November 24th, 2011

nature invents stem cell treatment…

Scientists are devoting countless research hours to treatments based on embryonic stem cells, differentiating these blank-slate cells from embryos into brain cells, light-sensing retinal cells, blood cells, and more to replace damaged or destroyed tissues in the body. Now, a new study in mice shows such that nature has arrived at just such a solution, too: When a pregnant mouse has a heart attack, her fetus donates some of its stem cells to help rebuild the damaged heart tissue.

More at Discover (via reddit)

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November 24th, 2011

formation of brinicle, brine icicle, caught on film

The BBC has caught a spectacular undersea phenomenon on film. Watch the video on the BBC website.

The science behind the phenomenon:

Dr Mark Brandon Polar oceanographer, The Open University

Freezing sea water doesn’t make ice like the stuff you grow in your freezer. Instead of a solid dense lump, it is more like a seawater-soaked sponge with a tiny network of brine channels within it.

In winter, the air temperature above the sea ice can be below -20C, whereas the sea water is only about -1.9C. Heat flows from the warmer sea up to the very cold air, forming new ice from the bottom. The salt in this newly formed ice is concentrated and pushed into the brine channels. And because it is very cold and salty, it is denser than the water beneath.

The result is the brine sinks in a descending plume. But as this extremely cold brine leaves the sea ice, it freezes the relatively fresh seawater it comes in contact with. This forms a fragile tube of ice around the descending plume, which grows into what has been called a brinicle.

Brinicles are found in both the Arctic and the Antarctic, but it has to be relatively calm for them to grow as long as the ones the Frozen Planet team observed.

BBC Nature

November 23rd, 2011

come off it

From a talk by Alan Watts. Shame about the strings added in the background.

November 18th, 2011

mainstream conversation

An interview with John Maus.

November 17th, 2011


The International Space Station has a nice camera on board these days… View fullscreen.

Time Lapse View from Space, Fly Over | NASA, ISS from Michael König.

Another (see previous post) impressive time-lapse video found via kottke.

November 17th, 2011

365 skies

(watch fullscreen)

A camera installed on the roof of the Exploratorium museum in San Francisco captured an image of the sky every 10 seconds. From these images, I created a mosaic of time-lapse movies, each showing a single day. The days are arranged in chronological order. My intent was to reveal the patterns of light and weather over the course of a year.

A simple experiment that is almost profound to watch unfold. My favourite part is the way the sunrises and sunsets flood in and out.

Ken Murphy’s “A History of The Sky” (via kottke).

November 17th, 2011

life on the inside

So far the Catalogue of Life has indexed over 1,368,009 species and the latest edition features a database from Jeya Kathirithamby of Oxford University’s Department of Zoology detailing Strepsiptera, a strange order of parasitic insect.

Strepsiptera are endoparasites – they live inside their host – with almost all females spending their entire lives inside the body of other insects and males emerging as free-living adults to mate before they die, just five or six hours later.

‘The females are totally endoparasitic for their entire life history (except in one family) and all that is visible of an adult female is an extruded cephalothorax,’ Jeya tells me. ‘The female is nothing more than a “bag of eggs”, having lost all structures such as eyes, antennae, mouthparts, legs, wings and external genitalia any other insect would possess.

‘This dramatic difference between male and female makes Strepsiptera interesting model organisms for studying such aspects as mating and reproduction.’

Jeya is a world authority on these parasites where males and females can have such different lives that they even choose entirely different hosts:

‘There is a family where the males parasitize ants and the females parasitize grasshoppers, crickets or mantids. Due to the extreme sexual dimorphism and dual hosts, the sexes could not be matched until recently. We have achieved this using molecular data.’

Surprisingly, although Strepsiptera can infect and live inside the host insect for almost its entire life, the host seems unaffected and can even have its lifespan extended.

More on Physorg: Parasite lives ‘double life’

November 17th, 2011

natural expression

“Ribonucleotides are simply an expression of the fundamental principles of organic chemistry … They’re doing it unwittingly. The instructions for them to do it are inherent in the structure of the precursor materials. And if they can self-assemble so easily, perhaps they shouldn’t be viewed as complicated.”

From an article in Wired from 2009 on experiments to emulate a ‘primordial soup’.

November 13th, 2011

the joy of spigots

I saw a distasteful facebook page and thought “bigot, bigot, bigot”, which evolved into “spigots spigots spigots”. A happy learning opportunity:

Water spigot; also known as a valve, hose hydrant, hose bibb, or sillcock.

A tap (also called spigot and faucet in the U.S.) is a valve controlling release of liquids or gas. In the British Isles and most of the Commonwealth, the word is used for any everyday type of valve, particularly the fittings that control water supply to bathtubs and sinks. In the U.S., the term “tap” is more often used for beer taps, cut-in connections, or wiretapping. “Spigot” or “faucet” are more often used to refer to water valves, although this sense of “tap” is not uncommon, and the term “tap water” is the standard name for water from the faucet.

