Is a 1000 year old human a possibility?

Can Humans Live to 1,000? Some Experts Claim We Can.

Cambridge University geneticist Aubrey de Grey has famously stated, “The first person to live to be 1,000 years old is certainly alive today …whether they realize it or not, barring accidents and suicide, most people now 40 years or younger can expect to live for centuries.”

Perhaps de Gray is way too optimistic, but plenty of others have joined the search for a virtual fountain of youth. In fact, a growing number of scientists, doctors, geneticists and nanotech experts—many with impeccable academic credentials—are insisting that there is no hard reason why ageing can’t be dramatically slowed or prevented altogether. Not only is it theoretically possible, they argue, but a scientifically achievable goal that can and should be reached in time to benefit those alive today.

“I am working on immortality,” says Michael Rose, a professor of evolutionary biology at the University of California, Irvine, who has achieved breakthrough results extending the lives of fruit flies. “Twenty years ago the idea of postponing aging, let alone reversing it, was weird and off-the-wall. Today there are good reasons for thinking it is fundamentally possible.”

Even the US government finds the field sufficiently promising to fund some of the research. Federal funding for “the biology of ageing”, excluding work on ageing-specific diseases like heart failure and cancer – has been running at about $2.4 billion a year, according to the National Institute of Ageing, part of the National Institutes of Health.

So far, the most intriguing results have been spawned by the genetics labs of bigger universities, where anti-ageing scientists have found ways to extend live spans of a range of organisms—including mammals. But genetic research is not the only field that may hold the key to eternity.

“There are many, many different components of ageing and we are chipping away at all of them,” said Robert Freitas at the Institute for Molecular Manufacturing, a non-profit, nanotech group in Palo Alto, California. “It will take time and, if you put it in terms of the big developments of modern technology, say the telephone, we are still about 10 years off from Alexander Graham Bell shouting to his assistant through that first device. Still, in the near future, say the next two to four decades, the disease of ageing will be cured.”

But not everyone thinks ageing can or should be cured. Some say that humans weren’t meant to live forever, regardless of whether or not we actually can.

“I just don’t think [immortality] is possible,” says Sherwin Nuland, a professor of surgery at the Yale School of Medicine. “Aubrey and the others who talk of greatly extending lifespan are oversimplifying the science and just don’t understand the magnitude of the task. His plan will not succeed. Were it to do so, it would undermine what it means to be human.”

It’s interesting that Nuland first says he doesn’t think it will work but then adds that if it does, it will undermine humanity. So, which is it? Is it impossible, or are the skeptics just hoping it is?

After all, we already have overpopulation, global warming, limited resources and other issues to deal with, so why compound the problem by adding immortality into the mix.

But anti-ageing enthusiasts argue that as our perspectives change and science and technology advance exponentially, new solutions will emerge. Space colonization, for example, along with dramatically improved resource management, could resolve the concerns associated with long life. They reason that if the Universe goes on seemingly forever—much of it presumably unused—why not populate it?

However, anti-ageing crusaders are coming up against an increasingly influential alliance of bioconservatives who want to restrict research seeking to “unnaturally” prolong life. Some of these individuals were influential in persuading President Bush in 2001 to restrict federal funding for embryonic stem cell research. They oppose the idea of life extension and anti-ageing research on ethical, moral and ecological grounds.

Leon Kass, the former head of Bush’s Council on Bioethics, insists that “the finitude of human life is a blessing for every human individual”. Bioethicist Daniel Callahan of the Garrison, New York-based Hastings Centre, agrees: “There is no known social good coming from the conquest of death.”

Maybe they’re right, but then why do we as humans strive so hard to prolong our lives in the first place? Maybe growing old, getting sick and dying is just a natural, inevitable part of the circle of life, and we may as well accept it.

“But it’s not inevitable, that’s the point,” de Grey says. “At the moment, we’re stuck with this awful fatalism that we’re all going to get old and sick and die painful deaths. There are a 100,000 people dying each day from age-related diseases. We can stop this carnage. It’s simply a matter of deciding that’s what we should be doing.”

One wonders what Methuselah would say about all this.

Why toddlers suddenly learn to talk.

Kids become chatterboxes within months of barely being able to speak a few words. How come?

Children do not need any specialised learning to suddenly improve their vocabularies. Instead, their behaviour can be described by a simple mathematical rule of thumb.

Parents become familiar with the so-called “word spurt”, the slightly disconcerting stage of a child’s life when they go from hardly talking to suddenly uttering hundreds of new words, sometimes after hearing them only once. (This can be disconcerting for parents whose children are suddenly uttering profanities like a angry truck-driver.)

At 18 months the average child can say 50 words, but by age two, they have learned up to 350 words; half a year later their vocabulary has doubled to 600.

Scientists have proposed various theories to explain children’s language land-grab. Perhaps learning a few basic words helps a child learn others. The theory of “naming insight”, for instance, suggests that at around 18 months children suddenly realise that each object has a specific name. (It’s not until around two that a child learns that when they cover their eyes and ‘hide’, that you can still see them.)

Another theory, called “fast mapping”, suggests that children quickly understand that groups of objects are related, and therefore they learn unfamiliar words describing objects within familiar groups more quickly.

