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15 Apr 09:30

Planned Obsolescence Disguised as Innovation, Oligopoly Disguised as a Free Market, and the Enrichment of Oligarchs

by Yves Smith

Yves here. We are delighted to feature this post from Roy Poses, who with his colleagues at Health Care Renewal, have been providing consistently high quality analysis of the often dubious practices and economics of the health care system.

By Roy Poses, MD, Clinical Associate Professor of Medicine at Brown University, and the President of FIRM – the Foundation for Integrity and Responsibility in Medicine. Cross posted from the Health Care Renewal website

The New York Times published another article in its series on the high cost of US health care.  This one, focused on the care of type 1 diabetes mellitus and other chronic diseases, shines some light on the business management practices that now determine how our health care system functions, or not, and implies who benefits the most from them.

Planned Obsolescence Disguised as Innovation

The article first discussed the brave new world of type 1 diabetes treatment.  The introductory theme was:

Today, the routine care costs of many chronic illnesses eclipse that of acute care because new treatments that keep patients well have become a multibillion-dollar business opportunity for device and drug makers and medical providers.

Much of modern diabetes treatment seems to depend on medical devices and disposable medical supplies:

That captive audience of Type 1 diabetics has spawned lines of high-priced gadgets and disposable accouterments, borrowing business models from technology companies like Apple: Each pump and monitor requires the separate purchase of an array of items that are often brand and model specific.

A steady stream of new models and updates often offer dubious improvement: colored pumps; talking, bilingual meters; sensors reporting minute-by-minute sugar readouts. [Diabetes patient] Ms. Hayley’s new pump will cost $7,350 (she will pay $2,500 under the terms of her insurance). But she will also need to pay her part for supplies, including $100 monitor probes that must be replaced every week, disposable tubing that she must change every three days and 10 or so test strips every day.

Of course, the device and supply manufacturers claim that the high prices reflect the value of the wondrous new innovations:

Companies that produce the treatments say the higher costs reflect medical advances and the need to recoup money spent on research.

Yet now the Times reporter was able to find physicians who claim the “innovations” are really just the latest version of planned obsolescence:

Diabetes experts say a good part of what companies label as innovation amounts to planned obsolescence. Just as Apple customers can no longer buy an iPhone 3 even if they were content with it, diabetics are nudged to keep up with the latest model.

For example,

Those companies spend millions of dollars recruiting patients at health fairs, through physicians’ offices and with aggressive advertising — often urging them to get devices and treatments that are not necessary, doctors say. ‘They may be better in some abstract sense, but the clinical relevance is minor,’ said Dr. Joel Zonszein, director of the Clinical Diabetes Center at Montefiore Medical Center.
People don’t need a meter that talks to them,’ he added. ‘There’s an incredible waste of money.’

Pharmaceutical companies have also discovered this model.

insulin … has been produced with genetic engineering and protected by patents, so that a medicine that cost a few dollars when Ms. Hayley was a child now often sells for more than $200 a vial, meaning some patients must pay more than $4,000 a year.

In particular,

Synthetic human insulin is safer for patients, who sometimes developed reactions
to animal insulin. But it is made by only three companies: Eli Lilly, Sanofi and Novo Nordisk. Manufactured in microbes, each one’s product has minor dissimilarities that reflect the type of cell in which it was made. Since the companies owned the cell lines, it is nearly impossible for other companies to make exact copies or even similar versions that would be cheaper, even once the patents expire. And the pharmaceutical companies defend the patents ferociously.

What’s more, the three companies continued to refine their product, adding chemical groups that made the insulin absorb somewhat more quickly or evenly, for example. They are called insulin analogues, and their benefits are promoted tirelessly to doctors and patients.

Of course, the pharmaceutical companies also claim that it’s all about innnovation,

Dr. Todd Hobbs, chief medical officer of Novo Nordisk, defended the rising prices of insulin, linking them to medical benefits. ‘The cost to develop these new insulin products has been enormous, and the cost of the insulin to the consumer in developed countries has risen to enable these and future advancements to occur,’ he wrote in an email.

 Not everyone is convinced,

‘The insulins are tweaked for minor benefits that may help a small number of patients with difficult-to-control diabetes, and result in major price increases for all,’ [Kings College, London, UK Professor] Dr. Pickup said. Because of analogues, he added, Britain’s National Health Service has had to spend 130 percent more on insulin in the past five years.

In the United States, said Dr. Zonszein at Montefiore, the price of Humalog, Lilly’s analogue insulin, was typically two to four times that of its older human insulin line, called Humulin. ‘There is not a lot of difference between Humulin and analogues,’ he said, but he noted that Humulin was getting ‘hard to find.’ Sanofi Aventis has stopped selling its older product in the United States, and Mr. Kliff, the financial analyst, said other companies were likely to follow suit, effectively forcing patients to use the costlier versions.

The arguments about valuable innovation also do not explain why the prognosis of diabetes in the US does not seem to reflect all the money we spend on the disease,

Complication rates from diabetes in the United States are generally higher than in other developed countries. That is true even though the United States spends more per patient and per capita treating diabetes than elsewhere, said Ping Zhang, an economist at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
The high costs are taking their toll on public coffers, since 62 percent of that treatment money comes from government insurers. The cumulative outlays for treating Type 1 and Type 2 diabetes reached nearly $200 billion in 2012, or about 7 percent of America’s health care bill.

So to summarize, there is considerable evidence that companies that make drugs and devices to manage type 1 diabetes constantly provide “innovations,” yet most are minor changes that encourage obsolescence of previous products, but do not provide important increases in benefits or reductions in harm for patients. 

Oligopoly Disguised as a Free Market

Many in the US sing the praises of our supposed free-market health care system.  As noted above however, the insulin market is an oligopoly, dominated by three companies.  The diabetes device market is also dominated by a few companies, and in particular, the insulin pump market is dominated by a single company,

Medtronic is the dominant insulin pump manufacturer, serving 65 percent of American patients and the majority of those worldwide. Though smaller companies sell cheaper pumps, it is hard to make inroads: Once familiar with the Medtronic system and its extensive support network for troubleshooting problems, patients are reluctant to switch. Doctors are leery of prescribing equipment from a new company that may be out of business in a year; their office computer may not sync with the new software anyway.

Of course, Medtronic public relations will justify it all again based on innovation,

Medtronic declined to talk about specific prices, but said a core tenet was to make only ‘a fair profit.’ Amanda Sheldon, a spokeswoman, added: ‘We are committed to reinvesting in research and development of new technologies to improve the lives of people with diabetes, and our current pricing structure ensures that we can bring new products to market.’

The article also discussed the prices of treating chronic diseases other than diabetes.  For example, see how a nominally non-profit hospital priced treatments for chronic diseases,

Dr. Kivi was on high doses of steroids for debilitating joint pain that left him unable to walk at times.

But when his last three-hour infusion at NYU Langone Medical Center’s outpatient clinic generated a bill of $133,000 — and his insurer paid $99,593 — Dr. Kivi was so outraged that he decided to risk switching to another drug that he could inject by himself at home. 

However,  this pricing appears to have been facilitated by the hospital’s increasing market domination generated by its purchase of physician practices,

He had moved his care to NYU Langone to follow his longtime doctor, who had moved her practice from a nearby hospital where the same infusion had been billed at $19,000. The average price that hospitals paid for Dr. Kivi’s dose of Remicade late last year was about $1,200, according to Medicare data.

So in summary, a few companies now dominate the production of drugs and devices for the management of diabetes, and a few large hospitals may increasingly dominate the treatment of particular chronic diseases.  Such oligopolists are able to increase prices without improving treatment to or outcomes of patients.

Enrichment of the Oligarchs

This example shows how the current US health care system is dominated by huge organizations, mostly for-profit corporations but including some nominally non-profit corporations that act similarly.  They loudly proclaim innovation, but much of that innovation seems to provide few benefits to patients, and actually appears to be planned obsolescence.  The result is high and ever-rising prices. So if patients do not benefit from this, who does?

It does not appear to be the health care professionals,

Meanwhile, as the price of supplies rises, endocrinologists remain among the lowest-paid specialists in American medicine, meaning severe physician shortages in many areas and long waits to see a doctor.

We  have seen other examples of how leaders of the big health care organizations have become as rich as royalty.  Therefore, let us consider the pay of the leaders of the organizations mentioned above.  I will focus on the two US based corporations, Eli Lilly and Medtronic, and the New York hospital, NYU Langone Medical Center.

Eli Lilly

According to the company’s 2014 proxy statement, the 2013 total compensation of its five highest paid hired executives was

- John C Lechleiter PhD, CEO                                      $11,217,000

- Derica W Rice, CFO                                                   $5,176,822

- Jan M Lundberg, PhD, EVP, Science and Technology   $4,774,535

- Michael J Harrington, General Counsel                          $3,174,222

- Erico A Conterno, President Lilly Diabetes                    $3,009,041

Note that all of these executives save Mr Harrington have also amassed more than 100,000 shares of company stock, and Dr Lechleiter has amassed more than 1,000,000.

It should be no surprise, given our recent discussion (e.g., here) of the currently symbiotic relationship among top health care corporations and academic medicine, that several of the members of the Lilly board of directors that has exercised stewardship over the company, and is thus responsible for these gargantuan compensation packages and the business practices discussed above are top academic leaders.  These include,

- Alfred G Gilman, MD, PhD, Regental Professor Emeritus, recent (until 2009) executive vice presdient, provost, and dean of medicine, University of Texas Southwestern 

- William G Kaelin Jr, MD, Professor of Medicine, Associate Director of Basic Science, Dana-Farber Cancer Center, Harvard University

- Marschall S Runge MD, Executive Dean and Chair of the Department of Medicine, University of North Carolina Medical School

- Katherine Baicker PhD, Professor of Health Economics, Harvard University School of Public Health  (I must note that Prof Baicker is also – amazingly – on the Medicare Payment Advisory Committee, MEDPAC).

