The Phoenix

Friday, December 29, 2006

2006...Another Year of Goofy Science Experiments

Compared to 2005, I'd have to say that 2006 had more of its share of some very questionable research. These are the science experiments that make you scratch your head and wonder, just what were they thinking?

I'm sure these kinds of experiments are valuable to somebody. Maybe. Personally, I believe these projects are just an excuse for scientists to goof off.

So, here are some of my favorite Ig Nobel Prize Winners of 2006:

NUTRITION: Wasmia Al-Houty of Kuwait University and Faten Al-Mussalam of the Kuwait Environment Public Authority, for showing that dung beetles are finicky eaters.

REFERENCE: "Dung Preference of the Dung Beetle Scarabaeus cristatus Fab (Coleoptera-Scarabaeidae) from Kuwait," Wasmia Al-Houty and Faten Al-Musalam, Journal of Arid Environments.

Dung beetles are finicky eaters? Yeah right. Um...they eat SHIT!

MATHEMATICS: Nic Svenson and Piers Barnes of the Australian Commonwealth Scientific and Research Organization, for calculating the number of photographs you must take to (almost) ensure that nobody in a group photo will have their eyes closed.

REFERENCE: "Blink-Free Photos, Guaranteed," Velocity, June 2006.

In any group photo, there's always going to be at least one moron that closes his eyes. And usually I'm the moron. By the way, they found that in general, if you take half the number of people, that's how many shots it'll take to get a blink-less photograph.

LITERATURE: Daniel Oppenheimer of Princeton University for his report "Consequences of Erudite Vernacular Utilized Irrespective of Necessity: Problems with Using Long Words Needlessly."

REFERENCE: "Consequences of Erudite Vernacular Utilized Irrespective of Necessity: Problems with Using Long Words Needlessly," Daniel M. Oppenheimer, Applied Cognitive Psychology.

So the manifestation of this verbal masterbation simply showed how the constipationary use of erectile words will often mis-vibrate even the most scholastical impersonators.

"Hey, I ain't no venereal fuddrucker!"

CHEMISTRY: Antonio Mulet, José Javier Benedito and José Bon of the University of Valencia, Spain, and Carmen Rosselló of the University of Illes Balears, in Palma de Mallorca, Spain, for their study "Ultrasonic Velocity in Cheddar Cheese as Affected by Temperature."

REFERENCE: "Ultrasonic Velocity in Cheddar Cheese as Affected by Temperature," Antonio Mulet, José Javier Benedito, José Bon, and Carmen Rosselló, Journal of Food Science.

I had to read that title over and over again. Perhaps this research is valuable whenever you're in a food fight? It's always good to know that frozen cheddar slices make a faster projectile than cubed mozzarella.

ACOUSTICS: D. Lynn Halpern (of Harvard Vanguard Medical Associates, and Brandeis University, and Northwestern University), Randolph Blake (of Vanderbilt University and Northwestern University) and James Hillenbrand (of Western Michigan University and Northwestern University) for conducting experiments to learn why people dislike the sound of fingernails scraping on a blackboard.

REFERENCE: "Psychoacoustics of a Chilling Sound," D. Lynn Halpern, Randolph Blake and James Hillenbrand, Perception and Psychophysics.

This was a study you couldn't pay me enough money to participate in. What did they find? They believe our hatred of fingernails scraping on a blackboard was nearly identical to several types of primates' warning screams. So it's some sort of leftover vestigal reflexive response.

I'm a little skeptical, as most humans quit flinging poop at each other millions of years ago.

MEDICINE: Francis M. Fesmire of the University of Tennessee College of Medicine, for his medical case report,"Termination of Intractable Hiccups with Digital Rectal Massage"; and Majed Odeh, Harry Bassan, and Arie Oliven of Bnai Zion Medical Center, Haifa, Israel, for their subsequent medical case report also titled "Termination of Intractable Hiccups with Digital Rectal Massage."

REFERENCE: "Termination of Intractable Hiccups with Digital Rectal Massage," Francis M. Fesmire, Annals of Emergency Medicine.

