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China still feasting on poison foods

It's gotten to the point where you'd have to be a special kind of crazy to eat food in China. New wave of tainted food in China and how inflation could make it worse | Money & Company | Los Angeles Times
Three years after China was rocked by a massive tainted-milk scandal, the country has again been hit by a wave of food scares in recent weeks. The list includes diseased pigs used for bacon; noodles made of corn, ink and paraffin; rice contaminated with heavy metals, sausages made of rotten meat and fertilizer; and pork described as "Tron blue" because it glowed in the dark from bacteria. That so many new scandals have emerged even after the central government implemented a sweeping food-safety law in 2009 speaks to the depth of the regulation's ineffectiveness, experts say. An article Tuesday in the state-owned Global Times said food inspectors could be bribed to ignore diseased pork entering the food chain. . . . China's consumer price index hit a 32-month high last month, placing immense pressure on farmers and food makers to pay for costlier raw materials and distribution. Government price controls often mean those increased costs can't be passed on to consumers. Under these worsening conditions, more may consider cutting corners to recoup costs and stay in business. "Inflation probably increases the possibility street vendors or farmers sell tainted food or add illegal substances to make more profit or reduce costs," said Hu Xingdou, an economics professor at the Beijing Institute of Technology. "It would make it easier for them." . . .

May 03, 2011

Why old books smell good

Sheigh -- Why Old Books Smell Good “Lignin, the stuff that...
“Lignin, the stuff that prevents all trees from adopting the weeping habit, is a polymer made up of units that are closely related to vanillin. When made into paper and stored for years, it breaks down and smells good. Which is how divine providence has arranged for secondhand bookstores to smell like good quality vanilla absolute, subliminally stoking a hunger for knowledge in all of us.” —From Luca Turin and Tania Sanchez’s Perfumes: the guide

May 02, 2011

Box Jellyfish have 24 eyes, four of which always look straight up

Box jellyfish have 24 floating eyes, but four of them are more important than the others
So, how do the jellyfish stay in the right place? They use their "upper lens eyes," four eyes which can see through the water's surface and into the space above. These eyes allow them to spot the mangrove canopy at distances of at least eight meters, and navigate towards them. With the canopy obscured, they were lost. These eyes can rotate in any direction, and are suspended in the transparent tissue of the jellyfishes' bodies. As a result, the upper lens eyes are always looking straight up, regardless of the orientation of the jellyfish. Box jellyfish aren't content just to be brainless, squishy, stinging bastards. It turns out they have bewilderingly interesting vision systems, too. They have 24 eyes of four different types — including a set entirely used for peering into the sky. The research looked at Tripedalia cystophora, which live in the roots of mangrove swamps in the Caribbean. The jellyfish must stick to a couple of square meters beneath the canopies, where their prey live, or they'll suffer starvation in the open waters.

April 28, 2011

"Ums" and "ers" help children learn new words

Baby brain expert: 'Ums' and 'ers' help children learn - life - 28 April 2011 - New Scientist
I had always assumed "ums" and "ers" were useless noises, an indication that my brain isn't working quickly enough. What does your research show? It's one of those things your mother tells you: "Speak in full sentences. Don't um and er." I think it's a view that most people have, that disfluencies are not a good thing because they don't really communicate anything; they are just fillers. Our latest study shows that disfluencies in speech directed to young children have an interesting benefit. What children have learned, surprisingly early, is when there is an "um" or "er", the word that follows is almost always one they don't know. When you are fumbling for the correct word, you are sending a message to the child that they should pay attention. That's very useful. How did you find this out? The methodology is fairly straightforward. We put pairs of photographs of objects in front of a child. One is an object familiar to the child, say a ball or banana. The other is one that they have never seen, say, a wrench. Using an eye-tracking device we can measure precisely where the child is looking. A voice says: "Look at the ball" (in a fluent way). The next sentence is disfluent: "Look at the... er... wrench." We found that when there is a disfluency, the baby will look at the object they don't know, not the familiar one. It helps teach them new words.