Right Now in Stuff to Blow Your Mind

A few weeks ago, an old friend of mine was bemoaning her inability to understand men. I told her to take a close look at insects and everything will begin to seem a lot more cut-and-dried. Not to say you can solve all gender-related issues by looking at a beehive, but the more I look at insects, the more it becomes clear that the females are the real members of any given species and the men are essentially an adaptation necessary to breeding. A little while ago, I posted about termite queens that produce asexually to make a clone of themselves, who carry on mating with the termite king after they've reached the end of their shorter life span. Well, the same publication, the UK's Royal Society B, has hit us with another whopper: Amazonian ants that have given up on sexual reproduction altogether. Yes, they're an all-female species.

When you're watching a herd of sleek caribou crunch across the Arctic landscape, animal migration seems preordained, predestined -- a massive, well-coordinated movement that occurs thanks to internal cues and clocks. And that's true, except for animals raised in captivity, like the whooping crane. (Am I the only one who can't help but think of Tom Robbins' book "Even Cowgirls Get the Blues" whenever these tall, leggy creatures are mentioned?) How do you teach a whooper to migrate? Well, you borrow a lightweight aircraft, get it airborne and broadcast the bird's call on the craft's handy MP3 player, according to Catherine Schwanke's story at Popular Science. The aviators and wildlife enthusiasts at Operation Migration first got the idea to teach birds migratory behavior and lead them on safer migration paths after watching geese follow a boat. Keep reading to see a video of them departing.

We all know eco-consciousness has a thorough stronghold in the beauty industry. But it's usually paired with a powerful message to buy -- throw out your concealer and replace it with mineral makeup; get rid of your shampoo and buy organic; choose natural sunscreen because nothing else will do. It's a lot more surprising to come across an eco-conscious beauty directive that urges you to give up a product. But that's the gist of the "no 'poo" movement, short for "no shampoo." According to NPR's "Morning Edition," some folks are giving up what is, for most of us, a daily ritual. Jeanne Haegele, a woman featured in the NPR story, went three whole months without shampooing in an effort to buy fewer plastic items. Baking soda took the place of shampoo while vinegar filled in for conditioner. I figured such a routine would quickly result in a really bad, greasy hair day. Dermatologists, however, say no.

NASA didn't name the node after him, but Stephen Colbert did learn that at least one piece of space hardware will bear his name: the combined operational load bearing external resistance treadmill. Astronaut Sunita Williams broke the news to Colbert on his late-night TV show yesterday.

We thought we'd defeated them during World War II -- driven them from our mattresses and couches with powerful pesticides. But bed bugs are making a comeback, and you won't just find them in squalid environments and cheap motels. Climate change, decreased use of powerful pesticides and increased international travel have brought them back to dorms, hospitals and even upscale hotels in various major cities.

I like mushrooms in my omelets, or sautéed with wine or on a pizza. Who knew they could also insulate my home or compose my to-go box at my favorite kabob restaurant? According to Green Inc., Ecovative Design has developed an organic alternative to fiberglass insulation and Styrofoam using -- you guessed it -- fungi. While still students at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute, Eben Bayer and Gavin McIntyre observed how the fungal mycelium of mushrooms (basically mushroom roots) bound wood chips together. They adapted this process -- called microbinding -- in order to make a strong, natural product. The process goes something like this: Fungi cells are mixed with local agricultural wastes high in lignin (such as buckwheat and rice hulls), as well as water, recycled paper and hydrogen peroxide. The mycelium digest the lignin in about a week leaving behind "a strong biological matrix."

Today wasn't such a good day in the effort to stop the proliferation of nuclear weapons. You probably heard that North Korea told United Nations inspectors from the International Atomic Energy Agency to pack it up. Adding insult to injury, President Kim Jong Il and company said they'd be resuming operations at a factory responsible for producing weapons-grade plutonium.

As I enjoy my first day working from home as part of HowStuffWorks.com's new telecommuting policy, I thought it only proper to take note of this piece of news: The World Wildlife Fund, that panda-logoed environmental powerhouse, has determined that teleworking is a viable carbon solution. In a study I found via TreeHugger, the WWF posited on four scenarios of future worlds featuring telecommuting. At the top of the game is the so-called "smart world" -- a collision of both the IT industry and policymakers working together to create climate friendly solutions. At the bottom is the "carbon world," with weak climate change policy and little input from the IT industry. The disparity between the scenarios is vast: Nearly 1 billion tons of CO2 differentiate the two by 2030, and nearly 3.5 billion tons by 2050. That's more than half of the United States' current total.

Remember when other kids used to tell you that if you swallowed seeds, that a tree would grow out of your belly? Sure, it might have sounded traumatic at the time, but you eventually grew up... all so you could read a news story about a Russian man who may or may not have a fir tree growing out of his lung. Yep, according to Mosnews.com, a 28-year-old man from the central Russian city of Izhevsk reported to the hospital with chest pains. The doctors detected what they thought was a tumor and removed it. Tucked inside the lump of bloody lung tissue was a 2-inch (5-centimeter) fir tree sapling. And yes, you can view a color photo of the alleged lung tree. Needless to say, this whole story is a bit fishy. Accidental inhalations can pose a problem, but they tend not to result in internal plant growth -- and I say that with God knows how much pollen in my lungs right now. FOX News has already run with the story, but I'm very curious to see if this one gets shot down in the days to come or simply disappears, kind of like that British guy who grew back his finger.

