in a dildo

Triple-Decker Weekly, 128


US researchers are investigating ways to extract the gold and precious metals from human faeces.

It’s hard to read the old-fashioned way, slowly and deliberately. Few of us have the patience, the concentration, or the time. When we do read, we skim, trying to get a quick “take” on the topics of the day, often conveniently served up as prepackaged excerpts by our modern media machine. We flit from one thing to the next, never pausing to think about what we’ve just read, because in our media-saturated, technology-obsessed age we just don’t have time. Worse, our bad reading habits are symptomatic of a deeper malaise. Real learning, real knowledge, and real culture have been supplanted by the shallow, utilitarian instrumentalism of modern life. The evidence is mounting. Humanities departments are losing students to the sciences and other more useful majors, where they are stuffed with facts and outfitted with skills, better to serve the state as productive citizens; our cultural models are the average heroes of a popular culture. Our culture is in decline. And we read only the headlines. That may sound like the latest jeremiad in The New Criterion or The New Republic, but it’s actually a paraphrase of Friedrich Nietzsche’s preface to a series of lectures he delivered in the winter of 1872. […] Nietzsche saw this image of modern print culture embodied in modern journalism’s endless pursuit of the news. In the face of the modern media machine, he longed for timelessness, but one not simply stripped of its time and place. Instead, it was an ethos of active resistance to the “idolatrous” need for the new, the latest headline, the latest commentary, the latest feuilleton. It was intended to enlist those few who were not, as he put it in the Basel lectures, “caught up in the dizzying haste of our hurtling era” and dependent on its short-lived pleasures. It was a call for calm readers. [The Hedgehog Review]

Previously: DNA-based prediction of Nietzsche’s voice

People prescribe optimism when they believe it has the opportunity to improve the chance of success—unfortunately, people may be overly optimistic about just how much optimism can do. [APA/PsycNET]

The effects of being in a “new relationship” on levels of testosterone in men [PDF]

Narcissism levels have been increasing among Western youth, and contribute to societal problems such as aggression and violence. The origins of narcissism, however, are not well understood. Here, we report, to our knowledge, the first prospective longitudinal evidence on the origins of narcissism in children. We compared two perspectives: social learning theory (positing that narcissism is cultivated by parental overvaluation) and psychoanalytic theory (positing that narcissism is cultivated by lack of parental warmth). We timed the study in late childhood (ages 7–12), when individual differences in narcissism first emerge. In four 6-mo waves, 565 children and their parents reported child narcissism, child self-esteem, parental overvaluation, and parental warmth. Four-wave cross-lagged panel models were conducted. Results support social learning theory and contradict psychoanalytic theory: Narcissism was predicted by parental overvaluation, not by lack of parental warmth. Thus, children seem to acquire narcissism, in part, by internalizing parents’ inflated views of them (e.g., “I am superior to others” and “I am entitled to privileges”). Attesting to the specificity of this finding, self-esteem was predicted by parental warmth, not by parental overvaluation. [PNAS]

Even Women Who Should Know Better Are Attracted to Narcissists

If a woman overestimates her romantic partner’s commitment, the cost to her fitness—reproduction without an investing partner—can be considerable. Error Management Theory predicts that women have an evolved bias to be skeptical of men’s commitment in a relationship, which reduces the likelihood of making a costly false positive error. [Evolutionary Psychology | PDF]

The sexual selection concept arises from the observation that many animals had evolved features whose function is not to help individuals survive, but help them to maximize their reproductive success. This can be realized in two different ways: by making themselves attractive to the opposite sex (intersexual selection, between the sexes); or by intimidating, deterring or defeating same-sex rivals (intrasexual selection, within a given sex). Thus, sexual selection takes two major forms: intersexual selection (also known as ‘mate choice’ or ‘female choice’) in which males compete with each other to be chosen by females; and intrasexual selection (also known as ‘male–male competition’) in which members of the less limited sex (typically males) compete aggressively among themselves for access to the limiting sex. The limiting sex is the sex which has the higher parental investment, which therefore faces the most pressure to make a good mate decision. For intersexual selection to work, one sex must evolve a feature alluring to the opposite sex, sometimes resulting in a “fashion fad” of intense selection in an arbitrary direction. Or, in the second case, while natural selection can help animals develop ways of killing or escaping from other species, intrasexual selection drives the selection of attributes that allow alpha males to dominate their own breeding partners and rivals. [Wikipedia]

