Monday, August 29, 2016

Purrfect Landings

 Cats are small, strange creatures. We've been domesticating them for thousands of years, yet we still don't fully understand them. I don't think they fully understand themselves. And while I'd much rather be a human than a cat, there is one trait that they possess that we can't help but be jealous of: landing on their feet.
     It's called the cat righting reflex. It is an innate ability of cats to be able to orient themselves upright while in mid fall. Cats begin to showcase this ability at 3 to 4 weeks, and by 6 to 7 weeks it's purrfected. So why can cats do this? It's all in the backbone. Cats have an unusually flexible backbone, and no functioning collarbone, which allows them to easily roll. 
     It may sound like a paradox, but higher falls may actually be better for cats. Typically at least a foot (0.3 meters) is needed for cats to perform this ability safely, but higher stories give cats more time to to adjust for their impending impact than lower ones. Nevertheless, cats are not Superman. Cats still can break bones, land on their, die, etc, but walking away without any injury is what they're best at.
     I'm telling you, cats are strange creatures; we think we know them, but do we really? We think they need milk - they just gotta have it, but in reality, they don't. Cats like milk (obviously), but they don't need it to stay nourished, and too much milk can mean some nasty carpet stains. I had no idea this was lore, but apparently it has been said that cats cannot get rabies. According to the Cat Fanciers Association, this is false. Most warm-blooded mammals can carry rabies, and cats fall under the "most" category.
      While those are a couple cats myths, here is a truth: they have stellar night vision. Just like cones in your eye process color, rods process light, and cats have six to eight times more rods than humans, according to Live Science. Cats only need 1/6 of the light that humans need to see in the dark. While their night vision is pretty good, their vision in general can be abit messy thanks their color blindness, nearsightedness, and lack of color saturation. On the plus side, the field of view for cats is 200 degrees, versus 180 for us measly humans.
     I can't tell you what to do with your cat. I've never owned one myself, but here's another (inconvenient?) truth: declawing hurts. I'm curling my own toes just thinking about it. Claws in cats are not like our finger and toenails in humans. Claws and nails do not get equal rights. When you declaw a cat, you are amputating the first joint of each of the toes. To same it's humane, to others it's not. All I know is I cant stop curling my toes.
     Night vision, being able to land on their feet, not having to bathe everyday, cats seem to have it made. Sure they can still get rabies, and they're not blessed with seeing all the rich colors that we can, also they have to sit through all those awful cat memes, but to be fair, us humans aren't necessarily saved from those things either.
     I wonder if lions can land on all fours?

*Sources: KimBallstock, The Cat Fanciers Association, Healthy Pets, Business Insider, Live Science.

Monday, August 22, 2016

Oreos Ononymous

Raise your hand if you love Oreos. Good, the entire planet raised their hand. Oreos are delicious sandwich cookies that are made by Nabisco and have been around for over 100 years. If you weren't aware, Oreos are the best selling cookies on the planet. Even the Oreo Twitter account has over 820,00 followers. The mighty Doritos can't even match that. Sorry, Doritos - that's what happens when you can't be bitten and dunked. I bring this up about Oreos because recent  studies have suggested that Oreos may be just as addicting as cocaine. Yes, coco. The "I'm in love wit da Coco" coco.
     Researchers at Connecticut College used rats for their study. They had the rats go through mazes and choose Oreos or rice cakes. Of course the rice cakes lost. The rats were also given cocaine and morphine, and they spent just as much time on the cocaine side as they did the Oreo. The brain activity of the rats was measured and they found that neurons in the rats' brains were activated more by Oreos than by the cocaine. Joseph Schroeder, an associate professor at Connecticut College said "this correlated well with our behavioral results and lends support to the hypothesis that high-fat/high-sugar foods are addictive." 
     Now this does not mean that Oreos need to be classified by the DEA, but it does show there are possible correlations. One thing to keep in mind is how close sugar and cocaine actually are. The chemical formula of sugar is C17H21NO4. The formula for table sugar is C12H22O11. Both are white and powdery, with sugar sweet and cocaine bitter. How sugar has been placed in our food has come under fire, and for good reason. One doctor has gone as far to say that sugar is "the new crack cocaine." Another interesting finding of the study: the rats also preferred the creamy center of Oreos to the chocolate wafers as well. All of this shows how Oreos affect the the brain, and deal with our cravings. There is no real narcotic effect from Oreos.
     So again, the DEA needs to stay away; Oreos are perfectly fine. While you want to eat them in moderation because they are junk food after all, you don't have to worry about failing that drug test.