What's funnier? Francis massaging test subjects' poop chutes, or the fact that it was published in the Annals of Emergency Medicine?

Here's to a healthy, happy, and prosperous New Year. See you in 2007!

The Phoenix

Tuesday, December 26, 2006

Is There Any Womb In There For Another Baby?

Just a couple days before Christmas, Hannah Kersey was able to bring her triplets home with her. Ruby, Tilly, and Grace were finally healthy enough from their September birth to leave the hospital. Sounds pretty normal, right? What makes Hannah's story remarkable is how she's made medical history.

Hannah's children came from two separate wombs.

OK, let me repeat that.

Hannah's children came from two seaparte wombs...inside of her.

Ruby and Tilly are identical twins and were in one womb. Grace was by herself in her own separate womb. Yes, Hannah Kelsey has two wombs. The odds of having triplets from two wombs is estimated to be 25 million to 1.

So how did this happen???

Hannah has a condition called uterus didelphys. When she was a developing fetus, her Mullers ducts never fused to form one uterus, as it's supposed to. It leaves her with two separate This condition is often hereditary, and Hannah's mother and sister both have two wombs as well.

But what made medical history is the fact that Hannah gave birth to triplets in two separate wombs - and that makes her the first EVER in recorded medical history to do so. Both wombs had to have had an egg. The father, Mick Faulkner (or as I would call him, Super Sperm Man), had two separtate sperm cells fertilize each egg. One egg split and became identical twins - Tilly and and Ruby. The other egg remained in a separate womb, and became Grace.

Dr. Ellis Downes, consultant obstetrician and gynecologist at Chase Farm Hospital in London, said: "It is quite amazing. Women with two wombs have conceived a baby in each womb before but never twins in one and a singleton in the other."

Singleton??? What the hell is that? Singleton? Isn't that a kind of Scotch Whisky?

After reading this newstory, my head was swimming with questions. I bet yours is too. In fact, I'd bet some of your questions are as follows:

Question: So having two wombs, is it possible two sets of children could've had two DIFFERENT fathers?

Answer: You're watching too much Grey's Anatomy. Or maybe House. Hannah had only one cervix. The only way she could've gotten pregnant in both wombs was simultaneously. So she'd have to be having sex with two men at the exact same moment. I dare not continue with this scenerio out any further as I'm becoming slightly nauseus.

Question: Does Hannah have two vaginas?

Answer: No. You sicko.

Question: Are there women out there with two vaginas?

Answer: Geezus! Ok, yes. There was another British woman, Claire Miles, a year ago that had two vaginas, but did have an operation to get them fused together. She also had two wombs, each with a baby inside. Her babies are doing great as well. This reminds me of a joke I heard. You ever hear of the man with five penises (penii?)? His pants fit like a glove!

Question: Having two wombs, are Hannah's menstruation normal?

Answer: I'm not qualified to answer that question, but I wouldn't want to be near her house when she's got PMS.

Question: Is there some sort of evolutaionary/biological advantage for having two wombs?

Answer: Obviously, she might be able to produce more offspring with "one shot." (Ahem), but this condition is associated with fertillity problems. Now that Ms. Kersey has three newborns to feed at the same time, she's probably wishing she had three boobies instead.

Monday, December 18, 2006

Santa Baby, Put That Thing Away!

World Against Toys Harming Children Inc., or W.A.T.C.H., released its top 10 most dangerous toys for 2006 just before the Christmas shopping season began. It's a pretty comprehenive list, and I'd have to agree with their choices for some of the most dangerous toys you can give a kid this year.

The most dangerous toy for 2006, for example, are Heelys. I know you've seen them. They're the shoes with that wheel that pops out. They're popular with 'tweens. A kid will be walking along, and suddenly, they start gliding like Kristi Yamaguchi. No shit they're dangerous...massive head trauma anyone?

Reading their list, it made me think of the toys of my generation. I would venture to say that 80% of ALL the toys that came out would make W.A.T.C.H.'s list. It's amazing more of us weren't impaled, chopped up, slashed, and permanently disabled from these great toys.

So here's my Top 10 List of toys that I shake my head at today. These are toys that make me think, "No way in hell my kid is playing with these."

