Who needs imaginary creatures and extinct dinosaurs when nature provides this?

When it debuted in the mid-1980’s, the Discovery Channel was home to educational programming. It featured cultural and wildlife documentaries as well as science and history programs. When its sister channel, Animal Planet, debuted in the mid-00’s, it too focused predominately on educational programming. Unfortunately, by the late 00’s, both channels had shifted away from informative, evidence-based programming toward reality television shows and pseudoscientific specials. This descent into mediocrity and disrepute bottomed out with the release in 2012 of the Animal Planet special, Mermaids: The Body Found, it’s 2013 sequel Mermaids: The New Evidence, and Discovery’s 2012 special Megalodon: The Monster Shark Lives. Each show was a ratings success for the channels, with 1.9 million and 3.6 million viewers watching Mermaids and its sequel and 4.8 million viewers tuning in for the Megalodon nonsense. Despite the fact that the specials were pseudoscientific drivel, they were peddled as “it’s maybe, kinda possible these things are out there”. While the conclusion of both Mermaid specials carried disclaimers explaining their status as pieces of ‘docufiction’, Megalodon had no such admission. Which probably explains why 79% of respondents to a post-show poll believed that megalodon’s still roam the oceans (they don’t, they’ve been extinct for millions of years). Thankfully, in early 2015, new Discovery Channel chief Rich Ross said fake documentaries would no longer be part of the programming for either channel.

Hopefully Ross will be able to turn Discovery Channel and Animal Planet back around and make them credible, educational channels again. It would be cool to watch a special about some of the amazing creatures that do exist in the worlds oceans, like the undersea inhabitants recently found by a National Geographic team in the caldera of an active volcano:

Continue reading “Who needs imaginary creatures and extinct dinosaurs when nature provides this?”

Who needs imaginary creatures and extinct dinosaurs when nature provides this?
{advertisement}

Hopefully we won't kill off the 139 new species discovered in the Greater Mekong Region

Stretching 2.6 million square kilometers and including the countries Cambodia, Laos, Thailand, Myanmar, and Vietnam, the Greater Mekong Region supports significant biodiversity. With its diverse geographic landscape and variety of climactic zones, the area is home to an estimated 20,000 plant species, 1300 species of fish, 1200 bird species, 800 reptile and amphibian species, and 430 species of mammal. Every year, scientists discover new species in this region. In fact, according to the World Wildlife Fund, scientists observed more than 2,000 new species between 1997 and 2014.  90 plants, 23 reptiles, 16 amphibians, 9 fish, and one mammal were discovered in 2014 alone. Among the 139 new species were the soul sucking Dementor Wasp:

Ampulex dementor (Credit: Michael Ohl/Museum fur Naturkunde)

The color-changing thorny frog:

Gracixalus lumarius (Credit: Jodi Rowley / Australian Museum)

The second-longest insect in the world:

Phryganistria Heusii Yentuensis (Credit: Jerome Constant)

The crocodile newt:

Tylototriton shanorum (Credit: Tim Johnson)

and the 10,000th species of reptile:

Cyrtodactylus vilaphongi (Credit: Truong Nguyen)

These new species are part of the amazing biodiversity that is an important part of the lives of the more than 300 million people who call the region home. From the 2.6 million tonnes of fish generated every year by the Mekong to the forests and wetlands that protect towns and cities from mother nature, the Greater Mekong Region provides essential natural resources to nearly 80% of the population of the area. Unfortunately, those same essential resources are in peril:

The Greater Mekong is one of the top five threatened biodiversity hotspots in the world, according to the Critical Ecosystem Partnership Fund.  Hydropower developments threaten the integrity of the Mekong river; later this year, construction on the Xayaburi Dam in Laos will block the lower Mekong River for the first time, disrupting the free flow of fish and sediment. Communities downstream have vocally protested against Xayaburi and the impending construction of the Don Sahong dam near the border of Cambodia, one of an additional 11 planned mainstream dams that would irrevocably transform the Mekong. Roads and other planned infrastructure developments through the region’s wilderness areas will fragment habitats and provide access to saola and other endangered species. Climate change only increases the pressures on the landscapes through rising temperatures, rising sea levels, and more extreme storms, droughts and floods.

