everything is stooopid

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EVERY 250m years the sun, with its entourage of planets, completes a circuit of the Milky Way. Its journey around its home galaxy, though, is no stately peregrination. Rather, its orbit oscillates up and down through the galactic disc. It passes through that disc, the place where most of the galaxy’s matter is concentrated, once every 30m years or so.

This fact has long interested Michael Rampino of New York University. He speculates that it could explain the mass extinctions, such as that of the dinosaurs and many other species 66m years ago, which life on Earth undergoes from time to time. Palaeontologists recognise five such humongous events, during each of which up to 90% of species have disappeared. But the fossil record is also littered with smaller but still significant blips in the continuity of life.

Many hypotheses have been put forward to explain these extinctions (and the events may, of course, not all have the same explanation). The two that have most support are collisions between Earth and an asteroid or comet, and extended periods of massive volcanic activity. Dr Rampino observed some time ago that cometary collisions might be triggered by gravitational disruptions of the Oort cloud, a repository of comets in the outermost part of the solar system. That would send a rain of them into the part of space occupied by Earth. This has come to be known as the Shiva hypothesis, after the Hindu god of destruction. […]

In his latest paper, Dr Rampino speculates that the real culprit may be not stars, but dark matter—and that this might explain the volcanism as well.

{ The Economist | Continue reading }

I never meant 2 cause u any sorrow

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Drawing on county-level data from Kansas for the period 1977-2011, we examine whether plausibly exogenous increases in the number of establishments licensed to sell alcohol by the drink are related to violent crime. During this period, 86 out of 105 counties in Kansas voted to legalize the sale of alcohol to the general public for on-premises consumption. We provide evidence that these counties experienced substantial increases in the total number of establishments with on-premises liquor licenses (e.g., bars and restaurants). Using legalization as an instrument, we show that a 10 percent increase in drinking establishments is associated with a 4 percent increase in violent crime. Reduced-form estimates suggest that legalizing the sale of alcohol to the general public for on-premises consumption is associated with an 11 percent increase in violent crime.

{ SSRN }

‘Is Wagner a human being at all? Is he not rather a disease?’ –Nietzsche

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In the early 1900s, the Dream of the Rarebit Fiend comic strip conveyed how the spicy cheese dish Welsh rarebit leads to bizarre and disturbing dreams. Today, the perception that foods disturb dreaming persists. But apart from case studies, some exploratory surveys, and a few lab studies on how hunger affects dreaming, there is little empirical evidence addressing this topic.

The present study examines three aspects of the food/dreaming relationship. […] Reports of vivid dreams were associated with measures indicative of wellness: better sleep, a healthier diet, and longer times between meals (fasting).

{ Frontiers | Continue reading }

photo { Todd Papageorge, Studio 54, 1978–80 }

related { An ingredient in olive oil kills a variety of human cancer cells without harming healthy ones }

Your reputation precedes you

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The idea of two sexes is simplistic. Biologists now think there is a wider spectrum than that.

The presence or absence of a Y chromosome is what counts: with it, you are male, and without it, you are female. But doctors have long known that some people straddle the boundary — their sex chromosomes say one thing, but their gonads (ovaries or testes) or sexual anatomy say another. Parents of children with these kinds of conditions — known as intersex conditions, or differences or disorders of sex development (DSDs) — often face difficult decisions about whether to bring up their child as a boy or a girl. Some researchers now say that as many as 1 person in 100 has some form of DSD. […]

That the two sexes are physically different is obvious, but at the start of life, it is not. Five weeks into development, a human embryo has the potential to form both male and female anatomy. Next to the developing kidneys, two bulges known as the gonadal ridges emerge alongside two pairs of ducts, one of which can form the uterus and Fallopian tubes, and the other the male internal genital plumbing: the epididymes, vas deferentia and seminal vesicles. At six weeks, the gonad switches on the developmental pathway to become an ovary or a testis. If a testis develops, it secretes testosterone, which supports the development of the male ducts. It also makes other hormones that force the presumptive uterus and Fallopian tubes to shrink away. If the gonad becomes an ovary, it makes oestrogen, and the lack of testosterone causes the male plumbing to wither. The sex hormones also dictate the development of the external genitalia, and they come into play once more at puberty, triggering the development of secondary sexual characteristics such as breasts or facial hair. […]

For many years, scientists believed that female development was the default programme, and that male development was actively switched on by the presence of a particular gene on the Y chromosome. In 1990, researchers made headlines when they uncovered the identity of this gene, which they called SRY. Just by itself, this gene can switch the gonad from ovarian to testicular development. For example, XX individuals who carry a fragment of the Y chromosome that contains SRY develop as males.

