Tweet of the Day: #TheLazarusFrog

 

gastricbroodingfrogOk, so this is freaky on several different levels:

  1. That there was ever actually such a thing as a “gastric-brooding frog,” a formerly extinct species that incubated their eggs in their stomachs and gave birth through their mouths. Holy crap!
  2. That scientists have brought these formerly extinct frogs back to life.
  3. That, regardless of how disgusting their method of reproduction is, the tiny baby frog in the mommy frog’s mouth in the photo here is actually kinda cute.

Fascinating to think about the implications of this development, the ethics behind bringing back extinct species, whether or not this is a dangerous slippery slope on the way towards scary CGI action-adventure movies, or worse, the real thing.

Is That An Ice Pack In Your Underwear, Or Are You Just Happy To See Me?

snowballsMale infertility is a serious issue, accounting for 40% of all infertility cases.

So, you might think that it’s rather insensitive of me, via the title of this post, to joke about the new fertility-enhancement-through-refrigeration underwear by Procreativity.

But, when you consider that the folks at Procreativity have actually branded their product with the name Snowballs, you can see that they have already beaten me to the punch.

Via Mashable:

Snowballs creator Joshua Shoemake had trouble in the “fertility factory” with his wife. Too many appointments and too much money spent were taking its toll. A friend going through a similar situation was told to put some ice down below, since elevated scrotal temperature can be a major cause of infertility.

After icing for a year, Shoemake’s friend became father to a baby girl. Inspired by the idea, the two believed they could find a way to “hack fertility.”…

The specially designed underwear include SnowWedges for cooling. The wedges mold to the body and use a freezable, non-toxic gel to maintain a comfortable temperature for 30 minutes.

I think that their preemptive use of humor in naming the underwear Snowballs and the video below is brilliant marketing, recognizing that, people being people, jokes would be predictable.

And, while I shiver at the thought of ice in my underwear, having had personal experience with procreation and the incredible joy of being a parent, I can’t help hope that this product can make that experience possible for more men who want it.

Best of Fish & Bicycles: Robot Babies: Putting the “creep” in creepy

Originally Published: May 10, 2011


As someone who has contributed to the birth of a baby and parented said baby for the past 13 years, someone who gets the warm fuzzies whenever he’s around other peoples’ babies, I have to say that this really creeps me out:

Via Plastic Pals, via Gizmodo:

Osaka University’s Hosoda Lab is presenting Pneuborn-7II and Pneuborn-13, two musculoskeletal infant robots, at ICRA 2011…Measuring the size of a 7 month old infant, Pneuborn-7II was built to study the relationship between motor development and embodiment. It is 80cm (31″) tall, weighs 5.4kg (11.9 lbs), and has 26 degrees of freedom actuated by 19 pneumatic muscles. Notably, the robot’s spine has three pitch and yaw joints that allow it to rotate, flex, and extend. It is fully autonomous, containing a micro controller, battery, air valves, and an air source (compressed C02 cartridge bottle).

Now, I know that there might be many very practical applications for this technology, for the good of the advancement of science. For all I know, these robots could possibly help us learn more about human babies and could very well lead to medical advances.

And yet, I’ve seen too many movies about robots to know what’s really possible. Either it’s some dystopian future, where infertile human couples buy robot babies, deluded that the robots could be a salve for the lonely emptiness in their lives, or alien invaders appear in the form of robotic babies, at first we think they are benevolent, but then they conquer and enslave us, using lasers that shoot out of their eyes.

Oh, believe me, it could happen!

Best of Fish & Bicycles: Transplanting Life

Originally Published: May 17, 2011


I read an incredibly moving New York Times story this morning that’s been haunting me, and it took me a little while to think it through and figure out why.

For those who don’t have time to read the Times article, by way of summary, in the photo above, the woman in the center and her children are placing their hands on the chest of a man whom they just met.

Why?

Because when the woman’s husband, the father of those children, died a year ago of a brain hemorrhage, his heart was transplanted into that man’s body. The man had been in a hospital suffering from severe heart failure.

Mirtala Garcia laid a hand on Sebastiao Lourenco’s chest, then pressed her ear there for a moment.

“That’s my heart,” she said. “It’s still beating for me.”

I know. Wow.

If that weren’t enough, Mr. Garcia was so young and otherwise healthy that donations from his body greatly improved and/or saved the lives of a total of eight people. Mr. Lourenco received his heart, his corneas went to one or more anonymous people, his pancreas to another anonymous person, the right lobe of his liver went to an adult woman with cancer, the left lobe to a toddler with congenital liver disease, two friends of the family received a kidney each, and one lung went to a man with idiopathic pulmonary fibrosis.

