Thursday, May 25, 2006

Cuteness, Funny Mugshots, and Print-on-Demand Marriage Proposal Books

Okay, since I've been spending a lot of time sitting by the hospital bed of a good friend, I'm big on things that make me laugh right now (actually, I'm always big on things that make me laugh). And I'll tell you, goofy as it may sound, Cuteoverload gets lots of points. Just look at this picture, or this one (!!), or this one (I could go on and on, but I'll stop now).

So, in keeping with my current quest for humor, I have to post these two things: First, The Smoking Gun has this hilarious feature on people who do it up for their mugshots -- some of them are great. I mean, really, if you're busted, you're busted. May as well make the best of it, right?

Then there's this, which I posted on Critical Mass today, but wanted to include here too: A man has proposed to his girlfriend by creating and giving her a 105-page print-on-demand book called, "50 Reasons Why You Should Marry Me and 51 Reasons Why I should Marry You," by Cameron Kelly. The book is available for sale through Lulu, where you can read the entire thing as a sample PDF (thought I would think you were very strange if you did that -- skimming it for voyeurism's sake is one thing, but reading it all is completely different).

A press release announcing the sale of the book listed some of the reasons she should say yes, including: "Because I clean the bathroom every week. Because I cut my hair. Because I love the way you say 'crayons.'" And, as the book-description notes, there are "FULL COLOR photographs throughout."

At this point, the book has a 4 star customer rating (out of a possible 6 stars), but its target audience seemed pleased: She said yes. How could you not? Come on: The guy's a riot. And making that book took serious balls. (Thanks Clive!)

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Friday, May 19, 2006

On A Personal Note: Why My Blog Will Be Quiet For a While

In my post last week, I mentioned that my grandmother died recently (thanks to all who sent condolences). I just got back from her funeral and learned that one of my best friends has fallen into a coma-like state at the age of 41-- doctors originally thought it was from encephalitis, but now have no idea what's causing it. So I'm headed out of town again, this time to the intensive care unit to be with my friend -- a wonderful writer, teacher, and friend (that's us in the photo; she's on the left).

This is why my posts have been so brief (instead of my usual more detailed ones listed under recent favorites below and to the right). It also explains why I'll be offline for a while again. More when I return ...


Why I Don't Live Near Alligators

In the past, I've mentioned that I like living in a city like NYC because it means I don't have to deal with things like quicksand and crocodile-eating pythons. Well, add this to the list of reasons I'll never live in Florida with the alligators.


Multi-Vitamin Confusion: To Use or Not To Use

Scientists behind a large federal research study on multi-vitamins have concluded that they have no idea what to tell you about using multi-vitamins, because there's not enough evidence for or against using them.

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Cell Phones and Cancer, and Cell Phones and Children

If you've ever doubted whether you should bother using your headset when you talk on a cell phone, perhaps this news will sway you: The top two floors of a Melbourne building were closed a few days ago after seven office workers were diagnosed with brain tumors (four were diagnosed within two weeks of each other). Their offices were directly below the mobile phone transmitters on the roof. The cell phone companies say the towers are fine, but are investigating any connection.

Meanwhile, the mayor of NYC has banned cell phones in schools, and parents don't like it one bit.

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Screening Embryos for Cancer Genes, Anonymous Disease Donors, and Cervical Cancer Vaccine Update

Genetic testing and the controversy surrounding it got ratcheted to a new level with the news that people can now screen embryos for cancer genes. This means they can decide to abort based on the fact that their child will have an increased risk of perhaps get breast or colon or somesuch cancer someday ... Meanwhile, on the lack-of-genetic-testing front: an anonymous sperm donor passed on a rare genetic disorder to several children in Michigan

But the good news is, the cervical cancer vaccine will be approved by the FDA any minute

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Ancient Tattooed Women and Humans Mating with Primates

I've got a backlog of posts since I've been offline for more than a week -- I originally posted them as one long post, but realized they'd get lost in the archives quickly, so I'm re-posting them individually. They're all going to be short for reasons that will quickly become clear, but I'll come back and comment on some of these in future posts. Here's the first:

In the ancient history department: Archeologists found a 1,500-year old female mummy covered in tattoos in a Peruvian pyramid, and DNA analysis showed that humans and chimps mated at some point, and we may be their offspring.

