Archive for July, 2011

this isn’t happiness™

22 Jul



NCOTB: August 2009

21 Jul



NCOTB: June 2009

21 Jul



Goodbye, Space Shuttle: Now the Space Race Can Really Begin

21 Jul

NASA’s 135th space shuttle flight ended this morning when Atlantis touched down at Kennedy Space Center in Cape Canaveral, Florida, marking the close of a 30-year run for NASA’s ambitious, controversial and troubled orbital vehicle.

America’s space programs will continue, but without their flagship space plane — or any manned vehicle, for now. Over the next few years at least, U.S. astronauts will hitch rides to the International Space Station in Russian capsules. Meanwhile, purely robotic systems will take over other space duties.

Listening to some critics, you’d think America had just retreated from space, forever. “We’re basically decimating the NASA human spaceflight program,” former astronaut Jerry Ross told Reuters. “The only thing we’re going to have left in town is the station and it’s a totally different animal from the shuttle.”

Today many observers consider the Shuttle the ultimate expression of American technological prowess, and see its demise as a signal of America’s decline. In one sense, they’re right: With its huge size, distinctive shape and fiery launches, the shuttle has always been an impressive symbol. But as a practical space vehicle, it has long been an overpriced, dangerous compromise.

There’s a reason the Soviets canceled their space shuttle, and that the Chinese have never attempted one. Even without their own shuttles, both nations are now nipping at America’s heels in space. Russia has increasingly reliable rockets and capsules; China began manned spaceflights back in 2003 and is mulling a space station and a moon mission. Both countries are working hard to expand their satellite fleets, though they remain far behind the United States with its roughly 400 spacecraft.

In truth, the shuttle’s retirement could actually make the U.S. space program stronger, by finally allowing the shuttle’s two users — NASA and the Pentagon — to go their separate ways in space, each adopting space vehicles best suited to their respective missions.

“When I hear people say, or listen to media reports, that the final shuttle flight marks the end of U.S. human space flight, I have to say … these folks must be living on another planet,” NASA administrator Charlie Bolden said in a July 1 speech at the National Press Club in Washington.

For NASA, future manned missions will ride in upgraded 1960s-style manned capsules: first Russian models, then potentially American-built ones. Missions that don’t require a human passenger will fall to rockets of various sizes. The military will use many of the same rockets, and could also expand its brand-new fleet of small, robotic space planes.

Together, these vehicles will make space flight cheaper, safer and more flexible than was ever possible with the shuttle.


Monroe or Einstein: Check If You Need Glasses at Your Computer [Health]

20 Jul
You probably know whether or not you're near-sighted, but some people get so used to seeing things a certain way that they ignore a vision problem, squint a lot, and end up with unnecessary eye strain at the computer. The double-image above cuts straight to the point: If you see Albert Einstein while sitting a normal distance from your computer, you're seeing things as you should. If you see Marilyn Monroe, you should probably be wearing glasses or contacts. More »


NASA Graphic Standards Manual — 1976

19 Jul

NASA Graphic Standards Manual

As some of you already know, I’m a little obsessed with finding vintage design materials, especially graphics manuals like this one for the 1976 Montreal Olympics. So you can imagine how far my jaw dropped when I saw this 1976 NASA Graphics Standards Manual. Created by design firm Danne & Blackburn in 1975, this manual outlines the proper use of, in my opinion, one of the best brand identities of the last century. One lucky soul has managed to get some hi-res scans of the some of the pages. The hunt has officially begun.


8 Natural Ways to Prevent a Sunburn (And Sunscreen’s Not One of Them)

19 Jul

beachAs summer descends upon the world, a young Primal eater’s fancy turns to playful frolicking in the sunshine. And when you’re frolicking, the last thing you want to do is slather a bunch of horrible-smelling, greasy, overpriced sunblock all over your body. It makes you slippery and imbues your countenance with a deathly pallor that is very unbecoming. If you could, you’d love to avoid the nasty practice altogether. You’d love to use more alternative methods. Methods that may not have the support of the medical community, but for which supportive research does exist. Seeing as how a common refrain throughout the newly Primal is that sunburns seem fewer and further between than ever before, I’m guessing that there’s something to it. Dietary? Supplementary?

I’ve noticed the same thing in myself and my family, so I got to wondering: what about going Primal, exactly, might be having this effect? And if something is protecting us from the sun, and it’s not just in everyone’s heads, what else can we do to bolster our natural sunblock? What can we recommend to friends and family who aren’t quite on board with the whole deal but still want protection from the sun? Let’s take a look at some potential supplements and dietary strategies. I’ll reference research as often as possible, but I’ll also draw on anecdotal experience, both personal and from the community at large.

