Right Now in Stuff to Blow Your Mind

The Blob Attacks Alaska and Other Cryptozoological Letdowns

So I just found out that Alaskans spotted an unidentified organic blob in the waters off the Chukchi Sea. Would this turn out to be something new and amazing, an established natural phenomenon or this year's bigfoot hoax?

When Science and Dance Converge

A few weeks ago I blogged about dancing and how a team of German scientists sought to unravel its role in human mating with an endless loop of Robbie Williams. But what else does science have to say about dancing? Let's look at a couple of recent, science news items about getting down with the rhythm.

Forget Floral Prints, These Clothes Are Made of Flowers

Environmental art is usually meant to shock or surprise. It juxtaposes something created with something natural. Occasionally, it's even unintentional, like the nearly three dozen tractors I saw "grazing" in a Tennessee field a few weeks back. But rarely are eco-installations as beautiful as the flowery, ephemeral clothing made by Vancouver-based artist Nicole Dextras.

Lima, Peru has some rather unusual suburbs. Rural villagers who move into the capital often end up living on the outskirts of town -- steep hillsides that envelop the city. The land is cheap, but it comes with risks and downsides, namely landslides and a lack of water. In order to help remedy both problems, the government has set up a sort of homesteader's law. If new residents squat on unclaimed land, after a time, they're allowed to obtain the land's title by planting trees uphill, an insurance policy against landslides. More trees also help re-establish the area's natural water cycle, returning the precipitation that they don't absorb themselves back into the groundwater. The only problem is there's not much water around for irrigation, or anything else for that matter.

Because We Really Need Corpse-eating Robots

Maybe it's a cultural thing. In Japan, scientists are always making the news for their latest robot designed to cook your dinner, dance or be your friend. Over here in the states, we're more about unleashing packs of steam-powered, mechanical ghouls to feast on the bloated corpses of our fallen enemies. Man, we've got issues.

The World's Mangroves in Peril

One of my all-time best spring breaks was spent snorkeling in the Florida Keys. While the trip obviously featured requisite excursions to the amazing Everglades and nearby reefs (including a pass by the wild, underwater "Christ of the Abyss" statue), it also included a lot of time spent poking around Key Largo's mangrove forests.

U.S. Senator Battles Human-Animal Hybrids

I'm going to go out on a limb here and say that most of us are staunchly against the idea of genetically engineering a race of half man, half animal monsters. Centaur fetishist aside (look it up, folks), I think the rest of us have seen enough sci-fi and horror flicks to know where you draw the line. So do we really need a U.S. law?

Delegates from the global shipping industry are tackling some awfully big cargo this week: their greenhouse gas emissions. The talks are being overseen by the International Maritime Organization (IMO) in London. The convention is a last-ditch effort for the IMO to suggest its own proposals before the task gets snatched out of its hands. The industry -- which according to Reuters, accounts for 3 percent of global carbon dioxide emissions -- has felt mounting pressure from Europe and America to clean up its act. The IMO, a part of the United Nations, is responsible for developing a regulatory framework for shipping safety, security, efficiency and environmental issues. But it's been lagging on the environmental front, fearing that reducing emissions will increase rates and damage the world's economy. However, the European Union isn't willing to wait much longer; the European Commission (the EU's executive branch) has already announced it will take steps to regulate shipping if the IMO doesn't do so itself.

My relationships with plants are often a bit strained. I manage to drown tomatoes. I wind up mistaking hibiscuses for weeds year after year and either hack them to death myself or pay the neighborhood kid to do it. If you're a member of the vegetable kingdom, then I'm afraid you and me simply weren't meant to be. But it all comes down to communication, right? Why can't you plants, say, just tell me when you need watering instead of passive aggressively withering on me when you're thirsty? Am I being unreasonable? Well, not according to the makers of Botanicalls, the new telecommunications system that enables your plant to send you texts, e-mails or tweets when they need watering. Of course, your plant's not actually going to send out tweets -- though I can't imagine their messages would be any more mundane than the average human Twitter user. Botanicalls makes use of an Ethernet-enabled soil probe. According to Science Daily, the probe sends out electrical waves through the soil and the amount of moisture in the soil affects the overall voltage level. TreeHugger has a good graphic of the system here.

Lightning: Life's Secret Ingredient?

Dr. Frankenstein, if you're reading this, you have reason to feel a little vindicated. While the modern scientific community may laugh at your use of harnessed lightning bolts to animate a stitched-up monster, they're at least admitting that lightning may have played a vital role in the evolution of life on Earth.

