Monday, December 31, 2007

Junk Mail Claims 100 Million Trees

Few things annoy me more than junk mail. It comes in piles that I throw directly into the trash, which makes me feel guilty. When I get back from a few days on the road, it’s overflowing and spilling onto my porch, which sucks. And the clincher: there doesn’t seem to be any way to stop it.

At least I thought that until happening upon the latest edition of the
Vegetarian Times.

In the magazine there’s a short clip, “Say NO to Junk Mail” which describes how damaging junk mail is for the environment and what you can do to stop it. (Sorry, no hyperlink to the piece, I couldn’t find the piece online.)

As it turns out, 100 million trees are chopped down each year to fuel the junk mail beast. According to
41pounds.org, that equates to, well, 41 pounds per adult annually. The group also claims that “junk mail produces more CO2 than 2.8 million cars.” Though they don’t explain how that CO2 comes about. (Is it the manufacturing of the junk mail, the delivery of it or a combination of both?)

Via the Vegetarian Times, I learned that 41pounds.org can stop 80 to 95 percent of junk mail by doing the dirty work of contacting junk mailers and trade groups like the Direct Marketing Association (which maintains a sort of
do-not-mail list).

Friday, December 28, 2007

Scientists Convinced Mars Had Oceans

While thumbing through Space.com’s “Best Space Discoveries of 2007,” I stumbled upon a gem that I missed this year: “Mystery Solved: Mars Had Large Oceans.”

The idea has been around since 1991 when scientists observed “lips of rock” on Mars that looked an awful lot like shorelines. But there was a catch: the “lips” weren’t smooth enough. They almost resemble mountain ranges. But a new theory explains how the smooth shorelines would have gotten so jagged.

After careful study, planetary scientists at UC Berkley found evidence that Mars “toppled over” millions of year ago. They don’t know why, but one theory is that “a massive change in the distribution of mantle” caused the toppling. However it happened, the event would have caused the once smooth shorelines to warp and bunch up, reports Space.com.

Thus far, scientists have identified two ancient shorelines stretching thousands of miles. Their size suggest oceans big enough to contain up to three-times the volume of ice in Antarctica. I’m not sure why they chose that comparison.

Where did the oceans go? Planetary scientists doubt it all evaporated into space, so they suspect “subterranean reservoirs” remain. What were the oceans made of? The article suggests water, but not whether or not it was salty.

Scientists believe the oceans disappeared about 2 billion years ago.

Astonishing Find in Mexico City: 800-Year-Old Pyramid

What’s so astonishing about this story is that a pyramid could go unnoticed in one of the world’s biggest cities. With a population of nine million, Mexico City ranks tenth among the world’s biggest. But nobody noticed an 800-year-old Aztec pyramid “in the heart of the Mexican capital,” until archeologists uncovered it this year, reported Reuters.

After destroying the Aztec capital of Tenochtitlan in 1325, the Spanish conquistadors build Mexico City in its place. To this day, many Aztec ruins remain, but it amazes Pound360 that a pyramid was simply lost in the shuffle. It’s not like it was buried underground or out in the sticks. According to the Reuters piece, the pyramid ruins “are about 36 feet high” and located in the central neighborhood of Tlatelolco.

Tests may reveal the pyramid was built between 1100 and 1200. If so, that pushes the establishment of the Aztec capital back about 100 years. According to one archaeologist, “the (Aztec) timeline is going to need to be revised."

Does this mean we need to revise the date
ancient calendars predict the end of the world? If so, does this give us an extra 100 years, or was the world supposed to be wiped out a hundred years ago?

Thursday, December 27, 2007

Is Cooking the Key to Human Evolution?

“Our hominid ancestors could never have eaten enough raw food to support our large, calorie-hungry brains,” according to a new feature at Scientific American. The column looks at biologist Richard Wrangham’s theory that cooking -- which allowed creatures to consume more energy-dense, softer food -- spurred human evolution.

The theory easily explains why we have smaller stomachs, less menacing teeth and larger brains than our tree-swinging cousins. Brain tissue requires a lot of energy, 22-times as much as skeletal muscle tissue.

The problem with this theory is the timing. Wrangham’s theory requires one tricky ingredient: fire. For the theory to work, Homo erectus would have had to be cooking, with fire, 1.6 to 1.9 million years ago. But there’s little evidence that human ancestors were cooking more than 500,000 years ago.

So how could human brains evolve? Some scientist suggest early hominids ate “energy-dense animal-derived foods” like bone marrow and brain tissue to fuel their own growing brains. Brains to grow brains? It’s macabre, but it makes sense.

Wednesday, December 26, 2007

Fight! Soy Milk vs. Cow’s Milk

What’s better for you and the environment, soy milk or cow’s milk? Let’s look at it from a nutritional and environmental standpoint.

Nutritionally speaking, it’s pretty much a toss up, according to
an article I found at a random website (sorry I couldn’t do better, but there’s very little out there on this subject). Cow has an edge in protein (3.34g per cup compared to soy’s 1.91g), but soy milk is lower in calories (33 compared to 61 calories). Soy has no cholesterol compared to cow’s 14mg, and it has 1.3g of fiber whereas cow has none. But milk has slightly more (.2g) essential amino acids. Milk also has (a little) more calcium.

At “GoAskAlice.com,” (Alice, I presume)
suggests that, “Fortified soy milk provides almost the same dietary value as cow milk.” So where nature makes soy and cow milk different, man has evened the score (to compete in the marketplace, of course).

Speaking of markets, profit and all that, Newstarget.com’s Mike Adams
doesn’t like soy milk because it’s gotten too commercial. Adams blames “profit-seeking corporations” for loading supermarket-grade soy milk with sugar leaving it “nutritionally inferior.” He also gripes about farmers using genetically modified soy beans (Why is that bad? Seriously?) and the clearing of rainforests to plant crops.

For the record, consider that cows have to eat and drink something to make milk. And
from what I understand, it takes ten plant calories (which may very well come from clear-cut rainforests) to make one animal calorie. In other words, a cow needs to eat 610 calories of plants to make one 61-calorie serving of milk. Thus, compared to soy, it would take ten-times the crop land to get the same amount of cow milk.

Considering that, it’s not hard to believe
it takes more than a thousand gallons of water to yield one gallon of milk.

Back to our friend Mike Adams, he doesn’t like cow’s milk either. Aside from being “alarmingly high in pus,” pasteurization destroys “beneficial microorganisms” and alters its fat in a way that “ultimately harms the human cardiovascular system.”

What does Mikey like? Fermented raw milk (high in probiotics) and raw almond milk (rich in cancer-fighting phytonutrients).

One other thing, from that random article referenced earlier, Pound360 learned that soy milk appears to have an edge in certain amino acids (arginine for boosting the immune system, alanine for breaking down sugar and aspartic for boosting stamina) and it has more thiamin, niacin, magnesium (for absorbing calcium), copper (for bone formation) and manganese (for storing iron, neural transmission and protein metabolism).

Water, Turkey and Brain Myths Challenged Again

The NY Times “Well” blog is taking on “Medical Myths Even Doctors Believe.” Among them, we find that you don’t need eight glasses of water per day (you get enough water through the foods you eat and drinks like coffee, orange juice), dim light doesn’t ruin your eyesight (it just makes eyes tired) and shaving doesn’t cause hair to grow back more vigorously (we’ve actually known that since studies on the subject in 1928).

So why do these myths persist? The Times doesn’t get into that, but I’d guess they nag on because they seem to make so much sense. And often times, there’s a kernel of truth in there that buoys the nonsense.

For example, the Times tackles the myth of turkey making you drowsy (
which we’ve discussed in this blog previously). Sure, you get tired after eating turkey. But think of the times you normally eat it. Holiday meals, right? It’s not the turkey it’s the tremendous amount of energy your body needs to focus on digestion that’s making you tired.

In the Times article, they explain there’s just as much tryptophan in turkey as beef or chicken. Also, there’s more of the amino acid in cheese and pork.

Is Chocolate Really a Health Food?

You’ve no doubt heard of studies showing the health benefits of chocolate. It can make you smarter, reduces blood pressure, and more. But a recent editorial at the Lancet tries to keep chocolate off the health food shelf at the supermarket.

I would link directly to the article, but you have to have a subscription or something to see it, so you can
read about the article at the NY Times.

