Right Now in Stuff to Blow Your Mind

Fear in a Handful of Dust

Whether you're a struggling sub-Saharan farmer or just a hippie dosed to the gills at Burning Man, the sight of an advancing wall of abrasive darkness is never a good thing. Also known as sandstorms, dust storms have served as harbingers of drought, famine and death for thousands of years.

What the heck is noetic science?

In case you missed it, and I doubt you did, Dan Brown has a new novel called "The Lost Symbol." In his new thriller, Brown discusses an area of research that I'd never heard of -- noetic science. Forget studying how an avian infection may have plagued dinosaurs or surveying sea ice for clues to climate change, these guys tackle experiments like testing the efficacy of prayer, although prayer would likely be called "distant healing" in noetic science parlance. (If you're curious, here's a link on how to carry out such studies, published by the president of the Institute of Noetic Sciences, Marilyn Schlitz, and her colleagues.) But I still haven't told you what noetic science is. I guess you'll just have to click "Read more" to find out.

It's weeks like these that all the aliens need to get together and finally start an intergalactic news organization to report on all the universal happenings. Here at HowStuffWorks.com we've been so busy covering the Ig Nobels this week, that outer space took a back seat. Which new story excited you the most? Was it NASA taking a bite out of the moon Friday morning? Or maybe you didn't bat an eye at that since, as Robert reminded me, this idea of bombing the moon has been around since as early as the 1950s in the form of Project A 119. Or maybe you're more of a pacifist and applaud Huffington Post blogger Amy Ephron's efforts to help save the moon (rather than bomb it). Furthermore, even if you were gung-ho on the explosion idea, the impact didn't exactly give you a big show in the form of a plume of debris.

Ig Nobel Prizes 2009: Panda Poop and Economy Wrecking

As you might have noticed, a few of us here at HowStuffWorks.com devoted a little blog time this week to run down this year's Ig Nobel Prizes, the absurdest cousin of the more prestigious awards. In this post, you'll find the links to the rest of the Ig Nobel blog entries from Josh, Chuck, Allison, Sarah and myself. But first, I thought I'd run through the two remaining winners.

Thailand: Sinking Cities and Fading Deltas

Thailand's enormous capital is crisscrossed with canals and bisected by the snaking path of the Chao Phraya River. As such, some travel writers have dubbed Bangkok the "Venice of the East," and as with its Italian cousin, there's also more than a little concern about what happens if sea levels rise.

Ig Noble Prizes 2009: Pregnant Ladies Walk Funny

Ardi grabbed the headlines this weekend. You know this. You were probably feeding fossil facts into your cocktail banter like your name was Ardipithecus ramidus. But here's a story that probably escaped your notice, unless your midsection is shaped like a bowling ball and you have to make frequent bathroom trips: Pregnant women walk funny, and they have for millions of years. They waddle.

Ig Nobel Prizes 2009: If You Give a Cow a Name...

I've always heard it's not a great idea to name any animal you plan to eat eventually. Start calling your rooster "Callixtus" and you may feel a bit guilty when you pick off his harem one by one for roasting and cast him as the centerpiece in your coq au vin. Such sage advice probably protects livestock owners from forming petlike attachments to their animals. But what if your livestock isn't bound for the butcher (at least not anytime soon)?

Ig Nobel Prizes 2009: Bar Fights and Tequila Diamonds

Granted, I'm not actually the kind of guy to ever wind up in a bar fight. But if I WERE to find myself fighting for my life in an East Texas roadhouse, which bottle should I choose to smash over the head of my attacker? An empty or an unopened brew? Leave it to science to nail down an answer for us.

Jimmy Carter's Sweater and '70s Style Conservation

Katie and I spent a beautiful autumnal Atlanta day at the grand reopening of the Jimmy Carter Presidential Library and Museum last week. After speeches, singing and ribbon-cutting, we got to take a turn through the renovated and expanded museum and library. Of course the new digs are chock-full of high-tech features and interactive displays. But there's also plenty of presidential memorabilia, including what's perhaps the second-most-famous glass-enclosed cardigan in the world, or reproduction at least (my No. 1 contender being Mr. Rogers' red cable-knit housed at the Smithsonian).

Ardi Fills Evolutionary Gap Between Man and Chimp

No seriously, breathe a sigh of relief -- it's "Ardi" as in Ardipithecus ramidus, not "Artie" as "Artie Lang." After months of rumors, the official word has finally broken out of the University of California at Berkeley's Human Evolution Research Center, and everyone's going ga-ga over this 4.4-million-year-old hominid, according to Discovery News.

Notorious Ring of Fire Keeps Earning Its Name

An earthquake with a magnitude of 7.6 rocked Sumatra last night, killing hundreds of people. As the Indonesians turned to the grim task of cleaning up -- wham -- another earthquake registering 6.6 struck. Earlier in the week, we heard about how a tsunami ravaged American Samoa, leaving residents scrambling for high ground with very little warning.

Let's take a break from missiles, mayhem and global destruction today and instead have a little fun with the wonderful world of crackpot theories. Yes, I'm talking about the beloved Crackpot Index devised (and copyrighted) by mathematical physicist John Baez and one of the hosts over at the n-Category Cafe blog. In a 2008 "This American Life" interview, the scientist said he's seen at least 100 different crackpot theories in his day, so he seems well-equipped to develop such a scoring system. Go see it and score your crazy theory yourself (and report back). Here are a few of my favorites among the 37 different criteria that Baez lists.

The Wonderful World of Saunas

Prior to this month, I don't think I'd stepped inside a sauna for close to two decades. Back in the late '80s, my family made an epic drive from Newfoundland, Canada, to Middle Tennessee, and I remember us stopping at a couple of hotels up north that offered such amenities. When you're 7, however, you're not really in a position to appreciate the finer qualities of a good lengthy sweat. Three minutes of squirming and pouring too much water on the stones is generally enough to satisfy your hyperactive curiosity (or get you kicked out, whichever comes first). So the next 20 years passed by relatively sauna-free for me. After all, most of that time was spent in the American South. But a few weeks ago, the masterminds at HowStuffWorks.com assigned me a couple of articles on saunas (How Saunas Work and 5 Strangest Saunas) and all of this changed.

I spent half my weekend and all of my subsequent commutes to work raptly reading "The Devil in the White City." While the book focuses on the intense concentration of design and murder taking place in Gilded Age Chicago, a fair number of bikes have also tooled through the story's pages. Safety bikes, that is. The safety bike -- two evenly sized wheels set on a frame much like that of today's bicycles -- replaced the dangerous and sometimes deadly high-wheelers, transforming cycling from a young man's sporting pursuit to an easy, everyday way for getting around. Copenhagen may be on the verge of a subsequent biking revolution, although this time the change is on the ground. FanStuff's Tracy Wilson forwarded me an article from io9 laying out the Danish city's plan for a bike superhighway.

How do you stop a mid-range missile from obliterating your city or town?

I admit it. When the headlines about Iran testing a mid-range missile came out today, I thought, sure, I know what a mid-range missile is. It's a missile that, uh, isn't short- or long-range but in the middle, sort of Goldilocks style. Actually, it's a missile that can cover 620 to 1,860 miles (1,000 to 3,000 kilometers), depending on the make and model.

Excuse me sir, but is that covert nuclear facility making nuclear weapons or nuclear power?

By now, you've probably already heard that Presidents Obama and Sarkozy, along with British Prime Minister Gordon Brown have jointly accused Iran of keeping a secret nuclear facility. The leaders are now asking the International Atomic Energy Agency to immediately inspect the facility. But how can they tell the Iranian operation is intended to make nuclear weapons rather than nuclear power?

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!