5.26.2015

Lost Treasures of the 20th Century

Today we’re going to put on our best pith helmet, grab a metal detector and go in search of great lost treasures of the recent past. Contrary to urban legend, not all hidden stacks of cash and gold are 17th century buried pirate chests or great old Viking hordes found in the peat bogs of England. There are countless cases of stolen cash, plundered war loot, lost heists and treasures that have simply disappeared – and they’re all in the recent past.

Please note that many of these are legendary and probably don’t exist. Some others are lost for a good reason – they’re in incredibly inhospitable environments, and searching for them has claimed lives in a few cases. So please don’t go looking for them.

We’ll start with some lost treasures that were plundered during World War II. / read more…

An Awkward History of Kissing

kiss-225402_1280

A drawing of pursed lips in the quintessential kiss shape.

Psychology Today is a magazine and website that aims to popularize psychology. It’s a good thing, too, as the more people get interested in this science topic, the better. The website also hosts a blog, where this article written by Neel Burton, caught my interest. It’s titled “The History of Kissing.” As a history enthusiast, that sounded right up my alley.

Sadly, I was disappointed. The subtitle hinted at a discussion between learned and natural behavior, with surprising evidence. Now to cut a long story short, no such evidence is presented or discussed in this article. It starts with a paragraph about some cultures not kissing, and refers to a scientific discussion about where kissing might have come from. It sounds a lot like a rehash of the opening paragraphs from Wikipedia’s kiss article, but there are no references to it (though other references are provided).

/ read more…

5.12.2015

Myths and Facts About Uber

I recently had the chance to take my first ride with Uber, the ride-sharing app that’s gone from completely unknown to a valuation of over $40 billion in less than six years. While I’d heard quite a bit about the company and its business model, I found that when it came time to decide whether to take a cab or try my hand at Uber, the information I had wasn’t enough to make a decision. So I went by the one thing I knew to be true – Uber is a hell of a lot cheaper than a taxi.

uber-logo

But what do you really need to know about the company that promises to change the way we move through our cities? What’s myth and what’s reality? / read more…

“Furthermore, I am of the opinion that Carthage should be destroyed”

Recently, at work, we were discussing some changes that really needed to be made to our IT architectural landscape (decommissioning of old spaghetti-like applications and implementing more modern tools). One of the biggest challenges would be to convince senior management that the changes actually needed to be made, and we agreed during that discussion that we would need to repeat that message several times in the months to come. As a history buff, I gave as an example of such tenacity Cato the Elder, the Roman statesman who lived from 234 BCE to 149 BCE. Towards the end of his life he kept on insisting that Carthage (Rome’s archenemy), after two previous conflicts, was still a danger to the Republic and needed to be destroyed in a Third Punic War. Most famously, he was known to add as a closing remark to any speech he made, whatever the topic, “Ceterum censeo Carthaginem esse delendam” (meaning, “furthermore, I am of the opinion that Carthage should be destroyed”).

Cato the Elder. Source: Wikimedia

Cato the Elder. Source: Wikimedia

/ read more…

5.9.2015

How Michelle Obama Helped Promote Anti-Science Sentiment

In February, Michelle Obama made news when she was featured in an article in Cooking Light magazine. In the article, the First Lady tells a story of her daughter Malia and an interaction with White House Chef Sam Kass, wherein he gave Malia a block of cheese and told her if she could turn it into the powder from a box of mac and cheese, then he would make the boxed kind.

Real food: a plate of macaroni and cheese, probably from a box. Via Wikimedia.

Real food: a plate of macaroni and cheese, probably from a box. Via Wikimedia.

/ read more…

5.7.2015

When a Drone is Not a Drone

It’s unfortunate that language is often used carelessly. We frequently react to news emotionally rather than analytically; and when imprecise language elicits groundless fear, our reaction can be the same as if the fear were justified. The current popular trend of referring to recreational quadcopters as “drones” is a glaring example, having inspired legislation against threats that exist only in the vacuum left by the lack of aviation literacy.

The quintessential drone: an MQ-9 Reaper, which is used by the military and can fly autonomously. Via Wikimedia.

The quintessential drone: an MQ-9 Reaper, which is used by the military and can fly autonomously. Via Wikimedia.

/ read more…

Joint Pain: Scams, Lies, and Exaggerations, Part 3

As an orthopedic nurse practitioner I see a constant stream of joint pain complaints. They stem from a variety of sources: injury, age-related changes, lifestyle issues, and autoimmune disorders. Patients will often Google their problems and/or their symptoms, and like most medical issues you can find truth on the Internet, but it is never easy or quick. A lot of what I do with patients is teaching, with a good deal of that time spent addressing long-standing myths or marketing scams. This post is part of an ongoing series about orthopedic problems, scams, and myths. Part 1 focused on the myths and quackery surrounding pain in weight-bearing joints. Part 2 focused on one of the most pervasive forms of orthopedic pain: back and neck pain. Part 3 will focus on feet. / read more…

4.29.2015

Why Pepsi’s Move to Splenda Won’t Make a Difference

006After years of declining sales, PepsoCo is dropping the safe but widely maligned artifical sweetener aspartame from its flagship Diet Pepsi in hopes of boosting their numbers. By August, Diet Pepsi will be sporting an “aspartame-free” label and a new formulation sweetened by a combination of sucralose (a.k.a. Splenda) and acesulfame-k (also called Aces K, which makes it sound like street slang for ketamine).

While there’s much that could be said about the junk science behind the aspartame backlash that in part led to this move, I’m not here today to debate the science; there are other writers out there assembling that evidence. Instead, I want to consider a different question: Will this move make any long-term difference whatsoever for Diet Pepsi’s sales numbers?

/ read more…

4.28.2015

Jade Helm 15: Martial Law, Wal-Mart and You

Taken at face value, it sounds incredibly sinister: members of the four branches of the US military operating within our borders, infiltrating the populations of seven states, moving covertly, deploying vehicles and aircraft, practicing their techniques for capturing and eliminating threats. There are mysterious meetings, strange maps, reports of missile batteries being set up and even the closing of stores and confiscation of private property. And all of it happening under the guise of a mysterious, sinister sounding code name: Jade Helm 15.

The Jade Helm logo, complete with creepy motto. The blurry thing in the middle is a wooden clog, to denote "sabotage."

The Jade Helm logo, complete with creepy motto. The blurry thing in the middle is a wooden clog, to denote “sabotage.”

/ read more…

Popping Your Beliefs, One Candy at a Time

In my previous post (yes, the one about Playboy), I mentioned that it is sometimes good to challenge yourself on things you consider “facts” or where you assume something to be the way it is. It is a fun skeptical exercise that keeps you on your toes. Consider it the sort of skeptical antitheses of the Queen in Alice in Wonderlandunbelieving six things before breakfast.

Take for instance the carbonated candy that pops and fizzes when you put it in your mouth. In the States it started as “Pop Rocks,” but it has been marketed under several brands since the 1980s by General Foods (later Kraft Foods). This year it made an appearance in the chocolate eggs for Easter. I’ve eaten it before, mostly in the context of modern cooking (see my post on Cooking for Geeks) and I had always assumed it was some sort of weird chemical, reacting with the saliva in your mouth. My friend Helmut challenged me to find out if that was true and, if so, which chemical. As it turns out, it’s not some special industrial chemical, and although there is indeed chemistry involved, Pop Rocks mainly pop because of physics.

/ read more…