- Ellen R Marram, Trustee, New York-Presbyterian Hospital

- Ralph Alvarez, President’s Council, University of Miami

- R David Hooper, Trustee, Children’s Hospital of Colorado

- Franklyn G Pendergast MD PhD, Professor, Mayo Medical School

All but the newest directors were paid at least $250,000 a year by the company (and thus by the executives the directors are supposed to supervise), and all but the newest directors had accumulated tens of thousands of shares of stock or the equivalent as pay for their services.


Similarly, according to the company’s 2013 proxy (the latest now available), CEO Omar Ishrak made $8,975,866 in 2013, and the next four highest paid executives all made over $2,500,000 each.   Mr Ishrak owned or could acquire the equivalent of more than 500,000 shares of stock, and the other top paid executives owned of could acquire from over 100,000 to over 1,000,000 shares of stock.

Again, the executives were nominally supervised by a board of directors that included an academic and non-profit leader, Dr Victor J Dzau, MD former chancellor for health affairs at Duke University, and president-elect of the Institute of Medicine (note that we discussed Dr Dzau’s conflicts of interest most recently here).  It also included a former government leader, Michael O Leavitt, former US Secretary of Health and Human Services; and a hospital leader, Preetha Reddy, Managing Director of Apollo Hospitals Enterprise Limited (India). 

NYU Langone Medical Center

The Medical Center’s 2011 US form 990 is old, but the latest available, and is remarkably obscure, omitting, for example, mentioning the titles of any of the people listed as highest paid officers and employees.  The current CEO, was listed as receiving total compensation of just over $2.000,000.  Four individuals then received over $1,000,000.  The 990 form also mentioned that the Medical Center provided some individuals with first class travel, tax gross-up payments, housing allowances, and reimbursement for personal services.  Neither the 990, nor the center’s web-site makes all the possible conflicts of interest of its trustees obvious.   

So in summary, the large organizations, for-profit and non-profit, that are able to greatly increase their prices through planned obsolescence disguised as innovation, and oligopoly disguised as free markets, are able to make their top executives very rich, and also enrich those who are supposed to exercise stewardship over them. 


An extensive journalistic investigation revealed how certain aspects of chronic care in the US health care system are dominated by a few large organizations.  These organizations are able to charge very high prices, mainly through market domination, and with the aid of marketing and public relations that tout planned obsolescence as valuable innovation.  The leaders of these organizations have become wealthy, often fabulously so.  This state of affairs has not been challenged by those who are supposed to provide stewardship, including many prominent academics.

The US health care system is the most expensive, on a per capita basis, in the world, and far more expensive than that in any other developed country.  Yet there is no evidence that its results are superior to those of other countries.  What evidence there is suggests in fact that our results are mediocre at best.

The current example suggests how the US system differs from those of other countries.  It has an ostensible free market focus.  Yet the system appears more to be an oligopoly, with most of its market components dominated by a few large organizations, run as an oligarchy, by a small, overlapping in-group of managers, executives and their cronies, with elements of corporatism, that is with the cooperation of, rather than regulation by government entities and leaders

A real free market health care system would include a level playing field.  This could only be achieved by the government acting as a fair umpire, not a crony.  Anti-competitive practices would have to end.  Oligopolies would have to be broken.  Deceptive marketing and public relations would have to be exposed.  Leaders would have to be made accountable, especially for putting patients’ and the public’s health ahead of their own enrichment.  All this would be horribly difficult, as the oligarchs have amassed much money and control, and would oppose, possibly violently, any effort to challenge them.  If we do not challenge them in the US, however, not only will our health care continue to become ever more expensive, less accessible, and less beneficial to patients, but we will all cease to be citizens of one of the first real democracies, and end up serfs instead. 

14 Apr 04:00


by Christopher Hastings

Science is always making demands on us, it turns out. Many of them are sort of unreasonable.


27p38 is a post from: The Adventures of Dr. McNinja Ads by Project Wonderful! Your ad could be here, right now.

27p38 is a post from: The Adventures of Dr. McNinja

Ads by Project Wonderful! Your ad could be here, right now.
09 Apr 18:42

How To Get Into Hobby RC: Car Basics and Monster Truckin'

by Terry Dunn

After a few months of lightly tapping, it’s finally time to pound the drum about RC cars. Of course, there are countless styles of cars that you can get into. For now, I will focus on the type of cars that I recommended for beginners in the first article of this series: 2-wheel-drive, electric-powered, monster trucks.

Just like every other facet of RC, cars have benefited from recent advancements in radio, motor and battery technology. As I looked over my aging collection of well-used cars, I realized that none in my fleet reflected any of these modern advancements. So I took a two-pronged approach. I procured a new monster truck and I also modernized one of my older cars. Between this guide and a follow-up next week, I will cover my experiences with both projects.

The Case for RC Cars

I received my first RC car, a Kyosho Ultima, when I was in middle school. I really just wanted something to play with, but the Ultima turned out to be much more than a toy. Hobby-grade cars like the Ultima are meant to be worked on, and actually require some maintenance. As time went on, I found that I enjoyed wrenching on the car as much as driving it. It was also fascinating to make adjustments to the car and see how they affected its performance. That poor car endured countless modifications at my hand. Some ideas worked, but many didn’t. The Ultima always emerged relatively unscathed, and I got a little smarter each time. More than 25 years later, I still have most of the parts for that Ultima (in working order).

If a chemistry set is an ideal toy for aspiring chemists, then RC cars will cultivate the minds budding engineers.

If a chemistry set is an ideal toy for aspiring chemists, then RC cars will cultivate the minds budding engineers. Sure, they can teach you many lessons that carry over to full-size cars, but there is so much more. I learned about 2-stroke engines, electric motors, batteries, gearing, torque, and above all: the value of working with my hands. Countless times while working on space hardware in my professional career, I was able to apply a lesson learned from that Ultima. If, like me, you have a young tinkerer in your house, RC cars may be just the thing to let them explore relatively risk free.

Movin’ On Up

You may recall that I chose my recommended starter trucks (the Traxxas Stampede, ARRMA Granite and ECX Ruckus) because they are super tough and their big tires let them run just about anywhere. At the time, I did not have any experience with the Granite or the Ruckus, but I added them to the list because of their similarity to the Stampede. I am now the owner of a Ruckus and it has lived up to my expectations.

A Spektrum 2.4GHz pistol grip radio is included with the Ruckus. With 2.4GHz, there is really no need to worry about interference from other users.

My motivation for getting a Ruckus was to have a truck that reflects current technology. Whereas all of my older cars and trucks use 75MHz radios, the Ruckus comes with a Spektrum brand 2.4GHz radio system. The previous article in this series talked about the advantages of 2.4GHz systems. Another modern feature in my Ruckus is a brushless motor. ECX offers versions of the Ruckus with either a brushed or brushless motor, but I was anxious to see the difference a brushless motor would make. I’ve used brushless motors in my airplanes for years, but this is my first car with one.

Brush-less is More

There are a few things in this world where not having a certain option is touted as a benefit. The first things that come to my mind are “seedless”, “strapless”, and of course, “brushless”. I’ll give a generic explanation of what brushes are and why omitting them is generally a good thing. For a more detailed explanation, Horizon Hobby has a very informative video on this topic.

Although this brushless motor (top) and brushed motor (bottom) appear very similar, their efficiencies and performance potentials are very different.

Electric motors work by having a magnetic field (or several) with fixed polarity astride another magnetic field with alternating polarity. Working on the principle that opposite polarities attract and likes repel, the varying relationship between the two magnetic fields causes the motor shaft to spin. The fixed field is accomplished with simple magnets. The alternating field is created by passing electric current through coils of wire. By toggling the direction of the current in the coils (commutation), the polarity of the resulting magnetic field is also toggled.

In a brushed motor, commutation is a mechanical process. Voltage is provided to the motor through hard electrical contacts (the brushes) which are pushed by springs against a segmented contact (the commutator) on the spinning part of the motor (armature). As the commutator spins, the brushes contact different segments, which are wired to alternate the current in the coils. This process happens thousands of times per second.

Since commutation is self-contained, you do not need an external device to make brushed motors work. All you have to do is attach a DC energy source such as a battery, and the motor will spin. RC cars however, use an Electronic Speed Control (ESC) to regulate the input voltage to the motor and thus control how fast it spins. Think of an ESC as an electronic throttle.

A relatively powerful brushed motor might achieve efficiency values in the 50% range, while it is not uncommon for properly configured brushless motors to hover around 90% efficiency.

Brushless motors require specialized ESCs to operate. Here, commutation is an electronic process that is handled by the ESC. The motor itself is actually much simpler than a brushed motor because the brushes, springs and commutator are omitted. With those parts gone, we also lose a huge source of friction and electrical resistance…good riddance. The end result is that brushless motors are much more efficient than their brushed cousins.

A relatively powerful brushed motor might achieve efficiency values in the 50% range, while it is not uncommon for properly configured brushless motors to hover around 90% efficiency. For a given power source, going brushless could yield as much as 40% more output…that’s huge! That “bonus” energy could translate into more speed, quicker acceleration, and/or more run time.

Before we eat this presumed free lunch, let’s look at the drawbacks to brushless power. The most obvious difference is cost. In the case of the Ruckus, choosing the brushless option is a $120 upgrade over the base $170 truck…certainly a significant difference.

Another aspect to consider is that a brushless-powered truck may actually have too much power for beginners. Imagine learning to drive with a ’71 4-speed Hemi ‘Cuda. In fact, I was reluctant to allow my 11-year-old son to drive the Ruckus until he put in some time driving one of my slower cars. Right out of the box, the Ruckus was by far the fastest car in my inventory. While he quickly developed the skills to handle the Ruckus to my satisfaction, it still gets away from him at times. Being honest, it gets away from me on occasion! Of course, you can alter the gearing and the batteries to slow the truck down. However, if this will be your first truck, you probably are not yet confident making those types of changes.

Lastly, having so much power available can be hard on the vehicle. Beginners are going to crash into things. Having more power just means that they crash into them faster. Yes, the Ruckus and similar trucks are surprisingly tough, but there is a practical limit. And let’s not overlook the toughness of the things they may crash into (mailboxes, fenders, ankles, etc.).

