Wednesday, March 15, 2006

Avian flu may skip winged transportation for road transportation

I recently got turned on to a great new Science blog aggregator.

Grrlscientist at Living the Scientific Life frequently collects and blogs a series of wonderfully clear and interesting essays by scientists, called the Tangled Bank.

In the latest issue (49th), I came across her striking essay on the avian flu propagation pattern.

While she uses a report by GRAIN, an NGO who has a clear beef (pardon the pun) with large scale farming, the arguments are clear, plausible and rather convincing.

An examination of the pattern of avian flu spread was found to poorly match known migratory patterns of wild birds, and could instead be much more easily explained by animal shipments of the commercial poultry industry.

A further examination of some of the salient outbreak points seems to correlate much better with the presence of intensive poultry farms than with any migratory pattern of birds.

Finally the article points out that backyard chicken, free-ranging animals with a much higher genetic diversity than mass-raised chickens, are not likely vectors of the disease.

Go read the entire essay here.

In the meantime I'll wait to see whether this analysis somehow finds it way into Nature or Science.

Thursday, December 29, 2005

Ahh the Power of Cheese !

I am a consummate cheese lover, no doubt about it. I am also trained as a scientist.

So why didn't I come up with the idea of combining the two ? Darn.

But seriously, this British study on the effect of cheese on sleep contains several gems, not the least of which is the title: Sweet Dreams are made of Cheese.
A lot of people still believe the old wives tale that cheese gives you nightmares but this study endorses the scientific facts.

“ One of the amino acids in cheese – tryptophan – has been shown to reduce stress and induce sleep so cheese may actually help you have a good night’s sleep,” says Dr Judith Bryans, Nutrition Scientist at The Dairy Council.

85% of females who ate Stilton had some of the most unusual dreams of the whole study. 65% of people eating Cheddar dreamt about celebrities, over 65% of participants eating Red Leicester revisited their schooldays, all female participants who ate British Brie had nice relaxing dreams whereas male participants had cryptic dreams, two thirds of all those who ate Lancashire had a dream about work and over half of Cheshire eaters had a dreamless sleep.
...
What is particularly interesting is the reported effect different types of British cheese have on influencing the content of dreams. It seems that selecting the type of cheese you eat before bedtime may help determine the very nature of often colourful and vivid cheese induced dreams”

And let's not forget the cheese by cheese analysis of induced dreams, consider my favorite British cheese:
Stilton -eating participants enjoyed their sleep too – over two thirds had good sleep experiences during five out of the seven nights. However, if you want some vivid or crazy dreams, the King of British cheeses is the one for you – particularly if you are female. While 75% of men in this category experienced odd and vivid dreams, a massive 85% of females who ate Stilton had some of the most bizarre dreams of the whole study – although none were described as bad experiences. Highlights included talking soft toys, lifts that move sideways, a vegetarian crocodile upset because it could not eat children, dinner party guests being traded for camels, soldiers fighting with each other with kittens instead of guns and a party in a lunatic asylum.
Can some new figures of speech be far behind ? "She be straight-trippin' off the Stilton, man."

I'll have to jump quickly on combining my weakness for single-malt scotch with my scientific training. Then, as soon as I get funding, it's off to the liquor store.

Tuesday, December 13, 2005

A turning point...

How often I've heard that expression. The number of turning points we've supposedly passed in Iraq should have been harnessed by some turbine to generate electricity. It probably would have been enough to restore power to pre-war levels, or higher.

But no, I'm not talking about that. Rather, I'm talking about the latest blog-media shitstorm to hit the Washington Post.
Let me explain. In a particularly surprising chain of events, both the Ombudswoman and the National political editor for the Washington Post print edition have set their riflescopes on the beloved weblog columnists Dan Froomkin. Froomkin is about to go on family leave as a new father, and it seemed some internecine war has broken out in the Post's news office. First, Froomkin was accused to have a liberal bias, and his column title "White House Briefings" was somehow leading scores of readers to mistake his sharp news aggregating as original reporting from the White House.
Well, Froomkin responded on the Post blog. Then editor John Harris replied. And that's when a massive part of America, silent so long, completely fed up with the kowtowing Bushbeaten DC press, finally erupted. You literally have to read for yourself the comments, some brilliantly incisive, some measured and bathed by cold anger, some rude, others written like pumping fists of rage, but all raining down on Harris.

But it gets worse and Jane Hamsher at Firedoglake has the details. Briefly, Harris gives an interview shortly thereafter and when asked if White House officials complained to him, answered: "They have never complained in a formal way to me, but I have heard from Republicans in informal ways making clear they think his work is tendentious and unfair. ..."

Then a Post Executive Editor also has an interview and had this to say "We want to make sure people in the [Bush] administration know that our news coverage by White House reporters is separate from what appears in Froomkin's column because it contains opinion," Downie told E&P.
Adding, almost as if an afterthought, "And that readers of the Web site understand that, too."


Ooh boy. Now the anger is white hot, the blogs become alit like Christmas trees, and the comments to John Harris continue to accumulate into the hundreds, toward the thousands.

It was the angry voice of Americans silent no more, the brutal awakening and venting of a majority fed up with the fucking joke that our media has become. The hulking and venerable giants of print journalism had been dying for a while, but now the stench of rot was undeniable.