At the Times, we learn that the Lancet points out, “the very thing that makes chocolate good for you -- the antioxidants called flavanols -- also make chocolate taste bitter.” Therefore, candy makers pull most of the flavanols out of milk chocolate and all of them out of white chocolate.

But where in any of the recent studies has anyone said anything about eating a regular Hershey’s milk chocolate bar to lower blood pressure? It’s always been about eating dark chocolate. And in moderation, of course. We get that chocolate is high in calories and fat. And it’s not a substitute for doing some sit-ups and taking a jog.

Also described in the NY Times piece, a new study shows “measurable improvements in blood flow and vascular function and less clotting” among heart patients taking dark chocolate.

Pound360 isn’t pulling dark chocolate from the menu anytime soon.

Monday, December 24, 2007

A Sustainable Bio-fuel Source Slowly Emerges: Algae

My skepticism of biofuels as an answer to the globe’s fossil fuel dependency is pretty well documented in this blog. But I’m bullish on the potential of a (kind of) new candidate. Not switch grass, sugar beets or sugarcane: it’s algae. Yes, green, cold, slimy algae.

In a recent National Geographic feature, “
Green Dreams,” I found that algae devours CO2 from smokestacks and cranks out 5,000 gallons of biofuel per acre annually. That compares to 300 gallons of biofuel from an acre of corn each year.

Algae’s not really a new biofuel candidate. The government was researching the slime as a fuel source back in the 90s, but abandoned it because it was so expensive,
reports New Scientist.

But with oil around $100 a barrel, cost is suddenly not so much an issue. In fact, according to New Scientist, a good ol’ fashion fossil fuel company, Shell, is set to begin production of diesel from algae.

Controversy Sparks Over Whale Lineage

What’s the missing link between sea-faring mammals, called cataceans (like whales, dolphins) and land mammals? Conventional wisdom suggests its hippo-like creatures. But recent fossil findings recommend that a “deer-like animal roughly the size of a fox or raccoon,” is the link. This according to a widely reported study by the Ohio Universities College of Medicine and Pharmacy (this blog posting draws quotes, sources a report at Scientific American.)

The long extinct “deer-like” animal, dubbed “Indohyus,” shares a number of unique skeletal characteristics with cataceans. For example, particularly dense limb bones (which could serve as ballast) and a specialized inner ear structure that helps cataceans hear underwater.

Why would these adaptations evolve in a terrestrial creature? Some researchers suggest they took to the water to escape predators.

But the theory isn’t without skeptics. Referring to the indohyus fossils, one expert said, “To suggest that this fossil somehow is closer than hippos, that's a big deal -- I'm just not convinced.” According to critics, the data so far is “incomplete.”

Tuesday, December 18, 2007

‘Death Star Galaxy’ Attacks Neighbor

In a rare discovery, astronomers at the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics “witnessed a supermassive black hole blasting its galactic neighbor with a deadly beam of energy,” reports Space.com.

It’s not unusual for a black hole to spew massive, high-energy beams with nasty radiation in the form of Gamma and X-Rays traveling at the speed of light. But it’s incredibly rare for that beam to spray a galaxy.

On the dark side, the beam may be vaporizing the radiation-blocking ozone layer of Earth-like planets, thus wiping out all surface life. However, the beam may be compressing otherwise inert interstellar gases, the first step in creating stars, which ultimately give life.

The otherwise unnamed “death star galaxy” is part of the 3C321 system, and it’s only been shooting its deadly beam for about 1 million years (merely a few minutes in cosmological time). Experts estimate the beam will continue to fire for another 10 to 100 million years.

Is recycling a scam?

A story brought to my attention by a friend of mine has me question what happens to my sack of recyclables after I dump it in the blue recycling bin behind my apartment.

According to
a piece in the LA Times, “recycling” firm Mission Fiber seems to be sitting on recyclables rather than actually recycling it. So much of it has piled up that some spontaneously erupts in flames, and the locals affectionately refer to the mounds of recyclables as “rat piles.” Rather than being converted back into newsprint or water bottles, the recyclable material is “moldering” and turning to “soggy compost,” reports the LA Times.

Of course, Mission Fiber is one recycling firm. And the problem could simply be that the company is mismanaged. But what if there’s a bigger issue at work? What if there simply isn’t enough demand for recyclable material? Instead of hustling to sort and recycle their recyclables, Mission Fiber is instead trucking some of the material to landfills.

What if consumers aren’t willing to pay premium prices for goods made of, or packaged in, recyclables? If that’s the case, then all the recycling in the world won’t change how much material ends up in landfills.

I tried to find an article online that investigates how much of the material in a recycling bin makes it back to store shelves, but I couldn’t find anything.

I did find
a piece at NPR essay explaining about half of Los Angeles’ recyclables go to local sorting facilities, while the other half goes to sorters overseas (mostly in the Philippines and China). From these facilities, “they sell it to companies who make new stuff out of old.” All of it? Not if it goes to Mission Fiber.

Sunday, December 16, 2007

‘Grisly’ Pig Slaughter Technique Suspect in Rare Illness Mystery

At least eleven slaughterhouse workers have fallen ill this year with a rare immune disorder called “chronic inflammatory demyelinating polyneuropathy” (CIDP) in Minnesota, reports Wired (by way of AP). One possible cause: inhaling the vaporized brains of slaughtered pigs. Yeah. Seriously.

All of the victims worked at the “head table” of the Quality Pork Processors plant in Austin, Minnesota. The head table is not where the executives plot company strategy. Instead, it’s the spot where pig’s severed heads are sliced, hacked and chopped (at a rate of 1,100 per hour) before a shot of compressed air to the front of the skull sends brain matter spilling out the back.

The “grisly practice” may “turn some brain matter into a mist that could be inhaled by workers,” reports Wired. This could trigger an acute, persistent immune response that eventually leads to CIDP.

Shocking New Stats Show ‘Arctic is Screaming’

The latest numbers suggest we’re approaching the point of no return on global warming. This according to a new piece at the Indianapolis Times.

In the arctic this summer, we lost 552 billion tons of ice. That’s 15 percent more than normal, the worst ever recorded and 12 percent more than the previous record. Enough water melted in Antarctica to cover Washington DC in water a half-mile deep.

The rapid melting has prompted some scientists to darken their predictions for an ice-free arctic. One group suggests ice-free summers by 2012. Another says ice will be gone entirely by 2040.

So what?

For one, an ice-free arctic will probably weaken Arctic blasts that bring moisture to the United States. Also, sea ice reflects 80 percent of the sun’s heat, thereby cooling the arctic. Water on the other hand absorbs 90 percent of the heat. “Warmer oceans then lead to more melting.”

Another way climate change eventually starts driving itself is when the permafrost just beyond the arctic (especially in Russia and Canada) starts to melt. “As the Earth warms, greenhouse gases once stuck in the long-frozen soil are bubbling into the atmosphere,”
reported USA Today last year.

Fasting Shown to Slash Heart Disease

People who fast once a month have a 40 percent reduced risk of clogged arteries according to a University of Utah Study (reported here by Wired).

One of two things could be going on here. On the one hand, it could be that fasting triggers some type of beneficial activity in the body. The other, people that fast could simply be more health conscious and take better care of themselves. Then again, it could be a combination of the two.

The Wired piece doesn’t really go into the physiological benefits of fasting.

However, it does mention that, “fasting may provide brief rests that resensitize [insulin-producing] cells and make them work better.” But I’m not sure what that has to do with clogged arteries.

We at Pound360 have been fascinated with fasting since NPR did a feature
on the benefits of a one-day fast last month (just in time for the holidays). It turns out fasting may be a good way to “retune” the body.

But don’t think of fasting as a way to lose weight. One expert told Wired, “fasting resets the metabolic rate,” thus triggering the body to store calories (as fat) when eating begins.

Tuesday, December 11, 2007

Homosexuality Abounds in Animal Kingdom

You never hear about this on the nightly news or in science classrooms, but “homosexuality has been observed in more than 1,500 species,” said the project coordinator for a museum exhibit on the subject, “Against Nature?,” that launched in Oslo last year. This according to a report at LiveScience.

This issue seems to be the most taboo of taboo scientific issues, the third rail of science. One scientist who openly studies animal homosexuality told LiveScience, “I've had primatologists offer to give me their data on homosexual behavior because they didn't want to publish it.”