WWF works with governments, businesses, and civil society to create a sustainable future for the Greater Mekong based on healthy, functioning ecosystems. We are spearheading efforts to protect species, helping businesses develop sustainable supply chains, encouraging sustainable forestry and non-timber forest product management, helping communities and governments adapt to climate change, and promoting the sustainable use of freshwater resources.

Scientific exploration has an important role to play in the future of the Mekong region. Fascinating new species like the ones discovered in 2014 can draw more conservation attention to the region, while a thorough understanding of the patterns and distribution of biodiversity can help direct conservation resources to the highest priority areas.

The WWF recognizes that no single solution is sufficient to protect the rich biodiversity of the Greater Mekong Region. Habitat conservation, protection from poachers, smart infrastructure development, maintenance of free-flowing rivers and more-these are important to the future of all the species living in the Mekong (including humans). While there is no single solution to overcoming the threats facing the Greater Mekong Region, there is one important step governments, businesses, and citizens can (and should) take: a commitment to the growth of a green economy:

For the purposes of the Green Economy Initiative, UNEP has developed a working definition of a green economy as one that results in improved human well-being and social equity, while significantly reducing environmental risks and ecological scarcities. In its simplest expression, a green economy can be thought of as one which is low carbon, resource efficient and socially inclusive.

Practically speaking, a green economy is one whose growth in income and employment is driven by public and private investments that reduce carbon emissions and pollution, enhance energy and resource efficiency, and prevent the loss of biodiversity and ecosystem services. These investments need to be catalyzed and supported by targeted public expenditure, policy reforms and regulation changes. This development path should maintain, enhance and, where necessary, rebuild natural capital as a critical economic asset and source of public benefits, especially for poor people whose livelihoods and security depend strongly on nature.

The threats facing the Greater Mekong Region are not unique to that area. Thanks to human activities like habitat degradation and destruction, the invasion of non-native species, over-hunting and pollution, species and ecosystems around the world face the threat of destruction. Humans are also responsible for another dire threat to life on this planet: global warming.

“Surveys of the peer-reviewed scientific literature and the opinions of experts consistently show a 97–98% consensus that humans are causing global warming.” –Skeptical Science

Anthropogenic (human-induced) global warming is a planetary health threat. Left unchecked, global warming will cause changes in the pattern of diseases, food and water insecurity, rising sea levels leading to flooding and migration, increased frequency of extreme weather events and more. It is imperative that governments, businesses, and citizens take steps to address, mitigate, and where possible (if possible), reverse the effects of global warming and other environmental problems caused by human activities. We created these problems. We must take immediate action to prevent them from worsening.


Looking for steps you can take to live a greener life? The Worldwatch Institute has some helpful tips.

Want to support the World Wildlife Fund? They take donations.

For a look at some of the other new species found in the Greater Mekong Region, see here or here.

Want to know more about anthropogenic global warming? Check out the United Nations Environment Programme.

Hopefully we won't kill off the 139 new species discovered in the Greater Mekong Region

Hopefully we won’t kill off the 139 new species discovered in the Greater Mekong Region

Stretching 2.6 million square kilometers and including the countries Cambodia, Laos, Thailand, Myanmar, and Vietnam, the Greater Mekong Region supports significant biodiversity. With its diverse geographic landscape and variety of climactic zones, the area is home to an estimated 20,000 plant species, 1300 species of fish, 1200 bird species, 800 reptile and amphibian species, and 430 species of mammal. Every year, scientists discover new species in this region. In fact, according to the World Wildlife Fund, scientists observed more than 2,000 new species between 1997 and 2014.  90 plants, 23 reptiles, 16 amphibians, 9 fish, and one mammal were discovered in 2014 alone. Among the 139 new species were the soul sucking Dementor Wasp:

Ampulex dementor (Credit: Michael Ohl/Museum fur Naturkunde)

The color-changing thorny frog:

Gracixalus lumarius (Credit: Jodi Rowley / Australian Museum)

The second-longest insect in the world:

Phryganistria Heusii Yentuensis (Credit: Jerome Constant)

