Tiger in Your Tank

  • Into Thin Air. It makes a nice title for a book about a climbing disaster on Mt. Everest, sure. It’s also good science, apparently. A physicist (of all people) thinks that what happened is, the atmospheric pressure changed, whisking oxygen away from the mountaintop and effectively making the top of Mt. Everest almost 1/3 of a mile higher. Not literally, of course, but in terms of oxygen available. Neato. (Independent / NZ Herald: “Everest climbers died because sky fell below them says scientist” by Charles Arthur [May 27, 2004])
  • Who Needs Sex is admittedly a pretty lame title for an article about gene transfer, but like they say, don’t judge an article by its author’s willingness to use the drawing power of the word sex. Surprisingly straightforward and clear, “WNS?” discusses the various curiosities of how particular snippets of DNA (etc. etc.) got where they are today. Which by itself doesn’t sound all that exciting, so let me use one of the more extreme (potential) scenarios from the article:

    “Bacteria are, after all, responsible for decay, the system by which all flesh is ultimately converted to compost. Just by consuming animals, bacteria may pick up genes from those animals. And if, say, a vulture dines on that rotting flesh, those bacteria may take up residence in the bird and possibly even pass a gene from the dinner to the diner.” [emphasis added]

    Interesting stuff.
    (Science for People: “Who Needs Sex?” by Scott Anderson [May 20, 2004])

  • Deadly Diseases? Tell someone who cares. Not too surprisingly, more research resources are dedicated to the conditions afflicting affluent nations than to the more common (and more deadly in terms of global deaths) diseases. This article focuses primarily on medical journals, and how the proportion of articles published on various topics reflects this disconnect, but it’s still worth a look. (Globe and Mail / Canadian Press: “Researchers neglect deadliest diseases” by Helen Branswell [May 25, 2004])
  • For people whose password is “password.” During the height of the Cold War, the “secret” unlock code to all the big ol’ Minuteman nuclear missles pointed at the USSR was 00000000. Honest. Though on the bright side, if we were able to survive years of trigger-hair nuclear missiles with first-grade unlock codes, maybe there’s some hope we’ll survive a little while longer. (The Nation / Daily Outrage: “00000000” by Matt Bivens [May 28, 2004])
  • One-way Dialogue.

    Farmer: I’d like to test my steer for mad cow disease.
    Gov’t: No.
    Farmer: I’ll even pay for the tests.
    Gov’t: No. It has to be tested by our labs.
    Farmer: I’ll send it to you.
    Gov’t: No.
    Farmer: I’ll pay to send it to you.
    Gov’t: No.

    Admittedly, this isn’t an actual dialogue. But it might as well be. It’d be funny if only it weren’t so sad. (LA Times/BoGlo: “Some beef plants want BSE testing” by Stephanie Simon [May 30, 2004])