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Brain Repair (in Mice; Not G.O.P.-ready) November 25, 2011

Posted by stuffilikenet in Awesome, Brain, Science, Uncategorizable.
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Harvard scientists have performed a neuron transplant into mice with malfunctioning hypothalamuses (hypothalami??).  The mice formerly could not respond to leptin, the signal of fullness, and were consequently little porkers (“morbidly obese”, in geekspeak). The neuron transplants repaired defective brain circuits, enabling them to respond to leptin and thus experience substantially less weight gain.  The treated mice grew to approximately 30 percent less than their untreated siblings or siblings treated in other ways.  This resulted in a nice paper in Science1 and a slap on the forhead for most everyone who thinks neuronal repair in the brain is impossible—which was nearly everyone, I guess, including me, although I will confess that the nature of brain  plasticity is an area which has always required more research.

"The next step for us is to ask parallel questions of other parts of the brain and spinal cord, those involved in ALS and with spinal cord injuries," Jeffrey Macklis, Harvard University professor of stem cell and regenerative biology and HMS professor of neurology at Massachusetts General Hospital, and one of three corresponding authors on the paper said. "In these cases, can we rebuild circuitry in the mammalian brain? I suspect that we can."

I am leaving out the nifty science they did to monitor this pretty amazing and heretofore-considered-mad-science science, but it’s pretty damn good, too.  it seems like there’s a whole lot going on in science right now that demands an open mind and a hell of a lot of work. 

So get busy, you guys.

1 "Transplanted Hypothalamic Neurons Restore Leptin Signaling and Ameliorate Obesity in db/db Mice" by Czupryn et al. Science, Vol. 334 (6059), November 25, 2011.

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WANT! November 25, 2011

Posted by stuffilikenet in Awesome, Octopus.
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octopustable4

They’ll Take Over, Just Wait November 25, 2011

Posted by stuffilikenet in Awesome, Octopus, Video.
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Graphene Ink Printing of Electronic Components November 25, 2011

Posted by stuffilikenet in 3D Printing, Awesome, Science, Toys.
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Using ink-jet printer nozzles for any number of fine fabrication techniques is already underway and under research, but Professor of Nanotechnology Andrea Ferrari and colleagues from the Engineering Department at the University of Cambridge have developed a method of creating a graphene ink that can be used with a modified ink-jet printer.  This is revolutionary for two reasons:  first, electronic components such as thin film transistors (TFTs) can already be created using ink-jet printing with ferroelectric polymer inks, but the performance of such components is poor and they are too slow for many applications.  Graphene-enhanced versions of these transistors are much, much faster and have higher electron motilities.  Second, the resulting components can be transparently printed on a number of flexible substrates.  Essentially, the moving, flexible folding newspaper from Harry Potter films (and any number of science fiction stories) can be fabricated with a system of these graphene-ink-printed components.

Using flakes of pure graphite, the team peeled off layers of graphene using liquid-phase exfoliation (sonication of the graphite in the presence of a solvent). The graphene bits were ultra-centrifuged and filtered to remove any particles large enough to block the ink-jet printer heads (about a micron). These processed graphene bits were then used as the basis for the ink printed, using a more-or-less standard ink-jet printer, onto silicon and glass. They heated the substrates to drive off the ink carrier, leaving the graphene flakes behind. The results are at least comparable to current ferroelectric polymer inks:

“They achieved mobilities of up to around 95cm2V−1s−1, about 80% transmittance and 30kohm sheet resistance. Non-graphene polymer inks typically achieve mobilities of less than 0.5cm2V−1s−1, while adding carbon nanotubes can increase this to around 50cm2V−1s−1.”

The results should only improve as the method is refined and enhanced. I imagine that any number of display manufacturers would be interested in this method, if only to print touchscreens directly on their current displays cheaply.

I predict a burgeoning movement among the various hobbyists who specialize in printer hacks a la RepRap.  People like Jeri Ellsworth have been working on home-made electronics (specifically in her case transistors) and will be very, very interested in what sounds like an easily-reproduced inkjet solution for printing small electronic components.

Ink-Jet Printed Graphene Electronics, F. Torrisi, T. Hasan, W. Wu, Z. Sun, A. Lombardo, T. Kulmala, G. W. Hshieh, S. J. Jung, F. Bonaccorso, P. J. Paul, D. P. Chu, A. C. Ferrari  arXiv:1111.4970v1

Excellent Hack Using attiny85 November 25, 2011

Posted by stuffilikenet in Awesome, Geek Stuff, Toys.
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Producing stereo piezo sound, this minimalist greeting-card music player garnered a LOT of comments when posted at hackaday.com.  My favorite:

‘This could be used to hack musical cards a la the Barbie Liberation Front: http://sniggle.net/barbie.php.

