Monday, December 30, 2013

Laboratories cause cancer in mice

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Not quite, but Corante reports that standard lab conditions tend to induce thermal stress on lab mice, resulting in corrupt data when performing cancer studies:

Lab Mice Are Being Kept Too Cold, Apparently

Posted by Derek
...
Now we have this, from PNAS. The authors, from the Roswell Park Institute and the EPA, say that standard rodent facility conditions are actually causing unintended chronic physiological stress:

We show here that fundamental aspects of antitumor immunity in mice are significantly influenced by ambient housing temperature. Standard housing temperature for laboratory mice in research facilities is mandated to be between 20–26°C; however, these subthermoneutral temperatures cause mild chronic cold stress, activating thermogenesis to maintain normal body temperature. When stress is alleviated by housing at thermoneutral ambient temperature (30–31°C), we observe a striking reduction in tumor formation, growth rate and metastasis. . .Overall, our data raise the hypothesis that suppression of antitumor immunity is an outcome of cold stress-induced thermo- genesis. Therefore, the common approach of studying immunity against tumors in mice housed only at standard room temperature may be limiting our understanding of the full potential of the antitumor immune response.

Tuesday, December 24, 2013

Repairing a Rock Band guitar's tilt sensor

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Last week, I decided to play Rock Band. If you don't know anything about this game, you might just want to stop reading now. If you have played the game, you are probably aware that in order for a guitar/bass player to activate the "overdrive" feature, he must either tilt the guitar into a vertical orientation or press its start button. Although some players disagree, I find that it is far easier to tilt the guitar than to press the button.

Well, since the last time I played, the tilt sensor in the guitar broke. No matter how much I tilted the guitar, the overdrive mode would not activate.

Friday, December 20, 2013

Apple Mac Pro now taking pre-orders

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Apple is now taking orders for their long-awaited upgrade to the Mac Pro. Units ordered today will ship in February.

Pricing ranges from $3000 for the smallest configuration (3.7GHz quad-core CPU, 12GB DDR3 ECC RAM, 256GB SSD, dual AMD FirePro D300 GPUs with 2GB GDDR5 VRAM) up to a whopping $9600 for the maxed-out configuration (2.7GHz 12-core CPU, 64GB DDR3 ECC RAM, 1TB SSD, dual AMD FirePro D700 GPUs with 6GB GDDR5 VRAM). An AppleCare 3-year extended warranty adds $250.

Expensive? You bet. Do I want one? Oh yeah! I don't do anything today that requires this kind of power, but if a unit like this is well constructed, it is likely that it will have an operational lifespan of 7-10 years (not counting the need to replace the SSD, which probably won't last that long.)

Interestingly, the price for the basic configuration is about the same as what I paid for my first Mac (a 2002 PowerMac G4 with dual 1GBz PowerPC CPUs). Add on an external 4TB hard drive (e.g. an enterprise-class hard drive combined with a USB3 enclosure for under $250) and you've got a great system, for about the usual price you'd pay for a high-end desktop from any vendor at any time.

Saturday, December 07, 2013

The Internet is not (and has never been) secure

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Wired: Someone’s Been Siphoning Data Through a Huge Security Hole in the Internet

Read the above article for a fascinating description of how hackers can (and sometimes do) redirect internet traffic, making it easy for them to snoop. The article cites recent incidents where domestic US internet traffic was redirected through several countries on its path from source to destination, presumably so the people who installed the corrupt routing table entries could take a look as it goes by.

Just in case you were under some illusion that the internet is secure, this should demonstrate clearly that it is not. Forget the NSA, this can be done by just about anybody who can write software and understands how the global internet operates. If your data isn't encrypted, then it isn't private. Period. This include your web sessions, your e-mail messages, passwords, etc. If you're doing something that you wouldn't want criminals in other countries to see, make sure it is over an encrypted channel.

Tuesday, December 03, 2013

Origin of the Christmas stocking

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I was curious and ran across this article on Wikipedia:

While there are no written records of the origin of the Christmas Stocking, there are popular legends that attempt to tell the history of this Christmas tradition. One such legend has several variations, but the following is a good example:

Very long ago, there lived a poor man and his three very beautiful daughters. He had no money to get his daughters married, and he was worried what would happen to them after his death. He thought they would become prostitiutes. Saint Nicholas was passing through when he heard the villagers talking about the girls. St. Nicholas wanted to help, but knew that the old man wouldn't accept charity. He decided to help in secret. After dark he threw three bags of gold through an open window, one landed in a stocking. When the girls and their father woke up the next morning they found the bags of gold and were, of course, overjoyed. The girls were able to get married and live happily ever after. Other versions of the story say that Saint Nicholas threw the 3 bags of gold directly into the stockings which were hung by the fireplace to dry.

This led to the custom of children hanging stockings or putting out shoes, eagerly awaiting gifts from Saint Nicholas. Sometimes the story is told with gold balls instead of bags of gold. That is why three gold balls, sometimes represented as oranges, are one of the symbols for St. Nicholas. And so, St. Nicholas is a gift-giver. This is also the origin of 3 gold balls being used as a symbol for pawnbrokers.

An interesting story. And I would never have guessed that the pawnbroker symbol is related to Christmas in any way.

Monday, December 02, 2013

Raskin Desktop

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The Raskin Desktop is a desktop/Finder replacement for Mac OS based on Jef Raskin's "Zoomworld" user interface concept.

All documents are displayed as previews. You can zoom and scroll around the world to find what you want. You can set the size of each document's preview individually, allowing you to make important objects larger (to more easily find them) and less important objects smaller (to get them out of the way.) You don't explicitly deal with file and folder names, but work directly with the content itself. All of the zoom/scroll operations involve trackpad gestures similar to those used on iPhone devices.

Apple has used some of these concepts in their apps (like iPhoto and Aperture), but this is the first example I've seen of it being applied system-wide.