Right Now in Stuff to Blow Your Mind

My husband is in Bangkok right now. Last night, he unexpectedly bumped into a guy I grew up with. Neither of them live there. Both were visiting Thailand on business, a place that neither of them visits regularly. Oh, and did I mention that blogger Robert Lamb happens to be over there this same exact week, too? Such are the coincidences that finally led me to do a little digging on Stanley Milgram's small world/six degrees of separation theory. The social psychologist probably more famous for his Stanford prison experiment (see Josh's posts on horrific psychological experiments) was actually the guy behind what we now know as six degrees of separation. Well, he and the playwright John Guare, who wrote a play in the 1990s titled "Six Degrees of Separation." Milgram said that everybody in the United States is connected to one another through a maximum of six steps. Kevin Bacon had nothing to do with it back then, although if you want to play that game, you can at the Oracle of Bacon.

What went down at the Summit on Climate Change?

The Copenhagen Climate Change Conference may not be until December, but world leaders and their top climate advisers are feeling the crunch. That's the point of New York's Climate Week and the United Nations Secretary General's Summit on Climate Change: to turn up the pressure in advance of the bureaucratic, intense December session of talks, and to give the leaders a chance to lay it out early, sans details.

Are barefoot runners and parasites BFF?

There's a movement afoot in the world of running: shucking your sneakers and loping along barefoot. If you head over to the Web site of Running Barefoot (motto: We don't need no stinkin' shoes!), you'll find a whole series of events catering to folks like Barefoot Ken Bob and other devotees of minimalist running.

Monticello North: Jefferson's Patch in the White House Garden

It's been a while since I've written about the White House Kitchen Garden, the first lady's South Lawn food project that got the attention of everyone from Alice Waters to agribusiness last spring. But as I watched a short video about the garden today (linked to below), something caught my attention: a special Thomas Jefferson plot!

How does your brain learn to see?

Last fall I was blind, if only for an hour. I had gone to "Dialog in the Dark," a performance that gives you a brief but lasting glimpse of what life might be like without your eyes. It's so dark in the exhibition space that you can have your eyes wide open and not see your hand in front of your face. After the performance, I stepped into the light, and my brain started processing all that assaulting visual information lickety-split. Thanks, brain. Sometimes, though, your brain has to learn how to see. It's a weird thought, like learning how to breathe, but that's the deal for formerly blind people whose sight is restored. How does your gray matter accomplish this monumental task? A bunch of MIT neurophysicists have tried to figure it out. For their experiment, they found three participants ranging in age from 3 to 29 who had regained their sight.

Space Music: Symphonies of the Planets

In this Space Music post, we'll discuss "Symphonies of the Planets," the five-volume collection of ambient space drone music released in 1992 by Lasterlight Records. Plus we'll also discuss new-age nerd goddess Fiorella Terenzi, the glittering Italian astrophysics diva that Time Magazine dubbed a cross between Carl Sagan and Madonna. Cosmic mystery AND European sex appeal? Yep, its all in this epic doubleheader of a post.

Can men really breastfeed?

Well, sure they can. After all, we're mammals. As such, one of our distinguishing traits is the formation of mammary glands to produce milk for our offspring. In fact, most people -- man, woman, birth mom, adopted mom and so on -- have the right equipment to breastfeed. What is that equipment? The aforementioned all-important mammary glands (along with their requisite network of ducts to the nipple) and the pituitary gland are the two keys to making you a milk man, according to Mental Floss. The pituitary gland oversees the release of prolactin, the hormone responsible for milk production and letdown that men and women both have. So what's the holdup, guys? A lack of stimulation, for one. Plus the fact that evolution hasn't been known to look to favorably on male animals who nurse. After all, aside from all those monogamous men and women out there, the rest of nature tends to mate like rabbits.

Space Music: Desert Island Albums in Orbit

I think we all love playing the desert island game with books, movies and albums from time to time. You know the deal: "If you had to spend the rest of your life on a desert island, which three titles would you want with you?" I thought today might be a good opportunity to take a cosmic spin on the idea and imagine ourselves trapped on the International Space Station. Here's the key stipulation: You can only pick from the books and albums ALREADY in orbit. The good folks over at GovernmentAttic.org filed a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request and received an official listing of all the books, movies, TV shows and albums in the ISS library. Hey, astronauts need to unwind too.

