June 30, 2010

Lose Weight By Taking Mass Transit

Ditching your car and using transit regularly can actually help you weigh less. Not the sitting and riding from home to work and back again, but the walking that accompanies them. This makes well-connected, attractive, and safe public transit a possible remedy for obesity.
New Bay Area Rapid Transit (BART) rail car on display in
San Francisco, California

A recent study has revealed that less than one year after a light rail system in Charlotte, North Carolina, began running, commuters who took light rail to work regularly were an average of 6.45 pounds lighter than their colleagues who drove to work.

June 28, 2010

The Economics of The iPhone 4

According to PC World, Apple has already sold 1.7 million of its iPhone 4. Apple offers its new iPhone 4 for sale for US$199. Would you like to know how much each of the components costs? How about where the profits come from? Here is a breakdown, according to the market research firm iSuppli and Bloomberg News.

The most expensive part by far is the screen, or "retina display" in Applespeak, which costs about $28.50.

June 23, 2010

Recycle That Metal!

By Andrew Radburn
Leeds, UK

Almost everyone is now unmistakably aware of the problems that simply throwing away our rubbish, rather than recycling it, can cause to the environment. Within our homes and even businesses, it is now second nature for many of us to recycle as much as we possibly can, such as glass bottles, plastic containers, cartons and packaging, newspapers and other paper products. What many of us may be less aware of, is the need to look at metal recycling.

Metal recycling may not instantly seem like something with which the individual needs to be too concerned. When we think metal, we tend to think of large scrap metal dealers and sizeable industrial machinery. Yet within our own domestic environment, we are inextricably surrounded by metal objects. Every day we handle aluminium and steel food and drink cans. Our household appliances, which these days we ultimately disregard rather than repair once they fail, are almost all made of or include substantial elements of metal. Add to these batteries, aerosol cans and even our old cars and bicycles and we are inundated with all manner of metals - almost all of which can be recycled.

June 21, 2010

Happy Summer Solstice

Today is the first day of summer 2010 in earth's northern hemisphere, also known as the Summer Solstice. The Summer Solstice is when earth's axial tilt is most inclined towards the sun at its maximum of 23° 26'. It's the longest day of the year, with the shortest night.

Would you like to know more about how the seasons work? Well, they are caused by the planet's annual journey around the sun in an elliptical orbit, as well as its tilted axis. If the earth was not spinning on a tilted axis, but instead on one perpendicular to the sun, then there would be no seasons. For half of the year, the north pole tilts toward the sun and for half of the year it tilts away from the sun. According to Calendar Updates, "the declination of the Sun on the Summer Solstice is known as the tropic of cancer (23° 27').

In the southern hemisphere, winter and summer solstices are exchanged so that the Summer Solstice is the day on which the Sun is farthest south. A common misconception is that the earth is further from the sun in winter than in summer. Actually, the Earth is closest to the sun in December which is winter in the Northern hemisphere. As the Earth travels around the Sun in its orbit, the north-south position of the Sun changes over the course of the year because of the changing orientation of the Earth's tilted rotation axes. The dates of maximum tilt of the Earth's equator correspond to the Summer Solstice and Winter Solstice, and the dates of zero tilt to the Vernal Equinox and Autumnal Equinox."

June 18, 2010

Sperm Whale Faeces Helps Oceans Absorb CO2!

Scientists have discovered that sperm whale feces may help oceans absorb carbon dioxide from the air! This is, of course, not a magic bullet solution to all of our global warming problems, but it is encouraging news. It's also yet another reason to stop the hunting of whales, as well as the death of whales caused by oil spills, such as the sperm whale that was recently found dead in the oil-contaminated Gulf of Mexico.

Australian researchers have calculated that Southern Ocean sperm whales release about 50 tonnes of iron every year. This stimulates the growth of tiny marine plants - phytoplankton in particular - which absorb CO2 during photosynthesis.

June 14, 2010

What Is The Origin of the Chicken?

Chickens aren't only found on farms! More and more cities and municipalities are passing laws permitting urban residents to keep chickens in their backyards as a source of eggs. Fresh, organic eggs are very tasty, but have you ever wondered where today's chickens come from, what wild animals gave rise to our domesticated egg layers, and from what ancient beasts they may have inherited some of their genes?
Red jungle fowl, or wild chicken,
By Brian Gratwicke from DC, USA, via Wikimedia Commons

The chicken (Gallus gallus domesticus) is a domesticated fowl. The chicken is one of the most common and widespread domestic animals. With more than 24 billion on earth in 2003, there are more chickens in the world than any other wild or domestic bird. Humans keep chickens primarily as a source of food, consuming both their meat and their eggs.

The domestic chicken is descended primarily from the Red Junglefowl (Gallus gallus) and is scientifically classified as the same species. As such it can and does freely interbreed with populations of red jungle fowl. Recent genetic analysis has revealed that at least the gene for yellow skin was incorporated into domestic birds through hybridization with the Grey Junglefowl (G. sonneratii).

