12/28/2007 5:32:49 PM
People with zodiac tattoos take heed: your astrological sign probably isn’t what you think it is. In an article for LiveScience, Pedro Braganca tears down some commonly held notions about the signs of the zodiac. Braganca writes that astrological signs were determined 2,200 years ago, based on the position of the sun in relation to the constellations. The problem is that the alignment of the stars has changed over time. Since the astrological positions were first recorded, the Earth has shifted on its axis due to a natural phenomenon called precession, caused by the Moon’s gravitational pull on the Earth’s equator. “This [shift],” writes Braganca, “means that the signs have slipped one-tenth—or almost one whole month—of the way around the sky to the west, relative to the stars beyond.” In other words, your actual astrological sign is probably not the one you thought it was. It may be the one directly before. If you think you are a Cancer, chances are you’re actually a Gemini. If you’re still interested, try LiveScience’s Starry Night program to determine your real, astrologically consistent zodiac sign.
12/21/2007 3:09:52 PM
Spinning restlessly in the starry loneliness of space, the Earth seems a blue refuge in an uninhabited void. The urge to reach outside this void and find life beyond Earth has spurred the Search for Extra Terrestrial Intelligence, or SETI. Some SETI projects point large radio telescopes up to the heavens to scan inter-stellar radio waves for signs of intelligence. Some scientists have gone further, Seed magazine reports, actively courting the attention of alien life by broadcasting messages into the stars.
Scientists call it “Active SETI,” and a controversy surrounding the practice has broken out in the upper echelons of the SETI community. The debate mulls over some important ethical questions: Who can speaks for Earth on an intergalactic scale? What should Earth say to the heavens? And, possibly the most worrisome of all, should we be courting the attention of aliens at all?
12/21/2007 11:45:12 AM
In 1921, a “clever but chronically catastrophic” inventor named Thomas Midgley had an idea on how to increase the fuel efficiency in cars: mix lead with gasoline. Little did he know that his invention would poison the environment, make millions sick, and drive many more to the brink of madness, according to an article on the website Damn Interesting. Leaded gasoline, like ozone-depleting chlorofluorocarbons (which Midgley also invented), Jell-o, and rollerblades, is a perfect example of a good idea gone wrong. It took nearly 50 years, numerous scientific inquiries, attempted corporate cover-ups, and the passage of the Clean Air Act in 1970 for leaded gasoline finally to disappear from the market.
12/21/2007 9:27:15 AM
The problem with dying these days is that everybody’s doing it. It is practically impossible to stand out from the crowd once you’ve breathed your final breath. In a delightfully macabre article for Live Science, Heather Whipps offers some suggestions on how your death, if celebrated in a sufficiently ridiculous fashion, can out-shine your soon-to-be-forgotten life. As an added benefit, some of the options are more eco-friendly than the traditional chemical-laden, bank vault-thick sarcophagus that so many choose for their final resting place (an idea covered by Utne.com in August of 2006). LiveScience also provides a handy top-ten list of the all-time weirdest ways of dealing with death to help with brainstorming. With this many alternatives, you might not even need your ashes shot out of a cannon.
For a related article on virtual bereavement, read
Grief Goes Online by Joe Hart
from the March/April 2006 issue of Utne Reader.
12/21/2007 8:44:18 AM
To continue in English, press 1. To get directions to our offices, press 2. To change your account information, press 3. To transfer to another department, press 4. To end the misery of this call, please hang up the phone now.
Dealing with automated menu systems can frustrate anyone. Sometimes, all you need is a real, live person. Knowing this, Paul English developed GetHuman.com, a website that helps people navigate the labyrinthine world of automated telephone customer-service lines.
Customer service phone numbers for more than 500 major companies are listed on the website, along with the quickest way to speak with a real person. Calling Blockbuster? Press 22. MetLife Bank? Press 000 rapidly and repeatedly, ignoring messages. Ameriquest Mortgage? Don’t press or say anything.
The website makes routine customer services calls a lot easier. Now, if only someone could create instructions on how to deal with incompetent customer-service representatives.
