Recently in science Category

Homemade Spacecraft from Luke Geissbuhler on Vimeo.

Where science, motion sickness and outer space meet, you'll find Luke Geissbuhler and his 7-year-old son Max. That's the father-son duo that took a fast food container, iPhone, small HD camera and a balloon and made their way, figuratively, into the stratosphere.

They used the iPhone for its GPS capability to track their experimental craft after it's rapid plunge back to Earth. And a Go Hero mountable HD camera that anyone can get for a couple hundred bucks to film the often rocky ride - upper atmosphere winds blast the craft around in upwards of 100 mph. But really, simple ingenuity is all that the project really cost.

At the apex of its launch, the craft got to 100,000 feet, or 19 miles, and as the balloon pops, hangs weightless for just a moment before beginning the 150-mph plunge, slowed to 15 mph by a special parachute the Geissbuhlers built. Amazingly, the craft landed less than 30 miles away from the launch site. And while cold finally took its toll on the camera batteries, they did capture 90 minutes - edited in this clip, but you can buy the whole voyage here - of space flight.

For less than $1,000. Are you listening NASA?

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Before you read anything else here, make a note to visit FloatingSheep, the brilliant blog that details all manner of entertaining - and even usable - stats via mapping. Hours of your life will be spent poring over fascinating facts and figures - like the fact that we like booze more than food.

OK, rampant oversimplification alert. But still, from their research, you can infer that it's easier to find a tap around these parts than an aisle full of pre-packaged food.

us_bars_groceries_100122.jpgAccording to one of their latest forays into forensics, the Midwest likes a good drink. And salty bar snacks aside, food may only be a secondary concern. Check out the map to the right for a look at just how much we like our pubs. The spaces marked in yellow show the spots in the U.S. where grocery stores outnumber bars. In red, the bars rule the day.

The bloggers, who use various data from the Census, Google and other sources, explain their findings:

We had expected that grocery stores would outnumber bars and for most parts of North America that is the case. But we could also clearly see the "beer belly of America" peeking out through the "t-shirt of data".

Starting in Illinois, the beer belly expands up into Wisconsin and first spreads westward through Iowa/Minnesota and then engulfs Nebraska, and the Dakotas before petering out (like a pair of love handles) in Wyoming and Montana.

This is probably no surprise to those of us who slog through long, cold, sloppy winters in our Midwest wonderland. Socialization is fine, but bars are warm and welcoming. And have beer. Grocery stores only offer the cold comfort of food - and not in the form of a delicious midnight tamales served right at the stool.

The rest of the country, clearly, has a skewed sense of the important things in life. Preferring to roll through the offerings of the local Shop-More than enjoy knocking the cold ones back with the mates. Illinois and Wisconsin, in particular, barely have groceries according to the explosion of red here.

As the folks at Chicagoist point out, though, it's hardly a surprise. Wisconsin is Wisconsin, after all. And Milwaukee is the country's drinkingest city. Chicago, um, weighs in at No. 6.

Bottoms up, friends and neighbors in the region. And don't forget to pick up some bread on the way home - if you can find a store.

More iPad fun: Pee-Wee test drives one

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And finds an innovative new use for it ...

Pee-Wee wears an abstinence ring. Giggle.

Apple iPad: 'Don't make us explain how it works'

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Big news today from Apple. They announced another new super-cool gadget: the iPad!

But, guess what? The yuksters at "MadTV" thought of the iPad a long time ago ...

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Engineer-inventor Douglas Hines, right, poses with his company's "True Companion" sex robot, Roxxxy. (Getty Images)

In an age where relationships are more complicated than ever - Internet dating, video game character marriage, same-sex marriage, high school - it's refreshing to see technology continue to take a romantic lead.

Meet Roxxxy, the $7,000 robot of love. But she's not just some plastic blowup doll, oh no. Roxxxy is, according to her manufacturers (pimps?) a five-foot, seven-inch, 120 pound companion that comes with five "personalities", is "ready for action."

She's fully customizable in terms of, err, physical attributes - including skin color, hair and mos of the other bits you'd think to mold. And, this may or may not be a turn-on, she's conversational. Roxxxy can kick back and chat about the Bears game if you're so inclined, but won't bug you about paying the bills or cleaning the gutters.

