The koala says ...


So. That's the sound a koala makes. Huh.

It's not really very cute, is it?

But it does get the job done. Specifically, this is the call of the horny male koala—and this sound is such an effective mating technique that simply hearing it can cause female koalas to go into heat. (Insert your own Koala Justin Bieber joke here.) Scienceline explains the importance of koala "bellowing":

The timbre of a koala's bellow seems to have something to do with its size, age and androgen (a sex hormone) concentration. Older males bellow more, bigger males bellow longer, and those with more androgen have deeper bellows. One study found that when the male koala is 2-4 years older than the female, the mating is more likely to be successful, leading some to suggest that females use male calls to gage their relative sexiness.

Via Bora Zivkovik

Image courtesy Wikipedia user Quartl, via CC

The strange story of a scientist killed by the Plague


On September 13, 2009, Malcolm Casadaban, a University of Chicago professor of genetics and cell biology, was taken by ambulance to a hospital and died just a few hours later. Cause of death: The Plague, with a capital P.

Casadaban had been working with Plague bacteria as part of his research, but, despite that fact, this wasn't an open-and-shut case. Casadaban's bacteria were genetically modified, weakened so they couldn't infect humans. Scientists have been handling this sort of wishy-washy Plague for decades, without much incident. Until Casdaban, no-one had ever been killed by lab-acquired Plague. In fact, 1959 was the last time lab Plague had even made anyone sick.

The Centers for Disease Control wanted to know what made Casadaban different. And this is where the story gets weird. Turns out, Casadaban had his own weakness—a genetic mutation, common in people of European descent. In fact, this particular mutation is common because it protects against naturally acquired strains of the Plague. If your ancestors lived through a Plague outbreak, you're more likely to carry it. But, the same mutation also seems to leave you particularly susceptible to weakened, laboratory Plague bacteria.

An autopsy found the researcher had a medical condition called hemochromatosis, which causes an excessive buildup of iron in the body, according to the CDC report. The disorder affects about 1 in 400 people and goes unnoticed in about half of patients.

Casadaban's illness is important because of the way the plague bacterium had been weakened. Yersinia pestis needs iron to survive. Normally it gets this iron by stealing it from a host's body with proteins that bind to it and help break it down. To make the bacterium harmless, scientists genetically stripped it of the proteins needed to consume iron.

"It's like having a lion, where we took out all its teeth and all its claws," Alexander said. "But in the case of Dr. Casadaban, the lion didn't even need to have teeth. There was so much iron that it was freely available and easy to get."

The hemochromatosis that contributed to Casadaban's fate has been credited with protecting people from strains of plague that circulate in the wild. Sharon Moalem, an evolutionary biologist and author of "Survival of the Sickest," posited that the disorder shifts iron from certain white blood cells, where it is typically sought by the plague bacterium.

Bloomberg: Plague death came within hours, spurred by scientist's medical condition

Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report: Fatal laboratory-acquired infection with an attenuated Yersinia pestis strain—Chicago, Illinois, 2009

Sahrawi Snapshot in the Sahara

A Sahrawi woman takes a picture with her mobile phone during the 35th anniversary celebrations of their independence movement for Western Sahara from Morocco, in Tifariti, southwestern Algeria February 27, 2011. (REUTERS/Juan Medina)

North Korea to South: stop with the hate-balloons or we will shoot you

"A massive propaganda campaign by the South Korean military drew an ominous warning from North Korea on Sunday, with Pyongyang saying that it would fire across the border at anyone sending helium balloons carrying anti-North Korean messages into the country."

Frank Buckles, last living U.S. World War I vet, dies at 110

The last U.S. World War I veteran, Frank Buckles, died this Sunday at age 110. Buckles "died peacefully in his home of natural causes," according to a family statement.

Hollywood: snow and rainbows

Photographer Anthony Citrano captured this shot of the Hollywood sign, with bands of snow visible in the sky above, as a rainbow shines in the foreground. Snow and small hail fell in Los Angeles this weekend, with some of the lowest temperatures we've experienced here in recorded history. Oh my god so intense. Follow the photographer on Twitter.

Charlie Sheen rant gets Taiwanese animated TV news treatment

Here is the video. But you don't need to watch the video, even, just meditate upon this still.

