30 November 2010

World AIDS Day | 1 December 2010

Started on 1st December 1988, World AIDS Day is about raising money, increasing awareness, fighting prejudice and improving education. The World AIDS Day theme for 2010 is 'Universal Access and Human Rights'.

... According to UNAIDS estimates, there are now 33.3 million people living with HIV, including 2.5 million children. During 2009 some 2.6 million people became newly infected with the virus and an estimated 1.8 million people died from AIDS.

... Global leaders have pledged to work towards universal access to HIV and AIDS treatment, prevention and care, recognising these as fundamental human rights. Valuable progress has been made in increasing access to HIV and AIDS services, yet greater commitment is needed around the world if the goal of universal access is to be achieved. Millions of people continue to be infected with HIV every year. In low- and middle-income countries, less than half of those in need of antiretroviral therapy are receiving it, and too many do not have access to adequate care services.

The protection of human rights is fundamental to combating the global HIV and AIDS epidemic. Violations against human rights fuel the spread of HIV, putting marginalised groups, such as injecting drug users and sex workers, at a higher risk of HIV infection. By promoting individual human rights, new infections can be prevented and people who have HIV can live free from discrimination.

World AIDS Day provides an opportunity for all of us - individuals, communities and political leaders - to take action and ensure that human rights are protected and global targets for HIV/AIDS prevention, treatment and care are met.
Avert | World AIDS Campaign

Paws For Purple Hearts

Golden Gabe | Paws for Purple Hearts via Land of Pure Gold
Rick Yount and his golden retriever puppy, Gabe, had separation issues every morning. "The dog kept looking at me at the door with those sad eyes, and finally it was just impossible to resist," Yount recalled. So one morning, "I decided to take him with me." Yount was then working as a social worker, and on that particular morning he had to take a young boy from his mother's house and drive him to new foster parents. The boy cried and cried. But halfway through the trip, the car suddenly grew quiet. "I looked in the back seat," said Yount, "and the puppy's head was lying on the boy's lap."

That demonstration of canine comforting in 1995 sparked the idea for a program that is getting underway at a Veterans Affairs hospital in California and at Walter Reed Army Medical Center. It's called Paws for Purple Hearts, and it is helping injured veterans and active-duty troops in two very different ways.

The program trains Labradors and golden retrievers - including many offspring of Yount's dog Gabe - as lifelong service dogs and companions for veterans who use wheelchairs. But for their first two years of life, these dogs spread their love around in another way. They are trained by veterans suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder. For many of these psychologically damaged warriors, this human-canine connection provides them with emotional sustenance, a mission and important lessons in patience that help them get on with their lives.
Read more of this article by Arthur Allen in The Washington Post.

Thanks, Soll

Retro Holiday Ads From Schweppes

YouTube | TV Squad

More here.

29 November 2010

Eschatological Taxonomy

Poster by Jamais Cascio is available at Cafe Press

... Being a scale for comparing, contrasting, and understanding the sundry manners in which the Apocalypse may arise, as structured by Jamais Cascio
Via io9

Best Of Criggo


Monkey Monday | Baby Gorilla's First Steps


27 November 2010

UGO | 100 Greatest Movie Spaceships

Serenity | Firefly and Serenity

Discovery One | 2001: A Space Odyssey

Alien Ship | Close Encounters of the Third Kind

Jordan Hoffman at UGO has put together a list of what he considers to be the best 100 movie spaceships. Lots of room for disagreement and discussion. Above are a few of my favorites.

Via io9

"Gimme Cake" | R.I.F.T.

Use the arrow keys to maneuver a diligent little robot through increasingly difficult challenges as he tries to keep his demanding master supplied with cake.

R.I.F.T. | Switched

26 November 2010

Big Think | Oliver Sacks Discusses The Human Propensity For Myth-making

Oliver Sacks is a professor of Neurology and Psychiatry at Columbia University. The following interview was recorded on September 4, 2008. Watch the video of the interview at Big Think.

Question: Is the human brain predisposed to create myths?

Oliver Sacks: Yeah. First I would say that the human brain or the human mind is disposed to create stories or narratives. Children love stories, make up stories.

Jerome Bruner, a great psychologist, has spoken of two modes of thinking. One is to create narratives, one is to create paradigms or explanations or models. And of course some of these will come together because then you want to have a story which explains.