Eat Some Lycopene

Lycopene, that famous carotenoid found in tomatoes, has been shown in a recent in vivo RCT to protect humans against sun damage. Healthy women, aged 21-47, who ate 55 g of tomato paste containing 16 mg of lycopene every day for 12 weeks experienced significant protection against acute – and potentially long term – sun damage. Remember that cooked tomatoes, and tomato products like paste and sauce, offer far more bioavailable lycopene than raw tomatoes. If you’re counting, 55 grams of tomato paste is a hair over 3 tablespoons worth.

Get Some Astaxanthin

The super-antioxidant astaxanthin is found in algae, the organisms that eat it, and the organisms that eat those organisms (like salmon, shrimp, and pink flamingo – the pink/red color gives it away). It has been getting some attention as an “internal sunscreen.” Does it stack up? Well, here’s a study on isolated human skin cells, in which astaxanthin definitely protects against UVA damage. And here’s another study on isolated skin cells showing its protective effects. But those are limited. Does the effect persist in real life settings? In other words, does ingesting astaxanthin supplements or food that contains astaxanthin offer protection from UVA? This hairless mouse study suggests that it might; astaxanthin was more effective than even retinol. I’d say it looks promising, and I’m always interested in an excuse to dine on pink flamingo thigh.

Get Some Vitamin D

A common anecdotal report is that supplementing vitamin D increases sun tolerance and protection against sun damage, and a recent study seems to confirm this. Various forms of the vitamin D prohormone offered various protections against UV damage in a mouse model: reduced sunburn, lowered incidence of tumor development. Huh, imagine that! Getting sun gives you vitamin D, which in turn protects you from too much sun. It’s funny how these things work out. Nature can be very elegant.

Get Your Long-Chain Omega-3s and Ditch the Omega-6s

A recent study out of Australia found that adults with the highest serum concentrations of DHA and EPA had the least “cutaneous p53 expression.” What’s the significance of cutaneous p53 expression? When your skin is in danger of damage from the sun, p53 expression is upregulated to protect it, and high p53 immunoreactivity can lead to melanoma. The fact that high DHA/EPA meant low p53 immunoreactivity suggests that the omega-3s were protecting the skin. And although the study’s authors noted that high serum omega-6 content didn’t seem to correlate with high p53 activity, I think a likelier explanation is this: omega-6 is so prevalent in the modern Australian diet, that even “low” levels are still above the threshold for increased susceptibility to sunburn. Going higher than that threshold won’t make things any worse, and it won’t show up in the statistics. Drop that omega-6 intake to 2% of calories, though, while getting an equal amount of omega-3s? I bet you’d see some incredible UV-resistance.

Eat Plenty of Saturated Fat

This is slightly redundant in light of the last suggestion – after all, if you’re limiting PUFAs, you gotta eat some saturated fat – but I think it’s worth mentioning. I hear about people bumping up their saturated fat intake and improving their UV-resistance all over the place, and I’ve experienced the same thing myself, but I’d never seen it mentioned in the literature. Well, here’s a cool rodent study in which mice were either given a saturated fat-enriched diet or a PUFA-enriched diet. No word on the exact composition of the two diets. When both groups of mice were injected with melanoma cells, “the initiation time required for visible tumor growth in mice receiving the polyunsaturated fat diet was significantly less than that in mice receiving the saturated fat diet.” A higher-saturated fat diet was protective, while a higher-PUFA diet was not. If you’re gonna be out in the sun, better eat your butter, palm oil, and coconut oil, eh?

Drink Tea

Tea, especially green tea, offers a complex arsenal of antioxidant compounds. How it works and what’s doing it isn’t fully understood, but it’s generally accepted that drinking green tea is a smart move and a mainstay of many healthy traditional cultures. Unsurprisingly, there’s also evidence that dietary green tea, specifically its polyphenols, inhibit the development of skin tumors by controlling inflammation and preventing DNA damage. Topical green tea extracts applied directly to the skin also offer photoprotection.

