3G Mobile Signals Can Cause Nausea, Headache

Tuesday, September 30th, 2003

Weird science. From 3G Mobile Signals Can Cause Nausea, Headache:

The study, the first of its kind, compared the impact of radiation from base stations used for the current mobile telephone network with that of base stations for new third generation (3G) networks for fast data transfer, which will enable services such as video conferencing on a mobile device.
“If the test group was exposed to third generation base station signals there was a significant impact … They felt tingling sensations, got headaches and felt nauseous,” a spokeswoman for the Dutch Economics Ministry said.

There was no negative impact from signals for current mobile networks.

However, cognitive functions such as memory and response times were boosted by both 3G signals and the current signals, the study found. It said people became more alert when they were exposed to both.

Infants Given Antibiotics at Risk for Allergy

Tuesday, September 30th, 2003

Interesting. From Infants Given Antibiotics at Risk for Allergy:

Treating infants with antibiotics seems to increase their risk of developing childhood diseases like eczema and allergic asthma, a new study suggests.
Her team reviewed the medical records of 445 children participating in an HMO-based study in the Detroit area. Almost half of the children had been treated with an antibiotic in the first 6 months of life. The children were followed for the development of allergic conditions until age 6 and 7 when they were evaluated by an allergist.

Children who had been treated with an antibiotic were 1.5 times more likely to have allergies and 2.5 times more likely to have allergic asthma by the age of 7, compared with children not given antibiotics in infancy.

The link between early antibiotic exposure and the development of allergy and asthma was stronger in children whose mothers had similar conditions, and among children who did not have pets in the home.

This finding on household pets supports the “hygiene hypothesis,” which holds that early exposure in life to bacterial infection and bacterial products prevents the development of allergic disease. Early antibiotic use may influence the gastrointestinal tract and alter the development of the maturing immune system.

Iraqi Family Ties Complicate American Efforts for Change

Tuesday, September 30th, 2003

The intro “hook” to Iraqi Family Ties Complicate American Efforts for Change did indeed hook me:

Iqbal Muhammad does not recall her first glimpse of her future husband, because they were both newborns at the time, but she remembers precisely when she knew he was the one. It was the afternoon her uncle walked over from his house next door and proposed that she marry his son Muhammad.

“I was a little surprised, but I knew right away it was a wise choice,” she said, recalling that afternoon nine years ago, when she and Muhammad were 22. “It is safer to marry a cousin than a stranger.”

It is safer to marry a cousin than a stranger. The point of the story isn’t merely to culture-shock us though:

Her reaction was typical in a country where nearly half of marriages are between first or second cousins, a statistic that is one of the more important and least understood differences between Iraq and America. The extraordinarily strong family bonds complicate virtually everything Americans are trying to do here, from finding Saddam Hussein to changing women’s status to creating a liberal democracy.

“Americans just don’t understand what a different world Iraq is because of these highly unusual cousin marriages,” said Robin Fox of Rutgers University, the author of “Kinship and Marriage,” a widely used anthropology textbook. “Liberal democracy is based on the Western idea of autonomous individuals committed to a public good, but that’s not how members of these tight and bounded kin groups see the world. Their world is divided into two groups: kin and strangers.”

I actually discussed this exact idea a few months ago, while discussing The Cosmopolitan Illusion by Lee Harris:

Families and kin can clearly work well together, but the source of their cohesion is simultaneously the source of their weakness: Either one is a member of the family or the tribe or else one is not. If not, you never will be, and you know it. But this law does not apply to societies in which the primary unit is a group able to work together — a team, and not the family. This, according to Livy’s account, is how we are to understand the secret of Rome’s initial rise to greatness: It was made up of people who could work together precisely because family could not and did not matter to them. This meant that they were free to organize and cooperate without the structural tensions that arise when there are a number of different families, each vying for positions of prestige, prominence, and power, and leading in their contentious train all sorts of juvenile rabble-rousers.

As I said then, “Comparing America to Rome and Iraq to Scythia is left as an exercise for the reader.”

The article points out that marrying cousins used to be the norm:

Cousin marriage was once the norm throughout the world, but it became taboo in Europe after a long campaign by the Roman Catholic Church. Theologians like St. Augustine and St. Thomas argued that the practice promoted family loyalties at the expense of universal love and social harmony. Eliminating it was seen as a way to reduce clan warfare and promote loyalty to larger social institutions — like the church.

