Right Now in Stuff to Blow Your Mind

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!

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.