Monday, May 31, 2010

Weird Things

So I had a long busy weekend spent working both on the computer as well as in the studio and unlike most of you I didn't have today off. So tonight I'm taking the easy way out and I'm just going to plug one of my favorite places on the web,

Weird Things dot com is: " a blog dedicated to people who love both science and are fascinated by the impossible and fantastic. It’s for people who believe a mystery is interesting no matter the outcome." But my favorite part of Weird Things is their podcast.

I listen to a lot of different pod casts but Theirs is the one I look forward to the most. Hosted By Andrew Mayne, Brian Brushwood and Justin Robert Young. In Each episode the three discuss, say it with me now, Weird Things! Here's the description from itunes:
"How would you fight a Yeti in hand to hand combat? Would you attempt to sell your soul to the devil in the interest of science? How can you prepare for a zombie apocalypse? Find out all of this and more every week on the Weird Things podcast, where your hosts, Andrew Mayne, Justin Robert Young and Brian Brushwood probe the most challenging questions about the paranormal, supernatural and fringe."
I know that sounds like one of those clever lists of abstract things people come up with to make their show or blog sound more interesting than it really is but on Weird Things they have actually discussed all of those things and much more. In fact, surviving the zombie apocalypse comes up fairly regularly as does the singularity (look it up). But the best part is they manage to discuss it all while remaining Rational, Skeptical and scientific. How could you not want to listen to that?

But the actual inspiration for today's post was Weird Things most recent addition to it's growing list of content Weird Things TV. IN these 4-5 minute long videos Justin discusses some of the more interesting topics from the blog and is hilarious as always. Here's the most recent episode:

So if you like science, skepticism or the paranormal but get bored with the dry and uber serious manner in which most rationalists deal with these subjects you should check out, The Weird Things Podcast and subscribe to their new channel on youtube:Weirdthingstv to watch Weird Things TV.

Links and Additional Content
To find out more about Andrew, Justin and Brian and all of their additional projects on the web follow these links to their home pages:

Andrew Mayne:
Brian Brushwood:
Justin Robert Young:

Friday, May 28, 2010

Synthetic Life...sort of

Comic by: Nate Beeler Taken from:

A research team led by Dr Craig Venter of the J Craig Venter Institute(JCVI) in Maryland and California, have successfully created the first Self-Replicating, Synthetic Bacterial Cell, Mycoplasma mycoides JCVI-syn1.0. (Follow the link above or click HERE to read the Institute's official press release.)

While technically correct, I think the over emphasis being placed on the word synthetic in every headline and article about this story gives the average reader the wrong impression. While Dr. Venter's group has achieved something amazing and ground breaking, this so called synthesized life form is not the sc-fi micro-monster that most main stream reporting implies it to be. I'll explain.

Researchers created this "synthetic" cell by first digitally replicating the entire genome of an existing bacteria, M. Mycoides. That digital copy was then artificially synthesized using a sequencer and inserted into another existing species of bacterium whose own genome had been removed, Mycoplasma capricolum. The Mycoplasma in turn followed the new genetic "Software" it had received and turned itself into a M. Mycoides cell, ultimately resulting in the creation of, "Mycoplasma mycoides JCVI-syn1.0", the worlds first "synthetically" created self-replicating cell.

In other words, the only part of the cell that was "artificial" was the genome it received, which was in fact just a copy of an existing genome from a separate species of bacteria. Point being, JCVI-syn 1.0 is not some entirely new and artificially created species of anything as most mainstream articles seem to imply.

But this is an important advancement regardless of the details. Not only could artificially produced bacteria be engineered to carry out worth while tasks like reducing some of the damage to the environment by capturing Carbon monoxide, as suggested by Dr. Venter In an article from the BBC. But the steps that were necessary to successfully synthesize and implant the genome of one species to another, creating a viable copy of the original. Means more exacting work can begin on understanding the genomes themselves, as stated by Dr Venter in the JCVI press release: "We can now begin working on our ultimate objective of synthesizing a minimal cell containing only the genes necessary to sustain life in its simplest form. This will help us better understand how cells work."

Links and Additional Content

First, if you did not click through to read the article from the BBC should do so now, it has loads of info on this story including video of Dr Venter as well as a Q&A section and was my primary scource of info on this subject outside of the JCVI press release which you should also go read.

Next, Dr. Venter's TED talk video. (more on TED another day)

Video posted by Youtube user:TedtalksDirector

Image Credit:Nate Beeler

Wednesday, May 26, 2010


Works of hack sci-fi writer and deceased founder of the cult of Scientology L. Ron Hubbard have been banned in Russia as extremest works, according to an article in The Moscow Times.