N.J. Criminalizes Driving While Tired

Tuesday, September 30th, 2003

One more reason not to pull an all-nighter. N.J. Criminalizes Driving While Tired:

Under Maggie’s Law, police will not be pulling over drivers whose eyelids look heavy. But the law allows prosecutors to charge a motorist with vehicular homicide, punishable by up to 10 years in prison and a $100,000 fine, in the event of a deadly crash if there is evidence the accident was caused by sleepiness.

No driver has yet been charged under the law, which went into effect last month and was named for a 20-year-old college student killed in 1997 by a van driver who admitted having been up for 30 hours.

Recent studies estimate 51 percent of motorists feel drowsy behind the wheel, and about two of every 10 drivers say they have fallen asleep while driving in the past year.

Two of every 10 drivers say they have fallen asleep while driving in the past year? That’s downright scary.

Girls Need Big Breakfast?

Tuesday, September 30th, 2003

Here’s an odd finding, from Girls Need Big Breakfast?:

Health experts at the University of Ulster said memory and attention tests found boys did better when they were a little hungry while girls were best after a satisfying morning meal.

The man who got inside al-Qa’eda

Friday, September 26th, 2003

Fascinating. From The man who got inside al-Qa’eda:

Mohamed Sifaoui is an Algerian Muslim journalist who became incensed by the war of terror waged by Islamic fundamentalists against the Algerian people. Not a few of his friends, relatives and colleagues perished at their hands, and before leaving for Paris he himself was nearly killed in an attack on his newspaper.

The combination of cowardice and indulgence shown to the terrorists by bien pensant opinion in France heightened his disgust. To expose the truth he decided to pose as a terrorist sympathiser, and his book is a diary of the three months he spent infiltrating a Parisian cell of al-Qa’eda under an assumed name.

The portraits he provides are not of the suicide bombers or gunmen, but of the recruiters, brain-washers and organisers behind them, yet the book conveys a convincing picture of the terrorist milieu. And a dismal picture it is. The members of the network emerge as a bunch of inadequates and infantile fanatics, although they are not the less fearsome for that.

This factoid scares me:

Sifaoui’s book has sold 60,000 copies in France. [...] The French book L’Effoyable Imposture (The Dreadful Fraud), which claimed that the 11 September attack was the work of the Jews and the CIA, sold over 100,000.

Man Uses Duct Tape for Bear Attack Wounds

Friday, September 26th, 2003

I could probably read animal-attack stories all day. From Man Uses Duct Tape for Bear Attack Wounds:

A hunter attacked by a grizzly bear on a remote trail said he used duct tape to bind his bite wounds, then rode an all-terrain vehicle to his pickup truck and drove himself to a hospital.

Bill Murphy said the Sept. 17 attack happened after he surprised a grizzly cub and its mother on a trail about 50 miles northeast of Anchorage where he was hunting for moose and sheep.

“I didn’t even have time to jump,” Murphy said.

Murphy grabbed his rifle but before he could raise it, the mother bear pinned him face-down.

It then clamped her jaws around his right shoulder and started shaking him like a rag. He said he felt teeth pressing against his skin, then a pop as they sliced through.

At some point, the bear let go, then stood over Murphy, panting and drooling onto his head. All he could think about was a bear attack over the summer near the Russian River where a man was bitten on the face and blinded.

“I just lay perfectly still and said, ‘God, don’t bite my head,’” Murphy said.

Finally, the bear moved away. Murphy said he got up, planning to shoot the bear, but it had broken his rifle.

Murphy said he wrapped duct tape around his shoulder and cut up a cloth bag to wrap around his thigh. He hiked out to his four-wheeler, rode about 15 miles back to his pickup truck and drove a half hour to Valley Hospital in Palmer.

The 54-year-old said he has no idea how long the attack lasted, but it felt like “two lifetimes.”

“I can laugh about it now, but I wasn’t laughing then,” he said.

A Conversation with Jim Gray

Wednesday, September 24th, 2003

This conversation with Jim Gray is full of fascinating tidbits. I enjoyed this take on storage growing faster than access:

We have an embarrassment of riches in that we’re able to store more than we can access. Capacities continue to double each year, while access times are improving at 10 percent per year. So, we have a vastly larger storage pool, with a relatively narrow pipeline into it.

