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Twisted by Jessica Zafra – Pumping irony since 1994
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Archive for the ‘Science’

Get enough sleep, people! Sleep problems can make you sick.

March 16, 2017 By: jessicazafra Category: Science No Comments →

If you caught the first episode of Trippies (Thank you! Replays on CNN Philippines today at 1230pm and Saturday at 11am), you may recall how Pepe and I, two non-athletic people, wondered what Olympic-level skills we have. Mine is sleeping. I can sleep through anything. Sometimes on long-haul flights I’m asleep before take-off. I seriously believe that writing gets done during sleep, when the brain is resting and free to work out the details.

Given today’s 24-hour work schedules and omnipresent gadgetry, more and more people are having trouble sleeping. I’ve noticed that the rare occasions I cannot fall asleep are when my brain won’t shut up (After I’ve seen an excellent movie and cannot stop thinking about it, or after I’ve finished a piece of writing and cannot stop criticizing it). Sleep experts tell us to turn off our screens, but I find that playing videos I’ve already seen helps me to zone out and eventually lose consciousness. Agatha Christie’s Poirot and Seinfeld, which by now I have memorized, help me to fall asleep. Also BBC documentaries.

Sometimes I really cannot fall asleep, so I accept that sleep has eluded me, pick up a book, and resolve to go to bed early the following day.

Clinicians have long known that there is a strong link between sleep, sunlight and mood. Problems sleeping are often a warning sign or a cause of impending depression, and can make people with bipolar disorder manic. Some 15 years ago, Dr. Francesco Benedetti, a psychiatrist in Milan, and colleagues noticed that hospitalized bipolar patients who were assigned to rooms with views of the east were discharged earlier than those with rooms facing the west — presumably because the early morning light had an antidepressant effect.

The notion that we can manipulate sleep to treat mental illness has also been around for many years. Back in the late 1960s, a German psychiatrist heard about a woman in Tübingen who was hospitalized for depression and claimed that she normally kept her symptoms in check by taking all-night bike rides. He subsequently demonstrated in a group of depressed patients that a night of complete sleep deprivation produced an immediate, significant improvement in mood in about 60 percent of the group.

Read Yes, Your Sleep Schedule Is Making You Sick

When we start colonizing other planets, what are the rules?

March 02, 2017 By: jessicazafra Category: Science No Comments →

What are the protocols? Will we abide by the Prime Directive? But there’s no United Federation of Planets yet. Ugh will orange billionaires get their little hands on the new worlds?


An artist’s interpretation of a human colony on Mars. (NASA AMES)

If humans were to land on Mars and were somehow lethally threatened by Martians, should humans attack the Martians? In his personal opinion, Lee says the answer would be yes. “If at some point it came down to either me or the microbe on Mars that’s going to survive, I’m probably not going to hesitate,” he says.

Yet these are not simple questions to address, and are not within the realm of the Haughton Mars Project to answer. The International Council for Science, consisting of 142 countries, has organized a Committee on Space Research (COSPAR) to help answer some of these questions and a United Nations Outer Space Treaty, in place since 1967, also helps streamline some of the ethical and legal implications that this issue raises.

But the treaty is meant to protect the safety of humans and scientific evidence of life on other planets, not to protect the environments or ecosystems of those planets. Moreover, the contents of the treaty are just guidelines: They are not laws, and the legal implications of not following them remain unclear, says Catharine Conley, head officer at NASA’s Planetary Protection Office.

Read it in Smithsonian.

The Outer Space Treaty provides the basic framework on international space law, including the following principles:

the exploration and use of outer space shall be carried out for the benefit and in the interests of all countries and shall be the province of all mankind;
outer space shall be free for exploration and use by all States;
outer space is not subject to national appropriation by claim of sovereignty, by means of use or occupation, or by any other means;
States shall not place nuclear weapons or other weapons of mass destruction in orbit or on celestial bodies or station them in outer space in any other manner;
the Moon and other celestial bodies shall be used exclusively for peaceful purposes;
astronauts shall be regarded as the envoys of mankind;
States shall be responsible for national space activities whether carried out by governmental or non-governmental entities;
States shall be liable for damage caused by their space objects; and
States shall avoid harmful contamination of space and celestial bodies.

