happy birthday mr hertz


The Milky Way and Storms over Africa
view from ISS, 2011-12-29 (over central Africa to Madagascar)


Heavy security means high value for corn pests

As security expert Bruce Schneier says, “If something is protected by heavy security, it’s obviously worth stealing.” That’s the case with maize plants, which protect their roots with poison. The poison, however, isn’t spread evenly through the tissue; seedlings distribute most of the poison to their crown roots, which are the source of the growing stem and contain most of the nutrients. For most insects, the high dose of poison is enough to make them consider lower profile embryonic roots. The corn rootworm, however, have developed immunity to the poison, and have evolved a fascinating response:

The larva of this beetle eats the roots of maize, corn and other cereals and it’s a significant pest that can ravage entire crops. Its success stems from its ability to turn maize’s defense against it. Robert found that the rootworm, unlike other insects, ignore the embryonic roots and head straight for the crown ones.

When Robert gave rootworms a mutant plant that couldn’t produce [poison], it lost its interest in the crown roots. Rather than being deterred by the plant’s poisons, the rootworm actually uses them to track down the most nutritious meals.

This is a pretty amazing evolutionary adaptation.


The Science Behind Four Loko

It turns out it’s not the alcohol and caffeine that gets you; it’s the psychology.

For one thing, caffeine doesn’t seem to affect the way that alcohol gets absorbed by the body. Moreover, many drugs, including alcohol, are known to be more potent if they are taken in an unusual context. In a 1976 paper in Science, Siegel termed this the “situational specificity of tolerance.” Environmental variables ranging from the room where a drug is administered to flavor cues can influence an individual’s drug-related tolerance. What this comes down to is classical Pavlovian conditioning. The body of a social drinker learns to prepare for the alcohol in response to the environment, before the alcohol is even ingested. Siegel’s argument is that people became especially drunk after drinking Four Loko because of the unexpected way in which it was presented: it doesn’t actually taste like alcohol.

i’ve never had four loko but i know a lot of people that don’t remember drinking it ;)