The crocodile newt:

Tylototriton shanorum (Credit: Tim Johnson)

and the 10,000th species of reptile:

Cyrtodactylus vilaphongi (Credit: Truong Nguyen)

These new species are part of the amazing biodiversity that is an important part of the lives of the more than 300 million people who call the region home. From the 2.6 million tonnes of fish generated every year by the Mekong to the forests and wetlands that protect towns and cities from mother nature, the Greater Mekong Region provides essential natural resources to nearly 80% of the population of the area. Unfortunately, those same essential resources are in peril:

The Greater Mekong is one of the top five threatened biodiversity hotspots in the world, according to the Critical Ecosystem Partnership Fund.  Hydropower developments threaten the integrity of the Mekong river; later this year, construction on the Xayaburi Dam in Laos will block the lower Mekong River for the first time, disrupting the free flow of fish and sediment. Communities downstream have vocally protested against Xayaburi and the impending construction of the Don Sahong dam near the border of Cambodia, one of an additional 11 planned mainstream dams that would irrevocably transform the Mekong. Roads and other planned infrastructure developments through the region’s wilderness areas will fragment habitats and provide access to saola and other endangered species. Climate change only increases the pressures on the landscapes through rising temperatures, rising sea levels, and more extreme storms, droughts and floods.

WWF works with governments, businesses, and civil society to create a sustainable future for the Greater Mekong based on healthy, functioning ecosystems. We are spearheading efforts to protect species, helping businesses develop sustainable supply chains, encouraging sustainable forestry and non-timber forest product management, helping communities and governments adapt to climate change, and promoting the sustainable use of freshwater resources.

Scientific exploration has an important role to play in the future of the Mekong region. Fascinating new species like the ones discovered in 2014 can draw more conservation attention to the region, while a thorough understanding of the patterns and distribution of biodiversity can help direct conservation resources to the highest priority areas.

The WWF recognizes that no single solution is sufficient to protect the rich biodiversity of the Greater Mekong Region. Habitat conservation, protection from poachers, smart infrastructure development, maintenance of free-flowing rivers and more-these are important to the future of all the species living in the Mekong (including humans). While there is no single solution to overcoming the threats facing the Greater Mekong Region, there is one important step governments, businesses, and citizens can (and should) take: a commitment to the growth of a green economy:

For the purposes of the Green Economy Initiative, UNEP has developed a working definition of a green economy as one that results in improved human well-being and social equity, while significantly reducing environmental risks and ecological scarcities. In its simplest expression, a green economy can be thought of as one which is low carbon, resource efficient and socially inclusive.

Practically speaking, a green economy is one whose growth in income and employment is driven by public and private investments that reduce carbon emissions and pollution, enhance energy and resource efficiency, and prevent the loss of biodiversity and ecosystem services. These investments need to be catalyzed and supported by targeted public expenditure, policy reforms and regulation changes. This development path should maintain, enhance and, where necessary, rebuild natural capital as a critical economic asset and source of public benefits, especially for poor people whose livelihoods and security depend strongly on nature.

The threats facing the Greater Mekong Region are not unique to that area. Thanks to human activities like habitat degradation and destruction, the invasion of non-native species, over-hunting and pollution, species and ecosystems around the world face the threat of destruction. Humans are also responsible for another dire threat to life on this planet: global warming.

“Surveys of the peer-reviewed scientific literature and the opinions of experts consistently show a 97–98% consensus that humans are causing global warming.” –Skeptical Science

Anthropogenic (human-induced) global warming is a planetary health threat. Left unchecked, global warming will cause changes in the pattern of diseases, food and water insecurity, rising sea levels leading to flooding and migration, increased frequency of extreme weather events and more. It is imperative that governments, businesses, and citizens take steps to address, mitigate, and where possible (if possible), reverse the effects of global warming and other environmental problems caused by human activities. We created these problems. We must take immediate action to prevent them from worsening.


Looking for steps you can take to live a greener life? The Worldwatch Institute has some helpful tips.

Want to support the World Wildlife Fund? They take donations.

For a look at some of the other new species found in the Greater Mekong Region, see here or here.

