misslynx: (Aidan - w/stick)
Seriously, how many three-year-olds want to know about the atmosphere of Jupiter? )

And when gleefully typing random characters on my computer keyboard:

"I'm writing in a language a cell can't read!"

(reference to this video, where they describe DNA in terms of information being written in a language cells can read)
misslynx: (Aidan & me - w/ dandelion)
Of late, the Lynxcub has been completely obsessed with the DVD Here Comes Science, by They Might Be Giants. For those who don't know, TMBG have released a number of kids' CDs and DVDs, in addition to their usual quirky rock offerings. I'd originally introduce him to their stuff via their YouTube channel, but [livejournal.com profile] kettunainen and [livejournal.com profile] optimystik ended up getting him that one on DVD, and he is so in love with it that he has insisted on bringing it along with him on several visits, and on the times he's forgotten to do that, insists on seeing most of the videos from it on YouTube.

He also likes many of the ones from Here Come the ABCs and Here Come the 123s, but it seems to be the science one that's really captured his heart, despite the fact that unlike the others, I'm pretty sure it's intended for considerably older kids than him. But then again, as anyone who's met him (or even reads my LJ regularly) knows, the Lynxcub is not your average three-and-a-half-year-old. It's really pretty awesome to hear him exclaim with delight "Oh look, it's the periodic table!", or draw squiggles on paper and insist that they're DNA. He has also solemnly informed me that he thinks Pluto is a planet, no matter what anyone else says.

And it was the same video that tackled the is-Pluto-a-planet question that led to the following conversation:

Lynxcub: I think I'm going to knock all those rocks in the asteroid belt out of the sky.

Me: Really? Why?

Lynxcub: I'm going to make them into a chew toy.

Me: (brief pause as I attempt to process that statement) Um... That's going to be a very large chew toy.

Lynxcub: (dismissively) That's OK, I'm going to use a machine.

Me: So, uh, who is that chew toy going to be for?

Lynxcub: I'm going to find someone who has a dog who doesn't have a chew toy.

Me: A very, very big dog?

Lynxcub: Yes. With big, sharp teeth!

. . .

I am actually very pleased with his TMBG-fanboy-ness. Their kids' songs and videos are pretty cool - a lot of the videos, especially, have really interesting artwork and animation (I think this is my personal favourite, though I have to warn you the song is an irresistible earworm - it will go through your head for weeks!). Especially in contrast to how stupid and/or annoying most kids' entertainment these days is... I would far, far rather have him watch TMBG geeking out over photosynthesis or paleontology than Spongebob Squarepants or something like that...

I really need to get that DVD - and their other kid's ones, for that matter. There really should be a "one of everything, please" bundle available. Also: this shirt, which is perfect for him since that's one of his favourite songs from that collection, and red is his favourite colour! The first time I looked at the site, I was disappointed because I thought they only had that one in adult sizes, but then I discovered that the kids' version was listed separately further down in the section. Oddly, it doesn't appear in their separate kids' store, but at least now I know I can get it in his size! (ETA: or not. Just noticed the sizes listed are YM, YL and S. I'm guessing the first two mean something along the lines of Youth Medium and Youth Large, but I don't know if the S is meant to be a Youth Small and just lost its Y*, or if it's an adult small. Or if any of these sizes are anywhere near the size 4 that he normally wears.)

. . .

And elsewhere in the world of entertaining Lynxcub moments, later in the same visit, when he was playing in the living room and I had my back turned making him a snack, I heard him say "I need to do this by myself."

Turning around, I asked what it was he need to do, and he replied "This art!" I looked at what he was doing and saw that he had gotten my blush compact out of my purse, and was carefully brushing blush onto the chest of drawers in front of him, with a look of great concentration, as though he was certain that he was creating a masterpiece.

Without looking up, he added in a tone of unmistakable satisfaction "When I'm done, there's going to be scraps of my art everywhere!"

Artistic as well as scientific - that's my boy!

. . .