Sunday, August 21, 2016

Make America Eclipse Again

 One year from now, Monday August 21, 2017, Americans will finally get  to experience one of Earth's most unique phenomenons that hasn't occurred since 1979: a total solar eclipse. The last total solar eclipse that crossed the continental United States occurred on February 26, 1979, but that eclipse covered mostly rural land and the weather was rainy. The last eclipse that actually crossed a sizable amount of eyeballs was in 1970. And the last eclipse to travel most of the United States? 1918. 
     The 2017 eclipse will cross the states of Oregon, Idaho, Wyoming, Nebraska, Kansas, Missouri, Illinois, Kentucky, Tennessee, North Carolina, and South Carolina. States outside of this path will still get to catch a peek of the eclipse, but they unfortunately won't get the full show. The states and regions outside of the path will only get a partial eclipse. For instance, only 97 percent of the Sun will be covered in Atlanta, 81 percent in Washington, DC, 78 percent in Miami, 76 percent in Dallas, 72 percent in New York City, and a paltry 62 percent in Los Angeles. Better book your plane tickets to Missouri now!
      Before modern astronomy, eclipses were thought to be the signs of dread. The British saw eclipses as bad signs for the monarchy. In Vietnam it was thought that the Sun was being eaten by a giant frog. The Vikings blamed wolves. China blamed dragons. Latin America saw a jaguar. Eskimos feared sickness. Ethiopians scarified animals. The Greeks saw eclipses as a sign of impending calamity. Inuits saw eclipses as the Sun god and Moon god fighting. In India there was belief that the atmosphere was poisonous. Some cultures saw evil spirits and banged pots and pans or shot off fireworks to scare them away.
     Christopher Columbus (who did not discover America) even tricked the native Jamaicans, telling them the Sun wouldn't come back if they didn't give in to him. The Sun returned (note this was a lunar eclipse, not solar), and the natives were swayed. Even today, superstition surrounding eclipses still exists. Some Christian evangelists use eclipses as signs of approaching doomsday. Others believe that solar eclipses are dangerous to pregnant women. Rest assure, all of this is baseless. Eclipses are just apart of a cosmic 18-year cycle, called a saros. Nothing more, nothing less. Eclipses weren't alone as many cultures felt the same about comets as well.
     So other than the awful Twilight movie, what is an eclipse? Well a lunar eclipse is when the Earth aligns perfectly between the Sun and the moon, which makes the Earth's shadow cast on the moon. The Moon appears red thanks to "rayleigh scattering." Since the Earth is positioned between the Earth and the Sun, a lunar eclipse can only occur during a full moon. Unlike solar eclipses, lunar eclipses are able to be viewed anywhere on the night side of Earth, and last for hours.
     A solar eclipse is when the Moon aligns perfectly between the Sun and the Earth. Because of this, solar eclipses can only occur during a new moon. With a solar eclipse, the Moon casts a shadow on the Earth, called the umbra and the penumbra. There are three types of solar eclipses: total, partial, and annular. A total solar eclipse is when the Moon completely blocks out the Sun. Annular is when the Moon is to far to completely block out the Sun. An antumbra shadow is cast on the Earth. Partial is when the Sun and Moon don't perfectly align. There is a rare fourth kind called hybrid, which is when an annular eclipse turns into a total.
     So why aren't eclipses common? Well because the Moon's orbit isn't a perfect circle, and the Moon is not on the ecliptic plane (the imaginary path that the Sun travels on in the sky). If it was, we'd be blessed with solar eclipses every month. Unlike a lunar eclipse, looking directly at a solar eclipse is extremely dangerous and could essentially fry your eyes. Solar eclipses are also extremely short: the longest ever recorded lasting a little over 7 minutes. The maximum totality of the 2017 eclipse will only last 2 minutes and 40 seconds.
     So why will next year's eclipse only be totally visible from Oregon to South Carolina? Why can't Florida, Texas, California, New York, and Ohio get in on the fun? Well, it's because of the Moon. The Moon is small, which means the umbra, or shadow, will travel along a narrower path. Florida and company will still get to view the eclipse, but only partially.
     Wherever you plan on viewing the eclipse, do not forget to bring protective eye wear with you. While the eclipse is completely safe to look at during totality, when it is not in totality, it can be extremely harmful. Expect stocks of eclipse glasses at Walmart and Target pretty soon. I'm sure they're on Amazon now if you just can't wait.
     The 2017 eclipse is expected to become the most viewed eclipse ever. Even though Salem, OR, Columbia, SC, Greenville, SC, Nashville, TN, and Charleston, SC are the only major US cities/metros that lie directly in the path of totality, the major cities of Atlanta, Charlotte, Louisville, Portland, Saint Louis, Kansas City, Memphis, Topeka, Birmingham, Savannah, Denver, Boise, Seattle, Salt Lake City, Jacksonville, Des Moines, Cincinnati, Indianapolis, and Omaha will be within reasonable driving distance. While Kansas City and Saint Louis don't lie in the path, parts of their metro areas do. Media coverage will be plentiful, and most of North America, from Canada to the Caribbean, will get to view the eclipse in some form.
     So the countdown begins now. We have one year left. Take off work, book plane tickets, set your alarm, move your surgery date, skip class, whatever you have to do to make sure you don't miss this event. Here's an amazing time lapse of the 2015 solar eclipse as seen from an airplane. Here's a video of a lucky group of people who got to experience this year's total solar eclipse (which spent most of it's time over the uninhabited Pacific Ocean) from an airplane. In these videos the shadow of the moon is clearly visible. Warning: the voice of the "narrator" of the video is a just a tad distracting. Just a tad.