Characteristic curve

Of course, there may be a much simpler explanation. The acceleration in a child’s learning may inevitably happen due to the way most languages are structured.

All languages contain a characteristic distribution and pattern of words. Where most are of medium difficultly to learn, there are a few that are either very easy, or very difficult. Children always learn a number of words in parallel. These parameters have been factored into computational models which simulate how long it takes to learn 10,000 new words.

Guess what? The simulation the model produces the same characteristic acceleration in learning. Essentially learning one new word makes learning another new word even easier. This allows a child to move through words of medium difficulty more quickly since their learned in parallel. Acceleration is an unavoidable by-product of variation in difficulty. (It’s a network effect.)

Of course computer modeling isn’t the real world and may not accurately get to the heart of while kids learn language so amazingly fast, but adults don’t learn as quickly and don’t show a similar acceleration in their language learning.

Female Hyenas & the love that dare not speak its name.

Exotic foreign males are most attractive - for female spotted hyenas at least. It’s this female preference for the unusual that drives young males to leave their clan and seek out another pack. After all, for hyenas as well as humans, diversity is the spice of life.

Every year early 90 per cent of male spotted hyenas (Crocuta crocuta) leave their birth clan and disperse to pastures new, but until now it has never been clear what drives them away. Are they are avoiding competition for mates, trying to preserve resources for the rest of the pack, or avoiding inbreeding?

None of the above, say researchers led by Oliver Höner of the Leibniz Institute for Zoo and Wildlife Research in Berlin, Germany, who have been monitoring all 400 hyenas in the Ngorongoro crater, Tanzania, since 1996. They have shown that the females are running the show, driving males to leave by selectively mating with immigrants from outside the pack and leaving the ‘pack males’ to take increasingly cold showers.

“We found that female hyenas prefer to mate with males who have immigrated into their pack, or who were born into the clan after the female was born,” says Höner. By following this simple rule, females avoid inbreeding and help to maintain the genetic health of the pack.

None of the males could be reached for comment. 

The 6 simple machines

There are 6 simple machines:  Inclined Plane, Wedge, Screw, Lever, Wheel and Axle, and Pulley.

A machine is a tool used to make work easier. Simple machines are simple tools used to make work easier. Compound machines have two or more simple machines working together to make work easier.

In science, work is defined as a force acting on an object to move it across a distance. Pushing, pulling, and lifting are common forms of work. Furniture movers do work when they move boxes. Gardeners do work when they pull weeds. Children do work when they go up and down on a see-saw. Machines make their work easier. The furniture movers use a ramp to slide boxes into a truck. The gardeners use a hand shovel to help break through the weeds. The children use a see-saw to go up and down. The ramp, the shovel, and the see-saw are simple machines.

An inclined plane Inclined Plane
A plane is a flat surface. For example, a smooth board is a plane. Now, if the plane is lying flat on the ground, it isn’t likely to help you do work. However, when that plane is inclined, or slanted, it can help you move objects across distances. And, that’s work! A common inclined plane is a ramp. Lifting a heavy box onto a loading dock is much easier if you slide the box up a ramp—a simple machine. Want to know more? Here’s extra information.
A wedge Wedge
Instead of using the smooth side of the inclined plane, you can also use the pointed edges to do other kinds of work. For example, you can use the edge to push things apart. Then, the inclined plane is a wedge. So, a wedge is actually a kind of inclined plane. An axeblade is a wedge. Think of the edge of the blade. It’s the edge of a smooth slanted surface. That’s a wedge! Want to know more? Here’s extra information.
A Screw Screw
Now, take an inclined plane and wrap it around a cylinder. Its sharp edge becomes another simple tool: the screw. Put a metal screw beside a ramp and it’s kind of hard to see the similarities, but the screw is actually just another kind of inclined plane. Try this demonstration to help you visualize. How does the screw help you do work? Every turn of a metal screw helps you move a piece of metal through a wooden space. And, that’s how we build things! Want to know more? Here’s extra information
A lever Lever
Try pulling a really stubborn weed out of the ground. You know, a deep, persistent weed that seems to have taken over your flowerbed. Using just your bare hands, it might be difficult or even painful. With a tool, like a hand shovel, however, you should win the battle. Any tool that pries something loose is a lever. A lever is an arm that “pivots” (or turns) against a “fulcrum” (or point). Think of the claw end of a hammer that you use to pry nails loose. It’s a lever. It’s a curved arm that rests against a point on a surface. As you rotate the curved arm, it pries the nail loose from the surface. And that’s hard work!
A wheel and axle Wheel and Axle
The rotation of the lever against a point pries objects loose. That rotation motion can also do other kinds of work. Another kind of lever, the wheel and axle, moves objects across distances. The wheel, the round end, turns the axle, the cylindrical post, causing movement. On a wagon, for example, the bucket rests on top of the axle. As the wheel rotates the axle, the wagon moves. Now, place your pet dog in the bucket, and you can easily move him around the yard. On a truck, for example, the cargo hold rests on top of several axles. As the wheels rotate the axles, the truck moves.
A pulley Pulley
Instead of an axle, the wheel could also rotate a rope or cord. This variation of the wheel and axle is the pulley. In a pulley, a cord wraps around a wheel. As the wheel rotates, the cord moves in either direction. Now, attach a hook to the cord, and you can use the wheel’s rotation to raise and lower objects. On a flagpole, for example, a rope is attached to a pulley. On the rope, there are usually two hooks. The cord rotates around the pulley and lowers the hooks where you can attach the flag. Then, rotate the cord and the flag raises high on the pole.
If two or more simple machines work together as one, they form a compound machine. Most of the machines we use today are compound machines, created by combining several simple machines. Can you think of creative ways to combine simple machines to make work easier? Think about it.



hairraisingEveryone seems to know the basics, hair is made of dead cells. Beyond that we only know to shampoo it, comb it and try to prevent split ends. So how exactly is this hair formed when we have plenty of other dead cells falling off our skin all the time?