Canine teeth, horns, claws, and the sheer size and strength of certain male animals provide strong examples of physical weapons, and aggression is a behavioral weapon among humans and other animals. A peacock’s tail, which is useless and costly to sustain, is the most famous example of an ornament. Showing off and creativity may be the human equivalents of this ornamentation. Certain polygynous species, such as the elephant seal, become weapon specialists, relying primarily on intrasexual combat to achieve reproductive success. Other species, such as the peacock and numerous birds of paradise, specialize in intersexual selection to produce extravagant male ornaments. Humans are versatile animals who rely on a large brain to facilitate amassing and facultatively employing a large repertoire of survival and reproductive strategies, including weapons and ornaments. Even though ancestral men may have used intrasexual combat more than intersexual ornaments in acquiring mates and much human female choice may also have derived from male contests, modern men use both intrasexual and intersexual mating strategies as evidenced by much research showing a clear association between mating motivation and various behaviors that constitute weapons and ornaments in men. Specific weapon-like behaviors under mating investigation include physical or direct aggression in response to provocation, social dominance and status, endorsing warring attitudes, and producing a low voice pitch. The studied ornament-like behaviors include conspicuous material consumption, risk taking, humor, being unique and non-conforming, becoming loss averse, making generous financial donations, and exhibiting heroic altruism, all of which are preferred by women. These studies suggest that, similar to other male animals, men can exhibit weapon-like and ornament-like behaviors, but, unlike many male animals that specialize in either weapons or ornaments nearly to the exclusion of the other, men seem to have developed the versatility to acquire and apply both strategies to facultatively respond to intrasexual and intersexual competition. Men may use weapons and ornaments facultatively as situational responses to intersexual and intrasexual conditions and, over time, may also develop behavioral tendencies in using one strategy more frequently over the other, adding to the vast individual differences along a weapon-ornament dimension. [Evolutionary Psychology | PDF]

8,000 Years Ago, 17 Women Reproduced for Every One Man

Fear of spiders became part of our DNA during evolution, say scientists

One thousand genes you could live without

Cigarette Smoke Makes Superbugs More Aggressive

Can We Interpret Smoking Habits in Historic Skeletal Remains?

Chimps and Humans are Less Similar than We Thought

Psychopathic tendencies in chimpanzees

DNA can’t explain all inherited biological traits, research shows

A group of leading biologists called for a worldwide moratorium on use of a new genome-editing technique that would alter human DNA in a way that can be inherited. The biologists fear that the new technique is so effective and easy to use that some physicians may push ahead before its safety can be assessed. They also want the public to understand the ethical issues surrounding the technique, [which holds the power to repair or enhance any human gene, and] could be used to cure genetic diseases, but also to enhance qualities like beauty or intelligence. [NY Times]

Genome-editing technologies may offer a powerful approach to treat many human diseases, including HIV/AIDS, haemophilia, sickle-cell anaemia and several forms of cancer. All techniques currently in various stages of clinical development focus on modifying the genetic material of somatic cells, such as T cells (a type of white blood cell). These are not designed to affect sperm or eggs. […] The newest addition to the genome-editing arsenal is CRISPR/Cas9, a bacteria-derived system that uses RNA molecules that recognize specific human DNA sequences. The RNAs act as guides, matching the nuclease to corresponding locations in the human genome. [Nature]

New Discovery Moves Gene Editing Closer to Use in Humans

Genetic Origins of Economic Development

A power nap of under an hour can improve memory performance by five times, a new study finds.

New Alzheimer’s treatment fully restores memory function

Recalling one memory actually leads to the forgetting of other competing memories, a new study confirms. It is one of the single most surprising facts about memory, now isolated by neuroscience research. Although many scientists believed the brain must work this way, this is the first time it has been demonstrated. [PsyBlog | Nature]

When attention is a deficit

15 years ago, the neurosciences defined the main function of brains in terms of processing input to compute output: “brain function is ultimately best understood in terms of input/output transformations and how they are produced” wrote Mike Mauk in 2000. Since then, a lot of things have been discovered that make this stimulus-response concept untenable and potentially based largely on laboratory artifacts. For instance, it was discovered that the likely ancestral state of behavioral organization is one of probing the environment with ongoing, variable actions first and evaluating sensory feedback later (i.e., the inverse of stimulus response). […] In humans, functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) studies over the last decade and a half revealed that the human brain is far from passively waiting for stimuli, but rather constantly produces ongoing, variable activity, and just shifts this activity over to other networks when we move from rest to task or switch between tasks. [Björn Brembs]

People in the study were more likely to disclose something personal about themselves after laughing together, although they didn’t realize it.

The ability to express empathy — the capacity to share and feel another’s emotions — is limited by the stress of being around strangers, according to a new study.

Why do so many people so often say “so”?

Excess Time Indoors May Explain Rising Myopia Rates

Too Many Scientific Studies, Study Finds

Homeopathy not effective for treating any condition

Researchers may have solved origin-of-life conundrum

Can Space Expand Faster Than the Speed of Light?

Observations by two powerful space telescopes have revealed that dark matter is weirder than previously thought. It is invisible, even to itself.

How solar eclipses cause problems for countries that rely on solar power

Glowing Tampons Help Detect Sewage Leaks

Radioactive sanitary pads from China seized by authorities in Lebanon [Thanks Tim]

Using a Foreskin to Repair Eyelids

Can you really catch a disease from bad bathroom smells?

Biohackers develop eyedrops that provide night vision

A pair of engineering students created a fire extinguisher that operates using sound waves.

Governor Jerry Brown: Californians to be heavily fined for long showers [Thanks GG]

New adhesive could work underwater, in wet conditions for medicine and industry

Plastics designed to degrade don’t break down any faster than their conventional counterparts, according to research

Build a Phased-Array Radar in Your Garage that Sees Through Walls

A robo-car just drove across the country

There are only four people/organizations in the world who know my location at all times: my wife (because I tell her), Apple (because Siri), the NSA (because NSA), and now Uber.