*Astronomy, Wikipedia, Smithsonian, Space, Derekscope, Emaze, NASA, USA Today, Arstechnica, International Business TImes, Greymeter, Citybus Express, Time and Date, Sky and Telescope

Saturday, August 20, 2016

So Many Tears

     Our eyes are strong, yet delicate. They allow us to see, but they must be well cared for. Our bodies know this, so we're equipped with a nifty tool called tears. Tears protect our eyes from dust, kept our eyes lubricated, and help showcase our emotions, but what purpose do tears serve when we yawn, sneeze, choke, vomit, or laugh? You can choke on a sour patch kid, spit it up, then spend what feels like ten minutes wiping tears from your eyes like windshield wipers against rain. Why though? Your eyes weren't in danger when that sour patch wouldn't budge. Nor are they in danger whenever you yawn or laugh. Typically your eyes are closed for most of that journey. So why do we tend to tear up when we yawn, sneeze, choke, laugh, and yes vomit? What exactly is the point?
      Well first off, the scientific name for tearing is "lacrimation." This term comes from the lacrimal gland, which produces tears. Tears contain water, potassium, urea (yes, that urea), sodium, glucose, lysozymes, and few other bodily fluids. Produced in the lacrimal gland, tears travel across your eyes on thin layers of film to the tear ducts. Precorneal film coats your eyes and contains three layers: the lipid, aqueous, and mucous. The lipid layer contains oils and creates a hydrophobic barrier that keeps tears from spilling all over your cheeks (or tries to. Sometimes you just gotta let it spill). The aqueous layer contains water, electrolytes, and proteins, and promotes the spread of tear film. The mucous layer contains mucins, a protein, and is responsible for coating the cornea and providing an even distribution of tear film.
     Tears seem so general, but there's actually three different types: basal, psychic, and reflex. Who knew tears could be categorized? Basil tears are the tears that kept your cornea wet and clean. Reflex tears are formed when your eye is irritated. That irritation can be caused by pepper spray, onions, wind, bright light, the list goes on. Psychic tears are produced when you are heavily emotional, stressed, or are in physical pain. Stub your toe? That's psychic tears. Have to finish that 50 page paper by midnight and it's currently 9:04 PM and you're on page six? Psychic tears strike. The chemical makeup of tears also varies based on the type. 
     So we know the three types of tears that exist, but that doesn't answer the original question. Why exactly do we tear when we cry, laugh, or yawn? What's the purpose? Well it may be your reflexes. Whenever you choke, your mouth secretes fluid to help whatever's in your throat to slide free. Because of reflexes, tears are produced and travel towards your throat, but the pressure from your constant coughing pushes those tears back up into your tear duct, thus they come out of your eyes. Insane. When you yawn, you squeeze your eyes shut. The lacrimal gland is above your eye and tear ducts are on your eyelids. When you close your eyes tightly, you cut the tears off from being able to travel to the tear ducts. The punctum on your eyelid that collects tears cannot, so those tears build up on your eye. This applies (and sorry to have to keep using this word) to vomiting as well. You squeeze your eyes super hard and you tend to cough a bit afterwards.
     According to Robert Provine, a University of Maryland at Baltimore psychologist, laughing and crying are both similar. "Both laughing and crying occur during states of high emotional arousal, and don't clearly turn on and off." Other possible reasons are that your tear ducts for instance get exposed to pressure and vibrations when you vigorously laugh. There also may be evidence that the same part of the brain is responsible for both crying and laughing. Research also shows that tears can be summoned by a variety of emotional responses, not just sadness. "Angry tears."
     And my nose? Why does my like to run after a cry? Well because your nose is connected. Excess tears from your tear ducts, or your nasolacrimal duct drain into the inferior nasal meatus where you tears mix with mucus. The wateriness of tears causes your nose to run. Do you ever taste your tears? That is also why. Amazing.
     While tears are important, there is a point to producing too many. Crocodile tear syndrome, also known as Bogorad's syndrome, is a when you can't help but produce tears when you eat or smell food. Dry eye syndrome is a common disorder that stems from an abnormality in the tear film, causing the eye to not being able to produce enough tears. A variety of other issues can cause this as well, form LASIK surgery to vitamin A deficiency to age to pregnancy. This is also common in dogs. And if you want to sound scholarly, you can call dry eyes by their scientific name: keratoconjunctivitis sicca.
     Who knew tears were so complicated. They're just as complicated as our emotions that summon them. They be an annoyance whenever you just want to have a laugh or yawn, but at least you know they don't do it to be annoying - it's reflexes. It's emotion. It's just that they wan't to see the world. (Get it?).
     Fun fact about onions: according to, the reason they are so bad at this is because when you cut them they release propanethial sulfoxide. This gas mixes with your tears and creates a mild does of sulfuric acid. And that stings. It's a defense mechanism. Who knew onions were so defensive?

*Sources: LasikMD, Naked Scientists, Wikipedia, Today I Found Out, and Prevention.

Friday, August 19, 2016

Who Owns the Internet?