Want to know more about anthropogenic global warming? Check out the United Nations Environment Programme.

Hopefully we won’t kill off the 139 new species discovered in the Greater Mekong Region

Measles is NOT marvelous

Fucking. Andrew. Wakefield!

In 1998, along with 11 co-authors, Andrew Wakefield published the results of a study linking the measles-mumps-rubella (MMR) vaccine to autism spectrum disorder. Fast forward 12 years to 2010, the Lancet (which originally published Wakefield’s findings) retracted the study, saying:

Following the judgment of the UK General Medical Council’s Fitness to Practise Panel on Jan 28, 2010, it has become clear that several elements of the 1998 paper by Wakefield et al1 are incorrect, contrary to the findings of an earlier investigation.2 In particular, the claims in the original paper that children were
“consecutively referred” and that investigations were “approved” by the local ethics committee have been proven to be false. Therefore we fully retract this paper from the published record.

Following an investigation by the General Medical Council, Wakefield was found to have acted “irresponsibly and dishonestly” and was stripped of his medical license in the U.K. (he subsequently moved to the U.S.). Unfortunately, the damage was already done.  The United Kingdom saw its measles vaccination rate drop from 92% in 1995-96 to 80% in 2003-04. What happened as a result of this? A measles outbreak in 2013, of course.

The outbreak began in November, and there is no sign it will end soon.

Children who have not received the MMR (measles, mumps, rubella) jab are most at risk.

But Dr Brendan Mason, an epidemiologist with Public Health Wales, said the problem was not with the current vaccination programme.

“For new mums, with children needing the jab at one year old, the vaccination rate is higher than it’s ever been at around 95%.

“But for really a decade, uptake rates were much lower than they needed to be – and so now there are many who are susceptible to measles.

“At the start of this latest outbreak, there were around 7,000 children not fully immunised around Swansea.”

Thanks, Andrew Wakefield.

Meanwhile, in the United States, for all that measles was declared eliminated in 2000, it is facing a comeback–in fact, the worst measles outbreak in two decades. This is thanks in no small part to those who belong to the ostensibly well-meaning, yet nonetheless scientifically illiterate anti-vaccination movement (often referred to as anti-vaxxers).

Vaccine opponents are a tiny minority of the population. Less than 1 percent of all children don’t receive any vaccines, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. But in California, the percentage of kids with up-to-date vaccinations has been dropping since 2008.

The trend is especially pronounced in Orange County, where the proportion of kindergartners with their full shots fell from 92.9 percent in 2003 to 89.3 in 2012, and particularly in the county’s wealthy beachfront communities. The county is also battling the state’s largest measles outbreak in recent memory: 22 cases.

In the late 1950s, measles infected more than half a million Americans a year and killed roughly 450. But since 2000, when the infectious disease was considered eliminated, measles cases have hovered around 60 a year. In 2014, that number jumped to 644, a 20-year high. Just last month, there were 102 reported cases across 14 states, an outbreak traced to Disneyland parks in Anaheim, California.

Despite the media attention surrounding the 42 confirmed cases of measles at Disneyland, the United States’ largest outbreak of measles in 2014 occurred in Ohio’s Amish community. 383 people fell ill after missionaries returned from a trip to the Phillipines. As a result of a scare in the early 1990s, this Amish community chose to stop vaccinating:

At the time, this Amish population was generally against vaccination. This, however, wasn’t a matter of religious principle but one of health concerns.

In the 1990s, Miller explained, two Ohio kids allegedly got sick after they took the MMR shot, which protects against measles, mumps, and rubella. Rumors about vaccine safety spread through the Amish community like a virus. “That put a scare in us and we quit,” Miller says. This made it incredibly easy for measles — the most contagious virus known to man — to move through this cluster of unvaccinated individuals.

The outbreak of measles in the U.S. doesn’t appear to be slowing down. In January of 2015 alone, 102 people across 14 states were reported to have measles. The CDC has linked the majority of these cases to the outbreak traced to the aforementioned Disneyland. Thanks again for your negative contributions to public health, Andrew Wakefield.

