Friday Foolery #13: A Virus Walks into a Bar

27 11 2009

For Friday Foolery a picked up this fragment from the science comedian Brian Malow. He performed in the session Science Laughs at Wonderfest 2009, The San Francisco Bay Area Festival of Science. The complete video can be viewed at (2009/11/08).

I like the virus/bacteria part, but it took a while for me to understand that ‘staff’ should be spelled as ‘staph’.

Hattip: Betabieb on Twitter (Edwin Mijnsbergen)

Voor Nederlanders. Betabieb heeft ook een site: internet- en bibliotheekbronnen op bètagebied.

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Friday Foolery #11. Is Friday the 13th bad for your Health?

13 11 2009

3360459431_c3ec229cd1 Friday the 13th

Is Friday the 13th bad for your health?

Apparently it is, at least according to a study published in the BMJ in 1993 [1].
This retrospective study comparing driving and shopping patterns and accidents shows that Friday 13th is unlucky for some. Despite that there were consistently and significantly fewer vehicles on the southern section of the M25 on Friday the 13th compared with Friday the 6th, the admissions due to transport accidents were significantly increased on Friday 13th (total 65 v 45; p < 0.05). Since the risk of hospital admission as a result of a transport accident may be increased by as much as 52%, staying at home is recommended by the authors.

In a related article (PubMed) in the Am J Psychiatry (2002), deaths from Finnish traffic accidents on Friday the 13th were compared with those on other Fridays. Here a difference was found between men and women. In men, the adjusted risk ratio for dying on Friday the 13th, compared with other Fridays, was 1.02, (no difference) but for women, it was 1.63. An estimated 38% of traffic deaths involving women on this day were attributable to Friday the 13th itself.
Therefore again this author concludes that Friday the 13th may be a dangerous day, but only for women. The author thinks this is  largely because of anxiety from superstition. Although the risk of traffic deaths on this date could be reduced by one-third, the absolute gain would remain very small: only one death per 5 million person-days.

Other Finnish researchers reinvestigated this finding, but they also looked at the injury accident database, because this database contains much more data than the fatality database. They reasoned that if there was a Friday-the-13th effect by impaired psychic and psychomotor functioning due to more frequent anxiety among women, it should also appear in the number of injury crashes. They found no consistent evidence for females having more road traffic crashes on Fridays the 13th, based on deaths or road accident statistics. Still, since an effect of superstition related anxiety on accident risk can not be excluded, the authors conclude that people who are anxious of “Black Friday” may stay home, or at least avoid driving a car.

Well at least you now know what scientific research says about Friday the 13th, or uuh don’t you?
At least, females suffering from Paraskevidekatriaphobia or even Triskaidekaphobia should better stay at home. You know, just in case…



  1. Scanlon TJ, Luben RN, Scanlon FL, Singleton N. Is Friday the 13th bad for your health? BMJ. 1993 Dec 18-25;307(6919):1584-6.
  2. Näyhä S. Traffic deaths and superstition on Friday the 13th. Am J Psychiatry. 2002 Dec;159(12):2110-1.
  3. Radun I, Summala H. Females do not have more injury road accidents on Friday the 13th. BMC Public Health. 2004 Nov 16;4:54.
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Friday Foolery #10. 6 x X-Rays

7 11 2009

“X-rays” were in the news this week, at least there was an illuminating exposure on Twitter. Here are 6 stories, half serious and half not so serious.

[1] First, voters have picked the X-ray machine as the most important scientific invention (objects in science, engineering, technology and medicine), in a poll to celebrate the centenary of the Science Museum in London. As a matter of fact medical inventions were in the top three places in the poll (1. X-ray machines 2. Penicillin and 3. DNA double helix), ahead of the Apollo 10 capsule (no. 4) and the steam engine (8).


[2] Margaret Daalman came to hospital complaining of stomach ache – and one glance at her X-ray showed why:  the 52-year-old woman’s stomach contained an entire canteen of cutlery. She had to go under the knife to remove the (78!) forks and spoons. (see fotos here) The woman told the doctors: ‘I don’t know why but I felt an urge to eat the silverware – I could not help myself.’ She was somewhat picky however, as she never ate knives.
The images were actually taken over 30 years ago, but they were published for the first time this week in a Dutch medical magazine. Yes the woman was Dutch. At least according to the Daily Mail…….

However, the actual story published as a case in Medisch Contact is somewhat different.They actually state below the article:

Mededeling redactie

Over deze casus is in de populaire media foutieve berichtgeving gaande. De in andere media opgevoerde ‘mw Daalmans’ heeft niets te maken met deze casus. Het betreft, in tegenstelling tot wat elders wordt beweerd ook geen casus van 30 jaar geleden.

Which means something like: in contrary to what has been stated by the popular press this case has nothing to do with Mrs Daalmans, nor did it happen 30 years ago.
In effect, the Daily Mail mentions both (?) Rotterdam and Sittard as towns where this should have taken place, but in Medisch Contact only Helmond was mentioned. The towns are far apart.

One wonders why, because the story is extraordinary enough.