Parasites Gave Us Sex -- Now that's a Headline

Yes, the next time you find yourself appreciating the finer qualities of sexual reproduction or shaking your head at its many complications, you can throw all the blame and praise to the worms.

How do seagulls drink saltwater?

For anyone currently whiling away their time at a beach (with a laptop and Internet connection, I guess), this question might occur to you. How do gulls, those birds so adept at stealing your sandwich or even invading your hotel room through an open balcony, drink saltwater?

Who knows what women want? Nadine Hugill and Bernhard Fink of the University of Göttingen, that's who. The German researchers exposed female test subjects to video clips of 40 different heterosexual men dancing to Robbie Williams' "Let Me Entertain You" and quizzed them on their thoughts. Clothing, facial features -- everything was blurred out except for the movements of the dancers. According to a recent New Scientist article, the researchers found significant evidence that women use dancing ability to assess male strength and dominance -- traits that signal status. The better the dancer, the more desirable the male -- statistically speaking. I'm personally not an amazing dancer. Maybe I'm too tall? But I generally approach the activity enthusiastically when I do, so I take heart in the fact that males in the study were judged on both the attractiveness of their dance and the assertiveness of it. So maybe the ladies are also impressed by sheer devotion to the music?

Redesign the 'Burbs and Win

Tweaks on the word "suburbia" scored hits for Rihanna and Shia LaBeouf. Now Dwell Magazine and Inhabitat are hoping their play on the word (with a different prefix, of course) will see similar success. The two design powerhouses are co-hosting "Reburbia," a competition to redesign dilapidated American suburbia.

There's a New Monkey in Town

Yes, the Wildlife Conservation Society (WCS) announced a new monkey yesterday. While it's not the fabled Bigfoot or skunk ape that I know you all were clamoring for, it is a distinct Amazonian subspecies of saddleback tamarin. That's him in the illustration. Quite a handsome chap, yeah? He weighs in at less than 0.75 pounds and is only 9 inches tall.

You've probably seen a Ken Burns documentary or two -- he's famous for productions like "The Civil War," "Baseball" and "Jazz." In September, PBS will broadcast his latest project, "The National Parks: America's Best Idea," a work that took six years to film and involved a lot of trekking across the country's most pristine locales. "Sierra," the Sierra Club's magazine, recently included an article by Dayton Duncan, a writer and producer who collaborates with Burns. Duncan pitched the project to the filmmaker as a result of a lifelong interest in the National Park Service -- an interest that eventually led him to visit all 58 parks in the system. The project helped fund (or at least justify) Duncan's trips to some of the more outlying national park locations (like Hawaii Volcanoes or Paka O Amerika Samoa), as well as sponsoring returns to old favorites (like Joshua Tree).

Martian Hoax Still Spreading

I spent the July 4 weekend with family. During this time I learned that the planet Mars would shortly move closer to the Earth than it has in all of recorded history -- so close, in fact, that it would appear as large as the moon in the night sky.

Sasquatch vs. Werewolf, That Old Rivalry

If you clicked on this link hoping to vote for your favorite monster in a geeky Internet death match, then you're out of luck. As it turns out, Charles Darwin decided the outcome on this fight more than a century ago.

Will there ever come a day when all humans live in peace, with every child born into a united brotherhood of man? Well, keep writing folk songs, hippie, because we're still killing each other. Meanwhile, colonies of Argentine ants around the globe are gathered around tiny campfires singing Kumbaya.. The ants are known for building massive super colonies (consisting of colonies sometimes hundreds of miles apart), and according to BBC News, these may be part of a worldwide mega-colony. You can take members of the larger super colonies in Europe, Japan and the United States, place them among another colony an ocean away and they'll all get along swimmingly. There's no territorial angst, they just jump in and help. They seem to identify the same chemical signals and are, essentially, members of the same widespread community, rivaling only that of humans.

A "Ghost Fleet" Haunts the James River

Ghost ships are always popping up in folklore and fiction -- there's the Flying Dutchman of Wagner's "Der Fliegende Holländer," the Black Pearl in "Pirates of the Caribbean," and hey, even the eponymous "Ghost Ship" in Disney's TaleSpin. Of course in fiction, the primary problem with ghost ships is their crews of undead pirates, or at best, lonesome, cursed sailors who unknowingly forecast doom.