Recent comments by a pair of politicians don’t help to assuage the fears of the public about vaccines. Misleading and false statements about vaccines were the order of the day for Sen. Rand Paul (R-KY). The possible 2016 Presidential candidate said that vaccines cause “profound mental disorders in children”. You’d think that he would be able to substantiate such a claim, but his office was unable to provide a single example of a vaccine that caused a mental disorder. Not to be outdone, New Jersey Governor Chris Christie (who is also considering a run for the White House in 2016) has also weighed in on vaccines. During a recent trip to the U.K., Christie was asked about the 14-state measles outbreak:

Christie, speaking to reporters during a three-day trip to the United Kingdom, said all four of his children have been vaccinated, but noted he thinks a parent’s opinion about the issue is more important than what a public official thinks.

“Mary Pat and I have had our children vaccinated and we think that it’s an important part of being sure we protect their health and the public health,” Christie said, according to The Washington Post.

“I also understand that parents need to have some measure of choice in things as well, so that’s the balance that the government has to decide,” Christie added.

At this point, you might be asking “what’s so bad about measles” or “what’s so bad about parents choosing not to vaccinate their children”. Parents are certainly entitled to their opinions, and they have tremendous latitude in raising their children. This is not a case of parental freedom though. This is an issue of public safety.  According to the CDC:

Some people may suffer from severe complications, such as pneumonia (infection of the lungs) and encephalitis (swelling of the brain). They may need to be hospitalized and could die.

  • As many as one out of every 20 children with measles gets pneumonia, the most common cause of death from measles in young children.

  • About one child out of every 1,000 who get measles will develop encephalitis (swelling of the brain) that can lead to convulsions and can leave the child deaf or mentally retarded.

  • For every 1,000 children who get measles, one or two will die from it.

Still not convinced of the deadliness of measles? Perhaps a history lesson is in order:

1492: In a pattern that would be repeated across the world for centuries, Christopher Columbus and his fellow European explorers arrived in the Americas, bringing a raft of deadly diseases — including measles — with them.

Native Americans had no natural immunity to many of these diseases. Measles, smallpox, whooping cough, chicken pox, bubonic plague, typhus and malaria — already dangerous and often deadly in Europe — became even more efficient killers in the New World. By some estimates, the Native American population plunged by as much as 95% over the next 150 years due to disease.

Pre-Columbian estimates of the population of the Indigenous peoples of North America are difficult to determine. Nonetheless, estimates range from 2.1 million to 18 million (source). That means anywhere from 1.9 to 17.1 million people died as a result of infectious diseases (which includes measles). Returning to our history lesson:

1824-48: As was the case with many diseases, measles’ risk to Pacific Islanders was particularly dangerous in the 19th century as traders and travelers crisscrossed the globe. In 1824, Hawaii’s King Kamehameha II and Queen Kamamalu traveled to London to meet King George IV, but instead swiftly contracted measles. Both died within a month. The virus, along with several other diseases, struck Hawaii in 1848, killing up to a third of the native population.

1846: Danish physician Peter Ludwig Panum traveled to the Faroe Islands between Iceland and Norway to study a measles outbreak that had sickened more than 75% of the islands’ 7,782 residents — killing at least 102. Measles had not appeared on the isolated islands in decades, and Panum discovered that “not one” of the elderly residents who had been infected in 1781 “was attacked a second time.” Such immunity would later become key to defeating the virus. Panum observed measles’ contagiousness as it leaped from village to village.

1875: The HMS Dido brought measles to Fiji, killing 20,000 people — up to a third of the island’s natives. Measles outbreaks would continue to hopscotch Pacific islands for much of the next century.

1912: The United States required physicians to start reporting measles cases, which gave scientists a precise grasp of the disease’s widespread impact inside the country. Almost all Americans caught measles sometime in their life – mostly when young – and the outcome could be deadly. A study in the U.S. from 1912 to 1916 found 26 deaths for every 1,000 measles cases.

Contrary to the anti-scientific bullshit peddled by Stephanie Messenger in this book, measles is most certainly NOT marvelous.

Now, don’t get me wrong. I don’t want to demonize parents who oppose vaccines. Many of them genuinely think they’re doing what’s best for their children and they’re worried about the effects vaccines can have on their children. Their concerns are not without merit.  According to the CDC:

What are the risks from MMR vaccine?

