What's it like in space? Astronauts answer in new book

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Ariel Waldman, creator of Spacehack, has just published a delightful book titled "What's It Like in Space? Stories from Astronauts Who'Ve Been There?" Illustrated by Brian Standeford, it's a fun collection of astronaut anecdotes on everything from sneezing and farting in zero gravity to weird frights and the necessity of Sriracha in space. Here's an excerpt:

While performing a spacewalk is an exciting experience, it is also a very serious operation that is meticulously scripted for astronauts. The only time astronauts might get a chance to look around at where they are is when there’s a glitch in equipment and they get a few spare minutes while someone makes a repair. Astronaut Chris Hadfield found an opportunity to look around during one of his spacewalks:

“The contrast of your body and your mind inside . . . essentially a one-person spaceship, which is your space suit, where you’re holding on for dear life to the shuttle or the station with one hand, and you are inexplicably in between what is just a pouring glory of the world roaring by, silently next to you—just the kaleidoscope of it, it takes up your whole mind. It’s like the most beautiful thing you’ve ever seen just screaming at you on the right side, and when you look left, it’s the whole bottomless black of the universe and it goes in all directions. It’s like a huge yawning endlessness on your left side and you’re in between those two things and trying to rationalize it to yourself and trying to get some work done.”

Buy "What's It Like in Space? Read the rest

Inside Industrial Light & Magic's virtual reality lab

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Industrial Light & Magic’s Experience Lab (ILMxLAB) is a newly-formed supergroup of artists, engineers, sound designers, and storytellers prototyping the future of interactive, immersive cinema for Lucasfilm. Over at Bloomberg Businessweek, I wrote about my visit to the xLAB where The Force is quite strong:

"The way we do technology development here is really hand-in-hand with the creative goals,” says (Lucasfilm CTO Rob) Bredow. “The R&D is always in service to the story.”

For example, to port the Millennium Falcon from the Star Wars film universe into the interactive realm, the Advanced Development Group engineers first had to figure out how the VR hardware could render the massive 3D model in just milliseconds, compared with hours or days for a film shot. Then Skywalker Sound built a surround system that realistically rumbles and whooshes as a Corellian starship should. Meanwhile, game designers and the storytellers hashed out the most compelling way for a Jedi-in-training (you) to battle an army of Stormtroopers with a lightsaber.

"THE SUPERGROUP REMAKING STAR WARS AND JURASSIC WORLD IN VR" (Bloomberg Businessweek) Read the rest

How to write about scientists who are women

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The "Finkbeiner Test," created in 2013 by science writers Ann Finkbeiner and Christie Aschwanden, challenges science writers who are profiling scientists who happen to be women to write about them without mentioning their gender, childcare arrangements, husband's occupation, etc. Read the rest

See this bionic dog from 1959

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In 1959, physicians at New York's Maimonides Hospital implanted this dog with a radio receiver in its chest, part of an "auxiliary heart" system that would support a failing ticker. From the March 9, 1959 issue of LIFE:

The booster heart, developed by Drs. Adrian Kantrowitz and William McKinnon (of New York's Maimonides Hospital) is made by lifting up half of the diaphragm muscle and wrap it around the aorta, the body's main artery. Inside the chest a small radio receiver, part of an electronic system that detects and transmits the actual heart's beat, picks up the heart's rhythm and sends it by electric signals down a nerve to the diaphragm flap, making it squeeze the aorta rhythmically. This action, like a heartbeat, pumps the blood.

Kantrowitz, a pioneer in heart transplants, died in 2008.

(via Weird Universe) Read the rest

Avocados should not exist

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“The avocado is highly regarded by many people as delicious and nutritious, but the most extraordinary thing about avocados may be their very existence.”

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Animated interview with Carl Sagan about extraterrestrial life, Hollywood, and God

"A literal reading of the Bible simply is a mistake; I mean it’s just wrong," Sagan told Studs Terkel in 1985. (Blank on Blank)

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Doctors who get pharma money prescribe brand-name drugs instead of generics

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It's an open secret that the pharmaceutical industry spends billions marketing to doctors, deliberately misleading them about their products, raking in record profits that they shift into offshore tax-havens through legally questionable means, while lobbying for global treaties that benefit them at the expense of the sick. Read the rest

Science Comics: Dinosaurs!

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Every volume of Science Comics offers a complete introduction to a particular topic -- dinosaurs, coral reefs, volcanoes, the solar system, bats, flying machines, and more.

Peer-reviewed online expert system will help you if you've been poisoned

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Rogue archivist Carl Malamud writes, "There's been a lot of talk about computer-assisted medicine, but in most cases these are tools to help you talk to a doctor. For a year, I've been tracking a remarkable new service that actually dispenses medical advice about toxicology and poisoning using software algorithms. Read the rest

The "American College of Pediatricians" is a hate group with fewer than 200 members

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Not to be mistaken for the legitimate American Academy of Pediatrics, which has 60,000 members! Read the rest

When the antibiotics run out, maybe we can use GMO maggots to stave off infection

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NC State University researcher Max Scott and colleagues have engineered a strain of transgenic blueflies whose maggots secrete human growth factor, which they hope to use to fight infections in patients with non-healing wounds for whom antibiotics do not offer any hope. Read the rest

Heatmaps of the human body in varying emotional states

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Disappointingly, these heatmaps of human bodies whose owners are experiencing various emotional states were not produced with infrared cameras, but rather with self-reporting by subjects being asked to say where they were experiencing more and less sensation while watching videos and seeing words intended to trigger those emotions. Read the rest

XKCD is coming to America's science textbooks

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Textbook giant Houghton Mifflin Harcourt publishes Randall Munroe's amazing Thing Explainer, and a lucky accident happened when someone in the textbook division noticed Munroe's amazing explanatory graphics, annotated with simple language (the book restricts itself to the thousand most common English words) and decided to include some of them in the next editions of its high-school chemistry, biology and physics textbooks. Read the rest

Gross Video: What does human flesh taste like?

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Not for the squeamish!

What might human flesh taste like? It's apparently illegal to eat people, even yourself, so Greg Foot of the BBC's Brit Lab settled for having a tiny morsel of his own thigh removed and cooked so he could sniff it, and speculate. (Brit Lab, thanks Sean Ness!)

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Howto: start a fire with a lemon

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You'll a few more things -- some copper cotterpins, some zinc nails, insulated wire, and steel wool. You make a battery out of the lemon, short it against the steel wool, which makes it red hot, and that lights the tinder you've set on top of it. (via Kottke) Read the rest

Study: people who believe in innate intelligence overestimate their own

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In Understanding overconfidence: Theories of intelligence, preferential attention, and distorted self-assessment, an open access paper published in the Journal of Experimental Social Psychology, psych researchers from Washington State U, Florida State U and Stanford report on their ingenious experiments to investigate how subjects' beliefs about intelligence affect their own intelligence. Read the rest

February was Earth's hottest month on record ever. Yes, you should freak out.

Shanghai, China, March 7, 2016. REUTERS/Aly Song

NASA, the Japan Meteorological Agency and other climate research groups report that February was the planet's warmest seasonally adjusted month on record. Last month was also the world's most unusually warm month since 1880, when instrument records began.

Gavin Schmidt at NASA's Goddard Institute for Space Studies, who isn't one for getting too excited over things, had only one word for this significant and concerning data milestone: "Wow."

Mashable's listicle is right. The numbers are shocking. The February 2016 climate records are notable for the unusual heat more than any other recorded month in our history.

Here's a good related piece about the challenge of connecting the climate change dots to specific extreme weather events, like a major hurricane or drought.

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