The key is a substance called keratin. When the cells die it leaves a cylinder of keratin, an extremely strong protein. So strong in fact, that the only biological material stronger than keratin is chitin.  Now before you go bragging about how strong your keratin is to all those bald friends you need to know that their are types of keratin. It just happens to be that the keratin that makes up the hair on your head is not near as tough as that which makes up the claws and scales of reptiles. 

So yes, their keratins could beat up your keratins.

While completely lifeless, hair does contain minerals, fats, and water (10%). So, if you are ever on a deserted island you could survive just a little longer on a nice fistful of hair. However, growing on average 1 cm a month means this food supply isn’t very replenishable. Eat wisely.

Puppy Love

puppylovePuppy Love isn’t just just the glassy-eyed look that teen girls get when watching Johnny Depp in Pirates of the Caribbean. Nope, it’s an actual condition in which teens show a number of manic and risky behaviors.

It seems that there is some scientific evidence to show that adolescents who feel ‘madly in love’ may be right. They actually are ‘mad’.

Lovestruck teens show many of the symptoms of a condition called ‘hypomania’ (a less pronounced form of regular mania) in which they sleep about an hour less that teens who aren’t smitten. They also act more compulsively, spend more money, drive faster, and pass more notes in class. (The note’s also have 500% more hearts and balloon writing on them than normal class notes.)

One study demonstrated that youngins in early-stage intense romantic love acted exactly as psychiatric patients during a hypomanic stage, concluding that intense romantic love in teenagers is a “psychopathologically prominent stage”.

Oddly enough, the symptoms of hypomania overlap with those of regular mania. These symptoms are visible in teens as periods of depression, endless texting to friends, ‘Do not enter’ signs appearing on their bedroom doors, an inability to be ‘understood by anyone, and a pronounced decrease in how cool they think their parents are. Don’t worry, there’s nothing you can do about this. (You may still want to hide the car keys and affix a geo-locator to your teen.)

Ah, the wonder of those teenage years. Hair sprouting everywhere and mania to boot.


dirtWhere would we be without dirt?

Honestly, the economy depends on dirt. If we didn’t have dirt it would put the entire cleaning industry out of business, the economy would collapse, and you’ll be out on the street waiting for a street-sweeper that would never need to come. Count your lucky stars that dirt’s got a long-term contract and isn’t cleaning up it’s act anytime soon. 

Dirt (soil) forms the pedospherem, which is a nice Latin name for the grubby interface between the lithosphere (rocky part of the planet) and the biosphere, atmosphere, and hydrosphere.

Dirt is a three phase system comprised of all kinds of little bits, from rocks and minerals, organic matter (including all sorts of living organisms), ice, weathered rock and precipitates, liquid water solutions, and gases (worm farts).

The ‘liquid phase’ is primarily water, and is also known as the ‘soil solution’ where plants get their nutrients. The ‘gaseous phase’ is important for supplying oxygen to plant roots for respiration. Fortunately, there is no ‘teenager phase’.

Soil formation, or pedogenesis, (use that in a sentence some time this week) is the combined effect of physical, chemical, biological, and anthropogenic processes on big things turning them into progressively littler things which you want to keep out of the corners of your bathroom.

Oh yeah, we’re all going to become dirt in the end so show some respect. 

The Butterfly Effect

blue_morpho_butterfly_large.jpgCan a butterfly flapping it’s wings can cause a hurricane?

Well, maybe. Really complex systems like the weather and ecosystems are pretty, well, complex. (How my wife drives is also a complex system but so far has resisted any scientific understanding.)

The butterfly effect is simply this: Any change in the initial conditions of a complex non-linear system creates wildly different outcomes.

A more technical description would be: sensitive dependence on initial conditions in chaos theory where small variations of the initial condition of a nonlinear dynamical system produce increasingly large variations in the long term behavior of the system. Whew.

The phrase The Butterfly Effect refers to the idea that the single flap of a butterfly’s wings change the initial conditions of the system enough to cause large-scale phenomena (hurricanes and such) since any variation in the initial conditions is vastly magnified with each iteration. And every flap of every butterfly wing in the world continually changes those conditions. (Someone passing gas in France probably caused the Katrina hurricane.) Now you know why you don’t want to be a weatherman. It basically means that we’ll never be able to predict the weather for more than a few days.



See that equation? Looks tricky doesn’t it? You can’t understand how my wife drives either.

