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Whale snot, roller coasters big winners in this year’s Ig Nobel awards

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Growing up, my twin cousins carried their inhalers around with them like their lives depended on it. If they ran too fast, they pumped the inhaler. If they stood up too fast, whoosh went their white inhalers. After awhile, it became a running joke that the inhaler was a “cure all,” capable of healing any ailment. You name it–broken arm, rupture spleen, hangnail–whoosh, whoosh. All better. Little did my cousins know, their asthma could have been treated with a roller-coaster ride.

On Oct. 10, Professors Simon Rietveld and Ilja van Beest won the Ig Nobel Prize for Medicine for “discovering that symptoms of asthma can be treated with a roller-coaster ride.”

The Ig Nobel Prize’s are awarded to real professors or scientists around the world who perform “research that makes people laugh and then think,” according to the org’s website. More than 100 people have won the award since it began in 1991.

Here is a list of this years winners:

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Plan 28: Project to build Charles Babbage’s Analytical Engine — The greatest invention that never was — AKA the Steampunk’s Wetdream

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If life were fair, Charles Babbage’s name should be held high in the pantheon of inventors. Before Thomas Edison was even born the British mathematician had released a paper detailing the schematics for a machine that could have dramatically changed the world — the computer. But Babbage’s machine — powered by steam and programmed by punch cards — was never completed.

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Saturn’s rings formed from the death of one of its moons; Pluto still not a planet

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Every time there’s breaking planetary news, I fear that some mad scientist has pulled a Pluto and demoted my childhood education. I’ll never forget the Styrofoam solar system I made for the science fair in fifth grade. I hand painted each planet, carved some craters, and attached each them to a large coat hanger. Saturn’s rings were made of lime green pipe cleaners. In retrospect, I guess I should’ve made the rings out of ice cubes.

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British town runs on its own poop

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Shit power's better than shit in the faceThe power of poo has lifted a town in Oxfordshire, England, into a self-sustaining haven of the British countryside. The BBC reported that Didcot has become the first UK town to power itself completely on its own sewage.

The Beeb also diagrammed the poo-powering process, which should look familiar to long-time agents of Handshake who saw our video on how to create electricity from cow crap.

To think, just 200 years ago these people were throwing their shit out the window. Now the entire town’s running on the stuff, and the poor sap who would’ve gotten a lumpy dousing from a chamberpot can instead enjoy some quality time laughing at scatological humor on the interwebs instead. That’s progress for ya.

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“Squirrels masturbate to avoid sexually transmitted infections” — Discover Magazine

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Ed Young’s recent article for Discover Magazine is likely the dirtiest thing you will ever read about squirrels. If it’s not, I think it’s fair to say that you, dear reader, consume far too much squirrel porn.

Blockquote!

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Space balloon

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Oh yeah? You launched an HD camera into the upper stratosphere when you were like 5 years old? Well I had already quit my addiction to play-doh by then. Which required real character?

But, seriously, this is one of the most beautiful things you will see today, or this week. Brooklynite Luke Geissbühler and his son launched this HD camera attached to a weather balloon after eight weeks of hard work. The camera survived. And we get this video.

My favorite moments are the longer ones of mostly silence, when the balloon has reached its apex, and you all hear is a slight electronic buzz set off against the curve of the Earth’s horizon. Pretty.

Family values. space adventure. Nice.

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US government to drop drug-filled mice on Guam. WARNING: Don’t eat drug-filled mice

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Brown tree snakes invaded Guam shortly after World War II. The snakes had a particular taste for small tropical birds, and promptly began eating up all the island’s avian residents.

To show how much it appreciates the brown tree snake’s efforts, the US government recently dropped thousands of drug-laden dead mice on the island.

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This robot from Willow Garage can choose to not squeeze you to death

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Willow Garage, an engineering firm we’ve featured before, has developed robots with tactile feedback so accurate it can close it’s hand around an aluminum can. This is an important safety measure for when future robots accidentally grab their masters’ neck and begin to squeeze.

Also, for all the ladies out there, say hello to future tech star Inten Joe and his big bad cowlick.

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Carnegie Mellon’s robot snakes

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Some day, when you’re lying trapped under a giant slab of concrete floor after the Big One flattens half of California, you’ll hear the rustling, gravel-churning sounds of a snake in motion.

And when the creature pokes it’s head out from the rubble it will look back at you from a soulless camera at the end of a long, mechanical, serpentine body.

This is the Carnegie Melon robot snake. And it may be the creepiest thing that will ever save your life.

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There is a one in one thousand chance this asteroid will kill (your descendants) and everyone (they) love within the next 200 years

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Its name may be sexy as all hell, but (101955) 1999 RQ36 isn’t about to show earthlings any love. No sir. The asteroid, measuring 510 meters across, is on a sort-of collision course with Earth, according to a recent report published in Icarus.

“The total impact probability of asteroid ‘(101955) 1999 RQ36’ can be estimated in 0.00092 — approximately one-in-a-thousand chance — but what is most surprising is that over half of this chance (0.00054) corresponds to 2182,” explains María Eugenia Sansaturio, of Spain’s Universidad de Valladolid (UVA) and co-author of the international NEO study.

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