Category Archives: Hmmmm . . .

Anything interesting I feel like writting about.


I will let you in on a little secret.  I have a super power.  I have a preg-dar (pregnancy radar).  For some reason, I can tell when a woman I know is in the early stages of pregnancy.  This power only came to be after I had L; it is an acquired super power for sure. I am very thankful that I was not bitten by some radioactive arachnid, although that would be considerably less traumatic than having a baby.  I detected a co-worker's pregnancy when she was 6 weeks along, I detected a cousin's pregnancy just a month ago when she was 8 weeks along.  The highest level of detection though was my brother-in-law's wife; 1 year ago I detected her pregnancy before she even knew for sure that she was 3 weeks pregnant.

I don't know how I can tell when someone I know is pregnant, there is not one specific thing that sets off the preg-dar.  I think I just detect the subtle signals and changed that happen and notice the differece in people that I know well.  I have amazed J and my mother in law many times already, so I decided that it was time to tell the world about my wonderful power. Beware friends and family, I can tell when you got a bun in the oven!  Another way to think of it: You can save money on a pregnancy test!

Scientific State of the Union

An interesting and depressing article was brought to my attention by Jack.  Americans See Science Lagging Here posted on cnet describes the disparity between how scientists see their work compared to the American public. 

Personally, being a scientist, I found this article astounding.  I sincerely thought that the public had a much better knowledge of basic science and more faith in the progress American scientists were making in their fields.  Apparently I was mistaken.  Jack says that this is because I rarely talk with anyone who is not a scientist or engineer of some sort, but I still cannot shake my sense of impending doom if this is the level of public knowledge.


I was not surprised by 91% of people knowing that aspirin is used to prevent heart attacks; there are commercials for that every time you turn on the TV.  I was slightly concerned by the only 72% of people that knew continents were moving.  These and a few others, I expected most of the population to get correct.  On the other hand, only 54% of people knowing that antibiotics will NOT kill viruses and the 47% knowing that lasers do NOT work by focusing sound waves was disheartening to say the least.  Isn’t this basic knowledge?  I wonder what the results on these questions would have been if they surveyed children as another group.  I have a feeling that children would have done better than the adults.


In addition to surveying science knowledge, the study also asked about the religious beliefs and political associations of scientists, the perception of American scientific discoveries, and the media portrayal of science.  I found the differences in religion and politics between the public and scientist very interesting.


I think that it goes without saying that there is a large difference in the way scientists and the public think about science.  Does being a scientist lead to the differences in belief from the public or do those differing beliefs predispose one to becoming a scientist?

The Pew Research Center conducted a survey of 2,001 members of the general public by phone and 2,533 members of AAAS (American Association for the Advancement of Science) online.  Read the full study HERE.  (All images credited to the Pew Research Center)

Is 17 still a child?

There have been a recent rash of child pornography cases hitting the newsstands recently, and they all have one unique thing in common.  The people being accused of distributing or possessing the porn are under the age of 18.  The recent case of 3 girls “sexting” pictures of themselves to 3 guys and being charged with child pornography are just one example of this new trend.  Let me clarify, I do not think that taking nude pictures and giving them to someone special is a new thing that teenagers have just discovered (I am not that dense!); but the ubiquitous nature of cell phones, et cetera, make it possible to send these pictures without that day of thinking about whether it is a good idea while you wait for the pictures to get developed.  As a recent CiscoFatty reminded me, the availability of the internet to today’s youth (and not so youth) is one less barrier between the stupid things that they say and do and the rest of the world.

OK, other than the fact that teen do stupid things; I do not think that these girls and guys should be labeled as sex-offenders for life because of this.  I think that the title of sex-offender is in excess of the crime that was committed by the sexters.  I also find it ironic that another 17 year old girl that was found to be sending pictures of herself to her boyfriend might be tried as an adult.  If she is tried as an adult, doesn’t this mean that she is not a child, and therefore it is not child porn?  Hmmmm, logic strikes again! I think that these cases are something to watch because they will set the precedent for future court cases.