Daily Mail:
Medisch Contact:

[3] An obese man died after refusing an X-ray taken in a machine for zoo animals because he was too large for the hospital’s X-ray machine, the maximum capacity of most hospital machines being around 200 kilo. Later his wife told that the man felt too humiliated to go to the zoo.

The Local (Germany news in English,

[4] Todays Friday Funny post of dr. Val at Better Health is Joyful Radiology or Merry X-Ray


Better Health:

[5] A special X-Ray: CAT-scan

4076270034_aa19e6dd2b cat-scan / CC BY-NC-SA 2.0

[6] When both your arm and the X-ray are broken:

Cyanide and Happiness, a daily webcomicCyanide & Happiness @

Ooh, I wonder whether the great number of X-ray related posts has something to do with the upcoming overlooked holiday: X-ray day (November 8th).

Can someone put the light off?

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Friday Foolery #7 Play Doh World, the Safe and Unexpected

16 10 2009

Seen at the Loom of Carl Zimmer: using Play Doh, Sophia Tintori and Cassandra Extavour talk about multicellularity and the specialization of reproductive cells.

The video, made by the evolutionary biologist Casey Dunn, is from Creature Cast, a collaborative blog produced by members of the Dunn Lab at Brown University. The Dunn Lab investigates how evolution has produced a diversity of life. On this newly evoluted “Creature Cast” you can find short, original and  good quality posts on zoology in the broad sense often with beautiful photos or videos. You can now subscribe to the CreatureCast video podcast through Brown University at  iTunes U.

Vodpod videos no longer available.

more about “CreatureCast Episode 2 on Vimeo“, posted with vodpod
Work provided under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-Share Alike license.

Another example of a great post on Creature Cast is the Tale of two holes about why some animals have one hole and others two. Does the single hole in one-holed animals correspond to the mouth or anus of animals with two holes?  Apparently the same sets of genes appear in many different contexts within and across species. In this case there are two distinct modules for mouth and blastopore (the first hole developed in animals during their development) and they can be decoupled. Again there is a terrific photo made by Dunn showing a sea anemone with a single hole for eating, excreting, and shedding eggs and sperm, and an annelid worm with two holes.

This is a Friday Foolery post, thus permit me to show me something completely different: a successful Play-Doh ad-campaign started in Singapore (what a coincidence, the city I left 26 h ago). These ads talk to parents directly, reminding them about the thousand of possible things you can make with the product, but even more so about how safe it is to play with it. (although someone commented: “what if kids eat those pills? Although Play-Doh is non-toxic…)

16-10-2009 16-48-15 play doh ads

Friday Foolery [4]: Maps & Mapping

25 09 2009

25-9-2009 8-11-39 world map 16..In the previous post I showed a map of the world made in 1689.
Here only half of North America was represented, because the world was “Europe-centered”.
The map was made in Amsterdam, Europe.

How different is the world according to Americans (source: Neil Bonginkosi Lawrence Taverner of the blog Other things amanzi on Facebook).

The Netherlands have even been submerged into the sea 😉

world according to americans

Countries and continents can also be extremely “big” or extremely “small” in real life. See the sometimes confronting representation “of the world as you never saw it at See for instance the world worldmapper age of death animation (CC).

25-9-2009 8-54-08

At you get a real life picture of CO2 emissions, birth rate & death rate simulation (no Figure, it is an animation).

This real-time simulation displays the CO2 emissions of every country in the world, as well as their birth and death rates.

Please remember that this real time simulation is just that: a simulation. Although the CO2 emission, birth rate and death rate data used in Breathing Earth comes from reputable sources, data that measures things on such a massive scale can never be 100% accurate. Please note however that the CO2 emission levels shown here are much more likely to be too low than they are to be too high.

Less serious, but also characteristics is the well known map of online communities from xkcd webcomics (

Map of online communities From xkcd webcomics (

Google Mashups we have seen used for many serious things, like for mapping H1N1 infections, but I had to smile about this map of exploding i-phones (via @NilsGeylen on Twitter)

25-9-2009 9-03-53 map of exploding i-phones

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Friday Foolery [3] Showing the invisible

4 09 2009

I always found it difficult to think abstract. It was not until physics class at college, that I started to understand physics formulas,  because our professor gave practical examples from real life, i.e. he made me understand why the sky was blue. Mathematics was all right as long as we stayed in two dimensions, but stereometry was already one dimension too much. Molecules, chemical bonds and atomic structure were also vague especially when wave-particle duality came into play. It was even hard to imagine what DNA really looks like. At one stage I even tried to make a DNA structure at home from matches and colored clay. But the model was so fragile, that it crashed before the first minor groove was finished.

Nowadays, students are so lucky: a computer, the internet, beautiful graphs, videos, 3D-animations.

Below a mixture of recent  and some old animations and 3D representations, that highlight our understanding of numbers and dimensions, the infinite small and the infinite large.

First 3D image of an individual molecule and its bonds!

