August 2011

Phosphorescent Mushrooms

In 1840 a botanist in Brazil encountered a group of children "playing with a glowing object that turned out to be a luminescent mushroom." He sent samples back to Kew Gardens, where it was named after him: Agaricus gardneri. The glow-in-the-dark mushroom was then promptly lost to science, and not rediscovered until a recent intrepid midnight rainforest survey by a San Francisco State research team.
The Brazilian phosphorescent mushroom is locally known as "flor-de-coco," for its habit of growing at the roots of a particular species of dwarf palm. It is one of the world's brightest phosphorescent mushrooms, almost bright enough to read newspaper by, according to some accounts. But it is by no means the only phosphorescent mushroom.

Permanent Stranger Syndrome

Neurological disorder prevents people from recognizing friends and family


Most of the time, it takes the witnessing of a disability in order for us to realize the extent to which we take our own ability for granted. Those of us who have no trouble walking rarely think about how we're capable of our own automatic physical transportation--unless we meet someone who's incapable of just that. Physical disabilities manifest themselves in obvious ways that we can automatically relate to, but mental disabilities provide us with further insight as to how the mind works--by demonstrating what happens when it fails to. 

Time Travelers Throughout History

Evidence of time travel or exaggerated archive footage?


If our science fiction is in any way indicative, we humans love the idea of time travel. From Jules Verne to Russell T. Davies, writers have embraced the notion of being able to hop in a vessel and plow through to a different age. But sometimes our stories stray from what's distinctively fiction, creeping over to the realm of conspiracy or cultish speculation. 

Feng Shui

Feng shui is the ancient Chinese art of rearranging your furniture, which became unaccountably popular in the United States during the 1990's. I can't argue with the basic precepts of feng shui, the existence of qi energy that flows through your home. That belongs in the same category of religious beliefs, and I've seen some pretty amazing stuff in my life, myself.
However, I have a lot of qualms about the idea that you can affect the flow of this life force by putting three coins over here, or changing the color of your area rugs.

Orbs in Photographs: Dust Particles or Ghosts?

Orbs in photographs are probably pieces of dust. Little, floating white dots that radiate from a deep, white center to a lighter colored outer ring.  Dust. But then, I can’t help but wonder, why aren’t there orbs in every picture? Dust—and pollen and flying seeds or whatever you can imagine those white spheres to be—are everywhere.

So then I turn to a less likely explanation—ghosts. Some people say that the white dots are ghosts making their presences known to the living. Orbs are speedy and follow a pattern that isn’t regular—pollen or spirit? Which is why orbs are so prevalent in graveyards, perhaps. Let’s learn a bit more about the orbs phenomenon:

People Born Without Fingerprints

In the common imagination, the crafty criminal goes through an arduous and painful process to remove his fingerprints. (It's always a "he," I don't know of any scenarios where a female criminal removes her fingerprints. I wonder what that says about the genre.) Off the top of my head I can recall criminals burning their fingerprints off with acid, sandpapering them off, and gradually building calluses at each fingertip which obscure the fingerprints.
Of course, there are two problems with these methods: you can still be identified based on the pattern of scarring (like John Dillinger!), and in most cases your fingerprints will eventually grow back. They grow back because your fingerprints are determined at the genetic level.
Unless you have a mutation in your SMARCAD1 gene, that is!

Is There Really A "Walking Cactus"?

watched Rango last night, and was intrigued by its reference to a particular cactus that (legend has it [according to the movie]) can walk. If you're quiet, and you watch carefully at night, you might be lucky enough to see the cacti walking.
Beans: "That's a Spanish Dagger. But around here we just call them the Walking Cactus […] there's an old legend they actually walk across the desert to find water."

Mysterious Orange Alaskan Goo Washes Ashore

On August 6th, the remote Alaskan village of Kivalina awoke to find itself besieged by a bright orange goo. This sludgy orange residue was found floating on the surface of the lagoon and washing up on the village's beaches. Kivalina's 374 residents could only gather and speculate as to what it might be. The village is primarily Inpiat Eskimo, and no one could remember ever having seen such a sight, including the village's elders.
As the goo washed on shore, it dried up in the marine winds and turned powdery. This is presumably how it came to be found in the town's water cisterns and rainwater barrels, some of them located several miles from the lagoon where the orange substance was first found.

