As I try to recover from the tragic reality that I no longer have access to a biomedical library and all its lovely research articles, let’s just take a look at some art.
Claire L. Evans of the Universe blog recently added two posts on art – actual art made by us humans – that is currently up there on the moon. The Moon Museum is a small tile inscribed with six drawings that is (maybe, maybe not) on the leg of the Apollo 12 mission’s landing module.
The museum, which looks like a paleo-modern computer chip, includes a drawing of a wavy line, courtesy of Rauschenberg, a doodle of a mouse by Oldenburg, John Chamberlain’s template pattern, and a piece by Warhol that the Times in ’69 called a “a calligraphic squiggle made up of the initials of his signature,” but is obviously a penis.
The (tiny) sculpture, Fallen Astronaut, by artist Paul Van Hoeydonck and carried up and “installed” by astronauts David Scott and Jim Irwin, is a memorial to astronauts who had died and includes both Americans and Soviets on its accompanying plaque.
Both pieces were snuck up there by astronauts, lending them a somewhat pleasing, illicit quality. They also just happen to be up there where no humans can see them. Ms. Evans does a wonderful job of describing what is so lovely and mysterious about all of this:
While it’s ordinarily the artists who defend the formal importance of ideas for their own sake, on Apollo 15 it was, well, not the scientists — but the military-trained, engineer-pilot, non-artist astronauts who did. Which perhaps goes to show that the experience of space, the perspective-altering transcendence of the so-called “overview effect,” ultimately turns us all into poets..
The Voyager Spacecrafts also carried art – and also much more – into space. Here, you can see lists of diagrams, images, sounds and greetings from earth that were included in the golden records which are currently in the heliosheath, 17,406,300,000 and 14,189,890,000 or so km from earth.
Posts have been a little scarce and may be for a bit longer. It’s getting to the end of the semester for me and I’m focusing on finishing some school projects (and continuing to go to work and eat, etc.). Things will lighten up in May when I graduate.
In the meantime, however, I did want to post something about what has turned out to be one of my favorite things about blogging. And that is the search engine queries. See, I get a list of search engine queries that have led people to this blog and for some reason they delight me. A lot of them are people possibly looking for information about anatomy, which is unfortunate since I didn’t really write anything about that. But others are very amusing. Read the rest of this entry »
Every once in a while, this story comes back into the news cycle and, every time, it just gets worse. In brief: some researchers conducted a study where they looked at the sexual practices and moods of female college students – 293 of them – and found that those women who were having unprotected sex were less depressed. From this, they concluded that semen has antidepressant properties.
I first read something about this study several years ago when a story about it appeared online in Psychology Today. The date on the Psychology Today article implied that this was groundbreaking, new research, but the original research was actually from 2002. Looking for that article the other day, I found this brand new one, where the author, Michael Castleman, admits a fascination with the “chemical complexity of semen”, but fails to mention how old the study is. Nor did he seem to check to see if anyone has tried to replicate it. I’m guessing he didn’t read it. He does include this unhelpful bit of advice, though:
Now, I’m not advocating that reproductive-age people shun condoms to elevate women’s mood at the risk of unplanned pregnancy. But this effect might come in handy for women over age 50, who are experiencing menopausal blues.
Because unplanned pregnancy is the only worry here? Here’s a hint. Women over 50 can get disease just as easily as the younger, fertile ladies. In fact, they can be at higher risk. And, no, they are not all married or in monogamous relationships. And, he’s suggesting women over 50 try this to cure their depression on the basis of a single, preliminary, nine year-old, unreplicated study involving less than 300 women of college-age? Read the rest of this entry »
I wrote previously here about how some of the more charismatic (cute, beautiful, large, crazy-looking) animals are more likely make it into public conservation campaigns. They attract public interest and concern more than less exciting, but, perhaps, even rarer species. Protections created for these animals often involve the conservation of environments which support many other species as well. These other species benefit from the celebrity of their more exciting neighbors.
The giant panda is the poster child of charismatic megafauna and is, literally, the poster child for the World Wildlife Fund. Ogilvy has done pro bono work for WWF and other environmental groups. Two ad campaigns they’ve created on behalf of the overfished bluefin tuna draw directly on this idea of popularity winning in the conservation game.
