Pneumatic tube systems — little canisters shot through a series of tubes via the power of compressed air — have been around since the 19th century when they were briefly popular as a way to quickly deliver mail in big cities. Today, they're probably most familiar from their use in drive-through banking, but the tubes also turn up at libraries (the one at the main branch of the New York Public Library is particularly steampunky), in scientific laboratories, and in hospitals.
Last month, I spent an inordinate amount of time in one Minneapolis area hospital, waiting for an induced labor to kick in. How do you entertain yourself between the insertion of the IV line and the beginning of serious contractions? Turns out, you go on a lot of short walks, you watch some TV, and (if you're lucky) you convince the nurses to let your husband "mail" his cell phone from the labor/delivery department to the post-natal department, using the hospital's pneumatic tube system.
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Hate that smarmy, too-good-to-be-real Christmas episode of World War I? Annoyed by the lazy montage scene that took us from the first airplane to the Moon in just 66 years? Think "rocks fall, all the dinosaurs die" was just a total cop-out? Here's a fun Reddit thread you will appreciate
, pointed out to me by Karen James
. — Maggie
This is a picture of a wave crashing on the New Jersey shore. It glows because of dinoflagellates — little, single-celled plants, animals, and bacteria that float around on the water, moving about with the help of long, moveable protein strands called flagella. Some dinoflagellates are bioluminescent; that is, chemical reactions inside their bodies produce light. The result is glowing oceans. Or, as maker Caleb Kraft recently discovered, the dinoflagellates also make for a soft blue nightlight with really nifty special effects.
You can watch Kraft's nightlight project at YouTube. It's pretty simple to do at home. At it's most basic, all you need to do is purchase some bioluminescent dinoflagellates online, keep them alive in your home, and give them a good shaking occasionally to trigger the chemical reaction.
A couple more helpful links:
• Where Kraft bought his dinoflagellates
• A guide to other dinoflagellate dealers, and to the care and feeding of unicellular organisms
• Researchers at the Scripps Institution of Oceanography who are studying dinoflagellate bioluminescence to better understand how it works and what role it plays in the ecosystem
• A detailed explanation of what dinoflagellates are and why they glow
Image: Red Tide Luminescense, a Creative Commons Attribution (2.0) image from piratelife's photostream
Now you can download 17 digital versions of dinosaur bodies created by scientists
at the UK's The Royal Veterinary College, Hatfield, and other institutions. The bodies were made for a study of the biomechanics of dinosaurs
— essentially, an attempt to reverse engineer some knowledge of how dinosaurs moved and how body shape and movement changed as dinosaurs got closer to becoming birds. I don't really know exactly what you might do with these files, but they're free and available to anyone. And, I figure, if somebody
is going to come up with a fantastic use for digitized dinosaurs, it's you guys. — Maggie
When ocean scientist Andrew Thaler found an old, outdated water level gauge, he found a way to give it new life — turning it into a tool to measure public interest in sea level rise. Instead of tracking water, the Sea Leveler tracks how much people are talking about water on Twitter.
"Numerous Japanese teens, it seems, are uploading photos of themselves doing the Kamehameha attack from popular manga and anime series Dragon Ball," writes Kotaku's Japan-based correspondent Brian Ashcraft. There's a photo gallery and it's awesome. Brian had an earlier post at Kotaku about the broader trend in Japan of young women staging photos with manga-style martial arts. Below, one such image found on 2ch, Japan's largest bulletin board, with the heading, "Schoolgirls Nowadays lol".
(Thanks, Brian Lam!)
No, that's not a euphemism for anything. Buffon's Needle
is an 18th-century experiment in probability mathematics and geometry that can be used as a way to calculate pi through random sampling. This WikiHow posting explains how you can recreate Buffon's Needle at home, by playing with your food
. — Maggie
Minute Physics tackles the greatest mystery in all the Internet and solves it with the power of science (and pedantry).