A real breakthrough was the visualization of the atomic backbone of an individual molecule (pentacene) and its atomic bonds. As reported in the August 28 issue of Science magazine, IBM Research Zurich scientists (in collaboration with Peter Liljeroth of Utrecht University), accomplished this by using an atomic force microsope (ATM) operated in an ultrahigh vacuum and at very low temperatures ( 268oC or 451oF). According to the researchers this is reminiscent of X-rays that pass through soft tissue to enable clear images of bones.

Below you see:

  • the chemical structure of pentacene with 22 carbon atoms (Wikipedia).
  • the force map image of pentacene (IBM).
  • a video-interview with the researchers explaining their research (IBM-Labs).

3-9-2009 23-52-44 pentacene ibm

Hattip: @jensmccabe (twitter) and Greg Laden (twitter and blog)
More info: and

The Galaxy mapped

Now quite the opposite infinity: the universe: “what 100,000 nearby large (i.e., Milky Way sized and larger) galaxies, look like reduced each reduced to a point” (translation by @dreamingspires) or “will give you an idea how totally insignificant we are” (@scanman). These tweople referred to Etann Siegel’s blog “It starts with a bang”.

One of the original researchers (Dominique Proust) has also posted a short description of the study and an image on the internet which shows the clustering pattern of about 100,000 nearby galaxies, revealed by the 6dF Galaxy Survey (see here) : “Each galaxy is shown as a dot. The galaxy we live in is at the centre of the pattern” (an enlargement of the image is here).

The astronomers came from all over the world (Australia, the UK, USA, South Africa, France and Japan). Their survey “will reveal not only where the galaxies are but also where they’re heading, how fast, and why. “It’s like taking a snapshot of wildebeest on the African plain. We can tell which waterholes they’re heading to, and how fast they’re travelling,” said D. Heath Jones of the Anglo-Australian Observatory (AAO), lead scientist for the Six-Degree Field Galaxy Survey (6dFGS)”


1, 2, 3 ….no here are 10 dimensions explained

but the 4th dimensions will do for me

Powers of 10

A classical video: the powers of ten. It dates from 1977. I have seen it during college and it made a lasting impression.
Powers of Ten explores the relative size of things from the microscopic to the cosmic. The 1977 film travels from an aerial view of a man in a Chicago park to the outer limits of the universe directly above him and back down into the microscopic world contained in the man’s hand.

There is even a website “powers of ten”. At the right you can click on a power of ten. Like 10 ¹³ and 10 -¹³


Measuring in meters, this power of ten is equal to 10 billion kilometers. We see the outer planets as they circulate counterclockwise, all in nearly the same plane.

Measuring in seconds, this power of ten equals

  • Space 10 billion kilometers
  • 317, 097 years.
  • Unmanned Space Probes
  • Johannes Keppler
  • Space First Images Of Jupiter through Time


Measuring in meters, this power of ten is equal to .1 picometer or 100 fermis. We see the kernel of a carbon atom, bound by six neutrons and six protons. This nucleus is dubbed carbon-12.

Measuring in seconds, this power of ten equals 100 femtoseconds.

  • 100 fermis
  • 100 femtoseconds
  • Lasers
  • Niels Bohr

Also the Wikipedia explains large numbers and astronomically large numbers. The Dutch Wikipedia gives more examples from daily life:

Do you still need some help in mathematics? Here is a tip from a Dutch educator @trendmatcher: your free online 24/7 math help, meant to help high school students with their homework. (There is also non-free material)

More frivolous:

Modern steps through time (via @scanman and @drves) :

And a  Twitter visualization tool that shows about 11,000 “good morning” tweets over a 24 hour period, between August 20th and 21st. All tweets are color-coded: green blocks are early tweets, orange ones are around 9am, and red tweets are later in the morning. Black blocks are ‘out of time’ tweets which said “good morning” (or a non-english equivalent) at a strange time in the day. Seen at the blog of @zbdigitaal (Edwin)
The original post and the video can be found here

Vodpod videos no longer available.

Leo Gross, Fabian Mohn, Nikolaj Moll, Peter Liljeroth, and Gerhard Meyer. “The Chemical Structure of a Molecule Resolved by Atomic Force Microscopy.” Science, 28 August 2009: Vol. 325. no. 5944, pp. 1110 – 1114. DOI: 10.1126/science.1176210.

The 6dF Galaxy Survey: Final Data Release (DR3) and Southern Large Scale Structures
Jones D Heath., Read Mike A., Saunders Will., Colless Matthew., Jarrett Tom., Parker Quentin., Fairall Anthony., Mauch Thomas., Sadler Elaine., Watson Fred., Burton Donna., Campbell Lachlan., Cass Paul., Croom Scott., Dawe John., Fiegert Kristin., Frankcombe Leela., Hartley Malcolm., Huchra John., James Dionne., Kirby Emma., Lahav Ofer., Lucey John., Mamon Gary., Moore Lesa., Peterson Bruce., Prior Sayuri., Proust Dominique., Russell Ken., Safouris Vicky., Wakamatsu Ken-ichi., Westra Eduard., Williams Mary: 2009,
submitted to Monthly Notices of the Royal Astronomical Society

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