A vaccine, like any medicine, is capable of causing serious problems, such as severe allergic reactions.

The risk of MMR vaccine causing serious harm, or death, is extremely small.

Getting MMR vaccine is much safer than getting measles, mumps or rubella.

Most people who get MMR vaccine do not have any serious problems with it.

Mild Problems

  • Fever (up to 1 person out of 6)
  • Mild rash (about 1 person out of 20)
  • Swelling of glands in the cheeks or neck (about 1 person out of 75)

If these problems occur, it is usually within 7-12 days after the shot. They occur less often after the second dose.

Moderate Problems

  • Seizure (jerking or staring) caused by fever (about 1 out of 3,000 doses)
  • Temporary pain and stiffness in the joints, mostly in teenage or adult women (up to 1 out of 4)
  • Temporary low platelet count, which can cause a bleeding disorder (about 1 out of 30,000 doses)

Severe Problems (Very Rare)

  • Serious allergic reaction (less than 1 out of a million doses)
  • Several other severe problems have been reported after a child gets MMR vaccine, including:
    • Deafness
    • Long-term seizures, coma, or lowered consciousness
    • Permanent brain damage

    These are so rare that it is hard to tell whether they are caused by the vaccine.

So yes, there are possible side effects, some of them potentially severe (though I note the absence of death as a side effect of the vaccine). The thing is, these side effects are rare, and as noted above, the vast majority of people are safer acquiring the MMR vaccine than they are getting measles. But none of that matter to anti-vaxxers. In the name of “parental choice”, parents opposed to vaccination directly jeopardize public health by threatening ‘herd immunity‘.

Just as a herd of cattle or sheep uses sheer numbers to protect its members from predators, herd immunity protects a community from infectious diseases by virtue of the sheer numbers of people immune to such diseases. The more members of a human “herd” who are immune to a given disease, the better protected the whole populace will be from an outbreak of that disease.

There are two ways an individual can become immune to an infectious disease: by becoming infected with the pathogen that causes it or by being vaccinated against it. Because vaccines induce immunity without causing illness, they are a comparatively safe and effective way to fill a community with disease-resistant people. These vaccinated individuals have protected themselves from disease. But, in turn, they are also protecting members of the community who cannot be vaccinated, preventing the chain of disease from reaching them and limiting potential outbreaks. Every vaccinated person adds to the effectiveness of this community-level protection.

By not vaccinating their children, vaccine opponents help weaken herd immunity, thus allowing the measles virus to spread. This places certain groups of people at increased risk for the highly contagious disease, such as children under 5, unvaccinated pregnant women, and any non-immune person.

Bottom line:  vaccinate your children. The risks of moderate or severe side effects are extremely low, while the benefits to your child and the community are quite high. It’s understandable that parents want to make the best possible decisions for their children. They need to do so based on accurate scientific information, not discredited pseudoscientific bullshit.

Measles is NOT marvelous

Pop Culture Link Round Up 12.21.14

Who likes spiders

Among Inspector Gadget’s many strange features—teeth that fly around on their own (go, go gadget teeth) and a flower that pops out of his hat (go, go gadget flower) and of course gadget Spanish translation—it’s his telescoping neck that seems to most defy conventional biology. But it’d be hard to argue that a super-long neck doesn’t come in handy in a pinch.Just ask the bizarre assassin spiders of Australia, South America, and Madagascar, with their craning necks and enormous jaws and general what-in-the-what-now appearance. These beauties (also known appropriately enough as pelican spiders) hunt other spiders, and by deploying their jaws out 90 degrees from their necks, they can impale prey, inject venom, and let them dangle there to die, all without getting bitten themselves. It’s a bit like the school bully holding a nerd at arm’s-length while the poor kid swings hopelessly at the air.

