The rise (to 85,000 feet) and fall of Walter White

September 30th, 2014

Kayla Reed, writing for AV Club, gives some of the background to this video:

In the year since Breaking Bad bled off the airwaves, fans and stars alike have been reveling in its wake. One of the more creative homages comes courtesy of TV Tag, whose staff gathered a crew to send a Walter White bobblehead beyond the atmosphere and back again. The video below features a timelapse of the construction, launch, and travels of Mr. White and his vessel, whose six-hour journey took him 250 miles and reached a maximum altitude of 85,000 feet.

(Thanks to investigator Jane Hill for bringing this to our attention.)

BONUS: The chemistry of Breaking Bad, analyzed

Decline of pubic lice linked to removal of pubic hair, again

September 30th, 2014

Schaamluis_Toonstra1_edited-1Again researchers in the UK took the lead in pubic lice research. After Nicola Armstrong and Janet Wilson of the Department of Genitourinary Medicine, The General Infirmary at Leeds, posed the intriguing question ‘Did the Brazilian kill the pubic louse’ in 2006, many feared the rapid disappearance of the primary habitat – human pubic hair – would bring down the numbers of Pthirus pubis, or at least the number of cases of pubic lice infestations seen by medical professionals.

Now a follow-up study, carried out by Shamik Dholakia, Jonathan Buckler, John Paul Jeans, Andrew Pillai, Natasha Eagles and Shruti Dholakia at the Milton Keynes General Hospital, Buckinghamshire, UK, based on 3850 returned questionnaires over a period of ten years, confirmed the decreasing incidence of pubic lice infestations and links this demise strongly to pubic hair removal practices. In their report ‘Pubic Lice: An Endangered Species?’ published recently in Sexually Transmitted Diseases 41(6): 388-391, they state, firmly:

Results: A significant and strong correlation between the falling incidence of pubic lice infections and increase in pubic hair removal was observed.
Conclusions: The increased incidence of hair removal may lead to atypical patterns of pubic lice infestations or its complete eradication as the natural habitat of this parasite is destroyed.

However, they still see a future for the species:

As culture and practice changes, we may see a changing atypical pattern of pubic lice infestations, as they try to colonize other habitats such as chest or eyebrow hair.

BONUS: A well preserved sample of Dutch specimens of Pthirus pubis, kept in the collection of the Natural History Museum Rotterdam, from 1949 when they had nothing to fear:
And here is some history: my own hunt for pubic lice specimens, in 2007.

Dung beetle Ig winner hailed in his home country

September 29th, 2014

The University of Witwatersrand, Johannesburg issued this press report:

Two Witsies among World Class SAs

26 September 2014

Wits University Professors Lee Berger and Marcus Byrne have been included in the 2014 edition of City Press’ 100 World Class South Africans that was released online on Heritage Day, 24 September 2014.

“This is a collection of South Africans who have staked a claim to greatness not only on our shores, but abroad as well,” said City Press Editor-in-Chief, Ferial Haffajee. Launched in 2013, the series is a celebration of 100 living South Africans who have achieved world-class status through global recognition of their work in arts, sciences, business, fashion and design, civil society and sports. It is a way to acknowledge the sacrifices of the past, the achievements of the present and the goals of the future and is intended to evoke a feeling of national pride, Haffajee added….

byrneFor his quirky and exception work on dung beetles, Byrnehas been included in the Newsmakers & Shapeshifterscategory. He is a professor of zoology and entomology in the Wits School of Animals, Plants and Environmental Sciences. Last year he won the Ig Nobel Prize, awarded every year at Harvard University in recognition of illustrious (and often eccentric) people whose research first makes one laugh, then makes one think. Byrne and his team won for dressing up dung beetles in designer gear and putting them under the simulated night sky at the Joburg Planetarium to show how they use the Milky Way as a compass to orientate themselves.

Haffajee said this year’s edition is an inspiring picture of those who are “building a legacy for our land, harvesting the life lessons of the good and great among us. If we are to achieve our potential as a nation then we must strive to be a world-class nation.”

The 2013 Ig Nobel Prize jointly for biology and astronomy was awarded to Marie Dacke [SWEDEN, AUSTRALIA], Emily Baird [SWEDEN, AUSTRALIA, GERMANY], Marcus Byrne [SOUTH AFRICA, UK], Clarke Scholtz[SOUTH AFRICA], and Eric J. Warrant [SWEDEN, AUSTRALIA, GERMANY], for discovering that when dung beetles get lost, they can navigate their way home by looking at the Milky Way. [REFERENCE: "Dung Beetles Use the Milky Way for Orientation," Marie Dacke, Emily Baird, Marcus Byrne, Clarke H. Scholtz, Eric J. Warrant, Current Biology, epub January 24, 2013.]

(Thanks to investigator Gwinyai Masukume for bringing this to our attention.)

Rating tiddlywinks (statistically)

September 29th, 2014

Dr-BarrieDr. Patrick Barrie, PhD, MRSC, CEng, MIChemE, Cchem, MA, BA, of the Department of Chemical Engineering and Biotechnology at Cambridge University, UK, presents A new sports ratings system: The tiddlywinks world ratings in the Journal of Applied Statistics Volume 30, Issue 4, 2003

“After each tournament, a ‘tournament rating’ is calculated for each player based on how many points the player achieved and the relative strength of partner(s) and opponent(s). Statistical analysis is then used to estimate the likely error in the calculated tournament rating. Both the tournament rating and its estimated error are used in the calculation of new ratings. The method has been applied to calculate tiddlywinks world ratings based on over 13 r 000 national tournament games in Britain and the USA going back to 1985.”

External links: The English Tiddlywinks Association (ETwA) website (based at Cambridge) is maintained by Dr. Barrie.

“ETwA’s objectives are to promote the game and coordinate winking activities in England and the rest of the United Kingdom. “

The association publishes a journal entitled ‘Winking World’, click pic to view:


Superpowers for baristas

September 29th, 2014

There’s reported progress in the struggle to give baristas (and their bosses, and their boss’s vendors, too) more reliable info about the identities of their coffee beans.

Details are in the study “Voltammetric Electronic Tongue and Support Vector Machines for Identification of Selected Features in Mexican Coffee,” by Rocio Berenice Domínguez, Laura Moreno-Barón, Roberto Muñoz, and Juan Manuel Gutiérrez [published in the journal Sensors, vol. 14, no. 9, 2014, 17770-17785.]….

So begins another Improbable Innovation nugget, which appears in its entirety on BetaBoston.