A Florida high school student with an interest in science mixed together aluminum foil and toilet bowl cleaner as an experiment. To her surprise, the mixture exploded. Unfortunately for Kiera Wilmot, she tried her experiment on school grounds.
It was a small explosion, and nobody was hurt. Wilmot was, otherwise, a good student with a perfect behavior record. But the school chose to expel her, have her arrested, and is supporting her being charged with a felony as an adult.
Scientists across the country are not amused. Biologist Danielle Lee writes about this incident in context with the discipline gap that treats minority kids more harshly for small infractions.
Through Twitter, scientists and educators speak up about the things they blew up for science, under the hashtag #KieraWilmot.
The Mozilla Foundation has sent a legal threat to Gamma International, a UK company that makes a product called "FinSpy" that is used by governments, including brutal dictatorships to spy on dissidents. FinSpy allows these governments to hijack their citizens' screens, cameras, hard-drives and keyboards. Gamma disguises this spyware as copies of Firefox, Mozilla's flagship free/open browser.
Gamma International markets its software as a “remote monitoring” program that government agencies can use to take control of computers and snoop on data and communications. In theory, it could be legitimately used for surveillance efforts by crime fighting agencies, but in practice, it has popped up as a spy tool unleashed against dissident movements operating against repressive regimes.
Citizen Lab researchers have seen it used against dissidents from Bahrain and Ethiopia. And in a new report, set to be released today, they’ve found it in 11 new countries: Hungary, Turkey, Romania, Panama, Lithuania, Macedonia, South Africa, Pakistan, Nigeria, Bulgaria, and Austria. That brings the total number of countries that have been spotted with FinFisher to 36.
To date, Citizen Lab researchers have found three samples of FinSpy that masquerades as Firefox, including a “demo” version of the spyware according to Morgan Marquis-Boire, a security researcher at the Citizen Lab, who works as a Google Security Engineer. Marquis-Boire says his work at Citizen Lab is independent from his day job at Google.
Mozilla Takes Aim at Spyware That Masquerades as Firefox [Robert McMillan/Wired]
The Mirado Black Warrior pencil is made in the USA from high quality materials, available practically everywhere, and, very importantly, cheap (hey, it’s a pencil, after all).
The Black Warrior’s No. 2/HB graphite is darker and softer than standard No. 2′s and has a wax additive to make it smoother. The writing experience is noticeably superior to most other pencils. It’s easier and more satisfying to write with, with less effort involved. The barrel is round, with a good hand feel, but that also means it rolls off inclined surfaces. One other con: the Pink Pearl eraser has pumice in it, which can abrade paper, unlike nylon erasers.
Other than that, it is flawless (and the cedar is pleasingly aromatic when freshly sharpened). Cheaper pencils aren’t a bargain if they’re hard to sharpen, scratchy to write with, and the lead tends to break. More expensive graphite pencils that are more suited to artists, along with the frequently mentioned Blackwings, don’t seem as practical at $20 for 12, in my opinion. They’re like the Ferraris of pencils, and harder to source than the Mirado.
I’ve used these pencils for over a year, and haven’t found one that has more bang for the buck. Paired with the Kum sharpener, these are a no-brainer part of my EDC (every day carry).
-- Tom Anvari
[On my friend Michael Pusateri's advice, I ordered 3 dozen of these pencils. They are about 90% as good as my favorite pencil, the Blackwing 602, which costs five times as much as the Mirado Black Warrior. I now use both! -- Mark]
Mirado Black Warrior Pencil $3.50 a dozen
The Koch Brothers -- billionaire ultra-conservative puppet-masters and Tea Party funders -- are rumored to be in talks to buy eight newspapers, including the LA Times, Chicago Tribune, Baltimore Sun, Orlando Sentinel and Hartford Courant from the Tribune company, which is emerging from bankruptcy protection. Half of the LA Times's newsroom has threatened to quit if the Kochs take over.
One thing sure to happen if the Koch brothers take over the paper is a conservative agenda on the editorial page. As other newspapers have cut back on editorials and endorsements, the Times is now often the only LA news outlet that issues endorsements on political candidates and on ballot measures and initiatives. This is particularly crucial in California, where even the most educated voter is left clueless and confused -- or worse, tricked -- after reading the state propositions put on the ballot by Californians who simply gathered enough signatures to push a private agenda.
If the Times' editorial page is filled with the Koch brothers' libertarian opinions, other journalists in LA will need to step up and voice opposing views.
If Koch Brothers Buy LA Times, Half of Staff May Quit (VIDEO) [Kathleen Miles/HuffPo]
I'm pretty fond of the design of the new Canadian plastic $5 note, which is much improved if you draw Spock ears, eyebrows and hairline on old Sir Wilfrid Laurier.