What could be better than a “Congratulations on your wedding” card that played Highway to Hell!’

Reamde by Neal Stephenson November 24, 2011

Posted by stuffilikenet in Books, Brilliant words.
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A damned good book which held my interest despite being filled with reality-simulating levels of detail, Reamde is the tale of an adopted Eritrean woman kidnapped by Russian gangsters from Seattle to find a virus writer in China holding Russian information for ransom.  The Russian’s revenge is interrupted by the woman sending him on a wild goose chase with amazingly bad results.

Like many of his novels, Reamde is real enough that it might well have happened, or might happen tomorrow (see also The Baroque Cycle collection of novels). However, “…while recognizably Stephensonian, Reamde is less about the flow of information through global networks than it is about the flow of bullets out of guns. This is, first and foremost, a Bourne-style international thriller, and as such its intellectual sites are set lower than those of its immediate predecessors. “ — Lev Grossman, Time (I wish I had the time to write a crashingly great review like Mr. Grossman’s.  Read it here).

In Audible’s amazingly bad way, the very-cheap-for-them-to-deliver version is more expensive than the expensive-to-manufacture-and-mail version on CD, at least on Amazon Prime.  Idiots.

Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norrell November 24, 2011

Posted by stuffilikenet in Books, Brilliant words.
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Jonathan Strange & Mr. Norrell by Susanna Clarke may be the sort of book which can’t find a wide audience.  It’s really well written, but in a style which is more Victorian or Edwardian, rather than modern (figures; it’s about magicians in the first decade of the 1800s trying to find out why magic isn’t done anywhere in England…any more).  I personally like the style, having been poisoned by English Literature early in my formative years.  Really, you would have thought that Thomas Hardy would have made a lot less of an impression on an impulsive teenager, but you would be Very Wrong. I’m hardly started and I can tell already that I am going to really, really enjoy this, especially since it’s been forever since I swallowed an entire Victorian novel, even if it doesn’t contain unlikely suicides of young children.

Anyway, the windup to this story is about the juxtaposition of two magicians and their faery servants fighting more or less alongside England’s army/navy against Napoleon until their clash of styles reveals rather different motivations in each, leading to a wider war than merely all of Europe. 

Very different from The Armor of Light, the last historical-cum-fantasy story I reviewed, or The Hundred Thousand Kingdoms which is in a glorious class by itself.

Movie Monster-sized Amoeba From an Icy Hell November 22, 2011

Posted by stuffilikenet in Mutants, Science.
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Protoazoa are usually about 10-52 microns across, but not the Xenophyophores of the Mariana Trench—the largest individual cells in existence.  These guys reach four inches across, live in large numbers oozing along the ocean floor (six miles deep!) and eat the sediments collecting there, building up the best defense in the world:  huge concentrations of toxic metals.  They ooze along on pseudopodia and slime, just like a 1950’s movie monster.

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See?  Reality is weirder than you imagine.  And can imagine.

Night-blooming Orchid!! November 22, 2011

Posted by stuffilikenet in Mutants, Science.
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This little beauty, Bulbophyllum nocturnum, is found on the island of New Britain near Papua New Guinea. It has flowers that consistently open after dark and close in the morning, the only one with those characteristics amongst the 25,000 orchid species known to science.

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Only open for business from 10pm to 10am, these blooms wither immediately after opening…once.  Kew Gardens speculates they are pollinated by midges, but this is still under study.

Flamboyant Cuttlefish—New Boy Band? November 20, 2011

Posted by stuffilikenet in Awesome, Octopus, Science, Video.
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Well, they couldn’t flame more than the Backstreet Boys.

Pfeffer’s Flamboyant Cuttlefish (Metasepia pfefferi), is found in the South Pacific.  It is also psychedelic as hell.  Watch this video with a Pink Floyd soundtrack, not whatever the hell this is.

Cuttlefish are cephalopods, too, hence the Octopus tag.

Nature Girl by Carl Hiaasen November 19, 2011

Posted by stuffilikenet in Books, Brilliant words.
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I usually enjoy reading the works of Carl Hiaasen, and Nature Girl proved to be no exception.  However, instead of reading this gem I listened to Jane Curtin read it, which certainly put a nice spin on it for me.  You can tell the professional actors from amateurs like me easily.  Her voice characterizations made all the characters breathe a little bit more lively.

I might explain that Hiaasen’s books usually sound inside my head like an old drunk muttering to himself in a bar (which I guess says more about me than I should commit to the never-forgetting Interwebs), while Jane Curtin’s reading imbues each character with a presence that a senile alcoholic can’t quite match.  I adored her reading of the Native American Sammy Tigertail’s hallucinations about the dead white guy he dumped in the swamp.  Hysterical, and that’s just the beginning.