Hertz puts cameras in its rental cars, says it has no plans to use them

Here I indulge in wide-ranging speculations on the shape of physics, and technology closely related to physics, over the next one hundred years [PDF]

Japan’s House Foods Group Inc. said it has developed onions that release extremely low amount of tear-inducing compounds. [...] [T]he resulting onions have the added benefit of not leaving a strong smell on the cook’s hands or the breath of those who eat them. [WSJ]

This cure known as “Bald’s eye salve,” a mixture of onion, garlic, leek, wine, cow’s bile and cow’s stomach, actually works for wiping out methicillin-resistant staphylococcus aureus, known as MRSA. MSRA is a bacteria that is resistant to many antibiotics, and can cause anything from skin infections to widespread infection and pneumonia. […] Because cow stomach was part of the MRSA remedy, there have been questions about whether corpse medicine may have actually had some effect on health and whether it actually cured anything. Corpse medicine, or medical cannibalism, is the act of using parts of deceased humans for medicinal reasons. This persists today in such acts as organ transplant and blood transfusions. However, in the past, corpses were used for a wide variety of medical purposes and were thought to be able to cure anything from bleeding to aging to epilepsy.  [Bones Don’t Lie]

Things Bodies Can Do After Death [Thanks Nathan]

Anthropodermic bibliopegy is the practice of binding books in human skin. Though extremely uncommon in modern times, the technique dates back to at least the 17th century. The practice is inextricably connected with the practice of tanning human skin, often done in certain circumstances after a corpse has been dissected. Surviving historical examples of this technique include anatomy texts bound with the skin of dissected cadavers, volumes created as a bequest and bound with the skin of the testator, and copies of judicial proceedings bound in the skin of the murderer convicted in those proceedings, such as in the case of John Horwood in 1821 and the Red Barn Murder in 1828. [Wikipedia]

Anthropologists have shown that the practice of cannibalism is very often linked to magic, as the provider of the most potent ingredients to make ‘medicine’ to make a person bullet-proof, able to fly, all-powerful, and many more wondrous things.

Scientists have discovered a simple way to cook rice that reduces its calories by as much as 50 percent

A psychedelic drink used for centuries in healing ceremonies is now attracting the attention of biomedical scientists as a possible treatment for depression

A few people become inebriated simply by eating carbohydrates

On further questioning, the patient admitted to drinking sixteen 8-oz glasses of iced tea daily

Buying human breast milk online poses serious health risk, say experts

Furans are coffee’s dirty little secret. Although we can thank them for the pleasant aroma and delicious flavour of freshly brewed coffee, furans have been labelled as a possible human carcinogen (cause of cancer) in disguise by food safety agencies including the United States Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA). Furans enter our food chain through canned, bottled and jarred processed foods, but 85% of furan exposure in adults is from coffee consumption. All these products undergo ultra-high temperature (UHT) treatment and furans are one of the carcinogenic compounds produced. The canned, bottled and jarred foods are sterilized this way to eradicate disease-causing micro-organisms and to increase their shelf-life. Coffee beans are heated to even higher temperatures during roasting. Furans are volatile and not very water-soluble so how you like your coffee, roasted, ground, stored and brewed, will determine how much furan is left in your cup of Joe. […] Arisseto and colleagues (2011) […] found that furan content was higher in Robusta samples. […] Altaki and colleagues (2011) found regular decaffeinated or caffeinated brews made with an espresso machine had higher furan content than a drip coffee maker, and instant coffee brews had relatively low levels whilst coffee capsules contained the most. […] Leaving your cup of coffee to stand at room temperature for 30 minutes before drinking will reduce furan amounts by 25% according to Guenther and colleagues (2010). [United Academics]

Denis Vrain-Lucas was trained as a law clerk, but by 1854 he had begun to forge historical documents, especially letters. Lucas began by using writing material and self-made inks from the appropriate period and forged mainly documents from French authors. He collected historical details from the Imperial library. As his forgeries were more readily accepted, he began to produce letters from historical figures. Over 16 years Vrain-Lucas forged total of 27,000 autographs, letters, and other documents from such luminaries as Mary Magdalene, Cleopatra, Judas Iscariot, Pontius Pilate, Joan of Arc, Cicero and Dante Alighieri – written in contemporary French and on watermarked paper. The most prominent French collectors bought them, helping Lucas accumulate a significant wealth of hundreds of thousands of francs. In 1861 Vrain-Lucas approached French mathematician and collector Michel Chasles and sold him forged letters for Robert Boyle, Isaac Newton and Blaise Pascal. In one of them Pascal supposedly claimed that he had discovered the laws of gravity before Newton. Since this would have meant that a Frenchman would have discovered gravity before an Englishman, Chasles accepted the letter and asked for more. Lucas proceeded to sell him hundreds of letters from historical and biblical figures. In 1867 Chasles approached the French Academy of Science, claiming to have proof that Pascal had discovered gravity before Newton. When he showed them the letters, scholars of the Academy noticed that the handwriting was very different compared to letters that were definitely by Pascal. Chasles defended the letters’ authenticity but was eventually forced to reveal that Vrain-Lucas had sold them to him. […] In February 1870, the Correctional Tribunal of Paris sentenced Vrain-Lucas to two years in prison for forgery. He also had pay a fine for 500 francs and all legal costs. Chasles received no restitution for all the money he had wasted on the Vrain-Lucas forgeries. [Wikipedia]