Tick tock, Tick Tock, TICK TOCK, the female biological clock practically screams as we female mammals age. Unlike male mammals, like, say, Indian farmer Nanu Ram Jogi, who fathered a child at 90 (his 21st), according to Mental Floss, females are born with a limited cache of eggs, which diminishes with age. Once the last one's gone, menopause grimly marches forward and the prospect of bearing a child vanishes forever. Or so we thought. Not so, according to fascinating research headed by Ji Wu at Shanghai Tong University and published online by Nature Cell Biology. Wu and his team removed mice ovaries, searching them for a specific type of stem cell capable of growing into eggs or sperm. They found them, grew them in the lab, injected them in sterile female mice, let the females get busy with the males, and -- ta-da! -- healthy mice babies emerged.

Energy-efficient retrofits tend to take somewhat of a back burner in home remodeling. According to National Geographic, if given an extra $10,000 to work with, only 24 percent of homeowners would invest in efficiency. That figure looks even bleaker when judging commercial building owners. Most commercial owners fall more in the category of a stingy residential landlord than an eco-conscious homeowner.

Violent weather is currently tearing through the Southwestern United States. But last night's destructive winds may not be due to a tornado, but to a gravity wave, according to a story out of Huntsville, Ala. Check out the following video to get an idea of what the station meteorologist was talking about. According to NASA, an atmospheric gravity wave is a lot like the waves you encounter on the ocean, only in the atmosphere. Gravity figures into all this because whatever gets pitched up has to come crashing back down -- and when it does, it pitches up more fluid, sustaining the wave. A thunderstorm updraft to wind shears is often all it takes to provide the initial impulse that kicks off a wave. Atmospheric gravity waves are a common occurrence, but they can provide just enough of a shove to give rotating thunderstorms even more energy. In some cases, they can even spin them into full-blown tornadoes or super-charge existing twisters.

Dave Arneson, the second of the famed pair that brought us Dungeons & Dragons (and hours and hours of entertainment) died Tuesday at the age of 61, according to AP. It's been a rough year for D&D. Gary Gygax, D&D's co-creator, died in March 2008. These were the guys who brought role-playing games to life, long before stuff like World of Warcraft or MMORPGs entered the scene and permanently stole into gamers' hearts and minds. D&D also has inspired countless fantasy novels, movies and at least one animated series. The official D&D Web site, Wizards of the Coast, has gone dark in Arneson's honor, with an homage to their hero. You can also read Geekdad's post over at Wired. For any hardcore fans out there, particularly those in the area of St. Paul, Minn., a public memorial service is slated for April 20. Anyone planning to do anything in Arneson's honor?

I've been biding my time waiting for the chance to blog about Krakatoa. Ever since I stumbled across a PBS show on the great volcano the other night, I've been looking for my excuse. I've found it.

Where does the Earth end and space begin?

Have you ever wondered where the Earth ends and outer space begins? And how can scientists say definitively? One of the differences between Earth and space centers on how well particles are treated. We subject matter in the Earth's upper bounds to a nice, gentle wind. The Wild West of space, however, tends to be a more violent place.

As members of Congress pour over a U.S. climate bill centered on a cap-and-trade system, a small collection of idyllic atolls in the Indian Ocean is busy with its own ambitious plan. According to the Economist, the president of the Maldives, Mohamed Nasheed, announced in March that his country would attempt to stop using fossil fuels by 2020.

Chimpanzees are fascinating, whether they're hanging out with Ronald Reagan, blasting into space or ripping someone's face off. They're frightening, they're cute and now we know a little more about the kind of work that goes into becoming a success in the chimp dating world.

There's no law that says you have to get along swimmingly with your father. But what if daddy happens to be a nameless sperm donor and his genetic material wasn't properly screened by the sperm bank? According to an article on New Scientist, a U.S. judge has ruled that 13-year-old Brittany Donovan, who suffers from fragile-X syndrome, can sue New York's Idant Laboratories for not screening out the debilitating genetic disorder. This is essentially a product liability suit -- the same as if you bought a car with faulty engineering. Some states (not New York) offer blood shield laws to protect companies like blood banks from lawsuit. If successful, how far will this legal precedent reach? While I think everyone can agree on the necessity for sperm banks to properly screen donors for conditions such as fragile-X, could we one day see suits over mild depression or male pattern baldness?

Another Reason Not to Marry Your Hot Cousin

Back in high school, I knew a girl who dated her first cousin. When prom time rolled around and they decided to go together, some people snickered at, among other things, what it would say on the invitation. The two of them had the same last name. As it turns out, researchers have come up with another strike against inbreeding and consanguineous marriage: susceptibility to infectious disease. According to a study published online in the Royal Society's biology letters on March 18, 2009, it may not be good for your health to be kissing cousins, let alone marrying them. We already know by studying animal populations that less genetic diversity can be a risk factor for infection from multiple pathogens. We also know that inbreeding isn't so great for noninfectious diseases, such as heart disease, multiple sclerosis, depression and asthma, according to the authors.

Here's the gist of ocean fertilization: You dump large amounts of iron into the sea. That iron encourages algae growth, and the algae, in turn, suck carbon dioxide -- a global-warming culprit -- right out of the atmosphere. The algae eventually sink to the bottom of the ocean, sequestering the CO2 beneath the deep. It sounds like a catchy plan, right? Letting algae do the work of capturing and sequestering carbon dioxide? But even when you put questions about the ocean's potential as a carbon sink aside, there's apparently a problem: "shrimplike animals." According to National Geographic, a team of German and Indian scientists staged a large-scale iron dump in Argentina's coastal waters. They mixed ferrous sulfate with the seawater before releasing it back into the ocean. It worked -- the algae grew -- but not the right type.