     We hear of countries censoring the internet, we hear of people getting arrested for things they put on the internet, and we hear of sites being shut down because of what they have on the internet, but who has the ultimate authority? What even is the internet to begin with, and where is it? Ask someone "how old is the internet?" and they'll likely tell you about 20 years; mid-1990's. They're right, but they're wrong. 
     Around that time emerged the World Wide Web, which is not the internet. The internet came about in the 1960's through a United States military project called APRA-net (Advanced Research Protect Agency). APRA allowed the government to break up messages into packets and send them on designated routes for delivery to a computer system. ARPA-net sent the first cross-network message on October 29, 1969 (the same year we landed on the Moon and inaugurated Richard Nixon). UCLA sent the word "login" to Stanford. While only the "L" and the "O" arrived before the system crashed, it was still seen as a success.
     The World Wide Web, or WWW for short, is not the internet, but it rather uses the internet. The web was invented by Tim Berners-Lee in 1989. Yep, that's right: one men invented the web. The WWW is basically a vast binary library. Content is written in HTML, Java, CSS, and other code, and that code is read and displayed by web browsers such as Chrome, Explorer, and Opera. Web browsers make the encoded content readable, otherwise every web page you visit would look like this. A URL, or Uniform Resource Locator, is the domain name of the website and is how web content is identified. Domains can be purchased and owned. For instance: while you can create your own website, you can't name it "", that's already taken. The links to websites are addressed through HTTP and HTTPS, also known as Hypertext Transfer Protocol.
     Website information is stored on servers. Your Facebook profile? All the movies (or really shows) in your Netflix queue? Your Yahoo emails? They're all sitting in a server somewhere. Whenever you try to access a website via the URL, your computer, which is a client, sends a request through your ISP, or internet service provider (aka the Xfinity you hate so much), to the addressed server for the content. That content from the server is broken down and sent back to your computer in "packets." When you retrieve the content, the packets are reassembled back into the content you requested.
     With billions of users across the world, how do servers know which computer to send the content to? Your IP address. Every single thing that is connected to the internet has a unique IP address. This is how the government is able to find you when you use the internet to do something you probably shouldn't have. Your IP address can provide your true geographic location. This is also how web browsers know where you are when you log on. Creepy isn't it? Routers help direct packet traffic, getting the packets from point A to point B. Routers operate to make sure the content you want comes to you and not someone else. "Who is Mark, and why is his eHarmony profile on MY computer screen!?" Routers keep that from happening. A modem on the other hand is a modulator-demodulater. The modem connects to your telephone (if you still live in 2001), cable, fiber, or satellite line and converts those signals to code that your computer can understand.
     The internet can be accessed through dial-up (yes, still), cable, satellite, optical fiber, and through cellular. Each method carries it's own pros and cons, and each varies in speed. The access type also depends on who's accessing it. If you live the simple life, you're probably fine with dial-up. The average American today prefers broadband (cable, satellite, etc) and cellular. The heavy duties access is typically reserved for companies and the like. Do you really need Infiniband EDR 12x at 300 gigabits per second? No, no you don't. So that's how internet arrives to your home or office, but what about your computer? Well you have two options: wired or wireless. 
     So to answer the original question: who owns the internet? The answer is no one. While ISP's can charge you to access the web and governments can arrest you for your content, no one psychically owns it. We all share the internet and we all share the space. This blog has a unique URL, it's mine. It's my little slice of the internet. That said, Google does technically owns this webpage and since it's sitting on their server.
     The internet and WWW have really come a long way in revolutionizing our lives. We could live without the internet, but then we'd actually have to go to the movies, shop in the store, and check the weather in a newspaper...yikes. Well, no. You can still enjoy those things, and there will be things that the internet just can't replace, but to know what we are capable thanks to the internet, is mind-blowing. Also knowing that no President, dictator, council, or overload can claim it as there's is a precious feeling. Still, we have to be responsible. Terrorism, cyberbullying, invasion of privacy, hacking and stealing personal data, pirating, and other illegal and immoral activities are able to be committed over the web. Stay alert online, watch what you post, and make sure your information is stored in a secure place. Just because the web is not physical doesn't mean it's not dangerous.
     There's already so much we can do with the internet - what's left? Maybe one day we'll be able to actually go inside and travel the information superhighway. Maybe not physically, but maybe in the future we won't need computers. Until then, surfs up. (Get it?)

*photo from Readingielts. Surfeasy, Softmart, Techsmith.