Algorithm Clones Facial Expressions… And Pastes Them Onto Other Faces

Tinder hack made hundreds of bros unwittingly flirt with each other

Bestselling books, 1900-1999

Sneeze catcher (new patent)

Oculus Rex

An object of infinite length but finite volume

We vandalize things that aren’t ours

Cheeseburger Ball Gag [thanks GG]

DNA-based prediction of Nietzsche’s voice


This paper presents a protocol for the accurate prediction of an individual’s voice based on genotype data, specifically from single nucleotide polymorphisms (SNPs). We collected trace amounts of cellular material (Touch DNA) from books that belonged to the philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche (1844-1900). DNA was extracted and amplified using DOP-PCR technique. Five different genomic DNAs were generated. Nietzsche’s genotype was singled out after comparison to genotype data from one living relative of the Nietzsche family. Nietzsche’s genotype data was analyzed using a DNA-based phenotyping assay, termed VoiceRator, that incorporates the 24 most informative voice SNPs based on their association with genes related to the phenotypic expression of the vocal tract and larynx structure and function. An SNP-based voice profile of Nietzsche was inferred. The profile data was converted into bio-measures that were used to 3D-print a vocal tract and larynx through which phonation was organically generated. A composite of seven Text-to-Speech simulations was made using a sound morphing software. The result is presented in audio format and illustrates the first attempt at simulating the voice of a deceased person.

Nietzsche’s private library

German philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche (1844–1900) studied classical philology at the Universities of Bonn and Leipzig. In 1869, despite lacking his doctorate and being only 24 years old, he was appointed to the chair of philology at the University of Basel, Switzerland. In 1889, a mental breakdown left him an invalid under the care of his mother, and then his sister, Elisabeth Förster-Nietzsche. In 1897, Swiss feminist and Nietzsche’s friend Meta von Salis purchased a large house in Weimar, the Villa Silberblick, to provide a home for Nietzsche and her sister. After Nietzsche’s death, Elisabeth bought the villa and turned it into the Nietzsche-Archiv. While Nietzsche’s original handwritten manuscripts and letters are stored at the Villa Silberblick (in a fireproof safe), his personal collection of books is kept at the Duchess Anna Amalia Library4, also located in Weimar.

Nietzsche’s private library comprises more than 1,000 volumes with about 170 containing annotations left by Nietzsche. The books have been frequently handled by scholars and researchers for consultation, especially the annotated ones. With the assistance of Fräulein Imp Kerr of the Nietzsche-Archiv, we browsed Nietzsche’s private library and retained 49 books bare of annotations (lot Basel-AP9), which we presumed would contain the least contaminated DNA sample from Nietzsche.

Among the 49 volumes selected (all showing minor discoloration) were sophisticated copies of Jean de La Bruyère’s Caractères, Wilhelm Brambach’s Antike Rhythmik und Metrik, Fyodor Dostoyevsky’s Notes from the Underground, Arthur Schopenhauer’s Parerga, and George Sand’s Lettres d’un Voyageur.

Collection of DNA Samples

Touch DNA sampling techniques are used at crime scenes to collect skin cells which are subsequently typed for DNA in the exact same manner as body fluids using standard laboratory procedures. Humans shed tens of thousands of skin cells each day and these cells may be transferred to surfaces our skin contacts. When you read a book, you may deposit a generous amount of skin cells on several pages. Touch DNA may be sampled from the touched pages.

We tested Nietzsche’s books for Touch DNA using Tape Lift method. We sampled the surface of 2,695 pages (55 pages per book) with pretreated 4”x 4” adhesive sheets to collect potential skin cells. From the samples collected, only 8 gave sufficient amounts of DNA to be considered exploitable.

PCR-based whole-genome amplification

Recent advances in sequencing technologies make it possible to routinely retrieve DNA sequences from century-old remains, even from small and damaged fragments.

DNA was extracted from samples by phenol-chloroform extraction method. DOP-PCR5 amplification was performed using Phi-29 DNA polymerase and random primers on 99 loci6 (2 loci on each autosomal pair, 2 loci on the X chromosome(s) and 1 locus on the Y chromosome) for each of the 8 samples. DNA extracts were amplified approximately 18,000-fold with a maximum bias of representation between the loci of 4-fold. Fragments were separated by pulsed-field gel electrophoresis (fig. 1-2).

Five different genomic DNAs (FuP1, FuP2, FuP3, FuP4, FuP5) were generated: three from female individuals (lacking Y-chromosome specific genes) and two from male individuals (FuP2 and FuP5).

The Nietzsche family left no direct descendant but we were able to identify, locate and contact one indirect female descendant of the Nietzsche family, Aloysia Nag-Nietzsche (ALNN) from Stuttgart, Germany who agreed to take part in the study. DNA match was found between ALNN and FuP2, suggesting genotype FuP2 belonged to Nietzsche (fig. 3) (we also found a match between FuP1 and ALNN which encouraged us to think that genotype FuP1 belonged to Elisabeth Förster-Nietzsche).

