Thursday, June 14, 2012

Your Word For The Day Is "Aneuploidy"

Aneuploidy is the condition of having an abnormal number of chromosomes. One of the more common types of aneuploidy is Klinefelter's syndrome, in which a person is born with an extra chromosome, resulting in anomalies like an XXY pair in males. This frequently causes the male to have reduced fertility, and sometimes even to result in an intersexed individual.

One such individual is the famous Caroline Cossey, who was born male but got gender reassignment to female after a troubled childhood and the revelation that she had Klinefelter's. She went on to become an actress and model, and even to be one of the female companions to James Bond in the movies.

Here's a photo of Cossey to help you remember "aneuploidy":

Monday, June 11, 2012

Stuffed, Mounted Griffin, Anyone?

Sarina Brewer is a taxidermist who makes fantastic creatures from mythology, and this is her website.

Brewer is a devoted wildlife preservationist and naturist who also volunteers at the Science Museum of Minnesota. She follows a "waste-not, want-not" policy, so that none of the animals she works with were killed for the express purpose of taxidermy. Obviously, when you follow a policy like that, you end up with lots of spare parts, and well, this happens...

Sunday, June 10, 2012

77,000 Years Ago, Humanity Was Almost Wiped Out By A Volcano

What you see here is Lake Toba, a donut-shaped lake which now fills the crater left in Sumatra, Indonesia, when a supervolcanic eruption happened about 77,000 years ago. This eruption blasted volcanic ash into the Earth's atmosphere, coating the entirety of South Asia in a 15-centimeter blanket of ash, as well as depositing ash over nearby oceans and seas. This resulted in a volcanic winter over the Earth, which lasted for as long as a decade, and potentially brought about a millennium-long global cooling event as well.

During this time, it appears that most of the human race was wiped out, with the population count getting as low as 1000 breeding pairs of humans.

In 1993, scientist Ann Gibbons first hypothesized that the bottleneck in human population, followed by the Pleistocene population explosion, could have been linked to the Toba event. Geneticist Lynn Jorde, in this BBC interview on supervolcanoes, echoes this idea:

"Our population may have been in such a precarious position that only a few thousand of us may have been alive on the whole face of the Earth at one point in time, that we almost went extinct, that some event was so catastrophic as to nearly cause our species to cease to exist completely."

In a population bottleneck, as the graph on this Wiki shows, a vast majority of a species is killed off, leaving only a few stragglers to either adapt and proser, or perish.

The possibility exists that such a global catastrophe could nudge along natural selection in favor of intelligence. It does stand to reason, after all, that if some disaster wipes out most of humanity, that the smarter folk will have a better chance of survival, by both being better prepared and being better at adapting new survival strategies during the ensuing fallout.

Friday, June 8, 2012

Reality TV Is Edited To Show Anything But Reality

Two YouTube videos which explain the sudden explosion of "reality" TV shows, and why they have nothing to do with reality.

Charlie Brooker, especially, is a hip media commentator. Fascinating and gossipy, you're well-served to check out the Charlie Brooker YouTube channel. Don't watch the "news" without him!

Wednesday, June 6, 2012

The Tiniest Act of Real Estate Defiance

The concept of real estate, approximately 10,000 years old, tends to bring out the pettiest stubbornness in people, almost raised to a heroic degree. In New York City, there is a tiny triangle set into the sidewalk in front of a cigar store at the corner of Seventh Avenue South at Christopher Street, which is dedicated to an old real estate dispute. David Hess owned land there once, with an apartment building which was condemned to be torn down to make room for the subway. Hess hung onto only this 500 square-inch triangle, which was commemorated with the mosaic. The property was sold after his death in 1938, for the sum of $1000.

At the time of Hess's ownership, it was the smallest piece of real estate in New York.

The legal concept here is "eminent domain", in which a governing entity has the right to simply take over any land within its borders, real estate titles be damned. So for those of you who think you "own" real estate, think again. On the other hand, such policies are necessary to prevent private landowners from seceding from their government to form their own tiny sovereign nation.

Tuesday, June 5, 2012

Four Rhymes For Supposedly Rhyme-Less Words

Purple - curple : "The hindquarters or the rump of a horse, a strap under the girth of a horse's saddle to stop the saddle from kicking forward."

Orange - sporange : synonym for sporangium, "A case, capsule, or container in which spores are produced by an organism."

Silver - gilver : "In the fashion world, a color that is a mix of metallic gold and silver."

Month - billionth, millionth, zillionth...

Monday, June 4, 2012

The Woman Who Was Arrested Because Of A Teddy Bear's Name

If you're ever in Sudan and you're in a spot where you are forced - through an unfathomable chain of circumstances extending from your current lot in life - to name a teddy bear, name it anything but "Muhammad"!

Gillian Gibbons, a schoolteacher from Liverpool, England, failed to follow this wise advice, and look what happened to her! In 2007, she got arrested for blasphemy against Islam, which could have drawn her six months in jail, a beating of 40 lashes, or a cash fine.

The outcome: She was eventually given a presidential pardon and returned to England. The school in Sudan has since been closed down because of public outcry and controversy over the matter.

Saturday, June 2, 2012

One amazingly good juggler

I've never seen somebody do it with glowing props before. That really adds something.