Archive for August, 2011

Moving Trees Helps Prepare for Climate Change

24 Aug

Foresters need to take a proactive approach to keeping their forests climate-ready, says the author of two studies on assisted migration in the forests of the Canadian province of Alberta.

Assisted migration, the conscious movement of one species of life -- plant or animal -- to another region, has been used for several years as a survival technique against climate change. In forests, this means planting heartier trees in regions vulnerable to high heat, drought and pests. Assisted migration bridges the gap of "evolutionary lag," the wait time between environmental changes like global warming and the evolutionary processes to adapt naturally to shifts.


Home & Office : Star Wars Han Solo in Carbonite Ice Cube Tray

24 Aug
Colder than a Wampa's balls Seven Solos still equals one bounty. $9.99

Anger Gives You a Creative Boost

23 Aug

We all know anger is bad… right? Generally, it’s unpleasant to feel and it often leads to undesirable outcomes. After all, when was the last time you lost your temper with your boss and was pleased with the outcome? 

However, perhaps you can also think of times when anger wasn’t so bad. Perhaps, in some contexts, feeling angry was actually beneficial. This counterintuitive idea was pursued by researchers Matthijs Baas, Carsten De Dreu, and Bernard Nijstad in a series of studies  recently published in The Journal of Experimental Social Psychology . They found that angry people were more likely to be creative – though this advantage didn’t last for long, as the taxing nature of anger eventually leveled out creativity. This study joins several recent lines of research exploring the relative upside to anger – the ways in which anger is not only less harmful than typically assumed, but may even be helpful (though perhaps in small doses).


Google Experiments with Infinite Scrolling

22 Aug
Google is trying out a new way to move beyond the first 10 results of the SERP: infinite scrolling. The new presentation gives a "show more results" option at the bottom of the SERP that lets users see additional results without moving to a differ...

‘EBay for Science’ Could Enable Outsourcing of Experiments

19 Aug

By Zoë Corbyn of Nature magazine

Last week, Science Exchange in Palo Alto, Calif., launched a Web site allowing scientists to outsource their research to "providers"--other researchers and institutions that have the facilities and equipment to meet requesting scientists' needs. [More]


Bird Flight Might Have Started With Legs, Not Wings

18 Aug

To take flight, first strengthen your legs: It sounds like a self-help proverb, but it could explain how birds first took wing.

Until now, most explanations of the evolution of flight have assumed that going airborne was an end in itself, driven by the need of some early dinosaur to glide down from trees or up off the ground.

But flight could have instead been an incidental benefit of beefier muscles needed to compensate for losing a heat-generating protein.

“Flight is seen as the hallmark of bird evolution,” said developmental biologist Stuart Newman of the New York Medical College. “But you can make the argument that the particular form bird skeletons took that opened the way for flight was a side effect.”

Newman’s research shows that all birds and reptiles lack a single gene that codes for a protein called UCP1 or, with a nod to its function, thermogenin. It’s an essential part of the metabolic reaction that burns brown fat, helping bodies self-regulate internal temperature and generate heat without shivering.

Thermogenin’s absence from birds and reptiles hints at its loss in some early common ancestor, with the thermogenin-retaining relative later giving rise to mammals. But whereas reptiles became cold-blooded, basking in sunshine when needed, birds stayed warm-blooded.

Image: Markiza/Flickr

As Newman describes in a September Bioessays paper, the key to their warmth is muscles. Muscles are powerful generators of heat, which is a byproduct of the chemical reaction that makes them contract. Bird muscles also have further heat-generating adaptations. And birds are, in a word, jacked.

In ounce-for-ounce comparison, mammals and reptiles are scrawny weaklings next to birds. And it’s not just avian breast muscles that are pumped, as would be expected in flyers, but their legs too.

“My hypothesis is that birds basically salvaged their existence by developing very large skeletal muscles,” said Newman.

Once heavily muscled, he believes proto-birds would naturally have gravitated towards bipedalism, which isn’t a particularly challenging transition. Indeed, walking on two legs was widespread in dinosaurs.

Bipedality releases upper limbs, both literally and in evolutionary terms, allowing them to accumulate large mutations with relatively little risk. Combine that with powerful breast muscles, and wings would soon follow.

Testing Newman’s hypothesis may not be possible, as it would require comparing early bird and dinosaur skeletons and genes, and DNA is lost in the fossil record. But that flight could plausibly have been a fortunate side effect of some unrelated adaptation, rather than the original driver of bird development, is a useful evolutionary lesson.

Newman also suggests people at least reconsider the phenomenon of flightlessness in birds, which is generally portrayed in terms of loss.

“It’s almost universally accepted that all flightless birds come from flighted ancestors,” said Newman. “That might be true — but maybe it’s flying birds that have flightless ancestors. Maybe flightless birds were the leading edge.”

