Archive for the 'science experiments' Category

Six wonderful things you will want to read about

April 6, 2009

… or at least skim through to get the gist of.

1. Using Virtual Stomachs to Regurgitate the Mysteries of Digestion

Because I’ve been eating a lot of almonds lately, inspired by my friend’s use of the carbohydrate-specific diet to control her GI disease:

Although almonds contain about 55 percent fat, lead researcher Giusy Mandalari, a biologist, says that  humans absorb less than half of that largely because the oils in almonds are stored behind a tough cell wall that must be broken for our bodies to absorb them. Much of the nutritional content of almonds serves as a “prebiotic,” meaning that it supports beneficial microbial communities in our large intestines. When the group compared natural almonds to blanched almonds, which have undergone a heat treatment to remove their skins, they found that blanched almonds release slightly greater amounts of nutrients.

See also Seth Roberts on why you should eat more fermented food.

2. Computer Program Self-Discovers Laws of Physics

Because I just read Steven Pinker alleging we have an innate ability to learn pre-Newtonian physics (think hula hoopers):

In just over a day, a powerful computer program accomplished a feat that took physicists centuries to complete: extrapolating the laws of motion from a pendulum’s swings. Developed by Cornell researchers, the program deduced the natural laws without a shred of knowledge about physics or geometry.

Better would have been “Computer Discovers Self Programmed in Laws of Physics.”

3. Robot post-doc identifies functions for oddball yeast enzymes

Because when the visions of Chris Anderson (see above) AND Steven Wolfram come true in the same week, something seriously weird is happening:

A robot scientist that can generate its own hypotheses and run experiments to test them has made its first real scientific discoveries. [...] Adam, which actually consists of a small roomful of lab equipment, has four personal computers that act as a brain, and possesses robot arms, cameras, liquid handlers, incubators and other equipment. The team gave the robot a freezer containing a library of thousands of mutant strains of yeast with individual genes deleted. It was also equipped with a database containing information about yeast genes, enzymes, and metabolism, and a supply of hundreds of metabolites.

4. The complement of Atlas Shrugged

Because why didn’t anybody tell me about Ayn Rand when I was 12? And then why didn’t they give me this list of 10 healthy qualities that her universe totally lacks? Here’s #6 – “positive portrayal of uncertainty” –  on which more soon:

In Atlas, “rationality” is equated over and over with being certain one is right.  The only topic the good guys, like Hank and Dagny, ever change their minds about is whether the collectivists are (a) evil or (b) really, really evil.  (Spoiler alert: after 800 pages, they opt for (b).)  The idea that rationality might have anything to do with being uncertain—with admitting you’re wrong, changing your mind, withholding judgment—simply does not exist in Rand’s universe.  For me, this is the single most troubling aspect of her thought.

5. Literature that skewers pompous fools

Because Pinker and now Aaronson are making me question the whole post-TK-ism thing, or at least my drug- and grief-fueled understanding of it:

For those with better things to do than follow academic blogs, Venkatesan is a former instructor at Dartmouth College who’s announced that she’s suing the students in her freshman writing seminar for harassment because they (1) argued with her ideas, (2) asked too many impertinent questions about French critical theory and deconstructionism, (3) didn’t accord her sufficient respect as someone with both a Masters and a PhD, and (4) submitted poor teaching evaluations.

6. Outing Myself (from the Cannabis Closet)

Because somebody needs to pass Obama the dro:

I’m no “stoner” (not that there’s anything wrong with that). I’m an overeducated, relatively successful professional with a closet full of suits. How freaking square do I look in my byline picture at The Week? The stigma can’t last long when that’s the picture of a typical marijuana user. If this would “take off as the next P.C. activist trend” that would be terrific as well as hysterical. But I know for a fact that tons of P.C.-bashing Republican types smoke weed too, and it would be even better if they would stand and be counted.

I’ll cop to the occasional trip to the center of my mind. The scary thing is how short the ride is. Hmm, why does the phrase “asymptotic freedom” come to mind?

Anyway, re (1) – (6): further evidence that the opportunity cost of not reading the internet is infinite.

Pilates vs. motion sickness

March 21, 2009

I get a weird motion sickness thing in cars and planes that seems to be triggered by lack of food. Finally science comes along and gives me a possible explanation, from a story in the March Sci Am about motion sickness:

Postural instability[--]the inability to maintain balance[--]was considered a symptom of motion sickness. Not so, Stoffregen says. Although postural control relies on sensory feedback, motion sickness is really a sign that the motor-control system is going haywire.

Volunteers stand in a room watching a map of the U.S. quiver back and forth by 1.8 cm. Clarifications: 1) The room itself can vibrate, too. This U. Minn. write-up makes it sounds like Tilt-A-Whirl. Here’s a pic:


the aforementioned <a href= 

2) Apparently Stoffregen – first name: Thomas; kinesiologist at U. Minn. –  is saying that if motion sickness was entirely from crossed perceptual cues – linear and angular motion sensation in the ear conflicting with where eyes and muscles tell us the body is moving – then ralphing would be as common as shaking hands. But it isn’t.

From U. Minn. again:

He measures the movement of people subjected to his sickness-inducing tests, and “the people who are going to get sick commence to move in really weird ways,” he says, imitating the type of staggering walk typical after tequila night at the bar. Even when the subjects are strapped to an upright stretcher, the ones who feel sick still move a little. “They wriggle,” says Stoffregen. Due to individual differences to sensitivity, only about half of Stoffregen’s test subjects feel sick. Those who don’t also don’t wriggle, which makes Stoffregen think that movement is the key factor behind motion sickness.

Now the punch line of the Sci Am story is clearer to me:

Students standing with their feet five centimeters apart tend to get motion sickness about 60 percent of the time. Spreading their legs to 30 centimeters increases the stability of the head and torso and decreases the incidence of motion sickness to about 20 percent. Stoffregen says that by monitoring body sway, he can predict the onset of motion sickness with 60 percent accuracy.

It’s (still) like I’ve always said: when in doubt, tighten your core muscles.


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