AT-AT meets Mystery Machine

"Mystery Machine AT-AT" is one in a series of pop-culture AT-AT redesigns from Seven_Hundred; others in the series include the Dukes of Hazzard's General Lee and Quentin Tarantino's "Pussy Wagon."

Mystery Machine AT-AT (via Boing Boing Flickr Pool)

Coffee Common: roasters roast one other at TED


Last week I was excited to announce the birth of Coffee Common, a project of coffee enthusiasts (one of them being me) coming together to improve the experience of coffee for both industry and consumers. I mentioned that to kick off the launch, the project organizers and a handful of baristas from around the world will be spending this week in conjunction with the TED conference talking about (and serving) a few noteworthy selections from a select group of roasters.

We narrowed our list to the roasters we know have beautiful coffees with clarity and balance on their offering menus—and, who would be able to produce, roast and ship enough coffee to meet the needs of the thirsty TED attendees, at their own expense.

Normally, these roasters would consider each others competition, but the Coffee Common project is about collaboration. So we had an idea. We could write a short introduction for each included roaster, or we could assign each participating roaster the task of writing the intro for one of the others - knowing very well that one of the others would be writing theirs as well. This sounded much more interesting to us. After all, your fans can gush about you, but what your competition says may be more telling. So with that in mind...

Intelligentsia - introduced by James Hoffman of Square Mile Coffee
Stumptown - Introduced by Benjamin Kaminsky of Ritual Roasters
Has Bean - Introduced by Peter Giuliano of Counter Culture Coffee
Square Mile - Introduced by Trevor Corlett of Madcap Coffee
Ritual Roasters - Intriduced by George Howell of Terroir Coffee
Terroir Coffee - Introduced by Steve Leighton of Has Bean

More introductions will be posted soon. As TED kicks off today and everyone will finally be together in person, we'll be posting interviews, videos and dishing out the info throughout the week on and on twitter @coffeecommon.
(photo of Ritual Roasters by Scott Beale / Laughing Squid)

Piracy is the Future of TV: commercial TV sucks relative to illicit services

"Piracy is the Future of Television" is Abigail De Kosnik's Convergence Culture Consortium paper on the many ways in which piracy is preferable to buying legitimate online TV options. None of these advantages are related to price -- it may be hard to compete with free, but it's impossible to compete with free when you offer something worse than the free option. De Kosnik finishes the paper with a series of incredibly sensible recommendations for producing a commercial marketplace that's as good or better than the illicit one. Alas, I fear that TV broadcasters would rather demand special online censorship powers and moan about piracy than fix their products:
A single interface, a single mode of searching, a single way of listing new TV content, and a single file format that plays on a single media player and works on every OS and can be ported to any mobile device: this should be the goal of all legal services. Uniformity in each of these areas across services will make all services of this kind - will make TV viewing on the Internet as a practice - more appealing to all potential users. Once watching TV online can match the simplicity of clicking through channels on a TV set, a larger percentage of the TV viewing population will be interested in using the Internet as their primary interface for television content. And TV pirates will not migrate to legal services unless they are at least as straightforward as pirate protocols. In fact, legal services can model their protocols directly on established pirate standards, as they are hardly secret.7

Offer a Premium Service for Personal Archivists
At the moment, piracy provides the best means for individuals to build personal libraries of television content, for all of the reasons given above. Legal services should consider how to serve this niche even better than pirate communities do. Users interested in creating archives would likely pay a premium if legal services could:

• Offer downloads (both standard definition and HD) of canonical versions of classic and current television programs, either with their original commercials (an important feature for some TV archivists) or commercial-free.

• Make files of new TV episodes available for download immediately after broadcast.

• Persistently "seed" those files (i.e., guarantee that the interested user can always acquire TV files, even older ones, since on pirate networks, older files sometimes are "unseeded" and very difficult to obtain). In fact, the network of collectors could be encouraged to seed files as they come into demand, under some kind of incentive program. (Pirate communities dedicated to "cult" or "art" films often offer rewards to members who are willing to seed requested torrents; for example, if a member seeds a currently unseeded torrent that six other members want, then the community may reward that seeding member with an increase in her maximum permitted download volume for a month).