We all come into the world and human beings are evolved into a mysterious world and had to wonder where they came from, how the world came from, what are the stars doing. And in the absence of better explanations, I think, supernatural explanations sort of come to mind. There must have been some great figure who created the universe and who perhaps is keeping an eye on us now.

And say before 1859 and before [Charles] Darwin, before The Origin of Species was published, there was no natural explanation of how different animals and plants had come into being, let alone human beings.

I think Freeman Dyson, a great physicist who once wrote, “I am a practicing Christian but not a believing one.”

So I think my parents were practicing Jews, but not believing ones. I don’t think that belief is a particularly strong thing in Judaism. But my mother was also botanically inclined. I grew up in a Darwinian world, and I was very startled when I came to the [United] States and found that millions, millions and millions of people didn’t believe in evolution. I still am profoundly perplexed.

To proclaim that one doesn’t believe in the evolution, I think, what would label one as an idiot in most of the civilized world; certainly, in Europe.

And again, growing up in Europe, it was our feeling the world would become more and more secular. And now, of course, as the world stands by mad, dangerous fundamentalism on all sides; who would have thought that the 21st Century would dissolve into religious conflict?

I’m a sort of quiet, old, Jewish atheist. I’m not a militant atheist. I don’t sort of argue about things like [Richard] Dawkins and [Daniel] Dennett and Sam Harris. I quite like their books, but I’m not militant by nature, and I’m not very argumentative by nature. And if people want to believe, well, then that’s their business.

What concerns me is when belief is used to influence and corrupt educational politics. And that seems to me monstrous that creationism, or so-called intelligent design, is thought next to evolution or instead of it. And I do think it is almost is a form of madness.

Question: Is all religion madness?
Oliver Sacks: I think I need to say that there are specifically some conditions of the brain which predispose to mystical or religious thinking. In particular, when people have so-called temporal lobe epilepsy or temporal lobe seizures, they may have religious or mystical visions. Or even between seizures, they may have a gradual personality change which disposes them to mystical and religious thinking.

I think that thinking of this sort is, if you want, built into the nervous system. Although it doesn’t have to take an explicitly theistic notion.

[Albert] Einstein always used to say that the most beautiful thing in the world is the mysterious. And I think that the fundamental sets of mystery and awe and of the sublime is behind all science and art. Basically, I think, science springs from a sense of nature’s mysteriousness and the wonder of nature. And there is no need to invoke anything supernatural. Indeed, I think too much involvement in the supernatural may blind one to the wonder of nature. And I’m slightly terrified by certain fundamentalist who say, let the planet go to hell, the Final Coming is going to be soon. God will take care of it all.

I live, for myself, happily and completely within nature. I love it. I have a sense of being at home. I don’t pine for anything else. And so, I think, those parts of my temporal lobes are devoted to, as it were, to an almost religious feeling for nature.

Loch Ness Monster Sighting

© Richard Preston
Richard Preston, a landscape designer, has been the latest person to spot a mysterious shape that might be the Loch Ness monster and capture a series of images on camera.

While working on Aldourie Castle gardens on the banks of the Loch Ness, 27-year-old Mr Preston spotted a shape on the loch's surface out of the corner of his eye. He told STV News: “I was just walking through the castle gardens and I spotted something in the distance. When I looked closer I could clearly see the four hump-like features. I thought I’d take a picture of it, to see if there was anything in it, to see what others thought. “I was surprised that it stayed there as long as it did. I took various shots of it before it suddenly disappeared. I literally just turned my back and it was gone.” He showed one of his friends who was also convinced there was certainly some mystery in the pictures.

When asked whether or not he believed in the monster, Mr Preston said: “Well there’s definitely something in the myth.There were no ripples in the water, no boats, nothing around. I have no idea what it was, but it undoubtedly looks like Nessie.”

The latest sighting has brought hope to monster enthusiasts, as it had been a relatively quiet spell for spotting any activity in the Loch. Fears had been mounting that Nessie might be dead since reports of any sightings had been diminishing.

