Martian Colors

I've been intrigued by synesthesia since I read The Man Who Tasted Shapes sometime in the second half of the 90s. It seems so bizarrely wonderful: numbers might have colors, musical notes might also have distinct hues - or perhaps shapes... It's just freaky to imagine, and more significantly, it illustrates how seemingly arbitrary the brain's powers can be.Now Kottke points us to this post, which in turn quotes a Scientific American article about a wonderful phenomenon:

We also observed one case in which we believe cross activation enables a colorblind synesthete to see numbers tinged with hues he otherwise cannot perceive; charmingly, he refers to these as “Martian colors.� Although his retinal color receptors cannot process certain wavelengths, we suggest that his brain color area is working just fine and being cross-activated when he sees numbers…

Martian colors! That rules.

Is it wrong to be jealous of an "abnormality"?


Track o' the Post: Bright As Yellow from Glow by The Innocence Mission, because I'm a little girl sometimes.

Dawn of the Superbug

Strange but True: Antibacterial Products May Do More Harm Than Good

Unlike these traditional cleaners, antibacterial products leave surface residues, creating conditions that may foster the development of resistant bacteria, Levy notes. For example, after spraying and wiping an antibacterial cleaner over a kitchen counter, active chemicals linger behind and continue to kill bacteria, but not necessarily all of them.

I friggin' told you so!

(via Garret)

Time for a Correction

One of those Newton's Apple-type trivia bits I tend to trot out with reasonable frequency (and have for as long as I can remember, practically) is that glass is "supercooled liquid". Now Garret points me to this article which actually shows us that I was ill-informed:

When glass is made, the material (often containing silica) is quickly cooled from its liquid state but does not solidify when its temperature drops below its melting point. At this stage, the material is a supercooled liquid, an intermediate state between liquid and glass. To become an amorphous solid, the material is cooled further, below the glass-transition temperature. Past this point, the molecular movement of the material's atoms has slowed to nearly a stop and the material is now a glass. This new structure is not as organized as a crystal, because it did not freeze, but it is more organized than a liquid. For practical purposes, such as holding a drink, glass is like a solid, Ediger says, although a disorganized one.

Good enough. Lesson learned and all that.

"Amorphous solid" it is.

Cognitive Neuroscience And You

Who Wants to Be a Cognitive Neuroscientist Millionaire? A researcher (from my alma mater, Boston University) uses his understanding of the human brain to advance on a popular quiz show.

Another cognitive process essential for winning on Millionaire is intuition, or more precisely, knowing how to make decisions based on intuition. What if you have a feeling about an answer? What should you do with your hunch? Folk wisdom holds that on standardized tests you should go with your first impulse. Research tends to support this idea: a first impulse is more often correct than a second, revised decision. But what if $250,000 is at stake? "More often correct" does not seem certain enough to serve as a basis for a decision. How can you evaluate the true likelihood of a hunch being accurate?

This is a great read. Especially when you get sentences like this:

My neurohormones whipped from black misery to shining ebullience, saturating my brain in a boiling cauldron of epinephrine and endorphins.


Dilbert Dude Hacks Brain

Scott Adams, creator of every office worker's favorite comic strip, lost his voice a while back. Now he's tricked his brain into giving it back.

My theory was that the part of my brain responsible for normal speech was still intact, but for some reason had become disconnected from the neural pathways to my vocal cords. (That's consistent with any expert's best guess of what's happening with Spasmodic Dysphonia. It's somewhat mysterious.) And so I reasoned that there was some way to remap that connection. All I needed to do was find the type of speaking or context most similar -- but still different enough -- from normal speech that still worked. Once I could speak in that slightly different context, I would continue to close the gap between the different-context speech and normal speech until my neural pathways remapped. Well, that was my theory. But I'm no brain surgeon.

The secret (for him) was rhyming!

Monkey Mirror

Proved: Monkey see, monkey do

Monkeys “imitate with a purpose�, matching their behaviour to others’ as a form of social learning, researchers report.

Such mimicry has previously been seen only in great apes – including humans and chimps – but now Italian researchers have recorded wonderful footage of the phenomenon in newborn rhesus macaques.