SNP genotyping

The biomechanics and control of the human voice involve a multitude of tissues, membranes, muscles, glands, and bones. The voice is produced by vibration of the vocal folds (or vocal cords), which have a three-layer construction — epithelium, lamina propria, thyroarytenoid muscle — butterflying down cellular and extracellular matrices where collagen and elastin fibers, among other proteins, aggregate. The larynx — which size is affected by the production of testosterone — adjusts the length and tension of the vocal folds which tremors determine the frequency of the emitted sound (70-200 Hz for men, 140-400 Hz for women). The sound resonates in the nasal and mouth cavities where articulators like the tongue, palate, gums, velum, and uvula influence the general aerodynamics and acoustics. Furthermore, vocal folds physiology is impacted by humidity and viscosity factors, vocal resonance is co-shaped by lung pressure and glottal flow, and brain circuits intervene in every movements underlying vocalizations.

One of the rapidly developing areas in forensic biology is the ability to predict characteristics of an individual’s voice based on genotype data, specifically from single nucleotide polymorphisms (SNPs)(fig. 4). There have been several studies looking to identify the predominant SNP loci associated with human voice which might be used for accurate predictions. In 2012, Cooper et al. identified the 24 most informative voice SNPs (among more than 200 candidate “voice genes”) based on their association with genes related to the phenotypic expression of the vocal tract structure and function (Table 1). The traits of focus indicated by these SNPs were found to be highly polymorphic and complex, involving several contributions from various gene-gene interactions, suggesting intergenic complexity needed to be assessed through sets and subsets of SNPs (as opposed to single SNPs).


SNPs from Nietzsche’s genotype were analyzed using a DNA-based phenotyping assay, termed VoiceRator, that incorporates the 24 voice predictor SNPs. The prediction model is based on a multinomial logistic regression method and uses phenotype and genotype data from 99 680 European individuals to which results are compared for parametrization. Based on these data the model has previously shown high prediction rates for vocal weight, texture, range, frequency and timbre in populations from Switzerland, France, and Germany.

Nietzsche’s SNPs were benchmarked against 122 sets and subsets of predictor SNPs. Correlations between ensembles were derived for each SNP value. Contributions from the highest scoring sets were combined and re-parameterized, converted into bio-measures, and incorporated into the VoiceRator algorithm, leading to an exploitable SNP-based voice profile (fig. 5).

Biofabrication of Nietzsche’s vocal tract and larynx

The application of 3D printing in tissue engineering has enabled new methods for the fabrication of organs and body parts using inkjet techniques. Synthetic biopolymers have been developed and combined with nanofibers and nano-structured particles to fabricate materials with selective bioactivity, as well as physical and chemical properties. Since 2014, the synthesis of biopolymers can be computer-tailored to spatially encode gene properties.

Bio-measures inferred from Nietzsche’s voice profile data were used to build a 3D model of a vocal tract and larynx through which artificial voiced sounds were organically computed. The M-shaped model was 3D-printed with biopolymer-based composites (collagen, chondroitin sulphate, chitin) at subcellular resolution. Tissue-engineered constructs integrated phonatory aerodynamics, muscle contractions, viscoelastic properties, thermal agitation, glottal flow rate, phonatory fluid-structure interactions, frequency, vocal weight, texture, timbre, and prosody (fig. 6-7). Additional voice determinants (such as age7 and geography of accent) were manually input.

The model was coupled to an unsteady respiratory flow allowing variances from which lifelike phonation was obtained (previous phonation results compared well to subject-specific data — with a ~95 percent level of accuracy — demonstrating the precision of the VoiceRator modeling approach in addressing the complex interaction of biomechanics, fluid mechanics, and acoustics).

Simulation of Nietzsche’s voice

We generated seven Text-to-Speech organic simulations compossible with Nietzsche’s voice profile — one standard simulation, and six declensions incorporating tension asymmetry and mucosal wave-type variables. The voiced sounds generated by the model were recorded using a Neumann U87 microphone. We used a sound morphing software based on Gaussian Mixture Models to build a 7-fold monophonic composite out of the seven simulations — the audio clip is available here:

Nietzsche’s voice at age 42, 7-fold composite (168KB)

The input text was taken from a letter Nietzsche wrote to Georg Brandes on January 4, 1889: Nachdem Du mich entdeckt hast, war es kein Kunststück mich zu finden: die Schwierigkeit ist jetzt die, mich zu verlieren (After you discovered me, it was no great feat to find me. The problem now is how to lose me).

Phonaesthetics discussion

Nietzsche’s vocalization exemplifies a flat, smooth, typical mild sounding voice: hued pitch, honeyed tone, low versatility in timbre, silvery hyponasal flow, disembodied texture with a touch of steel in vowels, and low head-nasal resonance (lower than expected in regards of Nietzsche’s robust mandibles).

The diction is unified and follows a three-wave prosodic structure with light elasticity. Range goes from low C to the B above middle C. Fundamental frequency ranges between 156.8 and 157.5 Hz.