The works were banned using Russia's extremism law. A law which the Russian government claims is meant to protect the country against nationalist groups, hate crimes and xenophobic attacks. In the case of L. Ron Hubbard the Prosecutor Generals Office claims his works have been added to the list for, "undermining the traditional spiritual values of the citizens of the Russian Federation". Prosecutors also claim some of the works encourage, "general acts of violence".

Ignoring the absurdity of arguing that any one set of religious beliefs is more valid than any other and acknowledging that the works most likely do not encourage violence against anyone. It seems pretty obvious the ban was in response to Russia's loss of a human rights lawsuit brought against them by Scientology last year after Russia refused to acknowledge them as a "legitimate religion".

While I don't personally believe in the mythology of ANY religion and would argue that ultimately all religions exploit believers. If I were to define the phrase, "legitimate religion", that to me would mean a system of beliefs centered around some supernatural origin of life which cannot be easily falsified in the minds of the average person. Traditional beliefs like Christianity fit this criteria because they have the benefit of being old, making it difficult if not impossible to trace them back to their true origins and authors. Scientology on the other hand has existed for less than sixty years making it simple for anyone with access to Google to learn it's entire history, including it's invention at the hands of a second rate sci-fi writer, in the course of a single afternoon.

Though I'm always uncomfortable with the banning of anything, I'm more uncomfortable with the concept of courts forcing countries to recognize Scientology as legitimate when their obviously fabricated spiritual beliefs, combined with their practice of literally selling the details of those beliefs to it's followers. Make it more than reasonable for one to conclude that Scientology is at best a scam and at worst a cult, deserving of both ridicule as well as prosecution when warranted. What Scientology doesn't deserve, is the power, and influence that comes with being labeled a legitimate Religion.
Links and Additional content
Some of you have probably already seen this but how could I not embed this rambling crazy eyed and uber creepy Video from Tom cruise. When I first saw it I assumed cruise was practicing his acceptance speech for most arrogant douche bag ever or perhaps the angriest little man in the world award. But it turns out to be a video he produced specifically for the cult of Scientology. The video was subsequently leaked onto the Internet, presumably by someone who recognized it for the comedic gold that it is. Incidentally, the background music was not dubbed in by some youtube user. The video was actually produced using that theme. Tom Cruise, Arrogant? Egotistical? Brainwashed? no.

Friday, May 21, 2010

Dances With, no..Field Of, DAMN..WATER-!, ahh screw it.

WAIT! -Kevin Costner dances through fields of oil to save water world proving he's an untouchable bodyguard, for the earth!-

HA! More Kevin Costner movie references and bad puns that any other article I've read about this story. I should totally have a job writing headlines.

Kevin Costner seen here in..What? That's not Costner? HE WASN'T EVEN IN AVATAR? How can that be possible? Every story I've read about him today has mentioned his participation in one of the worst films ever made! Oh well, Guess they meant Phantom Menace or Attack of the Clones...300? Eh, lets move on.

Celebrities take a lot of crap for flocking to every disaster and cause they can find primarily to serve they're own narcissistic self righteous purposes and chastise everyone else for how we live our lives. More often than not, they deserve all the crap they get and I'm more than happy to help give them that crap. But Kevin Costner has done something I always respect, he put up or shut up. No self righteous speeches about how were all in this together and you should donate to my cause, no publicity stunts labeled peace rallies or shitty concert benefit scams to promote waning album sales, he just did everything he could do to address a problem he felt needing fixing.

Despite being in JFK (that's the one right?)Kevin Costner, an actor, not a scientist or an engineer not a politician or the leader of Greenpeace but an actor, was so struck by the lack of technology to clean up oil spills following the Exxon Valdez he decided to actually do something about it, and has since spent somewhere between 22 and 26 million of his own dollars on the research and development of devices designed to separate water and oil.

BP, being so out of ideas on how to stop the leak it's moved on to considering unsolicited suggestions from the general public, has agreed to test several of Costner's devices next week.

Costner demoed the device last week:

All indications are that it does what he claims it can do. whether the devices work well enough to clean the oil from the ocean remains to be seen but even if they fail miserably it's still more than our government or anyone else for that matter, has done to address the disaster.

While cleaning up the MILLIONS of gallons of oil that have been released into the ocean is immensely important, the oil and natural gas continue to gush out into the ocean,("click here for a live stream though I have yet to actually get the stream to work and I doubt it will " " ) as it has done for a month now and despite BP's pathetic excuse for a partial plug that is now in place. Our own government and the various environmental groups who will soon be asking for your money to help send Sean Penn and other publicity-whores to clean oil off frogs in new Orleans, and who will no doubt exploit this disaster for their full personal advantage, have yet to do anything.

