Monthly Archives: June 2008

NASA on your iPhone Touch

For your iPod Touch:The Phoenix Mars Mission thingie. Gives you two RSS feeds (one for news one for blog) and the weather report on mars. A widget displays the elapsed mission time on mars. I’d like to see this application give us more. Like real time images and possibly the ability to control the Phoenix craft (during time they are otherwise not using it, of course). Here.NASA Photograph of the Day. This is potentially cool. When I went to look at it the first time, it was the lamest photograph I’ve ever seen from NASA. (The street somewhere around the Smithsonian with people waking around and stuff.) But this could be fun. Here.

Lemur Scent and Kin

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Perhaps judging a man by his cologne isn’t as superficial as it seems.Duke University researchers, using sophisticated machinery to analyze hundreds of chemical components in a ringtailed lemur’s distinctive scent, have found that individual males are not only advertising their fitness for fatherhood, but also a bit about their family tree as well.”We now know that there’s information about genetic quality and relatedness in scent,” said Christine Drea, a Duke associate professor of biological anthropology and biology. The male’s scent can reflect his mixture of genes, and to which animals he’s most closely related. “It’s an honest indicator of individual quality that both sexes can recognize,” she said.Lemurs, distant primate cousins of ours who split from the family tree before the monkeys and apes parted ways, have a complex and elaborate scent language that until recently was completely undiscovered by humans. Drea said it’s language that is undoubtedly richer than we can imagine.”All lemurs make use of scent,” she said. “The diversity of glands is just amazing.”Ringtailed males have scent glands on their genitals, shoulders and wrists, each of which makes different scents. Other lemur species also have glands on their heads, chests and hands. Add to these scents the signals that can be conveyed in feces and urine, and there’s a lot of silent, cryptic communication going on in lemur society.Wearing a scent-based nametag declaring one’s genetics is probably useful in avoiding aggression with closely related males, Drea said. It’s also quite likely to help prevent inbreeding by signaling family relationships to females, but the research to prove that is still ongoing.For this study, Drea and postdoctoral fellows Marie Charpentier and Marylène Boulet focused solely on male ringtailed lemurs living at the Duke Lemur Center.The males have a gland and spike on each wrist that is used to scratch and mark saplings with highly aromatic scents. A pair of glands on the shoulders “like misplaced nipples” manufacture squalene, a scent molecule that works like glue to keep the more aromatic compounds in place longer. Males can be seen dabbing the wrist gland on the chest gland and then scratch-marking. The wrist glands are also central to the “stink fighting” of ringtails, in which they rub the glands along the length of their bushy tails, and then foist them into each others’ face to express dominance.Most importantly, the male also has a scent gland on his scrotum that becomes critical to marking territory and advertising fitness during mating season. He does a handstand and rubs this gland directly onto a tree trunk to let any interested lemurs know who he is and what he’s made of.Scent not only speaks volumes, it’s physiologically expensive to make, Drea said. When a lemur is ill or socially stressed, its scent changes dramatically. “If he loses his signals, it’s quite likely its because he’s less genetically fit,” Drea said. “And his sexual or social partners can know that.”Female ringtailed lemurs have just one scent gland in the genital area, but their scent is more complex than the males’. Via scent, females may advertise not only their fertility, but the presence of a pregnancy and how far along it is, Drea said….source and more

Science News

How the Snake Got Its Vertebrae

Snakes, fish, chickens, and humans all begin life in much the same way. Early in their transformation from an amorphous blob of cells into a fully developed animal, growing cells pinch off into a string of identical segments destined to become individual vertebrae, which will later sprout blood vessels, peripheral nerves, and muscle. These repeated segments ensure that the rod-like spinal column can hunch, arch, and twist.The segmentation process also helps establish some key differences in the body plans of different organisms: while humans have 33 vertebrae, frogs have 10 or fewer, and snakes can have more than 300. …

Phoenix Returns Treasure Trove for Science

NASA’s Phoenix Mars Lander performed its first wet chemistry experiment on Martian soil flawlessly yesterday, returning a wealth of data that for Phoenix scientists was like winning the lottery.”We are awash in chemistry data,” said Michael Hecht of NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory, lead scientist for the Microscopy, Electrochemistry and Conductivity Analyzer, or MECA, instrument on Phoenix. “We’re trying to understand what is the chemistry of wet soil on Mars, what’s dissolved in it, how acidic or alkaline it is. With the results we received from Phoenix yesterday, we could begin to tell what aspects of the soil might support life.””This is the first wet-chemical analysis ever done on Mars or any planet, other than Earth,” said Phoenix co-investigator Sam Kounaves of Tufts University, science lead for the wet chemistry investigation.About 80 percent of Phoenix’s first, two-day wet chemistry experiment is now complete. Phoenix has three more wet-chemistry cells for use later in the mission.

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Software for your iPod Touch

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An x-ray I took of Julia’s hand. Sorry, it’s a little blurry.
The main two functions of an iPod touch are: being an iPod (music, podcasts, movies, etc.) and giving you a pocket size web browser. There are several other functions as well, like a calendar and such.Here I want to review a couple of addional applications that you can get for the iPod touch.Let’s start with one of the more amazing items. Because the iPod uses an internal trans-metalic laser technology to pack more than the usual amount of data into its ‘hard drive’ software that directly accesses the API can redivert the laser signal by turning it on AND focusing it in the ‘parking’ positin at the same time. This makes the iPod Touch act as a sort of minature x-ray machine. The software is called ixRay and it is currently in version 1.0, which actually works pretty well. It is available here.i-9c519226fdfdc213157f8f433550c757-greenlighter.gif
Hey man, cool concert!
Since you can’t bring a lighter into a theater any more (for security reasons, ever since that crazy terrorist guy tried to blow up a theater flying between Britain and the U.S. using a flaming shoe), it is now hard to show your solidarity with singers and rock bands by holding up your Bic lighter until it burns a hole in your thumb. So instead, just install the software onto your iPod Touch that simulates a lighter … with an eerie greenish flame that in real life would indicate the presence of copper.By the way, if you want to stop this flame from flickering right now, just hit the escape key. It is a moving GIF. This is how you stop moving GIFs from moving.The software is available from haeku, here. Continue reading Software for your iPod Touch