Comparing the butterfly effect to the domino effect is slightly misleading. In the domino effect there is dependence on the initial sensitivity, but whereas a simple linear row of dominoes would cause one event to initiate another similar one, the butterfly effect amplifies the condition upon each iteration. Also, dominos are a game played by old people in Miami.

Animal populations can be subject to the same phenomena.

Predator-prey systems have complex dynamics. A bio system with two variables such as rabbits and foxes can create a system that is much more complex than is readily apparent. Lack of foxes means that the rabbit population can increase, but increasing numbers of rabbits means foxes have more food and are likely to survive and reproduce, which in turn decreases the number of rabbits.

So please, don’t pass gas. Forecasting the weather is hard enough.

Why Evolution is a fact, but how it works is a theory.

skulls.gif&usg=AFQjCNG9ivk0CfyPHiyh2c6RgiMW9EOTvAEvolution is a fact. How evolution works is a theory.

“In the American vernacular, ‘theory’ often means ‘imperfect fact’—part of a hierarchy of confidence running downhill from fact to theory to hypothesis to guess. Thus the power of the argument: evolution is ‘only’ a theory and intense debate now rages about many aspects of the theory.

If evolution is less than fact and scientists can’t even make up their minds about the theory, then what confidence can we have in it?

Well evolution is a theory. It is also a fact. And facts and theories are different things, not rungs in a hierarchy of increasing certainty. Facts are the world’s data. Theories are structures of ideas that explain and interpret facts. Facts don’t go away when scientists debate rival theories to explain them. Einstein’s theory of gravitation replaced Newton’s in this century, but apples didn’t suspend themselves in midair, pending the outcome.”

- Stephen J. Gould, ” Evolution as Fact and Theory”; Discover, May 1981

Let’s consider evolution in light of another scientific fact - gravity. Gravity is also fact. How gravity works is a theory. Current theories about gravity might be disproved, but gravity itself remains a fact. 

A number of terms have been attached to Darwin’s theory although they are commonly misunderstood.

Survival of the fittest does not mean survival of the strongest, smartest, fastest or best camouflaged. Survival of the fittest means that an organism that is best adapted to its ecological niche is more likely to create more offspring than less fit individuals. Consider the garden slug as an great example of fitness for survival.

Natural selection is Darwin’s theory of how the environment works on species. Individuals that are most successfully reproducing viable offspring form the core gene pool of a species. Environmental forces determine which individuals survive.

The evidence for Darwin’s theory of evolution grows more unimpeachable as science discovers more about chemistry, geology, and biology.

Take a look at your dog. He’s a perfect display of the mechanisms of evolution. If he’s anything other than a 30 pound dingo looking mutt, the gene’s he displays that make him a cock-a-poo, German Shepard, or Bouvier (my favorite) were selected from an existing gene pool by humans to make him what he is. While all dogs are the same species and a great dane can breed (theoretically) with a chiwawah, you get the idea. His genes have been modified over time to make him different than he was.

So, The Theory of Evolution does not describe evolution as a supposition. It is the the current thinking about how the fact of evolution manifests itself.

Why the Sky is Blue?

51gYCx54NUL._AA240_.jpgIf you’ve got kids, and I do, you can impress their little minds by having savvy answers ready for  the questions they answer while they’re examining their navels.

Why is the sky blue? Why doesn’t the sky just stay black with the sun acting as another point of light? Why do the stars disappear during the day?

Got your long-term memory ready? Here’s the answer. The first thing to understand is that the sun is slightly brighter than the moon and stars. You can verify this by staring at the sun and burning your retinas out in a minute or so. (Staring at the moon is doesn’t do this and is actually romantic.) Also of note is that the atmosphere (nitrogen and oxygen molecules) has an effect on the happy little sun beams passing betwixt them.

There is a physical phenomenon called Rayleigh scattering that causes light to scatter when passing through molecules that have a diameter one-tenth that of the wavelength (color) of the light.

Sunlight is made up of all different colors of light, but because of the physical properties of all those oxygen and nitrogen molecules in the atmosphere, blue wavelengths of light are scattered much more efficiently than the other colors. So while most wavelengths hitting the upper atmosphere just pass through and on into space, blue lights path get changed, resulting in a defuse blue light coming from all directions of the atmosphere.

So when you look at the sky on a clear day, you can see the sun as a bright disk surrounded by blue as the atoms in the atmosphere scatter the blue light waves toward you. Got that?

Of course the sky on Mars is not blue. (See the color pictures from Mars Pathfinder) This is because the atmosphere of Mars is very thin and dusty, and atmospheric light scattering is dominated not by Martian atmosphere (mostly carbon dioxide) but by suspended dust particles. These are larger than the wavelengths of visible light, and they are reddened by iron oxide from the Martian soil. It’s not just Rayleigh scattering, so the spectrum is different.

Now when you kids ask you why the sky is blue, you can dazzle them with the explanation above, or you can say that it’s blue because that’s your favorite color. It works just as well and will probably impress your kids even more.

More on the blue sky and scattering 

Micro-organisims & You

microorganisimWhile you might be close to your friends and family, but you have friends who are closer still. 600 different species of bacteria inhabit your mouth every morning. They’re the little guys that make up that tasty film on your teeth. Yum.

And it doesn’t stop there. About 500 species of bacteria, as well as many species of yeast and other organisms, inhabit your human gastrointestinal tract and make up your “gut flora”.