In July 1930, three people in a boat at the north end of the loch saw a 6m long hump-like shape travelling fast through the water. In April 1933, Aldie Mackay saw a violent disturbance in the water and a hump “like that of a whale” while driving along the north side of the loch.
stv | Cryptomundo

The Ministry Of Stories | Hoxton Street Monster Supplies

So, we’ve been kinda quiet here of late on the We Made This blog (for which you have our deepest apologies) but we can now reveal why – we’ve been entirely occupied with setting up a fantastic new project ...

Way back in April 2008 we posted on our old blog about Dave Eggers’ inspiring TED talk about his brilliant 826 literacy project, and asked if anyone was going to be setting up something similar in London. On the back of that post, thanks to Andrew Hinton, we met up with the wonderful Lucy Macnab and Ben Payne, and chatted loosely about how a London version of 826 might work. Things pootled along gently for a while, until Lucy and Ben secured support for the project from the Arts Council, as well as seed-funding from the JJ Charitable Trust, and things suddenly stepped up a gear, particularly when author Nick Hornby, who had been thinking about setting up something similar himself, joined the gang.

Cut to November 2010, after many, many, many meetings, and gargantuan efforts from Nick, Lucy and Ben (and a veritable host of others), and this morning saw the launch of the Ministry of Stories on Hoxton Street in east London.

The Ministry follows the model of the 826 centres: a writing centre where kids aged 8-18 can get one-to-one tuition with professional writers and other volunteers; with the centres being housed behind fantastical shop fronts designed to fire the kids’ imaginations (and generate income for the writing centres). In our case, the shop is Hoxton Street Monster Supplies – Purveyor of Quality Goods for Monsters of Every Kind.
More at We Made This


Maybe Next Year | The TurDunkin'

The turDunkin’ is a turkey brined in Dunkin’ Donuts coolattas, stuffed with munchkins and served with coffee gravy and mashed hash browns. The turDunkin’ should not be confused with the hot meaty mess that is a turducken, which is a turkey stuffed with a duck stuffed with a chicken.
The recipes are available at Unwholesome Foods.


24 November 2010

Happy Thanksgiving

Because it never gets old.

23 November 2010

If Pigs Could Fly | Bacon-Wrapped Roasted Turkey

Get the recipe for Bacon-wrapped Turkey with Pear Cider Gravy at Clarks Organic Butchery.

22 November 2010

Disaster Porn

Aliens blow up the White House | Independence Day

I'm a sucker for a good disaster film, never tiring of seeing the Pyramids or the Statue of Liberty or the Eiffel Tower get blowed up real good. And I want my disasters on a grand scale -- gigantic explosions, 1000-foot-tall tidal waves, devastating nuclear attacks.

io9 has put together a gallery of 30 videos of "the splodiest, most cracktastic, scariest and most expensive-looking scenes of destruction from 2012, The Day After Tomorrow, Cloverfield, Armageddon, The Core, Deep Impact, and many other movies."


YouTube | TDW

The Insanity Virus

Example of a human endogenous retrovirus (HERV)
... Schizophrenia is usually diagnosed between the ages of 15 and 25, but the person who becomes schizophrenic is sometimes recalled to have been different as a child or a toddler—more forgetful or shy or clumsy. Studies of family videos confirm this. Even more puzzling is the so-called birth-month effect: People born in winter or early spring are more likely than others to become schizophrenic later in life. It is a small increase, just 5 to 8 percent, but it is remarkably consistent, showing up in 250 studies. That same pattern is seen in people with bipolar disorder or multiple sclerosis. “The birth-month effect is one of the most clearly established facts about schizophrenia,” says Fuller Torrey, director of the Stanley Medical Research Institute in Chevy Chase, Maryland. “It’s difficult to explain by genes, and it’s certainly difficult to explain by bad mothers.”

The facts of schizophrenia are so peculiar, in fact, that they have led Torrey and a growing number of other scientists to abandon the traditional explanations of the disease and embrace a startling alternative. Schizophrenia, they say, does not begin as a psychological disease. Schizophrenia begins with an infection.

The idea has sparked skepticism, but after decades of hunting, Torrey and his colleagues think they have finally found the infectious agent. You might call it an insanity virus. If Torrey is right, the culprit that triggers a lifetime of hallucinations—that tore apart the lives of writer Jack Kerouac, mathematician John Nash, and millions of others—is a virus that all of us carry in our bodies. “Some people laugh about the infection hypothesis,” says Urs Meyer, a neuroimmunologist at the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology in Zurich. “But the impact that it has on researchers is much, much, much more than it was five years ago. And my prediction would be that it will gain even more impact in the future.”