[polldaddy poll=1519973]

Walmart vs Target

I recently came across a website called Flowing Data, check it out when you have time.  I first saw the visualization of the growth of Walmart.  If you watch the video, it looks like a bioterrorism attack that was orgininated in Arkansas.  It actually looks rather scary.  After that video became popular, a growth of Target video was created.  The Target video does not look like a plague crossing the nation; hence, it is less exciting.  I found it interesting that California had a huge number of Target dots and fewer Walmart, and conversely Arkansas had many Walmart but few Target.  Everywhere else on the map seemed to have a mixture of the two.  Is it just CA and AK that have extreme loyalty to the store that they shop at?


MalariaNow that I have put that picture up, I will tell you what it is!  It is a word cloud . . . ta-dah!  If you click on the picture, it will take you to the full sized one, and the site that makes them.  I used a term paper that I wrote on malaria vaccine development for this cloud.  You can choose the color scheme, the fonts, and the general shape and direction of the words.  Neat, huh?

I think that this is a very cool way to visualize data.  I first saw this method in National Geographic Magazine; an article showing which authors have been translated to and from English the most.  If you get a chance to pick up an issue and check it out, notice how big J. K. Rowling is compared to some of the “classic” authors.  It suggests that the Harry Potter series will soon become a “classic” to be read in schools.

Commitment-Phobia Gene?

Image of the vasopressin molecule

Image of the vasopressin molecule

Recently, scientists have been studying the hormone vasopressin in prarie voles.  The male prarie vole is known for being a hang around kind of husband, and vasopressin has much to do with it.  This hormone is a prepheremone that causes the kidneys to retain water, vasoconstricion, and pair bonding.  This linkage between hormone and pair bonding has been proven in prarie voles, and now is being examined in humans.

The study I read examined the ammount of marital strife in 500 couples, that had been together at least 5 years, by survey.  Then the vasopressin gene was examined for mutations.  They found that a mutation in allel 334 was associated with lower scores in the partner bonding survey.  The interesting part of the study was that with no or one copy of the mutation, 16 percent of men reported marital crisis in the past year.  With two copies of the mutation, that percentage doubled.  Hmmmm . . .

Now, I will be the first one to say that this has not been proven.  These are just preliminary results in humans.  However, it does make you wonder what mutations or lack thereof that your partner might have.  Will there soon be genetic tests for probabliity of fidelity?

If anyone wants to read the full study, here is the citation:

Walum, H., et al. In press. Genetic variation in the vasopressin receptor 1a gene (AVPR1A) associates with pair-bonding behavior in humans. Proceeding of the National Academy of Sciences

Bottoms up!

Currently the legal drinking age in the US is 21.  There is a debate going on about lowering the drinking age to 18 (doesn’t this debate come up every few years?).  I am going to have to agree with the lowering of the drinking age.  Each state actually has the ability to set their own drinking age, but the consequence of placing it lower than 21 is to loose 10% of their highway and road funding from the federal government.  This sounds similar to why the schools teach abstinence only, and we all know how well that program worked.

I think that most kids are drinking around 18 anyways, and it seems ridiculous to be able to vote or join the army and not have a beer.  SADD says that in 2005, 28% of kids 12-20 years old were already drinking.  I am assuming that the majority of these numbers are from the 16-20 age range.  So, if the law is being flaunted anyways, what good does it do?  Right now it is keeping kids from learning their limits and realizing that drinking is not some cool, forbidden thing.

I think we should take a page from Europe’s book in this.  In most places, the drinking age is 16 and the driving age is 18.  I agree with this way of doing things.  It gives kids a chance to drink for 2 whole years without driving, hopefully the novelty would wear off by then.  I also think that kids drinking while they still live at home and go to high school would give parents and teachers a chance to teach responsibility with alcohol.  Granted, this would require parents to actually participate in the education of their children and the development of their values (a responsibility that seems to be lacking in many parents).  No system is perfect, but I think that drinking before driving would be a better choice than what we have now.


There is a multitude of web-comics that are crappy, and a few that are actually good.  There are three that I read on a daily (or whenever they update) basis.  Web-comics are one of my favorite ways to kill time inbetween experiments.