Thursday, August 18, 2016

Midnight Sun

     Sunset in my opinion is the most peaceful time of the day. Sunsets are amazing, and we're lucking to have them. Sunset represents a transition from day to night, and the resulting gradual disappearance of the Sun drowns the sky in awing colors that we don't get to see during the day or at night. What exactly makes the sunset so pretty? Why doesn't the sky go from blue to dark blue? It's all based on how light interacts with our atmosphere. As the Sun heads towards the horizon, the Sun's light hits more molecules and scatters farther over the atmosphere, pushing out the shorter blue wavelengths and allowing us to see the longer wavelength reds, oranges, and yellows. You are closer to the Sun at midday, and blue reaches down to Earth better because blue wavelengths have a shorter distance to travel, but when the Sun is at the horizon, the sunlight has to travel a farther distance - as much as 30 times. The blue light can't handle the distance but the longer wavelength red light can; red travels farther and reaches our eyes. This phenomenon is called Rayleigh scattering. The technical definition of a sunset is when the trailing edge of the Sun dips below the horizon. Once the Sun dips completely below the observable horizon, sunset ends and twilight begins. Twilight is that time period where the Sun can't be seen, yet there is still light in the sky. There are three recognized stages of twilight: civil, nautical, and astronomical.
     Civil twilight occurs when the Sun is less than 6 degrees below the horizon. Many outdoor activities can typically still be carried on during civil twilight without the need for lights, including reading. Also during civil twilight, only the brightest objects in the sky can be seen. Once the Sun dips past 6 degrees below the horizon, nautical twilight begins. Nautical twilight occurs when the Sun is between 6 and 12 degrees below the horizon. The term "nautical" is used because sailors would use the stars to help navigate. The brighter stars can be seen during this phase, and the horizon is still barely visible. While you can typically still see objects outside during nautical twilight, lights are required for outdoor activities. When the Sun lands between 12 to 18 degrees below the horizon, astronomical twilight is in play. If you live in a place that's abused by light pollution, you may not be able to tell the difference between astronomical twilight and night. Once the Sun dips past 18 degrees below the horizon, its light is no longer visible and true nighttime begins.
     What time you experience sunset and when you get to enjoy twilight depends on where you live on Earth. The closer you are to the equator, typically the shorter the twilight. On June 21st, the summer solstice, twilight in Washington, DC (38.9 degrees N) lasts 3 hours and 59 minutes. Manaus, Brazil (3.1 degrees S) meanwhile only gets to experience 2 hours and 29 minutes of twilight. Reykjavic, Iceland, one of the highest latitude cities in the world at 64.1 degrees N, doesn't even experience nautical and astronomical twilight on June 21st; just 2 hours and 51 minutes of civil twilight. This is a consequence of being so close to the Arctic Circle, which is explained below.
     Places closer to the western end of their time zone will experience later sunsets as well. Boston, Massachusetts, one of the farthest east cities in the Eastern Time Zone will experience sunset tomorrow, August 19th, at 7:38 PM. Louisville, Kentucky on the other hand, one of the farthest west cities in the EST will experience sunset at 8:31 PM. While this may not be that much of an issue in the United States, in China it is problematic. Mainland China and the continental US are basically the same size. Even though they're size twins, the continental US has 4 times zones, but China only has one, because they feel like it. Sunset in Shanghai, on China's east coast, will occur at 6:33 PM, but in the city of Kashgar, China, the Sun won't set until 9:46 PM...while in the same time zone. Kashgar should really be 2 hours behind Shanghai, if not 3, but I guess if Kashgar still gets to experience sunsets, then it's alright. Kind of.
     If you happen to live near the poles of the Earth (which you probably don't), then you're in luck! You get to experience the phenomenon known as "midnight Sun." At the poles, the Sun only sets (and rises) one time a year. Six months of the year, the Sun is continuously in the sky, while for the other six months, the Sun is below the horizon, creating 24 hours of day and 24 hours of night. How? Well just do the math. 90 - 23.5 (the tilt of the Earth) = 66.5. This is the Arctic Circle.While there are periods of total nighttime darkness, most of the time the night is really just an extended twilight. All three twilights can be seen depending on location.
      Ever go outside at twilight and notice a pinkish band above the horizon? Say hello to the Belt of Venus. The Belt can be seen around sunset and sunrise, and hangs 10 to 20 degrees above the horizon. The belt of Venus is caused by red light from the sunset (or sunrise) being backscattered by dust particles.
     To me, sunset and twilight are the most peaceful times of day and the most exciting. Don't let them slip by, because as you see, they don't last all that long. And be sure to put seeing a midnight Sun and polar night on your bucket list. Svalbard, Norway and Bodo, Noway are waiting for you.

*Sources: Time and Date, Wikipedia, Web Exhibits, The Atlantic, Gizmodo, Space Weather Gallery, How It Works, photo from Wikipedia Vberger