12/13/2007 9:30:52 AM
I’ve always favored salty snacks over sweet. I’m not sure what this reveals about my personality, but it does mean that the pickle—the humblest, briniest, saltiest treat of them all—has always been a favorite. As a child, I engineered a series of brilliant modifications to this simple vegetable, including pickle brine frozen into ice cubes and pickles split open and stuffed with peanut butter. These tasty innovations went wholly unappreciated by my parents, who worried about the centrality of such a nutritionally bankrupt food in my diet.
But wait! A healthier pickle lies on the horizon. Grow magazine reports that horticulturists at the University of Wisconsin–Madison are working to re-create a cucumber that’s rich in the antioxidant beta carotene. The project was originally thought up some 20 years ago, when Philipp Simon embarked on a decade-long project to cultivate a healthier cucumber. After a number of years spent planting, cross-breeding, and refining the hybrid cucumbers, Simon and his colleagues worked with Claussen in the mid-1990s to have them pickled. Apart from their health benefits, the new pickles were, as one of Simon's partners John Navazio told Grow, “lovely to eat.”
That was great news for the hardworking horticulturists, but here’s the catch: Their high beta-carotene content makes these healthy pickles orange. Really orange. And in 1997, before health food was all the rage, Claussen’s marketing team wasn’t sure that orange pickles would attract many customers. Then Navazio graduated, the project’s funding ran out, and the seeds of the lovely orange cucumber were shut up in seed envelopes.
Times have changed, of course, and nutrition has become a primary grocery-store obsession. So in 2005, Simon began working with Hugo Cuevas, a grad student in the university’s Agricultural & Life Sciences program, to bring the orange pickle back to life. Quite literally, in fact: After years of dormancy, the seeds no longer produced the beta-carotene–enriched cucumber that had taken so long to achieve in the first place. They hope to fully recreate it within the next two years.
And when they do, I’ll be calling my mom for a little I-told-you-so session. About twenty years too late.
Photo: Bruce Fritz/USDA Agricultural Research Service
12/12/2007 11:30:45 AM
The hottest portable gadget released this holiday season isn’t Amazon.com’s new e-book, the Kindle. It’s a nuclear reactor. Depending on whom you talk to, the portable nuclear reactor is either the most significant development in energy technology since the invention of the wind turbine, or it’s a harbinger of the apocalypse.
The portable nuke is the brainchild of Hyperion Power Generation, a company created last month to bring nuclear technology into the private sector, Dave Maass writes for the Santa Fe Reporter. Hyperion is promoting the portable nuclear reactor as a means of ending dependency on fossil fuel and abolishing poverty in the developing world. Maass reports that Hyperion’s claims have been met with considerable skepticism. * Los Alamos Study Group Executive Director Greg Mello says, “This whole idea is loony and not worthy of too much attention,”
* This article has been amended to properly source the originally reported material.
12/11/2007 4:58:32 PM
If 2007 is the future, then the future is lame. All the flying cars and ray-guns promised by scientists and science-fiction writers have failed to materialize. Proof of the past’s broken promises can be found at Paleo-Future, a blog devoted to antiquated visions of what today could have looked like. The website recently posted a scanned page of the Ladies’ Home Journal from 1900 that asked “the most conservative minds in America” what the year 2000 would look like.
Here are a few of their expert opinions (with added commentary):
- Efficiency will force Americans to bid goodbye to the letters C, Q, and X. English will be “a language of condensed words expressing condensed ideas.” O RLY? LOL!
- “Ready cooked meals will be bought from establishments similar to our bakeries of today.” Yeah, they’re called restaurants.
- “Food will be served hot or cold to private houses in pneumatic tubes or automobile wagons.” Well, we don’t have the pneumatic tubes yet, but we do have delivery pizza.
- “Grand Opera will be telephoned to private homes” giving even the “best music to the families of the untalented.” Would listening to my iPod count?
- The Ladies’ Home Journal also predicts central heating, airplanes, and international phone service.
For all its anachronistic predictions, the Ladies’ Home Journal article evokes a better and more-efficient future. Most of today's future visions aren’t nearly so hopeful. Where do you see us 100 years from now? Leave a comment here, or discuss it in Utne Reader’s online salon. —Brendan Mackie
Image from the Library of Congress.