Aside from the obvious social implications (critics condemn homosexual lifestyles as “unnatural,” “a choice”), animal homosexuality does not have immediately clear benefits for furthering a species. And some researchers close to the subject maintain animal homosexuality is simply for pleasure.

But others suggest there are evolutionary benefits to homosexual coupling, advantages that would have furthered this behavior through the ages. One benefit is power. “Copulation could be used for alliance and protection among animals of the same sex,” reads the LiveScience piece. In bisexual species, like Bonobos, homosexuality is simply the way to “join a pack.”

Among
species where homosexual behavior is common are primates like bonobo chimps and Japanese macaques. Also, homosexuality is common among Kob antelope, giraffes, bottlenose dolphins and buffalo where “homosexual mounting between males tends to be more common than heterosexual female-male copulation.”

For black swans, 20 percent of all families are headed by gay couples.

I originally heard this story covered on the usually funny, always disturbing
Bill Handle Show podcast. The article at LiveScience was originally published a year ago. Why this issue is just being described now I have no idea.

Does Time Slow In Times of Crisis?

A few years ago, I read an article in Discover magazine referencing an experiment suggesting the brain perceives time more slowly during a shocking event (something many of us suspect). To show this, the experimenters set up a device that very quickly flashed numbers, and had volunteers watch it as they fell backwards from a tower (they had a bungee cord attached to their ankles or something). Normally, you wouldn’t be able to read the numbers because they flashed so quickly. But when falling, subjects could actually describe the numbers they saw.

Unfortunately, I couldn’t find this article online. And that’s too bad because I just
read a piece at LiveScience.com that contradicts it.

In the LiveScience article, they reference the falling experiment described above, but contest that none of the volunteers could read the numbers on the device, called a perceptual chronometer. However, I did find
an article at the BBC where someone in freefall made out a 98 on a perceptual chronometer when the real number was 96. Close enough to call? Not really. We need more data!

Another possible reason that time seems to slow during times of crisis is explained in the LiveScience piece. According to researchers, when an emergency breaks out, the part of your brain known as the amygdale kicks into high gear. When this happens, “an extra set of memories” causes “richer and denser memories.” And according to the experts, “the more memory you have of an event, the longer you believe it took."

So why does the last hour of work seem to drag on for four or five hours? That’s a mystery for another post.

Monday, December 10, 2007

Human Evoloution Kicks Into Overdrive

Human genes have been changing 100 times faster over the past 5,000 years than “at any previous period of human evolution,” according to research from the University of Wisconsin (reported by Reuters).

No, we’re not talking about evolving wings or X-Ray vision. The evolutionary developments involve resistance to malaria (among Africans), efficient digestion of milk (Europeans) and drier ear wax (Asians).

Ten thousand years ago, agriculture accelerated evolution. But it’s really fired up as humans have migrated from Africa to the four corners where we had to adapt to new environments.

Evolution has occurred the fastest in Africa, Asia and Europe (sorry, my fellow Americans). But interestingly enough, evolutionary changes “have been unique to their corner of the world.” Does that mean humans with X-Ray vision could go to war with humans with wings in the year 10,000? Of course.

Sunday, December 09, 2007

Booo! Underground ‘Ocean’ Not Really an Ocean

When I saw this headline at LiveScience, “Huge 'Ocean' Discovered Inside Earth,” my imagination took off. First, I saw the scene at the start of “The Two Towers” where Gandalf rides the flaming balrog into a massive underground cavern with a lake at the bottom. Then I thought of a vast underwater civilization like that in the Abyss or Star Wars Episode I: The Phantom Menace.

But alas, what they’re calling an “ocean” is actually just a huge region of water-logged rock. Indeed, rock (porous as it often is) can absorb a fair amount of water. For example, “some ocean floor rocks is up to 15 percent water.”

So what they found is actually a bunch of wet rock. A lot of wet rock. So much that it contains “at least the volume of the Arctic Ocean.” Somehow, I’m still not impressed.

Look for this reservoir, known as the “Beijing anomaly” under Asia.

Scientists believe movement of the earth’s crust is forcing water-rich rock under Asia. As the rock descends into the earth’s hot mantle, the water evaporates, rises, and steadily saturates the region now known as the “Beijing anomaly.”

On a more impressive note, the LiveScience article points out that water plays a key role in plate tectonics. “One of [water’s] many functions is to act like a lubricant for the movement of continental plates.” According to one scientists, lack of water may be one reason that Venus has no plate movement. “The system is locked up, like a rusty Tin Man with no oil,” said seismologist Michael Wysession of Washington University in St. Louis. Wysession discovered the Beijing anomaly along with a grad student, Jesse Lawrence.

Saturday, December 08, 2007

Nine-Foot, Spitting Snake Discovered

Imagine your walking through the wild when a reptile’s head pokes out from behind a waist-high bush, it unfurls a dreadful hood. You’re a few yards away so you should be safe. But it fires a bolt of venom that hits you right in the eyes before you have time to turn and run.

No, this isn’t a scene from Jurassic Park. It’s an encounter that may play out for visitors in the dry lowlands of Africa, in parts of Kenya, Uganda and Ethiopia where a species of giant cobra was recently “discovered.”

“Ashe’s spitting cobra” had previously been classified as a “black-necked spitting cobra.” But after analysis of blood and tissue samples, it was split off into its own species,
reported National Geographic this week.

The Ashe can grow to nine feet in length, spit venom “several yards” and “is believed to deliver more venom with a single bite than any other cobra on the planet.”

Scientists believe other snake species have been inaccurately grouped together. Could this type of classification error be common in other animals as well? If so, it makes you wonder how many species are actually being wiped out when it’s reported that a single one is lost.

I’m sure paleontologists visiting from another star system will sort it out in a few hundred million years.

The Mysterious Birth & Death of Gas Giants

A couple of pieces on gas giants (like Saturn and Jupiter) caught my eye today.

The first, by Space.com (via MSNBC), investigates the mystery of gas giants dying slow deaths as they spiral towards their host stars. While beautiful (these planets appear like shooting stars as their atmospheres are obliterated by a star’s energy), it’s a mystery how they end up so close (a fraction of an Astronomical Unit) to a star.

In our solar system, gas giants like Jupiter and Saturn are a few Astronomical Units (AUs) from the sun. (One Astronomical Unit is equal to the distance from the sun to the Earth.) And according to our best guesses on how gas giants form, it should be that way.

According to another article from Space.com, we used to believe gas giants formed the same way as other planets, by a process called “core accretion.” This process begins when dense matter (ice and rock, for example) smash and grind into a small protoplanet. Over time, the protoplanet may attract more dense matter and become a rocky planet like Earth; or, the theory went, it could attract gas and become a gas giant. Either way, the protoplanet would become a planet as it developed enough mass to carve out a stable orbit around the host star.

The problem was, computer models suggested it would take too long for a gas giant to form (or establish enough mass) before the fledgling protoplanet was sucked into the host star (or another planet).

While other theories have been developed, the birth of gas giants and how they end up in a death spiral so close to some stars remains a mystery.

Sunday, December 02, 2007

Meet the Mother of All Greenhouse Gasses

A recent article at Slate looks at “Other Greenhouse Gases,” and it turns out CO2 is the weakest of the bunch. It’s so weak, the EPA uses CO2’s heat-trapping power (if you can call it that) to measure the real monsters of the greenhouse gas bunch.

The measurement is called “Global Warming Potential” (GWP). A molecule of CO2 has a GWP of 1. Methane, which accounts for 8 percent of the greenhouse gas America spews annually, has a GWP of 21. But it doesn’t last in the atmosphere as CO2. A methane molecule floats around for 12 years. CO2 on the other hand, sticks around for 50 to 200 years.

But its lifespan isn’t the only reason CO2 “gets most of the doomsday ink,” according to Slate. “In terms of sheer weight, it accounts for around 85 percent of America's greenhouse gas emissions, which amounted to 7.074 billion metric tons in 2004.” I don’t even know what a metric ton is but I’m pretty depressed by that number. (A metric ton is 1,000 kilograms or 2,204 pounds).

Methane is still a factor to beware of. While CO2 levels have jumped 35 percent since the mid-1700s, methane is up 150 percent. And as the so-called permafrost melts in the north as global temperatures rise, expect that to significantly boost methane levels.