Nature Girl features all the usual types of colorful characters we have come to expect from Hiaasen: slightly crazy women, practical men who love them, innocents caught up in madness and a psycho with missing parts (why is this a constant?  Can someone explain that to me?).  Toss in a divorce detective, a sleazy telephone solicitor and his soon-to-be ex-wife and you have A Midsummer Night’s Dream, minus the fancy prose.

Can’t recommend it too highly.

I should point out that, amazingly enough, Audible has managed to charge TWICE the price of the CD version for their almost-free-for-them-to-deliver downloadable files, which I understand have DRM anyway.  Be smart and buy the CD.  It’s just silly any other way.

A Big, Wet Kiss November 17, 2011

Posted by stuffilikenet in Awesome, Uncategorizable.
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giraffekiss

I have so many things to say right here and, like Auntie Em, I can’t.

Pillow Fight Armoury November 15, 2011

Posted by stuffilikenet in Toys, Uncategorizable.
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Much Better View From ISS November 13, 2011

Posted by stuffilikenet in Awesome, Science, Video.
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Childhood Assumptions November 11, 2011

Posted by stuffilikenet in Awesome, Uncategorizable.
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When I was a tyke my parents owned a copy of Kon-Tiki , the story of Thor Heyerdahl’s use of a raft to sail from South America to the Polynesian Islands, which led me to believe all Easter Island statues looked like this:

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They actually look more like this:

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I hope this clears up any confusion.

Invisible Squid Dodge Predators November 11, 2011

Posted by stuffilikenet in Awesome, Octopus, Science.
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Japetella heathi and Onychoteuthis banksii can switch rapidly from red or black to transparent in order to avoid predators who watch for shadows above them.  At more benthic depths they turn back to red or black to avoid detection from bioluminescent hunters.

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No, really:

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From ScienceDirect.com.

Korean Hello Kitty Cafe November 10, 2011

Posted by stuffilikenet in Hello Kitty, Japan.
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In Seoul.

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Ouch.

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Oh, gods.

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Starlings Flocking in Huge Numbers November 8, 2011

Posted by stuffilikenet in Science, Video.
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http://vimeo.com/31158841

I apologize if it doesn’t display well here.  I never seem to integrate Vimeo videos correctly the first time.

Adventures in C# .NET Programming November 4, 2011

Posted by stuffilikenet in Applications, Awesome, Brilliant words, Geek Stuff, Publishing Tools, Toys.
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I promised a while ago to write a review of James Foxall’s Teach Yourself Visual C# 2008 in 24 Hours and I meant it at the time.  Instead I have found that I learned enough from his first book Teach Yourself Visual Basic 2008 in 24 Hours: Complete Starter Kit.  The two languages are much alike and the .NET framework supports them both.  I am probably going to stick with C# since my company uses it in its various scientific applications.  The other reason is that I need to learn a heck of a lot more than how to use the interface, so I started to program a flashcard program for Spanish.

Like all frail, elderly types I have real trouble learning a new language so I looked for a flashcard program with mixed success.  Professional programs for my (also frail, elderly) phone (a WinCE 5.0 job) cost a pile and had really tiny fonts.  I decided to make my own.

I don’t know that I need to tell you how hard this was or how many times I had to ask for help from wiser minds (thanks Ben, Shabnam and Mark!) with the requisite 10000 hours under their belts.  But I muddled through somehow and even figured out what went wrong on the last few things without help from my cow-orkers (hyphenation intentional).

Here’s how it looks on the emulator:

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You can see that it’s set for the second set of flashcards (twenty words a set, fifty sets).  The top button flips to a new Spanish word.  The bottom will show you the English equivalent if you press it.  My phone and the emulator have trouble with accented Spanish characters, but that’s a job for the future.

I learned to parse files from WordsGalore, a free flashcard program for PC which I strongly recommend, with support for Spanish, Chinese and Korean.  I haven’t included much of WordsGalore’s marvelous functionality such as the elimination of words in which the student is already confident, but the phone probably can’t handle it (not just that I can’t program it, yet).  I learned the basics of debugging using Visual Studio 2008.  I learned to plagiarize by examining other’s code (“only please to call it ‘research’”).  I learned how to make .CAB files for easy distribution (look here).  I learned that my cow-orkers are very patient with me, for which I am truly grateful.

Exciting update:  I modified it to include a switch button which allows the English words to display first instead:

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Meet the New Boss, Same as the Old Boss November 3, 2011

Posted by stuffilikenet in Uncategorizable.
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Because my mother and sister don’t read BoingBoing.