{ Nature | Continue reading }

‘Perhaps the feelings that we experience when we are in love represent a normal state. Being in love shows a person who he should be.’ –Chekhov

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Although much attention concerning the potential impact of sexualized media has focused on girls and women, less is known about how this content effects boys’ perceptions of women and courtship. Accordingly, the current three-wave panel study investigated whether exposure to sexualizing magazines predicts adolescent boys’ (N = 592) sexually objectifying notions of women and their beliefs about feminine courtship strategies. The results indicated that when boys consumed sexualizing magazines more often, they expressed more gender-stereotypical beliefs about feminine courtship strategies over time. This association was mediated by boys’ objectification of women.

{ Journal of Adolescence | Continue reading }

[V]iewing sexual music videos by male artists increased the acceptance of female token resistance (i.e., the notion that women say “no” to sex when they actually mean “yes”) among adolescent girls, but not adolescent boys.

{ Communication Research | Continue reading }

‘Everybody has a plan until they get punched in the face.’ —Mike Tyson

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The asteroid landed in the ocean and would have caused megatsunamis, for which evidence has been found in several locations in the Caribbean and eastern United States—marine sand in locations that were then inland, and vegetation debris and terrestrial rocks in marine sediments dated to the time of the impact. […]

The asteroid landed in a bed of gypsum (calcium sulfate), which would have produced a vast sulfur dioxide aerosol. This would have further reduced the sunlight reaching the Earth’s surface and then precipitated as acid rain, killing vegetation, plankton, and organisms that build shells from calcium carbonate (coccolithophores and molluscs). […]

The impact may also have produced acid rain, depending on what type of rock the asteroid struck. However, recent research suggests this effect was relatively minor, lasting for approximately 12 years. […]

Such an impact would have inhibited photosynthesis by creating a dust cloud that blocked sunlight for up to a year, and by injecting sulfuric acid aerosols into the stratosphere, which might have reduced sunlight reaching the Earth’s surface by 10–20%. It has been argued that it would take at least ten years for such aerosols to dissipate, which would account for the extinction of plants and phytoplankton, and of organisms dependent on them (including predatory animals as well as herbivores). […]

The event appears to have hit all continents at the same time. […]

The event eliminated a vast number of species. Based on marine fossils, it is estimated that 75% or more of all species were wiped out by the K–Pg extinction. In terrestrial ecosystems all animals weighing more than a kilo disappeared.

The most well-known victims are the non-avian dinosaurs. […]

The fact that the extinctions occur at the same time as the Chicxulub asteroid impact strongly supports the impact hypothesis of extinction. […]

The Chicxulub crater is more than 180 kilometres (110 mi) in diameter and 20 km (12 mi) in depth, making the feature one of the largest confirmed impact structures on Earth; the impacting bolide that formed the crater was at least 10 km (6 mi) in diameter. […] Researchers dated rock and ash samples from the impact to roughly 66 million years ago. […]

Some scientists maintain the extinction was caused or exacerbated by other factors, such as volcanic eruptions, climate change, or sea level change, separately or together.

{ The Cretaceous–Paleogene (K–Pg) extinction event | Chicxulub crater }

related { Plants survive better through mass extinctions than animals }

related { Rising Sea Levels Are Already Making Miami’s Floods Worse }

related { 12 ways researchers think human civilisation is most likely to end }

You know the day destroys the night

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Every day, the same, again

213.jpgColombian teacher who likes to wear Nazi-themed bondage outfits changes her name to Abcdefg Hijklmn Opqrst Uvwxyz

You can now bet on shark racing in Florida

Mercury level in tuna is getting higher

Older scientists are often seen as less open to new ideas than younger scientists. We put this assertion to an empirical test. Our results buttress the importance of funding scientific work by young researchers. [PDF]

Researchers have found a way to store information in the form of DNA, presumably preserving it for nearly an eternity.

Regular coffee consumption contributes to DNA integrity

Langauge: Redefining the Role of Broca’s Area?

New insight into how brain performs ‘mental time travel’

Two New Particles Found at Large Hadron Collider

Think of a strand of spaghetti that can hold 3,000 pounds. Scientists have discovered nature’s newest strongest substance.

Scientists create contact lens that magnifies at blink of an eye

Why Do Inventors Sell to Patent Trolls?

Japan Has More Car Chargers Than Gas Stations

Are Submarines About to Become Obsolete?

Before Korea, America never lost a war. Ever since, other than the first Gulf War, it hasn’t won any. Why the world’s biggest military keeps losing wars.

Would you like to understand how the “new” Harper Lee novel, “Go Set a Watchman,” came to be billed as a long-lost, blockbuster sequel to “To Kill a Mockingbird” — one of the definitive books of the American 20th century — when, by all the known facts, it’s an uneven first draft of the famous novel that was never considered for publication?