The implications are enormous. Torrey, Meyer, and others hold out hope that they can address the root cause of schizophrenia, perhaps even decades before the delusions begin. The first clinical trials of drug treatments are already under way. The results could lead to meaningful new treatments not only for schizophrenia but also for bipolar disorder and multiple sclerosis. Beyond that, the insanity virus (if such it proves) may challenge our basic views of human evolution, blurring the line between “us” and “them,” between pathogen and host.
Long article at DISCOVER Mind & Brain

21 November 2010

WKRP In Cincinnati Thanksgiving Episode | "Turkeys Away"

As god is my witness, I thought turkeys could fly.

Oh, the humanity!

Helpful Figures | Food

Click image to enlarge


Helpful Figures via Neatorama

19 November 2010

Zooborns | Baby Pandas

Founded in 1987, the Chengdu Research Base of Giant Panda Breeding is a Chinese facility that promotes panda research, education and conservation. This facility never removes pandas from the wild. In addition to its education and outreach programs, it serves as a valuable source of unique genetic material, which is invaluable in panda breeding programs around the world. This facility partners with the Smithsonian National Zoo, Atlanta Zoo, and Oakland Zoo among others. These pictures were taken in October and the babies appear to be somewhere between 6-8 weeks old.
More at Zooborns

The Human Consciousness Project | Near Death Experiences

At 18 hospitals in the U.S. and U.K., researchers have suspended pictures, face up, from the ceilings in emergency-care areas. The reason: to test whether patients brought back to life after cardiac arrest can recall seeing the images during an out-of-body experience. People who have these near-death experiences often describe leaving their bodies and watching themselves being resuscitated from above, but verifying such accounts is difficult. The images would be visible only to people who had done that.

"We've added these images as objective markers," says Sam Parnia, a critical-care physician and lead investigator of the study, which hopes to include 1,500 resuscitated patients. Dr. Parnia declined to say whether any have accurately described the images so far, but says he hopes to report preliminary results next year. The study, coordinated by Southampton University's School of Medicine in England, is one of the latest and largest scientific efforts to understand the mystery of near-death experiences.

At least 15 million American adults say they have had a near-death experience, according to a 1997 survey—and the number is thought to be rising with increasingly sophisticated resuscitation techniques. In addition to floating above their bodies, people often describe moving down a dark tunnel toward a bright light, feeling intense peace and joy, reviewing life events and seeing long-deceased relatives—only to be told that it's not time yet and land abruptly back in an ailing body.

... Some investigators say the most remarkable thing about near-death reports is that the core elements are the same, among people of all cultures, races, religions and age groups, including children as young as 3 years old. In his new book, "Evidence of the Afterlife," Jeffrey Long, a radiation oncologist in Louisiana, analyzes 613 cases reported on the website of his Near Death Research Foundation and concludes there is only one plausible explanation: "that people have survived death and traveled to another dimension."
Much more at the Wall Street Journal

Via The Anomalist

Dr. Parnia's study is part of the Human Consciousness Project at the University of Southampton

18 November 2010

Anderson Cooper Dons Bunny Suit To Please Bonobos

YouTube | Gawker

The Inner Life Of A Cell

Harvard University selected XVIVO to develop an animation that would take their cellular biology students on a journey through the microscopic world of a cell, illustrating mechanisms that allow a white blood cell to sense its surroundings and respond to an external stimulus. This award winning piece was the first topic in a series of animations XVIVO is creating for Harvard's educational website BioVisions at Harvard.
Click here to view a narrated version.

17 November 2010

Seed | Redefining Mental Illness

Gary Larson
Last week, psychology graduate student (and Research Blogging Psychology / Neuroscience Editor) Jason Goldman held ... an online forum inviting some of the top psychology and neuroscience bloggers to weigh in on the question “What Is Mental Illness?”

