Tobias has a creepy-fun blog post up today about Toxoplasma gondii, a parasite that causes rats to become attracted to cats, which can adversely affect the development of a baby within a pregnant women's body. The post digs into Stanford scientist Dr. Robert Sopalsky's research around how "toxo" changes human behavior, but this snippet about how it "hijacks the sexual reward pathway" in rats' minds is pure gold.
Once in the rat, Toxo's goal is to then be eaten by a cat so it can be fruitful and multiply, but as I mentioned, this can only take place in the cat's gut. Toxo's goal is to get the rat eaten by a cat. Toxo could get the desired effect through a whole sort of seemingly obvious ways; e.g., Make the rat hard to run so it is easier for a cat to catch it. Instead it takes a far more interesting approach:
Toxo generates cysts in the brain of the rat. These cysts take over the fear center of the brain, but specifically the fear of predators. Common fear sources for rodents (e.g., bright lights, open spaces, etc.) still operate perfectly well in an infected rat, but now they are no longer afraid of cat piss. That alone would be cool enough, but Toxo takes it one step further. When Toxo is going about futzing with the fear center of the brain it also goes into the sexual excitement part of the brain. It hijacks the incoming Fear of Cat Piss™ and instead diverts the signal to the Barry White™ center of the brain. Read the rest
(Photo: Anders Krusberg/The Martha Stewart Show)
On Monday, May 18, I'll be on The Martha Stewart show. I'm going to demonstrate bunch of different projects from the pages of MAKE, and I'll also show Martha how to build a vibrobot. Martha is one of my heroes, so it was a thrill to be on her show!
Above: Martha Stewart is enjoying a Maker-made cup of coffee. The coffee roaster on the left was designed by Larry Cotton and was featured in Make Vol 8. The hydraulic espresso tamper was designed and built by John Edgar Park and appears in Make Vol 12. And that's my espresso machine that I modded with a PID temperature control kit from espressoparts.com.
MAKE Editor Mark Frauenfelder on The Martha Stewart Show this Monday
Read the rest
March 15th, 2007 marked the 70th year since HP Lovecraft's death. Necronomicon junkies and devotees of the Cthulhu mythos celebrated that day with online commemorations. La Petite Claudine has a thoughtful series of related posts on her blog here (mostly in Spanish): Link.
Image: "Azathoth is described as both blind and idiotic and is regarded as the head of the Cthulhu mythos pantheon." An illustration from this Lovecraft fan-page on MySpace (No artist credit given -- if anyone knows whose work this is, please let me know and I'll update this post accordingly).
(Thanks, Reverse Cowgirl)
Peetee sez, "A better term for death-a-versary is 'mortiversary'."
BoingBoing reader Rob sends the photo below, and says,
He has quite the boring headstone.
It's in Providence, Rhode Island.
I took the picture, it was midday and the lighting was all screwy, but you can get the gist of it.
BoingBoing reader Remus Shepherd says:
Xeni, I saw someone sent you a picture of HP Lovecraft's headstone...and
called it 'boring'. Well, it is. But right behind it, they used to have
a gigantic oak (?) tree, which was carved with various sayings from his
Read the rest
I have some pictures of the Tree That Feeds On Him here: Link. I'd rather not mention who the people
are in those photos -- but I swear we didn't carve anything!
Sadly, the Tree That Feeds On Him was cut down a few years ago. Either
the cemetary owners found it too creepy, or they were tired of it being
climbed by weirdos like...well, us.
Prosopagnosia is the scientific term for faceblindness. As Beware of the Blog's Iowa Firecracker describes it, "for some reason, my fusiform gyrus isn’t hooked up properly and I can’t recognize human faces." He
She goes on to mention that she has been interviewed for an upcoming documentary about this rare condition, and that she met another faceblind for the first time, a guy named Glenn, who administers an email list for faceblind people.
I was really nervous about it, but it turned out to be okay. Whether it’s because he’s the list admin, or because he lives in Boston where prosopagnosiacs go to get studied by Scientists and Experts at Harvard, Glenn has met plenty of other faceblind folks, so it wasn’t a big deal for him. That helped me calm down a little. Mostly I just wanted to thank Glenn in person for running the faceblind list, because I like knowing there are some other people out there who see the world a little bit the way I do. I like knowing they have the same problems I do at parties, and they don’t see any point in having photos of their loved ones around, and they call people who aren’t faceblind NTs (for Neuro Typicals). I like getting recommendations for movies based on the fact that they have characters I’ll be able to identify all the way through the story. (“Chronicles of Narnia” got good marks for that.)
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So Glenn and I met in a coffee shop, and drank some coffee, and he was very nice and a very interesting guy.
Crema is the wonderful tan colored foam that appears on the top of a well-shot espresso. High quality espresso joints have a saying: "No crema, no serva."
I recently got a Rancilio Silvia espresso maker, generally considered the best consumer espresso model available. Trouble is, I can't seem to get it to make a shot with crema. It's shooting blanks, so to speak. The next issue of Make magazine is going to feature a couple of coffee hacks that should help espresso fanatics produce precious crema. I'm going to give them a try.
In the meantime, I'll just drool over these photos over at espressoporn.com. The photo here shows a machine using a "crotchless" portafilter. Some people might consider that a cheater's way to get creama, but I'll take it any way I can get it.
Link (thanks, Kate!)
Coffeegeek comment: Rob N.says: "I can only say this: if you're not getting crema from Miss Silvia, then you've got a breakdown somewhere in your technique or your ingredients. You can fake crema by using false filter bottoms with pressure disks and such to "whip" up your coffee into something foamy. However, thin, bitter espresso with a fake layer of foam is still thin, bitter espresso. Properly made espresso from fresh beans, ground, tamped, and brewed properly, will make plenty of its own crema - the quality of qhich is generally indicative of the shot.
"First - what grinder did you get to go along with Silvia? If you're using a whizzy-blade or other inexpensive bean basher, you're not getting the best grind. Espresso must be made with coffee that is ground uniformly fine, with no large chunks and little dust. The Racilio Rocky or Gaggia MDF are considered to be basic workhorses of home espresso. The MDF's the least expensive unit that will produce a uniform espresso grind. Alternately, you can use a Zassenhaus hand-crank mill with the plates set very close. Read the rest