"She can't vacuum, she can't cook but she can do almost anything else if you know what I mean," Douglas Hine, her New Jersey-based artificial intelligence engineer and creator said.

"She's a companion. She has a personality. She hears you. She listens to you. She speaks. She feels your touch. She goes to sleep. We are trying to replicate a personality of a person."

Hines, who must have some really interesting research habits and lab practices, promises the lifelike creation from TrueCompanion (Actual marketing slogan: "The World's First Sex Robot - She's Ready to Talk or Play") is able to "know exactly what you are like" thanks to a wireless Internet connection. She can study your habits and interests and even send you e-mails through the day in what surely must be the most interesting messages your IT department will spy on in their life.

"Sex only goes so far, then you want to be able to talk to the person," he told the Daily Telegraph.

If you can look past the absolute creepiness for just a moment, the technology and robotics are pretty impressive. Hines says she has an operating spine that allows for "realistic" movement - though not arms and legs, apparently - and a mechanical heart with a liquid cooling system.

OK, but back to the creepy. There's also the promise of partner swapping "without risk of emotional damage" and the ability to store personalities for various scenarios. In fact, the inspiration for this stroke of genius supposedly came out of the Sept. 11 attacks. Apparently a friend of Hines' was killed and he wanted to figure out a way to store the personality forever. How you make the leap from lasting storage and tribute to a fallen friend to sex toy is surely an interesting story filled with the right mixture of pathos and freakiness, but he doesn't get into the creation process.

Roxxxy was announced at the AVN Adult Entertainment Expo - in Las Vegas, of course. And don't worry, there are plans for a guybot - Rocky.

Beware of falling iguanas!

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Don't know about you, but I feel like this sometimes, too, when it gets too cold ...

Asian Carp.jpgAsian carp. Can't live with 'em, can't poison 'em.

Illinois just popped $3 million in desperation money to kill off some Sanitary and Ship Canal carp getting dangerously close to the Chicago locks leading to Lake Michigan and the Great Lakes beyond. They end result? One dead Asian carp, perhaps killed as a sacrifice by his fellow fish.

This kid equals that total with a modern variation on an ancient weapon for the price of some boat motor fuel and fishing line.

Part of the reason for the carp hunt - the poison one, not the bow one - was the fear that the carp had spread further than previously believed, based on a find of fish DNA

"If there aren't any Asian carp we still believe it was an essential operation," John Rogner, assistant director of the Illinois Department of Natural Resources, said before the lone fish was found.

Well, it turns out there really weren't any carp found, at least near the DNA site. But that's OK. It's still a battle against this fast moving, all-encompassing species that has to be fought and won to preserve the Great Lakes ecosystem and billion-dollar fishing and recreation industry.

And yes, the $3 million pricetag was about more that carp killing. It was meant to provide time for repairs and maintenance to the electric fence keeping these beasts at bay from Lake Michigan as well. Still, could we have done the job cheaper? Say, just paid these guys - in a much more action-filled clip, with a brawny, metalish soundtrack and some cool flaming arrows - with $100 worth of beer and some Chinese buffet?:

Of course, as a last-ditch effort, we could always bring these geniuses in on the job. A quick trip to Northwest Indiana for a couple bags of stuff that blows up and the Great Lakes will never have to worry about anything undesirable getting in. Fishwise, that is.


Fishing With Dynamite - Watch more Funny Videos

Some amazing footage, captured by a security camera on the Mustek building in Midrand, South Africa. But can you imagine what must have been going through the drivers' head as apparent Hellfire rained down, only to blink out in seconds?

Not to worry, though, it was merely the relatively harmless Geminids meteor shower bringing about 100 space rocks down per hour on the bottom of the Earth.

Sadly, the only thing Chicago security cameras ever capture is cops beating up petite Polish bartenders and red light offenders.

Very cool - unless you were in one of those cars.

Via @dimity123

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Ice, ice, baby. NASA is looking for it in our own backyard again - this time on the moon.

