Monday, February 9, 2009

You Have to Call Me Dragon

Good Afternoon Ladies & Gentlemen,

Well, it has been a fun weekend full of pictures and stories…but because it's still going on, I haven't downloaded the pictures or anything…and it's been a little busy at work. However, I did glance over a few news clippings the other day that you might find interesting…so here you go. Stay tuned for the story of the weekend…which includes touring a tea factory dangerously, navigating through hippie central, a real-life street fight, "BIKES!!!", a burlesque show, being offered both Jaeger and "salad" while people watching, a Victorian pioneer funeral, braiding the hair of the undead, a sĂ©ance, a Civil war story in first-person, visiting a Hare Krishna temple, finding a perfect place to take a date, eating raw animal flesh, finding a way that pumpkin & lobster can taste delicious together, rocking out and washing it all down with an alcoholic slurpee…and that's just the first two days. So yeah, here's the news...

Fertility Statues that Work - Starting a family might be a little easier with a trip to Ripley's Believe It or Not museum in Myrtle Beach, South Carolina. The museum on Thursday opens a month-long display of its fertility statues. The 5-foot tall wooden statues were acquired on the Ivory Coast of West Africa in 1993. The company says they were then placed in its corporate headquarters in Orlando, Florida, and within months, 13 women became pregnant. The statues have since been on display around the world. According to the company, more than 2,000 women have reported becoming pregnant after touching the statues. They will be on display at Ripley's through the first of March. The company says couples wanting to have a baby can touch the statues for free during business hours. I'm not exactly sure what the statues are made out of…but hey, if they work, they work. You can't argue with results. By the way, did any of you watch the "Ripley's Believe It or Not" shows that were on TV? No, not the ones hosted by Dean Cain. I'm talking about the real ones…that were hosted by Jack Palance & his daughter (when he was off being badass). Now THAT was a show. "Believe it…or not."

Another Pregnancy Miracle - A 60-year-old woman in the Western Canadian city of Calgary has given birth to twins after going to India for fertility treatments (those yoga classes must really work). The report said the twins, both boys, were seven weeks prematurely delivered by caesarean section. Though one is breathing with the help of special equipment, doctors said the twins are doing well but will be kept in hospital until they gain weight and both can breathe on their own. The woman, originally from India, traveled back to that country for in vitro fertilization using donor eggs after being refused the treatment in Canada because of her age. The CBC said she had tried for years to get pregnant but had miscarried three times, even after surgery to correct a problem with her womb. While unusual, a 60-year old woman giving birth is nowhere near a record. ABC News reported in July that a 72-year-old woman in India, who already had five grandchildren, gave birth to twins after in vitro fertilization, making her the world's oldest mother. The CBC report said the Calgary woman's obstetrician thought it was a joke when she was referred to him before she showed up at his office. "Who put you up to this? Chalmers? That hoser." He is still questioning the implications of someone having children at an advanced age. "I couldn't imagine if I was 65 having two five-year-olds running around crazily. The energy to do that is incredible," the CBC quoted the doctor as actually saying. I'm not worried about that aspect of it. I like that this woman didn't give up. When everybody told her that she was just a crazy old coot and her womb was as barren as the Serengeti, she told them to shove it. Even after three failed attempts and countless heartbreaks, she kept her eyes on the prize…and was willing to fly to the other side of the planet for treatment. Now, she has two beautiful baby boys. I wish them nothing but the best. What's more…is that her memories of this triumph may be passed along to them.

Passing Memories - Mothers can pass along their experiences to their children without even trying, researchers reported in a surprising study on Tuesday that showed baby mice could inherit the benefits of "education" that their mothers received before they became pregnant. The study shows that inheritance can go far beyond the classic genetic theories, researchers report in The Journal of Neuroscience. They found that young mice raised in an enriched environment (with toys and other stimulation) passed along the learning benefits to pups they had after they grew up. The stimulated mothers did not simply have better parenting skills, because the researchers showed pups swapped at birth still learned better if their biological mothers (but not their foster parents) had been raised with the extra toys. "You inherit to some degree some aspects of your parent's experience," Larry Feig, a professor of biochemistry at Tufts University School of Medicine in Boston, said in a telephone interview. "This is a protective mechanism a mother passes on to her offspring, The mother is changed for months. Her brain is changed so that when she is old enough to get pregnant, the effect is still there." Feig and colleagues raised mice, some in plain cases with wood chips and others in "enriched" cages with boxes, a running wheel, toys, and constant rearrangements of nesting material. They tested learning with an unpleasant "shock chamber" to condition the mice to be afraid. Mice born to mothers raised in the "enriched" cages learned much more quickly that the shock chamber was a scary place. This was true even when the mothers did not become pregnant until weeks after they lived in the special cages.