Makes me think of the line from It’s A Wonderful Life — “Each man’s life touches so many other lives. When he isn’t around he leaves an awful hole, doesn’t he?” The first sentence is right on, but in this case, Mr. Garcia actually filled an awful lot of holes after he wasn’t around anymore.

So, a touching story for sure, but why was it haunting me?

Well, after some thought, as I mentioned, I realized that it had to do with the fact that I was adopted at birth, and I recognized that there are some similarities between adoption and organ donation.

Organ Donation: Amidst death and grief, a gift is given — a new lease on life for the organ recipients.

Adoption: Amidst the social trauma and emotional pain of an unplanned pregnancy, a gift is given — a chance for a baby to have a stable home with two parents who are ready to take on the responsibility of raising a child.

So, just like Mr. Garcia’s organs, I was transplanted.

I’ve never met my birth mother. Though I’ve contemplated a search many times, I’ve always balked because of all the uncertainty that I could ever find her, much less get a chance to meet her. (UPDATED June 2012: I have met her now!)

And yet, reading about how the organ recipients had a chance to meet the wife of the donor, to posthumously thank her husband and to thank her and her children, really stirred up my desire to find my birth mom.

She gave me life, after all. The least I can do is thank her.

Best of Fish & Bicycles: If Baboons Can Do It…

Originally Published: April 11, 2011


I read an absolutely fascinating article in Yes! Magazine today by Robert Sapolsky, loaded with a ton of information that I did not know about primates, full of surprises, by turns disturbing, sweet, sexy (yes, sexy!), sad, scary, and hopeful.

Disturbing

It used to be thought that humans were the only savagely violent primate. That view fell by the wayside in the 1960s as it became clear that some other primates kill their fellows aplenty. Males kill; females kill. Some kill one another’s infants with cold-blooded stratagems worthy of Richard III. Some use their toolmaking skills to fashion bigger and better cudgels. Some other primates even engage in what can only be called warfare—organized, proactive group violence directed at other populations…

Goodall and other chimp researchers have carefully documented an endless stream of murders, cannibalism, and organized group violence among their subjects…

The most disquieting fact about the violent species was the apparent inevitability of their behavior.

Sounds pretty bleak, huh?

Sweet

But all along there has been another chimp species, one traditionally ignored…Now known as bonobos, they are recognized as a separate and distinct species that taxonomically and genetically is just as closely related to humans as the standard chimp. And boy, is this ever a different ape…

Male bonobos are not particularly aggressive and lack the massive musculature typical of species that engage in a lot of fighting (such as the standard chimp). Moreover, the bonobo social system is female-dominated, food is often shared, and there are well-developed means for reconciling social tensions.

What’s that I hear? An old song I discovered via the Grateful Dead?

That’s right, the women are smarter
That’s right, the women are smarter
That’s right, the women are smarter
The women are smarter than the men today.

–Norman Span

Sexy

And then there is the sex…

Bonobos have sex in every conceivable position and some seemingly inconceivable ones, in pairs and groups, between genders and within genders, to greet each other and to resolve conflicts, to work off steam after a predator scare, to celebrate finding food or to cajole its sharing, or just because.

You know, I kinda wish I was a bonobo all of a sudden.

Then again, maybe not…

Sad

So—a wondrous species (and one, predictably, teetering on the edge of extinction).

Sometimes I really hate that fucker Charles Darwin.

But, here’s where it gets REALLY interesting.

Sapolsky proceeds to describe two troops of Savannah Baboons he observed over many years, troops that inhabited neighboring territories, troops that were typically aggressive and violent, until one day a tuberculosis outbreak, spread via the garbage from a tourist lodge, wiped out the whole troop nearest the lodge as well as most of the males from the other troop, who made early morning raids into their neighbors’ territory in order to get at the garbage from the lodge as well.

Scary

The results were that Forest Troop was left with males who were less aggressive and more social than average, and the troop now had double its previous female-to-male ratio…

The social consequences of these changes were dramatic. There remained a hierarchy among the Forest Troop males, but it was far looser than before. Aggression was less frequent, particularly against third parties. And rates of affiliative behaviors, such as males and females grooming each other or sitting together, soared. There were even instances, now and then, of adult males grooming each other—a behavior nearly as unprecedented as baboons sprouting wings.

Speaking as a male primate, that is some scary damning evidence that the very testosterone coursing through my veins is the primary cause of so much death and destruction throughout history.