One asks, “Would you care more if I was a panda?” (or a gorilla or a rhino):
Another created for Greenpeace asks you to try to imagine pandas when you see other endangered animals – specifically, tuna – slaughtered en masse (some of the other images are more upsetting):
There’s a news story currently going ’round about a study on the role of serotonin in sexual behavior (in mice). Mice devoid of neurons that release serotonin were found to have no preference when it came to sex with males or females. Normally a male will mount females much more frequently than males (they do normally mount both to some extent). Thus, normal mice show a preference for females. In this study, however, the mice without the serotonin, showed no particular preference and mounted both males and females about equally.
So, of course this means that scientists made the mice kind of gay right? No no no.
Female spotted hyenas give birth through the tip of a penis-like clitoris. That sounds unpleasant, right? It’s also quite damaging. First-time birth through this “peniform” clitoris is long and difficult and results in the clitoral opening tearing when the relatively large, open-eyed pup (with teeth and claws) is born. Quite often, the first birth through this pseudopenis also results in the the death of the pup. So, uh, why is it there?
How did I not read about this before? A humanoid robot named R2 (that’s right!) went up on the Discovery today. Poor R2 has no bottom half and is there mostly for testing and might not be unpacked for a while, but is still managing to tweet.
This is the first twitter feed I’ve read for more than a minute and I’ll admit it’s because its written by a robot (in case you haven’t guessed, R2 has “twitter helpers” on earth taking care of this part of his mission). R2′s tweets are strangely compelling. He’s very positive and excited about his mission, which seems to mostly be to test out his abilities in micro gravity, and he’s eager to be useful to astronauts by helping them with “boring or dangerous work”. The poor guy is really looking forwrd to pressing buttons:
Although, I guess everything is fun when you’re weightless.
He’s doing a good job reassuring various humans worried that he will annihilate us all. He has promised “no culling and destroying“ R2 is also informative and has a sense of humor:
On the other hand, R2 is currently in storage. It’s not like he got to look out a window during launch. So, basically, we’re left to imagine this poor, carefully packaged half-robot, cheerfully tweeting alone in the dark until someone manages to unpack him. Honestly, it’s bumming me out.
Keep that chin up, fella!
Despite it being Monday, I was having a nice morning. I didn’t forget anything. I got a seat on the subway and managed not to fall asleep and miss my stop. My donut had giant chunks of glaze coming off it. But the New York Times ruined the whole thing with this depressing slideshow.
Don’t look at it.
The slideshow accompanies an opinion article with the cheery title Lost and Gone Forever which considers the idea of extinction and how our understanding that species can be lost (and gone forever) is relatively new. It’s a very interesting article by Richard Connif who explains what it took to overcome the idea that all life on earth was created as chain of increasingly complex and perfect forms up to humanity (perfect, obviously) and that none of these could ever cease to exist for such a loss would somehow mar this elegant view of design. Thomas Jefferson also had a hard time accepting it:
Such is the economy of Nature that no instance can be produced of her having permitted any one race of her animals to become extinct; of her having formed any link in her great work so weak as to be broken.
An example of charmingly desperate American optimism.
Jefferson did come around and was eventually convinced that extinctions occur. I do, however, understand the feeling that any individual species must be far too mighty/fierce/amazing/smart/charming/useful/just-plain-neat to succumb, but, as the article mentions, lions are due to disappear from Kenya within the next 20 years. Lions.
When the last individual of any race of living things breathes no more, another heaven and another earth must pass before such a one can be again. -William Beebe
Try to imagine a mid-sized woodland creature. Due to predation and ecological changes resulting in aridity, decreased woodland and low biodiversity of tree-life, this creature adapts over millions of years to a far more restricted existence. Its diet becomes monotonous, consisting of nothing but the same, toxic, barely digestible foodstuffs of extremely low nutritional value. Due to the enormous metabolic toil involved in eking out its energy and nutrition from this food, the creature barely moves. Its body, over time, morphs in ways that allow it to grip one spot and stay still with ease. Its head becomes nothing more than a giant machinated maw for chewing and grinding, while parts of its intestines expand in size to allow for digestion of its coarse fare. Its brain is reduced, shrinking in volume to become a puny, hollow thing. It communicates with others of its kind through low, vulgar grunts, meeting only for short, hostile bouts of copulation in order to perpetuate the species. The creature becomes little more than a body adapted for consuming food, digesting it and creating more of its own kind. This seems a miserly and disagreeable existence. What grim sort of beast has it become?