Yep. You’re a veritable Petri dish of little goo-critters. If you’re an ‘average’ human, the bacteria weigh in at about 1kg and the number of individual micro-organisms easily outnumbers the total number of cells in your bug-loving human body. (So far, none of these organisms have been identified as the midicloreans that Yoda uses to channel The Force but perhaps if you don’t brush your teeth you’ll have a nagging desire to build a light saber.)

Luckily for us a large number of these organisms don’t cause disease — instead, they help protect us from disease. The gut flora perform many functions that contribute to the health of the human host; “friendly bacteria” mostly have names beginning with Lactobacillus or Bifidobacteria.

The friendly bacteria aren’t the only type of microorganism present in your gastrointestinal tract however. There are also a number of organisms that don’t provide you with any benefits; these include coliform bacteria, yeasts and bacteroides.

Motion Sickness

vomit.jpgMotion Sickness: My idea of the seventh level of hell is being stuck in winter ski-gear, in between two fat guys on a bus, in sunny weather, driving in circles searching for a parking space, backwards.

If you’re not currently puking your guts out and feeling woozy, it’s because your eyes, inner ears, skin, and muscles are sending signals to your brain about your bodies current position in space and tracking the direction of movement of all of your various parts. And all the signals are saying the same thing. That’s good.

If that’s not what’s happening and your ears, eyes and such are sending conflicting information and arguing about what’s going on with your body, that’s bad, and stand back because I don’t want you splashing anything nosesome on my shoes.

Motion sickness is that most noxious of feelings that happens to you when your balancing system gets overwhelmed by contradictory messages sent from the eyes and inner ears. Stuff like sweating, light-headedness, hyperventilation, nausea, vomiting and a remarkable ability to let loose incredible profanity without moving your head. If your eyes are telling you one thing, and the fluid of your inner ears are sloshing around telling you another, your brain seems to make a command decision and put everyone in time out.

For some people, motion sickness can be brought on merely by walking down the aisles in a supermarket or watching telephone poles whipping by a car window. Some people can even get motion sickness sitting in a theater and watching an action-packed film on one of those super-sized movie screens. Lets just hope that they’re not sitting right behind you.

Motion sickness in space is very common. Evidently your brain just won’t believe your ears that gravity’s been suspended for a while, and the Space Shuttle comes equipped with numerous barf ports. This is a good thing since who want’s to see that floating around in zero g.

What can you do to prevent motion sickness?

There are a number of options, home remedies, and hope. (There’s always hope.) By far the best option is to have your doctor prescribe a drug like Scopace (Scopolamine) which is an anticholinergic central-nervous system depressant. That’s good since it’s your anticholinergic central nervous system that’s trying to kill you. You want it depressed.


Locust.jpgLocusts are part of a large group of insects commonly called grasshoppers which have big hind legs for jumping. (Kangaroos also have big hind legs for jumping but are not part of this group.)

Locusts belong to the family called Acrididae but differ from grasshoppers in that they have the ability to change their behaviour and habits. So, while locusts could stop smoking if they want, grasshoppers are paying big tobacco ‘till they go legs up.

A Desert Locust lives a total of about three to five months although this is extremely variable and depends mostly on weather and ecological conditions. Their little life cycle has three stages: egg, hopper and adult. Eggs hatch in about two weeks, hoppers develop in five to six stages over a period of about 30-40 days, and adults usually mature in about two to four months (Sometimes as long as nine months for late bloomers or locusts that are still living with their parents).

Locust swarms can vary from less than one square kilometre to several hundred square kilometres. There can be as many as 80 million locust adults in each square kilometre of swarm which means they can’t remember everyone’s name and are constantly saying ‘excuse me’ as they bump into each other.


One Desert Locust adult can consume roughly its own weight (about two grams) in food per day. You on the other hand take a year to eat your own body weight if you’re average. I take about six months.

Each ton of locusts eats the same amount of food in one day as about 10 elephants or 25 camels or 2,500 people. A large swarm can in a cultivated area can eat enough food to feed 400,000 people for one year. You can see why people complain.


In order to get back at locusts, sometimes people eat them. If you ever find yourself in the middle of a swarm, take advantage.

Here are some recipes to help.

Boiled Locust: remove the wings and hind legs of the locusts, and boil in a little water until soft. Add salt, if desired, and a little fat and fry until brown. Serve with cooked corn.


Roasted Locust: prepare embers and roast the whole locust on the embers. Remove head, wings, and legs. Only the breast part is eaten.

Traveling Locust: If traveling do what the South Sotho people do. The heads and last joint of the hind legs are broken off and the rest laid on the coals to roast. The roasted locusts are ground on a grinding stone to a fine powder. This powder can be kept for long periods of time and is taken along on a journey. Dried legs are especially relished for their pleasant taste.

Cambodian Peanut Stuffed Locust: take several dozen locust adults, preferably females, slit the abdomen lengthwise and stuff a peanut inside. Then lightly grill the locusts in a wok or hot frying pan, adding a little oil and salt to taste. Be careful not to overcook or burn them.