I mark this, chalk in hand, as a turning point. This massive "let them have it", many voices rising.

My claim to fame in all this ? My comment to John Harris, a hat tip to the once-keen DailyHowler, was the favorite comment picked up by Jane Hamsher.

Don't be so hard on poor Mr. John Harris. The only thing in his post that I take issue with, is that he forgot to start with: "Hey Rubes !" After that, his whole post makes more sense.

But there are so many more, you gotta read them.

Epilogue:
My predictions had been wrong. Plamegate was not to be the downfall of the White House - that will come with other scandals - but rather it was to be the chronicle of the Fourth Estate's catastrophic failure.

Judith Miller, Bob Woodward, Vivena Novak, Bob Novak and others, all witnesses who stayed silent for too long, like so many lighthouses deciding to shut down just as the storm gathered. Now they serve to point ghostly fingers off accusation at editors, publishers and some of their fellow journalists.

Friday, November 18, 2005

It's been a long time

Rakim spoke true.
You can't always be on. Other commitments can easily demand most of your attention, and before you know it, you seem to have disappeared.

Well, I'm still here.
In Florida.
Post-Katrina,
Post-Wilma and
pre-Gamma.

Gotta love gamma. To a biologist, naming things by greek letters, seems like home. We name individual components of protein-based machinery by greek letters. From Alpha on down. Most of these molecular machines and catalytists do not require a subunit gamma.

But here we are. Another assault on my home by some freak meteorological event. Time to bring in the garden furniture....

I'll post again after Monday

Wednesday, September 14, 2005

A moment of silence has passed

This Boondocks makes a nice point.









'Nuff said.

Sunday, August 14, 2005

The Grand Unified Theory of Dating

Well may be not, but it's a start. From the BBC...

"Richard Ecob adapted a system for modelling atoms in radioactive decay to investigate how we look for partners.

He found that "super daters", people who have many short relationships, have a good effect on others' lives.

This is because they break up weak couples, forcing their victims to find better relationships.

Transit states

At the root of the system, says Mr Ecob, is the similarity between the probability of the nucleus of an atom decaying and that of a couple breaking up.

The decay of a nucleus is described in terms of "transit states": the series of change it has been through to get to its current situation.

The probability of someone having been in two relationships, for example, is the same as that of a nucleus decaying twice.

"We had an inkling that it might be the same because we saw similarities," he told the BBC News website.

"When we worked it out, the graphs we got were very similar."

The sweet decay of love. But seriously, all this guy showed was that the mathematical function is the same. To go on and say that there is a similarity between dating and nuclear decay is, well, just plain geeky.

So in the same spirit, here are other phenomenons "similar" to dating, I'll leave it as an exercise to the reader to flesh out the analogies:

Voltage decay in a capacitor. Hint: Electric discharge.
Cooling of an object.
Drug metabolizing. (Love is a ...)

Here are phenomenons "opposite" to dating (exponential growth):
Bacterial growth.
Nuclear chain reaction.

John Cole and the Perfect Weapon

As the summer heat broils, steams and cooks the nation from coast to coast, steam is rising from the blog world. The lines between right and left, never really blurry to begin with, have resharpened strongly, reaching the pre-election levels of last year. The reason ?

Iraq.

The news are not good for sure, but a combination of bad news have kept Iraq on the front news: increasingly lethal and effective attacks by insurgents and Zarqawi's group, the apparent lack of focus and coherence of this Administration about our goals and strategy in Iraq, the hobbling along of the three wheeled Constitutional progress which looks more and more like Iran lite, and the decision by Bush to walk away from the helm in Washington for over a month.

But nothing could have upset the opponents of exiting from Iraq more than Cindy Sheehan's highly publicized protest in Crawford demanding the right to speak face to face to Bush about the reasons for the war that killed her son.

This sparked a number of particularly tasteless , stupid and vicious attacks on this grieving mother from rightwing bloggers, followed by an equally forceful response from some of the left (including Steve Gilliard). The lines were being redrawn and the few bloggers who had recently become uncomfortable with the increasingly anti-libertarian tone of the GOP, quickly returned into the fold.

We mourn the loss of blogger John Cole to the dark side. As with all such tales, his descent started when he gave in to his blind anger of Kos, Atrios, and some ill-defined users of Ms. Sheehan. This anger never really gets explained or rationalized beyond shabbily built strawmen. You should all read this takedown of Mr. Cole's mighty exercise of semantics where we are told that calling a grieving and angry Mom "media whore" is quite acceptable discourse. No, really. Let's all give a minute of silence to Balloon Juice's short-lived monicker of "reasonable conservative".

FOR THE RECORD: Mr. Cole did not say that media whore is acceptable discourse. But I disagree with his implied suggestion that "media whore" is far less incendiary than "whore".

Tuesday, August 02, 2005

When Food Attacks !

For all you Foodies (Food Afficionados) out there, here is a great story about eating live baby octopus tentacles from Deep End Dining:

To avoid spoiling the best parts, I'll just quote the ending:
"At last the tentacle became vulnerable to my molars. Without hesitating, I bit hard on it over and over and over again while mumbling "Die! Die! Die!"Before it could resurrect itself and do a surprise attack like some slasher movie villain, I swallowed deeply and gulped it down. "Get in my belly!" I gasped"
Go read it all. There is a video of another diner's experience with the thing.