January 31, 2014

Happy Chinese New Year!

2014 (roughly) is the year of the horse. I say roughly because the Chinese New Year depends on the moon's cycle, so the new year doesn't begin and end every year on the exact same day (same reason Easter always seems to hop around).

Anyway, what's so special about Horse people? Well, according to tradition (and this very nifty article here) people born under this sign are generally "energetic, bright and intelligent ... have excellent skills and enjoy being in the limelight [as they are] cheerful, popular, talented and enjoy entertaining" (dangit, why couldn't I have been born in the year of the horse?). These people are also thought to be rather "impatient and hot-blooded. Failure can lead to pessimism [and they are generally] bad at managing their finances" (OK, never mind, I don't mind being a horse then).

Aha! The article even says that those people who were not born in the year of the horse will find the year ahead to "bring health and prosperity." I'm likin' this prediction very mucho!

Happy New Year everyone!

January 27, 2014

The Origins Of The Samurai

During the Nara period, in the late 8th century, Japan shifted from conscripted armies (a concept that failed) to official troops whose taxes were remitted in exchange for military service.  The samurai remained the military force of Japan until the foot-soldier revolution of the 15th and 16th centuries.

The word samurai comes from the verb samurau, 'to serve.'

January 20, 2014

MLK Today and Forever

"Nonviolent direct action seeks to create such a crisis and foster such a tension that a community, which has constantly refused to negotiate, is forced to confront the issue."

~Martin Luther King Jr., Birmingham jail, Alabama, 1963

January 14, 2014

The Genetic History Behind The Fastest Runner On Earth

Cheetahs, with their wiry bodies, mega-strong legs, small heads, and incidentally very rough fur that makes
them unlikely targets for poachers, can go from 0 to 70 miles/hour in the span of 4 brief seconds (though that only lasts for about 0.25 miles).  However, they also have a low fertility rate (low sperm count: about 10% of the norm for other cats), a high percentage of birth defects (about 70% of the sperm malformed), and weak immune systems :(

But blood tests brought about a really interesting discovery: this may all be caused by waaaaay too much interbreeding (and we know all how badly that's turned out for some "royal specimens"--see herehere and at the bottom of this post), to the point that it appeared every single cheetah on earth was merely a clone of itself.

It was found that some 12,000 years ago, the cheetah species went through some apocalyptic event (think Ice Age) that wiped out all but a few lucky survivors... the ancestors of our current cheetahs.

Cool fact: females are loners (except when taking care of their cubs) whereas males can travel in packs, and it's the females who pick their own partners!  (Also, if two or more females share the same space, they "may suppress each other's reproductive hormones.")

For you history buffs out there (not completely unrelated):
Class case of inbreeding: King Charles II of Spain who was physically and mentally disabled, and infertile.
Note that in Ancient Egypt, the Pharaohs had to marry their sisters to get a true heir.
And this one's kinda sad, actually, but another good example of the dangers of inbreeding:

Smithsonian Magazine

January 7, 2014

Death By Smoke

Growing up in Europe, I was offered my first cigarette in 4th grade. Thankfully, I was at the time collecting fact magazines and one of the topics that it had covered was the effect smoking has on the lungs. What struck me was not the long article (TL;DR) but rather the picture that accompanied it. Here's a Harry Potter version of what I saw:

Pretty gnarly, huh?  Now if only I'd seen something similar for the effects of sugar... d'you think I wouldn't have such a sweet tooth now?

PS, having almost lost my grandma a couple of years ago to second-hand smoking, thought I might add a few things about the chemicals found in tobacco smoke:

  1. Tar: thick, gooey brown substance that rots and blackens the mouth. (Apparently, the tar from cigarette smoke's similar to that of marijuana smoke...)
  2. Carbon Monoxide: gas that likes to steal hemoglobin away from oxygen cause they "bind better" (what a whore!). Ensues lack of oxygen for the rest of the cells in the body.
  3. Chemicals: include hydrogen cyanide, hydrocarbons, nitrous oxides, organic acids, phenols and oxidizing agents. (Incidentally, these are also the reason why firefighters have been dying at a more rapid pace because of these toxic compounds inhaled while trying to save people, animals and homes.) By stopping the lungs from cleaning themselves out, these toxic chemicals end building up inside (it's so cozy in there!).
  4. Free Radicals:  chemicals that react with cholesterol, building up fatty deposits on arterial walls. Cue heart disease, etc.
  5. Metals:  including arsenic, cadmium, and lead.
  6. Radioactive Compounds: Polonium 210 isotope is a key factor in lung cancer among smokers.
It's amazing how many old ads showed doctors and scientists endorsing cigs!

January 2, 2014

Life Without Lights

What would happen should the world revert to its untainted origins?  Those demons the Fey would like nothing better than to bring us back to them.  In the meantime, artist Thierry Cohen shows us what it would be like...  and could it really be that bad?

New York
Rio de Janeiro