Nietzsche’s voice simulation was tested against a control database of 4,287 voice recordings of living German individuals. Comparative tests based on 526 VoiceRator parameters were performed and uncloaked 28 minor bias discrepancies between the control voice recordings and Nietzsche’s voice simulation, resulting in a 94.68 percent level of accuracy consistent with previous results.


[1] Diethe C (2003) Nietzsche’s Sister and The Will to Power: A Biography of Elisabeth Förster. University of Illinois Press, Champaign, IL, pp. 92-93
[2] Arneson N, Hughes S, Houlston R, Done S (2008) Whole-Genome Amplification by Degenerate Oligonucleotide Primed PCR (DOP-PCR). Cold Spring Harbor Protocols 01/2008. doi: 10.1101/pdb.prot4919
[3] Williamson AL (2011) Touch DNA: Forensic Collection and Application to Investigations. J Assoc Crime Scene Reconstr. 2012:18(1);1-5
[4] Romeika JM, Yan F (2013) Recent Advances in Forensic DNA Analysis. Journal of Forensic Research S12: 001. doi: 10.4172/2157-7145.S12-001
[5] Cooper K, Harper S (2012) Testing of Voice Prediction Based on 24 SNPs. Forensic Science International: Genetics, 2012-6: 21–76. doi: 10.1016/j.forsciint.2012.06.008
[6] Xue Q, Mittal R, Zheng X (2011) Computational Modeling of Phonatory Dynamics in a Tubular Three-dimensional Model of the Human Larynx. Acoustical Society of America, 2012 Sep; 132(3): 1602–1613. doi:10.1121/1.4740485
[7] Li X, Cui R, Sun L, et al. (2014) 3D-Printed Biopolymers for Tissue Engineering Application. International Journal of Polymer Science, vol. 2014, Article ID 829145, 13 pages. doi: 10.1155/2014/829145
[8] Service RF (2015) The Synthesis Machine Science. Science, Vol. 347 no. 6227 pp. 1190-1193. doi:10.1126/science.347.6227.1190
[9] Kerr I (2009) Contesting Truth. The Journal of Nietzsche Studies, Issue 38 Autumn 2009, pp. 168-175

This study was funded by the Swiss National Science Foundation (201525-69812, MC-ME 7005). The computational resources were provided by Imp Kerr & Associates, NYC.

Triple-Decker Weekly, 127


“I’ve actually never met Chris in person but I am definitely in love with him,” Sarah said. “He’s just spectacular. Chris and I have discussed getting married – I believe Chris does consider me his wife.” Chris claimed he was originally from Milan and moved to the US 18 years ago, saying he was on a business trip to South Africa when they met and is now stuck in Benin because of “trouble” with the government. Sarah has sent him money for stolen cards, phone charges, hotel bills, lawyers, a nanny, an expired visa and when Chris claimed the money she posted had been stolen. […] “He assured me that when he gets home he’s going to pay me back – every dime,” Sarah told Dr Phil. “He’s made five or six attempts to come back to the US to meet me. Every time they arrest him and put him in jail and then they want more money.” […] The pair talk for up to four hours on the phone a day […] “He sounded Italian, now his accent’s kind of changed I don’t know if he’s adapted to where he’s at… in Benin,” she added. [Independent]

The ‘sex selfie stick’ lets you FaceTime the inside of a vagina. The device offers the unprecedented opportunity to be on the phone with someone’s genitals. [Independent]

Imagine a virus wipes out everyone on the planet except [a man]. […] He finds the last woman on Earth. […] Can they repopulate the Earth? To do so, their children would have to mate with one another, or mom and dad, in order to rebuild the human race. All the incestuous taboos aside, is this even genetically possible? […] The net result of inbreeding is that the resulting population loses a diverse genetic portfolio, which means they are less resistant to rare diseases and deformities. The smaller the gene pool, the faster it gets dirty. Such individuals would also have less diverse immune systems, making it much easier for a single germ to wipe them all out. […] In addition to the genetic landmines, the family would likely have a very difficult time overcoming the innate resistance most species have against inbreeding. Evolution knows that inbreeding is not good for the species, so it engineered a built-in “incest taboo” that creates a strong aversion to such behavior. [The Scope]

Men now outnumber women on the planet by 60 million, the highest ever recorded

Most people who describe themselves as demisexual say they only rarely feel desire, and only in the context of a close relationship. Gray-­asexuals (or gray-aces) roam the gray area between absolute asexuality and a more typical level of interest. […] “Every single asexual I’ve met embraces fluidity—I might be gray or asexual or demisexual,” says Claudia, a 24-year-old student from Las Vegas. “Us aces are like: whatevs.” [Wired]

In a rare legal move, prosecutors brought a deceased woman’s vagina into a murder trial Friday for jurors to view during testimony.