Just two days after the Jet Propulsion Laboratory announced the discovery of a giant, previously invisible ring around Saturn, the space agency is looking for another hidden gem in our solar system - evidence of water on the dark side of the moon - and they're pulling out all the stops to find it.

moon pole.jpgWell, technically, it's only two stops being pulled. The plan, see the video walkthrough here, is to basically ram an Atlas V rocket into the crater Cabeus on the moon's south pole so a probe can analyze the debris thrown into the the sky for evidence of water. Then that probe wil smash into the moon's surface to create a debris field for Eartbound and orbital observers to study.

Here's how the obviously giddy NASA folks explain the process:

Just imagine. A spaceship plunges out of the night sky, hits the ground and explodes. A plume of debris billows back into the heavens, leading your eye to a second ship in hot pursuit. Four minutes later, that one hits the ground, too. It's raining spaceships!

Saturn Giant Ring_Newm.jpg

First they tell us Pluto's not a planet. Now this? What is going on at NASA?

The good folks at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory have found a previously hidden new ring around Saturn that's so big it could fit 1 billion, yes, with a B, Earths inside.

"This is one supersized ring," said one of the authors, Anne Verbiscer, an astronomer at the University of Virginia in Charlottesville. Her co-authors are Douglas Hamilton and Michael Skrutskie, also of the University of Virginia.

So how does this giant space hoop go so long without being spotted in a time of space exploration where we look for anything possible in the heavens? It was invisible.

Turns out the new ring, made up of ice and dust, only shows up on infrared inspection with the heat signatures of its frozen mass can be seen clearly. And it's so diffuse, you could be floating in the middle of it without realizing you're in a rin, reports space.com:

"This thing is just immense," Hamilton, of the University of Maryland, one of the astronomers who found the ring, said. "If you look at just a small patch of it, you just see fuzziness."

Saturn's moon Phoebe orbits within the ring and is believed to be the source of the material. The ring also may answer the riddle of another moon, Iapetus, which has a bright side and a very dark side.

moon.jpgThe ring circles in the same direction as Phoebe, while Iapetus, the other rings and most of Saturn's other moons go the opposite way. Scientists think material from the outer ring moves inward and slams into Iapetus.

"Astronomers have long suspected that there is a connection between Saturn's outer moon Phoebe and the dark material on Iapetus," said Hamilton. "This new ring provides convincing evidence of that relationship."

With all the looking into the distance being done, it makes you wonder what we have in our own backyard that hasn't been found yet.

The discovery was made with NASA's Spitzer Space Telescope and you can find more detail and images at the JPL page on the discovery.

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An artist's rendering of a T-rex suffering from a trichomonosis-like disease, a parasitic infection caused by a protozoan, a single-celled organism that infects the mouth and throat and may have caused the animal to starve to death, according to a study conducted by an international team of researchers. The renderings show the infection and how it relates to the lesions found on the mandible of 'Peck's Rex' (Museum of the Rockies). Renderings by Chris Glen, University of Queensland

When you look at the massive skeleton of Tyrannosaurus Sue, the famed T-Rex at the Field Museum, it's hard to figure out what could kill this massive beast - the top of the Cretaceous food chain roughly 100 million years ago.

Could it have been after mortal combat with another T-rex? Sue is the largest complete skeleton of her kind, but hardly the largest T-rex, a species thought to have been mighty feisty and even carnivorous. Could it have been a natural disaster - we're not talking an asteroid, but simply an earthquake, lighting, a flood or the like? What about starvation? It takes a lot of critter kibble to keep a 7-ton meat-eater marauding the plains of Earth.

Or did Sue simply need a good ear, nose and throat doctor - one who specializes in birds?

That's the theory put out in a new study spearheaded out of the University of Wisconsin-Madison and published in the online journal Public Library of Science One. The team, headed by Ewan D.S. Wolff of the University of Wisconsin-Madison and Steven W. Salisbury of the University of Queensland, Australia, believes the massive beast was felled by a mini parasite common today in birds.

wolff.jpegWolff, right, a vertebrate paleontologist and a third-year student at the UW-Madison School of Veterinary Medicine, theorizes in the report that the 42-foot-long Sue may have suffered from trichomonosis, a nasty parasite that attacks the jaws of birds - particularly raptors - and can become serious enough that is causes starvation due to deterioration of the back of the jaw and throat.