Now, spiders aren’t supposed to have necks, and in fact calling this a neck is a bit of a misnomer. The front bit of a spider is known as the cephalothorax, where you find its legs and mouthparts and eyes, and on top of that is a plate known as a carapace (these terms are a bit goofy so I’m going to keep calling it a neck for the sake of your brain, but now you know the score). So they don’t really have a head as we’d recognize it. But in the assassin spiders, that carapace has been extremely elongated into a kind of tube. The eyes and the jaws (scientifically known as chelicerae, so I’ll just keep calling them jaws if you don’t mind) sit up at the top. Perhaps most weirdly, though, the feeding mouthparts remain down at the base of the neck. So really they have necks in the middle of their faces.

Warning: picture of spider in

3…

2..

1.

* * * *

 Keeping with the spider theme, here’s some cool new tech:

A new kind of vibration sensor could us ‘Spidey sense’

Korean scientists are developing a powerful new sound and motion sensor that could someday give people, buildings and more the equivalent of “Spidey sense.” This isn’t some fantastical plot twist from a new Spider-Man movie, but rather a practical application of the discovery of how spider legs function in the real world.

These “crack sensors” (a.k.a. “nanoscale crack junction-based sensory systems”), which can be worn by people or placed on objects, were inspired by spiders’ crack-shaped slit organs. Residing on spider legs, these organs are made up of the spider’s stiff exoskeleton on the surface and a sort of flexible pad in the gaps, which connects directly to the spider’s nervous system.

Experts see almost endless possible applications of this new technology — for use in everything from sound recording and speech recognition to movement and sensing the earliest tremors before an earthquake. It could also be used as a wearable blood-pressure sensor and for other medical monitoring applications.

These pads are highly sensitive to sound and vibrations, and serve as an early warning system for spiders. It’s why a spider almost appears to sense when you’re going to swat it with a magazine and escapes before you can complete your swing. In other words, your tiniest movements probably triggered the creepy crawler’s built-in spider sense alert system.

In a study published Wednesday in the journal Nature, the researchers detail a remarkable example of biomimicry, which uses nature’s models as inspiration for solving human problems.

Specifically, the researchers show how to build a mechanical version of these slit-based sensors out of a 20 nanometer layer of platinum on top of a viscoelastic polymer. By deforming the platinum layer to create cracks that open to the soft polymer below, the researchers were able to measure the electrical conductance across the surface of their new sensor.

In tests comparing the sensor’s ability to recognize sound, the crack or mechanical spider sensor outperformed a microphone — at least in challenging audio conditions. When measuring a person saying “go,” “jump,” “shoot” and “stop,” the mechanical spider sensor accurately captured the words in a 92 decibel environment, while a standing microphone could not clearly record the audio.

The scientists achieved a similar result when they attached a sensor to a violin and plucked out a simple tune. It accurately measured the notes, which were converted into digital signals to recreate the tune. They also used the sensor to, when worn on a wrist, accurately measure a heartbeat.

The article goes on to discuss the science behind the sensors, which is a bit outside my wheelhouse, but others might enjoy reading it.

* * * *

Keeping with the tech theme…move over Jaws!  Here’s the Navy’s new robot sub:

The American military does a lot of work in the field of biomimicry, stealing designs from nature for use in new technology. After all, if you’re going to design a robot, where better to draw inspiration than from billions of years of evolution? The latest result of these efforts is the GhostSwimmer: The Navy’s underwater drone designed to look and swim like a real fish, and a liability to spook the bejeezus out of any beach goer who’s familiar with Jaws.

The new gizmo, at five feet long and nearly 100 pounds, is about the size of an albacore tuna but looks more like a shark, at least from a distance. It’s part of an experiment to explore the possibilities of using biomimetic, unmanned, underwater vehicles, and the Navy announced it wrapped up testing of the design last week.

The robot uses its tail for propulsion and control, like a real fish. It can operate in water as shallow as 10 inches or dive down to 300 feet. It can be controlled remotely via a 500-foot tether, or swim independently, periodically returning to the surface to communicate. Complete with dorsal and pectoral fins, the robofish is stealthy too: It looks like a fish and moves like a fish, and, like other underwater vehicles, is difficult to spot even if you know to look for it.

* * * *

In more tech news, who’s ready for a prototype flying car?