(By the way, I haven’t gotten to the mother of all greenhouse gasses yet.)

What can we do about methane levels? Since reversing global warming (pretty much) isn’t an option, and the permafrost is (almost) sure to thaw (to some degree), anything we do is pretty much futile. But you could capture methane from landfills (the number one source of methane in this country) and recycle it as an energy source. Or you could mix cottonseed oil into cattle feed, which reduces their methane output (the number two source in this country) by 30 percent. (For more on how and why grazing animals like cows create methane,
check out this post.)

Of course, methane and CO2 aren’t the only greenhouse gasses. There’s also nitrous oxide, the stuff your dentist uses to mellow you out for an operation. The leading source of nitrous oxide is agricultural fertilizer. This stuff has a GWP of 310, stays in the atmosphere for 120 years, and accounts for 5 percent of all greenhouse gasses.

(Nope, nitrous oxide isn’t the mother of all greenhouse gasses either.)

Don’t let the fact that nitrous oxide comes third in this posting, and that less of it is produced than methane, fool you. Since its GPW is so high (15-times that of methane), it’s a bigger problem than methane.

But the biggest greenhouse monster of them all? A little something called sulfer hexafluoride (SF6), which is used for “preventing molten magnesium from oxidizing and for etching semiconductor wafers.” The Slate piece didn’t say how much of this we send quietly into the sky each year, but it’s bad stuff. SF6 carries a GWP of 23,900, “making it the most brutally effective greenhouse gas known to man.” Hoping for a short atmospheric lifespan on this stuff? Sorry. It lasts 3,200 years in the air.


Don't miss this terrific video of how much fun you can have with a tank of SF6...



Thanks to an anonymous friend of Pound360's for passing that vid along.

The Benefits of a 1-Day Fast

In the past Pound360 has detailed the benefits of super-low calorie diets (as in, cutting your daily calories down to 1000). In fact, we covered it twice. Unlike your standard fad diet (South Beach, Scarsdale, Atkins), we like calorie restriction because, as we said earlier, it has a nice, hard-ass ring to that makes us believe it can do some good.

But it’s really hard to do. Real hard. We tried. We failed. But
Pound360 learned at NPR of something that may be a good middle ground between our current, miserable diet and the CR promise land: one-day fasting.

When you fast, the body burns through its stored sugars (glycogen), so insulin production is slowed. This reduces your craving for sugar and lets the pancreas rest.

Also, when fasting, your body gets a break from the harmful byproducts of energy conversion (like free radicals). According to one scientist, free radicals “attack proteins, DNA, the nucleus of cells, the membranes of cells.” They won’t kill those molecules, but they can damage them.

When your body gets used to regular fasting, cells may be trained to conserve and use energy more efficiently, extending lifespan.

You don’t want to overdue it, however. When fasting for long periods of time, your body starts to break down muscle. Not only does this make you into a puny weakling, but the breakdown of muscle releases “potentially toxic proteins” that can harm the kidneys and liver.

Saturday, December 01, 2007

Happiness is People Failing Around You?

A new study reported by Time finds, “reward mechanisms in the brain depend on how well you think other people are doing.” In other words, no matter how well you’re doing at something, as long as you’re getting more than the next guy, you’re happy.

Deny it all you want. But the reasoning here goes “back to Aristotle,” said one researcher; and scientific evidence is piling up in his corner.

In the latest study, the Univeristy of Bonn in Germany hooked people to a brain scanner and had them participate in a series of tasks. For succeeding in the tasks, participants were given varying cash prizes. They were also told how others did on the tasks and how much they received for their performances.

Sure enough, “Players on average were more pleased with a 60 euro prize when the other player got just 30 euros, for example, than they were if both players earned 60 euros.”

The new findings help explain why, despite material gains, people on balance aren’t any happier than they were 50 years ago.

The research also challenges conventional economic principles. Modern economics is based on self-interest driving the market. But it appears as though beating thy neighbor is the true catalyst for drive and innovation.

Friday, November 30, 2007

Is Garlic Good for You or What?

Pound360 was saddened earlier this year when research found garlic does not lower cholesterol. But a new article at the New York Times reveals other benefits of garlic, as well as a tip for keeping your breath fresh after eating it.

Researchers at the University of Alabama found garlic cranks up your body’s output of hydrogen sulfide. Yes, that’s poisonous at high levels and it’s a byproduct of refining oil. But at the levels your body produces, it simply relaxes blood vessels and increases blood flow. Also, in lab mice, a hydrogen sulfide booster protected the heart from damage during a heart attack.

To get the benefits, you need to eat two garlic cloves per day. And sorry, data on supplements is “mixed”, so don’t rely on those. And please don’t whine about having to eat two whole cloves of garlic. Koreans and Italians eat eight to 12 per day.

Worried about bad breath? According to the Times, “eating fennel seeds like those served at Indian restaurants helps to neutralize the smell.”

Sunday, November 25, 2007

What Happens to Your Body After A Holiday Food Binge

An interesting piece at the NY Times this week looks at the surprising consequences and myths surrounding food binges.

We all do it. At Christmas, Thanksgiving, the Sizzler buffet and other times, places, we gorge on food. On Thanksgiving, for example, Americans pull in 4,500 calories and 229 grams of fat. But most of us have no idea what’s going on inside our bodies after a binge and what the possible consequences are.

Worst of all, you could die. After a binge, your heart works strenuously to get blood to the stomach and intestines. Also, a super-dose of fatty foods can lead to blood clots. These factors equal a four to seven fold increase in the risk for heart attack in the two hours after a binge.

Chest pain after a Thanksgiving feast? It’s not necessarily a heart attack. It could also be an overworked gallbladder. As stomach moves from your stomach to the intestine, the gallbladder cranks out bile to breakdown fat. When it works overtime, it can bring on excruciatingly painful gallstone attacks.

Any pain is probably not you stomach bursting, though. “The problem [of stomach ruptures] is usually limited to people with major eating disorders,” reports the Times. For the record, average stomach capacity is 8 cups, but ranges from four to 12.

The reason we binge is in our DNA. “Experts say the ability to ignore satiety signals is an evolutionary adaptation that helped build fat stores during times of plenty.” However, balancing that fantastic ability is a trigger in your stomach that releases a nausea-inducing hormone after 1,500 calories.

Food myth busted: The tryptophan in turkey doesn’t make you sleepy after the Thanksgiving feast. According to one doctor, the amount of the amino acid found in turkey isn’t significant enough to have an effect. You get tired after a mega-meal because your body is working so hard to digest it. The sleepiness causes another potential danger as drivers hit the road after holiday overindulgence.

Interesting fact: The average meal takes one to three hours to leave your stomach. A binge can take eight to 12.

Saturday, November 24, 2007

Turkey Trouble: White Meat or Dark?

The dreaded question has faced health-conscious people for as long as turkeys have been served: white or dark? Conventional wisdom says white meat is better. And it is, technically. But practically speaking it’s a toss-up, reports the NY Times this week

A serving (one ounce) of white meat has 46 calories and one gram of fat. A serving of dark has 50 calories and 2 grams of fat. But you get added nutritional benefit with those four extra calories and a gram of fat. Dark meat carries more iron, zinc, riboflavin, thiamine, vitamin B6 and B12.

Pound360 is not a medical blog, and not maintained by doctors, but we think the added nutritional benefit is worth those extra four calories and a gram of fat.

What makes white meat different from dark meat? Dark meat is muscle that turkey’s use more, so it has higher levels of “myoglobin,” “a compound that enables muscles to transport oxygen, which is needed to fuel activity.” Since turkeys (and chickens) don’t fly, dark meat is found in and around the legs.

Friday, November 23, 2007

Mega-Scorpion Fossil Surprises Experts

"This is an amazing discovery," said one scientists referring to the fossilized, 18-inch “spiked claw” of a giant scorpion that lived about 390 million years ago. The claw’s size suggests the creature it belonged to was an 8-foot-long, giant sea scorpion.

The news was picked up all over the web (I even saw it on the NBC Nightly News). This posting relies mostly on
an article at National Geographic.

According to experts, these monsters were at the top of the food chain (obviously), were cannibals (how charming), and only existed for about 10 million years (see
TIME’s coverage for the 10-million-year figure).