* Presumably, the missing Y is in the Alphabet Lost & Found.
misslynx: (Aidan & me - w/ dandelion)
The Cub did not want to spend any more time outside today than absolutely necessary - I think he was a little alarmed by the Salsa on St. Clair Festival. He doesn't deal very well with crowds, though he did spend a lot of time watching the goings-on from the window (one of the festival "hot spots" was, as always, the very intersection I live at, where a Salsa school was giving free lessons every hour on the hour, so all weekend I've had not just constant music outside, but periodic bouts of "One! Two! Now, forward! Back! Tap tap tap!" and that sort of thing). I guess music and crowds of dancing people are less threatening when viewed from above.

On the bright side, spending time indoors often tends to lead to more interesting and surreal conversations:

Helpful Lynxcub is helpful )

Simultaneously cute and disturbing )

BTW, for those who don't know, he will be turning three next Monday, the 26th. Not sure yet if there are any official festivities planned (meant to ask when dropping him off, but forgot), but he'll be with me the day before, so if anyone (local) feels like paying the Cub a visit when he's with me on his almost-birthday, I'd be up for that.
misslynx: (Default)
I'd been thinking for a while of making some kind of post about some of the controversies surrounding H1N1/swine flu, because I seem to find myself arguing with people about it a fair bit lately. But then, I think of making many more LJ posts than I actually make. I am constantly writing LJ posts in my head, and maybe 5% of them ever actually get posted. But I think this one's important.

I recently wanted to strangle someone in one community I read, for giving blithe assurances to someone whose partner's child was seriously ill with it and having difficulty breathing that "Oh, it's just the flu. She'll be fine." The kid was in the hospital. Having what sounds like respiratory failure. That does not meet my personal definition of "just the flu", let alone "fine". (OK, admittedly the original poster hadn't mentioned the hospital part at first, just in subsequent comments, but still, even on the basis of what they had described, it sounded serious.)

It seems like there's precious little ground out there between all-out panic and hysteria on the one hand, and dismissing it as trivial on the other. And I don't think either extreme is justified. No, it isn't the end of the world. The majority of people who get it will have a relatively mild case and recover completely. But even a relatively mild case of this flu tends to be longer and more severe than the ordinary seasonal flu, and there is a significant risk of it shifting into a more severe form, which can be life-threatening.

And the particularly disturbing part is that, contrary to what the person I was arguing with in the above community said (something to the effect that "It's no worse than regular flu unless you have AIDS or something"), most of the severe cases of this one have not been people with AIDS, nor have they been elderly people as with most flu viruses (people over 65 seem to have partial immunity to this one) -- they've been children and young adults. Women especially, for some reason. And while certainly having a compromised immune system does put someone at higher risk for complications from it, so do a lot of more common factors, like asthma, diabetes and pregnancy. And a substantial proportion of the people who've gotten seriously ill or died from this have had no identifiable risk factors at all -- they've been previously healthy children or young adults.

Anyway, I haven't had the time to put together the sort of detailed write-up I really wanted to, but as it happens, a friend of mine did just post a whole lot of information, so I'm going to be lazy and just link to his posts. A couple of words of introduction before I do:

  • The friend in question has a science background, but isn't currently affiliated with a university or other institution that would give him direct access to medical journals etc., so the research he did on this was mostly from publicly available sources (which usually means abstracts rather than full papers), plus some discussions with people in the medical field.

  • He started out being skeptical of the H1N1 vaccine and not sure it had been through enough testing to be considered safe (pretty much how I was feeling until fairly recently), so he did most of this research trying to answer his own questions about it and make an informed decision. That involved looking into both the disease itself and the vaccine, since choices like this always need to based on a risk/benefit analysis.

  • He ended up deciding that he did want to get the vaccine, and I'm fairly certain now that I do too. But I am also quite sure that no one who's vehemently anti-vaccine in general is going to have their mind changed by this, because that particular debate really falls into the religious-war category by now. But I hope that even the anti-vaccine people will read over this info, because quite apart from the is-the-vaccine-safe issue, there's a lot of valuable information about the disease itself.