Of Mice & Women - When the researchers looked at the brains of the mice, they found clear changes in what is called long-term potentiation, a measure of how well nerve cells communicate with one another. These changes were inherited by the pups, even if the pups themselves never saw a toy or running wheel. Feig said what is being changed is a mystery. "It is probably some hormonal effect," he said. Learning and stimulation may raise levels of hormones and these levels may stay high for part of an animal's lifetime and affect the developing fetus. "There is a lot of evidence that during embryonic development the offspring are greatly sensitive to things the mother is exposed to," Feig said -- including food, chemicals and perhaps hormones. Dean Hartley, a neurosciences researcher at Rush University Medical Centre in Chicago who worked on the study, said this could work in two ways. "Does that mean an unenriched environment could have a detrimental effect? Because the environment can affect us in both ways -- good and bad -- we need to be cautious about the environmental exposures pre-pregnancy." The changes only lasted one generation, indicating the DNA was not permanently changed. Researchers are learning that DNA function can be altered without changing the genetic code itself. So there you go. Mothers pass along their memories, fears, passions, and who knows what else to their children according to this study. It's quite believable. Just something to think about when you are in a negative environment…or at least perceived as one. You could be affecting more than just yourself. It's an interesting perspective…at least to me. Okay, enough about babies.

Odd Smell in NYC Found to be Jersey - That may not be a huge surprise to most…but here's the story. Allegedly, a mysterious, maple syrup-like odor that has periodically wafted over New York City since October 2005 has been linked to New Jersey fragrance processing plants, New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg said on Thursday. Fragrance and food additive factories in nearby New Jersey where fenugreek seeds are processed are the "probable source" of the odor. The smell has attracted media attention and hundreds of complaints from city residents. "Given the evidence, I think it's safe to say that the 'Great Maple Syrup Mystery' has finally been solved," Bloomberg said. The city had assured residents that the odor was not harmful, but it was not able to explain its source until now. The mystery was solved after city agencies matched complaints by their geographic location against information about winds and atmospheric conditions. "The health department confirmed that the odor does not pose a health risk, but I am pleased to know that our ... smelling sleuths got to the bottom of this mystery." Now if they can just figure out where that urine smell is coming from…and if they tell me a food additives factory, then I'm never eating microwave pizzas again.

Sexbot Update - The renowned scientist Albert Einstein has been dead for more than 50 years...but he was reincarnated this week in the form of a so-called empathetic robot that pushes the boundaries of automation by being able to interact with people using emotional nuances. The rubberized rendition of Einstein's head and shoulders with piercing movable eyes, a shock of white hair and distinctive mustache dazzled a crowd of 1,500 at the Technology, Entertainment and Design conference in Long Beach that seeks to foster creativity among entrepreneurs, scientists and designers. The robot Einstein follows people with his eyes and smiles or frowns as appropriate. Even up close, it looks surprisingly real. "It's machine empathy," roboticist David Hanson told the audience. "This is a robot that can understand feeling and mimic." Einstein got his personality two weeks ago when Hanson's contraption was married to software from the Institute for Neural Computation at the University of California, San Diego. Einstein's creators believe that one day computers will be able to relate to people, listening and responding at a level not yet seen. Some of the same computer techniques were used in "The Curious Case of Benjamin Button." Ed Ulbrich, the movie's digital visual effect producer, showed the TED audience how Brad Pitt's expressions were imposed on a computer-created version of him as an old man. It was a task that involved 155 people (See? Behind every Hollywood star is a team of technical experts making them look good). The latest version of Einstein, which is the fourth evolution of the robot, was created two months ago. Earlier Hanson robots are at museums, research institutes and universities around the world. Hanson, an artist/roboticist based in Dallas, designed Einstein to mimic all of the face's roughly 48 facial muscles. It uses 32 motors that are in some cases more versatile than the muscles they mimic. Two hidden cameras look out its life-like eyes. Nicholas Butko, a graduate student at UC San Diego who accompanied Hanson to TED, said the goal is "to make computers that have basic perceptual capabilities -- things that your brain does effortlessly that you never even think about." The robot's software tracks 13 parameters, everything from the blink of an eye to the raise of an eyebrow or the wrinkle of a nose. More is in the works. "One of our goals is to make a computer that can reliably tell how sincere someone's smile is." Maybe then, they can figure out what Mona Lisa was thinking about. I'm sorry to jump the gun…but I'm going to answer that right now. "Jesus, I can't believe this portrait is taking so long. I'm literally…waiting for paint to dry. This DaVinci guy had better be good. I can't believe he asked me if I wanted this picture of me in the nude. Such a pervert. What should I make for dinner tonight? Something simple. Maybe just some noodles…with some alfredo sauce. You know what would be a great idea…if you wrote a letter in advance…and somebody brought a freshly cooked pizza to your house. That would certainly make things simple. Oh…but that idea would never work. It would prove to be a logistical nightmare. Is this prick done yet? I'm meeting with the Duchess of Firenze in an hour."