British psychologist and editor Christian Jarrett answered the question by citing an editorial published in January in Psychological Medicine. The editorial’s writers, led by Dan Stein, argued that a “mental disorder” has five primary factors: It’s a behavior or pattern occurring in an individual, causing clinically significant distress or impairment, reflecting an underlying physical dysfunction, and is not primarily the result of social deviance or conflicts with society. It’s also not just a response to a stressful event like a friend or family member’s death, where it’s normal to expect someone to appear “depressed” or otherwise disturbed for a period of time. Stein’s team is part of the working group for the DSM-V, so clearly their arguments will carry significant weight in forming the new definition.

One of the biggest changes in their proposed definition is the statement that a mental disorder “reflects an underlying psychobiological dysfunction.” They are, in essence, saying that there is nothing truly “mental” about these disorders—the disorders are a result of physical problems in the brain. This is a huge acknowledgment for a field that once thrived on such vacuous concepts as the “id” and the “superego.” The anonymous neuroscience blogger “Neurocritic” suggests that these specific, neurological underpinnings are the best way to describe mental illnesses. Neurocritic cites a new effort by the US National Institute for Mental Health (NIMH) to define disorders based not only on their symptoms, but across several domains, including genes, neural structures, and behaviors. Using this line of reasoning, traditional definitions of mental disorders are flawed because they fail to address the mechanism of the illness. Doctors don’t define a broken leg as “unable to walk,” so why should psychiatrists define a mental disorder solely based on the behavioral symptoms?
More at Seed Magazine

Big Think | What Is Alzheimer's Disease?

Left, a healthy brain; right, a brain with advanced Alzheimer's Disease

Beta amyloid protein
Alzheimer’s disease is an incurable—and ultimately deadly form of dementia that causes loss of memory and other cognitive abilities. A degenerative disorder, the disease unravels the fundamental functions of the brain over time, taking with it many components of personality and identity. An estimated 5.3 million people in the U.S. currently have Alzheimer's, and each year the disease ranks as the nation's sixth or seventh leading cause of death. In 2007 alone, over 74,000 Americans died from Alzheimer's.

While much remains unknown about the disease, advances in research over the past decade have shed new light on its mechanisms, and on how dementia affects the aging brain. In Big Think's "Breakthroughs: Alzheimer's Disease" panel, Dr. Samuel Gandy, associate director of the Mount Sinai Alzheimer's Disease Research Center, said that the disease is first a biochemical pathology—a deficit among brain transmitters between nerve cells—but that there also does seem to be a correlation with beta amyloid proteins that can function normally among neurons for over 50 years, then "clump and accumulate and build up and kill cells of the brain."

"Synaptic function is the key to everything," responded Dr. Ottavio Arancio, a professor at the Taub Institute for Research in Alzheimer's Disease and the Aging Brain at Columbia University. Dementia and Alzheimer's disease, he says, weaken synapses among the brain’s 100 billion nerve cells and 100 trillion neural points connection points. This weakening, he says, "is the key to understand the mystery of this disease."
More at BigThink

The Bouba-Kiki Effect

Take a look at the picture and honestly tell me which shape you would match to the word ‘bouba' and which you would match to the word ‘kiki'. If you associated ‘bouba' with the rounded shape and ‘kiki' with the pointed one, you'd be among the 95 percent of people to do so. Neither answer is wrong, since neither of these shapes has ever been officially named. Even if they had been, there's no expectation that any test subject would know their names. The naming of the objects isn't about identification, it's just about onomatopoeiac word association.

This particular word association is common across languages. The first version of the experiment was conducted by Wolfgang Kohler, a psychologist. He rowed himself out to the Canary Islands, and stopped on Tenerife, where the primary spoken language is Spanish. There he showed people a rounded shape and a spiky shape, and asked them to identify one as ‘baluba' and one as ‘takete'. Overwhelmingly, people thought the sounds of the ‘t' and ‘k' denoted sharpness, while the ‘b' and ‘l' seemed softer.

The Bouba-Kiki Effect, one of the best-named effects ever, was named after a derivation of Kohler's experiment. Two more psychologists Vilayanur S. Ramachandran and Edward Hubbard went to India, and asked American college students and India Tamil speakers to pick a name for a shape. This time they used the words ‘bouba' and ‘kiki'. Up to 98 percent of the people questioned picked ‘kiki' as the spiked shape and ‘bouba' as the round one.