We’re not really geared for this. Having lots of RAM helps. We can cache a lot in main memory and reduce secondary storage access. But the fundamental problem is that we are building a larger reservoir with more or less the same diameter pipe coming out of the reservoir. We have a much harder time accessing things inside the reservoir.
What do you do with a 200-gig disk drive? You treat a lot of it as tape. You use it for snapshots, write-anywhere file systems, log-structured file systems, or you just zone frequent stuff in one area and try to waste the other 190 GB in useful ways. Of course, we could put the Library of Congress holdings on it or 10,000 movies, or waste it in some other way.

Kevin Kelly — Recomendo

Wednesday, September 24th, 2003

I just stumbled across Kevin Kelly — Recomendo (via McGee’s Musings), and his most recent recommendation is Simon Field’s Science Toys You Can Make With Your Kids:

Probably the coolest source of educational science demonstrations I’ve encountered is this very book-like website written and run by Simon Field. Field has 30 nifty toys and gadgets that can be made quickly, cheaply and will amaze adults as well as kids. This is the only place I’ve seen that tells you how to make a magnetic linear accelerator, also known as a Gauss Rifle — it uses magnetism to shoot tiny steel balls…

The whole list is interesting though. For instance, once you see some Griptwists, you know you need a few.

Dragonfly Trick Makes Missiles Harder to Dodge

Tuesday, September 23rd, 2003

Fascinating. Dragonfly Trick Makes Missiles Harder to Dodge:

A future generation of anti-aircraft missiles could be made far harder to dodge by a guidance system inspired by the flight of dragonflies and hoverflies. The missiles will mimic a strategy called motion camouflage, which predatory insects use to trick prey into thinking they are stationary.

Insects that use this technique sneak up on their prey in a way that makes them seem stationary even though they are in fact moving closer. They do this by keeping themselves positioned between a fixed point in the landscape and their prey.

It has long been suspected that male dragonflies and other flying insects use this technique during aerial battles, and this has recently been confirmed (New Scientist print edition, 7 June).

Akiko Mizutani and Mandayam Srinivasan of the Australian National University in Canberra used two video cameras to track duelling dragonflies and worked out the trajectories they used on attack runs. They found that they do indeed adjust their flight paths to appear stationary.
The remarkable thing, says Anderson, is that these complex trajectories can be worked out by a neural network computer program based only on the movement of the target as seen from the viewpoint of the missile. There is no need for sensors to keep track of the fixed spot. “You can train a system to estimate its relative position without giving it 360-degree vision,” says Anderson.
“If you put multiple missiles behind one another on the same motion camouflage trajectory, only the very first missile would be picked up by radar or infrared.” The target would never know how many missiles were behind the first one.

The technology could also be used to outfox heat-sensors. A missile could detach and explode its rear stage a small distance from the target, creating a backdrop of infrared radiation. Then the rest of the missile would continue on a motion camouflage trajectory against this noisy backdrop, making heat sensors effectively blind to it. “It’d be like coming out of the Sun,” says Anderson.

Lewis and Clark Rediscovery Project

Tuesday, September 23rd, 2003

According to Lewis and Clark Rediscovery Project, Jefferson thought Lewis and Clark might encounter elephants in the wilds of North America:

Bones and teeth from giant elephant-like creatures called mastodons, often referred to as “mammoths,” had been found in several locations across the northern part of the United States in the late 1700s. The large size of the fossils implied huge animals many times larger than any known elephant.

Mammoths and mastodons are two different species but Jefferson and others of the time spoke of them in the same terms. Paleontology at the time was not advanced enough to distinguish a difference between the two.

The existence of such mammoth animals excited the interest of many people, including President Jefferson, who summarized what he knew about mammoths in 1780 in his Notes on the State of Virginia. In 1797 as president of the American Philosophical Society, he and others organized expeditions to find “one or more complete skeletons of the mammoth” and other unknown animals. Later Jefferson used his own funds to hire William Clark to look for mammoth fossils along the Ohio.

We now know that mammoths and giant sloths became extinct about 10,000 years ago, but Jefferson thought that Lewis might find them alive and well in the unexplored west. First, Jefferson knew of Indian tales that suggested that mammoths in particular still lived in the distant West. In addition, Jefferson and many others rejected the possibility that sloths and mammoths could be extinct based on the idea of the “great chain of being,” in which everything in Heaven and on Earth were links in a beautiful, harmonious chain of creation. Should any link disappear, the chain would be broken and chaos would follow.