This is the second story in a four-part, weekly series on taxonomy and speciation. It's meant to help you as you participate in Armchair Taxonomist — a challenge from the Encyclopedia of Life to bring scientific descriptions of animals, plants, and other living things out from behind paywalls and onto the Internet. Participants can earn cool prizes, so be sure to check it out!
On the sixth floor of New York's American Museum of Natural History — far away from the throngs of tourists and packs of schoolkids — there is a cold, white room, filled with white, metal cabinets.
The cabinets are full of dead things; leeches, sea anemones, lobsters ... any kind of invertebrate you can imagine. Even a giant squid. All of them have been carefully preserved. Each soaks in its own, luxuriant ethanol bath. Here they sit, some for a hundred years or more, waiting for scientists to pull them out into the light.
It's a bit like the final scene of Raiders of the Lost Ark, but for slimy, crawly, spineless things. There are collections like this all over the world, containing every species of animal, plant, and microscopic organism. Together, they serve as a record of Earth's biodiversity, a library of life. In them, you'll find more than just random specimens. Some of the individuals are special. Called "type specimens", they serve as ambassadors for their species, real-world models that define what each species is. For instance, the leech species Myxobdella maculata is both a group of leeches and exactly one leech — A leech that I got to meet on a behind-the-scenes tour with invertebrate curators Estefania Rodriguez and Mark Siddall.
Estafania Rodriguez stands in the invertebrate collections room at the American Museum of Natural History. Behind her, you can see a row of expanding cabinets used to store many different invertebrate species. These are like the library stacks, where average specimens are organized by phylum, class, order, family, genus, and species.
The specimens stored in these cabinets are meant to demonstrate diversity, the broad range of what different animals within a single species can look like. "We've got a huge collection of lobsters," Mark Siddall said. "I had a guy come in and wanted to measure all the different antenna lengths of lobsters from a huge variation across space and time to see if that's something that changes."
Across a narrow aisle are the rows of immobile cabinets that house type specimens — individual animals that serve as the definition of what an entire species ought to be like. These are the "sacred" specimens. For each species, there is only one official model animal — the holotype — in the entire world.
When scientists find a new animal, they use holotypes to figure out which species it belongs to — or whether it might represent something entirely new that we haven't seen before. It's a simple game of deciding whether a new specimen is more like one holotype or another.
"They look horrible when they are dead," said Estafania Rodriguez, holding a small jar containing a type specimen of a sea anemone from the Arctic. In another jar, she had a type specimen of an Antarctic anemone. One of her current projects involves figuring out how closely related these two species are. There's a possibility that they might be a single, bi-polar anemone.
Color doesn't preserve well in alcohol, so even the most rainbow-hued small invertebrate can end up looking like a brown lump. Because of that, some of the information about each specimen is lost — preserved in words and drawings, rather than flesh. But this is still the best way to do it. "They loose much more information if they dry out," Siddall said. Preserving the body, even in a less-attractive state, allows scientists to come back and study both internal and external anatomy.
The museum has had collections like this since it was founded in 1869. But, over the years, the methods for storing the specimens have changed. Rodriguez pointed out these jars, sealed with white gaskets. Until recently, the jars used a red rubber gasket. Unfortunately, it turned out that the red gasket dissolved into the alcohol, damaging the specimens. It also turned brittle, allowing alcohol to evaporate. And, if that wasn't enough, the dissolved red gasket was also toxic. "You live, you learn," Siddall said.
In fact, the collections room, itself, was an innovation in specimen storage, Siddall said. It's only about a decade old and is designed to reduce the risk of fiery destruction — a big deal when you're talking about a room full of ethanol. The ceiling was covered in fire-resistant foam and dotted with sprinklers. It's also engineered to support the weight of hundreds of alcohol-filled jars.
Of course, that brings up an important question. Fire, floods, theft — these are all things that can happen. What do you do if you lose a holotype?
In this photo, Mark Siddall shows me a brown blob of preserved leech at the bottom of a vial. The drawer next to him is full of not only holotypes, but also backup specimens, called paratypes. Collected in the same place, at the same time, as the holotype, paratypes help scientists understand diversity within a species. And, in the event of the holotype's demise, they can step in and take its place. When that happens, the paratype becomes known as a neotype.
A holotype and its paratypes are usually stored in different places. That's a safety precaution, but there are other reasons for doing it, as well, including making sure that the natural heritage of other countries doesn't all end up in boxes in New York and London. Here, Siddall holds a leech paratype that he collected in Madagascar in 2002. "The holotype went to Madagascar where it belongs," he said.
