Does sex sell beer?


I don’t watch much broadcast TV, but when I do, I pay a distracting amount of attention to the ads (which is the main reason I don’t watch it much). I think advertisers are extremely good at grabbing your attention quickly, and they’ve really mastered an effective visual language. But what is it good at, beyond compelling the eye to follow it? I confess, if a beer commercial features bikini-clad women bouncing on the screen, my eye is irresistibly drawn to it, and it takes some focus to tear away.

But I don’t think I buy beer based on the attire of their bikini models. Most often, I don’t even know what brand of beer they’re trying to sell with that beach scene, so it would be hard for it to influence me in a specific direction. So here’s a paper that asks about the actual effectiveness of those ads.

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This is the most boring video ever

It’s an accurately rendered flight through space at the speed of light. You start out at the surface of the sun, and then hurtle out at 300 million meters per second. It takes 3 minutes to reach Mercury. It takes 45 minutes to reach Jupiter. This is basically a video of empty space centered on a very slowly shrinking bright star, with an occasional rocky ball whipping by.

Man, lightspeed is slow, and space is awfully empty.

I did not make it to the end of the video.

How an embryo is like a meatball sub

I’ve only just noticed that I have a fondness for food metaphors when talking about development — gastrulation is a peculiar way to make a jelly sandwich, neurulation is like rolling up a burrito, and somite formation is a meatball sub. They sort of illustrate the arrangement of the tissues involved, but of course they all have shortcomings…but then explaining how the metaphor doesn’t work can be just as informative as the metaphor itself.

For instance, early in its development, the vertebrate embryo consists of two epithelial sheets, the epiblast and hypoblast, pressed against each other like two slices of bread. That’s easy to visualize. It also allows me to explain the core idea of an epithelium — a layer of cells tightly linked to one another to form a continuous more or less two dimensional sheet. A lot of animal development is about epithelia folding and contacting other layers. But another important concept is that some cells are not in sheets — they’ve dissociated and are moving in a loose mass surrounded by an extracellular matrix. This is called mesenchyme. Mesenchyme would be the gooey jelly between the two sheet-like bread slices.

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Bad science books still get published


Wasn’t it enough that I read Nessa Carey’s terrible Junk DNA book? It scarred me, it did. But there’s another one out, John Parrington’s The Deeper Genome: Why there is more to the human genome than meets the eye, and no, I REFUSE TO READ IT. I have been reading Larry Moran’s multi-part evisceration of Parrington, though. It’s spectacularly gory. There are bits of Oxford lecturer in pharmacology spattered all over the place.

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Now what?


NASA has announced the discovery of a distant earth-like planet, Kepler-452b.

Kepler-452b is 60 percent larger in diameter than Earth and is considered a super-Earth-size planet. While its mass and composition are not yet determined, previous research suggests that planets the size of Kepler-452b have a good chance of being rocky.

While Kepler-452b is larger than Earth, its 385-day orbit is only 5 percent longer. The planet is 5 percent farther from its parent star Kepler-452 than Earth is from the Sun. Kepler-452 is 6 billion years old, 1.5 billion years older than our sun, has the same temperature, and is 20 percent brighter and has a diameter 10 percent larger.

“We can think of Kepler-452b as an older, bigger cousin to Earth, providing an opportunity to understand and reflect upon Earth’s evolving environment,” said Jon Jenkins, Kepler data analysis lead at NASA’s Ames Research Center in Moffett Field, California, who led the team that discovered Kepler-452b. “It’s awe-inspiring to consider that this planet has spent 6 billion years in the habitable zone of its star; longer than Earth. That’s substantial opportunity for life to arise, should all the necessary ingredients and conditions for life exist on this planet.”

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