Slip 'N Slide. Do you have fond memories of this great summer toy made by Wham-O? Do you remember any kids getting severely injured as well? These things are death traps. This toy is simply a long slippery sheet of plastic that you hook up a garden hose to. Water jets out of these little perforations along the edges of the plastic, and kids run and slide all the way down. Sounds fun, right? My nipples were bloody from this damn contraption. Oh, and if there was some sort of object underneath the plastic, like say, a sharp rock, the results can be deadly.

Home Chemistry Set. They still make these for kids, and I'm sure they're much safer. But my kit came with all kinds of unstable materials and an alcohol burner. Nothing is more fun than mixing a bunch of chemicals and heating it up with the burner until the concoction blows up in the test tube. Playing with acid is so much fun! At the heart of every mad scientist today is the need to blow shit up. And we can thank the makers of these volitile kid chemistry sets for that.

Superballs. Yet another fun product from Wham-O. The Superball was a little rubber ball that was capable of being bounced 100 feet into the air. We'd zing them all over the place, nearly taking out an eye here and there. None of us knew the Heimlich Maneuver, but thankfully none of my friends choked on one. But these things were amazing. They were most amazing when thrown off a roof. But the best game was "playing catch" with Superballs. This consisted of hurling this tiny hardened ball at your friend, aiming for his crotch.

Super Elastic Bubble. Guess who made this toy? That's right, Wham-O. This toy consisted of a straw and some gooey gel you put at the end of the straw. You'd blow a bubble that you could really play with. The bubble could be mushed and molded without popping. Of course, we never made bubbles really. We'd just inhale the noxious fumes that this liquid plastic emminated to get a buzz. Toxic fumes that killed brain cells and probably damaged our lungs. Oh, what fun times!

Stretch Armstrong. This toy was so much fun. Stretch Armstrong was the rubber figure with blond hair, bulging muscles, and a tight little bun-hugger swimsuit...wait a minute. What the hell? This toy obviously promoted homosexuality! Apart from that, this thing could be stetched to the point where you swore it would just rip in half. This thing was amazing. So amazing, my friends and I had to find out what made this thing stretch like that. We stabbed the gay bastard and found this foul-smelling syrup inside it. I'm sure this stuff was highly toxic.

Big Wheel. The Big Wheel could make any kid feel like Evil Knievel. You were supposed to ride this thing, pedal fast, and then hit the brake lever to do cool 180 skids. That's not how me and my buddies played with this. We'd find the biggest damn hill we could find, build a ramp at the bottom, and then hurl oursleves while kneeling on this little plastic rocket. I remember one Big Wheel just shattering when the fat kid landed after flying through the air.

Slinky. A classic toy for sure. In the commercial, you'd see this metal spring seemingly go down the stairs by itself like a robot caterpillar. "It's Slinky, it's Slinky, what a wonderful toy..." Of course, just ignore that this is just a tightly wound metal weapon. We'd grab one end and just hurl it at someone, like a barbed-wire yo-yo. Even if a kid was innocently playing with this thing, do you really want your kid playing with some strangling-hazard near some stairs???

Verti-Bird. This is one toy I wish I had owned. A neighbor kid had one, so I'd go over there at take this cool helicopter for a spin! The helicopter on that metal wire would spin and spin, and spin so fast, it'd turn that helicopter into a deadly flying chinese star. You get a group of kids around this thing, and it could turn into a sword fight scene from Kill Bill in a hurry. I wonder how many kids lost an eye from this toy.

Battlestar Galactica Ships: In 1978, a boy actually died from this toy. The ships fired these little red missles, and this kid fired one into his mouth, killing him. His parents sued Mattel for $14 million. I remember this whole event quite vividly, as I had the Colonel Viper ship. There was a weird recall too, as Mattel asked kids to mail in their red missles and receive a hot wheel car for their trouble. Yeah right! Kiss my ass Mattel. Not too long afterwards, the new Battlestar Galactica toys came out, but the red missles were glued and couldn't be fired. Hahaha...but mine continued to fire. Oh sweet victory.

And Finally...