Grilled Locust: prepare the embers or charcoal. Place about one dozen locusts on a skewer, stabbing each through the centre of the abdomen. If you only want to eat the abdomen, then you may want to take off the legs or wings either before or after cooking. Several skewers of locusts may be required for each person. Place the skewers above the hot embers and grill while turning continuously to avoid burning the locusts until they become golden brown.


If Bigfoot is out there he has problems. He’s anti-social, bi-polar, and has borderline personality disorder and body odor. Either that, or he’s just one really strange dude in a hair suit. Either way, he’s really fun.

Bigfoot (or Sasquatch) and his Asian cousins in the Yeti genus had a falling out a millennia or so ago when Bigfoot (who grew up in the Himalayas) decided to give up snow and move his brood somewhere warmer. After all, he was the dark sheep of the family and stood out like a sore thumb against the snow which made sneaking off to go to the loo particularly difficult and violated his sense of privacy.

Since Florida was full of alligators and old people who might have a coronary if they saw him, the North West seemed good since the berries are better and it has more of a ‘long hair hippy feel’. (The Yeti family still sends an occasional birthday card but they don’t really talk anymore.)

Since taking up residence out in the woods there have been numerous sightings of Bigfoot and his ilk and not all of them were under the influence of LSD. Bigfoot sightings generally peg him at between 7 and 15ft high and walking on two legs (bi-pedal) and looking as if he’s lost something. Some also report an extremely strong, unpleasant odor but wild berries are gassy so we won’t hold that against the big guy.

In some accounts, the animal makes strange grunting, gurgling or howling noises. These noises can not possibly be a bear because in approximately 20% of cases, Bigfoot is seen with a ukulele singing Don Ho’s song ‘Tiny Bubbles’ which a bear can not possibly do. (Bigfoot loves the island life.)

Eyewitnesses often describe Bigfoot as being wary of humans but highly curious about our activities, especially driving. Bigfoot put in the very first order for a Hummer (Even before Arnold Schwartzenegger) but his check bounced and he’s been foot-bound since.

In the folklore of many Native American tribes, as well as the indigenous people of the Himalayas, the animal is said to be a peaceful, supernatural creature with intelligence and spiritual powers which isn’t surprising since Bigfoot can squish pretty much anything he’d like to which brings peoples spirituality right to the fore front whenever he’s around.

There are only two know instances where Bigfoot has been caught on film. The first was the 1967 film shot by Roger Patterson in Bluff Creek, California, where Bigfoot is seen walking from left to right and looking back at the camera. What hasn’t been know about that footage until now was that it was actually a screen test from which Bigfoot landed his only Hollywood appearance as himself in Harry and the Hendersons. (I thought he did really well for a first time actor.)

Of course it’s not all fun and games being Bigfoot. Since Bigfoot is not technically human, he got screwed out of his royalties for the movie and since he’s technically a ‘myth’, the Sierra Club won’t return his phone calls. He’s been hoping for Spotted Owl status but so far no luck. His last hope for a real job so he can finally get that Hummer is as an airport security screener for the Department of Homeland Security.

He does have an application in.

Bigfoot Field Researchers Organization
Bigfoot Fact or Fantasy?
Texas Bigfoot Research Center 

Why time slows down when approaching the Speed of Light.


Ok, so you’ve heard that nothing can travel faster than the speed of light. (That’s not quite true. The expansion of the universe allows for faster than light travel but that’s another post.) You’re also aware that time slows down the closer you get to the speed of light. You know, the ‘One twin goes off to Alpha Centauri at the speed of light and comes back after 80,000 years but he’s only aged 3 months’ story.

Ever wonder why? Here’s the crib notes.

Everything in the universe always travels exactly at Light Speed. Always.


Time dilation: Special relativity declares a law for all motion: The combined speed of any object’s motion through space and it’s motion though time is always precisely equal to the speed of light.

That’s right, everything. You, me, the computer screen you’re looking at, your grandma’s French toast, Santa Clause… everything.

Everything is traveling through Spacetime: space (the three dimensions we experience and the nine others that m-theory predicts) and time.

Adding the total movement through both space and time always equals light speed. Always. Always. Always.

Space and Time do not exist seperately, the are parts of the same thing, Spacetime.

Since you must travel constantly at exactly the speed of light, when you increase your speed through space, you decrease your speed through time.

Your head (and the rest of you) is traveling through spacetime at the speed of light. But, when you’re at rest (not accelerating) all of your head’s movement is through time, none of it is traveling (accelerating) through space. Every time your head moves (accelerates) through space; in a car, in a plane, in a spaceship… even nodding up and down, some of it’s movement in time is lost since it is now moving through space.

Cool huh.

What about light?

Since light waves use all of their motion to travel through space at Light Speed, they have absolutely no motion through Time. Every photon that has ever been produced exists in an ageless state. (To us, the light seems to move through time but to the photon, time is standing still. This is one of the seemingly odd realizations fo Ensteins Theory of Relativity.) That's why poton's from the early universe don't 'fade out' or do something else. They can't, since for them, time is at a standstill.

The universe ages, light does not.

Reading: The Fabric of the Cosmos: Brian Greene

1066: William the Conqueror & Harold

51K2y3ZvKCL._AA240_.jpgIn 1066 the French invaded England. No one really knows why because English food was terrible even then.