Apparently it can fly for 430 miles with a full tank of gas and reach speeds of up to 124 mph. In car mode, it’s designed to be driven on regular roads, to park at normal parking spots, and fill up at normal gas stations.  Neat-O!

* * * *

New record set for world’s deepest living fish

Researchers have observed a record for the world’s deepest living fish, found at the bottom of the Mariana Trench, the deepest site on earth.

The new species was recorded at a depth of 8,145 meters (26,722 feet), breaking the previous depth record, set in 2008, by nearly 500 meters (1,640 feet), researchers said in a statement.

“This really deep fish did not look like anything we had seen before, nor does it look like anything we know of,” Alan Jamieson from the University of Aberdeen said. “It is unbelievably fragile, with large wing-like fins and a head resembling a cartoon dog.”

Click the link to see pics of the fish.

Pop Culture Link Round Up 12.21.14

Are those vitamins and supplements you're taking helpful or a waste of money?

Look at this graph and you ought to be able to figure that out for yourself.

(via Gawker)

Are those vitamins and supplements you're taking helpful or a waste of money?

Are those vitamins and supplements you’re taking helpful or a waste of money?

Look at this graph and you ought to be able to figure that out for yourself.

(via Gawker)

Are those vitamins and supplements you’re taking helpful or a waste of money?

The new Air Umbrella. Available in HIS and HERS. Because one size does NOT fit all.

Do you get tired of carrying around an umbrella?

Is it a hassle to close it up after entering a restaurant?

Do you find it annoying trying to find a spot to put a wet umbrella?

Are you afraid of your umbrella flying away due to a huge gust of wind?

If you have any of these concerns, then I have found the answer for you. Introducing the Air Umbrella:

Just think, no more worrying about where to put that wet umbrella!

No more fiddling to get your umbrella open as you exit the car.

No more worrying about how those little metal prongs on the umbrella always come off.  You too can be protected from the rain with the revolutionary new Air Umbrella! Contribute to the Kickstarter for this awesome new piece of technology designed to make our lives less moist, and you can get the Air Umbrella-a for the low, low price of $88 plus shipping.  Which means you’ll spend a lot more money on the air umbrella than you would on a normal umbrella bought at CVS or Wal-Greens.  If you act now and click on the link to the Kickstarter page, you’ll get treated to this wonderful information:

Air is everywhere on the earth. The flowing air can change the moving path of the object. The faster the air moves, the greater the energy is. The jet airflow can isolate some objects. So when we make use of the airflow, we can protect ourselves from the rain drops. Then the airflow forms an umbrella without a visible cover.

Based on this idea, we designed various types of air umbrella with postgraduates from Nanjing University of Aeronautics and Astronautics from July in 2012 to August in 2013.We also tested the air umbrellas on rainy days.

Luckily, one of our samples achieved the goal of protecting one or even more persons from the rain in the test in November 2012. But the product still needed more improvement. As the sample was designed to take a large amount of airflow, the top was big, which didn’t achieve the portable characteristic.

To design a better looking product, we cooperated with a few PhD graduates from  Beijing University of Aeronautics andAstronautics to improve the design. After a year’s hard work, we finally improved the appearance of the umbrella which may influence the effect. But at least, we could really use it outdoor on rainy days.

Yeah, all of that is good, but here’s the good stuff:

Air umbrella-a is available for female,It is about 30  centimeters  in  length and 500 grams in weight,It is not scalable.The battery life is about 15 minutes.

This is Air Umbrella-a:

The female Air Umbrella. Why is it called that? I have not one fucking clue.

But wait, there’s more:

Air umbrella-b:it is the basic style.The umbrella is 50 centimeters in length and 800 grams in weight.The battery life is about 30 minutes.

That’s right ladies. You apparently cannot handle an additional 20 centimeters in length and we all know the wimmenz cannot carry 800 grams.  Gotta have something shorter and not so heavy for women, eh? Don’t worry about rushing to look up grams to pounds.  800 grams is roughly…1.76 pounds. Yeah, that’s really heavy.

Here’s a picture of the more manly Air Umbrella-b:

Disclaimer:  No sexist attitudes were involved in the creation of this device.

The new Air Umbrella. Available in HIS and HERS. Because one size does NOT fit all.