And the joy of tap mechanics:

Ecstasy courtesy of wikipedia.

November 11th, 2011

the importance of treehouses

More accurately, the importance of dens in general. From the Guardian (2006):

New research by academics in the US and Scandinavia is showing both that dens are crucial to children’s development – and that the opportunities for and inclination of children to make them are in danger of disappearing completely.

When Roger Hart, New York’s City University’s environmental psychologist, researched dens in Vermont in the 70s, he found that 86 children, aged three to 12 years in one town, had made at least one den. His follow-up research is showing that, today, hardly any of the children in that same town have dens at all and, those who do, have pre-manufactured ones. One child, when asked to name his “secret place”, called to his mother for help in identifying such a spot.

Hart believes a variety of factors are affecting children’s lives out of doors. Families are generally smaller in number and often both parents work, so scarcer time together means that fewer children get less attention, and when they get it, the parents tend to feel more anxious about their children’s welfare. Outdoor spaces are also becoming increasingly limited in what they offer because of fear of litigation, and the increased availability of electronic media lures children indoors. But, perhaps, above all, there is parents’ fear of letting children out alone.


November 11th, 2011

composers as gardeners

Brian Eno on “the composer as gardener”:

Of course, I was also familiar with Cage and his use of randomness, and new ways of making musical decisions. Or not making them. What fascinated me about these kinds of music was that they really completely moved away from that old idea of how a composer worked. It was quite clear with these pieces, for example “In C,” that the composer didn’t have a picture of the finished piece in his head when he started. What the composer had was a kind of menu, a packet of seeds, you might say. And those musical seeds, once planted, turned into the piece. And they turned into a different version of that piece every time.

So for me, this was really a new paradigm of composing. Changing the idea of the composer from somebody who stood at the top of a process and dictated precisely how it was carried out, to somebody who stood at the bottom of a process who carefully planted some rather well-selected seeds, hopefully, and watched them turn into something. What we did have, though, was cybernetics. And I became very interested in the work of a cybernetician called Stafford Beer. In fact, I became friends with him, ultimately. Stafford had written a book called The Brain Of The Firm, The Managerial Cybernetics Of Organization, which came out, I think, in ’72 or ’73. And it was a very exciting book because it was essentially about this idea, again, unspoken at the time, of bottom-up organization, of things growing from the bottom and turning into things of greater complexity.

Now, you must understand why this was surprising at the time. It’s surprising for the same reason that evolution theory is still surprising to most Americans. Which is that the concept of something intelligent coming from something simple is very hard to understand. It’s not intuitive at all. The whole shock about Darwinian evolution is that simplicity turns into complexity. It’s not obvious that that should happen.

What happened in Stafford’s work was that he was talking about organization and how things organize themselves in this new way. And there was one sentence in the book which I think I still remember, he said ‘instead of trying to organize it in full detail, you organize it only somewhat and you then rely on the dynamics of the system to take you in the direction you want to go.’ And this became my sort of motto for how I wanted composition to be.

From a transcript of a talk found here in video & audio (via 3qd)

November 11th, 2011

survival benefits of schizotypy

Researcher Dr Daniel Nettle explained: “Creative types lead a bohemian lifestyle and tend to act on more sexual impulses and opportunities, often purely for experience’s sake, than the average person would.

“It’s common to find that this sexual behaviour is tolerated. Partners, even long-term ones, are less likely to expect loyalty and fidelity from them.”

But he said these “schizotypal” personality traits could manifest themselves in negative ways.

“A person with them is likely to be prone to the shadows of full-blown mental illness such as depression and suicidal thoughts.”

He said there could be an underlying evolutionary survival benefit that would explain why creative people continued to display schizotypal character traits.

“There are positive reasons, such as their role in mate attraction and species survival, for why these characteristics are still around.”

His work in Proceedings of the Royal Society B focused on 425 men and women, including a sample of visual artists and poets and schizophrenic patients, and their history of sexual encounters since the age of 18.

BBC Health (Nov 2005)

November 6th, 2011

glass and steam

via 3dq

November 5th, 2011

the bear’s ethereal grace

My Fancy by Lewis Caroll.

I painted her a gushing thing,
With years about a score;
I little thought to find they were
A least a dozen more;
My fancy gave her eyes of blue,
A curly auburn head:
I came to find the blue a green,
The auburn turned to red.

She boxed my ears this morning,
They tingled very much;
I own that I could wish her
A somewhat lighter touch;
And if you ask me how
Her charms might be improved,
I would not have them added to,
But just a few removed!

She has the bear’s ethereal grace,
The bland hyaena’s laugh,
The footstep of the elephant,
The neck of a giraffe;
I love her still, believe me,
Though my heart its passion hides;
“She’s all my fancy painted her,”
But oh! how much besides.

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