Why did they die out when other top predators (like alligators, sharks) have managed to exist for so much longer? Jawed vertebrates. "When fish evolve jaws during the Devonian period [416 to 359 million years ago], afterwards the sea scorpion fossil record does tail off," explained one scientist.

What they don’t explain in the articles I tracked down is whether or not jawed fish devoured the giant sea scorpions (perhaps in packs), or reduced the population of prey to a level where giant sea scorpions couldn’t feed themselves.

Although smaller sea scorpions were known to have crawled onto land (
according to the Telegraph UK, sea scorpions were “the first animal ever to have moved from water to land”), the 8-foot-long “jaekelopterus rhenaniae” probably stayed in the ocean. Its tiny legs, “would have collapsed under the weight of its body,” said an expert.

This leads me to wonder how menacing of a predator these creatures were. Is it possible that they were so large and cumbersome that they were merely scavengers? I’m not asking to be dropped in a tank with one of these beasts, but how fast could an arthropod that size really move?

What are Your Chances of Dying This Year?

Each year, an adult has a 1-in-1,743 chance of being killed in an accident. This according to a short piece at Discover. Chances are lower if you’re a kid. Nine-year-olds have 1-in-10,000 odds. I wonder if those same odds apply to kids with lead-packing toys from China? Well, if you’re an executive at a company that makes those toys, I bet your odds are definitely lower.

Why Are Plumbers Scrambling on Black Friday?

Pound360 is on location in Palm Springs for Thanksgiving and on Black Friday, a traditional retail shopping frenzy, I saw this teaser on the front page of The Desert Sun: “Black Friday: A big day for plumbers, too.”

Next to the teaser was a picture of a toilet, so my mind immediately jumped to the obvious. But it’s not what you think. It’s not what the graphic implies. Its kitchen sinks that are driving an expected 17,000 frantic calls to Roto-Rooter on Black Friday.

Frantic? Referring to the calls, said a Roto-Rooter rep, “It sounds like they’re calling 911.”

The article couldn’t be found at the Desert Sun’s website (for shame!), but
we tracked it down at The Buffalo News.

Roto-Rooter said service calls jump 50 percent and drive an extra $500,000 in revenue. The prime culprit? Grease. “Cooking grease will definitely clog pipes -- whether you flush the sink with hot water or cold,” according to
a report at Delaware’s News Journal.

But there are other drain-killers, too: “celery, potato peels, poultry skins and bones, pasta, all the starchy stuff,” Roto Rooter told the Buffalo News.

Rice and pasta can be especially bad since it expands in water.

After a bit of searching, I did find mention of toilet-related woes
at the Seattle Times. According to one plumber, “Too many people using the bathroom and flushing the toilets can aggravate an already slow drain, causing a blockage in the main sewer.”

Advice for avoiding a call to the plumber? Enzymes and common sense. From the News Journal: “regular maintenance with bioenzyme solutions is the secret, plumbers said. That and an avoidance of sheer idiocy.”

Tuesday, October 09, 2007

We Need to Reject the “Odyssey Years” Concept

This evening’s most-read article at the NY Times is “The Odyssey Years,” by David Brooks. It’s a catchy read about a new phase in life called the “odyssey,” which comes after adolescence and before adulthood. Brooks refers to it as a “decade of wandering.”

During the Odyssey years, 20-somethings are “delaying” marriage, children and permanent employment, says Brooks. In other words, they’re delaying adulthood by Boomer-era standards.

Again, this is a fascinating read, but I feel it’s helping to create a problem where I don’t believe one exists. Are 20-somethings “delaying” adulthood, or are they simply redefining it? Why should marriage or having children be considered “accomplishments” and not problems? Aren’t there already enough people on Earth? Don’t most marriages end up in divorce anyhow?

I’m a bit concerned with even coming up with this category, “odyssey.” How many 20-somethings actually go through an “odyssey” in their 20s? The whole concept sounds like an excuse for the behavior of a few.

Look, as a guy in my early thirties, I’ve noticed that people on an “odyssey” in their 20s pretty much stay that way well into their 30s; while people with families by age 30 were pretty much working their way towards family life all through the 20s. For the latter, the post-college years were less of an odyssey and more of a terrible struggle with the new realities of modern life.

The new realities of modern life, acknowledged by Brooks, are instability in the job market and instability in social life; things that make it hard to live up to Boomer-era measures of accomplishment like financial independence and having kids.

A potential problem now, is that those who once struggled will now kick back and take it easy because they’re in “the odyssey years,” bro. It’s cool, man. Whatever, dude. It’s okay to drift.

But it’s not, I assure you.

Those who take their 20s as an odyssey will continue on an odyssey well into their thirties. And those who fight it will end up with a more stable life.

Which one is better? An eternal odyssey or mind numbing stability? It depends on the person. Some customized mix of the two is probably best. But by making up a new stage in life (an excuse) for wandering, my guess is that more people will end up drifting and ultimately disappointed when their early 30s set in.

NY Times on “Good Calories, Bad Calories”

A new book by Gary Taubes takes a controversial look at the question, what should you eat? Food in our society is plentiful, convenient and cheap, so the question is more crucial than ever. But is Taubes on the right track? Pound360 likes what he has to say, but we remain skeptical.

So what should you eat? Less carbs, says Taubes. According to the
New York Times book review, “Taubes argues at length that people get fat because carbohydrates in their diet drive up the insulin level in the blood, which in turn encourages the storage of fat.” In other words, “a calorie of fat is much less fattening than a calorie of sugar.”

This of course runs counter to conventional wisdom, but Taubes argues there are a lot of misconceptions floating around about food. “Much of what we’ve come to believe is wrong,” says Taubes. Bad science, he argues, has led to confusion about the relationship between what we eat and serial killers like cancer, obesity and heart disease. For example, Taubes demonstrates how there’s not much of a link between cholesterol and heart disease, salt and high blood pressure, or fiber and reduced cancer risk.

“Taubes convincingly shows that much of what is believed about nutrition and health is based on the flimsiest science,” acknowledges the Times.

However, if “all calories are not alike,” wonders the Times, how is it that people on controlled diets don’t gain weight, no matter what the balance between protein, fat and carbohydrates is adjusted to? Research in the 1950s showed this.

Another issue here is the whole low-carb thing. We’ve been through this with the Atkins craze. And from what Pound360 recalls, the Atkins didn’t perform any better over time than any other diet.

Elephant’s Bee Phobia Could Protect Crops

Recent evidence supports the theory that elephants, like many of us, are terrified of bees, according to a report at ScienceDaily. In the latest test, scientist set up speakers playing the sound of bees buzzing. Within a few seconds, elephants within earshot fled. Elephants in the same test ignored playback of white-noise.

Earlier research showed elephants damaged acacia trees with beehives less than those with them.

All research considered, “This behavioral discovery suggests that bees might very well be a valuable addition to the toolbox of elephant deterrents used by farmers and conservation managers,” read the ScienceDaily report.

It’s fascinating that science is just now confirming this (I’m sure indigenous populations could have told you bees scare elephants for millennia). Scientific confirmation is the first step towards widely-used solutions. And we at Pound360 are excited to see what we come up with next. We only hope that there’s enough of the natural world left to understand and preserve.

Friday, September 28, 2007

Chemical Industry Just As Deadly As Tobacco?

According to a Slate report, “a new book argues that chemical waste is as much to blame for cancer as smoking.” Makes sense to me, even without much explanation. Sorry to sound like such a gullible idiot, but doesn’t it? The problem is how do you prove it? How could you possibly show that one particular chemical, or group of chemicals, among so many in our environment are killers? “The Secret History of the War on Cancer” by Devra Davis is an attempt to do that.

In the book, Davis uncovers “exposure-related cancers, decades of incriminating research, and cover-ups by the chemical industry.” She also demonstrates how the chemical industry is using the same approach as the tobacco industry used to keep critics marginalized, and public opinion confused. This despite the facts according to the Slate report. “There is now a substantial body of evidence, obtained through research funded outside the war on cancer, suggesting that industry has managed to obfuscate the carcinogenic dangers of chemical and other toxic waste.”

My sense is that a fight like this could only be won by activists taking on a single chemical at a time, or a strong central government stepping in to twist some arms. But on both fronts, Davis finds, there are serious challenges. When it comes to activism, who’s going to step up to the plate? Who cares? People usually don’t care about anything until it happens to them. And when cancer happen, people don’t care about the causes, they care about the cure. This country is obsessed with cures, and it seems to have given polluter a free ticket to do their dirtiest.