There was some argument that the written word was an influence, at least on English speakers. The letter ‘k' and the lower case ‘i' were straight and sharp letters, while every letter in ‘bouba' is rounded. This might cause people to match the shape of the letter with the shape of the object. Recently, though, it was shown that The Bouba-Kiki Effect was in full force for children as young as two and half, far too young to read. It's the sound of the words that makes people associate them with one shape or another.
More at io9

16 November 2010

"Coughs And Sneezes Spread Diseases" | The Art Of Sneezing Properly

YouTube | Dangerous Minds

View other cautionary and educational films at the the British Government Information Film Archive.

Pandas Playing In The Snow

Twelve more pictures at Geekosystem.

Professor Talbert Will Not Tolerate Audible Yawning

YouTube | TDW

The Personal Pie Maker

Create up to four individual-sized pies full of your favorite fillings with this simple-to-operate pie maker. Whether its savory meat pies, vegetable pies, quiches or sweet fruit pies or tarts, most pies take just 8 minutes to cook.
Bacon Pie. In eight minutes.

Breville Personal Pie Maker | Williams Sonoma via TDW

Electromagnetic Leak

Click image to enlarge


Abstruse Goose

11 November 2010

Evolution Of The Geek

Click image to enlarge


Column Five Media via Alltop

Researchers Use Tarantulas To Map How The Brain Processes Fear And Panic

Using video of the 8.7-inch-long [Brazilian salmon pink tarantula], British researchers showed that the human brain engages several different systems when evaluating threats. For instance, the part of the brain that engages when a threat is approaching is different from the part that is activated when a threat is receding, they reported Monday in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

Previous work had shown that avoiding a threat people were trained to fear in the lab caused brain activity to switch from anxiety-related regions to panic centers. But it was not clear that people would respond in the same way to something they feared naturally. The researchers chose a spider species for the test because fear of spiders is one of the most common phobias in human beings, said Dean Mobbs, the study's lead author and a neuroscientist at the Cognition and Brain Sciences Unit at the Medical Research Council in Cambridge, England.

The researchers recruited 20 volunteers and placed them in a magnetic resonance imaging machine to watch which parts of their brains were activated during different stages of the experiment. Each volunteer was asked to place a shoeless foot into a box that was connected to a row of five other boxes.

The researchers asked the subjects how scared they thought they would be when the tarantula was placed into each of the boxes. Then they showed them four-second videos of the creature entering the compartments. When the tarantula was placed far away from the foot, the MRI machine showed brain activity in the part of the prefrontal cortex involved in recognizing threats. As the tarantula appeared to move closer to the foot, a different fear system kicked in inside a primitive region of the midbrain associated with the fight-or-flight response. In other words, as the spider advanced toward people's feet — regardless of its absolute distance — their brains switched from anxiety to panic.

In addition, as the tarantula appeared to recede, the MRI machine registered increased activity in the orbitofrontal cortex. Mobbs said this area might emit a safety signal that dispels the fear signal.

The subjects were led to believe that the tarantula was entering a box while they lay in the brain scanner, but in reality there were no spiders present. The video was prerecorded so the scientists could control for the tarantula's movements.

When people underestimated their own fear, they also remembered the tarantula being bigger than those who had a better handle on their own fear responses. That suggests fear affects cognition as well, Mobbs said.

... The researchers tested only people whose fear of spiders was low to middling. But learning where proper fear responses break down in people with phobias or anxiety issues could eventually help researchers develop targeted therapies for them, Mobbs said.
As if being shoved into a claustrophobia-panic-inducing teeny-tiny MRI tube wasn't enough.

Los Angeles Times

Read the Abstract [Neural activity associated with monitoring the oscillating threat value of a tarantula] here.

The Sight Of Meat Seems To Calm Aggression

Frank Kachanoff, a psychology researcher at McGill University, conducted an experiment on the emotional responses of people to images of meat. He discovered a positive correlation between meat encounters and a calmer disposition:

Kachanoff recruited 82 men and asked them to punish an aide with various volumes of sound each time he made an error while sorting photos, some with pictures of meat, and others with neutral images. The researcher had anticipated participants who watched the aide sort meat photos would inflict more discomfort on him, but he was surprised when those pictures did not provoke aggressive behaviour.
Via Neatorama