The Ruckus from ECX is one of several monster trucks that provide a fun but forgiving introduction to RC cars.

To sum up the “brushed vs. brushless” argument, I’ll say that brushless is the better long-term investment. You’ll just need to be more diligent until you can handle the extra power with confidence. However, don’t feel that brushed motor vehicles are dogs. Until recently, cars with brushed motors were all I knew and I rarely felt that I needed more power. If you can’t have fun with a monster truck running a brushed motor, you probably should consider a different hobby.

Examining the Ruckus

This top view shows the overall layout of the truck. The steering servo and radio receiver are located beneath the forward grey panel. This helps protect them from water and dirt.

The Ruckus is a pre-built truck, so it arrived in a sizeable box. All I had to do was install four AA batteries into the Spektrum transmitter and charge the truck’s battery with the included charger. The battery that comes with the Ruckus is a 7-cell, 2400mAh Nickel Metal-Hydride (NiMH) pack. The included charger plugs into an AC outlet and has a single button to operate it--easy! With a fixed charge rate of 2 amps (2000mA), it theoretically would take 72 minutes to charge a fully depleted pack (2400mAh/2000mA = 1.2 hour = 72 minutes). There are other factors that affect the actual charge time, but 72 minutes is a good ballpark estimate.

The Ruckus includes a 7-cell 2400 mAh NiMh battery that provides plenty of power and good run times. I routinely get 7-8 minutes when driving on the street. The included charger will refill the battery in a little more than an hour.

Like most RC cars, the Ruckus includes a polycarbonate (Lexan) body that is attached to the car with nylon posts and small body clips (aka hitch pins, hair pins, or R-clips). The body adds style to a car, but it also provides a great deal of protection. Polycarbonate is incredibly tough stuff, so think of the body as a sacrificial shield for the expensive guts within. With the body removed, you can see the inner workings of the truck. The plastic chassis has a channel in the middle for the battery. A T-shaped plastic strap covers the battery to keep it in place.

The front of the Ruckus features a big bumper to help protect the Nylon suspension components. Also note the body mount rising above the chassis.

Probably the first things you’ll notice with the body removed are the long suspension arms and big oil-filled shocks. This long-travel suspension system (along with the big tires) is what makes monster trucks so versatile. They can run over or into just about anything without much damage

Looking behind the front wheels, you can see the steering mechanism. A servo operates the system of levers to articulate the steering. Most of the servo is hidden under the grey cover in the chassis, which protects it from the elements. The radio receiver is also in this compartment. You may notice that one of the steering arms is spring-loaded. This helps protect the gears inside of the servo from being damaged by sudden jolts to the front wheels.

This view of the Ruckus shows the battery strapped into place and plugged into the Tazer ESC. The equipment layout is clean and functional.

Moving further back in the chassis, the brushless ESC is mounted above the battery compartment. Notice that there are three sets of wires coming from the ESC. One small gauge, 3-conductor wire leads up to the receiver. Three larger wires connect the ESC to the motor. The final pair of wires connects the battery to the ESC. Like most modern ESCs, the Tazer included with the Ruckus features a Battery Eliminator Circuit (BEC). This allows the main battery to power both the motor and the radio gear (which operates on only 5-6 volts).

Brushless motors such as this one on the Ruckus (in red) provide much better efficiency than common brushed motors. The available power is surprising. However, brushless power isn’t necessarily the best option for everyone.

At the rear of the Ruckus, is the red anodized brushless motor, which is bolted to the transmission. The output of the transmission is a set of universal drive shafts that reach out to the rear wheels. As you push the suspension up and down, you can see how the drive shafts telescope in and out to accommodate this movement. In many ways, this system is probably more complex and capable than the drive system on your full-size car. Then again, your full-size car isn’t meant to tear across open fields at full throttle and jump off of ramps three times its height.

Hidden inside of the transmission is a differential. Just as with full-size cars, the point of a differential is to allow the left and right wheels to turn at different speeds…as when going around a turn. It is a vital piece of hardware. The Ruckus includes a gear-type differential, which effectively sends all of the motor’s power to the wheel with the least traction. Most full-size cars also have gear differentials. Did you ever notice how most tracks left on the street by burnouts are just one streak instead of two? A gear differential is the reason why.

Note how all of the plastic components of the truck fit together. The Ruckus is well engineered and tough enough to handle the abuse that rookies (and veterans) inevitable dish out.

Having power to just one wheel may sound like a bad thing, but it usually isn’t…at least not with backyard bashers. Let’s say you take a corner too hard and the truck tips up on two wheels. The rear tire that came off of the ground is now getting all of the power while the tire on the ground is coasting. This is just like letting off of the throttle and will usually prevent the truck from getting into an even worse attitude (although flips and roll-overs are to be expected…and enjoyed).

Race cars will typically have a ball differential instead of a gear differential. A ball differential is equivalent to a limited-slip differential in full-size cars. The main difference being that you can adjust the tension in the differential so that it distributes the power more evenly between the right and left…even if there is a difference in traction. Maybe Marisa Tomei can explain it better. After all, she earned an Oscar for explaining differentials.

With the higher efficiency of the brushless motor, I was getting seven or eight minutes of hard running from each charge.

When I first drove the Ruckus, I was startled by several things. First of all was the speed. It is considerably faster than any monster truck I’ve seen with a stock brushed motor. I was also surprised by how well it coasts. Without the drag of brushes on a commutator acting as a brake, the Ruckus goes surprisingly far after you let off of the throttle. The ESC provides electronic brakes (and reverse) if you need to stop in a hurry. The last big thing I noticed was how long it ran. I’ve had fast cars with brushed motors before, but the cost of that speed is run time. With the higher efficiency of the brushless motor, I was getting seven or eight minutes of hard running from each charge. Higher capacity batteries (more mAh ) are readily available and would stretch the run time even greater.

The tires that come with the ruckus are a compromise between on-road and off-road traction. They do really well on my paved street (often sending pebbles zooming in all directions) and they hook up reasonably well on the hard-packed dirt fields around my neighborhood. All in all, I’m comfortable taking it just about anywhere.

Between me and my son, we’ve jumped, cartwheeled, rolled, skidded, and generally abused the Ruckus. We haven’t broken any parts yet, but I’m sure that day will come. When it does, that will be a chance for us to fix it together. Having the Ruckus and being able to share it with my son has reignited my excitement for monster trucks.

Monster trucks are comfortable either on-road or off-road, so you can drive them just about anywhere. Trucks with brushless motors, such as my Ruckus, need a little extra space due to their high speed. So make sure you have enough room to let them fly.


This guide will continue next week. In the next post, I will talk about the older RC car that I recently modernized. I will also discuss battery options and why I prefer the types of batteries that I use.

Photos courtesy Terry Dunn

11 Apr 00:00

Heartbleed Explanation


A clear explication.

Are you still there, server? It's me, Margaret.
09 Apr 17:00

The Low-Budget Movie Gimmicks of Cinema Past

by David Konow

I had no idea that Smell-O-Vision was a real thing.

With so many people watching movies at home with Blu-ray or through streaming services, Hollywood has been desperate to bring people back to theaters. This is why we’ve had the big 3D revival. With the success of films like Gravity, IMAX has also been a hot ticket. And overseas, 4D cinema has been very successful as well.

4D is a cinema technology that can encompass many different experiences, and one that used to be most associated with the gimmick of Smell-O-Vision. In Asia, there are theaters that pump scents into the theater, providing the audience with the extra "dimension" of smell. There has been some effort to try and have theaters like this in the States, and Robert Rodriguez tried a similar version with scratch-and-sniff cards, unsuccessfully, for Spy Kids: All the Time in the World. (Perhaps he shouldn’t have made a soiled diaper one of the scents.)

As silly as this gimmick may sound, when you look back in cinema history, it was something that was attempted way back in 1960. In fact, there have been many gimmicks that tried to give audiences much more than a regular movie could provide, often with a much smaller budget and less resources than the major studios had to play with.

As we’ve previously reported, the first 3D feature film, Bwana Devil, was an attempt to get people into theaters again, because a brand new technological innovation, television, was keeping a lot of people at home. In fact, the ads for Bwana Devil promised you would be seeing something “Newer than television!”

And even in the case of 3D, it was a cheaper technology because it was trying to give audiences something spectacular that was much less expensive than Cinerama widescreen, which required major reworking of theaters to support. With other gimmicks that followed, a lot of filmmakers have tried to bring audiences into theaters for cut-rate prices, and many of these innovations are amusing to look back on today. Here are some of my favorites.

The original version of 4D was first called “glorious Smell-O-Vision,” and it was used back in 1960 in the movie The Scent of Mystery. The technology was first developed by Mike Todd, a famous impresario who was married to Elizabeth Taylor. Todd produced the film Around the World in 80 Days, and he also developed the Todd A-O widescreen process, which was a variation on Cinerama with some of the bugs ironed out. Todd died in a plane crash in 1958, and his son, Mike Todd Jr., finished up his father’s work with Smell-O-Vision, and finally brought it to the big screen with Scent of Mystery.

Like 4D today, scents were pumped into the theater by tubes that were located under the seats. The smells that filled the air included roses, peaches, wood shavings, shoe polish, oil paint, garlic, the ocean breeze, incense, gun smoke, and more. This film was a mystery story, and the scents helped audiences follow the clues left behind, like perfume, and pipe tobacco, which the villain smoked.

The scents helped audiences follow the clues left behind, like perfume, and pipe tobacco, which the villain smoked.

The film had a “smell track” that released the right smells at the right time, but according to the book The Golden Turkey Awards (an early version of the Razzies) the wrong smells would be unleashed at the wrong time as well.

Funny enough, as the Golden Turkeys tells us, there was another film that was competing with Scent of Mystery at the time, Behind the Great Wall, a documentary on China, which was released in AromaRama. In this instance, the scents were pumped into the theater through the air conditioner. The film’s tagline promised, “You must breathe it to believe it!”