Oh sure, they "imitate with a purpose" alright: To take us down a notch and move on up the evolutionary scale, I'd say!

Stupid learning monkeys...

No Doubt

Are germs good for children's health?

Now some immunology experts are beginning to agree that germs that many parents bleach and disinfect out of existence might help children.

"Hygiene hypothesis" holds that when babies are exposed to germs, it helps them fight allergies and asthma later.

I easily start to sound like an X-Files wackjob conspiracy theorist when I start talking about anti-bacterial foo-faw. I compare it to ArmorAll -- the more you use it, the more you need it.

Was mich nicht umbringt, macht mich stärker, right?

How Autistic Are You?

Take The AQ Test

Psychologist Simon Baron-Cohen and his colleagues at Cambridge's Autism Research Centre have created the Autism-Spectrum Quotient, or AQ, as a measure of the extent of autistic traits in adults. In the first major trial using the test, the average score in the control group was 16.4. Eighty percent of those diagnosed with autism or a related disorder scored 32 or higher.

I scored a 21, but I'd be really curious to see how someone else (say, The Wife) would score me.

Update: Turns out I score a 24 with The Wife answering for me. I'll take it.

Lockbox Brain

Woman With Perfect Memory Baffles Scientists

That level of recall suggests another hypothesis. Some people are able to recall past events by categorizing them. Certain events, or facts, are associated with others, and filed away together so that they may be easier to access. That's a trick that is often used by entertainers who use feats of memory to wow their audience.

AJ does have "some sort of compulsive tendencies. She wants order in her life," McGaugh says. "As a child, she would get upset if her mother changed anything in her room because she had a place for everything and wanted everything in its place.

"So she does categorize events by the date, but that doesn't explain why she remembers it."

Fascinating... She remembers when tax inititatives were passed in her childhood, for crying out loud!

New X Prizes

The Next X Prizes: DNA, Nanotech, Autos and Education

Along with X Prize purses for space and genomics, Diamandis said Friday that the Foundation is working on prizes in the automotive arena, nanotechnology and education.

For the automotive prize, the focus is on breakthroughs in areas like miles per gallon and manufacturing.

"Why do we still drive cars that use an internal combustion engine and only get 30 miles per gallon? I think that we'll see some amazing achievements in this area," Diamandis predicted. Further details on this automotive prize are forthcoming, he added, when the prize is fully formulated.

I love the way the X Prize bring innovation outside of the usual industry red tape. So, suppose this brings about a fuel cell car that drives like a Porsche... will we ever see it on the streets? Or will The Man conspire with Detroit and Japan to keep it under wraps in spite of the public knowledge that come swith winning an X Prize?

Hot Flashes in the Mist

Study: Gorillas go through menopause

A study of gorillas at 17 North American zoos, led by Chicago's Brookfield Zoo, is the first to document gorilla menopause, according to researchers who were not involved in the study.

The findings may help zoos improve how they care for aging female gorillas and change the way evolutionary biologists think about menopause in humans.

Researchers think this may serve to refute the "grandmother hypothesis" which posits menopause evolved to give grandmothers time to help care for the grandchildren. Gorilla grandmas don't hang with the young'uns, so it might just be a result of living longer.

[Thanks to Mike for the link.]

Wanna come over and watch Animal Planet?

Seed: Girls Gone Wild ... for Monkeys

The researchers found that while straight men are only aroused by females of the human variety, straight women are equally aroused by all human sexual activity, including lesbian, heterosexual and homosexual male sex, and at least somewhat aroused by nonhuman sex. ... "There's the possibility that genital response for women is not necessarily imbued with meaning about her sexual interests," says Chivers. She also emphasized that her findings do not imply women harbor a latent desire for lesbian sex or bestiality.

What's actually surprising is that the guys had such a selective response. You'd think just the idea of sex would be enough to get some response from most fellows.


Molecular motors push liquid uphill

Droplets of liquid have been moved uphill by molecular motors designed to manipulate Brownian motion.

While other researchers have found ways to make drops of liquids move before, what is new here, says David Leigh at the University of Edinburgh, is the use of molecular motors to achieve it: “This is the first time you can use molecular-level motion to move a macroscopic object. OK, so it’s only a tiny droplet – but it’s a start.�

How very Diamond Age!