However, the question of whether any species of plant or animal could become extinct was being heatedly discussed in the early 1800s. French paleontologist Georges Cuvier and others were just getting started on their work that eventually established the reality of extinctions.

As it was, Lewis and Clark found no traces of living mammoths. The extinctions had indeed happened.

Begging the Question

Tuesday, September 23rd, 2003

Yesterday I found myself stuck in a seemingly endless conference call, listening to a particularly grating voice exclaim, “that begs the question…” over and over again. But the original person’s point did not beg the question — because begging the question does not mean raising a question; it means presuming your conclusion or using circular reasoning. From Begging the question – Wikipedia:

Part of the reason for the misunderstanding over what ‘begging the question’ means may be due to the confusing term itself, which was translated into English from Latin in the 16th century. The Latin version, Petitio Principii, would be translated more accurately as ‘Petitioning the Principle,’ or ‘Claiming the truth of the very matter in question,’ but the more pithy ‘Begging the question’ has become the well-known translation.

I found myself so very close to adopting my Inigo Montaya accent and saying, “You keep using that [term]. I do not think it means what you think it means.”

The Bondo Mystery Ape

Tuesday, September 23rd, 2003

Karl Ammann, a Swiss wildlife photographer, has been searching for the mystery ape of Bondo. His page on The Bondo Mystery Ape starts with the Economist article on his efforts:

A hundred years ago, on October 17th 1902, Oscar von Beringe, a German explorer, ‘suddenly noticed a troupe of large black monkeys’ while climbing a volcano in eastern Congo. ‘We were able to shoot two of these monkeys,’ he wrote, ‘which hurtled down the gorge of the crater with an incredible rumble.’ That von Beringe then found himself ‘unable to classify the monkey’ is not surprising. He was the first European to come into contact with a mountain gorilla.

Gorillas, mountain and otherwise, are rare now. Poachers kill the adults for their meat, and sometimes to make knick-knacks for foreigners. Youngsters are taken from the wild to adorn private zoos. But even after a century, that diminished population may yet hold a surprise.

In 1908 two apes were shot near a place called Bondo, in northern Congo. Their skulls (and two others found in local dwellings) had the crests characteristic of gorillas, but they were unusual enough for taxonomists of the time to classify them as a separate subspecies. Since then, no further specimens of this subspecies have been recorded. Four years ago, Karl Amman, a Swiss wildlife photographer, took up the quest to rediscover the missing gorillas. What he has found is not yet clear. But it might just be a new species of ape.

Mr Amman’s expeditions into the forest of Bili, near Bondo (the latest of which, accompanied by this correspondent, has just returned from the bush) have not seen a live ape. But they have found a lot of ground nests. Such nests are characteristic of gorillas. Chimpanzees, the other species of ape that lives in this area, prefer to sleep in trees. Other spoor point to the presence of gorillas, too. Feces in the area resemble those of gorillas, as does the way that saplings are broken down around nest sites. As if to clinch it, Mr Amman has also found another crested skull lying around.

Some of the nests, however, have hairs in them. And hairs contain DNA. That yielded a surprise. The DNA looks like that of a chimpanzee, not a gorilla. Moreover, a re-interpretation of the skull Mr Amman found has pronounced it to be that of a chimp, albeit a crested one. And analysis of the feces suggests that whatever dropped them was eating a fruit-rich diet. That is also characteristic of chimps. What Mr Amman seems to have found is a chimpanzee that behaves like a gorilla.

Local hunters’ reports point to something unusual, too. Bondo’s hunters do not distinguish between gorillas and chimpanzees. Instead, they divide the local apes into “tree-beaters” and “lion-killers.” These two types look the same, and both flee hunters. But lion-killers, say the hunters of Bili, are much bigger and are difficult to kill, even with a poisoned arrow. Several enormous chimp footprints seem to confirm the hunters’ reports of an out-sized chimp. And, in a photograph recently obtained from a hunter, the body of one chimp appears to be about 1.8 metres tall (five feet or so). Indeed, to nest confidently on the ground in forest thick with lions and leopards, the lion-killers would probably have to be of such a size.

Whether such lion-killers really are a distinct population, corresponding to Mr Amman’s ground-nesting “chimpanzees” and whether they are so different from other great apes that they constitute a separate species, remains to be seen. But it is surprising that in the early years of the 21st century such a discovery could even be contemplated. Apparently, the jungle has not given up all its secrets yet.

