Friday, April 29, 2005

Tigers, fat people and goose poop—The March of Science News 4.31.2005

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OK Fatso, you had your moment of comfort--OK, here we go again. A study in the British Medical Journal indicates that fatter people (defined as those who are obese in their 40s) are more likely to suffer from dementia than those who are not. The cohort of 10,000 people involved subjects who were between the ages of 40-45 when the study began between 1964 and 1973. They were studied again in 1994. By that point, 7 out of 100 normal-weight people suffered from dementia. The risk for those somewhat overweight is 8 out of 100, and if you are really fat, 9 out of 100. The difference apparently is statistically significant. This, of course, comes on the heels of reports that the slightly chubby live longer. Kaiser and NIH funded this study. Everybody repeat after me: correlation does not equal causation. Gina Kolata, in the New York Times, blames the fat-fighting industry for this stuff. The problem is, we really don’t know. AP

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If I’m not there, start without me-With an admirable sense of caution, NASA has decided to delay its return to shuttle flights until July. The feeling was that the agency had not corrected all the problems that led to the Columbia's breaking apart on reentry in 2003. Michael Griffin, the new administrator, announced NASA would wait until the July 13-31 launch window, mentioning the risk of falling debris, among other risks. The agency is down to three shuttles and among the delayed projects are the International Space Station, now being serviced by the Russians, and fixing the wondrous Hubble Space Telescope. By the way, I’m not sure what to make of the fact a character from StarTrek narrates NASA’s website. REUTERS AP NASA NYT

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Clicking on this site will take you to lawyers--New York State’s hyperactive attorney general, who is clearly running for something, went after spyware this week. Eliot Spitzer sued Intermix Media, a large California Internet marketing firm for embedding invasive and annoying programs into other people’s computers. The programs, hidden in programs the company gives away for free, send users to web sites they didn’t want to go to, harasses them with popup windows, and links them unwillingly to clients of the company. Intermix Media is only one of several companies selling spyware, which not only track computer use, but manage to clog the machines, rendering them as useful as doorstops. In Intermix Media’s case, all you had to do was download something apparently innocuous and discover that aliens had taken over. Tens of millions of people have done so. The company claims it doesn’t do that any more. To get rid of them, you have to acquire programs that hunt them out and destroy them. To prevent them from ever popping up, you have to either foreswear downloading anything you don’t positively need—or buy a Mac, which are immune [see below]. Most experts think this is a first step toward regulation. NYT Office of the Attorney General Reuters

Tiger, tiger burning bright, why do I still have market shares in the single digits?—Apple Computer has taken time off from suing its best customers and chasing book authors long enough to ship its newest operating system, OS-X 4, or Tiger. [Be warned, I’m one of those people who consider this a religious question]. Tiger is at least two generations ahead of the latest Windows and is likely to stay that way for at least a year until Microsoft finally ships Longhorn, it’s newest version of its seriously mediocre Windows. Reviews have been mostly ecstatic, even from the Windows set [PC World], with emphasis on Spotlight, a routine that will search your hard disk for anything you want regardless of where it is, when you filed it away, what program you used to create it or what it is. Instantly. It is also even more secure than the system it is replacing, Panther, which makes Windows look like a sieve for viruses, spyware, Trojan horses, worms and assorted vermin. The most serious extensive and knowledgeable review can be found at Macintouch (naturally). For others see: David Pogue at the New York Times and Walter Mossberg in the Wall Street Journal, and Steven Vaughan-Nichols in the Washington Post. Cheapest way to get it appears to be through Amazon. Apple

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Goose shit—I’m not making this up. Researchers in Canada report they have found a new vector for pathogens: goose poop. It turns out that Canada geese, which can be a real pain when they take over a pond or a park, also may be a source for the spreading of multi-drug resistant salmonella. If the bacteria are dropped in horse dung in Georgia and a goose eats it (geese eat shit), then the bird can carry it to other states or up into Canada, where it gets on your shoes or our dog rolls in it or your toddler spreads it on his blanket or God knows what. The research will be published in the NIH journal Emerging Infectious Diseases by researchers from the Ontario Veterinary College in Guelph. Some other damn thing to worry about! Globe & Mail

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