As far as the government, for reasons that are easy to see (money, for example), they’re complicit in the killing. One example given by Davis is a Pennsylvania town where incriminating findings that probably would, should have closed a coke plant and put management (I think) on trial for murder were “squelched by the state's Department of Environmental Protection.”

Sure. Try these people for Murder 1. Give the consequences some teeth. Paying fines doesn’t seem to do a whole lot. How many tobacco companies have closed since it’s been proven they’ve been strengthening the addictive properties of their product while covering up evidence that these products kill?

Why the Madness Over New Breast Cancer & Alcohol Story?

Last night the NBC Nightly News, something strange happened: they led the broadcast with a health story. I watch the Nightly News a lot, and that’s very, very unusual. There’s a war in Iraq, soldiers killing pro-democracy demonstrators in Myanmar, and they lead with a report about the connection between alcohol and cancer.

The findings,
according to the Nightly News Report: one drink a day increases a woman’s risk for developing cancer by 10 percent. Three drinks increases the risk 30 percent. Does 10 drinks a day give you a 100 percent chance? They didn’t say.

But it’s not jus the NBC news that’s flipping over this story (yes, I consider leading the broadcast with a health, or science, story “flipping”). There are hundreds of results from the last 24 hours at Google News for “alcohol breast cancer,” with sensational headlines like, “
Any 3 alcohol drinks a day boost breast cancer risk by 30%.”

Anyhow, the Nightly News asks, “should women be concerned?” I don’t think so (but I’m not a doctor, so my opinion doesn’t count and nobody should listen to me). Who drinks a drink every single day? If you do, you probably have bigger problems. Yes, we’ve all heard the research that a drink a day decreases the risk of heart disease, but who really does this? Now, three drinks a day? Again, bigger problems, people.

The Nightly News also puts these findings in context by pointing out, “women who smoke a pack of cigarettes a day have about a 2000 per cent increase in their risk for lung cancer.”

Over at the Wired Science blog,
the latest post is, “Overreacting to Alchohol's Breast Cancer Risks.” In it, they point out that, “there's a world of difference between having a few to many drinks and having a few too many drinks every single day.”

Thursday, September 27, 2007

Study, News Report Confuse Effectiveness of Acupuncture

Does acupuncture work, or doesn’t it? An AP headline reads, “Study: Acupuncture works for back pain.” But when you click into the article you find that, “fake acupuncture works nearly as well as the real thing for low back pain.” Um, if the fake stuff has the same effect as the real stuff, then isn’t it all psychosomatic? That is, isn’t it just the mind that’s making things better?

First, let’s look at what they mean by “fake acupuncture.” Basically, when going the fake route, they inserted needles in the wrong places and wrong depths. Wrong compared to the “real” version, of course.

So scientists wonder whether or not any collection of pin pricks can “block” the pain. Still, I’m wondering, if the real thing works the same as the fake, can you say Acupuncture actually “works?”
When asked how acupuncture works, University of Maryland’s “director of complementary medicine,” Dr. Brian Berman said it works for reasons that can’t be explained in “Western terms.” Magic? According to the AP report, Berman feels acupuncture works by “changing the way the brain processes pain signals or by releasing natural painkillers in the body.” Um, if they can’t prove that using the scientific method, does that mean it’s magic? Or am I just being another arrogant Westerner?

New Theory on Origin of Earth’s Water and Why You Should Care

A few weeks ago, I described a theory on how water could form in space, and how that water (in the form of ice) could reach the surface of the Earth in the form of comets or deposits on asteroids. And most scientists believe this is how water ended up on Earth. But a new theory by scientists at the Tokyo Institute of Technology suggests, “water brewed at home, not in space,” according to a New Scientist report.

Who cares? Well, you owe your existence to water on this planet. Said one Japanese researcher, “Water is essential for the origin and evolution of life. Why does water exist on Earth, where did it come from? These are fundamental questions for human beings."

According to the new theory, the primordial earth was covered in a “thick blanket of hydrogen.” Over time, oxides from the Earth’s mantle reacted with the hydrogen to form water droplets, and then puddles, ponds, lakes, rivers and eventually seas and oceans.

The theory isn’t without soft spots. One reason scientists mostly agree that water came from outer space is the chemical signature of water on Earth. As it turns out, water on Earth has a similar chemical makeup as water in asteroids. Basically, the ratio of heavy-hydrogen to hydrogen is pretty much the same in the Pacific Ocean as it is in an asteroid drifting between, say, Jupiter and Mars.

For the wonks that are still with me here, “heavy hydrogen” is the common man’s term for “deuterium.” Deuterium is hydrogen with an extra neutron and proton.

Biofuel Mania Killing Rain Forests (That’s Really, Really Bad)

If you’re a regular at this blog, you know Pound360 is no fan of biofuel. My problem with it is that, as you would see if you click on that link in the last sentence, it’s not a silver bullet for lowering costs, energy independence or anything. It may be part of a multi-part solution, but a small part.

The bigger problem is that people don’t like complex, mult-part solutions. They like silver bullets. So as people get more attached to biofuel as a solution to all the world’s problems, they will blindly throw themselves off the cliff, then complain in 30 years about how corporations or the government fooled them into doing so.

Anyway, the point of this post is Jane Goodall. Yeah, the gorilla lady.
Reuters reports that she’s raising awareness at the Clinton Global Initiative this week about biofuel’s impact on rain forests. If know the slightest bit about rain forests (their rich biodiversity and how this provides things man needs, but can’t crank out of a factory), you know how insane it is to torch large tracts of rainforest to install a farm.

But that’s exactly what’s happening in Asia, Africa and South America. On those farms, their growing biofuel crops.

But it’s not just biodiversity that’s at stake. “Critics say demand for the fuels has led companies to cut down and burn forests in order to grow the crops, adding to heat-trapping emissions and leading to erosion and stress on ecosystems,” according to the Reuters report.

Tuesday, September 25, 2007

How Sleep Can Kill. Huh, Sleep Kills Too?

In an earlier post, I explained how loneliness can kill. Now, it turns out too much sleep can lead to an early grave, reports CBC News.

A University of Warwick (UK) study found that people who increased from seven to eight hours of sleep also increased their mortality rate. According to study results, these folks were twice as likely to die over the next 20 years.

While scientists have a pretty good idea how too little sleep can kill (it’s linked to obesity, high blood pressure and diabetes), they haven’t studied how too much sleep can also be deadly. Who would’ve thunk too much of a good thing could kill?

Leading candidates are depression, low socioeconomic status and cancer-related fatigue, suggested one scientist. I’m not sure exactly what the connection there is. Maybe I’ll circle around on this in a later post.

For the record, researchers found 7 hours was the optimum amount of sleep for adults.

How Loneliness Can Kill. Wait, Loneliness Can Kill?

Loneliness has been linked to killer conditions like heart disease. But researchers have always wondered if lonely people are physiologically different, or just isolated from health-support resources (like a friend to drive them to the hospital when they’re feeling ill).

A new UCLA study,
reported by Newsweek, suggests it’s a physiological issue. According to Newsweek, “Loneliness actually changes how the body functions at a molecular level.” For example, lonely people have elevated levels of the stress hormone cortisol (which can contribute to the development of cancer); their bodies don’t produce as many disease-fighting antibodies when sick; and in the lonely, “a group of genes involved in fighting viruses were not expressing themselves as much,” found researchers.

Before you get too worried because you only have three friends on MySpace, the report also explains that people that are alone aren’t necessarily lonely. Loneliness is a (very) subjective thing. According to Newsweek, “the loneliness that leads to these adverse health conditions is tied to how individuals perceive their social situations.”

Sorry (or Rejoice) Veggies Don’t Cut Colon Cancer Risk

If you’re faithfully devouring pounds and pounds of fruits and vegetables each day to lower your risk of colon cancer, we at Pound360 have some bad news: another study shows healthy eating does little in the fight.

This time, our friends at the University of Montreal found “higher intake of fruits and vegetables does not strongly reduce your risk of colon cancer,”
reports WebMD.