  • All that said, while most of me wants to thank my friend for doing all this research and making it available for me to link to, part of me wants to smack him for not citing sources more specifically. I know him well enough to trust his research, but other people on my friends list who click through to this may not. But then, he originally wrote these posts as e-mails to a small handful of friends, not to put on the web, so they weren't originally intended for a wide audience. He only posted them his LJ after I asked if I could repost some of his info.

  • One last note: from my perspective the most important issue in all this is not so much whether people should get themselves and/or their kids vaccinated - that's a personal choice - but becoming informed about the disease and taking it seriously.

    In particular, knowing that the warning signs that could indicate a severe infection, and when to get medical help. Because in those cases, survival is very strongly correlated with getting them into the hospital fast. Seriously, this thing can go from ordinary flu symptoms to total respiratory failure in 24 hours. If you or someone you're caring for has it and is having any sort of trouble breathing, or running a very high fever, go to the ER. Now. Do not delay, do not hope it gets better on its own, just fucking do it. Because while not every instance of difficulty breathing may be an indicator of impending respiratory failure, a significant proportion are, and this is not something to fuck around with. Getting into the hospital and onto a respirator is the only thing that will keep you alive if it does go that route, and how fast you do it may be literally a life or death decision.

Having gotten that out of the way, on to [livejournal.com profile] oxystat's info:Edited to add one more comment: any references in the posts to "here", "in this country", "in this province", etc. mean Canada and Ontario respectively. One of the hazards of making information originally written for a small handful of locals available to a wider audience is geographical ambiguity.
misslynx: (Oh R'lyeh?)
LOLRhizocephalans: Plotting to Take Over the World

More evidence that this is the most brilliant twisted science blog in the entire Interwebz.

If for some strange reason you do not yet have their RSS feed on your friends page, you may correct that oversight here: [livejournal.com profile] deepseanews.

Assuming, of course, that you enjoy reading about freakish quasi-Lovecraftian (but real) stuff from under the sea, interspersed with (a) environmental news about what we're doing to it all and (b) bizarre humour, as much as I do.

A few other recent highlights:

Giant Antarctic Sea Creatures
Shrimp Training for Beijing Olympics

And on a somewhat more serious note:

Plastic Trash Lines the Pacific
misslynx: (Default)
Found this via a link to another article from [livejournal.com profile] thewronghands:
A big study suggests the harm of excess weight is overhyped. Downside of obesity: higher risk of death from heart disease, diabetes, kidney disease, and some kinds of cancer. Downside of overweight: higher death risk from diabetes and kidney disease, but no higher risk from cancer or heart disease. Upside of overweight (compared with "normal" weight): much lower death risk from Alzheimer's, emphysema, lung cancer, Parkinson's, pneumonia, and tuberculosis. Net result: 100,000 lives saved per year by being overweight instead of "normal."

Theory: Extra weight includes "reserves" that help you resist or recover from disease.

Supportive reactions: 1) Fat isn't bad for you. 2) "Overweight" is normal, and "normal" is underweight.

Critiques: 1) The study only measured deaths, so it missed the fact that fat causes disease, impairment, and lower "quality of life," even if it doesn't kill. 2) The reason fat kills fewer people is that we're medicating them. 3) Overweight may not harm you directly, but it leads to obesity, which does harm you. 4) Other studies say fat is harmful. 5) If we tell people fat is harmless, they'll eat crap and stop exercising, which is bad for them regardless of weight.

(Source: http://www.slate.com/id/2177821/fr/rss/ - but note that it's an RSS feed and this piece is already near the bottom, so it'll probably scroll off the page soon)
So being in the "overweight" area of the BMI, as opposed to either "normal" or "obese", seems like the healthiest place to be, at least in terms of mortality levels from the diseases study. It does not increase your risk of cancer or heart disease, and does decrease your risk of a whole lot of other stuff, compared to people who are lighter or heavier. Very interesting...

