Why animals would win every gold medal at the Olympics

The Olympic Games are a celebration of humans’ strength, speed, and stamina. London 2012 is currently upon us, in which the greatest athletes from across the globe compete to see who can run faster, jump higher, and leap longer than any other human in the world.

We like to think of ourselves as the most powerful creatures on the planet, but we are fooling ourselves. A tuna fish can swim ten times faster than Michael Phelps. A patas monkey would beat Usain Bolt by three seconds in the 100 metre sprint.

The two links below are a reminder that the animal kingdom has the most phenomenal athletes in this world. The power of evolution and the need for survival can create more incredible speed and strength than any gym or training field. And it also demonstrates that, if all animals could enter the Olympic Games, human beings would probably finish bottom of the medal table.

Slide show: The Nature Conservancy  http://www.nature.org/ourinitiatives/regions/northamerica/unitedstates/newyork/placesweprotect/newyorkcity/natures-athletes-1.xml

Animal Olympics: BBC Nature http://www.bbc.co.uk/nature/18831388


1960s music was original, modern music all sounds the same – the scientific proof

Painstaking research led by Spanish scientists has produced a set of results to support the argument that music from the 1960s was at its greatest, and modern music is repetitive and unoriginal. The scientists produced these results by analysing information from a database named the Million Song Dataset, which contained data of over a million songs recorded since 1955. 

Elements of the music such as tempo, volume, timbre, and pitch of notes yielded the above graph, which is a chart of “timbral variety” against time. In other words, it illustrates the diversity of sound in music, and clearly demonstrates that the 1960s was the peak of “timbral variety” in modern musical history. This suggests that music was at its most inventive, creative, and diverse during that era.

Since the 1970s, the originality and diversity of music has been on a downward slide – and continues to dip. These findings suggest that today’s music is simply becoming more and more homogeneous. Fans of 1960s music with a particular hatred for modern artists will revel in this discovery, and see it as undeniable proof that the likes of Justin Beiber and Lady Gaga simply cannot compete with The Beatles, The Rolling Stones, and so forth.

But, argues Sean Carroll of Discover Magazine: “On the other hand, one could … argue that this is because back then we didn’t know how to do it right, and there was a lot of experimental crap, whereas we’ve now figured it out.”

Full story: DISCOVER Magazine http://blogs.discovermagazine.com/cosmicvariance/2012/07/28/music-was-better-in-the-sixties-man/

Autistic man becomes stranded in Utah desert for three weeks – and survives

It is the kind of thing Bear Grylls would do. An American man has spent three weeks alone hiking through the Utah desert without food, water, or shelter – and come out alive.

It is reported that autistic 28-year-old William Martin LaFever had been hiking with his dog in the Utah area when his hiking gear was stolen and had run out of money. LaFever’s father had wired money to Page, Arizona, and had told his son to catch a ride there. Instead, Mr LaFever decided to hike through the Escalante desert in southern Utah to reach his destination.

He survived by scavenging for food, eating frogs, and drinking water from the Escalante River. Three weeks into his ordeal, he was spotted by helicopter and rescued. He was emaciated, and unable to stand, but is now said to be in a stable condition as he recovers in hospital.   

Full story: BBC News http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-us-canada-18833812

Women may be able to see more colours than men, say researchers

Humans have the ability to recognise and perceive more than one million different colours. Our eyes are organs that capture light bouncing off objects and project an (upside-down) image onto the retina. These images are then sent to the brain, which is then able to interpret objects, shapes, and colours.

The brain does all the hard work when it comes to seeing things, but the eyes themselves determine colours for us. The fact we can see any colour at all is due to cells in our retinas called cone cells. There are three different types of “cone” at the back of our eyeballs, each able to distinguish 100 shades. All we need to do is open our eyes, and the three types of cone automatically work together to form combinations of shades, deliver these messages to the brain via the optic nerve, and we see colours.

One million is an incredible amount of colours that the eyes can distinguish, purely by shade-detecting cells converting scattered light into electromagnetic impulses. However, neuroscientists at Newcastle University believe that there may be women living amonst us who naturally have “super-human” vision, able to see a hundred times more colours than men.

Why should this be? Well, colour blindness is a consequence of mutations in genes that determine cone cells. Since many of these genes occur in the X chromosome, it means that colour blindness is much more common among males than females. However, a side-effect of this could be that a small percentage of women may actually be born with four colour cones instead of three. This would give their eyes the potential to see one hundred million colours instead of just one millon.

Full story: IO9 Science http://io9.com/5919311/some-women-may-perceive-millions-more-colors-than-the-rest-of-us-are-you-one-of-them?tag=science

Videogames have positive effects upon brain, say US researchers

If you are someone who spends hours on end sat in front of the PS3 or xbox 360 and always felt it was slowly frying your brain, fear not.

Scientists in the US say that computer games actually have the opposite effect, with research suggesting that gaming improves creativity, decision-making and perception. Computer games can in fact improve a number of skills ranging from hand-eye coordination to night-time driving ability.

Statistics from the research show that people who play action-based videogames are able to make accurate decisions 25% faster than others. It also found that female gamers were more able to mentally manipulate 3D objects.