This is indeed lame news for those of us dedicated to boring, healthy diets full of fruits and vegetables (I’m one of those). But it’s great news if you regularly treat yourself to burgers, fries and ice cream in place of broccoli, tofu and carrots.

As a consolation for us healthy-eating suckers (if you can even call a diet rich in fruits and vegetables healthy anymore), WebMD assures us that, “a diet rich in fruits and vegetables is still recommended for a number of other reasons.” Although they didn’t dig into details on what those reasons might be.

Sigh… I’m off to get a bucket of onion rings from Burger King.

Monday, September 24, 2007

Meteor Sickness Mystery Solved

Yesterday, I reported on a group of Peruvian villagers with an unidentified illness they attributed to a meteor impact. Local authorities acknowledge that a meteor crashed (and left a gaping 65-foot crater), but questioned the relationship between the impact and the illness.

As it turns out, the sickness was the result of arsenic fumes created when the meteor tapped a polluted subterranean reservoir,
reports National Geographic News. No word on how the groundwater had enough arsenic to cause this phenomena, but the whole thing is pretty incredible to me.

What are the chances of a meteor hitting a populated area, let alone puncturing an underground pocket of water, and one that’s polluted with arsenic?

“Horrific” Frog Deformities Tied to Your Dinner Plate

"You can get five or six extra limbs. You can get no hind limbs. You can get all kinds of really bizarre, sick and twisted stuff," said one researcher when referring to “horrific deformities in frogs” resulting from farm and ranch runoff. This according to a report at Reuters.

As it turns out, a long, disturbing chain of events resembling a nursery rhyme from hell leads from corn stalks and cows to mutant frogs.

It all starts when nitrogen and phosphorus, from animal waste at ranches and fertilizers at farms, runs off into the watershed. These nutrients cause algae to grow out of control, which leads to more snails, which leads to more “trematodes,” a parasitic worm that infects snails.

Trematodes turn snails into “zombies,” according to one scientist, which allow the worms to “expel thousands of offspring.” When the snails die, the trematodes end up in ponds where they burrow into frog larvae causing the wild deformities described above.

Eventually, the deformed frogs (which are easy prey), get eaten by birds which “spread the [trematodes] back into the ecosystem through defecation.” From there, the whole wicked cycle starts over again.

Space Travel Makes Killer Germs Kill Faster

This serves as a warning for future space travelers. Beware after flipping the switch on your cryogenic hibernation chambers for long journeys. Bacteria in space turns to super bacteria, a new Arizona State study, reported by Reuters, finds.

When testing salmonella taken aboard a recent space shuttle mission, they fond it “became more virulent” and killed more mice, more quickly than Earthbound bacteria.

The bad news, scientists don’t know why space travel emboldens bacteria. One possibility is something called “fluid shear,” which wasn’t explained very well in the Reuters piece. But this effect occurs in zero-G conditions and mimics the conditions in the human body, where salmonella typically thrives.

The good news, “the findings have already given other researchers at the same institute some ideas for designing new antibiotics.” So maybe future space travelers will be okay. I guess we’ll have to wait and see. Or maybe our grandchildren. Or our grandchildren’s grandchildren. Or maybe, as the Copernican Principle suggests,
we’ll never find out.

Sunday, September 23, 2007

NASA Moon Base Plans Get Interesting

A single-module space station may be shot to the Moon on an “unmanned cargo ship” someday according to NASA plans, reports the NY Times. The base would be run on solar power.

Earlier plans suggested a multi-module station brought to the moon in pieces by manned missions. NASA is planning to return man to the Moon around 2020.

Included in the new plans are lunar rovers with pressurized cabins, which means you don’t need to wear a spacesuit while driving AND you can listen to tunes. These new vehicles would be “much larger” than rovers from the Apollo missions, and cost “more than a Ferrari,” said one scientists.

Scientists are also discussing the possibility of a mobile Moon base. Good idea in case of alien attacks. Devotees of Starcraft know the unique advantage of a
mobile command center.

In other Moon news, NASA Administrator Michael Griffin suggested the Chinese will beat us back to the moon. “I personally believe that China will be back on the Moon before we are,” said Griffin. “I think when that happens, Americans will not like it, but they will just have to not like it.”

Then again, the Chinese have
abandoned exploration after a healthy start in eras past.

Meteorite Sickens Peruvian Villagers

Officials confirm a meteorite smashed into the Peruvian countryside leaving a crater 65 feet wide and 15 feet deep, according to CNN. Following the impact, “small rocks rained down… for several minutes” on the roof of one nearby house.

Following the impact, 200 villagers claimed they were sickened by fumes resulting from the event. Symptoms include headaches, nausea and breathing problems. As of now, alien embryos have not sprung from the chests of anyone affected.

Experts doubt the meteor is directly responsible for the mysterious illness. “Fear may have provoked psychosomatic ailments,” suggested CNN based on talks with scientists on the scene.

Didn’t they say the same thing about World Trade Center Syndrome and Gulf War Syndrome? At best, people claiming they suffered from these mysterious afflictions were victims of their own psychosomatic powers. At worst, they were exploring a creative way to profit from extraordinary events. But these days, isn’t it pretty well accepted that real illnesses were at play?

Velociraptor Appears to Have Been Feathered

New skeletal evidence supports the bizarre theory that many dinosaurs were feathered. Recently, researchers found “quill knobs” similar to those of modern birds while studying the skeleton of a velociraptor, reports Voice of America.

Quill knobs are small structures on the bones of birds (and now, it appears, dinosaurs) where flight or wing feathers are attached. In the case of dinosaurs like velociraptor, the feathers were probably not flight feathers. One scientist suggests velociraptor feathers were used to “shield nests” or keep the creature warm. The feathers may have also been used “for show.” But I’m not sure what that means. What evolutionary purpose would that support? Mating ritual perhaps.

My favorite theory is the warmth one. Cold-blooded reptiles need a way to stay warm. And I think the prospect of a hairy velocirapor is even more strange than a feathered one. Actually, no. They’re both bizarre. Back to the cold-blooded part, since dinosaurs are looking more-and-more like birds, I wonder if they actually were cold blooded. I’ll have to research that and report back here someday.

Wednesday, September 05, 2007

Cosmic Butterfly Flaps Wings, Dinosaurs Die

The title’s a stretch, but when I read this story, “Ancient Space Collision Killed Off Dinosaurs,” at FOX News, I couldn’t help but thinking of that, um, whatever it is (a “saying” maybe?) where a butterfly flaps its wings in China, setting off a series of cascading events that leads to a hurricane in the Atlantic.

So here’s the deal. Scientists at the University of Arizona using “a series of computer models” believe there’s a good chance debris from a collision of two “mega-asteroids” led to the extinction of the dinosaurs.

Don’t even ask how a computer model could figure this out. I don’t know exactly, and it seems like a stretch (which is probably because my puny brain can’t fathom how the math on this works). But from what I gather they’re studying the “Baptistina asteroid family,” which seems to be the leftovers of a collision between two big asteroids. How big? Researchers estimate one of the rocks was 25 miles across and the other was 6 miles. From this collision, a big chunk, one believed to be six-miles across itself, went hurtling through space. Eventually the species-killer zeroes in on Earth, tears through the atmosphere with a biblical howl, a T-Rex looks up from its last meal, the asteroid hits the Yucatan peninsula, and the rest is history.

Back to the Baptistina family. About 20 percent of the large-fragment pieces have spun off into the solar system. Two percent of that has made its way towards earth, accounting for a “two-fold increase in the impact rate over the past 100 million to 200 million years,” researchers believe.

Another large fragment from the original asteroid impact is believed to have hit the moon, creating the 53-mile Tycho crater.

The Greatest Journey in History

The Voyager 1 space probe is in the news this week as we come upon the thirtieth anniversary of its departure from Earth. Among the coverage is a, um… touching… piece at the New York Times by op-ed contributor Timothy Ferris, “Mix Tape of the Gods.” Yes, I called an article about a space probe touching.

Ferris spells out in plain, but sweeping English how truly amazing Voyager 1’s journey has been. Surviving “cosmic rays, solar flares, the hurtling rocks and sand of the asteroid belt, and Jupiter’s intense radiation bands,” Voyager 1 returned “reams of scientific data,” to the delight of scientists around the world. And for us lay folk, Voyager delivered shiny pictures of Saturn’s rings, the “shimmering blue ice” of Europa, and volcanoes erupting on Io.