PhD – also known as “Piled Higher and Deeper”.  This title is refering to the play on abbreviations that is commonly used by graduate students to describe their increasing knowledge gained from increasing degrees.  BS = Bull Sh*t.  MS = More Sh*t.  PhD = Piled higher and Deeper.  As indicated by the title, it is a comic about PhD students at Stanford University (or any university).  I enjoy this comic because it hits a little too close to home at times.  I reccomend going to the new to Phd section and reading the top 20 comics first.

xkcd – This is a comic that is heavy into math and computer science.  Many times have I asked Jack to explain why a particular strip is funny.  Where would I ever learn about Hidden Markov Models?!?  Every now and then there is a comic about science in general; those make up for all the ones I don’t understand.  I reccomend hitting random comic for the most enjoyment.

SinFest – This is a comic that is constantly making fun of the right and left wing of politics and religion.  Every now and then, it is lightened up by a comic about a cat and dog that live together.  Most of the strips in this site are long sequences that go for many days before the whole story is finished.  I reccomend starting from the beginning and going from there.

Did you just hit on me?

No, actually you didn’t.  I was reading PopSci and found a very interesting article that I think all men and flirtingwomen should know about.  It was the portion of the feature artice Science Confirms the Obvious: Men Mistake Female Friendliness for Sexual Interest.  While reading this I thought, Hmmm, nothing new here, but I was wrong.

In this article, it displayed that men wrongly interpret general friendliness as sexual advances 12% of the time while women only do that 8.7% of the time.  I thought that men did that alot more than women, but the percentages are actually not that far off of each other.  Granted, this study was done on college age heterosexual men, and anyone who has been around men of that age know that they over-sexualize EVERYTHING!

The part of this experiment that I found interesting was that men in general interpreted the body language of women wrong, not just over-sexing everything.  Sometimes they even thought that a come-on was just freindliness; I doubt that that happened often.  This explains why guys can never tell when women are pissed at them.  Finally, one of life’s mysteries is explained!

Now, let me be perfectly clear here: I do not think that it is the fault of men that they cannot interpret female body language properly.  I think it is the responsibility of men and women together to make an effort to learn and teach, respectively, the finer aspects of female body language.  So women, train your men, it for the benefit of humanity!  And men, study up if you don’t want to be embarassed or get your head bit off!

The God Gene?

The god gene  I hope that I am not the only person that finds this idea completely ludicrous.  Not only would you never be able to scientifically prove that a gene is related to faith, there are many ancient religions that do not believe in a higher power.  And furthermore, if you believe in many deities, do you have multiple copies of this gene?  The fact that a gene leads us to believe in a higher power is the interpretation that most of my peers have taken on this subject, but with a little reading I found that their interpretation was inaccurate.

The “god gene” is actually thought to simply cause what is thought of as a religious revelation/experience.  The gene is called VMAT2, and is expressly stated that it does not cause a belief in god.  It does not even cause a “religious” revelation, but simple a set of feelings that is commonly interpreted as being spiritual.

Simply put, the gene is involved in the breakdown of monoamines, a class of neurotransmitters which contribute to an individuals emotional sensitivity. The loose interpretation is that monoamines correlate with a personality trait called self-transcendence. Composed of three sub-sets, self-transcendence is composed of “self-forgetfulness” (as in the tendency to become totally absorbed in some activity, such as reading); “transpersonal identification” (a feeling of connectedness to a larger universe); and “mysticism” (an openness to believe things not literally provable, such as ESP). Put them all together, and you come as close as science can to measuring what it feels like to be spiritual. This allows us to have the kind of experience described as religious ecstasy. -Wikipedia

When you take this into account, it seems entirely possible that this gene could exist.  That brings up the question then, if it does exist, what evolutionary purpose does it serve?  It is a positive or negative selector? Or is it simply residual from a time before written word?  My thought is that it is residual from before we had written or spoken word.  To have a sense of being one with everything, or a spiritual feeling, would help primitive humans to form cohesive groups for survival.  I personally am curious to see if other primates have this gene.  If they do, I can see some people going nuts and trying to convert the monkey to their brand of self-centered religion.  That would be something to see.