Scent of Mystery, which starred Peter Lorre and Denholm Elliott, reportedly made a small profit, but the reviews weren’t great. Films and Filming wrote, “Denuded of its aromas, it still stinks,” and Time reported, “most customers will probably agree that the smell they liked best was the one they got during intermission: fresh air.” The film also didn’t get a wide release; you could only see it L.A., New York, and Chicago.

In 1981, John Waters did his own variation of Smell-O-Vision, “Odoroma,” in his film Polyester. Like Rodriguez, Waters gave theatergoers scratch-and-sniff cards, and the smells included a rose, farts, a skunk, brand new leather car upholstery, and more. The stickers on the cards had numbers, and when a number flashed on the screen, it told you what number on the card to scratch and sniff.

Considering its low budget origins, it’s funny to see Smell-O-Vision, or 4D as it’s called today, make a minor comeback. But there’s plenty of other gimmicks we can’t imagine ever returning. Producer William Castle was the first filmmaker to offer theatergoers "death insurance" in case they died of fright from watching his movie Macabre. Castle knew nobody would collect, and the insurance company Lloyds of London went along with the gimmick, which made the movie a big hit.

“In the event of a coronary, insanity or death suffered during and / or following the showing of said motion pictures, I hereby hold this theater harmless.”

Several other low budget trashola movies from the ‘60’s and ‘70’s did something similar. For the triple bill of The Corpse Grinders, the Undertaker and His Pals, and The Embalmer, attendees were given a Certificate of Insurance--a disclaimer to sign saying their health was strong enough to take the shock of these three movies. It read: “In the event of a coronary, insanity or death suffered during and / or following the showing of said motion pictures, I hereby hold this theater harmless.” Trust me, nobody collected on this one either.

Night of a Thousand Cats, a crazy Mexican horror film about a millionaire who seduces women then feeds him to his army of felines, promised if you died of fright watching the movie, you would be given a “nice but simple funeral at no cost to the family.” Then in fine print, the ad read: “Casket optional on West Coast only.”

Another famed horror gimmick that launched in the early sixties was giving out barf bags to the audience. Blood Feast, which was the original gore film, did this first, and the gimmick was repeated for the seventies horror flick Mark of the Devil, as well as in the 1979 undead gorefest Zombie. It’s not known if these bags were ever utilized by theatergoers or not, although audiences definitely lost their lunch seeing the Exorcist, and some theaters lined the floors with kitty litter. (We couldn’t find any Blood Feast or Zombie barf-bags on Ebay, but we wouldn’t be surprised if they were worth a few bucks today.)

One of the kings of gimmicks in the ‘70’s was an exploitation producer named Sam Sherman, the man behind such cinema classics as Satan’s Sadists, an incredible late sixties biker film, and Dracula Vs. Frankenstein, the Plan 9 From Outer Space of the ‘70’s.

For the Sherman produced western Five Bloody Graves, the ads promised: “Free to the lucky winner, based on a drawing: ONE FROZEN-STIFF CORPSE.” The winner was given a deli coupon good for a frozen chicken. Horror of the Blood Monsters was two separate films cut together, one in color, one in black and white. The black and white footage was then supposed to be on another planet, and Sherman tinted it different solid colors every few minutes, which was supposed to be the planet’s atmosphere. This was dubbed Spectrum-X in advertisements.

For the Mad Doctor of Blood Island, you were given packets of what was supposed to be green monster blood at the door. The beginning of the film had a ritual where the audience had to stand up in the theater, recite an oath, then drink it. This again was Sherman’s idea, and once the green blood was made up and packaged, he tried drinking it himself. He had dysentery for two days.

The major studios weren’t above doing gimmicks, and two of my favorites were both done for premieres. In 1970, Paramount had a big budget film called The Adventurers, based on a trashy novel by Harold Robbins. The film premiered on an airplane, which was a brilliant idea because nobody would walk out on it, although the film was so bad I wouldn’t be surprised if anyone on the flight was frantically searching for a parachute.

Speaking of unique premieres, The Aviator reminded the world of the films Howard Hughes made when he romped through Hollywood such as Hell’s Angels and The Outlaw. Yet one Hughes film The Aviator didn’t cover was Underwater, which literally premiered underwater for 150 aqua-lunged guests. (Hughes’s moviemaking days ended with The Conqueror, a megaflop starring John Wayne as Genghis Khan).

A few others I’ll throw in I always found amusing. How about the 1973 horror film Wicked Wicked, which was done almost entirely in split screen, which MGM dubbed “Duo-Vision.” The ads promised: “See the hunter, see the hunted both at the same time.” (Split screen was a popular cinematic device back then, thanks to Woodstock, and Brian DePalma also used it in Sisters, Carrie, and Blow Out.)

I also loved that for Hammer film Rasputin the Mad Monk, starring Christopher Lee in the title role, you were given Rasputin beards at the door that you could wear during the screening. For one barely seen drive-in horror film, Scream Bloody Murder, you were given a blindfold at the box office because it was improbably too scary to bear. “So horrifying you need a blindfold to see it!,” the ads screamed.

All this stuff is funny to read about today, and yes, there were a lot of schlockmeisters who were trying to bring audiences into movies that were pretty awful to begin with, and wouldn’t have drawn flies without them. But also remember that with many of these gimmicks, some filmmakers were trying to give audiences something spectacular, something more than just a mere movie can offer, and while they often weren’t successful, we certainly appreciate the effort.

10 Apr 22:58

The Coffee Pot That Fueled Honoré de Balzac’s Coffee Addiction

by Dan Colman
11 Apr 08:00

Philosophize This!: The Popular, Entertaining Philosophy Podcast from an Unconventional Teacher

by Colin Marshall


Podcasting has treated few fields of human inquiry as well as it has philosophy. You’ll already know that if you’ve subscribed to the philosophy podcasts we’ve featured before, like Philosophy BitesThe History of Philosophy Without Any Gaps, and The Partially Examined Life. Perhaps we can chalk this up to what anyone who has taken a course under an astute philosophy professor has felt (see our list of 100 Free Philosophy Courses): the subject simply lends itself better to conveyance through the spoken words of living, breathing people, especially those with an enthusiasm for the subject. And those who’ve dedicated their lives to philosophy, given the field’s famously persistent lack of both financial rewards and concrete answers, tend to have more pure enthusiasm for their subject itself than do many other intellectual professionals. Stephen West, host of the newer Philosophize This! podcast [iTunes - Web - RSS - Libsyn), doesn't move among intellectual professionals. He never even took a philosophy course himself, with an astute professor or without one. Yet he can teach you about philosophy with greater clarity and engagement than most podcasters can muster even about their favorite television shows.

West begins the series, which has come to eighteen episodes since last June, with a two-part talk on the very origins of philosophy (Ionian and Italian), telling us what, exactly, the so-called "presocratic" thinkers thought about the human race and whether it had developed sufficiently advanced survival mechanics to begin thinking about things at all. He then continues through history and across the globe, explaining the ideas of the best-known philosophers from Socrates to Aristotle (a two-parter) to the Buddha to (most recently) Avicenna, breaking down how they came to those ideas, and connecting them to the broader philosophical experience in their historical context and ours today (which means references to, among other touchstones of modern life, The Walking Dead). And lest you doubt the un-degree'd West's qualifications, do read his brief autobiography, which tells the story of how he rose from the worst childhood I've read about in quite some time, guided during his all-day shifts driving a pallet jack by the great philosophers: "Hume, Kant, Hegel — these men were my fathers. They were the people who made me ask questions and strive to constantly improve myself." You might place West in the tradition, now somewhat withered, of the robust "blue-collar" thinking man, drawing his needed strength from ideas. But given the way he's harnessed our era's technology to become a philosophy teacher to thousands — hundreds of whom have left five-star reviews on iTunes, leading to an astonishing #32 ranking in its Top 100 podcast chart — I'd say he embodies a brand new type of homo philosophicus altogether.

You can listen to the first first episode of Philosophize This! above.

Related Content:

The Partially Examined Life: A Philosophy Podcast

The History of Philosophy Without Any Gaps – Peter Adamson’s Podcast Still Going Strong

Philosophy Bites: Podcasting Ideas From Plato to Singularity Since 2007

Download 100 Free Philosophy Courses and Start Living the Examined Life

Take First-Class Philosophy Courses Anywhere with Free Oxford Podcasts

Colin Marshall hosts and produces Notebook on Cities and Culture and writes essays on cities, language, Asia, and men’s style. He’s at work on a book about Los Angeles, A Los Angeles Primer. Follow him on Twitter at @colinmarshall or on Facebook.

Philosophize This!: The Popular, Entertaining Philosophy Podcast from an Unconventional Teacher is a post from: Open Culture. Follow us on Facebook, Twitter, and Google Plus, or get our Daily Email. And don't miss our big collections of Free Online Courses, Free Online Movies, Free eBooksFree Audio Books, Free Foreign Language Lessons, and MOOCs.

The post Philosophize This!: The Popular, Entertaining Philosophy Podcast from an Unconventional Teacher appeared first on Open Culture.

11 Apr 16:00

Your Body During Adolescence: A Nakedly Unashamed Sex Ed Film from 1955

by Ayun Halliday

A straight shooting sex ed film from 1955? That’s hard to imagine. In my experience, the films of that period tend to beat around the bush.

The reticence of those sharing its playing field makes Your Body During Adolescence all the more remarkable. It doesn’t seem so at first. The first minute is devoted to observing a group of coed, clean cut, and unsurprisingly Caucasian teens, posing for a yearbook photo. The narrator seems destined to soft peddle things, mildly taking note of differences in height and weight.

I freely admit that I underestimated him. The teens in whose classrooms this work was screened may have audibly squirmed at the mention of certain words, but our narrator is undaunted by penises, scrota and labia… Shout out to the educational consultants, Dr. Harold S. Diehl, Dean of the University of Minnesota’s Medical School and Anita Laton, an author and professor of Health and Hygiene at San Jose State. Alfred Kinsey would’ve approved.

The diagrams are less straightforward, but I kind of liked that. They look like Mid Century Dinnerware patterns, which is to say, a lot sexier than most of the sex organs one can find on the Internet.

For fun and comparison, have a look at Fuzzy Bunny’s Guide to You Know What, the Simpsons’ infamous “sex eductation” film.