We’ll it was kind of the French. It was actually the Normons (an abbreviation for North Men), former Vikings that the French had bought off by giving them some costal property so that they would stop running around France making unwanted blond babies. Better to keep them all in one place was the thinking.

But soon the Normons wanted out. I guess living with the French sounded better than the actual experience. William, the leader of the Normons, thought he had just the place, a little island just 30 miles across the channel where there weren’t any Frenchmen to be found. The fact that there were other people there wasn’t of much concern since if there’s one thing that former Vikings knew, it was how to make room for yourself.

So, in 1066, William gets his boys together and off they go across the channel to introduce the barbarians to French fashion.

Now the king of the English (they weren’t called English yet but Anglos, Saxons, and such) was a heavy hitter named Harold who didn’t want a bunch of French buggers coming over and forcing everyone to wear berets. When he found out that William had just that thought he flew into a right tizzy-fit. He got all his other heavy hitters who were know as the House Carls and marched off to keep the French out. (The House Carls really were heavy hitters who’s favorite weapon was a two-handed Danish axe that could reportedly take off a horses head with a stroke.) 

Fast forward to the Battle of Hastings where we’ve got William on one side with his cavalry and Harold up on a hill with his horse-head-hewers ready to square off and play Dodge Ball with each others heads.

William’s smarter than he seems and he knows that the only way he can break Harold’s line is to get his men to charge down the hill where his guys on horses can really poke at them with their long spears.

And William’s plan works like a charm. Up charge the calvary, taunting the English with cries of ‘Your mothers dress off the shelf’ and such. Then William feigns a retreat knowing that that Englishmen seeing running French bums in front of them won’t be able to restrain themselves. And so it went. The French turned tail and the English ran right down the hill where Williams knights could get at them. They spent all morning poking the English with sharp things until they all ran away.

Harold didn’t see that of course because he took an arrow to the eyeball and died which was good for him since the Normans weren’t know for their hospitality at the time.

The French won and William became ‘The Conqueror’ and the first real King of England. This is why about 40% of modern English is actually derived from French and you can kind of recognize ‘Sacre Bleu!’ as “Sacred Blue!’ or ‘Oh, my heavens’.

While the French were the aristocracy up in the castle, the English were the peasants down in the dirt. So, you modern English ends up with an old Anglo word for the animal (cow and pig) that the peasants were working with and French words for the dish (beef and pork) that the French were stuffing their faces with up in the castle.

See, we really do owe it all to the French.


bloodOk, here’s the deal on your blood. As an average adult, you have about five liters of blood flowing through your veins. The entire volume is made up of four components; red blood cells, white blood cells, platelets, and plasma.

Red blood cells are red. They’re the little guys that do the heavy lifting by carrying oxygen around your body. They’re kind of like college students who are moonlinght as movers. Normally, these little guys are shaped kind of like a doughnut without the hole in the middle going all the way through. (More like a depression than a hole really.) However, these guys can change their shape in order to move through tiny capillaries. In addition delivering oxygen, red blood cells pick up carbon dioxide, a waste product of cellular respiration and the stuff you don’t want anymore. This is handy as it would be a waste of a trip if you had to have someone else come get this carbon dioxide and the red cells are right there anyway. When red cells are carrying oxygen they are bright red but deoxygenated blood (not carrying oxygen) is a really dark maroon color giving veins their ‘blue’ coloring.

Half your body’s red blood cells are replaced every seven days which is easy to understand when you realize that iIf all the blood vessels in your body were laid end to end, they would reach about 60,000 miles.

White blood cells are the gunslingers of the blood posse. They go around nuking, spraying, and slurping up all the little critters that you don’t want around like bacteria and viruses. The most common white blood cells are neutrophils and lymphocytes. Neutrophils are kind of like ‘the Blob’ and literally swallow their enemies alive through a process called phagocytosis (cell eating) which is really unpleasant if you’re the one getting absorbed. Lymphocytes are a lot smarter. They adapt their shape to destroy new viruses and bacteria that enter the body. While this time for previously unknown pathogens, your lymphocytes remember all their past encounters which prevents you from getting sick from the same illness in the future. (It’s good to know that every flu you catch is a different one. Vive le difference.)

Platelets are not very smart. They don’t have to be since their job is simply to find a breech in a vessel wall and throw themselves into it. They’re the ones who begin to form a clot when you cut your finger, kind of the Kamikaze of the blood system.

Red cells, white cells, and platelets are all formed in your bone marrow from the same stem cells.

Plasma is the fluid that carries all these cells around. It’s 90% water with a 10% smattering of proteins, electrolytes, glucose, vitamins, hormones, and cholesterol. (As far as I know there’s no salt and pepper.)

Addition Facts:
  • On average, men have 5.2 million red blood cells per cubic millimeter while women have 4.6 million.
  • Jewish dietary laws do not allow blood to be consumed in any way. Traditionally, salting and pickling purges blood from meat.
  • According to Chinese folklore, nosebleeds are a sign of sexual arousal in men

Why was Gigi abandoned? A not so simple explanation.

Adoption is curious. My daughter Madison and I met when she was five. I very clearly remember the first time I saw her. She’s fourteen now. Although she’s not really adopted, (her other family is in Salt Lake), there is really no difference.  :… when you hold your precious jewel for the first time, no one cares if none of those chromosomes came from you.”