One thing I found interesting/annoying about some of the critiques in the articles they linked to is that a lot of them did not differentiate between different levels of excess weight -- they seemed to assume that if you said that being 10-20 pounds overweight might be OK that was no different than saying that being 100 pounds overweight was OK, when that was not what the study found at all. The mortality levels were quite different between the overweight and obese categories. But it seems like a lot of people are so caught up in weight hysteria that if you suggest that any level of weight beyond the vaunted BMI Normal might actually be OK, they scream "heresy!" first, and look at the actual facts later, if at all.

That said, though, I see the same sort of distortion from a lot of the "fat acceptance" groups, who seize on things like this to "prove" that no one ever needs to lose any weight and that any level of fat is OK. So neither side is exactly innocent in this.

Sometimes it seems like there's very little middle ground out there between the tyranny of the BMI and the position that all excess weight of any kind means you're OMG OBESE AND GOING TO DIE HORRIBLY!!1! and the equally nonsensical position that there are absolutely no health concerns at all with any level of weight and that it's all a big capitalist/patriarchal plot.

From what I can tell, the facts don't really support either extreme. Yes, there are health risks associated with being very overweight. No, that does not mean that being mildly overweight is a death sentence. I think it is possible to say that the range of possibly healthy body types may be a little wider than is commonly thought, and for that matter the entire range may need to be shifted a little upward from what is commonly thought, without saying that there are no limits and that being 200 pounds overweight isn't a problem.

I also find it interesting how people automatically make the leap from stats like this to health prescriptions -- as the Slate summary put it, "If we tell people fat is harmless, they'll eat crap and stop exercising, which is bad for them regardless of weight." I think that saying whether or not being of a particular weight level is good or bad for you is something separate from saying whether or not eating healthfully or exercising are good for you (obviously they are) -- not unrelated, but not identical either. There are overweight people who eat decently and are physically active, and there are skinny people who eat crap and don't exercise -- I've certainly known both. It would be interesting to see a more detailed study that ranked the various health risks by weight level, and then by things like diet and physical activity -- I'm betting the latter factors would be more strongly correlated with health than the former.

Personally, while I hate the idea of presenting only one narrow range of body types as acceptable, and enjoy finding articles like this that challenge conventional wisdom on the topic, I am also worried about the appallingly awful diet of most North Americans (Americans especially, but Canadians to a lesser extent also) and the lack of exercise. I think it's possible to enjoy both things like that BMI-critique slideshow I posted a few entries back, and movies like Supersize Me, and to find both thought-provoking.

I remember seeing an article by a doctor a while back proposing to redefine a "healthy weight" as the weight any given individual gravitates toward if they're eating sensibly and exercising regularly, which is not necessarily going to be the same for everyone. Maybe what we need to do is start thinking a little less in terms of an "obesity epidemic" and more in terms of an unhealthy lifestyle epidemic -- I think that would be getting more to the root causes of the problem.
misslynx: (Oh R'lyeh?)
From Deep Sea News:
krakengigante.jpgToday is Cephalopod Awareness Day. Jason at Cephalopodcast asks us to "embrace your inner octopus and let the world know what we think of our tentacled friends."

At the moment, Craig is in the running for a spot on a documentary series about the deep-sea. He is one of five finalists on the casting couch in Boston today, so I am taking the opportunity to revive an old post documenting known attacks of the Kraken. As you will see below, I don't think of squid as "friends". Quite the contrary...

These are turbulent times. Lately, an awesome sea rides in on violent storms ravaging Gulf coasts and Indian coasts, destroying cities, bringing marine life up on land. These are important developments in the ocean climate. Our homeland security may depend on our ability to defend ourselves from these encroaching dangers.

Those of us that have witnessed first hand the bony sawtoothed tentacles of the colossal squid, and have learned of its medieval club shaped appendage, agree that sea monsters really do exist, and we must begin to take precautions. Perhaps we can set aside centuries - old and troubled quests for oil and religion, and focus now on the real and most dangerous enemy lurking below - the Kraken.
More here: http://scienceblogs.com/deepseanews/2007/10/attacks_of_the_kraken.php
misslynx: (Cat Attack)
A handful of really choice headlines in today's spam harvest:
"Yes, I stay away from the POETS."