June 10, 2010

For Profit Colleges Fight Limits on Student Debt

For-profit colleges in the United States are lobbying to kill new regulations designed to hold down student debt loads. The US Department of Education is expected to formally propose rules that would stop federal aid to colleges whose graduates don't earn enough to pay back their loans. A draft of the regulations was released in February 2010, prompted by high tuition rates and low education standards at for-profit colleges, abysmally low completion rates among their students, and comparatively low value of the education those students receive. In recent years, for profit colleges have been scooping up the lion's share of federal financial aid for higher education, but producing only a tiny handful of the graduates. The graduates that they do produce have the highest rate of defaulting on their huge student loan debt and of being unable to find work. Read on for more details and background information.

June 7, 2010

Australia Calls to End Japanese Whaling

Australia has announced it will take Japan to the International Court of Justice in a bid to prevent the country from whaling in the Antarctic Ocean. Environment Minister Peter Garrett and Attorney-General Robert McClelland said it underlines the government's "commitment to bring to an end Japan's programme of so-called scientific whaling" in the southern seas, reports the Belfast Telegraph. Japan is one of Australia's key trading partners. Japan gets around an international ban on commercial whaling by arguing that it harpoons hundreds of whales each year for " scientific research."
Fin whale photographed from the air
Photo courtesy of NOAA

In December of 2009, Australian Prime Minister Kevin Ruud first made such a threat, but as he did not set a deadline, it was met with considerable skepticism from the international public. Prime Minister Ruud has now set a deadline for Japan to stop whaling in the Southern Ocean or face international legal action. If by November 2010 negotiations fail to bring "their current catch to zero" Mr. Rudd said Australia "will initiate court action" to halt Japanese whaling.

June 3, 2010

Handbags Made With Dangerous Amounts of Lead

We sincerely hope that you aren't carrying a purse coated in lead! Why? Because imitation leather and vinyl handbags have been found to contain dangerous amounts of lead.
Photostock via freedigitalimages.net

In January of 2010, the Center for Environmental Health (CEH) reached a landmark settlement involving lead content in purses from well-known brands and stores.

Today, women are  being urged to check the brand labels on their purses against the list at the end of this article. If your vinyl purse is on the list, it may contain dangerously high levels of lead. CEH urges people to discontinue use and handle the bags with care.

CEH, a non-profit consumer watchdog group, tested purses from 100 of the nation’s top retailers and found disturbingly high levels of lead. Some of the brightly-colored handbags contained 90 times more lead than has been deemed safe. Doctors say the greatest concern with lead is exposure to children, pregnant women and women who hope to become pregnant. However, no amount of lead exposure is truly safe for anyone. The CEH reached the first ever settlement with stores to legally limit lead in bags they sell to you, the customer.

Einstein's Brain Reveals Some Mysteries of the Mind

Restored photo of Albert Einstein in 1921
by F. Schmutzer
Albert Einstein died April 18, 1955 at Princeton Hospital in Princeton, New Jersey. Within hours, the quiet town was swarming with reporters, scientific luminaries and people who simply wanted to be near the great scientist one last time. Then something odd occurred. Thomas Harvey performed the standard autopsy on Einstein. During the procedure, he removed the brain to examine it, which is routine. But instead of placing the brain back in the skull at the end of the autopsy, Harvey put it in a jar of formaldehyde and made off with it. Harvey claimed that he had permission from the Einstein family to take the brain, but the family later denied that any such permission had been granted. Harvey had the brain in a Tupperware container from that day until he died in 2007. Well, he had some of it. Over the years he sent samples of the brain to various scientists, universities, and research facilities. The handling of Einstein's brain over the years has been strangely slipshod. At one point, part of it was sent by post in a mayonnaise jar. But what is the fascination with the brain itself? In it lies the possibility of discovering an answer to the question of what made Einstein so clever.

June 2, 2010

Agatha Christie's 73rd Book Suggests Alzheimer's

If you've ever kept a journal, you may have worried about someone coming across it and getting an uninvited peek into your personal life. But the daily traces we leave behind in our writings – more and more in today's world of emails, blogs and Facebook pages – may reveal more than your dreams or your high school crush. It turns out that what we write, and how we write, may hold clues about our brains.

Ian Lancashire, an English professor at the University of Toronto, has spent much of his career trying to see past the words on the page and into the psyche of authors. He makes concordances of different texts; basically, an alphabetical list of all the words and the contexts in which they appear in a text. Incidentally, this is a practice  that dates back to medieval monks, who would make concordances of the Bible (without concordancing software, obviously) in the hopes of seeing the mind of God.

Lancashire has studied the works of authors such as Chaucer, Shakespeare and Milton. Among other things, he discovered that Milton never used the word "because" in any of his works. Why? Who knows. But in the mid '90s, Lancashire turned his attentions to one of the most published authors in the world: Dame Agatha Christie, the undeniable queen of the murder mystery novel.