Showing posts from June, 2014

The Story of Us: White skin is not about making vitamin D. It's about preventing dehydration.

You're writing a story about the migration of ancient humans into Europe.  As always, you need crisis as a way of furthering the story.  Here's one, minor though it may seem:  On the trip, members of your band with dark skin are much more likely to die of dehydration than members with a lighter skin tone.

Really?  Sure.  Read the following which debunks the Vitamin D theory of why people with lighter colored skin survived as they followed the glaciers north after the last Ice Age. 

The popular idea that Northern Europeans developed light skin to absorb more UV light so they could make more vitamin D – vital for healthy bones and immune function – is questioned by UC San Francisco researchers in a new study published online in the journal Evolutionary Biology.

Ramping up the skin’s capacity to capture UV light to make vitamin D is indeed important, according to a team led by Peter Elias, MD, a UCSF professor of dermatology. However, Elias and colleagues concluded in their study …

CHARACTER DEVELOPMENT: Science confirms ~ some people enjoy suffering

Here's a story ready for the writing.

Okay, yes, it's been done, but if you're looking for something meaty to sink your creative teeth into, think about this.  How do people who dislike themselves react when you try to cheer them up?  When you put a positive spin on their lives?  They ignore you, right?

This study suggests that you may want to rethink cheering up your friends who have low self-esteem because, they don't want to hear it.  It's not that they're happy the way they feel about themselves.  It's that they only hear things that confirm their opinion of themselves.

People with low self-esteem have overly negative views of themselves, and often interpret critical feedback, romantic rejections, or unsuccessful job applications as evidence of their general unworthiness. On top of this, researchers at the University of Waterloo and Wilfrid Laurier University found that this person likely doesn't want you to try to boost their spirits.  They're …

Scientists predict Higgs boson probably should have caused our universe to collapse? But it didn't. Why?

I think we all know that we're living in an age of amazing scientific research and discovery.  It's a given that most of the scientists who ever lived in the 6.5 million year history of the human animal are alive and working today.

It's safe to say that we're in the beginning of a remarkable scientific golden age.  At the beginning?  Yep.  Which means that there is far more that we don't know than we do.  And you're safe in assuming we don't know much given that we live on a hinky-dinky little planet way out in the boondocks of space, far, far away from the galactic center.

Science is a process that accretes knowledge much as a pearl accretes around a grain of sand in an oyster.  You start with a question.  You seek an answer to that question.  You find an answer to that question.  

And the answer poses ten or twenty or a hundred new questions.

Take the Higgs boson, a particle that existed very briefly immediately after the Big Bang.  The theory was that this p…

Impress your friends: Be an Instant Soccer Expert!

Well, maybe not an expert, but by reading these five short stories you will be much better prepared to hold your own in our quaternary obsession with Futbol!   GOOOOOOOAAAAAALLLLLL!

FIFA World cup qualification: is it a fair game?
FIFA has 208 member football associations from around the world all clamoring to qualify for each World Cup tournament and reap the massive $8 million appearance fee as well as further windfalls and lucrative merchandising revenues. With fierce competition for qualification, is FIFA allocating the 32 places fairly or are processes biased by finances and politics? New research, published in the journal Soccer & Society, suggests that a more transparent allocation processes is urgently required. Without this, experts at Canada's Sprott School of Business argue, FIFA will be open to the accusation it is more concerned with financial gain from the World Cup than showcasing the very best football.

In their new article, "Unfair play in World Cup qualif…

The Story of Us: Did Neandertal evolve all at once? Or slowly over time?

Credit: Image © Javier Trueba / Madrid Scientific Films Skull 17 from the Sima de los Huesos site in Sierra de Atapuerca, Spain. Trying to keep up with the latest research in the middle of the Scientific Revolution is a task beyond my capabilities, though it is fun trying.
Take, for instance, one of our predecessor species, Neandertal.  Type the name into a science search site, and over a dozen breakthrough studies were published just over the last several years.  These studies deal with the ancient but help explain how we got be the thinking animal we are.

One question of debate in some circles is: do species evolve all at once?  Or slowly over time?

For a writer, all at once is a bonanza of potential conflict and crises.  Slowly over time, less so, but still rife with those with a new feature such as a dominant brow ridge being ostracized - a theme in Jean Aul's delightful series, Earth's Children.

Here is a story of a study that compares and contrasts skulls with a mix of Neander…

The next generation of Invisibility Cloaks: "You can't touch this."

Frodo's ring and Harry Potter's cloak gave them invisibility, actually an old fantasy realized by science over the past few years. Today, objects really can be hidden from light, heat or sound. However, hiding of an object from being touched still remained to be accomplished. 

Now scientists from the Karlsruhe (Germany) Institute of Technology (KIT) have succeeded in creating a method that "hides" an object from a person's sense of touch, sort of making the pea under the mattress not noticeable to the princess.