Clackers. I believe this is the first toy ever made that was inspired by actual ninja assasin weaponry. A pair of clackers was simply two very hard glass-like balls with a string attached to them, and a plastic ring at the other end. You were supposed to put your finger in the ring, and then thrust your arm up and down to make the balls fly up in a deadly arc and smash against each other over and over again, up and down. They were pulled from shelves because kids were knocking the crap out of each other with them.

My favorite use for them would be to pretend my Clackers were Batman's bolo batarang. A willing friend (victim) would run away from me, and I would throw the Clackers at their feet, hoping they would quickly wrap around my escaping prey's shoes and make him trip. My dreams of being Batman were quickly dashed when the hard balls would simply smash my friend's ankles, and he'd be writhing in agony on the floor.

It's a miracle any of us survived childhood with toys like these.

Merry Christmas!

Wednesday, December 13, 2006

Gift of the Magi?

Tis the season...for getting really crappy gifts.

Why oh why do people give each other such junk?

Do you throw it away, or are you a re-gifter? No matter how you deal with the mounds of useless stuff, every year it never fails. It's as inevitable as the sun rising and Santa ho-ho-ho-ing. You will receive some gifts that make you think:

What the hell?

Why do people give crummy gifts to the ones they know and love? A recent study published this month in The Journal of Consumer Research suggests that familiarity actually makes it more difficult to figure out and predict what our loved ones prefer.

Dr. Davy Lerouge of Tilburg University, the Netherlands and Dr. Luk Warlop from Katholieke University,Belgium found that we buy crappy gifts even even when armed with lots of information about our loved ones. In fact, we have the most trouble understanding the tastes of those we know a lot about.

Lerouge and Warlop set up a bunch of experiments in which couples, who had been together more than two years on average, tried to predict which kinds of bedroom furniture the other would like. In the experiments, half the couples knew they were trying to predict their partner's preferences. The other half tried to predict the preferences of someone they were told was a stranger, but who was, in fact, their partner.

The results: Subjects were much better at predicting a stranger's preferences than their own partner's.


Lerouge and Warlop explained that when predicting what a stranger would like, we are forced to "rely on general and stereotypical information about the stranger, which can be quite diagnostic." But when predicting what our loved ones would like, we "ignore this valid information" and rely on more intimate information "that is often found to be invalid or irrelevant when predicting product attitudes."

In other words, you might remember the time when your significant other overslept because the clock's alarm was too quiet. And so you find an alarm clock with a louder alarm. Does this mean they will love their gift? Hardly.

Here are some gifts you should steer clear from for sure. Take my word for it, do NOT buy the following:

Hair removal: This includes nose hair trimmers, personal groomers, or ear hair shavers. Unless your loved one begs for one, just don't do it. Nothing says "You're a walking Sasquatch" like getting any sort of hair removal apparatus.

Stupid puzzles: If your loved one is under six year old, go for it. Otherwise, don't buy that 50,000 jigsaw puzzle. I don't care if it is the Taj Mahal. And no, it doesn't matter if it's a 3-D puzzle. This gift suggests that the recipient has too much time on their hands.

Used crap: OK, you cheap ass. Dont be going around the house looking for something to wrap and give away. You don't think we can tell? The seals on the box are all broken...duh! All the cheese popcorn in the tin is missing! Hmmmm.

Drug store perfumes/colognes: This stuff should be banned. Talk about tacky! Not only are you suggesting that your loved ones smells bad, but why give them something that would make them smell like a mix of potpourri and whisky? Hai-Karate anyone?

Weight loss products: Free weights, Tai Bo video, 6 Second Abs, Thigh-Master, or a treadmill might sound like a great gift, but guys - do NOT give your lady anything to do with weight loss. Nothing says "Babe, you're a fat ass" like getting her weight loss stuff. It's about as subtle as hitting them over the head with a Honeybaked Ham.

Why don't you just smack her hand when she goes for that Christmas cookie, moron?

Monday, December 11, 2006

Stereotypically Speaking

Stereotypes exist all around us. Every one of us has stereotypical thoughts in our heads. We might not express or act on these stereotypes, but they do lurk in our minds.