And yet…

Hopeful

Female savanna baboons spend their lives in the troop into which they are born, whereas males leave their birth troop around puberty; a troop’s adult males have thus all grown up elsewhere and immigrated as adolescents. By the early 1990s, none of the original low aggression/high affiliation males of Forest Troop’s tuberculosis period was still alive; all of the group’s adult males had joined after the epidemic. Despite this, the troop’s unique social milieu persisted—as it does to this day, some 20 years [later]…

As defined by both anthropologists and animal behaviorists, “culture” consists of local behavioral variations, occurring for nongenetic and nonecological reasons, that last beyond the time of their originators. Forest Troop’s low aggression/high affiliation society constitutes nothing less than a multigenerational benign culture…

The first half of the twentieth century was drenched in the blood spilled by German and Japanese aggression, yet only a few decades later it is hard to think of two countries more pacific. Sweden spent the 17th century rampaging through Europe, yet it is now an icon of nurturing tranquility….

Is a world of peacefully coexisting human Forest Troops possible? Anyone who says, “No, it is beyond our nature,” knows too little about primates, including ourselves.

Nice Timing, Gorilla Glass. Thanks.

gorillaSuch is the pace of advancement in technology, it either enamors or pisses off.

I was enamored enough to buy an iPhone 4 in April 2011, as I wrote about at the time.

Then, this morning, I learned of another latest, greatest technological advancement, Corning’s new scratch and crack resistant Gorilla Glass 3.

But, it wasn’t just any ordinary morning. It was the morning after I dropped my iPhone 4 on a rock, cracking the forward-facing glass, repairable for $80, when a new iPhone 4 with a 2-year contract is, by now practically free.

So, like I said, enamored one day, pissed off the next.

Best of Fish & Bicycles: Happy Old Decade

Originally Published: December 31, 2009


numbers
Listen, I’m not a Left Brain person. When I look at bank statements, Excel spreadsheets, those huge lighted signs at the airport showing flight numbers and departure and arrival times, my head goes all fuzzy, like it’s filled with cotton balls, my eyes cross, and the numbers seem float up from the surface and scramble. (I wouldn’t call it dyslexia, though, because I got an A in Statistics at Rutgers in 1988. Chuckle, chuckle.)

Anyway, if it weren’t frustrating enough to do things like payroll at work or balancing a checkbook, there’s the whole numbers and time and calendars thing, which Wikipedia attempts to make clear:

The Julian calendar was used in Europe at the beginning of the millennium, and all countries that once used the Julian calendar had adopted the Gregorian calendar by the end of it. So the end date is always calculated according to the Gregorian calendar, but the beginning date is usually according to the Julian calendar (or occasionally the Proleptic Gregorian calendar).

Crystal clear, huh?

As I mentioned in a post a few weeks ago, I’ve been reading all these Best Of lists, not just for 2009, but also lists of what folks consider the Best Of the first decade of the 21st Century.

And as I think about this, my Right Brain orientation doesn’t want to trust my subordinate Left Brain when it screams out that it’s a bit premature to declare an end to the first decade of the 21st Century.

I’m reminded of similar brain hemisphere confusion in the run-up to January 1, 2000. The Y2K Bug hype was in the air and much of the world seemed determined to celebrate the coming of 2000 as the beginning of the Second Millennium. After all, 2000 is such a nice round number, isn’t it? It’s just so Second Millennium-ish!

And yet, if you ask an astrophysicist at NASA, well, it’s not.

Question: I’m 17 years old. I’d like to know when the new millennium starts. Isn’t it Jan 1st, 2001? Why do people get excited about 2000 then? How can I explain this to my friends? Please help.

Answer: You are right that the millennium starts on Jan 1st 2001. There is no year zero, so the first millennium started on January 1, 1 C.E., the day after December 31, 1 B.C.E. The first millennium ended 1000 years later, on the night of Dec 31, 1000/morning of Jan 1, 1001, and the second millennium ends 1000 years after that, on Dec 31 2000/Jan 1 2001.

The main reason people will celebrate the millennium on the night of Dec. 31 1999 is to hold big parties, and to hold them a year sooner than they would otherwise. I expect that, around February, 2000, people will start coming around to the belief that the millennium does indeed start with 2001, and plan their next party accordingly.

By the same highly educated reasoning, this would mean that the first decade of the 21st Century doesn’t end until January 1, 2011.

And so, while I’m happy to have evidence that I can still manage to utilize both sides of my brain, I still intend to party tonight like it’s 2011.

Happy New Year!
Happy Old Decade!