• Provide collectors with seedbox accounts so that individual users do not have to consume their personal bandwidth in order to download as much content as they wish.

• Offer to host collectors' libraries remotely, and to stream files from those libraries to any machine authorized via login and password.

• Give users the ability to organize their archives as they choose.

Piracy is the Future of Television (PDF) (via O'Reilly Radar)

(Image: Worship Me, a Creative Commons Attribution Share-Alike (2.0) image from bdunnette's photostream)

Inspiring manifesto from China's Jasmine revolution

As Bruce Sterling notes, this manifesto of the Chinese Jasmine revolution (translated by Human Rights in China), "sounds almost identical to the gripes that the impoverished American populace might make to their own leaders. There's nothing specifically Chinese about these demands."
Every good and honest Chinese person, please think: So much public housing has been sold to individuals, so many state-owned enterprises and so much land have been sold, and nearly all state-owned property has been sold off. But where has all the money from these sales gone? It goes without saying that state-owned property belongs to the entire people. But what did the people get? Led by an authoritarian regime, the opaque process of privatization has made a small number of people rich, but what did the vast number of ordinary people get? Every good and honest Chinese person, please think: When Japan, Korea, and Taiwan were in the process of industrializing, they were able to make the overwhelming majority of their people prosperous. Why is it that during China's industrialization the ordinary people are becoming poorer? Why is it that in just the last few decades China has gone from being a country with the smallest gap between the rich and the poor to one with the largest? It is because the unfair system has made a small number of people incredibly wealthy, and the vast majority of people remain poor.
Chinese Jasmine Rallies: Beijing to Wuhan, since Feb. 20, 2011 (via Beyond the Beyond)

(Image: The square in front of the McDonald's restaurant during the peak of the rally, Voice of America/Wikimedia Commons)

Telephone ad extolling the virtues of interrupted suppers

An early ad for extra landlines pimps the miracle of talking on the phone during the family dinner, and advises that Junior will love a "portable" phone that he can carry down to the living room when he's done with it.

"It's for you, we don't mind the phone cord in the dinner soup"

Update from Wisconsin

I'm watching the live feed from the Wisconsin Capitol Building, and getting messages from friends inside. No arrests so far, the police are hanging back. Despite orders to close the doors, 100 new people were recently let inside from the thousands standing outdoors. WORT public radio has live coverage, as does Andrew Kroll of Mother Jones. Last I heard, CNN was talking about turtles. UPDATE: Live feed has lost their Internet connection. Situation hasn't changed much, though. Follow Andrew Kroll on Twitter for regular updates. He's in there. UPDATE AGAIN: There's not much going on right now. It looks like rumors that police would refuse to arrest or clear the building might be true. People have been confined to second floor. Otherwise, no arrests. No change.

Articulated cardboard Cthulhu

Eddbagenal sez, "Students at Strode College in the UK staged a 'cardboard costume' catwalk show including this awesome articulated Cthulhu headpiece made entirely from old box cartons." Technically, the description calls it an octopus, but if that's not an elder god great old one, I'm not a damned soul

Cardboard Catwalk (Thanks, eddbagenal, via Submitterator!)

Alan Dean Foster: Predators I Have Known - orb weaver spider

predators-i-have-known.jpg orb-weaver-spider.jpg

Humans are such visual creatures. Take away big eyes (baby seals) and fur (most mammals) and often what is left is the ick factor.

Not many creatures have a bigger ick factor than the spider. It seems like the more legs an animal has, the more alien it appears to humans. In that regard the centipede and the millipede have spiders beat. But spiders also have multiple eyes, and poison fangs: the words "poison" and "fangs" being enough to send any creature to the top of most folks' ick list.

Inhabitants of the U.S. and Western Europe have enough issues dealing with spiders of modest size. Those of us who dwell in the American Southwest can speak of silk-spinners boasting considerably more impressive dimensions. You have to go to the tropics of the world, though, to find the size champions of the spider world. Spiders whose legspan easily exceeds that of your open, spread palm. In contrast to the majority of popular feelings they regretfully inspire, these rainforest denizens are often startlingly beautiful.