Top image: Lip Kee Yap/Flickr

See Also:

Citation:”Thermogenesis, muscle hyperplasia, and the origin of birds.” By Stuart Newman. Bioessays, Vol. 33 No. 9, September 2011.


Honest Japanese return $78 million in cash found in quake rubble

18 Aug
The earthquake and tsunami that walloped Japan left much of its coastline ravaged, but left one thing intact: the Japanese reputation for honesty. In the five months since the disaster struck, people have turned in thousands of wallets found in the debris, containing $48 million in cash. More than 5,700 safes that washed ashore along Japan's tsunami-ravaged coast have also been hauled to police centers by volunteers and search and rescue crews. Inside those safes officials found $30 million in cash. One safe alone, contained the equivalent of $1 million. The National Police Agency says nearly all the valuables found in the three hardest hit prefectures, have been returned to their owners. (ABC News)

Your work is going to fill a large part of your life, and the…

17 Aug

Your work is going to fill a large part of your life, and the only way to be truly satisfied is to do what you believe is great work. And the only way to do great work is to love what you do.

- Steve Jobs


Love the One You’re With

17 Aug

After C. S. Lewis lost his wife, Helen, to cancer, he realized he didn’t have a single good picture of her. Maybe that’s hard to grasp in our culture of profile pics from every angle, but he wasn’t upset about it. In fact, he saw the distinct advantage of lacking a quality image of his wife. He wrote:

I want H., not something that is like her. A really good photograph might become in the end a snare, a horror, and an obstacle.

How could a photo of the woman he loved become a snare? Because in the absence of the real person, he saw his tendency to fill the image with his own fancy. In fact, this was one of the prominent themes for Lewis in A Grief Observed. He was terrified at the prospect of shaping Helen into a phantom of his own making. Particularly alarming was his inclination to long for certain aspects of Helen’s personality more than others. Of course he would never intentionally import something fictitious about her, but, he mused, “won’t the composition inevitably become more and more my own?” What worried Lewis most was that Helen would become to him merely an extension of himself, of his old bachelor pipe-dreams.

Spousal Resistance

Lewis illuminates an overlooked gift in marriage: spousal resistance. I am not talking about red-faced tension or caustic defiance. I mean the simple fact that your spouse is a real person whose very existence will not conform to the image you have of him or her. Spousal resistance anchors you to reality, a reality in which God calls you to love your actual spouse, not your preferred one. Lewis observed:

All reality is iconoclastic. The earthly beloved, even in this life, incessantly triumphs over your mere idea of her. And you want her to; you want her with all her resistances, all her faults, all her unexpectedness. That is, in her foursquare and independent reality. And this, not any image or memory, is what we are to love still, after she is dead.

And, I would argue, when she is alive, too. As odd as it sounds, we can be thankful for the thousands of little disagreements that season the marital relationship, the countless differences of perspective that make it alive. These indicate that you are interacting with an independent being, one you’ve been entrusted with to love sacrificially.

The Original and Best

The very essence of sacrificial love is accommodating another rather than expecting another to accommodate self. Taking Lewis’s insight, then, we should be suspicious of our tendency to admire only those characteristics we approve of in our spouse and to revise those we don’t. When remembering a deceased spouse, this is bad enough; you aren’t loving her, but an edited memory of her. When serving a living spouse, it is worse; you aren’t pursuing her, but what you hope she would be. Far better is to love the original, not your revised edition. After all, you’re an original, too.

Loving the original requires lifelong adjustment on your part, and this deference is a key proof of the marital love that Christians are called to (Eph. 5:21-33). Don’t be discouraged when you don’t see eye-to-eye with your spouse. Where there is no disagreement, no annoyance, no resistance, there is no opportunity for sacrifice. If we love only what is pleasing to us in our spouse, we are loving only our preferences. We don’t need the gospel to do that.

We do need it to free us from our tendency to adjust one another constantly to our liking. Jesus came to serve an impulsive Peter, a distracted Martha, a dubious Thomas. And he came to serve a silly person like each one of us. And yes, Christ’s redemptive love changes us by degree, but this change is about conformity to righteousness, not conformity to personal preference.

So if your wife laughs too easily for your taste, love her for it. If she’s more pessimistic than you prefer, minister to her fears. If your husband is quieter in social gatherings than you’d like, be grateful for it. If he has more difficulty making plans than you think reasonable, come alongside happily. In all the little spousal resistances, celebrate the privilege of loving a person, not an image.

As Lewis said, reality is iconoclastic. And thank God this is especially true in marriage.


Time Ratio Graph

17 Aug

via Something of that Ilk — Time Ratio.