As Matt Lynley put it, "Meanwhile, in space ..."
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Children’s literature is about the wonder of discovering new worlds, the power of imagination, and the all the little triumphs and defeats that make up a life.
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Matthew Bostick praises honest stupidity in the age of Google, Wikipedia and relentless knowitall-dom.
My life path has led me to some exciting revelations and extraordinary experiences. It’s been carved out by indulging in – and being comfortable with – my own stupidity. Because stupidity is not a bad quality in a person, no matter how many people say it is. Peeking at a dictionary, we can define stupid as someone “marked by a lack of intelligence.” To me, that’s a perfectly reasonable attribute. We don’t just become intelligent one day.We’re in pursuit of cleverness. Many of us never get there. But we try.
Bravo! There is no better way to have fun than to be the dumbest guy in the room, when the room is, say, a TED talk.
Scientific American has an awesome contest going on right now. They're challenging you to make a video explaining some part, process, or system in the human body using eight objects: Yourself, a writing surface, a writing implement, rubber bands, paper clips, string, cups , and balls. You have to use all eight items. You can't use anything else.
You can read the full instructions and rules online. And check out the sample video, made by Scientific American interns Isha Soni and Mollie Bloudoff-Indelicato.
Bonus: The first 100 qualified entries all get a free digital subscription to Sci Am.
Via Bora Zivkovik
Sometimes, it's hard to find people interested in playing the role of guinea pig for the sake of science. And, sometimes, that job is not so hard. Like when what you want the guinea pigs to do is get real high. That's a good example.
Pot-based research isn't all fun and games. Given the interest in medical marijuana for cancer patients and people with AIDS, some of the studies require volunteers to, you know, have cancer or AIDS. Others are interested in the sociology — these scientists want to talk to you about your pot use and collect data about how it may or may not have affected your life.
But the mythical opportunity to "get high for science" really does exist, writes Brian Palmer at Slate.
The National Institutes of Health maintains an online database of clinical trials that are in the recruitment process. As of this writing, there are approximately 100 marijuana studies currently enrolling patients. Each listing contains inclusion criteria (the types of people the researchers are looking for) and exclusion criteria (characteristics that will remove otherwise qualified people from contention).
... there are a few trials that might interest someone looking for a free high. Consider the University of Iowa’s “Effects of Inhaled Cannabis on Driving Performance.” Participants will be dosed with varying amounts of alcohol or vaporized cannabis, then placed into a driving simulator to measure their performance. There are some restrictions. You must be a social drinker and marijuana user already, but you can’t have an addiction. People who are susceptible to motion sickness are out, and you must live near the driving simulator in Iowa. Keep in mind that getting into the study doesn’t guarantee free marijuana—two control groups will get no THC whatsoever. (Previous studies have shown that low doses of marijuana have little to no impact on driving performance.)
Read more at Slate.com
Image: Getting your head above the parapet..., a Creative Commons Attribution Share-Alike (2.0) image from kevenlaw's photostream
Proteins are made up of chains of amino acids, folded and twisted in on themselves to make incredibly complex shapes.
The human brain, it has been said, is kind of a pattern-finding machine — prone to spotting faces on the moon, fat bunnies in the clouds, and Jesus on slices of toast.
When the two meet, you get Protein Art. May K., a Russian-born artist who lives in Germany, takes actual protein structures, sees the other things those structures seem to look an awful lot like, and then draws cartoons based on the resulting apophenia.
For instance, take a look at the protein structure above. After the jump, you can see the picture that May K. saw in its folds.
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Hurricane Hackers is a hashtag on Twitter (i.e., #hurricanehackers) and a crowdsource hub to create tech and social projects related to Hurricane Sandy. Proposed projects include an ad-hoc food and water delivery system for after the storm and live maps that show which businesses in a given area are actually open. You can propose projects or start working on projects other people have proposed. Check out the official Google Doc
, or the IRC channel
. (Via Shasha Costanza-Chock) — Maggie