Tuesday, August 16, 2016

The Secret Life of Corn

     Corn is a pretty subtle thing. We know it's around, but don't ever really think about it (unless you live in Nebraska, of course). Corn is technically a grain, so we technically try to squeeze it into our diets every now and then. Whether you're getting your recommended amount of corn or not - you're never far away from it. Corn is used by people everyday and we don't even realize it. Now there is chemistry involved, so don't think about an ear of corn in every day products too literally, but nevertheless, it's still corn. Here's a list of things were you can find corn.
      Corn chips. Duh. We love chips. Maybe a bit too much. I mean, who doesn't love chips? When we think of chips, we think of potatoes, but if you weren't aware: Doritos, Fritos, Cheetos, and Tostitos are corn based. The corn is processed, typically ground up and turned into a paste or dough, where it is then molded, cooked, and flavored into what you see in the bag (once you get past all the air hogging most of the bag).
       Gas. Many cars today used E85, which is essentially gas that is 85 percent ethanol and 15 percent gasoline. While sugar cane can be used to make ethanol, American ethanol is dominated by corn (we have to let Nebraska shine).
       Tires. Yes, you could be driving around on corn. Engineers have been able to turn that ear of corn into polymers, which can substitute for the rubber used for binding. The crazy thing about this? Corn-based tires are more fuel efficient, stronger, and cheaper. What's even more crazy about this? This is nothing new.
      Hand soap. We all use it - at least I hope we do. Yet, did you know that soap that you pump into your hand can contain up to 25 percent corn product?
    Windex. Look on the back lable. On it you'll find 2-hexoxyethanol, acetic acid, fragrances, and ethanolamine. All of these foreign sounding chemicals are derived from corn.
     Toothpaste. Obviously toothpaste doesn't taste like corn; who would buy that? We all know about fluoride, but what about sorbitol? Sorbitol provides sweetness and is typically derived artificially from corn syrup.
     Plastic. To the average person, plastic is more precious than gold and diamonds. There are dozens of types of plastics, which include "bioplastic" - plastics made from renewable sources. This includes cornstarch. Polyactic acid is a plastic that is made from corn.
     Vegetables. Face it, we're picky. Even if it hasn't passed the expiration date, we're not going to eat it if it doesn't look good. Why else would we put red dye in our salmon? Same goes for vegetables. Many vegetables are treated with zein, a protein of corn, to help the vegetables keep their fresh appearance.
     Cosmetics, makeup, and perfume. Everyone freaks out about all the things that makeup may or may not contain, but did you know one of those is corn? If you see "zea mays" on the back of your Sephora box or Pantene bottle, now you know.
   Matches. A product that makes full use of cornstarch. Corn products are used during manufacturing of the matches and also helps keep the matchsticks rigid.
     Milk. Since many dairy cows are now fed corn, which is not what they naturally eat, their bodies must adapt. The vitamin A and D in milk use corn oil as a carrier.
     Glue and adhesives. Thank that lovely cornstarch. From glue to the sticky stuff on envelopes, corn plays a role. PS, stop licking your envelopes.
     Diapers. Corn-based polymers can be found in modern diapers to help keep your baby's stinkies at bay.
     Crayons. Dextrin, derived from cornstarch, is used in the manufacturing process. Other corn products are used to help keep your kid's crayons from crumbling, which in turn keeps them from crying, which in turn keeps you sane. See, corn has psychological effects too.
     Drywall. Cornstarch is used in the making of drywall, helping to prevent that loser called mold.
     Aspirin. Cellulose acetate phthalate. That's the coating on pills that make them easier to swallow and help them survive the horror of your stomach acid.
     Spark plugs. The heat resistant porcelain in your spark plugs use corn-based product to help protect the spark plugs from excessive heat.
     Anything with high fructose corn syrup (aka half of the supermarket). Yogurt, cereal, salad dressing, fruit juice, cocktails, soda, mac and cheese, bread, and until now: McNuggets. While high fructose corn syrup seems nearly impossible to avoid today, it's possible.
       Gum. There's a blog dedicated to corn-free chewing gum, so...
     Splenda. You can run from the corn syrup, but you can't run from the corn. Splenda contains maltodextrin, which while typically derived of wheat in Europe, in the US it is derived of corn.
      Corndogs. That is all.

*io9, Wikipedia, USA Today, Celestial Healing, Live Corn Free

Eye Lied

     "Don't read in the dark", "don't squint", "eat a lot of carrots", "don't sit close to the TV." We have a lot of rules when it comes to our eyes. It turns out that a lot of these "rules" are really...myths. Eye myths have been passed on over generations, and we still believe them today. They make sense when you think about it, but does reading in the dark actually damage your vision?
     The answer is no. I'm sure your parents had good intentions when they would tell you this. It's not like they wanted you to stop reading, but in actuality, it didn't pose a real threat to your eyes. Squinting actually enhances your vision. The more light your eyes are exposed to, the wider your pupil grows. If there is low light, your pupil become smaller, but making them smaller actually improves your focus. We squint for a reason. By the way, while squinting is helpful and natural, if you catch yourself doing it too often, it may be a sign you need glasses. Either that or squinting is just a hobby of yours.
     We've all been told to sit back from the TV - not because your big head is blocking the screen, but because your eyes are too close. Well it turns out that there is no real evidence that sitting up close to the TV damages your eyes, at least not long term. It's mostly kids that have to be told this, and there's a reason why they tend to do it more than adults: children are better at focusing at close up objects without getting eyestrain than adults. The idea that sitting in front of the TV was bad stemmed from when televisions first became household items and it was discovered that they emitted a lot of radiation. TV's were innovated to emit less radiation, but the "you'll hurt your eyes" myth stuck with each generation. While sitting close to the TV won't cause nearsightedness, it could be a sign of nearsightedness. Sit in front of the TV if you truly wish. You may get a headache, but you won't go blind.
     You've probably heard that carrots are essential for vision. Carrots contain a great amount of vitamin A, which is essential to eye nourishment. Yet it turns out that going all Bugs Bunny on a bag of carrots may not necessarily make your eyes that much better, and they definitely won't give you superb night vision. The carrot myth has a possible unexpected origin: the British Royal Army. According the UK Ministry of Food, British World War II pilots were successful at shooting down enemy planes at night because their diets were rich in carrots. The UK Ministry of Food, which no longer exists, used this as propaganda to boost the local carrot economy. The rumor is that the British Royal Army went along with this carrot myth to cover up secret radar technology that they were using, which could've been the real reason for their ace nighttime shooting. Since carrots contain vitamin A, they'll of course do more help than harm for your eyes, but vitamin A can be found in butter, milk, broccoli, eggs, squash, sweet potatoes, spinach, iceberg lettuce, mangoes, peas, apricots, and plenty of other foods. If your diet is typical, you don't have to rely on carrots for your vitamin A. As a side, egg yolk, broccoli, and spinach also contain lutein, which may help prevent the degeneration of macula in the eye.
     Ever see your friend with glasses then feel like you need a pair, so you try theirs on, only to get immediately dizzy and blurred? Turns out you can actually leave those on for a while. Wearing glasses that you're not prescribed for won't damage your vision. It can make you sick, but that's just because of the eyestrain. Your eyes won't suffer permanent damage. You should still probably find a pair that works for you, just in case.
     We have been told not to stare at solar eclipses because of the damage they can do to our eyes. This is actually....still true. Mostly true. But very mostly true; there's a small catch. If you plan on viewing the August 21, 2017 (woo!) or April 8, 2024 North American eclipses, or any future solar eclipse, you need to have protective eyewear. The only time if it is safe to sneak a peak at the eclipse is during totality - when the Sun is completely covered. But you have to be quick. The totality of the 2017 eclipse will last no more than 2 minutes and 40 seconds. 
     So even though hugging your face to the TV, reading in the dark, and peaking at an eclipse may not be as bad for you as you think, you still don't want to be reckless with your eyes. Staring at small text on your phone can put a strain on your eyes and make you sick, even if only temporary. Sleeping with contacts in could lead to an infection, and having a poor diet will also effect your eyes just like it will the rest of your body. Also, overusing eye drops will just lead to more irritation, and when you rub your eyes, don't rub too hard: intense rubbing could lead to broken blood vessels under your eye lids.
     So now the myths are busted. Your are eyes are still delicate, but they can handle more than we think. And if you were absolutely dying to know, yes the raw steak on a black's a myth.