The following is from my brother in laws blog, Meet Gigi, the story of a little girl from China who now lives in San Francisco and is very loved by all who know her. And even though I know the players, it’s one of the sweetest and most touching things I’ve ever read.

Why was Gigi abandoned?


This is a post drafted long ago, and worked over a few times, in an effort to get the tone and details right. Here’s our best effort with the delicate subject.

So, why was Gigi abandoned? It’s a complicated mix of cultural and political factors that caused Gigi’s birth family to “abandon” or, as we’ve taken to saying, “anonymously place” her with authorities. Gigi was likely given up by parents who loved her, who wanted a child throughout the pregnancy, but who desired—or were pressured to want—a boy. As in other patriarchal cultures, in Chinese tradition boys are favored over girls. In addition to contributing to a family’s livelihood during their parents’ working years, particularly for the farming families that fill China’s inland, they also play the role of caring for their parents when retired.

Whatever the cause, many Chinese girls end up unwanted—aborted (when a physician can be bribed into illegally disclosing the results of an ultrasound), abandoned, or worse. How many? If you view the Lost Girls documentary referenced below, you’ll learn about the troubling trends in Chinese demographics. The boy-to-girl gap is already noticeable in a typical elementary school classroom, where boys are in a clear majority. Demographers predict it may reach as many as 100 million unmarriageable men by 2040.

Which brings us back to Gigi: Where does she fit in this complex socio-political situation? What led to her parents’ decision? Here’s what we know: She came from a rural part of southern China and is therefore likely to be among the girls displaced for economic reasons. That she is apparently healthy and had good nutrition readings upon arrival at the orphanage indicates that she was cared for prenatally.


But here is the clincher: Days after being united with Gigi, we received a copy of the solitary trace she will ever have of her birth parents. When found, Gigi had this note attached, indicating her birth day, March 26, 2004, but also on the Chinese lunar calendar, February 6, 2004.

While this is not uncommon with such children anonymously placed with authorities, it indicates that Gigi’s birth parents or mother wanted these two key elements of her otherwise blank identity to be known. In other words, she was loved. And it was hoped by people who surely carry a sense of loss and regret that she would benefit from the life they chose not to provide—or couldn’t. Abandoned? No. Anonymously placed.


Happily for the girls yet unborn in China, and those at risk of suffering from the side effects of the one-child policy, things are changing. The government has awoken to the crisis of the gender gap and, among other measures, has launched a public education campaign to shift the perception of girls in Chinese society. Headlong into industrialization, social change in the developing part of China is also well underway, with the attendant realignment of lifestyles, gender roles, and family sizes. So, as much as we will cherish Gigi, we can hope that fewer of China’s girls like her will have to be taken so far from their birthplace to join a loving family to which they’re entitled.

You can read the rest of Gigi’s story here.

The Placebo Effect

placebo.gifThe Placebo Effect is the influence of a treatment that has no medical value but seems to have a beneficial effect. (Kind of like apologizing to your wife for something you didn’t do.)

Inject a close-to-celestial-discharge patient with salt water and give him a sugar pill, and for some reason, he’ s back up and running in no time. This is especially true for subjectively assessed disorders such as migranes, back pain, and depression, which are all just in your head anyway. The placebo effect may account for a large part of the therapeutic value we subscribe to medications which is good news for those medications that don’t really work that well, since at least you think they do.

(There’s a sneaking suspicion that that erectile dysfunction ad that tells you to seek a doctor if you have an erection lasting more than four hours is an attempt at giving you a big setup.) 

The placebo effect for pain medications has been at least partially explained by brain chemistry. When the brain experiences pain, it releases endorphins—chemicals that naturally act like morphine to relieve pain and make you really, really happy. Brain imaging studies have shown that when a person takes a placebo, it triggers the release of endorphins. Neurologically, it’s as if he had taken the illegal drug, but without the trouble of having to do shady deals through his car window.

There is also the less understood but equally powerful nocebo effect. Often, people who are told that they are going to experience negative side effects from a drug do, even if there is no medical reason for it. In one study, people were given a sugar pill and told that it induced vomiting. Later, 80% of them started throwing up, which is why it’s such great fun to be a janitor at nocebo testing clinics.

Similarly, in another study, women who believed they were going to die of a heart attack were found to be four times more likely to die of a hart attack than women with the exact same medical profile who did not think that they were at risk. Thinking sick may make actually make you sick which makes it quite possible that Richard Simmons will live forever.

In some areas of medical treatment, the placebo effect actually seems to be getting bigger. In studies of aintidepressants, the response rate to placebos has been increasing by 7% every ten years. In 1980, 30% of depressed people given a placebo improved without any other treatment; in 2000, it was 44%. This may be due to widespread advertising and heightened expectations for drugs. In general, the public has more faith in psychiatric medications than it did twenty year ago, which give placebos more power.

Additional Facts:
  • The color of the pills may also have an effect on some patients. In one Italian study, blue placebos made excellent sleeping pills for women and had the opposite effect on men. (Perhaps because it looked like Viagra and perhaps just because they were Italian.)
  • Painful injections may have more therapeutic value than ones that hurt less so remember to ask the physician for a really painful one.