Food For Thought on Farm-to-Table

I caught a great talk this weekend on Atlanta's international cuisine with a smattering of local food predictions and suppositions thrown in by the panel's moderator. The lecture went down at the Decatur Book Festival, a two-day event filled with talks, book signings and many mulling page-browsers. While most of the talk focused on Atlanta's "arterial corridors" of international cuisine, one audience member steered the speakers toward the topic of local agriculture and the farm-to-table initiative.

Deodorant Gum, Roller Girls and Fruity Musk

I spent all last week researching and writing about saunas, so it feels right that I should happen on a mention of Fuwarinka Functional Candy and Gum in a Mental Floss article. Here's the deal: eat this gum and your breath will smell like vanilla or citrus. An hour later, work up a sweat and you'll coat yourself in a fragrant glaze of vanilla or citrus perfume.

Facing Down Fire: The Stay-and-Defend Strategy

A wildfire is creeping closer to your home. What do you do? If you're in the States, then chances are you've already been ordered to evacuate, so maybe you're on the road to safety. But in every major wildfire, the current Southern California one included, folks refuse to leave their homes.

How about some rainforest with your cup of joe?

With even the weakest brew of coffee, it's likely you'll find some pretty strong opinions ground up in the mix. Everything from taste, roast, fair trade, organics and even snobbery (Bux? Quelle horreur!). One of the newer distinctions on the block is "shade grown" or "bird friendly" beans, although until the 1970s, there wasn't anything but.

Stop Wildfires from Burning Down the House

As great swaths of Southern California continue to burn in raging wildfires, it seems like a good time to review the tools homeowners have to fight these ginormous blazes before they happen. So far this disaster has consumed more than 122,000 acres, and even more by the time you read this. So what can homeowners do, if anything, to avoid having their home reduced to ashes?

Please Eat This Dangerous (But Delicious) Fish

Want to help save the Atlantic Ocean from this deadly and destructive invader? Well grab some tartar sauce and a lemon wedge because the only way to turn back the tide is to start throwing them on the grill.

Johnny, Get Your (Taser) Shotgun

Stand back! That cheerful yellow shotgun pictured is capable of shocking the bejesus out of someone from about 100 feet away with the right rounds. This new (wireless!) electronic control device represents the latest weaponry available (as of this summer) from Taser International and goes nicely with its companion XREP rounds.

The Life of a Georgia Aquarium Diver

Last night I had the opportunity to attend Science on Tap, the first in a new series of lectures at the Georgia Aquarium here in Atlanta. This particular presentation was led by head divers Jeff Reid and Mauritius Bell, who provided a fascinating insight into their professional lives.

Monkeys, Historic Trials and Climate Change: Where's the missing link?

Until yesterday, you could have rightly assumed monkey trials and global warming had nothing to do with each other. But that was before the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, concerned over possible emissions regulations, challenged the EPA to a global warming showdown. According to the L.A. Times, officials at the chamber said the proposed legal faceoff could be "the Scopes monkey trial of the 21st century."

Robots Bone Up On Human Anatomy

So just why did European researchers build a robot with bones and muscles? And why is Josh Clark picking a fight with the machines? In this post we'll watch Eccrrobot in action and answer these pressing questions.

Amphibian Self Defense #563: Bone Shiv Assault

A few weeks ago I went over the various self defense strategies we can adapt from the armored ground cricket (the short answer: Dress and act like you're a member of GWAR). Today, I thought we'd prepare ourselves to go all Wolverine on our adversaries by looking at couple of rather strange amphibians.

After researching John Snow and his "Ghost Map" of cholera cases in Victorian London for the podcast, it's quite possible I'm hyperaware of water-quality issues. News that atrazine, a popular herbicide, exceeded federal safety limits in several states' drinking water had me looking for Georgia on the list and wondering if Brita filters take care of things like that. (Georgia's clear by the way, and simple filters do cut out atrazine -- at least according to the National Research Defense Council.) But it seems like everyone's talking about atrazine this week. The New York Times published a feature possibly linking the weed killer to birth defects and menstrual problems. Low exposures in utero have also made research animals more susceptible to cancer. Research from Purdue University suggests that even small concentrations -- 0.1 parts per billion -- can cause low birth weights. The EPA, however, has taken a fairly sunny outlook on all the data, especially considering levels of atrazine spike to their highest during summer months.