Rumors of the Amero Resurface

Conspiracy theorists have been grumbling about the Amero for years now. It seems like whenever things take a turn for the worst, the rumor resurfaces.
What is the Amero? It's a hypothetical currency that would be used by Canada, the United States, and Mexico. Think of it as the American version of the Euro (hence the name). The fundamental argument against the Amero becoming a thing is that, put simply, it wouldn't do any of us any good.

So What If The Moon Landing Was Faked?

This morning I watched a bit of the "Fact or Faked" episode where they tried to replicate the moon landing. And I found myself once again pondering a question that's downright heretical in some circles: so what?
It has been well established that the government had, in the parlance of murder investigations, the means, motive, and opportunity to fake the moon landing. It is at least credible to suspect that the moon landing was faked. (Credible enough for the Mythbusters to take it on!) And given the circumstances at the time, it's frankly more plausible that the landing was faked than that we actually launched a successful moon mission.

Will Our Sun Send Out A "Killer Flare"?

Last night I watched a movie that ends with the complete destruction of Earth at the hands of a "killer solar flare." (To avoid spoilers, I won't mention which movie. Google "2009 movie solar flare" if you simply must know.) Naturally I was curious: could this really happen?
(Actually, "curious" isn't really the word. As a child, when I learned that 5 billion years from now the sun will expand and swallow the Earth in a fiery death, I didn't really understand what "5 billion years" really meant. I had nightmares about it for months - nightmares much like the one the little boy has in the movie. Accidental childhood terror alert: triggered!)

New Zealand Man Decapitated by DIY Hovercraft

The danger of greatly increased accessibility to DIY tech. is that it disregards the question, "Should I be doing this?"


There's no question that "Do It Yourself" (DIY) technologies have become increasingly more accessible to private citizen enthusiasts. I remember standing in a "workshop" (a basement tool bench) where an air-vent panel from the wing of an airplane sat under florescent lights. "My dad's building his airplane," my friend reported nonchalantly. His dad was an accountant. This was my first experience with things like airplane "kits", for DIY'ers that, having received their pilot's license, simply wanted to make their own airplane (from someone else's plans and materials). I consider this somewhat akin to the guy that wants to drywall his own basement (that being me, with some help), but on an entirely different level. I wanted to save money, learn a bit more about a trade, and challenge myself. Companies are seeing this in many enterprising adults (mostly men) and have commercialized it, providing fairly advanced technology in easy-to-do DIY kits. However, what greater accessibility to these kinds of pre-packaged tech endeavors comes a greater degree of danger; the danger of human error. There is no way to certify that just because an individual feels they followed the directions that they haven't missed something along the way. In the case of the airplane kit, that airplane needed to be certified by an aeronautics professional before even being taken to a hanger. What's really scary is when individuals with just enough knowledge to think they can build something, locate the materials, develop the plan, and implement all on their own.

Earthquake Light and Earthquake Clouds

"Earthquake lights" and "earthquake clouds" are an excellent example of something that almost everyone thought was crackpot bunk, until enough photographs and first-hand experiences were accumulated by enough reputable people that it was finally acknowledged as a real thing by science. In the case of earthquake lights, it was the "earthquake swarm" that hit Nagano, Japan in 1965-1967 that did the trick.

Is The FBI About To Catch D.B. Cooper?

Big news this week in the ages-old D.B. Cooper case! D.B. Cooper is famous here in the Pacific Northwest, both for the dapper nature of his crime, and for the enduring mystery of his identity. Did he really get away with it? Did he plunge to his death? Has he spent the last forty years living out a comfortable life somewhere, or are his remains quietly moldering somewhere in the trackless wilderness?
This week we learned that the FBI is investigating an unnamed "object," and is working to get fingerprints and possibly DNA evidence from it. What is the object? Where is it from? Who does it incriminate? We don't know. So far, facts are maddeningly being held back.