*New York Times, American Academy of Ophthalmology, Scientific American, ABC News, Look After Your Eyes, Good Housekeeping, Dr. Axe, Bembo, VSP, NASA, Astronomy., photo from Penn State

Monday, August 15, 2016

Fast and Furious: Automated Drift

     You could see a self-driving car next to you on the highway before you know it. Now I know what you're thinking: "self-driving cars? That's not safe! You can't trust a computer to safely guide a car going 60 mph on the highway. The computer won't know what to do. This won't happen." Well, while that's a valid rebuttal, here is a rebuttal to that rebuttal: "yeah, but humans."
     I'm not advocating for driverless cars, I appreciate being able to take control of my Volkswagen and I don't feel like forfeiting my driving privileges anytime soon, but at the same time, the positives should be looked at. Where a computer may or may not know right from wrong, neither do us humans, apparently. That is why we do such things as rush through yellow (and red) lights, fail to yield, U-turn in the worst places, weave in and out of traffic, street race, speed on wet roads, try to outrun trains, block the passing lane, and LEAVE ON HIGH BEAMS. Seriously, please turn off your brights when you're not the only car around. If you're going to ride behind someone with your brights on, then they might as well be driving with their eyes closed. Anyway, while a computer can still make these mistakes, would it make them as often as we do?
     Eating and driving (I saw someone eating soup on Interstate 85 one time), texting and driving, drinking and driving, dressing and driving, doing makeup and driving, email and driving, sex and driving (more common than you think), reading books and driving...matter of fact, here's 51 things people have been caught doing while driving that you, well, shouldn't do while driving. It can be said with 100 percent certainty that a computer could not and would not do any of this. So while there is a potential of accidents from miscalculations, you won't have to worry about your automated Camry coloring with crayons or clipping toenails en route to your destination.
     Another thing to think about: our transportation is already pretty automated. While planes have pilots and trains have engineers, there is heavy automation involved. Why? Well because the honest truth is computers provide a lesser risk of error and are better at the math. Airline pilots sometimes have to fly tired, but a planes computer system is always awake. Today's planes and many trains typically operate themselves, with pilots and engineers taking over for specific tasks. So why not cars? Well for one, cars are around each other much more than planes and trains, and keeping them all on the same page is not easy. Cars, unlike planes and trains, are meant to be personal.
     Google's driverless cars have driven over 1,725,911 miles as of June. Driverless car tests are currently legal in only 8 states and DC. Since Google began testing, there has only been one news-worthy incident which involved a Google car and a bus. No one was injured and the bus was only traveling 15 mph, with the Google car going less than 2 mph. Tesla has also been testing driverless cars, and while they've made strides, they unfortunately haven't been as lucky as Google. Joshua Brown, the driver of a Tesla Model S, was killed in May 2016 when an 18-wheeler turned left at an intersection and his car failed to apply the brakes.
     While driverless cars are close to becoming a reality, there are still bugs, hurdles, limitations, and legislation that must be fixed, cleared, and passed, and that'll all take some time. 42 states still don't allow driverless testing, and zero allow compete automated driving. New road laws will have to be proposed and passed, and many questions have to be answered. Should there be a passenger limit? Should the cars be allowed on interstates, limited-access highways, and toll roads? Should regulation be left up to the states or federal? If a driverless car causes an accident, who is at fault? How does this affect car insurance? Should there be weather restrictions? How will these cars' computer systems be protected from hackers? Can 18-wheelers, limousines, and taxis be driverless too? How will this affect automotive industry jobs? Can Uber cars be driverless? All of these questions and more will have to be addressed before driverless cars can fully share the road. 
     Driverless car adoption will likely be slow. This would be a major technological change; much more major than switching from flip phones to smartphones or dial up to broadband. And honestly, most people are not ready to give up the freedom of driving, and never will be. When driverless cars do appear on the market, the option to be able to switch back and forth (like an airplane with auto-pilot) will have to be there. Having the car automated doesn't mean it won't include a steering wheel and a manual mode. Take Will Smith's I Robot for example. The movie was set in 2035 and featured Will sitting back in his automated Audi while it drove along (at like 120 mph), yet whenever circuits hit the fan, Will summoned the steering wheel with the click of a button (which was technically illegal in the movie, going that fast).
     The days of complete human control may be numbered, but the days of a computer completely taking over your trip shouldn't be coming anytime soon. Driverless cars won't end car accidents, but they could be a start to smarter driving. Either way, the auto industry is going to have to going to have to keep up. Ridesharing and carsharing are starting to make consumers think twice about ownership.