In all caps, yet. Considering how often spam these days seems to resemble found poetry, it seems a bit unfair...

"Pasty pale hands like slugs under rocks, ordered by minds behind pale, eyeless faces."

Er... right, then. That one really belongs in [livejournal.com profile] necronomiphiles. If I came across that when doing spamomancy divination, I'd need to be doing a sanity check right about now. Maybe I should anyway...

"There seemed to be about six of him."

Now would this be one of the poets -- sorry, POETS -- or the things with the pasty pale hands and no eyes? If the latter, I am even more worried than I was before.

"I am not positive about the accuracy of my description."

Well, that's a relief, all things considered...

"God and the New Physics by Paul Davies."

OK, not only do the spammers appear to be evoking some kind of eldritch Lovecraftian horrors and dissing poets, but they also know what I'm reading. This would be seriously creepy if it wasn't -- well, me entertaining myself by reading meaning into random nonsense.

"But with her mind she was inclined to ridicule."

Yes; yes, I am. Is that going to be a problem?
misslynx: (iBook)
It's not just in water bottles... :-(


Canned food, baby bottles & liners, breast milk storage bags, dental sealants, the list goes on...

On the bright side, the Canadian government is apparently considering restricting or banning it. If that goes through, we will be the first country to do so on the federal level, though at least one municipality in the US has (San Francisco, unsurprisingly).

Of course, the plastics industry is campaigning equally hard to convince people that it's safe, and putting up their own misinformation sites. I love how that one insists that it's simply "a comprehensive resource for environmental, health and safety information about bisphenol A", as though it was some kind of neutral and objective outside voice, but when you follow the links for the privacy policy and terms and conditions, you find that it's run by the American Chemistry Council, which "represents the leading companies engaged in the business of chemistry, including significant business groups such as the Plastics Division and the Chlorine Chemistry Division".
misslynx: (Angry cat)
If any of you use those spiffy Nalgene water bottles, like the one [livejournal.com profile] taikakettu has been toting around since January, you need to check out this site now:

Detox Nalgene

Apparently the bottles are made from polycarbonate plastic, which leaches Bisphenol A, a known endocrine disruptor which can cause all kinds of adverse effects ranging from PCOS to cancer to miscarriages and birth defects.

Yes. Including the water bottle my pregnant wife has been using this past five months.

On that basis, I tend to think the makers of these bottles need to die, preferably slowly and painfully, but the Detox Nalgene campaign is urging you to e-mail them instead.

More details for those interested )

I'll send these poison-peddling fuckwits an e-mail, all right. But I think it's going to be a little bit more heated than my average polite protest e-mail.

ETA: forgot to add: thanks to [livejournal.com profile] deepseanews for the heads-up on this. I very much recommend checking out his To-Do List For Reducing Plastic.
misslynx: (Triad portrait)
The way they compose the subject and sender names for spam these days, by stringing together random words in a roughly grammatical order, can sometimes generate some really... interesting results.

Today's highlight: "Comparing religions" -- ostensibly sent by "Terrible death".

I tell you, I could not make shit up that's as entertaining as some of what lands in my spam folder these days. Spammertainment, indeed.

. . .

Elsewhere in humour: it has come to my attention that the tongue-in-cheek title I put on my last LJ post ("Informed Commentary on Astronomical Controversy") may have put some people off from clicking on the link, because they may have expected it to be something serious.

Lest there be any doubt, it is not. It is funny as hell. So you should watch that video even if you have no interest in astronomy and no opinion on whether Pluto should lose its planet status. Both [livejournal.com profile] taikakettu and I had pretty much the same reaction: laughter until tears were literally rolling down our cheeks, followed by "When we have a daughter, I want her to be exactly like that!"

So, that link again, for those who have not yet experienced its greatness:



misslynx: (Default)

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