I’d say they both get it right.

via The Atlantic

Related Content:

Watch Family Planning, Walt Disney’s 1967 Sex Ed Production, Starring Donald Duck

The Story Of Menstruation: Walt Disney’s Sex Ed Film from 1946

Ayun Halliday is the author of seven books, and creator of the award winning East Village Inky zine. Follow her @AyunHalliday

Your Body During Adolescence: A Nakedly Unashamed Sex Ed Film from 1955 is a post from: Open Culture. Follow us on Facebook, Twitter, and Google Plus, or get our Daily Email. And don't miss our big collections of Free Online Courses, Free Online Movies, Free eBooksFree Audio Books, Free Foreign Language Lessons, and MOOCs.

The post Your Body During Adolescence: A Nakedly Unashamed Sex Ed Film from 1955 appeared first on Open Culture.

11 Apr 12:18

How to pick a “Bespoke” Tailor.

by Tom Mahon

These are the points that are important to us:

1. If you’re told it’s ”Bespoke”, make sure it is. Ask the person your speaking with if he is the actual cutter.

Will he cut you a personal pattern? Any company or individual should have a pile of individual patterns adorned with names of his clients. Be very wary here, there are some good CMT houses (cut, make & trim) who merely receive your details and then effectively make you a ready-to-wear suit- using a standard template, not an individual pattern- that’s been slightly adjusted.

Yes, it’ll be a great suit, but it’s not “Bespoke”. Remember, a BMW is a great car, but it’ll never be a hand-built Aston Martin.

With a proper Bespoke Tailor, he’ll make you a set of patterns which will belong to you and nobody else but you. And he’ll hold on to them for next time, for years or even decades.

Cutting is an art. We’re like painters, novelists or film directors. Some you like, some you don’t, it doesn’t necessarily mean good or bad. Our job is to fit and flatter your body, and just as importantly, your mind.

Although we have our style of cut, you’ve got to feel your own individuality being expressed, or it simply won’t work. If you already find this with your current cutter, for goodness sake, hold on to him for dear life, don’t come to us.

2. But the cutter is only part of the equation. At this point we involve this next rare (& getting rarer) breed, the tailor, who actually sews the garments by hand. Obviously only using the highest quality cloth & trimmings (linings, buttons,etc) available.

Although tailors are very few and far between, you may find an old tailor who cuts & makes all his garments, but you’d be lucky, it’s just not commercially viable any more.

So now we’ve more to consider. We have a number of superb tailors, ranging from 28 to 78 yrs old. As you’d expect, they contribute hugely to the outcome of a garment. They’re individuals, they express themselves in their work.

Some make a slightly firmer coat, with more stitches per inch and a little less fullness, thus creating a slightly sharper image. Another might add lots of fullness, with easier stitching, to produce a more relaxed, draped style.

Again, the cutter has to decide who’s best for you, and as importantly, keep it that way. In some of the bigger houses your suit can get handed out to different tailors every time you order, and believe us here, you’ll notice.

3. Make sure it’s hand-made. Yes, I know we use sewing machines for parts of the garment, but that should be where it ends.

Make sure your coat has a “floating” canvas, this you should be able to feel, floating between the facing & forepart. If you can’t feel it, ask to be shown it at the fitting. A hand canvassed coat must be expected at this level. I point this out, as the far-inferior alternative is a “fused” canvas, which effectively glues the innards of your coat together.

The fused canvas looks impressive when it’s new, but it’ll subtract years off the garment’s life in the long run. Oh, and wait until you’ve had a few trips to the dry cleaners, or a bit of singing in the rain, and it becomes unstuck, yuk.

Look out for the obvious: hand-sewn buttonholes, hand-sewn edges, and make sure the buttons are made of animal horn, not plastic.

4. Don’t be convinced by the narcotic effect of labels, they mean nothing. Have your eyes and senses tuned. Don’t trust the glossy magazines for your info, they are writers, not cutters or coat makers. Their world is about PR, not about the actual stitching.

No journalist ever had to spend seven years as a proper tailor’s apprentice. Their agendas are different from yours.

Remember, all business is personal…. especially in tailoring.


(This post has been ‘re-posted’ – Originally written in January 2005)

Photo above of Mr Ravi Tailor, our dear friend and associate:

11 Apr 13:00

Detail from page 329 of Family Man, now online! This webcomic...

Detail from page 329 of Family Man, now online!

This webcomic has been nominated for a 2014 Reuben award. I’m still trying to wrap my mind around that. Such an honor! Gah!

10 Apr 03:53

The Napoleon of Food


Oh pizza, I love you so much.

no one gets out of coffee alive.

In tonight’s comic, gluten is my Moriarty.

09 Apr 04:19

Leader Mail


Yes. The small black fuzzy one at our place feels much the same way.

no one gets out of coffee alive.

Tonight’s reader mail is fwom an adowwable kitten.

07 Apr 11:50

Microglia in Mice and Men

by Virginia Hughes

Two thoughts: Animal studies are often intended to point towards possible analogs in humans, not to be definitive; "fetal tissue harvester" has to be the grimmest job description I've heard in a while.

A hot debate has broken out among scientists who study microglia, the glorious cells best known as the soldiers of the brain’s immune system. OK, “debate” may be a strong word; it’s really just a series of gentlemanly letters published over the last couple of months in a neuroscience journal you’ve probably never heard of. Still, I think the debate is worth highlighting not only because I’m an unabashed fan of microglia, but because it raises one of the most pressing issues facing medical research: the differences between mice and people.

Microglia straddle the fields of immunology and neuroscience. The cells begin in the yolk sac as part of the immune system, in the same cellular lineage as the macrophages of the blood. But over the first week of life, microglia migrate to the brain and make it their permanent home. They become vigilant soldiers, constantly patrolling for any sort of cellular invader, whether a bacterial infection or a pile of protein trash. Once they spot the offender, they snap into action, morphing from their spindly resting state into a fat blob so they can literally eat the problem.

Microglia’s role in the immune system has been known for more than a century. But the cells’ popularity skyrocketed in the last decade or so, after being linked to neurodegenerative disease, developmental disorders, and plasticity in the healthy brain. The vast majority of these microglia studies rely on laboratory mice. And that’s not good, according to neuroscientists Amy Smith and Mike Dragunow.

As they point out in the March issue of Trends in Neurosciencemice and people are separated by 65 million years of evolution, leading to many genetic differences. What’s more, because of pressure from evolving pathogens, “the immune system is a ‘hot-spot’ for evolutionary changes,” the researchers write.

They describe many molecular differences between mouse and human microglia. To name just a few: The interferon-gamma receptor, which binds to an important immune molecule, is expressed by microglia in the mouse brain, but not in the human brain. Another immune player, the toll-like receptor 4, is expressed at high levels in mouse microglia but at low levels in human microglia. When exposed to valproic acid (an anti-seizure drug), mouse microglia die but human microglia don’t. In mouse models of Alzheimer’s disease, microglia seem virile, engulfing healthy neurons and contributing to the brain’s degeneration. But in postmortem brain tissue from people with the disease, the microglia are limp and atrophied, which might suggest that they initially play a protective role.

Mouse microglia. Image by Dorothy Schafer and Ryuta Koyama of the Stevens laboratory

With differences like those (and more), no one should assume that something discovered in rodents will be applicable to people. I suspect most scientists would agree with that statement. But Smith and Dragunow go a provocative step further, arguing that before publication, rodent studies should be verified in human brain cells.

Those sorts of comparisons certainly wouldn’t be easy, and may even be useless, due to several challenges surrounding the study of human microglia. Or so counters neuroscientists Linda Watkins and Mark Hutchinson in the April issue of the same journal.

For most researchers, the only way to closely examine human microglia is by taking the cells from a dead brain. Watkins and Hutchinson argue that the procedures for harvesting and storing postmortem tissue may well have an effect on microglia (which, after all, are programmed to notice and react to changes in the environment). Most commercially available tissue comes from first-trimester abortions, which damage the fetus’s skull in order to remove it. Then the brain tissue has to be “collected, packaged, and shipped to a processing center, typically arriving 1–2 days later,” Watkins and Hutchinson write. Everything the tissue is exposed to in the interim — changes in temperature, exposure to chemicals, sudden movements, rough handling — may change the microglia. One fetal brain results in anywhere from 3 to 12 vials of microglia, according to the scientists. That variability alone shows how much the brain can be damaged during its preservation.

Even if fetal brain tissue sustained no damage during processing, there’s still the issue of age. Microglia undergo many important molecular changes during late fetal development and even after birth, so first-trimester cells could look and behave very differently than those at a later stage, regardless of species.

These issues could be dealt with, to some extent. Scientists could be ever-so-careful when processing human brain tissue, and be sure to compare cells at the same stage of development. And, as Smith and Dragunow point out in their counter to the counter-argument, fetal brains aren’t the only option. Some brain banks store tissue from adults who suffered from various diseases during their lifetime. “By directly studying microglia in the diseased adult human brain,” they say, “the disease context can be studied and the information garnered used to help validate animal models of these diseases.”

But a much trickier problem plagues every study, no matter the species, attempting to study a disease state in the laboratory: variability. For the human fetal tissue, each sample of microglia is pricey — around $500 — and so researchers tend to limit their studies to cells from a single fetus. Yet one fetus could be very different, both genetically and environmentally, from the next. For example, usually nothing is known about the fetus’s mother, such as her medical history or diet, which could have a big influence on the functioning of her baby’s brain. The same argument applies for the adult brains, and maybe more so: An elderly person’s brain is the result of some combination of exposures and experiences acquired over decades.

The mouse-versus-human question goes way, way beyond microglia. More than 80 percent of drugs that seem promising in mouse models end up failing in clinical trials, as Steve Perrin pointed out in a Nature commentary last month. Perrin’s organization, the ALS Therapy Development Institute, has tested more than 100 compounds in a mouse model of ALS (a motor neuron disease). None of them worked, even those that other research groups had shown to slow disease. The same trend curses the cancer field, in which only 5 percent of drugs that seem to work in animal studies end up making it to commercial licensing.