Ammann makes some interesting comments:

In 1898 a Belgian officer returning from the Congo provided the Trevuren Museum in Bruxelles with three gorilla skulls which he had collected near Bondo in Northern Congo and a village further south near the Itumbiri River.

This Bondo location is about half way between the extreme edges of the Western and Eastern distribution of any gorilla populations.

In 1937 based on the skulls anatomical differences and their unique origin Henri Schouteden named an new subspecies: Gorilla Gorilla uellensis.

I did a first survey of the forests around Bondo in 1996 returning with a skull which had a pronounced sagittal crest (as male gorillas do). However all the rest of the measurements associated with the skull were those of a chimpanzee.

In the subsequent years the war situation in most of the Congo made travel to the Bili/Bondo area very difficult. I recruited a Cameroonian bush meat hunter to visit and survey the area. This guy had killed dozens of chimpanzees and gorillas in his life and would be able to assess any tracks he would find.
The local population told tales of large and normal chimps. The normal ones could be hunted with the poisoned arrows when feeding in trees, the big ones however hardly climbed trees and would not succumb to the poison fast enough before fleeing and getting lost in the forests. The Azande translation for names used for apes include: The ones which beat the tree! and The one which kills the lion.

Early mitochondrial DNA tests point to the same conclusion:”The ground nesting chimps are clearly of the schweinfurthii subspecies.” (He presents a phylogenetic tree.) I enjoyed the quoted morphologist’s take on genetic analysis:

There is a general misunderstanding about genetics including by those that are working with it. Genetic analysis is not presently a very accurate method for determining relationships of populations. Moreover it is long, labrious and costly and necessitates a large sample to make any sense of it.


Seeking answers to big ‘mystery ape’

Tuesday, September 23rd, 2003

I simply had to look up more stories on the mystery ape. From Seeking answers to big ‘mystery ape’:

‘It doesn’t look much like a gorilla, it doesn’t look like a chimpanzee,’ said primatologist Shelly Williams, who captured a bit of video of the female mystery ape with a baby.

Pictures of the rare ape are scarce. Wildlife photographer Karl Amman, who was first to spot the mysterious mammals a few years ago, said the animal has feet that are about two inches bigger than the average gorilla and is more flat-faced than other apes. Its behavior also sets it apart from other apes, researchers say.

The mystery ape often sleeps in big ground nests. Chimpanzees, for example, usually nest in trees to stay away from predators. And the mystery apes hoot when the moon rises and sets, something chimps don’t do for fear of attracting lions and hyenas, Williams said.

How to get footage of the mystery apes:

“One of my trackers made the sound of a duiker, a small antelope, as if it were in pain,” said Williams. Four or five of the mystery primates fell for the ruse and came running to kill it.

Chimpanzees and bonobos both are carnivorous. Chimps are known to eat monkeys, and at times other chimps; bonobos catch and eat fish.

This all sounds very “Big Foot” to me:

Williams also has a fascinating anecdote from a longtime resident of the region, an 84-year-old Norwegian Baptist missionary known as “Madame Liev.”

“Years ago, she was driving an old truck and one of these apes walked by in front of her. It was walking bipedally (upright) and was taller than her, and she’s six feet tall,” Williams said.

Wife Reckless? Hubby Morose? Blame the Cat

Tuesday, September 23rd, 2003

Wild. Wife Reckless? Hubby Morose? Blame the Cat reports on a cat parasite that affects humans in a subtle but measurable manner:

Czech scientist Jaroslav Flegr of Charles University in Prague told Reuters his research showed a parasite called toxoplasma gondii in cats, rabbits or raw meat, may make women reckless and friendly while making men jealous and morose.

Just contracting the bug might not be life-threatening but infected women behind the wheel can be fatal, and those out for a stroll in busy traffic may be a hazard, he said.

‘It is not much fun. Our research has shown that toxoplasmosis raises 2.6 times the risk of a traffic accident by prolonging the reaction time of infected people,’ he said.

‘It is not only about driving accidents but also about the probability of being run over by a car.’

Flegr said his research shows men infected by the bug tend to be quiet, withdrawn, suspicious, jealous and dogmatic. He said he could not find a reason for the different reactions.

The illness could be responsible for up to one million of deaths on the roads worldwide, making it the one of the deadliest parasitic diseases, second only to malaria, he said.