Get Some Proanthocyanidins

Proanthocyanidins, which can be found in wine and grape seeds, berries like blueberries and chokeberries, nuts like hazelnuts and pistachios, and certain niche grains like sorghum and barley, have been efficacious in preventing UV damage in hairless rodents. Whether it works for hairless apes remains to be seen, but drinking wine and eating berries sound like fine ideas regardless of their photoprotective efficacy. Actually, score one for the hairless apes who quaff wine: a recent study found that people who supplemented with grape seed extract (high in anthocyanidins) had a significantly lower risk of skin cancer. It sounds promising.

Consider Resveratrol

Resveratrol gets a lot of publicity for its possible anti-cancer, cardioprotective, and lifespan enhancing qualities, but it’s also gaining steam as a potential photoprotective agent. This study found that once incorporated into skin cells, resveratrol protected them from UV damage. Topical resveratrol seems viable, too, but I can imagine rubbing resveratrol into your sun-exposed skin would get expensive rather quickly.

Well, that’s what I came up with. I think the first four appear to be the most effective, but if you have a real problem with burning, it might be worth checking out all the strategies I mentioned. I’m also interested in what’s worked for you. Have you tried the above methods? Did they work? Fill us in and thanks for reading!

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Enable Comments in the Margins of Your Website with Highlighter (& 1 Line of JavaScript)

19 Jul


One of the longstanding laments about our move to digital literature is how difficult and cumbersome this makes marginalia, those notes and annotations we make in the margins of printed text. A story in The New York Times earlier this year went so far as to call the future of marginalia "dim," not only due to our inability to write comments in the margins but because there's not been any good system by which to track and preserve our notes.

TechStars alum Highlighter believe it has cracked this nut, with one line of JavaScript (inserted into site's footer) that lets publishers enable marginalia on their websites and in turn allows visitors to highlight, annotate, save, and share passages and comments.


Of course, the ability to comment, per se, on websites isn't new. But blog comments and the like always come at the end of a post, and likely means that readers would leave different sorts of notes and have different sorts of discussions with one another than if they could mark up a particular passage and make in-line comments there.

Annotations & Academics

That exercise in annotation is something most scholars and students are very familiar with, and no surprise Highlighter says it plans to market to this group specifically. By installing Highlighter on a class blog, for example, teachers will be able to enable commenting and highlighting by individual students and will also have a means to track students' level of engagement with the text. Part of what publishers (and let's use that word loosely here, after all, with blogs and Tumblr and the like, we're almost all publishers now) get with Highlighter is analytics - the ability to see who's reading, who's highlighting and who's sharing.


Visitors needn't sign up for a Highlighter account in order to write marginalia and share highlights and comments. They do, however, need an account if they want to track and store their own annotations. With an account you can also choose to make your highlights and comments public, semi-public or private, meaning that you can share your notes openly or just with those in a particular group, or keep everything to yourself.

This sharing of notes and annotations is important, but it isn't something that's widely available or supported. Take Amazon Kindle highlights. There's no way to share your notes with others. There's no way to follow other readers (or authors) and see what interests them, what they've highlighted, and what notes they've jotted down. Highlighter solves that problem

Encouraging Engaged Readers --Something Teachers, Authors, and Publishers Alike Want

This social component is important in classroom reading, but it's also great in general for building an engaged audience. Highlighter co-founder Josh Mullineaux says that authors, many of whom are increasingly turning to self-publishing efforts, will be able to take advantage of turning over sample chapters and the like to their fans, not just their editors, eliciting feedback not just on a whole piece, but on a word, a phrase, a paragraph.

Much like blog comments, publishers will be able to monitor comments and have a number of administrative controls so that comments and highlights must be pre-approved, for example, or that commenters are forced to give their name and email address before leaving or sharing notes.

Highlighter's official launch today will bring it into competition with a number of other startups that are trying to tackle the problem of digital marginalia, including OpenMargin and Readum.



Bad News For Lamb Fans

19 Jul

I’ve long felt that the American consumer’s aversion to lamb was slightly odd. It’s got a more delicious flavor than beef, in my opinion, and sheep are generally raised in more humane conditions than other mass market animals. Unfortunately, lamb turns out to be an ecological catastrophe:

That meat in general is bad news, climate-wise, is familiar. But it’s interesting what a big gap there is. The carbon gap between lamb & beef on the one hand and pork & chicken on the other is larger than the gap between between pork & chicken and vegetarianism.


Little Picture: America Has Changed in 45 Years

18 Jul
The Republican "cut, cap and balance" plan caps federal spending at 18 percent of the previous year's gross domestic product. Federal spending has not been at that level since 1966. This chart, courtesy of the Center for American Progress, explains how the world has changed since then.

cap and cut graphic.jpg