The four male crew members (models provided to Abercrombie) had to wear jeans, boxers, polo shirts, and flip-flops. The manual specified the seating arrangements for Jeffries’s three dogs, the length of the spoon Smith required for his tea, and the proper way to respond to requests (“No problem”). Behind the decline of Abercrombie & Fitch and the fall of its mastermind, Michael Jeffries

Shred Your Ex [more]

How to Make Breakfast With Your Vagina

We can easily forgive a child who is afraid of the dark; the real tragedy of life is when men are afraid of the light.

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Sleep is undoubtedly important not only for how well we think, feel and behave in our daily lives but also for longer-term health. In childhood, the quantity and quality of night-time and 24 hour sleep have consistently been identified as predictor of health. For example, night sleep predicts weight status. These findings have led to the hypothesis that increasing quantity of sleep through promoting daytime sleep would benefit child health. We sought to look for evidence on the independent effects of daytime sleep on child health, learning and behavior to assess whether this hypothesis was supported. […]

The evidence suggests that beyond the age of 2 years when cessation of napping becomes more common, daytime sleep is associated with shorter and more disrupted night sleep. Those studies examining direction of effect all report that daytime sleep is not a response to poor night sleep but rather precedes poor night sleep.

Evidence relating to cognitive functioning, accidents, weight status and behavior were less conclusive.

{ Medical Research | Continue reading }

quote { Statements that Plato never made }

People always ask me who had the funniest name in ancient Rome. It was Pliny the Elder.

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{ Chart of short-term and long-term interest rates all the way back to 3000 B.C., presented by Andrew Haldane, the Bank of England’s chief economist. Shakespeare may have missed a historic opportunity in the bond market. | WSJ | full story }

The desert grows

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Dr. Yalom, I would like a consultation. I’ve read your novel “When Nietzsche Wept,” and wonder if you’d be willing to see a fellow writer with a writing block.

No doubt Paul sought to pique my interest with his email. […] Ten days later Paul arrived for his appointment. […]

“I was in philosophy at Princeton writing my doctorate on the incompatibility between Nietzsche’s ideas on determinism and his espousal of self-transformation. But I couldn’t finish. I kept getting distracted by such things as Nietzsche’s extraordinary correspondence, especially by his letters to his friends and fellow writers like Strindberg.

“Gradually I lost interest altogether in his philosophy and valued him more as an artist. I came to regard Nietzsche as a poet with the most powerful voice in history, a voice so majestic that it eclipsed his ideas, and soon there was nothing for me to do but to switch departments and do my doctorate in literature rather than philosophy.

“The years went by,” he continued, “my research progressed well, but I simply could not write. Finally I arrived at the position that it was only through art that an artist could be illuminated, and I abandoned the dissertation project entirely and decided instead to write a novel on Nietzsche. But the writing block was neither fooled nor deterred by my changing projects. It remained as powerful and unmovable as a granite mountain. And so it has continued until this very day.”

I was stunned. Paul was an old man now. He must have begun working on his dissertation well over a half-century ago. […]

“Tell me more,” I said. “Your family? The people in your life?”

“No siblings. Married twice. Divorced twice. Mercifully short marriages. No children, thank God.”

This is getting very odd, I thought. So talkative at first, Paul now seems intent on giving me as little information as possible. What’s going on?

{ NY Times | Continue reading }

‘The world is the totality of facts, not things.’ –Wittgenstein

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A fragrant object lies before you—say, a flower, some stinky cheese, or a smelly sock. Molecules break off from the object, evaporating into the air and floating towards your face. A sniff pulls the molecules into your nostril, where they travel through your nasal cavity towards your olfactory neurons, which extend out through holes in your skull into the mucus layer of your nose. The molecules activate receptors studding the outside layer of individual neurons, which send a message to your brain that something smells.

Humans have around 350 types of receptors on 40 million neurons, which in combination allow us to distinguish more than a trillion different odors. Despite this incredible power of olfaction, the human sense of smell is often neglected, considered a holdover from our animal past or a source of unseemly sensations. It doesn’t help that odors are often literally beneath us; the evolutionary argument goes that when early humans started walking upright, our nose got farther away from the smells on the ground, decreasing the relative importance of olfaction for getting around. Evidence contradicting this story came from a 2006 study which recruited undergraduate students to get on all fours and track the scent of chocolate oil dripped on grass. They were remarkably good at it, showing that our “bad” sense of smell isn’t biologically determined—it’s just that we’re out of practice. […]

We know a lot about how a smell signal travels from an activated receptor on a neuron to the brain. This pathway has been worked out in painstaking detail, with cascades of cellular switches and neural action potentials that signal our brain. […] But how does a smelly molecule activate its receptor in the first place? There is still no satisfactory answer to this question despite nearly a century of research.

{ The New Inquiry | Continue reading }

photo { Juno Calypso, Disenchanted Simulation, 2013 }