"What drew my attention to trichomonosis as a potential candidate for these mysterious lesions on the jaws of tyrannosaurs is the manifestation of the effects of the disease in [bird] raptors," explains Wolff. "When we started looking at trichomonosis in greater depth, there was a story that matched some lines of evidence for transmission of the disease in tyrannosaurs."

According to the report, the parasite can be carried in food sources, like pigeons, that predator birds, like hawks, eat. While the prey remains unaffected, the predators can suffer and pass along ill affects:

In birds, trichomonosis is caused by a protozoan parasite called Trichomonas gallinae. It can be transmitted from birds such as pigeons, which commonly carry the parasite but often suffer few ill effects, to raptors such as falcons and hawks, where it causes serious lesions in the mandibles.

Wolff and his research team conclude that Sue - and a group of nine other Tyrannosaur skulls studied - exhibits lesions and degeneration consistent with the parasitical infection. But still, would it be enough to eventually kill an beast the size and power of an adult Tyrannosaur?

"The lesions we observe on Sue suggest a very advanced stage of the disease and may even have been the cause of her demise," says Wolff. "It is a distinct possibility as it would have made feeding incredibly difficult. You have to have a viable pharynx. Without that, you won't make it for very long, no matter how powerful you are."

Sometimes, it seems, it's not the bigger fish to be feared, but the unseen that can be an undoing.

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Sue, the largest and most complete Tyrannosaurus rex skeleton ever found, is shown at the Field Museum of Natural History May 17, 2000, in Chicago. (AP)


Extreme Pool Jump - The best home videos are here

There's a boatload of debate about whether this is real or not. Is it a dummy? Creative editing? The real thing and one lucky dude?

Don't care. It's just cool.

We're slowly ebbing on slip-and-slide season as the summer evaporates and the calendar continues its march. Couple crazy Russians want to remind us what a water ride can be, so be it.

Of course, we're not encouraging you to go break your neck trying this. Far from it. But if you do try, of your own accord and volition, I sure hope there's a camcorder involved.

And if you're mathematically inclined, how about a little hard proof about why this can or can't be done?

Black hole sun / won't you come ...

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072009eclipse.jpg

Wednesday is a big day for the ultimate shiny object: it's the longest total solar eclipse that will happen this century. Yep, no other eclipse for the next 91 years will top it.

But you can't see it.


Animation from NASA

Unless, of course, you're on a flight tonight to Shanghai or Bangkok or a tiny island in the southwestern Pacific. And many amateur and professional stargazers are doing just that.

Complete details, maps and more are available from NASA here.

It being a solar eclipse, and we being starry-eyed dopes, plenty of scary predictions are collecting around the event. The AP reports:

"Astronomers hope the eclipse will unlock clues about the sun, while an astrologer in Myanmar predicts it could usher in chaos. Some in India are advising pregnant relatives to stay indoors to follow a centuries-old tradition of avoiding the sun's invisible rays. ...

Man has been recording solar eclipses for 4,000 years, and even today they inspire a combination of fear, fascination and wonder.

One astrologer in Myanmar, also known as Burma, predicted in a magazine that the eclipse would trigger wars, instability and natural disasters for the next several months."

But, hey, relax. The true horrors of the eclipse-predicted end o' the world are still three years off ...

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In this July 20, 1969 file photo from NASA, Astronaut Edwin E. Aldrin Jr., lunar module pilot, is photographed walking near the lunar module during the Apollo 11 extravehicular activity.

A look in photos back at the moment the whole world watched on July 20, 1969, when Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin first made that giant leap for mankind. The Cold War and Vietnam were heating up and the country was tearing itself apart as the '60s reached a climax, but for one moment, as Walter Cronkite broke out in a gleeful sigh of relief, none of it mattered.

We, the human race, had tread upon another planet, you know, if it really happened. We were no longer bound by Earth's pull.

Many more lunar landing photos after the jump ...

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