This is the holotype of the species Myxobdella maculata. It was found in 1914, in what was then the Belgian Congo. Scientists Herbert Lang and James Chapin went into the Congo basin in 1909. They meant to stay a year. There were there for six years. When they finally returned, they brought with them hundreds of thousands of specimens, including 100,000 invertebrates alone. Neither of them were invertebrate specialists, however. So this leech and many others like it sat in the collections, unnamed and unnoticed until 1939 when zoologist John Percy Moore pulled it out, identified it as a species, and gave it a name.
And there's nothing particularly weird about that story. Even today, the invertebrate collections contain unidentified material. People like Siddall, who specialize in one animal, will come back from expeditions with animals they aren't familiar with. Those sit in the collection, waiting for specialists to come along and examine them more closely.
It's also worth noting that all the type specimens — whether holotype or paratype — come with more than just a name. Every label tells a history; who found the specimen, when did they find it, where was it found, and who described it and gave it a name. Some even have latitude and longitudinal coordinates. That information helps scientists match the right research papers to the right type specimen. It also helps them make comparisons across time and space. If somebody finds a Myxobdella maculata in the Democratic Republic of the Congo today, they can set it side-by-side with the holotype and see whether evolution has been at work on the species.
"With mollusks, especially, we get people who want to donate us their shell collections," Siddall said. "And that's very nice and very generous. But if I don't know where it's from, when it's from and all of that information, then the specimen is of almost no scientific value."
At the very end of my tour, Estefania Rodriguez pointed out a large container, about the size and shape of a trash dumpster, sitting ominously at the end of the aisle. "There's a giant squid in that tank," she said.
Unfortunately, I didn't get a chance to see inside. Like all the other specimens, the squid is floating in ethanol. But because it's a giant squid, it's really an awful lot of ethanol. "Because of the vapor pressure inside, opening it requires four people and a fire department," Siddall said. "And when you lift the lid, it's like a big calamari martini."
After a Walt Disney World family holiday, Dr. James Martin was sent an online poll by Disney asking if he'd be interested in returning and staying in a hotel room themed after one of the park's iconic rides, including the Haunted Mansion or Pirate of the Caribbean, or a princess room. The Haunted Mansion room mockups are pretty exciting, and remind me of my lifelong ambition to open a 12-room boutique haunted hotel someday.
Come spend the night with a few of the happy haunts who play in an enchanted bedroom inspired by the Haunted Mansion. Rest atop the floating Doom Buggy beds with a couple of friendly spooks and watch glow-in-the-dark, cartoon-like footsteps mysteriously appear as the evening sets in. A sliding bookcase creates a hidden passage to the bathroom and is the perfect hiding place for a hitch-hiking ghost. Oversized furnishings with curvy lines and bright colors add to the whimsy in the room. Guests will delight in finding the hidden special effects that play up the merry, rather than scary, room ambiance.
Would you stay in a Haunted Mansion themed hotel room? [Matt Roseboom/Attractions Magazine]
(via Mouse in Mansion)
Two recent papers about heart disease from the Cleveland Clinic are making the rounds. The studies report that red meat and eggs cause heart disease because our gut bacteria converts carnitine and choline into Trimethylamine N-oxide (TMAO), a heart disease trigger.
At Huffington Post, Chris Kresser has questions about the papers:[W]hile at first glance the papers from Dr. Hazen's group might appear to be the final nail in the coffin for the omnivorous among us, a closer inspection of their data reveals some troubling questions. First, a study back in 1999 found that seafood generates much higher levels of TMAO than red meat, eggs, or any of the other 46 foods tested. One species of fish, halibut, produced 107 times as much TMAO as beef, and 53 times as much TMAO as eggs. If high TMAO levels cause cardiovascular disease, and eating fish increases TMAO more than any other food, we'd expect to see high rates of heart disease in people who eat the most fish. Yet that is the opposite of what research shows. In fact, some studies have found eating more fish (particularly cold-water, fatty fish like salmon) reduces the risk of heart attack by a greater margin than statin drugs! In fact, whole grains could play a role in elevating TMAO levels: In their second paper, Dr. Hazen's team raises the possibility that the foods we eat aren't the primary driving force behind our TMAO levels, because most people are able to excrete excess TMAO that accumulates in the blood via the urine. This suggests that something else may be to blame for high TMAO. What could that be? One possibility, which the researchers themselves demonstrated in the first paper, is that differences in our gut bacteria could account for the higher TMAO levels observed in some people. They showed that those with greater amounts of a type of bacteria called Prevotella in their gut generated more TMAO after eating carnitine. And what might lead to a higher concentration of Prevotella in the gut? Ironically, previous research has shown that the people who eat large amounts of whole grains are the most likely to fit this pattern. This would suggest that a diet high in whole grains -- and not red meat or eggs -- could increase the risk of heart disease by elevating TMAO in the blood. Red Meat and Eggs on Trial Again, But Jury Is Still Out
YOU MUST join this very instant.