Two recent studies try to give us more insight to stereotypes - how deep do they run? are they conscious or more subconscious? and can stereotypes influence behaviors?

Psychologists Jennifer Steele at York University in Toronto and Nalini Ambady of Tufts University in Boston took one group of female students and asked them about phone service. The other set of girls were asked about co-ed housing. Both groups were then asked how pleasant it would be do read a poem, solve an algrebra problem, and other questions trying to see their preference for the arts or math.

The group asked about co-ed housing strongly preferred the arts. Why? Psychologists believe asking them questions that reminded them of their sex (co-ed housing) triggered a stereotype that the arts are more feminine and math is masculine.

In other words, very subtle and seemingly innocent cues can trigger these stereotypes.

The second half of the study involved college females to stare at a "plus sign" on a computer screen. At times, specific words would flash for 1/10th of a second - not long enough for the conscious mind to actually be able to read the word. But it was enough for the subconscious. The students that saw feminine words like "lipstick" or "doll" also recorded a much higher preference for the arts than math compared to the girls who were flashed words like "cigar" and "suit."

"It is disturbing to think I can show you words outside your awareness and that can influence your preference," Steele said.

Very recently, another stereotype study was conducted by psychology student David Butz of Florida State. He found displaying the American flag had an influence on white students on math and anagram tests. The white students outscored their fellow white students without the flag. Minorities saw no change with or without a flag. Almost all students didn't even notice the flag, but it seems subconsciously, it did influence performance.

So stereotypes are deep rooted, subconscious, and can influence our behaviors. Although the word "stereotype" has negative connotations, it's important to remember they can be positive as well. Also, this kind of generalistic thinking served early man well. Thousands of years ago, survival depended on creating very strong bonds with our "tribes" and also sensing danger from those outside our social circle.

Stereotypes are so common, they've infiltrated our everyday language. Others are age-old generalizations we don't even think about anymore. Here are a few examples:

Hood Rich: My mother works for the county, and the people she serves are all on assistance from the state. She talks about many of her clients being "hood rich." This is where a person spends so much money on bling, clothes, and other flashy accessories that they can't afford the basic stuff like food or a house. Imagine a beat up piece of shit hoopty car with $2,000 rims. "Hood rich" originally was placed on the African-American culture, but has recently seeped into the Hispanic realm as well. It's so fucked up seeing a family using food stamps put their groceries into their new Range Rover.

The Apu Factor: This stereotype is the belief that your 7-11 or other convenience store is owned by an Arab or Muslim. I have personally visited many of these great little shops all over the country, and I can say that perhaps 99% of them ARE owned by an Arab or Muslim. Damn they make some kick-ass Slurpees!

Jewish Miser: Jewish stereotypes include them being stingy, bickering, over-intellectual, and cheap. Often times, they're portrayed as having their secret exclusive codes. A sub-stereotype is the typical meddling and forceful Jewish Mother. Ever watch a Jewish comedian? 80% of their jokes are about their mother-issues. I don't believe as a group, Jews are stingy. You can call them "cheap" but I prefer "thrifty." Go Seinfeld!

White Rhythm: The white man can't dance or find a rhythm is a long-standing stereotype. I went to a college that was 98% white. And I was also a member of a fraternity where all but three of us where white boys. At all the parties and dances, let's just say only three of us could actually find the rhythm and dance. I find this stereotype endearing, however. I'm proud of the white guy that goes onto the dance floor and gives it all he's got. I'm often reminded of a person having Grand-Mal seizures, but I always give them an "A" for effort. (This stereotype does NOT apply to GAY white boys).

Run for the Border: All Mexicans are illegals. This stereotype is probably stronger now than it was even 10 years ago. The US wants to build a fence, but really, is that going to help? I grew up surrounded by Mexicans, and every single one was absolutely legal and was working to become full fledged Americans citizens. On the other hand, I know people in the restaurant business, and they pay their Mexican workers in cash. A mean trick would be to go to a landscaping business, a Chinese restaurant, a Mexican restaurant, or the Home Depot parking lot and scream, "INS! INS coming!"