Well, to be fair, congress did yell at the oil execs on c-span for a while and Greenpeace has announced a contest to redesign BP's logo, the winning entry to be used in,"innovative and confrontational" ways. Ya, that should help.
No additional links today just one more picture:

Tuesday, May 18, 2010

Sometimes... science is icky

"Germs by:" Carlos Lerma"

I ended up watching several different documentaries while evaluating streaming -madness this weekend including: "nova the unknown world", which was described as follows: "Photographer Lennart Nilsson has built a career out of taking pictures of things most folks never see; using special microscopic lens technology, Nilsson is able to magnify the smallest creatures until they take on the appearance of mammoth monsters, and this documentary gives him a chance to bring his photographs to life."

I enjoy photography, especially something unique like microphotograhy, so I thought hey, this should be cool and it was. But it was also kinda creepy.

As a rationally minded individual who values scientific thinking I think it's important to understand the world as it really is, and logically I know that all of our bodies are covered, inside and out, by tiny little creatures. From bacteria to dust mites billions and billions of microorganisms share our bodies, as well as our homes our clothes and even the food we eat and I know this. But seeing it, really seeing it well...

Here's something I didn't know about:
It's called a hair follicle mite, think of it as a tiny mole that lives in your hair follicles, but don't worry, they prefer to live in the larger follicles of your eyelashes not your scalp. Try not to think about that when you look in the mirror from now on.

Then of course there are the dust mites. Ah the dust mites. We all know about them right? We know that without them the world would be buried under piles of dead skin, right? Sure but have you ever actually seen one? How about a whole group of them feasting on bits of dead skin? Or maybe where they really like to live, right on the surface of your skin.

Your welcome.

I could go on to show you moth larvae living in your sweaters, or book lice and the tiny scorpions who eat them or any of a number of wonderfully icky things that are in all likely hood swarming around you at this very moment. But by now I figure if you're still reading, you're probably dieing to run in the other room and bathe yourself in rubbing alcohol, which won't do you any good of course but feel free to try. So I'll just embed the video here and move on.

Despite the good fun I'm having trying to gross you all out with the video's subject matter, it really is a good and interesting documentary. There are some amazing images of things I had never seen before and in some cases didn't even know existed and like it or not these things are real so you might as well get to know them. knowing the truth about the world is important, even when its disgusting.
Now if you'll excuse there are things I must disinfect

Links and Additional Content
"Ritual 3" by: " Carlos Lerma"
Today's link is artist " Carlos Lerma's blog" . Carlos is the artist behind the image I used at the top of today's post and does a lot of cool stuff. I like his blog a lot, you'll find; videos, flash animation, sketches, illustrations and all kinds of other good stuff, especially if you happen to be bilingual, but even if you're not Carlos clearly is, so you'll be able to enjoy many of his blog posts as well as all of his art.

Image Credits: Germs, and Ritual3 by: " Carlos Lerma"
Stills taken from the nova documentary,
" Unknown World"

Sunday, May 16, 2010

MADNESS, Streaming Madness...

In searching for links and clips for my previous entry I came upon a site which I linked to at the bottom of the post, "" I ended up spending a lot of time there this weekend. Mostly checking out the site to see if it was something I really wanted to promote and or recommend to others. The answer is, Sort of.

While there are some great documentaries on the page, there is also a lot of nonsense and conspiracy to be had as well. Particularly in the social issues and philosophy categories. Which would be fine, if an effort were made to distinguish those documentaries from other legitimate programs on the site, but no such effort is made. To the contrary, and despite claims of neutrality made in the "about us" section of the page, the site displays an obvious admiration for peter Joseph, creator of the movie, "Zeitgeist". Including direct links to both Zeitgeist the movie and the Zeitgeist movement websites. The site also posts a photo and link for Joseph on it's cover page along side Micho Kaku, Richard Feynmen, Albert Einstein and Stephen Hawking, as well as three other men I am not personally familiar with, all under the heading: "Great minds, The most inspiring people."

The obvious problem with this display is that it places opportunists and conspiracy theorists like Peter Joseph and the bullshit they sell on the same level as Einstein, hawking and other legitimate intellectuals and journalists. Which is of course a bad thing.

But despite the authors of the page obviously possessing some personal conspiratorial reasons for creating the site, as well as personal philosophical views to promote. Views with which I certainly don't agree. There is worthwhile content to be had here and I do recommend that you take some time to look the site over. If nothing else, this site should prove a valuable reference source for researching and debunking various fraudulent claims, by bringing the source of many such claims together in one place.