I suppose this post hasn’t painted a very rosy picture of the state of basic medical research. I don’t think all is hopeless, though. Perrin suggests that researchers look more carefully at symptoms that crop up in animal models of disease. If they don’t closely mimic those seen in people, then they’re not likely to be a good model for testing treatments. He also argues that spurious findings can be avoided by more rigorous statistical analyses and a stronger focus individual variability.

Advancements are happening on the human side, too. Thanks to amazing new technologies in the stem-cell field, researchers can now take bits of a patient’s skin and reprogram it into pretty much any kind of cell in the body, including neurons and microglia. Researchers (or even robots) could then test a battery of drugs on the cells to see if any lead to noticeable improvements.

Still, there’s a sobering lesson in here for all of us who write about cures that happen in laboratory studies, and for everyone who reads the headlines about them. Lots of treatments will cure diseases in mice or Petri dishes, but the vast majority won’t pan out in people.


Related stories: 

Best Cells Ever (Only Human)
Supporting the Support Cells in Lou Gehrig’s Disease (Only Human)
The Constant Gardeners (Nature)
Brain Imaging Study Points to Microglia as Autism Biomarker (

04 Apr 14:51

The bigger story of how private equity corrupts

by Eric Garland

More on the same topic.

The other day I was talking with a friend of mine who does intelligence for large corporations. We were discussing my latest on Guitar Center’s subprime bond hustle and she said, “You should talk with Yves Smith from Naked Capitalism – her work on private equity suckering pension funds like CalPERS is a lot like […]

The post The bigger story of how private equity corrupts is from Eric Garland

29 Mar 19:58

How to get beyond the parasite economy

by Eric Garland

Worth reading.

It is the middle of the night between Friday and Saturday, and I am thinking about Guitar Center. If the above sentence appears strange to you, we are in the same boat. I do not know how bizarre and random your life appears to you, but mine is definitely some sort of mysterious fractal. About […]

The post How to get beyond the parasite economy is from Eric Garland

01 Apr 16:01

New! Edison Nouveau Premiere in Cherry Blossom (Spring 2014 Edition)

by Brian Goulet

Shared for Rosalind.

It's here! The Spring 2014 Seasonal Special Edition Edison Nouveau Premiere in vibrant Cherry Blossom acrylic resin. This is the wildest color Premiere we've ever offered! This is exactly the reason we love doing these seasonal pens, it allows us to really take a chance with color choices we'd be tentative to make with a regularly offered pen. Cherry Blossom is a vibrant pink that is ever-so-slightly translucent, with bold white swirls. Here in Virginia where is located, Cherry Blossoms are sign that spring has finally arrived. After this long winter, we're all ready for spring!

Edison Nouveau Premiere Spring 2014 Cherry Blossom

Yes, I know, I know, today is April Fool's Day and some of you may think this pen is a joke, but I promise you it is for real. If you do want to see our April Fool's joke from last year, check out our $28.95 Edison Bulb Filler video here. We opted to skip doing anything silly this year, and it just so happens that today is the best day logistically for us to launch our new Premiere.

So what is the Seasonal Premiere all about? Check out our other video here that explains what it is and why we do it.

You may be curious about the Black Ice Premiere that we have left over from Winter 2014. It was a huge hit and we stocked up a bit, so we do still have some of those left. But with the launch of the Spring 2014 Cherry Blossom, the Black Ice is no longer in production and once the pens we have on hand are sold, they'll be gone for good. The same will go for the Cherry Blossom, they'll be here for about 3 months until we announce our Summer pen, sometime around the change in season (late June/early July).

Edison Nouveau Premiere Cherry Blossom, closeup of the swirls

The Premiere is available with a stainless steel nib in extra-fine, fine, medium, broad, 1.1mm, and 1.5mm stub nibs. The nibs are smooth with a touch of feedback, much to the liking of many Edison fans! The Premiere is a standard international cartridge/converter pen (converter included) that is also convertible to an eyedropper (see how here). We offer it exclusively at for $149, starting today!

What do you think of the Cherry Blossom?

Write On,
Brian Goulet
02 Apr 12:37

The Worst Bit About Feeding Mosquitoes Is The Waiting

by Ed Yong

More on malaria.

The worst thing about feeding hundreds of mosquitoes on your own blood is not the itching – if you do it enough times, your body gets used to the bites. It’s not even the pain, although it is always painful since the mosquitoes will use their snouts to root about your flesh in search of a blood vessel.

It is more that, sometimes, the little suckers take their time.

“They just walk around on your arm. You’re sitting there and thinking, ‘Seriously? I have things to do’,” says Chiara Andolina.

Andolina is an infectious-disease researcher who works at the Shoklo Malaria Research Unit, a world-renowned laboratory nestled in an unassuming town near Thai–Myanmar border. She runs the Unit’s insectory, where mosquitoes are bred, reared, infected with the Plasmodium parasites that cause malaria, and dissected.

There are only five or six such facilities in Thailand, largely because the malarial mosquitoes of South-east Asia are delicate, wilting flowers. In Africa, malaria is transmitted by Anopheles gambiae – a hardy insect with catholic tastes. They will go without food for days. They will endure through tough environmental conditions. They will suck blood from rabbits, cows… basically anything that they can get their proboscis into.

Their Asian cousins, Anopheles dirus, are very different. “You blow on them a little bit and they’re like: ‘No. I’m not mating today. I’m upset.’” They also refuse to eat anything except human blood, which is why Andolina has to feed them herself.

She does this simply by sticking her arm through a muslin sock and into their cages. It takes half an hour and she does it every four days. “They’re very spoiled,” she says.

Andolina fed around 600 mosquitoes yesterday and you wouldn’t be able to tell – her arm is free of any marks because she has built up resistance to the allergens in the mosquito saliva. Her boss, François Nosten, had to fill in for her two weeks ago and his arm is still covered in welts. This is why there is no feeding rota. It’s just Andolina. She has tried to convince her research assistants to help but, for some strange reason, they aren’t keen.

The boxes contain two closely related species of mosquito: Anopheles dirus B and C. The two colonies have to be kept apart. If someone mixes them by mistake, it would be nigh impossible to fix the error. B and C look identical, even under the microscope, and only their genes reveal them to be distinct species. They also transmit very different malarial parasites: B carries Plasmodium falciparum, the main cause of malaria in these parts, while C transmits P. vivax. Andolina once spent a few years on an experiment that just wouldn’t work, because she was trying to infect one of the species with the wrong parasite.

Only female mosquitoes drink blood, and they use proteins in their meals to make the shells of their eggs. But they also need mating partners, and A. dirus are as finicky about sex as they are about food. Andolina used to have to force-mate them.

To begin: decapitate a male, and anaesthetise a female with ether. Next, unite the two by inserting the male’s still-protruding genitals into his unconscious partner. Get it right and the two insects (or one-and-a-half insects) lock together, sperm is transferred, and the female becomes pregnant. Andolina first learned to do this without a microscope. It took steady hands.

The females lay their eggs as little floating rafts. It takes two days for these to hatch into larvae, which hang from the water’s surface, breathing from their rear ends and sweeping up passing debris with brush-like mouthparts. Andolina keeps them in a succession of trays, nourished with tropical fish food. She needs to change the water regularly, or the larvae quickly succumb to all manner of bacterial, viral and fungal infections. They are not the toughest of species.

It takes another two weeks for them to turn into adults. Now, they’re ready for experiments. Typically, this involves infecting them with malaria.

Andolina loads a feeding pump with blood samples from people with malaria. The pump delivers the blood into a grey cylinder, with a membrane stretched across it. She places this on top of a sheet of muslin, draped over an empty noodle cup containing dozens of mosquitoes. The cylinder is like an upside-down feeding trough. The mosquitoes dangle upside-down from the muslin, pierce the adjacent membrane, and suck up the blood.

"Guys, what did you do with my noodlOH MY GOD!"

“Guys, what did you do with my noodlOH MY GOD!”

Once they are infected, security is paramount. The law dictates that there must be four doors between them and the outside world, so they’re kept inside an incubator within one of three adjoining rooms. Andolina counts them every day to make sure that none have escaped. If she ever misses one – and that hasn’t happened yet – she won’t be allowed to leave the lab until she has found and killed it.

“I don’t do it because I love mosquitoes,” says Andolina. Her work creates a ready supply of parasites. She provides these to collaborators in Paris and Singapore, who are trying to develop new drugs that target malarial parasites holding out in a patient’s liver.

More directly, she wants to see if a drug called primaquine can help to break the cycle of malaria transmission. The drug kills malarial parasites in the liver, but there’s a chance that it could also stop the mosquitoes from becoming infected. Andolina wants to see if mosquitoes are less likely to pick up the parasites after feeding on the blood of patients who have taken low doses of primaquine.

At high doses, the drug produces nasty side-effects in some patients. If lower doses are still effective, then primaquine could feature in the Shoklo Unit’s radical campaign to completely eliminate malaria from South-east Asia, by treating as many people as possible with antimalarial drugs.

This post first appeared on Mosaic as part of my feature on drug-resistant malaria.

03 Apr 16:48

lucybellwood: Erika Moen, Amy Falcone, Dylan Meconis, Steve...


Dylan is also incapable of being serious.


Erika Moen, Amy Falcone, Dylan Meconis, Steve Lieber, and I talked about the ins and outs of freelancing at Emerald City Comicon this past weekend. Here’s a recording for those of you who couldn’t make it!

In which I talk about important lessons in professionalism using examples from Star Trek AND Say Yes to the Dress. 

04 Apr 15:00

Detail from page 328 of Family Man. Did I mention that this...


Dylan is very good at what she does. yes.

Detail from page 328 of Family Man.

Did I mention that this comic has been nominated for an NCS Reuben Award? How lovely!