Best are the "you might also do this" scenarios:

The so-called “nano-shuttles� could also create a range of different types of smart surfaces, such as adhesive surfaces that can be switched on and off, or surfaces that can be switched from one colour to another.

Brave new world, indeed. I can't wait until I can finally customize the color of my flying car!

Singing Wings

Just because I did nothing with my aerospace engineering degree doesn't mean I ignore the cool stuff from that field: 'Singing' wings help prevent small-plane stalls

In wind tunnel tests, Salmon stuck sections of plastic piezo-electric film to wing segments. This film vibrates when an electrical signal is applied, producing sound.

Tests using a barely audible sinusoidal tone of about 400 hertz showed a 22% increase in lift, compared with a standard wing. This could translate into a few extra seconds of time for a pilot to boost a plane’s speed before it stalls, says Salmon. The simple tones worked best, though Salmon did experiment: “I can say that songs by the band Spiderbait are more effective than Radiohead’s.�

Spiderbait?! Way to plug the virtually unknown (in the US, at least) Aussie band, Qantas dude! Truth be told I went through a huge unknown Aussie music phase in college. Can't say I stuck with any of the artists I got into back then, but at the time some of my favorite tracks were on those freebie tapes I got a CollegeFest in the Hynes Convention Center.

Back to the airplane stuff... Once, while hiking on Mt. Washington, I saw a couple gliders buzzing around the summit. Literally: their wings were vibrating in the updraft (I assume), causing a high-pitched hum. No piezo-electric plastic involved with that, but it was really cool to me.

Cool Kids

Really cool invention brings teens awards

Today, the young inventors say, U.S. drivers use about 7.9 billion gallons of fuel each year to run their air-conditioners, which draw power from the engine. By adopting their contraption - which taps into the electrical system, using fans to blow hot air through five Peltier chips and then releasing cold air - they say the country stands to save 3.9 billion gallons of fuel annually, or about $10 billion based on current gas prices.

Furthermore, the product would free drivers from Freon - which despite improvements, remains an ozone-depleting chemical in current air-conditioners. The Peltier chips, which they purchased on eBay for $9.99 each, have a life span of 20 to 30 years and an unfaltering cooling capacity. And like every component in the Space Beast, which can be minimized in size to about 2 inches in width, the chips are recyclable.

Wow. Way to go!

More zombie news

This one might even be real: Boffins create zombie dogs

US scientists have succeeded in reviving the dogs after three hours of clinical death, paving the way for trials on humans within years.

Pittsburgh's Safar Centre for Resuscitation Research has developed a technique in which subject's veins are drained of blood and filled with an ice-cold salt solution.

Granted, the story isn't quite as exciting as the title, but hey... I love any story that calls scientists "boffins" -- makes 'em sound like Muppets!

When it's high up in the sky it almost looks like it is white

Summer Moon Illusion

This week's full moon hangs lower in the sky than any full moon since June 1987, so the Moon Illusion is going to be extra strong.

What makes the moon so low? It's summer. Remember, the sun and the full Moon are on opposite sides of the sky. During summer the sun is high, which means the full moon must be low. This week’s full moon occurs on June 22nd, barely a day after the summer solstice on June 21st--perfect timing for the Moon Illusion.

There's a table of moonrise times for various cities. Check it out and step outside this week.

Hey! You got your human in my chimp!

Careful How You Monkey With DNA

Embryonic stem cells have the ability to differentiate into any type of cell in the human body. Incorporating these highly morphological cells into an animal embryo or brain opens up amazing scientific possibilities and unthinkable ethical quandaries, such as a human brain trapped in a mouse's body, or a human baby with mice for parents.

No scientist working with chimeras apparently wishes to create such nightmarish animals. But just to be on the safe side, the National Academies made chimeras a prominent part of a larger report outlining guidelines for embryonic stem-cell research.

The guidelines, which are voluntary, say scientists should never implant human embryonic stem cells into non-human primates, such as chimpanzees.

And while we're getting all Island of Doctor Moreau up in here, there's this, too: 'Merman' spotted in Caspian