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Wednesday, May 10, 2006

A Personal Update and Interesting Stuff

My blog has been a bit quite for the last few days because my 95 year-old grandmother died, and I've been busying myself with her funeral and lots of time with family. My grandmother (who my father has written about in several books) was theatrical, and she loved Broadway like nothing else, so we memorialized her by seeing a smashing performance of Spamalot. And now, as I head out of town for a few days with the family, I leave you with these thoughts:

It's finally legal to get a tattoo in Oklahoma (I had no idea it was illegal!)

Mixologists are throwing science at alcohol with some crazy (and surely expensive) results

Abstinence only advocates are causing problems again

A non-profit organization has launched a website that assigns grades to health stories that appear in the press -- I have to check it out more when I get back to town. I'm curious about who runs the place ...

And the New York Times ran a creepy story that introduces a new extreme strategy for protecting yourself and your family from genetic discrimination -- stealing your own medical records. It'd be much safer and more effective to enact those laws people keep talking about that would make genetic discrimination illegal.

That's all for now, our regularly scheduled blogging will return next week ...

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Thursday, May 04, 2006

Rinxiety: The science of hallucinated cell phone rings

My friend Clive is haunted by hallucinated cell phone rings. Apparently, he isn't going mad, he's just suffering from "ringxiety," and there's actually science to explain it ... check out his fascinating post about it.


Good News for the Future of Obesity

A stunning piece of news: The nation's three biggest soft-drink companies announced that they're removing Coke, Pepsi, sweet iced teas and other such drinks from school cafeterias and vending machines. Have they finally come to their senses and realized they're on one of the top causes of the current obesity epidemic among children and record rates of diabetes, heart disease and the like? Nope: They're worried about lawsuits. Which is great news. (Thanks to Ben for pointing this out!)

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Wednesday, May 03, 2006

Worst Science Headline Ever

This has to be the strangest pairing of headline and story I've ever read:

The headline: "X-Men May Be Closer Than You Think."

The story: A group of Japanese geneticists have found small damages in genetic sequences that cause evolutionary changes in our DNA. Not only is that a bit of a duh story (things change in the genome, we pass them on for generations, evolution happens), but of course, those changes (unfortunately) have nothing to do with us gaining supernatural powers (though I've longed for some since childhood).

The funniest thing is that the article itself is highly technical. An example: "8-oxoG is one of the main causes of frequent recombinations and SNPs (single nucleotide polymorphisms) in the human genome." Maybe it was so technical that the headline writer just didn't understand it. This is one of the strange things about writing for publications -- the writers almost never chose titles. We suggest them all the time, but they never stick (in my case, I think the only title I've ever written for a feature story that wasn't changed was Fixing Nemo for my goldfish surgery article -- I was so proud of that!).

(Thanks to Carl Zimmer for pointing this out!)


Tuesday, May 02, 2006

Time for the VA to Slow Down on Launching Their Biobank

For my ongoing follow up to my New York Times Magazine article: The Oregonian ran an editorial today saying that the Department of Veterans Affairs is about to launch a veterans' DNA bank without taking decades worth of patients rights debates into account or looking seriously at the well-known ethical issues involved in creating a bank like this (for more on these ethical issues, see my NY Times Magazine story). The VA wants to start collecting samples from veterans as early as this October -- it has an ethical advisory committee of 7 people with advanced degrees, an army dentist, and one disabled American Veteran. But it just signed them up last month. As the editorial says:

"The committee has a lot to discuss in just a few months. Little questions such as: If genetic research detects a hidden, undesirable trait, such as a predilection for alcoholism, can that information be shared with third parties? Should it be disclosed to the donor?

When future researchers study a tissue or blood sample, should they be able to trace it back to its donor?

If the agency sells a set of samples to a pharmaceutical company, which uses them to create a new drug, should donors be compensated?

Will donors really give informed consent to the use of their samples, since so much about the future research is unknown?

Can the Department of Veterans Affairs really guarantee privacy of the donors and security of the DNA specimens?

Many veterans have developed a healthy skepticism about the government that sent them to war. Those who have bumped into bureaucratic frustrations with the Department of Veterans Affairs -- and their names are legion -- are unlikely to believe that the same agency can effectively manage such a sensitive matter as DNA research ... a DNA repository of the blood and tissue of military veterans isn't something to be constructed hastily. The questions surrounding the matter are profoundly important, and the answers are by no means clear."
I'm very interested to see how this one unfolds ...

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