People who are trying to impress a date with their good looks might want to limit themselves to one drink

Darwin made a famous distinction between men’s and women’s mating strategies, between choosy, coy females and ardent, promiscuous males. […] Yet, as also anticipated by both Darwin and Trivers, empirical studies of both non-humans and humans reveal extraordinary flexibility in mating and investment behavior, both within and between the sexes. Reproductive strategies are clearly not an invariant, species-specific characteristic, but rather facultative responses to individual- and population-level social and ecological circumstances, rendering conditional mating strategies optimal. […] For example, across the ethnographic record, human societies can range from polyandrous to polygynous mating patterns, same-sex marriage can be institutionalized as with woman-to-woman unions in East Africa and men can spend considerable amounts of time and effort in beautifying themselves as in West Africa. […] Until recently, the study of sex-differentiated reproductive behaviour has relied on the long-standing model of sexual selection developed by Trivers. This model links sex roles directly to the differential investment in young by males and females. In its simplest form, this model posits that because males invest less initially (in sperm), they have a higher potential reproductive rate (PRR) and benefit more from mating multiply than do females. As a consequence, selection typically would favour mate-seeking and competitive behaviour in males, and heavy investment in parental care in females. […] Using data from eight Makushi communities of southern Guyana, characterized by varying adult sex ratios contingent on migration, we show that even within a single ethnic group, male mating effort varies in predictable ways with the ASR. At male-biased sex ratios, men’s and women’s investment in mating effort are indistinguishable; only when men are in the minority are they more inclined towards short-term, low investment relationships than women. [Royal Society Open Science]

Using new data from the United Kingdom’s Annual Population Survey, we find that […] marriage may help ease the causes of the mid-life dip in life satisfaction and that the benefits of marriage are unlikely to be short-lived. We explore friendship as a mechanism which could help explain a causal relationship between marriage and life satisfaction, and find that well-being effects of marriage are about twice as large for those whose spouse is also their best friend. [National Bureau of Economic Research]

Scientists discover part of brain that calculates the intentions of others

On the origins of dishonesty: From parents to children

Our results cannot confirm beneficial effects of breastfeeding on child intelligence.

Model who is almost 9 months pregnant is so fit she has abs

How easy would it be to edit a human embryo using CRISPR? Very easy, experts say.

Recent studies have shown that women are more sensitive than men to subtle cuteness differences in infant faces. It has been suggested that raised levels in estradiol and progesterone may be responsible for this advantage. […] Thirty-six women were tested once during ovulation and once during the luteal phase of their menstrual cycle. In a two alternative forced-choice experiment, participants chose the baby which they thought was cuter (Task 1), younger (Task 2), or the baby that they would prefer to babysit (Task 3). […] During ovulation, women were more likely to choose the cuter baby than during the luteal phase, in all three tasks. These results suggest that cuteness discrimination may be driven by cyclic hormonal shifts. [Hormones and Behavior]

After handshakes, we sniff people’s scent on our hand

Facebook Use Predicts Declines in Subjective Well-Being in Young Adults

The risk of a heart attack increases by at least 8.5 times in the two hours after the intense emotions of anger and anxiety, a new study finds.

Adults only really catch flu about twice a decade, study

There’s too much poo on Mount Everest, says mountaineering boss

We’ve killed off half the world’s animals since 1970

Why Killer Whales Go Through Menopause But Elephants Don’t

Why Can’t Rodents Vomit?

Why can’t horses vomit?

Many people spontaneously use the word (or sound) “Um” in conversation, a phenomenon which has prompted a considerable volume of academic attention. A question arises though, can someone be induced to say “Um” by chemical means – say with the use of a powerful anaesthetic? Like, for example Ketamine? […] [V]olunteers who were given “low doses” and “high doses” of Ketamine tended to use the words “um” and “uh” significantly more than those who received a placebo only. [Improbable]

US physicists have studied the fluid dynamics of urine “splashback” – and found tips to help men and women with their accuracy and hygiene.

Why a coffee is more likely to spill than a latte

New study suggests yet another potential health benefit of coffee consumption: it could reduce the risk of multiple sclerosis.

Thinking about money makes you feel physically colder

Bra Wearing Not Associated with Breast Cancer Risk

The discovery that the human brain continues to produce new neurons in adulthood challenged a major dogma in the field of neuroscience

Is Neuroscience Based On Biology?

Scientists are increasingly convinced that the vast assemblage of microfauna in our intestines may have a major impact on our state of mind. The gut-brain axis seems to be bidirectional—the brain acts on gastrointestinal and immune functions that help to shape the gut’s microbial makeup, and gut microbes make neuroactive compounds, including neurotransmitters and metabolites that also act on the brain. […] Microbes may have their own evolutionary reasons for communicating with the brain. They need us to be social, says John Cryan, a neuroscientist at University College Cork in Ireland, so that they can spread through the human population. Cryan’s research shows that when bred in sterile conditions, germ-free mice lacking in intestinal microbes also lack an ability to recognize other mice with whom they interact. In other studies, disruptions of the microbiome induced mice behavior that mimics human anxiety, depression and even autism. In some cases, scientists restored more normal behavior by treating their test subjects with certain strains of benign bacteria. Nearly all the data so far are limited to mice, but Cryan believes the findings provide fertile ground for developing analogous compounds, which he calls psychobiotics, for humans. “That dietary treatments could be used as either adjunct or sole therapy for mood disorders is not beyond the realm of possibility,” he says. [Scientific American]

Scientists Insert a Synthetic Memory Into the Brain of a Sleeping Mouse

Startups in the U.S. are working on 3D printing nipples and bits of liver tissue, while a Russian provocateur claims to have on-demand thyroids.