Now, Voyager 1 is 10 billion miles away, but “faithfully calling home” on a regular basis. The spacecraft is so far away, it takes 14 hours for radio signals (which travel at the speed of light) to reach earth. Voyager 1 is so far away, “the Sun is just another star, south of Rigel in the constellation Orion.”

Get this. Right now, Voyager 1 is about to break free of the heliosphere. This borders of this region mark the edge of the Sun’s influence. Yes, something made by the hands of human beings will soon be outside the reach of the sun’s power (not all that soon, Voyager 1 leaves the heliosphere in 2015). Something made by the hands of human kind will finally reach interstellar space, “where it is destined to wander among the stars forever,” wrote Ferris. I get chills just thinking about it. But, I wonder if most people on Earth really care. There probably won’t be any celebrations when Voyager leaves the heliosphere. I mean, what does it have to do with the stock market, right?

Anyway, the path ahead. Hurtling through space at 38,000 miles per hour, it will be 40,000 years before Voyager 1 approaches another star. Around that time, the probe will come within 1.7 light years of “AC+79 3888.” I hope by then we have a better name for that thing.

Tuesday, September 04, 2007

For Rock Stars, Good Looking Corpses

It shouldn’t come as much of a surprise, but a new study confirms “rock stars… are more likely than other people to die before reaching old age,” reports Reuters. If you’re a superstar rock musician, your chances of dying a premature death are two to three times that of the general population.

The study, by researchers at the Centre for Public Health at Liverpool John Moores University, looked at more than a thousand musicians between 1956 and 2005. About 100 died early. A quarter of those were due to drug and alcohol abuse. The study didn’t describe the proportion of deaths attributed to other causes, like suicide.

The most dangerous time for musicians is within 5 years of “achieving fame.” That’s when their death rate skyrockets to three-times the norm. The good news for British rockers, if you survive the first 25 years after hitting it big, your life expectancy returns to normal. But if you’re an American rock dude, you carry a doubled risk of premature death well into your golden years (what most of us call middle-age).

Two possible culprits, according to the study authors: reunion tours and a lack of health insurance. American musicians seem to do more reunion tours, which can prolong exposure to the unhealthy rock lifestyle. “Impoverished American ex-pop stars” also skip on health care, and that’s not a good thing.

Friday, August 31, 2007

What’s the Big Deal About Kids Eating Lead?

Lead, sweet lead. “Romans used lead powder to sweeten wine,” I learned in a Slate piece today. Kids today dig it in sugary paint chips. And now, with our friends in China adding lead to toys, kids can just lick those.

What’s the problem? If it tastes good, isn’t it okay in moderation? Why has everyone been losing their minds and
getting all excited about leaded toys? How come one Chinese manufacturing executive killed himself over this?

Lead is bad for kids, that’s why. Oh, you already knew that? Okay, genius, how does lead actually harm? People like to get wound up over news like this, but if you ask what the problem is, you pretty much get a blank look. And that’s where Pound360 swoops in with an answer. (Actually, all these answers come from Slate. But I’m doing the swooping.)

Basically, lead makes you stupid. It does so by tampering with the brain development. In severe cases, it can lead to seizures and comas. The worst part, well…

When it comes to toxic substances, as I’m sure you’ve noticed, the government (CDC, FDA, EPA etc.) like to talk about “safe amounts.” For lead, Big Brother tells us today that blood lead levels below 10mcg/dl are cool (down from 60 mcg/dl in the Seventies). But a growing stack of evidence says that’s not cool. No lead is cool. From Slate: “recent medical evidence shows even trace amount of lead—at amounts now considered acceptable by the CDC—can damage a child's IQ… even the tiniest amount can hurt children's developing brains.”

Lead pretty much comes from two places to a kid’s blood stream. One, the environment (thank you leaded gasoline a few decades back and manufacturing emissions today). Two, paint (lead makes it bright and shiny).

Now let’s talk consequences. On the not-so-bad end, “lead-poisoned children” are more likely to quit school and have trouble reading. On the worse end, kids end up below “the general threshold for mental retardation.” Kids within the CDCs limits lose an average 7 IQ points. It may not sound like much, but that average means you have people at the high and the low end, right? At the low end, you’ll have “tens of thousands” in the official mental retardation category.

And yes, once those IQ points are lost, they’re gone forever.

So why isn’t lead more heavily restricted? Money, of course. Or, as they say, “industry resistance.” Companies like Du Pont and Ethyl like to sue the EPA when tighter emissions standards are suggested. And lead interests, whispering in the ears of the powerful, have led some modern presidents to A) suggest putting lead back into gasoline (Bush I) and B) to halt collection of national data on lead levels in kids (that was Reagan).

There’s also clever number crunching. In 2000, the EPA estimated that de-leading the country would cost about $8,000 per IQ point saved. One conservative economist, Randall Lutter of the American Enterprise Institute, “argued this was not worth the cost.” Really? An IQ point isn’t worth $8,000 in, say, earning more money through life or, perhaps inventing something brilliant? Apparently not. Lutter’s calculations show an IQ point is only worth $1,100.

How about this, Lutter and friends, what’s it worth for a parent to look their child in the eyes and say, “we, this society, has done everything possible to give you a fighting chance at being anything in life that you want to be?”

Let me guess, $7,999?

Where Did the Water On Earth Come From?

Most scientists would agree that water on Earth, so vital for the development of life, came from comets and asteroids, rife with ice, slamming into the planet as it formed. But where did the ice in those comets and asteroids come from?

One possibility is the water was formed in clouds of interstellar dust (that’s the stuff between solar systems). But new evidence from NASA’s Spitzer Space Telescope, suggests water may be created within a solar system at its earliest stages,
reports the BBC.

The findings come from observations made of a young star system 1,000 light years away known as IRAS 4B. The system, reports the BBC, “is still growing inside a cool cocoon of gas and dust.” The “cocoon” is about 200 degrees below zero and as wide as the distance between Earth and Pluto.

Within the outer reaches of the cocoon, water seems to be forming as ice. As it forms, it’s being pulled toward the “embryonic star” at the center. As it approaches, the water is vaporized. So far, there’s enough water vapor to fill the oceans of earth five times over. Eventually, scientists believe, the vapor will condense into ice again, then create comets or join asteroids.

Eventually, the comets or asteroids may “crash down onto whatever planets they find, forming oceans that the future scientists of these worlds will someday be scratching their heads over,”
suggests TIME.

Thursday, August 30, 2007

Extinct Dophin Back from the Dead?

This is being picked up everywhere. Scientific American, Reuters, New Scientist, and the New York Times. Everywhere. The UK’s Telegraph, the Melbourne Herald Sun and China Daily. Oh, everywhere. CNN, the Discovery Channel, and Forbes. Heck, I even brought it up here at Pound 360.

The Yangtze River dolphin (also know as the white-flag dolphin, the goddess of the Yangtze and sometimes just called Baiji for short), which scientists thought had been wiped out last year, has shown up in a scratchy home-video, apparently shot a few weeks ago. Hm... there’s a Bigfoot video too, but we all know that’s a hoax.

I’m not being sour on this because I was so passionate about this in my earlier posting. You may recall I thanked the people earth, especially China (TIME even referred to the dolphin as “a victim of China's breakneck economic growth”) for a flawless eradication (
look it up). But it turns out that we (humankind) (probably) couldn’t even get an extinction right.

But before I get into that. Let me point out that, when this extinction was first reported, I remember the story barely catching my eye. I read a lot of science and health news sources, and the extinction story didn’t seem too common. Maybe it trickled out and I was on vacation. I don’t know, but people seem more fascinated by a potential comeback.

But is this recovery for real? According to the new scientist report, one expert “says it is impossible to say for sure as the video is of poor quality and was shot from a great distance.” Also, the man who shot this film claims the creature was jumping out of the river. That’s a problem as, “Baiji do not jump out of the water,” said the same expert. Ah, but maybe this is a new species, a super-Baiji, if you will that can jump out of the water.

Something tells me this story is far from over.

Pound360 Archive

About Me

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I started pound360 to channel my obsession with vitamins, running and the five senses. Eventually, I got bored focusing on all that stuff, so I came back from a one month hiatus in May of 2007 (one year after launching Pound360) and broadened my mumblings here to include all science.