Waxing enthusiastic?

I’ve always thought of ear wax as something one didn’t mention in polite society.  It seems I was wrong – at least, as far as whales are concerned. Whale earwax forms like yours does: A gland secretes oily gunk into the ear canal, which hardens and accumulates into a solid, tapering plug. In the largest whales, like blues, a plug can grow up to 10 inches long, and looks like a cross between a goat’s horn and the world’s nastiest candle. Fin whale wax is firmer than blue whale wax, bowhead whale wax is softer and almost liquid, and sei whale wax is

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Puns on an interstellar scale

I laughed out loud to see Friday’s XKCD cartoon.  Click the image to be taken to its Web page, where you can read the mouseover text as well. The point, of course, for those who aren’t into astronomy, is that there are precisely three stars in the Alpha Centauri system.  The cartoon conflates that fact with three-star consumer reviews. I do enjoy it when practitioners of science, or medicine, or any other discipline, poke fun at themselves.  It lightens the air for everyone.  I still giggle at the memory of my sister’s midwifery training at Groote Schuur hospital in Cape Town, many decades ago.  At one

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Walking backwards for brain power???

Sometimes news reports just boggle the mind – like this one. People who walk backwards perform better in a memory test than those who stand still or walk forward, a study has found. Researchers asked 114 volunteers to watch a video in which a woman had her bag stolen and then answer a questionnaire about what they could recall. After watching the video, participants were split into groups – one was told to walk forwards or backwards 30 feet (10m) while a control group stood in one place. They were then asked twenty questions about the events in the video and

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Um . . . have they thought this through?

I note with interest a potential new scientific approach to bone loss. Deer antlers may hold the secret to curing osteoporosis and other debilitating bone diseases, researchers have revealed. A new study has identified the specific genes responsible for the growth and strength of antlers, paving the way for a future genetic treatment for human bone conditions. A form of temporary external bone, antlers grow at a speed unique in the animal kingdom. They sprout in the spring and by the summer can grow at up to 2cm a day, before beginning to shed by the start of winter. Peter Yang,

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Inflation and your money

I’ve written several times about inflation in these pages.  The true inflation rate in the United States at present appears to be 8% to 10% annually, far higher than the derisory “official” figures.  I’ve also lived in a relatively high-inflation society, in South Africa during the 1980’s and 1990’s, and seen what happens in other African nations when inflation gets out of hand (Zimbabwe being the most famous recent example).  It’s very unfunny to have to live under such conditions. Venezuela provides an object lesson in the impact of hyperinflation on ordinary citizens and businesses, as the Economist points out. … in Venezuela, where the inflation

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Chopsticks that give you an electric shock???

I’m a bit mind-boggled by what promises to be a genuine taste sensation – albeit not the sort of sensation I want anywhere near my mouth! Scientists have developed a pair of chopsticks, that can make food taste saltier, sour or bitter without the need for extra seasoning. They are also working on a spoon and fork that could make food taste spicier or sweeter. . . . The utensils work by delivering pulses of electricity to the tip of the tongue to stimulate the taste buds. Dr Nimesha Ranasinghe, an assistant professor of computer science at the University of Maine who

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