Blacks and Basketball: In our country, many of us believe all blacks are good at basketball. I remember in gym class and having to pick teams for basketball, and all the black kids would get picked first. Why such an assumption? Basketball is prevelant among black communities, and if you watch the NBA, you'll see most of the guys playing are black. So it's easy to see how the sheer numbers would support such a stereotype. I knew one black guy, Eddie, that was plain awful at basketball. It was so comedic, and I felt sorry for him. He had the weight of African American basketball prowess on his shoulders. And he sucked. He DID yell at the movie screen
during scary movies, however.

Math Masters: Asians are superior in math. This stereotype follows the Asian geek or nerd idea. The math whiz. I am living proof not ALL Asians are good in math. I'm awful. But, the sheer number of Asians achieving higher math scores than everybody else makes this stereotype easy to support. However, here's the truth: Asians outperform every other race in EVERY subject, not just math. Statistically speaking, Asians score higher on SATs in the country than blacks, Hispanics, whites, and Jews. With the numbers supporting this generalization, I'm hopeful Asian intelligence will translate to better driving skills. If you see my aunt or uncle on the road, get the HELL outta their way!

Wednesday, December 06, 2006

A Father, A Hero

My thoughts and prayers go out to the Kim family - especially for James' wife, Kati, and their two daughters: 4 year-old Penelope and 7 month-old Sabine.

James Kim died doing what any father would do for his family.

News article of Kim Family story
James' final review on
James' video podcast, Crave
A website tribute to the Kim Family by their friends

Tuesday, December 05, 2006

Do We Live In "The Age of the Pussyfoot?"

In the sci-fi novel, The Age of the Pussyfoot, Frederik Pohl writes about Earth in the year 2527. It's a world where everyone has a device that carries all of a person's most intimate information and can provide services based on this personal profile. Image a world where a handheld computer knows you love pizza late on Sunday afternoons and immediately orders one for you via the worldwide web. How convenient!

In the book, this handheld device loaded with all your most intimate information is called a Joymaker. What a perfect name for such a gadget. If you're feeling depressed, a Joymaker could even immediately diagnose you and then dispense, in mist form, some nice medication to make you feel better.

Although all this stuff sounds so out-of-this-world...there are signs all around that the future is now.

Recently, the Korean Institute of Advanced Science and Technology (KAIST) has unveiled it's latest creation: a virtual robot capable of emotions named "Rity."

Rity is a software robot, or "sobot" that is capable of a full range of emotions. On a screen, Rity looks very similar to the cute dog on Blue's Clues. Its creators were able to implement an artificial genome made up of 14 chromosomes in 1800 bytes that control Rity's 77 different behaviors.

I'm not exactly sure what all that means, except that Rity has pretty sophisticated programming that allows it to learn, adapt, and be as moody as any little pet. It can also react to his "master's" facial expressions, gestures, and even tone of voice.

If that wasn't amazing enough, Rity has the power to become mobile and follow it's "master" everywhere he goes! Rity can upload/download to any computer necessary in order to do so. It can even utilize a building's security camera to find his master and then transfer himself to a nearby computer, ready to obey his master's every command.

This is so very cool...but isn't it a little creepy too?

The researchers ultimate goal is for everyone to have their own personal Rity, a personal agent that followes you around, that knows your likes and dislikes, and that is ready to help you with anything you need. This digital assistant would know everything about you, and make all kinds of recommendations based on your personal tastes and even current mood.

Life's so full of choices, why bother making them? Just let your own personal Joymaker make them for you.

I'm sure Wal-Mart is loving this idea, as it can then gather that data and stock its shelves properly for all its customers. Personal freedom is such an overrated thing anyway. Who needs privacy when you can be provided with extraordinary convenience and customization?

If this future is going to be a present reality, I think I could benefit from having a virtual assistant like Rity...

Maybe it could do all my Christmas shopping for me.

I think this lady could use a Joymaker.

Established 2005...

Welcome to the blog that aims to examine the lighter side of science. From the paranormal to wacky inventions, to strange mysteries and goofy experiments, I cover it all. Thanks for stoping by science is always stranger than fiction


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