Back on point, you may be wondering why this article on an Einstein robot may be a Sexbot Update. They're making robots more emotional and empathetic, showing a sort of mimicked concern and responding to environmental factors. They're also using the shroud of a genius womanizer Albert Einstein who had many, many, many mistresses (and a wife) back in a time when intelligence & German accents were sexy. It's only a matter of time before robots are spitting one-liners and refilling martinis & cosmos through spouts in their fingers. Perhaps I will be able to reprogram one of them to act as a Wingbot…but I don't have my degree in computers. I'm still figuring out the mysteries of Excel spreadsheets. Then again, these new robots may be able to help us figure out…the Greatest Mystery of Human Civilization!!!

What Is She Looking For? - A new study backs up what men have said all along: Women are difficult to read…and the women agree. Researchers at Indiana University showed video clips from 24 different speed dates and asked male and female participants two simple questions: "Do you think the man was interested in this woman?" and "Do you think the woman was interested in this man?" Their answers were then compared with the responses of the speed daters themselves. The results, published in the January issue of the journal Psychological Science, show that both men and women are able to gauge a man's interest in a woman, but are equally baffled when it comes to figuring out if a woman is interested in a man. In fact, a flip of a coin would be almost as accurate in predicting a woman's romantic interest on a date. Skyler S. Place, who headed up the study, says that the biological drive behind dating - finding an optimal mate for gene promotion - gives women reason to be elusive. "Being coy forces the men to spend more time interacting with the woman, because they are unsure if they have successfully courted her. Therefore, the woman has more time to gather information about her date." Ultimately, women have more at stake while dating because they face higher "sunk costs" - a woman can carry the child of only one man at a time, while a man can impregnate many women. Video clips taken from the middle and end of dates provided the most accurate assessments, Place said, suggesting that the daters' true feelings became more evident as they collected information throughout their encounter. The speed dates were conducted in Germany as part of Humboldt University's Berlin Speed Dating Study. None of the Indiana University study participants understood German, and were using only visual cues and tone of voice to determine daters' interest. The findings might be sound, but what about the old dating adage to just be yourself? "From an evolutionary perspective, there is nothing wrong with a woman being 'open' and 'honest' about who she is - it is simply in her best interest not to present herself as actually interested immediately," Place said. Getting to the second date, however, is still a good sign. Perhaps the aforementioned robots could help us to read them…like a lie detector…but it's more of a Love Detector. "Sincere laughter, lack of sarcasm in voice, brushing of hair more than usual, pheromone levels high, moisture detected in pelvic region. Engage! Engage! Engage!"

Anyway, that should be enough for one day. Again, stay tuned for pictures of the weekend that was…and I'll see y'all tomorrow. Have a great day!!!


The Mad Scientist said...

Women.. kids.. Ughhh. I gotta say, I am only interested in 50% of those topics- and heres the hint: It does not use daipers.

Any ways, I'll email you tomorrow, and see you in Denver soon!

$teve said...

Criticism received. The next entry will have more sexy robots...and possibly some physics. You're welcome. :)

P.S. See ya soon...

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