Last month I had a conversation with Dale Grover (co-founder of Maker Works in Ann Arbor, Michigan -- read his profile at Make) about the late author Nevil Shute. Shute is best known for the novel On the Beach (about a dying Earth after a global nuclear war) but we discussed a lesser-known novel of Shute's called Trustee from the Toolroom, which I read five or six years ago and absolutely loved.
Trustee from the Toolroom is a tremendously compelling and well-plotted adventure story from 1960 about a mild-mannered English columnist for a hobbyist magazine called Miniature Mechanic who is duty bound to recover a container of valuable jewels from his dead brother's wrecked yacht in the South Pacific. (Fun fact from Wikipedia: "Trustee from the Toolroom was voted #27 on the Modern Library Readers' list of the top 100 novels. The top ten in that poll, though, included four works by Ayn Rand and three by L. Ron Hubbard -- according to David Ebershoff, Modern Library's publishing director, 'the voting population [was] skewed.'")
During our chat, Dale told me he's read a bunch of Shute's other books, and he was kind enough to email me the next day with mini-reviews of them. I asked Dale if I could run his email on Boing Boing and he said OK. Here's what he wrote:
You have started with what I think is Nevil Shute's best book, but there are some really, really good ones:
A Town Like Alice No engineering, but a wonderful story about an English woman caught up in the Japanese invasion in Malaysia, then her transformation of a village and town later. It was made into a really well done mini series. (And a so-so version later on. Go for the long one, 6 hours but worth it.)
Slide Rule Shute's autobiography. You knew he started out in aviation engineering? One of his first jobs was helping to design one of a pair of airships for the British government. (He went on to found an aviation company, and later in life he had a home machine shop and made model engines.)
No Highway Another engineering one. A "boffin" (nerd) in aviation R&D has to act in the real world on his scientific beliefs. Was made into a great movie (was available on YouTube in its entirety at one point, but I don't see it now), and soon after a great radio drama (should be available online), both starring Marlene Dietrich and Jimmie Stewart. All are highly recommended!
The Far Country A sweet story (Shute had a romantic side), plus Shute was not happy about what was happening politically in England, and saw Australia (where he eventually moved) as offering the opportunities no longer possible in England.
Round the Bend Aviation mechanic starts a religion -- Engine maintenance as soulcraft. Set in the mideast post WWII.
The Chequerboard, Pastoral, Landfall, In the Wet -- all worth reading. And On the Beach is possibly his most well-known book for the powerful image of the results of a world-wide nuclear war. (It was made into a major movie, but I have not seen it.) It is not an upbeat story, though. Movie has some differences from the book that Shute did not like.
Shute's well-known trip to Australia by small plane is captured in Flight of Fancy by James Riddell. Bali is where Riddell lost his heart. There's some advantage in reading it after reading some of the books that came out of this flight -- A Town Like Alice, Round the Bend, The Chequerboard, In the Wet. (Aha -- that's where that scene came from.) It's on the outside looking in on Shute. Widely available used for about $15.
Be sure to poke around on the website for the Nevil Shute Norway Foundation. They do loan out books and movies (I donated my copy of the mini-series of A Town Like Alice). And every few years they have an international gathering. Next one is in NZ, I think.
Redditor Ventachinkway caught a photo of a homeless man conducting a clever exercise in behavioral economics disguised as an inquiry into the levels of spontaneous generosity as determined by religious creed or lack thereof.
My glib description of Tom Gauld's cartoons would be "a science fiction Edward Gorey." It's unfair though, because there's is only a superficial stylistic resemblance between the two writer/illustrators.
To read a Tom Gauld cartoon or illustrated book (see my reviews of The Gigantic Robot and Goliath) is to be entertained, but also to be affected on a deeper level, where timeless truths about the human condition wait for talents such as Gauld to tap a line into them and provide lesser mortals like me with a chance to taste them.Gauld's new book, You're All Just Jealous of My Jetpack came out yesterday, and it consists of single panels that explore the passage of time, absurdism, and most of the 7 Deadly Sins, all presented with a sense of graceful whimsy that makes his work such a delight to read. Below, a sampling of You're All Just Jealous of My Jetpack.