04 Apr 01:04

Warning issued over measles exposure in Seattle | Local News | The Seattle Times

by russiansledges
People who aren’t immune can get the measles just by walking into where someone with the disease has been in the past few hours, public-health officials said. The woman, who is in her 20s, became contagious with measles March 26 after visiting a Whatcom County family member with measles linked to an outbreak in British Columbia, Health Department spokesman Donn Moyer said. The woman visited Seattle for a Kings of Leon rock concert at KeyArena on March 28. That same day she was also at the Best Western Loyal Inn and the Wasabi Bistro, and the next day she went to Beth’s Cafe, Aurora Suzuki, Starbucks at First Avenue and Pike Street, and Pike Place Market. On those same dates she went to several Pierce County locations, including the LeMay Car Museum and Harmon Brewing Co. & Restaurant. Anyone who was in those locations at the listed times and who is unvaccinated, who isn’t sure if he or she is immune or who develops an illness with fever or an unexplained rash should consult a health-care professional immediately.
02 Apr 16:00

The Mystery of the Missing Black Holes

by Nadia Drake

In the census of black holes, there are basically two populations: The big, supermassive bruisers that churn away in the hearts of large galaxies, and the smaller, comparatively runty black holes that form when massive stars collapse and die.

But what about the medium-size black holes – the middleweights, the golden retrievers, the four-door sedans – that are neither galactic drain nor single stellar corpse?

According to some astronomers, these intermediate black holes, with masses equivalent to anywhere between 100 and 100,000 suns, should be everywhere. After all, those million-solar-mass galactic drains aren’t just born that way.

Trouble is, the middleweights are mostly missing. Decades of searching have only yielded a handful of strong candidates. Even this week’s episode of Cosmos: A Spacetime Odyssey, which dealt at length with black holes, didn’t mention the missing middleweights. But whether astronomers are having a hard time finding these intermediate mass black holes because they’re tricky to find, or just really, really hard to make is an open question.

“Black holes in general are hard to find because by definition, they don’t radiate any electromagnetic radiation,” says Sydney-based astrophysicist Sean Farrell.

Artist's conception of a lonely black hole, floating near a star cluster on the outskirts of the Milky Way. (David A. Aguilar, CfA)

Artist’s conception of a lonely black hole, floating near a star cluster on the outskirts of the Milky Way. (David A. Aguilar, CfA)

In 2008, graduate student Joana Rodrigues spotted what’s still the leading intermediate mass black hole candidate. Rodrigues, then at the Universite de Toulouse, was working with Farrell and his colleagues; she was looking for lonely neutron stars and other objects that shone brightly in x-rays, using the European Space Agency’s XMM-Newton space telescope.

Rodrigues saw something unexpected: An object that glowed extremely brightly in x-rays – what astronomers call an ultra-luminous x-ray source, or ULX.  Hovering 290 million light-years away in the halo of a galaxy known as ESO 243-49, the object was perplexing for several reasons.

First, this wasn’t just any old super-bright thing. It was ridiculously bright – more than 10 times brighter than any known ULX, and at least 100 million times brighter than the sun. That incredible brightness suggested something very energetic and active was taking place. And, the object, now called HLX-1 (for hyper-luminous x-ray source), wasn’t in the right place. Rather than being at the heart of its galaxy, it was off in the galactic periphery. Lastly, there seemed to be a disk of hot, turbulent gas swirling around it.

At first, Farrell says, he was pretty sure they’d gotten the object’s location wrong. All signs pointed to HLX-1 being a massive black hole in the process of yanking material from some nearby stars – the kind of thing that should be in the heart of a galaxy, rather than on the outside.

But follow-up observations suggested that HLX-1 really was on the fringe, and that the superhot gas likely came from a star being ripped apart by a black hole with several hundred solar masses.

In other words, the team seemed to have found an intermediate mass black hole.

Now, nearly six years later, HLX-1’s story has gotten even weirder. New measurements suggest it’s probably around 10,000 solar masses – still within the intermediate range. And in addition to that gassy disk, Hubble space telescope observations point to a dense population of young blue stars clustered around the black hole.

“The location of HLX-1 out in the halo of ESO 243-49 is a very unusual place to find young stars,” Farrell says. “Something would have had to trigger the formation of these stars in the recent past.”

That something might be the recent collision and merger of a dwarf galaxy with ESO 243-49 – a dwarf galaxy whose stars were absorbed by the larger galaxy and whose heart was punted into space. That heart is HLX-1. It simultaneously clings to some of its original stars and also supports a younger population formed during the galactic merger.

“Mergers of dwarf galaxies with large galaxies like the Milky Way are really common,” Farrell says. “So if dwarfs contain central black holes, then such black holes should be deposited in the halos of large galaxies.”

At a meeting in the Netherlands this week, astronomer Roberto Soria of Australia’s Curtin University ranked the existing IMBH candidates. At the top of his list? HLX-1.

But even though HLX-1 is the strongest IMBH candidate, it isn’t alone. Another candidate, M82 X-1, is nipping at its heels (M82 X-1 was second on Soria’s list). In 2006, a team led by astrophysicist Philip Kaaret of the University of Iowa spotted M82 X-1, about 11 million light-years away.

M82, a galaxy 11 million light-years away, hosts the second strongest intermediate mass black hole candidate. (NASA/ESA/Hubble Heritage Team)

M82, a galaxy 11 million light-years away, hosts another intermediate mass black hole candidate. (NASA/ESA/Hubble Heritage Team)

If you look toward the Big Dipper’s ladle, on a dark night with good binoculars you can see M82, the candidate’s host galaxy (this is the same galaxy in which a type 1a supernova exploded earlier this year). It appeared to Kaaret and his colleague Hua Feng as though the object they’d found – also a ULX – measured between 200 and 800 solar masses, and was snacking on a nearby red giant star.

More recently, teams have found intermediate mass black hole candidates in an irregular dwarf galaxy called I Zwicky 18 and on the fringes of the Circinus spiral galaxy (though that one – at 90 solar masses – is a little on the light side to be a bona fide candidate, says its discoverer, Dominic Walton of Caltech).

The dearth of candidates begs the question of whether these medium black holes are really as numerous as expected. Some astronomers, like Kaaret, suggest maybe not.

“I think they are so hard to find because they are so hard to form,” he says. “Most ‘stellar mass’ black holes form in the collapse of a single star.  It looks like one can get up to masses of about 50 or 80 – but less than 100 – solar masses this way. Intermediate mass black holes need a different mechanism.”

Others scientists, like Farrell, think these black holes are just hard to find.

Because black holes don’t emit any electromagnetic radiation, they’re more or less invisible when thrust upon the backdrop of dark, empty space. So, astronomers searching the sky for these cosmic objects have to get kind of lucky. They need to be looking in the right place, with the right instrument. Unless you spy something like a telltale jet, or accretion disk, or cluster of strange young stars, it’s hard to know that you might be looking at a black hole.

Perhaps galactic halos are the place to look for this missing class of black hole, Farrell says.

If intermediate mass black holes do form the hearts of dwarf galaxies, and if dwarf galaxies frequently merge with one another and with larger galaxies, then there could be many dark, punted hearts floating on the peripheries of large galaxies. Just like HLX-1.

“I think the likelihood that there are potentially hundreds of quiet intermediate mass black holes floating around in galaxy halos is probably pretty high,” Farrell says.

03 Apr 06:30

Is a Footprint the Right Metaphor for Ecological Impact? | Guest Blog, Scientific American Blog Network


Click thru for full article.

Is a Footprint the Right Metaphor for Ecological Impact? | Guest Blog, Scientific American Blog Network:

On the cover of Our Ecological Footprint, published in 1996, a giant foot stomps on the Western hemisphere, carrying the weight of cars, overpasses and skyscrapers. William Rees, a population ecologist at the University of British Columbia, first thought of the footprint metaphor while boasting to a graduate student about the “small footprint” of his new computer tower in 1992. Linguists trace the use of footprint to mean “space occupied” to 1965 when astronomers described the landing area for a spacecraft. It would be another fourteen years before a Senate committee first uttered “environmental footprint.” But is this the best metaphor for humanity’s impact on the natural world?

Today Our Ecological Footprint is a classic text among biologists, and “ecological footprint” and “carbon footprint” are terms as familiar as “Googling” and “selfie.” A number of NGOs offer ecological footprint calculators, including the Global Footprint Network, the WWF footprint calculator and the Earth Day Network Footprint Calculator. The calculators approximate the amount of biologically productive land required to generate the resources an individual or a population consumes and to absorb the waste that the individual or population leaves behind. The results of footprint calculators are often used to highlight global disparities. In 2007, for example, the U.S. footprint per capita was 9.0 global hectares while China’s was just 1.8. Global estimates of human impact on natural systems are bleak. Species are going extinct 1,000 to 10,000 times more rapidly than they historically have between major extinction events. There are as many introduced plant species on oceanic islands as native plants. Humans consume about one-third of all solar energy converted to plant matter through photosynthesis, and their actions directly impact 75 percent of terrestrial Earth – or, if we take climate change into account, the entire Earth. The magnitude of these changes has prompted some geologists and ecologists to favor the term “Anthropocene” when referring to the present geological age, even though the International Union of Geological Sciences still places us in the Holocene. Given the picture painted by such statistics, it is no surprise that the footprint metaphor has caught on. A footprint is a mark one never meant to leave: a revealing clue in a garden, a blemish on an otherwise sparkling floor. It evokes both the weight of whoever left it and that being’s ominous absence. Verbs popular among environmentalists include trample, trod, oppress and dominate. Heavy feet imply antagonism and the lack of intimacy between humans and the non-human world. Are we waiting for the other shoe to drop?

03 Apr 06:19

Listen/purchase: Foamy Lather by Ultralash An excellent and...


Featuring a member of Sleepytime Gorilla Museum on some tracks, as well.

Listen/purchase: Foamy Lather by Ultralash

An excellent and unusual little record.

03 Apr 00:29

Lots of awesome stuff here, plus melodious voices: Erika Moen,...


Dylan is incapable of being serious, it seems.

Lots of awesome stuff here, plus melodious voices:

Erika Moen, Amy Falcone, Lucy Bellwood, Dylan Meconis, and Steve Lieber discuss the ins and outs of freelancing in the creative world at ECCC 2014.