Obviously, computer games are dangerous if played in excess: sitting around in front of the screen all day will gradually contribute to obesity, laziness, and sqaure eyes. Perhaps one of the biggest criticisms of computer games in recent years has been the view that violent games are a bad influence, especially to children, as it makes us all far more aggressive and bloodthirsty. However, the researchers do not share that view. “There has been a lot of attention wasted in figuring out whether these things turn us into killing machines. Not enough attention has been paid to the unique and interesting features that videogames have outside of the violence,” said computational analyst Joshua Lewis at the University of California in San Diego, who studied 2,000 computer game players.

Full story: Wall Street Journal http://online.wsj.com/article/SB10001424052970203458604577263273943183932.html

Test-tube hamburgers: coming soon to a restaurant near you?

Scientists have perfected the art of growing meat in the laboratory using stem cells and believe they will be able to replicate a real burger. If all goes to plan, the first ever “test-tube hamburger” will be sold in October this year.

The gloabl demand for meat is expected to double in the next 40 years, so the mass production of  beef, pork, chicken and lamb in test tubes may prove to be the ideal solution, as well as being able to dramatically reduce the environmental damage of farming.

Only one person has tried the lab-grown meat so far: a Russian journalist who snatched a sample of pork during a visit to the lab Maastricht University where it was being grown. He declared himself unimpressed.

Full story: Daily Telegraph http://www.telegraph.co.uk/science/science-news/9091628/Test-tube-hamburgers-to-be-served-this-year.html

American firm proposes “Zero Gravity Roller Coaster”

Anyone familiar with Alton Towers or Thorpe Park will know that roller coasters are awesome. But now, BRC Imagination Arts, a Californian design firm, has proposed a roller coaster sure to eclipse any theme park experience.

It is a ride which will accelerate passengers at such magnitude that they will become “weightless” for a whole eight seconds. BRC drew inspiration from NASA’s “Vomit Comet”, the aeroplane which is used to acclimatise astronauts to the sensation of being in outer space.

Their roller coaster will achieve the same effect by accelerating up to top speed, over 100 mph, on a vertical track, and then suddenly starting to decelerate. This will throw passengers out of their seats, and then the ride will adjust its speed so that it matches the velocity of the passengers. Upon reaching the peak of the track and descending, the roller coaster will continue to match the speed of its falling passengers, prolonging the feeling of weighlessness for several seconds.

It is perhaps the closest thing you can come to experiencing being in outer space without needing to be an astronaut. 

Bob Rogers, BRC’s founder and chief creative officer, says the zero-gravity ride would cost $50 million or more, mainly due to the complexity of the precision-response propulsion system. It is still only a concept at this stage, but, if the company could acquire the necessary funds, Rogers claims that this will become a reality by the end of 2013.

Full story: POPSCI http://www.popsci.com/cars/article/2012-01/zero-gravity-roller-coaster

Man gets nail stuck in brain without noticing

34-year-old Dante Autullo accidently shot himself in the head with a nail gun in his Chicago workshop when the device recoiled unexpectedly. 

However, he carried on as normal and didn’t notice anything was wrong until the next day, when he began feeling nauseous. It turns out the 3.25 inch nail had penetrated his skull and embedded itself in his brain.  

It took surgeons two hours to remove the nail. Mr. Autullo took the opportunity to post his x-ray photograph to Facebook (pictured above) while in the ambulance. 

The reason why anyone can take a nail to the brain and suspect nothing is because the brain does not contain any pain-sensitive nerves, which means the brain is an organ that feels no pain. … But don’t try this at home to prove it to yourself. 

Full story: BBC News http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-us-canada-16663332

Scientists determine exact colour of Milky Way

Astronomers seeking to classify the exact colour of the Milky Way have reached a conclusion. Announced at the recent American Astronomical Society meeting, the answer is … white.

The scientists wanted to establish the precise colour that the Milky Way looks from the outside – which is tricky, seeing as we are stuck inside it. But, using data from the Sloan Digital Sky Survey, comprising information from about a million galaxies, the conclusion is white. Specifically, our galaxy is the colour of spring snow at an hour after sunrise or before sunset.

Determining our galaxy’s colour may help us interpret its past and forecast its future evolution. “For astronomers, one of the most important parameters is actually the colour of the galaxy,” Jeffrey Newman of the University of Pittsburgh told the BBC. 

Full story: BBC News http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/science-environment-16523528

Humans adopt polar bear


Some people get a pet kitten or puppy for Christmas. Three people in Denmark have got a polar bear this year. Yes, a polar bear.

A polar bear cub born at a wildlife park in Denmark has been adopted by humans after its mother did not produce enough milk. The cub has been named Siku and will receive round-the-clock care and attention by three people who have chosen to look after him.  

It has warmed the hearts of thousands. Not only is it a sweet piece of news, but the YouTube video of  Siku yawning with his tongue out, streching, and getting stroked on the kitchen table is one of the most-viewed (and cutest) things on the internet right now. 

Full story (and video): http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-europe-16295287