The "touch" invisibility" device developed by KIT prevents  a person's sense of touch responding to the object.  Here's an explanation from the press release of how the KIT technology works:
The invisibility cloak is based on a so-called metamaterial that consists of a polymer. Its major properties are determined by the special structure. "We build the structure around the object to be hidden. In this structure, strength depends o…

What Bronze Age Brits used for jewelry

A new study by scientists at the University of York has shed new light on the use of mollusk shells as personal adornments by Bronze Age people.

The research team used amino acid racemisation analysis (a technique used previously mainly for dating artifacts), light microscopy, scanning electron microscopy and Raman spectroscopy, to identify the raw materials used to make beads in a complex necklace discovered at an Early Bronze Age burial site at Great Cornard in Suffolk, UK.

They discovered that Bronze Age craftspeople used species like dog whelk and tusk shells, both of which were likely to have been sourced and worked locally, to fashion tiny disc-shaped beads in the necklace.

About Tusk Shells

Where's Indiana Jones when we need him? Ancient coins looted from archaeological sites

There is a story here, or at least part of a story, considering that the market in coins and other stolen artifacts is in the billions of dollars annually.  I can picture our hero, Iowa Schwartz, combating an international cartel of dealers in stolen artifacts.  That's been done?  Not the way you would write it.

Here's the article:

Millions of ancient looted coins from archaeological excavations enter the black market yearly, and a Baylor University researcher who has seen plundered sites likens the thefts to stealing "smoking guns" from crime scenes. But those who collect and study coins have been far too reluctant to condemn the unregulated trade, he says.

"Archaeologists are detectives. When something has been taken away from a historical site, the object is divorced from its relationship with other objects, and its utility for the writing of history -- much like solving a criminal case -- is diminished," said Nathan Elkins, Ph.D., assistant art professor …

The demise of English pubs. What will detectives do?

From the days of Sherlock Holmes, Lord Peter and Miss Marple, the stereotypical English public house or pub has been at the core of any fictional detective's work.  And now, sad to say, the English pub is disappearing.

Take a walk through a typical town center or village in England and the chances are you will stumble across a King's Head, Rose & Crown or a Red Lion for a pint of ale or a bite to eat. Pubs are among the most common and well-loved buildings in the country, but have recently been identified as 'a severely threatened building type' by English Heritage.

Academics from the University of Leicester are now looking into pubs in Leeds as part of a research project funded by English Heritage.

Having been the hub of the social life of many communities for centuries, the pub has played a key role in shaping English national identity. However, pubs have been closing in large numbers each week over recent years and are disappearing from our city centers and the…

TECHNOLOGY: Eliminating credit card fraud with palm readers

This post applies to a wide range of genres from SciFi to crime to Romance as well as to our daily lives.  If you've ever had your debit or credit card info stolen and used to run up bills, you know the frustration of getting those charges off your account.  Here's a new application of old technology that may make our accounts more secure.

Paying for a coffee or lunch by simply scanning your palm still sounds like science fiction to most of us. However, an engineering student at Lund University in Sweden has made it happen -- making his the first known company in the world to install the vein scanning technique in stores and coffee shops.

Fredrik Leifland got the idea for his start-up two years ago when he was standing in line at the supermarket. Growing impatient, he knew there had to be an easier and quicker way than using credit cards, and together with a group of classmates at Lund University he soon discovered biometric solutions. While vein scanning technology already exi…

CRIME: Is letting felons cop pleas to lesser charges working? Research says no.

Letting a person charged with a felony is a staple of crime fiction as well as in court is a fact of life in the American legal system.  Is it a strategy that saves taxpayers money while lowering crime rates?  Or is it merely an expedient money saver that leads to more violent crime later?

A UC Davis study comparing violent misdemeanor convictions with their original criminal charges has found that subsequent violent crimes could be prevented if criminal charges were reduced less often during plea bargaining.

The small, preliminary study, posted online June 9 in the American Journal of Preventive Medicine, re-analyzed data on 787 individuals under age 35 who had violent misdemeanor convictions and purchased handguns in California in 1989 or 1990. The goal was to assess the impact of reduced criminal charges on gun purchases and subsequent crime.

"Federal law prohibits felons from legally purchasing firearms, but individuals with violent misdemeanor convictions face no such restri…

CRIME: Detecting drug abuse through sewage.

This is an interesting concept, tracking the outflows of a community's sewer system to detect illegal substances at the treatment plant.  Once this is installed, the next step would be to install detectors at the intersections of main sewer lines then smaller connectors until detectors are installed in each neighborhood.

From a civil liberties viewpoint, this should be about as welcome as drone aircraft circling overhead.  From a crime detection standpoint, it could quickly spot a meth cooking operation or other activity.  For the author of crime fiction, it's one more twist to add to a plot.

Here's the story:

The war on drugs could get a boost with a new method that analyzes sewage to track levels of illicit drug use in local communities in real time. The new study, a first-of-its-kind in the U.S., was published in the ACS ournal Environmental Science & Technology and could help law enforcement identify new drug hot spots and monitor whether anti-drug measures are workin…