*sources: Wikipedia, New York Times, Fortune, The Verge, Citylab, The Redhead Riter

Thursday, August 11, 2016

Dial-Up: A Retrospective

     The dial-up sound, still one of the most recognizable sounds, was a true product of the 90's. As much as we embraced dial-up internet, we loathed it as well. The commercial web was in it's infancy, and we all wanted to be on it. The easiest and cheapest method was dial-up. Dial-up made AOL king. And it made you miss important phone calls. While dial-up was famous for it's distinct sound, it was infamous for it's speed. Why was dial-up so slow, and why did we tolerate it? If it was so slow and so clunky, how did it turn AOL into one of the biggest success stories of the new millennium?
     First, it needs to be understood how dial-up worked. Dial-up utilized your telephone line. Anyone who had dial-up had a modem. A modem connected your telephone line with your computer, and allowed the analog signals from the telephone line to be transformed into digital signals, which your computer could read. When trying to initiate dial-up, your modem would "talk" to a remote modem until they could get on the same page. The famous dial-up sound was this process in action. Once the modems were in sync, your modem would mute itself, allowing for data to now be sent through.
     Dial-up brought to life the former giant known as AOL. AOL began offering online access in 1993, and then boomed along with the world wide web. In 2001, AOL and Time Warner merged. That merger didn't last long and is now considered one of the worst big business mistakes of all time. The "always on" broadband emerged, and AOL and Warner were stubborn, never taking full advantage. Other than their email and dial-up service, AOL never took full advantage of what they had. AOL still exists and millions still use its email, including me, but it is now owned by Verizon and operates as a digital media company.
     That's AOL's story, but what about dial-up? How did the end begin? Well, dial-up internet had two major drawbacks. First, download speeds were limited to 56 kilobytes per second. This speed is called "bandwidth." Typical Wi-Fi today averages around 24 mega-bytes per second. One megabyte is 1024 kilobytes. Downloading Pokemon Go onto your computer with dial-up would take 6 hours and 47 minutes. With today's Wi-Fi, Pokemon Go would take about a minute. A typical song on Itunes today would take a few seconds, if not instantaneously. With dial-up, you'd be sitting around for about 20 minutes. What about the new Batman vs Superman movie? With standard Wi-Fi, a little over 30 minutes. With yesterday's dial-up? Over 11 DAYS. Yes, days with a D. Even the non HD-version of the movie would take over 4 days and 21 hours.
    The second main issue of dial-up was the need to hog the phone line. When people were connected, incoming and outgoing calls could not be made. Whenever you wanted to order a pizza, needed to check on Nana, or wanted to call the local movie theater to get showtimes (remember that?), you had to stop what you were doing and log off. If you were expecting an important call, you had to sit and wait before you could log on and connect to the web. Special modems and secondary phone lines were available, but who had time for that?
    In fairness to dial-up, downloading 150 minute HD movies is not what it was made for. Back in the late 90's and early 00's, the heyday of dial-up, the web was still in web 1.0. Web pages weren't sophisticated; they were static. Web pages didn't offer all the pictures and graphics, videos and animations that they do today. The original website for Space Jam is actually still online; look how sophisticated it is/was! This was Yahoo in 2000. This is Yahoo in 2016. Downloading movies online wasn't a thing (even DVD's hadn't yet passed the popularity of VHS tapes yet), Napster was in and out of business, and the Itunes Store wasn't open for business until 2003. There was no social media or streaming or online gaming. The web was limited and it fitted the limited dial-up perfectly.
     Other issues with dial-up was that it wasn't "always on", meaning every time you wanted to connect, you literally had to connect. That was done by dialing the ISP (that's the funky alien sound you would hear), which could take minutes. Plus you had to sit and listen to that sound. Connections were also known to drop out, and your connection would be lost if your telephone cord was accidentally disconnected. 
     Dial-up lost ground to broadband in the mid-2000's and was left in the dust. As we transitioned into web 2.0 and 3.0, dial-up wasn't able to handle the load. Believe it or not, dial-up does still exist. In 2015, over 2 million people still payed for AOL's dial-up, and it is still offered by other companies such as NetZero. Dial-up may never fully go away, but it's never coming back either. As obsolete as dial-up is, it was truly apart of 90's lore, and we'll never forget the memories it brought us, allowing us to connect to the infant web.
     PS, does anybody remember Netscape? It was on all the computers in elementary school, but we never used it. Well, shout out to Netscape.