New DNA technique can predict a person’s physical appearance with 80 percent confidence. [more ]

Over the past twenty years, DNA analysis has revolutionized forensic science, and has become a dominant tool in law enforcement. Today, DNA evidence is key to the conviction or exoneration of suspects of various types of crime. […] However, the disturbing possibility that DNA evidence can be faked has been overlooked. It turns out that standard molecular biology techniques such as PCR, molecular cloning, and recently developed whole genome amplification (WGA), enable anyone with basic equipment and know-how to produce practically unlimited amounts of in vitro synthesized (artificial) DNA with any desired genetic profile. This artificial DNA can then be applied to surfaces of objects or incorporated into genuine human tissues and planted in crime scenes. […] Here we show that the current forensic procedure fails to distinguish between such samples of blood, saliva, and touched surfaces with artificial DNA, and corresponding samples with in vivo generated (natural) DNA. Furthermore, genotyping of both artificial and natural samples with Profiler Plus1 yielded full profiles with no anomalies. [Forensic Science International: Genetics | PDF (2009)]

[O]ne in six serial killers are female. Their crimes tend to go undetected for longer than their male counterparts, likely in part because “our culture is in denial of women’s proclivity for aggression.” Harrison and her team have profiled 64 US female serial killers active between the years 1821 to 2008. […] The female serial killers had murdered between them at least 331 victims (making an average of 6 victims each). Their victims are of both sexes, but disproportionately male. The women had an average of age of 32 at the time of their first killing, and poisoning was the most common method. […] “the women in our study poisoned, smothered, burned, choked, shot, bludgeoned, and shot newborns, children, elderly, and ill people as well as healthy adults; most often those who knew and likely trusted them.” Many of the homicidal women had stereotypically female professions, including being nurses and baby-sitters. They tended to be above average in physical attractiveness, which may have helped to engender trust in their victims. As to motives, the most common was “hedonistic”, a category in forensic psychology that refers to killing for financial gain, lust or thrill, with nearly half the sample fitting this category. The next most common motive was “power-seeking”, which includes killing people in one’s care. […] A striking contrast with male serial killers is the relative absence of sexual violence and deviance. Two exceptions were a female serial killer who was a rapist, and another who reportedly barked like a dog during sex. But overall, the researchers highlighted how the women in their study primarily killed for resources, while their male counterparts kill for sex. This follows evolutionary theory, Harrison and her co-authors explained, in the sense that men are said to be motivated more by seeking multiple sexual opportunities, while women are motivated to find a committed partner with sufficient resources. […] The new analysis points to a worrying trend: a 150 per cent increase in the number of reported cases of female serial killers since 1975. [BPS]

A Decentralized Lie Detector

The facial pose of a person can be a good indicator of their importance, because important people often tend to be looking directly at the camera. The importance of specific individuals in photos of multiple people [PDF]

A start-up offers suspected shoplifters the chance to pay $320 to stop the police being called

Google started testing their cars on public roads back in 2009, long before any regulations were even dreamed of. An examination of the California Vehicle Code indicated there was nothing in there prohibiting testing. For testing purposes, Google has a trained safety driver sitting behind the wheel, ready to take it at any moment. Any attempt to take the wheel or use the pedals disables the automatic systems and the safety driver is in control. The safety drivers took special driving safety courses and were instructed to take control if they have any doubt about safe operation. For example, if a vehicle is not braking as expected when approaching a cross walk, take the controls immediately, do not wait to see if it will detect the pedestrians and stop. The safety drivers are accompanied by a second person in the passenger seat. Known as the software operator, this person monitors diagnostic screens showing what the system is perceiving and planning, and tells the safety driver if something appeared to be going wrong. The software operator is also an extra set of eyes on the road from time to time. […] This style of testing makes sense if you consider how we train teen-agers to drive. [Brad Templeton]

Will You Need a New License to Operate a Self-Driving Car?

The Price of Oil Is About to Blow a Hole in Corporate Accounting.

US May Run Out Of Oil Storage Space As Soon As June

Wall Street Has Its Eyes on Millennials’ $30 Trillion Inheritance

How a group of robbers staged one of history’s biggest bank heists – without setting foot in a bank

A simple brute force DDoS attack against one or two key points in the Internet would be enough to make the rest unusable. Personally I would probably go after MAE-West in San Jose, partly because almost all the traffic to and from Silicon Valley goes through there.

What one man learned by crashing elite colleges for 4 years

People are hopeless at drawing the Apple logo, and that tells us something about human memory

I remember how artists in the ’80s made the emphatic point that under no circumstances would they be represented in art fairs. (Laughter around the table) They thought that it was in poor taste. That is how it was in the beginning. And has been quite astonishing to see how things have turned around—in 30 years. [Stefan Stux/Artnet]

Police arrest conmen who sold a fake Goya, and were paid with fake cash

What would happen if an 800-kiloton nuclear warhead detonated above midtown Manhattan?

website that deletes itself once indexed by Google [Thanks Darren!]

Adam Savage’s Kubrick’s Overlook Hotel Maze Model [video]

We have a hallway in our apartment we would like to convert into the Nancy Kerrigan and Tonya Harding 1994 museum.

Falconry accessories