If you’re disappointed in your species, here’s a story to give you hope (and clean your tear ducts)

December 09, 2016 By: jessicazafra Category: Books, Science 5 Comments →

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The Coma Cluster of Galaxies from the NASA APOD Archive.

Allora & Calzadilla collaborated with author Ted Chiang on their video installation The Great Silence, which centers on the world’s largest radio telescope in Esperanza, Puerto Rico— home to the last remaining population of a critically endangered species of parrots, Amazona vittata.

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(I copy my favorite writing into a notebook, hoping to figure out how they were created.)

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The Arecibo telescope, from the National Geographic.

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Endangered Puerto Rican parrot ceremonially released at the new flight cage of the flight cages at the Iguaca Aviary.	Saturday	Photo by Tom MacKenzie
Amazona vittata photo by Tom MacKenzie from Wikimedia Commons.

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Continue reading The Great Silence.

All it takes is a small number of brave, stubborn people for society to function properly.

October 05, 2016 By: jessicazafra Category: History, Science No Comments →

Finally read the Nassim Nicholas Taleb essay that I bookmarked weeks ago and it’s cheered me up immensely. N.N. Taleb wrote The Black Swan, in which he blasted the bad mathematics that toppled the global financial system. Never listen to economists who cannot grasp the math. I’ve always been too lazy to pay attention to mathematics, but Math Is Our Friend and it will save us.

Read The Most Intolerant Wins: The Dictatorship Of The Small Minority. Yes, the title sounds dire, but the piece is both enlightening and comforting. Taleb can be irritating (the air of “Ang galing-galing ko”), but the arguments are persuasive. There’s a bit of statistics in it, but you’re intelligent people, you can apply the little grey cells (Have been watching Agatha Christie’s Poirot again).

Among other things, Taleb says:

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So Edmund Burke is correct. And Tolkien.

After you’ve read the Taleb essay, watch this bit from Dr. Who, the episode where the Doctor is convincing Vincent Van Gogh not to commit suicide. It made me verklempt (Yiddish for emotional).

Science tells us how to hold a coffee mug so you don’t spill coffee on yourself

August 30, 2016 By: jessicazafra Category: Coffee, Science 3 Comments →

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Like this.

Presumably after spilling his own coffee one too many times, physicist Jiwon Han decided to see if there was a better way to drink his java. Han took it upon himself to test new methods to find a more efficient and stable way to hold a coffee mug, Nick Rose writes for Munchies. He recently published his findings in the open access journal Achievements in the Life Sciences.

“Rarely do we manage to carry coffee around without spilling it once,” Han writes in the study. “In fact, due to the very commonness of the phenomenon, we tend to dismiss questioning it beyond simply exclaiming: ‘Jenkins! You have too much coffee in your cup!’”

As it turns out, it’s not just klutziness that makes it hard to walk around holding a full cup of coffee without spilling everywhere—it’s partly due to the traditional shape of the mug. For starters, Han found that a coffee cup was less likely to spill the taller the mug was compared to the amount of liquid it held. Even so, that’s not exactly an ideal scenario for your standard coffee addict first thing in the morning.

Read it at Smithsonian.

Next research topic: How to drink from a coffee mug without spilling coffee on yourself.

Book Oracle: Pick up the book nearest to you and turn to page 45.

August 11, 2016 By: jessicazafra Category: Books, Science 3 Comments →

The first sentence will describe your lovelife.

I had just bought these two books so they were in my bag.

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“Now we’re trying to figure out why the fundamental fabric of reality is one way rather than some other way.”

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“…axioms, in the dust of outsiders and mistrust of insiders, in wanderers’ totes and Judas’s totals, in the movement from and the standing over, in the lies of the cheated and in the truth of the deceived, in war and peace, in tinted glasses and tall grasses, in studios and studies, in shame and suffering, in darkness and light, in hate and compassion, in life and beyond it—we need to make good sense out of all these and other things—there’s something in it, perhaps not much, but something.”

Hmmm, the two readings agree.

(Thanks to Tina.)