01 Apr 13:00

Oxytocin: Still Not a Moral Molecule

by Ed Yong

Oxytocin stokes the flames of in-group/out-group divisions. I once saw the spectacularly bad suggestion that cops should spray it on rioters.

Whenever the hormone oxytocin makes the news—and it does so regularly—the media can’t help but refer to it as the “love hormone”, “cuddle chemical” or “moral molecule”. Few substances enjoy such a positive public profile. Oxytocin, it is said, is at the core of all our virtues, from trust to empathy to cooperation.

This rose-tinted view is a sham.

As I’ve written before, oxytocin is more of a general social hormone—one that drives us to seek out social situations or that draws our attention to social cues. The results can be positive if we find ourselves in the right situation. Change the context, and oxytocin can reveal a dark side to its influence.

The latest example of this comes from Shaul Shalvi and Carsten de Dreu. They found that people who sniff oxytocin become more dishonest in a simple team game, but only if their lies benefit their group. If they play the game alone, oxytocin doesn’t change their behaviour for better or for worse. As de Dreu says, “This is the best evidence yet that oxytocin is not the ‘moral molecule,’. It doesn’t make people more moral or immoral. It shifts people’s focus from themselves to their group or tribe.”

I’ve written about the study in The Scientist, so head over there for the details. You might also enjoy my piece in Slate about the history of oxytocin hype and why it’s both dumb and dangerous.

29 Mar 16:00

I’ve Got Your Missing Links Right Here (29 March 2014)

by Ed Yong

Lots of stuff, some of it funny, some of it depressing as hell.

Sign up for The Ed’s Up, a weekly newsletter of my writing. Here’s a recent example.


Top picks

Excellent piece by Erika Check Hayden on the problems with poorly conducted mouse studies: wasted money, wasted lives, harmed patients.

Great Barrier Reef: an obituary. An immensely sad, interactive tribute to a fallen ecosystem.

The humble heroes of weight-loss surgery are stomach acids and gut microbes. Great piece by Virginia Hughes

The rise of ancient DNA is one of the most spectacular recent developments in biology. Ewen Callaway gives us a tour

EPIC! All 339 books referenced In “Gilmore Girls”. Also, god I miss those people.

How will science confirm this week’s big discovery about cosmic signals from the infant universe? Nadia Drake on the week’s big discovery.

““I had never seen a brain inside out before,” Gazzaley told me. “After that I couldn’t get back to work.” Carl Zimmer on new ways of visualising the brain.

My short feature on camouflage in the natural (and human) world, for New Scientist. Paywall.

Scientists synthesise an entire yeast chromosome from scratch (and with surprisingly heavy edits). By me.

How psychedelics are helping cancer patients fend off despair. Nice to see a piece (and research) on palliative care in cancer.

A gif of the skull of a two-faced calf, getting cleaned by flesh-eating beetles. And the video that inspired it. By Emily Graslie. Not for the faint-hearted.

Robots, robots everywhere: here’s Oliver Morton’s guide to his wonderful Economist special on robots.

Don’t write a story that is wrong. This is harder than it sounds.” Ian Sample’s excellent tips on good science journalism.

The New Yorker on the quest to apply artificial intelligence to the Chinese board game Go



As climate change progresses, Bangladesh will face the consequences earlier than most.

FDA says almost all manufacturers agree to agricultural-antibiotic controls. End of the battle, or just more of the same?

Hypnotic Art Shows How Patterns Emerge From Randomness in Nature

Pterosaurs are amazing, but surprisingly rare. Why?

Cuvier’s Beaked Whale sets new deep diving mammal record at 9,816 ft, 2,500 ft deeper than sperm whale

Lion versus croc, in a fight over hippo

Deep brain stimulation–a tool for treating Parkinson’s, but also a new way of eavesdropping on the brain.

Google Flu has been a spectacular failure. When it comes to Big Data, you can’t polish a turd.

So, why do snakes have two penises? (Post features all the snake penis photos you could possibly want.)

Conchs foil human collectors by evolving to be smaller.

Boom! Kakapo baby boom.

260-million-year-old spider tracks

An homage to Jane Goodall, who turns 80 next week.

Scientists convince people their hands are rocks

Nadia Drake asked a bunch of astronomers to name the Solar System’s biggest surprises

Mesmeric time-lapse scenes of swarming fireflies

A “fire tornado” whirls above a prairie

“Riding, poking, prodding or otherwise harassing a free-swimming large predatory animal for fun is a bad idea.”

18th century biologists made frogs wear tiny pants while having sex

New dwarf planet discovery hints at a hidden Super Earth in solar system

Neurosurgeons successfully implant 3D printed skull

Wagenmakers to priming psychologists: “nut up or shut up”.

Here’s Radiolab on what would happen if we annihilated all mosquitoes

Two halves of a fossil turtle bone are reunited after 163 years.

The de-extinction issue wastes considerable time “debating the consequences of a science that is yet to be realized.”

Squirrels Hibernate So Hard You Can Juggle Them

This post is a hilarious look at the sort of questions that people in medical charities get.

Heh. Classic children’s books that would be ruined by modern medicine

What happens when you put a fly in a particle accelerator? You get a really cool video

Nadia Drake has given the Milky Way 4 billion years to live, unless you concede to her demands.

Jimmy Wales has told a bunch of alternative medicine people moaning about Wikipedia where to stick it

Slo-mo vid of a goshawk flying through variously-shaped small holes

Gonorrhea bacteria hitchhike among people using ‘grappling hooks’ that grab onto semen proteins.

The cost of anti-vaccine fears in a gif. More from NPR

“What is it about meditation that opens the brain up to these kinds of hallucinations?”

When lab scientists used to pipette with their mouths

Homeopathic products recalled because they might contain actual medicine.

This computer can tell when humans are faking pain. More effective torture droids on the way.

Stick insects started mimicking plants 126 million years ago

Interactive images of how animals see the world

The evidence that phthalates damage male fertility is surprisingly strong. By Deborah Blum.

“The revived moss [has] been in a state of suspended animation since the age of King Arthur.”

Rootworm evolves resistance to GM corn, highlighting importance of crop rotation.

Why are there so many frickin’ huge ants?

“It might sound strange, but a shriveling Mercury is not unexpected.”

Add carbon nanotubes to plants to supercharge photosynthesis. Okay but how would you ever apply this in practice?

Weed: a gateway drug through the generations?

Refuting MMR/autism link decreased intent to vaccinate among parents w/ unfavorable vaccine attitudes

The NYT on the new generation of programmed ‘detect and respond’ brain implants for epilepsy

Two twins, separated by space. No, really, By Space.

“As consumers, when we own a black box, we’re letting other people design our world.” The wonderful Aatish Bhatia hacks Kinect to make a dance video

When Nature Looks Unnatural“—Sean Carroll on the recent discovery about inflation and the early universe.

10 persistent cancer myths and why there’s no evidence to back them up

What was the biggest animal gathering ever? Featuring herring, starlings, and Rod Stewart



“Mellow.” “Clucky.” “Stentorian grunting.” The mating calls of male tortoises

Dad turns kid vids into amazing superhero feats

Life before the internet

Bravo, Tom Whipple. You win the lede awards.

Huh. Cool things happen when you chuck sand in the air and photograph it with a high-speed camera

Onion: How a Predator drone works

A recent study has shown that if US parents read one more think piece about parenting they will go f**king apes**t”

Dr Manhattan performs Let It Go from Frozen.

Explaining phylogeny using candy bars

Teacher spoils a Game of Thrones death every time his class gets too noisy

Close-up shots of flames mid-burst look eerily like brains

Check out the winners of the Wellcome Image Awards, from a beautiful nit to a gorgeous kidney stone

The 20 best TED talks ever. This is absolute gold. Mine is basically #17



A journalist tells his mental illness story

Should you give journalists metrics about their stories?

“References enable TED to fulfil its goal of hosting ‘ideas worth spreading’ rather than mere ‘stories worth telling’.”

Utterly horrifying piece on what happens to ghost flights.

Q&A from Megan Garber, explaining Oculus Rift—Facebook’s recent mega-purchase. I especially like: “Sorry, but this whole thing sounds really nerdy.”

The radiovota: a 1930s “Like” button for the radio… that took 7 hours to register

Retraction Watch is a bastion of solid, important science journalism. Help Ivan Oransky and Adam Marcus with a small donation

Solid advice on story structure in book writing, and drawing inspiration from screenwriting.

Reason #7394 to kick the Daily Mail in its pathetic bigoted crotch



02 Apr 04:00


by Christopher Hastings

At least the Doc knows he's fucking up?


27p33 is a post from: The Adventures of Dr. McNinja Ads by Project Wonderful! Your ad could be here, right now.

27p33 is a post from: The Adventures of Dr. McNinja

Ads by Project Wonderful! Your ad could be here, right now.
16 Mar 19:49

The Birds And the Bees and the Pollinator Syndrome [Science Ink Sunday]

by Carl Zimmer
Tattoo by Dave Kotinsley, Gainesville, FL

Tattoo by Dave Kotinsley, Gainesville, FL

Jacob Landis writes, “I’m a graduate student at the University of Florida studying flower evolutionary development with a focus on plant/pollinator interactions. My ink represents the concept that I have been working on for almost 6 years now. This piece shows three species in the Phlox family. The red and white flowers are both part of the genus Ipomopsis and the blue/purple flower is in the closely related Polemonium. The pollinator of each flower is shown interacting with the flower. These interactions represent the concept of pollinator syndromes: certain features of the flower will attract certain pollinators. The long red tubular flowers attract hummingbirds, the white tubular flowers attract hawk moths, and the more open blue/purple flowers often attract bees.”

You can see the rest of the Science Tattoo Emporium here or in my book, Science Ink: Tattoos of the Science Obsessed(The paperback edition comes out in May; you can pre-order here.)

02 Apr 04:52

How To Draw A Kitty


Feed is wonky, but click through for gud comic.

Ads by Project Wonderful! Your ad could be here, right now.

I am back from Seattle and completely wiped out! So here is a comic thing I did for my tumblr a while back. Regular strips resume tomorrow!

01 Apr 05:01

on Fairness

by Ian

on Fairness