12/11/2007 2:21:10 PM
A network of unexplored rivers and lakes lies hidden beneath two miles of ice inside Antarctic glaciers. Scientists are racing to drill through the deep ice to uncover these heretofore unknown bodies of water, Mariana Gosnell reports for Discover. * The scientists hope to find germs: bacteria able survive the bitterly cold, dark, and watery space. The bacteria might give clues into how life could survive in conditions less convivial than what we currently have on Earth. The trouble is, the scientists don’t want to contaminate the lakes with their own germs.—Brendan Mackie
* Discover is a nominee in the 2007 Utne Independent Press Awards for Science/Technology Coverage.
12/7/2007 2:34:33 PM
Medical professionals have figured out that video sharing on YouTube is a great way to provide vital medical information to a wide audience. Back in January, I blogged about internet videos detailing breast examinations, effective condom use, and attention deficit disorder treatments, all freely available on YouTube. Back then, I stressed that verifying the facts was important. Now another problem with Dr. YouTube has begun to emerge.
Not only is there inaccurate and dangerous medical information available on the internet, but it turns out that bad information is more compelling than the good stuff. A new study from the Journal of the American Medical Association tested the accuracy of a number of YouTube videos. The study, reported in the tech blog Ars Technica, found that videos with bad information got far more views than videos with good information. For example, videos emphasizing the negative side of immunization were far less accurate but far more popular than videos emphasizing the positive side. And videos released by public health authorities were almost entirely ignored.
12/6/2007 12:18:03 PM
Tell your children they’re hard-working. Tell them they’re diligent or tenacious, but for their sake don’t tell them they’re smart. Telling kids that they’re “smart” early in life can lead to frustration, depression, and poor academic performance, according to Carol S. Dweck writing for the Scientific American. Children praised as smart tend to give up when inevitable frustrations arise, because they think of frustrations as shortcomings, rather than as obstacles to be over come. Tell a child he or she is “hard working” however, and they’ll take frustrations as a chance to exercise their brains.
The explanation might be simple, but it points to a trend among young people today. Writing in the November/December issue of Utne Reader, Julie Hanus tackled the good and the bad surrounding the current, over-praised generation. The “Millenials,” as they've been dubbed, have the reputation of being self-centered because of all of the praise they received early in life. Businesses are even hiring “praise consultants and celebrations assistants,” according to Hanus, to try and placate these kids into working hard.
It reminds me of something my grandfather used to say. It’s been attributed to a few people, but I think it’s a good quote.
“It’s better to be lucky than smart, but it seems like the harder I work, the luckier I get.”
12/4/2007 10:40:43 AM
There could be a galaxy, invisible to the naked eye and to telescopes, hidden inside “our own cosmic backyard.” * Scientists have been struggling with discrepancies between the rate our galaxy should be moving through the universe, according to calculations, and the rate it's actually moving. The New Scientist reports that the gravitational pull of another galaxy, hidden inside our own, could explain the mystery.
Other scientists disagree. Instead, dissenters argue that a supercluster of galaxies, 700 million light years away and many times larger than the Milky Way, is the more likely culprit. —Sarah Pumroy
For a snapshot into our galaxy and beyond, read Anthony Doerr’s “Worlds Without End” from the September/October issue of Utne Reader.
Correction: The hidden galaxy is thought to be in the space behind the Milky Way, not inside it as originally reported.
12/4/2007 10:17:47 AM
Happiness is cheap. In fact, real happiness comes from little things like a chocolate bar, an afternoon nap, or a good book, Science Daily reports. University of Nottingham psychologist, Dr Richard Tunney compared the happiness of lottery winners with non-lottery winners, asking each group what they did to make themselves happy. The study found that "cost-free" activities, like pursuing a hobby or laying in a hammock, contributed more to happiness than buying stuff, even expensive stuff. "It appears that spending time relaxing is the secret to a happy life,” said Dr Tunney. “Cost-free pleasures are the ones that make the difference—even when you can afford anything that you want." This is good news for people who think that happiness is constantly out of reach: A good nap is really all people need. —Brendan Mackie
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