Links and Additional Content
Today I'm linking to Brian Dunning's podcast, "Skeptoid" . More specifically, I'm providing a link to the episode dealing with the movie "Zeitgeist" for those of you who had never heard of the movie before today.

If you've never Heard of Skeptoid or Brian Dunning before, then once you've listen to the linked episode use the search box at the top of the page to search past episodes of Skeptoid for other topics you're interested in. Also be sure to look around the site and check out some of Brian's other projects.

Friday, May 14, 2010

Science On TV

Given the nature of my first post I wanted to make sure today's entry was More on target where my intended theme for this blog is concerned. So today's topic is science on TV.

As a fan and nightly viewer of much of the Cartoon networks adult swim line up I'm not about to tell you I think television needs to have some intellectual value, or serve some greater purpose because it certainly doesn't, although I do believe that watching Squidbillies and Metalocalypse will make you a better person. But, If you've ever so much as glanced at a science blog or magazine before then you know the question is constantly being asked, how do we increase the public's awareness, interest and understanding of science? One obvious answer is TV.

With Mythbusters no doubt leading the way there has been a recent surge in legitimate science content on television as of late. Even the Mythbusters themselves have stepped up the scientific content of their already science heavy show this season by dividing many episodes between testing an urban legend style myth and the performance of physics thought experiments, although this week was another all duct ape special. I think this format is perfect because it gives geeks like me the joy of physics without depriving any of us the joy of watching things explode.

Most recently, discovery has added two new shows to its lineup which I have quickly fallen in love with, "Into The universe With Stephen Hawking" and,"How The Universe Works", which is narrated by Mike Rowe and has thus far regularly featured the likes of Micho Kaku and phil plait. Both shows are exceedingly well done, both have excellent audio and video effects and while I do think How The Universe Works delivers more technical scientific content, Into The Universe is my personal favorite.

I don't know how either show has been doing in the ratings as I just don't keep track of that sort of thing. But recent shows like the planet earth specials have shown that if presented correctly, there is an audience for educational programming and I think that these two shows are a major step in the right direction towards finding that audience for science.


For today's additional content I'm first going to link to the discovery channel web site where you can watch clips and find scheduling information on all of the shows mentioned in todays post.

Next, I'm going to recommend those of you who find the subjects of physics, astronomy or science in general intimidating check out Stephen Hawking's book; "A Briefer History Of Time", this updated version of the original, "A Brief History Of Time", was released specifically in response to those who requested a more accessible version of the book.

Lastly, I'm embedding the first part of Into the Universe With Stephen Hawking: Aliens // Watch enlightening documentaries online!
Click the above link to find the rest of this episode plus more cool documentaries.

Image credit: Trevira, Click here to view image in it's original context.

Sunday, May 9, 2010

An Anti-Mother's Day Message

I am a special bastard.
Why begin with an anti-mothers day message? Lots of reason, but mostly I just cant stand compulsory crap. In my mind there are only three "real" holidays, real meaning days that are celebrated based on long standing religious or historical tradition, Christmas, Halloween and Thanksgiving. Of those three the only one I actually celebrate is thanksgiving, because gluttony is my favorite deadly sin. The rest are greeting card holidays, Hallmark holidays as many like to call them, manufactured excuses for us to all rush out and buy More crap we don't need. Today is one of the biggest of those made up days, mothers day.

Ah mothers day, the day when we all run out and buy flowers, some meaningless little piece of crap or just go out of our ways to call our mothers and say, "Mom, I feel socially obligated to tell you I love you today." how sweet.
The onslaught of mothers day sales should be more than enough for all of us to realize what today is really about, though the constant reminders on television to, "do something special for mom", are enough to make all but the most heartless bastards feel a tinge of guilt for not giving a crap about this made up holiday. Not me of course, I am one of those special bastards. For me, the only significance to mothers day is the fact that it marks the end of tourist season in my particular pocket of hell and I am always happy to celebrate that.

So I beg you, if you have a mother, DON'T CALL HER! Don't send her flowers and don't buy her so much as a card. The momentary guilt you may feel as the day comes to an end will quickly pass and a feeling of liberation will rush over you as you realize that you really don't have to do everything the t.v. Tells you to!
And if you are someones mother, then when your ungrateful children make their obligatory call to say happy mothers day, don't answer! Better yet, tell them to go fuck themselves! And that next year you wont be answering the phone because you have other shit to do and if they actually gave a crap they wouldn't need hallmark to remind them to call.

I thought I would try and end each entry with additional content related to the days post. Given the appalling lack of anti mothers day content on the web this was the most appropriate clip I could find. Enjoy.